- Guest Author -
I'm pleased to interview another award-winning author from the USA.
Welcome, Marylee ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
My hometown newspaper published a plotless story of mine when I was in fourth grade, so I guess you could say that’s when my journey to become a writer began. Like most journeys, mine has had a lot of speed bumps and detours, so it’s only now, at age 71, that I can truly say I feel like a writer.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
After my first husband was killed in a car accident and after the birth of our fifth child, I chose to return to school for a Master’s degree in Creative Writing. Totally impractical, from the standpoint of earning a living, but at the time, I thought I could teach writing and English at a junior college. I was 26 and probably not thinking straight. Clearly, the delusion of becoming a writer stuck with me, because here I am, answering your questions.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
Aha! Am I a planner or a “pantser”—meaning, “Do I write by the seat of my pants?” I’d like to be a planner. I do plan, and if I wrote thrillers or mysteries, probably I would be obliged to plan. Instead, I write a discovery draft, and after I finish my messy first draft, I root around for the most interesting parts. Alive, vivid scenes stay in. I look for one thing causing another, and then I impose a plot, usually by just working on paper until the storyline begins to shape up. On my blog I have a post that talks about a two-sentence way to get a grip on plot. Many writers have told me this method has helped them.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I enjoy the writing itself. I love to tinker around with sentences and make them beautiful. I never tire of living in imaginary worlds.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I hate marketing and promotion. Until 2014 when a small press in Maine published my novel, I’d never thought of having to learn the marketing piece of publishing. Now I know that having a presence on the internet is essential. Without that, no author can hope to find readers.
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I’ve always been writing and sending out my work, but for my day job, I worked as a carpenter. I had an all women’s construction company in Urbana, Illinois, and my business partner and I trained other women in the trades. After a while I shifted more to the writing side and worked as an editor for various building trade magazines. I think I might be the only grandma out there who’s equally comfortable buckling on a tool belt and changing diapers.
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
It was a great honor for me to win a Gold Medal for Drama from the Readers’ Favorites International Book Awards. That was for my novel, Montpelier Tomorrow, a book about a caregiver and her struggle to protect her family from Fate.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’m working on a novel set in 1769 during the Transit of Venus expeditions that brought Cook to the South Pacific and the astronomer, Chappe d’Auteroche to Baja California. The novel’s about the young artist who left Paris, hoping for a quick route to fame and fortune, and returned with his hopes dashed.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Other writers inspire me. I love looking back through magazine archives to learn about the preoccupations and working methods of writers who’ve gone before me. Esquire and the New Yorker have some terrific stuff in their archives. I mine those for tips to make my job easier.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Primarily, I write literary fiction, both novels and short stories.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
If you think you don’t have time to write, set a kitchen timer for 15 minutes. Use Scrivener, rather than Microsoft Word. Learning Scrivener takes time, but makes revision easier.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Never. I’ve waited so many years to have unencumbered time that writing is a complete pleasure.
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I start at 8 in the morning, after I’ve done the New York Times’ crossword puzzle. I write for an hour and then look at my other commitments for the day. If I can get in three or four hours of writing time, that’s a good day.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
I have a home office. It’s nice and quiet and has a good ergonomic setup. Occasionally, a writer friend and I will meet in a cafe for a “power write.”
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
It’s probably the day I see the book cover and realize that this pile of paper will turn into a real book. The joy comes from releasing the book into the world and knowing I don’t have to labor over it any more.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
Gina Berriault is my favorite author. Her story collection, Women In Their Beds, is phenomenal. More than any other writer, she has shaped the way I write sentences.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
“I started your novel and had to park my kids in front of the TV until I finished it.”
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
Oh, god. Well, I guess I could look at the comments on Amazon or Goodreads, but just in general, it’s when readers say they didn’t like my characters. I, of course, love them, flaws and all. Comments like that never fail to sting.
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Oh, sure. I keep a writing journal, and things that happen in my life eventually make their way into stories. Here’s one from yesterday, a story a woman told me about attending the World Parliament of Religions in Barcelona. “A Sikh man rushed up to me and said, Arlene, I remember you from last time! You’re the one who lent me underwear.”
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I love to build things. I recently rebuilt my landlady’s dry-rotted front porch, and thought, “Gosh, why did I ever stop working construction? I love being outdoors pounding nails.”
21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
I run a writing workshop in Phoenix, Arizona, and I teach Creative Writing at a university. You’d think I wouldn’t need to have a book “professionally edited;” however, I always benefit from a careful read. I sent my story collection to an editor, and she told me how to order the stories. A terrific copyeditor caught errors I would have missed. The publisher of my novel raised some valid questions about the plot, and she did a thorough job copyediting the book.
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
My perfect day is writing from 8 till noon and then going for a walk in the Desert Botanical Garden. I enjoy birdwatching, though I’m not very good at it. The Southwest is a great place for birdwatchers because we get the Mexican migrants (of the feathered variety).
23. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
Well, my husband, of course. He’s compassionate, creative, and a pitch-in kinda guy.
24. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Give up all your armaments and help the starving feed themselves. Stop polluting our drinking water and get a grip on climate change.
25. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I’d like to write another book of historical fiction about the founding of the California missions by the Spanish. I’m almost done with a memoir, and I have another story collection that’s in the “almost done” category. As far as immediate plans, I’m taking my husband to Venice for a romantic getaway.
26. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON BOOK TRAILERS? DO THEY SELL BOOKS?
I don’t know if book trailers sell books or annoy readers. I’ve had trailers made for both my books, and I thought the young man who made them did a great job. A trailer should tell the potential reader if they’re buying a ticket for a wedding or a funeral. It’s up to the reader to decide which of the two might be the most amusing.
27. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
In a sense, giving birth to my characters is like giving birth to a child. The stories retain my DNA.
28. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
At this point it baffles me more than frustrates me. On the plus side, the emergence of print-on-demand publishing means that I can find publishers for my books. On the down side, these aren’t New York publishers, so it’s up to me to do promotion. That frustrates me because it’s a time sink, and I’d rather be writing.
29. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
30. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
I could say that my favorite manuscript is whatever I’m working on now; however, in actuality, I think my favorite is a short story in Bonds of Love & Blood. The story is called “The Ambassador of Foreign Affairs,” and it’s about elderly Mr. Tanaka, a low level bureaucrat who arrives in California on the eve of his daughter’s wedding. He learns she’s about to break off the engagement, and it’s up to him to make it happen. The small moments in that story make me laugh.
31. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
Success is knowing that, for the most part, readers enjoy my books. That’s an even bigger kick than winning literary prizes, of which I’ve won many.
32. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
Since I don’t write how-to books, I’m not sure there’s anything they should “know.” As to how they should feel, I hope they feel that they have walked a mile in the shoes of someone totally unlike themselves. I hope my books and stories provide insight into what makes people tick.
33. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
Movies are not on my radar. I have thought about turning Montpelier Tomorrow into a play. It’s dialogue-heavy and would be easy to divide into scenes. As a play it would have a powerful impact on an audience.
34. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
I’ve found a cover designer I really like. He goes by the moniker “tatlin,” and he’s at http://www.tatlin.net. He designed the cover for Bonds of Love & Blood, and it was a finalist for the Da Vinci Prize. No surprise. The designer’s Italian.
35. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
I’m living my ultimate dream. I make careful choices about who I live with, where I live, and how I spend my time. I’m doing exactly what I want right now.
36. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
Gag!!! My brand! I know authors are increasingly urged to have a brand and a platform. I’ve dipped my toe in that water, and shrunk back from wading in too deep. Whatever I do or am, I’m pretty much myself.
37. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
No. Both are published by independent presses. I have the skills to self-publish, however, and I’m thinking about doing that for my next book. I’d like to have control over the price, and I don’t have that control right now.
38. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
passionate, humanitarian, creative, constructive, loyal
39. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
How short life is.
40. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
The last good book I read is one that is also independently published. Marion Molteno’s Uncertain Light is just a terrific book. It’s one of those books I feel like shoving into the hands of all my friends and insisting they read. I’ve corresponded with Marion, and I know the book received a very warm reception in Australia.
41. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
If Frank Sinatra hadn’t sung it, the sentence would be this: “I did it my way.”
42. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
If my husband would work less, I would enjoy spending more time with him.
43. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
I’m a big fan of late-life writers. We have so much to write about and the perspective that comes with age.
Book trailer for Bonds of Love & Blood
Book trailer for Montpelier Tomorrow
Clancy's comment: Thank you, Marylee. You deserve your success.