Recently, I wrote on this blog that when you start your journey as a writer you’ll find that perfect strangers are willing to help you. I was lucky enough to find one of these gracious people myself. Her name is Darlene Foster.
Darlene Foster is the award-winning author of the exciting adventure series featuring spunky 12-year-old Amanda Ross who loves to travel to unique places. Her books include Amanda in Arabia – The Perfume Flask, Amanda in Spain – The Girl in The Painting, Amanda in England – The Missing Novel, Amanda in Alberta – The Writing on the Stone and Amanda on the Danube – The Sounds of Music.
Outside of writing, Darlene enjoys traveling the world with her husband and meeting interesting new people. Recently, she agreed to answer a few questions for my blog.
I would like to personally thank Darlene for her time, and her thoughtful, inspiring responses. I think she has a great deal to teach all of us aspiring writers who hope to someday achieve the same level of success as she has.
I hope you’ll take time to visit her website at http://www.darlenefoster.ca/
Or, check out her blog: https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/
As well as her Amazon page.
Do you think that creative writers need to pursue a formal education, or can you learn the craft on your own?
Foster: I think creative writers need to continue learning as long as they breathe. But I don’t believe they need a formal education, although it certainly doesn’t hurt. But not having a formal education should never stop one from writing. There are so many ways to learn and improve the craft of writing. Reading everything you can get your hands on will always be the best teacher. I’m a great believer in workshops and seminars, both in person and online. Critique groups also provide a fount of knowledge. Hanging around other writers, not just those who write in your genre, can teach you so much. Every time I attend a writers’ conference, I come away feeling like I just received a degree.
What kind of research do you do when writing a book or story?
Foster: I usually start my research during my travels by being curious, taking a lot of pictures, keeping notes and chatting with people. When I return home and start the story, I do more detailed research on certain topics I plan to include in the book, usually on the internet. Sometimes I consult someone who is familiar with the area or topic. For instance, I consult my British husband when I am unclear on anything British. I always check with the young folks in my life when I research current trends, words, technology etc. to be sure I’m up to date.
On average, how long does it take you to finish a book or story?
Foster: Now, from concept to final edit, it takes me about one year, give or take a month or two. My first book took me three years – it was a slow learning process.
What process did you go through to get your first work published?
Foster: That was the hard work. I researched books written for the age of my targeted readers, both recently published and classics. By visiting bookstores, libraries and schools, I found out what books were currently popular. I wrote down the details of the publishers and looked them up online. I read their submission guidelines – so very important – and put together a submission package following each specific guideline. They were all different so I could not send out the same package twice. Then I waited and waited. I probably sent out over thirty submissions to large and small publishers, in the US, Canada and the UK. I eventually heard back from most of them, with polite rejection letters. They were encouraging for the most part and suggested I keep submitting to other publishers. Which I did – for five years. Then, when I was about to give up, I met my wonderful publisher when she did a presentation on e-publishing at my local critique group. She liked the idea of my series and the rest, as they say, is history. Did I mention, she lived in my neighbourhood? Life is funny like that.
How did you choose your field or genre?
Foster: I think it chose me. I had written adult short stories and had won some prizes for them. I tried to write a novel based on my travels, but the story didn’t convey the excitement I felt when visiting a foreign country. When I started writing from the point of view of a twelve-year-old, it worked so much better. I tend to relate with tweens and am very comfortable writing for middle-grade readers. Some may say I never really got past the age of twelve myself!
How do ideas come to you? Through research, or do they just pop into your head?
Foster: Ideas often come to me when I’m travelling. I’ll often say to my travelling companion, “I must put that in a book.” I also get ideas when I’m talking to people. My husband and I go for coffee often and we like to sit with people we have never met before. It’s amazing the ideas you can get chatting with new people. Especially in a beach town where people come and go and they all have such interesting stories to share. I jot ideas down all the time. I bumped into a fellow recently who I met over a year ago at a coffee shop. He said, “Did you use my idea in a book yet?” He remembered me writing it down.
Do you believe in inspiration?
Foster: I believe in the quote attributed to Thomas Edison, “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.”
What’s the hardest part of the job?
Foster: The hardest part was finding a publisher. Now that I have one, the rest is comparatively easy. If only! Getting started on a new project can be hard. At first, it’s exciting and I’m eager to get going. Then the reality of hours and hours sitting at the computer sets in and I wonder, why am I doing this to myself? But when I hold that finished product in my hand, it is all worth it!
What did you do before you became a writer?
Foster: I did many things, retail management, recruitment, English as a Second Language teaching, job search facilitating, employment counselling and at the same time I was a wife, mom and grandmother. I´ve done various volunteer work and sat on the Board of Directors for a number of organizations. I have always led a busy life and I like it that way.