A Book and A Dream: An author’s adventure in writing, reading, and being an epic fangirl

Pivoting to Find Your Path: An Interview with Victoria Gilbert

August 31, 2020 Megan O'Russell Season 1 Episode 41
A Book and A Dream: An author’s adventure in writing, reading, and being an epic fangirl
Pivoting to Find Your Path: An Interview with Victoria Gilbert
A Book and A Dream: An author’s adventure in writing, reading, and being an epic fangirl
Pivoting to Find Your Path: An Interview with Victoria Gilbert
Aug 31, 2020 Season 1 Episode 41
Megan O'Russell

On this episode of A Book and A Dream, meet Victoria Gilbert: author of YA Fantasy Crown of Ice and Cozy Mystery A Murder for the Books.

From switching careers to diving into a new genre, Victoria has perfected the pivot that drives success.

Links Mentioned in Podcast
Website/blog: http://victoriagilbertmysteries.com/
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaGilbertMysteryAuthor/ 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/victoriagilbertauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/VGilbertauthor
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/victoriagil5582/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/VictoriaGilbert
YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4J0jvZ-D0NVF9Qv7H2ua8Q
Delta Goodrem's Enough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFsmz9SpZHE

Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of A Book and A Dream, meet Victoria Gilbert: author of YA Fantasy Crown of Ice and Cozy Mystery A Murder for the Books.

From switching careers to diving into a new genre, Victoria has perfected the pivot that drives success.

Links Mentioned in Podcast
Website/blog: http://victoriagilbertmysteries.com/
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaGilbertMysteryAuthor/ 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/victoriagilbertauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/VGilbertauthor
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/victoriagil5582/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/VictoriaGilbert
YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4J0jvZ-D0NVF9Qv7H2ua8Q
Delta Goodrem's Enough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFsmz9SpZHE

A Book and A Dream Episode 41

Victoria: [00:00:02] Well, I always tell people that I refuse to answer this on the grounds that my head might explode.


Megan: [00:00:07] And that is a perfectly logical answer, except that.


Announcement: [00:00:16] Welcome to A Book and a Dream with Megan O'Russell: an Author's Adventure in Writing, Reading, and Being an Epic Fangirl.


Megan: [00:00:27] Thank you for joining me for this special episode of A Book and a Dream. Today, we have the wonderful author Victoria Gilbert with us. Thank you so much for joining us, Victoria.


Victoria: [00:00:37] Thank you.


Megan: [00:00:40] Now, I was really interested to talk to you, and we'll...we'll hop back to your books in just a minute, but one of the most fascinating things that I've seen about your publishing career is how quickly you managed to change directions from being a YA author to being a mystery author. So that is going to be some fun things to chat about for our readers. But first of all, you...you started as a young adult author, correct?


Victoria: [00:01:08] That's right.


Megan: [00:01:09] Now, what inspired you to hop into YA as the first genre that you wanted to write in?


Victoria: [00:01:19] When I first started writing, I was writing in fantasy and sci-fi and I just enjoyed some of the YA books that were in that genre. And so I thought it would be fun to write one. And I had written an adult sci-fi that didn't sell or, you know, get anywhere. So I thought, well, let me try writing a YA fantasy? And so that's how I really managed to get into it. That got me my first agent. So that was.


Megan: [00:01:55] That's...Now, was writing a lifelong goal for you or was it something that you decided like as life went on, you wanted to become an author, or did you start on that journey when when you were a kid, were you really into, like, journals and writing? Or how how did you decide that writing a book was something you needed to do in your life?


Victoria: [00:02:16] Well, I always loved writing. I...I loved reading. As soon as I learned how to read, I look, I realized all those words make a story I was reading all the time and I read so much that people were just like, you know, worried about me sometimes because I read so much. But I am a speed reader. So it made it even easier to read a lot. And so I always wanted to write a book, and for some strange reason I wrote a lot of poetry and I wrote some short stories and various things. And I'd start all these ideas for stories even when I was a kid.


Victoria: [00:02:59] But as far as novels, I just never got around to finishing one or two, actually writing one. And the life sort of came along. And I was I was a theater major in college and I was mainly in costume design.


Megan: [00:03:16] Oh, wow.


Victoria: [00:03:18] Yeah. And I did that for a little while and then I went back to school to get a graduate degree in library science, mainly because at the time I was married to a musician and I thought, you know, two artists, one family, sometimes that doesn't work.


Megan: [00:03:36] That's true. Theatre is not the most stable. As professional musical theatre actor, that is not all the stability you could want in life.


Victoria: [00:03:44] Right. So I decided to to use my background. And the interesting thing was when I went to library school at Indiana, they had never had a theater person, I mean, a real theater person, not just theater history who went to their school, to library school. So they were really interested in that. And I got a good deal to go to library school free tuition, which was a really good deal.


Megan: [00:04:11] Wow.


Victoria: [00:04:11] And so I got my library degree thinking that I wouldn't be working in the arts anymore. I would be doing library work, which was fine because I love books and reading and so forth. But then every job I've ever had in the library world was related to the performing and visual arts because my background in and I was unique in that aspect.


Megan: [00:04:36] That's...that's amazing that you got to work that the two passions together like that.


Victoria: [00:04:41] Yeah, I worked at Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts.


Megan: [00:04:46] That's amazing.


Victoria: [00:04:49] Yeah, I worked and then I moved to the museum from television and radio, which was now the Paley Center in New York City. And I was doing reference and research.


Megan: [00:05:05] Wow, that's I knew what about none of this before you to do that so cool.


Victoria: [00:05:13] I learned a lot, both of those jobs. You know, I have a background in theater, music, art, but I didn't have a background in some other fields that I learned a lot more about, which included dance and film and TV. So it was very helpful, you know, to be more rounded in the arts because I got that background. And then a job came up to be the director of a library at the university, which is Performing Arts University. Performing and Visual Arts University in North Carolina. And so I took that job and I worked there for twenty-five years.


Megan: [00:05:52] Wow. That's and so in all of this, you you still wanted to write a book that's I, I mean, I would just like be in a corner with, like, videos of Balanchine, living my best life. That's so cool.


Victoria: [00:06:10] Yeah. I still wanted to do something creative though. I mean, I love my job. I love libraries. And it was really exciting because I got to work with artists and I got to work with performing artists. And so, you know, at one point it was like, I mean, this is the truth is that I was in my mid 50s and I was still being working as a library director. And I decided, you know, I should just write a book to prove to myself that I can finish a novel. And that was really the goal at first. So I sat down and wrote this adult sci fi, which I then wrote a sequel to, and neither one of them sold, so, you know, that was that. But but I've gotten so. Involved with it, then I decided to keep trying.


Victoria: [00:07:03] And I wrote a young adult fantasy called Crown of Ice, which is a refilling of the snow queen by H.C. Andersen, and that actually got me an agent and then a deal with a small publishing company. So I started thinking, well, this is what I'm going to be doing. And I actually had the contracts for the second book in the Crown of Ice series and some more books. Other books. I had a young adult sci fi published. And then things kind of fell out with the with the publishing company, I won't go into detail, but I had to pull my rights on all the books.


Megan: [00:07:49] Yeah.


Victoria: [00:07:49] And that's a very traumatic experience.


Megan: [00:07:54] And it is I have been I've been through it. And, you know, I, I will say, because I, I have gone...I still have an agent...I have gone more the indie route because when I, I pulled all my rights, it just made the most sense to not try and reshape them out because they'd already been like tainted with publication. But that was the time that I was most grateful for having an agent was getting my rights back.


Megan: [00:08:22] I don't know how I would have done it myself. And a lot of people have said, you know, you're an indie. Why do you need an agent? And it's like, well, for him to shop things out, but also because if you have to pull your contract, you really need someone on your side.


Victoria: [00:08:37] Exactly. Yeah. That's how I was really lucky because my first agent. She...it was it's a small boutique agency, so there's an owner and a couple of agents, and my first agent, she decided to leave the business. And so I was thinking, oh, I'm going to have to go through this again to find an agent. But fortunately, her boss, who owns the agency, took me on and she's now my agent. And it was actually the best thing that ever happened to me because Fran Black, who is now my agent for Literary Council, is really great...it's been great for my career.


Victoria: [00:09:17] And so that change at first it seemed scary, but it was really good. It really worked out for the best. And Fran was the person who, when we pulled all my rights and I was very depressed. I mean, I'll admit it, you know, I was down. I didn't know what to do here. I lost contracts and everything. She said, well, maybe, you know, you need to write something different. And I said, well, I'm not sure what, and she was like, well, what do you like to read? Of course, that's the best question to ask. So I said I liked mysteries. One of the things I really liked was mysteries. And she suggested I write one.


Megan: [00:09:55] That's amazing. I love that it worked out so well for you because you hear so many horror stories about people going through like three, four and five agents before they really like land that book deal.


Victoria: [00:10:11] Yeah, Fran has been wonderful and she said, you know, write a mystery. And I said, well, you know, I don't know if I can. And she says, well, you know, just try. So I wrote a cozy mystery. That was A Murder for the Books. And it features a librarian as the protagonist, which, you know, I was writing what I know and I thought it would be useful to write about something I knew something about.


Megan: [00:10:41] Absolutely.


Victoria: [00:10:41] Umm and that's the first book in the Blue Ridge Library Mystery series, which is also set in a place I know well, which is where I grew up in Northern Virginia at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. So I was pulling all those things together to make it authentic, you know, and feel real.


Victoria: [00:11:05] And as it turned out, it apparently, you know, it was funny because I always expected you to go on some mission and you're waiting and you're waiting. And we sent it out for and sent out the book and pitch and everything. And within a week, we had two or three offers. So it was like, you know, we suddenly realized, yes, this is the genre you should be writing.


Megan: [00:11:31] That's like a Cinderella story right there.


Victoria: [00:11:36] Yeah. Yeah.


Megan: [00:11:38] That's amazing. Now, how much did you have to refigure how you write the books, how you interact with your readers, other authors? How much of your general writing life did you have to rebuild by switching genres like that?


Victoria: [00:11:56] Well, the biggest thing was I changed to a pen name, which is Victoria Gilbert. I was originally writing under my real name. And so, you know, with social media, all of a sudden you have to create it again because you're under a new name. Fortunately for me. Well, maybe not so fortunately, but I didn't have a huge following under my real name, so it wasn't a big loss. I started it up again under Victoria Gilbert. And I've got a pretty good following on social media with that. Writing wise, it's just a different. I mean, I'm with a publisher who's more of a mid range mid Crooked Lane Books, they're not the big five, but they're more...they're not a small publisher either. So there's much more support than I was getting before.


Megan: [00:12:55] That's excellent. Now, with your mystery series, you have a contract for several books at a time, correct?


Victoria: [00:13:03] Yes.


Megan: [00:13:03] And what's it...what's it like working with that kind of time frame laid out in front of you? Because you know that you often hear about that as sort of the the author's dream of like, I want to have, like, all these books under contract. But what...what is it like once you're actually in that position of having all these deadlines?


Victoria: [00:13:28] Yeah, that's a little different. It's interesting to me to see sometimes when people, and, you know, I don't look down on anybody who is writing, but it's funny because I see people saying, well, I'm writing my first book and they don't have deals yet. And, you know, I spend five years on it and whatever. And I'm sorry to say that unless you're George R.R. Martin or somebody, you don't get five years.


Megan: [00:13:52] No one wants to wait that long.


Victoria: [00:13:55] I thought I was getting less than seven months and we renegotiated to give me seven months between books. So, you know, it's doable for me, but you can't dilly dally. You have to just go for one to the next and really stick with it.


Victoria: [00:14:17] One of the reasons I retired from my library director job early is because I just found I couldn't do both things. Well, it was too much to try to keep up with writing, to meet the deadlines and do that job. So a couple of years ago, I retired and now I'm writing full time.


Megan: [00:14:44] That's that's amazing. What, how...how do you structure your writing day that now that you are full time. Do you have like a certain word count that you want to get to every day, or do you write as fast as you can and then spend a lot of time polishing?


Victoria: [00:15:01] I actually, well, I do a lot of outlining and chapter outlines because with the mystery I've found, I've always been a planner rather than a pantser, or, you know, a plotter, but especially with the mysteries, I've discovered that for me I have to have really detailed outlines. I have to have that for putting in the red herrings and the clues and leading properly to the end. And so I usually base it more on writing X number of pages a day or a chapter a day, or however I am in the process. As I get closer to the deadline, I have to write more, of course, but I tend to... In the beginning, I'm writing maybe three hours a day, five days a week, and then as it gets close to the deadline, I'm writing however many hours it takes. 


Megan: [00:16:08] That...that feels about right. Now for newer authors who are having issues with, you know, it's daunting when you see how long a novel is and you're like, I have to write, you know, at least 60 to 80 thousand words, how am I going to do that? What what advice do you have for people who get overwhelmed by the size of actually writing a novel?


Victoria: [00:16:36] Yeah, what I've discovered is my books are supposed to be around eighty thousand words, that's the average. And if you really break it down, it's not as daunting if you think about it in terms of I mean, I use the example with some other writers that if you only wrote one page a day for a year. Three hundred sixty-five days, that's three hundred sixty-five pages, that's a book that's basically 80,000 words or so. So I mean, I think people look at and go, oh, so much. But it really isn't if you start thinking about it more in terms of breaking it into whatever units work for you, you know, every day I'm going to write so many words or and just think about that rather than I'll never get to the end because you will get to the end if you just break it down and say, you know, if I can write this much in a week or a month or however works for the person no differently. But breaking it into smaller bits really helps.


Megan: [00:17:47] And it's so true. It's and it's one of those things where I, I have I'm a workout person. I'm a workout person all the way.


Megan: [00:17:56] I have, like, you know, I'm going to do like twenty five hundred words today and people because I do publish five to six bucks a year look at me and are like that's too much. I can't do what I told them so many times, like start with 500 words which is basically like a page.


Megan: [00:18:12] Just do that, like you'll be OK. It'll be great. And it's, it's a marathon, not a sprint. And it's so easy to burn out. Now―


Victoria: [00:18:20] Yeah.


Megan: [00:18:20] ―going back to because, you know, this is a lot of YA with A Book and a Dream. Now, uh, Crown of Ice is currently available, correct?


Victoria: [00:18:35] Yes, it is. Ice and its sequels, Scepter of Fire with my author co-op Snowy Wings Publishing. So they are both out right now.


Megan: [00:18:48] Perfect. And for our...our, YA fans of this podcast? What what would you tell them? Are like the comp titles for it?


Victoria: [00:18:59] You mean comparison or...


Megan: [00:19:05] Yes, like what if you like this, you'll love Crown of Ice.


Victoria: [00:19:08] Oh gosh, that's hard because...


Megan: [00:19:10] I know it's the worst question.


Victoria: [00:19:12] I think it's a little different. I mean, it's. I would just say that it's it's really not like a lot. And maybe that's why, you know, it's not doing a great sales. It's not as much like a lot of YA that's real popular right now. It's got, uh, characters who are more like ordinary people who do extraordinary things. That's what I like to say.


Megan: [00:19:40] I love that. That's great.


Victoria: [00:19:43] And it's you know, it's a more, smaller scale. It's not an epic fantasy, but it's character driven and it really deals with characters...and there's magic involved, of course, and other fun things, but a lot of it is about the character growth and Crown of Ice in particular is about a young woman who the main theme really is "can someone who's extremely damaged from life learn to love again?" And that's that's really the theme of the book.


Megan: [00:20:20] That's amazing. I think that's a great theme. It's a tough topic.


Victoria: [00:20:24] And a fire which actually has a different protagonist, the other, the characters appear down from Crown of Ice appear again and Scepter of Fire, but the protagonist is different and the protagonist and scepter fire is a ugly duckling, so to speak. She's not an attractive person and she's hung up on this, even though she's a great healer and she has all these other skills.


Victoria: [00:20:48] And basically it's her learning through the course of the book, her own value. And that's not based on looks and. You know, her her courage and her compassion is what's really important.


Megan: [00:21:05] That's very cool, you know, and I have found in talking to a lot of other authors that there is a shocking amount of crossover between theater people, actors and authors and all of the the theater-turned-author people that I've spoken to, it's always so much character driven storytelling. And I feel like that's it's so natural for us because, you know, that's what you do on stage. It's character driven storytelling.


Megan: [00:21:34] And I think that's such a cool crossover. Now, if you could go back in time. So I guess before Crown of Ice, this would be before you wrote your first sci fi. What advice would you give you before you started writing your first full-length novel?


Victoria: [00:21:53] One of the things I've learned that I think surprised me was that umm.. I don't know why this is true. It shouldn't have surprised me because...I'll go back to an acting theater issue. I learned when I was studying acting although I wasn't an actress per se, but I studied it, that sometimes the roles you thought you would be perfect for, you're not good at, and the roles that you don't seem like you would fit, you do better.


Victoria: [00:22:19] And umm so when I learned...I've learned with writing that sometimes, even though we love a particular genre or we personally might say, I really want to read just fantasy or sci-fi, that perhaps our skills, our writing style, our tone and everything about it is not the best match for that particular genre. And so I always tell people if they don't stop, you know, like say you've been writing, publishing, whether it's indie or traditional or whatever, and you're not having a lot of success. Try something else, because you never know. I never thought I could write a mystery. And I've had much more success writing the mysteries. I just realized that the way that I write the tone of my writing, the style of my writing fits that genre. And so that's just something I would tell myself.


Victoria: [00:23:19] Just look at yourself, look at your at what really fits, not just what you like. And I mean, I've always liked mysteries, too, but it just. It's it's something I see people struggling with because they love something, I want to be a fantasy author and maybe their skills are better for rom com or something else. You know, it's it's just a it's an experiment that you can try and say, you know.


Megan: [00:23:50] That's that's such valuable advice, because so often what I hear from people is, you know, pick your niche and stick to it and don't disappoint your readers by taking any chances. So even you know, I know a lot of YA authors who are like, I will only write retellings. That's all people want. And it's so true where they could have this awesome gift for writing in a different genre. And they've just, you know, trapped themselves in a little box. So that. Thank you. That is some very valuable advice.


Victoria: [00:24:21] Thanks. Yeah, I mean, I learned it the hard way.


Megan: [00:24:25] You know, and I appreciate you sharing what you got from that struggle because losing a publisher and having contracts cancelled is, you know, it's just it deflates you. It really just like rips your insides out and you just, like, walk around like a weird little husk for awhile until you figure out what to do with your life.


Victoria: [00:24:45] It's true, yeah. I've seen so many people this has happened to and it's the sad thing is in publishing to not to be discouraging to people, but you really have to to be flexible because, umm, trends change and all these things change. But also publishers go under. You know, even people, I mean, publishers you thought were really strong. I've seen friends of mine who were with publishers and their books have been winning awards. And all these things have been great. And all of a sudden the publisher closes its doors. And, you know, it's you have to have the long game. That's what I always say. It's the long game. You know, I've written, umm, well, I've written 12 books now, not all out right now, but and what I've one thing I've learned is that over time, especially with the mysteries, is that even now people are still discovering the first book in my Blue Ridge series and the fifth book is coming out in December. So, you know, there's a long game aspect to it where you're building the people will, you'll see a review and they'll say, oh, I like this book, but I'm going to go back and read the first four. That's part of it. Who is continuing to write and whether you're indie or traditional is just keep at it.


Megan: [00:26:11] Yes, you you have to invest in having those books so you can build your backlist, a backlist is so valuable, but it's so hard to, like, sort of hang on by your teeth while you create the backlist. That...that's a struggle.


Megan: [00:26:27] But it's it's worth having those four books for people to go back and read after they discovered they looked they liked book five, as I mean monetarily is a huge difference. But also as far as building your your fan base, that's when you turn people from casual readers to devoted fans. And that's what we're all aiming for.


Victoria: [00:26:48] Yeah, I agree. I mean, I know you do indie publishing, but you have to have that, that number of books out there. People say, oh, I know her, I know herr books, I know what she writes. And then they're going to instantly buy the next one. And it takes a while to get to that point sometimes.


Megan: [00:27:07] It does. And, you know, it's it's totally doable. And everyone who is listening, it's totally doable. You can do it. Just, you know, gird your loins, it's going to be a long ride.


Victoria: [00:27:16] Just don't expect, the first book doesn't, you know, do fantastically. Is not a point to give up, I guess is what I'm trying to say.


Megan: [00:27:24] Yeah. Just keep keep plugging away. If you love it, it's it's worth it. And there, there is a business side of it that you can succeed at if you keep going.


Victoria: [00:27:34] Yes.


Megan: [00:27:35] Now before I let you go, could you tell our listeners where they can find you on social media?


Victoria: [00:27:44] Umm...yes. And actually the easiest thing to do is to go to my website, which is VictoriaGilbertMysteries.com. And that's all one word, Victoria Gilbert Mysteries dot com. And if they go there, they'll not only find out all the information on my books and news about events and my links to podcasts and links to videos, but also I link all of my social media accounts and I keep up to date so that people can just go in and click through.


Victoria: [00:28:19] You can find me on Twitter. You can find me on Facebook. I have an author page on Facebook. But I think it's just easier sometimes if if you go to the website and down at the bottom you'll see the click where, you know, Facebook or whatever. That way you don't have to remember all the different handles that you were forced to create.


Megan: [00:28:38] Yeah. When you're oussellauthor on some and meganorussell on another and you really want to know who the other orussellauthor is, who are they? Why did someone claim that?


Victoria: [00:28:46] Yeah.


Megan: [00:28:46] Now, the final thing, we are going to go through the Final Four questions with you. So if you could only recommend one book, which would you choose?


Victoria: [00:29:03] Ah...umm. Well, I always tell people that I refuse to answer this on the grounds that my head might explode.


Megan: [00:29:07] And that is a perfectly logical answer, I accept that.


Victoria: [00:29:15] I mean, as a librarian and a longtime reader is just impossible for me to pick one. I just can't do it.


Megan: [00:29:22] I just think that that answer is amazing, just absolutely like my brain is going to explode and I refuse. So this second question, what song can you count on to pump you up and lift your spirits?


Victoria: [00:29:35] Oh, I've been listening to, umm...I'm really eclectic with music. I studied classical music when I was younger. I sang. But I love classical music, but I also love a lot of contemporary music. I love jazz. So one song right now I've been listening to a lot is a Delta Goodrem, who's from Australia and she has a song called Enough. And I encourage you to listen to it, because if you're writing and you're fighting the fight against what the market wants, what everybody wants, what everybody's asking you for. I just feel like the song encapsulates my feeling about that. But you're enough and that you're good enough and you don't have to prove to everybody that you're good enough. But you are.


Megan: [00:30:27] I am very excited to listen to the song, and Victoria actually already sent me a link to it. So with Victoria's website and social media links, I will link that that YouTube in the show notes as well. All right. Question number three, what do you want the tagline of your life to be?


Victoria: [00:30:43] Well, it's funny. The thing I have on my Facebook page, on my personal Facebook page is a quote from Disney's live action Cinderella, which I like that movie. But, you know, I'm not a huge, huge fan of such things, but I love to this line. There's a line that says that, you know, have courage and be kind. And so I would like people to say she had courage and she was kind because I think those two things show what I feel is important is that you do have to be strong and have courage and try things and experiment and put yourself out there. But also, you have to be kind to others and yourself.


Megan: [00:31:28] That especially, you know, with the world how it is right now, that is very valuable advice. And the final question, what is the most inspiring thing anyone has ever said to you?


Victoria: [00:31:46] With writing it's when readers say that my books have in some way touched them, made their lives better, how you've given them an escape or just, you know, really meant something to them. And that's why we're writing. We're writing to communicate. We're writing to reach out to people and to convey thoughts and feelings. And so when you get that validation, that, to me, is the most wonderful thing.


Megan: [00:32:21] That...that is amazing and valuable. And I think I think that is part of what draws so many theatre people to writing is that, you know, there isn't the the instant gratification of being on stage and hearing people clap, but it is still that human-to-human communication. So I love that. That is great. Well, thank you so much for coming on to join us for A Book and a Dream. I am excited to check out your mystery series and. Yeah, thank you so much.


Victoria: [00:32:53] Well, thank you very much. And I always like to thank all the readers in the world because writers would be nothing without readers.