StoryDam Author – Amber West

Amber WestThe StoryDam community is filled with writers of varying levels of experience, but few can claim to have been writing “forever.” That didn’t stop Amber West, author of The Ruth Valley Missing from claiming as much in this week’s StoryDam Author interview. Although she quickly backtracked claiming that might be a “slight exaggeration,” she goes on to say, “I have been writing stories since a very young age. As a matter of fact, one of the stories I wrote in fifth grade was published in a children’s anthology.” She added that, “somewhere in my parents house, there’s a slam book from that same year with a page that asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ My answer? Writer.” As far as I’m concerned, that’s possibly as close to “Forever” as any of us are going to get!

Amber’s Road to the Public and Publication

However, even with all of that early experience, Amber held back on actually “going public” with her writing until about two years ago, when she was egged on by some attention she got from a blog she wrote for her friends. She says, “I know, the internet isn’t exactly private, but I didn’t publicize my blogging before. I wrote posts just to keep my long distance friends up to date and occasionally to entertain them. Those posts got me a few writing gigs, so I decided to put myself out there a bit more. Shortly after putting my blog out into the world, I got involved in various online writer’s groups. It was there that I met other writers who encouraged me to take my writing more seriously and pursue publication.”

Amber’s Support System

Amber found support outside of her friends and family. She says, “There are two writers I met through social media who have been my cheering section through the entirety of my first book, and are still a great encouragement as I continue to write. (They also happen to be talented ladies: Tiffany White and Jen Kirchner.) If it wasn’t for the two of them reading my work in the early stages and talking me down on the days that I felt like I was crazy for thinking anyone would want to read my work, I’d probably be back to writing my work emails in haiku form as creative outlet and letting manuscripts gather dust.” In addition to these two wonderful ladies, Amber credits her regular blog readers who remind her that “there are people out there who want to read my work.” And, yet, even with all of this public support, Amber stuck so closely to her “private writing” routine that she says that her dad didn’t know she took writing seriously until her mom was reading her first published novel!

Amber’s Writing Habit

Amber West
Amber’s workspace

It’s easy to see how Amber could keep this secret when you find out that she has to find a way to juggle it between being mom of a 3.5 year old and a full time job. With all of that on her plate, she doesn’t force herself into any kind of formal writing habit to get her words on the page, she says, “my writing habit is to write whenever I can make the time. I don’t have a certain time of day set aside, a certain spot, a certain medium; I just write whenever I can. I also find that creatively, I don’t function well with a ‘butt-in-chair’, write every day mentality. I may attempt to write every day, but if the ideas aren’t flowing, I don’t believe in just writing the words only to delete them all later. I’d rather do something to refresh my brain and jump back in again later.”

Amber and The Writing Community

Amber also argues against the thinking that there is any “golden rule” to writing the writing process. She does, however have thoughts about the writing community, “Treat others as you would want to be treated. If you want support, encouragement, and respect, you’ve got to make the first move.” However, what Amber is talking about is genuine, sincere support, she says, “I don’t mean that in the reciprocal, ‘you review my book, I’ll review yours’. If you genuinely enjoy another author’s work, tell others about it. If you don’t, don’t be so quick to bash it. Think about all the hard work you put into what you do before you make light of someone else’s work. And don’t expect anything back.”

This thinking is directly related to her own experiences in the writing world. When I asked Amber what she has learned from writing, she skipped right over the writing process and dove right into the lessons learned post-publishing. In her own words, here is her lesson and cautionary tale for the rest of us:

My first novel was released in November of last year. The initial reviews were extremely positive. I was surprised that the response was so great, but definitely happy to see people responding so well.

And then came my first bad review. And it was a rough one. The reviewer attacked me personally by suggesting that my reviews were all “friends and family” reviews and even fake. To add insult to injury, the reviewer was another writer, who I’d met in social media writing circles and had received my book for free!

I have always been that person who wants to please everyone. I had prepared myself for the fact that someone might not like my book but I had not prepared for a personal attack.

It hurt.

It made me want to curl up in a little hole and go back to writing just for me.

Fortunately, a well-timed post from Wil Wheaton, and some personal encouragement from the man himself, made me realize what mattered. I had fun creating the story. Others had fun reading it. And I learned a lot from the process that I can pour into my next project.

I also read an article about that math of reviews that put it into perspective. If you have a good number of readers, mathematically, you will have “haters”. It’s just a fact. Not everyone likes the same thing. (I can attest to this, as I can’t understand how Two and a Half Men is still on the air, and yet, it’s been one of the most popular shows on TV for a long time.)

Basically, if you are going to be any sort of success, bad reviews WILL happen. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good number of my books out there, so a bad review is just part of the math of being a writer.

I say I am still learning because as much as I can sit here and tell you that those reviews don’t define your work, I haven’t quite mastered the art of not caring.

I’m getting there.

Finding a way not to care is definitely a struggle for all of us, but I would like to focus for a moment on the true mystery Amber raised here, Why is Two and a Half Men Such a success? Amber and I want to know!
Amber’s Advice
Even with her eye on the community and life post publication, when it comes to giving advice, Amber sticks true to what is important when it comes to giving advice to up and coming new writers. She says, “What matters is the story you want to tell and sitting down and telling it.” She cautions against spending too much time on the mechanics and forgetting about what really matters, “You know those countless books and blogs about writing that you are consuming like mad right now? That’s okay. As long as you remember that when it comes down to it, all that stuff you are reading doesn’t matter. Yes, you need to know your grammar and the basics of story structure and there are great tips out there. But if you spend too much time reading all the ‘shoulds’ of writing, you’ll find yourself crippled with fear when you actually sit down to write. All of that advice amounts to nothing if you can’t get your story on paper. Tell your story. Don’t me afraid to make mistakes. Remember that every moment you are creating something is a success.” This, unsurprisingly, from a woman who says that first drafts are her favorite part of the entire writing process. She says, “I love telling the story. I love finding out where the story is going to go. And I love refining the story. Making it better is just getting to tell more of the story!”

Amber’s Current Work

The stories Amber is working on right now are exciting and varied. First off, for fans of Amber’s first book The Ruth Valley Missing, you’ll be ecstatic to find out that more Jameson Quinn is on its way! Amber says, “The book was originally written as a standalone, but the reaction to Jameson’s character (and her possible romantic interest) had readers asking for more, so I couldn’t say no. The next story takes place about 9 months later. Like Ruth Valley, there will be a mystery element to the story, but I really view Jameson’s stories as being more humorous women’s fiction than anything else.”
In addition to continuing Jameson’s story, Amber is also working on two other new novels-to-be. The first is “an NA/YA story about an eighteen year old senior in high school who finds herself on her own and rebuilding her life and new friendships after a rather public tragedy/scandal strikes close to home.” On top of that, Amber has “a women’s fic sitting on the back burner. It was the story I was working on when the idea for Ruth Valley hit that I plan to return to eventually.”

But Amber’s writing extends far beyond her books. As she started out on this quest, you can still find Amber blogging at A Day Without Sushi where she has an exciting fiction project as well. Here’s Amber explaining her unique blogging project, “I do some serial fiction on my blog. It’s a little different in that each installment is written at the last minute, based on suggestions left by the readers. It’s a LOT of fun, and I just started a new story after finishing the last one, which lasted for nearly a year!” So, go check it out and join in on the creation process.

About The Ruth Valley Missing in Amber’s Words

The Ruth Valley Missing Amber West The Ruth Valley Missing is my first novel. A humorous mystery is the best way I can classify it. Here’s a quick description:
Jameson Quinn is sick of trying to find herself in the big city. After a gallery opening ends in a trip to the ER and an argument with her self-involved boyfriend, she decides to take off for the peace and quiet of a small town — Ruth Valley.The small town has everything Brooklyn lacked: simple people, peaceful surroundings, and a feeling of safety. Jameson even finds the perfect house to rent from the town’s most eligible bachelor, Sheriff Jack. Life is finally headed in a promising direction.But something isn’t right. A young man is mysteriously injured, then disappears — and Jameson finds he isn’t the only person to suddenly vanish. The suspicious behavior of an abrasive nun and a creepy priest set her off on an investigation of what’s really happening. Will she figure out the secrets of Ruth Valley before she’s the next to go missing?
I wrote this book without any plan to publish it. It was just me working on a scene in my head, giving it context. Before I knew it, I had a book that I was being encouraged to publish.
It’s a fast read and isn’t meant to be world-changing or anything like that. It’s just fun.
Connect With Amber West
Chances are if you are here, you already know how to connect with Amber on Twitter @amberwest as she very active in our weekly chats, but that’s not the only place to connect with our StoryDam Author of the week! As noted earlier, Amber is a prolific blogger on A Day Without Sushi and she checks into Tumblr as well, claiming “I may as well be here too…“.
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About Nicole Rivera 66 Articles
Nicole Rivera is a writer and blogger from Staten Island, NY. She loves stories in all their forms - books, movies, TV, theater - and hopes, one day to help contribute to the vast world of published stories. In the meantime, she writes away on her blog Rivera Runs Through It while hanging out with her husband, her dog, and the random neighborhood rooster that she calls "Chicken." Tweet Nicole anytime about what you're reading, writing or watching @Riverand. (Bonus points for chocolate and Doctor Who related chats!)