Story of the Month
in June, 2004.
Congratulations, Carol! Your story was so moving that we all want to know more about you. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
A. I am a mother of four boys, all married with families. I began writing seriously about eighteen years ago. My first story was published in Women's World. If you type in my name on your search engine it will bring up all the sites that my work is on including my website (www.carolgustke.com) My first book, Sacred Harvest, was published in 2001. It is a medical thriller about stem cell experimentation. My stories have also been published in Christian Singles, Single Parent, War Cry and my local newspaper.
Q. Do you write in a particular genre? If so, what genre is it?
A. I mainly write non-fiction and draw on my own experiences to tell the story. My fiction stories have true experiences in them. Most of my stories are personal or inspirational. All my stories have a takeaway value.
Q. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
A. The most important element of good writing I believe is to show and not just tell. The beginning must hook the reader and the dialog must be like a conversation. Not a report.
Q. How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
A. The formula I use is to grab the reader's interest in the first two sentences. I tell the story in as few words as possible without losing the emotion or suspense. Not an easy task. My characters usually surround a particular individual I know who has a particular problem I also know about. However, I change the plot or circumstances enough so that the character is not recognized.
Q. What do you do to unwind and relax?
A. To relax, I spend time with friends and family. Especially my children. My husband and I also enjoy camping in our trailer and visiting unknown lakes and campgrounds.
Q. What inspires you? Who inspires you?
A. I am inspired by other people's problems. I like to share my solutions in the stories I write. The trials I have had in my life time are a rich soil where solutions have slowly grown into victories. This is the garden I draw from.
Q. Tell us a little more about your book, Sacred Harvest.
A. Sister Cassandra Barks, age twenty-eight, sneaks out of the convent at night and hitchhikes in a truck headed to Mexico City. A mysterious doctor from America has them all under quarantine. Doctor Paul Garrison, the nuns' personal physician, views America's moral code as a contradiction. They worship life, but brand the obvious solution of preserving it, as sin. His solution is to take from the less productive and give to the gifted. Cloning, organ harvesting, assisted suicide, stem cell research; these visionary measures are within his grasp. However, the nuns he oversees at the convent are in their own category. Designed for procreation, they chose to bind themselves to an erroneous vow of celibacy. Thus, denying men pleasure.
A trip north, a marriage proposal, a mystery, a violent death and decisions about her life as a nun keep pages turning.
Q. What’s the procedure for getting a book published? Can you take us through the steps?
A. Once a manuscript is finished and polished I spend a large amount of time on the query. Imagine yourself in a room filled with editors and you are pitching your book. That's how important a query is. Next, I look for a publisher that publishes my genre. A list of book publishers can be found in Writer's Digest or on line. In my case it was on line. Don't be discouraged if you get rejections. Keep sending your manuscript out. Once your book is accepted, the publisher sends you a contract. Most contracts are pretty basic. You must also register your book. Next, the publisher gives you several weeks to review your manuscript to make certain all grammar is correct or any other changes you need to make. The publisher also asked for names and addresses of family and friends to whom they mail announcements to. The publisher then resends you your manuscript for any minor changes. No more changes can be made after that. The publisher will send you a sample book cover. If you don't like it, you can suggest your own. In my case, my son, who owns an advertising agency drew up the cover. The publisher sends you several copies of your book when it comes out and you can also buy extra at a discount. Once your book is out it is up to you mostly to promote it through speaking engagements, radio interviews, newspapers and book signings. Although the publisher does help by sending reviews to bookstores etc. I had a web site made up promoting Sacred Harvest.
Q. How long have you been writing? What made you put that first story down on paper?
A. I wrote stories and poems all through elementary and high school. But became a serious writer about eighteen years ago. For me, writing is therapeutic. My first story was about my husband who was killed in a motorcycle accident. I was thirty-eight and had four children. As I relived the experience through writing about it, many unresolved issue unfolded that I wasn't aware of. This helped the healing process.
Q. Where do you get your story ideas?
A. My ideas come from my own experiences. The tragedies in my life have been my greatest teachers. I know that there are readers out there who need encouragement and answers. I believe I can give both. I also use humor in my writing. It's a great tension reliever. While Sacred Harvest is a fictional story it has life's lessons and emotions written into it that I have experienced. I began Sacred Harvest one night in our camping trailer. It was dark and rainy and spooky outside. It must have put me in the mood for a thriller.
Q. Who’s your favorite author and why?
A. I like any author who is transparent. Someone who can teach me something. I prefer true to life stories. The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck for example.
Q. What does your family feel about your writing? Are they supportive?
A. My family is very supportive. I have a son who is writing a science-fiction book for teens. My father wrote poetry and introduced me to the love of words.
Q. How do you handle Writer’s Block?
A. It's much easier to write when I am inspired. But if I'm not, I usually write a silly poem or send an editorial to the local paper. Taking a writing class or joining a writers group is also helpful.
Q. Do you have any kind of writing schedule?
A. Most of my writing is done at night when it's quiet. If I am working on a particular story I stay at it until it's completed. I try to write something every day, even if it's only a letter.
Q. Are you working on any projects right now?
A. At the present time, I am focusing my attention on magazine stories. Especially inspirational stories for women.
Q. What is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?
A. I don't find much to be frustrated about in writing unless it would be finding a market to publish it. I believe in what I am writing and am certain it will help others. That gives me great satisfaction.
Q. If I were sitting down to write my very first story, what would your advice be?
A. If you have a story to write, just write it. Don't worry about the grammar etc. Get it down on paper. Once that is done, go back and make the changes and edit, edit, edit. Don't rush to get it done. Let it come out of you naturally.
Q. What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
A. Write about something that is dear to your heart. Something that gives you passion and motivation. You have something to say that others need to hear.