Today, I’m happy to welcome author Elizabeth Varadan to answer 10 Questions about her writing life. Elizabeth writes for both children and adults. Her works for children include magazine articles, novels, and a recently released picture book, Carnival of the Animals.
Linda Covella: Thank you for joining us today, Elizabeth.
When and why did you decide to become a writer?
Elizabeth Varadan: I never really “decided” to become a writer. I’ve just written all my life – stories, playlets, poetry in high school and college; stories and poetry while working in the insurance world to pay off college loans, and summers and vacations when I taught school full time. For a career, I wanted to be a teacher. I knew I wanted to do something both practical (i.e. steady income) and also something that would be of service to others. In my own family, love of the fine arts and literature was high, but practical skills were low. I knew that, as much as I loved writing, I didn’t want a hand-to-mouth existence on “the fringe”. (There really is a reason they say “Don’t quit your day job.”) What I also knew was that I would always write, and that whenever I decided to retire, I could make that full time.
LC: What is your writing process: where do you write, how often do you write, are you a full-time or part-time writer, do you outline or do you plot as you go, etc.?
EV: In theory, I’m a full-time writer, now that I have the time. However, if you are talking about hours of the day strictly applied to writing, I’d qualify as a part-time writer. Of course, in one sense, a writer is always writing. When I’m reading, my mind is taking note of things like good plotting, wonderful turns of phrase, compelling description, what makes a character grab you, etc. When I’m not reading, half my mind is plotting and sketching in scenes of my current WIP, whether I’m taking a walk, poking around in the garden, taking a shower, or cooking. I do spend perhaps more time than I should on social media, but even as I say that, so many of my online friends are writers that my writing life as well as my personal life has been enriched by the interactions, so I can’t really call it wasted time.
To get back to your question, I probably do put in two or three hours a day, writing in some form. Once I get going on a WIP, though, it can be more, because I tend to become a bit obsessed then, and everything else goes out the window.
LC: Where do you find your inspiration for your stories? Do you draw from your own experiences?
EV: Sometimes a character will just pop into my mind, or a phrase that haunts me, or a poem I’ve read. Or an idea: “Wouldn’t it be interesting if X met up with Y and . . .” (That’s how Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls came about. I thought, “What if a young girl met up with Sherlock Holmes while he was solving a mystery for her parents, and she ended up helping him solve it . . .?”) One story came to me in a dream, which has been more complicated to write. (It’s my current WIP, and it’s taking forever!) In Carnival of the Animals, the tales are all about animals and are character driven, but the inspiration is more from folk and fairytales I read and enjoyed as a kid. In more contemporary adventures like The Fourth Wish, my first book and a self-published one, I drew on what I observed in students while I was teaching 6th grade. It really is a wonderful grade, and students are so rich and complex at that age. They did inspire me.
LC: I can imagine the kids would be a great source of inspiration.
Who is one of your favorite characters from your story(ies), one that you enjoyed creating and writing about, and why?
EV: I would have to say Imogene and Rusty in Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls. Imogene is a young Victorian girl from a middle-class family and Rusty is a “mudlark” from a penniless family. It was great to bring them both to life and create an occasion for them to meet and end up working together to solve a mystery. I enjoy writing about characters that make me learn something. All I had previously glimpsed of the Victorian Era in England were the London fog and streetlamps and the carriages rattling down cobblestone streets in Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Oh, yes, and the clothing of the rich: top hats and bustles. So, it was interesting to explore the era and find out what life was for children of every class and what the Victorian world was really like.
LC: Darling cover for Imogene.
Do you incorporate (or inadvertently find) any of your own personality traits into your characters?
EV: I’m sure I do. For instance, Imogene doesn’t want to end up being a proper lady who just plays the piano after dinner and embroiders and goes to balls. She wants to be a detective. When I was her age, I loved Nancy Drew mysteries, and I wanted more than anything to be a detective when I grew up. I even wrote a story called “Imogene’s Detective Ring”. (I guess Imogene was hovering in my subconscious for a very long time.)
LC: Do you find your stories are more plot driven or character driven? Please explain.
EV: I was more of a “panster” than a plotter when I started out with stories. Now that I’ve finished a few books, I’m veering more and more toward plotting first, particularly since I think of two of them as “Book One” in a series. Both are mysteries, and I think with mysteries, you really do have to work out the plot first before you try to write the story.
With my current WIP, though, the character came first, and the plot came about as a series of “what if” questions. I don’t want to say too much about it at present, but it’s definitely a character-driven book, and driven by more than one character.
LC: Did you read much as a child?
EV: I have been an avid reader all my life, and I thank my mother for starting me down that road. It’s probably cliché to say this by now, but writing is a way to travel, and it only costs you the price of a book, or, in fact, a library card. You can go anywhere in time or place via a book. You can learn anything you want to know about from reading. It’s a great enricher of life, and I applaud parents who make reading a priority experience in their home.
LC: How important do you think reading is for writers?
EV: One of the most important things a writer can do is read. Reading a good book is, in addition to personal pleasure and entertainment, the best kind of writing education: You can learn through reading good books what makes for compelling characterization, mesmerizing plot, rich scene-setting, original imagery, good syntax, even good spelling and punctuation.
LC: Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books? What draws you to them?
EV: I love the mysteries of Terry Shames, Cara Black, Catriona McPherson, Rhys Bowen, M. C. Beaton. I’ve always liked a good mystery, and these are some of the best mystery writers. Their books have endearing main characters, masterful plots, and M. C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series is humorous as well. For young readers, I so enjoy Barbara Mariconda and her Lucy series, T. A. Barron’s Merlin series, Ellen Marie Wiseman, Meg Medina, Rachna Chhabria, Mark Noce. For the very, very young, (picture books), JaNay Brown Wood, Kimberly Gordon Biddle.
But really, there are so many I like, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even gotten to the poets I like!
LC: Anything new in the works?
EV: Yes! My current WIP, Granny’s Jig. And a second book in my (as yet unpublished) mystery series for adults set in Braga, Portugal. I’m quite excited about both and will probably be working on both this year.
LC: Bonus question! Do you have anything you’d like to add?
EV: Only a big thank you for this interview. I have enjoyed reading your interviews with other authors. It’s always so interesting to see how others pursue this wonderful world of writing.
LC: I enjoy these interviews, too. All the different perspectives are so interesting. As was yours, Elizabeth! Thanks so much for joining us today.
Elizabeth Varadan is a former elementary teacher. She and her husband live in Midtown Sacramento, California. In retirement, they divide their time between Sacramento, Braga, Portugal, and Monforte, Galicia (an autonomous region in Spain.)
She is the author of a self-published MG fantasy, The Fourth Wish, an MG mystery, Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls (MX Publishing, 2015), a picture book, Dragonella, (Belanger Books, 2016; Spanish Edition, 2017), and a collection of stories for children, The Carnival of the Animals (Belanger Books, 2018). Her poetry and adult flash fiction have appeared in several online and print magazines, and her poetry has been anthologized in Vine Leaves Journal and The Stray Branch. She is currently working on an MG novel with a ghost, and a chapbook of poems about Galicia.
Connect with Elizabeth:
http://elizabethvaradansfourthwish.blogspot.com/ (Varied topics)
http://victorianscribbles.blogspot.com/ (Victorian Era/Gilded Age)
https://elizabethvaradan.wordpress.com/ (Travel blog)
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/ElizabethVaradanAuthor
The Carnival of the Animals https://www.amazon.com/Carnival-Animals-Elizabeth-Varadan/dp/172581546X