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Ten in 10: An Interview of Author Anne Marie Duquette

 

The granddaughter of two coal miners, Anne Marie Duquette was raised all over the nation, including Alaska and Hawaii, with a healthy appreciation for the richness of the land, wildlife, and its beauty.  Her love of the earth’s treasures grew during her many travels as the daughter of a U.S. Air force pilot and Air Force nurse, the wife of a career Navy Chief Petty Officer, and as a Navy veteran herself.  Different landscapes and people sparked her interest in the arts, especially writing and photography, as a way of keeping track of her varied experiences as a “military brat.”

She obtained a degree in Mass Communications (Journalism, TV, Film) from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and set out for Hollywood.  But apart from an un-produced treatment sale to Paramount Studios for Star Trek – The Next Generation, her fate seemed to lie in the books she so loved to read.  In 1987 she made her first sale to Harlequin Romances, her primary publisher of 25 books, and has ventured into the self-publishing world of non-fiction as well.

She went back to school to obtain her Associate of Arts degree in Jewelry-Silversmithing at Palomar College in California, and discovered that the creative process in writing works for metal forming and stone shaping, too, and keeps her in touch with the land she loves.

She has an adult education teaching certificate in writing from the state of California, and has taught religious education for fifteen years at her church.  An animal lover and owner of a rescued dachshund, she tries to bring together all the varied experiences of her life to her stories for her readers and family. Anne Marie is married with two children and three grandchildren, all residing in Southern California.

I have an idea for a podcast where I interview people and ask them ten questions over ten minutes. I'd shape the questions based on each person’s background. I would call the podcast Ten in 10. I conducted my interview with Anne Marie as if we were sitting down to talk for Ten in 10 and what follows below are her responses.

 

Before getting to the “Ten in 10 questions” I am going to jump right in with some questions related to the work we have been doing in class and then follow that up with some general questions for the ten in 10. At the start of the semester we focused on Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Natalie Goldberg's Wild Minds. Both Lamott and Goldberg describe their "process" and how they approach writing. What does your process look like? When it comes to motivating yourself to write do you have a set routine that you follow? Do you block off times to write every day? How well do you take criticism? Do you belong to or participate in a writers circle?

As for my process, it starts with keeping in touch with the public especially the media to find something that the general public is interested in.  Or, I find something that I'm interested in.  Then I take that idea to my publisher with a story wound around it [just a few sentences or even just one called a logline] and see if she's interested, or if she thinks the READING public would be interested.  If so, then I start my research, block out a synopsis [which is needed to go to contract] and then started writing a larger outline on a whole book.  For example, I once read an article about a couple spending big bucks in court over a custody battle over a dog.  That idea became a book called FINDING FATHER about two single parents fighting over a dog lost by one three years ago.  The two become parents to the other's child and eventually fall in love with one another, and they both get the dog. It all started with that newspaper story.  The process is about the same for other books and I consider it very important to authors wanting to make a living writing.  If the READING public isn't interested, you don't sell.

 

As for motivating myself and blocking off hours, I never had a problem.  I loved my career [writing is that, not a job to me] and I always loved working.  I worked regularly when my kids were in school, sometimes on weekends if something particularly grabbed me, but usually Monday - Friday like a regular job.  Once you get in that habit it's easy, even if you sit in the chair staring at the computer.  The creative process hates boredom, and I can usually come up with something when "stuck."

As for criticism, that comes into play with your question about a writers' circle.  I belong to a writer's organization, in fact I used to belong to several, but my editor did not allow me to have others critique my writing.  She said she wanted "my voice" not "their voice" and she was the only person allowed to critique me. Her critiquing usually meant, "Change this," and I was expected to do it.  In all my books I only disagreed with her twice, and only once made my point.  That's their jobs and you have to allow the changes.  Did it hurt my feelings? Sure. She was brutal at times.  I shed a few tears.  Did I want a paycheck?  You bet, so I just sucked it up and made the changes.  Even J.K. Rowling had extensive editing.  Doesn't matter how good you are, an objective person can make you better.

 

Ten in 10:

 

What is your favorite childhood book?

My favorite childhood book was Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, mostly because she had so much freedom as a child and I didn't.  Two military parents...you get the idea.

What is the first book that made you cry?

Black Beauty was the first book that made me cry.  I love animals.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

I don't have a favorite underappreciated novel because I always appreciate the reading experience, and try not to shove my preferences down other people's throats.  Writers are always trying to get other writers to read this and that, and when writing words all day, the last thing I want at the end of the day is more words.  I read when I'm not writing, and vice versa.

 

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Publishing my first book made me aware that this was not just an art, but a business, and I had to adapt regarding time deadlines, contracts, editing prompts, financial advances, and making my family and friends understand that this was now my "regular job."  To their credit, my husband understood but other people did not.  If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what my "regular job" was I could retire.  The biggest misconception was that I was working for myself, and could "knock off" and "play" whenever I wanted.  I never did.  I was my own harshest boss, had a strict work ethic, and rarely played hooky.

 

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing both energized and exhausted, but that's normal, especially when writing full time days.  I once got a letter from a woman who had a breast exam for a lump when I touched upon that subject in a book.  She went to the doctor and it was cancer.  I might have saved her life.  I don't know, she never wrote back to me when I responded, but it makes one feel good to know that books touch people's lives.

 

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a

book?

Researching is touched upon earlier.  As for how long, I usually research a month before starting writing, then the process is ongoing while I work.  Everything has to be logged as the contracts state that errors on my part that can cause lawsuits are my responsibility, not the publisher.  I had 3 people challenge my research.  One lady I dealt with as she was wrong and the other was my editor twice, but I was right again here and had my references and private bibliography on the ready.  I did make one mistake with Boy Scout facts and heard from an irate reader but no one sued me.  You can't afford to make mistakes in this biz.  That one mistake in 20 books was still too many.  You have to be prepared to be challenged.

 

What does literary success look like to you?

Literary success is doing what I love while getting paid for it.  Simple as that.

 

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Most of my friends are authors, but as I said above, they aren't allowed to help me in any way with my writing. However, it's nice to be with others who understand the trials and tribs of being a writer, and who know the process.  Very few of us make it to where we can support ourselves with our earnings.

 

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

If I didn't write, I would like to edit film.  Mass communications was my major and I always wanted to be a screenwriter and be involved in the movies.  Life took a right turn there for me but I never lost my fascination with cinematography.

 

It was a pleasure working with Anne Marie on this paper. The biggest take away I had during this was when Anne Marie said “Doesn't matter how good you are, an objective person can make you better.” There is so much power and truth in this one simple sentence. The key however, is being open to change/criticism and allowing yourself to grow as a writer.