Mindy Starns Clark is the author of the “Million Dollar Mysteries” series and the “Smart Chick Mystery” series. Her books include A Penny for Your Thoughts, Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels, A Dime a Dozen, A Quarter for a Kiss, The Buck Stops Here, The Trouble with Tulip, and Blind Dates Can Be Murder. A singer and former stand-up comedian, Mindy is also a popular speaker and playwrite. She lives near Valley Forge, PA, with her husband and two daughters.
Plug time. What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?
BLIND DATES CAN BE MURDER, the second book in the Smart Chick Mystery series, will be released March15th. This is a three-book series, the first of which came out last July, THE TROUBLE WITH TULIP. This series focuses on Jo Tulip, a household hints expert who uses her knowledge of hints to solve crime.
Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.
It took a long time to write a book that was good enough to try and get published, but once I had done that, the rest happened fairly quickly. I graduated from college in 1982 with a degree in English and the desire to be a novelist. Eighteen years later, I finally wrote a book I was proud of! (I did many other kinds of writing in the meantime—such as technical writing and scriptwriting—but the art of novel-writing eluded me for quite a while.) When I finished writing A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS, I decided I had finally “arrived.” I secured an agent within several months, and he sold the book about a year later.
The life-changing phone call came on a Friday afternoon, while I was driving home from a vacation. I was checking my voice mail, and there was a message from my agent telling me he had sold my book and my series—but no other information than that. I was ecstatic, but when I tried to call him back, he had already left for the weekend. Needless to say, that was the longest weekend of my life!
First thing on Monday morning, however, I finally got him on the phone, got all of the details, and began a wonderful relationship with Harvest House Publishers.
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?
Only when I’m about half finished with a book. At that point, it’s the worst drivel anyone’s ever written. Once I’m finished with it, however, I think it’s the best masterpiece anyone has ever created. About a month later, my opinion lands somewhere in the middle, as it should.
What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?
Write what’s burning like a fire inside of you—not what you think the market wants or what someone else says you should write. Life’s too short to waste your time and creative energies on a long-term project that doesn’t thrill your heart.
Also, the most important thing a writer can do: Sit there and write. Period. That’s also the hardest thing to do! How much easier is it to read, email, blog, wash the dishes, walk the dog…
What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?
To use this method or that method to write a novel (as far as outlining, word quotas, etc.) What works is what works for YOU. I’m friends with dozens of successful writers, and none of them does it the same way—but they are all publishing great stuff. So find your own system and concentrate on tweaking it, not using someone else’s “formula” for success.
What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?
I recently took an informal survey, and the average age for a first published novelist was 48! I wish I had known that when I was 25 and thinking it should’ve already happened. This is a phenomenally competitive business and it takes a loooooong time to succeed. I wish I had known how long it takes, because I would’ve developed a primary career other than writing. Financially, I would’ve been a lot better off.
Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?
The last book I wrote, BLIND DATES CAN BE MURDER, was the hardest book I’ve ever written, simply because I couldn’t seem to leave the “real world” and make the full leap into my imagination. I struggled with that book for months and months, hating every minute of writing it. I thought it was a disaster. Even as I was writing the exciting conclusion, my brain was torn between the story and all the things I needed to get done around the house! I was miserable.
Once it was finished, however, both my husband and my editor think it’s probably the best work I’ve done. So I’ve learned that feelings and emotions are not a good indicator of the quality of writing.
I see that difficult process as a setback, however, because that’s the first time that ever happened. Writing has always been great fun for me, and this experience was definitely not fun. I sure hope it never happens again!
What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)
I’m an extremely picky reader, but here’s a few…
BODY AND SOUL by Frank Conroy
THE BLACK ICE and THE BLACK ECHO by Michael Connelly
MURDER IN A NICE NEIGHBORHOOD by Lora Roberts
The MCNALLY series by Lawrence Block
A WALK IN THE WOODS by Bill Bryson
HOUSE OF THE SCORPION by Nancy Farmer
If your authorial self was a character from The Wizard of Oz, which one would you be and why?
Actually, I’d be Dorothy, because I have spent much of my life looking for that perfect place to live, only to find that the best place is among my loved ones, no matter where we are.
What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?
THE BUCK STOPS HERE was my favorite in the Million Dollar Mysteries series, and I’m quite proud of it. I set the story in Louisiana, my home state, and I think it captures the sense of place exquisitely—even though I was quite afraid I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. The book also nicely ends the whole series. Every time I read the last chapter, I sit and cry like a baby—in a good way, of course!
Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?
I go nuts with people’s perceptions of an author’s income. Because I am a “successful” author, (ongoing book projects, books all over the world, bestseller list, etc.) folks think I should be rich. They don’t know that the average income for even successful authors is shockingly low. It’s just that the big deals make the papers, so they assume we’re all getting 7-figure contracts—when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a living, but it isn’t a fortune.
Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?
First half of the workday: Get the kids off to school, sit down at my desk, devotion and prayer, email, promotions. (Promotions can include interviews, articles, book sales, lining up speaking engagements, sending out mailers, networking, etc.)
Break for lunch and exercise.
Second half of the workday: Write. Write until the kids get home.
Rest of the day: Chauffeur, wife, mother, housekeeper, homework, etc.
Not all that glamorous, but I love it.
If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?
I would write poetically, almost musically, like Sue Monk Kidd or Anne Tyler. There’s such a beauty to their sentences that sometimes it makes me ache. I have other strengths, but poetic language isn’t one of them.
Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?
I’d love to see my books made into movies—not just for TV, but as full theatrical releases. That would be so cool!
Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
No, I just went to other kinds of writing. When I got tired of the low pay of playwriting, I switched to the higher-paying marketing and copywriting. When I wrote my first mystery novel, I decided I wouldn’t write another mystery unless that one sold—and I switched to writing a women’s novel instead. I could never give up writing completely. I would shrivel up and die!
What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
Favorite – the beginning of a novel (when the ideas are swimming around in my brain and I pull the pieces together into a coherent plot line) and the finish (when all the work finally pays off and I get to tie up the loose ends and then type “The End.”)
Least favorite – the “other stuff” you have to do that no one tells you about, like promotions, marketing, etc.
How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?
I used to do more, but right now there are so many demands on my time other than my career (parenting teenagers is a full time job in and of itself!) that I’ve been doing less. So I’ve been trying to get the most bang for my buck, focusing on my key audience, my website, and bookstores. There’s always more to do; the trick is to get the word out, but don’t do so much that your writing suffers for it. There are only so many hours in a day.
To aspiring writers: Patience! God has a big plan for you, and if you have the desire to write, He’s the one who put it there. Use it for his glory and trust in his timing. I wish I had trusted more and worried less. If you are persistent and keep your eye on developing your craft, it will happen for you…eventually.