Hi Peggy, thanks for taking a break from Nananowrimo to meet with me here in my virtual wine bar for Merlot and Brie. Welcome and make yourself comfortable. While I pour us some wine imagine you’re sharing an elevator with Oprah and she has asked what you do. What would you tell her? Remember you’re getting off on the 32nd floor.
Well, Oprah (Wink! Wink!) I’m so glad you asked. For about 175 years I was a Registered Nurse and worked in every division of healthcare from medical surgical to psychiatric nursing to Alzheimer care. For the past 20 years I’ve been running the contact lens service for my local health clinic. Along with the nursing work I had a sideline as a freelance health care writer. Mostly articles for trade magazines and nursing journals. I also had a secret life: I was a fiction writer. With my upcoming retirement in 2015, I’ve been devoting myself to writing fiction more and more and when I am officially done with my healthcare work, writing will be my full time job – only I don’t see it as job because I love doing it so much.
I read you’re blog post, I Am Not a Slut, about why women read romance novels and what you found in the articles your read while you researched. Apparently women are intellectually challenged and tarty. I was dumbfounded to be honest. Can you tell us why you think women enjoy reading romance novels? And why you write them?
I was as equally dumbfounded, and wickedly insulted when I read those articles. I mean, really! Does having a Master’s Degree in Nursing Administration equate with intellectually challenged? I’ll speak for my friends who read romance and myself when I say the reason I think women enjoy reading romance novels is because we are always looking for our own happily ever after. We can live vicariously through romance novels, root for the hero to get his girl, and agonize over the obstacles they face. We want to believe that if faced with our own turmoil and trials, we’d be able to get through them as well as – if not better than – the heroine. If you’ve seen the Sex In The City Movie – the one where Carrie gets left at the altar by Big – you’ll remember the scene where Carrie is reading the story of Cinderella to Lily. At the end of the book, Carrie asks 3-year-old Lily “You know this isn’t true, right? There really is no happily ever after?” That scene was so sad to me. I love to write romance books – where my characters do get to live happily ever after with each other – because I so believe in the ability of love to transcend and negate all the bad things that have happened in your life. Love is universal. Every human being who has ever lived has been able to feel, express, and give love. And I “love” writing about that.
Your dedication to writing is inspirational. Your advice to newbies and all writers really, is to just write and never give up. Was there ever a moment when you doubted yourself? How did you work through it?
Self doubt, thy name is Margaret-Mary! Yes, yes, YES! I have been stricken with writing self-doubt too many times to remember. Every time I enter a contest, submit a piece for spec ( to trade journals) or query an editor/agent/publisher, my fingers actually shake before I hit the send button. I never think my work is good enough and I’ve been known to edit a piece to death – where I needed to start from scratch again – because I felt it just plain sucked wind. How did I work through it you ask? Well, I actually did a blog piece about this on my own website, but here’s the Cliff Notes: I had queried numerous agents several years ago about a murder mystery I’d penned. I sent out about 25 queries and received 24 form rejections back. The final letter I received changed my way of thinking. The agent actually hand wrote – can you imagine?! – a note that said, “While I do not represent the type of work you’ve queried, I will tell you that you are a very good writer and I have no doubt this work will find a home one day soon. Remember it only takes one “yes” to change your life forever.”
I have that letter framed and on the wall over my writing desk to this day and I look at it whenever I get a case of the doubts.
It only takes one “yes.” Words to dream on and live by. Indeed!!!
I know you’re a plotter and not a pants-er, but have your ever written without a detailed synopsis or experienced a burst of creativity where you let words free on the page? And maybe give us some insight into a typical writing session.
I think the reason I am such a diehard plotter is because of the background I have in science. You know, the whole hypothesis/ theory/ scientific method way of learning and doing? I have, on occasion, pants-ed my way through a short story. And there are many times even though I have a plot, a story line will come to me when I am sitting in Church trying to listen to the homily, or at work when I should be concentrating on anything other than storytelling, and run with it. The book I am working on right now for NANOWRIMO is the third in my MacQuire Women series, titled First Impressions. I plotted that one out chapter by chapter/plot arc by story line/ and yesterday ( the first day of the challenge) I threw the first chapter away because as I was writing, something better came to mind. And yes, it was a burst: I did over 3000 words yesterday on the book. When I read it over last night I decided to keep what I’d written and incorporate the rest of the storyline into the new arc.
When I am not being challenged by NANOWRIMO, I write every day. Sometimes it is before I go to work on the days I work at the clinic. My off days I usually plan so I can write for at least 8-1o hours of that day. It’s not all at one sitting. I get up and do laundry, go grocery shopping, cook, etc. But when it’s totaled up I can get a good 8 hour day out of it. I write in my third floor attic/loft at a desk that overlooks the woods behind my house. Since I live in rural New Hampshire, I can watch the seasons change from that window everyday.
There’s an entire industry devoted to writing now that everyone is writing books and blogging. I receive countless emails weekly on classes, books, pitching, what to write, and how to write. What is the best advise, class/workshop, book, or personal advice that helped you the most? Why?
One of the best workshops I have ever taken was one by Angela James titled “Before you hit send.” This is a by the books and numbers workshop about how to format, grammar check, spell check, etc, what you’ve written to make sure it is 100% as perfect as it can be before you send it to an agent/editor/publisher. I have heard time and time again at conferences how agents and editors will summarily reject a piece or a query because of spelling, formatting, and grammar mistakes. Even if the work could be the next 50 Shades as far as sales, if the basics of writing aren’t there from the very beginning, you are going to be rejected.
The best piece of advice I ever received, other than it only takes one “yes,” was at this year’s RWA conference in San Antonio, Tx. I sat in on a class called “A Chat with Nora Roberts.” When asked how she can write so prolifically, she responded, “by putting my ass in the chair and typing. That’s it. It’s that easy. Butt in chair, fingers on the keyboard. Type.”
By the way, I confess I did hesitate interviewing you because last year you placed first in the Dixie Kane Contest, Contemporary Romance, and bumped me to second. Really! Tell us about contests and how you approach them and what have you learned about your writing and yourself in the process?
OMG! I am so sorry! I had no idea. That was the first contest I ever entered and I was beyond shocked when I was notified I’d won the category.
I started entering contests initially just to try and get some feedback about what I was writing and to make some networking connections. I was new to romance writing and I’d heard that contests were a good way to get critiqued and to get your work seen by the pros. I’ve had some somewhat skewered responses from a few judges, with comments that ranged from “this writer needs to learn the basics of structure,” to someone calling me “a writer reminiscent of Nora Roberts.” And that was for the same entry in the same contest! Like I said: skewered.
The best thing to come out of a contest entry, though, was my work was judged by Rhonda Penders, Publisher of The Wild Rose Press. She liked an entry I submitted and asked to see the entire manuscript. That book, SKATER’S WALTZ, is being published by TWRP in early 2015. To say I am excited is a totally inadequate descriptor. The sequel, There’s No Place Like Home, was just contracted by TWRP and I’m working on book 3 for NANOWRIMO.
The most important thing I’ve learned by entering contests about my writing and about my writing self, is that it’s such a subjective career. You can have a story everyone raves about when they read it, and then you enter it in a contest. Depending on the mood of the judge, whether or not/he/she likes your genre/ hero/ heroine/ storyline/ whatever/ or if that person is just having a bad day, your entry can and will be judged on more than just what you’ve written. A harsh truth, but one you need to know. What I’ve learned through this process is to trust your gut and write the story of your heart. Truthfully, if I’d never gotten a publishing contract I would still be writing because it gives me such pleasure to create. Even if no one but me ever read anything I wrote, I would still write.
Most writers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with have a signature quirk and pet peeve. What would your best friend or family member say are yours?
I asked my husband this question and he told me it was a no win answer for him no matter how he responded! I will be honest and say my biggest pet peeve that doesn’t relate to writing is I hate people who are suck ups, and I detest people who judge others. My writing pet peeve concerns dialogue tags. Whenever I see something like this: “I hate you,” she hissed – I go nuts. I think the writer either had a lousy editor, no editor at all, or over-rode the editor’s recommendation. Go ahead and try to hiss a sentence. And if you can, record it and send me a copy because you will have done something inhuman.
My signature quirk has to be my Brooklyn, NY accent. Part of my blog is called TAWK TO ME, where I ask readers to post questions. It’s spelled this way – TAWK instead of TALK – because when I say the word, this is how it sounds. My accent, even thought I haven’t lived in Brooklyn for over 45 years, is still super thick at times, especially after I’ve gone back for a few days to visit. I had an inherent caller-ID before it was ever a phone staple. All I had to say was “Hello” and the person on the other end always knew it was me.
Writing is oxygen!? When I read your tagline I understood. Writing is life. Even when both are going horribly hope can be found between the lines. Was there ever a pivotal moment in your life when writing carried you through? I won’t ask you about the moment, but what did you learn about yourself from your words?
This is a fabulous question and I’ll even answer your unasked question about that moment.
The day I was to give birth to my daughter, I had an accident. I was knocked down and dragged over twenty feet on my stomach. My body instantly went into labor. To make a long story short, I eventually had to have a c-section because the baby had been having a lot of distress. The anesthesiologist gave me the choice of having an epidural and waiting about 30 minutes before they could get my daughter out, or intubating me (general anesthesia) and having her out in under 3 minutes. He left the room to answer a page and to let me make my decision. I chose the general because I heard a voice whisper in my ear that my daughter wouldn’t survive the wait.
That night, after she was born – in distress even though I had the general – my OB doc came to me and said I’d made the right decision. If I’d chosen the epidural, she would have died before they got her out.
When I got home after a week in the hospital, I had a little post traumatic distress mixed with a little post partum depression from this incident. I’d always kept a diary, so I wrote the entire incident down as it had happened, word for word, emotion for emotion. Just that simple act pulled me out of the doldrums. That story was published in over ten different magazines over the years and I titled it “The Voice of an Angel.” Just by utilizing my love of writing, I was able to “heal” myself of a horrible event and move forward. I learned the value of being able to journal your emotions and how to use that journaling to your own benefit.
P.S. My lovely daughter is 25 years old, an IVY league graduate and the love of my life!
I’m a big music lover and can’t write without a playlist. I guess it’s my talisman. Is music your mojo and part of your process?
I know so many writers who like to listen to music or have it playing in the background while they write and I envy them. Honestly, for me, this is a distraction. I find myself singing along to the songs instead of writing, so I usually work in a quiet environment. When I’m not writing though, and doing my other passion – cooking – I blast everything from Madonna to Eminem.
What was the hardest part of writing your latest book, Skater’s Waltz?
Another great question. My answer may seem a little strange, though. The hardest part doesn’t have anything to do with the actual writing of the book. The hardest part has come to me since the contract was signed. Now that I am going to actually have a romance novel published I am terrified that: a. it won’t sell any copies, b. people will think it stinks, c. people will have preconceived ideas about me now that they know I write “those books,” and d. I will embarrass my family with the publication.
These, by the way, are all ridiculous fears, I know that. None are based in reality, but most fears aren’t. This is all about my old feelings of self doubt ( remember that question I answered a few paragraphs back?) and my thoughts that people will ridicule me for my writing.
I will admit I am also terrified of random people coming up to me on the street and telling me they hated the book. In all fairness to me, I don’t think I am the only writer who has ever had these fears.
Thanks for joining me today, but before I let you go I have one final question, what are three things that make a book/story memorable to you?
Honestly, you are a born interviewer! Many thanks for you kind words, Peggy.
The three things that make a story memorable to me – and which I will recommend a book to someone else for are:
1) A heroine I can get behind. She doesn’t have to be beautiful. But it’s okay if she is. She does have to have a brain, use it, be kind to others, and never EVER use people to get ahead in life.
2) A hero who is a real man. Kind, alpha or beta is fine with me as long as he isn’t rude, arrogant or uses his power to do harm to others, even those who have done him harm.
3) A story I can relate to. One that takes me away from my daily life and transports me somewhere else, whether in present time or another, and allows my imagination to fly. The best writers of any genre do this so well, you don’t even know you are suspending your disbelief at the moment you are reading their work.
Now tell the readers where we can find you, don’t bashful.
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