The talented Valentina Cano agreed to answer a few questions about writing. I love her honest and helpful answers, especially the three nuggets of wisdom for unpublished writers. Her debut novel The Rose Master released on June 24th. Look for more information about her book following her interview.
Valentina, are you a panster or a plotter? And how do you approach a new idea?
Definitely a pantser. I usually sit down with a new idea circling my head (insert Jaws theme here) and try to work out some basic things: who my protagonist is, what he or she is struggling with, and how do I want the whole novel to end. I don’t like to plot ahead too much because characters have a way of deviating from the “script”, so I no longer stress over that. What I do like to do on my daily walks, however, is plan the scene I’m going to write that day.
Do you have the same critique partners for all your work or do you have different sets? And why?
I try to change it up a bit. What I’ve noticed is that after a while, the reader becomes used to your style of writing, almost immune to your faults as an author, so you’re not getting the same kind of nit-picking critiques. A writer needs nit-pickers; it’s what makes a story better.
What is the most difficult aspect about being a writer?
The editing process. It’s absolutely necessary but I, along with every other author on this planet, hate doing it. You can easily get overwhelmed during the editing process. There’s suddenly all these structural things to fix, scenes to add, characters to move around…All my experiences with editing have been positive, though. The editors I’ve worked with, especially with THE ROSE MASTER, have been fabulous, so that at least makes things easier.
What are your top three nuggets of wisdom you would like to share with unpublished writers?
Write every day. It may sound obvious and it’s been said a lot, but it’s probably the most important thing that you can do as a writer. Even if you read what you wrote later and decide it’s jaw-dropping awful, you at least practiced your craft. Writing is like any other art, you can’t get better at it if you don’t practice.
I would also say that you have to hold on to your self-esteem with both hands, because as you start the process of looking for agents or looking for publishers, it gets really tough. You could have the next best seller curled inside your laptop and still, you will get lots and lots of rejections. It’s very hard to handle these rejections because this is your creation that you are peddling and realizing that no one is tripping over themselves to represent it or publish it can hurt.
The other piece of advice I always mention is that writers need to read. A lot. And not just the genre you write. Read everything you can, from poetry, to sci-fi, to romance, to YA and picture books. Every book on this planet can teach you something, even it it’s how not to write. As Stephen King often says, if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
Oh, opening that blank Word page and formatting it to write the first sentence. The anticipation is delicious.
Do you have any suggestions for editing drafts?
I like to start editing as soon as I get the revisions. I find that my first thoughts and ideas at seeing what I have to edit are the best ones. If I allow myself lots of time to think, I end up rethinking everything, which is not good. I dive right in and start tearing the manuscript apart. Everyone is different, though, so for some people, it may be better to wait a couple of days before starting. The important thing is getting it done.
What do you think is the most important element a story should have?
I think a story has to have a satisfying ending. I don’t mean a happy one, but one that makes the reader feel like all the time spent reading was not a waste. There’s nothing I dislike more than enjoying a fabulous book only to be betrayed by a rushed ending. It’s very common, too. I know, as a writer, the need to get something finished, but the ending is just as important, if not more so, than the beginning.
Do you have other stories in the works?
Always. A few that are already completed and I’m polishing them up, and some that are just scribbles in my notebook but which I’m looking forward to tackling. I recently went to London to research the sequel to THE ROSE MASTER, as well, so I’ll start working on that soon.
I wrote a blog about self-doubt being a new demon I encountered. Do you have any writing demons?
Self-doubt is a tough one to overcome. It happens every time I get a rejection. I start worrying that maybe my writing is awful, that I’m deluding myself that this can ever be a career, and a number of other things. That lasts until I sit down again in front of my laptop, with my pet mynah bird, Loki, perched on my desk. As soon as I start writing, everything kind of falls away. I always end up at the same place: even if my writing stinks, I enjoy doing it too much to stop.
If someone wrote a book about your life, who would star as you?
Maybe someone like Natalie Portman. We’re both petite and we have similar features. Although she is older than I am, she usually looks very young, so it could work.
The day Anne Tinning turns seventeen, birds fall from the sky. But that’s hardly the most upsetting news. She’s being dismissed from the home she’s served at since she was a child, and shipped off to become the newly hired parlor maid for a place she’s never heard of. And when she sees the run-down, isolated house, she instantly knows why:
There’s something wrong with Rosewood Manor.
Staffed with only three other servants, all gripped by icy silence and inexplicable bruises, and inhabited by a young master who is as cold as the place itself, the house is shrouded in neglect and thick with fear. Her questions are met with hushed whispers, and she soon finds herself alone in the empty halls, left to tidy and clean rooms no one visits.
As the feeling of being watched grows, she begins to realize there is something else in the house with them–some creature that stalks the frozen halls and claws at her door. A creature that seems intent on harming her.
When a fire leaves Anne trapped in the manor with its Master, she finally demands to know why. But as she forces the truth about what haunts the grounds from Lord Grey, she learns secrets she isn’t prepared for. The creature is very real, and she’s the only one who can help him stop it.
Now, Anne must either risk her life for the young man she’s grown to admire, or abandon her post while she still can.
Valentina Cano is a student of classical singing who spends whatever free time she has either reading or writing. She also watches over a veritable army of pets, including her five, very spoiled, snakes. Her works have appeared in numerous publications and her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web. She lives in Miami, Florida.