Multi-award winning, bestselling novelist Vicki Hinze, (aka Victoria Barrett and Victoria Cole) has written more than two dozen novels for Bantam, St. Martin's Press, Pinnacle, and Silhouette, and three nonfiction books for Spilled Candy Books. An active lecturer on the writing craft and the business of writing, she sponsors the Writers' Zone mentoring program and the Edna Sampson Benevolence Fund to assist writers in financial straits.
Vickie, how did growing up in New Orleans influence your writing? And when did you actually begin to write?
New Orleans is colorful, and I would say that its most significant influence is in the unique individuality of the people, which makes for interesting and complex characters. Too, the bayous and swamps and marshes are full of mystery and folklore that make for intriguing settings.
I began writing before starting grade school. To read the Sunday comics, I had to read and discuss the front page of the paper all week. My dad's rules. I wrote political essays. Later, I moved into poetry and then very briefly into short stories, and then moved to novels. I wrote the first novel in 1986, first sold in 1992. I don't recall a time when I didn't write, to be honest.
I have to ask: why do you wear hats covering your eyes in your publicity photos?
I could say it suits with the mystery and thriller aspects of what I write, but the truth is I needed new pro photos and I was undergoing a series of eye surgeries. Swelling and bruising are hidden by those hats. Readers wrote in liking them, so I've kept the hats.
What prompted your war games series? And why body doubles?
My husband was in special ops and so I'm naturally interested in the topic and missions. Body doubles became intriguing in the first Iraq war, when I discovered that Saddam had nearly a dozen known body doubles. And so the "what if" concept kicked in. What if black-market terrorists used doubles to infiltrate high-level top-secret positions where people have access to all manner of intelligence and technology? That set my imagination on fire.
How do you go about researching your novels? And what in your background prepared you to write about politics and war?
The research depends on the subject matter, but often I do what I can on the web and then contact subject matter experts to confer.
The preparation I'd say comes from a lifelong interest in politics spurred and nurtured by my father and later being aware of the impact of politics on my life and later still on the lives of my children. My husband being in the military for twenty-two years generated a deep interest. To better understand the man, I spent a lot of time studying warfare, the history of war and methods, means and technology.
You have a diverse group of women protagonists? Have you patterned them after women you’ve known or admired?
All of the protagonists--male or female--are people I respect and admire. I might not agree with them or their actions, but I still respect them. The females well might be victims but they don't let that steal their identities or their futures. I can't say they're based on any one woman but are rather a composite of admirable traits I see in everyday, ordinary women who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.
Tell us about your latest release.
Forget Me Not is a story of a woman who is carjacked, beaten and left for dead. She recalls nothing and others are trying to kill her. She must discover why to survive. She's definitely a victim, but she holds fast to faith. That sprang from the question/statement that led me to write the book. If, I wondered, you lost everything--every single thing including your identity--would you lose yourself? In writing the book, I discovered the answer to that question and more. It wasn't easy to write and some of the explorations weren't comfortable, but they were worthy.
When and why did you start your Yahoo group, Writers Zone?
To be honest, I've lost track of when. It started out as Aids4Writers but one of the members was deeply impacted by AIDS, which was a new term to us when I started, so I changed the name of it. Well over ten years ago. Probably close to fifteen.
Every year, as part of a self-improvement program, I tackle a virtue. That year, I wanted to "do good for goodness' sake." You see, when I started writing, I didn't know another writer. I would spend days looking for the simplest information. It was very frustrating, and I promised myself that if I ever learned anything about writing or the business, I would share. So the program was born for the purpose of sharing while looking for nothing in return. I intended to post every day for a year, and then to move on to the next virtue. But as the year came to a close, I mentioned to the followers that I was going to miss them and their questions which kept me on my toes. The feedback was swift and furious, with followers asking me to please continue the program. And so I have.
For the first several years, I attempted to post every day. As my career took off and I had less time available, I'd post three or four times a week. But a shift has occurred that has required me to change the way that I run the program. And that is, many of the questions I receive are ones too author-specific to share with the group. So these days the majority of the work is between the author asking and me privately. I don't and never have claimed to know it all. But I do network, and share what I know or what I can find out from others. So the program started with me trying to do good for goodness sake and continues because they asked.
And which subjects do you touch on most?
I answer a lot of questions on writing craft, but in the last couple of years likely due to the rapidly changing market), the bulk of the questions have been related to the writing business. Within that aspect of our industry, the questions widely vary. Some are very basic, wanting to know the what happens to a book after it submitted. Others are a lot more complex, dealing with agent or editor relations, promotional tips, reading royalty statements, terminating agreements—all manner of things. Character, pacing, and suspense are common themes I'm questioned on consistently. Of course, that brings in things like conflict, goals, and other intricate aspects of character that impact the other novel elements as well. But I also get a lot of questions on time management and making presentations, too.
What’s the best way to become a bestselling writer?
The short answer: produce consistently high-quality work for a targeted, established genre and market it as though your life depended on it. When you do this, you build a bond with the reader, and s/he comes to trust you. By staying in the same genre, you make it easier for readers to find and follow you. It is increasingly important that authors get involved in marketing their own work. Because it is, it behooves the author to learn to do market wisely and well. The key word is platform, and it's never too soon for an author to start building one. I don't know that that is the best way to become a best-selling writer, but I do know it seems effective.
Who most influenced your own writing and what would you be doing, if not a writer?
My parents influenced my writing. Both of them loved books and read constantly. It wasn't uncommon for my mother to read two or three books a day. Those daily discussions on politics with my dad early on in life taught me a lot more than just about the stories that appeared in the newspaper. Writers are good observers, and they learn to look at things from different perspectives. The ability to do that is one of the gifts that my dad gave me in that little ritual of earning my way to read the funnies.
I have no idea what I would be doing if I didn't write. I remember once early on, I was frustrated to the max. I told my husband I was going to quit. He suggested that I really think about it because he couldn't see me being happy not writing. So I did. I locked myself in my office and thought about it for hours. What I discovered, wasn't that I was frustrated with writing. I was frustrated with trying to sell what I wrote. I walked out of my office, and I told my husband that when I died I wanted him to bury me with a pencil in my hand.
The idea of going through eternity and not being able to write down my stories was just more than I could bear. So I really don't know what I would do if I were not a writer. I would probably teach writing, or counsel writers, or teach the business end of being a writer. I just don't know that anything unrelated to writing would hold my interest long-term. I'd have to be pretty fascinated. One of the things that I absolutely love about writing is knowing I'll never master it. I can study, write my fingers to the bone, and I'm still going to learn new things and try new methods and techniques all the time. The adventurous nature of that makes it hard to beat or even to match.
Advice to aspiring writers.
If you can quit writing, do it.
That sounds brash, but the truth is writing for a living is a very difficult thing to do. So you have to have an unshakable sense of purpose in doing it or you'll never make it. The quickest way to find out if you have that unshakable sense is to quit. If you can quit, you aren't likely to have the disposition or discipline or endurance to make it through the ups and downs of being a writer. It requires total commitment. If you love writing, you will not be able to quit. You won't be content without it. And that makes this the fastest way to find out whether or not it's in your best interests to pursue writing as a career.
There's a lot of information for writers in my MY KITCHEN TABLE blog and in the writer's library on my website at www.vickihinze.com. Spend some time there, exploring. It could spare you from tromping through the same mud puddles others or I have tromped through.
Choose a path of the stories you love most then stay the course. Be flexible, but realize that the higher up you get on the career ladder the less options you have to write "different" stories. Why? Because your readers' expect a type of story from you and that's what they want. That's not to say you can't write different things, but that you need to prepare your readers for the shifts or their expectations will be violated.
Keep studying the craft, the business, and keep reading.
Thank you, Vicki!
Vicki's website: www.vickihinze.com