Welcome to the six hundred and forty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with mystery author and memoirist Elaine Macko. 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, Elaine. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Elaine: Hi, Morgen. My name is Elaine Macko and I live in California after growing up in New England and living in Belgium for 12 years. I always wanted to be a writer and while living in Belgium I decided to try my hand at it and see where it would lead.
Morgen: And here you are. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Elaine: I write light, funny murder mysteries and I’m also working on a memoir highlighting my years in Belgium.
Morgen: Both very popular genres. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Elaine: I write under my own name and my first two books in the series are currently available. The first is called Armed and the second, Poisoned.
Morgen: I see a theme (one-word titles) there. 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks?
Elaine: My books are available in both paper and eBooks.
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?
Elaine: I would love to have my books made into films and have already narrowed the list of people that I think would make great directors/producers. You can see I have big dreams! As for my favourite characters, the grandmother in my series is based on my grandmother who died when I was 14. I loved her dearly and she was a wonderful character so I put her in my series and people really seem to be enjoying her.
Morgen: What a shame, but great that she lives on in your writing, and even better that more people are ‘meeting’ her. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Elaine: LOL! I made some suggestions to my publisher via email and I guess something got lost in the cosmos because the cover she came up with for the first one was horrible. I agreed to keep my two cents’ worth to myself and let her have free rein and she came up with something really nice.
Elaine: Well, right now I’m concentrating on marketing the books, trying to get the word out. It’s much easier to write the books than market them!
Morgen: <laughs> It certainly is. I’d love to just be able to write and pass on to my editor and a publicist but sadly… Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Elaine: Right now, I’m sorry to say I am not doing much writing. I do have a day job and that keeps me pretty busy. I really need to get down to working on the memoir.
Morgen: Argh, dash the day job. I’m very fortunate that I was able to give up my job in March last year but I exist on renting two rooms out. Poor but very happy. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Elaine: I get an idea and run with it. I write and sometimes the next day I’ll delete most of it, but that’s how I do it—just get the thoughts down and fine tune in the edits process.
Morgen: ‘delete’? oh no! I hope it’s not too much or that would be really frustrating. One of my Monday night group can spend a day on one paragraph; deleting, undeleting and so on. It would drive me mad. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Elaine: As far as names go, I confess to “borrowing” names from people I know, maybe meshing the first name of one person with the last of another. The grandmother in my books is called Meme and that’s what everyone called my grandmother. As for my main character, Alex, I always thought if I ever had a daughter I would name her Alex. I never did so I used the name in my books.
Morgen: I love that we get to do that. I’ve been hooked on the name Elliot for a while so will probably call my next animal that (I currently have a 12-year-old dog) but have had a few characters over the years with that as a first or surname. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Elaine: My writing is definitely more fully formed but as I read through the draft, I may decide another clue is needed or maybe even another character. I have four written in the series, so it’s becoming more streamlined.
Morgen: I started my first series last November and it’s a bit of a jumble at the moment but I’m looking forward to getting to know my characters better, and probably giving minor characters from the first book meatier roles in subsequent stories. Do you have to do much research?
Elaine: The first book has a creepy mannequin factory setting and everyone tells me who authentic is sounds and asks if I did a lot of research. I made it all up! That’s the great thing about writing fiction. That having been said, I do a bit of research for more technical stuff.
Morgen: That’s what I love about imagination. I can easily imagine a wall of water when walking the dog. If you can imagine it, it’s far easier to write. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Elaine: My series was initially written in third person. Several years after I wrote the first one, I put it into first person and it just seemed to open up the character. I felt like I could really get into her head.
Morgen: That’s the joy of first person, it is easier to do that. Do you write any poetry or non-fiction?
Elaine: No, no poetry. It totally defies me. I do have a blog on my Web site and that’s non-fiction.
Morgen: I write very little poetry, usually when it’s on the agenda for one of my writing groups. We’re allowed to read out other poetry but it’s an excuse to write it (although it usually then just goes back in a file). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Elaine: Well, that memoir! Sometimes I think I’ll never finish it. I have a good bit written but for some reason I can’t seem to find the right “voice” for it. Maybe because it’s too close to my heart.
Morgen: Oh dear. I would have thought that would be the point but I’ve never written one so I wouldn’t know. Maybe you just have to keep going and see if you settle in to it. Maybe if you’re writing it chronologically, you could switch to later parts and reflect back. I think you just need to get the first draft down and do the refining process later. It would be interesting to know if you’re writing it as first or third person. I know if it’s an autobiography it’s usually first person but I know many a fiction writer who has struggled with a novel only to find it flows much better if they switch pov. Just a thought. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Elaine: Oh, my gosh! I’ve had tons of rejection. I’m fairly stubborn so it didn’t faze me much, I just kept buggering on, as Winston Churchill would say, who, by the way, my main character quotes all the time.
Morgen: He was a very wise man, like Mark Twain. So many quotes come from those two. Do you enter competitions?
Elaine: I used to enter the Malice Domestic contest every year but as a published writer, I don’t think I’m eligible anymore to enter.
Morgen: That’s a shame. That would count me out to and I love the title. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Elaine: I do not have an agent. They are vital if you want to be with one of the big publishing houses in New York. I went with a smaller press so an agent was not necessary. For the memoir, I think I will try to find one.
Morgen: Memoirs are very popular so I wish you well with that. I was going to say ‘luck’ but it’s not so much about luck as determination. We touched on marketing earlier, what sort of marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Elaine: I do have a day job so it is difficult to get out and do signings and presentations, but I try to get things lined up for the weekends, and I am pretty shameless about telling perfect strangers about my books!
Morgen: 🙂 We have to be, I’m rubbish at that, although my debut novel is eBook only so the little marketing I do is online. I do have a few business cards in the charity shop I volunteer at and they do go (perhaps by those wanting bookmarks?). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Elaine: I enjoying writing but the marketing is difficult. I thought selling books would be so easy. I’m a big reader and spend quite a bit on books and thought everyone would, but there are a lot of books out there. I just have to get the word out. So far I’ve received all five-star reviews so I think my books are good, enjoyable reads, but people need to know that.
Morgen: Yay, congratulations. They do indeed, hopefully this interview will help a little. Guesting on sites like this one is a weapon in an author’s armoury, although as you say it’s hard work. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Elaine: Never give up! If I had given up with the arrival of my first rejection letter, I would never be published. And despite the difficulties with the marketing aspect, it is a lot of fun.
Morgen: It is. There’s nothing else I’d rather do (and it took me nearly 40 years to work out what I wanted to do with my life!). 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)?
Elaine: I would probably cook one of my great pasta dishes with a decadent cake for dessert. As for the invitees, I’m not sure. I really admire Bill Gates. And I am fascinated with the relationship between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill but I have a feeling they would definitely dominate the conversation and no one else would get a word in!
Morgen: You’re probably right although I think they’d love to pick Bill’s brain. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Elaine: There’s one I recently read: “It’s never too late to be who you were supposed to be.” I’m not sure if I have it correct, but that’s very true. You’re your own worst enemy. Only you can make your life what you want it to be.
Morgen: I’m working on that one (a successful author). 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Elaine: I was recently on a panel of cozy authors at an annual mystery writers’ conference and I’m going to be a speaker at a library event.
Morgen: How exciting. I have my first ‘paying gig’ next month, as ‘Queen Blogger’ at the Poetry Café near Covent Garden, London next month. I should be nervous but I’m really looking forward to it. I think as long as you’re confident in what you’re talking about, it makes it easier. I’ll have to blog about it after the event. 🙂 What do you do when you’re not writing?
Elaine: I love to walk. I can sort out the problems of my characters when I walk. I love to read. And I do crafts. I go through periods of knitting all the time and then I’ll drop that and pick up some paints. I like to have a lot of different activities.
Morgen: I have a dog so walk at least twice a day. I either read, edit or write as I go along (unless it’s raining, but then he won’t go out if it is) and we sometimes just go out because I want a breather. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Elaine: Agent Query (http://www.agentquery.com/publishing_ip.aspx) is a great one if you want to find an agent.
Morgen: It’s a great site. Preditors & Editors (http://pred-ed.com) has agent information too. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Elaine: I’m on several but I’m on there with a lot of other people trying to do the same thing i.e., market their books, so it gets a bit crowded. The sites are only as good as you make them and it takes a lot of time to sort through everything, read all the emails, etc., but I do try to keep up.
Morgen: It does, indeed, but all part of the ‘job’. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Elaine: Despite the fact that big bookstores are closing, there seems to be a trend for the small shops to open up again. I can’t imagine a world without books either in paper or electronic.
Morgen: Me neither, and I don’t think there will be, albeit possibly in the main online but I do know of an independent opening last year so there are ‘green shoots’ (as our government loves to say). Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Elaine: I have a Web site (www.ElaineMackoBooks.com). I try to post a new blog monthly, but I think I’m a bit behind right now!
Morgen: Oh dear. This is why I have guests involved. If it was up to me, I’d do far less than I do now (although I’d have far more time to write!). 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Elaine: Just for people to keep reading. Keep being curious and don’t be afraid to try a new author.
Morgen: Like ourselves. 🙂 Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Elaine: This must be a full-time job for you. How do you keep all the authors that contact you straight? It seems like a daunting task, but I’m glad you do it!
Morgen: Ah, thank you, Elaine. It certainly is full-time (and then some) but I’m glad I do it too. I have a wonderful Word Table which lists when people contact me, when I sent out the questionnaires, when I get the replies (or other content), what they’re doing (denoted by colour), the date it’s due to appear on (and the relevant number, if there is one) and any notes. Thank you, Elaine, for being one of those. 🙂
I then invited Elaine to include a synopsis of her book…
Murder, Mayhem, and Mannequins! It couldn’t be creepier. When Alex Harris, owner of the Always Prepared temporary agency, trips over the body of Mrs. Scott, she becomes the prime suspect in the murder. And with the police about to lock her up for good, Alex decides it’s time she took matters into her own hands before the real murderer strikes again and really ruins Christmas. Along with her sister and partner, Samantha Daniels, and their assistant, Millie Chapman, the Winston Churchill-quoting, M&M-addicted Alex probes and plods through red herring after red herring uncovering a lot more than murder. In between shuttling her loan shark grandmother to bingo games and her collections, Alex finds time to investigate with a bulldog tenacity that would make Winston proud. Not even a midnight caper in the factory and an attack from a mechanical mannequin gone berserk can keep her from finding out the truth to the deadly deeds lurking within. In this, the first Alex Harris Mystery, follow our heroine to Christmas night and the murderer’s home where Alex unravels the secrets behind the murder, and manages to get clobbered in the bargain!
Elaine Macko is a transplanted New Englander living in California. From a very young age, she possessed an over-active imagination finding intrigue and mayhem in everyday situations.
In the 1980s, bored with life, it was time to change direction. Signing up for a six-day vaction to London and Brussels in the dead of winter, Elaine found time to meet and fall in love with a local Belgian man and extended her trip to last for 12 years. With a love of writing always lingering on the back burner, Elaine decided to try her hand writing a mystery and after several months, completed a draft of her first book, Armed, and moved on to three other books in the series.
Elaine never forgot her New England roots and centres her books in the fictional town of Indian Cove, Connecticut. Each book includes a European connection bringing together her love of both places.
An active member of Sisters in Crime, Elaine takes comfort in knowing that there are many others like her out there spending all their free time trying to come up with inventive ways to kill people.
Morgen: One of my favourite things about fiction!
NEW! Elaine is now on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/ElaineMackoBooks/280211425338073
Who would take their sister on their honeymoon? Alex Harris Van der Burg does! Instead of having a romantic get-away trip to Europe, she has the honeymoon from hell when the body of a young woman, strangled with a piece of mint-flavored den…tal floss, shows up at a party. Her husband is off and running, helping the Belgian detective in charge so she’s left to her own devices and glad she has her sister to keep her company! Join Alex and the gang as they explore Europe, eat chocolate and croissants, and try to solve a murder before their plane takes off! Available now exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Enjoy!
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.
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