Author’s Roundtable: Marcia Singer Byerly

How long have you been writing? Has writing always been something you wanted to do?

I have never considered myself a writer at all. My talent was in drawing, and that was always my passion when I wasn’t working at the various jobs I’ve held, which include bank teller, car dealership office work, legal secretary, camera operator and stripper (not the kind that takes off clothes!) in the printing industry, Wal-Mart people greeter and, more recently, real estate sales. I’m more of a “Jill of Many Trades.” On the side, I have done calligraphy, designed my own Christmas cards every year, draw color pastel pet drawings and pencil drawings of people and houses.

What got me into writing as an art form began with an unpublished book my mother had written and was unable to have published. Unbeknownst to anyone, in between baking bread and cleaning house, she was handwriting a historical young adult novel based on real events in North Carolina history. One day, out of the blue, she asks me if I knew someone who could type up something for her. This was in the days when home computers were still fairly new, although I did have one and could touch type. She, however, did not type at all. You have to understand that my mother came from a very small town in North Carolina and only had a high school education, but liked to read and loved history. Still, I had no idea she had a book in her. Anyway, knowing she could not afford to pay anyone to type this huge pile of papers she showed me, I volunteered to do it myself. For free, of course, for her.

I dove into the notes and began to type, and as I did, I found many spelling or syntax errors or general vagueness, the things that you would expect from a first draft on paper. I didn’t want to make big changes, but had to fix obvious errors as I went. Still, I was captured by the stories and characters and I got misty-eyed at the ending. I fell in love with Aquilla, the heroine of the story.

My mother took the final manuscript (still needing some editing and polishing, but I could only do so much) and sent a few chapters to book companies and, naturally, only received the usual form letters back: “Sorry, not at this time” or words to that effect. I’m sure she was devastated and eventually gave up on the idea of achieving her dream of publication. When she died in 1993 of cancer, I was left with her box of papers, and this book on a disk, and nowhere to go with it. I was quite saddened every time I thought about it because she put her heart and soul into it, and only a handful of people got to read it.

Fast forward to 2011, and a whole new world had arrived: e-books and self-publishing. As soon as I learned you could self-publish books, I began to do research on all of the skills needed to do so and learned what I needed to know so that finally, Aquilla could come alive again and inspire more and more people with her courage, bravery and good heart! I whipped the manuscript into e-book format and drew the portrait of Aquilla for the cover.  I’m very proud to say that “Aquilla, Indian Captive” has been selling very well. I’m sure my mother would be so happy that people are finally reading her book!

What books or stories have you written? Published? Can you tell us a little about your books? What are they about?

“Aquilla, Indian Captive” is about a 15-year-old girl living in Bath, N.C., whose town is raided by local Indians in the early 1700s, and she and some others are taken captive and expected to become slaves to the squaws. She is bright and spunky, and takes them on in her own way and also finds romance along the way. The book is intended for teens.

The “Jonny Dimbo” series is strictly adult books with mature themes. Jonny loses his father at eight years old and stops talking for the most part, but he accidently overhears conversations and private secrets that his mother, a psychiatrist, has with her patients. These patients then pay Jonny to keep their secrets. When he is 23, he has become an amateur investigator and helps these same people with current problems. He gets involved in all kinds of capers in doing so.

How did you get inspiration for the characters?

The basic premise of Jonny came to me in a dream and it was so vivid, I made notes when I woke up so I would not forget the idea because I thought it would make a good book. I told a writer friend about it, but she was not going to write another book, so I decided to use it myself. I had to make a few changes from the original idea because it involved the little boy in politics, and I’m not a big fan of that topic and didn’t feel I could write about it successfully. I believe in the saying “Write what you know,” so I try to do that when I can, although I do take a lot of liberties!

I get many of my ideas and character development while in the shower, which is a great time to let your mind wander, and also in the twilight time when you are not quite asleep, but not fully awake. I let my subconscious mind think up ideas, and this is often when they pop up. I have actually gotten up in the middle of the night to write down things because I know that I won’t remember them in the morning if I don’t. Some of my best poems have happened that way, too.

Are the books based on personal experiences?

In the Jonny Dimbo series, many of his experiences come from my own, although many don’t. You’ll have to read them to decide which is which!

Is there any advice you have been given that you could give to a young up-and-coming writer?

As with any art form, and I do believe writing is an art form, the key to success is: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. If you draw, draw more. If you paint, paint more. If you write, write more. You get better each time without even realizing it. See what makes others successful, but be true to yourself and try to stay unique.

Can you talk a little about the benefits of getting your work professionally edited?

I have not had my work professionally edited, and that is possibly a mistake. After I proofread my material, I have my writer friend read it, and she helps me find typos and errors. I also have my husband read it, and being a slow reader, he reads every single word and often finds mistakes also. However, I have not had a professional look at them. I just went ahead and published. I don’t really recommend this if you are looking to put forth a perfect book. Frankly, I’m in it for the fun and so have not been particularly worried about what anyone thinks.

What is the hardest part about finding a professional editor?

It may not be that hard to find one, but the cost is something I personally don’t want to incur. However, a more serious writer should probably go this route.

What are some of the hardest things you’ve had to overcome as a writer, in order to be published?

I had to learn how to format my work in Word for e-books, the entire process for creating accounts and all that is involved with self-publishing. It was quite a learning curve and would daunt someone who is not fairly tech savvy. Still, the info is out there if you’re serious about this kind of venture, and I was.

How do you find enough time in the day to write?

Fortunately, I was only working two days a week when I began to work on the Aquilla book and when I decided I wanted more time to work on my own books, I “retired.” Most young writers don’t have this advantage, and I’m sure it is difficult to find the time. However, in life, you must make priorities and if writing or any other venture is important to you, you will make the time for yourself and just do it. I’m a “Git-R-Done” kind of gal and if there’s something I want to do, I’ll get it done! Sure, I procrastinate sometimes or let things slide for a while, but I make a point of eventually finishing what I start. I still have to finish my latest “Jonny” book, but it will happen. It’s the best one yet, in my humble opinion!

Do you think writing has any benefits, and if so what would they be? Has writing made you a better person? Was there a point in your life where writing helped you deal with something, a death or a problem relationship perhaps?

Writing is very much like therapy. As a matter of fact, before “Aquilla,” I was having some very personal issues and needed a way to vent beyond annoying all my friends with my problems! I’m sure they got sick of hearing about it. I wrote about these difficulties as if I was going to see a doctor with the doctor asking questions, and I would answer and often made humorous analogies. I used this instead of actual therapy, but it was a great substitute. I spoke my mind, vented all my feelings and delved deeply into all the nuances of what happened. The more I wrote, the more there was to write, and it became a very long rant. I made it into a “test” book and actually published it for a short time, but later withdrew it. A reader made some nasty comments about it, and I decided it had served its purpose anyway, and so it was time to unpublish it.

I do recommend to people that writing down their feelings during a distressing time can help them to get over it or at least accept what happened and move on. It doesn’t have to be a book, but just perhaps a personal journal or blog.

Do you like to read? If so, what are your favorite genres and why?

Do I like to read? Oh, yes! When I was in the first grade, my mother took me to the local public library and told them I wanted a card. At first, they thought it should be in her name, but no, she insisted that it be my very own card. I signed my name, and that was just the beginning! I lived in Elmhurst, N.Y., and I could get to the library on my own and made the best of it. When I had read everything I wanted in the children’s sections, I began to scour the “grown up” shelves. I still consider my library card to be more valuable than any credit card I have!

I can remember that in elementary school, I was always reading way ahead in the books the class would read out loud and when it was time for me to read aloud, I had no idea where the rest of the class was at because they were so far behind me! It was embarrassing when I had to try to find out where the class was in the book.

I have always devoured books, and the ladies at the local library where I live now got to know me well because I was often there trying to find new reading material. I would reserve books and get a call when they were available. One time, five big, fat 500-plus page books came in all at the same time, and a new lady remarked to one of the veterans that she didn’t think I would want all of them. The other lady knowing said, “Oh yes she will!” Sure enough, I took them all and actually sat and read all five that weekend! My eyes were shot, but all of them were so riveting, I read one after another and didn’t do anything else. Fortunately, while my husband isn’t much of a reader, he doesn’t mind me doing so.

I read many of the usual best sellers, mysteries and some romantic-style books. I steer clear of spy books or books with a lot of politics: just not my style. I lean towards certain authors but have become disenchanted with some I used to like, but now I don’t. I won’t name them here.

Can you talk about how important reviews are to writers? What kinds of information do reviews offer authors like yourself? Have you ever received a bad review? If so how did it make you feel?

Obviously, when you have poured your heart, soul and time into a book, you want people to read it and love it. Like most things in life, you’ll never please everyone and while there will be those who love your work, there will always be those who don’t. It’s still hard to hear when someone trashes what you worked so hard on. Basically, in the end, if YOU like what you have created, that’s all that really counts.

I was sorry to see a bad review for “Aquilla” because it seemed to me the person did not understand a number of things about how the book came to be written and that it was meant for teens. Also, they were disappointed about things that the book didn’t have instead of appreciating what it did have. I know that this book could have been “more,” and it has its faults, but I left it like it was because it wasn’t my place to rewrite it. The feedback I received from people I know who read it was very favorable, and it has been selling well. I wish I could get more positive feedback, but either way, I won’t change anything about it. It’s the book my mother wrote, and it will stand as is. If you like it, great. If not, oh well.

As for my Jonny Dimbo books, I have gotten nice praise from those who have read them. Here’s what matters to me: my husband (who never reads novels at all) has read all of them on his iPad, and he said they kept his interest, and he could not put them down! He actually read all of them all the way through and this is the best “review” I could receive!

I think Jonny is a jewel yet to be discovered and hopefully one day, readers will find him and enjoy his stories. These are the kinds of books I want to read right now: a lot of quirky, but realistic people and their backgrounds and, yet, a lot of action. They stay away from gory murders and violence, but there are bad guys who get what’s coming to them in Jonny’s own way. There is love, romance and some paranormal factors also. I have a hard time putting these books into a specific genre because they just don’t fit in just one. I hope readers will take a chance and see what Jonny is all about and enjoy him and all the people around him.

About Marcia Byerly

Marcia Singer Byerly grew up in Queens, N.Y. She always had a talent for art and graduated from Pels School of Art located in Manhattan. She enjoyed her time and lessons there. In 1972, she drew a Christmas card for a class, which turned out so well, she started a tradition of a new card each year thereafter. After school was over, she worked as a teller for a bank in Jackson Heights, but later moved to North Carolina in 1973, where she met her husband. They had one son, who is now grown with two children.

In the 1980s, Marcia became proficient in calligraphy and participated in many craft shows for a number of years. Later, she began to draw pet portraits in pastel, which were a great hit with pet owners. She also found she excelled at drawing people in pencil and worked at learning the skills needed to improve in this area. During her time working in real estate, she also drew detailed pencil drawings of houses for client gifts for other agents.

Marcia worked at a number of different jobs in diverse fields: teller, bookkeeper for a car dealership, camera operator in printing shops, assistant to attorneys in private practices and later worked in the legal department of a major bank. From there, she was ready to slow down and became a part-time deli worker and then a door greeter for Wal-Mart. She enjoyed talking to the customers and made friends with some of them.

When her schedule at Wal-Mart was no longer agreeable, she became an assistant to two real estate agents, and also went to school and received a real estate license, but continued to assist part-time.

When Marcia became interested in writing and publishing e-books, she retired from that position to work full-time on her own projects including writing, scrapbooking and reading. She thoroughly enjoys having all of her time to pursue her diverse interests. This also has allowed her to have more time to exercise and concentrate on learning how to live a healthier life style, and she has succeeded in losing weight to avoid many bad health concerns.

Marcia and her husband, Phil, thoroughly enjoy attending the local Minor League baseball games with their season tickets. It is a great past-time that they both love to watch and root for the home team. Check out her website, where you’ll find links to her blog, artwork and more.


One thought on “Author’s Roundtable: Marcia Singer Byerly

  1. I enjoyed reading this interview very much. I have known Marcia for a long time (online) and now know a little bit more about her. She is a very kind, giving person. She will often stop everything she’s doing and proofread one of my reviews or guest blog postings. I loved Aquilla, Indian Captive so much!! (Scarberryfields on Twitter)

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