Valerie Comer’s life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie grows much of her own food and is active in the local food movement as well as her church. She only hopes her imaginary friends enjoy their happily ever afters as much as she does hers, gardening and geocaching with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters. Check out her website and blog at http://valeriecomer.com.
Tell us about your new release
My novella, “Topaz Treasure,” is the first story in a 4-in-1 collection called Rainbow’s End written with Annalisa Daughety, Cara Putman, and Nicole O’Dell. Rainbow’s End is set around the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, with all the characters participating in a geocaching challenge set up as a church outreach event.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
My husband and I began geocaching in 2008 and find it a great way to explore the area we live in. If you’re not familiar with geocaching, it’s basically an electronic treasure hunt that uses a GPS (global positioning system) receiver to provide (and locate) precise coordinates, where someone has hidden a ‘treasure’ cache.
It didn’t take long for me to begin musing ways to use geocaching in story form, but it took longer to gel. When Nicole O’Dell and I were chatting about submitting a proposal to Barbour for a novella anthology, I mentioned it to her. We tossed it around for a while and decided to run with it. The rest, as they say, is history!
Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?
I hadn’t been to Missouri since I was a young teen, which, um, was quite a few years ago. Though I could find plenty of info online about the types of trees, plants, and animals my characters could encounter in the Ozark wilderness, getting specifics about one of the trails proved more difficult. The Lake Area Chamber of Commerce couldn’t help, as none of the staff had hiked the Trail of the Four Winds. A general plea for local information on Facebook didn’t help either. Eventually I found Ozark Mountain Geocachers, a club covering a much larger area, on Facebook and joined the group. Then I ‘haunted’ the page, waiting for someone to be online that I could chat with. The woman I met gave me the name of an avid geocacher from Osage Beach, whom I then messaged on FB. He answered all my questions in great detail. I know I wouldn’t have gotten as much right if it hadn’t been for Gary.
Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?
My road began in earnest ten years ago, when I found myself with plenty of spare time at a new job in a small-town flooring shop. If ever there was a golden opportunity to write, this was it. I wrote eight complete novels over as many years, learning the craft piece by piece. I finaled in ACFW’s Genesis contest in 2007, ’08, and ’09, and began getting ‘nice’ rejections from agents and editors, but was unable to break in.
When I saw Barbour’s call for novella anthology submissions in December of 2010, I realized it was a great opportunity. Rainbow’s End was the second proposal Nicole and I submitted, but with a different set of friends. We got ‘the call’ via email on January 31, 2011, and I signed with Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency a few days later. For the story details, check out my blog post!
Do you ever bang your head against the wall from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Of course. Doesn’t everyone? (If not, don’t answer!) I have three methods, I guess. One is to bounce stuff off a friend in chat, if someone is available. I also like to freewrite, just starting with what the problem is and what I know about it and why I can’t do this or that with a story and how I feel about it. I simply explore options as they come to mind until I find a direction that works better than the others at reaching the desired goal.
The third method I use is mind mapping, which I haven’t been doing as long. I’ll write something in the middle of a large piece of paper (the back of a calendar blotter works well) and circle it. Then I note options, circling them and connecting with the central thought. If an option contains an interesting thread, I’ll keep jotting words and linking them back. Hit a roadblock? Try one of the other ideas. It’s a lot like freewriting, but it’s easier to see where I’ve been and how ideas connect.
Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?
I am quite visually oriented. My niece created a large inspiration board that hangs over my desk. On it I pin images of my characters (often printed from jupiterimages.com), floorplans of their houses, and maps of their neighborhoods. I also have monthly calendar printouts near my desk to remind me of blogging and other obligations, and pictures of my granddaughters to make me smile.
I’ve also started Pinterest boards with various inspirations for works in progress. It’s a great place to see pretty pictures and still have the link to its original website right there, ready to click, if I want to read the info over again.
Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
My characters tend to be the opposite of flat. Instead, they come with all sorts of baggage and hobbies and interests and friends and enemies. The most difficult part of writing is not to let all the subplots get out of hand!
How do you overcome it?
Now that I’m writing my tenth full-length novel (still without contract for any), I’m learning to see which pieces of my characters directly affect the main plot, and to cut away the other (vitally intriguing) parts. In the first draft of “Topaz Treasure,” Lyssa’s mother, who walked out when Lyssa was 12 and hasn’t been heard from since, calls her. There simply wasn’t room in 20,000 words to let them have that conversation and follow the ramifications, so those scenes hit the cutting room floor.
If I can’t see the parts of the story that can be trimmed out, I have critique partners who are willing to tell me the unflinching truth.
I write at work. I’ve partitioned a section off with flooring sample racks and have a cozy corner all to myself. My boss guys, thrilled to have an employee that can entertain herself for hours on end, got me an internet connection and occasionally ask about my work.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I arrive at work at 9:00 am and check messages. If there’s nothing pressing, I’ll pop open my laptop, check email and Facebook, and get started with my day’s work. If I’m diligent to get into my story world first thing, I can pack several thousand words into the morning. Of course, if there are sales reps, freight trucks, customers, ringing phones, or boss guys with questions, comments, or requests, my morning can get sidelined easily. Honestly, it’s rare to have so many work ‘distractions’ that I can’t funnel back in easily once I’ve started. Some days it’s the getting started that’s the big problem, and it’s more likely me than outside forces.
Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?
There are days either could be true. I tend to write more slowly at the beginning and end of stories, and faster in the middle. When I’m first-drafting, my goal is 10K a week, or 2500 words per work day (allowing a day of flex because I never know what will happen). When I’m in the groove, a 1500-word hour isn’t unheard of.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
Two-fold: Keep writing, and be patient. Don’t be so addicted to the first story you write that you overly invest in it. One book isn’t a career. Certainly work and rework to learn from it, but if you’ve done what you can with it and it still has deep flaws, write another one and build on what you’ve learned. Yes, it takes time, hence the ‘be patient’ part. Writing isn’t a quick track to wealth. In fact, it probably doesn’t lead there at all.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Enjoy the journey, because the end isn’t guaranteed. If you don’t LOVE the process of thinking up stories, creating characters, writing their tales, and editing until the story shines, find another hobby. The moments where publishing houses write you checks and readers write glowing reviews are fleeting compared to the time it took to get there.
For the next few weeks my co-authors and I are featured at Romancing America, a site I developed to bring awareness to all the novella collections coming out from Barbour in 2012. There will be author interviews, excerpts of each story, and ‘guest’ posts about various aspects of writing the novellas. The opening of “Topaz Treasure” is posted here. Hope you’ll all come by and say hello!
“Topaz Treasure” is the story of Lyssa Quinn, who’s the volunteer coordinator for the challenge. She’s shy about sharing her faith, and hopes canvassing businesses for sponsorship will help get her out of her shell. But at the very first business she walks into, a soon-to-open electronics store, she encounters her former college professor–young, handsome, and decidedly anti-Christian Kirk Kennedy. To her surprise, he’s interested in the geocaching hunt and, apparently, in her. How can she trust someone who once shredded her best friend’s faith?
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