Today, I have the honor of interviewing Lori L. Lake. Lori was one of the first authors whose books I read when I first started reading lesbian fiction years ago, and her Gun Shy novels are still among my favorites.
Lori, who now lives in Portland, Oregon (where I hope to meet her at the GCLS con next year!), is the author of ten published novels such as Gun Shy, the amazing historical fiction Snow Moon Rising, Buyer’s Remorse, and—her newest release—Jump the Gun. Her books won the Ann Bannon Award, two GCLS Awards, and an Alice B. Reader Appreciation Award.
So let’s see what brought her to that point in her career.
How long have you been writing full-time?
Since the end of November 2002.
What was the process of moving into full-time writing for you?
I had worked for county government for nearly two decades, and during that time I got a master’s degree and later took a few informal writing classes at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. From the time I got my undergraduate degree, I had also been writing short stories periodically and attempting to get them published. No dice there. I had over a hundred rejections. But in 1992 I wrote a short story that my writing group told me really wasn’t a story—it should be a novel. So for ten years before I was actually able to quit my day job, I worked on novel writing and learning the craft. I wrote evenings and weekends while working 45-55 hours per week.
I was very grateful when my then-partner figured out how to adjust our budget so I could quit my day job and write full-time. I had to bring in a certain amount of income to help make ends meet. That’s when I started teaching and really stepped up editing because back in 2002, I only had three books out (RICOCHET IN TIME, GUN SHY, and UNDER THE GUN). But I had three other books underway, and I had high hopes that I could increase my income over time. The daily grind in government work was really killing me, so when I quit, I never looked back.
Do you write every day? Do you give yourself weekends or days off or vacation time away from writing?
I would LOVE to paint myself as a dedicated, regular writer, but…I’m not. <g> I’m (apparently) a binge writer. I do research for a new book, talk to people as needed, think about the story line, noodle around in my head with who the characters are, but I don’t actually sit down and write until I feel a real pull for it.
When a book is really rolling, I do tend to write nearly every day. But there might be weeks or months in between book projects where I’m not working on a novel on the page, though I may be doing so in my head.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I tend to do administrative things in the morning such as loading e-books for my publisher, settling royalty accounts, working on promotional tasks, answering e-mail, and so forth. When I’m immersed in a book, I tend to write after lunch for a couple of hours. Then in the evenings I have friends and family to visit, classes I take, exercise, and a sweetheart to keep up with. I’m a night owl, though, so I often come home and do a bit more writing from, say, 11PM to 2AM.
Do you have a daily word-count goal or a set number of hours you spend writing?
Not really, although right now I’m doing National Novel Writing Month where you try to get through 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, which means 1,667 words per day to hit the goal. Don’t laugh—it’s Day 6 and I’m already behind with only 5,396 words, but I hope to catch up in coming days. It’s easier for me to write during the week because my distracting loved ones tend to be at work. The weekends I have a harder time because there are so many fun things going on.
Where do you write?
I reinjured my back two years ago and ended up on a book deadline, so I sat in my recliner with my laptop on a lap desk, and I got hooked on that. I now like to write my first drafts in that comfortable seat with NFL football on in the background. I tape the games and let them run when I’m writing. You might not believe it, but football makes for terrific background noise. For some reason, it helps me focus. I do my subsequent drafts and editing and revising at the desktop computer in my office.
How did family and friends react to you giving up your day job to become a full-time writer?
Everyone thought I was a little crazy. My mom said, “You’re going from making $36 dollars an hour to less than $36 dollars a day? What—are you nuts?” Some of my friends knew the struggle I had working in the environment I’d been in. The job was hard, the clientele extremely challenging, and my staff very demanding. I was burning out slowly but surely. Being able to become my own boss and focus more on creativity saved my soul.
How much time do you spend promoting your books, including blogging, social media, etc.?
Definitely not enough, I guess. I keep a website. I have a Facebook page. I belong to a number of lesbian chat groups. And that’s about it. I really don’t want to get hooked into a lot of tweeting and blogging. For me, that would be distracting—and trust me, I don’t need any more distractions than I already have. I prefer hearing from people by e-mail and corresponding, and I try to limit the time I spend on Facebook because it’s soooooo seductive!
What’s the best thing about being a full-time writer?
Having independence and being able to decide how to structure my work day means a lot to me.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a full-time writer?
Having independence and being able to decide how to structure my work day also causes problems at times because I’m responsible for determining most of my timelines and meeting them. For the most part, I have to do my own prioritization and try to be efficient. In a creative process, that’s not always that easy.
Is there anything you wish you would have known before becoming a full-time writer?
I had made friends with so many authors who were already writing full-time, so I pretty much knew the ups and downs from them. I did a lot of research and querying of others. The financial end of the business is the part that many of my friends have difficulties with. It’s all fine and dandy to focus on creating stories and outlines and characters and so forth. It’s not so easy to keep up with all the administrative details. If you want to write full-time and have it be more than a hobby, you actually have to keep track of a lot of details just to do your taxes. There’s an entire administrative aspect, and then of course there are the promotional/marketing angles as well. Going full-time requires a lot more than just holing up to write.
What advice would you give a fellow author who wants to write full time?
Marry a rich spouse? <g> Seriously, the ups and downs of the revenue flow from writing can be a little stressful. I’m writing for a small, dedicated audience, but still, you never know how any book is going to sell nor can anybody predict how backlist books will sell. Some months the income is scarily lean; other months it surprises me. For authors ready to embark upon full-time writing, I’d ask if they are good at motivating themselves, and can they meet publishing deadlines successfully? If they choose to go the indie route and publish their own work, do they have all the requisite skills to produce books and e-books? Or do they have a team of skilled tech people in place to help with that? Knowing the cost of it all is important. If your publisher takes on the up-front costs of getting a book out there (for editing, formatting, cover creation, distribution, etc.) your royalty is not so high. But if you publish your own work, you have to pay the up-front costs yourself, which can run into a few thousand dollars. I would suggest not to take it all too lightly and to make sure you understand all the ins and outs of the publishing process.
Also, it’s exciting to consider being a full-time writer, but if you’re an extroverted person, you won’t have the watercooler to stand around anymore and debate about tactics to get your work done. You’ll lack the kind of camaraderie we so often get in the workplace. So you’ll likely need to find sources of support and ways to network. It’s a big decision, but if you can bring in sufficient income and still manage to have significant enough writing output, then go for it.
Can you tell us a bit about your latest novel?
The book that came out in July is called JUMP THE GUN and is the fourth book in The Gun Series about Dez Reilly and Jaylynn Savage. It took me a very long time to get that book crafted, but I’m so happy with it. Dez has the choice to go to SWAT or Investigations, but the death of one of her work colleagues prompts the choice she makes. She and Jaylynn have family issues arise at the very same time that they’re in great danger. It’s a mystery/thriller, and people can read the first few chapters here.
What books can we look forward to from you in the future?
Right now I’m finishing up a romance called EIGHT DATES, about a woman exploring the opportunities that an online dating service provides in a rather comical fashion. It’s the first novel I’ve ever written in first person, so that’s been interesting. The main character called for it, so I went along for the ride. We’ll see how it turns out.
Thank you for having me here at your coffee table, Jae. I hope your writing is going fantastically well!
Thank you so much, Lori, for being a guest at my blog and for patiently answering my questions.
On Sunday, I will interview playwright and writer Sandra de Helen, so check back on November 10. Or even better yet, subscribe to my newsletter in the right-hand menu so you won’t miss one of the interviews.
Have a nice rest of the week.