Today we have with us author, Virginia McCullough.
RWF: Would you say you write women’s fiction or romantic women’s fiction?
VM: Originally, I called my work family drama/love stories, and then as the term women’s fiction became the term of art, I realized that my books fit the current definition of romantic women’s fiction.
RWF: Do you write in other genres?
VM: I also write romance, and just had a Harlequin Heartwarming release, GIRL IN THE SPOTLIGHT, book 1 of my Two Moon Bay series. I plan to submit another proposal for a second series. I’d like to try my hand at historical novels as well—we’ll see.
RWF: Are you traditionally published, self-published, or both?
VM: My fiction career is now hybrid, like my nonfiction career has been for many years. I like the idea of publishing both traditionally and independently. I think indie publishing is a great development for writers because it removes the power of the “gatekeepers.” Like everything else, publishing has changed enormously since I first started writing. Although indie pubbing has its problems, the technology of publishing has been a great equalizer.
RWF: What do you think helped you get from unpublished to published?
VM: Having an agent helped me. I know that’s not always true for series romance, but that’s how it worked out for me. With my indie novels it was a case of “if not now, when?” I’m not getting any younger! Looking at the question in a broader way, I’d say love of the writing process itself is critical to establishing a long writing career.
RWF: Do you read non-fiction? What kinds?
VM: Since my career has been fueled by writing nonfiction (mostly as a ghostwriter and coauthor), I’m drawn to nonfiction…history, current issues, memoir, biography.
RWF: What are your favorite books to read?
VM: I read a lot of women’s fiction, and I find myself drawn to novels with multiple women characters who are sisters or friends—those beach reads we all seem to like. I also like the WWI and WWII eras and other 20th century period fiction. And family sagas.
RWF: When you write, do you read in the same genre you’re writing in or something different?
VM: I pretty much read the same types of books all the time. Whatever strikes my fancy at the moment.
RWF: Do you first come up with a setting or character for your story idea?
VM: It’s happened both ways for me. I like water settings—islands, waterfronts on lakes, rivers, oceans, so all the ideas that come to me seem to fit into one of those lovely environments.
RWF: Do you have a running theme?
VM: Well, my brand is hope, healing, and second chances. That covers a lot of ground. The books always involve a family, sometimes friends, and some of the time what I call the “special child,” meaning the child whose birth changes everything forever—of course, that’s universal, but I like to explore it. In a few of my books, the child drives the story, whether a primary character or not. In AMBER LIGHT, for example, a pregnancy results from date rape and the narrator’s life is profoundly changed. What does she do and how does she manage? In GIRL IN THE SPOTLIGHT, the child relinquished for adoption ends up driving the story many years later. In ISLAND HEALING, a 13-year-old ends up being the catalyst for healing on many levels in two families. In all the books, the characters have a wound to heal and in the process they gain their second chance, not just for a romantic relationship, but for happiness in life.
RWF: Where do you find inspiration?
VM: From all of you! And from every person who ventures into the creative life. Other people’s writing-life stories inspire me to keep trying to get better.
RWF: Which do you feel you learn more from – an online class, local workshop, or writer’s craft book?
VM: I’ve learned so much from all three methods I can’t say one is better than the other. I think one of the great pleasures of RWA National is choosing the workshops! And I sign up for online classes, too, but many decades ago, I started my writing career based on what I learned from craft books and writers magazines.
RWF: Do you prefer to write at home or go somewhere to write?
VM: I work at home most of the time, but I sometimes hide out at the library or a café for a change of pace, and often to jumpstart a project by jotting notes and just free-form writing about the situation or setting. I believe a change of scene can work wonders for the creative brain—it can wake it up.
RWF: How do you fit writing into your life?
VM: It’s always a balancing act, writing and editing my work versus and editing and coaching for clients. It’s really about scheduling. But my kids are grown, so my time is my own. I know this isn’t a popular position among romance and RWF authors, but I really like living alone. I enjoy—even crave—solitude. But I’m not isolated. I love my close circle of friends—many of whom are my colleagues in the Wisconsin chapter of RWA. Other friends are located across the country in the various places I’ve lived. I love to travel, and I’ve always been active in various social issues and causes, too, so I have to protect writing time.
RWF: Do you have a job outside your writing?
VM: I’ve had my nonfiction ghosting/editing business virtually all of my adult life. Coaching came more recently. I had to make it a priority to carve out time to learn how to write fiction. It never would have happened otherwise and it took a fairly long time to learn basic craft. Today, I do less ghostwriting, and more ghost-editing and coaching. So, like all small business owners, which is what writers really are, I’ve always worked on a schedule. I like to work days—I’m not sharp at night.
RWF: Are you a plotter, panster, or combination of both?
VM: A combination, I think. I like to know where I’m going in a general way, and I often make a lot of notes about characters and conflicts, but I’m not good at detailed outlining. I like surprising developments.
RWF: Are the stories you write based more on the woman’s journey or more on the romance?
VM: I tend to think of the woman’s journey and the romance is a part of that. (I may enjoy living alone, but I like some romance, too.) Even with traditional romance, I think about it as a journey of two characters.
RWF: What would be your number one tip you’d give to someone who’d just finished their first manuscript?
VM: When you think a manuscript is finally done, read it aloud and you’ll catch all kinds of small things, especially repetition and awkward phrasing and dropped words. I also believe in entering contests to get feedback and to get work in front of agent/editor judges.
RWF: What advice would you give an author who has just published her first book?
VM: I still need so much advice I’m not sure I’m qualified to give it out. But I know I can’t do everything myself—VAs and Author Assistants are one of the new cottage industries for writers—along with formatters, cover designers, and so forth.
RWF ~ Thank you Virginia for sharing some of your thoughts on writing.
Virginia McCullough considers herself incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to write the stories of her heart, including GIRL IN THE SPOTLIGHT, the first book in her Two Moon Bay series for Harlequin Heartwarming. (Book 2, SOMETHING TO TREASURE, is scheduled for release in January 2018). A three-time Golden Heart finalist, her award-winning romance and women’s fiction titles include THE JACKS OF HER HEART, AMBER LIGHT, GRETA’S GRACE, THE CHAPELS ON THE HILL, and ISLAND HEALING.
Born and raised in Chicago, Virginia has lived in six states and U.S.V.I, and currently calls Green Bay, Wisconsin home. She started writing nonfiction, first articles and then books as a ghostwriter and coauthor. She’s written well over 100 books for physicians, lawyers, business owners, professional speakers, and others who have information to share or a story to tell. Her coauthored healthcare books include THE OXYGEN REVOLUTION, written with Paul Harch, MD, a pioneer in hyperbaric medicine.
Virginia’s books feature characters who could be your neighbors and friends. They come in all ages and struggle with everyday life issues. The mother of two grown children, you’ll find Virginia with her nose a book, walking on local trails or her neighborhood streets, or she may be packing her bag to take off for her next adventure. And she’s always working on another story about hope, healing, and second chances.