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Monday, October 25, 2010

Author Interview - Sally Goldenbaum

We have a favorite author joining us today, Sally Goldenbaum.  You can read the review of her latest mystery, Moonspinners, here.  

Sally was born in Manitowoc, Wisc, a small city on the shores of Lake Michigan where her father was a shipbuilder.  She went to high school in Green Bay, Wisc, a boarder in an all-girls academy, just like her sister, mother and her seven sisters before her had done.  Then she went to college at Fontbonne in St. Louis, and graduate school (philosophy) was Indiana U in Bloomington where she met her husband. In between all of that she was a Catholic nun for several years.

One day she was sitting in a sandbox in a park, watching her children play. She was new to Kansas CIty, looking for company. There was another mother there, Adrienne Staff, a transplanted New Yorker. And as those things go, the ex-nun and nice Jewish girl from New York  glommed on to each other and discovered they both had a burning desire to write. And so they did. Together. They found a wonderful agent and published (some together, some alone) 25 to 30 novels.

Though Adrienne went on to other things, Sally started writing mysteries some 10 years later.  Please join me in welcoming Sally to Mysteries and My Musings!

- Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

     Usually I have the plot idea first--and that includes the victim--but only after I play with it, turn it around, upside down, maybe even start to write, do I know who the murderer is. Then I throw myself into the writing and sometimes as the story ripens, someone else may emerge as the murderer. Once (only once, thank heavens!) I finished the whole book and sent it off to my editor. She responded quickly that she liked the book except for one thing: the wrong person did the deed. She didn't know who did it, but it wasn't the person I picked, she said. So I had to go back and find someone else. And she, of course, was absolutely right. The book was so much stronger because of her astute observation.

- Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?

     The first thing I do is come up with a synopsis--usually about two pages--that I send off to my editor. Sometimes this doesn't include who did it, and rarely includes how the seaside knitters discover the real murderer (because at that point, I have no idea!). Then I write a first chapter or two to give me a feeling for the story. By that time, I know the following:

• who was murdered

• who did it

• why they did it

I round those things out with other details such as the season of the year, what else is going on in town at the same time (a wedding? a holiday party? a problem in the life of one of the knitters or a neighbor, etc.), and that's it. I don't have an outline, but as I go along, I keep an open file in which I jot down possible scenes and ideas that occur to me as I'm writing.

Long story short: no outline. None. The story evolves as we go along. This can be very frustrating sometimes and I think, "Oh, wouldn't it be great to have an outline and know what's going to happen next?!" But it never works that way for me. The stories evolve as we go along, me and the characters, holding hands and excited to see what happens down the pike.

- What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?

When I first came up with the idea of the Seaside Knitters series, I needed to know the four main characters well. So I wrote essays about each of them, including where they grew up, went to school, what they were like as kids. How they reacted to happenings in their lives. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them this way. I also use the enneagram, an ancient method of personality profiling, in developing characters, and I assign profiles from this system to individuals, which helps me give them a consistent personality. It also assists in learning their vulnerabilities.

 Sometimes I do have a person I know, or a public person, in mind to help me with the physical characteristics of certain people, but the characters are never modeled after an actual person, not completely anyway.

I do keep a chart of all physical characteristics. Readers are so sharp--they will catch  me at changing hair color if I don't.

- How do you find time for writing, what works for you - and 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 had a full-time position while writing the first three Seaside Mysteries (and the Queen Bee Quilters series). Back then, I wrote from 5:30 to 7 in the morning, at night, on weekends, and took some vacation days.

    Place? I have a screened-in porch that I write on with a friend (Nancy Pickard) in good weather. When it's too hot or too cold, I head to a coffee shop with comfortable chairs.

    If I need a nudge, something to pull me into the mood, I either review what I wrote the day before or pick up someone else's novel, someone I admire, and it almost always draws me to the blank computer screen.

- What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

        Last year I was able to move to full-time writing and it's a much better arrangement than writing at 5:30 am! Normally I write 5 days a week, starting about 9 and going until 3 or so. The few weeks before a deadline, that goes out the window and I write more frequently, as in 'all the time'. Normally I can complete a book in 6 to 9 months. I have done it in less time, but it's difficult.

- What in your background prepared you to write mystery novels?
    It sounds fabricated because everyone says it, but Nancy Drew nurtured my love for mysteries when I was young. I have written other novels, but hadn't considered mysteries because i didn't think I'd be good at the puzzle part. Then a friend suggested I help her with a book she was working on, and from her I learned the fine points of writing a mystery--when and how and why to drop red herrings, how a writer need to relate the murderer, pacing, that sort of thing. And I was hooked.

    Every job I've ever had, from college teaching to working in public television to editing bioethics journals, involved writing. So that, too, was good background. And lastly, I love being around people--cable repairmen, painters, lobster fishermen, teachers, other writers, my friends and family and grandchildren. And maybe that's the best preparation of all--a love for people.

- How did you get your first break toward getting published?  Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter etc?
    My very first break was at a writer's conference. There was an agent there who had agreed, as part of the registration fee, to read a couple pages of a manuscript. She gave us (my first few novels were written with another woman) some tips, asked us to send her a few chapters, and shortly after, she was able to find a home for the book (s). I know it's not always so easy. We were very lucky.

    Years later, after taking a few years off from writing to edit a journal, that same editor mentioned that she'd be willing to represent the seaside knitters. And once again, she found a very nice home for them!
 - What are you currently reading?
I am reading The Room, a haunting novel by Emma Donoghue, Cutting for Stone, and Innocent.

- What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Hmmm. Not sure if this qualifies as a quirk, but I have a great interest in exploring the friendship among strong women. I also think I have pretty good insight into what makes people tick. I employ both those interests and skills in weaving the knitters'  tales.

- Do you participate in a critique group (or have you in the past?) What are the pros and cons of critique groups?
I've never been in a critique group, though I've taught creative writing in college and we did critiquing there. I rarely show my writing to anyone before it goes to my editor, although I do brainstorm with a friend who is also a mystery writer. My editor is my critique person, in a way.

I don't have anything against, critique groups, though, provided there are rules that keep people from doing damage to one another's writing ego. I think critique groups can provide a structure that makes it easier for writers to keep writing.

 Special note:
My next Seaside Knitters book is A Holiday Yarn. It will be in bookstores Nov. 2, 2010. And I am deep into writing the fifth book in the series, A Wedding Shawl, right now.

I love hearing from readers and invite them to visit my website:

Thank you for a great interview Sally!!

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PBS has a new Sherlock Holmes series.  It is set in 21st Century London.  I have seen the premier episode and I must say I liked it.  Here is the PBS website for the new show

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Malcolm R. Campbell said...

I enjoy reading posts about how other writers approach a new story. This one was great even though I start getting the shakes even thinking about writing a synopsis before the work is done.


P.S. I have several blogs. My Malcolm's Round Table blog will be a stop in the blog jog day excitement before people come here. It ought to be fun. The URL for that blog is:

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