I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Valerie Biel to Layered Pages to talk about-further in-depth-her life as a writer.
Valerie, what are your goals as a writer?
Initially, I had no goals. I had a far-off idea that someday I would write all the stories building up in my mind, but I put it off. I was busy. I had a job. I had kids, a husband, a house, laundry . . . I meant to write but I let all these things override that desire, along with the self-defeating voice in my head that told me my writing was unimportant in the vast sea of amazing writers in the world.
Then in 2003, my oldest sister died after a one-year battle with terminal cancer. At the time, of course, we were just devastated, but never thought that this very rare cancer would recur in our family. Fast forward to 2008 and a second sister is diagnosed with the same terminal cancer. My siblings and I quickly realized that this cancer had a genetic component, making us all potentially susceptible. Even without the possibility that this cancer could strike at any time, the loss of two siblings caused me to reflect on my priorities.
I made a life-affirming decision to embrace my writing, and all the opportunities in front of me. I decided that my dreams couldn’t wait any longer. I decided that it didn’t matter if I ever made the New York Times’ Bestseller list. I would write for me—just for the satisfaction of sharing my thoughts, my ideas, and my stories.
In 2009, I made this vow and began that elusive novel. I didn’t tell anyone other my closest family members I was writing it. Internally, I had a five-year plan to publication, but I didn’t voice this either. I completed the novel in 2010. I was encouraged by early critiques and contest accolades and kept going. For the next three and a half years, the manuscript was alternately being edited and marinating while I wrote two middle-grade novels. Finally, in 2014 I achieved my goal of publishing my debut novel Circle of Nine – Beltany.
Now, my goal is to write as much as possible every day. I have story ideas stacked up and waiting for my attention.
What are the boundaries you push as a writer?
I wouldn’t have said that I was pushing any boundaries (other than the amount of sleep I need each night) until I received a few mixed reactions from particularly religious friends. My Circle of Nine series highlights a Celtic pagan culture akin to modern-day Wicca. Some of my plot-lines also address the conflict between the early Christian church and pagan customs and the subjugation of women by a patriarchal society. Oh yes, and there’s magic! Lots and lots of magic. What’s funny is that I never set out to push boundaries. I set out to tell a certain story the best way that I could.
What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?
Ha – this is funny. I once saw a cartoon that highlighted the emotion of an author throughout the day and it went something like this.
I really suck.
Hey, this isn’t so bad!
This is brilliant. I rock!
Nope. My writing sucks.
That about sums it up. In seriousness though, we all go through bouts of self-doubt no matter what occupation we’re in, but I think it is harder in the arts when you are creating something that is so personal to you. I am much more confident at promoting myself and my writing now than I was when I first started. And I have a much thicker skin when it comes to criticism. You will never please everyone! When I get down about things, I can look to my successes and feel quite good about what I’ve accomplished. I know writers always say they write because they have to write. A better way for me to put this is that I am my whole person when I write. Allowing myself to embrace my need to be creative, brings a lightness to my world and a feeling of self-worth that is different from the other areas of accomplishment in my life.
What are your personal motivations in story-telling?
My main motivation is to write the very best story I can, which means that I work hard to create something that is both entertaining and intriguing and possibly makes the reader see the world just a little bit differently.
Define your writing style.
That one is hard for me. Hmmmm – define my writing style.
When writing fiction, I try to keep my modern-story style very true to the rhythm of current conversation patterns – particularly teen dialog when writing YA. The historical portions of my stories require more thought. The formality with which I construct the sentences becomes much more deliberate to convey the correct sense of time and place. I am very particular about word choice in my historical stories and double check that certain phrases would indeed have been used in that era.
I have this “thing” about including educational-type details in my stories . . . mostly this is a matter of good research and (I feel) gives my stories an authenticity about the era.
I use the word just too much and usually take out half (or more) of the “justs” when editing.
I don’t use commas enough. Thank goodness for my critique partners who are excellent grammarians.
I like writing in first person and third person equally well, but I always write in past tense. I’ve written one piece of flash fiction just recently in present tense and it won an award, so maybe I should try that more.
I wish I lived in England so I could spell favourite and colour this way because it looks so much cooler. And, because I want to call my cell phone my mobile.
Five sentences that describe your craft.
I have a vivid recollection of what it felt like to be different ages, which is why I like writing for teens and tweens so much.
Writing allows me the freedom to indulge my love of history through the research needed for my stories set in different eras.
Asking the question “why?” is as important as asking the question “why not?” whether in life or in story construction.
I attempt to create accessible stories that transport the reader to another world or place or time, entertaining and possibly enlightening them along the way.
I write the stories that I want to read.
Valerie Biel’s love for travel inspires her novels for teens and adults. When she’s not writing or traveling, she’s wrangling her overgrown garden, doing publicity work for the local community theatre, and reading everything she can get her hands on. She lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and three children and dreams regularly of a beautiful cottage on the Irish coast where she can write and write and write.
Her debut novel Circle of Nine – Beltany has been honored as a 2015 Kindle Book Award Finalist, a finalist in the Gotham Writers’ YA Novel Discovery Contest and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Contest as well as being a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree.