I’ve trained my body to need writing the way it needs oxygen, so the knot in my stomach and the burning sensation to set fingers to keys is motivation enough. Is it healthy? Probably not.
YA author Bre Hall made me laugh out loud with her ‘grandma’ stories. She assured me that tales of her wild gun-toting grandmother’s unconventional life and horrendous driving are all she needs to relieve a case of writer’s block. We also covered the benefits of slowing down your book launch to build up anticipation, developing immunity to rejection and changing from a plotting outliner to a pantser.
Please give us a brief overview of yourself and your work.
I grew up in a small, backwater town in South Central Kansas called Arkansas City (pronounced Our-Kansas, if you can believe it). Most of my childhood was spent outdoors on my great-uncle’s farm in Oklahoma, in the deciduous forest that sprawled along the dirty, brown, curl of the Arkansas River a few miles away from home, and on the red brick streets that created a near-perfect grid in my tiny hometown. Though I live on the West Coast now, I still set most of my stories in Kansas or Oklahoma, because I feel like the culture and setting is so unique and surreal that it’s fascinating. I have published two books. One is a coming-of-age novel entitled Asphalt Chasers, and the other is a collection of seven short stories, all set in the Midwest, called Flatlands. I also have a handful of short stories published in online journals, my favorite of which include “Crimson Moon” published in The Write Launch and “Chasing the Buzz” in Leaf~Land Journal. I hold two degrees in Creative Writing: A BA from Pacific University and an MFA from American College Dublin.
What made you want to be a writer?
I feel like every writer says they knew they wanted to write since childhood, and I did, but back then I wanted to be a playwright. I’d make up shows and force my cousins (I was an only child) to perform them at large, family gatherings against their will. They still resent me for it. I didn’t start writing short stories and novels, however, until high school. Thankfully, I had an extremely supportive Creative Writing teacher who inspired me to keep writing. That woman is a saint because my writing was horrific back then. I cringe just thinking about it. I kept at it though, but during the first year of college I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker but found myself penning a dystopian novel until the wee hours of the morning instead of cutting scenes together for film class. That’s when I decided to pursue writing seriously and changed my major. I’ve never looked back. I love writing with every ounce of my being.
Do you have a writing routine?
While I don’t have a specific time to write, I usually end up writing in the mornings. Otherwise, I’m antsy all day, thinking about what I should be writing. So, I usually eat breakfast, read a bit of a novel for inspiration, make a cup of tea, and sit down for a few hours with my story. I’ve trained my body to need writing the way it needs oxygen, so the knot in my stomach and the burning sensation to set fingers to keys is motivation enough. Is it healthy? Probably not. Does it work for me? Indubitably. If I need extra motivation, I read a novel or watch the film version of Beautiful Creatures. I don’t know why, but that movie always helps inspire my novels.
How do you outline your work and begin writing?
Until grad school, I was a hard-core plotter. I’d sit down and outline every chapter, every detail until I was sure I knew exactly where I was going with my novel. Then my lecturers started talking heavily about letting the characters guide the story and so I tried to let go of my outline little by little and, do you know what? Writing was so much more fun when I didn’t already know the outcome. Now, I’m a panster all the way. Sure, I have a vision in my head, I have scenes scribbled down for future reference, but I don’t stick to a strict outline like I used to. I just think plotting puts my creativity in a box, and I am not about that.
Is there any particular incident that has happened along your writing journey that you’d like to share?
I like to write my grandma into my stories. I know what you’re thinking—Bre, this isn’t interesting or funny, it’s just your grandma. Let me tell you, my grandma has more stories that involve breaking the law and bodily functions in inappropriate places than most eighty-seven-year-old women.
Grandma can pick just about any lock with a bobby pin. I remember she used to break into the public swimming pool after hours to let my cousins and I go swimming when there was nothing left to do in the day. She also used to carry a handgun in her car. We’re talking a big, ole Glock, too, not just some kind of itty-bitty pistol women in the Midwest carry to make them feel safe. And this thing was not concealed either. When I was a kid, I’d be sitting in the backseat of her Buick and she’d take a turn too fast and the gun would come sliding out from under the front seat and bounce off the toes of my tennis shoes. That scenario has made it into a short story. But most of the time when I write a story about my grandma or put her into a scene of a novel, it usually always has to deal with her driving. She’s never been good at it. Even when she was young. She never wore a seatbelt, never drove on the correct side of the road, and was always hitting things with her tank of a car. I remember as a kid, we had a long driveway, with a tree growing arrow-straight alongside it, and one day Grandma backs into it with her car and from then on it grew crooked.
The first story I ever wrote about my grandma, though, was the time she was involved in a hit-and-run. I was about twenty-one and I’d flown back to Kansas for a week to visit family. My cousin and I were sitting on the floor in my grandma’s living room, staring at each other, because what else was there to do? Out of nowhere Grandma let out a boisterous snort and announced, “Welp, I got a court date.” My cousin and I looked at each other, wide-eyed, open-mouthed. “Someone hit you?” my cousin asked. Grandma replied, “No, I hit them.” We both gasped and Grandma waved us off, saying, “Oh, no one was in the car. At least, I didn’t think.” We asked her what she was going to do, knowing full well she could lose her license. She perked up and said, “I’m going to do what I always do…get up in front of the judge and cry.” When I told that story in one of my MFA short story workshops, my professor immediately told me I should write a story around the aftermath of that moment. That’s where I got the inspiration for “Donuts in the Courtroom”, one of the stories in Flatlanders, my collection. I’ve learned since, that I do better when I write about places and people I know or have an idea of. Sure, I fictionalize them, but working from that base helps me tell a more unique story. If I’m ever unsure of what to write, I just start with a grandma story and go from there.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Write every day. Even if it’s just a few hundred words, get something onto the page as often as you can. Every time you sit down to write, it becomes easier and your writing gets better. Plus, it creates self-discipline, which is the key to finishing projects.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for new authors?
Facing rejection is a big challenge when you’re just starting out. Whether your short story was declined for publication in a journal, or a literary agent doesn’t want to represent you, or no one wants to read your first novel, rejection is unavoidable. I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t faced rejection in one form or another. Writers have really tough skin. I don’t think non-writers realize that. Thankfully, that tough skin gives us the grit to keep going. So, what was once a big challenge, is now what fuels our fire as we set forth blazing our trails. Sure, it’s still discouraging to get rejected again and again, but it only means something better is just around the corner.
What methods of book marketing do you find the most effective?
I have a longer list of ineffective ways than effective ways, but I’ll try to talk about something I’ve found that works. I don’t like marketing. I don’t like selling. I don’t like money in general, but since we can’t barter with goods for our livelihoods any more, I’m stuck having to do things I don’t like. What has been most effective for getting people to read/buy my books is to talk about it without trying to sell the book. I know that sounds strange, but when I post excerpts or talk about what my writing process was or what inspired a character/scene in the book, I get a bigger response than if I talked briefly about the storyline and then said, “Go buy my book, people!” There are so many books out there today, with new ones popping up daily in droves, that I think the readers want a personal connection with the author first before they even think about investing in their story.
What struggles did you face in the writing and publishing process?
The easiest part of the whole process was writing. Publishing was a crazy, overwhelming experience I am still learning. I think the biggest struggle was my launch. I basically, just said, “my book is out, go look” and expected everyone to flock to my Amazon page. No, no, no. I skipped about a million steps I was totally unaware of. I blame it on my impulsiveness. I’ve always feared not getting something done, and I think I thought if I waited any longer, I would never publish the book. If I had to do it over again, I would have slowed down. Ordered proof copies to check the formatting. Worked harder on the cover. Sent out advance copies to reviewers. Talked more about my characters and given more insights into the story. So, to answer the question simply: I struggled with almost every aspect of the process.
How do you handle rejection as a writer?
When I first started getting rejections, my heart would sink a little. My shoulders would wilt. I would let it hang over my head for a few days. Then, like learning how to drink a beer without falling down right away, I built up a tolerance. Now, I expect rejection. When you do that, there’s no worries if someone says, “no,” and, if it goes the other way and they say, “yes”, then it’s a total surprise.
What is the best writing advice you have received?
To change my name. I basically said, “screw that” and have written under my real name regardless, but I still took the meaning of the advice seriously. Basically, the advice meant that I shouldn’t be afraid of who read my work. I shouldn’t censor myself for fear someone will be offended, close friends and family especially. I grew up in a very religious community, which had concrete ideas on what was morally right and wrong. I think this affected my writing terribly until the last couple of years. Now, I don’t care what anyone will think. I write what I want to write, what the story demands, and don’t worry who will be offended or not.