· Author Ann Christine Fell ·
On Saturday I attended a district meeting of the Kansas Authors Club (KAC) in Hutchinson, Kansas.
All writers and those interested in becoming writers are welcome to join.
The main attraction was the guest speaker, Ann Fell, Winfield, KS.
Her book, Sundrop Sonata: A Novel of Suspense (2016), was published two years following her memoir, In the Shadow of the Wind: A Story of Love, Loss, and Finding Life Again (2014). Each publication, in consecutive years, netted the top KAC prize for a new book by a Kansas author.
I wanted to hear Fell speak because I’m always interested in what makes a prize-winning book, and I was curious about her writing process and marketing strategies.
Fell’s reputation preceded her. I had read that she tunes and repairs pianos. That’s right, someone has to make those house calls! Both piano tuning and writing are her callings.
In reference to piano tuners, she has said, “We’re quirky people.” (“Do You Want to Tune Pianos?” Category: Pianos, Oct. 17, 2015)
She’s also listed personal traits that make her successful. Beyond the strengths of musical and mechanical, I identified with her assets of being self-motivated, business-minded, an interpreter, and problem solver.
Clearly, a want-to-be author better be a self-starter or the work will never, ever, be completed. It’s a long, difficult journey.
At the meeting I described the process as “a marathon race, not a sprint,” then added, “with hurdles.” President-Elect Roy Stucky chuckled in, adding to the imagery, “like a steeplechase!” he said.
Author Fell’s presentation was titled “Note by Note/Scene by Scene: The Adventures of Crafting a Suspense Novel.”
It was packed full with valuable information on various topics including elements of a story, story structure, viewpoint, characters, layers of conflict, building suspense, etc.
I enjoyed hearing about how, in writing her novel, she mixed her passion for piano tuning and her life in rural Kansas.
This compared to the way I’ve used my career in law enforcement in the Wheat State as instrumental to my recent literary fiction. Izzy Woods is a piano tuner in Sundrop Sanata; Tom Jennings is a cop in Taking Back the Bullet.
I was fascinated when Ann told of her early Eureka moment while on a cross-country road trip. She shared that she “had an idea for a story and needed to figure out how to write it.”
Ann found what she was looking for: writing workshops by William Bernhardt, Oklahoma-based, prolific thriller/mystery/suspense fiction author (who just happens to be a pianist).
In writing suspense, Fell learned to “start with a zinger in the first sentence of the book.” She said she “put a lot of time into crafting the perfect opening line, and after that things fell into place.”
She also likes to end each chapter with a question or a cliff hanger in order to encourage the reader to keep reading!
Ann recommends polishing your words to perfection. Only after you have a draft copy of your book does the work begin. (That’s kind of depressing, don’t you think? But extremely important to know so you can plan for another base camp to rest and gain strength before ascending to the mountain’s summit.)
She added, “You need to be humble enough to listen to your readers.” Sharing your prose with friends and critique groups allows you to learn what doesn’t work. It’s extremely important to listen and learn.
Ann’s parting advice was, “Do the best you can. Don’t be satisfied with anything less.
“99.5% is failing. That’s the real world. Most pianos have 88 keys and 220 strings. If one string is out of tune, people will say the piano technician doesn’t know how to tune a piano.
“You have to tune the whole piano.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.