Welcome to another of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical / YA / romance novelist M.L. Gardner. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, M.L. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
M.L.: Hello and thank you for the opportunity for an interview. I’m a wife, mom and cat lover who loves to write. I’m based in Northern Utah, USA. I have written stories for my own entertainment since I was 12 or so and after taking a lengthy break to raise my family, am back writing full time. I work closely with two other women in the process of bringing novels to the world. Lisa is something of a co-plotter and I give her credit in some of the creative force behind the series. She also helps with the editing before it goes off to my main editor. Monica is the marketing maven behind the series. She keeps the digital house neat, orderly and productive. I refer to them frequently as I could not do this without them.
Morgen: Second opinions / pairs of eyes are so important. I’m also a freelance editor and many of my authors have said how I pick up on things that wouldn’t have occurred to them, and I hire a freelance editor for my writing, and it’s all the better for it. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
M.L.: I write mainly historical fiction. During the Great Depression more specifically. I have published one Young Adult novel and will soon release a Contemporary Romance novel as well.
Morgen: It’s good to have variety – it keeps our writing fresh and the readers don’t pigeon-hole you (something actors try to avoid). What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
M.L.: I have published the novels ‘1929’, ‘Elizabeth’s Heart’, ‘1930’, ‘Drifter’, ‘Short Stories from 1929’ and ‘Simply, Mine’. ‘Simply, Mine’ is my Young Adult novel and was published under the pseudonym Jane Carrington. I am currently trying to merge those names for simplicity. My main pseudonym is a combination of my first name, Molly, and the best friend, Lisa’s initials and my grandmother’s maiden name.
Morgen: The important thing I’ve found about an author’s name is being found on search engines. I don’t suppose it does Geoffrey Archer any harm having a name like Jeffrey Archer. Maybe I’ll interview him one day and ask him. Have you self-published? If so, what lead to you going your own way?
M.L.: I have self-published everything to-date. It was appealing to me because it takes the writing experience beyond simply creating and uploading. You really are running a business. I have always been an entrepreneur and the idea of managing every aspect of the publishing business was an exciting one.
Morgen: That’s how I feel, plus it’s a far quicker process. Are all your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
M.L.: Everything I have published is available as an ebook. I am currently working on making a paperback option available as well. I read about a 50:50 ratio of ebook and paper books. I’m late to the kindle party but it’s starting to grow on me.
Morgen: Me too, and my ratio’s gone to 90:10 since I bought my Kindle Fire HD. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
M.L.: I read a lot of Agatha Christie and Louisa May Alcott growing up. I also read a lot of the popular young adult books at the time. ‘The Pistachio Prescription’ was my favourite. I must have read that a hundred times. The Little House on the Prairie books were also a mainstay on my bookshelf.
Morgen: I’ve not heard of ‘The Pistachio Prescription’ but I do remember watching The Little House on the Prairie on TV growing up, and was hooked. Do you choose the titles / covers of your books?
M.L.: I choose the title and pictures for the cover but hire out cover design to someone who is talented in that area.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
M.L.: I’m working on a Christmas Novella that visits the characters of my 1929 series, Purgatory Cove Book Five and I am chipping away at 1931 Book Six.
Morgen: I love bringing back characters, especially minor ones and giving them a juicier part. That’s why series are popular with readers; they don’t want to let our characters go… hopefully. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Morgen: Being self-published (or even if you weren’t), I’m sure there’s enough that eat into your writing time. When you start writing, do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
M.L.: Both. The initial idea sparks a novel and then I must sit down with Lisa and map out the entire story line. I like to have a roadmap. However no matter how detailed I make that roadmap, the story often runs off in a direction that it better prefers and I must constantly adjust course.
Morgen: It does. I love it when the characters take over. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
M.L.: I don’t create characters. They reveal themselves to me. Some are more insistent about being included and some hang out around the fringe, waiting to be needed. Most of them arrive with a name. If they don’t, Lisa is a huge contributor in the name department. I try to craft them to be believable by giving them real problems to deal with and portraying real emotions.
Morgen: Readers should feel the characters are believable or they’re less likely to care. You mentioned that Lisa helps you with the pre-editor editing – do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully formed?
M.L.: It does get more fully formed as time goes on. Before I write each, I will spend 15-20 minutes reading what I did the day or week before. I catch a lot of mistakes and make adjustments as I’m refreshing myself with the newest material. After each book, I do a thorough revision and edit. Then I send it off to Lisa who does an edit. After I make more changes and we do another read through and edit, it goes to one editor. After that, it goes to a second. Finally, Lisa and I do a final read before we send it out to the world.
Morgen: That is thorough, and I’m sure you’re writing’s better for it. Do you have to do much research?
M.L.: I have had to do a lot of research for the 1929 series, just to make sure things are as accurate as possible for the era. In the original draft, I had included garbage bags piled up on the street. Only plastic garbage bags weren’t available yet! I ended up taking that out, of course. A lot of things that we use now either didn’t exist or were not widely available. On the other hand, a lot of things that we wouldn’t think would be available, like canned spaghetti, were.
Morgen: I remember our class’s play coming second in a contest because one of our characters was wearing a digital watch in a story pre-digital watches. It’s all attention to detail. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
M.L.: I write mainly in third person. I would love to write in second person.
Morgen: Great! I have a page on it at http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2ppov. It’s my favourite point of view, although I think it rarely works for anything longer than a short story; it’s very tiring for the writer and reader. Let me know how you get on. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
M.L.: Oh, yes! In fact just a few weeks ago I sent the first 40 pages of a concept novel to Monica to get her opinion. She responded with an unenthusiastic, “Meh.” So that one will gather dust bunnies. As will a few others that sounded like a good idea at the time but lacked the energy to become full-fledged novels.
Morgen: I have a writing friend whose favourite word is meh and yes, he’s said it about some of my writing too. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
M.L.: I received 27 rejections from publishing houses for 1929. Of course I had already self-published and it had yet to prove itself. I didn’t really think much of the rejections. I was just getting started, learning every day and rejection is just part of it all.
Morgen: It is, sadly. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
M.L.: As a habit, no. The singular exception is the Writer’s Digest Self Published Book awards this year. I did enter 1929.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
M.L.: No, I don’t have an agent. I have Lisa and Monica. I do think it is vital to have someone in your corner, cheering you on, lifting you up when things get hard and someone who loves your work so much they are willing to make a full time job out of it as well.
Morgen: 🙂 I mentioned marketing earlier – do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
M.L.: I don’t do any marketing. Monica, however, is always testing new ideas and opportunities. She has arranged a tight digital house and we do a good job creating a family like atmosphere for my readers when they visit me online. I have utilized free promotions via Amazon and that is the single largest way I have gathered new readers.
Morgen: I have a copy of your 1929 on my Kindle thanks to that route. I’ve not read it yet <slaps wrist> but then I tend to read (and review) short stories predominantly. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
M.L.: Deadlines. I tend to set very strict deadlines for myself and it brings a bit of stress when that deadline approaches and I still have a lot of work to do. The upside of self-publishing is that I set my own deadlines. The downside of self-publishing is that I set my own deadlines.
Morgen: My favourite quote is Douglas Adams’ “I love deadlines – the sound as they whoosh by”. I’m pretty good with deadlines; I’ve not missed one yet when it comes to editing clients’ writing. If someone’s relying on me, I don’t like to let them down. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
M.L.: There is tons of writing advice online so I’ll pass by the technical side of things. But on a personal level, please be real. I have seen far too many authors, new and established, try to create this persona that is not only hard to believe, but irritating. The best thing you can do for your books, your readers and your pay check, is to be a real person readers can relate to. I recently did a blog post on how I handle my bouts of depression with woodworking. It’s not easy to go out on a limb and expose yourself, but it’s truth and it’s something readers can relate to. And now, when I post a picture on my Facebook personal time line of a wood project I’ve just completed, I tend to get a flood of emails saying, “Cheer up!” “We love you.” “Hope all is well.” Why do they care? Because I was real with them. Make your readers your reason for living.
Other than that I feel compelled to say, Edit, Edit, Edit and Edit some more. When you think it’s done, Edit five more times. My books go through 3 rounds of private editing and 2 rounds of professional. And there are still things that get by all of us.
Oh, and don’t read reviews. It’s tempting to peek for validation but bad ones will only tear down your self-esteem. Learn to live by the saying, “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Create it, release it and then create some more.
Morgen: I love reader feedback. I had a 12-year-old reader email me (starting off with “I’m young!”) loving my free short story April’s Fool. On the whole, I write to be read and someone taking the time to contact me, is gold. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
M.L.: I would invite the unsinkable ‘Molly Brown’, Margaret Mitchell and Mother Teresa. I’d order take out because I’m busy. I’d spend the evening gathering advice on business, writing and being a good person.
Morgen: Three great assets, I’d say. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
M.L.: I want to do this forever. I have a backlog of stories that will keep me busy for the rest of my life.
Morgen: 🙂 Me too. I have no problem with ideas and one of the courses I’m running from January is ‘Ideas & Inspiration’ and will probably be the most fun. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
M.L.: I’m on Facebook with a personal page: https://www.facebook.com/ml.gardner.3 and nn author page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMLGardner. Monica has created a newsletter (bi-monthly) for announcements, special contests and other useful information. It can be accessed via the author page. I also have a blog where we interview other artists, writers, musicians and crafters as well as updates from me. http://1929blog.wordpress.com
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
M.L.: Not a thing to do with writing, but…Do you know of any reliable sources to order Bovril? Our family would like to keep it in our pantry but we are having a hard time finding a good site from which to order here in the States.
Morgen: <laughs> I’m not a fan of Bovril myself, although when I do get it, I like it as a hot drink but I did find http://www.britsuperstore.com/acatalog/Bovril.html for you. A jar is $4.20 so I’m not sure if that’s cheap or not (better though than $14.95 from http://www.britishsupermarketworldwide.com/acatalog/info_bv32134.html!) but they seem to do a good variety, so hopefully there’ll be something there. Thank you for joining me today, M.L.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. Because of the time they take to put together (I add in comments as if we’re chatting), they do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog (they also subsequently get posted on morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com and morgensauthorinterviews.blogspot.co.uk) but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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