Transcript: BlogTalkRadio Interview with award-winning novelist, Mary Deal
NG Intro: I’m happy to have here with me today, novelist Mary Deal. Mary is the award-winning author of four published novels, The Tropics, The Ka, River Bones, and her newest, Down to the Needle. All are available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. She has written numerous published stories and articles and her website, www.WriteAnyGenre.com is a valuable resource for writers. Mary was a 2009 Pushcart Prize nominee, and she is the Associate Editor for Mississippi Crow magazine.
Mary will be talking with us about each of her books. She will also share some of the ins and outs of Print on Demand publishing–good information for other authors considering their options.
NG: Mary, before we discuss your books, tell our listening audience a little about yourself personally.
MD: I’m retired and spend most of my time writing and editing. I have a grown son who’s extremely talented and who lives in Virginia. I live on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. I grew up with a yearning to live here and moved over with retirement.
I guess I don’t spend all my time writing and editing. Now and again I make it to the beach. I also take lots of photographs which I sell or they also become studies for my oil paintings.
NG: So you’re living the creative life?
MD: Absolutely. But it’s a lot of work to keep all these things going. Though I’m working as much as I would on any job, I don’t consider it hard work because I work only for myself. Yet, everything I do has a lot of detail and requires intense scrutiny. In the case of writing, it’s edit and edit and edit. Then edit some more.
NG: When I asked, you became the Associate Editor for my magazine, Mississippi Crow—and I’m so glad you did. But tell me, is that not heaping more work onto the pile?
MD: Not at all. I spent several years editing other people till my own workload increased. Editing only Mississippi Crow gives me a glimpse of what other people are writing and what’s getting accepted for publication. By the time I received the magazine for editing, the stories and poetry have already been polished or they wouldn’t have been chosen for publication.
NG: Let’s talk about your writing. When did you begin?
MD: I’ve written most of my life and still keep some scribbled pages left over from my younger years. My first attempt at a novel was in the late 1960s in the Caribbean. I had to rush home suddenly, move back to California, due to a family member’s illness. I never continued on that manuscript. However, now I intend to turn it into another thriller.
NG: From what you say, you already have two more thrillers planned in addition to the one that’s just been released.
MD: Yes, it’s my intention to write that old story. It’s such a warped tale, but I must finish the ones that are calling the loudest.
NG: Can you say a little about your first novel?
MD: The Tropics was my first, composed of three entwined novellas. The genre is adventure/suspense. Though it sold well, and is still selling, I have rewritten the entire book. I don’t know if I’ll re-publish that novel, but it was easy to see how that first novel could have been made more exciting and I just edited and rewrote it.
NG: First novels are always rough. It’s brave of you to talk about your book that way. What was this book about?
MD: It’s fictionalized from some of my near-death escapades at sea and takes place in both the Caribbean and Hawaii. One example; I was on a ketch in the Caribbean and we almost went to the bottom! We were able to finally escape the storm. But in my novel, the boat goes to the bottom leaving the characters fighting for survival!
A local reporter here on Kauai wrote a review and added that these stories “shatter the myths of stereotypical islands of Paradise.”
NG: What types of changes have you made?
MD: There is actually nothing wrong with the way it’s written now. My readers say it’s a “tear-jerker book.” I wrote a feature screenplay from this book. After doing that, I saw ways to make it more dramatic, more movie-like. Not that I expected anyone to snap it up and make a movie. It just doesn’t happen like that so there’s no use kidding ourselves.
NG: But you wrote a feature screenplay. Will you write screenplays for all your books?
MD: I LOVE writing screenplays. That was my one and only but it made the semi-finals in a Moondance Film Festival competition. Again, it didn’t go any higher, but through that effort I was able to see the improvements that could be made in the book. That’s why I rewrote it.
Screenplays take as much time to perfect as novels. I have had to choose which I wanted to do – novels or screenplays.
NG: The Ka was your second book. It’s quite different from the rest of your novels. How did you come to write that?
MD: It came from a dream! I woke one morning with scenes from a dream running through my mind – Egyptian scenes. I sometimes dream of foreign places and languages and the dreams fade. But these scenes didn’t. It was like a movie running in my mind. I lay still and let the scenes play out. I think while I was scrutinizing the action, I might have gone back to sleep. The next thing I knew, I woke with a start! In my mind’s eye, I saw one final scene. This picture didn’t move like the others did. It was a still picture and the moment I saw it, I knew all those scenes represented another book coming out of my mind. That one final picture gave me the ending to a story.
NG: I read it recently by the way, and I loved it. Tell the listeners what it’s about.
MD: Oh yes… Egyptian magic interpreted from hieroglyphs by a modern-day archaeological team activates ancient spells and rituals that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. It’s slip-stream fantasy that takes the reader back and forth between a modern-day dig at Valley of the Queens, Egypt and to Egypt of the 18th Dynasty.
NG: I was particularly drawn in by the intrigue, but the imagery and attention to detail in this book made it very real to me. It must have taken some time to pull it together so effectively.
MD: This book is a paranormal suspense. I did four years of research, studying 3500 years of Egyptian dynasties in order to find the perfect place to weave my threads of fantasy. During that time, I published “The Tropics” and wrote another manuscript to first draft. But once I started writing The Ka, I did nothing else – well, I wrote short stories and poetry as ideas popped into my head.
NG: Then you published River Bones, which was your first thriller. I’ve read that one too. By now our listeners will have guessed that I’m a fan. How did that book come about?
MD: I had ideas for two novels but the plots wouldn’t gel. One was about a person who returns home and ends up solving a mystery. The other was about an elusive serial killer being caught. I let those plots sit as they were while I worked on something else. When I went back my hometown area of the Sacramento River Delta for a class reunion, a classmate asked why I didn’t set a story right there in the Delta. Strangely, those two plots came to mind – in a flash! – and I knew how to make them work, so I set a story right there in the Delta.
NG: So River Bones takes place in your hometown area?
MD: Yes, and then when one fellow read the book, he asked, “Why did you set a serial killer in our midst?”
I said, “Never mind. He stays in the book. Get your friends to read it!”
NG: Tell the listeners a little about the story line of River Bones.
MD: A serial killer terrorizes residents among the lush orchards and farmlands of the Sacramento River Delta in California.
NG: What was the award that River Bones won?
MD: River Bones received an Honorable Mention in the Mystery/Thriller category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards competition. Though I wish it could have gone higher, as all writers wish, just making it into the top 10% of all books submitted is a real achievement. Still, River Bones beat out all romance, sci-fi, fantasy, and other genre of books in the Commercial Fiction category. I’m happy. I’m on the right track with my writing.
NG: Yes, that is a huge award. And you’ve told others that your professional reader said your next book, Down to the Needle, is your best yet.
MD: Down to the Needle was just released. It’s also a thriller. It’s about a woman’s decades-long search for her abducted 5-year-old daughter that ends when she finds a young woman her daughter’s age on Death Row, only months away from lethal injection for a crime she didn’t commit.
NG: What a horrible situation to be in! I’ve heard you research for all your books to make the fiction more real.
MD: That’s true. In the case of Down to the Needle, I researched the California Penal Code for the process of appeals. I also researched the process of lethal injection. Ulgh!
NG: What is your next book?
MD: Two next books. I’m writing sequels to River Bones. In fact all my books from now on will use River Bones characters regardless of the cold case involved.
In River Bones, there’s a sub-plot with one of the men going back and forth to Vietnam looking for MIAs. That man will now come forth for a time in the first sequel and the story will start in the Vietnam jungle, though most of it takes place here on Kauai with another cold case being solved.
NG: So it’s not just another sequel, it’s a continuation of the lives of the characters?
MD: Yes, it is! And though each book is a stand-alone story, readers will understand more about the characters and their lives and what motivates them if you read the series, starting with River Bones.
NG: And the next sequel?
MD: That, too, will take place here on Kauai…and in Borneo!
NG: That’s surprising. Why Borneo?
MD: (laughing) It’s another of my unfinished plots that gelled into a story. I have notes for this one sitting on the back burner – with a hundred other plots simmering there.
NG: Mary, you sound like you are not lost for story ideas. What advice can you give for any fledgling writers trying to find a place to begin?
MD: Regardless what people are told, beginning is EASY. Also, writers are told to make outlines. If you remember outlines in school, they are tedious and time-consuming. But that was the way we were taught, in order to get the ideas of outlines fixed in our minds.
For a fledgling writer to make an outline is as simple as making a list of plot points. Once you have that list, go back to each point and make some notes that tell what happens in each scene. From there, you simply start to write the detail, including what each character might say.
NG: What about the characters?
MD: By this time the writer has a good idea what their characters look like, their personalities and such. In fact, they may have this information before they even list the plot points. If so, then simply make a list of the characters features and personality. Writing out character descriptions helps to move into that character’s mind.
Many ways exist to begin to write, but not everyone can make use of them. I’m for whatever helps you function.
NG: Is that the procedure you follow?
MD: (laughing) Sort of. I always make character lists and really define each one with facial features, traits, habits, even irritable qualities and shortcomings. Each character must be different, yet real. Then when writing the actual story, my muse kicks out information so fast that I just sit and write whatever comes out of my mind at the moment.
I’ve been writing this way for a long time, but I’m also able to write the story in the general order that the scenes will appear. Still, it’s not uncommon for me to write a scene, or even the ending, before writing the beginning. If a scene is strong in my mind, I need to get it out. It’s that first flash of creativity that a writer must catch. If you leave a scene in your mind and leave it unwritten, you will never catch the original spark that came with it.
NG: I agree. That’s why writers are known to write on table napkins or any other scrap of paper handy, no matter where they are.
MD: Exactly. If you wait till later to write what your muse has provided, you could lose much of the information and emotion you first had
NG: Can you say a little more to help new writers begin?
MD: Oh, sure. If you have a story idea, just sit down and start to put out sentences. A lot of people say that’s hard to do, that once they sit, their mind goes blank. The remedy for that is to write your THOUGHTS. You have this story rumbling around in your mind. Whatever your thoughts, however jumbled, that’s what you should write. It might even be bits of dialogue. Never mind it’s not perfect and that you’re the only one to understand it. As you go back and read, it’s automatic. You’ll want to improve your sentences, your grammar and punctuation. You must trust yourself. And I also suggest fledglings start by writing short stories. A full length book may be too overwhelming.
NG: That’s certainly good advice. However, a lot of writing teachers advocate starting at the beginning and no place else.
MD: I can agree with that. It provides order to the work. Order and sequences of writing fall into place if a person does whatever it takes to start writing.
NG: Okay, I meant to ask you… Down to the Needle is your 4th novel published. Since it’s nearly impossible to get an acceptance from the larger publishing houses these days, can you tell us how you publish your books?
MD: Certainly. I publish print-on-demand, also abbreviated to POD.
NG: Print-on-demand is out-performing the big houses these days.
MD: That’s right. And since POD is now taking over the publishing industry, more and more big houses are joining or aligning themselves with the more successful POD publishers.
NG: Say a little about the print-on-demand process.
MD: Once a writer researches which POD company they wish to use, the writer chooses which program they like that’s offered by the company. Most companies have inexpensive to moderate to expensive programs. And, yes, there is a fee.
NG: Is this a form of vanity publishing?
MD: Definitely not. Vanity publishing is where you pay anything from $3000 to $30 or $40,000, have your book printed, and then receive your entire shipment of thousands of books to store in your garage. You are responsible for all the promotion, sales, shipping and everything else; including getting your book listed on amazon.com and any other book sale sites.
NG: How does print on demand differ?
MD: With print-on-demand, depending on the program you choose, the work of preparing the manuscript for printing is done by the publisher. That’s the reason for the fees and other services. You can also get hard copies made, or ebooks and now most publishers submit your manuscript into the hand-held reader market. Vanity publishing does none of this. Oh yes, with POD, since they store your manuscript on their printing machines, as few as one book at a time can be ordered and it will be printed immediately.
NG: That beats thousands of copies sitting in your garage getting musty.
MD: It sure does. One drawback of print-on-demand is that you do much of your own marketing, with their guidance. And I need to say that many of the big houses leave much of the marketing to you as well. They do some promotion depending on the potential of your book. But no matter where you publish, as a book writer, you need to look for ways to promote yourself to help your publisher build your reading audience.
Oh! Oh! There is a great advantage to POD publishing that I almost forgot. Since manuscripts are stored in the publisher’s printers, they are always available, unless you have them removed. With the big house publishers, within the first 2-3 months of release, if your book doesn’t sell a good number of copies to make up for their expenses, your book is remaindered and go to the sales tables. And they won’t be reprinted again.
NG: That’s not very long. A person would have to know how to promote and do it fast. About a reading audience, there are ways to build a reading audience before you even write your first book.
MD: I agree. Writing and publishing short stories, poetry, just about anything you can submit and get accepted for publication is building your writing reputation and resume.
NG: It doesn’t happen too often that an unknown writer, not having written or published anything else, gets accepted by a big house.
MD: That’s right. And to get into a big house, an agent is the only person who can get you in. You must first find an agent to represent you. That’s why a lot of people with great reputations turn to print-on-demand. The big houses can only work with a few people and there are nearly two million writers in this country alone.
NG: Have you ever had an agent, Mary?
MD: That’s a sore subject. I’ve had two. The first one asked to see the first draft of my novel at the time, saying she would coach me. Once she received it, she loved it, and sent it out immediately to a dozen big publishers without it being edited and polished. They all rejected the first draft. She ruined me.
NG: What about the second agent?
MD: Another joke. He wanted to rep two of my books. One of them, The Tropics, is written in the form of three entwined novellas. He proceeded to break out each story separately and sent them to three different small publishers. He also sent my big paranormal Egyptian fantasy to a Christian publishing house.
NG: Oh no! So you’ve given up on agents?
MD: Not at all. I just have not been able to attract a good one, in spite of River Bones winning an award… and in spite of one of my short stories being nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
I hope I’m not discouraging any writers. The point I need to make is that you write because you MUST. Leave the rest until you’ve finished your opus and have made it the best that it can be.
NG: Good advice, Mary. So can you tell us how to buy your books?
MD: My books are print-on-demand. That means you must order them at bookstores. You can also go to any online book site and find them. Do a search for my name – Mary Deal, D E A L – and all my books should come up on the same page.
My latest novel, Down to the Needle, should be on the shelves in some stores.
NG: What about autographed copies?
MD: Autographed copies can be purchased from my website through PayPal. Again, simply google my name, Mary Deal, or go to my website, WriteAnyGenre.com. In my website, click on “Novels” on the navigation bar to the left. Or click on the Video Theater and watch video trailers for each of my books. PayPal buttons are on each book page.
NG: Mary’s website, WriterAnyGenre.com, freely provides writing instruction and is a valuable source for writers.
Mary, since Down to the Needle has just been released, would you like to read an excerpt or the synopsis from that book?
MD: That would be wonderful! Let’s see… how about the synopsis from the back cover?
NG: Got for it!
MD: From the day her five-year-old was abducted, Abigail Fisher vows never to stop looking until her daughter is safely returned. Despite multiple searches, twenty-three years have passed without a trace of Becky Ann. So when Abigail learns that death row inmate Megan Winnaker is the same age as her daughter, she can’t help but wonder if the alleged kidnapper – he ex-husband – had Becky Ann’s face surgically altered to prevent identification.
Megan Winnaker maintains her innocence but will be put to death immediately if she loses her final appeal. As Abigail launches her own investigation to determine if Megan is truly her daughter, someone wants nothing more than to stop her in her tracks. Suddenly the house of the witness who landed Megan on death row is burned to the ground. Then Abigail’s home explodes in flame leaving her fighting for her life. An alcoholic witness skips town and another is found dead of a drug overdose. To add to her plight, Abi could lose the love of her life when his former love distracts him.
While Abi waits for DNA proof she is desperate to free an innocent inmate who might just be the one who can fill her empty arms once again.
NG: Wow, Mary. This sounds like a twisted plot. And I do know that your books contain more twists and turns than can ever be included in the required 200-word synopsis.
MD: That’s right. I can’t seem to write simple straight-forward stories. Hopefully, I give my readers their money’s worth.
NG: Well, I for one, love the way you weave magic into your plots and I’m certain your readers love it too.
Mary, I want to thank you for sharing a bit of your life and work with us. I know there is more that you can tell us, but much is also available on your website, correct?
MD: Yes, my site is growing almost daily with writing instruction and tips, both for creative writing and business writing.
Thank you for having me on Blog Talk Radio, Nadia. It’s been fun!
NG: Mary, this has been a special treat for me, extraordinary should be your middle name. Many thanks for coming on the show with me today.
And before I forget, I want to mention to the listeners that one of the easiest ways to find you on the Internet is to Google your name, Mary Deal—the same is true at Amazon.com.