A Peek Inside the Writing Life

Craft books and novels in progress

What does this “living a writing life” look like in real time?

This week, I’m submitting a partial manuscript to two literary agents I pitched last year at my first Chicago Writers Conference.

Panera writing session

Getting the submission ready includes the following:

  • Knowing and following the guidelines given to me by the agents during my pitch sessions.
  • Ensuring my first 50 pages are formatted and the best they can be at this stage of my development.
  • Preparing a one-page synopsis. This is not an outline, nor is it enticing cover copy. A synopsis has to spell out what happens in the book, including the ending, while revealing the voice and flavor of the novel.
  • Including a well-written query letter along with the manuscript and synopsis.

Once I get that all emailed, I will note it on my submission tracking sheet then dismiss it from my mind and get on with finishing the rest of this draft. It can take months to hear back on submissions, even if they were invited!

Engaging means improving my craft. That makes me chuckle. It used to sound so pretentious to me when I tried to think it let alone say it out loud.

The reality is I do work at the craft. I read, study, ask questions, practice, read some more. I am in the middle of three different books on craft today. They are: Save the Cat, The 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction WritingWriting 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling.

Engaging means reading as much fiction as possible. I’m enchanted by the idea of writing a real world story with hints of magic ala the very talented and successful Sarah Addison Allen.

Craft books and novels in progress

I’m working my way through all of her novels (just finished my third). Plus, she’s recommended a few of her favorite books by other authors, and I’ve tracked one down from an interlibrary loan: I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell. Reading this before bed each night.

Playwright Michele Lowe recommends that writers always have more than one idea or project to work on. She’s brilliant so I listen to her. I’m collecting ideas and snippets of scenes for what might be my next book-length project.

I’ve started researching and am in the middle of a fascinating book All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by journalist Rebecca Traister 

The idea that there will be a next book feels like a gift I’ve given myself. Three years ago I wasn’t even sure I could finish one book.

I’m also planning ahead for the fall. I might take a class, go to a conference, or sign up for a retreat. For me,  I need to build in time and space for meeting other writers, talking books, learning from more experienced authors.

My vision of “living the writing life” means engaging in the world of writers and readers on as many levels as possible.

Last week I published a book review on Blogcritics.org and am preparing a list of interview questions for the debut author, Abbey Campbell Cook.

I met an inspiring young writer at a family graduation party in Minnesota a couple of weeks ago. Ellie is 14 and a voracious reader and writer.

We talked under a canopy that provided scant relief from the blazing sun. We commiserated about the difficulty of creating interesting characters and working in solitude.

Last week, I received an email from an old friend who recently joined a writing group. We didn’t discuss writing, just exchanged book recommendations.  But there’s an energy exchange that takes place just knowing she writes!

This week I’m looking forward to a coffee date with a writer I met at a retreat last summer. She recently finished her first novel, and I was honored to get to read the first few chapters. More energy, more writing flow.

And I’m two weeks away from attending my second StoryStudio’s Ragdale Retreat.

A mentor of mine—a talented author and inspiring coach—recently recommended a list of short stories.  She compiled a curated list of stories with craft elements that shine in each. Can’t wait to get started on this!

Engaging means following the careers of other writers and supporting them whenever you can.

I’m eagerly awaiting Jennifer David Hesse’s first novel in July and have been sharing free bookmarks with my friends and family. Be sure to look for Book #1 Midsummer Night’s Mischief (A Wiccan Wheel Mystery). 

Midsummers Night Mischief

Living the writing life means making choices. I spent Sunday afternoon in Panera, wearing ear buds and flip flops (and clothes, I was wearing clothes), brandishing a purple flair marker as I went over what I hope is finally the final draft of my partial manuscript submission.

I could have been poolside with a margarita. And a part of me wanted to be.

Sometimes living the writing life means saying no to things (like hanging out at the pool). Twice this month, I turned down opportunities to write and publish (once for pay, once for a byline).

So I will miss out on those two opportunities. My time is limited. I have a day job and a family. To finish this novel, I have to focus.

Write where you are

Sometimes that means writing in the car, then walking in the nearby park

To make all of this possible, I continue to invest in my health and wellness. That means making room for life. For good food and movement and mindfulness.

All of that makes room for my dreams.

Long walks with a girlfriend or my husband or my son, walking my daughter’s dogs, doing pushups, sharing grilled chicken and an episode of American Pickers with my husband, talking to my mom on the phone, all of this is life.

Social media (will that be the phrase that sounds the death knell for all of humanity?) is both a resource and a drain for a writer. I belong to a few great writing communities online.

The best of these have provided inspiration and opportunity and are worth maintaining. It’s getting sidetracked on dancing puppy tangents that can suck away what little time I’ve carved out to actually write.

It’s also time to update my website, invest in new business cards and an updated author photo.

Deadlines approach for an essay I want to write and a residency application I’m nervous to submit.

Living the writing life means not being afraid to fail.

I know there are more of me out there, closet writers not sure they have talent.

You do. But it’s mostly about the work.

A brilliant author friend said during a recent conversation “if we’d known what was involved in writing a book, we never would have started.”

She’s right. But I’m ridiculously grateful I did.

 

4 Thoughts on “A Peek Inside the Writing Life

  1. Great post, Suzanne! Thanks again for the shout-out, and good luck with those agents!

  2. Elaine Richards on June 29, 2016 at 3:23 am said:

    So excited for you to finally get those pages sent! Thanks for reminding me of what I might/could be doing if I weren’t, er, ‘otherwise engaged.’

On Cat Butlers, Regency Romance, and Murder Mysteries: Author Interview with Catherine Lloyd

Death Comes to the Village

Catherine Lloyd Author

On a lucky trip to the library a few months ago, I pulled Death Comes to the Village off the shelf and quickly hunted down the next two novels in The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries series (Kensington Books).

There’s nothing like writing your own first novel to give you an appreciation for all authors. One of my goals this year is to reach out and thank those writers whose books I’ve enjoyed. That’s how I “met” New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Catherine Lloyd. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her books and her writing process.

Death Comes to the Village        Death Comes to London      Death Comes to Kurland Hall

Congratulations on the success of The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries. You write under a pseudonym (Kate Pearce) as well. Do you have a preference for one genre over another?

Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to write something different. I also write romance, but they are very different entities. With romance it’s more about the love story and the character’s romantic arc. With the mystery, the plot is more front and center, and the characters don’t have to be quite so romantic.

I don’t really have a preference for one genre. They speak to different sides of my brain and my writing process. I’m lucky to get the opportunity to do both.

You’ve previously said it took you five years to get your first novel published. Can you describe those five years; the successes and setbacks?

Yes, that was back in the days before self-publishing in its present form existed, so the process was literally to send off lots of submission letters with a stamped addressed envelope and wait for the reply in your mail box. It took me a while to find my first agent, who then immediately died, and a little longer to find my second agent. The third one was the charm. Once I’d sold a couple of my romance novels things did start to get easier, but it took me 5 complete manuscripts and almost five years to get there.

Sometimes it was difficult to keep going. At one point I almost gave up, but decided instead to be braver with my writing and really write what I wanted to rather than what I thought was the popular thing. That proved to be the right decision for me. I also learned how to deal with rejections in a more private way than anyone who self-publishes these days and has to deal with reviews on amazon etc.

With the mystery series things happened a bit differently in that my current editor asked me if I’d like to write something else for the same publishing house. I went home to think about it, and submitted a proposal for the cozy historical mystery series. It combines my knowledge of the Regency period with my love of Agatha Christie in a perfect way.

How did you develop a knowledge of the Regency Period?

Well, I grew up in London with a mother who did her teaching qualification in history, and always talked about places we were visiting, which inspired a great love of the past in me. I also did my degree in history, so I know how to research a time period. I read voraciously and loved Rosemary Sutcliff, Dorothy Dunnett, Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I gained a sense of what I wanted to write from there, and the rest I just research as I go. It really does help having been born in England with the history all around you.

You say you went with what you wanted to write rather than what you thought was popular. What did you think was popular? What were you trying to write?

I was originally trying to be Jane Austen or write more cookie cutter romance.  I couldn’t really be Jane, and I’ve always had something of a subversive nature, which meant that my historical romances always pushed at the boundaries of what was acceptable. (I was more interested in writing gritty dark romances with multifaceted heroes with questionable sexual proclivities than the standard Alpha male. LOL.)

For my mysteries I wanted to write something that wasn’t centered in the city of London with a strong male protagonist. I wanted to write a cozy mystery set in the English countryside where the hero and heroine are unconventional in a different way. I researched what was published in Regency mysteries, and I found a nice little niche for myself.

What was your mindset during those years? What made you persist?

I think I just wanted to communicate. I knew that writing was the piece that made sense of who I was, and I was determined that I’d eventually get published. I couldn’t not persist if that makes sense, but I had to give myself permission to be brave, and think outside the box. Getting angry at all the rejections helped sometimes as well.

What does the physical process of “thinking outside the box” entail? Do you make lists, brainstorm, try scenes from different angles, etc.?

No, I just write and let my brain noodle away at what will happen next. Sometimes if I’m aware there is a problem my unconscious will happily provide me with a solution when I wake up. Sometimes I can see a scene is wrong, and I’ll go back, try it in a different point of view or look for where the problem starts, and write on from there.

For me thinking outside the box means more that I look at my strengths as a writer and I commit to using those strengths and not compromising when I write by worrying about the market too much or what I ‘should be writing.” You have to be aware of what is popular, but you can’t follow trends, and make yourself miserable writing things that don’t work with your writing style.

How does penning your own books affect you as a reader? Are you able to read and get lost in stories?

It depends on the story. A fantastic author who can pull me in, and not let go makes me very happy. I do have a tendency to work out the plots ahead these days though, which sometimes even annoys me.

What books are on your to-be-read pile now? Favorite type of story to get lost in?

I have eclectic tastes. I currently have:

Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes.

Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison.

Get A Clue by Jill Shalvis

The Roads of Taryn McTavish by R. Lee Smith

Dark Angels by Karleen Koen

I’ll try anything, I like to see how other authors do things especially in literary fiction.

Being a full-time author is a dream for many writers. What is one thing about the reality that would surprise most people?

I think it can be quite lonely, and that you have to establish boundaries to either protect your writing time, or not let your writing time take over your real life. For me, it’s also my job. I sit down five days a week and write. That’s what I do.

Aspiring writers have a fascination with the writing process of a published author. Do you care to share any special aspects of your process or your opinion on this fascination?

I plot my mysteries quite extensively, and talk them through with my editor. The end product sometimes doesn’t have a lot to do with that initial synopsis, but the basics are there. I like to be surprised when I’m writing, and I like to follow off down trails that appear and use them to make the book better.

For my romances I’m even more vague because I really enjoy writing in the moment and discovering the emotion along the way.

My husband sometimes taps me on the head and says, “Where does all that stuff come from?”

Answer: I have no idea.

How much of real characters in your life make it into your books?

None in the sense that you’d recognize anyone. I do, however notice small things about people, their body language, the way they accent certain words etc. etc., and those things sometimes creep into my writing. I am fairly famous for eavesdropping in restaurants.

What’s the best or worst piece of writing advice you ever received?

The best? Write the book. Repeat.

The worst? Write what you know.

Why was “write what you know” not good advice for you. Can you elaborate?

I meant it in the sense that most of us live fairly unremarkable lives, and can’t time travel back to the Regency or out into the future. To me my imagination was my escape from the everyday, and it’s where all my best ideas come from.

Something readers would be surprised to learn about you? Any hidden talents or obsessions?

I’m British, but I currently live in Hawaii. That’s fairly unusual I think. I love to knit. I make hats and scarves and Outlander cowls and send them overseas to the cold people in my life.

If time and money were no object, describe an ideal day for you:

I’m pretty lucky actually. I get to live on the Big Island of Hawaii, with my lovely husband and daughter, three cats and fluffy little dog. I can get to the ocean in ten minutes. I love my job. I can’t really think of anything else I’d want except if I were a billionaire, I’d have a cat butler to let the cats in and out because they drive me nuts.

Lastly, if you could get newer writers to understand one thing about writing a book, it would be:

It’s hard work, but if you get it done you will learn so much along the way that even if it sucks, (and first books often do), the next one will be better.

A big thank you to Catherine for her time and generosity! Look for Book #4 Death Comes to the Fair, set to be released November 29, 2016.

Visit my #BooksByTheBed page for my take on the first three books in The Kurland St. Mary series.

For more information about Catherine and her books, check out her website. If you enjoy edgy romance, check out her Kate Pearce Novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Thoughts on “On Cat Butlers, Regency Romance, and Murder Mysteries: Author Interview with Catherine Lloyd

  1. Just finished today the third of the Kurland St. Mary mysteries and loved all three – it’s a long wait until the next one

Book Review: Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O’Connor

Murder in an Irish Village jacket

Murder in an Irish Village jacket 

“If Janet Evanovich and Maeve Binchy wrote a book together, Murder in an Irish Village would be the result.” ~ Laurien Berenson, author of Live and Let Growl

I was fortunate to read an early draft of Murder in an Irish Village,and despite a busy schedule, finished it in a day and a half. If you love mysteries with heart, humor, and a world you can get lost in, you’ll look forward to the next installment of the series. 

Carlene O'Connor headsho

First-time mystery author Carlene O’Connor shares her love of storytelling and an affinity for the Irish countryside in Murder in an Irish Village (Kensington Books, 2016), the first in a planned series featuring Siobhan and her raucous, engaging brothers and sisters.

The fiery redhead navigates guardianship of her siblings and a hint of romance with a local police officer while trying to carve out a semblance of normalcy for herself in her home village of Kilbane, County Cork.

Excerpt:

Niall brought his face close to hers. She stood her ground despite desperately wanting to back away from him.

She’d never seen such a look in anyone’s eyes before. It was as if he was pleading with her and threatening her at the same time. Like a wounded animal you feared would tear into you the minute you stepped in to help. She was trapped.

“I need ten thousand euro.” Niall inched even closer.

They barely had a thousand euro in the bank. Not that it mattered. She wouldn’t give Niall Murphy the lint from her pocket.

Siobhan O’Sullivan is doing the best she can. Barely a year has passed since her parents died in a car accident, leaving her to run the family bistro and look after the rest of the O’Sullivan Six. James, the oldest brother, is only a few months sober and their four younger siblings depend on them for just about everything.

When they wake to find a man sitting in their bistro dining room with a pair of scissors sticking out of his chest, the future of the restaurant is as unsure as their own. Siobhan has already sacrificed her scholarship to Trinity College and now risks her own safety to help track down the killer, protect her siblings, and keep the doors of Naomi’s Bistro open.

O’Connor has created an enchanting village filled with colorful locals, each with their own distinct roles to play. The engaging characters include Siobhan’s siblings who add warmth, laughs, and more than their own slew of problems to her already burdened shoulders. Amateur sleuth Siobhan faces these challenges with believable determination, a fiery wit, and more than a hint of charisma.

The fictional town of Kilbane is rendered in breathtaking brushstrokes of blue skies, rolling green hills, historic ruins, and the authentic dialogue of its inhabitants. Carlene O’Connor writes with humor, an obvious love of her chosen setting, and a deft hand at plotting. She strikes just the right balance between a fully fleshed out world and brisk pacing.

Readers and armchair sleuths will find solving this crime challenging. Luckily, they’ll enjoy the journey as they meander the lanes and fields of this walled village, and will eagerly await the next adventure of the O’Sullivan Six.

For more information on author Carlene O’Connor, you can read my interview with the author here. You can also connect with her on Facebook and her website.

2 Thoughts on “Book Review: Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O’Connor

  1. Kim Samudio on February 26, 2016 at 2:27 pm said:

    I wanted to read this as soon as I saw the reference “heart, humor and a world you can get lost in”, especially if that world is the Irish countryside! Great review, love the details – I will be reading soon!