MARGARET ANN SPENCE
- Guest Author -
I am pleased to provide my interview with a woman who has had an interesting life. Athough born in Australia, she now resides in the USA, and has done for many years.
Welcome, Margaret ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
My aunt, Nan Hutton, was a journalist in Melbourne for forty years. She started when her sister, my mother, sent some of her wartime letters to the newspaper, which published them and offered her a job. She had a career and she was also a mother and her columns often tackled issues of women's rights. So from these two women I learned that if you write well, someone might take notice. Besides which, English composition was my best subject in school, in fact the only one I was really good at.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER? I studied journalism at Boston University and worked in public relations, writing reams of press releases. But it was not until a few years ago that I ventured into fiction. I used to feel that "making things up" was self-indulgent. But now I see that fiction is a way of getting at the truth.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I usually have an idea of a basic conflict between the main characters. Then I figure out what motivates them and how this drives the conflict. This is all written out but it is not the actual writing of the story. I have an idea of the ending but sometimes the actual ending surprises me as I start writing and get deeper into the story.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
That you can do it anywhere at any time.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER? Well, if you think you can make a living at it you would be deluded. There are exceptions of course, like J.K. Rowling, but in general, you must juggle other work to keep the wolf from the door.
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I've always worked in the publishing world. My first job was with Penguin Books (Australia), then Walkabout Magazine before coming to the USA.
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT? Finishing any book feels really great. Actually getting a novel published is even better. My book, Lipstick on the Strawberry, will be published on July 5 2017 by The Wild Rose Press. It is available for pre-order now at
http:thewildrosepress.com and www.amazon.com.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT? In the drafting stages of a new novel. I have a short story I'm working on, too, but short stories are not really my skill set.
I also blog at www.margaretannspence.com. What I do mostly on that site is to review and thus promote the work of other women writers, most of them little known.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU? Being deeply immersed in family life myself, I find themes of family conflict and resolution always a source of ideas.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE? Women's fiction. I like to see how characters develop under the stresses of life. While all novels have to have some element of mystery to keep the reader turning pages, I don't write crime, spy or political works at all.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS? First, take seriously the notion that writing is a profession. Therefore, you must make time to write every single day. Second, join a writers' group and/or take some writing classes. You need to get the writing out into the smaller world of beta readers in order to improve. Everyone writes a bad first draft, and it's just the first step. So third, recognize that writing a book that will be published takes time and much revision.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK? Sometimes. Reading over the last few chapters and mapping out several directions the story can go helps. Letting the imagination go wild and knowing that the characters couldn't possibly do this or that can create a path forward.
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I'm a morning person. So yes, morning is the best time for me to work.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE? Working on a laptop allows one to write anywhere. But I like a comfy chair and a coffee table or ottoman to put my feet up and rest the laptop on my legs. Also with a cup of coffee to hand.
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING? Just the sheer joy of brain communicating with hand. And the discovery that sometimes I don't know what I think till I have actually written it down.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY? That ultimate women's fiction writer, Jane Austen. Writing within a constrained world she nevertheless delivered stinging social commentary with wit.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
This story kept me turning pages.
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
Women's fiction and its sister, romance, are not worth my time.
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Of course. Novels are not autobiographical, usually, but every writer takes incidents she's come across or even read about and puts them in a story. In my novel, Lipstick on the Strawberry, the character of the father, Frederick, is based on someone I met when we lived in England. I've done a lot of event planning in my various jobs, so making my heroine a caterer was also not a stretch.
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
As you might guess from the recipes in my book, I love to cook. Especially for friends. My passport is always updated so I can travel, but the home-based activity of tending my garden is also something I love to do.
21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes. I hired a professional editor for two rounds of developmental editing. Then my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, bless them, asked me if I'd be open to editing before they offered a contract. I respected that they invested an editor's time in the book before anything was signed. I could have walked away at that stage but the edits suggested made the book better. Then while in production there were copy edits and proof reading, of course.
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY. My perfect day consists of some writing, some exercise, seeing family and/or friends, getting outside into the fresh air. I always take a walk, no matter the weather.
23. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
My husband. He's great company, and he knows how to fix things.
24. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Peace, please. Get over yourselves.
25. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I am at the stage of life where I just want the opportunity to keep on doing what I'm doing.
26. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON BOOK TRAILERS? DO THEY SELL BOOKS? I have to confess I had to look up "book trailer" to see what this means. Therefore, I do not know. Do they sell books?
27. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Well, like my heroine, Camilla, I like to cook, and I sometimes get frustrated and a little irritable.
28. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
It's confusing. There is traditional publishing, hybrid publishing, self- publishing. There are thousands of agents and millions of writers who are rejected by agents. There are still a million books published a year. So the bad news is that the competition is greater than ever. The good news is that there are many venues to publication.
29. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING? Yes. But I couldn't really stop once I'd started.
30. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
I've written a few essays that enabled me to understand what I actually thought. If that makes any sense.
31. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
Oh dear. For me, having been published as a journalist means that having a byline is no real definition of success. It's just doing your job. But publishing a novel is, since it is a new endeavor for me. The next hurdle would be selling a sufficient number. On the other hand, I know people who are stricken by illness or disability and for whom writing their name would be the definition of success.
32. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL? The message would be, I think, that we can never know another person's true motives or feelings, and so should not be judgmental.
33. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
Of course. But where is the car chase? Or the gun battle?
34. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
The cover should reflect the genre and general theme of the book. The Wild Rose Press asks authors for ideas, and then gives it over to a professional artist. I had no say in my cover after the original instruction, but I could not be more thrilled.
35. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM? It would be good to sell enough books to feel that one had really arrived as a writer. Of course being on a best-seller list is the ultimate dream for any writer.
36. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
I am new to this, but marketing one's book seems to be a pretty constant effort. It's difficult when one has been brought up to be modest.
37. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED? No.
38. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS. Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer.
39. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST? Politicians.
40. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
The Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King. This is a book about Apicius, the extravagant epicure of ancient Rome, and his fictional slave, Thracius.
41. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
I had a great time.
42. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE? At my stage of life, the attitude is gratitude.
43. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Thank you, Clancy, for this opportunity to chat. You raise so many thoughtful questions about the writing life. Congratulations on your wonderful blog.
Clancy's comment: My pleasure, Margaret. Love the cover of your book. It looks delicious. I also loved your answer to number 39!