Interview with Penny Devlin
You’re a new editor for non-fiction and will help with fiction editing as needed. Do you write both?
I started out participating in flash fiction contests. I enjoyed doing that so I took a couple of classes. One of the classes I took was a creative non-fiction class. After that, I started participating in flash non-fiction contests. I am currently working on the non-fiction MFA through Writer's Village University but am also taking fiction classes. I enjoy both, but I like the freedom of creative non-fiction. I think it gives the author more opportunity to share subjects they may not usually want to write about. They can conceal themselves behind the embellished parts in order to share the truths they would otherwise find too personal to write about.
What writers do you admire? What are you currently reading?
Currently, I am reading Bernard Cornwell's Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories. His fight scenes are amazing. I lean toward fantasy and action/adventure. I've read all of the George R.R. Martin Game of Thrones books and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. I also enjoy historical fiction and have read most of Ken Follett's books. As a child, my favorite books were Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain and Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series. I must have read those two series a half dozen times.
What's the one piece of advice that has helped you, and where did you get it? What advice would you give a beginning writer?
I can't remember who it was, but I heard a story on the radio that has always stuck with me. A woman is talking to the host about going back to school but is lamenting that by the time she gets her degree, she'll be fifty years old. The host asks her how long it will take her to get the degree and she answers four years. The host asks her how old she'll be in four years and she replies fifty. The host then points out that whether she goes back to school or not, in four years, she'll be fifty years old. She can either be a fifty-year-old college graduate or she can be a fifty year old non-graduate. Either way, in four years, sho's going to be fifty. I always think of this when I hear myself say, "but I'm too old to..." It's never too late to learn something new. I think it keeps our minds healthy.
Advice I would give a beginning writer is to keep writing and reading and learning. It sounds cliche, but practice makes perfect. Try to write and read as much as you can. Take classes and participate in contests. The feedback I've received from the contests I've participated in have made the work worth it. Learn and practice what the judges say and with every contest, you'll get better. The classes at WVU and the feedback from the facilitators and students have helped me improve. I am amazed at how much progress I have made when I look back at the material I wrote when I first started writing seriously.
How long have you been writing?
I have dabbled with writing since I was a child. I've had a diary for as long as I can remember and have always kept a notebook for ideas. Several friends commented that they liked getting letters from me because they felt like they were with me when I shared information about what I was doing or where I was at. That was a huge compliment to me. I didn't take writing seriously until I started participating in contests, though. While I haven't received first place yet, I have made it into the second or third rounds several times. That is an exciting feeling, knowing that other people enjoy what I am writing. I decided to get more serious about it and started taking classes and am trying to get into the habit of writing every day.
As a reader and editor, what’s your biggest pet peeve in other people’s writing?
My biggest pet peeve is trying to read something that hasn't been proofread. We all make mistakes and I usually spot mine half a second after I hit the send button, but at least try to minimize the obvious mistakes.
How much time do you spend on research for your writing?
Sometimes I spend more time researching a subject than I do writing. I think to be taken seriously a person needs to know what they are writing about. They may not need to be an expert, but they should at least look like they cared enough to do some research. I remember reading an article about horses. The author was amazed that two horses he witnessed were standing next to each other, head to tail so that they were able to take advantage of each other's swishing tail to keep the flies off their heads. The author wondered what the odds were that the horses stood together that way and surmised that it happened by accident. I grew up on a farm and sawhorses do this every summer when the flies bothered them. I always think about that story when I think about taking a short cut and not doing research. I don't want to be the author someone else remembers for making a glaring assumption that is nowhere near the truth and could have easily been researched.
Tell us one thing about you that may surprise readers of the Village Square.
In 2007, my husband and I quit our jobs, sold most of our belongings, and traveled the United States and Canada on our motorcycles. We put 32,000 miles on our bikes in ten months. We were both in management positions at our jobs and gave sixteen months' notice of our departure. We sold our house two months before we left and moved into a small apartment. We bought a fifty-foot storage container and parked it on a friend's property. After we moved out of the apartment, the container held all our worldly belongs with the exception of what we had on our bikes.
We did the same thing in 2016 except in a 24' toy hauler. When found a place we liked, we parked the truck and trailer and explored on our motorcycles. We also went to the U.K. for a month. We seem to have a ten-year wanderlust problem!