Good Evening Marianne, thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us!
Q: Why did you decide to write a book?
A: Since childhood, I dreamed of writing a book and made several starts over the years, but I never finished anything. I had a lot of ideas but lacked the discipline to complete a project. One day I was at the gym and wanted to read something while I worked out on the treadmill. I picked up the latest copy of Good Housekeeping magazine. Inside I found an excerpt from the latest Elizabeth Berg novel, True To Form. I read the whole thing while my legs got a lengthy workout. The next day, I went to the library and checked out the book. After reading this and every other book Berg wrote, I knew hers was the type of book I wanted to write. This happened shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and a near-drowning experience earlier that same summer. These events left me with an increasing sense that I had no guarantee of time: If I wanted to achieve my goal of writing a book I needed to get serious, sit down, and do it. My first effort, like most before, went nowhere. Then I met the couple who inspired the characters in my novel Blue Hydrangeas, and 18 months later I had a complete manuscript.
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: I have written throughout most of my life, not always for publication. I was an English major at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, where I worked on the student newspaper. At that time, I also freelanced for a number of local newspapers. It was my goal to be a journalist. Instead, I ended up becoming a nurse, but the urge to write never went away. After I’d worked as a hospital nurse for a few years, one of the nurse managers started a newsletter for our department. I volunteered to help and soon I was running the whole thing! This project reignited my desire to write, and I started penning articles, one of which a nursing journal published. Encouraged, I embarked on my first novel. It took 11 years, but I self-published that book and now a second. I’ve also published three short stories. So, although I love being a nurse and it has been a rewarding career for me on many levels, I am at heart a writer. This will always be how I define myself.
Q: How long did it take you to write this book?
A: I write part-time due to a number of repetitive strain injuries that cause me great pain if I overdo the keyboarding. It took me five years to write Swim Season. I started when my daughter was a junior in high school and published during her senior year in college, at the tail end of her swimming career, a bittersweet time.
Q: What do you use to write your books?
A: I use a variety of tools, including my laptop, iPhone, Kindle, dictation software, and the old standbys, paper and pens.
Q: What problems did you encounter?
A: Repetitive strain injuries pose the biggest obstacle to my writing. These include thoracic outlet syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, tendinitis, and chronic neck pain and headaches. All of these are the result of an inappropriate computer workstation at my job. I have struggled with these issues since 2006, a long time. These are obviously serious physical challenges, but I encounter other obstacles as well, although not health-related. At the top of the list is money. It costs a lot to publish and promote a book. Marketing is never ending and advertising is ongoing. Sometimes the return on investment is not there. I made some bad investments. Then my computer crashed and I had to replace it. That ate up a big chunk of the budget for Swim Season.
Q: How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer since you’ve started?
A: Writing has taught me the limitless depths of my imagination, my desire to perfect my craft, my dedication to completing a project no one requires of me, and my unwavering belief that I have something wonderful to offer the world. Swim Season is my second novel and was five years in the making. During that time, I learned that writing a book is an arduous, gruelling, laborious, painstaking task that requires diligence, dedication, time, tenacity, and talent. Much like being a competitive swimmer.
Q: Is there anything you wished you’d known when you started writing?
A: I wish I had known how physically painful this would be, and how mentally draining that pain would be. If I had I would not have embarked on this wild adventure.
Q: Do you structure your plots or just go with the flow?
A: Swim Season was very well structured because it followed my daughter’s actual high school swim season, which was the same year after year. It was an easy way to write a book. Blue Hydrangeas, on the other hand, was not so easy and came to me in parts, which I later had to sew together to make a narrative.
Q: Do you work on a set amount of words per day or does it change?
A: No, repetitive strain injuries forbid this.
Q: Do you do a lot of research when writing a book?
A: I research everything, even those things which I know very well. I try to be as accurate and authentic as possible and leave nothing to chance. In many ways, writing Swim Season was natural and easy. For years, I’d watched my daughter and her team swim their hearts out. In the beginning, I knew next to nothing about the sport, about swim meets. But as the years went on, I learned.
I learned simple things, like the order of events. Try finding your kid on a pool deck swarming with dozens of young swimmers in caps and goggles when you’re not sure which event it is, or whether your child is swimming in it or not. Impossible. I chaperoned the waiting rooms where dozens of youngsters waited for their next event. Try to keep all that adrenaline in check. I volunteered to time the races, and stood at the blocks, race after race, helping to make things run smoothly, making sure the right kid was in the right lane. I helped out at the concession stand, serving up bagels and cream cheese. I was involved with the fundraising activities, Picture Day, and put together the program for Senior Night for a number of years. I took advantage of coaches I knew personally (and some I didn’t) to pick their brains, try out the story’s premise for believability, and tweak the details. Early in the process, I sent out a tweet on Twitter, asking swimmers to complete a questionnaire for a new book about varsity swimming. Almost a dozen young swimmers – girls and boys – responded, and we started dialogues that provided a great background for my story. Some of these swimmers went on to become beta readers. All of them were thrilled at the idea of a book about them, about their sport. This is just some of what I did to research Swim Season.
Q: How would you describe your writing process?
A: Unusual, in that it is dictated by the avoidance of pain.
Q: What time of the day do you find is best to write?
A: Any time I am not in pain is a good time to write. This does not happen every day or even every week.
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
A: Everything inspires me to write. The world is amazing. People are fascinating. I see stories everywhere and some of them are compelling enough for me to want to tell them. Once an idea or image penetrates my brain I start filling in the details, developing a storyline, building characters. If it excites me and takes off far enough, I write an outline so I don’t forget it and put it on my “To Be Written List.” Hopefully, I will live long enough to complete all of these stories.
Q: What draws you to this genre?
A: I’m an eclectic reader, and writer. I write what interests me and worry about the marketing later. That’s why my first book is about the end of life and my second is about high school. Oh well.
Q: Can you relate to any of your own stories?
A: Let me tell you about the time decided to swim the race at the heart of my story, the 500-yard freestyle. I was taking Aquasize classes at my local YMCA. One day I got the idea to try to swim 500 yards. I wanted to see if I could do it, how long it would take, and how I would feel during and afterwards. I have never swum competitively, although I have always loved to swim and am capable of doing the freestyle. My first 500 clocked in at 30 minutes. I stopped after every length to catch my breath and chat with the other ladies in the Aquasize class. I kept at it, though, and after a few weeks managed to complete the 500 in 16 minutes, which was phenomenal for me. Of course, the time to beat in Swim Season is 4:52.50, which, for me, was in never-never land. But, as a middle-aged woman with below-average fitness, I was proud of my achievement. In the end, unfortunately, it exacerbated my repetitive strain injuries and I had to give it up.
Q: Who designed your front cover?
A: Heather McCorkle of McCorkle Creations designed the front cover and the paperback wrap. My daughter Allison, my excellent swimming adviser, and I selected the cover photo. We looked at tons of pictures to choose which one embodied my heroine Aerin’s personality, drive, and determination. It wasn’t easy. I found many I thought would do, but Allie’s keen eyes and years of experience helped weed them out: “Those aren’t the right kind of goggles.” “That one’s wearing earrings; not allowed.” “That suit was banned years ago.” “That one’s doing the fly; isn’t Aerin a freestyler?” All excellent points. I’m so glad she’s on my team.
Q: Who was the first person you showed your novel too?
A: Three author friends from my AlzAuthors collaboration, only one of whom had experience as a swimmer (and a Swim Mom) but all of whom have published books. It was nerve-wracking waiting for them to get back to me with THE VERDICT. Not to worry. They each loved it and gave me excellent feedback.
Q: Have you ever dedicated a book to someone?
A: Swim Season is dedicated to my daughter, Allison, who introduced me to the sport and made me love it. Blue Hydrangeas is dedicated to three of my aunts and my husband’s grandmother, all of whom succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.
Q: How do you market your books?
A: Amazon publishes 3,000 books a day! Without marketing a book is doomed to fail. The first step is to build discoverability through social media. I use Twitter primarily, and then Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram. I also use advertising, such as email newsletters like eReader News Today, Genre Pulse, eBook Betty, Book Zio, and many others. For Swim Season I invested in an advertisement in Swimming World Magazine, a pricey risk, but it seems to be paying off. I also use Amazon Marketing Services. Press releases, though old school, can also attract attention, especially in the local news. And my blog, Adventures in Publishing, is invaluable, my own personal space on the internet.
Q: How do you deal with bad reviews?
A: Bad reviews hurt, but I know I can’t please everyone, nor do I try. It’s all part of the author’s life. The bad reviews help balance the 5-star reviews, too many of which may make prospective readers sceptical of their authenticity.
Q: Do you use an agent?
A: No. I tried going the agent route years ago and it was a discouraging, disheartening experience. I have a pile of rejection letters from agents who never read my book. My feeling is that there are not enough agents to represent the number of quality authors who have a viable project. A lot of good work -and good people – get lost in the shuffle.
Q: How much time do you devote to marketing your books?
A: A lot, but probably not enough. It’s not the amount of time I spend as it is the amount of money. I wish I had five thousand dollars to spend on a book launch, but unless I win the lottery that won’t happen. That being said, I use social media daily and blog posts weekly to promote my books and myself as an author. I also maintain a local presence in my community, organizing book festivals, teaching classes in self-publishing, and doing book talks. I love connecting with readers face to face.
Q: How do you get your book reviews/reviewed?
A: This is the great author dilemma. I sent out an email to my list offering the book via Book Funnel, a great tool to manage downloads. I also asked a number of swimmers and Swim Moms to review and got some great feedback. I did a campaign with Story Cartel that tanked. I requested a review from Readers Favorites which is still pending. A blog tour with Lovin’ the Book Blog Tours resulted in a couple of reviews. And several authors I work with on various projects reviewed it as well. I wish it were easier. People mean well, but everyone’s busy and may not have the time to read and review a book. I know I often make too many promises, although I try to keep up with my review requests. Also, I suspect many readers are shy to post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, perhaps because they don’t know how to or are unsure of their writing skills. They need to understand that just one simple sentence – I loved this book! – can help an author. And authors need reviews not only for social proof but to help them land the best marketing deals, which often rely on the number of reviews (and stars) a book has earned.
Q: Do you do all your own proofreading and editing?
A: I do all of my own editing and proofreading with the help of some great software tools: Grammarly and AutoCrit. I also use Bobbie Christmas’ Find and Refine Method. And I have some great beta readers who help me find all the little gremlins in my manuscripts.
Q: How and where are you publishing this book?
A: Swim Season is published through Kindle Direct Publishing, Create Space, and Ingram. An audiobook through ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) is in the works. Once my 90-day KDP Select period runs out I’ll be going wide via Smashwords.
Q: What are the main benefits of being an independent author?
A: Control. I have control over everything associated with my book, from conception to marketing. I know many authors who have opted to go with small publishing houses and relinquish all control. I think they regret it. Especially when it comes to running sales, collaborating with others to run blog tours and blog hops, and giveaways. Pricing seems to be the issue. I love being able to control my price. I also love having all the say in my cover and interior design. Priceless.
Q: What are you reading at the moment? Which book do you have by your bed?
A: I’m on my annual Christmas book reading binge. This year’s titles include The Christmas Bargain, by Shanna Hatfield, Mistletoe at Moonglow by Deborah Garner, The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans, and several other queued on my Kindle. These stories help put me in the Christmas spirit
Q: What was the first book you ever read?
A: That would have to be my first-grade primer, Tag.
Q: Who is your favourite author/book?
A: I suppose if I could only keep one of my books it would be my collection of Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice is my favourite. Jane is the original romance author.
Q: What is your favourite quote from a book?
A: I can’t say. I’ve read so much and there have been many.
Q: What is your favourite book to film adaptation?
A: Anything Harry Potter. JK Rowling built a fantastic world and to see it created on the big screen is magical. I just saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in 3D and it was jaw-dropping (plus it starred Eddie Redmayne, my favourite actor, so how could it be anything but wonderful?)
Q: Where are your favourite places to read?
A: On the beach, on a float in my pool, in bed, while someone else is driving, outside, at work. Anywhere, really.
Q: What books do you read to your children?
A: My daughter is an adult now, and we share some of the same books, which is an unexpected pleasure. She was never a big reader in the sense that it was her activity of choice, but now that she’s taken a few English classes she caught the bug and we’re book buddies. We’re reading children’s literature and YA, including Chris Van Allsburg and Neil Gaiman. When she was a child we read all of the classics: Dr. Seuss, AA Milne, JK Rowling, and dozens more.
Q: When you read do you prefer a book or a Kindle/tablet?
A: It all depends on what else I’m doing. If I’m on the go I like to read on my Kindle and alternate with the Kindle app on my iPhone. I can easily switch to the Kindle app on my laptop when I’m going to be stationary for a while. If I’m not going anywhere for a few days, I’ll indulge in a real book. If I’m on the road, I’ll download an audiobook.
Q: Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
A: Do your research. Independent publishing is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work. You’re on your own, accountable to no one but yourself, and have to make your own decisions. You will need to develop a number of new skills. It’s imperative you reach out to others. There’s a wealth of camaraderie, support, caring, and sharing of know-how and information in the indie author world. You will also need to develop a thick skin as not everyone will love or appreciate your work and some delight in telling the world what they think of it.
Q: What’s coming next?
A: I’m working on another novel, a YA called Perfect Match. It’s about fourteen-year-old Charlie Donovan from Swim Season, who meets her father for the first time when he’s looking for a bone marrow donor for his young daughter with leukaemia. Like my previous novels, this tackles a serious medical problem and a family in crisis.