- GUEST AUTHOR -
Today, I interview an author who has written under various names. Doreen is the author of 66 books, novellas and various articles. Born in the UK, she now resides in the USA.
Welcome, Doreen ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I guess my career as an author began in London, during WW II. I was five years old when England declared war on Germany, and I spent a great deal of my childhood in bomb shelters. I told stories to my classmates, spinning the tales off the top of my head, without really knowing what I was doing. It kept their minds off the gunfire and explosions, and that was all that mattered. My first published work was a letter to a national newspaper. I was eight years old. It wasn’t until forty years later that I attempted to publish again.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I’d been writing most of my life – short stories, poems, newsletters for my British Club, etc. Now living in the U.S., facing my fiftieth birthday, married and the mother of a teenage son, I read a somewhat patronizing article about women writing romances at the kitchen table and decided to give it a shot. I’d been reading romance novels for years, so I knew how they worked. I wrote four of them on a typewriter, all of which ended up in the trash, then started work on the fifth.
Meanwhile I attended a writer’s conference and met a wonderful editor from Harlequin/Silhouette who invited me to send her a proposal. Two months later she wrote and asked me to send the full manuscript. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I invested in a computer, finished the novel and sent it in. Two months later, on February 6th, 1987 at 2.30 in the afternoon, I received the call. I was a published author. I think the entire neighbourhood heard me scream.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I write mysteries now, so plotting beforehand is pretty much essential. Before I start writing the book I have to know who died, who killed him, why and how he was killed, who are the other suspects and their possible motivations. I think of it as building a house. First, I need the setting, and it has to be unique, like another character in the book. Then I lay the foundation, which are the main plot points. After that I start writing the chapters, adding the rooms with all the interactions with the characters. Then I go back and fill in the decorating and furniture, which are details of scenery, emotions, self-examinations of the protagonist, etc. It works for me, but that doesn’t mean it works for everyone. A lot of excellent authors I know fly by the seat of their pants.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
So many things! I guess the most enjoyable aspect of it all is escaping to a world I’ve created. When I’m in the zone, I am there, sharing in their adventures. My characters become like family to me. They intrude on my days and wake me up at night to tell me where I’m going wrong, or where they want to go next. When a series ends I feel a deep sense of loss, as though I’m saying goodbye to people close to me.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Sitting down every morning in front of a blank page. I can find so many things to do instead. Once I actually start writing I can stay with it for two or three hours, but that initial motivation to open up the manuscript is sheer torture. I don’t know why, as I love writing. Maybe it’s an obscure fear that I won’t be able to produce – that whatever it is that prompts me and allows me to write will be gone.
6. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
I used to write romantic suspense and have twenty-six books published with Harlequin. I now write nothing but mysteries. They are cozies, similar to the work of the great Dame Agatha Christie, though I could only hope to reach such majestic heights. Twenty-four of them are set in Edwardian England, nine in WW II England and the rest are contemporary.
7. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
If you want to write a book to make money, find another hobby. If you want to write a book because something inside you is driving you - a need to write, a dedication to your ideas, words that are in your head clamouring to get out - then sit down and write. It takes time to learn to write well enough to sell. Yes, I sold the first manuscript I sent in to a publisher, but it wasn’t the first book I wrote. I spent half a lifetime honing my craft before I felt ready to be published. Learn all you can. There is so much information on the Internet now – so much that wasn’t available to me when I was learning. Listen to criticism but take what you feel is right for you and discard the rest. Pour your heart and soul into your writing and above all, NEVER GIVE UP. Believe in yourself and you can make it happen.
8. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Yes, I do. Most of the time I can work through it, but five years ago I had one that lasted almost two years. I had ended a twenty-one book mystery series and was convinced I wanted to retire. I had been fighting deadlines for almost thirty years and I was tired. I had no new ideas and I’d lost the joy in the whole process. Then my husband and I took a road trip in an RV around the entire country, following all four borders, stopping off to see the sights and visit relatives and friends. I don’t know if it was the change of scenery and lifestyle - living in a motorhome for three months can be a challenge - but soon after we returned home I was bitten by the bug again. I’m still happily writing.
9. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
My husband is a late sleeper, while I am a morning person. I get up early and write for about three hours until it’s time to wake up Bill and get the day started. It works for me, as my mind is clearer in the morning. As the day wears on, my head gets clogged up with all the chaos and uncertainty of living in these modern times. I think that’s why I started out writing historical mysteries - I could go back to a more quiet and gentle time. I love the upstairs/downstairs life of early twentieth century England, and always felt at peace while writing those books.
10. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
I have had readers write to tell me how my books have helped them relax, find peace, etc, but when one of my readers told me he read my books out loud to his dying mother in a hospital and accumulated a large group of patients all eager to hear the next installment - that meant the world to me.
11. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
I had one reader who read all the books in the Pennyfoot Hotel mysteries and wrote awful reviews of every one of them. He kept saying he couldn’t understand why they were so popular. I couldn’t understand why he kept reading them.
12. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Absolutely! The Pennyfoot Hotel mysteries are based on the seaside hotel my family owned in England, and the delightfully eccentric guests that stayed there. The Manor House mysteries, set in WW II, are based on my experiences during the war, though I set the stories in a remote village, so that I could tell the stories with a humorous touch, which might not have been possible if I’d set them in London.
13. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I used to love dancing, ice-skating and playing tennis, since I grew up in Wimbledon. These days my pursuits are more sedate. I love to play golf, play the piano and walk our little chihuahua mix dog.
14. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
No, I didn’t. That doesn’t mean they didn’t need editing – and still do. I have been fortunate to have some of the best editors in the business work with me, and I shall always be eternally grateful for their help and advice.
15. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
That depends on what the writer wants. Fame and fortune come to very few in this profession. In my mind, if you write something that is read and enjoyed by even a few people, that is success as a writer.
16. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I think readers should have the satisfaction of knowing that no matter how big the problem, there’s always a solution. You just have to dig to find it. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth the effort.
17. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
Absolutely! I once had a producer in Los Angeles contact me about televising the Pennyfoot mysteries. Nothing ever came of it, but it was exciting at the time. I did write a screenplay and had it optioned for a weekly series, but again, nothing came of it. Getting anything even read in Hollywood is tough, much less accepted for filming.
18. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
I am notoriously bad at marketing. I do have a website, I am on social media to some extent, though not nearly as often as I should be. I am from the old school of thinking, that all the marketing in the world is not going to help if you don’t have something spectacular to sell. I’d rather spend the time working on my books and making them the very best they can be.
19. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
No, most of them are published by Berkley/Penguin and the rest by Crooked Lane. I have the rights back to several of the Berkley books and I republished them as Ebooks on Amazon.
20. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Thank you, Clancy, for inviting me to contribute to your blog. To any of my readers who might be reading this - my heartfelt gratitude for your loyalty and your friendship. It means everything to me. And to all aspiring authors - I wish you the very best of luck. Stick with it, work hard and true success can be yours.
Clancy's comment: You are most welcome, Doreen. It's been a pleasure. 66 books! Wow! I love the titles of your books. Best wishes with book sales, and keep writing.