Siri Mitchell is the author of four novels including the critically acclaimed Chateau of Echoes and Kissing Adrien. A military spouse and mother, Siri is a writer with international sensibilities. She’s spent a third of her life living in such varied places as Tokyo and Paris. She is fluent in French and currently mastering the skill of sushi making. Siri writes books for her friends about people they might know or people they might like to be. And she writes books for herself—the kind of books she’d be willing to spend all weekend reading or stay up late finishing. She has a special interest in addressing tough topics and cultural faith issues and loves the synergy that develops at the place where doubt begins to ask questions of faith.
What made you want to become a writer?
I just always thought that writing a book was something I should do, something I had to try. It felt like a responsibility. A burden.
Was the journey difficult? Any help? Any obstacles?
The journey was long! It took ten years from the time I first started writing until I sold my first book. I wrote four books in that time span and received 153 rejections from publishers and agents. The fifth book I wrote was the first one to be published. Book four was bought next and then book two. Throughout that ten year period, I tried my hardest to stop writing, but new ideas and new characters would present themselves and I had no choice but to start writing again. My husband was my greatest encouragement. He would listen to me while I ranted, hug me when I cried, and pretend to believe me when I told him I was giving it all up.
Any lessons learned on your writer’s journey? Be persistent. Don’t take rejection personally. Find readers who will tell you the hard truths about your writing. My first readers are always people I trust to tell me where my stories aren’t working.
Where does that inner drive to write come from?
A desire to create, the challenge of making the story I read on the printed page match the story I can see in my head. My goal is to make each book better than the last and I always try something new, stretch a little further, in each story I write.
How do you keep readers turning pages?
One of the fiction’s golden rules is ‘Never take readers where they want to go.’ When I write my books, I get to the happy ending eventually, but I take the reader on a bumpy journey first. The promise of gratification is what keeps the pages turning, in my opinion.
How often will you revise and re-write your work?
I write a first draft in about four months. If I can, I’ll put it aside for a month and ask several other people to read it for me. At the end of that month, I’ll pick it back up and read it through again, incorporating their suggestions and my own to complete the second draft. If I have time before my deadline, I’ll read it through a third time before I submit it. After my editor receives the manuscript, it’s read with an eye for the big picture. From that reading, I’ll receive direction on substantive or developmental edits concerning things like character development, pacing, or plot. After I fix those problems, I’ll return the manuscript and the editor will read it for a line edit. The goal of this read is to fix typos, consistency problems, and other details. These are corrections I make during my final read-through when I receive the galleys of the manuscript. At the galley stage, the pages look exactly as they will in the book, only they’re printed on normal-sized paper. I’m only allowed to change up to 10% of the manuscript at this stage and I make those changes in red pen in the margins. The next time I see the book, it’s in print!
What are some creative ways you’ve learned to generate ideas
I’m not a plot-driven writer, I’m character-driven. In other words, the first glimmering I have that a story is ‘on the way’ is when a character begins talking to me. I can actually hear the voice inside my head. At this early stage, I may not have any idea what will happen in the story, but I know that if I listen long enough, the character will tell me. Most often I’m inspired when I travel. New surroundings seem to bring new characters to life for me.
What are some practical solutions for writer’s block?
I don’t wait for the muse. I don’t have enough time to write as it is, so I can’t afford to waste any of it. If a particular scene isn’t coming, I’ll write a different one. If a particular character isn’t speaking to me, I’ll keep badgering her, asking her questions, probing her motivations, and, if all else fails, I’ll stop asking questions and start listening to what she’s trying to tell me.
Do you have a favorite book?
I lived, as a child, for several years in New Brunswick and Ontario, so I devoured the entire Anne of Green Gables series. In fact, if truth be known, I still read through it every couple of years. Several years ago I also read Crow Lake. I thought it was beautifully and unselfconsciously written. Possession is an all-time favorite. A.S. Byatt is a writer’s writer. She does so many different kinds of writing so beautifully and they’re all showcased in this book.
Do you have a favorite time of day when you like to write?
I write best in the mornings. In fact, due to family schedules, it’s usually the only time of day I’m able to write.
What is one saying or proverb you live by?
A quote by Stephen King: “If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?” It reminds me to take my writing seriously and to put the best of myself into it.
What advice would you give kids who wish to pursue a career in writing?
(1) Read everything you can get your hands on, both in genres you’re familiar with and those you aren’t. Every writer was first a reader. (2) Listen to everything around you; everything and everyone who speaks has a unique voice. You have to learn how to identify the voices before you can begin to imitate them. (3) Observe everything and everyone in your world – become a student of human nature. Your characters will never truly live until you understand what makes people real.
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