I grew up in Southern California, but now live in a rural community on a remote island in Washington State. I always wanted to write, but didn’t begin in earnest until a few years ago when I wrote my first novel, “Wild Nights.” I just published the sequel, “Spring Moon,” and am working on the third in the trilogy. I hope to have it out by November 2014. I am married to a very understanding and low maintenance man, and live with a high maintenance and demanding German Shepherd. The first cooks for me when I’m busy writing, the second forces me to take long walks every single day, or else.
What inspires you to write?
I feel an immense tenderness for the struggles and foibles of the human animal. I’m inspired by all the ways we get through life and relationships. I like honesty.
Tell us about your writing process.
I do not outline. It might make my life easier, but it’s simply not how I work.
I wrote a blog post last week, in which I describe the year of writing “Wild Nights.” It was funny and painful to revisit that! http://www.redwheelbarrowwriters.com/
“Spring Moon,” the sequel to “Wild Nights,” had a starting point in the characters and situations. After that, I pretty much channeled the story.
I don’t use any special software, 3×5 cards, etc. I write on the computer in the morning most of the time. But I carry big spiral bound notebooks and frequently write long sections by hand while on the ferry boat or while the dog is playing on the beach. I bundle up, this isn’t the tropics! I try to write straight through to the end of the first draft. It may get completely changed, but it helps me see what I have on my mind. Then I print the whole thing out and read through it. I frequently put it aside at that point, let it percolate in the back of my mind. Sometimes I write from dawn to (almost) dawn. Some days I don’t write at all. My mind is always working on the story. I dream it. Pieces of it come from other people. They are frequently pivotal elements that I needed to wait for. My husband is excellent with story, he reads sections as I write. He lacks the kind of criticism I need in the end, but he’s great to keep me moving forward. Then I use four beta readers before beginning the final drafts. None are writers.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I listen to my characters as they talk to each other. I can’t think of a time when I talked to them. I cry with them. I laugh with them. I feel like a fly on the wall. I am frequently surprised by what comes out of their mouths. It could not be more interesting!
What advice would you give other writers?
Write all the way to the end. Don’t censor yourself. KNOW that much of what you write is going to get tossed, don’t take those first few drafts too hard. Just keep going and get it done.
You must must must hire a copy editor. Even when you do, you will find some hair-raising mistakes when you read the proof(s).
Go easy on yourself. Your writing will improve with practice. That is true.
Ignore anyone with a bunch of rules about how you “should” write. There are no “shoulds” is the writing life.
Read Stephen King’s, “On Writing”
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Like most people, I thought of self-publishing as a second-class citizen. I had a development editor on “Wild Nights,” who is also a writer, who spent twenty-years with a big publisher in New York. She was emphatic that I would not find a publisher because I am a woman writer, over the age of 27, writing my first book. And it was not only fiction, it was literary fiction. Her opinion battled with that of another friend who is a publicist and still very much allied with the Big Six (I guess it might be the Big Five, now). She felt I should fling myself at the brick wall of traditional publishing. I knew nothing about self-publishing, but I was swayed by the first woman’s argument that, even if I did find a publisher, I would be required to do all the marketing and so forth, but would be giving up a huge percentage of sales, not to mention losing my rights for many years. Then the publicist called me to design a book cover for one of her clients who had been trying to find a publisher for TEN years, with no success. He had decided to self-publish. I thought about ten frustrating years and the decision was easy. I set up a publishing company, learned as much as I could on short notice, and self-published. It is a never-ending process. It’s a major juggling act. I think something new authors should explore is forming, or joining, a consortium of authors who plan to self-publish. Share the work and give each other moral support. You should consider finding an agent, which is different from a publisher.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I’ve been listening in as Hugh Howey takes on this question. I think it will go through a hybrid phase when, as in Hugh’s case, the traditional publishers soften their attitude toward authors and write contracts that benefit both parties. The traditional publishers were in the enviable position of being able to pre-vet books before buying them, since most authors still felt that being with a Big Six meant they were ‘real’ writers. In Hugh’s case, he knew he was successful, so didn’t collapse on them with gratitude. Traditional publishers do have a machine that does many things, well. They have a distribution network that is difficult for indie authors to access with paperback books. They are great at book quality; they aren’t inclined to send out books with half-baked sentences and bad formatting. They know all about book tours, signings and other traditional avenues of promotion. As more and more people self-publish, there will be more and more people leaving (being forced out of) traditional publishing jobs who will set up shop to help self-publishers with their projects. There are many now. Their help doesn’t come cheap. The cost/investment has been shifted to the author, as has the income if they are successful. I don’t have a clear picture of the future, but I think it will involve traditional publishers becoming less entrenched, and more flexible, about how they pick up and promote properties. It is a business, and though it looks like the wild west this year, it will be civilized at some point.
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print
Link To Mary Ellen Courtney Page On Amazon