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Booking It: Interview with Mystery Author MM GORNELL

MM GORNELL, author of several mystery novels, joins us today. Her first novel, PSWA award-winner “Uncle Si’s Secret” hit the shelves in 2008. She has two other published mysteries, “Death of a Perfect Man” (2009), and “Reticence of Ravens” (2010) her first Route 66 mystery— which was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Fiction award, the da Vinci Eye (best book cover), and the Montaigne Medal (most thought provoking book), and ended up receiving an honorable mention in Commercial Fiction. Her latest Route 66 tale, “Lies of Convenience,” the first in a trilogy, is in editing, and she is hoping for a Winter 2011 release date.

CWF: It’s such a pleasure to talk with you after reading your engrossing novels. What compelled you to write your first novel?

MADELINE: Oh, Colleen, I’m honored you want to chat with me. Thanks so much for asking, and especially for your kind words. To know you liked my novel is the absolute best feeling!

The short answer to your question is— my now-or-never time snuck up on me. Fortunately I was at a point in my life where I was ending one career, and had no excuse not to become a published author. Otherwise, I needed to move on to something else. And it was more a question of fine-tuning and polishing my writing skills enough to finally be accepted by a publisher. Up until that time, I’d written short stories (several published in Alfred Hitchcock more years ago than I want to mention!), and several attempts at really awful novels—I cringe even now—remembering I had the gall to send them to publishers.

So, with now-or-never-time staring me in the face, I took more writing classes, and had my latest “creation” professionally edited. From that point to now—with my forth novel in editing and rewriting—besides being lucky enough to be published, I continue learning “how to write.” It has become a wonderful journey.

I think it would also be accurate to say I’ve been an author my whole life—and “compelled” to write a novel that one day would be worthy of publication. I’ve always had the “soul” of an author, but having the time to develop the “craft” has only come in the last few years. Where art and craft intersect, is a question I’m still pondering.

CWF: I’ve found your stories to move quickly; and I feel a smile at the corners of my mouth over the observations your characters make—especially your female characters. They retain their femininity while asserting themselves, but sometimes wink along with the readers as they let the men run around in circles. How did you dream them up?

MADELINE:  Your observation on my female characters is an aspect of my writing I’ve never before thought about—and honestly never consciously made an attempt to achieve. Oddly enough, my protagonist’s sex is usually not one of the sparks that have started my stories. But what my unconscious mind is doing, I probably don’t want to know! Gender issues aren’t something I consider, except for authenticity in a character’s actions, motives, or perspective—and if required by the storyline.

How I dream them up, is also not a purposeful act. Sounds squishy, but my characters “just come.”

The first excitement and kernel of an idea for each of my books has come from a location that has reached out, grabbed me, and wouldn’t let go. That sounds a bit silly, and it’s not the whole story, but truly, so far, my novels have started because a location said, “Me! Me! Write about me!” From the location, I’ve then wondered—who would have lived there, or come that way? What is their story? And in the case of my first, Uncle Si’s Secret—there was the compelling thought of “What a perfect spot for a murder!”

Next, are the characters. To say my characters come from the “jumble” in my head is not being flippant. My life experience has been that “stuff” goes in, but doesn’t remain as specific facts (i.e. terrible memory for historical facts, names of books I’ve read, etc.). The best way I can explain it is, bits and pieces out of that conglomerate in my brain, reappear when I write—as characters, events, locations, situations, snapshots—all different from what “went in,” but for sure tied-to and based upon my life experiences and events. Currently, there are still many such characters and ideas jostling around in my head, waiting for their moment on paper, so to speak. I just have to find a way to let them out in one of my stories.

CWF: I’ve noticed other themes connecting your books. I wonder how many of these come from your own life. Gardens and plants are mentioned often. Are you a gardening enthusiast?

MADELINE:  For sure, there’s much from my life in my stories. To start, my dedications are to loved ones now moved on. Unfortunately, at this point in my life, my dedication list is too long. On a happier note, dogs have to be in my story. Not necessarily as key characters, but dogs are so much a part of my life that I can’t imagine a story without them.

Yes, I love healthy, growing, plants—trees, flowers, fruit, roses… you name it. Unfortunately, not only is the Mojave Desert challenging when it comes to growing anything, but I’m physically lazy when it come to the work involved to have a thriving garden.

I’m also a potter, and have managed to put together a small work studio, and when I can, love doing pottery. Unfortunately, it’s becoming harder and harder to balance writing, promotions, and pottery. I love the primeval feel of throwing a pot. It is a wonderful tactile experience. Pottery is especially nice, I think, in there’s something for everyone. I like what’s called high-fire reduction firing. I have a propane kiln for that, and I never know what the fire-gods are going to deliver up. 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! The protagonist and first murder victim in Death of a Perfect Man, are potters. I wonder why?

CWF: You also tend to connect Chicago with west coast locations. Why is that?

MADELINE:  One of the phrases of wisdom drummed into beginning author’s psyches is “Write about what you know!” So I think that’s why Chicago and the West Coast are my “locations.” I’ve experienced those places, and consequently, that’s where my ideas have “sparked.” And both places very much fit in my current fascination with Route 66—opposite ends of The Mother Road.

CWF: What drew you to the mystery genre?

MADELINE:  The second most overworked author phrase is, “Write what you like to read!” I love mysteries, I love being taken away into another world, and I love trying to figure out “who done it!” My first favorite author was Agatha Christie, and now P.D. James is my guiding light—in my mind, a great female author—regardless of genre. I also think every good story has to have a bit of mystery—just not necessarily a murder!

CWF: Many authors talk about working at their craft. What does that mean to you?

MADELINE: For me it means: writing, writing, writing; reading, reading, reading; rewriting, rewriting, rewriting; finding good editors who understand your voice—then learning when to listen to them; and always striving to improve your writing.

CWF:  How do you do it?

MADELINE: I write on a computer— can’t write without it. The computer “machine” and word processing software are my enablers. Eudora Welty, not a mystery writer, but an author with a beautiful appreciation for language, said in an interview (if I’m remembering correctly), she would cut out paragraphs and move them around, until it was what she wanted. For me, most of the writing is in the “rewriting.” The functions cut and paste are my friends!

CWF: How do you approach your work? For example, do you write every day?

MADELINE:  Unfortunately, having a schedule has eluded me. Not that I haven’t tried—so many recommend it. Sad, but true—I physically write most days whenever it works out. I think though, my mind is writing all the time.

CWF: How long did it take you to go from your first finished manuscript to a finished novel?

MADELINE: My first finished manuscripts way-back- when, probably don’t really count. They were awful and never saw the light of day except in unfortunate publisher’s slush piles. With my current works, it’s taken me a year each to write, edit, rewrite, and get published. My publisher is Aberdeen Bay, an imprint of Champion Writers. They are a small independent publisher. I also have an agent, Kladstrup and Associates, and feel very lucky in both respects! My agent and I did send out many queries for my first, Uncle Si’s Secret, so that adds some more time until publication there. (I have, like most authors many rejections in a special folder!)

CWF: Yes I’ve unfortunately experienced that Slush pile and have an ever-growing folder similar to yours! The ground seems to be shifting in the publishing industry, with so many titles available electronically. Do you have any predictions about how things will all shake out between paper and bytes?

MADELINE: No predictions, but I have noticed my e-book sales, Kindle mainly, are larger than paper books. From my personal perspective, I like reading on my Kindle, but I still love the feel, the smell, the look of BOOKS! So, if I’m ending up with some authors (particularly if I’m at a signing), with a signed book, and a file on my e-reader! Of course, I have all of P.D. James books. I keep running out of bookshelf space… “Everyone” says digital will lead the way. I’m guessing they’re right—but from my experiences, my reading-group experiences, and at signings—real books aren’t yet completely dead.

CWF: Do you have any advice for writers just getting started on their first manuscript?

MADELINE: Oh gosh, I hate giving advice because I think every author is different. I can say what my experiences have been. Taking the time and expending resources for classes, getting professional editing (Mike Foley) help, then rewriting until I had the best manuscript I could produce at the time—was key for me. I will also say, for all authors—new, in process, or published even—don’t send out your manuscript until you think it’s perfect. (it never is of course—Gremlins do exist!) And get Writer’s Market Place type books, you can get at the library if you don’t want to purchase, and send only to publishers who accept your genre.

Given you have a well edited product, sent to appropriate publishers, never, never, never, give up. If you’ve sent queries to ten publishers and get back ten rejections, send to twenty more. Rejection is not personal, though it sure might feel like it sometimes…

CWF: Why did you choose to write about the historic Route 66 area?

MADELINE: I now live in a town on Route 66 in the California Mojave Desert. There are so many “locations” on the old route that fascinate me. I’m very much intrigued by the people who came before me, the places they built, the endeavors they started—some successes, some failure. What were their stories? What was their legacy? My flights of fancy are endlessly inspired by The Mother Road.

My current work-in-progress, a trilogy, with the first book Lies of Convenience completed and in editing, connects the two locations, Chicago and California, and two woman relatives living in different worlds, affected and changed by a murder, and lies—convenient and otherwise. Book two and book three’s working titles are, Lies of Necessity, and Lies Most Hidden.

Here’s the preface from Lies of Convenience which covers some of the things we’ve been talking about:

The world of this author’s mind is populated with a multitude of places and characters—many composites, and many imaginary. Occasionally, some of these imaginary people and places escape—intermingle with realityand become backdrops and inspiration for tales of mystery.

Situated on Route 66 as it crosses California’s Mojave Desert, NewTown is a fictional place representing one of the multitudes of “small dots” spreading themselves across the world’s map. This particular NewTown tale—even though populated with imaginary characters involved in fictional events—is nonetheless, triggered by the realities of High Desert terrain, weather, and the fortitude of its very real inhabitants.

CHICAGO, on the other hand, more than halfway across the country from NewTown, and at the start of Route 66, is on a capital-letters-scale, a world renowned, sophisticated, and larger than life city. Indeed, to experience Lake Michigan’s unparalleled waterfront, especially under the magical shroud of night, with city lights a-sparkling—is to be bedazzled, awed, and visually imprinted for life.

Besides their shared Route 66 heritage, how do these places and people—real and imaginary—intersect? Therein lies the story…

CWF: Okay, I’m hooked and ready for more!

Madeline, I want to thank you for taking time during this hectic period to talk with me and Eve Laments’ readers. Your story is inspiring. Your books are captivating. Your kindness comes across in your words here and through the characters you create. All best to you for a long career as an author!

MADELINE: Colleen, thank you so much for your interest in my work and thoughts. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Continued success with Eve Laments, it’s a great website!

MM Gornell’s books are available below, at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Smashwords, at signings, and from author directly via email at mmgornell@earthlink.net. Her website is at http://www.mmgornell.com, and her blog is http://www.mmgornell.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

 

By Colleen Walsh Fong


 


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