Friday, July 4, 2008

An Interview featuring Debra Dixon.

In conclusion to the study of Debra Dixon’s writer’s manual, GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, I’m pleased to offer an interview with the author of this wonderful how-to book as well as many novels. Without further adieu, I’ll let the questions begin.

Debra, you’re a writer, founder of BelleBooks, and Speaker, how do you do it all?

Debra Dixon’s reply: First, thanks for inviting me for a chat!

I’ve figured out that if you’re willing to give up sleeping, there are more hours in the day. LOL! Seriously, I’d like to think I’m special and juggling more pretty shiny balls than the rest of the world, but I think all of us are blessed and cursed with opportunities. It’s a busy world out there. You snooze; you lose. And I hate to lose.

Will you tell us what speaking engagements you have scheduled for the following year?

Debra Dixon’s reply: This fall I’ll be in Atlanta for DragonCon in September. Then the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association tradeshow in Alabama. Oklahoma, Colorado, Virginia and…I’m not sure where else. My brain is a little fried from the launch of our new imprint Bell Bridge Books. (I’ll explain that more fully in answering another question.)

Will you be offering any workshops in the near future?
Debra Dixon’s reply: You know, I don’t organize any workshops myself. People ask me to do that and I honestly don’t know how I’d fit all the details in. It’s much easier to get on a plane and “arrive” somewhere and let the workshop organizers tell me what to do!

Please tell us about the small press you founded with several other authors called BelleBooks. What kind of books is BelleBooks publishing, and how best would a new writer go about pitching to BelleBooks if their manuscript fits what you’re looking for?

Debra Dixon’s reply: We’ve been publishing about 9 years. Just this year we’ve added a new imprint for emerging (newer) voices and to branch out from our Southern image. Our titles are simultaneously available in print and ebooks. We’ve just reached an agreement with Audible to distribute our titles as audio downloads and those will be coming online soon. We hope to have our entire catalogue in audio editions eventually. They’ll be available through iTunes, Audible and Amazon. Most of our Southern titles are also picked up for large-print by Thorndike. We’ve had an author on Oprah, foreign sales, mass market subrights sales and book clubs sales.

We don’t put out 50 titles a year, but we work very hard to sell the titles we do bring to readers. Our titles are stocked and available from all the major wholesalers as well as available through the online giants like Amazon and

For BelleBooks we are looking for strong voices and Southern fiction.
For Bell Bridge Books, we’re looking for fantasy, urban fantasy, YA, and even some Southern fiction from new voices. There is a great writer’s section on the Bell Bridge website that answers a lot of questions. I’d encourage people to check the website. We’ll be launching the fantasy titles in Aug/Sept to coincide with DragonCon which is the largest SF/F con in the country. They run 15,000-20,000 people a day through the con. And that number is probably low. They completely takeover downtown Atlanta.

How many books does BelleBooks aspire to publish in a year?

Debra Dixon’s reply: The number you can aspire to publish and the number you can publish well are two different animals! Between BelleBooks and Bell Bridge Books, we’ll publish about 10 books this year. We’re very particular about the quality of what we publish. Putting out 10 books means what little sleep I was getting…I’m not anymore. We’d like to put out about 20 titles a year but that’s a long term goal. We’ve grown steadily through the last 9 years and we’d like to continue.

Do you have any new fiction or non-fiction projects in the works?

Debra Dixon’s reply: I have a dark YA (young adult) fantasy story that will be out in an anthology from DAW (Penguin Group) in October ‘08. The book is WITCH HIGH and the cover is a little on-the-nose. But I’ve decided that it’s actually perfect for the demographic. You want a book cover that speaks to the reader by flashing a neon sign that says, “Hey, if you’re looking for stories about contemporary teenage witches, here’s the book you need!”

And as usual, I’m chronically behind on my deadline for the next Mossy Creek book.

Your latest Mossy Creek book, At Home in Mossy Creek, was published in July 2007 by BelleBooks, can we expect more to be added to the series?

Debra Dixon’s reply: See the answer above. Yes, we have # 7 in the series planned and a number of authors have met their deadlines. I’m a little late with mine. But BelleBooks is hoping to have that next book out by winter ’09.

As an established, award-winning author, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Debra Dixon’s reply: Read. Read a lot. Read constantly. Then decide how badly you want this. A writing career is rarely pretty. Rejection hurts. Competition is rough. Every time you think you might “get it” then the market changes and you’re scrambling again.

As for craft, you’ve got to master it. I’m not talking about “plotters” versus “writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” writers. I’m talking about understanding what POV is and what it does for your book. How you can shape POV. How you can shape GMC. How scene builds character. You’ve got to understand the reader expectations in your genre. (Literary is a genre too.)

Finally, you’ve got to create “voice.” You have to find something authentic and bring that world view and voice to the page.

Some GMC Related Questions:

Which element of GMC would you recommend writers master first, and why?

Debra Dixon’s reply: Goal. Because it’s the easiest to understand and often the first stumbling block to good work. Writers waste a lot of page space with characters wandering around and not doing much of anything. A character with a goal is generally interesting. A character with a goal provides an anchor. The reader thinks, “Oh! We’re doing THIS. I get it. This is going to go badly. Isn’t that fun!”

Ever walked into a room full of people and you’re not sure why you’re there or what you’re supposed to do? That’s how the read feels if the author doesn’t skillfully focus that reader’s attention and drag them through the book.

People often ask me which (GMC) is most important. I tell ‘em, “The complete one.” The elements all work in concert with and support each other. The elements themselves create conflict and tension. If a character’s emotional goal is to be worthy of his Amish father’s faith and, in the story in order to save his father’s life, the son must hurt someone else…well, that’s put your character in quite a bind. How do you choose between a father’s respect and your father’s life?

The movies you use in your examples are varied, what made you choose those particular movies?

Debra Dixon’s reply: I tried to use movies I thought were worthy of more than one viewing. I suspected that anything I’d watched more than once would have some meat on the bone. Beyond that I tried to find “classics” that many people were likely to have seen. And finally I tried to represent different types of stories. I’d done so many movies over the years.

I keep a movie journal. You can see a sample of what my movie journal would look like at the Romance Rules Blog:

This particular journal was done on The Hero’s Journey. I’m a big fan. But you can journal on any particular craft aspect. I normally become interested in something and then watch movies I’ve loved to figure out why they work or where they fail.

And in picking movies as examples, I find the stories are more accessible to a greater number of people. Trying to find books that a great many people have read is very tough! Story is story, so I’ve used movies to help writers learn the concepts.

The GMC concept really helps a writer focus and steer away from aimless wandering. As a result, have GMC followers reported a decrease in writing time and required revisions?

Debra Dixon’s reply: Yes, I have to say that over the years I’ve gotten such lovely letters from writers, telling me how helpful GMC is not just for creating the story, but for fixing it once it’s gone off the rails. GMC has helped me tremendously with my editors because they can see a fully developed character arc in my synopsis. They can see how the book works on more than one level. So, yes. Helpful for me, certainly and judging from my email, helpful for a number of people. I get such a charge out of letters that begin, “Where have you been all my life?”

If a character has motivations that spring from a fear that isn't realistic, how would you suggest to relay their motivation so that readers accept it and feel the urgency?

Debra Dixon’s reply: Oh…you aren’t going to like this answer. “It all depends.” You can do anything in fiction that you want to do as long as you do it well enough.

Without knowing the specifics, I’ll take a stab.

Fears must be realistic. Period. Realistic to the character. There has to be basis. Concrete basis. Especially for fears that are out of the norm or might be deemed absurd in their likelihood.

What has given this character the fear? The motivation isn’t the fear but the circumstances that resulted in the fear. In THE VISCOUNT WHO LOVED ME, Julia Quinn wrote a hero who was afraid he’d die at an early age as his father had. If we’d met that character as an adult, spouting that fear, we probably would have rolled our eyes. What Julia did was introduce that man as a child. We lived his father’s death with him. We carried that understanding to the next phase of the book. Now…not every book or author can get away with a child in prologue. I’m offering this as one way to win the reader to a character’s less than realistic perspective.

Debra, you offer a great deal of direction in building character in the GMC writer’s manual, and character is even in your GMC chart with the adjective and descriptive noun, (which I found very helpful, by the way) so why was character not included in the title?

Debra Dixon’s reply: There are so many character books on the market. GMC is about so much more than character; the publishers didn’t want to confuse writers. They wanted to be sure that the core of the book was shouted from the title. That said, anyone who reads the book will know that I have very strong feelings about creating solid character.

To be bold, I really want to know why Amazon is charging an arm and a leg for this writer’s manual when Gryphon books lists it at a much more affordable cost? I would have bought your book ages ago if I had found it through Gryphon Books For Writers then, but I assumed after looking at Amazon that I’d never be able to afford it, so off to inter-library loan I went. So what’s the scoop with that, anyway?

Debra Dixon’s reply: It isn’t Amazon. Individuals, who sell through Amazon, think they can hoodwink a writer into paying that exorbitant price! ::steam coming from Debra’s ears:: Amazon doesn’t actually sell the book. Its “associates” do. I’m so happy you’re giving me a chance to tell everyone… This book is NOT out of print. It’s in its 8th printing and alive and well. You do have to contact the publisher or order it from Barnes & Noble. If I’m not mistaken they are happy to get the book for you. But a simple trip to will take care of everything.

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to these questions, Debra! For more information about Debra Dixon, please visit her website at:

Here’s a few of the upcoming/current titles from BelleBooks and Bell Bridge Books, plus an anthology Debra Dixon is in to be released October of 2008.

The Gates of Trevalyan
Jacquelyn Cook

Known for intensely authentic, lyrically written inspirational and historical novels including Magnolias, The River Beyond, and Sunrise, Jackie Cook delivers an emotional story of a family's struggle to survive the Civil War.

Bite Me
Parker Blue

Life after high school is tough enough without having to go 15 rounds with your inner demon. Thrown out of the house by her mother, Val puts one foot in front of the other and does the only thing that seems to make any sense--she takes aim at the town vampires. A stake a day, keeps the demon at bay. (But don't call her Buffy. That makes Lola, her demon, very cranky .) Soon enough she finds herself deep in the underbelly of the city, discovering the secrets of the Demon Underground and fighting to save those she loves. Whether they love her back or not.

Charming Grace, (reprint of Little, Brown/Warner title)

Deborah SmithGrace Vance's troubled but beloved police detective husband died a hero's death, and Grace is determined to protect his very personal history from exploitation.Grace will do whatever it takes to stop an action star's exploitation film. Only one problem: she's got to get past the sexiest Cajun bodyguard in Tinsel Town.

Witch High
Debra Dixon

An anthology of fourteen tales which explore the challenges that students of the magical arts may face in a high school of their very own. If you think chemistry is tough, try alchemy. COYOTE RUN by Debra Dixon follows the only Junior in school without a familiar. Branded a freak, Izzy O'Connell has no idea she's about to make the Coyote Run and acquire the craft's darkest familiar.


Georgiana said...

Great interview! I want to do with less sleep too--it's the only way =)

THanks for sharing with us!

Debra Dixon said...


You're welcome. But I must warn that the "no sleep" think does come with bags-under-the-eyes. (g)

Kimberley Payne said...

Great interview. Interesting answers! Thanks for the insights.
Kimberley Payne