Welcome to the five hundred and eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with mystery / thriller author Marietta Miemietz. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. You can also read Marietta’s guest blog and spotlight.
Morgen: Hello, Marietta. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Marietta: I’m based in London, UK. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I read the first children’s books. But I spent the last 15 years working very long hours in the financial services industry, mainly as a pharmaceutical equity research analyst, and although I generated ideas and collated material for numerous books throughout those years, I’ve only now found the time to finish the first one of my books.
Morgen: That’s the tricky bit, isn’t it, finding the time. Life always seems to take over. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Marietta: I am mainly working on mysteries and thrillers – I love to get spooked, so long as there is a happy ending. Also, I try to make my books very humorous and entertaining; to me, the characters, the anecdotes and the atmosphere of a book are more important than the plot itself. At the moment, I am trying to balance suspense and humour in my thrillers, but I am also considering writing a fiction book without any danger or mysteries, just featuring compelling characters that have a lot of interesting things happening to them. Of course, as a financial analyst, I have written a large number of fact-based company and industry pieces that were published by the banks I worked for.
Morgen: Even with romance, or a children’s story, there has to be some drama – what is a story without conflict? What have you had published to-date?
Marietta: My first book, the humorous investment banking thriller “Off-site”, was published in April 2012.
Morgen: You’re self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Marietta: I self-published because it was simple and quick and allowed me to stay in control throughout. Pushing my equity research reports through the banks’ in-house publishing systems was typically a bigger headache than writing them in the first place, and so I didn’t want to risk a lengthy and painful book publishing process though a traditional publisher. The other key take-away from my analyst jobs was that if you want anyone to be aware of your written work, you typically have to do most of the marketing yourself, so I wasn’t sure whether a traditional publisher would give me any publicity edge compared with the self-publishing option.
Morgen: I’d have said, and from what the authors I’ve spoken to have told me, that there’s not a huge amount of difference. I’ve only had one author say that her (mainstream) publisher does all the marketing but I know she’s still very active on Facebook and Twitter. Is your book available as an eBook? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Marietta: I make them available as paperbacks and as e-books, because both versions have their advantages. I love to curl up on a couch with a paperback and turning page after page, and I think a lot of readers feel the same way. But I also know people who read so much that they prefer e-books to having paperbacks clutter up their bookshelves. And of course, you can make e-books available at a much lower price than the paperback, especially as a self-published author.
Morgen: I have hundreds of books cluttering up my bookshelves but it would feel very odd not having them around. Fortunately I have more than I can read in my lifetime (it feels a little sad to say that). Do you have a favourite of your stories or characters? If your book were made into a film, whom would you have as the leading actor/s?
Marietta: I love the “Off-site” protagonist, Aline Alexandre. She has so many autobiographical features that I am itching to take the role myself! Among well-known actors, Nathalie Portman would probably be my first choice. In the book, the lines blur a little between real danger and the things that are going on in Aline’s mind, so it would be important to have a strong actress who is very good at acting out psychological horror. I also love Vincent Worthington, Aline’s spooky boss. You want to hate him, but you can’t help feeling sorry for him. Michael Douglas is my favourite actor for making villains or dubious characters endearing.
Morgen: Two good choices. Regarding the title and cover of your book, how important do you think they are?
Marietta: They’re both very important to me. Books catch my eye based on the title and cover, and I’m always very disappointed if I read a book and there is a disconnect with the title and/or cover – even if it’s a good book in a lot of other respects. Since I self-published, I got to choose both.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Marietta: I am translating “Off-site” into French (the German version, “Das Seminar”, is already available), since I have a lot of family and friends who prefer to read in those languages. I have also started on my next book, a medical thriller. It will have a far more twisted plot than “Off-site”, but at least as much humour.
Morgen: Having different languages must certainly open up other markets, although I have a friend in German who prefers to read in English, and the thicker the book the better. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Marietta: I don’t sit down to write every day, but I have ideas for anecdotes, snippets of dialogue etc. almost every day and write them down immediately, so I don’t forget. When I do sit down to write, I need a good stretch of time to do it – at the very least a few consecutive days, so that I can really immerse myself in the world of my characters. On the other hand, after a week or so of intense writing, I start to feel a bit drained and I need to put the book aside, do something else for a couple of days, then look at it again with fresh eyes. I don’t have classical writer’s block, the words come to me quite easily, but I often find it challenging to engineer events to fit the plot in a plausible way. For example, if you want some but not others of your characters to become acutely ill, how can you work it without the cause of the illness being immediately obvious to your readers? Whenever I hit snags, it is usually related to something like that.
Morgen: Doing something different does help take the pressure off. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Marietta: Both. I start with a very basic plot to set a direction for myself, and I delineate the main characters. But as I write, the characters come alive and develop traits or behave in ways I didn’t necessarily predict, and their personalities give me ideas to fine-tune the plot, or to add or subtract characters in order to better bring out specific qualities in the other characters.
Morgen: I love when the characters do that, the unpredictability of fiction. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Marietta: I come up with a basic list of characters that fit well with the plot. The characters and plot are interwoven; you wouldn’t want your characters to do something that is out of character for them. To avoid stereotyping my characters, I only define their most basic traits at the beginning and then let them act out their personalities as the book evolves. They often surprise me by thinking, doing or saying things I wouldn’t have expected of them when I first invented them. I grow attached to them, so naming them is a bit like naming babies. I usually look at very long lists of Christian names, and telephone books for surnames, before choosing names. Of course, the name has to be credible as well, for example with respect to a character’s nationality.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Marietta: For the most part, I am my own editor. I need to go over my writing several times before I really feel that it flows beautifully and every adjective describes exactly what I want to say. The hardest part is making sure that everything is plausible, coherent and comprehensible; I find that very hard to do on my own work, so I ask someone else to read it once it’s all done.
Morgen: A second pair of eyes is great. I’m very lucky that I have three first readers, two local who prefer to work on paper, the other the other side of the country so does it via email. They’re all very firm but fair. Do you have to do much research?
Marietta: So far I haven’t had to do much research, as the books I’ve worked in take place in settings I know well from my work as an analyst. I do research for specific episodes, e.g. if my characters visit a place I have never been to. But I’m not sure I would ever want the main setting for my books to be an area I don’t know from first-hand experience, as I’m not sure the “feel” of it would ever be authentic.
Morgen: It would certainly help I’d say, although my experience stops short of the dead bodies I have in some of my stories. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Marietta: I prefer to write third person, although some of my favourite books are first-person – most importantly Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series. I would like to try first person eventually, but I imagine it’s hard to invent a character that is not completely autobiographical and to then consistently see the world through that character’s eyes. Second person is a lot of fun, I am in the very early-stages of drafting a humorous book giving advice to bad managers who want to remain bad managers. I don’t think I would want to use second person for giving real advice; I find it tends to sound condescending.
Morgen: That does sound like fun and I’m glad you enjoy second person (as I do). Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Marietta: I’ve been writing non-fiction work for years as an analyst and very much enjoy it, and I do have some plans in that regard further down the line. I haven’t tried writing any poetry or short stories since my high school days. Fiction books come to me more naturally.
Morgen: I prefer fiction although the non-fiction I write is about writing fiction. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Marietta: Yes, I have mapped out an entire series about a young financial analyst who has a lot of bizarre things happening to her over the course of her career. I love the character and the books would be very entertaining, but before I can publish them, I have to make a lot of changes to the plots, events and characters. As it stands right now, they are too autobiographical; I wouldn’t want anyone to pick up one of my books and say “Hey, that character is me, and that scene happened five years ago!”. But I find it very difficult to move complex real life events into fictitious settings, because everything that happens in life leads on to something else and you lose those connections when you change events and characters – especially if it’s a series.
Morgen: I wrote a crime novel a couple of years ago based on a personal experience, really as a kind therapy, but I really enjoyed writing it (and getting my own back!) and want to do something with it, so I’d have to change the names at least. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Marietta: It’s not an issue right now as I self-publish, but to my knowledge, most authors who go down the traditional route get a lot of rejections. That’s not surprising; I suppose a traditional publisher can’t afford to take a chance on a book that might not be a commercial success. Most writers now seem to struggle more with bogus bad book reviews, which seems to be an ever more popular tool by authors and publishers to keep the competition at bay in the wake of some of the spectacular self-publishing successes we’ve seen. But I do remember that when I was nine years old, I wrote a children’s book that got rejected. I sent it to the first publisher I could think of, and it never ever occurred to me that it might not get accepted, so I never even had a backup solution. Since I was only a child, the publisher sent a very nice rejection letter and enclosed a children’s book they had published, which I thought was abominable. I just couldn’t understand why they would publish someone else’s mediocre book and reject my brilliant writing. Looking back, I think the whole episode was hilarious.
Morgen: But it probably spurred you on. I know quite a few authors (myself included) who were shot down and said, “I’ll show you”, and we have. Do you enter competitions?
Marietta: Since I’ve only just published my book, I haven’t entered any competitions yet. I would definitely consider it; I don’t think it can do any harm, and it might help to get your work noticed. My main aim is to try to make everyone who might enjoy some or all of the books I write aware that they exist; the rest is up to the reader. Alerting readers to a new book is not an easy task, and I’m grateful for any help, be it though competitions, book reviews, forums etc.
Morgen: Interviews. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Marietta: I don’t have an agent and I haven’t looked into the possibility of getting an agent enough to answer the questions conclusively, to be honest. But my overall sense is that in today’s world, cascading information is much easier than it was 20 or 30 years ago, so an independent, self-published author should be able to get their book noticed by potential readers. Therefore, self-publication is a viable option. And once readers know you, they either like your work and come back for more, or they don’t. So I think that in the long run, having an agent vs not having one doesn’t make a big difference.
Morgen: I think you’re probably right, although I’m sure if an agent came along we’d be tempted. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Marietta: I do all of the marketing myself and am learning about it in the process. I think the main advantage to having someone else help with the marketing would be the knowledge that person or organization would bring about all of the available channels to disseminate information about your book; but if you know what these are, you might as well contact them yourself and save a lot of money in the process.
Morgen: They do say it’s not what you know but who you know and a professional marketer would certainly know lots of people but these days with the likes of Google, there are ways to find them, we just wouldn’t be so able to address them on first name terms. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Marietta: I absolutely love retreating to the world of my characters, and shaping it in any way I like. After spending a few hours writing, I am always in a good mood! Writing is more strenuous and takes longer than I originally thought. When I was writing “Off-site”, I would often sit down with the goal of writing a particular section and I would think that it was going to take me until late afternoon to finish it, and I made all sorts of other plans for the evening. It often took until evening and when I was finally done, I was too exhausted to do anything. The main surprise to me was how easy it was to self-publish. All the things I had agonized about before, like cover design or book formatting or getting an ISBN, basically took care of themselves.
Morgen: That’s the thing; it’s always the fear of the unknown. Once we know how to do something it’s not so difficult anymore (and we often wonder why we didn’t do it before). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Marietta: Go for it! And write what you want to write, the way you want to write. Don’t try to tweak your style, plot etc. to fit a particular genre or niche. The book has to spring from a central idea and have an authentic feel to it. For every line, ask yourself: “Does it add to the book, or would I feel bored and be tempted to skip it if I were the reader?” Don’t use the book to preach and moralize, unless that is the primary purpose of the book. People buy fiction books to enjoy them, and that’s all that matters.
Morgen: Absolutely. Tweaking your style would invariable lose your ‘voice’. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Marietta: I don’t know to be honest, I’m not very good with hypothetical questions. Probably Jon Bon Jovi, since his music has been my main source of inspiration over the years. I would like to meet Rex Stout; I love his Nero Wolfe series and have never found another book like them. Rex Stout makes you feel that you have actually met the characters. The third person would probably be a great entrepreneur or inventor. I would never expose any of my dinner guests to my own cooking! I would carefully select a good caterer and openly admit it.
Morgen: Me too. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Marietta: Lots of them! And many of them come from songs by Bon Jovi. One of my favourites is “You can’t win until you’re not afraid to lose”.
Morgen: I love that. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Marietta: I self-publish, so by definition I am involved in that part of the process.
Morgen: That’s true. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Marietta: I try to stay on top of the pharmaceutical industry and medical innovation, since most of my career has been in pharmaceutical equity research. I love to read, I like to do gymnastics even though I am an abysmal gymnast, and I like to spend time with family and friends. Which is really about all there is time for if you occasionally want to write a book.
Morgen: I do NaNoWriMo every November so I find having that deadline really useful. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Marietta: Well, I really do enjoy reading your author interviews and guest blogs, I think it’s the most comprehensive source of information about other authors’ perspectives.
Morgen: :*) Thank you very much.
Marietta: I found the CreateSpace page, www.createspace.com, a very useful tool, because it addresses all the issues you are wondering about when you’re first thinking about self-publishing. A friend of mine has also sent me a link to a long list of traditional publishers: www.publishersglobal.com. Louise Wise is creating a library of indie books, which I love to browse. http://pinterest.com/BookJunkies, and Faydra Deon has recently started the Independent Author Index, http://indaindex.com, which is very comprehensive. There also is a great readers’ network, www.goodreads.com. Im Cache – Ähnliche Seiten I am an avid reader in addition to being an author, so I’m always keen to discover books that you wouldn’t find in a bookstore or hear about in the mainstream media.
Morgen: Ah, Louise. I sort of know her. We’ve not met (to my recollection) but we live in the same town… how funny is that. And I almost bought one of her books at a library sale until I queried it with the librarian and found it had been put in there by mistake (it had no ‘discarded’ stamp on it). Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Marietta: I am on LinkedIn, which is perfect for connecting with your business acquaintances. I am also part of various groups relating to writing that are either a part of LinkedIn or accessible through LinkedIn. I like to hear about other authors’ work and experience. I also love the genre-specific forums on amazon.com, e.g. the thriller forum, where people sometimes ask for and make highly specific book recommendations (types of characters, settings etc.). You can discover a lot of interesting books that way.
Morgen: LinkedIn is great. Ask a question and invariably there’ll be plenty of people to help (that’s what I did when I was running low of interviewees earlier this year and I’m now booked 7 months ahead… so I’ve actually deleted it as the deluge of emails was inhibiting my own writing). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Marietta: I don’t think the fundamentals ever change. Readers of fiction books want good stories and they’ll find time to read them, whether it’s during their commute, lunch break or just before drifting off to sleep. Readers of non-fiction books want accurate, well-presented and sometimes gripping accounts of true events. While there is ever more free content on the internet, I don’t think it’s in direct competition with published books. It’s getting easier to get your work published, but you have to be prepared to put in a lot of work to get it noticed.
Morgen: Readers of fiction also want accurate and will only be too happy to tell you when there’s an error. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Marietta: Well, I have an author page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Marietta-Miemietz/e/B007UEOGV8. I have recently started an author page, https://sites.google.com/site/mariettamiemietzfiction; it’s work-in-progress, but for now, readers can get a lot of detail about the plot and characters of Off-site and even read the first chapters to see if they like the writing. I think this interview is probably the most comprehensive source of information about me as a writer.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Marietta: How did you come up with the idea of doing detailed author interviews? What is your advice to independent authors looking to reach out to readers all over the world?
Morgen: I was invited to take part in one not long after I started the blog and I already did podcast audio interviews (via Skype or in person) which were very time-consuming (one could easily take a whole day to record and edit) and I enjoyed it so wound down the audio and these took over. Because the audio interviews were a ‘fireside chat’ style, I wanted these to be too… perhaps why they’ve become quite popular. Thank you, Marietta.
I then invited Marietta to include an extract of her writing…
She entered the West wing with a growing sense of futility. Perhaps she ought to give up and return to the library, where her colleagues were probably wondering what she was up to. Maybe even Julia had re-joined the group by now. Possibly, she had just tried to profit from the coffee break to run a quick errand and something had delayed her return. Aline realized that she was trying to convince herself of some fabricated tale with a happy-ever-after ending because that was what she wanted to believe. She knew perfectly well that there was no errand Julia could possibly be running in this deserted spot.
She was torn from her reveries by a familiar sound, which she could not quite place – a faint click or tap. She held her breath and listened, waiting for the sound to recur. There was nothing but silence. After a while, the silence and the darkness of the hallway became unbearable. Had she only imagined the clicking noise? If not, what could it possibly be? And then the sound recurred with a vengeance. This time around, it was not a single, timid click. It was a furious avalanche of clicks, somewhat reminiscent of a woodpecker pecking at a tree. Only, it was coming from the inside of the building. Aline was sure of it. No outside sound could have penetrated the thick stone walls with such intensity.
There it was again. This time, the clicks came more slowly and sounded less aggressive than before. They appeared to emanate from one of the rooms near the end of the long hallway. Aline took several steps in that direction. The volume of the clicking noise rose with each step, supporting her theory. As she advanced, she became increasingly convinced that the sound originated from the corner room at the end of the West wing. She tiptoed to the door to the room in question and listened. There was no shadow of a doubt now. The clicking noise, which was alternately coming in furious cascades and ebbing away, came from inside the room. With her heart in her mouth, she knocked on the door. “Hello?” she croaked, startled to realize that a croak was all she was capable of. She had intended for her voice to sound firm and steady. There was no reply. With a trembling hand, Aline pushed down the doorknob. The room was unlocked. She pushed the door open and entered.
I then invited Marietta to include a synopsis of her latest book…
Back cover of the humorous investment banking thriller “Off-site”: Aline Alexandre does not relish the prospect of spending the August bank holiday weekend in a secluded spot in Cornwall doing team-building exercises with her glum investment-banking colleagues. What promises to be a dull weekend soon turns into a nightmare. A mystery illness, a narrowly avoided accident, anonymous threats and a gruesome find point to a cat among the pigeons. Could the disconcerting events be connected to a tragedy that took place many years ago on Moorland Manor, the run-down country residence belonging to Aline’s line manager, where the group is staying? Before she has a chance to unravel the mystery, she finds herself trapped in a dark room. Suddenly, she has become more dependent on her colleagues than she had ever thought possible in order to reach her most important goal: to get out alive…
Marietta Miemietz was born in Germany. She has spent 15 years working in the financial services industry, mainly as a pharmaceutical equity research analyst, in the US, Germany and most recently, the UK. She has wanted to be a writer since she learned to read and write and always carries a notebook to capture funny or bizarre anecdotes. She likes to write books that are entertaining, upbeat, humorrous, packed with suspense and unexpected developments and that have a happy ending. Portraying interesting and endearing characters is her first priority. During her many years in investment banking, she has met many talented and entrepreneurial people, as well as some annoying and crazy specimens. One day, she took a walk and thought about how much more exciting it would be if one of the latter was a dangerous psychopath; the idea for her first thriller “Off-site” was born. The protagonist, Aline, has some auto-biographical features; all of the other characters, events and places are purely fictitious, but never far-fetched. Marietta speaks several languages and is working on the German and French translations for “Off-site”, as well as a new thriller.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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