Protect your brain from the energy-sucking vortex of social media and stay away from doom scrolling the news so you can create your story and characters.
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 Wendy Voorsanger.
Wendy Voorsanger started her career in the Silicon Valley, writing about technology trends and innovations for newspapers, magazines, and Fortune 100 companies. With an intense interest in the historical women of California, Wendy is also the author of the novel Prospects of a Woman — a fresh, authentic retelling of the West that shatters the stereotypes of the typical hard-boiled novel of the West. A gripping and illuminating window into life in the Old West, Prospects of a Woman is the story of one woman’s passionate quest to carve out a place for herself in the liberal and bewildering society that emerged during the California gold rush frenzy.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Writing is the only job I enjoy that allowed me to make a living.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
My fancy New York agent fired me three years ago when I refused to change the ending to Prospects of a Woman. At the time, I was devastated and thought my novel would never find readers. Now I’m hearing from readers and reviewers that the ending is deeply satisfying, which makes me feel somewhat vindicated that I wouldn’t budge on my artistic principles.
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?
Transitioning from writing about technology to writing historical fiction was a huge challenge. In order to learn how to become a good storyteller, I went back to school to get my MFA. I spent two years discovering how to create compelling characters, urgent tension, an authentic plot, and a narrative arc that grabs readers. Only after years of failed drafts did I find my storytelling bone.
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?
Many ridiculous mistakes riddled my first drafts. Dead end plotlines. Flat characters. Over-wrought language. In one early draft, I wrote about the texture of pie for one whole page! Fortunately, my early readers and mentors were brutal with me, and I listened.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Prospects of a Woman published October 20th, and I’m currently consumed with promotion. In between interviews and readings and social media, I’m researching women in the artist salons of San Francisco at the turn of the century. I’m finding a super fascinating set of real women to draw upon for my next novel.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
Many of the characters in Prospects of a Woman are loosely based on real California women throughout history. One woman stands out in particular — Nancy Gootch. She was brought to California as a slave. When her owner was run off (California came into the union as a free state) she stayed down on the American River baking and cooking for gold miners. She made enough money to buy the freedom of her son and daughter in-law in Missouri, and eventually became one of the largest landowners on the American River in the late 19th century.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
In reading Prospects of a Woman, I hope readers gain deep understanding that women have always been strong and resilient throughout history, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
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.
- Protect your brain from the energy-sucking vortex of social media and stay away from doom scrolling the news so you can create your story and characters
- Find mentors who are brutal in their criticism of your writing
- Listen to those you trust and keep an open mind to what’s not working
- Be honest with yourself about what you’re not willing to compromise
- Only choose the life of a novelist if there is nothing else you are good at, because most authors can’t make a decent living
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?
When I sit down to write, I never think I’m a great writer. I see the all my flaws and mistakes on the page, and work tirelessly to improve. When I’m editing, I always consider my audience and ask myself: Is my story worthy of their time?
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I’m a huge fan Wallace Stegner’s novels depicting the West. My master’s thesis focused on Cormac McCarthy’s idiosyncratic language. I admire Willa Cather’s novels; her subversion of type and clever dialog is masterful. I’m drawn to multi-layered novels that make me think. The Son by Philipp Meyer. Euphoria by Lily King. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. In the Fall by Jeffery Lent.
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. 🙂
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!