M.J. Rose is an international bestselling author of 13 novels and a founding member and board member of International Thriller Writers (ITW). I had the pleasure of meeting her at ITW’s ThrillerFest this summer. Her latest novel is Seduction, which I’ll be reviewing soon, and below is my interview with the author. Enjoy!
When did you first discover your ability to write, and did you always aspire to be an author?
I wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. I always loved to read though. I think wanting to be a writer just snuck up on me. I don’t actually remember when I knew. As for the first part of your questions – I’m still trying to find my ability to write … I’m more comfortable coming up with ideas than actually writing.
How did you get into advertising, and how has it influenced your career as a writer?
My grandfather was in advertising and at my Dad’s company he was the one who worked with the ad agency. It was always in my blood. Then in college I started taking graphic design classes – which I loved as much as painting – and was much better at. My first job was at a very small ad agency where I wrote the copy and did the design, and I realized after a year I liked the writing better.
You wrote the first self-published book to be picked up by a New York publishing house, Lip Service. What was this process like, and how did you feel when a traditional publisher wanted the book?
I didn’t set out to do that. I got tired of my agent telling me that publishers loved my book but couldn’t figure out how to market it. So I told her I’d put it online and market it (since I was in advertising) and once I had a campaign that worked she could show the publishers how I did it. It was during that effort that The Doubleday Bookclub and Literary Guild discovered Lip Service on line and wrote me and offered to publish it as one of their featured alternates. That was about 6 months after I’d started my experiment. I was convinced it was a friend playing a joke on me.
Do you write every day? If so, how do you avoid distractions and do you set goals for yourself when it comes to the number of words or pages?
At different times in the course of writing a novel I work different ways. The first three to four months of a book, when I’m formulating and researching and planning, I don’t write at all except to take notes. I walk around a lot thinking and calling a few great friends with panicked phone calls about how this idea is most boring book in the world.
Once I start writing the first draft, I write 1,500-2,500 words a day, 5 or 6 days a week, first thing in the morning at 6:30. When I start on the second draft I’m happy – I love editing. I keep up that same pace – working 5-6 days a week but in less of white heat.
As was discussed at length at ThrillerFest, some authors are plotters while others are pantsers. Do you draft an outline before sitting down to write a novel or do you have a rough idea of what you want to say and let the story unfold one page at a time?
I do a bit of both. I can’t over-plot or I’d be too bored to ever write the story but I do a lot of research and need to know quite a lot about the characters and have a list of the top 10 to 15 main scenes and the end before I start.
You wrote a book called What To Do Before Your Book Launch with Randy Susan Meyers that provides writers with information on how to be successful, and your company, AuthorBuzz helps authors market their books. What was the inspiration for this book and service?
When I first got published in 1999, it was a very different world. Authors wrote and publishers published. And a lot of opportunity was falling through the cracks. Together with a wonderful author and one of my closest friends, Douglas Clegg, I wrote a book and started teaching classes called Buzz Your Book. In 2005, that lead to my opening the first marketing firm expressly to help authors (but we work with publishers too). And then last year, Randy and I both realized we’d each written a lot of blog posts that would make an interesting workbook and put What To Do Before Your Book Launch together.
Have you had any authors serve as mentors during your career as a writer?
I was in advertising during the years I was writing my first few books and didn’t know any other authors and so never had a mentor. But I have been very lucky to have a group of amazing friends who are amazing writers and I have learned so much about the craft of writing and story telling from them.
I was always in awe of Hugo and yes, I found his work inspiring but on a grand scale I don’t think I’m at all capable of. As for Seduction I came up with the idea for the book without quite realizing that I’d have to write in his voice. And when it came time to start, I panicked and almost bailed. What hubris! I gave up three times. It was when my agent suggested I read his letters to his friends and family that I might get past the genius thing. Sure enough the letters weren’t as intimidating as his fiction and I started thinking I might pull it off. But it wasn’t until I started writing with a fountain pen and on paper – the way Hugo wrote – that I finally was able to begin. I wrote the whole book – 120,000 words – by hand.
Seduction features two storylines and two time periods. How do you go about keeping the reader emotionally invested in both storylines while advancing the plot at the same time?
As a reader I get bored easily – so I try to keep myself emotionally invested. I figure if I can keep myself excited and I know the story, I might have a shot with the readers.
Some authors dread research while other relish it. When it’s necessary, how do you go about conducting research and do you enjoy it?
I love it. So much so that sometimes I think that I write as an excuse to do the research. In fact I have to force myself to stop.
Do you have any exciting new projects you’re working on?
Yes, I’m starting a new book Sept 1 and it’s a bit different and a big challenge.