Author Alice M. Batzel
You've often said that you're 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'm writing; it proves to be a very good catalyst for my creative thinking. Some of my stories and poetry 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's the beaches where I grew up.
Does the photo that we see on the FAQ page represent such a writing sanctuary?
Absolutely! It's 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'm 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've 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's a long way from home, if you measure that to be where your relatives reside or where you grew up, but we've made a home for ourselves here and our sons are now raising their families here as well. Over the years, we've 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're 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. I've always had an imagination and been very observant. As a youth, I didn't want to do anything that would be perceived as frivolous or that would cause me to be ridiculed or made fun of because of it. I wasn't a young story writer, but I did have ideas of what I liked to read and what I thought made a good story. I finally gathered some courage and joined my junior high school newspaper staff but that was a short-lived experience because I became bored with how slow-paced it was. I enjoyed visiting libraries when I was a young girl and I greatly enjoyed being around books. For me, visiting a library was always 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 and I hoped that one day I would have the opportunity.
When my husband and I were raising our family, each of us were employed in very demanding and time-consuming jobs. My husband was often away from home with his work as well as numerous artistic pursuits and leadership positions in professional organizations. I had little time to engage in creative writing projects, though that yearning still existed within me. Throughout those years I would frequently get ideas and my best effort was to form a story/idea file, and that gave me hope that one day I would have the opportunity to develop those inspirations. During those many years, I was fortunate, however, to sporadically write and publish a few things. Now that I've retired from that long-term employment and our family is raised, I've a bit more time and opportunity to write.
What about your path to publication? Can you tell us a little of that?
Two of my earliest nationally published works are related to my professional work in the healthcare environment. I also wrote a stage script and was pleased to get it accepted by a publisher; that script was written as a gift for my husband and his theater education students. Another published work was a gift for my community, and an additional published work was a public service effort. 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'm now in a new chapter of my life, retirement, and my writing is taking a new road regarding development and publication. I'm enjoying associating with other writers, editors, and publishers within writing leagues/organizations as I learn more about the academics of writing/editing, pitching manuscripts, networking, and the current industry process of electronically submitting work for publication consideration. I'm also enjoying submitting some of my work to writing competitions and receiving helpful critique from the judges. I'm currently working on various projects including book reviews, poetry, several novels, magazine articles, essays, a couple children's books, and several stage scripts.
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 spelling and 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, RUTH by H. B. Moore, LORD FENTON'S FOLLY by Josi S. Kilpack, THE SADIE HOFFMILLER CULINARY MYSTERIES by Josi S. Kilpack, THE GIRL IN THE GATEHOUSE by Julie Klassen, many of the volumes of the No. 1 LADIES' DECTIVE AGENCY by Alexander McCall Smith, and numerous novels (too many to count) by RaeAnne Thayne.
Do you enjoy audiobooks? If so, do you have any favorites?
YES! I'm always pleased when I find a good audiobook 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 many volumes of the NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY, by Alexander McCall Smith. My husband is also an audiobook narrator and I greatly enjoy listening to his work. In particular, I've enjoyed his audio recording of REDEEMING GRACE by George H. McVey.
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 don't find it objectionable 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's 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 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, THE BOOK THIEF, WAR HORSE, 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 helpful 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 books at most conferences and get them signed by those authors at the conference. Unfortunately, some conferences are very expensive, and some have a limited number of seats available for attendees, making it a challenge to attend.
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'd work until completion before I'd find myself trying to make an initial draft/outline for another piece of inspiration or at least doing research for another idea. Often I would have a number of story ideas in various stages of outline and development. I could, however, buckle down and work a project to completion when an interested publisher wanted to publish a piece of my work NOW. It was, however, a tremendous challenge because of my commitment to my employment and raising my family. Now that I've retired from full-time employment, I've more time for writing, though it's still not uncommon for me to have numerous ideas and projects underway in various stages at the same time.
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'm currently working on, or I can file such notes in a story file for later use. Occasionally I will also draw upon my personal experiences and those of others. I've 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's during those late night hours that the characters seem to come alive and I can more easily visualize the story. At such times, the dialogue flows quickly, scenes unfold, and I find that I'm driven to document it before the clock convinces me that I must get some sleep. I'm trying, however, to create more reasonable "office hours".
Do you have other hobbies and interests?
Yes! In past years I've enjoyed experimenting with simple gardening efforts and my husband and I have greatly enjoyed the produce from my home garden. However, I have had to abandon that hobby due to developing some physical health challenges that prevent me from meeting the physical demands of gardening. I enjoy doing family history research, baking, cooking, attending museums and art galleries, attending quality stage productions, attending orchestral concerts, reading, listening to a good audiobook, and I really enjoy a 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 toxic paints. Now that the children are grown, however, I've 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 now confined to that of being an admirer of the work of other artists, and I certainly love spending time in a great art exhibit. I also love collecting seashells and I'm an advocate for the preservation of sea turtles. A more personal and very enjoyable hobby of mine is to spend time with my grandchildren. I enjoy watching their personalities develop, I enjoy their company, and there is nothing better than hearing them say, "I love you, Grandma," and feeling their sweet hug around my neck!
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'm 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've 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 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 don't have that Goliath to tackle, but I find that my time management skills must constantly be kept in check because I still have a home to manage.
As you interact with other published writers and aspiring writers, what strikes you most about the type of people who become writers?
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. And it is also true, however, that some writers aspire to awards, fiercely compete for large royalty checks, and are driven solely by the commerce of writing; I find that many of those writers risk forfeiting the craft of truly great creative storytelling to that of formula writing for income.
Thankfully, many writers are devoted to the craft of great storytelling and many have global reading audiences. I'm drawn to writers who genuinely appreciate their readers, pay attention to them, take time for them, and don't consider them only as potential dollars in the bank. I confess, I've a hard time tolerating writers in the later category. I'm 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 cannot be underestimated. Readers don't want to be disrespected and they won't 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've 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 inspiration to me.
What are some tips for success that you could share with other aspiring writers?
1) If you consider your writing to be a hobby, you can take a very relaxed approach to it and your personal time and financial budget would dictate your time and effort toward your hobby. However, if you consider your writing to be for the purposes of a business, you need to 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 whether or not you receive payment/stipend, etc. When in doubt, KEEP THE RECEIPT.
2) Many writers say, "Keep writing, no matter the time crunch and demands of daily life. Don't beat yourself up over time obstacles that you cannot control." I have an ongoing challenge with this, but I strive for a sense of healthy balance in life. I find it to be helpful to create an idea/inspiration file. The contents of my file have become "gold nuggets" that I've been able to retrieve and develop when time constraints are lifted. Life has peaks and valleys of time and demands, and when those demands lift, you can retrieve your idea file and work therein. Though those efforts may seem fragmented or frustrating, the effort will help you to stay in contact with the writer within you. I find that striving for a healthy balance in life is my best approach, and when deeply dedicated to a writing project, I enlist the support of my husband to lift some of the other life demands from me so that I can meet a publisher/editor's deadline. If you're single, divorced, widowed, or still raising a family, your writing equation will be different from mine. Do what best works for you, no matter what works for other writers.
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.
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've incorporated that trait into a character; though it sometimes comes across as humorous, I think it still makes a point.
Where do you want to be in ten years from now?
From a writing standpoint, in ten years from now, I hope to have achieved many of my writing/publishing goals.
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.
NOTE: This concludes the FAQs. The content has been transcribed as was given through informal conversation, unedited, so that the original impromptu dialogue might be maintained.
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