20 QUESTIONS IN THE HOT SEAT

1. Why do you write?

It’s affordable therapy. Seriously. I taught in the public school system for twenty-five years, as closed and closeted a profession as you can find, except maybe the religious sector. Expressing and exploring who I was as an individual, as a whole person, had to be done secretly and during those few hours that I wasn’t teaching, coaching, or losing my mind. It is the need to express the beliefs and thoughts and feelings that had been suppressed for so long.

2. What genre do you feel most comfortable working in?

I write fiction, love stories to be more specific. I don’t consider them all romances, but for marketing purposes they always seem to be categorized as such. Other than each of my stories having a hopeful, positive ending, I don’t follow formulaic guidelines when I write. I write the story I want to write without parameters. My characters search for love, define love, find love, and face whatever they must to express love.

3. What was the first thing you remember writing?

It seems as though I was always writing something – little stories, poems. All through school, whenever there was a choice between a written assignment and an oral one, I always chose the written. Yet, I ended up teaching. Go figure.

4. How do you work? That is, how do you approach a new project? Do you write different scenes and put them all together or do you just go from point A to point B and you’re done?

I never know how a new project will start. More accurately, I never know what will start it. Something eventually becomes the concept for a new story, sometimes it is a vision of a character, at other times it’s a news story or a scene or a phrase that plays over and over in my head. Whatever starts it begins to develop and I start imagining what the next day in the scenario would be like or what must have happened in the past for this character or event to be where it is. I write everything down – an idea, a sentence, a scene. And when the story takes on a rough development in my head, I put it down in an outline form. That’s when I start collecting and organizing my notes, many that had been written on whatever was handy at the time, and putting them into chapters. One time I was shingling my dad’s roof, listening to the cows all lined up at the fence across the road, and something kept developing in my head that I had to write down, so I wrote it on the scrap of wood that I was cutting the shingles on.

5. Do you talk to your characters?

I don’t talk to my characters, but I hear them. When I write their words I can hear what their voices sound like. The fun part of creating different characters is that I get to act out different personalities and races and genders and ages in my head, and put them in all kinds of situations, many of which I’ve not experienced myself. It’s easy to see why actors enjoy playing characters so different from their real selves.

6. If you could have an afternoon with any one of your characters, who would it be and why?

Probably Nessie Tinker. She’s the tiny ninety-plus black woman from Under The Witness Tree. Her family ‘breathed the smoke of Sherman’s march’ and with all that she would have experienced in her life she has the most to teach me. I am so enthralled with Nessie, and her voice is so distinct, that I want to know all I can about her earlier life. She will have a book of her own.

7. What’s your favorite story that you’ve written?

Each story has things about it that make it special to me. The first, Legacy of Love, for obvious reasons. Love in the Balance because of the emotional connection with my mother, Mirrors and Dawn of the Dance because I taught through those situations, Under the Witness Tree because I learned so much about a part of our history only touched upon in our schools. And so on. So, I don’t think that I could pick out a favorite.

8. A new fiction writer approaches you at an event and asks you for advice. What do you tell him or her?

Seek out the best of the best – those authors who have honed their skills and their craft over the years, the writers respected by other writers – and read them, talk to them, learn from them. Then find a respected editor and listen to her or him. And finally, rewriting is not important – it is essential.

9. What’s the hardest thing for you about writing?

Usually, beginning a new book, staring at that first blank page. I’ve found, though, that by writing all those snippets, whenever and on whatever, I end up with something that starts me off. It doesn’t always survive long as the beginning of the book, however. A version of it may end up in some other place in the book, or not survive rewrites at all, but it served to kick start me. Running a close second is getting others to respect time thinking as work time.

10. If you couldn’t write, what would you do?

I would be creating something in some other medium. I have an art minor, so I would probably be working in charcoal or pastels (which I don’t have enough time to do much anymore). And if I couldn’t do that, I’d be building or designing something.

11. Anne McCaffrey writes to music and occasionally, she includes the music she was listening to during her writing in the acknowledgments. Do you write to music? Or do you have certain writing rituals that you do before/during/after your writing sessions?

With some characters and some scenes, I’ll play the music that they are listening to in the story. But I don’t play music as a part of a writing ritual. I can’t really say that I have a ritual. I always write out the first draft long hand, and I usually have a pad and pencil with me where ever I am. So, I end up writing in many different places whenever the opportunity arises. I often write in a restaurant with a lot of white noise in the background, and I love to write outdoors, or in the sunroom when the weather is bad.

12. Do you share your writing with others as you’re working? Or do you wait until something’s complete? What are the benefits to either approach?

I don’t have anyone read my work until it’s gone through at least a couple of drafts. Then, if I’ve used someone as a resource for a character or situation, I have them read it to assure accuracy before it goes to my editor. Depending on the story, I have done extensive interviews as part of my research, and I’ll talk through story ideas, plot, characters, etc. before I write (usually with my editor), but I don’t see any benefit from anyone reading my work in progress. Writing for me is a solitary process, where I give my mind permission to go back to emotionally personal places or to places it has never been, where I challenge it to feel and understand, and then to translate that into a comprehensive and hopefully compelling story.

13. Sometimes writers work internal issues out through their narratives. Have you ever written a scene or character that “hit too close to home” for you? How did you handle that?

I’ve written a number of scenes that I lived through personally, and I handle them the same way I did when they occurred, I cry. And for that reason, I never use those scenes at any of my readings.

14. What are some of the things you do to improve on your craft? Do you attend conferences? Take workshops? What works best for you to improve how and what you write?

I do what I advise others to do, and that is to seek out highly respected authors and editors (one excellent place to do that is the Saints & Sinners Festival in New Orleans) and read their work, listen to them, and ask them questions. I’ve taken courses, attended conferences, read everything I can, and I listen to my editor.

15. Let’s talk a little bit about the business end of writing from an author’s perspective. What do you look for in a publisher?

I’m in a unique position at this time in my career since I am part owner of Bywater Books and can have a say in how my books are published now. It is important to me to have the freedom to write the kind of story I want without genre or page count restrictions. I can write the story the way I feel it should be – it can be as long as it needs to be, it may contain sex scenes or it may not. It is also important to me to have really good editing, a top quality end product, and the best distribution possible.

16. What, from your perspective, are some of the most common mistakes beginning authors make with regard to approaching a publisher?

This I can speak to from under my publisher hat. Beginning or first-time authors commonly send their work to presses that don’t publish what they write. It’s important to do the work of reading a good sampling of books from those presses you’re interested in submitting to. It’s also helpful to check a current copy of Writer’s Market, either in your local library or on-line, to check what each press publishes and what their submission guidelines are. Another common mistake is not spending the time and money to work with a qualified, experienced editor in order to submit as polished a manuscript as possible. And finally, it is extremely important to follow those guidelines to the letter. That tells the publisher that you took the process seriously enough to know what is wanted and that you are willing to do what was asked.

17. Talk a bit about marketing. Publishers can’t do everything for you in that regard. So what are some of the things you do to drum up audiences for your work? What do you think are some of the most effective things (and cheap!) an author can do, besides write good material?

There is quite a list of things that we as authors can do to help market our work. On the more expensive end is traveling to do readings and panels, maintaining a web site, mailing new release cards to a personal mailing list and/or reviewers and bookstores. On the inexpensive end is an e-mail newsletter, maintaining a blog, and appearances at local bookstores, libraries, and reading groups. And don’t forget good old-fashioned word of mouth.

18. Do you make some of your writing available online? How do you feel about e-publishing and e-books? Would you go that route? Why or why not?

I put the first chapter or an excerpt from each book up on my web site to give readers a sense of what the book is about. I would consider publishing my books in e-book and/or audio format after they have been published in traditional form. This is something that would either have to be handled through the same publisher and/or negotiated in my contract.

19. What were your best and worst experiences with an editor?

My worst experience was actually with a publisher who set limits beyond the editor’s control. She called me and said, “Cut fifty pages, I don’t care where.” It’s no surprise that my best experience was when my next publisher/editor told me not to worry about page count and actually asked me to add to my manuscript.

20. And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a writer? What, for you, totally sucks about it?

I love the creative freedom of writing. It is exploratory and introspective. Through my characters I can go anywhere my mind wants to go. I can be who I am and everything I am not. I can love and hate, deceive and forgive. I can be Asian, or white, or black. I can believe in God or blame God, trust in love or not.

What sucks is knowing where you want your story to go and drawing a blank on how to get it there. ‘Writer’s block’, an altogether irritating and appropriate term, makes me anxious and frustrated. The first time I experienced it, with a deadline looming, I asked for advice from someone I respect immensely, Katherine Forrest. She told me to walk away from it for a while and do something enjoyable and relaxing (for me that’s doing something constructive with my hands – yard work, working on the house, etc.). She also said not to be afraid to ask for an extension to my deadline. As long as this is not over-used, asking for an extension is helpful to both the writer and the publisher. Rather than send in a sub-par manuscript or just not meet the deadline, an extension can allow the writer the time they need to get past the block and the publisher can move up other matters to fill the delay time. It’s important to remember, however, that there is a significant amount of pre-publicity that is done for each book and meeting deadlines is essential for that. A certain amount of time is built into the schedule to allow for delays along the way, but a book only gets out on time when the writer and publisher work honestly and closely on the timeline. All this having been said, blocking still sucks.

Our special thanks to Marianne for taking time to hang out in the hot seat with us.


Author Profile:

Best-selling author Marianne K. Martin resides in Michigan with her long-time partner and two Yorkie-Poos. She is co-owner of Bywater Books, and whenever possible she enjoys building and remodeling, landscaping, art, sports, and reading.

Her novels include Legacy of Love, Love in the Balance, Never Ending, Dawn of the Dance, Dance in the Key of Love, two Lambda Literary Award finalists, Under the Witness Tree and Mirrors. Her most recent book, For Now, For Always, was released in October 2007 through Bywater Books.

Her short stories have been included in a number of anthologies. Fire and Ice is her most recent, and will be included in the next online issue of Read These Lips. The story revisits the main characters Kasey Hollander and Connie Bradford from Love in the Balance, and was written as the author works on a book that explores these characters lives nine years later.

You can find out more about Marianne, and her work, by visiting her web site here: MARIANNE K. MARTIN.

Marianne’s books are available from:
Bywater Books
Bella Books
Amazon.com