TweetDeanna Lynn Sletten is a bestselling and award-winning author. She writes women’s fiction and romance novels and has also written one middle-grade novel that takes you on the adventure of a lifetime.
Deanna’s women’s fiction novel, Widow, Virgin, Whore,made the top 100 bestselling books on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble in March 2014. Her romance novels Memories and Sara’s Promise both won semi-finalist in The Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012 and 2013 respectively. Sara’s Promise was also a finalist in the 2013 National Indie Excellence Book Awards.
Deanna is married and has two grown children. When not writing, she enjoys walking the wooded trails around her northern Minnesota home with her beautiful Australian Shepherd or relaxing in the boat on the lake in the summer.
Time to chat with Deanna!
What is your latest book?
I have just published a romance novel titled Destination Wedding. It is a fun, heartwarming story that women of all ages will enjoy.
Do you write under a pen name?
No, I use my real name.
If you were to advertise your book on a bumper sticker, what would it say?
Imagine going to paradise—with your ex!
What else have you written?
I currently have seven novels published, some in the women’s fiction genre and others that are romances, plus one middle-grade novel. Some of my novels deal with difficult subjects. The main male character in Memories is a veteran of the Vietnam War and the story includes his struggle with his past memories of the war. Widow, Virgin, Whore is the story of three women who are friends/sisters and how they cope when one of them is infected with HIV/AIDS. Maggie’s Turn is a lighter story but deals with a disintegrating marriage. My women’s fiction/family drama novel, Summer of the Loon, is a heartwarming story of a young teen girl whose mother dies and she has to go live with the grandfather she has never met. While there is a lot of drama, there are also a lot of feel-good scenes. My other novels include Sara’s Promise (romance), Outlaw Heroes (Action/Adventure Middle-grade), and my latest romance, Destination Wedding.
What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?
From what I’ve seen over the past three years is that indie authors are becoming more widely accepted by readers than from just a few years ago. Readers love to read, and if an indie author is professional and writes a good story, readers don’t care if they aren’t traditionally published. When I first started self-publishing, there was still some hesitation about buying an indie book due to poor editing and formatting. But now you see more indies hiring editors and proofreaders, as well as professional formatters and book cover designers. This has helped to improve the image of indie authors.
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
Very often! It sounds crazy to a non-writer when you say that your character decided to go in a different direction than you intended them to go, but it does happen. There have been many times I’ve written a scene where I thought the character was going to do one thing, and then he does another, and no matter how I try, he just does what he wants. Usually, it helps to make the story more interesting. Obviously, I’m the one controlling the character, but it just doesn’t feel that way sometimes. I no longer act like I have any control over my characters when I write. I start writing and see where they want to go.
What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?
I’m one of those oddball writers who love the entire process from the research to the final draft. I don’t understand writers who say how hard writing is or how much they hate writing, yet they choose to write. If you don’t love it, don’t do it. I love learning new things, so the research part of the process is interesting to me. Then, the writing phase is so much fun—I love getting lost in the story. I enjoy editing as well. It gives me a chance to re-read the novel and change where necessary to help make the story fuller and richer. Then, after the editor has had a turn at it, I enjoy going through the story and once again making changes to create a better story. I love it all—no complaints from me.
Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?
I almost always write my scenes in order, but once in a great while I get an idea for a scene and I want to write it down before I forget it. I’ve written the ending down before too, even though I might make a few changes. When I begin a project, I usually know exactly how I want to start it and how I want to end it and maybe have a few scenes in mind for the middle. The rest comes to me as I write, so that is why I generally write in order.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
For me, it’s important to know how I’m going to end it before I even start it, otherwise I don’t know where I’m going. It helps. As for the title, I’ve used working titles before and then changed the title in the end. Titles are the hardest thing for me, so I like it better if I have a title before I start, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I had at least five different titles for Memories before I decided on which one to use. I also had a different title for Sara’s Promise. On the other hand, Maggie’s Turn, Summer of the Loon, and Destination Wedding all came to me before I even started the project.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
I like to edit as I go, not drastically, but I do re-read and edit. Each day when I sit down to write, I usually read what I wrote the day before and that’s when I’ll make some edits. It gets me back into the story and helps me stay on track. And I also hate seeing a misspelled word or a sloppy phrase as I write, so I usually stop to fix it before going on. It’s like sitting in a messy room and not picking anything up. It drives me crazy.
How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?
I think the character names are very important. They help to set the tone of the character’s personality. Before I begin writing, I go through names for each character to choose the perfect name. That is, unless I have already thought of a name that fits perfectly. If you want the reader to believe the story, then you can’t just grab names out of the air. The character’s name should fit the time period of when they were born, not of when you write the story. It should also fit their personality. Is the character silly? Flirty? Serious? A nerd? Are you going to name your nerdy character who is a computer genius Tiffany? You can, but is it realistic? The right name helps the reader identify with the characters, and hopefully want to get to know them. If you do your job right, the reader will think about the characters even when they are finished with the book, as if they were real people that the reader knew.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?
Not yet, but it sounds like fun.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
Over the past three years, I’ve met first-time authors who are still trying to go the traditional route but can’t seem to find a publisher. They are still hesitant to self-publish. While I think it’s wonderful to continue to try to find an agent/publisher, I also believe that you shouldn’t spend years waiting for something to happen. If you are a first time author, take the plunge and get your book out there. You may have the next best seller just sitting, unread, in a computer file. Always use an editor, or at the very least, a proofreader, and have your book professionally formatted and add a professional cover. But get it out there for people to read and enjoy. And don’t stop there. Continue to publish. You have a much better chance of finding a traditional publisher if you have a steady track record of interest and sales for your novel.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
There are so many conflicting opinions out there about everything related to publishing: e-book pricing, book promotion, social media usage etc. How do you sort through it all to figure out what works best for you?
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
My latest novel, Destination Wedding, took very little research since our family had actually visited a similar island in the Bahamas the year before. It was while we were there that the book idea came to me, and I loved the island location so much I knew it would be the perfect backdrop for a romance novel. As for many of my other novels, I have done extensive research, depending upon the background of the characters. Widow, Virgin, Whore, and Memories both involved a heavy amount of research. Some of my other novels included only research on where they were set. I try to use settings that I have actually been to and know about from personal experience. I don’t think you can get a feel for a place by just reading about it, you have to experience it.
Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?
No, no one reads my work until after it’s been to the editor and is ready for publication. I wouldn’t feel comfortable having someone telling me what I was doing right/wrong with my novel before I’m even finished with it. That is what my editor is for, and I trust her advice. I know many writers depend upon critique groups and I’m sure that works well for them. It just isn’t something I’d be comfortable doing. Each story I write is personally mine, and all I can do is hope that others can relate to it and will enjoy it.
Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?
Both Widow, Virgin, Whore and Memories have received strong, emotional feedback from readers, which is rewarding considering the emotional topics of each book. What surprised me most, though, was some of the feedback I’ve received for Maggie’s Turn. I originally thought of Maggie’s Turn as just a fun, heartfelt story, so I was surprised when many women told me how it hit home with them. I’ve even had a few women tell me how it gave them hope for their own marriage. I love entertaining people with my novels, but it is even more gratifying to hear that they were actually touched by a story.
Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?
It seems like each book is my favorite right after I’ve written it. Currently, Summer of the Loon and Destination Wedding are my favorites. Before that, Maggie’s Turn was my favorite. I guess I just love them all or else I’d have never written them. Each story is special to me in one way or another.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
I think it’s always difficult handling negative reviews of anything you do in life. After spending so much time creating something like a novel, it’s difficult to read criticism of it. Unfortunately, that is just part of the process. A writer has to remember that not all people are going to love what you do—that’s just a fact. When I read a negative review, I decide if it’s helpful or not. Did the reviewer just say it was the worst thing they’ve ever read or did they give reasons why they didn’t like it? Were the reasons valid? If the majority of your reviews are positive and you only get a few negative/hate reviews, then I wouldn’t think too much of them. If the majority of your reviews are not positive, then it’s time to review what people are complaining about and see if it can help to improve your writing.
I know there are many writers out there who say they never read their reviews, good or bad, because it won’t change the way they write. While that may work for someone selling millions of books a year, I think as an indie author, you should be aware of what your readers think. Don’t change your writing or story because of a few negative comments, but be aware of the good and the bad. It might just help you improve as a writer.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?
I’m more of a night owl writer. Some afternoons I will sit down and write for an hour or two, but the majority of my writing is done between 10 pm and 2 am. I love writing when it’s quiet and no one is going to disturb me. As for must haves, I really don’t have any of those when I write except for complete silence. Once I start writing, I’m so absorbed in the story that I rarely even think to eat, drink, or do anything else. It’s my time to give the story its full attention.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
I place a high value on book covers. Everyone judges a book by its cover, especially today when people are glancing through books on a site like Amazon and you only have one or two seconds to make them stop and look at yours. It’s your cover they stop to look at. Maybe even your title, but most likely the cover. After that, they might read the book description. Then they might read the sample. All of those aspects must be top-notch to get the sale, but the cover comes first.
I also believe that the book cover has to give the reader an essence of what the book is about and of its genre. I’ve seen people put erotica-style covers on basic romances to try to capture the fast-growing erotica market. That’s not a good idea. It makes people mad. If they want a sexy book, and yours isn’t, then you will get a bad review. Likewise, you don’t want to put a playful cover on your book and then have nothing but hot sex in it. People don’t like that either, but I’ve seen it done. That’s why it’s important to work with an experienced cover designer who can help you create the perfect cover for your particular book. Deborah Bradseth at Tugboat Design (www.tugboatdesign.net) creates all my book covers, and she does an amazing job. We work together on what concept I want and then she gives me different ideas that she thinks will work. She usually knows more about what I want than I do. Your cover is your first chance to snag a reader, so don’t lose that chance by settling for a subpar cover.
What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?
I do love paranormal/ghost stories, but I have yet to come up with a good one that I’d actually like to write. Hopefully, a good idea will come to me someday, but I’m not going to force it.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
I currently live in a small, northern Minnesota town. If I had the chance to move, it would definitely be to an island in the Bahamas. I have a particular one I love, but I’m going to be greedy and not reveal its name because I don’t want anyone else to move there. I love it exactly as it is right now.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?
Chocolate – especially when it’s cold from the fridge. Least favorite? Most green foods – I’m just not a veggie person.
Care to brag about your family?
Who doesn’t enjoy bragging about their family? I have two amazing grown children, Michael and Deborah, who are both out in the world doing what they love best. My husband and I have been married for forever, and he not only works full-time but enjoys playing music professionally on the weekends. He and my son have a band together and they play often. My daughter works as a designer for our local newspaper and also runs her own home business. Michael’s girlfriend is beautiful and hardworking and we all adore her, and Deborah and her husband were just married last year in the Bahamas. And of course, I have to brag about my beautiful Aussie who is my walking companion every day of the summer. She’s amazing! We all have very full lives.
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
I’d love to be a painter. Sometimes, I see a sky or landscape and wish I could paint it. I have to settle for taking a nice picture instead.
What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?
One single favorite film is difficult, but I will say Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid is on the top of the list. One of my novels is a middle-grade adventure in which twelve-year-old Will Long is swept back in time to join in on the escapades of these two outlaws. It’s a fun story and probably the most fun I’ve ever had writing. Other films on top of that list include Beaches, The Way We Were, and Somewhere In Time.
Favorite book? Again, it’s hard to choose only one. The Great Gatsby and everything ever written by F. Scott Fitzgerald top my list. Jane Eyre is right up there too.
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
Listen to each other, have more compassion, and be more patient.
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