Today I am pleased to have a writer with us whose talents know no bounds. Dianne Sagan is a ghostwriter, a guest editorialist writing Op-Ed pieces for the Amarillo Globe-News, a writer of short stories and flash fiction, and she is also a book reviewer. She joins us today to talk about her diverse experience in the industry and to give us a glimpse into what she’s working on right now.
Welcome to The Book Connection, Dianne. It’s great to have you here!
Thank you, Cheryl. I’m excited to be here!
You have such a wonderfully diverse career it’s hard to know where to start. I guess we’ll start at the beginning. When did you know you wanted to become a writer? What was the first story or article you remember writing?
I always loved reading and hearing stories. You know how it is - every family has at least one storyteller, and I was the one in my family from the time I was about five. I didn’t really think about being a writer until I was in high school. We had great English teachers at my school, and they taught us how to plan and write essays. I loved that. Later, when I was a young mother, I started writing stories for my children. The first one was a Christmas story about a tree too fat to get through the door of the house.
You have a B.A. in History with a minor in Geography and also earned an M.A. in Communications. Has this helped your writing career? And if so, in what way?
I believe it has helped immensely. I have a broad background of American and world history to draw on from my undergraduate work, and I also learned the art of research. That is really valuable to a writer. My Communications degree involved a lot of writing, and my professors encouraged me to write articles and explore other avenues of expression. And as is true with most graduate degrees, I learned a lot about statistics, probabilities, and the scientific method, so when I write I can include a feeling for what constitutes a “likely” event and what doesn’t. The Communications degree I earned also included a lot of behavioral studies, and that gave me important insights into what people really do in real situations.
I love hearing about how other writers approach their craft. What is your writing process like? Do you write every day? Is there a time of day that you are more productive than others?
I’m pretty organic. I do a lot of writing in my head before it ever hits the paper. Then it’s almost like filling a pitcher and needing to pour it out. It just flows. I’m learning how to augment that “unstructured” process with loose outlines and overviews, but even those are only working tools and can change with the message and the deadline. When I’m writing fiction, the story and characters almost take on a life of their own. Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction I like to get all my research done first and then start writing.
Yes, I do write every day - except Sundays. That’s my day for church and family. My best time for writing is from about 11:00AM to 3:00PM. But I guess I’m a living example of the idea “writers write because they have to.” It seems I always have something going on in my head, either consciously or subconsciously, that demands expression, and sometimes it pops up “paper-ready” at really odd times - like the middle of the night. Fortunately my husband understands!
Let’s get a bit more specific. Can you tell us about your Op-Ed pieces for the Amarillo Globe-News? What kinds of issues will readers find are dear to your heart?
I started writing Op-Ed pieces in August of 2001 as a member of a group of six local editorial contributors called The Amarillo Voices. We wrote in a weekly rotation, so my column appeared every sixth Thursday. Two years ago the paper discontinued that group and asked if I would continue to write as a guest op/ed contributor. I began submitting pieces periodically throughout the year until just recently. I’ve been so busy with other writing projects that I haven’t submitted anything for the past few months – but I sure have ideas to write about!
The issues that are dearest to my heart are education; abused women and children, their concerns, and the laws that (should) protect them; and maintaining our Constitutional rights, as well as holding politicians accountable for their official actions - whether they are Democrats or Republicans.
Were you ever concerned that your guest editorials for the newspaper would adversely affect other areas of your writing? Did you ever think someone would shy away from hiring you based upon your opinions?
I actually never considered that my editorials would have any effect on my other writing. It was my first step as a published author, and I knew I wanted to do other types of writing.
My husband and I own a consulting firm and work with organizations and businesses in this region. A few times I’ve wondered if my opinions had anything to do with whether we were hired, but most of the time it doesn’t seem to matter. People are quick to recognize me for my editorials, but they seem to separate my editorial opinions from the professional contributions I can make.
You’ve recently sold the rights to one of your stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Can you tell us about this experience? Why do you enjoy submitting to anthologies?
I’m a visual and tactile learner. When I’m driving down the highway and I see an old, deserted farmhouse in a state of collapse, a story pops into my head. I begin to imagine who might have lived there, what kind of a life they might have had, and what might have happened to them. Another farmhouse, another story. So short stories are a part of life for me. I had several ideas for stories about my children and personal experiences that I was looking for outlets to send them to. A friend of mine in a writing group suggested I think about anthologies. I went on-line and looked for the ones I knew about and Googled for others.
I looked through the prospective titles and deadlines on the Chicken Soup for the Soul website. I made a list of them and put due dates on my writing calendar. I only choose topics about which I know I have experiences that might entertain or help others. I make a list of those story ideas and work on them between projects or as a break from writing books.
The thing I enjoy most about writing for anthologies is that I can feel accomplishment for a shorter piece of work, and that encourages me to keep going on longer projects.
I have to admit I am really interested in finding out more about your ghostwriting work. How did you get involved in this aspect of writing? What types of subjects do you cover?
A writer-acquaintance of mine who is a member of Panhandle Professional Writers was doing ghostwriting and started getting so much work that she put out a call for freelance editors and ghostwriters. I talked to her about it and decided to give it a try, and I discovered that I not only enjoyed the process but that I also had some talent for it. The books I’m writing at this time are nonfiction “business success and leadership” books concerning issues of human performance, which happens to align neatly with the consulting that my husband and I do. My clients are entrepreneurs, dentists, corporate executives, speakers, men and women in a wide array of professions. I would love to expand into ghostwriting Christian nonfiction.
Do people ever ask you why you have chosen to be a ghostwriter instead of writing your own books?
Yes, I get that question a lot. My goal has been to be a freelance writer and to be able to live well from my work. That isn’t always easy to do when selling my own work. When this opportunity came along, it was a perfect fit. Ghostwriting provides a good income on a steady basis, and although I have less time to work on WIP’s under my own byline, it is well worth it. It also gives me experience and a track record for being able to complete books and make deadlines. It has also helped me prove to myself that, yes, I really can write a first draft of a two hundred page manuscript in four weeks!
Speaking of your own books, you mentioned to me that you have a few works in progress. Is there anything you would like to share with the readers here?
I’ve been shopping a novel of mine with the working title of “Brittany’s Story.” It’s the story of an abused woman who escapes to a shelter with her three children and her experiences trying to stay one step ahead of her violent husband while going through the court system. It is written as a suspense novel and is unlike any other book about spousal abuse. It offers hope and a light at the end of the tunnel even though, throughout the manuscript, the reader is never sure if she will survive. I believe it is unusual, too, because the theme is not so much revenge as redemption, courage and triumph.
You told me that you enjoy going to Writer’s Conferences. Can you tell us about your most memorable experience?
My most memorable experience was pitching my novel to Rodney Morris, who is now at NavPress. At the time, he was the Senior Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Multnomah Publishing in Sisters, Oregon. (Multnomah is one of the big houses for Christian Fiction.) After my fifteen minute pitch he asked me for a book proposal. I sent it to him, and it made it all the way to the Editorial Committee before it was turned down. I got some good feedback and encouragement from them, though, along with the pleasure of seeing my first novel get so far beyond the “slush pile.”
With your diverse experience in the industry you must have loads of good advice for all us aspiring authors out there. But if you could only share one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t put off writing until times are better or less hectic. Don’t wait until your children grow up and leave home. There is no time like the present to write, even if you can do it for only ten minutes a day at first. Take time to make time to write, and don’t let anyone talk you out of it. But right behind that advice I have to say that new writers will go a lot further a lot faster if they join a writer’s group that is honest, blunt, articulate and consistent in giving feedback about how to improve one’s work.
There are still so many questions I would love to ask, but then I wouldn’t have a reason to have you come back and visit again. So, is there anything else you would like to add?
Writers have to develop a thick skin and not take feedback personally. Critiques are not about you, they are about the writing. Learn from them and work to make your writing better.
Thanks for sharing with us today, Dianne. It’s been a pleasure to find out more about you and your work. I wish you continued success.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to be one of the authors in your great interview series, Cheryl. My best to you and your readers.