Friday, May 14, 2010

Lizbeth Selvig

Welcome Lizbeth! Tell us about yourself.

It’s a little cliché for a writer to say, but I’ve been making up stories and writing them down almost as long as I can remember. I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, an only girl with three brothers, and all of us, although our family was generally normal, had bizarre imaginations. My brothers made up games like incorporating treasure maps into my mother’s wallpaper. I wrote stories about going on arctic expeditions with Paul McCartney. (He was an amazing survivalist, in case you were wondering.)

My stories have matured and no longer include former childhood crushes, although there are still arctic adventures. Well, come to think of it, there may still be some crushes, too, but the names have been changed to protect the innocent. I still live in Minnesota with my wonderful husband, Jan, and our manic Border Collie, Magic. We have two grown children, a daughter who’s an equine veterinarian married to a lawyer, the other a son who is a musician, recording engineer and business accountant-type/computer guy. Between them they’ve given us twelve four-legged “grandchildren”—from horses, dogs, and cats to lizards and goats. Needless to say, I have no end of fodder for my writing.

Very many moons ago I earned a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota, and I’ve worked on and off as both a reporter and editor. I love to travel and am incredibly lucky to have lived in Germany, Canada and Alaska. Jan and I love to hike and made some gorgeous treks through the Alaskan mountains. Minnesota has no mountains—but it’s got miles of gorgeous trails too. We hope to hit most of them. And I hope to use them, and the rest of my adventures, as inspiration for lots of years to come.

1. Liz, Songbird was a finalist in the 2010 Golden Heart contest. Congratulations! How does it feel? When did you decide to enter? What did you do to get Songbird ready to submit?

Thank you very much! I’d entered the Golden Heart® once before with a different manuscript and reached the top 25%, so when Songbird won the only chapter contest I entered it in, I knew I wanted to give it a shot at the GH. The manuscript got a huge polish job, I cut about 10,000 words, crossed my fingers and sent it off last November. Whether the polishing or the finger-crossing made the difference I’m not sure. A lot of writing success has to do with pixie dust—so I don’t discount the fingers!

Finaling in the Golden Heart® has been amazing. For me, although getting to know the other finalists and anticipating the national meeting is an honor and so exciting, the biggest changes from this experience are internal. The validation and confidence that came almost instantaneously with the ‘your manuscript has finaled’ phone call is immeasurable. I have a new and different attitude about submitting work and accepting rejections. Suddenly, magically, I believe my writing is good enough to connect with an agent or editor sometime. Of course, the pure thrill of finaling hasn’t worn off either—the feeling is as bubbly as that famous Sally Fields Oscar speech: “You like me! You really like me!”

2. What has happened since the GH awards? Have you received requests from editors or agents? Have you submitted it?

So far no requests -- the pixie dust hasn’t floated its way to an agent’s desk quite yet. But I’m inspired by the success of so many of my fellow finalists this year, and their stories have given me the kicks-in-the-bum I needed to really start marketing this book. I now have five queries circulating at any given time, so one rejection isn’t devastating. There’s always hope bubbling away. Not that my couple of post-GH rejections haven’t still entailed several hours of moping and gob-stopping amounts of dark chocolate! But, I really am finding I can process more quickly and tell myself, “Okay, I didn’t have this agent’s cup of tea today—it’s business.” That lesson’s been a long time coming!

3. Your website says you have won contests since 2005. What have you learned from entering? What are the pros and cons of contests for you?

Despite entering a few contests now and then, I’m actually not much of a contest diva—you know, that Sally Fields thing in reverse: “Will they like me? Will they really like me?” Because I have great critique partners in two states (!), I don’t enter contests for the judges’ comments as much as for the chance to get my manuscript in front of a particular agent or editor, and to give a new story a test drive. In doing that, I have gained valuable skills from contests, like: 1) How to take varying criticisms with a grain of salt and only consider the suggestions that make sense to me, which is not anywhere near as easy to do as it sounds! 2) How to have tougher skin, which I tell myself is priming me for those (very few, I pray) less-than-stellar reviews once the book is published! 3) How to intentionally break the rules. Sounds silly, but knowing what are considered to be the “rules” of writing for contests etc. allows you to make purposeful choices when you use odd grammar, write a prologue, switch points of view, etc.

4. Your new website is one of the best I’ve visited lately. I loved your grammar quiz. (I eeked out a passing grade.) You did it yourself. What pearls of wisdom can you share about that process?

Wow, that is such a nice compliment, thank you! I enjoyed putting my site together and have to give a shout-out to online templates (I used GoDaddy—but heard about so many others as I was deciding which to use). They make the process easy for those of us with no formal Website-building knowledge. If you’ve been able to work with any kind of desktop publishing software (MS Publisher, for example) and know how to move text boxes around and insert pictures into a document, you’ll have a little leg up. But, really, with a tiny bit of an “I’m more stubborn than this software” attitude, you can come up with something pretty fun. If anyone has ever thought about putting up a Website but is hesitating, I promise you, fear no more! This was on my list for two years – and it ended up being very satisfying. I count it as one of my favorite achievements. (Umm, don’t know what that says about my life in general.)

And I’m really glad you liked the quiz, Ana. I hope to put up a new one periodically so we can all keep testing ourselves. Isn’t it weird to love grammar? I’m afraid to open my grammar books, because I’ll be lost for at least half an hour. It’s not quite as much fun as creating a fabulous, handsome hero—but you wow at parties with your knowledge of such important things as “copulative verbs.” (I’d love anyone who hasn’t done it to check out my site and tell me what you think – or send me questions for the quiz!)

5. You are the current president of Midwest Fiction Writers, and headed a RWA chapter in Alaska. I can attest that this is not just a feather in your cap. You work hard at it. Tell us about this aspect of your writing life.

Gosh, that’s another really nice thing for you to say. I really do enjoy my role as president at MFW, and I loved the job in Alaska too. I’ve been volunteering in various organizations for twenty-five years (Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Pony Club, and RWA) and I keep finding myself on boards or in leadership positions—usually because I don’t duck when people come looking for victims ah… volunteers. But I can truly say that in RWA I’ve found a group where volunteering is a joy. And it’s a huge part of my writing life. I’ve made the best friends being on the two chapter boards, and I’ve gained confidence in talking about my writing. It’s fun and a privilege to be the face of such a professional organization when I get to introduce speakers or greet guests. I’ll take that confidence with me when I meet agents and editors long after my term is over. I think being president is the easiest job on the board – but others say no. It’s also been the best way to give back to RWA—even though it’s hardly enough to pay for the benefits I’ve received. But, I’m also a natural ham, so it’s good to have a place where I can channel that into something I love. I hope my legacy is that I made our chapter a fun and welcoming place to be—that’s something I do work very hard at accomplishing.

6. What is your writing process? Pantser, plotter or fluid outliner?

Oooh, fluid outliner! I kinda like that! I think, to be honest, I am a Pantsaliner Otter. And I’m not really being flippant (okay, I am), but I’m definitely the embodiment of a confused writer. My natural process is to pants the first two-thirds of the book, then plot the end, but structure from the start would probably not hurt me. But, I love the adventure of starting with a blank page, a character, a situation and a place, then jumping in and letting the most marvelous things happen. Unfortunately, this always makes for some heavy duty editing and tightening when the manuscript is done.

So, I’ve tried a bunch of the plotting “programs” out there: Karen Wiesner’s, “First Draft in 30 Days,” Michael Hauge’s story templates, Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. My weaker left brain LOVES making lists and getting ready to plot. My much more stubborn and obnoxious right brain puts its metaphorical fingers in its ears and shouts “nananananana.” So, I always end up ditching the snowflakes and character sketches and pants away. I’ve managed to get the right brain to allow me an outline—and fluid is the nicest thing you can call my latest of those—we’ll see if it’s worked at the end of my current project.

As for the “otter” part of my descriptor above? That’s definitely me: an otter. I play before I work and every distraction is cooler than the one before. Truly? I think it will be a tough task turning this otter into a full-fledged plotter.

7. How do you decide when a manuscript is done, that tweaking it more would be unproductive?

The best line I ever heard was from a published author friend who said, “The day you pull your book off the shelf and open its cover for the first time, you’ll say, ‘how the heck did I miss that?’” I’m sadly certain that’ll be true in my case. My inner editor is a very vocal female (she’s related to that right brain) who’s been named Lucy, and she’s tough to put in a corner. My editor training means Lucy and I get along too well most days. I love to edit a manuscript multiple times, and I have to tell myself to quit when I’ve done four passes, had all my trusted critique partners give me their suggestions, changed everything I want to change, and, maybe most importantly, made my word count. (Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean layering to add volume, it means drowning some darlings because I’m over-budget on words.) What? You’ve noticed??

And when I start “rearranging the furniture,” i.e., changing words just to play with the sound of them, it’s time to call it done!

8. Finally, what are you working on now? Another Taggert Family Alaskan story?

I am working on a Taggert Family story! This is my series set in Alaska—the place I lost my heart to when I lived in Anchorage for three years. The Taggerts are a family of marine scientists—The Cousteaus of the Arctic.

I’m working on Beluga Moon, which stars Kinley Taggert, Skip’s sister, a whale expert who takes on a huge corporation to help save the endangered beluga whales of Alaska’s Cook Inlet—even though the man she’s falling in love with is a lawyer working for the company.

The first book, Aleutian Star, is done—it features older brother, Brooks –aka Skip- Taggert, and his heroine, Haley Chapman, a San Francisco socialite who finds herself on a three-month expedition to an Aleutian Island.

The third book, Fire Sky, will be about the youngest sister, Katmai (Kat), the brainiest Taggert of them all – who earned her PhD by age 23 and who, with focus and drive that make her cool and aloof, spends all her time keeping the Taggert family business afloat until a dreamer of an aurora photographer turns her orderly life upside down.

I’m truly looking forward to the day I can head back to Alaska for a book signing of this “series of my heart” at the Barnes and Noble on A Street and Northern Lights Blvd. in midtown Anchorage!
“The bunny slippers are non-negotiable.”
Skip Taggert locked glares with the young woman whose Gucci leather tote bag sprouted a pair of crazy-eyed, fuzzy pink rabbit heads. For one moment, battle was joined, until the sibilant whirr-click-whirr from a camera's motor drive turned what was left of Skip’s cool to hot annoyance. He shot a fierce scowl at the litter of photographers jostling behind a flimsy twine barrier.
As if this expedition wasn't in enough trouble, he had California papa-friggin’-razzi. In Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
“Miss Chapman! Haley? Will you be leaving the slippers?” The runt of the litter, a roly-poly photographer with hopeful-puppy eyes, called out to the girl-of-the-hour.
Haley Chapman, petite, brown-haired and, Skip acknowledged reluctantly, far better looking than her society page pictures, fired a barrage of blue sparks at him from angry eyes. He warded them off with the swift arching of one eyebrow, a talent his sisters told him was disturbingly Spockish as well as highly annoying.
He prayed it annoyed her. Tit for tat.
"Yes. She will definitely be leaving the slippers.” Skip answered for her and found perverse pleasure in watching her lips thin. "Would you excuse us, please? Gentlemen."
Cupping her elbow, he hustled her across the creaking wooden floor to the far corner of the Harbormaster's one-room, fish-scented office.
"Take your hands off me.” Her whisper carried a tacit threat to turn up the volume if he didn’t obey. He dropped his light hold like she'd touched him with a curling iron. "I don't care what you think of me, but at least have a little respect for my parents."
A grin tugged through his irritation. Haley Chapman the spitfire—my, my. A little wet cat, all bristled fur and defiant hiss. So different from the happy-go-ditzy socialite the media always portrayed. If he hadn't been nursing such a fine bout of irritation, he'd have admitted to liking this image better.
"Oh, I think we’ve shown plenty of respect, Miss Chapman.” He cleared his throat with deliberate calm. “This expedition is facing potentially serious problems and the future of my family depends on the work we do this summer. I really can’t afford to have a second-rate celebrity playing pleasure cruise so, to be brutally honest, I don’t want you here. But I respected your father enough to let him call in favors with my father and get you on this trip. And we’re giving your mother the respect due a candidate in California's senatorial race, but all of this is causing me media scrutiny I don’t want either.” He sent another pointed look to the paparazzi. “So let me be perfectly clear. Even if Mom over there won the election tomorrow, she wouldn’t get your bunny slippers, or anybody else's, on my research boat."
The motley crowd of media hounds clicked away, fitting as well in the forty-foot-square office as clowns in a miniature car. The three parents under discussion huddled to one side of the photographer’s line. The two men, her father and his, were old friends. The woman, holding a small creature Skip guessed was a dog, looked as out-of-place as a lily in a patch of dandelions.
“As if slippers take up any room.” Haley Chapman spoke, her determination to do battle over the ludicrous footwear far more impressive than the haughty tone she tried to take. “Look Mr. Taggert—”
“Right. Doctor of what again? Seal-ology?” A pretty sneer curled her soft pink lips, and the smallest wrinkle creased the space between her perfectly waxed brows.
Skip held his breath, and with it his temper, for an extra heartbeat. “Sealion-ology, Miss Chapman. Puffin-ology; Auklet-ology; Otter-ology. More ologies than I expect you ever to have heard of.”
Her fingers curled, her jaw tensed. He fully expected her to stomp her foot like a petulant fifth grader. Instead, she came up with some sound that crossed a growl with a snake choking on its hiss. “I understand plenty,” she said when she could speak. “Like how you’ve got a really bad attitude about a stupid pair of slippers.”
“For your information, sweetheart, those damned slippers take up precious space. I’m not sailing you to Club Med, in case Daddy didn’t tell you. In fact …” He stalked to the corner behind her, where several items of gear lay in a lumpy pile, and yanked up an olive green, military duffel bag. “You need to take those three pretty little floral suitcases over there and condense. What fits in here is what you get to bring.”
“I beg your pardon?” She stared, jaw slack, as if he’d asked her to remove her head.
“No pardon to beg. You get a duffel bag of essentials like everyone else on the crew, and judging by the bulge in those suitcases, I’d say you’re in for some problem-solving.”
Unblinking blue from her eyes bored into him, now a solid, challenging beam instead of a fiery barrage. He only launched his brow again and nodded at the designer tapestry luggage: three different sized cases standing primly where she’d set them twenty minutes ago.
“Those cases into that bag, Miss Chapman. You have half an hour until we’re finished with final loading and inspection. If you intend to come, be on board with this duffel, your parka and no slippers.”

Thanks so much for inviting me to HeroineswithHeart. What a fun site—and I really enjoyed the questions and the opportunity to ramble on about my writing. I’m excited to tell my friends about your blog and have them start checking you out regularly! Thanks again.


  1. Great, interview. I have to be honest, I slipped away to check out your site and answer the grammar questions. FUN! I'll be sure to check back for more Q&A since I can use all the help I can with grammar!

  2. Hi Toni!
    It's really great of you to check out the interview AND the grammar quiz. Kinda goofy, I know, but it's fun for me to come up with the questions too. I get to spend time with grammar books checking my own answers--how "wrong" is that? Most people would run screaming :-) I'll come up with a new quiz soon. Meanwhile, I'm sure you do just fine!
    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Great interview! And I'm so glad to hear you are submitting to agents. You're going to be published in no time!

  4. Lizbeth,
    I really enjoyed this interview, especially the moping and chocolate part...I can really identify!

    I'm off to fail your grammar quiz now :)

    Christi Corbett

  5. Yay, Liz! Great interview! Congratulations again on the GH final. I hope it leads to many offers.


  6. Hi Lizbeth!

    Welcome and congrats on your GH final. Good luck to you!

    I am a past-President of my local RWA chapter, so I know how much time and energy that takes. But it was nice to serve my friends and fellow authors in that capacity.

  7. Hi Lizbeth!

    Welcome and congrats on your GH final. Good luck with it!

    I am a past-president of my local RWA chapter and know how much time and energy it takes. It was nice to be able to serve my friends and fellow authors in that way.

  8. Congrats on the GH final, Lizbeth. I didn't do too badly on your grammar quiz - copulative verbs let me down from getting 100%.
    I love your description of the left side of your brain battling with the right side, that's exactly howI feel sometimes (correction - a lot of the time!)
    Good luck onfinding an agent/editor!

  9. Hi Everyone, thanks for stopping by to check out the interview.

    Christi, Hi! Yeah, moping and chocolate is maybe never helpful, but it sure feels good sometimes! And, I'll bet you didn't fail (the quiz)!

    Tamera L. - You are a huge inspiration to me when it comes to getting the submission train rolling. You're one of my heroes because of how much you respect your own writing and work diligently at the business end of this career. You aren't far from getting The Call either!!

    Tamera H. - I'm just happy to be in our MFW group of incredible writers -- I know the magic is going to rub off on both us soon!

    Debra - Really nice to "meet" a fellow prez. Good for you for tackling that job too. It'll be bittersweet when my term is over this year, because I really like the job. But our incoming president will be AWESOME, so I'm looking forward to working on more intimate projects -- and heckling from the back of the room!

    Hi Paula - great to meet you too. You did a fantastic job on the quiz to only miss the name of a kind of verb. I admit totally it was not something I knew before running across it in a grammar book. Just the name, however, made it imperative to include! And, here's to right-brainers everywhere!Q

  10. Wonderful interview! Wonderful website! Tantalizing excerpts. Wow, what's not to like about Liz??? Get yourself an agent and you'll be on your way. Congratulations, too on your Golden Heart, Liz. No easy accomplishment.

  11. Hey, great interview! I'm so happy for you, Liz, and can't wait to cheer for you in Orlando!

  12. Wow, Nancy, thank you so much! I love hearing things like "tantalizing excerpts." Gives me hope that the agent isn't too terribly far away :-) And the support from my talented writing "colleagues" (aka friends) will be the catalyst!

  13. Hi Susan!
    You have no idea how much I look up to you! You write in the same category I do, you won the GH the first year I attended the RITA/GH ceremony, and your book comes out ANY DAY! May I follow in your footsteps! Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Wonderful interview, Liz!! I'm so excited about these Taggert family Alaska stories. I'll be first in line at your signing! And rooting for you all the way in Orlando.

  15. Jenny!
    Thank you so much. I'm going to have a signing JUST so I can see you! Thanks for the encouragement and wonderful mentoring you always give. I miss you!!