An Interview with Mary Shotwell, author of Weariland
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
My first novel lived in me for several years, and fortunately, I stuck with it to the finish line with Weariland as the result. I did, however, have an idea for a thriller. I outlined, mapped out my characters, and wrote the first couple of chapters. I stopped working on it when I realized how bored it made me. If I was bored, how bored will my readers be? I do have it saved, but am not convinced it needs completed. The story isn’t screaming to get out. Not even whispering at this point.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
I juggle with both. I am two-thirds through my second novel, based on a dream I had one night. It took me eleven days to write a detailed outline, and I mean detailed. The story was so clear in my head. Between the clarity and the impending arrival of my third child, I was able to write the first half in three weeks. The second half is taking longer due to said child’s arrival, but it is relatively fast, fun writing. On the other hand, I have a solid idea and rough outline for a YA historical fiction piece, but I know it will take time. It is a serious subject that requires intense research and planning. But it’s not just that—I feel it needs time to develop in my head to work out. It is sensitive subject matter that will be difficult to write and it will take time for me to feel I’ve succeeded in getting it right.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
I can outline and research just about anywhere, but when it comes to sitting down and writing, I’ve only written at my desk at home. My home switched 3 times in writing Weariland, along with the desk, but I need that private space away from the television and away from my day job. This summer I bought my dream desk and I am obsessed with it. Sometimes I write at unplanned times because I want to sit at my awesome desk. Every writer needs to experience such furniture power. I can attach a picture if desired. That is how much I love my desk.
I jot down my ideas, outlines, and research in notebooks, of which I have several in multiple rooms. Eventually I type them out on my computer to have them saved in case I lose a notebook. All of my manuscript writing is done on the computer. I need to see how long a sentence, paragraph, or chapter is typed out to help with pacing. I also type fast, and in doing so I can keep my mind flowing onto the next sentence. Writing on paper is too slow and I would stop too much to edit before getting everything out first.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
I wrote Weariland in part for my nieces, so I knew from word one I wanted them to read the manuscript for feedback. Of course, my mother reads my work, but as many authors before me have pointed out, the feedback received is 99% praise and 1% constructive criticism (if that). I hired a content editor to catch inconsistencies and comment on the flow and plot before submitting the manuscript to publishers. I researched editing services online, and picked a service in which two or three editors compete for your manuscript. They show you a sample of their work on your first chapter or two, and you can decide from there. I’d rate the service a five out of ten. I did get some useful feedback but it was too much money for what I received in the end. Upon signing with Merge Publishing, I was assigned an editor, Deb Coman, and I couldn’t have asked for a more professional, concise, and diligent editor. I was ecstatic with her work.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I feel the same way! No offense to those who prefer digital, but I still like holding a book and turning the pages. I like to see how much of the story I have read versus how much is left. You don’t get that concrete measure with e-books. Sadly, my favorite bookshop no longer exists. It was called Little Professor in Boardman, Ohio. When you walked in the front doors, a cozy fireplace greeted you alongside cushy reading chairs. There is also a hole-in-the-wall used bookstore in downtown Chicago that I seek out every time I visit. It makes me happy to see independent bookstores succeeding.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and do you have a favourite author who sticks in your mind from:
1. childhood? Judy Bloom; The first chapter book I read was Ramona Quimby, Age 8
2. adolescence? Michael Crichton (see below)
3. young adult? Anne Rice; I went through a phase of vampires and witches. I still say she wrote the real story of vampires.
4. adult? Ayn Rand, Ken Follett, Neal Stephenson; It’s as if I picked up the thickest books off the store shelves to prove I was an adult! I became interested in epic stories that tracked characters over long periods of time (perhaps a side effect of reading Anne Rice). These three writers fit the bill in different ways, and I enjoyed all three styles.
If I had to choose one genre to read for the rest of my life, it would be science fiction. I have a soft spot for the kind of science fiction that is abundant with research and facts, then takes a real concept to the next level. Michael Crichton did it well with many of his books. He had a profound impact on my adolescent years, which you can read about in my blog at maryshotwell.com.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. How do you manage it?
I manage my own profiles in Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The latter two I admittedly am horrible at and probably should have someone manage them. Facebook is my solid platform. I’ve had it for my personal use for many years, which made it easy in starting an author page. I do spend a good bit of time on Facebook, but it comes in waves. Events that I hold or help out with for other authors can take several hours over the course of a day or two.
I have no problem being candid about this topic because I do not think the average reader may realize the many hats authors have to wear. We are promoters, marketers, advertisers, and sales reps in addition to working on the actual product. Social media is merely one arm of that and can be overwhelming in and of itself. It is all too easy not to post regularly, and even more so for me on Twitter and Instagram. Is it okay if I post the same thing on all three, or come up with different material, and is it expected of me to post every few hours? Who wants to hear from me twenty times in one day? Currently, my opinion is to get good at one of them and branch out from there. I can’t be great at all three yet. I know my limitations.
I do want to say that the best part about Facebook for me is the interaction I can have with my fans and fellow authors. I’m not just throwing something out into the ethers. People respond and we have interaction. After participating in several events, I recognize fans from previous events. I get to know them over time and vice versa, and without Facebook I would be missing out on building those relationships.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
So far I haven’t! If I’m telling a story I’ve told several times over, I try to write it out anew instead of copying and pasting. I may discover a better way to tell it.