AUTHOR: Ann Whitely-Gillen
BOOK TITLE: Last Train to Omaha
GENRE: Fiction & Literature
PUBLISHER: Ann Gillen Books
BUY LINK: www.anngillenbooks.com
Please tell us about yourself.
I’m a communications advisor and full-time mother of four spectacular children. I have a wonderful husband and I can say that my life is filled with lots of activity, family and friends.
I have a background in public relations, music and theatre. This is my first book.
Please tell us your latest news.
I’m currently writing my next novel Egan’s Will and I’m attempting to write my first screenplay. My goal is to launch Last Train to Omaha onto the screen.
Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?
Right now I’m a part-time writer as I do have a day job that takes up the majority of my week. However, when I wrote Last Train to Omaha, I was off for the year while recovering from breast cancer, which ironically, gave me the time to focus my days on writing my book. I suppose everything happens for a reason.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I always wanted to attempt writing a novel because I am a writer by trade and I’ve always been very creative. When I got word that I had breast cancer, I did a lot of self reflection and it awakened my soul. During this time, I stumbled across a poem by American Poet, Carl Sandburg, called “Limited” and I was completely inspired by its metaphorical message about life’s journey and where we all end up in the end. I went to sleep that night and had a dream about my main character James Milligan. When I started to tell my husband about it, he held me by my shoulders and looked me in the eye and said, “You must write this book.”
What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?
I’m busy working to pay the bills like everyone else and looking after my family. I’m also a musician and sing in a trio, which is a lot of fun. I fit in writing whenever I can.
What are your thoughts about promotion?
It’s a tough thing for authors who are self published. You really need to be creative and unfortunately, to really blitz the mass public you need money. You can have the greatest book in the world but if you don’t get it out there, then it’s hard to get it noticed. I personally started my promotion by sending out requests to the wonderful world of book bloggers for guest spots and reviews. Next step for me is to pitch the book to some agents and publishing houses. Of course, I will continue to write my screenplay in the meantime.
What was the toughest criticism given to you?
The hardest criticism to date is that the story is overly sentimental. I found that really hard to digest because I believe sentiment is so important in life. It’s the thing allows us to self reflect and become more humble. When I read that review I thought to myself “but that was the whole point…?”
I’ve had so many wonderful and great comments, many more than negative ones I am happy to say. I think overall the biggest compliment in all of my favorable reviews is how people really responded to my characters. So many people found them inspiring and touching. That my readers became so attached to them tells me I did those characters justice.
Did those change how or what you did in your next novel?
I would say no. I think the one thing you must never do is succumb to what people think. You are never going to please everyone. However, it was my first novel and I have considered some aspects of a few comments into consideration for Egan’s Will. Obviously, constructive feedback is always useful.
Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you get through it?
Not with my novels, but certainly with my screenplay but only because the screenplay is a very technical format that I’m still trying to grasp as I learn along the way. I attended a Syd Field (the guru of Hollywood’s screenwriting process) seminar in New York City in June and he said, “the hardest thing about writing is initially staring at the blank screen or paper in front of you.” This is so true. If you just start to write, who cares if it’s bad, you can always go back and fix it but you must start to write. I subscribe to that in my novels—now if I can only do the same for screenwriting (laughing).
Did you learn anything from writing your book, and what was it?
I learned that I can take an idea and put it to paper, follow it through, trust it, and have a favorable outcome.
Who is your publisher and how did you connect with them?
I’m self-published, but I’m currently in the process of shopping around for a publisher. I did happen to luck in to finding an excellent editor (Elizabeth Bond from the Canadian Editors’ Association). Having an experienced editor when you self publish is probably the most important aspect of developing your book.
What do you plan for the future?
I want to continue to write when and where I can. I’d love to pursue being an author full time. Expressing stories on paper is where I find myself most at peace within my heart.
What genre do you write in and why?
Traditional fiction. It’s always been my preference as a reader; so naturally, I gravitated to that as a writer.
Tell us about the current book you’re promoting.
Last Train to Omaha is a story about a young man’s journey from darkness into light. I also believe it is a story about how our lives evolve through the people around us.
Do you outline before you write?
For sure. I believe that outlines are crucial to the direction of your story line and all of the plot points in between. That’s not to say that you can’t veer off course though but for me, having that outline is like designing the foundation and tiers of a structure.
What comes first: the plot or characters?
My experience is that they appear simultaneously. I start with a simple idea and a main character and then the plot starts to evolve from there.
Which of your characters do you love/hate/fear/pity the most and why?
I love all of the characters in Last Train to Omaha, but my ultimate favorites are Martin and Frank. They both have some much life experience and depth and they are truly brothers in arms—soul mates.
I pity James the most because he suffers so deeply from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it triggers terrible anxiety attacks, which I am very familiar with having grown up with my own personal battles with anxiety.
Which characters were the hardest to develop and why?
That was the magical thing about creating this story—none of the characters were difficult to develop because I drew from my own experiences and people that have been in my life over the years.
How did you decide how your characters should look?
I started with a character biography for each and then as you start to write and hear their voices in you head you start to place the picture. For example, in my mind, Martin Diggs is the actor Morgan Freeman and his bunk buddy in the hospital Stanley Jordan is the actor Woody Harrelson. However, when I would write Kitty or Rebecca, no specific person came to mind but I would see a rough sketch of their characteristics. I found this fascinating while creating dialogue.
Did your book require a lot of research? If so, what kind?
It did require a lot of research because I was writing about places I have never been (Chicago and Vietnam). I loved researching for this book. I learned so much about these places and about the veterans of each war. I especially loved researching the Vietnam War. I am very fascinated with that time. I spent literally hours every week going through reels of war clips and scanning reports and articles.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Without question the editing process. It’s a long and tedious but necessary process. We spent weeks upon weeks cleaning up drafts. I believe the eighth draft was the final.
What advice would you give a new writer starting out?
Take Syd’s advice—just start writing and trust your instinct. Most importantly, always spend the time and money on a good editor.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Hanging out with family and friends. I love to cook and crack open a nice bottle of red wine. My husband and I also love going to the movies.
What do you look for in a book when you sit down to read for fun?
Characters that grab you—that you actually want to care about. That’s why I love D.H. Lawrence so much. His work knows how to draw you in with the characters of his books before the plot even takes off.
What, if anything, bugs you when you read a novel?
Too much description about things that don’t matter. I once read a book (I won’t name but it was on the NY Times Best Seller List) where the author spent four or five pages describing a football field. Ugh!
What books have most influenced your life?
Everything by D.H. Lawrence. He was so ahead of his time and this inspired me to open up my mind and heart throughout the years reading his work.
What seven words would you use to describe yourself?
Emotional. Expressive. Anxious. Creative. Loving. Dependable. Wild.
What are your latest projects?
I hope to have Egan’s Will out this winter, so I will keep you all posted on that project as well as the screenplay for Last Train to Omaha.
How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.?
I would love for you to visit me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/lasttraintoomaha. You can also check out my website www.anngillenbooks.com, which links to my Goodreads blog. I’m also now on twitter! https://twitter.com/anngillenbooks.