Thursday, November 5, 2015

How Fan Fiction Made Dorothy Winsor a Novelist, interview by Kell Andrews

Debut novelist Dorothy A. Winsor learned to write fantasy from a master -- J.R.R. Tolkien -- and the writers and readers who adore him. A college professor, Winsor had taught technical writing and published nonfiction long before she decided to try fiction, first within a Tolkien fan fiction environment, and then within her own worlds.

Her method helped her turn out an absorbing middle-grade fantasy within an original setting. Finders Keepers (Illusio & Baqer/The Zharmae Publishing Press) is a well-written, tautly paced fantasy with a vivid world and a likable protagonist in Cade, who possesses the Gift of finding magical heart-stones that could save his people from a cataclysmic change in calendar -- or curse him to life of slavery in the heart-stone mines.


Finders Keepers by Dorothy A. Winsor
The eight gods that govern the world are tricky and fickle, and even the most innocuous of their blessings comes with consequences. Those who find a blessing are cursed to dance on strings in exchange for good fortune. Which begs the question: is finding one good fortune at all?
Cade lives a simple life with his mother and brother, but when he finds a heart stone, he wonders if he can’t change that. Heart stones are said to bring luck to those who hold them, and Cade’s tiny family could surely do with good fortune.
But heart stones aren’t just tokens of good luck; simply tracking one down is a sign of a special gift. Cade is a Finder, just like his mother before him, but this gift is hardly what is seems; if the larger community finds out about this, Cade’s entire life will change.
And not for the better.
Now he lives outside the law, struggling to find a way to reclaim what was once his, all while fending off a new hardship that he never anticipated: an overwhelming desire to take back what is his. No matter the cost.

The Interview

Q: I understand that you began writing fiction after being involved in a fan fiction community. How does that prepare you as a writer? 

Writing Tolkien fan fiction taught me so much. For one thing, I wrote a lot. Raymond Chandler supposedly said you have to write a million words of bad writing before you can write good stuff, and fan fiction gave me the chance to do that (literally) in a low risk environment with encouragement from readers. I could try out anything I liked--first person, third person, multiple point of views, flashbacks, little kid point of view, running metaphors, whatever I wanted. If it worked, great. If it didn't, it didn't matter. There were plenty more stories where that one came from.

With my first story, I was lucky enough to have someone offer to be my beta reader. That person turned out to be the best developmental editor I've ever worked with. She pushed me endlessly not to rush a story, not to shortchange a character, not to take the easy route. It was like having my own private writing tutor.

Besides that, it was fun.

Q: How does it differ to write in a world or your own creation? How did you create the world in Finders Keepers?
I'd been creating my own characters within Tolkien's story, so character building wasn't hard for me. But world building? That was a shock. I hadn't realized how much I relied on Tolkien's world to lend background and significance to my story. That sounds stupid, but it's true.

I actually liked writing to canon. Having to fit my work into Tolkien's story meant I couldn't always go with my first idea for a plot or character element. I had to push farther and get more creative. On the other hand, working in my own world does allow me to fit the world around my character's needs. For me, a story grows around a character, in this case Cade. He's at a point in his life where he has to grow and change. Writing in my own world meant I could look at what kind of challenge he needed to face, and then be free to create it.

In other words, for me, the story drives world building. Unlike say, Tolkien, I create only as much as I need to put my characters in a challenging situation that feels deep enough to be real.

Q: How did you decide to write fantasy for middle grade instead of adult? What do you see as the difference?
I've always enjoyed writing about young characters, particularly adolescents. You know how there are endless TV shows set in hospitals or courtrooms? That's because events in those settings create moments of crisis in people's lives. Moments of crisis make good stories.

Adolescence is a natural crisis in everyone's life. Your body is changing. You're doing multiple things for the first time, ranging from driving to dating to holding a job. Your brain is not yet fully developed and you lack experience, yet you wind up making life shaping decisions. You're ready to leave your parents' guardianship and don't yet have a family you've built yourself so the chances are good you have to struggle through moments of soul crushing loneliness.

I'm interested in the strengths and wounds that a character's family has created. The family might be good, which is the case for Cade, but in order to save his brother and everyone else, he has to violate some of the things he's been taught, which is painful for him. Additionally, his father died, and that's left a real hole in his life that he hasn't yet had time to heal.

Situations like that have the potential for all kinds of good stories. How could I pass them up?

Q: What is the difference in participating in online and IRL communities for fan fiction and as a traditionally published author?
Participating in a community of like-minded readers and writers was one of the most satisfying parts of fan fiction. To this day, several of my best friends are people I met on fanfic sites. I travel a fair amount, and I've met fellow Tolkien fanfic writers in Ireland, England, and New Zealand, where I actually stayed with the person, whom I met face-to-face for the first time in the Auckland airport.

One of the interesting differences I see is that within fan fiction, readers and writers tend to be the same people. You see one another as being in the same realm. When a fanfic reader reviews a story, the review is addressed straight to the writer, and it's good manners for the writer to reply. One site I used (Stories of Arda) allows everyone to see both the reviews and the author replies, so conversations sometimes develop.

In contrast, in original fiction, a review is written not for the writer, but for other readers, who are deciding whether they might enjoy a book. The writer is supposed to butt out. On Goodreads, for instance, readers can get hostile if a writer intrudes on the discussion. Social media reduce the barrier between writer and reader to some degree, but those are still different worlds.

Dorothy A. Winsor
Q: Stephen King has a bestseller out with the same title as yours. What did you think when you heard that? How did you decide to keep the original title?
When my brother pointed out the King title, I was appalled! Finders Keepers had been the title for my book since I started working on it around 2012, and I couldn't imagine changing it. I knew you can't copyright a title, so I could keep it if I wanted to, but I didn't know if there'd be consequences I didn't foresee. I immediately passed word to my publisher, and they didn't see any need to change my title. Turns out there are lots of books with that title.

Q: You've written several stories in the same world as Finders Keepers. What is it like revisiting those characters and world? Will we hear more from Cade? What's next from you?
I find sequels hard to write. It feels to me like the book I've already written said what I had to say about those characters. But the short stories I've written take place before Finders Keepers, so to me, it feels like I'm filling in the backstory. I'd like to write more about Cade because I find him entertaining to have in my head, but I don’t have enough story for him yet.

I'm more inclined to pick a secondary character and write about them because they still have secrets to reveal to me.

I do have a young adult fantasy, tentatively called Deep as a Tomb, that's scheduled for publication in 2016. That has a sixteen-year-old boy and girl with alternating points of view. He's the son of the king, and she's the daughter of a would-be rebel who wind up living in the same household.


Visit Dorothy A. Winsor at Finders Keepers is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


  1. Thanks for sharing Dorothy! Very insightful!

  2. I enjoyed learning about Dorothy. Her description of adolescence is one of the best I've read. I'll be on the look out for FINDERS KEEPERS.

  3. Aw, this is so fun! Love seeing you over here, Dorothy, and delighted to hear that FINDERS KEEPERS is out. Can't wait to read it! Congrats!

  4. Sounds like a great book. I enjoyed learning more about Dorothy. I can imagine how strange it was to find out there were other books with the same title. Maybe it will be helpful because people may look for one of those titles, find yours and buy it. :) Thanks for sharing!


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