All for the love of interviewing. A inspiring chat with author Marilyn R. Wilson.
07/2015- Lily Steele (Creative Director of NW Artist Connection. www.nwac.co)
Lily: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Marilyn: I grew up in a strict religious family where I just didn't fit in. I graduated early from high school and left for University at the age of 17 where I focused on Psychology, my first love. It was while working on my Masters in Counselling and Drug Abuse that I realized the career I was heading for was far too negative, so I walked away. It would be over two decades before I found my way to writing - through a Craigslist ad. I absolutely love interviewing - that is my first passion - and to interview I had to produce articles. I have come to love writing, but my first passion is and always will be interviewing.Lily: What do you do when you are not writing?
Marilyn: Most people don't realize that everyone working in fashion, publishing, photography and other areas of the industry often get to work on creation about 10-15% of the time. The majority of your time is spent on the business end - promotion, marketing, sales, submissions, new customers, finances, social media, etc., take up the lion's share. For fun, I love connecting with friends over coffee or lunch, having people over or attending events together. We have dinner and a movie night every Sunday if possible. I also love reading, bike ride almost every day weather permitting (outside, wind in the face - a total stress reducer), I love to dance but get very little opportunity and adore learning. Teach me something new.Lily: Do you have a day job as well?
Marilyn: No, I am fortunate my husband has been able to cover our living expenses while I made the move into this career - tight budget but do-able. It's been almost 10 years now and paychecks are still few and far between. This industry, like many others, is adjusting changes brought by the internet and trying to figure out where the profit will now come from.Lily: When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
Marilyn: I love this story. My kids were my total focus (especially as they were all bullied), so I didn't work an outside job. I found many creative ways to keep myself challenged and bring in a bit of extra money, but family took most of my time. Then one day they didn't need me as much. I sat down and started perfusing jobs on Craigslist and noticed a NY magazine looking for submissions. Throwing caution to the wind, I sent in 3 story ideas and 2 were accepted. The first time I conducted an interview I had goosebumps throughout. I was hooked. Over 150 interviews later, and after folding the local magazine I co-owned with a local photographer, the idea for Life Outside the Box arose. It took me over a year to finish. The manuscript was finalized in October 2014. I ran a pre-launch party in January 2015 (5 days after a significant birthday) and it was available for sale publicly starting February 1, 2015.Lily: How did you choose the genre you write in?
Marilyn: It chose me. I have always been fascinated by how people live and their journeys. What a better outlet for this fascination than interviewing people about their lives? I had to turn that very biographical material into a proper magazine article, so much could not be included. The joy of offering a book of mini-biographies on these same people is I finally get to share the stories that affected me deeply and ended up changing how I approach life. Every interview brings me a new idea or way to look at things. I grow just a little bit more each time.Lily: Where do you get your ideas?
Marilyn: I really don't "get ideas." I hear about or meet someone whose story sounds intriguing and try to set up an interview. Simple as that. Sometimes I bump into them at events and start talking, sometimes I am asked by a publication to interview them, sometimes friends call and say they have someone in town I should meet and sometimes I hear about them through a media source. There really is no set pattern. These connections just happen. You only have to be ready to jump when you get a lead.Lily: Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Marilyn: All the time. I am a procrastinator by nature (even high school homework was done the night before in a panic) and often struggle with self-doubt. That's one of the reasons I didn't even consider self-publishing. I needed support. To get my book finished - 2 months late I think - someone at Influence Publishing finally started checking in with me every Sunday to see how I was doing. Just knowing I would hear from them helped keep me at the computer.Lily: Do you work with an outline, or just write?
Marilyn: If I was ever going to do fiction or a book with one theme from start to finish, I think an outline would be amazing. However, since I write biographies as short stories, I find I just start with my notes and tell the story chronologically to get a draft on paper. Then I go back and edit - move things around, change the opening, perhaps move things out of sequence if needed. What I personally feel is important is your opening to draw people in and how your wrap it up. How many times have you enjoyed a book or movie, only to feel the ending was a throw away. It just didn't have impact. If you can nail these two things, then how the words flow in the middle is easier to decide.Lily: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Marilyn: Not really. I read mostly for relaxation and entertainment. If I luck into a REALLY good book, I lose track of time and literally consume it. Those are the nights I sigh as I finish that last page and then realize it's I enjoy Science Fiction and Mystery probably the most, but read biographies, other fiction and occasionally non-fiction as well.Lily: Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Marilyn: It was such a hard process for me to finish the first draft. I'm a quick, down and dirty, get it done person by nature and that's not how book writing goes. Then once the manuscript is finished it just keeps coming back. There is editing, proofing, requests for changes from the distributor and more. You also organize a book launch which can be overwhelming. But one day that box of books arrives at your door. I remember it vividly as Life Outside the Box held 55,000 hard earned words and took 16 months of my life from idea to completion. I opened the box, took out a copy and thought - shouldn't it be much bigger. With all the effort it should have been a gigantic, one kilogram tome. Lastly - the book is for sale, the launch done, you think you've reached the finish line only to discover you just merged onto a new freeway - marketing. Despite it all, I am absolutely thrilled to have reached this milestone and had my book receive such great reviews.Lily: If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
Marilyn: Oh my yes. You can always always do anything better. The biggest for me is changes to how I approach and deal with the people covered in each chapter. I also think I will bring the publisher in later in the game. Deadlines can be tough when you're dealing with the number of people I am. A lot of things that affect timing is outside my control. So I want to be pretty far along before I commit to a finish date.Lily: How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
Marilyn: Marketing has been the biggest challenge to date. With over 8 million titles on Amazon.com, it takes a lot of time, energy, imagination and dollars. "Life Outside the Box" was hard to fit into the set categories, and that makes it hard to connect with an audience. I have found it listed under Self Help, Motivation, Inspiration, Business Success Stories, Business Culture, Business & Money, Personal Finance, Management & Leadership - sometimes I just have to scratch my head.
Lily: Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
Marilyn: No. This is the first book I have written and I am so happy it reached publication. There are so many more options now-a-days to help get your work out there.Lily: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
Marilyn: No favourites. Every story is there because I learned something amazing from my interview with each of them. I am really happy I chose to start each chapter with a personal quote as a teaser. The one I have used most in my life is William Orlowski's - "How do you define success? There is no secret, just do and be brave." Every time I hit a moment of fear I try and channel his words - just do and be brave. Simple.Lily: How did you come up with the title?
Marilyn: I am terrible at titles. I took a workshop with Influence Publishing Founder Julie Salisbury where we took our ideas and turned them into a solid plan - Title, subtitle, back blurbs, bio and what would go in each chapter. Everyone gave you input and helped polish what your work. I was stuck on the title and Julie threw out Life Outside the Box. It felt right immediately.Lily: What project are you working on now?
Marilyn: In addition to keeping my blog active with new posts, I am working on several magazine submission and have outlined three new books. Some interviews have already been scheduled. It's going to be a crazy year.Lily: Will you have a new book coming out soon?
Marilyn: As I am just starting on interviews for the next book, it won't be until early in the new year at the earliest. Ultimately, timing depends on how quickly I can get interviews, how much I'm willing to sit at the computer each day and how busy the production department is at Influence.Lily: Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
Marilyn: I want to do other books with the same format as "Life Outside the Box." If I can build a strong audience, I can offer more stories that feature everyday people. We are so celebrity obsessed and want to read about people we can look up. If I could build an audience that is ready to read about real people living real lives who are not in the public eye, that would be amazing. Three books are in the outline phase, so not ready to share full details yet. There are definitely not enough hours in the day.Lily: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
Marilyn: I have been fortunate to receive mostly positive reviews so far. Probably the three that struck me the most were from reviewers who didn't like reading non-fiction and biographies. They went on to say they enjoyed my book and recommended it. Wow! One negative comment was that they wished I had been able to channel the voices of those I wrote on better. Not sure quite how to do that, but thinking on the issue.Lily: What charities and organizations do you belong to currently?
Marilyn: I don't have time to actually belong to a charity, but do my best to support many through articles and participating in fundraisers. Because I know many people involved in various charities, I don't like to single one out. If it's a good cause and I can help, I step in.Lily: What are you most inspired by?
Marilyn: Hearing someone share their unique life, how they have walked it and the way they dealt with low moments. I get goosebumps every time, even after almost a decade of interviewing. I hope this never changes.Lily: If your personality was a car what would it be? Why?
Marilyn: Vintage Volkswagon Bug. My very first car ever was a VW bug - a 1950's something that didn't even have a radio. This car was simple, reliable, cheap to maintain and unpretentious and yet some of them have travelled all around the globe. Check out the documentary STORY OF VIN 903847. It's about a 1955 Beetle that circled the world 3 times.Lily: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Marilyn: If you want to be a writer, write - every day on any subject. It really doesn't matter what. I always hated blogs, but couldn't find a way to get myself writing except for articles that would be published. My friend, jewellery designer Pam Jackson, suggested I start a blog. When I rolled my eyes, she said the following, "It doesn't matter what you write or if other people read it. If having a blog gets you writing everyday it's a good thing." I followed her advice and opened a blog with no subject or theme. It should have failed according to all the criteria I read, but here I am years later receiving 7,000 to 12,000 hits a month. I love the opportunity it gives me to write on truly anything I want. I even wrote on throwing up once.Lily: Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Marilyn: What a privilege it is to finally find something I love to do. The fact that others appreciate reading these stories is an added bonus that makes my heart sing. I want to acknowledge I would not be where I am today without a community of support that continued to tell me I could do it even during moments of crippling self-doubt. Here's to each of you as I wouldn't be here without you. Today - take that box of dreams you've put aside off the shelf. Dust it off and take off the lid. Look inside - don't be afraid. Remember, it's never to late to pursue your dreams.
Marilyn R. Wilson, Freelance Writer, Editor, Author - Live Outside the Box: The Extraordinary Journeys of 10 Unique Individuals