Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Monday, February 27, 2012

An Interview with Anna Maclean

I'm very pleased to have Anna Maclean with us today as a stop along her virtual book tour. She writes historical cozy mysteries, which is right up my (and I hope your) alley.
Please be sure to leave a comment as Anna is giving away a wonderful gift basket to a randomly drawn commenter and you don't want to miss out!
Why did you decide to write?
    I don’t think I ever decided.  It was just always there.  I love stories and I began telling stories to myself in the form of daydreams when I was very young, and as soon as I could hold a pencil I began writing those stories down.  Of course I loved Little Women as a girl, and when the opportunity came to write mysteries using Louisa May Alcott as an amateur sleuth I jumped at the chance! 
How much research do you do?
    Usually, quite a bit.  Libraries are my favorite place to be, and there are great libraries in my town, so I can go in for the day and kind of camp out in the aisles and at the worktables.  I can’t think of a happier, more exciting place to be than a good library. Wait.  I forgot.  A cafĂ© table in Paris is pretty good, too. 
What was the most interesting thing you discovered when you were doing your research?
            For Louisa and the Crystal Gazer, I researched 19th century spiritualism and found great, great materials, including one dusty old volume that described how to make spirit paintings (using paint that was invisible when dry) and how to make trumpets fall out of the ceiling.  Can’t wait to have my next dinner party and really camp it up with ectoplasm! 
What’s your favorite method for researching?
            Reading journals and diaries.  Louisa kept some great journals! 
Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
            My favorite message: life is wonderful, life is a mystery, and never, ever let anyone stop you from exploring as much of the mystery as possible. 
When do you write/what is your writing day like?
            I like to write first thing in the morning, before I’ve had to clean up after the cats, pay bills, plan dinner, take care of day job things (I also teach.)  There’s a wonderful moment when I first wake up, when something jolts my imagination out of the blue, literally, and it takes me to a new place in the work.  That doesn’t happen any other time of day, for me. 
What is the best advice someone has given you about writing? The worst advice?
            The best advice I ever got, and I got it early, thankfully,  was never to read or think about how hard it is to get published.  Just write, and hope for the best. Writing is a dive off the really high board, and while it requires skill and willpower, it also requires a certain recklessness.  The worst advice I ever had?  I can’t remember it, so obviously I didn’t take it!  
How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
            I can’t stand outlines.  I’m very methodical in some ways – I have to have a tidy desk and a few rituals: coffee on one side, a little Buddha on the other side of the keyboard – but when it comes to ideas and working on a book, a certain chaos is very productive.  Again, it’s that dive off the high board.  At some point, though, usually at the 2nd or 3rd draft, I do make an outline of what I have and see if the plotting is making sense, and where the holes and problems are. 
Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work?
            Oh, so many.  Daphne du Maurier,  Anya Seton,  Mary Lee Settle, Ann Patchett, Ian McKewan, Roman Gary…I read hundreds of books a year and this has been going on for a while, so do the math.  But what all the authors have in common: they tell a great story, and do it with great skill, sometimes even a touch of genius.  And their work has great humanity, it makes you fall even more in life with the world and people, not less.
 What makes a great book in your opinion?
            See the above! 
Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
            Don’t let anything stop you. Write the book you want to read, write it to the best of your ability. 
Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?
            At my desk in the early morning, with a cup of coffee on one side of the keyboard and a little Budda on the other side, puzzling out a character and a plot. 
Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years and where do you see yourself within this industry?
            This is where I’m supposed to hold my head and moan, right?  Admittedly, It is frightening what is going on.  Sales are down, little bookstores are being swallowed by sharks.  It’s hard to find good news.  However, that said,  in a way I see us going back to more of a 19th century style of publishing, where people write what feels important to them and then they find a way of getting their work into book form, even if it means paying the printer yourself…as long as you get the work into the hands of readers, perhaps on a smaller scale than we had in the last 100 years of mass publication.  And this could be a good thing, could be a great thing.  Technology also means that essentially anyone who wants to publish, can. There may not be a whole lot of money, but that’s always been the case.  And sometimes there is a whole lot of money.  But I’ve always told new writers that if what they really care about is getting rich they should just play the lottery.  If you care about getting your work out there – this can be done.
As for technology replacing books, I just can’t see that happening. Books, when you think about it, are already a perfect technology: portable, easy to read and no problems with downloading and saving! 
Brief Bio 
Anna Maclean is the mystery nom de plume for Jeanne Mackin, the author of several novels:  The Sweet By and By (St. Martin’s Press), Dreams of Empire (Kensington Books), The Queen’s War (St. Martin’s Press), and The Frenchwoman (St. Martin’s Press).   She has published short fiction and creative nonfiction in several journals and periodicals including  American Letters and Commentary and SNReview. She is also the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers (Cornell University publications)  and co-editor of  The Norton Book of Love (W.W. Norton).  She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, in Washington, D.C.  
 “Louisa May Alcott makes a wonderful narrator, whether observing the foibles of those around her or addressing the reader with gentle humor…Fans of historical mysteries will find much to enjoy here.”                                     The Romance Readers Connection
 “Macleans latest cozy is entertaining and has a fascinating mystery and a healthy dose of humor.  The author’s attention to historical detail adds realism and depth to this page-turner.”                                    Romantic Times


Mary Preston said...

I like your points about books (hard copies). They are indeed all you said & I have never lost one in cyber space.


Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thank you for hosting Anna today.

Catherine Lee said...

Hi Anna...I'm a librarian and even I would rather be at a cafe table in Paris! I'm glad to hear that you have great libraries in your community. Unfortunately, that's not the case in all communities in America and libraries are so important! And I agree with you that books are already the perfect technology. Keep preachin' it!

catherinelee100 at gmail dot com

Amy said...

Thank you all for stopping by! It's so nice to hear from you, and I agree: books are the perfect technology.

But there's always room for other technologies and I'm glad to have both paper and electronic versions available to me.

anna maclean said...

Thanks,Amy, for some great questions. I love books, but agree that other technologies are important and useful. Books don't get lost in cyber space - but they don't allow chats like this, either!

All of us -support our libraries!