Monday, September 10, 2012

Liese Sherwood-Fabre: Keep Writing, Learning, Revising and Rewriting

I recently attended a workshop on the short story market given by Liese Sherwood-Fabre and I asked her for  an  interview for our blog.   Liese grew up in Dallas, Texas and knew she was destined to write when she got an A+ in the second grade for her story about Dick, Jane, and Sally’s ruined picnic. After obtaining her PhD from Indiana University, she joined the federal government and had the opportunity to work and live internationally for more than fifteen years—in Africa, Latin America, and Russia. Returning to the states, she seriously pursued her writing career and has published several pieces. Her debut novel Saving Hope, a thriller set in Russia, is now available from Musa Publishing. Corazones, collection of literary short stories, is also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
If you find this interview of value, kindly leave Liese a comment at the end of the post.-—Riby Johnson

Liese Sherwood- Fabre on her journey…

What is this journey like for you?

My actual excursion into fiction writing began about twenty years ago, although its roots are much deeper. I dabbled in creative writing throughout high school and undergraduate school, entering some contests and garnering a few honorable mentions.
I never considered writing as anything but a hobby until I subscribed to Isaac Asimov’s science fiction magazine while living in Mexico. Like most beginning writers, I thought, “I can do that,” and labored for several weeks to produce a 20-page short story quickly rejected by the magazine. I learned two things from that experience: it was possible for me to complete a work, and I needed to learn more about how to write if I were to ever be published (not so easy when living abroad and before the Internet came into its current form).

Shortly after the rejection letter came, my husband was transferred to Moscow, Russia, and I took a contractor’s job with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Once the dust settled in our new location and the children were in school, I decided to continue developing my skills—this time on a novel. Like many, I’d often said to myself, “I should write a book about this,” and turned to my own experience in a bicultural marriage for the basic story. Just as before, I learned a lot while writing it and the subsequent rejections.

What happened that made you transition from Short Story Writing to Novels? How has writing short stories helped you in novel writing?
I’ve basically written both short stories and novels almost from the beginning. That I had more early success in short story writing was more a product of the creative writing program at North Lake College. After returning to the states, I decided to look into some formal training and found these courses at a local college. They alternate short story and novel writing, and the first one I took was for short story writing. One of the stories I wrote for that class won second place at the Southwest Writers contest and was published in Lynx Eye.

What galvanizes you to keep writing?
Like most writers, I basically have to write. My head is full of stories and characters that only I can give life to.

On her book and characters…

Could you share a bit about your book and characters?

My debut novel, Saving Hope, takes place in post-Soviet Russia. In one of Siberia's formerly closed cities, Alexandra Pavlova, an unemployed microbiologist, struggles to save her daughter’s life. When she turns to Vladimir, her oldest friend, for help, she's drawn into Russia’s underworld. His business dealings with the Iranians come to the attention of Sergei Borisov, an FSB (formerly the KGB) agent. Alexandra finds herself joining forces with Sergei to stop the export of a deadly virus in a race to save both her daughter and the world.
I have also recently published a collection of award-winning short stories, Corazones. These literary stories explore the impact of love. “A Stranger in the Village,” nominated for the 2007 Pushcart Prize, describes how the arrival of a young woman into a Mexican mountain village changed sixteen-year-old Hector forever. “Sacrifice” offers an Aztec tale of political intrigue and love. Doña Rosa, a market-place curandera, assists the lovelorn through the heartache of love and infidelity.

What inspired you to write suspense?  
Like a lot of young girls, I grew up reading Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon mysteries. In March 1998 while working in Russia, I came across an article by Richard Preston in the March 9, 1998 New Yorker article “Annals of Warfare: The Bioweaponeers.” He described the plight of Russian scientists following the fall of the Soviet Union and the Iranians’ efforts to recruit them for their own laboratories and weapons programs. What, I wondered, would push a scientist to agree to develop biological agents for a foreign, radical government? I gave my main character no job, a sick child, and friends with underworld connections—and Saving Hope was born.

If you had to choose, which scene from Saving Hope is your favorite?
Oh dear, that’s hard. I would have to say the climax. I really can’t describe it without giving it away, but I found it very easy to see in my head. That made it easy to write.

Which character was the most difficult to develop?
Probably the daughter. In one critique I received, they noted that the daughter doesn’t do much, and Alexandra has little interaction with her. I had to go back and beef up that portion because, after all, she’s Alexandra’s main motivation.

On her writing process… 
You have lived in many foreign countries, how has this helped or hindered you in planning your books?
Well, I don’t have to do as much research about the areas *smile*. Basically, just understanding the culture and setting helps me provide some depth and insight into how people interact and react in that setting.

You recently got a blurb from NYT best-selling writer, Steve Berry, who said: “An alpha female heroine and a tantalizing premise that toys with the most basic of emotions—a parent’s drive to save their child. Nothing frilly or fancy, just good old-fashioned, gimmick-free storytelling. And what could be better than that.” 
 How do you give your characters the depth and detail necessary for readers to want to cheer them? What challenge or struggle do you face when you try to build emotional bonds between the characters?
I owe a great deal of gratitude to Sol Stein and his book Stein on Writing. Stein describes how one writer created an emotional connection between her main character and readers through her opening scene. In it, the character observes her nightly ritual of patting her sleeping son’s head before leaving to work as a police decoy. Throughout the rest of the book, Stein points out, readers remember this woman as a loving mother with a small child waiting for her at home, and any danger she faces is heightened because of this emotional attachment. Whenever I begin a new story, I seek to form a bond between the reader and the main character by putting the protagonist into a relate-able situation—such as a parent fighting for her child’s life or being at the receiving end of other students’ teasing. Such a bond ensures readers will continue to read and root for her throughout the rest of the book. In the end, it is this bond that creates the emotional satisfaction readers seek from any book.

On her personal life as an author…

What do you find most rewarding about your writing career?
Writing. While publishing is a writer’s goal because it validates the work’s worth, the sheer act of putting together and finishing the story is what keeps me doing it.

Most disappointing?
Getting that recognition. I wrote Saving Hope more than ten years ago. It took that long (along with several re-writes along the way) for someone to say, “This book is worthy of publication.” All the same, the final product is much better than it was ten years ago, and I’m a better writer for it.

If you could give writers one small piece of advice, what would it be?
Perseverance is key. Keep writing. Keep learning, Keep revising and rewriting.

What is something that you often see beginning writers doing wrong?
Not starting in the right place with strong action and providing too much backstory. I think we’ve been influenced by movies where there may be a scene at the beginning with a long, sweeping camera shot that many writers imitate in print. *snore* Pull the reader in with something happening and let readers gain insights into the setting, etc. from the dialogue and action taking place.

What’s next for you?
I’ve been working on a holiday story and also another thriller (this time set in Mexico). Check my Website ( for updates on both of those!


 Where can we buy your books and find you on the web?
Saving Hope is available through Musa Publishing
Barnes and Noble
And wherever ebooks are sold.
Corazones is available through
Barnes and Noble

Liese’s question for the readers…
We talked a lot about emotional connections, what book or author do you feel speaks to you? Any thoughts about why or how this occurs?


Thorne Anderson said...

I have read your book. Boy you don't waste a word. Good example to all writers on writing tight and a good novel to read.

Ruby Johnson said...

Thank you so much for visiting our blog and baring your soul to us. You gave good advice to all writers trying to make it in a difficult field.

Liese said...

Oh, wow, Thorne and Ruby!

Thanks so much for the commments!

I appreciate them and you!


J. A. Bennett said...

Great advice Liese! Thank you for sharing your personal journey as a writer as well ... for those of us just starting out its really encouraging to know that other writers experience the same feelings and struggles.


Liese is a fabulous writer! The instant I read Saving Hope, I knew it would be a great book. We've been through a lot together and we will have even more. oxoxox

Bethany said...

Liese, thank you for your insight into the writing process and it's challenges. You hung in there and that is the big take away for me. Regarding your question of what book or author speaks to me: I am an avid reader, reading about four books a month. The books that stick with me are those that have sympathetic characters who have triumphed over adversary. The two books that stand out for me are Katherine Dunham's autobiography, "A Touch of Innocence" and Maud Montgomery's, "Anne of Green Gables". Dunham, an American dancer and choreographer, lived to be 96 years old and became world renown for creating a movement in African dance. Her autobiography chronicles her struggle to get an education out of poverty and become the person she dreamed about. "Anne of Green Gables" should be required reading for any would-be novelist who needs to learn how to make a character sympathetic. Montgomery makes us care about Anne from the first page and we are hooked and rooting for her throughout the book. Thanks again for sharing your life with us.

Ladson said...

I think Harper Lee made the characters in To Kill A Mockingbird just come alive for me. The main character was a child but it was suitable for adults and truly I was able to connect with the characters despite my age.

Liese said...

The creation of good characters, I think, is one of the hallmarks of novels that stand the test of time. To Kill a Mockingbird and Anne of Green Gables are two great examples of this.

Thanks for sharing these!

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