Thank you to everyone who entered the 2015 Aspiring Writers Competition! We are so excited to read your entries, and we can’t wait to announce the finalists on Sunday, November 22. Until then, we’re giving you some insight into the mind of a previous AWC winner. Michelle Weidenbenner, now the author of several books, talks about her writing process, inspiration, and how her life has changed since winning the competition.
The Reading Room: How has your writing career changed since winning the Aspiring Writers Competition?
Michelle Weidenbenner: Thanks for asking. I’ve published four books since I won the award. Two children’s books, a memoir, and the book I entered into your competition.
TRR: Did you ever finish your novel, Love is Just a Word?
MW: Yes, it was complete when I entered the contest, but I changed the name to Scattered Links before I published it. Readers and editors thought Love is Just a Word sounded like a romance novel. Since the book was a multi-cultural young adult novel, it didn’t fit in the romance category. I changed the name to Scattered Links because it’s symbolic to the story. It has several different meanings.
Shortly after I won the award, I decided to self-publish it. Catherine Drayton, the agent from the contest, read the entire manuscript and sent me great feedback. She spent a lot of time on the book and offered valuable suggestions, but she didn’t sign me up for representation. I didn’t expect it though. I thought if I landed her as an agent it would be like winning the lottery. I’ve never been lucky like that. (Although, I won this contest!) Catherine suggested that I change a few things with the book, but I decided not to change them all. The purpose for writing the novel was to educate parents of post-institutionalized children and foster children about RAD, reactive attachment disorder. RAD is an inability for a child to properly bond. I had worked long and hard to finish the book and decided not to spend any more time or money on that project. I had too many other books to publish. So I self-published Links and have never regretted that decision.
TRR: Can you tell us a bit about your novel Cache a Predator?
MW: This was my first novel I published. It’s a thriller/mystery about a cop who wants custody of his five-year-old daughter, but first he has to convince a judge and a deranged vigilante that he’s a good dad.
Do you know what geocaching is? If not, it’s a sport using a GPS device to find hidden boxes. Readers learn more about this popular sport in the book. I mailed copies of the book to geocachers in all 50 states and Canada as a “trackable” to bring awareness to the problem of child abuse. There are over 50 books traveling from cache to cache. People read them and pass them on to the next cache for a new reader. I can go to geocaching.com and track where each of the books are and follow their journey. Some books have made it to Spain and Scotland. It’s fun and it’s boosted sales and my author name.
TRR: What is your favorite aspect of being a writer?
MW: Creating. I love making up stories about real life situations and showing readers both sides of the story.
However, I just launched a book titled Fractured Not Broken, a memoir. Since this is a true story I couldn’t make up anything. I had to use my creativity in other ways. I tried to use the five senses to make the reader feel like they were right there with Kelly. The story is about a young athlete (Kelly) who becomes a quadriplegic at the hands of a drunk driver. It’s amazing what she does with her life after the accident, despite her limitations. Since the book launched, she’s been the #1 Hot New Release in Young Adult Inspirational Biographies on Amazon. Kelly has a wide reach of people she’s influenced and continues to inspire. Great stories sell well. This is one of those. I haven’t had to do much marketing, and it’s already a best seller.
TRR: Where do you like to read and write?
MW: Anywhere and everywhere because I escape to the place I’m reading about or writing about. Right now I’m typing this in the car on my way to a book-signing. I don’t have to be in a specific spot to read or write. I find the craziest places for both, especially if I’m working toward a goal—to finish so many words or chapters.
TRR: Coffee or tea?
MW: I prefer coffee with two teaspoons of natural sweet cream. Two cups usually does the trick for me! My body doesn’t like the acid in the coffee though, so before my coffee I take a few sips of apple cider vinegar (with the mother) and chase it with a glass of water. Have you ever tasted apple cider vinegar? Yeah, well, don’t if you don’t have to. It’s awful. But it’s what I have to do to enjoy my daily coffee. It’s worth it!
TRR: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to all aspiring writers out there?
MW: Become an entrepreneur. I call myself an author-prenuer. Authors need to do more than write. They need to learn all facets of running a business—marketing, selling, bookkeeping, and how to be tech savvy to run their blog, websites and gain social media followers. Even if an author lands a big publishing house for their book, they still need to help market their brand. The publisher doesn’t do everything.
The other advice that was given to me helps me determine what to write. I have a lot of stories to tell, but I believe if I listen to God and ask Him to lead me I’ll find the story I’m meant to tell. I pray for direction. When I’m working on a book that has a message (not the lecturing kind, but the subtle kind) it helps me promote it afterward, too. The book isn’t for just entertainment. (Although it’s okay if yours is. Entertainment is therapeutic too.) But for me, my purpose in writing is to glorify God. As writers, we have a responsibility to readers, to the world: to bring awareness, to spread kindness—lots of things. If writers focus on their purpose, it will help them plow ahead and feel compelled to sell their work, too.
Winning this award was one of the most exciting events in my life. I love entering contests because it forces me to work toward a deadline and for a specific purpose. Thank you for offering this contest and award to writers! I can’t wait to read the entries and meet the winners.
Image of Michelle Weidenbenner courtesy of http://bit.ly/1I03o76