Author Interview: Kate Maloy

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Kate Maloy

Who doesn’t enjoy reading interviews about other writers and what they reveal about their process? We all come from such diverse backgrounds, embrace words and tell tales. I’ve also throughly enjoyed the Q&A James Lipton asked on Inside the Actor’s Studio TV Show, so I thought I’d also add these set questions from Bernard Pivot to the end of the Interview. The questions were originally asked on the French series: “Bouillon de Culture” hosted by Bernard Pivot.

I met Kate Maloy at an Artist Way Seminar last year in Winston-Salem. We were a diverse group of creatives who became great friends and still meet monthly. Kate is both an author and editor, who agreed to be interviewed here on Mimosa Mornings. More

What is your brand?

I have put a lot of miles on the Malibu this summer. Jim would be complaining about the mileage and wear and tear, but I think secretly he would be proud of me for getting out and not sitting home grieving.

I’ve been to Pennsylvania, Georgia, and most recently to Kentucky. I have to say Kentucky has a lot going for it: good roads, lovely scenery, and horse farms. Lots of horse farms.

In Louisville, there are horses everywhere. Not  real, live horses. The city boasts horse statues of every kind. Some are painted in bright colors. They really stand out on a sidewalk. (Click here to see some pictures of the painted horses.)

So from statues, billboards, signs, and even actual horses grazing peacefully in the countryside, you can’t forget for a minute that you are in horse country.

Kentucky knows how to brand herself.

I understand that is important for a writer as well. An author needs to create a brand that is instantly recognizable. What do you think when you see the names John Patterson, Mary Kay Andrews, Elin Hilderbrand?

If you answered fast-paced action mystery, humorous southern romance, and summer beach reads, you know what branding is.

Sounds easy, but it isn’t. Authors work hard to create a brand. Their books are aimed at a specific segment of the reading public. If Patterson suddenly published a sweet cozy mystery instead of his usual drama-packed story, readers would be as outraged as if they had opened a carton of rocky road ice cream and found a quart of strawberry swirl instead.

He might even lose a few fans.

I didn’t know this when I started writing. I wrote women’s fiction, and then switched to a kind of hybrid paranormal. I should have written the latter under a pen name, I suppose, but it seemed like too much effort to create a new Facebook author page and website. And, everyone knows that J.D. Robb is really Nora Roberts, so changing the name doesn’t fool anyone. Except that readers know what to expect when they open her books–under either pen name.

That’s what branding does. The reader sees a familiar name on a book cover and instantly knows what kind of story lies within. Yes, the cover illustration and the blurb on the back help, but the author’s name gives instant recognition.

I haven’t reached that pinnacle where people recognize my name and realize at once what kind of stories I write. But I hope I am slowly, steadily, building my brand.

Book by book.

 

 

 

 

Getting my money’s worth: Part Two

Today I am posting some more tidbits of wisdom garnered at the Carolinas Writers Conference. Chris Roerden is an editor and this was her second appearance at the annual conference. Chris knows more about editing than most people I know (including editors) and is happy to share her expertise. Some of what she told us was what we all learn when we start writing, but here are a few things I didn’t know.

  • Attitude: The main character should have an attitude–that is, her world view, how she approaches her environment.
  • We’ve all heard “show, don’t tell.” The character’s emotions are critically important. Don’t say, “She cried.” Show the reader how she cried. (If I showed the reader how I cried, I’d have to say “and snot came out of her nose.” Because I don’t cry pretty.) Showing is judgmental on the part of the author.
  • Read the book you love twice, first for enjoyment and second to figure out how the author did it.

Author Michelle Buckman also made her second appearance at the conference. When we find someone who is good, we tend to ask them back. Here’s what I took away from her workshop:

  • Show the protagonist’s characteristics in the opening page. The opening pages create a sympathetic character or situation.
  • There has to be a reason for everything the character does. Things in the past affect the now and project into the future. (Here is where we can sow little clues in the beginning of the book that bear fruition when we come to the climax.)
  • History is backstory and is necessary for depth but it doesn’t go up front. Your characters must have a history, but scatter it throughout the story. Avoid the dreaded “information dump.”
  • Tie your characters together as closely as possible, but not in the way readers expect. Make the unlikely one step up. Surprise the reader to keep her interest.
  • Create sympathetic characters and intriguing situations or a situation that  relates to the reader’s life.
  • Add enough layers to the character and plot  so both are intriguing.
  • What is her greatest fear? Why? What caused it? Have her face this fear.
  • Who does he love most? Who does he hate? Reverse roles for a new dimension.
  • Who is blocking the main character from achieving her goal? Who is her mentor?
  • Have the lead character do something he would never do. Do the same thing with a secondary character.
  • Find something about your secondary character that ties him to the main character.

You’ve probably heard all this before, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. I’ve been taking a long, hard look at my WIP to see if I’ve created as many layers in my characters as I could.

Because there is nothing worse than a shallow, cardboard cut-out hero or heroine.

 

 

Getting my money’s worth

Like Christmas, after a period of frenzied preparation the day of our writers’ club’s annual conference has come and gone. Some of us counted success in the number of attendees, others in the  comments of those who came away with renewed purpose and a clearer goal.

I sat in on Robert Macomber’s workshop on “Planning Your Writing Career.”  I, like many others, went into writing with high hopes and little knowledge of the real work behind the books I love to read. Among those books are Macomber’s “Honor” series, richly detailed and meticulously researched novels about a fictional officer in the U.S. Navy from the Civil War through the early 2oth century. Here’s what he had to say:

  • Think of yourself as a professional writer, even if you are not yet published. Attitude is everything. Be positive minded and professional at all times.
  • Understand your story and understand your genre. Tell your story in a different way. Pick a niche that hasn’t been done.
  • Know your audience.
  • Learn, learn, learn. Know the rules and when to break them. Be an expert in your subject. Learn your competition: read their books. Talk to libraries, booksellers, editors to learn what readers want. Learn about the business of writing.
  • Bring your family on board. Have one area of the home that is your oasis and find a minimum of three hours a day when they know you are not to be disturbed. They need to know this is your second job. (Your first job earns the money so you can do the second.)
  • Decide before you start on point of view, past or present tense, and your title. A title should be concise, vivid, evocative, and memorable. Plan a storyboard or visual road map. (And here’s a kicker) write your synopsis first to keep your story on track. Decide the size of your chapters up front. Chapter titles and sub-titles intrigue the reader and help pacing.
  • Set a daily goal of draft words or finished words. Read your work aloud. The reader “hears” the words he reads inside his brain.
  • Consider the visual aspect of your words on the page, i.e., white space.
  • Set reasonable dates for interim goals to be met. Have your family celebrate these goals with you.
  •  Invite people to help you with research and be sure to name them in your acknowledgements.
  • Your first three pages are the most important in engaging the reader. The end of your story should leave the reader with a feeling of accomplishment and wondering what comes next.
  • Everybody needs one to three critical reader and an editor. Critical readers are friends who are widely read, who know grammar, can give you advice, and keep their mouth shut.
  • Your readers should learn something, be entertained, and not feel they have wasted their money.

Some of these things I knew before. Some I knew but hadn’t put into practice. And some are things I had never thought of, so of Macomber’s workshop I can say I learned something, was entertained (Macomber is as engaging a speaker as he is a writer), and I certainly didn’t feel I wasted my money. His workshop alone was worth the registration fee.

Next week I’ll share what I learned in the other workshops I attended.

You are welcome.

 

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