Everyday people and situations provide fodder for Maeve Christopher’s imagination. Keep asking “what if” and “why”, and the plot thickens. What could be more fun?
She currently lives in Massachusetts with a number of messy subplots and Freddie the tiger cat.
Maeve Christopher’s Redemption Series is part family saga, part suspense and part love story — with the touch of the Supernatural.
My journal came out of its hiding place at the back of my desk drawer almost every day of my childhood. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write little stories, or make up stories about people I encountered in life. I almost never shared them.
There’s a big difference between being a writer and taking that step to becoming a published author. I think for most of us, writing is as natural as breathing. We can’t not write. For many people, stories stay in their journals or in their heads. I was always convinced that would be the case for me. I pursued science studies and a career in health care.
One day a new patient showed up in my office. Under “occupation” he listed “editor” for a prominent New York publisher. I still remember how excited I became (even more than the time I met Phil Collins!) I asked him to tell me all about his job, then went on and on about how much fun, how exciting being an editor must be, how thrilling to work with authors, etc. etc.
When I took a moment to breathe, he asked, “Do you want to write a book?”
I was stunned silent, then burst into nervous laughter. My mind said, “Of course I do! Doesn’t everyone?” But I quickly said something like, “That’ll be the day.” Funny, but that moment was a turning point for me. I began to think it could be possible.
It was years later when I finally gave myself permission to write with the intention to publish. Unfortunately, by that time the editor had long since retired and relocated. And when my 800 word saga was complete, it had everyone’s point of view, including the dog. When I gave it to a dear friend to read, she kindly said, “You might have something here.”
Many years and revisions later that effort became the basis of the first three books of The Redemption Series. I’m so grateful when I think about that editor who asked the question that started me on this writing journey. Now I can’t wait to share my stories!
Maeve Christopher is the author of the upcoming Lachesis Publishing release A RING AND A PRAYER Book 1 of the Golden Bowl Series, an inspirational women’s fiction novel with romantic elements, plenty of laughs, action and twist and turns. Stay tuned for more details!
MG: I had a chance to chat with Blanche Marriott, a friend and wonderful author who has offered such heartfelt encouragement to me and others in our writing journeys, that I wanted to share her thoughts with you. Blanche writes romance with a great sense of humor, and I’ve enjoyed reading her stories. Thanks for sharing, Blanche!
Tell our audience a bit about yourself, your writing process, and how/why you became a writer.
BM: Like most writers, it begins with an idea, a story playing in your head, or voices acting out a scene. I had a story playing in my head for years until I finally decided it had to be written down. It was a great story, the best thing anyone had ever written! It would sell in an instant and I’d be instantly famous with talk shows knocking down my door for an interview. That story is now covered in dust and sits in drawer somewhere, never to see the light of day. It was AWFUL!! But that’s where the love of writing began. I knew I could do better, so I did.
JMG: When did you realize you wanted to write and why did you choose romance?
BM: I’d always done writing of some sort, even as a child. Poems, short stories. It was mostly for myself. A way of expressing myself. It wasn’t until college when an English professor wrote kind words on anything I passed in. He saw potential and I think that was the first time I took any of my writing seriously. Why did I choose romance? Mostly because that’s what I enjoyed reading. I loved a happy ending.
JMG: How many books do you have published?
BM: 6 novels, 1 non-fiction satire. I’ve written 14 total.
JMG: If you could offer advice to newbie authors, what would you say?
BM: Persevere. It’s a long road, often times frustrating. But if you believe in yourself, you can do it. Don’t think that the first thing you write will sell like hotcakes like I did. It probably won’t. The craft of writing is learned over a period of time, mostly trial and error. By the time I got to my third book, I felt like I’d hit my stride and had some sort of idea what I was doing. It felt right, and it was. That was the first book I sold.
JMG: Tell us your opinion on Indie publishing versus traditional publishing?
BM: Obviously, there’s something good to be said about both. Likewise, there are bad points for both. It’s much harder to get published today with traditional publishers (in my opinion) because they are only looking for the best of the best. When I sold my first book, it had been a long time coming–over 10 years. Nowadays, with the tight competition, and the fewer new authors being bought, I fear that these new authors are in for a lot of disappointment. Indie publishing can satisfy that burning desire to be published, but it can leave one with the nagging question, “Is it really good enough?”
JMG: Have you ever independently published your work? If so, what did you take away from the process? You can tell us the good, the bad, and the ugly, we won’t mind!
BM: After selling 3 books traditionally, I decided to go the indie route because the book I really wanted to publish didn’t quite strike any publisher’s fancy. It was just a little off the beaten track so it was turned down across the board. I enjoyed the freedom of indie publishing. I felt I could write what I wanted, the way I wanted. That can be a drawback, because who says what I want to write is any good? Again, we never know. But when I read the reviews, I feel vindicated.
JMG: I know you’ve taken a break from writing, but do you think you’ll return to it one day?
BM: I suppose I might. They say once a writer, always a writer. I admit I still look at things with a writer’s eye: movies, TV shows, people watching. It’s second nature. Perhaps one day the bug will bite hard enough and I’ll have to bite back.
JMG: Do characters still pop up into your brain yearning to be put in a story? How do you handle it when that happens?
BM: Yes, like I said in the previous answer, things still hit me from time to time. I don’t rush to get a paper and pen anymore like I used to, but maybe it’s a matter of exercising the brain, or greasing the wheels. If I see enough awful plots out there, I might just have to write a better one.
Blanche Marriott began writing romance novels in 1991 while balancing her career as a wood products manufacturing manager. She often joined the troops in the factory, working on sanders, drills, and saws. It gave her time to “talk” to the characters in her head and figure out what they would do next. In 2001 she switched careers and now works for a CPA firm as an accounting assistant, specializing in payroll.
She has completed 14 novels while staying active in 2 writing groups, serving on the Boards of Directors several times, and a number of conference committees. But the best part was the life-long
friendships she’s formed with so many writers, published and unpublished.
Her first published novel, KALEIDOSCOPE, won 2nd place in the 2003 WisRWA Write Touch Readers’ Award for published authors. Her second book, WAY OUT WEST, won the prestigious New Jersey Romance Writers’ 2003 Golden Leaf Award for Short Contemporary. WAY OUT WEST was also a finalist in the 2004 Virginia Romance Writers’ HOLT Medallion Awards.
Her current novels are ONE MORE NIGHT and HIS BROTHER’S BABY. She also has a non-fiction humor book, BORN TO BITCH, chronicling life’s little annoyances.
When she’s not writing, Blanche enjoys gardening, reading, and playing with her grandkids.
He also writes occasional nonfiction, short fiction (some of which is collected in Nine Frights), and comic books, including the long-running horror/Western comic book series Desperadoes and graphic novels Fade to Black and Zombie Cop. With writing partner Marsheila Rockwell, he has published several short stories and a novel, 7 SYKOS. He has worked in virtually every aspect of the book business, as a writer, editor, marketing executive, and bookseller.
I’ve known Jeff for several years and was delighted when he agreed to answer a few of my questions.
DLS: When people see an author’s name, they often see it as a “brand”, knowing what kind of story they’ll get. You’ve written in several genres from science fiction to weird westerns to horror. How do you define the “Jeff Mariotte Brand”?
JM: I’m convinced that writing in different genres has been harmful to my career, because readers tend to like a writer who stays put, who delivers basically the same thing book after book. Once you’re well established, you can switch around–like Robert B. Parker eventually turning to the occasional western after writing a ton of mystery books in different series. But shifting around before your “brand” is established seems like a bad move, career-wise.
That said, I don’t see how I could have done it differently. I have to write what I’m moved to write at any given time. I’d get bored writing the same series character over and over. I haven’t calculated out the wisest career path, but have written the books that felt like they needed to be written as they came along. I’m true to myself, if not to market considerations. My agent might prefer it the other way around, but I am who I am.
I hope that readers know that when they pick up one of my books, they’ll get a compelling, suspenseful tale that’ll keep them turning the page; they’ll get well-written and engaging stories populated with characters they’ll believe in and care about. Regardless of genre, I try to always write books that will brighten a reader’s day and life, that entertain and maybe inform and enlighten. My books are generally optimistic, even when they venture into dark places, and one of my central themes seems to be the idea that there’s magic in the world, if only you know to look for it.
DLS: Who was your greatest writer influence/inspiration when you started? What are some books of theirs you would recommend?
JM: I was a bookseller for years before I got published, so I was reading pretty extensively in my preferred genres–horror, mysteries, thrillers, sf, fantasies, westerns. Consequently, I had (and have) a lot of inspirations. Some have changed over the years, and others have been consistent. In the early days, I was strongly inspired by Robert E. Howard (particularly his Conan stories), the aforementioned Bob Parker (his Spenser novels), Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe) and Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer). At the same time, I’ve often been inspired by writers as varied as Stephen King (The Stand, The Shining, On Writing), William Goldman (Marathon Man, Boys and Girls Together) and Wallace Stegner (Angle of Repose, Recapitulation, Wolf Willow). More recent influences include James Lee Burke (any of his books, but especially the Robicheaux novels). That’s a pretty male-centric list, but I could also add in works by Joan Vinge, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, Laura Lippman, Barbara Kingsolver, and plenty of other talented women, as well as one of the best writers I know, Marsheila Rockwell.
DLS: You recently married your writing partner, the talented Marsheila Rockwell. How do your collaborations work? How does collaborating compare to writing solo?
JM: Funny you should mention that…
We collaborate very well, almost seamlessly. We have different strengths–she’s a poet and her command of language is beautiful, while I’m a stronger plotter, for instance–but when we work together, our strengths complement each other, and by the time we’re finished with a story, we usually can’t tell who wrote what. We try to start with a solid outline so we know where we’re going and what each other’s vision of the overall story is (and because we both come out of a tie-in writing background, we’re used to working with outlines). Then we trade off–scene by scene, chapter by chapter, whatever works at the moment and for any given project. On the first book of the Xena: Warrior Princesstrilogy we’re working on, we had a relatively tight deadline and had to be writing different chapters simultaneously, which was a little awkward. But we smoothed it all out, and it came out well in the end.
As for the difference between collaborating and solo work, it is a different beast. A solo story or novel is one person’s vision, and everything in it, good or bad, is a reflection of that one person. A collaboration is necessarily a shared vision. I’ve written a lot of comic books and graphic novels, and because I don’t draw, those are always collaborations. And I’ve collaborated with other writers, too. So it’s not new to me. It does feel more natural with Marcy, and we work together better than I have with anyone else. Ideally, the result of a collaboration is a book or a story one writer couldn’t have written, because each participant brings different skills and life experiences to the table, and that’s what Marcy and I get when we write together. The fact that I get to be married to her is icing on the cake.
DLS: What insights have you gained from owning a bookstore that can help writers be more successful and stand out from the crowd?
JM: I think the experience of working in bookstores, managing them, and being an owner of one, has made me less ready to jump on board the e-book train. I think printed books are an ideal marriage of form and function–they don’t require a power source, they don’t break down or become corrupted, they’re always there when you want to read and you can save your place with a bookmark or a piece of paper or a paper clip or whatever’s handy. At the same time, I have a more realistic view of the book business than some people, who seem to think that Amazon is the only bookseller that matters. The truth is that printed books still far outsell e-books, and other outlets still sell more books in the U.S. than Amazon does, so if a writer focuses all of his or her efforts on Amazon, he or she is leaving a lot of potential sales on the table.
DLS: Not only do you write in your own worlds, you’ve written novels and stories for Star Trek, NCIS, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other franchises. How does “playing in someone else’s sandbox” compare to creating your own world?
JM: I love writing my original novels, and will always want to do that. Creating my own characters and involving them in situations entirely of my own devising is the ultimate creative experience. But it’s also a blast to be asked to write novels about characters I love, like Conan, Xena, Spider-Man, Superman, and great TV shows like CSI and NCIS: Los Angeles. I get to tell stories in beloved fictional universes, and get paid for it–nothing wrong with that!
The skills that are called on are the same. I have to create characters, plot stories, write in an engaging and entertaining manner. And the truth is whether I’m writing in an existing fictional universe or my own, I have to be consistent and true to the rules of that universe as it’s been developed. So the main difference is that in tie-in work, I have to try to capture voices that were devised by other writers (and sometimes actors). Fortunately, I’m pretty good at that.
DLS: If someone wanted to try their hand at writing and selling a novel in the world of a popular franchise, what would they need to do? How should they start?
JM: They could start by visiting the website of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, IAMTW.org. There they can find out a lot about the nuts and bolts of the tie-in business, and maybe find out about licensed fiction lines they didn’t even know existed. The organization has also released a book by its membership that contains more details about the trade.
Typically (although there are exceptions) to write a tie-in novel, you have to have had at least one other novel professionally published. Publishers have already invested a lot of money to acquire a license, so they don’t want to risk more by hiring a writer who hasn’t proven the ability to write a publishable book. And there’s often competition for tie-in gigs, so if it’s a choice between a writer with a solid track record and an unknown new writer, the established pro will have the advantage. So the best thing a writer can do is write a good book, get it published by a reputable publisher, then approach the publisher of the licensed fiction line of interest and say, “Hey, I wrote X and I’d sure like to pitch you something for your Y line.”
DLS: In addition to writing novels, you’ve written and edited comic books. How are writing comic books similar and different than writing novels or short stories? Do you collaborate with the artist ahead of time, or create any kind of storyboard in addition to writing?
JM: As I mentioned above, because I don’t draw the comics, each one is a collaboration, start to finish. I write the script before the artist draws it, so while I’m writing it I’m only speculating about what it’ll look like at the end of the process. Usually what I’m seeing in my head is not much like what comes out on the page. From the very beginning of my career, I’ve had the good fortune of working with some amazing artists, whose work on my scripts has blown me away.
Ultimately, the skill sets the writer brings to the table are similar. You need to tell a story that’s worth telling, that’s interesting and surprising and suspenseful and is hopefully enlightening in some way. The differences are in the techniques and the outcome. In comics, you have to be willing to stand back and let the art tell the story. The writer makes up the story (in most cases), and puts it down in a script that no one will ever see, but the artist is the one whose interpretation of the story ends up being what the readers see. The writer has to let the artist do that job, and keep the words to a minimum so they don’t get in the way of the art.
I don’t try to direct the artist to any great extent. I tell them what has to be in each panel to make the story work, but leave it to them how the panel is composed, how the different panels fit onto the page, etc. I’ve worked, as an editor, with writers who don’t trust their artists and do sketch layouts for them. Fortunately, in most cases, the artists I’ve worked with are far better at that than I would be.
DLS: What kind of research did you do writing the comic book biography of Barack Obama? Did you get to interview the President or did you work from other resources?
JM: That project was fascinating, and required vast amounts of research. I didn’t get to meet or speak with the President (though I’d still love to). I wrote it during the 2008 campaign and the first few months of his presidency, so at the time there weren’t even any books about him other than the two he wrote himself. Obviously he was a well-known public figure, but what had been written about him was mostly journalism coming out on a constant basis, along with a few more in-depth magazine pieces. I read his books and every article about him I could get my hands on, and watched him on TV whenever possible to get a sense of his voice. The scripts were vetted by lawyers, and I had to have every fact triple-sourced, and had to be able to show where every line of dialogue came from. The project was originally three separate comic book issues that were collected into a single hardcover book, which was actually the first book-length biography written about him.
DLS: I sense a certain passion for small towns on the southern border of the United States in your writing. What captivates you about those places in particular?
JM: Borderlands of all kinds are fascinating to me. I have written a lot about the US/Mexico border, but I’ve written about other borders, too–my Age of Conan trilogy, for example, was largely about the border between the Aquilonian Empire and the Pictish lands–which is kind of a parallel to Hadrian’s Wall, where the Roman Empire ended and the wilderness began. Other borders in my fiction include borders between our world and another (or many others). Borders are where different people with different interests and backgrounds intersect. There’s natural drama in that. Along our southwestern border, there are of course political issues, issues of crime and punishment, and the story of the human race–which is the ongoing story of migration–all of which are rich territory for fiction.
DLS: Tell us about your latest novel.
JM: The new book is 7 SYKOS, a collaboration with Marsheila Rockwell. It’s kind of a science fiction/horror/thriller hybrid. Basically, a meteor has brought a spaceborne virus into the Phoenix metropolitan area, which has the effect of turning those infected into raging lunatics hungry for brains. It’s incredibly virulent and there’s no known cure or vaccine. In order to keep it from spreading throughout the nation (or the world), the military has fenced off the Valley of the Sun, and nobody is allowed in or out. But everyone knows that’s only a temporary solution, so if something more permanent can’t be figured out soon, the Valley’s going to be nuked out of existence. Trouble is, the only way to come up with a fix is to get enough of the meteor to study, and nobody can get to it. But it turns out that the unique brain structure of psychopaths makes them immune to the virus. So they can go into the quarantine zone, to look for pieces of the meteor. And all they have to do is agree to perform an essentially altruistic act, learn how to play well together, and survive the onslaught of thousands of Infecteds who want to eat their brains. Nothing to it, right…?
DLS: Sounds amazing! Thanks for the wonderful and informative interview!
LP: You write romance – Regency historical and contemporary – what attracted you to both?
MR: I started writing historical romance because that’s what I was reading—because that’s what my mother read and passed along to me. But I’m so fascinated with the parallels between the Regency world and today and I wanted to explore that in my writing, so that’s why I did a series like the Bad Boys & Wallflowers. It’s about a modern day heroine “writing” historical romances based on her “real life” romance with the bad boy billionaire. This page on my website outlines how the books are connected.
LP: You’re a USA Today bestselling author. What book(s) did you hit with and how high? And how did you celebrate?
MR: I hit the list with What a Wallflower Wants and I celebrated in the usual way: jumping up and down and crying in the kitchen with the husband. I actually wrote a little blog post about it, from my initial reaction, to the champagne, and what my mom said when I called with the news.
MR: I think romance novels have gotten a bum rap because they’re unapologetically by women/for women and they’re mass (read: cheaply) produced and our culture tends to be dismissive of both those things. But that’s also what makes them so powerful and popular! I see this changing, though, as there is more attention and respect paid to women’s work (whatever it may be).
LP: Aside from writing your books, what are THREE key things that you do consistently that help you “put noses in your books” and build a reader fan base.
MR: Well, writing the books is the main thing. The best way to sell a book is by making a reader happy with another book you’ve written. For advice other than that, I’d suggest:
–Cultivating relationships with other authors. Champion the books you love and give shout outs to authors you want other readers to discover. Maybe they’ll do the same for your work, or it might just add to a culture of sharing the love, which helps everyone. 🙂
–Be an engaging person on social media. Connect with and converse with people there and talk about stuff other than trying to sell your books.
— Unless you have a new release and then . . .
–Tell everyone when you have a book out! HUSTLE! Tell your friends and family. Call your local bookstore. Shout it from the rooftops. Whatever it takes to get the word out!
LP: Who do you fan girl over and why?
MR: In Romancelandia, I’d get super bashful and excited to talk to Lisa Kleypas. Her writing is some of the best in the genre, and any fiction I’ve read. Plus, I love how she’s written historical and contemporary romances.
LP: Tell us about THREE AWESOME books you’ve read by newbie authors or authors who haven’t yet “broken through” (can be any genre).
LP: Bonus: What are three fun “romance heroine” lines that a gal could use on a cute guy at a party or coffee shop?
MR: Oh, that is a tricky one! Any romance heroine line is one that is from the heart and probably sounds like “the wrong thing” to say. Or it’s a declaration that she will never marry the hero (haha, famous last words).
God gave me three gifts of inspiration in life and literature.
I was 24 years old Nov 6th 1988, standing in an operating room as doctors performed an emergency c-section on my wife. My son was dying in her womb. My son was dying. I stood there in shock and dismay, how could this be happening? I watched the surgeon cut into my bride, move organs and then reach into her abdomen and delicately pull out a small struggling life strangled by an umbilical cord. My son’s body was blue, he wasn’t crying. They freed him and his body soon took on a healthy pink color. My son, Thomas Michael, my boy had arrived, earlier than expected and seemingly no worse for the dramatic entrance. Things seemed normal for at first but Tom soon had developed breathing issues, his lungs weren’t developed properly and he was sick.
I listened in shock as the doctor explained Highland Membrane Disease, fluid buildup and under-developed lungs and a series of other issues afflicting my son. My wife had given birth with pneumonia and was having her own health issues. I remember her tears as other moms were able to hold their babies, and she couldn’t. We waited for several hours while the doctors were tending to Tom. My father stayed by our side offering his support and encouragement, he was the rock we both leaned on. A doctor finally came and told us they couldn’t help and Tom had to be sent to Children’s Hospital and placed on a respirator. Twenty minutes later I watched my son, attached to machines, being loaded into an ambulance and transferred into Boston from the small suburban hospital. The doctors would call me tomorrow. I stood there in shock, as the ambulance drove away carrying my son, my father literally holding me up as my whole world just imploded.
I looked at my dad, lost and hopeless, “Dad, what do I do? I can’t fight this battle. Why? Why my boy?”
My father hugged me, his face wet with his own tears, “God is watching over him now, Greg. You need to take all your strength and stand tall, for that woman up there and your boy. You need to grow up fast, son. You need to keep it together for your family. You told me once how strong you are, call upon it now and be strong for all of them.”
I awoke the next morning to the ringing phone at 5:30AM, I felt ill as I picked it up. It was Children’s Hospital, Tom had had a rough night but was holding his own for now but they couldn’t make any promises and I should prepare my wife for the worst. I hung up the phone, took a breath and looked at the cross hanging on our bedroom wall, “Don’t you take my boy, you can’t have him!” I’ d never sworn or threatened God before, but I let loose a string of blasphemies I’d only used on people facing me in a street brawl. He wasn’t going to die and I wasn’t going to tell my wife about the phone call from the hospital.
I got in my truck and I drove to Boston. I was escorted to a small incubator-like unit, inside was my son, hooked up to machines to do his breathing and to help cleanse his blood. His face was swollen and yellow, nothing like the child I saw the night before. THE nurses left me alone; I couldn’t touch my son I could only stare through the glass.
“Thomas, it’s your dad. I know you can hear me, son. Fight, do you hear me! You fight and you live. Don’t go with the Angels, you stay here, with me. I don’t want to lose you, do you understand? Mom and Dad love you so please don’t leave, you just got here. You just got here.” I felt my tears, “Don’t leave me son.” I sat in silence for three hours, my hand touching the glass, watching my boy, willing him to live. Imagining my strength flowing from me, through the glass barrier and into his frail, tiny body. I repeated the mental image every time I saw him, it didn’t matter who I was with or who was around and I didn’t care what anyone thought, each day he lived was a gift and a victory. And if he needed my life to survive he could have it.
Thomas made a miraculous recovery and is part of a Children’s Hospital medical journal, he shouldn’t have lived, but he did, he beat the odds and fought the ultimate fight, the first month of his existence; the battle for his life. Tom is 27 years old now, a remarkable young man with tenacity and a will to do things his way. That tenacity has caused some friction but no matter what his trial, he always finds a way to make things work out in the end, he never seems to give up on anything or anyone. In the end he finds a way to fight through.
When I find myself going through a rough patch, I remember a frightened young father staring through a glass barrier at a new life and urging that life to fight on and beat the odds. Within those memories I find the strength to rise up and keep pushing forward. My battles and issues have never been as severe as the one he fought and won over 27 years ago. Whether I’m struggling with a chapter in a novel, writing a blog or facing a financial or life hardship I look over at my son and see that twinkle in his eye or that crooked smile he inherited from his dad and I know I can get through. Tom was the one who pushed me to submit my first book and write the follow up. He inspired and motivated me to keep working on my novels when nobody seemed interested in a half-alien private detective. He gave me the confidence and the gift of his insight on the second and third book in the Hybrid series serving as critic and creative collaborator. Tom just didn’t influence my writing he is the spark that fanned the creative flame. A flame that would never have existed if he’d lost his fight so many years ago. He is the best son a father could ever hope to have.
Three years ago my youngest daughter, Christie, at the age of eleven, decided she wanted to try out for an out of town swim team. I’d coached her in basketball and softball in open town leagues but this was something different. I watched her first competitive meet from the upper balcony at Milford High School, as my baby girl stood waiting for her event with sport swim wear, a racing cap and tinted goggles. The feeling of dread weighed in my gut like I’d just eaten a cinder block as she stepped upon the diving block against other swimmers. For the first time, I wasn’t there coaching her, I couldn’t walk up to her and give her advice or encouragement, she was on her own.
The starting horn sounded and the race was on . . . everyone around me screamed and cheered, I watched in muted silence willing her on in my mind, hands balled into tight fists. It was the longest 25 yards in my life. But she finished and won her heat. It was a long year of ups and downs for her and a great deal of frustration but she grew into the sport and more importantly developed new friendships. At the awards banquet she was awarded the most improved swimmer, a trophy she has in her bedroom to this day. She’s still a competitive swimmer and will be on the High School league this fall. I’ve watched her develop into a strong competitor and have seen her conquer her insecurity and lack of self-confidence. She now believes in herself and the difference in her personality is a wonderful thing to behold. Gone is the need to be just like her big sister rather she yearns to be “Christie.”
My youngest has reminded me that the road isn’t always easy in life but those who stay true to themselves and don’t go with the crowd will prosper in the long run. She found a place for herself; it was different from herr friend’s passions in dancing and boys, it was in the pool training and competing, working to shave off that fraction of a second and master a smooth flip turn. I’ve taken that lesson and applied it in my own writing. I’m not going to write like everyone else, I’m going to write about what I want and express how I feel. My political blogs have earned me a great deal of hate mail because I call a spade a spade. I won’t ever apologize for my morals or ethics or my freedom to express them and I won’t bow to political correctness. I did for a while and took the easier choice, it gave me less headaches but I let myself be silenced. Life isn’t about taking the easy road it’s about making the hard choices, following your passions and not following the herd blindly. As I watch my daughter in the pool working and training through each practice, I’m reminded of that lesson.
January 24th 2015. It’s three in the morning, the snowfall is near white out condition and I’m looking at the weather in Connecticut and New York. My destination is the Javitz Convention Center in Manhattan. Only an experienced driver or a madman would head out in this weather. But my older daughter was auditioning for “The Voice” and needed me to drive her. “It’ll be an adventure,” she said flashing me that patented angelic smile reserved for when she really wanted something. So a week later here we are, headed off in the storm, Rachel looking out into the darkness and me gripping the steering wheel as we sloshed through the snow. We saw several spinouts and accidents but we had to keep going. Half the time my car was barely holding the road and any turn of the wheel would make us an accident statistic. A four hour ride took seven terrifying hours. But we made it.
The lines and crowds were spectacular. I waited in line with her for another ninety minutes and the group she was with was called in. Because of her age, she didn’t require a parent escort, I got to sit around and fret and hope and pray that she’d come out with a pink ticket. I had my Visa card and would gladly charge the $500.00 it would cost to stay in a hotel if she made the cut to tomorrow. Another hour later she texted me, “I didn’t get picked.” My heart sank. There must have been something wrong, my daughter sings like the most beautiful songbird. I dreaded the long ride home. Another snowstorm would be welcome over the black cloud that would be hanging over my car all the way back to Massachusetts.
I saw Rachel and she smiled, she wasn’t upset and simply said, “They loved my voice, but I didn’t have the right look, whatever that means, oh and I saw Blake Shelton, he was here for Saturday Night Live.’ I was blown away, she handled the disappointment like a trooper, we laughed on the way back to the car and I enjoyed the time with her. The ride back was light and fun despite the snow falling again. That ride home was one of those memories I will treasure forever, I gained a new insight and admiration for Rachel. She took what most would have taken as a debilitating setback and saw it as a positive experience. She wasn’t daunted or discouraged.
Life doesn’t always deal a natural strait flush or four of a kind, sometimes you’re dealt a crappy hand and just have to wait for that hand play out and start with a fresh set of cards. I was never more proud of my daughter than at that moment, she’d had solos before and large parts in plays etc, but this was an indication of her inner strength character. She understood and accepted disappointment without anger or frustration. It was a lesson in how to handle rejection and disappointment.
I’ve been on the receiving end of some letters of rejection from Penguin, DAW and a few hunting magazines and I’ve learned that handling and coping with rejection is more important than celebrating success. Failure builds character and determination. It makes me a better writer and will no doubt make Rachel a better singer. It also defines how we handle life’s larger setbacks; we can accept them and move forward, learning from the experience or be debilitated by failure and never try again. My daughter learned the lesson and discovered the right attitude. When I get down on myself or when things seem to be falling apart I like to flash back to that drive home and the precious hours we spent bonding over an unsuccessful Voice audition. I brush off the setback and try again, pushing myself harder.
As parents we spend our lives teaching our children, hoping the lessons sink in, I look at my children and realize how much I’ve relearned from them, my lessons being re-taught through their lives. There’s no bigger reward for me as a father than to spend individual time with my children, to reignite the bond and simply catch up with their hectic lives and let them know even though I’m not always around, I’ll always be there and they’ll always be with me, no matter how far away life’s journey takes them.
Patricia McLinn is a USA Today bestselling author of more than 30 books that include mystery, romance, and westerns She began her novel writing career with Silhouette Books (Harlequin) and was nominated for and won several writing awards, but her career really took off when she decided to go indie. She made the decision to go indie well before the explosion of indie publishing began.
Before becoming a full time author, Patricia was an editor at the Washington Post for 23 years and a journalist for several years before that. She has a degree in English Composition and a Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University . A truly impressive resume.
LP: You began as a traditionally published author and now you self-publish exclusively. Tell us how that came about?
PM: My traditional career was so up and down that it would be banned as unsafe if it were a carnival ride. With one publisher I had about 32 editors for 25 books – hard to get any continuity or rhythm going. Some of those editors said I was “pushing the envelope.” Huh? What envelope? Where? I never got that.
I became increasingly frustrated with editorial limitations and poor decisions on scheduling, titles, marketing. I did encounter some outstanding editors. Frequently their hands were tied by the hierarchy. The upshot for me and many authors was having our careers ill-served.
Well before there was anything to do with them, I was getting rights back to my previously published books. No matter what, I figured I’d be happier with the rights in my hands.
In 2006 I remember thinking ebooks were going to pop sometime, some way. No idea when or how, but I was on the lookout. By 2008 I had ebooks available online, expanding to the major retailers in 2011.
An unexpected and marvelous benefit of going indie is that writing is a lot more fun now. Writing and publishing are very different activities. My experience in traditional publishing was that they actively conflicted. As an indie author, they do not conflict. They bolster each other.
LP: What are the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing?
PM: When the traditional publishing model works the way we all dream it might – think of it as the Richard Castle model from the TV show Castle– it’s marvelous. Brand name authors become an asset that publishing houses tend with some care. It’s different for mid-list or most entry-level authors. I was just listening to a Joanna Penn podcast with Jane Friedman in which they said contracts traditional publishers are offering first-time authors are worse than ever.
The exception is if you have a blockbuster book, everyone agrees it’s a blockbuster book, multiple publishers are willing to pay an advance commensurate with a blockbuster, the publisher you pick follows through on its promises, and all the marketing efforts work so that, in fact, your book becomes a blockbuster.
Traditional publishing can reach a broader audience — the folks who read one or two books a year – while indie authors’ audience are devoted readers.
PM: Now, for the pros and cons of self-publishing.
Pro: Nobody tells you what to write. Some indies might say the market tells you what to write, but that’s only if you listen. 😉 I’m to a stage where I write what I like to read, then try to find readers who enjoy that, too. I do not tailor my writing to trends. Writing is too consuming and too difficult to do if you’re not, first, enjoying it yourself.
Pro: You’re in charge. You decide when your book will come out, what it will look like, how it will be marketed.
Con: You’re in charge of implementing all those decisions. It’s a lot of work.
Pro: You can change things that aren’t working and you can do it quickly. Cover redesign? Tweaking something that always bugged you? Altering the book description? Price change? All that and so much more you can consider, decide on, implement, and then view the results in less time than it takes for a traditionally published author to hear back about whether his/her editor took his/her request to any of — much less all of — the meetings required to decide on a change.
Con: You’re in charge of implementing all those changes. It’s a lot of work.
Pro: You set your schedule. When it comes to “hurry up and wait” traditional publishing puts the military to shame.
Pro: You get paid in 60 days.
Pro: You’ll never fire yourself.
Con: You have a boss who’s a b**ch. 😉
LP: Ball-park figure. How much MONEY do you spend on each self-published book and what are the expenses involved in publishing your own book?
PM: Book cover — $200-900 (largely depending on cost of photos.) Formatting — $100-150. Editing/Proofing — $100-600. Marketing — $0 to the national debt.
I have a couple advantages. I was an editor with the Washington Post for 23 years and a journalist longer. I’m an experienced editor. However, nobody catches everything, especially not in their own work, which is why I always have a proofer.
The second advantage is that from having been published for twenty-six years, I have author buddies I can call and brainstorm with for story issues. In essence, they are my developmental editors. And I repay in kind.
LP: Based on YOUR OWN experience. How much TIME do you spend each day doing marketing and promotion (over all and including social media, newsletter, booking ads etc . . .) Do you think it’s enough or not enough? Why?
PM: Oh, boy, I get to use my favorite answer – it depends.
When I’m deep in writing mode I try not to do much of that because it engages a different part of my brain/personality that is not conducive to writing. When I’m writing I don’t want to think about audience reach or ROI or strategy or any of that. I want my head so thoroughly in the fictional world that I’m astonished to walk outside and discover it’s not the season I’m writing about. (Which is why the neighbors think I’m that strange woman who wears winter coats to walk the dog when it’s 76 degrees out.)
Other times I will spend all day on various aspects of marking and promotion. That’s on top of the time my executive assistant Kay devotes to these areas, along with help from a team of great folks helping with individual aspects. It’s been wonderful to be able to delegate some of this, to free up my writing brain.
Enough? Nah. Because there’s always something else I see out there that I could have done. Another strategy or outlet to try. The possibilities are never ending.
But that’s okay, because all those strategies, all those possibilities are in service of finding the right reader-author match.
LP: You have many series on the go. Including the bestselling CAUGHT DEAD IN WYOMING SERIES. Why do you write series books? Tell us about your series. And what can an author—self-published (or otherwise) accomplish with a series?
PM: I love the interconnectedness of the communities in the series I’ve written. I love how a character learns a lesson in Book 1 and shares it with another character in Book 4. I love how the characters continue to grow past the end of their book. In romances, I don’t believe the ends of my books are Happily Ever After. Instead, they’re Happy Beginnings. What the characters learn and how they change brings the hero and heroine to the point where they can have a Happy Beginning.
InCAUGHT DEAD IN WYOMING each book has a mystery that’s completed by the end of the book. But the story of Elizabeth Margaret Danniher, her friends, and her stray dog Shadow develops over a number of books.
Elizabeth faces multiple crossroads in her life. Her marriage ended, her successful career was pulled out from under her, she’s plunked down in Wyoming, and trying to figure out what’s going on. Between solving murder mysteries, she is also solving the mystery of her life.
For me, writing a series lets me explore that great question “What happens next?”
LP: What social media networking sites do you use? Which one(s) work best for you and why?
PM: Mostly Facebook and Twitter. Some on Pinterest. I am looking at Instagram … mostly so I can inflict photos of my dog and garden on the wider world <eg>. The conversational threads are great on Facebook. Twitter appeals to my newspaper background. I wrote headlines for a lot of years, so 140 characters feels comfortable.
LP: You’ve hit the USA Today Bestseller’s list. What are 3 KEY THINGS THAT an author needs to do whether they are indie or traditionally published?
PM: Enjoy what you’re writing. Both because it comes through to the reader and because it will allow you to keep writing though a long career.
Fulfill your pledge to the reader. From the first paragraphs, you promise the reader a certain kind of read. Heck, before the reader starts Chapter One, s/he has an idea of what kind of reading experience this book is going to give him/her – from the packaging, the description, the title, your previous books.
Respect the reader. Those envelopes I kept being accused of pushing? Well, a lot of them had to do with this point. Readers do not need to be told the same thing 47 times, to have limited vocabulary, to have references constrained to current pop culture. Reading has always been a great education — as well as a great enjoyment – for me because authors didn’t undersell my ability to pick up new information from context or look something up.
LP: What is the most important thing you do when you release a new title?
PM: Inform the loyal, wonderful folks on my readers list via my newsletter. I try to give them any news first, along with deals, behind-the-scenes, and consumer tips. That’s the most important external thing. The most important internal thing is a lot of self-talk about one of the wonders of ebooks being that a book’s life is long and this is only the first day. Lots and lots of days to come when a good match can be made between the reader looking for my kind of read and my books.
LP: WHO are 3 authors that YOU look up to and admire and why?
PM: Limiting this to three is cruel. I’ll go for diversity in these three.
John McPhee in non-fiction. Because he can get me interested in topics I don’t care about beforehand (oranges, geology) and sustain my interest.
Georgette Heyer: Because her books seldom hit just one note – all-angst-all-the-time or over-the-top comedy. Instead, they have moments of humor, of seriousness, of confusion, of clarity – just like life. I especially like this in her murder mysteries.
LP: When readers message you – which series or book comes up most often as a fan favourite and why?
PM: Interesting question. It made me realize that people have contacted me about every one of my books/series.
I see reading as interactive. Readers don’t passively accept a story from the author. They bring so much of themselves to each book they read. A reader’s life experience or where they are at the moment will affect how they react to a book.
Okay, but you asked “most often.” Probably a tie between:
The Caught Dead in Wyoming series, saying they love the realism of the characters and that the mystery has some humor, while still respecting the seriousness of the crime.
(Boy, this was hard, because there are devoted readers of the other series I feel like I’m leaving out.)
LP: Bonus: Dogs or cats and why?
PM: Dogs. Because there’s so much communication with them. Because they pick up on your moods and care. Because they’re inside pets who don’t use a litter box inside 😉 Though, realistically, it’s probably because my family had dogs all along, so that’s what I know better.
Hands wrapped around a large mug of hot coffee, I enter my office to start my writing day. Not far behind me are my two assistants, my fuzzy, long-haired, angel, Tango and her lean, long-legged, brother Samba. My two rescue cats!!
The computer hums as my babies decide where to settle first. Their positions will change several times throughout the day, but that’s part of the entertainment. At six years old, they are no longer babies – – but aren’t pets our children, our life, our heart forever? She picks the reading chair and curls into a cinnamon bun, her golden, almond-shaped eyes drinking in my work space. He roams, stopping periodically to pat my leg, his large green eyes gazing lovingly, soliciting a head rub.
Within the hour, as I head to the kitchen for my second cup of brew, their dance changes. The minute I sit down at my desk, Ms. Tango pounces, straight into my lap, shifting, turning, repositioning until she is draped over my legs. Her front paws make biscuits before she embraces the outside of my right leg, her security that she won’t slide off the other side. You see, she’s a bit larger than my lap. Her ears tickle the underside of my arms as I type, but the knowledge that she sits cuddled with me while I work is priceless.
Her brother is just outside the door, batting something around. I turn in time to see him prance through the door with his small stuffed mouse in his mouth. He drops it at my feet and this time when he pats my leg, the look in his eyes pleads, “please play fetch with me.” How can I resist? His large round eyes regard me as they blink, blink, blink—a cat’s way of saying “I love you!” I melt into a puddle of Awwwwe. A fifteen to twenty minute break to play with my little buddy won’t halt the creativity. As a matter of fact, the opposite occurs and new, active descriptions fill my head.
The way he struts back into the office with the mouse in his mouth. The tilt of his head as he waits for me to throw it out into the hall. The way he darts after it once more to retrieve it again. And what is Ms. Baby-girl doing while he sprints back and forth? She is stretched out, across the ottoman, her adorable face resting on her front legs as she watches her brother with lazy contentment. It’s almost as if she’s saying, “Go ahead and play. I’m going to nap until Mom is back at work and her lap is once again available.”
So much love fills the room!
I’d chosen this topic several weeks ago because my imagination would not be what it is without my beautiful, loving cats. Isn’t it ironic then, that one day as I stood in line at the grocery store, this magazine called to me. On the cover was a beautiful blonde model nuzzling an adorable light caramel-colored puppy. It was a special Time Inc. magazine; ANIMALS & YOUR HEALTH. The Power of Pets to Heal Our Pain, Help Us Cope, and Improve Our Well-Being. One of the articles called Comfort Creatures shared this: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other authorities have established that the presence of a pet offers health benefits. Simply petting a dog, for instance, generally decreases both blood pressure and heart rate and appears to raise levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. Studies have linked animal interaction to lower blood pressure, better physical health, and fewer symptoms of depression.
No wonder our pets are our best friends. Not only do they love us unconditionally, they support our health and well-being. They make us laugh and stimulate warm, wonderful emotions. They make our hearts happy!
I have cats, but many friends have dogs—big and small—turtles, birds, iguanas. In the magazine, a woman even had a pet kangaroo. No matter what animal you’re drawn to, the benefits of owning pets far outweighs being alone.
When I was about eight years old, my dad put me on the back of his white Yamaha 50cc motorcycle for a ride. We ended up in a field by the shopping center and he asked if I wanted to ride by myself.
Are you kidding me?
He helped me get a leg up and balanced the bike for me. A quick tutorial on the controls, and I was off. Well, off for about fifty feet when I hit a rut in the dirt and promptly fell over, spraining my arm. When we got home, mom wasn’t too happy and that was the end of my motorcycle training.
Later, my older brother by eight years came home with a big, blue bike. It was so shiny and I loved how the paint sparkled in the sun. He’d take me for rides and I’d laugh the entire time; it felt so good to go fast. Then he wrecked it on a busy street and broke his leg. Determined to keep us alive, my mom declared no more motorcycles or riding while we lived with her. She even said no to flying lessons, which seemed a whole lot safer (to me, anyway). That was the seventies, if you’re counting.
In the eighties, I got married, had a couple of great sons, divorced, and forgot about going fast. Until I met Ivan.
By now it was 2011 and here was a guy with a couple of motorcycles who’d been riding most of his life. That’s when I remembered the feeling of going fast. The little girl inside me was excited by the prospect of learning to ride. The fifty-something-year-old woman was feeling iffy about the whole thing, but game to give it a go. I am nothing, if not willing to try most anything at least once.
So, in 2012, I learned to ride.
Four years later, I’ve discovered a lot about myself while motorcycling. For starters, I know everyone in a car wants to kill me. Now, I’m not pessimistic by nature, but people in cars just don’t see motorcycles, so YOU have to always be aware of THEM. Second, I worry too much (see previous point). And, riding is a lot like yoga. I’m always practicing to do something better or with more awareness than the last time I was out.
One of the unexpected perks of riding is how it’s changed the way I see the world. The colors around me are much more vibrant when I’m on a bike. I can’t escape the ‘scents’ of the road, be it a flat skunk, trailer of pigs, or someone cooking on a grill. Everything is more immediate, in the moment. It’s these things, and others, which I believe have made me a better writer, particularly with sensory detail.
I’ve also learned to take risks and I’ve watched that translate over into my stories as well. I’ve never written contemporary mystery, but when tempted with the opportunity, immediately jumped on it. Stepping out of comfort zones is how we grow. I believe strong women are the most interesting ones, so those are who I write about, be it a ninth century healer, a Victorian time traveler, or an ex-Detroit detective returning to her small home town to take over as police captain. My goal is always to inspire others to take chances and live their dreams.
For the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend writer and artist retreats. While you may think there are considerable differences, and there are some, the foundation of these types of retreats is creativity and what the effect is on those who attend.
There are many things that happen when attending these functions, such as listening to speakers, learning to use methods we haven’t tried before, eating great food we didn’t cook ourselves, and most of all we gather together to network and grow. We meet different people, get to sit and chat with our friends while making new ones. You might find yourself at a table with an agent, editor, publisher, a new author, a seeking-to-be author, and multi-published novelists/hybrids. The list goes on, but you get the idea. What a perfect time to ask those questions you’ve been trying to find the answers to from those who have been there, done that. A dining table is a perfect place for conversation, take advantage of it.
Every year, some friends and I attend the Maine Writer’s Retreat in Portland. We’re greeted with enthusiasm, warmth, and much friendliness, which encourages us to return year after year. The RIRW retreat is the same way, and a good time is had by all.
Retreats allow us to relax, to connect without inner creativity, to learn from one another and the presenters, who are as relaxed as everyone else. You’ll find speakers are more willing to sit and talk with you, to be available to us, the creative people, who are interested in what their specialty.
Unlike conferences, where large amounts of money are required to participate in all the events taking place, including hotel costs, and airfare charges, I find retreats offer cozier accommodations and fewer attendees that make the atmosphere warmer than conferences will. While I enjoy both of these get-togethers, I would choose a retreat over a conference unless, of course, I was interested in attending speaker events all day, or pitching my latest work. This is only my personal preference, and I acknowledge others may feel differently, especially if they are only starting out and want to learn the ins and outs of the writing and publishing business.
To make the most of either of these venues, we must step outside our comfort zone and talk to complete strangers instead of remaining with our friends, to be daring enough to pose questions to those people we stand in awe of. It’s difficult, but we can do it, all of us, because to network, we must leave our comfort zone. Retreats are offered all over the place. Google has lists of them for writers, including Christian writing retreats, and more. I Googled writer retreats for New England and came up with some great places in Massachusetts, Vermont, and one in Hopkinton, RI.
When most people talk about how their job influences their writing, you discover that the astronomer writes science fiction, the court reporter crafts legal procedurals or, at the very least, the teacher knows his or her grammar inside and out.
I could tell you a similar story about being a copy writer and editor. I can write pretty much anything on demand as long as it’s in English and it isn’t fiction. Fiction I have to do according to my own muse. Yet, there’s no doubt that my fiction is better crafted because I have had to write on pretty much anything, to a deadline that might have been yesterday when I was given the job.
Writing for clients did something even more profound for me. It made it easier for me to accept criticism, without it destroying my ego, and make to use of it. I would never have submitted my novels to publishers if I hadn’t hardened my shell on the stony shore of corporate newsletters and ghostwriting.
Likewise, I owe a lot to my job with Crime Writers of Canada. No, that’s not quite right. I owe a lot to being a member of Crime Writers of Canada . . . including my job and one of my publishers. It was all about networking and timing. Never underestimate the importance of timing.
However, that’s not what I’m going to write about. There are writers and editors and networkers aplenty for that. I want to tell you how handy it is to be a crossing guard when you’re a writer.
You can’t make a living at being a crossing guard. After all, you’re only working three hours a day and only on school days. On the other hand, it’s a great job for money you can count on. When you work freelance or speculatively, which is a good description for a novelist, it’s nice to know you have a certain amount of money coming your way regardless of sales or commissions. Unlike my work for CWC, it’s also completely predictable. Being a crossing guard is relatively stress-free if you don’t count the motorists who forget they’re driving in a school zone.
The weather can be a pain. Barring snow days, and we don’t get many of those, we’re out in rain, snow, sleet and hail, skin-searing sunshine and bone-chilling cold. It’s all grist for the mill. I can imagine I’m a soldier on guard in the pouring rain or a hiker feeling like they’ll be blown off the trail by the wind.
Then there’s the random story generation game.
At the beginning and end of each shift, there’s a dead time when almost no one comes by. During that time, I tell myself stories with the help of passing cars. The letters or numbers from the license plates act like the roll of a die in making choices or quantifying damage or risk.
A Bodyguard to Remember started with a corner story. I wanted new flooring. Seriously, that was the seed idea. I decided a dead body in the living room would get me a floor.
How did he die? A for being shot. B for being stabbed. If it was an older plate that didn’t start with A or B, I’d have to come up with other options.
Who would investigate? I came up with three choices: City Police, OPP or RCMP. Using the numbers in the plate I got RCMP. They wouldn’t investigate common murder, so I had to come up with something that would bring them onto the case. As a result, my murder mystery involved espionage.
What would the detective look like? I didn’t stick with the one I came up with at the corner but I did stick with the initials I pulled from a car. I still remember the plate was BDMZ ###. I don’t remember the numbers. They weren’t important. I remember the letters. They generated Detective Sergeant David Merrick.
I’ve never got as much out of my musing at the corner as I did for A Bodyguard to Remember. Usually I come up with a solution to a problem by using the random number system to suggest possibilities. It’s a way to brainstorm with myself. Many times the stories I come up with are absolutely useless except for making that dead five minutes seem to pass more quickly.