with the Writer, Alice M. Batzel
"As long as we're at the beach, it's OK with me."
You've often said that you are a "Beach Writer". Why is that?
My roots are deeply planted in the white sand beaches of the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast where I grew up. I often find myself mentally returning to those beloved beaches when I am writing; it proves to be a very good catalyst for my creative thinking. Some of my writing is centered in that geographical location, but even when it isn't, I find that mentally placing myself in that atmosphere helps to keep my creative energy flowing. Many writers literally (or mentally) retreat to a designated writing sanctuary of some type, and for me, it is the beaches where I grew up.
Does the photo that we see on the interview page represent such a writing sanctuary?
Absolutely! It is a photo of the beach view from the Henderson Park Inn, located in Destin, Florida. I took that picture in August of 2014 when I was visiting my sister, and doing research for a novel that I am writing. To me, the Inn is a perfect writer's retreat. I would love to seclude myself in one of the corner gulf facing rooms for about three weeks during the month of January, and write, and write, and write. Talk about inspiration! That would certainly do it for me.
With such a fondness for the beach, why is it that you live among the Wasatch mountains of Utah?
We moved to Utah for my husband to accept an employment opportunity, and we have remained here since that time. Many years ago, my husband and I attended college in Utah, our children were born here during those college years, and when we had the opportunity to return to Utah for his work, we did so. It is a long way from home, if you measure that to be where your relatives reside or where you grew up; but we have made a home for ourselves here and our sons are now raising their families here as well. Over the years, we have made many trips back to Florida to see our family and friends, and we often refer to it as "home"; nevertheless, we also refer to Utah as our "home". We are very lucky to have two wonderful places where we feel "at home".
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us a little about your path to becoming a writer?
I can't really say when I first knew I wanted to be a writer, but throughout my life I have always had a number of imaginative stories in my head; I would rarely write any of it down because I thought it would be perceived as frivolous. I finally gathered some courage and joined my junior high school newspaper staff. However, this was a short-lived experience. I dropped out of the group when I realized that they seemed to be more interested in socializing and getting their picture put in the yearbook. I enjoyed visiting libraries when I was a young girl and I greatly enjoyed being around books. For me, visiting a library was always such a treat. I also enjoyed writing reports and term papers in junior and senior high school and college. As I matured, it no longer mattered to me what others thought about my interest in writing stories; therefore, I started writing my ideas down. I have countless drafts, synopses, story outlines, character analyses, etc. and my "working" file is quite large. When I was raising my children and employed for many years in a very demanding job, I had little time to follow a writing project to completion before new ideas came to me; therefore, having a story/idea file was my best effort at writing during many years.
I have often felt that my path to becoming a writer has been frustrating and fragmented. Frustrating, because I had little time to devote to it after the daily exhaustion of working outside the home, and trying to raise a family, and supporting a husband with an intense career in the performing arts and education arena. Fragmented, because my opportunity to write and publish was very sporadic during those years. Now that I have retired from that long-term employment, my family is raised, and my husband's artistic pursuits have calmed down a bit, I have more time and opportunity to write; but for many, many years I could only long for it.
What about your path to publication? Can you tell us a little of that?
My published works have definitely taken a path of their own. By that, I mean that two of my earliest nationally published works are the result of enthusiasm for the nature of my professional work in the healthcare environment; another published work was a gift for my husband; another published work was a gift for my community; and another published work was a public service effort, etc. Those early publication successes gave me significant personal fulfillment; realizing that some of my writing has brought some joy, laughter, and education to others has been very meaningful to me.
I am now in a new chapter of my life, and my writing is taking a new road regarding publication efforts. I realize that interested publishers of novels need their contracted writers to be dedicated to promoting their work so that the commerce of writing/publishing is beneficial for the publisher. With that additional dimension to the writer's publication quest, a great benefit comes to the writer beyond the creative writing, and that is the opportunity to meet the readers. That is a joy! Thus, both the publisher and the writer are benefactors of the collaborative effort.
Was reading and literacy an important part of your family life when you were growing up?
It certainly was. My parents stressed getting good grades in school, our report cards were always examined, and we were encouraged to discuss our school experiences with our parents. Our home was our first schoolhouse with my mother teaching us the alphabet, penmanship, introductory reading, and elementary arithmetic prior to beginning first grade. Throughout our years of public education we were encouraged to involve our parents in what we were learning. Attending our community library was also something that our mother made sure we knew how to do, including getting library cards for each of the children in our family. We had a set of thoroughly used encyclopedias in the home, we always had a large dictionary in our living room, and our mother frequently quizzed us on vocabulary. We had subscriptions to the National Geographic Magazine and daily newspapers. My father was a fan of western novels, and my mother was well acquainted with the Readers Digest and various women's magazines. The teachings of the Savior were often used as the guidepost for raising the children in our family and we regularly attended Church together. My prized possession as a young girl was my first HOLY BIBLE which was given to me by my parents; I still have that worn out fragile Bible. My maternal grandmother lived with us from the time that I was eleven years old; most evenings she could be found in her bedroom reading her large family Bible or one of many Catholic epistles.
Without a doubt, the value of reading and literacy was taught and demonstrated in our home.
What are some of your favorite reads?
I have many favorite stories from the scriptures and I hold those very dear to my heart.
As far as commercially available literature, my all-time favorite is GONE WITH THE WIND, by Margaret Mitchell. More contemporary favorites would include FINDING SHEBA by H. B. Moore, the OUT OF JERUSALEM series, by H.B. Moore, the SADIE HOFFMILLER CULINARY MYSTERIES, by Josi S. Kilpack, THE GIRL IN THE GATEHOUSE, by Julie Klassen, and all of the volumes of the No. 1 LADIES' DECTIVE AGENCY by Alexander McCall Smith.
Do you enjoy books on CD? If so, do you have any favorites?
YES! I'm always so pleased when I find a good book on CD that is narrated by a talented voice-over artist. The caliber of talent brought to the project by the voice-over artist, in my opinion, is as important as the writer's written words. Some of my favorites include AUSTENLAND, by Shannon Hale, THE WEDNESDAY LETTERS, by Jason F. Wright, THE CHRISTMAS SWEATER, by Glenn Beck, THE GIFT and THE SUNFLOWER, by Richard Paul Evans, and the many volumes of the NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY, by Alexander McCall Smith.
As a writer, are you a fan of literary works being turned into motion pictures or do you object to that?
For the most part, I do not find it offensive because the art of film making is also the art of storytelling through a different medium. However, there are times when the motion picture simply cannot tell the story quite as well as the original written story and that is disappointing as a viewer when you dearly love the written story. Then, there are times when all components of the film making art form come together and beautifully breathe life into the written story; viewing such a film is a magnificent experience for someone who ardently loves the written story. Some of my favorites, whether on the motion picture screen or the television screen, would include GONE WITH THE WIND, THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, POLDARK, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, THE SECRET GARDEN, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, and PERSUASION. When there have been numerous film portrayals of a single written work, viewers are often drawn to a single film adaptation based upon the actors' portrayal of the characters and the director's interpretation of the written work. I certainly have my favorites.
Do you attend writing conferences? If so, how do you feel about them?
I try to attend well organized quality writing conferences whenever possible. For the most part, I find them to be of great value. The presentations are very educational and the breakout sessions are great for networking with other writers of varied backgrounds and experiences. I find the presentations by editors and publishers to be of tremendous value, and I really enjoy panel discussions, author presentations, and academic presentations pertaining to editing and sharpening the writer's skill set. I try to approach any conference as an educational experience, a networking opportunity, and a motivational experience that can often fuel more writing and creative thinking. You can also buy some really great books and get them signed by the authors as you meet them at the conference.
The process of writing seems to be different for every writer. Can you tell us a little about yours?
In prior years, when my long-term employment kept me from writing as I desired, I rarely had a single story concept that I would work until the end before I would find myself working on another piece of inspiration or at least doing research for another story. Often I would have a number of ideas and stories in-process and in various stages of outline, chapter development, rewrites, etc. I could, however, buckle down and work a project to completion when an interested publisher wanted to publish a piece of my work NOW.
Now that I have retired from that long-term employment, I am able to devote more time to my writing and I find that I am driven to devote a significant concentrated effort toward one project at a time, and I find that exhilarating! As far as technique, I like to use outlines, story synopses, character sketches, photographs of geographical settings, newspaper articles from my story file, etc. Sometimes I will get a burst of creative thought from overhearing a conversation, hearing a news story on the television, hearing a sermon, and it will propel me to make notes, form a scene outline, or write conversation lines for a project that I am currently working on, or I can file such notes in a story file for later use. Occasionally I will also draw upon my own life's experiences and those of other individuals. I have also incorporated some of my wishes and dreams as inspiration or content for a story. Often, a geographical setting will inspire me to create a story in that setting.
I find that my most creative energy comes as a "late night" writer when the disruptions of the day are quiet. Whether writing a novel, short story, or a stage play, it is during those late night hours that the characters seem to come alive and I can visualize the story unfolding as if it is a film in real-time before my eyes. At such times, the dialogue flows quickly, scenes unfold, and I find that I am driven to document it before the time clock convinces me that I must get some sleep. I am trying, however, to create more reasonable "office hours".
Do you have other hobbies and interests, or are you one of those writers who is consumed with your craft?
I hope I am not "consumed" by writing to the exclusion of all other joys in life!
I enjoy experimenting with simple gardening efforts, doing family history research, baking, cooking, attending museums and art galleries, attending quality stage productions, attending orchestral concerts, reading, listening to a good book on CD, and I really enjoy a good car ride and enjoying the scenery from the passenger's front seat. I studied art in college and enjoyed oil/acrylic painting, but I put the paints aside when I had children because I was fearful that they would get into the paints. Now that the children are grown, however, I have developed some chemical allergies and I can no longer be exposed to the paints and other artist supplies. My love for the medium of visual art is confined to that of being a fan of the works of others, and I certainly love spending time in a great art exhibit.
What do you consider to be your greatest asset as a writer?
My greatest asset as a writer would probably be that I have an active imagination, I am a student of observation, and I ENJOY the process of writing. I can look at many things in life as opportunities for storytelling. Additionally, I can appreciate the writing talents of others and I have respect for their success. I enjoy expressing complements to authors when I have enjoyed their work and I also enjoy promoting their work. I find it odd that some writers feel threatened by the success of other writers. I find it stimulating and inspiring to collaborate with successful writers that I respect; doing so often motivates me to become better at my craft.
What is your greatest obstacle as a writer?
In past years when I was under the demands of long-term employment, I often felt my greatest obstacle was the lack of personal time that I could devote to my writing. Now, in my current chapter of life, I do not have that Goliath to tackle, but I find that my skill at time management must constantly be kept in check.
As you interact with other published writers and aspiring writers, what strikes you most about the type of people who become writers?
WOW! This is a loaded question for sure!
I think the most descriptive word to answer this would be, VARIETY. There is a huge varied spectrum of writers as vast as the paint colors upon an artist's palate. Their individual written work differs as much as their stark differences in personality.
On the other hand, I find that what writers have in common is that they like to read, to create, to study, to experience life, and occasionally they like to escape from life. Writers enjoy the process of writing and they find it rewarding when readers enjoy their work.
True, some writers aspire to notoriety, awards, fiercely compete for large royalty checks, and are driven solely by the commerce of writing; thus those writers risk forfeiting the craft of truly great creative storytelling to that of formula writing.
Thankfully, there are still many writers who are devoted to the craft of great storytelling and many have global reading audiences. I am drawn to writers who genuinely appreciate their readers, pay attention to them, take time for them, and do not consider them only as potential dollars in the bank. I confess, I have a hard time tolerating writers in the later category. I am personally convinced that writers must realize that they work for their readers. Yes, the publisher enables that opportunity and there are expectations of the publisher that the writer must meet; however, the value of the reader can not be underestimated. Readers do not want to be disrespected and they will not be loyal if they feel that they are. The serious writer has the obligation to write well, maintain their own creative voice in their work, fulfill the publishers expectations of promoting the published work, and visibly show respect and gratitude to their loyal readers; when I see writers who have figured that out, it makes me proud to be a writer and it inspires me to be the very best writer that I can be.
What did you do with your first significant royalty money?
I reinvested my money in writing supplies, computer expenses, and I made a purchase that would be a source of beauty and inspiration to me. That purchase was for a quality curio cabinet to display my collection of sea shells, sand dollars, sea coral, and a few favorite faith themed porcelain sculptures. When I look at the curio and its contents, it reminds me of my "roots" and it is a source of inspiration, as well as a reminder to be thankful for my talent and to respectfully use it.
What are some tips for success that you could share with other aspiring writers?
1) Be very aware of the "cost" of writing. Though tedious, save all receipts for expenditures related to your writing so that you can report them on your taxes. Be sure to include receipts for conference attendance, league membership, materials and supplies, website management fees, business cards, travel to publisher and speaking engagements for which you receive payment/stipend, etc. When in doubt, KEEP THE RECEIPT.
2) Keep writing, no matter the time crunch demands of daily life. Do not beat yourself up over time obstacles that you can not control; adapt your writing to that amount of time which you have available by creating an idea/inspiration story file. The contents of this file will, in time, become "gold nuggets" which you can later develop. Though those efforts may seem fragmented or frustrating, the effort will help you to stay in contact with the writer within you.
3) OFTEN, give thanks to GOD for your mind, your imagination, your aptitude, your talent for writing, and the opportunity in your lifetime to take the journey of being a writer.
Since words are the canvas for a writer, can you tell us "in a word, or a few words" what describes you in the following ways?
2) Sorrow...............Dishonesty, War
6) Vacation...............A shaded beach with clean sand and clear water
7) Favorite word(s)...............Love, Laugh
8) Most despised word(s)...............All vulgarity, profanity, cursing.
9) Most powerful word...............Forgive
10) Most humorous word (and why)...............Snapplecraps. Origin: My two year old son's playmate could not come over to play because he had the chickenpox; our son told us it was because he had the "snapplecraps". I guess "chickenpox" might actually sound like "snapplecraps" to a two year old!
11) Favorite sound...............Running water of a brook or slow moving stream, or a beach's waves at low tide, or small birds chirping back and forth in conversation.
Can you tell us one peculiarity about yourself that people might not know?
I hate perfume, colognes, and chemical fragrant scents. I have asthma and allergies that are triggered by these things; they often cause me to react as if they are toxic environmental pollutants. Seriously.
Does this peculiarity ever show in your writing?
From time to time, I have incorporated that trait into a character; though it sometimes comes across as humorous, I think it still makes its point.
Where do you want to be in ten years from now?
From a writing standpoint, in ten years from now, I hope to be more widely published.
From a personal standpoint, in ten years from now, I hope to still be here with my husband and our family, for all of us to be healthy and happy with one another, and to be living in a safe USA.
** For any other inquiries, please leave a question on the contact page.