Interview with Judith Kohnen
After seven years of daydreaming bits of scenes in my head for this one story, I finally decided it was time to actually write those creations down in some organized manner. I had just finished reading Danielle Steel’s “Once In A Lifetime” – which had me wishing that I could inspire, move, and touch others with words like she did. I’d always made up little stories in my head, my earliest memory was age four, and I would fall asleep many a night that way – creating little scenes where I was always the character. So for seven years, I was the main character in One Chance, One Moment. I’d always wanted to be a nurse – wasn’t at the time – and in my head, I was a nurse for my story scenes. Once I decided to sit down and begin the book, I decided I’d rename my heroine. Why I named her “Amanda” I don’t know. I never knew anyone by that name growing up. As for the hero’s name, I had spelled it “Gary” rather than “Garry” during the original draft. I don’t even think I was aware that I chose a name that actually rhymed with “Barry” then. I later changed the spelling of that name to honor Manilow’s agent who spelled his name “Garry.” “Danzlo” was something I came up with after seeing the last name “Ron Dante” on the back of a music album (songwriter & record producer). I believe I got the name “Melissa” for Garry’s sister from one of my favorite songs (Could It Be Magic). Dan used to be Don in the original version, written in 1986. When I’d gotten to chapter twelve, Amanda was suddenly relaying a childhood memory of how she’d always wanted to be called “Mandy” when she was younger. This took me totally by surprise. Of course! Amanda. Mandy. It worked, and thus a novel idea to have my hero call my character “Mandy” at some point in the story. As I went along, I began to realize that the storyline I’d been writing was very much like the lyrics from the song. I mean, Garry wanted to send her away. Whether he would or not, I didn’t know. I hadn’t gotten to that part yet. She was certainly someone who came and gave without taking. She would most probably kiss him, and possibly stop him from shaking too. And so my story became what I never imagined it to be. Several months into my manuscript, I was suddenly writing the story behind the song that had skyrocketed Manilow’s career in the 70s. The first agent I ever sent it to, requested the full manuscript, said it had “great potential.” Even though rejected six months later, I was told via letter that he and his associates still felt it had a lot of potential but it needed some work. The problem: it had no real plot. A good romance that kept him wanting to turn those pages, but novels needed to have more than just romance as a plot. Since I’d never taken a writing course in my life, I decided to teach myself plot, go to nursing school and join a romance writer’s chapter to strengthen my writing skills. I was RWA’s Virginia Romance Writers Chapter newsletter editor for the next four years. This was the true beginning of my training as a writer.
2. Do you have a specific writing style?
All authors need a specific writing style – one that distinguishes them from other writers. I would like to think that I’ve accomplished that necessity. Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft Developmental Editor said this about my writing style: “… an authenticity, authority, and voice that makes each separate story element come together in such a gripping, professional, marketable way.” That statement alone had helped me make the decision to self-publish. I had sought advice from a professional marketing expert who encouraged me to self-publish the book, though my dream had always been to work with Random House someday.
3. How did you come up with the title?
I knew the title the moment I finished the first chapter. Garry (the hero) is haunted by his father’s suicide and remembers the last words his father shouted to him. “He begged me,” he <Garry>shouted to himself. “For just one chance, one moment. He pleaded with me. Yet I turned away. I let him drown in his shame.” Even though I never knew what was going to happen from one page to the next (for the story unfolded page by page), I somehow knew the novel itself would revolve around chances we must sometime take, and sometimes give as well. One Chance, One Moment observes various facets of the heart and how we are sometimes faced with the one chance and one moment aspects of life … how choices happen, and how we find, lose or choose love.
4. What books/authors have influenced your writing?
Romance authors like Johanna Lindsay (especially her earlier books as they were fast-paced and so much fun to read), Jude Devereau (Knight In Shining Armor), Judith McNaught (Whitney, My Love; Something Wonderful), Danielle Steel (Once In A Lifetime, Zoya). Also Catherine Coulter, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Lisa Kleypas, Sue Monk Kidd, Kathryn Stockett, Nicholas Sparks, Khaled Hosseini, Wayne Dyer and more. I try to keep up with new authors when I can.
5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Condensing, revising, rewriting. Showing rather than telling. Cutting a lengthy novel into two books. All of the above took time and patience in learning the skills of editing and re-editing. Reducing words, scenes, cutting chapters, and recognizing just where and how to cut a novel into two stories required the help of advanced screenwriting courses (which trained me to focus on the more important aspects of a story, forcing me to see my full length novel as a 90-110 page script).
6. What’s more important: characters or plot?
I’ve come to learn that both are equally important. Plot assists with pacing/momentum and gives a story depth and purpose. Characters make the novel what it is. They move us emotionally; they inspire us; and they can heal us. I believe the best stories come from deep within us and are of us. Either our inner child comes out to play and makes all things possible, or we mold our characters and events from our own experiences, or our dreams of wanting to experience. Plot, however, drives us forward … the character and the reader.
7. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I would say that I became a writer in my early teens for it was then when I began to journal my thoughts onto paper. I wrote down my inner thoughts throughout my adolescence. Unfortunately, all of those writings have been lost in the shuffle of life events and all I have left are vague memories of a childhood I didn’t really like. It was after three children later and a divorce when I allowed myself to create again, releasing that fire within me that had been dormant way too long. Only this time, it would be more than just some inner thoughts and feelings, but rather the stories I’d created during sleepless nights to make life just a bit easier to live. I was 29 and after reading a romance novel I couldn’t put down – I’d not read one for quite a while and had happened upon a Danielle Steel novel in a department store, an author I had never read before – and strangely feeling drawn to it, I bought it. After reading it, I got the notion that I could write a book like this. I’d certainly experienced enough in my own life to write a story filled with emotional drama, but it would need humor too … to make it feel balanced. I’m a Libra, so I naturally wish for balance. I wrote five short stories before I decided to try my hand at something bigger. I wrote a double-spaced 500 page manuscript all in the same year. I had just turned 30 when I completed the novel. “One Chance, One Moment” was that novel. A whir of unfortunate life events happened the day I received word from a New York editor who had requested the rest of my manuscript only one week after sending him a query – the first editor I’d ever sent it to! I’d retrieved it out of the mailbox just moments before driving off in U-Haul truck, another divorce, and yet another new life ahead of me. All I will say is that I never gave up on this book. My love for it, my hope and faith in it, and my perseverance has gotten it to where it is today. It’s not a bestseller … not yet … for like a lot of things, I’ve had to teach myself how to market the book. That’s what I’m doing now, trying to spread the word, though I’d rather be spending more time writing on my next novel. This is probably the hardest part about being a writer. Getting it noticed by the world. I keep having to stop and teach myself about more social media and other forms of marketing. Was it worth self-publishing my own novel? I’m not really sure yet. I may have allowed a marketing expert to influence my decision too soon after being evaluated by a Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft Developmental Services editor who highly recommended me as a talented writer, the manuscript marked “Consider.” My intention was to reach out to a notable publishing house. Have I made any money yet? Not by a long shot. I’m giving 20% of sales to charity to help local schools in need of music programs, and another 20% or more will go to the IRS. I priced my paperback and hardback as low as I possibly could, just a small amount over the cost of production. I’ve literally spent thousands of dollars to advertise and mailed out more than 200 “freebies” in hopes of reviews (I’ve spent no less than $1000 in postage alone thus far, but I wanted to share my book with people all over the world – the UK, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, United States, etc.). It was so exciting to finally share the story that I’ve been in love with for so many years. I’ve spent thousands of dollars in professional critiques and training so I can be the best writer I can be. So I’m quite in the hole, right now. Big time. Am I complaining? Not by a long shot. Getting deeper in debt has been the most fun I’ve ever had. Plus, I have faith that success will eventually win out. I’m not giving up. Because it’s a good story. I realize that it could have been a little bit better had I done this and that, but at some point, you just have to realize it’s time to let go. Just try to make the next one better. Only, that’s a scary thing! How can I make the next book even better?
8. Do you have any advice for other writers?
First and foremost, don’t give up. Believe in your story. Believe in you. Don’t take criticism personally, but rather as a means to obtain helpful suggestions and insights to make your story the best it can be. As a writer, stay open to what others say, but also, go with your heart. Know that it takes time to acquire writing skills to get things moving without confusion and to involve the necessary plot elements and characterization in order to make your story a powerful one. I highly suggest getting your work critiqued by such services as Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft Services. The wealth of knowledge and help you receive will far outweigh the cost. You want to be a skillful writer, you have to do the work. Also, get involved in a local writing chapter, critique group, meet other writers like yourself. Read, read, read. Make your moments count.
9. What book are you reading now?
I normally read more than one thing at a time, usually three, sometimes four – something fiction, something non-fiction, and something audio. Due to my busy schedule, the audio comes in handy as I’m always going here and there and I find that audiobooks assure that I’ll finish the book. I just finished listening to Lisa Kleypas’ Rainwater Road and now I’m into the 5th disc of “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins (I had read the 1st and 2nd book, watched the 1st & 2nd movie adaption) and decided if I was ever going to get to Book 3 before the next film comes out, I’d better listen to the audio version. On my nook, I’m reading “Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island.” I enjoy memoirs as they put me in touch with other life experiences, which in turn can become inspirations for characters, or situations in future novels. This type of book normally requires slower reading for me, particularly since it involves some negative experiences. I tend to need to balance such stories with more fun and adventure, so I’m also reading a book written by a Virginia Romance Writer (a means to support my writer friends) entitled “Out of the Ashes” by Lori Dillon. Because I’m in the midst of marketing my own book, I’m also on the last chapter of “Sell Your Book Like Wildfire” which I highly recommend to any writer trying to publish a book. Because I’m also a healer and intuitive, I’m always reading books on mediumship, intuitive development, and health related subjects.
10. Any last thoughts for our readers?
It’s so important to do what you’re passionate about. It’s what we all want to do, so do it. My clients are always asking me what their life purpose is, but one needs only to quiet their mind long enough, to sit in that silence, in the power of their soul, and then they will know. It takes listening, because the answer is within you. It’s always been there. I would love to hear from readers, to know their questions and needs and thoughts. All of my media connections can be found by going to my contact page at: http://author.judithkohnen.com. As for my blog at http://intuitivenook.com, it’s a bit of a multi-help center, which I hope will grow with time. Because I create my own webpages (through my own self-learning), I’m still tackling with the ins and outs of Wordpress. My hope is to have the blog as a means to assist new writers – empower them as well as help them become better writers – and also for those interested in developing their intuitive side. Both involve a creative process and complement each other. Comments are welcome and appreciated. Any suggestions and requests can be sent to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.