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Monday, December 28, 2009

Author Interview: Mary Stanton

I am very pleased to welcome Mary Stanton to our little piece of the blogosphere.  Mary graciously agreed to this interview and I am so thankful.  I think you will find her answers conversational and very interesting.  Mary started her writing career in 1984 and sold her first mystery in 1994.  She publishes the Hemlock Falls mysteries under the name Claudia Bishop.  Mary is well known for her middle-grade books as well.  You may read my review of her book Angel's Advocate here.  Welcome Mary Stanton (cue loud aplause and cheering.)

I love Brianna Winston-Beaufort in the Beaufort & Company, what is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character tell you about him/herself as you write?

I'm so glad you like Bree! I'm not sure I can tell you how she came about, because it's a very fuzzy process for me. I do know this, though. All my characters begin with a name and a single quality of character. Bree emerged as Brianna Winston-Beaufort 20 years ago. I wrote a short scene; she was arriving in Savannah to take her first job as a newly licensed attorney. Then I stuck the scene in my 'Think about it' file. Eighteen years later, I pulled the scene out and decided that her defining characteristic was as an avenging advocate. And I thought that a woman like that would look like a rapier; slim, silvery-haired, and very fit. So she had a job, a physical presence, and a mission.

The second step in my process for character development is deciding on speech patterns. This includes locutions (what words does she use?), rhythm (short or long sentences?) and vocabulary (including cuss words).

Then I add family, friends, and all the other parts of a character's life.

It's an evolving process, that's for sure, and that can be a problem for a series character. There's only so much you can decide on up front, and then the character takes over.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (use a strict 3 act structure or not and little/a lot of detail) before sitting down and writing?

When I start a new series, I have to outline like crazy for the first two books at least, and then sometimes beyond that. I usually write down a list of the new characters, beginning with their names. Then I write a paragraph describing the crime. Then I list all the clues to solving the case. After that, I list fifteen chapters, with a sentence describing what action will occur in each. Once in a while, I'll do a timeline, but that's not my favorite job.

After the series settles into my head, I don't have to do that. I'm on my 19th Hemlock Falls novel (which I write as Claudia Bishop) and I don't have to outline at all. I just have to write down the answer to three questions: Who's dead? Who did it? and What kind of group is going to be a guest at the Inn?

How do you find time for writing - what works for you?

Argh. I am not a disciplined person. Well, I am actually, once I get started, but I hate getting started. So I'll do ANYTHING rather than write that first chapter. Play with my pet goats, if I'm at the farm. Go to the beach if I'm in Florida for the winter. Clean the basement, alphabetize my spices....whatever.

When I do start, I work all day. I'm up early, before five, and I work until I've hit at least three thousand words.

For your mystery series there is some detailed information - how much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?

My alter ego (Claudia Bishop) doesn't have to research anything except recipes, so that's a breeze. Mary Stanton, on the other hand, has to work like a dog. I have a pretty good library at home, and, of course, there's the Internet, god bless it! My biggest problem is getting sidetracked. The history of angels is really interesting. The world's great religions are fascinating. I can spend hours reading up on things which turn out to be non-essential to the book at hand. And since I don't stop work until I've hit three thousand words, it can make for very long days.

Setting seems as important as the characters in your mysteries, any tips on conveying a sense of place well?

Mary Stanton frets herself to death over setting. (Claudia Bishop doesn't; she lives in the middle of Hemlock Falls, so all she has to do is go for a walk). I've been to Savannah four time in the past three years. I have maps, guide books, photos, botanical books, and I still feel as if I'm missing the essence of that lovely city.

I read once that a romance writer would put on sexy lingerie to prepare for writing - do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

I get dressed in very nice casual clothes, put on makeup, a little perfume, and make sure my hair looks nice, and sit on the couch with my laptop. I need to feel as if I'm 'going to work.'

Do you have any secrets to success for editing?

Get somebody else to do it. Seriously. I depend on my little sister. I am a very very poor editor of my own work. I hate to delete, and I hate to redo. Now, if I let my work sit for long enough--say six months--I can go back and fix stuff on my own. But I write from two to three books a year, and I've never given myself that luxury. So my little sister gets my first drafts, and then I nag her endlessly to read it right now!!!! And she's tough!

Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft to dissect and learn from?

Hmmm. In mysteries, I guess, for pacing, I'd recommend Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. For scholarship, tone, and character development, Reginald Hill. For setting, P.D. James. For structure, any of the good, classic Golden Age mysteries; Cyril Hare is just brilliant.

How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?

I went to a science fiction convention with a friend of mine and met an editor with a small press who liked what I told him about my first novel. (It was titled THE HEAVNLY HORSE FROM THE OUTERMOST WEST, and featured horses as the main characters.) He bought it. I got an agent (much easier to do after you made the sale). Then the press went bankrupt and my agent placed the book with another publisher.

You have a new book due out Feb 2010 - tell us about your upcoming book! What aspect of the new book did you particularly enjoy?

The new novel is called AVENGING ANGELS and I loved loved LOVED writing toward the penultimate scene. I wanted the reader to shriek with surprise. let me know if you do!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mary, thank you for such a great interview!  I found it facinating that your main character started eighteen years prior with an idea you jotted down and stuck away.  Your character development process is interesting to me with your detail to speech patterns.
I will be reviewing Avenging Angels here shortly dear readers, so hang in there.  Mary and I are discussing this blog as part of a book blog tour for her February release also.  I hope you have enjoyed this interview.
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Ann Elle Altman said...

What a great interview. I loved her editing answer...I'm gonna have to call up my sister now.

Thanks for the blog.


A.F. Heart said...


Thanks so much for the comment. Wish I had a sister to do my editing!

AF Heart

Anonymous said...

Great interview. And very informative for an aspiring writer. I love that she gets ready with makeup and all to work on her couch. That's great :)

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