Pam Garlick participated in the recent Pennwriters event during the Berks Literary Festival last month. We had a wonderful evening of readings and afterwards I interviewed Pam about her writing. Below is what we discussed.
Sue Lange: What are your books about?
Pam Garlick: Most of my novels are inspirational romances, however, I do have some mystery/suspense. My main characters are mostly everyday people who find themselves in difficult situations. In most cases it is their faith in God that helps them through the difficult time. Sometimes they lack faith and another character helps them renew their faith.
SL: When you say inspirational, are you speaking about Christianity?
PG: Yes, they are Christian. However, those written under P.R. Garlick are more secular. There may be murders with a bit more blood. There are some scenes with a little more sexual tension. The language is okay for anyone.
SL: Are there marketing avenues available through the Church?
PG: I am currently working on those. I have my testimony about how God changed my writing. I did not do it intentionally. It was God working in my life. I sent out letters to help market my work, but I found that letters are not the best way to sell myself nor my novels. I will have to do more leg work on this one. My hope is that I will be asked to speak at church events, sharing my testimony and then do a book signing. It remains to be seen how well this will work. Considering the time, I think it is something I will work on during the winter months and schedule for Spring.
SL: Tell me about the publishing experience itself.
PG: Let’s see. I have been writing since I was 12, but most of that wasn’t suitable for publication. I kept going to conferences and two things kept being repeated: write about what you know, and if you want to get published start with non-fiction. It took me a long time to listen to the latter, and that was how I first got published. I wrote for many area newspapers through the years, and some trade publications. Most for the emergency service. During that time I kept writing fiction. One day I had a stressful day at work and it was like the final straw, so I quit. Without a job, I went home and wrote, wrote and wrote. I sent some things to True Romance and the other True’s and finally a story was accepted by True Romance. That was a new beginning. That was 20 years ago and they have published over 200 of my confession stories since. After my father passed away nearly two years ago I decided it was time to blow the dust off some novels I’d written. I rewrote them and decided to go the route of publishing on demand. I might not have done it before he died, but after that I started thinking that life was too short to keep waiting and hoping for months, sometimes years, on end only to find my story wasn’t exactly what a publisher was looking for. If I didn’t believe in myself, who else would? So I did it, and now I’m glad I did. I have met some wonderful people since my novels were published, and anticipate meeting many more.
SL: That’s great advice about writing non-fiction first. It is so much easier to get published writing non-fiction. More people read it and fewer writers write it so there’s much less competition for more of the market share. When you say True Romance, are you talking about a periodical? Is that the name of it, True Romance?
PG: Oh they have a long history. I think they started with True Story back in the 50s; but don’t quote me on that. It could have been earlier or later. They added magazines through the years like: True Romance, True Experience, Modern Romance, True Love, True Confessions and Secrets. When I started writing for them in 1987 or 1988 they were called the Macfadden Women’s Group. They merged or were purchased outright by Sterling Publishing. They merged or something and became Sterling Partnership and then were purchased or taken over by Dorchester Media. Many of the magazines in the group cut down on the size of their stories, and eventually some of the magazines were cut out completely. They did add a line of magazines for African American women, starting with Secrets, then Black Romance, and Jive. I may have some of these facts wrong since I’m trying to go from memory. Once Dorchester took over, I had a hard time keeping up with the editors who changed constantly. I had a good rapport with some who have left. I keep saying I’m going to start submitting stories to them again, but haven’t done it. However there are many Pennwriters who may still be writing for them.
SL: What makes a story a romance? What elements are required?
PG: Interesting question. I always felt it was the relationship between a man and woman that may start out rocky but slowly blossoms into something more. There are obstacles in the way of that relationship turning into full blown love, like different goals, the fact that they dislike one another, background differences, another man or woman in the picture, etc. And love isn’t necessarily romance. So there is also the element of growing passion, and sexual tension. Of course, when I’m writing inspirational romance it pretty much stops there.
SL: Where do you get the kernel of a romance story from?
PG: Wow! I get ideas in many forms. Most from my life and the people around me. Often people tell me things that spark ideas. I used to watch Oprah and get ideas, however, I’m not so short on ideas to do that now. I sometimes have dreams that can spark a really good story. Usually in that case there is a character in the dream or a plot. Not always both together. Sometimes, like with “Into the Flames,” the characters that have evolved in the first novel have provided the seed for future novels that will become part of a series. I’m calling it “Everyday Heros.”
SL: What’s the difference between writing a short story and writing a novel?
PG: For me the difference has been the amount of side stories that I can use, along with more historical information about the characters. Also the amount of scene description.
SL: When you blew off the dust of those novels, did you rewrite them or were they pretty much in final form? What was that process like?
PG: This was part of the changes I stated above. I rewrote them. You see, most of these had fairly explicit love scenes in them. This was something that came about after I attended my one and only Romance Writers group meeting in Philadelphia. I remember my friend who writes Science Fiction went along. At the meeting we were told you can forget being published in the romance genre unless you can write an eleven page love scene. I waited to comment on that until my friend and I left, then I confided, “I’d didn’t know there was a man out there who could last eleven pages, so I had nothing to go on.” My friend replied, “Imagine how difficult it would be for me. Many of my characters have claws. Someone could get hurt in eleven pages of making love.
Back to the other changes in my writing. After looking over the stories I removed most of the love scenes. Some that had actually been eleven pages long. I maintained some of the sexual tension, and also added more about my character’s relationship with the Lord. I had some friends in church ask me how I did it, and I told them I just took out the love scenes and had my characters pray for them. I turned the pastor’s cheeks red on that one. But you see, love scenes can be beautiful if written well, however, they do not have to have sex. It can be implied at times, but isn’t necessary to make the story a good one.
SL: Considering your little anecdote about an eleven-page sex scene, do you find romance novels to be realistic or are they almost fantasy?
PG: To be honest, it’s fantasy. I mean, eleven pages would be exhausting when translated to actual life. Sometimes when I read a novel, I actually find myself skipping the sex scenes in many novels so I can get on to the plot and what is really happening with the characters. Of course, who am I to say? If those books are selling, obviously it is what the readers want.
SL: What books do you have out now?
PG: “At the Pineapple Inn,” “Into the Flames,” “Last Run,” and “Parradise Found” under Pam Garlick. I also have “Magnate” under P.R. Garlick.
SL: What is the most effective way you’ve marketed these books?
PG: First I have found I need better shoes and plenty of gasoline. I quickly learned to forget the mail. Then I started by sending out tons of letters to book stores. I started going to them, which means putting on plenty of miles, and have had more success. Second, you need to be willing to give books away for people to read. Most won’t take a chance until they actually read the work. Most of all, though, I have liked the book readings. Okay, one reading, but I l iked it!
To be honest, I’m not doing as well as I’d like. However, by far, the most effective way is word of mouth. This is especially true about “Last Run.” I wrote the novel after seeing a presentation at church about the Christian Motorcyclist’s Association: CMA. First I wrote a short story. When my friends who put on the presentation read it they were so excited. Somehow I decided to expand on it and it turned into a novel. I like to think my friends would have still promoted my work, but also part of it is that I donate a portion of every sale to some kind of charity. In the case of Last Run, I donate to their chapter of the CMA.
SL: What bookstores carry your books?
PG: Several on-line book stores have my books, from Barnes and Nobel and Borders to Amazon. A search on Amazon lists several more. Brick and Mortar stores are a little different. I have to go to each and leave some books for them to review. I have been lax in going back, never sure whether I’ve given them enough time to read the books. My hope is to go back to some later this week and again next week. They can be ordered at Borders. The Borders in Coventry Mall wants me to return to do a books signing so they will have books in stock then. We have to set the date. Also, Trappe Book Store has one of each of my novels. Like I said, I need to go back to them. I learned I have to order a large inventory of books to carry with me, so if they are interested I can sell them to them. Or, put them in their store on consignment. Then I know they have them. If they say, “we’ll order some from the publisher,” there is a good chance they won’t. I don’t like taking chances when it comes to selling my novels.
SL: What has your involvement with Pennwriters been so far?
PG: I have been a member of Pennwriters for between 15 to 20 years. I can’t remember when I actually joined. It was several years before I went to an event. I went to a conference and was so impressed I raised my hand when they said they were looking for someone to serve as an Area Representative for Area Six. I did not fulfill my term due to some health issues that had been ongoing. I have only been to a couple of conferences since. I was a speaker at one, with my topic, “The Three P’s of Getting Published.” I have wanted to go often since then, but there always seems to be a family function that weekend. A long time ago I prioritized my life, God, Husband, Family, then my writing. I try to stick to it and in doing so, sometimes writing takes a back seat.
SL: Pam, it’s been great talking to you. Is there anything else you want to add?
PG: Just that writing is as much a part of me as breathing. There is no turning off my imagination. Occasionally it will take a break on me during periods of high stress, but it always returns with countless characters and plots.
SL: Sounds like you never have to deal with writer’s block! Anyway, thanks, Pam. And good luck with selling the books.