DONNA HUSTON MURRAY
- Guest Author -
Welcome to the life of a top author from the USA. Donna has been writing since she was ten, and has achieved great success.
Welcome, Donna ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
A short story I read years and years ago went something like this: A woman thought the girl next door was nuts because she dressed up like someone different every day. Secretly, the girl pitied the woman for “living her only only only life.” I may be nuts, but I can’t resist imagining myself in other peoples’ shoes, especially if they’re doing something intriguing. What better way to find out what you’re missing?
So, yes, I love characters. And quirky facts, and solving problems, and playing with words. If I hadn’t read Rex Stout when I was ten and decided that writing mysteries seemed like fun, I might have studied business. Instead I published a series of seven cozies with St. Martin’s Press, took a break to stretch and experiment, then—fast-forward—decided to go into business for myself. No more waiting for someone else to make a decision, my fate in my own hands.
How is that working out? My reissue of FINAL ARRANGEMENTS achieved #1 on Amazon for paid Mysteries, also #1 for Female Sleuths. THE MAIN LINE IS MURDER reached #2 for Female Sleuths. Better yet, CURED…BUT NOT OUT OF DANGER, the first in my new suspense series, got some fantastic reviews. “This book should be picked up and savored! It simply pulled me in and held on tight…one of my top picks.” Judge, Writer’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards, “a gripping page-turner” Publisher’s Weekly.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
While my husband and I were on vacation, our son answered a call from an agent I had approached. “Is this news she’s going to want to get?” he asked. The answer was yes, so Casey gave him the number of our hotel. Three months later I signed a three-book contract with St. Martin’s Press.
WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
People trying to learn how to write fiction often hope that hearing about somebody else’s process will lead them to their own. I’m happy to share, but the real answers are at the end.
What gets me started is a fact or notion that intrigues me, such as a divorcing couple getting joint custody of a show dog or my personal opinion that cancer survivors are heroic. When I have that much, I go on High Alert for a catalyst—think flint in search of a stone. Maybe my character desperately needs a good a dog trainer but the only one she knows is preoccupied by a nasty divorce. How about a killer stripping away all of my new heroine’s resources to insure that she gets blamed for his crime?
Next I put whatever I know must happen on a file card, white for normal action, pink for dramatic stuff. When I have about 15-20 cards, I banish the dog and arrange them on the living room floor. Now I can see where I need transition, research, more action, more plot. I’m watching for a wave of tension and relief, tension and relief, which is what the pink cards show. Eventually there will be around 40 cards, which I number in case the dog wanders in. I can now read the plot in about 10 minutes, which lets me check my logic—mystery/suspense readers are fussy about that, and so am I. The card info gets fleshed out into paragraphs on my computer and broken down into chapters. Voila—no blank screen in the morning for me.
Of course, winging it is quite acceptable, too, assuming that you can wrap things up neatly without an outline, which obviously I can’t. The only method that matters is the one that works for whoever is doing the writing.
And finally, describing the mechanics of our craft is the only part of the process we can describe. We can’t really say how we create, because we don’t know ourselves. Sure, there’s a connection to our subconscious that we cultivate, protect, and prize; but where our subconscious comes up with the stuff that goes on the page remains a lovely, magical mystery.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Rewriting. I love to polish a first draft until it says what I meant to say in the first place.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
If I need a red-headed boy with a bike who quotes Shakespeare, up pops a kid who says, “I’ll do it.”
And, since scenes roll across my mental screen like a movie, at first it feels as if I’m just writing down what I see. But plots? Those take a chisel and hammer.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
An executive assistant, aka “secretary.” I type really really well.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
At a mystery convention a woman took me aside to say thank-you. “My daughter started reading because of your books.” That still blows me away every time I think of it.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’m well into GUILT TRIP, the second Lauren Beck crime novel. To appease her sister-in-law’s doubts about her older brother’s suicide, Lauren travels to the Caribbean with Karen’s extended family to scatter his ashes. Aiming for a May or June 2015 release.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Anything and everything.
WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Mystery and suspense, which offer two bonuses you wouldn’t necessarily guess. Mysteries invite the greatest degree of reader participation, that extra Can-I-guess-the-murderer-before-the-author-tells-me ingredient. And, while literary novels run screaming from anything that would date them, the specifics of everyday life are a mystery’s meat and potatoes, the clues and red-herrings that make them perfect for sealing inside a time capsule. Suspense novels are more of a once-in-a-lifetime rollercoaster ride. Rather than “Whodunit?” the central questions are, “What’s going on?” and “How do we get out of this?”
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Develop the habit of listening to your own thoughts.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
When I’m stalled, I’ve learned it’s because I haven’t made a difficult decision about something—the plot or my character—or else I’m missing some research.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
Yes. Pencil-sharpen as long as possible then work like crazy.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Connecting with readers.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
Lee Child. His character comes across as heroic without any macho posturing—he just is. His prose is always clean, tight, and engaging; the suspense never feels contrived; and his books are totally different from mine.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Certainly things that have happened to me and around me have influenced my perspective and provided some raw material, but by the time a story is told you’d be hard pressed to find the match that started the fire.
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
My daughter, who happens to teach writing, is my go-to editor. She loves to tell me what I’ve done wrong; I swallow hard and listen. My husband also taught English before he became a head of school.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
My husband. We’ve been together a long time and still haven’t run out of things to talk about.
WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO HEAVEN?
I’m hoping that heaven will have more than five books.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Both my main characters are fantasy versions of me.
DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Never occurred to me.
HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
Sometimes not enough.* A cover is crucial. Ideally, it will convey your genre and your content and be attractive in its own right. If possible, the title should be readable even when it’s the size of a thumbprint. I personally hope for an image that suggests motion or raises a question. A series should have a signature look, not cookie cutter, but a font or some similarity that connects the books to each other. *The first cover my publisher gave my first book gave away my ending (since replaced).
ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
My first 7 books were traditionally published, but I got tempted to follow the pioneers who went independent and succeeded. Turns out I’m energized by all the new challenges and am enjoying my work more than ever.
DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Stubborn, creative, inquisitive, caring, and short.
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Thank you Clancy Tucker, and any other readers, for your interest. Now it’s your turn to tell me about you.
Facebook link: Donna Huston Murray, Author
Clancy's comment: Thank you, Donna. Appreciate you making the time for this interview. Keep going, and best wishes.
Think about this!