…The heroine Laura Taninger stays true to her judgment and principles. She views journalism as a noble profession, which holds those in power accountable and pursues the truth. When she uncovers suspicious activity surrounding a new voting system, and when her high-level source within the government is murdered, she suspects a scheme that just might manipulate an upcoming presidential election. The mainstream media favorable to the president, who is seeking reelection, as well as her own family-business partners, who fear retaliation from a powerful administration, attack and pressure Laura to give up her investigation, but she doesn’t doubt herself and stays the course. That’s the real essence of her independence — and her courage. I hope readers will be inspired by Laura. I also hope the story will get people to discuss what’s happening to truth in journalism. Are we in danger of losing it?
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Genevieve (Gen) LaGreca. She writes novels with innovative plots, strong romance, and themes that glorify individual freedom and independence. She has written novels of different genres including historical, mystery, and romance fiction as well as short stories. She is one of the successful new indie authors whose novels have topped the charts in the popular ebook format. Her latest book is called, Just the Truth.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
My career path has been pretty circuitous. I went from being a pharmaceutical chemist to a philosophy major in graduate school to a management and human resources consultant to a novelist. When I was a director of training and later a consultant in the hospitality industry, I wrote and produced video scripts for staff training programs. These scripts were getting more and more plot-oriented and story-like. A client finally said to me, “Gen, I can’t have romance in a training program about restaurant sanitation.” When I related that incident to a friend, she suggested I write fiction. That was a turning point in my life! Since then, I’ve written four novels and never looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
When I left graduate school with a degree in philosophy and there were no jobs in my field, I waited on tables at a local restaurant. The manager ran a sales contest with an award for the server who could sell the most of a specialty cocktail. I sold more than the rest of the wait staff combined! I put together a training program on my techniques for increasing sales, and it ended up being shown to the president of the company. He was impressed and hired me as the director of training for the whole chain of 100 restaurants. I never viewed myself as a salesperson, but the experience taught me that if I put my mind to something, I can accomplish it. It was exciting to have that job promotion!
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
When I started in the early 2000s, if you wanted to be a serious and successful novelist, you had to get an agent and sell your book to a major publishing house. I tried for a few years — going to writers’ conferences, pitching to the agents in person, jumping through all the hoops — but I received nothing but rejections. Those were very discouraging times. Then I found what later became the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), a group of several thousand feisty indie publishers and authors who had found a way to break through without the big publishing houses. I attended their publishing university, learned how to become a book publisher, and started my own company. Then Amazon Kindle — ebooks! — came along. Indie authors and publishers now had a way to sell directly to customers. I sold thousands of ebooks of my novels and two of them became Amazon Best Sellers. Now, a large number of authors can realize the American Dream and not just the one percent that get through the old gatekeeper model. Aspiring writers might want to explore indie publishing — no one can stop you, and you have great freedom to write your book your way.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In 2005, when I published my first novel, Noble Vision, I was overly ambitious about the prospects for the hardcover edition. I printed 3,000 hardcover copies in the days just before print-on-demand became as inexpensive as offset printing. Now with print-on-demand technology, you can print one or a small number of copies at a time, so you don’t have to have a big offset print run with thousands of books sitting in your garage. While I’ve sold thousands of ebooks and a fair number of paperbacks for that novel, most of those hardcovers are still sitting in my garage!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m doing stage play adaptations of my novels. It’s the dream of my life to see my stories dramatized. I wrote the screenplay for one of my books. However, movies are prohibitively expensive, and it’s very difficult to land a film deal. So now I think the pathway through stage plays is a lot more promising. The world of community theater is so exciting, with great, talented people in it, and the production costs for a project are just a small fraction of what a feature film would cost. I’m hoping to arrange for some local theater performances of my plays next year. That will be a milestone for me!
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
The main character in my new novel, Just the Truth, is Laura Taninger, who runs Taninger News, a major, national media organization that’s part of her family’s businesses. Of all the men in the world, who would Laura fall in love with? Why, her fiercest rival, the man who runs the largest competing media organization to Taninger News. Then when he incurs the wrath of the political leaders, and they invoke regulations that would destroy his business, it’s the perfect opportunity for Taninger News to absorb his audience and become the uncontested leader in the news in the country. But to the scorn of her family, Laura defends their competitor and tries desperately to save his company. Will she be kicked out of the family business? There’s more to the story, but you’ll have to read the book to find out.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
The heroine Laura Taninger stays true to her judgment and principles. She views journalism as a noble profession, which holds those in power accountable and pursues the truth. When she uncovers suspicious activity surrounding a new voting system, and when her high-level source within the government is murdered, she suspects a scheme that just might manipulate an upcoming presidential election. The mainstream media favorable to the president, who is seeking reelection, as well as her own family-business partners, who fear retaliation from a powerful administration, attack and pressure Laura to give up her investigation, but she doesn’t doubt herself and stays the course. That’s the real essence of her independence — and her courage.
I hope readers will be inspired by Laura. I also hope the story will get people to discuss what’s happening to truth in journalism. Are we in danger of losing it?
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
Most of these tips apply to fiction. I may be a rebel as I sway from conventional wisdom, but this advice is what enabled me to develop my voice and to write four novels. My new one is just out, while my three previously published books have won 12 literary awards. So the advice worked well for me.
1. Write what excites you. A writer I met at a writer’s conference came into a meeting that an agent was holding. The writer said to the agent, excitedly, “I did it! Last year you told me that you needed novels with a woman sleuth, so that’s what I wrote.” The agent then said, “Well, that was last year. I don’t need that kind of novel this year.” I learned from the crestfallen face of the writer, that you can’t write a novel to please someone else or to be trendy. It has to be a story that absolutely excites you. It’s the only thing that makes the torture (okay, the “sweet torture”) of writing it worth the time and effort. Look at Jean Auel, who wrote The Clan of the Cave Bear. No one was looking for a novel about a cave woman, yet she had no problem getting a top agent, selling the book for six figures, and getting a contract to write five more novels. (For nonfiction books, the timeliness of issues and trends, of course, play in. But for fiction, you get to decide the subject.)
2. Don’t take too many writing courses. There are a lot of artificial rules that can stifle your writing. For example, I had an agent once tell me that you have to begin the book with a lot of dialogs, rather than narrative passages. But that can’t be a general rule. One of my novels logically begins with a man alone in a prison cell beginning his escape. So there can’t be a dialog in the opening pages if that’s the opening scene. Regarding screenwriting, I’ve also heard voiceover narration is a no-no. Well, that depends, too. Take the film adaptation of A Christmas Story, one of the funniest and most beloved holiday tales. The whole thing is voiceover narrated. It’s a childhood recollection, and the narrator is the leading character, a young boy when he grows up. You’d lose all the jokes if you didn’t have the voiceover in that film. That’s what I mean. You can find exceptions to much of the advice you’re given, and conventional wisdom might not work for your story. I say, stick to the basics: plot, character, theme, and style. Then create the world of your book. Learn from the masters, instead of the teachers. For the novels you love, outline and study the writing techniques used. I learned a lot about writing that way.
3. Don’t offer your unfinished material to group review. Ten people will say ten different things about what they like, dislike, and think you should change. I think you have to keep the essence and continuity of the story as your only focus until you finish. Then, you can get advice from your editor and selected beta readers. I don’t ask for advice from everyone, just a few close friends whose opinions I trust. After your manuscript is completed, your readers will be commenting on your story, not creating their own.
4. Find a good editor. Get one who will make your voice shine. The two editors I’ve used did a remarkable job of respecting and maintaining my voice, while polishing the prose and improving the writing. I knew I’d like one of the editors I had, who told me that when she goes to a restaurant for dinner, she starts copyediting the menu.
5. Try not to reread too many times while you’re writing. If you memorize your passages, you’ll lose objectivity. Save the rereads, as much as possible, for the editing process. Get the first draft out, then let it sit for two weeks to recapture your objectivity, then edit it yourself. Now you’re ready to give it to a few beta readers. When you’ve edited again to incorporate what you can use from their comments, you’re ready for a professional editor. That’s the process that’s worked very well for me.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
I’m a hard worker. I outline the book extensively so that I can write tight plots. Like the old adage about the theater: If there’s a gun on the fireplace mantel in Act 1, you can be sure that gun will go off in Act 3. Nothing is superfluous or accidental in the story. That’s how I like to write.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
In my recent novel about journalism, Just the Truth, I was inspired by a few intrepid contemporary journalists, such as Sharyl Attkisson, whose motto is: Untouchable subjects. Fearless, nonpartisan reporting. She wrote two books exposing corruption in politics and the media, which I studied in the research for my novel.
Speaking more broadly, I was inspired by Ayn Rand’s great novels. Her themes about individualism and freedom got me thinking about the ideas that move the world, which she portrays through riveting plots and compelling characters. From her writing, I saw great examples of how to integrate important themes through the plots and characters of my stories.
“Foyle’s War,” written by Anthony Horowitz, is my favorite television series. I like British mystery series, in general. The writer skillfully blends murder mysteries with important themes about the Nazi attacks and the various ways in which they affected British life in World War II.
I learned suspense writing from various novelists who are great at that, like Ira Levin. His first novel, A Kiss Before Dying, is one of the most suspenseful novels I’ve ever read. Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs is another nail biter. Those were some of my teachers. I would not write the stories that they did, and I have no interest at all in horror, but I learned writing techniques from them. For example, how to end a chapter with some revelation that makes the reader want to read on. Or how to have two parallel stories going on — what the bad guys are plotting and what the good guys are doing to catch them — a technique which I use in my latest novel, Just the Truth.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am interested in starting a Theater of Ideas. I want to see good dramas produced, with high artistic merit, that have important themes to provoke lively conversations about issues we should be discussing. The theater is the perfect medium for ideas and dialog. Of course, the plays also need to have riveting suspense!
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Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!