This is an interview with the lovely author Olive Balla. For those of you that are unfamiliar with her work she has written the suspense novel An Arm and a Leg . I will be reviewing that book myself in April.
Why don’t we start off by you telling us a little about yourself.
Olive: I was born in Roswell, New Mexico about 18 months after the “UFO sighting.” My kids always said that explains a great deal, given the fact that we have no idea what the gestation period for an extra-terrestrial/human might be. I’m a retired educator and part time professional musician living with my husband Victor in the Albuquerque area. But foremost, I’m the mother of three, grandmother of 13, and great-grandmother of 4. Guess that makes me a late bloomer, since this is my debut novel.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Olive: My favorite pastime, other than hanging with my husband, is wood working. I’ve built a bench for our back porch and a couple of bread boxes for myself and family members. My goal for next Christmas is to give everyone handmade wooden gifts.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Olive: The story-telling bug bit me when I was about six years old. I thought it loads of fun to make up stories for my friends, especially ghost stories—a favorite at sleepovers. But life happened and I wasn’t able to get back into writing until I retired from teaching. From the time I learned to read, my favorite authors were Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov, and Louis L’Amour. Their unique writers’ voices poked and prodded whatever creative DNA resides inside me, and I knew I wanted to take people into other worlds, worlds of my own devising, the way those authors did.
What does your family think of your writing?
Olive: To say my family has been supportive would be like saying Godzilla is just a lizard—it doesn’t begin to cover my family’s response to my efforts. They were my cheerleaders when things went well, commiserated with me when my efforts fell flat, and generally forbade me to give up—something I very nearly did by the time I’d been writing on the same novel for seven years. As an aside: I must admit that during the period of time I spent finding my writer’s voice, I struggled with how my nuclear family (parents and siblings) would react to some of the language I used in AN ARM AND A LEG. I was raised in a very strict household where the use of “by-words” was a punishable offense. However, my parents are no longer living, and my siblings have been very positive about the book.
What do you think makes a good story?
Olive: Conflict. In every scene. Whether it’s a memoir or any other of the hundreds of genres listed on Wikipedia, conflict is a necessary ingredient. We readers love to sit at a safe, comfortable distance, sip our coffee, and watch characters deal with the bad things life throws at them. Without conflict, in my opinion, it might as well be a cookbook.
Is there a subject you would never write about as an author? If so what is it?
Olive: Good question. There are two subjects I could never allow in my head long enough to write about: child sexual abuse, and anything spiritually blasphemous. I don’t hesitate to use four letter words when necessary, but child sexual abuse is the most abhorrent thing in the world to me. And as a spiritual person, I try to respect all belief systems.
Any advice for getting through the dreaded writers block?
Olive: You bet. A couple of things. First, I keep three projects going. I’ve heard it said that Isaac Asimov had up to twelve books going at any given time – each on its own typewriter – so when he got stumped on one, he just moved to another. And secondly, I love to open a dictionary to a random page, put my index finger on a word then write a scene with that word. When my finger lands in the middle of two words, I use them both. Some pretty cool scenes have come out of that—not all of which I could use, but all of which I got a kick out of writing.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors, like myself?
Olive: There are so many resources available to writers. A couple of my best investments have been a subscription to Writer’s Digest, and anything written by James Scott Bell. It’s also a good idea to make friends with other aspiring writers. I joined Southwest Writers, where I was given the opportunity to write a column for the online newsletter. It gave me great practice as well as the opportunity to meet others of like mind.
How is the publishing process? Any advice?
Olive: The publishing business is not for wimps, nor for the unmotivated. However, if a writer is serious about the craft, willing to learn from the basics up, and committed to the hard work involved not only in writing a great story, but in learning the ropes required of a marketing guru, the sky’s the limit. A couple of suggestions: Nothing against self-pub; it maybe the wave of the future, and there are certainly a few writers who’ve made it big in self-publishing, but many of the news outlets, etc. I’ve marketed through required my work be published by a publishing house. There are some marvelous self-pub works online, but there’s also a lot of schlock. I was willing to make the trade-off. As for advice: try the small publisher route. I went on the Predators and Editors website, sent off a flurry of queries, and had four contract offers within a week. Not, however, before I’d spent hundreds of hours revising, editing, and re-writing, had two people beta-read my manuscript and give me feedback on gaps, etc., and had an editor look it over for grammatical mistakes before I sent it off. There are no shortcuts. At least, that’s been my experience.
What’s next for you?
Olive: As I mentioned, I have two more novels in the works, with ideas for a couple more. As my preacher Pop used to say, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” I’ll be ready with another story in the next few months.
Okay now for some lighter questions.
Coffee or Tea?
Olive: Oh, angst. I actually love both. First thing in the morning it’s coffee. Afternoon it’s tea.
Do you write more in the Morning, Afternoon or at night?
Olive: I try to write in the mornings. But when my other life rears its head, I grab writing time when I can. My best thinking seems to be in the morning.
Early bird or night owl?
Olive: I rise at 7:00 a.m., have a bite to eat and a gallon of hot coffee, grab 30 minutes on the elliptical then write. I’ve tried getting up earlier – but I don’t speak human before 7:00 a.m. And after about 10:00 p.m. I turn into something, not sure what, but writing’s not possible.
What is your favorite genre to read?
Olive: Although I’ve enjoyed everything from Louis L’Amour to Isaac Asimov, I love mystery/suspense.
What book do you wish you could have written?
Olive: I had to think about this question for a while. In all honesty, I think I’d have to say I wish I had already written my next three novels. Someone once said, “We want to be someone who has written, not someone who writes.” Writing is a lot of work. And though there are lots of amazing authors whose work I’ve thrilled over, those authors have their own voices. My goal is to write in mine.
What is your favorite book?
Olive: That changes from week to week. Lately, I’ve been enjoying Janet Evanovich’s Plum series.
Is there anything else you would like for your readers to know?
Olive: At the risk of spouting a cliché, I’d say follow your dream. But don’t just follow it…track it’s ass down, grab it in a hammer lock, sling it over your shoulder, and don’t let go. Because, in my opinion, the only way to make a dream come true is to work at it, learn what you need to learn to make it happen, get your butt in gear, and never give up.
It was great to chat with you, Olive and I must say I love your answers! Firstly I would love to visit Roswell one day, I have a bit of an alien obsession. Your family sounds amazing and it must be great to have that support system. I will take your advice to heart and hopefully one day I will be asking you if you want to read my book. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you!