Tell us a little about yourself.
I'm 55 and I grew up on a farm on the Canadian prairies, and still live on the prairies, although I have lived in a city for most of my adult life. I worked in a university library, in the acquisitions department, for over twenty years – that made use of a skill I’ve honed throughout my life, buying books. My love of the arts is evident in much of my writing. It’s a love that began when I was a small child, listening to my mother sing. My love of pretending has grown into a love of the craft of acting (although I haven’t done as much acting as I would like to do) as well as the craft of writing. My website/blog can be found at BethStilborn.com. Its predecessor now serves as an archive. I also have a writer page on Facebook and cna be found on Twitter.
Do you use a pen name? Why or why not?
I plan to publish my children’s books using my “everyday” name, Beth Stilborn. After a brief flirtation with using my full name in what I thought was a creative way, Elizabethanne Stilborn, I decided that was simply too long and cumbersome, so I reverted to “Beth”. I have hymn texts that have already been published using my name as Elizabeth Stilborn, so I will retain that for any future hymns I publish. I intend to use a pen name based on my great-grandmother’s maiden name, Liv Andrews, for my adult fiction. I want to use different names for the different genres to keep each genre/age group/target audience separate.
What type of writing do you do? What genre do you write in?
I write picture books, middle grade novels, adult fiction, poetry, and hymn texts. Much of my fiction has a linkage to the arts in some way. My hymn texts (and some of my fiction) usually incorporate some sort of call to justice.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? What was it about writing that drew you to it?
I love stories. I’ve made up stories for as long as I can remember, although they weren’t always written down. Writing, like acting, is a socially acceptable way for an adult to pretend! I did some writing as a teen, including one hymn text that was published when I was 15 or 16, and dabbled a bit from time to time in picture books and other genres during my twenties. I really began writing about seventeen or eighteen years ago, but didn’t have the time to devote to it, nor did I have the training to make the most of it (and I was far too insecure at that point to join any sort of writing group or take courses in creative writing – that came much later).
Two moments in my life are like signposts on my journey, and they stand out in my memory to this day. In one university class, I used to see my classmates’ papers returned with hardly a note on them, while mine were always marked thoroughly with red pen lines, marks, questions. I wondered why the prof was always “picking on me.” Until the last paper he handed back to me. It had no marks on it whatsoever, just a good grade, and the words “Keep writing.” Ah. That’s what the corrections and feedback had been about. Also, one night in the mid 1990s my mother said to me in a phone conversation, “Why don’t you write?” I started a story that night, and I’ve been writing one thing or another ever since.
Where do you get your ideas for your writing?
My childhood, things I see around me, things I wish had been available for me to read when I was a kid, things I hear children say – I get ideas from all kinds of sources. Ideas are everywhere, if you’re sensitive to them.
What books/authors have influenced your writing?
I can’t specifically point to books and authors I’ve read that have influenced my writing (although there are many that have influenced my life). What has influenced my writing most has been my association with children’s author and editor, Emma Walton Hamilton. I learned a great deal from taking her online/home study picture book writing course “Just Write for Kids” and I have continued to learn through her monthly teleseminars for her writers’ group, the Children’s Book Hub. Her manuscript evaluations of some of my work have been invaluable. Emma and I now collaborate as co-administrators of the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group, and that, too has been a great learning experience and has broadened the scope of my reading (as I look for content that will interest Hub members). That can only have a positive effect on my writing. (Any writer or illustrator, aspiring or established, who is interested in joining the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group can request membership.)
What are your current writing projects?
Without going into specifics, because I don’t like sharing specifics of pre-published projects, I have a picture book that’s submission-ready, another one that’s being evaluated by a freelance editor (this is a second evaluation for this manuscript, I like to get her to look at it after I’ve reworked it after her first comments), three that will soon be ready for manuscript evaluation, and several ideas in the works. I’m working on a middle grade novel – the first draft is done (although the first draft has been through about three different iterations, so I’m not sure it’s really a “first” draft) and I’m working on the revision process. I’m revisiting an adult novel that I thought was finished, but may need some reworking, and I want to get back to another adult novel that has been novel, then screenplay, then novel again. It holds a particular place in my heart, and I want to get at it again.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you get through it?
I’m constantly amazed at how the ideas just flow when I sit down to write, so my problem isn’t really writer’s block, it’s more writer’s procrastination. I’m trying to be disciplined about my writing – this is my job, and I need to treat it as such.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Creating a logical plot arc is one of my major challenges – telling a story instead of just stitching together a crazy quilt of events.
What do you love most about writing?
I love losing myself in another character’s world, looking at life through someone else’s eyes. As I’ve said before, for me writing, like acting, is a socially acceptable way of pretending. When I was a child, I was always pretending to be someone else, trying to get all the character nuances just right, thinking what life would be like for that person. That’s what I love to do now, creating my characters and looking at life as they see it and live it.
Is there anything that you have learned about yourself through writing/pursuing your career as a writer?
I have learned that I have a lot more strength than I ever thought possible. I have learned that I have something valuable to contribute to others’ lives.
If you could become one of your characters for a day, would you? (and who/why?)
Yes, I would. I’d love to be the irascible, outspoken man who is the protagonist of the adult novel/screenplay/novel project. He’s different from any other character I’ve written, crusty but with a heart of gold. He speaks his mind; he’s highly creative; he’s keenly intelligent, both in his field of work and in people-smarts. He works in a creative field, he lives surrounded by creative people. It would be so stimulating intellectually and emotionally to have his life for a little while. (It would be exhausting to be him for long, though!)
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Trust yourself. Write what you care about. Don’t be afraid. Seek feedback from people who know their stuff. Take courses. Write, write, and write some more. Join organizations such as SCBWI. Go to conferences and workshops. Network with other writers. Learn about the building blocks of story – plotting, creating characters. Take acting lessons. Learn how actors get into character, how they develop backstories for their characters. Read, read, and read some more. And, as my prof said, “Keep writing.”
Please leave Beth some comments and let her know you appreciate her taking the time to share with us a bit about her writing journey.