Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Guest blog: Linda Landreth Phelps

Over the past couple of years, I've had the honor of being a guest blogger on several sites, so this summer, I decided it was time to be the hostess. Some guest blogs will be interviews, like this one, and others will be blogs written by the guest.
Today I welcome my first guest, fellow writer, Linda Landreth Phelps to my blog. Linda and I are in the same critique group, but like me, Linda's "not from around here" originally. I'm from Jersey - where do you call home, Linda?
First, thanks for asking me over to your porch swing for a chat, Lisa.  It’s a great place to hang out on a hot summer day.
In Williamsburg, Virginia, we built, as we said then, “A front porch wide enough for a swing -- with a house attached.”  We lived there for 11 years before my husband Art’s career brought us to Red Lion a couple of years ago. In all, we spent 38 years in the Tidewater area. I was born in Mom’s home town, Norfolk, Virginia, but my dad was Navy, so a lot of my growing years were spent roaming, but with a long, stable stay in Southern California in the ‘60s. I am essentially a Virginian, but I still feel a little schizophrenic—I like my Huevos Rancheros with grits!
Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
Well, Lisa, I think being a writer always begins by reading. I remember being exhausted in grade school from reading by flashlight into the wee hours.  I vividly remember discovering The Nun’s Story.  There I was in my bed, covers over my head, sobbing my little 10-year-old heart out and biting my pillow so I wouldn’t be discovered and get my book confiscated. The power of written words to move people to extremes of emotion still amazes me.
I was a late bloomer when it comes to the actual writing.  After all those years of reading lovely books, I never really considered being a serious writer myself until I got my first computer. Suddenly, what I wrote looked like what THEY wrote! I am a tinkerer when I write, and all the messy, scratched-out sentences, circled phrases with arrows to other places, and other clutter on my rough drafts were gone with the click of a “delete” key. With the encouragement of my old high school English teacher and mentor (who always had faith that I should be published), I submitted a short piece to Guideposts magazine.  Somehow, I hit the lottery with the first ticket I ever bought. My piece, "Late in the Game," was published in June, 1999, and its theme was how God sometimes blesses against our will.
We tell our son Ben he was a surprise, not an accident. Ben was born when I was 40 and our other child, Ahna, was 17, and to say I wasn’t exactly on board with the whole idea of being the oldest mom in the PTA would be true…until I met my unborn baby on an ultrasound and fell in love. When Ben arrived, I realized this wonderful gift was just what I wanted with all my heart, I just hadn’t been smart enough to ask for it. Late in the game or not, we were blessed.
The success of this article led me to do more writing, and I was eventually asked to join the staff of a startup magazine, Williamsburg’s Next Door Neighbors, where I’ve been doing interviews  with and writing about fascinating people who live in the Williamsburg and Jamestown area for going on four years now. I am also a regular contributor to Hampton Roads Magazine, a large regional publication. My biggest piece for them was about a group of young breast cancer survivors.
I’m not nearly as prolific as you, though, Lisa—not even close! My usual month’s writing consists of one or two pieces for WNDN, target length less than 2,000 words each. As I said before, I’m a slow tinkerer, so if I were to actually count the hours I put in and factor in my paycheck, it would be laughable.  I’m not trying to pay my rent with my pen, thank God! I do it because I love the process.
Love also motivates my recent decision to begin my first novel. It’s a WWII romance based on my parents’ letters which I found in an old cruise box. You guys in the group called it “faction”, since it is loosely based on actual events and letters, but I’ll be inventing all the dialogue and fill-in action. I’ve never officially written anything but nonfiction before, so I’m finding this a fresh new challenge. I expect I’ll be learning a lot from my talented and generous critique group!
How do you balance your magazine assignments with your own writing?
That’s been a problem, Lisa. I get so caught up in one that I neglect the other. I’m intensely involved with whatever I am working on for the magazines and there’s always a deadline, so I try not to think about my project during that time.  But sometimes I’m caught up so deeply in the 1940s that it’s tough to tear myself away to meet those magazine deadlines. I find that, physically and mentally, I only have a certain amount of daily writing hours in me.  If I use up all my energy on one, then the other goes begging. 
Do you have a favorite time of day to write, or a particular routine you try to stick to?
Routine?  I’m not very disciplined about that. I have days when I’m so busy that I don’t write, and then days when that’s all I do. My muse has to be awake, too.  Oh, yes-- she can be such a lazy slacker sometimes.
On your blog, you say, "I'm working on a novel and my garden." Which is winning?
At the moment, the garden is winning by a nose. Come hang out on my new deck and enjoy the flowers with me--I have a swing, too! I know the season for outdoor work is limited by the weather, so I tend to give it precedence. On the other hand, another type of season, that of life, is pressing me to write. My father turns 90 this year and I’d like him to see my book before he dies.
Another bit from your blog that I loved was "Food is my ministry." Can you tell us a little bit about that?
As you know, Lisa, one of the spiritual gifts is Hospitality, and I was blessed with it. (I was totally overlooked in many other categories, however!) I love having people over, cooking for them, and connecting. I joined a ministry of my church, Living Word, called Meals of Grace, supporting families within the congregation by providing meals when a baby is born, someone is in the hospital, or when a gesture of love is needed. 
At work, when we're running in a thousand different directions - all important, I might add - my boss likes to say "What's on top?" as a means of identifying the most important thing. What's on top for you/in your life at the moment?
For an empty nester, I’m still pretty involved with family stuff, and have always tried to put them first. After that, I’m making my health my hobby, as my doctor suggested at the beginning of the year. I’ve lost 20 pounds recently by exercise and cooking with fresh, organic, unprocessed ingredients.  I have another 20 to go, so wish me luck!
Then comes my writing: I know I need to apply some structure to it--set hours for it as if it was a real job and I wasn’t in my nightgown. Hmmm…I wonder how much would get accomplished if everybody was allowed to wear their jammies to work. Just a random thought here.
I hope that the spark of ambition and dedication that I see in you and the others in our group will rub off and ignite me to more action. I always come away from our meetings fired up and full of creative energy. 
Anything else you'd like to share?
My goal is to break into the Pennsylvania magazine market, doing personal stories about interesting characters and occupations as I do in Virginia.  I live here now, so it’s about time I write like a Yorker! Any ideas about how I go about doing that?
Thanks for inviting me to be your guest, Lisa. Keep up the good writing, and I can’t wait to see your next chapters!

No comments:

Post a Comment