Next up is J. M. Cornwell, who began writing at the age of eight while living in Panama. Under the influence of Homer and Edgar Rice Burroughs, she wrote her first book about a girl who, while lost in the jungles of Central America, finds an ancient civilization. Since then, Ms. Cornwell has written articles and won awards, raised a family, divorced and moved around the country with the Air Force and on her own, always coming back to her first love—writing.
In the shadow of Pikes Peak, she spins stories about relationships and secrets. Stories have been included in several anthologies, including A Cup of Comfort and Chicken Soup for the Soul. She also writes book reviews for Authorlink, has ghost written eight nonfiction books, and her debut novel, Past Imperfect, was published by L&L Dreamspell in 2009. Among Women is her second novel, the first of two connected stories that take place in New Orleans (view the video book trailer at the end of the interview).
IS: What motivated you to start writing?
JMC: I began writing at the age of eight after reading Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Greek mythology. I wanted to create my own stories.
IS: What is the primary source of inspiration for you?
JMC: Life. Everything that happens, everything I read, everything I hear starts a spark that eventually grows into a story. Good things, bad things, anything inspires me.
IS: Do you write when the muse strikes, or do you follow a writing schedule?
JMC: I do both. I write when the muse strikes, as long as I'm not working my day job, and I follow a schedule that begins around 4 a.m. every day. I find that I am more productive and creative first thing in the morning, which is a turnaround from when I was younger and nighttime was the best time to write, usually after I had my homework done, bath taken, and was getting ready for bed.
IS: Please describe your process.
JMC: I don't have a specific process, other than getting an idea, taking notes, and letting the story germinate. Sometimes an idea will strike hot and I sit down and write it immediately. Other times, a story has to germinate for a while until all the characters, motives, themes and plot settle. That's when I write. I go with the flow—whatever the flow happens to be on a given day.
IS: What have you done to promote yourself as a writer?
JMC: I've done interviews, written articles, blogs and stories, do a little social networking (I'm pretty inept at that since I spend most of my time working, reading and writing) and talk about and teach other writers about the process. This interview is one of those promotion techniques.
IS: What's left to do?
JMC: Keep writing. The one thing about writing is that there is no age limit and even physical limits can be modified or overcome to continue writing. I'll keep writing stories, articles and books until I take my last breath. It would be nice, however, to get a few books on the bestsellers lists or at least be circulated around a few thousand book clubs.
IS: When did you discover your unique voice? How long did the process take?
JMC: From my journals. I've been keeping paper journals for years and writing a lot of nonfiction. Fiction eluded me. The dialogue was wooden, the characters not yet three-dimensional, and I tended to overwrite. Then a writing colleague told me I should write the way I wrote in my journals. I thought he was crazy and then I tried it. I'd have to say that I was born with my unique voice and didn't realize I didn't have to have a separate voice for nonfiction and fiction, and the best way to write a story is just to get out of the characters' ways. The process is ongoing. Writing more refines my voice.
IS: What do you consider your greatest achievement as a writer?
JMC: Every book, every story placed in an anthology is the greatest achievement. The best achievement of all will be when I can fully support myself as a writer. I'm still waiting on that one.
IS: What's the most recent book you read?
JMC: The Traitor's Emblem by Juan Gómez-Jurado.
IS: Who are the writers you admire most?
JMC: I have a lot of old favorites: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Algis Budrys, Julian May. Most of those writers taught me how to write and what I wanted to achieve. I also have a few new favorites: Jasper Fforde, Salman Rushdie, Brian Keene, Stephen King, Ted Dekker, Douglas Kennedy, Laura Ann Gilman, Maynard & Sims, David Baldacci, to name a few. I enjoy Dan Brown's stories, but his books are not well written. Still, he is a great storyteller despite his technical and grammatical flaws. I'm always discovering new writers and the list continues to grow.
IS: What's your best piece of advice for novice writers?
JMC: Read everything, not just in your favorite genre, but in every genre, nonfiction and fiction. Stretch yourself as a reader and the writing will stretch along with it. Write. Write all the time, write when you don't feel like it, write especially when you do, and don't worry about the mistakes. You can correct those when you edit and rewrite. Get the story down in a white heat and edit with a cool head. Whatever else you may think or have been told, mistakes do count.
IS: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
JMC: The best thing any writer can do is venture outside the comfort zone frequently, in reading and writing. I began writing fiction and stopped because it was hard for me. Nonfiction came as easily to me as breathing, but I didn't give up on fiction. I kept reading and found a story that wrote itself. Once the first one was done, the rest came easier and I learned to write better dialogue, plot good stories, write fully fleshed characters, and had a lot of fun doing it.
Writing is fun, but it is also work, hard work, and it is worth the effort and the time even without publication. Publication just helps me keep score and lets me know that most of the time I hit the mark and reach readers the way intended.