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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Author Interview: Lynne Constantine

Today I am pleased to present to you all the 65th in a series of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with the scrap-book loving, Lifetime Channel TV watching, Lynne Constantine  and our conversation went something like this:

Paul:  I like to start my interviews by asking if you have any writing rituals?
Lynne:  When I sit down to write, I start by spending about 15 minutes on Twitter, re-tweeting, posting and responding to others. It helps to transition me from the hectic activity of daily life into the creative mode. Sometimes the 15 minutes turns into 30 and then I have to muster every kernel of self-control to stop socializing and start writing. I plug in my earphones, open ITunes and play Mozart while I write. I write non-stop for 1 hour, and then take a quick break to check email, and then continue again. On days dedicated to writing, I generally write for four to five hours.

Paul:  If someone had to step into your creative mind what would they see?
Lynne:  Lots of clutter and a dozen different avenues. They would see the marketing side of my brain vying with the writing side for dominance. Most likely lots of thought bubbles with question markings hanging around as well.

Paul:  In all the years you’ve been publishing your work, what is the biggest mistake you made that you could share so others can avoid making it? 
Lynne:  Submitting work before it’s ready. When we first wrote Circle Dance, we perfected our query letter and got lots of positive responses. This was in the day of snail mail only so a query could take up to three months to be resolved. Because our work still needed more editing, we got a lot of rejections. Not only did we waste a lot of time, but more importantly, we wasted opportunities. Had the work been ready, we most likely would have been published much sooner.

Paul:  How do you find time to write?
Lynne:  I make weekly goals in terms of the number of pages I want to write. I look at my schedule for the week and allocate the time. I dedicate Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 – 2 to do nothing but write. The rest of the week I get the writing in when I can squeeze it in – a few hours here and there. I belong to a writer’s room in my town so it is easy for me to pop out for an hour or two and go somewhere that is dedicated just to writing. I have a hard time writing in my house because there are too many other things calling for my attention.

Paul:  What is the one thing you hope I don’t tell readers?
Lynne:  As much as I love a good book and try to only read ones that are well written - I am a sucker for Lifetime movies. Even though the plots are predictable and the characters one-dimensional, they help me to unwind and regroup.

Paul:  If you are self-published what led you to going your own way?
Lynne:  Our original publisher of Circle Dance was very small and allocated almost no budget to our marketing and promotion. It was published before the advent of e-books and internet marketing so we were very limited in what we could do on our own. At the time, my children were only three and it wasn’t possible for me to travel around the country. We were able to achieve some success with local bookstores and speaking venues but once we had exhausted those avenues we felt like the book was stagnating. We began to pitch producers and received positive feedback. At this point we decided to purchase our rights back since our publisher was not adding any value. We put the book aside for a while then decided some sections would benefit from a re-write and further editing. We did that last summer and launched it ourselves in November. Our feeling is that we’ve made the book even better and we believe that as it gains exposure it will begin to sell more and more. We didn’t want to have the book languish in abeyance until we could find a new publisher and felt we could do a good job promoting it ourselves.

Paul:  Do you plot your stories or do you just run with it?
Lynne:  I used to write very strictly from plot – especially with Circle Dance since it was co-authored. It made divvying up the work easy and gave us a manageable road map. We found, however, that strictly adhering to a plot does not allow the characters to grow and develop, as they should. A primary function of revising Circle Dance was to make changes where plot lines, dialogue and character traits didn’t ring true. Now that we know those characters so well, it was easy to go back and say, “She wouldn’t really do that.” 

Now I loosely plot the overall theme of the story – the beginning, middle and the end, draw out the characters and then I let them tell the story. I have a good sense of what I think will happen and then I allow the characters to change course as they develop. I am currently writing a thriller and I have been continually surprised by the twists the backgrounds of my characters have taken. It is making the writing fresher and more exciting. My style is a hybrid between plotting and writing organically and I am evolving into a more organic writer as time goes by.

Paul:  What is your most recent book? Tell us about it.
Lynne:  Circle Dance is the story of a close-knit, Greek American family as seen through the eyes of second generation American born sisters Nicole and Theodora. The story opens on the Greek island of Ikaria where the sisters are spending the last of many summers spent there with their grandparents. With their return to the States is the advent of a new life for them both. Theodora is getting married – to a man Nicole secretly mistrusts and dislikes. Nicole will take her place in their father’s business empire in direct competition with her new brother-in-law whose ambition is exceeded only by his greed. Nicole finds herself torn in two as she struggles to fight an attraction to Theodora’s boss – the very married Peter Demetrios, a candidate for U.S. Senate. As the dramatic plot unfolds, the two young women must confront deceit and betrayal and their own maturing passions – while they struggle to preserve the values they cherish. Will the sisters’ passion for the wrong men tear the family apart or will the traditions and values they were raised with be enough to save it?

Paul:  What inspired you to write this book?
Lynne:  The desire to leave a legacy for my children of my experiences growing up as a second generation Greek American was the driving factor behind Circle Dance. By the time I was born, all but one of my grandparents had passed away. As a little girl, I loved to help my Yia Yia (grandmother) make Greek cookies called kolurakia. As we sat, shaping the dough, she would tell me stories from her childhood in Greece. Of going with her father, the ship captain, to Egypt and other countries to buy fabric for the islanders. Stories of her growing up on the small island of Ikaria, of coming to America and what she had to leave behind. Her strong Greek accent, English words heavily sprinkled with Greek – is something my children never got to hear. They know their own Yia Yia, my mother, but she was born in America and has assimilated to American culture. My husband is not Greek and my children feel very little tie to any culture other than the one in which they live. When they are old enough to read Circle Dance I hope they are transported to a different time where they can vicariously experience what it means to be tied to one’s roots.

As the book took shape, my sister and I both fell in love with the characters and the book took on a life of its own. It is by no means autobiographical however many of the characters are a compilation of friends and family – others purely from our imaginations. The final product speaks to the strength of family, faith and tradition – elements relevant to all cultures and heritages. People of many different backgrounds and faiths have shared with us their enjoyment of the book and their appreciation and affection for the family in its pages.

Paul:  How much marketing do you do for your published works or for your “brand”?
Lynne:  I spend about two hours a day on marketing, mostly online. I am very active on Twitter and Facebook and check in several times a day. I’m also a member of the Independent Author Network, World Literary Café and Authonomy. I maintain a presence on Goodreads and do book give-aways there. I also have a Google Plus page and a Pinterest profile. Twitter is where I spend most of my on-line time. I also try and write a new blog post at least once a month for my website.

I spend time on interviews such as these and have several radio interviews lined up for the next several months and a newspaper article in the works.

Paul:  What is your favorite/least favorite aspect of your writing life?
Lynne:  My favorite thing is getting feedback from readers. When we get a good review or an email telling me that a character or piece of writing has spoken to someone – it is extremely gratifying. I also love doing book club discussions and hearing others’ perceptions of our character’s motivations etc.

My least favorite aspect is pitching agents/editors. I agonize over emails and queries as I find it so difficult to put in a few words the heart of the story. It’s difficult after we grow up being told not to “toot our own horns” to then have to hawk your work. I have to continually remind myself that finding the right outlet for my writing will benefit the other parties too instead of looking at it as a personal favor to me. I think taking Circle Dance back and re-launching it ourselves has helped me to overcome that tendency. I’m learning that you can’t be shy about marketing and promoting yourself.

Paul:  What do you do when you’re not writing?
Lynne:  I homeshool my son three days a week – he takes classes the other two. I’m also on the board in my town’s women’s league – a philanthropic organization dedicated to supporting charities for women and children. I attend a weekly community Bible study and am involved in my church. I love photography and digital scrap-booking, although I’m at least two years behind on doing anything with my pictures. I get to the gym three to four days a week, which I find a huge reliever of stress. I also adore the beach and spend as much time as I can there.

Paul:  Many thanks, Lynne. That was fascinating. I wish you every success for the future.

About Lynne Constantine: Lynne wrote her first book, Circle Dance, with her sister Valerie. Circle Dance was a legacy of love fueled by the desire to pass on to their children the traditions and experiences unique to them as second generation Greek Americans. Lynne was raised in a close-knit family surrounded but extended family and “adopted” family through the Greek community.

Lynne attended Hellenic College where she earned her undergraduate degree in Human Development. She went on to earn her masters degree in Business Administration at Johns Hopkins University.

A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Lynne relocated to the New York area with her husband and children. She enjoys traveling, spending time on the beach and talking walks with her family and their adorable golden retriever.

Lynne is currently at work on her next book, a thriller.

Lynne's Website: Lynne Constantine
Lynne on Twitter: @LynneConstantin
Lynne on Facebook: Lynne Constantine
Lynne's latest book: Circle Dance (Amazon)

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