Welcome to the four hundred and sixty-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Maria McCutchen. 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, Maria. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Maria: I live in Winston-Salem, NC. I became a writer because for many years, writing was my passion, so I found a way to incorporate it into my every day life. Writing was just something I felt compelled to do. Then after I went through my medical problem of being diagnosed with a brain cyst and ultimately had brain surgery, followed by many complications, I decided to write my story. I wanted to create an awareness to the many problems I live, with along with the awareness that doctors need to listen to their patients. I thought writing my story – my book, was a good way to reach others. This then lead to me writing articles and more. But for me, my book is my most cherished accomplishment.
Morgen: I think it is for most authors but surely none more so than writing something so personal. I’ve described you in the introduction as ‘multi-genre’, what genre do you generally write?
Maria: I love to write fiction, so writing my memoir was stepping out of my norm. I am also currently working on a book about children and divorce.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Morgen: I love that title. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Maria: Yes, I have had plenty of rejections. At first it was hard to take. I took it personally. Now, I look at it as: Hey, I’m trying. And the rejections are my proof that I have been trying. They make me more determined, most times.
Morgen: Determination is good and I’m glad you don’t take it so personally now as inevitably it was the right thing for the wrong person. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Maria: I do not have an agent but have thought seriously about it. I still may look into getting an agent. I think they can be a real positive influence in the world of publishing.
Morgen: They’ve worked wonders for a great number of writers and most of us try to get one before going the self-published / eBook route. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Maria: Yes, my book is available as an eBook. Typically when I read, it is with a regular, paper book. But for those who find eBooks more convenient…. they are a good thing.
Morgen: I think only a couple of authors I’ve spoken to have said they only read eBooks; most (including myself) still love the feel of paper. How much of the marketing do you do?
Maria: I do a lot of the marketing. I am very involved with it and my publisher expects that their authors be very involved with the process.
Morgen: They generally do, even the large ones, because they just don’t have the budgets or staff any more (crime novelist Ann Cleeves and I were talking about this very subject at the weekend’s St Hilda’s crime & humour writers’ conference. 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?
Maria: I am currently looking into having my book made into a movie. I have thought about it before – which actors I’d like to see be in the movie and because I have heard many times over the years that I resemble Michelle Pfeiffer, I think I’d like her to play me.
Morgen: She’s a great actress. In the past I’ve been told I look like Daryl Hannah and Steffi Graf and I’d be happy with either of those. Did you have any say in the title / cover of your book?
Maria: Yes, I played a role in the cover and title of my book. I titled my book and was able to communicate what I envisioned as the cover. Their art department then drew up some samples according to my ideas, and I got to make the ultimate decision on the cover.
Morgen: That’s very fortunate. Many authors, especially with large publishing houses, have very little say and some aren’t happy with the end result but you do hope that they are the experts. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Maria: I am currently writing articles and working on a book about children and divorce – interviewing children of all ages about their experience with the divorce of their parents.
Morgen: That must be really emotional… and I’m sure will make a great book. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Maria: Yes, I write every day… weekdays / weekends, every day. I do get writer’s block sometimes… it’s par for the course. I usually just walk away from the piece I’m working on and do something else for a minute to clear my head. Usually works.
Morgen: It does whenever I get stuck on anything, fortunately not often as I write a story a day. Going back to your fiction, do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Maria: Most times I just run with it. I do “try” to plot my stories, but more times than not, as I’m writing… the story will unfold as I’m writing and I just go with it.
Morgen: That’s my favourite bit, especially when the characters take over. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Maria: I create characters as I see them in my mind. I will get a picture of them, and I can even picture another character call, or say their name, and it will many times – stick. I try to give them their names according to what I hear in my head, or see in my mind.
Morgen: And some names just don’t fit do they until you find the right one. Do you write any poetry? If so, why do you think it’s such a difficult market to break into? Are there any tips you could give to someone wishing to write poetry?
Maria: I do write some poetry but not as much as other types of writing. It is a very hard market to get into and that is one reason I haven’t put much time or effort into it. Sometimes I think of poetry as futile. Maybe it’s because I’m just not as good with it as fiction or other types of writing. I don’t know.
Morgen: A lady after my own heart, as the saying goes. I write very little, usually for writing group prompts, for the same reason; that I’m a prose writer through and through. Do you write short stories?
Maria: I do write short stories. Short stories are a challenge for me. I love to try to get a good plot going in a short amount of time.
Morgen: That’s the trick, isn’t it. I find my daily fiction turns out more snippets of someone’s life rather than a start, middle and end but then doing one a day leaves me little time to write much more than two or three hundred words. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Maria: I do some editing, but yes, the longer I’ve written, I’ve found that there is typically less editing to do.
Morgen: That’s great! It’s all about the practice. Do you have to do much research?
Maria: For my articles, yes… lots of research. For my books, it varies. It depends on what I’m writing… do I need to know more about an area or place I’m trying to create? As far as writing in general – I don’t think there are many types of writing that “don’t” require some form of research.
Morgen: I agree and I often double-check facts on the internet. <bows down in reverence to Google and Wikipedia> What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Maria: No, I haven’t done much 2nd person writing. Typically I write in first or third person. One big reason is because those two just come more natural to me.
Morgen: Second is my favourite but I do think first and third are a more natural form of writing. There are very few of us around (Stella Deleuze is another second person fan). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Maria: Sure. There are some children’s books that will probably never be read by anyone and it is a hard pill to swallow sometimes. But that is just par for the course with writing. I try to concentrate and focus then, on the pieces and manuscripts that I think have the most potential.
Morgen: That’s a shame. Some see writing for children’s easier than for adults but in the main it’s not is it. Like writing novels vs. short stories; they have to be honed with almost each word being chosen very carefully. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Maria: Well, because I do a lot of freelance work, that is tough. It can go through some real dry spells and that is hard to live on – dry spells. It can be depressing at times and frustrating and I have been working on working through that – find ways to keep the work flowing.
Morgen: I left my job in March so I know exactly what you mean, although I spend the majority of my day on blog-related emails and uploading content so actually submitting work would be useful. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Maria: Do it because you love it. If you find and feel like writing is in your blood, give it a try. But don’t leave your day job until you have a good, strong and lucrative business going. Not being able to pay your bills is way more frustrating than just being at a loss for words.
Morgen: Oops. I went about the “good, strong and lucrative business” a different route; by renting out two of my bedrooms. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Maria: I cling to the words: “And this too will pass,” a lot. It’s a fitting phrase for me, because during my medical drama, I said those words a lot, whether it was for the pain I was feeling, an uncomfortable test… whatever. Now, with writing it’s fitting… if I have a block for a few minutes or few days… I know it will eventually pass.
Morgen: It does. I keep saying to myself that things will work out eventually and they do, until life throws something else at me. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Maria: I belong to many online groups as well as a writer’s club. We read our work to the group and critique each other’s writing. It’s a good way to get good feedback.
Morgen: I belong to four writing groups and they’re great for different reasons. Two are purely critique and whilst there’s not much time to read much more than a chapter it’s often a real eye opener when someone comes up with something I’d never have thought of (or I have already but it doesn’t come across in my writing). What do you do when you’re not writing?
Maria: I have two boys that keep me busy in my non-writing hours. I try to get things done around the house, errands, whatever needs to be done.
Morgen: I’m lucky, I only have a dog so I tend to write my daily shorts while I’m out with him (or I read writing magazines). Are there any writing-related websites that you find useful?
Morgen: I know Writer’s Digest but not the other two so thank you for those. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Maria: Yes, I belong to forums and networking sites… Linkedin, Magazine Group Members, Advertising Copywriting Forum, The Freelance Writer’s Connection and more.
Morgen: And there seem to be new ones popping up all the time to eat into our time, but often providing invaluable advice and support. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Maria: I think the future is good. Information is always needed in some form. I think as long as you keep an open mind and willing to put in the work, you will always be able to work… to write.
Morgen: Absolutely. I do think eBooks are the making of writers; much more freedom and flexibility than before. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Maria: If you have a dream of writing… go for it. You don’t have to give up your day job to write. You can start doing it on the side, but do go for it. You never know how well you can do something until you give it your best effort. Also, with as many books as there are available on writing and freelancing, you are sure to learn whatever it is you need to know to get started.
Morgen: Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ is a great one to start with, and the most recommended in these interviews. And I would recommend writing every day; 300 words a day is a 100,000 word novel in a year, and even if that’s not possible (because life does take over) there’s the likes of NaNoWriMo (50,000 words in 30 days) to top up or kick-start your word count. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Maria: How long have you been at it? And what exactly are your areas of expertise?
Morgen: I started writing at a college evening class seven years ago and was hooked, although it wasn’t until the last couple of years that it took over my life (especially when I started the blog late March 2012). My expertise (great question) I think really is (are?) my short stories because I’ve written so many of them (must be over 300 over the years). I also love blogging (and with over 1,200 posts have had plenty of practice) and recently set up a cheap blog design service for anyone who’s daunted by the prospect. (Anyone thinking of going it alone, I’d definitely recommend WordPress over Blogspot, and I do also have a blogspot blog but it drives me nuts!).Thank you, Maria.
I invited Maria to include an extract of her writing…
From “It’s all in Your Head: “Like any stay-at-home mother of young children will tell you, life is very busy. There is never a good time for a mother to get sick, not even with a cold. So in 2004, with a three-year-old son and a six-year-old son, to be told that I had a rare brain disorder was nothing less than devastating. How will I fit that into my schedule?
It snuck up on me so slowly, clever and cunning, that I wasn’t even sure there was anything really wrong with me. Maybe it’s just stress, I thought. Maybe I’m over tired, or I’m imagining things. But when a trip to the grocery store, where I’d shopped a thousand times before, left me in a sheer panic because I couldn’t find the dairy section, I knew that it had to be more than stress.”
and a synopsis of her book…
Maria McCutchen did not have time to be sick. With a husband who had just lost a job, two young sons, and a cross-country move on the horizon, who had time to be sick? Maria didn’t have time for a common cold, let alone a major medical condition. But one day while shopping in the grocery store where she had shopped hundreds of times before, she couldn’t find the milk. It was then she knew what she was feeling was more than just stress or exhaustion. There was something very wrong.
After consulting a few doctors, Maria discovered she had a rare brain cyst known as a posterior fossa arachnoid cyst—a very large brain cyst. Hearing these cysts were normally asymptomatic was of little comfort, especially because she felt her mind and body slipping away more and more every day. Normal mental and physical functions were becoming harder to control. Even if the doctors didn’t believe the cyst was a problem, she knew it was. It would take months of living inside a shell of a person that she’d become, living in a mental fogginess and sometimes even physical pain, before she would finally get the medical attention she needed.
Maria McCutchen lives in North Carolina with her two boys. She has been writing for many years; and for the past three years, she has been freelancing, writing articles for web content. She is an activist for those with brain cysts, speaking out and trying to help others by starting a following for arachnoid cysts on EmpowHer.com, starting a blog on www.arachnoidcystsupport.blogspot.com, writing articles about the condition, and educating others about this rare brain disorder.
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