It's interview time again. This time, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Eboch. To give a little shout out to my group, SCBWI Michigan, I'll say that I've heard an abundance of admirable things about Ms. Eboch from SCBWI MI AdCom members. So when I found myself with the opportunity to do a guest blog post for her, I jumped at it.
In return (although you guys are getting a much better deal), she agreed to do an interview for my blog, which I am quite grateful for. When you see some of the awesome answers she gave, you'll be grateful too.
So, without futher ado, Chris Eboch!
Chris Eboch (CE): I’ve always enjoyed ancient/world history. My family lived in Saudi Arabia when I was a child, and we traveled extensively, so I got exposed to other cultures and their histories early.
I traveled through Mexico and Central America for two months after college, before I ever planned to write a book set there. That gave me a good background on the Maya and plenty of ideas for The Well of Sacrifice. I did additional research through libraries and museums. (This was before the Internet, but I was living in New York City so I had other great resources.)
I’ve loved Egyptian history since I was young, and I traveled to Egypt as an adult. My mystery The Eyes of Pharaoh is actually the second book I’ve written with an ancient Egyptian setting. (The first is not publishable, however.) I already had many reference books on my shelves when I started research. I favor the kind with lots of illustrations and insight into people’s daily lives.
One of the secrets to writing historical fiction is understanding how people have changed – and how they haven’t. I believe that while we may eat different foods, wear different clothes, and worship different gods, we are still motivated by the same emotions: love, fear, greed, friendship. The seven deadly sins are thousands of years old, after all.
That’s how I can write stories with exotic settings that resonate with young readers today. They can understand a girl like Eveningstar, the heroine in The Well of Sacrifice, because she looks up to her older brother, is jealous of her sister, feels shy about going to a party, and is trying to figure out what she believes and what to do when she sees injustice. The Eyes of Pharaoh is a mystery with strong friendships and young people who are starting to understand that the world is much bigger and more complicated than they realized. The feelings and messages are still relevant.
RW: You’ve also written some scary adventures for kids. Would you ever go on a paranormal investigation? (Personally, I’d be too terrified.)
CE: I think ghost hunting would be fun. I don’t really believe in ghosts, but perhaps the most exciting question in the world is “What if...?” In my Haunted series, about a brother and sister who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, I get to ponder why some spirits might get stuck behind after death. And my young hero and heroine get to have some hair-raising adventures that I probably wouldn’t enjoy myself in real life!
My first adult book, Rattled, involves treasure hunting adventures in the New Mexico desert, with dangers ranging from rattlesnakes to flash floods. My brand new romantic suspense, Whispers in the Dark, has a slower build up to the intense action, as a young archaeologist realizes she’s stumbled into something sinister. I’m learning to slow down a little and give more character development in the romantic suspense, but I like books where plenty happens, so that’s what I try to write.
As for writing for writers, I’ve done a lot of teaching and critiquing, and I write a blog on the craft of writing, Write Like a Pro! I’ve also written many articles for Children’s Writer and their annual Writer’s Guides, and a couple for Writer’s Digest. It seemed natural to collect and expand many of my articles and workshop notes into a book. I wanted Advanced Plotting to take users beyond the basic advice most books cover, with specific techniques such as how to write a cliffhanger chapter ending.
RW: What do you think is the most difficult aspect of being a writer today?
CE: Writers today have more choices than ever. In some ways that’s great, but it’s also hard to identify the best option, and there can be pressure to do too much of everything. It’s hard to wade through the conflicting advice and figure out what will actually work for you. I think this is true at every level – if you are a beginner, should you take classes (and which ones), network at writers conferences, hire a freelance editor, or jump into publication? Once you are published, which of the many marketing opportunities are most worth your time? The path used to be difficult but fairly straightforward. Now it’s not so much a path as a big rabbit warren of options.
RW: Most of my blog readers are aspiring authors. What is a piece of advice you wish you’d gotten when you were starting out?
CE: It’s even harder than you think, so take the time to learn. Life works at such a breakneck pace today that it’s tempting to rush through every stage of being a writer. But it takes time and training to learn to write well. It takes time to understand the industry, especially with all the new options. For those who are tempted by self-publishing, it takes time (and often money) to do it well, and much more time to market yourself.
Few people would think they could decide to become a doctor or a lawyer or a college professor, and expect to have it happen within a year. But people think they can become successful writers in no time. I think this is partly because we assume creative fields depend on “talent” rather than hard work and education. Plus, it’s hard to judge your own work. I advise aspiring authors to be patient and focus on their craft for several years before trying to get their work published. Rush toward publication too quickly and you’ll just suffer more disappointments.
RW: You do paid critiques for writers. What do you enjoy most about helping writers improve their craft?
CE: I give really tough critiques, for a novel usually a 4 to 6 page editorial letter discussing my concerns and suggestions on the plot, characters, setting, theme, and voice. I don’t do detailed line editing, but I do make plenty of comments on the manuscript as well. I’m often concerned that clients will be overwhelmed by all the advice. But 95 percent of the time, I hear back “Everything you said makes sense and resonates.” I’m relieved, and I really respect writers who are willing to do those kinds of major revisions.
A couple of times, I’ve had the chance to do second critiques, or to critique another piece of writing from the same author. I’ve always seen enormous improvement, which is very satisfying. It’s partly an altruistic desire to see other people getting closer to their dreams, but I suppose part of it is vanity as well, since I can feel good about my teaching/editing skills.
RW: What is the hardest thing about doing critiques?
CE: I’ve been fortunate that most of my private clients have good ideas but need help with the structure/and or style. But I’ve worked with students in a number of formats, including community college classes and a correspondence school. Sometimes students are enthusiastic about an idea that’s not very good, or that’s been done too often before, or that they don’t yet have the skills to do successfully. I can still try to teach them techniques for improving their writing, but it’s challenging to gently let people know that something should just be considered a practice piece, and not submitted for publication. People don’t always want to let go.
RW: Are you currently working on a book? If so, can you tell us anything about it?
CE: I just published Whispers in the Dark, my romantic suspense set at an archaeology site in the Southwest. I’m in the planning stages of another romantic suspense/mystery, where the heroine finds the body of a murder victim. And learns about falconry. And falls in love. I’m really excited about it and anxious to start the first chapter, but I find the writing goes smoother if I spend a lot of time on character development and plot planning first.
I’m not actively working on anything for children right now, though I hope to have another Haunted book out one of these days.
Learn more about Chris and read excerpts of her work at www.chriseboch.com (for children’s books) or www.krisbock.com (for adult romantic suspense written under the name Kris Bock) or see her Amazon page. You can also read excerpts from Advanced Plotting and get other writing craft advice on her blog.
Thank you so much for doing this interview, Chris! Lots of great advice and information here.