Back in November 2011, I interviewed author Feather Schwarz Foster for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the one hundred and ninety-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction historical author and songwriter Feather Schwarz Foster. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Feather. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Feather: I have always been a writer, but not of books. I am a song writer, an advertising and PR maven and at last, a “bookie.” I think I was born with the writing gene.
Morgen: I’ve had a few authors say that… well, not quite as eloquently, but they knew what they wanted to be at an early age (unlike me). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Feather: I am basically non-fiction & history. I have tried historical fiction, and even wrote a children’s book, but I would rather go straight history. I find that writing about the OLD First Ladies (US History) is where I am happiest.
Morgen: History is incredibly popular. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Feather: I have four books out: LADIES: A Conjecture of Personalities – an historical fiction about the OLD First Ladies (Martha Washington thru Mamie Eisenhower); Garfield’s Train – another historical fiction about the death of President James Garfield in Long Branch, NJ in 1881; “T: An Auto-Biography – a children’s book about a Model-T Ford; and most recently “The First Ladies” – non-fiction – but a light and lively read.
Morgen: They all sound great (my historical knowledge is very poor, especially of the US) but I especially like the sound of the Ford’s autobiography – I love inanimate objects having life. :) How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Feather: I spent a lot of years in Advertising and PR and I was considered pretty good at it – except for (alas) myself. I get an attack of shy when I toot my own horn. Of course I send out updates etc. to my mailing list, and do signings – and a LOT of lecturing. But I am not like Madonna.
Morgen: “attack of shy” I love that. I like Madonna but I’m not sure I’d want to be like her. There is having a presence and being extrovert although we do have someone even ‘louder’ here in the UK (no prizes for guessing). Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Feather: I have not. Maybe others have other experiences. I don’t think my genre lends itself in that department, unless you are talking Pulitzer. I am not there, either.
Morgen: Yet. :) I’m sure there are more prizes for fiction. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Feather: My name is Feather Schwartz Foster. Do you think I need another name??
Morgen: Not with a wonderful name like yours, absolutely not. :) Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Feather: I do not have an agent. If I were younger and able to make a lot of money, I would definitely want one. I am tired of the business end of things.
Morgen: I’m sure you’re not the only one, at any age. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Feather: Yes. And no. The First Ladies is available, and I expect anything else that I write will be available as e-books. No. I do not read them. I want a book-in-hand.
Morgen: Most people still do. I still do… while I still have piles of them around the house anyway. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Feather: “Ladies: A Conjecture….” was first. It was a POD house, however, so it was not much of a thrill. I believe that just about anybody can get published today, so it is meaningless in the thrill department.
Morgen: But there’s quality and quantity, and it must still be great to have a book-in-hand, especially with your name on it. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Feather: Yes I have had rejections – but I have been fortunate with them. They are never rejected for my writing (lack thereof). Most of it is rejected by the fact that people don’t read / like history, coupled by the fact that I am NOT a professor, and am not writing textbooks. And I am also not Doris Goodwin, etc. I try not to take things personally. They are never personal.
Morgen: That’s the best way to think of it… it’s happened, get on with it. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Feather: Many things. I have a to-date unpublished book that I wrote some time ago, and think it might be time to take another look, fix-up etc., and try again. I might actually find a different publisher who would be interested. I am also working on another history, tentatively titled “The Civil War Divas” – about Mary Lincoln, Julia Grant and Varina Davis – coming along, coming along. And I have been writing a series of articles for an online site called suite101. That is a lot of fun! I don’t make any money, but it is fun. And perhaps down the road I might do an e-book on my little essays.
Morgen: I’ve been to suite101 a few times (but not clicked on any of the advertising links so I may have been one of those people who’ve not earned you any money, sorry about that :)). And yes, that’s the great thing about eBooks is that you can do with them as you wish (as long as it’s quality of course). Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Feather: I am not good in the discipline department.
Morgen: Me neither. NaNoWriMo is the best I get and I’m currently 21 days behind… oops. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Feather: There definitely IS writers’ block. It manifests in different ways. With me, it comes out as bad and stilted writing. I always know when it is lurking. I usually put it down for a while and work on another project. This is what I like about the suite101 articles. They are short (500-1000 words) and snappy.
Morgen: I keep meaning to investigate doing that. In the New Year for sure (when I’ll have more time). A question some authors dread but I think will be easier for you, where do you get your inspiration from?
Feather: I write history. There are LOTS of dead people who like to inhabit my body.
Morgen: :) Writing non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Feather: I love writing about American history – mostly the First Couples. I have a very large private library (1500 or more books). The possibilities are endless. I do not have to come up with a plot, and I choose NOT to dive into a lot of generally insignificant research. I would rather tell their stories, and hopefully make people enjoy the subject.
Morgen: I’m sure they do. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Feather: I am not a kid. I have a life. I have joined a couple of writing groups, and I teach adult ed programs via The College of William and Mary and Christopher Newport University. Love it!!!
Morgen: That’s lovely to hear. :) Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Feather: Yes and yes. My writing is usually pretty well formed by the time I pick up the pen. (Ah, yes, a pen!) I edit on the computer most of the time, reprint (ah, yes, actual paper), and then re-edit several times.
Morgen: I’m a paper editor too (most of the time). It uses a different part of the brain apparently and besides, I like wielding a red pen. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Feather: I am always interested in feedback, but I am very careful to weight its importance. It is never personal with me.
Morgen: What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Feather: I am not a good sleeper. I work out a lot of stuff lying awake at night. Before sitting down to write, I have a pretty good idea of where I am going.
Morgen: You’ve sort of answered this already but just in case… do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Feather: Paper paper paper! Yellow pads and pens. Different color pens, so I can keep track of my edits. I can write a quickie essay on the computer – or answer your blog questions on the computer, but for serious stuff – PAPER!!!
Morgen: Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Feather: No music. I don’t mind white noise, however.
Morgen: White noise… interesting phrase… that would make a good article topic… perhaps. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Feather: I’ve done both first and third. Second????
Morgen: Ah yes, probably not so relevant with non-fiction although http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-person_narrative mentions self-help. I love second person but few people do… it can get very dark (which is why I like it). Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Feather: If needed to explain further.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Feather: I doubt there has ever been an author who would not answer in the affirmative.
Morgen: I have to say that I can’t remember any I’ve interviewed saying “no”… or I think there might have been one. Mmm… What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Feather: Self promotion. I hate it. The favourite, is the complete opposite. When somebody ELSE says something nice about my work – totally unsolicited.
Morgen: That is great, isn’t it. I’ve had that for one of my eBooks (they’ve only been out a couple of weeks) and it’s thrilling (to use one of my words from earlier). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Feather: Learn to write well. A lot of writers don’t. Have something to say. A lot of writers don’t.
Morgen: :) What do you like to read?
Feather: I am very picky. I imagine that when I stop my actual writing “career” I will read more ecumenically. I usually read non-fiction – mostly presidential or related.
Morgen: Which is how you to know what to write about. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Feather: I am a theatre person. (Non-performing). I am / have been a songwriter and have done a lot of shows. Now, where I live there is a theatre club with some decent talent (albeit older folks) talent. I’ve been doing some directing. It’s fun.
Morgen: Sounds like it. :) Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Feather: I’ve been writing for a web-magazine called www.suite101.com. I really like it a lot.
Morgen: It is great. In which country are you based?
Morgen: Most of my interviewees are, I presume because it’s a bigger country but I do wonder if there’s more to that. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Feather: I have signed up for a few networking sites. I do not believe I am using them to their best advantage. I don’t like to spend a lot of time chit-chatting. I know other people who swear by them!
Morgen: I sort of do and I enjoy them but they do eat too much time and I’m not great at switching off (literally!). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Feather: My own website would be a start. www.featherfoster.com or you could google me.
Morgen: I did; over 2 million results (805,000 with my name). :) What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Feather: I think the population of writers will be glutted by a lot of people who do not write well, like to rant, and have nothing to say. Alas, alack.
Morgen: It is although I still maintain that reviews will make or break. Thank you Feather. :)
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know. :)
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.