What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?
My newest book is Winter of Secrets coming from Poisoned Pen Press in November 2009. It’s the third in the Constable Molly Smith series, a traditional village mystery set in small town British Columbia. (Think Hamish Macbeth meets Cindy Decker). It’s set in winter in the mountains, and has some skiing scenes, so I am hoping it will help to get people in the mood for the Winter Olympics.
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.
I had been writing about five years when I got a contract for my first book, Whiteout. That was way back in the year 2000 so I don’t remember much except that I was certainly pleased. I particularly remember the day the box of my copies of the books arrived, hot off the presses. I had just arrived home from taking my daughter to the dentist. She is totally dental phobic and had to be sedated; her medication was wearing off, and I had been warned she would be very emotional. There were two pieces of mail waiting for us – a rejection from the college she wanted to go to and my box of books, the first ever. I remember carefully holding the open box and thinking “I will remember this moment for the rest of my life” while she howled in the background “My life is ruined!”
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?
What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?
I was too impatient and aimed too low. I believed that a first book is a stepping stone – it is not: It’s an elevator that puts you off at the level you will remain at.
The book I mentioned above, Whiteout, was published by a small electronic publishing company that also did a few print-on-demand books. It wasn`t properly edited and got nothing in the way of promotion or distribution or recognition. Then the company went out of business. Your first book is your only chance at having a first book. I blew it. When my first book with a reputable publisher, Scare the Light Away was published by Poisoned Pen Press, I couldn`t enter it in any first-novel competitions.
What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?
Be persistent. This is a tough, tough business. If one person says ‘no’ you move onto the next. If hundreds of people reject your manuscript, start a new one.
Do you begin writing with a synopsis in hand, or do you write as the ideas come to you?
Yes, and no. Mostly yes. I was a systems analyst in my career. I designed computer systems. Before beginning to write for a computer you certainly have to know what you want to end up with, and have a pretty good idea of how to get there. I take the same approach to my writing, I know the villain and their motivations, I know how the book will begin, and probably the personal conflicts the protagonist will confront along the way. From that basis I can, and do, go almost anywhere.
What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?
The importance of networking. It was only after I was published that I joined the Crime Writers of Canada and similar organizations. I wish I`d known that I could enter contests like the Debut Dagger, and the Unhanded Arthur in Canada. As I said above: A first book is not a stepping stone, as I had believed. It`s like an elevator: that first book (in most cases) puts you off at the level you will remain at.
How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?
I always stress the importance of reading, reading a lot, to people who want to write. It’s not only a matter of reading so as to know what’s current but I believe that only by reading constantly can you see what works and what doesn’t. Here’s an example I always give. I was reading Voices by Arnaldur Indridason, and his description of two minor characters was so outstanding I ran to look at what I’d written today: She had blond hair and blue eyes. I’d go so far as to say to anyone who doesn’t have time to write as well as to read, that they should read. Store up all that knowledge until you have time to do both.
What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?
I don’t know about proud, but I really love writing the Klondike Gold Rush books. I just have fun with them. The history is fascinating, the people (the real people) so totally off-the-wall that I know readers sometimes think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. The tone is somewhat mad-cap and I find that a lot of fun to write.
What is your best advice on maintaining a good editor-author relationship?
Never take anything personally. Trust your editor, but not totally. Presumably you have gone with this publishing house because you believe in them, and you believe that their editor knows what they’re doing. If you disagree, don’t be afraid to stand your ground. If you have a reason you want to have X as the ending and the editor wants Y, you had better be ready to explain, carefully, convincingly, why X would work better.
How many drafts to you edit before submitting to your editor?
I write three drafts and then submit it to my critique group, one draft after that, and then send it to my agent, one more draft and off to the editor. And then it can go back and forth several times. The ending of Winter of Secrets was re-written and re-written. Now that it’s finished I see that she was right, but I took a lot of convincing.
We often hear how important it is to write a good query letter to whet the appetite of an editor. What tips can you offer to help other writers pen a good query?
Don’t oversell your work or yourself. The work has to speak for itself. “This will be a knock-out success in the style of Dan Brown” is just a turn-off. Short and to the point: One page is best, two at the max. And it must be totally professional: have someone proofread it.
Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
About once a week, but it only lasts a couple of minutes.
How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?
I do a lot of marketing. I have two blogs, a group one on the craft of writing as well as a personal one on the writer’s life, I enjoy being a guest blogger on other sites. I travel a fair amount; with my last two books I’ve done a book tour to the West Coast of the U.S. In October I’m going to the East Coast of Canada. I am lucky in that I really enjoy book signings. I hate organizing them (hate it hate it) but once I’m in the store, I love it. I have a pretty heavy schedule for November and December for Winter of Secrets, but this time mostly close enough that I can sleep in my own bed every night.
Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?
Scare the Light Away is about a family destroyed by alcoholism. At the end, the alcoholic accompanies his wife to an Al Anon meeting. I got a lovely letter from a woman who had been saved, she said, by Al Anon. She thanked me for including it in the book. I was very touched.
Read lots, write what works for you. Don’t give up, but never forget that you should be having fun.