About M. J. Williams:
The writing team of M. J. Williams is comprised of sisters-in-law Peggy Joque Williams and Mary Joy Johnson (nee Williams). Peggy is an elementary school teacher and freelance writer. Mary Joy is a retired college professor and professional quilter. Their “On the Road…” mystery series features RVers, Emily and Stan Remington. Both writers live in Madison, Wisconsin.
What inspires you to write?
We love reading. And we love creating the kinds of characters that we love to read about and setting our stories in locales that we’ve enjoyed visiting. Peggy has always written and works in a variety of genres both on spec and freelance, including screenwriting, video script writing, magazine writing, blogging, and other online content. Mary Joy taught writing on the college level for years and thought it was about time that she put her own words into action.
Tell us about your writing process.
We start out by brainstorming together: characters, plot ideas, clues and red-herrings. Because we work as a team, outlining is essential to us. We do our outlining together and do it in great depth. Since we write mysteries, our outline takes the form of a day by day, scene by scene planner. When we are ready to write, we each take a chapter and work from the outline, leapfrogging chapters as we go. We mostly write the story in order, but we don’t hesitate to take a scene out of context or to attack the ending early on if one of us feels the muse working. Once the entire book is written in first draft, we sit down together again and begin the rewrite process together. We will go through several stages of rewriting, including working on feedback from readers, and that’s where our separate voices meld into one.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
We don’t talk to our characters. But we do listen to them. Many of our characters are based on a composite of characteristics of people we know or have met. We’ve begun to internalize our characters personalities, their needs and their wants and that comes out in the choices we make for how they will behave in various situations and what they will say. There are times they will behave uncharacteristically, and that is just as deliberate.
What advice would you give other writers?
Our basic advice is to read a lot, especially in the genre you plan to write, but in general to read widely. And then just sit down and begin writing. Don’t self edit early on. It’s not unusual for us to rewrite our opening several times during the rewrite stage before we’re satisfied. That’s just part of the process. And always, always, have someone who knows writing and knows the genre read it and give constructive feedback.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
We have mixed feelings about the decision to publish through a traditional publisher or to publish independently. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. We love the control we have by publishing independently, and since the larger portion of our sales are through Amazon for the Kindle, we certainly like the royalties. But it is difficult to get books into bookstores on a wide distribution basis when you are independent; and while we’ve done a good job getting our books into bookstores and other venues throughout Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, it is a a lot of work that could be spent writing. Ultimately, it came down to the fact that while agents praised our writing, they didn’t feel they could quickly and easily sell it through their usual contacts. So we went independent.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
It seems that book publishing is continually evolving. The big book publishers are combining and becoming fewer. There are many smaller, independent publishers that are viable. And the vanity presses of old have had to reconfigure themselves into full service businesses that are more legit than ever. All those kinds of publishers are needed for a variety of literary and genre fiction and for non-fiction. Total independent publishing, such as what we are doing, is available to anyone, easy to access, and has very little if any cost associated with it. But it seems that the genres that can truly be financially successful for independent publishing are rather few. Fantasy, romance, some mystery, and of course erotica seem to be the best independent sellers.
What do you use?: Co-writer, Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?: Mystery
What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print