Author Spotlight: MARILYN MEREDITH

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For this month’s Author Spotlight, I’m happy to introduce you to longtime teacher, speaker, and award-winning crime novelist, MARILYN MEREDITH.

Marilyn has written over 30 novels in two ongoing mystery series – her Deputy Crabtree series and her Rocky Bluffs P.D. series (written under the name of F.M. Meredith0. As one of the earliest adopters of ePublishing, all of Marilyn’s books are available via Kindle. But we’ll get to more of that at the end of this post. For now, let’s hear directly from Marilyn about her books, her characters, and her writing process.

Of your many activities and contributions to our literary world, which brings you the most happiness and fulfillment? (writing fiction, writing nonfiction, teaching, speaking) Though I certainly love writing, I truly enjoy teaching and speaking about writing, and talking to young people about writing is particularly satisfying.

Of the writers you’ve admired in your life, who had the biggest impact on your writing career? One of the first published writers I became friends with was Willma Gore, who was in the critique group I joined. She taught me more about writing than anyone else or any of the writing classes I attended over the years.

Where did your idea for the character Tempe Crabtree come from? Is she based on you, or someone you know personally? Tempe is actually a combination of three women: A Tule River Indian I met who grew up on the reservation and is the one I see as Tempe, a resident deputy who told me about her problems as the only female, and a police officer who was a single mother who I did a ride-along with. All three have strong personalities.

What has Tempe Crabtree taught you over the years you have been writing her stories? If someone is in danger, Tempe will rush in to help regardless of her own safety. I’m afraid I’m not that brave—though in my younger years I did much of the same.

Did you plan your Tempe Crabtree and Rocky Bluff series’ ahead of time, or did you write a standalone novel and thereafter decide to bring back the same character for another book? (and another, etc.) With both series, I didn’t know that I would continue on when I wrote the first books. I fell in love with my characters, and the only way to find out what would happen to them next was to write another book, and on and on.

What advice would you give to new writers about how to navigate the publishing world? Things keep changing. You have to find out what is going on and what path would be the best for you to take. Though I have been published by one of the New York publishers at the beginning of my career, I’ve gone through several small publishers with both series. If self-publishing the way it is today had been available, I might have gone that direction. For those thinking about doing that, it is most important that a professional editor goes over your novel before you publish.

Do you maintain a strict writing process, and can you share some details of how you stay motivated and on track with your writing goals and publishing schedules? I wish I did have a strict writing process—but life often interferes, as do other writing jobs. I do try to write at least a few hours five days a week, but I’m not always able to do so. I’m a great list writer—I keep track of what I need to do each day, writing and everything else. I also keep a calendar that I check each morning so I don’t forget anything important.

What is your forthcoming book about? I’m almost finished with a first draft of an as-yet untitled Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. In this one, two of the characters are named after two people who tied in a contest to have a character named after them. It’s been fun, because I do know these folks and their characters are nothing like either one. The plot is about the murder of two people—the mayor, and an old lady.

About Marilyn’s Latest Book: Seldom Traveled, which was released in August 2016:

The tranquility of the mountain community of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three. Tempe Crabtree is a female resident deputy in the mountain area surrounding Bear Creek which is located in the Southern Sierra. She is also an Indian (she like, others in the Tule River tribe prefer Indian to Native American) and at times she receives spiritual insights. Seldom Traveled is the latest in the series and was inspired by the fact that a fugitive on the run disappeared in our area, a spark of a story about a murder in a mountain community, and the fact that the area is prone to forest fires.

Available in Paper, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and from the publisher, http://mundania.com/

Marilyn’s website and blog: http://fictionforyou.com/ and http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/

Please post any questions or comments, and thank you for reading!

Always keep the writer vibe alive…

 

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Defining (or re-defining) Success

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How do you stay motivated to write when you keep sending out query letters, manuscripts or chapter submissions and getting back form rejections or radio silence?

Let’s take a step back and look at how you currently define “success”. Is an actual publishing contract or agent representation the only way you’ll feel successful as a writer? If so, you’re not alone, this is a very universal goal among writers at any stage. But your unfailing ambition and persistence could be preventing other smaller (and maybe more likely) successes.

Success comes in large and small packages. How it’s defined is deeply personal…and you can change your definition anytime. I recently received an un-rejection by a reputable literary agent in a personalized (not form) email, and to me this felt like my manuscript sample had caught enough of their attention to ascend to a senior editor. Though that editor ultimately passed, they included a note that my story sounded intriguing and that they liked my character’s voice. I defined this response as success (a small one, yes). But if you spend all your time and energy trying to catch big, trophy fish, your artistic heart might starve in the process. In the same way that we take vitamins to supplement the nutrients we don’t get in our diet, a steady feed of small successes will keep you inspired through the process and help you to keep writing!

Aim high; aim low. Of course continuing to target major New York literary agents, as well as publishers directly, is the best chance of getting your work seen by the industry’s primary decision-makers. But with so many major publishers requiring submissions only through agents, you can boost your chances of visibility by including smaller, independent publishers, as well as newer literary agents who are just starting to build their list of clients. New agents are more likely to take a chance on a new literary voice than an established agent. Or if print publishing isn’t your only desire, you might consider a strictly-digital ePublisher. Certain ePublishers, such as Witness Impulse (a division of William Morris) balances their lack of offset printing with massive distribution and huge potential visibility.

Due diligence. Regardless of who you send your work to, keep your submission strategy simple. Go to the publisher’s or agent’s website and read their submissions guidelines, their specific directions, and follow them. Edit your query letter and your manuscript sample right before you send it. Yes, even though you’ve edited it a hundred times already. Resist the urge to include any additional content that wasn’t specifically requested in the submission guidelines. Keep track of your submission with names, dates and results.

Personalize. In the same way that us writers hate getting form-rejections, acquisition editors and literary agents have repeatedly reported that same complaint. An agent doesn’t want to feel like a number – like you’re paging through the Literary Marketplace and mass-mailing the same generic package to everyone. And I’m by no means knocking mass-mailing. I’m saying it’s advantageous to personalize a submission as a means of making an agent or editor feel…well…special. If you haven’t met the agent or publisher you’re querying, research them, learn something about them. Educate yourself about what books they love, where they’re from, what inspires them. Find a conference where they’re speaking and be there. Don’t fake a connection – make one.

Tactics. Here are a few ways to keep focused on your ultimate goal of landing a publishing contract while keeping your mind sharp, opportunities open, and muse fed:

  • You make direct contact (and get a direct response) from a literary agent via Twitter inviting you to submit
  • You learn of a new agent in New York who’s seeking manuscripts in your genre and you send them a query
  • A traditional publisher has now opened submissions directly to authors instead of only through an agent
  • You send a query letter and your recipient asks to see a partial of your manuscript (yeah, baby!)
  • You write a short story and get it published in a literary journal. If you can boost your publishing creds while finding a book publisher, all the better. The same goes for publishing a book review, or being asked to be a guest blogger on a writing blog
  • On your submission tracking list, create a separate section for Successes and list them separately, in bold, in a different color ink to call them out.

One final tip: not if but WHEN you do connect with a literary agent or book publisher who offers you a contract, check out Preditors and Editors to vet them first, read about their reputation, their contract, and feedback from other writers.

How do YOU define success in your writing career? Do you have other ways of keeping yourself inspired and motivated on the path towards publication? Please share your comments with me here, and thanks for reading!

 

 

How do you deal with rejection letters?

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If you’re a serious writer who’s either published or working to get published, you’re not new to the dreaded rejection letter. They’re as ubiquitous to publishing as milk to the coffee industry. What happens when you get one of these in the mail?

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Do they cause depression?

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Rebellion?

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Anger?

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For some highly enlightened souls, rejection letters cause them to revise their manuscript and even create a new story twist or plotline that they hadn’t thought of before.

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Some truths about literary rejection letters:

  •  They are a sign of courage that you were willing to write something worthy of market value, polish and perfect it to industry standards, and put it before someone else’s eyes to be judged. Don’t discount this aspect, it means something.
  •  They are unbelievably common among all of our industry peers – from John Grisham and Dan Brown to J.K. Rowling. Depending on what you write and which market niche you’re approaching, the odds of getting a query or manuscript accepted by either a publisher or agent are unmistakably low.
  •  It’s not personal. Unlike relationship rejection, literary rejections are solely based on your manuscript and project, not you as a person. When you can think of it in those terms, doesn’t it become a bit more business-like, impersonal, even clinical?
  • They don’t mean you’ll never get published – just that it hasn’t happened YET.

Picture yourself at a job interview. You’re highly skilled in your field, have some polished work samples and business references with you, but you somehow don’t make it to that second interview. Why? There could be a thousand reasons, and mostly they’re all because you and your skills just simply aren’t the right match for the position. This mismatch concept holds true in the literary industry as well. You’re sending your unique manuscript to a complete stranger and hoping your project and vision will track with what the agent or publisher is seeking for their client list.

Let’s step back a moment and take a look at this literary agent. And let’s assume you’ve done your research and confirmed that this particular agent is interested in acquiring manuscripts within your genre and they’re considering taking on new clients. And let’s say you’ve worked with an industry mentor to perfect your query letter, you have your manuscript formatted perfectly, and have gone through three editing rounds to fix any grammatical errors. The thing is, even if all these bases are covered, there are still lots of other variables that can influence whether an agent selects your manuscript over someone else’s. Like what?

  • Gender – Not you, your protagonist. The agent might be looking for fiction with a strong female protagonist and yours is male.
  • Voice – They could be looking for third person POV and yours is first person.
  • Length – Your manuscript could be too long or short for the existing market of your genre.
  • Subject matter – Some agents are seeking stories consumable by a wide audience. So if your book has a super edgy theme and touches controversial topics, they might opt to pass.
  • New or published writer – Some agents are eager to hear from fresh industry voices; others only want to work with established and previously published authors.
  • Setting – Some want domestic stories, yours might take place in Paris.

And these are just a few! I know, it’s enough to make you go insane. But you’re not expected to mold your manuscript to every single thing a potential agent or publisher could possibly ever want. The platitudes are true – write what you love. The good news is that there are lots of publishers and literary agents available in every genre, more every day, and lots of them are looking for new writers. Where are they? Check here.

Too often, an agent will reject a manuscript because it lacks the specific WOW factor they were looking for. That doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t like it and that it’s not good. Because the industry landscape has changed so drastically in the past few years, they’re forced to be even more selective with the types of projects they invest in. In other words, if an agent can’t immediately see the potential for revenue in your book, they’re likely to pass even if they otherwise like your story, your writing, and everything about you. Money isn’t all that matters, but it definitely matters.

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Emotional Intelligence

Rejection letters are a great reminder that we must constantly keep our thoughts on the right track and stay in a positive and inspired space when it comes to writing. DON’T wallpaper your office with rejection letters! The last things we need as writers are negative reminders. Observe your reaction to your last rejection letter. Did you use it as fuel to grow deeper into your craft and commitment to success? If not, it’s okay, there’s time to work on this. And it IS work and no one’s more worthy of that work, time and energy than you are. For more reading on creative resilience, check out this great article from Lifehacker.

Focus on Inspiration

What inspired you to write your book in the first place? What kinds of books and writing continue to inspire you? This is the fodder for your creative expression and it must be positioned on a pedestal because it’s the most important aspect of your writing relationship. You see beauty around you, kindness, amazing human stories. Whatever it is that drives you to your keyboard or your journal, hold that in your heart as your primary focus. Post pictures of that inspiration in your writing space, your desktop, as reminders of what motivates you and what drives you to succeed over and over despite the odds.

Self-Publishing

The publishing industry has shrunk, or grown, depending on your perspective. And the changes are vast. 31% of all e-book sales are from self-published authors. Why do some writers turn to self-publishing as an option? There are lots of advantages, such as royalties. The royalties are typically way higher than traditional publishers (though no advance), and it’s a super quick turnaround to see your work in print (generally 30 days as opposed to 15 months). As you’re not working with a literary agent to sell your manuscript, there’s no middle man to take a 15% cut off your royalties when they start coming in. But there are offsets, too. Self-publishing can be expensive ($500 – $5000 per book), and there’s a lot more work you’ll need to do to push your book into the commercial marketplace, like arrange for distribution, marketing, advertising, editing, cover art, and layout.

Check out these famous, best-selling books and authors that were initially rejected by (in some cases, many) publishers or agents:

  •  J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  •  Jack Canfield for Chicken Soup for the Soul
  •  C.S. Lewis for The Chronicles of Narnia
  •  Dan Brown for The Da Vinci Code
  •  J.D. Salinger for The Catcher in the Rye
  •  Margaret Mitchell for Gone With the Wind
  •  Alice Walker for The Color Purple

There’s more here

What does this tell you? You’re in good company for one thing. Rejections give us an opportunity to re-examine what we’re doing…any why. If making money is why you write, self-publishing could be a great option for you. If you’re a compulsive storyteller hell bent on finding a traditional publisher or agent, then sink your teeth into that path and persevere and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

There are many forms of success – how do you measure yours and what’s your benchmark? If you’re new to the writing path, maybe finishing a novel is a worthy pursuit right now, or you might want to publish 5 books a year, or earn enough to quit your day job. A stack of rejection letters means you’re engaged, working, and investing time and energy in your success and future. Don’t let them derail you; instead use them as a necessary tool of the trade.

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What are your rejection war stories, or successes that started as rejection letters? Please share!

Fiction Ignition

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Ever have an idea for a new crime novel or short story but don’t know how to start? Here’s an idea that I often use to help me generate the right opening for a particular story idea. I go to my personal library and open 10 or 20 random books and read the first sentence. For this exercise, I focused on suspense/thrillers published within the past year and from familiar voices in the genre.

Note: These are all Chapter 1 openings, meaning I skipped the prologues. Why? That’s what I do – skip prologues. Cruel, I know, not to mention hypocritical as I often find myself writing them! But just this week I read two more scathing blog rants from literary agents about how prologues are passé and show that an author is too lazy to properly weave these details into the fabric of their story. So, here we go.

 

Jeffrey Deaver, from The Kill Room

“The flash of light troubled him.”

 

Tom Clancy, Command Authority

“The black Bronco shot through the storm, its tires kicking up mud and water and grit as it raced along the gravel road, and rain pelted the windshield faster than the wipers could clear it.”

 

David Baldacci, King and Maxwell

“Forty eight hundred pounds. That was roughly how much the cargo in the crate weighed.

 

Michael Connelly, The Gods of Guilt

“I approached the witness stand with a warm and welcoming smile. This of course belied my true intent, which was to destroy the woman who sat there with her eyes fixed on me.”

 

John Grisham, Sycamore  Row

“They found Seth Hubbard in the general area where he had promised to be, though not exactly in the condition expected. He was at the end of a rope, six feet off the ground and twisting slightly in the wind.”

 

Patricia Cornwell, Dust

“The clangor of the phone violates the relentless roll of rain beating the roof like drumsticks.”

 

James Patterson, Cross My Heart

“I trudged aimlessly through the dark, empty streets of Washington, haunted by the memory of my son Ali telling me that the only way to kill a zombie was to destroy its brain.”

 

Clive  Cussler, Mirage

“It was the landscape of another world.”

 

John Sandford, Storm Front

“His bags were packed and sitting by the door.”

 

Lee Child, Never Go Back

“Eventually they put Reacher in a car and drove him to a motel a mile away, where the night clerk gave him a room, which had all the features Reacher expected, because he had seen such rooms a thousand times before.”

 

Scott Turow, Identical

“Many years from now, whenever he thinks back to Dita Kronon’s murder, Paul Gianis’s memories will always return to the start of the day.”

 

Lisa Scottoline, Accused

“Congratulations! read the banner, but Mary DiNunzio still couldn’t believe she’d made partner, even at her own party.”

 

Nelson DeMille, The Quest

“The elderly Italian priest crouched in the corner of his cell and covered himself with his straw pallet.”

 

Dan Brown, Inferno

“The memories materialized slowly…like bubbles surfacing from the darkness of a bottomless well.”

 

Iris Johansen, Eve

“Dead. Eve was dead. The words kept drumming in Catherine Ling’s mind as she walked up the gateway to the terminal.”

 

Harlan Coben, Six Years

“I sat in the back pew and watched the only woman I would ever love marry another man.”

 

Walter Mosely, Parishoner

“There is a stone chapel on the outskirts of Seabreeze City, a small town that is situated between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.”

 

What do you notice about most of these beginnings? They thrust you into the middle of a story, or place you somewhere that you don’t recognize leaving you with a hundred questions. Deaver: What flash? A gun? Baldacci: 4800 pounds…what’s IN that crate? And questions are good! They create tension and will keep you turning the pages to find the answer you want.

What else do you notice? They’re the complete opposite of the image at the top of this page. “Once upon a time” is a classic, timeless story opening that sets the stage for a linear execution – starting properly at the very beginning and progressing step by step to the ultimate conclusion. Why wouldn’t this opening work now? Because linear is not what we are anymore, as a civilization, as writers, readers, learners. Some generalizations: people are more capable of technological sophistication than we were before. We are smart, quick-thinking, quick-judging, impatient, and no longer willing to complete 10 (or 2) preliminary steps to perform a task. We skip right to step 10 and do our best with it. The world moves faster than it used to, as do our brain processes. As such, so does our patience for details.

Check this out: “When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance from his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.”

What’s wrong with this opening passage from Thomas Hardy’s awesome classic, Far From the Madding Crowd? Nothing, when you consider it was originally written around 1847. (And how I love that word countenance!) But for modern standards, the passage wouldn’t work because it’s an entire paragraph about the features on a man’s face.  It’s not about either correct or incorrect – it’s about what people want to read and what they will buy. This must, at least in some small way, influence how and what we write.

 Another variation is to pick 10 books from all different genres (SyFy, romance, biography) and compare those opening sentences. You can get a much wider sampling that way, and it can generate even more ideas that lead you to your perfect first sentence.

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