Sunday, June 27, 2010
With more than a hundred short stories in print, you are the queen. Why do you think you are so successful?
I just keep on writing – then submitting – then writing more. There are many more writers with many more stories in print than I, but there is only one way to get your stuff out there. It's persistence that makes your writing better and allows you to get your work published.
You teach a fabulous short story class. Which question are you most often asked and what is your answer?
Everyone always wants to know how to turn their idea into a story. If you break it down to a beginning, middle and some sort of satisfying ending, then you've got a story.
The first thing a writer should do is check the guidelines, but when you market your mysteries and science fiction, do you find that mainstream sites, if they don’t specifically state a preference, are receptive to genre fiction?
Yes – all good stories, regardless of genre, are about some aspect of the human condition. If your story appeals to that common thread, is well-written, and provides a satisfying experience, then genre fiction transcends its label.
How long should a writer wait for a response before she submits to another market?
If response times are not specified, I usually find out what the average is for that particular market, give them an extra couple of weeks, and then query. Sometimes, they never received the submission or lost it.
You’re going on your second mystery cruise next year. Can you tell us what that‘s like and what the cruise expects from you as an author?
Well, the first one wasn't specifically a mystery cruise, but mystery author Sue Ann Jaffarian was aboard and gave a bang up presentation in which I participated. This year's cruise, Mystery on the High Seas, is going to be quite a production. I believe I am going to speak on one of several formal panels, and the cruise is chock full of authors, agents, producers, editors and fans. Here's the site: http://www.2010mysterycruise.blogspot.com/
Tell us about the book you have coming out in November!
I am working hard, although I'm not sure I'm going to make my self-imposed deadline on this one. It's The Inhuman Condition: Tales of Mystery and Imagination and is a collection of twenty of my favorite stories.
Visit Kate's blog It Doesn't Take a Genius for great articles and short fiction that will entertain and move you.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Let it rest.
We hear it again and again as writers--"Let it rest"--and each time we "let it rest" we wonder, right at the moment of completion, when we're awed by our own brilliance, if maybe, just this once, just this one time, this particular piece of writing shouldn't be on display for the world to see as soon as possible.
Hmmm. A little breathing room might have saved that first paragraph.
Last night, the hubby had to work through the night. Unable to sleep, I decided to take advantage of the extra time and write. Isn't everybody in the perfect frame of mind to pen a blog at 3 AM?
Once I finished my masterpiece, that tiny voice said, "Let it rest." Although positive my piece was ready for the send button, I took my own advice and walked away.
Things look much different at 8 AM. Last night, I was rehearsing my acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature. This morning, I saw a mess.
Are there warning signs that you should walk away and air out your writing before subjecting other people to reading it?
1. You think you've been extremely clever.
2. The subject matter rouses strong emotions.
3. Your sides still hurt from laughing over your own jokes.
4. You were in a hurry.
I had titled my wandering, blathering blog "Stick to the Point".
My subconscious was having a laugh.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
I’ve heard speakers dismiss writing groups as a waste of time. You belong to several as well as a book club. What would you say are the benefits offered by both types of groups?
Each has its own advantages. From my writing groups I get support, encouragement and specific suggestions on how to improve my craft. Seeing my fellow writers struggle with language, plot, characterization, internal logic, etc., is priceless reassurance that I’m not alone on this weird journey.
And I’m very blessed to have found some amazing, insightful, sensitive writers whose work I admire and who have mastered the art of the critique: first tell the writer what worked, so he or she doesn’t want to give up and knows what strengths to build on. Then move on to what didn’t work, without rewriting the story from the ground up.
There are not that many writing groups around who can pull this off. But don’t give up until you find one, or build one yourself. Trust me: it’s worth the struggle.
My book club also contains several writers – fortunately none are in direct competition! The club introduces me to work by writers I might otherwise have overlooked and suggests new directions for my own fiction. The members are all intelligent, perceptive people with strong and specific opinions on the books we read. Their comments and reactions give me a ton of insight into what appeals to readers, and what turns them off.
You read a wide range of subjects. Can you tell us what your favorite type of fiction is?
I have a lot of faves. I like well done suspense thrillers like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, and then again I’m a sucker for anything by Alice Hoffman or Anne Tyler, those sweetly incisive, literary, relationship-type novels.
I also enjoy well-written fiction that involves animals, such as Spencer Quinn’s “Chet and Bernie” mystery series, or The Art of Racing in the Rain – a two-hankie novel if ever there was one!!!
I’m a huge fan of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) with all its violence and gore. I know, go figure. . .
Actually, my favorite book is one that doesn’t cheat the reader, that delivers on its initial promise. I can tolerate a few technical errors if the book meets that mark.
I know how to plot a murder mystery, but how do you plot a literary novel or women’s fiction? Do you start with a character? An inciting incident? A character goal?
It’s weird, because they come to me in different ways. Sometimes it’s a “situation”: for example in my novel Remember to Breathe, it started out as an idea involving a woman whose husband had left her for another man. What if. . . . what if she learned he was dying? How would she feel? What would she do? What kind of woman would she be? And the story evolved from that.
My latest project is mostly character-driven. I started by seeing the two main characters and am in the process of following them around and trying to figure out who they are and what they want. I know the beginning and the very end, but everything in between is still a mystery to me.
Can you tell us anything about your current project?
I’m kind of superstitious in that I think telling the story dissipates its energy. . . and other such whoo-whoo beliefs. But it’s (I hope) a literary/commercial novel about a woman who marries an artist. Starts in 1966 and ends in 2000-something. Famous artists romp through the pages, along with pot-smoking hippies, corporate pirates, and a folksinger/rock star. All of which is subject to change, of course.
My main challenge is that I was actually married to an artist in the swinging 60’s, and although the story is purely the product of my imagination, I worry people will think, “Oh, that’s all about her and John.” Take my word for it: it’s not. If only my life had been that interesting!
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Then I began seeing possibilities for my own stories everywhere i.e. in Starbucks, at bookstores, or on the street. I followed up on referrals from friends and information I found in newspapers, newsletters, or around my neighborhood. I let my curiosity lead me to hobbyists, collectors, and folks with unusual occupations.
So many people: so many interesting stories! Next I needed to to pick their brains, pry out their deepest secrets, find out how and why they do what they do! I had to interview them.
There are three main steps (or methods to my madness) in how I interview folks.
Before the interview
I contact the person (on the spot or by phone) and set up a time and date. I let them know who I am, who I write for, and the general topic I want to cover.
Then I do a little research on the person or their specialty, occupation or craft. From my "research" I make a list of questions I want to ask.
I make sure I have a notebook, pens, MY CAMERA, and a tape recorder if it's going to be a fact-heavy interview. (Fresh or recharged batteries are a given, of course)
During the Interview
Then I pick up my notebook and pen, turn on the recorder if using it, and dig right in with the first (and easiest) questions. I never stick strictly to my written questions. If something more interesting (or tantalizing) comes up in their answers, I will follow it like a vein of silver in a Colorado mine. And – confession-time here – sometimes I will ask a question I have no intention of using in my story, just because I want to know.
I mostly listen and add questions as promptings to keep them talking. I smile and encourage them with nods or soft, sympathetic sounds. I haven't mastered the "silence strategy" yet, but I'm told that if you can simply remain silent, your subject will begin to fill it with more info. It's usually too uncomfortable for me to do that.
I take "off the record" seriously and will never write something I'm asked not to. That doesn't mean I don't want to hear it, however. Secret confessions sometimes help me to understand where the person is coming from. I'll take notes, and I might use the revelation to shade or slant the story, but not even that, if it is too sensitive.
If I get behind on my note taking, I ask them to repeat, slow down, or clarify what they said, especially if I plan to quote it in the story. (Quotes must be 100% accurate!) If they are showing me objects they've collected or made, I will ask if I can photograph them. Always at the end of the interview I will get several shots of them with something meaningful to the story. (Projects, pets, creations, gardens, workplace, etc.)
When the interview is winding down, I quickly look over my questions to see if I got everything I need, then I'll ask if they want to tell me anything I didn't ask about. (Great stuff sometimes comes out this way.)
I thank them, give them my card with contact info, and offer to send them a hard copy of the finished story (or the link, if it appears in an online magazine).
After the Interview
I also look for facts that I might need clarified or explained. If I find any, I'll do a brief call-back by phone.
And, the rule is to never show the interviewee the piece before it is published. But on occasion, under special circumstances, I have been known to do that.
(I'm such a softie!)
Next time: How I Edit or "Weight-watching for Writers"
Monday, June 7, 2010
I’m always on the lookout for interesting stories. My background as a television news writer helps me spot a unique and compelling story when I hear one. I don’t ever foresee having a problem coming up with interesting story ideas.