Welcome to the six hundred and fourteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical mystery author and spotlightee Eleanor Sullivan. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Eleanor. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Eleanor: I live in St. Louis, Missouri in the States, and I’ve been writing since forced to in graduate school. Later, as a professor, I wrote professional articles and textbooks and for the last 10 years I’ve been writing mysteries.
Morgen: It’s interesting you say ‘forced to’. It clearly didn’t put you off. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Eleanor: I only write mystery fiction but I have two series—a contemporary and a historical series. No, I only read mysteries so that’s all I have enough interest in to write.
Morgen: Historical and mystery are two of the most popular genres. I’ve had three agents tell me face-to-face that they’re after more historical and crime, one telling me she wants cosy crime, more Agatha Christie. What have you had published to-date? Are your books available as eBooks?
Eleanor: I have four books published, three in the Monika Everhardt series (Twice Dead, Deadly Diversion, Assumed Dead), and the first in the Singular Village Mystery series (Cover Her Body). Yes, they are all available as eBooks.
Morgen: Great titles. Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Eleanor: I definitely love my new series and the midwife protagonist, Adelaide. The series is set in the village where my ancestors settled after they escaped brutal persecution in their native Germany to come to America. My own distant grandfather was their leader so he becomes a realistic adversary for my midwife protagonist.
Morgen: Wow. They say to write what you know, and it always helps with getting your facts right. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Eleanor: I think both titles and covers are vital to a book’s success, and I’ve been delighted with both my nonfiction and fiction titles. Sometimes I’ve been asked about a cover and found the publisher responsive to my comments, even changing one that I found inappropriate.
Morgen: It’s great that you can have that say. Many authors, especially with mainstream publishers, don’t have a choice and it must be so hard marketing something your heart’s not with. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Eleanor: I’m working on the next Singular Village Mystery, Graven Images. When an itinerant artist is found hanging in a barn, local villagers are quick to blame an Irish traveller conveniently passing through town. A young midwife fears that if she can’t discover the real murderer before the traveller’s broken leg heals, he’ll be turned over to the American authorities where he’ll surely be hanged.
Morgen: What a great plot. You sound very busy, do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Eleanor: I write every day during the week, mostly in the mornings. Afternoons, I answer emails, comment on blogs, create blog posts, and other promotional work. I take weekends off. I think that schedule keeps me from having writer’s block because I have enough thinking time between writing sessions to process the work.
Morgen: You’re very wise having it planned like that. I’m so involved in the blog (and my four new ones!) that I have little time for writing, but I plan to do more writing this year… I just need a schedule like yours. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Eleanor: I’m a plotter! As a former scientist, I can’t imagine creating a story without knowing the puzzle pieces first. Of course, lots changes during the writing, but I need a starting place to hang everything else on.
Morgen: I’m sure planning does help with mysteries. Most of the authors I’ve spoken to have been ‘pantsers’ and I included myself but I rather unravelled with my latest (a crime) novel but it’s the first in a series so I think it’s turned out more like episodes within the series so I’m going to write synopses for it and see where, as you say, the pieces go. You mentioned Adelaide, do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Eleanor: I try to create dimensional characters who are more honorable than most of us but have faults as well. During the story, I want them to learn something about themselves and to become better people in the process. Names are very important, especially the protagonists. They must convey some quality about the character. Adelaide and Benjamin are the POV characters in Cover Her Body, but Gerda, the matron of the girls’ dormitory, is as mean as her name.
Morgen: Gerda sounds great! Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Eleanor: I keep thinking my writing will become more fully-formed but to date, that hasn’t happened. Not only do I do lots of rewriting, I have more to do once my editor sees it!
Morgen: The joy of a second opinion, which we all need. Do you have to do much research?
Eleanor: I do a lot of research for the historical series, traveling to the town in Ohio where my stories take place and going to Germany this September to visit the original settlements of the people. Even tiny details, like how to mold tin into a cup, must be accurate. The town’s historian always reviews my manuscript and she usually find small details that I have wrong. I pride myself on being historically accurate!
Morgen: It’s great having an expert at your fingertips. There will always be a reader who knows more about a topic than the author, and be happy to set us right, so we have to get it as accurate as we can. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Eleanor: One manuscript is buried so deep that not even a sliver of light could creep in!
Morgen: <laughs> Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Eleanor: I have a file drawer of them! At the time I was devastated. But in reality, they helped my writing improve.
Morgen: And they should when we get feedback, it’s how we learn, and usually they’re just the wrong person for the right thing. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Eleanor: I do some marketing. Of course, I could always do more but then I’d never get to the writing! Social media has made that easier today as has the availability of books (both paper and eBooks) online. Also, I’m known in some professional circles and still write in my field, so I think there’s some overlap there as well.
Morgen: It’s just getting your name out there isn’t it, and as you say it’s easier to jump up and down shouting “pick me”, the trouble is there are so many of us jumping. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Eleanor: Asking people to help promote my books is my least favourite aspect of writing. Most are happy to do it; I just hesitate to ask.
Morgen: Online, promotion should come from others. No-one likes “please by my books” – it’s the quickest way to get defollowed on Twitter. This is where being a guest on a blog helps. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Eleanor: Keep trying to improve. The writers who fail inevitably weren’t willing to take classes or workshops to improve their work or were unwilling to listen to critique advice. Remember, writing is a creative activity, but publishing is a business.
Morgen: Critique is so important – the four new blogs I set up are online writing groups and although they’re only a week old, I’ve already had submissions for each site, and some great interaction (I also put up four writing exercises on each site every day). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Eleanor: Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” I take his advice to heart.
Morgen: I’ve not heard that before, I love it. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Eleanor: I love the symphony, live theatre, and American blue-grass music. I read several mysteries a week, and I especially love English historical mysteries. Also, I’m trying to learn German in anticipation of a forthcoming trip, a project that’s not going so well.
Morgen: Oh dear. I studied German at school and at college since, and have had friends there since I was a young teen (Morgen is ‘morning’ in German – I’m a morning person) so I had plenty of time to learn it, and like you inspiration to do it. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Eleanor: I love Donald Maass’ book, Fire in Fiction, especially for an experienced writer. Also The Power of Point of View, by Alicia Rasley and Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins are by my side throughout my writing.
Morgen: Thank you, Eleanor. I’ve added them to the http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-other-peoples/writing-related page. Alicia wrote a guest piece for me on story openings (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/guest-post-the-end-of-the-beginning-by-alicia-rasley). I hadn’t realised she’d written a ‘how to’ book. I should have her back. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Eleanor: Murder Must Advertise is a wonderful place to learn all about marketing and to keep up with changes in social media, eBooks, and more. Find it at: http://www.murdermustadvertise.com.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Eleanor: I think the future is bright for writers. There are so many ways to publish and promote your work today beyond a brick and mortar store. I’m astounded at the sales of my recent book as an eBook so the time between publication and the public’s access to it is much shorter. Also, writers are more in charge of their promotional efforts now than they’ve ever been.
Morgen: We are, and it’s it great. Thank you, Eleanor.
Eleanor’s website is http://www.eleanorsullivan.com. My discussion with Eleanor was kindly arranged by PJ Nunn of BreakThrough Promotions Twitter @PJNunn, http://breakthroughpromotions.net, http://bookbrowsing.wordpress.com
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