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Interview with Mary Carter

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1.  Our readers love hearing success stories. Could you tell us a little about your road to getting a traditional publisher, and your publishing success?
  
I started writing my first novel, “She’ll Take It” in January 2002— it was my New Years goal to write a novel. In the beginning my sights were not set on publication, I just knew it would be something I could be proud of, something I’d always wanted to accomplish.  I have always been a writer, but up until that point I had only attempted short stories, essays, poetry, plays and a screenplay.  With the help of a ton of books on writing and an online writing course, I started the task of writing my own novel.  By the end of the first year, I had made quite a bit of headway, but the project wasn’t finished and I hadn’t been working on it consistently.  Enter New Years goal number two— finish the novel!  By September of 2003 I had done just that. 
 
Now thoughts of publication started creeping in. I asked half a dozen friends (who were also big readers) to read the book.  Results were positive, and I decided to take the next step of finding an agent.  I bought The Literary Marketplace Digest, and read through pages of agents, what types of books they represented, where they were located (I wanted New York) and what their submission requirements were.  I sent 15 query letters, and received thirteen rejections and two requests to read the manuscript.  The first agent to read the manuscript called me, and although she was turning down the book, she gave me encouragement and invaluable feedback as to what she didn’t like about it.  Some of her notes struck a chord with me, and I knew the changes needed to be made.  I was in the process of outlining how I could make those changes (she said she’d be willing to read it again if I didn’t get another agent) when my current agent called, said he loved the manuscript and offered to represent me.  His only note was that it was too long for a first novel-- I think it was 94,000 words at the time and he wanted it around 80,000.  At the same time I made the cuts, I also incorporated the notes I had received from the first agent.  Four months later the manuscript was sold to Kensington Books.  “She’ll Take It” came out in March of 2006, one year later.   
 
2.  Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it? Do you write daily, certain hours, have set goals?
 
I wish.  I do not yet make a living as a writer or I would have an exact writing routine and I fantasize about it daily.  I would wake up around 7 am, work out vigorously (I told you this was fantasy), dress, and head out with my laptop for one of my favorite coffee shops.  I’d write anywhere between four and six hours, take a break, and then spend a few hours on research, reading books on writing, or polishing what I had written the day before—and of course some of that time would also be spent sipping my latte, running back and forth to the loo, chatting with strangers, eavesdropping on strangers, wondering if I should have ordered what strangers were eating, (after all I had worked out vigorously that morning) and googling myself.  I’d knock out a chapter a day.  It would be a brilliant life.
 
What I really do—is write around my work schedule, which varies since I work freelance, and sometimes I’m on a job where there is some “down time” so I am able to knock out a little bit at work.  Last month I was working 2:30 to 8 so I would write from 9 to noon or so and then get ready for work. This week I was working 9 to 3 and I didn’t write as much, but I did manage between 3 and 7 pages a day. With “Accidentally Engaged” I had nine months to write it, and it’s so much easier to be motivated when you have a deadline looming.  I believe I ended up writing five days a week, four hours a day. 
 
My third book is not yet under contract, but I am still working on it five days a week, a few stolen hours here or there.  (I’m going to have to increase the pace soon).  I’ll find out next week if the book is going to be picked up by the same publisher or if we are going to shop it around.  I’m daydreaming about taking a month off from my paying job to see what it would be like to have my writing job fantasy come true, although I’m not looking forward to the vigorously working out bit.
 

3.  Do you write from an outline, or do you let the story unfold as it goes?
 
I started “She’ll Take It” without an outline, and at the end of the first year I found myself stuck in the mud.  The book had taken way too many detours because I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going. Characters, like children, act out if they’re given too much freedom, and they need a little guidance.  In one draft of “She’ll Take It”, my character ran off to Florida and lived on a boat. 
 
She ended up meeting the wrong kinds of people, they pushed themselves into the spotlight, and suddenly I’d completely lost her story.  I had to cut, cut, cut, and bring her back into focus.  I couldn’t blame her, she sensed I didn’t know where she was going—and who wouldn’t run off to Florida at the hands of such an irresponsible writer? If you have an outline and a major character suddenly gets a great new idea, you are able to step back and figure out whether or not it fits into the grand scheme of their life, or if you’re character is simply having a total mid-life crisis.  (Since books don’t last as long as real life, mid-life crises can happen to a character of any age).  It’s your job to encourage their good ideas (sure you can take yoga) and squelch the bad ones.  (No, I don’t see you running over him in a Jaguar convertible). 
 
So, even though I like writing outlines about as much as I like going to the dentist, (which reminds me I’m overdue), I’ll never go without. I also do a character sheet on every major character in the book. That said, I give myself permission to veer from the outline and allow surprises to pop up while writing.  I decide whether or not they fit, and then sometimes I’ll go back and revise the outline.
 
4.  For our readers who want to write chicklit type novels, what advice can you give?
 
Whatever genre you want to write in, read everything you can in that genre.  The good, the bad, the ugly.  Read books that are so well written they depress you because you think you’ll never be able to write that well and you’ll decide on the spot you’re never going to write again and you’ll start watching infomercials on how to earn millions doing nothing from home.  Cry and eat ice cream.  Wallow for days.  Then immediately pick up something that is so poorly written you wonder who they slept with to get it published.  You’ll swell up with superiority. 
 
You’ll put all the sharp objects away and realize you can live to type another page.  If you’ve already ordered the make-millions-from-home-doing-nothing kit, stick it in the closet and save it for the next book—(because those feelings are like weeds—they always grow back).  You’ll get a sense of what’s out there, what you like, and why you think your book has a place among them. I can only hope that right now somebody is reading my book, wiping tears from her eyes while putting away the Hagen Daas and the butcher knife, muttering, “My dog can write better than this.”  If it only happens once, I’ve done my job.
 
But when you actually sit down to write, don’t worry about genre.  You want unique characters and situations, you want them to become living, breathing people.  I was discouraged from writing my first novel by the online writing instructor whose course I was taking.  He wouldn’t read our actual writing, but he would ask and answer questions about plot, structure, characters, etc.  When he found out my heroine was—God forbid!—a kleptomaniac, he said (and I quote)”You’ll never sell a novel where the heroine is a kleptomaniac.”  (Please immediately go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble and type in— “She’ll Take It”).
 
Granted, I knew having a character with that major of a flaw would be a challenge.  But by this time I knew and loved my character Melanie.  I couldn’t NOT make her a klepto, that’s who she was.  That was her struggle in life and her story had to be told.  Who was I to judge her?  And if I loved her, if I understood her, if I rooted for her, wouldn’t others?  Granted, some people have read my book and they didn’t love her like I do.  That’s okay.  Some people think because my first two books were chicklit, they should be dismissed.  I don’t let those people take up too much space in my head—believe me, it’s crowded enough up there.
 
And I’m happy to say, I was right—- the majority of readers loved Melanie too.  They may not have loved what she was doing, they wanted her to learn, to grow—but they stayed with her.  But that wasn’t an anomaly; it happened because I loved her first.  That’s the key.  Write what you have to write.  Write about characters in struggle.  Who is the loudest character in your head?  They’re the ones dying to get out; they’re the ones with something to say. If I had followed “chicklit rules” I may have become confused.  I may have ignored my little voice.  So do your research and then let it go.  The muse always rules—and you are your first audience.  Write for yourself.  Develop a critical eye.  If you’re bored, your readers will be too.  Love your characters.  Believe in them.  If you’re there for them, believe me they’ll come through for you in ways you never imagined possible.
 
5.  Your characters are very believeable, and you write with a wonderful mixture of interesting plot and fun, sexy romance. Where do your ideas come from? Do you have your main characters well-fixed in your mind before
writing? And of course, we all want to know if your Tarot reader is based on a real person!
 
Thank you.  I think I actually jumped ahead and talked about this a little.  I start with writing about things that excite me.  After my first novel, I had started a second book about a female detective investigating mates who cheated.  I had a couple of hundred pages and I sent it to my agent.  Always polite, he said, “I like it, but I don’t love it.”  That was all I needed to hear.  I dumped it.  I realized I felt exactly the same way.  Life is short and busy, who has time to waste on so-so?  Who wants to read something they “like”? Who wants to date someone who they aren’t madly in love with?  So it all comes back to—what do you love? 
 
Well, even though I’ve never had any real luck with it—I love the idea of psychic powers and Tarot readings.  I love talking about psychic phenomena.  I love hearing other people’s stories.  I want things to happen when I read a book.  So that’s where “Accidentally Engaged” started.  I knew my main character would be a Tarot Card reader, and I knew she was at work at a psychic fair.  Honestly, this doesn’t always happen, but the first three chapters wrote themselves.  It happened so fast that I immediately sent the pages to my agent, thinking it was for his eyes only at this point.  Well this one he did love, and he immediately sent them to my editor who said—I love it—where’s the outline?! 
 
So next thing I know (literally an hour after sending the first three chapters to my agent) I get a phone call asking if there was any way I could now come up with the 15 or so page outline in the next hour?  I might be exaggerating here, but it went something like that.  So I freaked out and wrote an outline.  Luckily, my editor said I didn’t have to feel bound to it.  Thank God, because boy did that story take on its own twists and turns. I won’t go into them or I’ll spoil it.  Bottom line, even if my characters are “loosely based” on someone I know, they always take on their own life.  And I’m sure, a little bit of me is always in every character I write, but that may be more of a topic for a shrink’s couch than an author interview.
 
6. Any last thing you'd like readers to know about your books?
 
I would just like to thank everyone who took time to read this, and I hope you’ll enjoy “She’ll Take It” and “Accidentally Engaged”.  And if you’re a writer too, good luck and keep going.  It’s a great ride.  Readers can contact me through marycarterbooks.com  

AUTHOR'S BIO:
 
Mary Carter is a freelance writer and certified sign language interpreter. She’s a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (NYC) and Rochester Institute of Technology/NTID. Her first novel, SHE’LL TAKE IT, has been optioned by Paramount Pictures for a weekly television series, and will be re-published by Headline Books/Little Black Dress in the UK in November 2006. Her second novel, ACCIDENTALLY ENGAGED, a comedy about a tarot card reader who messes up the engagement of a very prominent bachelor

Please visit my COMMENTS webpage where you can leave your thoughts to Mary about her book and interview.

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Daily Horoscope for Pisces: Beware road-trips, handsome strangers, and mysterious, low-flying, unidentified flying objects . . . .
 
Psychic Clair Ivars has a flair for reading Tarot cards, yet a total blind spot when it comes to predicting her own future—especially matters of the heart (see previous three failed marriages). Which might explain why she’s surprised to find herself accidentally engaged to vodka magnate Jake Heron after knowing him only for a few hours.
 
What it doesn’t explain however is an increasingly strange series of events, from the car that off-roads of its own accord, the appearance of Jack’s fairy-tale castle hidden in the woods, the things that keep going bump in the night—and Clair’s potential mother-in-law, whose hiding one hell of a family secret.
 
And it definitely doesn’t explain the peculiar way Clair keeps thinking about Jack’s business partner—the tall, dark, mysterious, and infuriatingly sexy Mike. . .
 
Get ready for a quirky comedy at its very best—and a romantic road trip you’ll never forget.

If you'd like to be interviewed, or simply appear on my blog, send me an email to:
museitupeditor@yahoo.ca