Background: I left school poorly educated. In 2002, I set myself a challenge to see if I could get something into print and beat my own expectations.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer? When I was stuck working in a factory and my creative soul wanted more of an outlet.
Do you write full-time? Yes, after redundancy my husband encouraged me to write full-time.
If you write fiction, where do you get your ideas for characters and plots? I enjoy thinking outside the box. Normally the characters write themselves.
For fiction writers, have you ever written yourself into a story? Bits of me are in all my characters as their emotions come from my own experience.
What kind of research and preparation do you do before you write? I like to check out YouTube. There are some great history videos on the site. When writing a crime novel I watched True Life crime videos.
What is your editing process? Do you hire an outside editor? I used Microsoft document read-back facility. Listening to my work being read back to me helps me to find my mistakes. But I have hired an editor.
How do you decide on your book covers? Do you outsource? My publisher has designed the covers.
How did you come up with the title of your latest book? The title came from a poem called ‘Do not expect again a Phoenix Hour’ by Cecil Day-Lewis. I quite often use poetry.
What route did you take to get published? I’m dyslexic, so I wanted to be published by the mainstream route. I hunted out the smaller publishers.
Have you ever tried to get an agent? No. I work with three small press publishers
What kinds of things do you do to promote your book? I used Twitter, Fussy Librarian, and Readfree.ly. I also hand out postcard size promotional cards whenever I can.
Have you ever had a book-signing event? I’ve only just started doing that this year. I have one in the far north of Scotland in September.
Have you taken writing courses? Only in the writing magazine
Do you belong to a writer’s group? I run a writing group in my home and a Facebook group online.
Do you ask friends/family to read your WIP? Yes, I have a friend whose an avid reader.
Name three unread books on your bookshelf. Kirsty Ferry Bea’s Magical Summer Garden, Eclipsing the Aurora by Peter J. Foote, and Black Heart by Raelle Lo.
What is the last book you read?A Cottage in Plotlands by Dawn Knox
How many pages do you think a book of fiction/nonfiction should be? 250
What is the riskiest or wildest thing you’ve ever done? Set out on this writing job instead of finding another job
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Believe in my ability and myself
What advice can you give to new writers entering the writing and publishing arena? Nothing happens overnight. There’s no magic spell to make you into a bestselling author apart from hard work and dedication.
Books written: North Korea Deception, Book 1 in The Deception Series: Hyde Park Deception (Book 2); Leningrad Deception (Book 3 – April 2023)
Genre: Commercial thriller – spy thriller, political thriller
Books Published: From Cottage to Palace, This Was Our Malvern and Upton-Upon-Seven Recollections written by my aunt, Margaret Bramford.
Genre: non-fiction and local history royal memoir
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer? I have always wanted to be a writer ever since a wrote a “cowboy epic” of about 40 pages, aged 8, in my primary school, London, UK.
I read a lot when I became a professional actor. I love John le Carré, Robert Ludlum, and Daniel Silva. In about 2005, I started writing North Korea Deception, which was based on real-life adventures as a Russian student in Moscow, serving as a captain in the British army, and working as a UNTV producer in Bosnia.
Do you write full-time? If not, do you have an outside job or other responsibilities? Between auditions, yes, I write every day, 2-3 hours in the morning after a 45 min walk along my local creek. I also spend 3-4 hours marketing and working on the other books I am publishing under Malchik Media (which means “Boy Media” in Russian. I have two sons, so I just made up the name.)
Where do you get your ideas for characters and plots? Probably 30-50% is autobiographical in terms of locations and experiences. But I also need a theme or topic I feel passionate about and use historical research to weave the above into a gripping story. I write thrillers, so there must be an exciting, nail-biting, and roller-coaster plot!
Have you ever written yourself into a story? Yes, Jack Steele, the hero in my series, is 30-50% autobiographical.
Tell me about your nonfiction projects. What subjects motivate you? I publish non-fiction (3 to date) in memory of my aunt Margaret Bramford. She wrote ten local history books about: a) my great aunt Florence who served as a ladies maid in the British royal household for thirty years, travelling the world with two Queen Elizabeths – The Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II, (think Downton Abbey and The Crown (Netflix), and, b) local social history and biography memoirs from the Worcestershire and Malvern area in UK.
What kind of research and preparation do you do before you write? I read non-fiction books and watch documentaries on the subject(s) I am interested in. e.g. Leningrad Deception is a story based on President Ronald Regan’s “Deception Committee” during the end of the Cold War during the Reagan-Gorbachev period in 1989. I had never heard about or read about the “Deception Committee,” and found it fascinating to weave a plot based around this little-known part of the Reagan-Gorbachev era. I draft an outline of each scene before I write the first draft: POV, Date/time, location, characters, plot and most importantly, the “kick” – what propels the story to the next chapter?
What is your editing process? Do you hire an outside editor? Two things any author or indie author must spend money on – hiring a professional editor and a professional book cover designer. I go back and forth one or two chapters at a time with my editor as I write each draft.
How do you decide on your book covers? Do you outsource? I hire a professional book cover designer. Before I published North Korea Deception, I spent the afternoon in Barnes and Noble screen-shooting thriller covers and the info inside the cover. Then I reached out to some cover designers on LinkedIn and found a great fit.
How did you come up with the title of your latest book? Great Question. My thriller series must have the word “Deception” in the title, so that’s 50% of the job. The rest of the title speaks to the story location, or one of the locations – e.g. North Korea, Hyde Park, Leningrad etc.
What route did you take to get published? Describe your experience. I watched tons of videos on YouTube. David Gaughran’s FREE course, Starting From Zero is fantastic. I also purchased a couple of on-line courses on Amazon ads and Facebook ads.
Have you ever tried to get an agent? If so, what steps did you take? I tried to get an agent for many years and gave up. It might take two years to get an agent because most of them take weeks, if not months to reply to a submission or query. Once they sign you, you might wait another year for them to find a publisher and publish. The process – if you are lucky – might take three years. However, if you do it yourself, once you have a polished, finished manuscript, you can self-publish in about 6 months.
What kinds of things do you do to promote your book? Amazon ads, Facebook ads, my website, “reader regiment” newsletter, and discount promo sites are the main ways I use to market.
Have you ever had a book-signing event? Tell us about your experience. Yes. Local indie bookstores and Barnes and Noble are very welcoming to local authors in my experience. They like to have “real” writers in the store, that bring foot traffic and the human touch to books. They don’t seem to care if you are traditionally or self-published. It’s always a very positive experience for me but you must be “high-energy” and know how to hook your potential readers.
Have you taken writing courses? I did take a writing course many years ago and read every writing book I could find on writing when I first began about fifteen years ago.
Do you belong to a writer’s group? I did try once, but I didn’t find it helpful or useful.
Are you in a book club? I do book signings and talks at local book clubs. People are always very eager and pleased to have a real author!
Do you ask friends/family to read your WIP? I did used to ask a couple of well-selected and carefully chosen writer friends to read my first draft of book 1. Now I rely mainly on my editor for the WIP.
Name three unread books on your bookshelf.The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson; The King’s Pawn by Lucy Hooft; Beyond the Cobblestones by Luisa Livorno Ramondo.
What is the last book you read? Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Daniel Silva
How many pages do you think a book of fiction/nonfiction should be? About 400pages – 90-100K words
What is the riskiest or wildest thing you’ve ever done? I once tried to secretly film General Ratko Mladic, and Dr. Radovan Karadzic, leaders of the Bosnian Serbs in Pale, Sarajevo, during the Bosnia war. I wasn’t a spy, I was filming a video diary for the BBC about life as a United Nations Military Observer in Bosnia. I got caught and my camera was confiscated but considered myself lucky not to be arrested or worse.
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Writing, editing, narrating the audiobook, and marketing a book TO BE PROFITABLE!
What advice can you give to new writers entering the writing and publishing arena? Be very, very clear about your goals – do you just want to write one book and “be published” or do you want to write several books and make a business. Huge difference.
You gotta love the actual process of writing. You gotta START writing every day. You find a time that works for you, and you gotta do it every single day, or most days of the week. Find a great editor and a great book cover designer. That’s where you spend your money. Never pay a “publisher” to publish your book unless you really understand what is involved and what you are paying for. Writing is 35% writing and 65% marketing. Most so called “hybrid-publishers” do NOT do the most difficult part of marketing your book.
You gotta believe and know that people want to read your stuff! I told myself early in the process – I know there are people out there who will enjoy these stories – I just gotta find them.
Books: Dance of the Goblins, To Dance With Dragons, Power of the Dance, The Wake of the Dragon, The Chase For Choronzon
Background: Traditionally published author gone full indie. Publishes non-fiction occult and Fantasy fiction.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer? As a child, though my first book was published in 1996.
Do you write full-time? I juggle film editing with writing, but yes, my creative work is full time.
Where do you get your ideas for characters and plots? They plague me constantly. I have many partial projects on my computer, all vying for attention. Ideas are the easy part.
Have you ever written yourself into a story? I think all writers lend some of themselves to favourite characters.
Tell me about your nonfiction projects. What subjects motivate you? I’ve had an interest in occult subjects since an aunt first introduced me to astrology at age 8. My first published pieces were for specialist magazines in that subject matter and I’ve had a few books out since then, mainly about chaos witchcraft and nature spirits.
What kind of research and preparation do you do before you write? It depends on the project. For example, The Wake of the Dragon is set in an alternative Victorian England and apart from the airships, much of it is effectively historical fiction. The East India Company and their involvement in the opium trade was very interesting indeed!
What is your editing process? Do you hire an outside editor? Every writer should hire an editor. The first pass I do myself though. I make a PDF and put it on my Kindle, read one chapter a day and take notes on any typos I find and anything else that needs changing.
How do you decide on your book covers? Do you outsource? My Fantasy covers have art from very talented artists. I do my own titles and graphics as I’m an old Photoshop addict. The one exception was The Chase for Choronzon, as the whimsical nature of that one was given to a photo manipulation.
How did you come up with the title of your latest book? The latest release was The Chase For Choronzon. That reflects the plot of the book itself, as two magicians chase the demon Choronzon through time and space to return him to his duty, guarding the gates between the worlds.
What route did you take to get published? Describe your experience. The fiction was a lucky accident. I was deciding what route to go with that when someone starting a small publishing company ended up sitting at a table with me at a social event. He had a look, got some of his people to read my manuscript and decided to go with it.
Have you ever tried to get an agent? If so, what steps did you take? In my early writing days I sent things to agents, usually to be told they didn’t handle genre fiction, even if their listings said they did.
What kinds of things do you do to promote your book? Not enough. I’ve got them on book sale lists and more recently have tried Bookfunnel while assessing the more costly options.
Have you ever had a book-signing event? Yes. I’ve done book signings for my non-fiction on occasion.
Have you taken writing courses? In school. I regularly read articles online about various aspects of writing.
Do you belong to a writer’s group? Tell us about your experience. A few groups on Facebook. I find them very friendly and supportive.
Are you in a book club? Not at the moment.
Do you ask friends/family to read your WIP? No. They’re the least likely to read it and if they do, they’ll tell you it’s wonderful no matter what.
Name three unread books on your bookshelf. The ones at the top of my tbr at present are The Other Magic by Derrick Smythe, Reign of Shadows by Angel Haze and A Thief in Farshore by Justin Pike. I do read other genres but there’s some awesome indie Fantasy out there and I’m trying to catch up.
What is the last book you read? Finished? Crucible of Shadows by Jon Cronshaw. It was third in a series well worth reading.
How many pages do you think a book of fiction/nonfiction should be? It depends. Non-fiction is totally down to how much information needs to be conveyed on the subject. Fiction is fairly subjective. I like books under 400 pages best. Some people like huge books and I will read them if they’re good enough to hold my attention that long.
What is the riskiest or wildest thing you’ve ever done? Either running away with the carnival at age 16 or initiating court proceedings on my own, using my writing ability to copy format on papers sent against me in a custody case. I won in the end.
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Physical or mental? Mental, definitely the custody battle. Physical, was probably a printing job I had where I didn’t realise the first night I was doing the work of two men. I just threw myself into the work and didn’t think about the fact that it wasn’t really a lady’s job.
What advice can you give to new writers entering the writing and publishing arena? Learn to take criticism. Your first draft is never going to be perfect. Writing is hard work, not an easy buck.
Books: Believing In Horses; Believing In Horses, Too; and Believing In Horses Out West
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Background: I am a writer living in Maryland. I retired after a 25-year career as a naval intelligence officer and founded my current business, Veteran Writing Services, LLC where I provide companies and organizations professional writing, editing, and consulting services.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer? After I retired from the Navy, I realized writing a book had been on my list of things to do.
Do you write full-time? I own a small business, Veteran Writing Services, LLC, which provides professional writing and consulting services. My creative writing endeavors are a small part of that business, although the part I enjoy the most.
Where do you get your ideas for characters and plots? Usually my characters and plots are based on situations I’ve encountered, and sometimes they simply come to me. I’ve also fictionalized stories from the news or from history.
Have you ever written yourself into a story? I’ve never written myself into my stories with me as a character, but my characters have taken on my personality traits. My main character in my books does things a younger version of me would have done—good and bad.
Tell me about your nonfiction projects. What subjects motivate you? My nonfiction projects are stories I feel should be told, such as my grandfather’s WWI service and my adventures as one of the first women onboard U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. My news articles are on subjects I care about including how the connection with one of our horses ended up with a young woman entering the U.S. Air Force Academy and one about the future of the once-famous Bowie Race Track.
What kind of research and preparation do you do before you write? Too much! Even for fiction, if I am depicting scenes I have not experienced, I go on site to a similar scene to ensure authenticity. If that’s not possible, I research and speak to knowledgeable people. I’m an outliner, so that’s part of my preparation.
What is your editing process? Do you hire an outside editor? I self-edit first and recently started using Auto-Crit to point out problem areas. I’ve used beta readers, developmental editors, and copy editors. For books, I believe a copy editor is essential.
How do you decide on your book covers? Do you outsource? My first two books were published through a small press, and I was fortunate to have had some say on the covers. I did not want to have an image of the main character on the cover, leaving that up to the reader. I self-published my last book and outsourced the cover working closely with the designer.
How did you come up with the title of your latest book? My first book, Believing In Horses, was supposed to be one book, not a series. So when I wrote Believing In Horses, Too, I had a title theme. The latest title became Believing In Horses Out West since it is an adventure to a dude ranch in Montana.
What route did you take to get published? Describe your experience. I looked for publishers who published the same kind of work as mine starting with The Writer’s Market, then looked on the internet, and stumbled into my publisher. I wrote asking for advice, and they offered to look at my manuscript and liked it. I got lucky, and the things I learned gave me the confidence to self-publish later.
Have you ever tried to get an agent? If so, what steps did you take? In The Writer’s Market, I found an agent I thought might like my first book. I emailed the query letter, and she was polite enough to respond it wasn’t for her. I learned I didn’t have the patience for that process.
What kinds of things do you do to promote your book? Blogs, book awards contests, news releases, discussions at writing workshops, social media, occasional ads in horse magazines, and talking to people about them.
Have you ever had a book-signing event? Tell us about your experience. I’ve had lots, and my most fun was at a year-end horse competition banquet for my target age, selling out in less than one hour.
Have you taken writing courses? Yes, many, learning from each. I was also an English major, so that helped.
Do you belong to a writer’s group? If so, is it in-person or online? Tell us about your experience. The two I attend most have been both in-person and online. I recommend everyone join a writer’s group to help stay motivated, on-track, and get honest feedback.
Are you in a book club? No
Do you ask friends/family to read your WIP? Yes, when done.
Name three unread books on your bookshelf.Opening Up by Writing It Down by James W. Pennybaker, Burn You Twice by Mary Burton, and The Horse Who Changed My Life: My Serendipitous Journey through Equus by Nancy Lee Gerson.
What is the last book you read?The Maid’s Diary: A Novel by Loreth Anne White.
How many pages do you think a book of fiction/nonfiction should be? 80,000 words/30,000 words.
What is the riskiest or wildest thing you’ve ever done? My husband and I went on a self-guided horse travel trip to Ireland in 2008 where we rented horses, and they gave us a map to get to our B&B locations for the next four days. Without the luxuries of GPS on our phones, it was quite the experience where we galloped on beaches, entered a live shooting range, and ended up in desolate places. But we have memories that will last forever.
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Losing both of my parents.
What advice can you give to new writers entering the writing and publishing arena? Everyone has advice, but only you have your voice. Listen, learn, but be true to yourself in the end.
Books: The Prince’s Man (#1 The Five Kingdoms), The Prince’s Son (#2), The Prince’s Protégé (#3), The Prince’s Heir (#4), The Prince’s Legacy (Boxset books 1-4 inclusive), Desprite Measures (The Caledonian Sprite stories #1), Sprite Night (#1.5), The World and the Stars (multi-author anthology), The Building Blocks of Training, and The Successful Dressage Competitor
Genre: Epic and Urban fantasy, plus horse training.
Background: I am a former professional athlete, now coach, trying to retire in my dream home in the Scottish Highlands. My plan is to do more writing as I do less outdoor work, but I find it hard to say ‘no’ and so my planned reduction in coaching isn’t yet happening.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer? As a child I was a voracious reader and just assumed I would also write. I started at around 8 years old, and never stopped.
Do you write full-time? If not, do you have an outside job or other responsibilities? I’ve been a professional athlete all my life (riding dressage horses) and I’m so used to being super active that I don’t think I could tolerate being a full-time writer, but it does fit in very nicely when the weather is bad and gives me an excuse to be indoors!
Where do you get your ideas for characters and plots? Ooh, I always dread this question! My entire life I’ve had a busy and demanding imagination, with both plots and characters appearing fully formed from my subconscious—so many that I will never get them all onto the page! Occasionally a news story will prompt a new idea to kick things off, but equally, I’m never short of my own material.
Have you ever written yourself into a story? No, although my values and opinions may sneak in at times.
If you write nonfiction, tell me about your projects. What subjects motivate you? I write non-fiction text books about my specialist area of knowledge: training dressage horses.
What kind of research and preparation do you do before you write? When I began my writing career I was a true pantser—writing ‘by the seat of my pants’ with no idea where the plot was going, but these days I do a vague outline, laying out the start and finish, with a bit of the middle, plus my characters’ motivations and story arcs (how they will change during the story). For me, part of the enjoyment of writing is being surprised by what a character does, and where the story leads, so I don’t like to be too detailed before I begin.
What is your editing process? Do you hire an outside editor? I do all my own editing, although these days I’m pretty good at producing a fairly clean first draft that needs only some minor tweaks. For advice on this I rely on my awesome writers’ group: we’ve been working together for 30 years! Most of us are published in one form or another, so we expect nothing less than professional work from each other, and we are very good at critiquing positively, and discussing how to solve plot and character issues.
Once a story has been though the group and I’ve made any changes they think necessary, I send it to a handful of beta readers for final opinions, which might result in some small changes in emphasis and copyedits but no major adjustments.
How do you decide on your book covers? Do you outsource? Oh yes! I am no artist, and having an awesomely attractive book cover is one of the most important things every author needs. I use Ravven – Book Cover Art and Design
How did you come up with the title of your latest book? The Prince’s Heir is part of a series, so follows the series pattern of relating to more than one character in each book.
What route did you take to get published? Describe your experience. Back when I began, the only route (apart from vanity publishing) was with a traditional publisher. I was fortunate to be taken on by the first U.S. agent I approached, who sent the book to the (then) Big Six publishers. It took 6 months to get all the responses back, and they all loved my writing style, but the book wasn’t a fresh enough concept for them, so they all passed. In the meantime, I had approached a UK publisher directly with a proposal for a non-fiction text (on horse training) which they took. I have published 2 books with them and have a third coming out this year.
When indie publishing became a practical option, I published my first novel myself, and continue happily with that route for my fiction.
What kinds of things do you do to promote your book? I run an annual price promotion over Christmas each year with paid ads, and in between I blog on my own site, and do guest blogs such as this one.
Have you ever had a book-signing event? Tell us about your experience. I have done a few, but I’m not a natural at small talk, or at attracting people to come and talk with me, so I’m not overly successful unless I’m selling to people who are already fans.
Have you taken writing courses? No
Do you belong to a writers’ group? If so, is it in-person or online? Tell us about your experience. Yes, we meet once a month, in person before Covid, and now on Zoom. Doing the meetings online has enabled a few former members who moved away to rejoin.
Are you in a book club? No
Do you ask friends/family to read your WIP? No
Name three unread books on your bookshelf. The Selkie Spell by Sophie Moss, California Demon by Debra Dunbar, The Author Estate Handbook by M.L. Ronn.
What is the last book you read?The Palace of Lost Memories by C.J. Archer
How many pages do you think a book of fiction/nonfiction should be? As long as it needs to be to tell the story!
What is the riskiest or wildest thing you’ve ever done? I took myself and my best horse abroad to compete at an international show in Spain with no idea how we were going to get home again!
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Made the decision to put my best ever wonderful horse partner to sleep when he developed a mystery illness. It proved to be the right choice as a post mortem revealed kidney cancer.
What advice can you give to new writers entering the writing and publishing arena? Read widely, both good and bad, and particularly in the genre you intend writing in, then figure out why some books work well, and others don’t.
Books: Casey Holland mystery series: The Opposite of Dark, Deadly Accusations, Beneath the Bleak New Moon, The Deep End, Knock Knock, The Blade Man, A Gold Satin Murder
Genre: Crime Fiction
Background: I live near Vancouver, British Columbia and I’m the author of eleven mystery novels (three of them are out of print). After many years spent learning the craft of writing and the business side of things (I’m still learning), I now mentor newer writers through workshops offered by my local community center.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer? In 1979 I spent a year travelling alone through Europe and working as a legal secretary in London, England. I wrote a lot of letters home, kept a journal, and began writing my first short stories to fill my evenings. I wound up with a roommate who encouraged me to keep writing. By the time I came home, I knew I wanted to write fiction for the rest of my life.
Do you write full-time? If not, do you have an outside job or other responsibilities? For most of my adult life, I’ve either raised kids, volunteered, and/or worked part-time at various jobs. It was never my goal to write full-time, since much of my inspiration comes from getting out in the world and doing things. As a retiree, I still don’t write full time, although I now devote a fair chunk of my days to marketing and promotion, blogging, and book reviewing. I also have two young granddaughters whom I love to spend time with.
Where do you get your ideas for characters and plots? My ideas come from real-life crime stories happening here in Vancouver and other parts of Canada. Some ideas are also inspired by my experiences. For example, my fourth book, The Deep End, is largely set in a youth detention center, so I relied heavily on my volunteer experiences when I was a criminology student. I’m so glad I kept journals back then.
Have you ever written yourself into a story? I can’t say that I’ve ever written myself into a story, but when I first started writing the Casey Holland series many years ago, Casey and I shared some traits. My character hasn’t aged the way I have, and I find that we have less in common. I did use my work experience as a security and communications officer to create the character of Casey. She’s a transit security guard and I worked security on campuses, however, the basic training would have been the same.
What route did you take to get published? Describe your experience. Like many authors, my publication journey has been a roller coaster, starting with two agents I worked with on two series. When that didn’t pan out, I eventually found a small press to publish the first four books in my Casey Holland series. But the publisher decided to cut a number of authors, so I self-published the following three books. I’ve also worked with another small press who published two of my novellas until health issues forced the publisher to shut down. With the fantasy I’m currently working on, I might try the agent route again, well aware that the odds are long and that it’ll take patience.
What kinds of things do you do to promote your book? My promotion strategy is fairly straightforward. First, I connect with local writers and do both online and in-person events with them such as readings, launches, book signings, or workshops. I find that working with others is much more fun. I also connect with the rest of the world through my blog, newsletter, and social media. Book promotion sites that are recommended by marketing guru David Gaughran have also proven to be helpful. One of these days, I’ll learn how to properly advertise on Facebook and Amazon.
Have you ever had a book-signing event? Tell us about your experience. I’ve had several book signings, one at a library, others at community centers, and virtually. My favorite and first launch was held in my home one autumn evening. We had food, wine, and lots of laughter. I loved It, as did my guests, so maybe it’ll happen again some time.
Do you belong to a writer’s group? If so, is it in-person or online? Tell us about your experience I’ve belonged to at least three writers’ groups over the years, but my current group is a small online group I formed when Covid restrictions kept us all at home. I chose three people I already knew through creative writing workshops. I chose them for their commitment to writing, their willingness to give honest feedback, and because I thought we’d work well together. It’s been amazing.
Name three unread books on your bookshelf. Three unread books on my shelf are Playing the Long Game, which is a memoir of Canadian soccer legend Christine Sinclair, The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, and The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware. I’ve actually started that one.
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done? One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is watch my mother go through dementia and then pancreatic cancer. On the writing front, the hardest thing I ever did was write my grandfather’s eulogy, as requested by my aunts. They were quite the editors, but in the end they were happy with the piece.
What advice can you give to new writers entering the writing and publishing arena? First, practice writing as much as you can. One good way is to keep a journal. Also, read all types of books, including how-to books on writing. Take courses and workshops. You’re not going to get it right the first time, or even the second or third, but if you focus on just one thing, you’ll make progress. Second, connect with other writers in your community. One good source are libraries some of which host book clubs, writers’ groups, and writing-related events. Attend events either online or in person. Third, take care of yourself physically and emotionally. The writing life isn’t a sprint but a marathon filled with twists and turns that you can’t control. Writers can let self-doubt paralyze them. Negative self-talk is inevitable but see it for what it is and carry on. The journey is everything, not the endgame.
Books: Both Sides of Love, Letting Go, The Fabric of Us, Seasons Out of Time
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Contemporary Fiction
Background: I live on Long Island with my husband and rambunctious, needy puppy, Archie. When not working or writing, I dabble in gardening (is there anything better tasting than a homegrown cucumber?) or I’m reading on a beach under an umbrella, by the fire, with wine or spending time with friends and family.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer? I’d kept journals for years, so I’ve always been writing. When my younger son stepped onto a school bus giving me a few hours to myself, I thought I’d try to write a full novel.
Do you write full-time? If not, do you have an outside job or other responsibilities? I wrote full-time for a few years and then returned to work. Now, I work full-time in a high school and write in the evenings and on weekends.
If you write fiction, where do you get your ideas for characters and plots? I get ideas from my own life and experiences, from friends and family, the news, dreams, conversations I may overhear in a diner… Everywhere, really. I keep my ears open. You never know when you might overhear a juicy tidbit that might be worth exploring.
Have you ever written yourself into a story? I think some part of me finds its way into every book, not necessarily the characters’ choices, but maybe a personality trait here and there. How could it not?
What kind of research and preparation do you do before you write? My stories are very emotional so it’s hard to research that. However, if a character has a career or job that I’m not familiar with, I’ll research what it’s like to perform that job. I spend a lot of time searching on Google.
What is your editing process? Do you hire an outside editor? I write the first draft and step away from it for as long as I can. When I’m ready, I’ll make a few more passes before asking my beta readers to read it. I’ll edit further based on their critiques and then hire a developmental editor, followed by a line editor, and if I can afford it, a proofreader. If not, I look to my writer friend for help.
How do you decide on your book covers? Do you outsource? I work with a wonderful graphic designer, Suzanne Parrott. We come up with the covers together, but she designs them.
How did you come up with the title of your latest book? My last book is about a woman in her forties who falls in love with a much younger man. I wanted a play on words about where they each are in their lives, so “seasons” seemed descriptive. Of course, nothing is as it seems, so we came up with the title, Seasons Out of Time.
What route did you take to get published? Describe your experience. I self-published all four books. I sought advice from other authors I’d met, read countless blogs and websites and ultimately, found my graphic designer, Suzanne, who is knowledgeable in indie publishing and helped me. She does all my uploading, formatting and cover designs. It took a long time to put my first book out because I had so much to learn and wanted to make a good first impression.
Have you ever tried to get an agent? If so, what steps did you take? Yes. I queried my first book to 80 agents. I had no idea what I was doing and though I received a lot of positive feedback and full requests, I was told I needed to get my manuscript edited first. When I did that, I figured, let me go the rest of the way on my own and see what happens.
What kinds of things do you do to promote your book? I use social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and recently joined TikTok), enter contests, do giveaways and participate in interviews on wonderful blogs like this.
Have you ever had a book-signing event? Tell us about your experience. I haven’t done a book signing, but I’ve been invited to over two dozen book clubs on Long Island which is always an amazing experience. To meet readers in person and hear how they respond to my writing is everything.
Have you taken writing courses? Not really. One adult ed course in the beginning of my writing journey and one with Gotham Writer’s Group in Manhattan. I learn a lot by reading.
Do you belong to a writer’s group? If so, is it in-person or online? Tell us about your experience. I joined a writer’s group before I put my first book out, and met some great people, but it has since disbanded. Now, I have two critique partners who are an integral part of my process.
Are you in a book club? If so, tell us about it. Is it in-person or online? Friends or acquaintances? Yes. In fact, I was in two for eight years, but had to leave one due to scheduling conflicts. I’ve always been an avid reader and love to talk books. We’re a close group of neighborhood friends and have so many lively discussions…with wine, of course.
Do you ask friends/family to read your WIP? Yes. My mom, my husband and my reader friends are my first readers. They’re not afraid to hurt my feelings and that’s exactly what I need.
Name three unread books on your bookshelf. Ready Player One by Ernest Kline, Well Behaved Wives by Amy Sue Nathan, Never Meant to Meet You by Alli Frank & Asha Youmans
What is the last book you read? The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I really enjoyed it. I’m currently reading The Winners by Fredrik Backman.
How many pages do you think a book of fiction/nonfiction should be? This is a tough one. I tend to write an entire manuscript and then go back and tighten the prose as best I can to keep it within the suggested guidelines for my genre. However, I’ve read amazing books that were eight hundred pages and equally wonderful books that were one hundred. So, I don’t really have an answer.
What is the riskiest or wildest thing you’ve ever done? I wrote four books and put them out for public consumption. It never gets easier.
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Being a mom is hands down the hardest job in the world. I have two wonderful sons who are grown. But the mothering never ends.
What advice can you give to new writers entering the writing and publishing arena? Do your research. Believe in yourself. Don’t give up. And read!
Background: Mary Anne and her husband live in Canton, GA with an ill-tempered Tuxedo cat named Gertrude. Mary Anne volunteers at MUST Ministries and is a library liaison for her local chapter of Friends of the Library.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer: In 2009, my sister was involved in a shooting. That was how the Charlie McClung Mystery Series began.
Do you write full-time? If not, do you have an outside job or other responsibilities? Yes, I write full-time, sort of. Once a week, I volunteer for a non-profit who help those who are financially and food insecure.
If you write fiction, where do you get your ideas for characters and plots? The first idea for my fiction series began with the tragic shooting of sister, fortunately she lived. The other plots originate from a combination of music lyrics, news stories, and the devious side of my brain. My characters are like Frankenstein, bits and pieces from people I observe.
For fiction writers, have you ever written yourself into a story? Some people who know my husband me and have read my books asks if the two main protagonists are us. Yes, they are, well, the wish-we-were versions.
If you write nonfiction, tell me about your projects. What subjects motivate you? I’m writing a cookbook inspired the Charlie McClung Mysteries. My fans wanted it.
What kind of research and preparation do you do before you write? The series is set during the 1980s, so I do a lot of research to ensure things did or didn’t exist during that time period. I have a team of subject matter experts, a forensic pathologist, FBI agent, retired chief of police, a doctor specializing in poisons, a nurse practitioner, and the internet. I want my stories as accurate as possible down to the weather and what the crime scene would look like.
What is your editing process? Do you hire an outside editor? I cannot self-edit. My husband does two edits. Then I send it to an outside editor.
How do you decide on your book covers? Do you outsource? I outsource my book covers. I give them the short description of the book, genre, and a few ideas, then they work their magic.
How did you come up with the title of your latest book? From song lyrics, mainly Tom Petty
What route did you take to get published? Describe your experience.: I spoke with indie/trad writers who steered me toward indie. It’s been an eye-opening adventure.
Have you ever tried to get an agent? If so, what steps did you take? Nope!
What kinds of things do you do to promote your book? Amazon ads, social media, paid promotions, blogs, and word of mouth
Have you ever had a book-signing event? Tell us about your experience. I’ve had successful ones and some embarrassingly duds.
Have you taken writing courses? Yes, lots of them
Do you belong to a writer’s group? If so, is it in-person or online? Tell us about your experience. I used to be a member of Sisters in Crime, in person group, which I enjoyed.
Are you in a book club? If so, tell us about it. Is it in-person or online? Friends or acquaintances? I’m a member of an in-person mystery book club with friends and neighbors.
Do you ask friends/family to read your WIP? Friends and fans
Name three unread books on your bookshelf. Dark Tide Rising, Evil Never Dies, and Tidewater Inn
What is the last book you read? Defending Jacob
How many pages do you think a book of fiction/nonfiction should be? I don’t care if the book holds my interest.
What is the riskiest or wildest thing you’ve ever done? I went sliding down the side of a dam like all the other kids were doing.
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Having to plan my mother’s funeral
What advice can you give to new writers entering the writing and publishing arena? Save a lot of money for your writing expenses. Don’t worry about writing every day. Family comes first.
Books: Ghosted (latest), various poetry and short story compilations
Genre: general fiction, romance, poetry
Background: I’m a writer in Orange County, California. My interests include fiction, poetry, movies, painting, and cupcakes. I enjoy reading and writing about a variety of topics.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer? I have always written, even as a very young child.
Do you write full-time? If not, do you have an outside job or other responsibilities? I have a “real job” and write in my free time.
Where do you get your ideas for characters and plots? Everywhere. Real life, fiction, movies, songs, etc.
Have you ever written yourself into a story? Most of my protagonists have an aspect or two of me built in, but I have not appeared as me.
What kind of research and preparation do you do before you write? Whatever is necessary, such as researching a city online, checking major events of the past, organizing dates/timelines, etc.
What is your editing process? Do you hire an outside editor? I do my own.
How do you decide on your book covers? Do you outsource? I do them myself on Amazon KDP with free photos.
How did you come up with the title of your latest book? I was literally ghosted in a dating experience and it went from there.
What route did you take to get published? Describe your experience. I self-publish on Amazon KDP after spending a few years chasing romance publishers.
Have you ever tried to get an agent? If so, what steps did you take? I briefly attempted this in the early 2000’s. It’s too time-consuming and energy-draining to chase agents and publishers. I just want to write!
What kinds of things do you do to promote your book? Not much. Mostly I just mention my books on my blog.
Have you ever had a book-signing event? Tell us about your experience. No. My books are all in electronic format.
Have you taken writing courses? Way back in college I took poetry and writing workshops.
Do you belong to a writer’s group? If so, is it in-person or online? Tell us about your experience. I am not currently participating in writing groups, though I have in the past.
Are you in a book club? If so, tell us about it. Is it in-person or online? Friends or acquaintances? I belong to several book clubs ~ romance, general fiction, philosophy. I don’t always want to read the assigned books, but when I do it’s enjoyable to meet up and discuss them.
Do you ask friends/family to read your WIP? One of my daughters will read a portion of a WIP if I ask for her opinion. She helped quite a bit with Ghosted.
Name three unread books on your bookshelf. This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub. The Last Lie Told by Debra Webb. Marley & Me by John Grogan
What is the last book you read? Philosophy of Nature by Paul Feyerabend
How many pages do you think a book of fiction/nonfiction should be? However many it takes to tell the story in an entertaining way
What is the riskiest or wildest thing you’ve ever done? Online dating
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Getting divorced at age 50
What advice can you give to new writers entering the writing and publishing arena? Make sure your father owns a publishing house.
Today I’m publishing an author interview that I originally posted in 2014. I really enjoyed Susanna Daniel’s books so I’m sharing this author interview first and I’ll post my reviews of her two books later today.
I hope you find this interesting. She currently teaches creative writing in Madison, Wisconsin. You can learn more about Susanna here.
I recently had the chance to interview Susanna Daniel, author of Stiltsville and Sea Creatures. Susanna graciously took the time to answer my questions, which appear below.
BCM: First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview. I really enjoyed reading Stiltsville and Sea Creatures and it’s so fun to get a one-on-one with an author! Did you write much when you were growing up? When did you decide to become a writer?
SD: As a kid I was told so often, by so many people, that I should write, that I almost considered it inevitable. It wasn’t until I was a few years out of college, working as an editor and rising in those ranks, that I realized that if I didn’t make it happen for myself, it would always be on the back burner. I had other aspirations, of course — a stable home life, a family — and it dawned on me, belatedly, that it was likely some goals would crowd out others. I decided to leave New York, and the editorial work, for Iowa City to get my MFA — this gave me time to write among a community of writers, many of whom were much more serious about the whole enterprise, and much more experienced, than I was. This was very good for me. I had to catch up.
BCM: Were you a reader as a child and in high school? What did you major in at Columbia?
SD: I read constantly, but not always material I would necessarily recommend for young minds. My mother was also a big reader, and she and my father were constantly putting age-inappropriate books into my hands: John Irving at age eleven, Pat Conroy a year later. I was an English and Anthro major at Columbia; I wasn’t a particularly good student, and my lowest grades were in my Physics for Poets class and my Logic and Rhetoric class. (Logic and Rhetoric is, of course, writing!)
BCM: What kinds of experiences and jobs have helped you as a writer?
SD: I’ve had a lot of jobs but all of them have been generally in the publishing vein. I think this was a mistake — I should have been more adventurous in my choices, let my writing yoke out a little. But by far the experience that has had the broadest, deepest impact on my writing is my membership in families — as a daughter, sister, mother, wife — and the close attention I pay to domestic dynamics. Here’s where being a boy crazy teenager actually paid off, indirectly.
BCM: I read about the ten-year period in which you worked, with productive lapses due to regular life obligations, to finish writing Stiltsville. You spoke of the state of being in what you called “active non-accomplishment.” And you described a series of events in your life that helped you jump-start your writing. Do you think that’s typical of a first novel?
SD: My teacher Chris Offutt once said that a person puts a whole life into a first novel — it’s difficult to assimilate that much information at any age, and I wasn’t a particularly young first-time novelist. But really it’s a question of focus. I borrowed the focus that eventually helped me finish Stiltsville from all corners — successful friends and their tough love, fear of unhappiness, support from my husband. And Stiltsville gave me the focus I needed to finish Sea Creatures, in a much quicker time frame.
BCM: How was your experience in writing Sea Creatures different? I imagine that some things were easier. Were there similarities in the process? Did you encounter different road blocks?
SD: It was easier because I understood much more about the process and had more confidence — it was harder, too, because I knew much more about the process. Sea Creatures is a much smaller book in some ways, but also more shapely — it’s more mature, but it’s also a book I’m particularly proud of because I think it represents my growth as a storyteller and also as a person who prioritizes her writing.
BCM: Is it difficult to balance the marketing aspect of being a writer with the actual process of writing?
SD: Yes. A lot of people can do this gracefully, but that part of the job makes me want to crawl under my desk, which too often I do, figuratively speaking. I could do more but it exacts a real toll on me.
BCM: The internet and social media have a big presence in the book publishing and book reading market. Everyone out there seems to be reading, reviewing and sharing information about books. When you are in a writing phase, do you tune into this mass of information, or do you feel a need to separate yourself from it?
SD: I do like to hear writers talk about writing, and I seek that out when I’m not writing, as a way to plug in to the creative process. But the online buzz is often about publishing, not writing, and I do not ever, at any stage, seek that. It feels to me like a very costly fee that I and others have to pay for what we want to do. I like talking to people about my own work, or about theirs — I enjoy visiting reading groups and doing appearances very much — but I do not like the constant onslaught of buzz about the publishing industry. It’s disheartening.
I also teach writing, and with them I share reviews, craft talks, even twitter feeds from inspiring authors — but do I share pieces about the industry wars or about who sold what for how much? No.
BCM: In an article about reading, you expressed your concern that there’s an expectation for everyone to read the same books, the hugely popular series and best-sellers. Your idea is to find interesting reads in the lesser-known stacks, and use word-of-mouth to recommend these books. What do you think is the best way for a book club to break out of that pattern?
SD: It seems like the best book clubs are — and forgive me for being prescriptive — large in number. We all exist in several echo chambers, and small book clubs become another form. They read books because they “want to know what the buzz is about.” This becomes a question of volume — if you’re reading a few books a week, sure, read for whatever reason you want. But if you’re reading a book a month, the buzz isn’t a good enough reason. More people in a group means a greater variety of voices. The other thing I’ve noticed works nicely for reading groups is to meet one time per year to choose that year’s books. Then it’s not about what book is getting buzz when the group meets — it’s about what books have really lodged themselves in people’s minds when they come together to plan. These groups don’t read hardcovers, I’ve noticed, and though I love a hardcover (to read and to sell!) I think this also contributes to keeping the buzz factor down, because a book has to be out for a while before the club will get to it.
BCM: I do think a lot of book clubs try to mix things up by adding non-fiction to their reading lists. Do you like reading non-fiction? If so, what do you enjoy most?
SD: I adore nonfiction. I write some creative nonfiction, but generally I don’t identify as a nonfiction writer, so when I’m reading it, I’m not also taking mental notes (unless it’s also a book about writing, in which I’m taking all kinds of notes). This is an immense relief. I’ve read anything ever written about William Maxwell, as well as his volumes of letters. I will pick up anything by Joanna Scott or Robin Romm or Anthony Doerr.
BCM: I read that your favorite books are Age of Grief, by Jane Smiley, Selected Stories, by Andre Dubus and Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, and that these books have influenced your writing. Have any other authors influenced you?
SD: All authors influence me. Some writers only influence me on the page, and some I track to learn more than what’s on the page — how to be a writer in the world, not how to build a career but how to manage inside the one I have.
BCM: What popular fiction do you enjoy?
SD: I’ve been reading Lauren Grodstein’s books lately, and I’m enjoying them very much. She writes with a lot of confidence.
BCM: Stiltsville and Sea Creatures are both set in Miami, Florida and your descriptions reflect having lived in this area. Now that you are living in the midwest, will you draw from these experiences in the future?
SD: I have one more South Florida book to finish, then I can think about moving my fiction to the midwest. I’m reluctant to let go of that part of me that hasn’t ever moved out of Florida.
BCM: In Stiltsville, you use Margo’s insomnia as a way for Dennis to get closer to his daughter, by sitting up with her and talking with her. Despite the lost hours, there’s a good feeling about this time spent. In Sea Creatures both Georgia and Graham suffer from different forms of sleep disorders, but there’s a much more frightening element to these late-night hours. How did you develop the sleep disorder idea for Sea Creatures?
SD: I heard a monologue by a comic named Mike Birbiglia, which was years later made into a movie by This American Life — in it, he discussed his own parasomnia, and I laughed along, but I also thought: My word, what it would be like to be married to this guy?
BCM: In both Stiltsville and Sea Creatures, you give the reader a real sense of the dangers that come with living in a stilt house, including falling from the railings or other perches, and swimming or waterskiing in the open water and, of course, hurricanes. What was it like spending time in the stilt house community? Did neighbors look out for each other?
SD: My parents could answer that better than I, but I don’t remember a lot of vigilance. They made sure we could swim, then let us go. I know a few parents who are easygoing in that way now, but not many.
BCM: Tell me about your writing group, the Madison Writers’ Studio, how you started it and how it works.
SD: My partner Michelle Wildgen and I teach eight-week workshops in our homes a few times a year, and we both teach a yearlong novel writing workshop that meets monthly. We started it because we love to teach and wanted to bring writers together. It’s not expressly a writing group, because the sessions are run like MFA-level workshops, but there’s a supportive aspect to the classes that I think we all find nurturing. We also host readings at the close of each class, which gives the writers a sense of how it is to share work broadly and aloud, and gives them a chance to hear what other people are working on. People are very serious about their own writing, even if they aren’t yet publishing — the studio gives them a place to take it seriously among other people who feel the same way.
BCM: I enjoyed reading an article about how you spend your typical day, and how, for certain times of this day, you make writing well your first priority. How do you manage the challenges of raising young children and the frustrations that pop up when your schedule changes? Are you able to reorganize your day to write at night, for example?
SD: I am not able to write at night. I wonder often how much more productive I would be if I could. I do not Do It All — I’m not that person. Instead, I delegate, hire, lower my expectations, often fail. I have a novel group that helps bring me back to the work when I wander for too long — that’s been essential for me these last few years. We’ve also started what I hope will be a long tradition of taking weekends away to write, to goose productivity. It’s still true that a day is only really good if I write well that day. How to write with young kids is a problem each person solves in her own way. The schedule and balance is under constant revision.
BCM: Thanks so much, Susanna, for this interview. I’m looking forward to your next book!
Author Susanna Daniel’s debut novel, Stiltsville, was awarded the PEN/Bingham prize for best debut work published in 2010, and her second novel, Sea Creatures, was named an Amazon Editors’ Top Pick of the Best Books of August, 2013.
Susanna was born and raised in Miami, Florida, where she spent much of her childhood at her family’s stilt house in Biscayne Bay.
Susanna is a co-founder, with author Michelle Wildgen, of the Madison Writers’ Studio. She is a graduate of Columbia University and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and was a Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Her writing has been published in Newsweek, Slate, One Story, Epoch, and elsewhere.
Susanna lives with her husband and two young sons in Madison, Wisconsin, where during the long winter she dreams of the sun and the sea, and of jumping off the stilt house porch at high tide.
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