In response to some of the questions I’ve received from readers over the years, here is a little Q&A to help you get to know me. Have other questions? Drop me an email and I’ll post answers in the next installment. Happy Reading.
How would you describe your writing process?
The first hundred pages are the hardest. Everything is set up in those chapters—the protagonist, the supporting cast, the mystery, the dynamics. These first pages take the majority of my time. I do a lot of staring out the window. And I'm always writing down little nuggets. I keep notebooks everywhere!! And I encourage other writers to do the same. In particular, keep a pen and paper by your bed, since the best ideas always seem to come as you’re falling asleep. Your mind relaxes and that in-between stage can be magical for brainstorming.
In the beginning, I compile those ideas, create some spreadsheets because I'm weird that way, AND, most importantly, I stumble through a thousand words of writing each day. Many of those might get cut, but even if I'm writing backstory or character information, it's still worthwhile.
Sound painful? It can be. Like moving one inch forward then two feet backward. But, if you can get those first hundred pages right, it’s all there. After that, it comes to writing every day, since it can be hard to get back into the flow if I let the story sit, even for a day.
Do you ever base characters on real people?
I've never based a character on someone specific, but I think the characters are probably a collage of people I know or have met. It would be hard to create characters without stealing traits from real people as a guide—how else would I know where to start? Beyond that, many—if not all—of my characters also include a sliver of my own personality, or someone I would like to be.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Despite what people think, there’s nothing sexy or romantic about being a writer. Writing a book is like exercising—everyone wants to do it once and see the result but it's really about consistency and making it a habit. If you do put in the work, eventually you’ll get the reward, but it’s a long slog. No one starts off knowing how to write well.
At the beginning of my career, when I was still working in finance, I wrote three suspense novels, which I sent to agents and editors. This was back when we mailed query letters at the post office. I got a lot of rejections.
One rejection on the first book, “Murders and Acquisitions,” said something along the lines of, "The title is great. The rest is not." I probably don't need to tell you that none of those book sold. They're permanently "buried in the backyard," as I like to put it. That's okay. Whether it was stubbornness or sheer stupidity, I kept writing. Sent a book out, collected rejection letters while I was starting the next one. Rinse and repeat.
The only way to get better is to write. Malcolm Gladwell's book Outlierssuggests that gaining expertise takes 10,000 hours. I think he's right. I've spent that much time writing now. So, you want to be a writer? Get your 10,000 hours.
The other thing about this business is that you’re going to have to deal with rejection. From the industry, from fans, and occasionally from a less-than-tactful friend. You can’t stop for any of that. Your job is to write. When you’re done with book one, write another book. Worst case scenario (or best case scenario, depending on how you look at it) you’ll have 3 or 4 books ready to sell when you land that perfect agent. But you can’t give up. The only way to guarantee you’ll never make it is to quit.
It helps to have people in your life who help you keep going. I’ve had the good fortune of being with my husband for 25 years, and he’s been an incredible and encouraging foundation. Being a writer involves a lot of jumping and trusting you’ll land somewhere safe, so it is important to surround yourself with people who will support the process, even if they don’t understand it.
Do you read reviews of you books? Do they affect you?
Yes, I read them and I hate them. The fact is that the most successful books in the marketplace, the ones that people are drawn to, receive the strongest reactions, and they’re not all positive. If you’re writing material that some people really love, the chances are that someone else is going to really hate it. The truth is you just can’t let those reviews affect how you write. Constructive reviews can be helpful on a purely mechanical level, but stylistic ones are so subjective that you can’t let them bother you.
That said, the bad ones still sting. They always will.