Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Three Authors, Three Questions: September 2012

Our guests for September are mystery authors Margaret Coel and Molly MacRae and novelist Stephen Graham Jones.

Welcome to Three Authors, Three Questions

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Margaret Coel is the author of the New York Times bestseller Wind River mystery novels, two suspense novels set in Denver, four non-fiction books, and a collection of short stories. She recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Colorado Arts and Humanities. She has also received the Frank Waters Award for her work on the American West, and the High Plains Emeritus Award for a lifetime of outstanding work. Her eighteenth novel, Buffalo Bill's Dead Now, arrives this September.

You can learn more about Margaret and her books at her website. She can also be found on Facebook.


1. Margaret, how do you approach the revision/editing process after you’ve completed the first draft of a manuscript?

Very carefully. This is where the real work is done. I've always maintained that writing is actually rewriting. I begin with a quick overview that tells me what I need to delete. No need rewriting that! I start at the beginning and work my way through the manuscript, checking facts and consistencies, making sure the plot makes sense. Then I do a final rewrite, shaping the sentences and selecting the best words. As Hemingway put it, rewriting is about getting the words right.


2. Of all the novels or short stories you’ve written (published or unpublished), which one is your favorite and why?

That's a bit like asking a mother, Which child is your favorite? Mothers love all their children, but maybe not in the same way. I have a particular fondness for The Lost Bird and Wife of Moon. But my favorite at any moment is always the book in my head--the latest book. At the moment, that is Buffalo Bill's Dead Now.


3. What is the best writing advice you ever received? And the worst?

The best? Write what you love to read. The worst? Write what you know. I prefer, write what interests you and go do the research.


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Stephen Graham Jones is the author of eleven novels and two collections -- most recently Growing Up Dead in Texas and Zombie Bake-Off -- and has two more books out this fall, and one novella. He's also had some hundred and forty stories published, and been an NEA Fellow, a Stoker Award finalist, a Shirley Jackson Award finalist, a Colorado Book Award finalist, and has won the Texas Institute of Letters Award for fiction. He teaches in the MFA program at CU Boulder and the low-res MFA program at UCR Palm Desert.

For more information about Stephen and his novels, visit Demon Theory. He is also on Facebook and Twitter.


1. Stephen, how do you approach the revision/editing process after you’ve completed the first draft of a manuscript?

Just let it sit for four or six weeks, ideally. So I can forget the twists and turns, be surprised at them, see if they work on second read. If they do, then I show it to friends (editors, friends, writers, readers, strangers). Then they mark it up, make this or that suggestion, and I go back in. Am right there with a novel right now.


2. Of all the novels or short stories you’ve written (published or unpublished), which one is your favorite and why?

I really like this one short story I did back in 1995 or 96, "Carbon." It's in my collection Bleed Into Me. Just got kind of lucky with that one, somehow. I mean, I've been lucky since -- the way Ledfeather ends, say, or that Growing Up Dead in Texas came together -- but "Carbon" was the first time.


3. What is the best writing advice you ever received? And the worst?

Worst advice was probably to make every line perfect and shiny. Some lines are just delivering the story from room to room, and don't need to be shiny, but work best just dull, not drawing undue attention. Best advice was to, after I finish a novel, start writing the next immediately. Don't wait for whatever 'license' the eventual reception of that done novel gives you for the next. Just do it whether you have permission or not. Then do it again.


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Molly MacRae writes the Haunted Yarn Shop mysteries for NAL/Obsidian, making its debut with Last Wool and Testament. In a review, the Boston Globe said Molly writes “Murder with a dose of drollery.” Molly’s stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990. She spent twenty years in upper east Tennessee, the setting for her stories, short and long. She lives in Champaign, Illinois.

You can visit Molly at her website  and at Killer Characters blog. She can also be found at Facebook.


1. Molly, how do you approach the revision/editing process after you’ve completed the first draft of a manuscript?

I’m a back-and-fill writer – I revise as I go, editing the previous day’s output before moving on – so my first draft is close to being a finished draft. But then I go back and hack and polish from start to finish – cutting extra and over-used words, abbreviating lines of dialogue, paring down self-indulgent description, clarifying situations with specifics, adding better descriptions of characters. After finishing Last Wool and Testament, I performed a Total Characterectomy – slicing a whole character right out of the story. I also have some great critique partners who tell me where I leave holes, what doesn’t make sense, and where the; punctuation? needs, help! And then, when I’m smug and think I’m finished, the Penguin editor steps in.


2. Of all the novels or short stories you’ve written (published or unpublished), which one is your favorite and why?

I have a soft spot in my heart for “My Trouble,” the first story Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine published way back in 1990, but I really don’t have a favorite story or novel. I think, though, if I asked the characters from my stories and novels to vote who amongst them is their favorite, everyone but Bitsy would vote for the ghost in the Haunted Yarn Shop mysteries.


3. What is the best writing advice you ever received? And the worst?

The best – from one of my high school English teachers: Revision is the key to success. The worst: Wait until you feel the muse.

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Mini-interviews were conducted via e-mail and compiled by Pat Stoltey. Chiseled in Rock thanks Margaret Coel, Stephen Graham Jones, and Molly MacRae for graciously agreeing to participate in the Three Authors, Three Questions series.


5 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks as ever for these great interviews! I was especially interested in the way these authors approach revising and editing. That really is essential and it requires the ability to 'step back' from what one's written - not always easy. Everyone does it differently and that interests me.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks for coming by, Margot. It's interesting to look at the writing process this way, from different authors' point of view, and compare methods.

Molly MacRae said...

Thanks for having me here today, Pat. I enjoyed thinking about your questions and feel honored to be in such fine company!

Patricia Stoltey said...

You're most welcome, Molly. I'm a big fan, as you know.

Shannon Baker said...

Coming in late to the party but I loved this blog! Thanks to all three and Pat,too!