Monday, May 30, 2011

Interview with author, Christine Goff

Hi all - We are gearing up for the second Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2011 Education Event. For the first time, RMFW is venturing across the mountains to provide a workshop to our western slope members and hopefully to make new friends. On June 11th, Christine Goff, Mario Acevedo and Robin Owens, all successful authors and members of RMFW, will join Charlotte Cook when she presents workshop, The Final Edit. Visit to learn more. 

But right now, please welcome Christine Goff, who has graciously joined us to answer (with her own unique twist) the same questions we have put to other authors. 
We appreciate your time, Christine...

First off, tell us a little about yourself and when/how/why you started writing.
I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was in third grade and wrote this great book called “The Haunted Mansion.” It was about these kids who snuck into a haunted house at night when the witch that lived there was out flying around. They got caught messing around with the bat wings and stuff. It was a great book.  It never sold. It was published, however, in my mother’s scrapbook, and I never gave up. I went to school and studied Journalism, then switched to Creative Writing. I left school and moved to the mountains and became a ski bum. I took a job with the local newspaper and started writing again. I got married and took a correspondence course with the Institute of Children’s Book Writing (or something like that) and wrote this great book called “The Mystery of Phantom Ranch.” It was about these kids who rode the mules down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. After being told about the ghost of Bert Loper, an octogenarian who died rowing on the Colorado River at night, they set out to find it. Only, it wasn’t a ghost, it was an Indian artifact smuggling ring. It was a great book. It never sold. Then, finally, a real writer moved into our ski town and I took a workshop in romance writing and wrote this book called “Frozen Assets.” It was about this counterfeiting ring in Breckenridge and had a great romance, great ski scenes—and it never sold. It got close though, so I started on a serial killer novel. Hey, if Thomas Harris can do it…. So I wrote this great book called “Stalked.” It was about this killer who stalked mothers at the school bus turnaround. Funny, it was like the school bus turnaround where I dropped my kids off every morning. It never sold. But, I was scaring myself, and I scared an agent. He agreed to represent my work, and the rest—as they say—is history.

And your books, what do you have published and what are you working on right now?
I published five novels in a Birdwatcher’s Mystery Series for Berkley Prime Crime. They are all out-of-print now in the U.S., though I will bring some copies to the workshop. They are, however, selling well in Japan. Maybe I’ll do a karaoke book tour in Tokyo someday. I am currently working on an international thriller set in Israel. My agent is really anxious for me to get it finished, and I’m excited at the prospects. It’s a new genre for me, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to write, so…

Rejection letters: How many did you receive before you were published?
Man, do I have to say? Counting editors, agents, family members and fans (yes, they send you mail when they don’t like something), maybe 30 or 40 or…  I will say this, it doesn’t always happen like you think it will. I was rejected and rejected, then I sold my series on a partial (30 pages and a 4 page synopsis) without ever having published a thing in fiction.

You are participating in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers June Education Event, meeting with attendees and maybe critiquing the first 2 pages of their wip. In your experience and opinion, what is the biggest mistake or misconception new writers have? Did you as well, when you were new to the industry?
I think new writers make two mistakes – they don’t listen to advice when they should, and they listen to advice. You have to be open to suggestions, weigh them carefully, see if it makes sense, if it resonates. You have to be willing to change things, hear what isn’t working and be open to the idea that going at it a different way might make your story commercial. If you’re only writing for yourself, then by all means, don’t change a thing. Otherwise, know that almost anyone who’s taking the time to critique your work only wants to help you succeed. What success is for you is another matter. That said, don’t make every change anyone suggests. People have differing opinions, and you’ll never please everyone. You’ll end up making changes and making changes until it’s not the story you want to tell. Make sure that you only change those things that you see can help.

Did I make these same mistakes? YES. When my romance workshop instructor gave me a three page, single-spaced critique on my full manuscript, once it was done, I cried, threw the pages on the ground and stomped on them. A week later, I picked them up and read them. I made a few changes, not many. When my manuscript was considered for publication by the senior editor at Harlequin Intrigue, she rejected it with a very nice letter sighting some of the same problems my romance workshop instructor had pointed out. If I only had listened, I might be a romance writer today. I’ve also gone the other route and tried to make every change my critique group suggested, until I was writing a book for the critique group and not telling the story I wanted. When I submitted that book, I was told it had no heart.

How often do you write? Do you stick to a schedule or work it in around life?
I try and write every day, for at least an hour, preferably four, Monday through Friday. Sometimes I write on the weekend, but that time is usually reserved for family. And I do put my writing aside when I have things come up. I have six kids (now all graduated from or in college), so my time is more my own these days; but, when I was writing my Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, I had three at home. You can’t always ignore life. That said, if you plan on hitting the NYT list and being a famous author someday, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. All the really famous writers I know gave up time with friends and family to get where they are. Most of them have come back around to find a balance, but you’ll find the publishers will want you to turn in a book every nine months to a year, and they may want you to tour (at least put in appearances at the big writers conventions in your genre). You will have to answer your fan mail, keep up a blog or website presence. It all take time. More time than you think. So, pace yourself. Make a schedule. Stick to it. And build in time for life. It’s what fills your stories with heart.

When not writing, what do you do?
I’m a mom and a wife. I take bridge lessons on Wednesday nights. I knit. I make stuff (I’m crafty). I tile my bathroom, play with my dogs, read.

What did I not ask that you want to talk about?
 Reading. You must read. Read. Read. Read. If you don’t read—including in the genre you write—you cannot write. I know that’s a generalization and someone will point out someone who did it brilliantly; but, trust me.  The best writers read their colleagues work. Notice, I didn’t say competition. It’s not a competition. You can only write the best book you can write. And every writer’s success builds interest in the genre and in books, it expands the market. Writers need to be each other’s best advocates and cheerleaders. So, you go!

Thanks, Christine. We look forward to seeing you in less than two weeks!!!!  

Anyone who has more questions or comments, feel free to join the conversation. 


  1. Great answers, Christine. Thanks for coming to our blog. Six kids? Very Nice :-)
    I love your examples of your attempts at publication, and I noticed a common thread through them...they all had an element of mystery. I guess you found you niche early on and stayed with it. Good luck on your newest adventure. It sounds quite exciting.
    Question: Since we are going to be seeing you at a workshop on revising, I thought this appropriate...
    When you write a novel, do you revise as you go? Or do you finish the novel, then revise, revise, revise? Do you have a method you prefer? A favored book on revision you would recommend to others? And what about critique groups? Are you in one? Do you find value in them?
    (Did I say "question?" I meant in a plural sense lol)
    And, the big question: Coffee, tea, or amazing cafe mocha concoction?
    Thanks for coming to our blog and sharing with us. I cannot wait to see you in Grand Junction on June 11th!

  2. We'll be interested to see your response regarding revisions. We've been talking about revision since the Hickman workshop in Denver a couple weekends back. He has an amazing process, which makes a lot of sense to some of us.

    But then others of us grind our teeth through the first revision and can't imagine planning six more. LOL

    Regardless of the process, revisions are as big a part of writing as getting the first draft down on paper. (In my humble opinion).

    And coming from Marne (mother of 7) and me (part-time mother of many - my own and adoptees)...we love hearing you have so many kids.

    Though Charlotte Cook's upcoming workshop in Grand Junction is titled "The Final Edit" Charlotte actually covers so much more in her workshop. Which is what we found with Kirt Hickman's as well. Everything from story arc to point of view and voice. And of course, the importance of revision.

    Looking forward to it and to seeing you, Christine.

  3. Marne, great question(s). I revise as I go and then I revise at the end. I LOVE revision. It's my favorite part. The reason I revise as I go along is I cannot go forward if I know there's something important to change. I don't do line editing as much as big picture editing as I go. My protagonist was a lawyer and now she's a professional wrestler. The implications of that change cause ripples throughout the book. Every response she has to a situation is different because she's different. (NOTE: I don't have a lawyer or a professional wrestler in any of my books past or work-in-progress).

    I don't have a favorite book on revision. I tend to make sure the big picture looks right -- every scene logically moves to the next, every event has a reason for happening (I'm not big on coincidence as a method for making this happen), every action taken by a character is true to the character. You really can't jimmy something just because it works well for the plot. Then, at the end, I go back and tinker some more with the sentence structure, cut out my "darlings" (those things I think I've written beautifully but are just beautifully written lines that aren't necessary, or a too purpley. Then I check for spelling and punctuation errors. Then I send it off. I find that if I read it aloud and see how it sounds, I can often find places where I have my characters acting out of character, or awkward construction. I don't highlight for emotion, plot, etc., though I know people who do. I find that if a scene falls flat for me when I'm reading it outloud (or even silent reading), it's usually because it doesn't belong or there isn't enough emotion and action.

    I do have a critique group. I LOVE it! We have a really diverse group of mystery writers -- about half published and half not-yet published. We all bring different perspectives to the table, and we all have something to add. We do the traditional sandwich method of critique -- say something nice, trash the work, say something nice. The critiqee can't say anything until the end, and then they can never defend their work, just ask questions. We will sometimes talk about the advice and brainstorm ways to fix things, banter back and forth about how we see it. I find the critiquee often listens more than they talk during the final minutes because the different ideas, perspectives and feelings are sometimes some of the best advice of the night. We never line edit in critique (except on the pages in writing), we only talk about the big picture -- did the character work, did the plot work, was there a purpose to the scene, did it convey what the writer wanted. We also try never to rewrite each others books. It's very easy to give advice based on the way you see the book, the way you want it written, but it's the critiquer's job to give advice based on the writer's intent.

    And, last, I drink coffee -- gallons and gallons of coffee, with cream -- half-and-half to be exact. I don't like powdered creamer. That said, I'd never turn down a cafe mocha concoction. I love chocolate, too!