Monday, March 15, 2010

Spotlight Author with Martha Engber

Good day friends. This week I have another wonderful author to share with you. Martha Engber. I've had the opportunity to hear her speak, take classes from her, read her how to book, and meet her. What an amazing woman! So please take a minute to get to know her. I know you won't be disappointed.

So Martha, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you write.

I'm a gal born and raised in an old Chicago suburb along the Burlington Northern train line. I only excelled in two thing: movement and writing. So when I wasn't taking the train into the Loop (business district of downtown Chicago) to swelter amidst the other 30 students in a third-floor ballet studio located above a pub, I was scribbling in a diary that my middle sister gave me as a present. I was not a talker or particularly good at expressing myself, so I had a lot to scribble.

I went into journalism because a career in dance seemed to promise even less income. After writing loads of articles about ice fishing, dog owners who married their dog (no joke) and the occasional celebrity, i started writing short stories, and if I may say so, they were terrible.

Now I do everything-plays, articles, novels, nonfiction books, essays, etc.-most of which is literary.

You hosted a workshop for the chapter, Yosemite Romance Writers, that I belong to. We did an exercise on SHOW DON'T TELL. Can you explain the importance of this?

The more control a writer has over her tools, the better she can control them in order to acheive the effect she wants.

Showing and telling are two different tools, both of which are neccessary and should eb used in certain situations as opposed to whenever:


Definition of showing: when you state the fact (She sat down. She looked at the sky.).

Definition of telling: when you convey an opinion (She sat down like she owned the bench. She looked at the sky like she wanted to kill it.)

When to tell: when there's no other way to show what's important at that particular moment.

What is the most important advice you can give to aspiring authors?

Develop an attitude in which your curiosity about how to make your manuscript better exceeds all other emotions, including the wish to be done or a willingness to make do or an urge to prove you're right and other people are wrong.

A keen curiosity is the sign of a person who's willing to learn, and therefore, to improve.

How do you know when your critique group is right for you?

This is an easy one!

1. You feel highly encouraged to keep writing.
2. The comments challenge you to experiment/learn/improve, rather than just make you feel warm and fuzzy.

How was writing, GROWING GREAT CHARACTERS FROM THE GROUND UP, different than writing, THE WIND THIEF, craft versus fiction. Do you go through the same process for both? Is one easier than the other?

Nonfiction reference articles and books like GGC are all about organization of facts and ideas. If you organize the material correctly, people follow along. I'm very organized, so after writing a detailed 10-page single-spaced outline, the writing process proved relatively easy.

Writing a novel, however, is an octopus. After you create your characters, the goal is to show their continual emotional change.

In nonfiction, you're the boss, whereas in fiction, your characters are the bosses. You have no choice but to stick close and see where they take you, which may be far from where you thought the story would wind up.

It's not uncertainty that often drives control-loving fiction writers to their characters too much.

How long was your road to publication?

I was 17 when I got my first official article-about a good Samaritan student who returned a wallet containing $300-published in the University of Missouri-Columbia's student newspaper, the Maneate. I was 29 when i got my first creative writing piece-a children's poem titled I Am a Yam-published in a kid's magazine. The nonfiction book was published in 2007 when I was 42 and THE THIEF was published last October, 11 years after I knocked around the idea.

What are three of your favorite things about being a writer?

I only have one favorite thing about writing: freedom. When I write, I can go anywhere I want in space, time, emotion, place and concept. That escape is crucial, given all the boundaries placed on us by the titles we hold (wife, mother, sister, professional, volunteer, etc.).

Did you receive rejection letters during your journey to become published? If yes what is your best advice to someone who's received their first one?

Did I receive rejection letters? Only about 350! I still get rejections.

There are two ways to look at rejection letters:

1. The negative way: that you're no good.

2. The positive way: that you're in the game, which is far, far above all the other people who are too afraid to submit

I'm a big fan of drowning one's sorrows in some sort of treat. If you've got to feel rotten for 24 hours, which is typically how long people feel bad, they can at least do something that makes them feel marvelous while feeling bad. For example, what's better than a few salty tears that drip into that hot fudge sundae with nuts and whipped cream?

When you're not writing what do you do in your spare time?

Spare time: what a concept!

Believe it or not, I write, which means really write, rather than market or prep for a workshop.

When I don't write, I read (feel free to friend me on GoodReads). When I don't read, I'm teaching all types of fitness classes. When I'm not doing formal fitness, I'm doing free-for-all fitness (trampolines, dancing, skiing) or eating yummy food with family or friends or perusing art museums, which I regularly haunt for inspiration and a general sense of well being.


Coffee or Tea-

Both! Though I'm partial to double espresso served in Parisian bars at about 3 p.m. and the Vanilla Ginger tea at the pace where my critique group meets.

Cats or Dogs-

Neither, I have kids.

What's loaded in your i-Pod right now?

3,475 songs in every genre including a slew of world music including hybrids like Afro-Celtic and electronica tango.

Warm Sunny Days or Snuggky Rainy Days-

Rainy days, since we get so few of them here in CA, relatively speaking.

Roses or Love Letters-

Love letters, which for me are email exchanges that look like this:

To Mike (my husband): Miiiike, my computer died!

From Mike: Don't worry. I'll fix it when I get home.

(Now THAT'S a man!)

Martha thanks so much for all of your great information. And thanks in advance to all of my readers. You can find Martha's books at:


Alondra Press (best for author/publisher)
Barnes & Noble online


Any bookstore

Other links:

Martha's website
Marta's blog
Facebook fan page
Amazon Author Central
Library Thing
Aondra Press

Until next time friends, hugs to all.

Micole Black


Anonymous said...

Hey MIcole.

Thanks for inviting me to your blog! Thanks for taking the time to spotlight your fellow authors.

When you can, let me know how your current writing project is progressing.

Micole Black said...


Thank you for taking the time to be here. I will email you shortly. :)