Welcome to the five hundred and forty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with cosy murder mystery writer and poet Sharon McGee. 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, Sharon. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Sharon: I suppose the most telling thing about me is the fact that I’m a member of the so-called silent generation, and I used to be much taller. You might say I became an avid reader the day I realized that those funny looking symbols, when strung together properly, made words that told a story and I loved stories. And, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t find people interesting. That’s undoubtedly one of the reasons I was drawn to the field of psychology, coupled with a fondness for puzzles. After all, we humans are the ultimate puzzle.
Although I’ve lived in such diverse places as India, Italy, and Coastal Carolina, I now call Northwest Alabama home.
I’ve never articulated wanting to be a writer, although for years I said that one day I would write a novel. But, I did kept logs of my travels and have written blank verse from my teenage years to the present day.
Morgen: My mum says she’s smaller than she used to be (5’7”) but is quite a lot shorter than me (5’10”). It’s odd but then I agree that life, and us, is / are odd. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Sharon: From the age of eighteen onward until I retired at the age of sixty, I was involved in working with people from all walks of life and vastly different circumstances. What better vehicle for articulating this marvellous diversity then the cozy murder mystery. For that reason, I have, as yet, to consider any other genre.
Morgen: A very popular genre. I say I write (and read) “dark and light” so crime to humour and cozy would be in there. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Morgen: 🙂 You’re self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Sharon: In tandem with writing my first novel, I began researching the requirements for breaching the doors of a brick and mortar publishing house as well as taking a long look at what other writers were going through with regard to finding someone to consider their work. I also weighed the financial cost against the gain. It was dispiriting. In light of the information gleaned, I had to ask myself, was the panache of being able to say that I was published by such and such a Publishing House, worth it? Or was it more important to write a story and be able to hold a copy of it in my hands.
Morgen: I’ve had the opportunity of having one of my novels (a chick-lit) with two publishers (who I’m still in contact with) but it just wasn’t for me. It’ll be out as an eBook any day now. 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Sharon: My books are available on the Amazon Kindle. Personally, I read both e-books and paper books. However, if I’m reading something of a more serious bent, I like to make notes in the margins. In that instance, I prefer paper books which I then keep in my own library.
Morgen: Bookshelves would look odd without books, wouldn’t they. 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?
Sharon: With regard to my own books; yes I do have a favorite character. She’s an older woman by the name of Amelia and she’s a killer. One of my friends went to high school with the actress Lily Tomlin (think, Tea with Mussolini). We were discussing Amelia and I said Lily would be perfect for the part should the novel ever be made into a movie. My friend contacted Lily Tomlin, and relayed the conversation. Lily said, “Send me the books.” That’s akin to someone handing you a lottery ticket and saying, “What if….” If I had my choice of British actresses to play the role of Amelia it would be between Judy Dench, Helen Mirren, or Maggie Smith. If you’re going to dream, you may as well dream big, and it would be such fun.
Morgen: Wow. I think I first saw Lily with Bette Midler in Big Business and she was brilliant (they both were). Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Sharon: Being self-published means what’s on the cover is up to me. I spent over thirty years doing stained glass and creating my own designs. For this reason, creating the design cover for my first novel was something I really wanted to do, and did. For the cover of my second novel, I posed a friend in a wingback chair with a cup dangling from her fingers and took several pictures of her. I then took the photos to a friend of mine who is a local artist. He said he would do the cover in exchange for an original piece of my stained glass. When it came to the third book, my artist friend simply offered to do the cover after we discussed one of the scenes. All three covers are eye-catching. That’s important because book covers serve as a hook for catching the curious fish if you will. And, if we are nothing else, we humans are curious and willing to be lured into buying a book. So yes, the outward appearance of a book is important because it sells what lies between its covers.
Morgen: They certainly draw people in. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Sharon: I started thinking about my fourth novel while the third was in production. It will be a continuation of my Anybody’s series. The first four chapters are completed.
Sharon: I write every day, though not necessarily on my novel. For me, writing is writing. It doesn’t have to have a single, all-consuming focus. More than likely this less stressful approach to writing has forestalled writer’s block.
Morgen: I agree. I write such a variety that I don’t have trouble either. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sharon: I made a faint attempt at blocking out a plot for my first novel and creating a biography for the characters. It was an exercise in futility because it felt as though I was boxing in my characters, making them stiff and posed and uninteresting. Then too, the story line didn’t flow because I was jamming it into a preconceived notion of where it should go like an ill-fitting shoe that pinched the toes and made walking intolerable. So, I chucked the biography and the outline and simply go wherever the characters take me.
Morgen: That’s my favourite aspect of writing; never knowing what’s going to come out. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sharon: I don’t have a method per se for creating characters as daily living brings me in contact with all manner of people to use as -templates. Just think of the people you see at a mall. But, I do have a way of looking for characters names. I read the obituaries and when I come across an interesting name, I write it down. As for making characters believable…. If as a writer, we can create a subliminal connection between the characters in the novel and the reader, then the characters become believable.
Morgen: Obituaries are a popular source, and more convenient than trawling round graveyards. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sharon: I do a lot of editing. The words, the images they create, how they sound, (I read the lines out loud) have to come together in a in a cohesive fashion so that they accurately represent who the character is and what their motivations are. I suppose you could say that my writing has become more fully formed because I’m more aware of the subtleties and nuisances that give the story depth and aid in moving it along.
Morgen: Reading out loud makes such a difference. It’s odd how things just ‘sound’ wrong. I’d recommend everyone do it. Do you have to do much research?
Sharon: I have a box of ideas, newspaper clippings, and notes that I gather randomly when I have a new story in mind. Should any of these prove promising, I’ll do an on-line search for more information. Then too, I’m fortunate in knowing a police investigator, a lawyer who deals in fraud, someone familiar with firearms, etc. Also, I’ve found that ordinary, everyday, walk-around people have a host of personal stories they like to tell, if they can find a listener. To my mind, all of this comprises research. In that sense, you might say my research is always on-going.
Morgen: Ah, very handy. One of my forthcoming interviewees has been very helpful with my current NaNoWriMo novel. It’s more reassuring to have a human confirm something rather than hope that Wikipedia and the likes are correct. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Sharon: I began writing my first novel in the first person, but it soon become over-weighted with I’s, making it sound stilted. I started afresh in third person. I found it much easier because it allowed me to get into the heads of all my characters and develop as personal relationship with them, so to speak. Once I found my conform zone, I dismissed any further experimentation with voice.
Morgen: In your introduction, you mentioned you write “blank verse”, do you do anything with it, and do you also write any non-fiction or short stories?
Sharon: At various points in time, I’ve toyed with the idea of gathering up what poetry I could find and having it published. As for writing non-fiction, I’ve had an interesting life and have considered writing a memoire, but the temptation to gussie it up a bit would veer it into the fiction category. I have, as yet, to tackle writing a short story.
Morgen: Short stories are my comfort zone but this year’s NaNo is my fifth and I enjoy expanding on short ideas (this novel actually started life as a 328-word flash fiction. 🙂 Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Sharon: I don’t have any pieces of work moldering in the dark. That’s one of the reasons I chose to self-publish.
Morgen: I think there’s someone out there for every piece of (good) written work and that’s the joy of being able to share it yourself, and so quickly. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sharon: We’ve all experience rejection in one form or another. It’s a most unpleasant experience. Personally, I don’t take it very well. The thought of countless “rejection letters” with regard to having my first novel published weighed in my decision to self-publish. Sometimes, a little avoidant behavior is not all bad.
Morgen: Absolutely. Do you enter competitions?
Sharon: The only story competition I’ve ever entered were the ones offered by Reader’s Digest. I was working my way through college at the time and needed money. I never heard from them. But, I did enter a poem in some national Lutheran publication, (my first two undergraduate years were at a small Lutheran College), and I won first place.
Morgen: Congratulations. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Sharon: I don’t have an agent. However, depending on one’s goals having an agent could play a key role in there attainment.
Morgen: Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sharon: The marketing that I do is of the home-grown variety. I talk to book clubs, at library gatherings and will sign book in any store that will have me. In fact, my very first book signing was held at the candy store that was featured in my first novel. I designed bookmarks to go in each novel sold or simply hand them out to those who wish to consider buying them at a later date or online. And, I always carry books in the trunk of my car. I’ve been known to chat-up people at the dentist office, in line at a market or at the Y. I also write a blog every Sunday. As for having a brand… I suppose the title of my book could serve as a brand as they all begin with the word. Anybody’s…. Lastly, my books are avaible via Amazon or the Kindle, which offers worldwide distribution.
Morgen: It must be thrilling meeting your readers face-to-face. We don’t have that being eBook only, although I’ve either had contact with some of my readers as contributors or because they’ve emailed with feedback (which is fantastic). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Sharon: What I enjoy most about writing is the use of words and how they can en-flesh ideas. At present there isn’t any aspect of writing that I don’t like — probably because it’s all still a challenge and challenges keep the little gray cells clicking along. What has come as a surprise is that I’ve ended up writing a series.
Morgen: I know agents and publishers favour series because when readers enjoy getting to know characters they don’t want to leave them. I’ve not written a series yet but I’d like to, especially bringing more minor characters to the fore in subsequent books. 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)?
Sharon: Limiting a dinner party to three is difficult, but I would invite Karen Armstrong, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Eleanor Roosevelt. I would start with anta pasta and a crisp white wine, followed by spaghetti with shrimp and more wine. For dessert we would have chilled pears stuffed with Gorgonzola and rolled in walnuts. Freshly ground coffee and Amaretto would round out the meal.
Morgen: That sounds lovely, and a great mix of people. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Sharon: My favorite phrase is: “Our perceptions are as unique as our fingerprints.”
Morgen: They are, and we get to write about them. 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Sharon: Other than my weekly blog and the odd poem that might pop to mind, I am not doing any other writing.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Sharon: The activities of daily living take up any slack there might be in my life. Alas, I have no party tricks.
Morgen: 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Sharon: I gave Facebook a try and ended up with a lot of baby pictures and pictures of grandkids, so I discontinued it. LinkedIn.com is a useful site.
Morgen: And probably how we met. I have two Facebook profiles; one for me generally (although it’s still 99% writing) and as an author (where these interviews etc. are posted) and I do find it fun / interesting / useful / all the above. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Sharon: If nothing else, the cave drawings found at Lascaux prove that mankind has a profound need to communicate. In that sense, there will always be a need for the scribe, although her or his tools may change, requiring as yet unknown adaptations.
Morgen: An exciting time. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Sharon: Well Morgen, since you are the first to offer me this opportunity to talk about myself, you are the go-to place for finding out about me and what I write.
It was going to be a hot day in Beaufort, same as any other summer day in a small Southern town, with one slight exception; Amelia had just murdered her husband.
She looked around vacantly, her ears still ringing and decided she’d better go back into the house and do something. She wasn’t sure what exactly, but throwing up was strongly suggesting itself. Letting out a shaky huff of air, she turned and went back up the steps from the garage, her feet feeling like they were dragging through puff mud.
Standing on the threshold to the dining room, she numbly considered whether she’d shot her husband because of the heat or because of the dog. Either way, it was one heck of a way to start the day.
Finally, Sharon talked about her latest novel, Anybody’s Money…
Amelia Leigh, my endearing, gray haired husband killer, is getting her life back on track when a letter from the past stirs up memories and inexorably involves her in the nefarious dealings of a small town insurance agency with ties that stretch back to prohibition. The scourge of drugs also comes into play along with a hint of sado masochisms. Then a neighbor with whom Amelia has had an altercation is shot to death, once again putting her in the sights of a police investigator determined to bring her to justice.
The author, Sharon E. McGee, jokes that the reason she joined the US Navy right out of high school was because Victory At Sea was on television, she liked the color blue, and she wanted to have a first-hand experience of the world at large. While in the military she trained as a surgical technician. After leaving the Navy she pursued a career as an x-ray technologist, working in New Delhi, India. Returning to the states, MS McGee decided to pursue a degree in psychology, attaining her Ed.S. While working as a psychologist, she decided to try her hand at making stained glass and soon began creating her own designs. After retirement, Sharon started giving serious consideration to writing a book, something that she had talked about doing for years. It took her five years to write her first novel. Two other novels followed in quick succession and she is now working on the fourth in her Anybody’s cozy murder mysteries series. Her books are available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
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