[Interview] Gail McFarland, author of ‘Dream Runner’
Gail McFarland attended Cleveland State University, where she was a psychology major with a minor in special education.
Dream Runner (Genesis Press, 2008) is her latest novel.
In this interview, Gail McFarland talks about her concerns as a writer.
How would you describe your writing?
I write novel-length contemporary African-American romantic fiction.
My target audience are people who enjoy a well-crafted, intimately written story.
Because I am at heart, a reader, I knew there were others like me: readers who enjoy the flexibility, grace, and grandeur of language — and live for a good story.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
Long story, but the short version is: I have a cousin who literally hated reading, but was devouring romance novels at the rate of 6-8 books per week. Curious about the source of her newfound delight, I picked one up and nearly gagged.
I couldn’t identify with the heroines and certainly found the heroes lacking. The settings did nothing for me. I wanted to see myself, my friends, and the people I love reflected in the books I read. I wanted my characters smart, sexy, efficient, and believable. So, I began working on my first romantic novel in late 1994.
How did you go about it?
In 1990, I pulled out my typewriter and began writing “confessions,” very short romantic stories for magazines. Those short stories were a major education. I started out with good ideas and a better than average vocabulary, but writing the “confessions” taught me pacing, character development, stylized language, and so much more.
Learning more made me want to achieve more, and when I came across those early Donna Hill and Rochelle Alers novels, I knew there was a place for me and the books I longed to see. So, I trashed my electric typewriter, bought a word processor, and went to work on my first novel.
It took two years, a computer upgrade, and several rewrites for Summer Wind, my first novel, to become a reality and find a home. But, it did find Arabesque, a burgeoning audience for multiethnic romance, and a new outlet for my storytelling passions.
Who influenced you most?
Well… I have to start with my mother. She actively encouraged my love of reading and storytelling from a very early age.
Then, there were my very talented teachers, who picked up where my mother left off.
If I had to name influential writers, my list would contain the names of everyone from noted to little-known novelists, historians, actors, politicians, and even a few poets. I would have a list far too long for this interview.
How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?
From time to time, I find that my characters begin to sound like me and those around me, though they have yet to take on an entire personality.
More likely, I will see or hear something that triggers my imagination. As an only child, I have learned how to respond to situations by simply being observant — and that observation frequently colors my characters and their situations.
What are your main concerns as a writer?
A primary concern for me, is telling a good solid story, and telling it with skill.
Like many authors, my first novel did face some rejection — much of it based on the fact that I was telling a multiethnic story.
Now that my work has found an audience, I want it to be worthy of readers. So, I am committed to putting my best efforts on paper.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
Discipline, general laziness, and maintaining focus are major challenges for me.
One of the easiest ways to deal with my discipline and focus challenges is to write outside my home, so I usually pack up my laptop and notes and write at the public library or a nearby coffeehouse — no phones, no gossiping friends, and no TV — just me and my manuscript.
The laziness? I’m still working on that.
Do you write everyday?
Actually, I don’t.
I tend to be a bit of an emotional writer, so I follow my heart and my urges when I write. I am fortunate enough to have a flexible schedule that allows me to write when I feel the urge. There are weeks when I don’t write at all, and then I’ll have a month when I put in 6-8 hours a day.
When you do write, how does each session start?
Usually with me chasing a cat away from my keyboard!
It has become my habit to organize all of my story notes, outlines, and drafts in large white binders. So, I begin by pulling out my binder and reviewing my outline to refresh myself as to what I’ve done and where I need to go, in terms of story progress. This is where I try to “fill in the blanks”, ask myself questions, note the answers, and see the story the way my characters will live it.
If I’ve done my homework, my outline is my map, and allows me to write freely within the framework I’ve set for myself.
My goal for each session is a full chapter, usually a minimum of about twelve and a maximum of twenty pages for me. Sometimes, if I am in love with the story and/or the characters, my imagination is charged and I will write more.
My sessions generally end when I get tired. Because I have a bad habit of getting caught up in revisions, I try not to check anything beyond obvious spelling and grammar errors until the end of my sessions. That’s when I get to sit back and (hopefully) enjoy my story and its progress.
How many books have you written so far?
Summer Wind (Arabesque, 1997), The Best for Last (Arabesque, 1998), Bouquet (with Roberta Gayle and Anna Laurence, BET/Arabesque, 1998), When Love Calls (BET/Arabesque, 1999), Lady Killer (Lulu Books, 2000), All for Love (Lulu Books, 2008), and Dream Runner (Genesis Press/Indigo, 2008).
What is your latest novel about?
Dream Runner is the story of a woman who has spent a lifetime dreaming of taking Olympic gold. To achieve this goal, she has willingly sacrificed love and family, but always comes up short and still clutching her dream.
Dream Runner is also the story of a man who has run his way to the top of his sport, only to be sidelined by injury without realizing his dream. Neither of them has any clue that the separate roads they’re running will meet and where that path will take them.
How long did it take you to write Dream Runner?
The first three chapters were actually written in two days. The research and the rest of the writing took about six months.
Dream Runner is published by Genesis Press/Indigo and the book is brand new, having been released this month (May, 2008).
Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?
Editing and rewriting are my personal challenges.
After spending months with characters and their challenges, plots and their twists and turns, the last thing I usually want to do with a story is write, “The End,” on the final page. And that’s what I get to do, until you come to editing, where every word and concept is dissected. Editing is where I often find myself defending circumstances and situations, and every minute of that research I put in becomes invaluable.
Sometimes, odd little things (like subject/verb agreement) get past a writer. Over time, I have learned that having to look at the edits often forces me to write “tighter” and ultimately better. The story is often improved because editors are relentless… no, fortunately, they’re just really good at ferreting out the things the writer overlooked, forgot, or simply didn’t know.
I deal with the rigors of editing by putting in the work it takes to improve my story and keep it fresh and relevant — even when I’m reading/reviewing it for the tenth time.
Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?
The research is always interesting and fulfilling for me. Simply taking the time to cruise the internet is relaxing and sparks my imagination.
What sets the novel apart from other things you’ve written?
While Dream Runner is infused with the intimacy and humor that I hope marks everything I have ever written or will write, it is different from what I have written so far because it is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to fuse my love of romance with my passion for health, fitness, and sports.
Dream Runner is also different because it is the first time I’ve written a character with a physical challenge.
How did you choose a publisher for the book?
I took a very careful look at the writers currently working with this publisher, and found that their work was very similar to mine.
Genesis Press has had success with the romance genre and proven supportive of their authors. The authors writing for the Indigo imprint are also a pretty impressive group.
In my experience, the Genesis Press/Indigo publisher and editors have been remarkably easy to work with, and I have enjoyed the experience.
What will your next book be about?
I am currently researching infertility as part of a sequel to Dream Runner. Marlea and AJ are definitely on my character list, as are Rissa and Dench… you’ll have to read the book to find out who they are.
What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?
That’s a hard question, and I am not sure whether I should start with the pleasure I took from signing a book for my 12th grade English teacher (she gave me an ‘A+’ on the book!), or getting consistently great reviews for my work. But I definitely have to say that having your work read and appreciated is a huge bonus and certainly a remarkable achievement for any writer.