What encouraged or influenced you to be a writer—and why?
I’ve loved to read fiction all my life, and have early memories of wishing I was an author. So, I’m sure my desire began as a child. But my first real attempt to write fiction was as a freshman in college. However, my English teacher and my advisor at that time both counseled that I had no talent or aptitude for writing. Since I was young and had other interests, I naively accepted their conclusions and moved on.
Later in my young adult years I fell in love with Agatha Christie and thus began my continuing love of mysteries. My desire to be an author also resurfaced and I took a stab at writing for publication. After many failed attempts, in the 1980s I finally had two short stories published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. At that time, I was also well into a business career, and professional and monetary concerns took precedence.
Down the road a bit, I discovered P.D. James, my most beloved author, and was inspired again. I decided then, it was now-or-never-time for me to write a novel.
In what genres do you write?
I write mystery novels and my first, Uncle Si’s Secret was published November, 2008, and my second, Death of a Perfect Man, was published in April, 2009. Uncle Si’s Secret received a 2009 fiction award from Public Safety Awards Association (PSWA). My publisher is Aberdeen Bay Publishing.
In addition to being an author, you are also a potter. Tell us about that.
During my 1960s “finding myself” phase, I took a beginning pottery class. But once again, other paths vied with a creative love—pottery this time. I also knew ceramics wouldn’t be my occupation. Still, something in me was drawn to clay, and that connection stayed with me over the years.
I finally returned to pottery about ten years ago. I love the primeval feel of throwing a pot. It is a wonderful tactile experience. There are many ways to go in pottery—there’s something for everyone. I’ve leaned toward what’s called high-fire reduction firing (for the glazing part). I have a propane kiln for that, and I never know what the fire-gods are going to deliver up. I still lose a few pots, but sometimes I get a piece that touches me in the same way a perfect phrase of prose does. It’s a wonderful experience, akin to holding that first copy of your latest book.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
There are so many “challenges” to pick from! But, I’d say number one continues to be writing at a level I think is worthy. I don’t just want to be a good writer, my goal is to be the best storyteller I can. For me that means skillful writing, an appealing voice, captivating characters, a strong sense of place, and a compelling story. I’m continually challenging myself to be better. Sometimes it’s very hard, and I will rewrite a paragraph, or a sentence even, over and over until it’s right. Sometimes the resolution is just to delete the offending prose. Even with my published titles, it’s hard for me to do a reading without wanting to rewrite.
Also, now that I’m published, promoting my titles has become an extraordinarily challenging endeavor.
What is the title of your most recently published book? Briefly tell us what it’s about and let us know where we can buy it.
Death of a Perfect Man is my second and most recently published book. My protagonist is Jada Beaudine, and (surprise, surprise!) a bit of a potter. Jada lost her husband in a mysterious boating accident, and leaves her home in Puget Sound to get away from the horror, memories, and glare of publicity. She drives south, and by the second evening finds herself taking a wrong turn in California’s stark Mojave high-desert. Mesmerized by the beauty of a desert sunset, she nearly runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, she manages to find the Red Rock Inn & Café. From there, Jada finds herself dealing with murder, psychics, an unfriendly sheriff, the eclectic inhabitants of the inn, and the victim’s pottery class. I’ve tried to bring to this mystery a strong sense of place, an intriguing plot, and internal character conflicts that ring true.
My books can be purchased online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Aberdeen Bay, and the WOW bookstore. Signed copies can be ordered directly from me (see my website link), and purchased at my author events. Both titles are also available as Kindle downloads.
What are you working on now and when/where do you expect it to be available?
My immediate goal is to finish rewrites of Reticence of Ravens. My protagonist in this book is more morose than Bella (Uncle Si’s Secret), or Jada. Hugh James Champion III is a psychologist on the verge of a mental “something” himself, and has to confront murder, the daunting Mojave Desert, several villains (past and present), a possible desire for a relationship, and a haunting past failure. The inspiration for this tale was a semi-defunct mini-mart at an I-15 exit. I call the place Joey’s. All my novels are inspired by places that have “grabbed me.” My goal for publication is as soon as I get through rewrites and editing. Hopefully the beginning of 2010, or maybe sooner.
Writers, especially new writers, are always looking for tips and helpful information. What is the single most important “tip” you can give to a new writer?
I hesitate to give advice because I think every author’s experience is very much unique. But I do think the more information you have to choose from, the better to find your own path. Here’s what I believe, and what I always keep in mind:
- NEVER give up
- If you send out 20 query letters and receive 20 rejections or no responses, send out 30 more
- If 20 agents turn you down, approach 30 more
- If your writing isn’t strong enough, take classes, join groups, read writing books, rewrite-rewrite-rewrite
- If you’ve written one book, write another
- Constantly look for ideas, tips, and advice BUT: only use what fits. I
I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules--including everything I’ve just said. Except…
NEVER give up!
Tell us about your membership in writer’s groups and how you believe they’ve helped your career?
I’m pleased to say I’m a member of Sisters in Crime (National, LA, and Southern Nevada Chapters), Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA), and Wizards of Words (WOW). Without the information, networking opportunities, meetings, and conferences provided by these organizations I’d be floundering helplessly in the “promotions sea.” Not that I’ve yet got the hang of it, but without the information and opportunities they’ve provided, I wouldn’t have taken the steps I have.
I remember my first days when the reality of doing my own promotions was upon me. Of course, if I’d been paying attention, I could have been better prepared. I survived those early days by scouring other author’s websites for clues on how to proceed. Several of those authors and many others I’ve since met have been generous and gracious guiding lights. Most recently, I’ve also been following the excellent offerings at Writers in Residence—a group of very savvy authors.
I’m not in a critique group, and I’m not sure they are my cup of tea, but my book club/reading group “Books and Cooks” has been an emotional connection I’d be lost without.
Do you have any upcoming book signings or appearances? If so, give us all the details.
Yes, I do. And I’m finding one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a published author is meeting readers and other authors. Earlier in October was the Central Coast Book and Author Festival in San Luis Obispo, and the Western Railroad Museum in Barstow. Here’s the remainder of my Fall, 2009 schedule. I’m hoping to add a couple bookstore signings. I maintain my event schedule on my website.
November 7, 9 A.M. to 3 P.M. – Pistachio Festival, Newberry Springs, CA
November 21, 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. - Oakhurst Library Book Fest, Oakhurst, CA
December 5th-6th, 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. - Santa’s Art Shop - Fairgrounds, Ridgecrest, CA
Here’s your opportunity to tell us anything else you care to share.
Take the time to enjoy the process. A multi-book author in several genres, Dorothy Howell, shared that advice at a panel discussion I participated in. I pass it on because I think it’s so true, not only about writing, but life in general. Still, I have to constantly remind myself to enjoy!
What are the addresses of your website(s) and blog(s):
I love hearing from readers and authors. I can be contacted via emails or website comments. My website address is http://www.mmgornell.com, my blog site is http://www.mmgornell.wordpress.com, and my email address is email@example.com.
Thanks, Linda, for a thought provoking and fun interview!