Welcome to the one hundred and thirty eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with mystery-romance westerns and fantasy Alison Bruce. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the authors further.
Morgen: Hello Alison. Lovely to ‘meet’ you again after your spotlight earlier this month. Please tell us how you came to be a writer.
Alison: My mother was a wonderful storyteller. I grew up on stories about her experiences growing up in England during WWII. At bedtime, she’d make up tales, letting us pick the characters – a game I still play with my children. My parents were also great readers. Mum loved mysteries and historical fiction. I was reading Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer when my contemporaries were still on chapter books. Dad preferred action adventure. He introduced me to the books of Louis L’Amour, Alistair MacLean and Donald Jack. All of this had its inevitable effect. By age twelve I started telling and writing my own stories. I haven’t stopped yet.
Morgen: That’s a real mixture there. What genre do you generally write?
Alison: I consider myself a genre writer – that is, I’ll write in almost any genre. I’m less likely to write what would be called general or literary fiction. I started writing Science Fiction, added Westerns, Fantasy, Paranormal Suspense… Everything I write seems to have mystery, romance and coffee.
Morgen: So yes, a bit of everything (more so than me in fact). What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Alison: My first publication was a handbook for women’s centres, researched and written with two other women. I went into the Women’s Centre at University of Guelph years later, saw it there on the resource shelf and still felt very proud. You probably mean fiction though.
Morgen: Um, well, not necessarily. That definitely counts. 🙂 But you have had fiction published?
Alison: I’ve had some poetry and short stories published in small press venues but ‘Under A Texas Star’ is my first novel published. Since it came out in eBook format first, my first view was on Amazon. I was tickled when it made it to Amazon.uk – especially since it was up there before making it to Amazon.ca. I’m old-school enough that seeing the paperback on shelves is still the most exciting.
Morgen: 🙂 Have you ever seen a member of the public (that you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Alison: Not yet. Looking forward to that moment though.
Morgen: 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Alison: I’ve been working as a copywriter and editor for over twenty years now and a big chunk of my contracts have been marketing related. Even so, it was a big shift to market myself. Fortunately, I have a lot of support from my publisher. I’ve started thinking of myself as an author being the client of myself as a copywriter.
Morgen: Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Alison: ‘Under A Texas Star’ was one of five finalists for the 2010 Textnovel.com Novel Competition. I used that in my query letter to my publisher and I’m sure it helped. I’m the administrator for Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Awards (Canada’s Dagger). Everyone I’ve talked to wants to win, but it really makes a difference to the new authors.
Morgen: I’d say it does, yes… as a new author. 🙂 Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Alison: To quote Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” Maybe, if I was writing something I wouldn’t want my family to read, I would have gone for a pseudonym, but that isn’t the case. It is a bit odd because there is an Alison Bruce writing mysteries in the UK. After a case of mistaken identities, we’ve kept in touch. We both have two kids and live in Cambridge – Cambridge Ontario in my case. Funnily enough, I never get mistaken for the Alison Bruce who played the evil sorceress in Xena the Warrior Princess.
Morgen: 🙂 You mentioned your publisher, do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Alison: In the past I spent about as much time trying to get an agent as trying to get a publisher. There’s a Catch-22 to that endeavour. I got the publisher first. For now, I don’t seem to need an agent, but if someone wants to go after a movie contract or option my books for a television series, I’ll consider it.
Morgen: It is said that an agent is more difficult but I guess getting an agent now you have a publisher would be… I was going to say “easier”… perhaps “less impossible” may be more accurate. If your book available as an eBook? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Alison: ‘Under A Texas Star’ came out as an eBook first. There are many benefits to this – not the least of which is that new readers don’t have to invest a lot of money to give you a try. I’m like Captain Picard on Star Trek. Electronic media are all well and good, but I prefer to hold a book in my hands when I’m reading for relaxation.
Morgen: Me too, although I have an eReader but just use it when I travel (which is rarely). What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Alison: I was thrilled when my publishing partners agreed that my SF short story should go in our next book. I practically vibrated when I found out Imajin Books wanted ‘Under A Texas Star’. Having enough faith in your ability to keep at it, sucking up the rejections, doesn’t keep you from being as shocked as you are pleased when you are accepted.
Morgen: 🙂 Presses you’ve had some rejections along the way. If so, how do you deal with them?
Alison: After my first two rejections I gave up trying to get published for twenty years.
Alison: What an idiot!
Morgen: Well, I wouldn’t put it like that…
Alison: It wasn’t until my sister was dying of cancer that I finally listened to her and got back on the metaphorical horse. I still got rejections for a few years, but I dealt with them… chocolate helps.
Morgen: And I bet you’re glad you did (sorry to hear about your sister). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Alison: I’m editing a mystery that will be coming out next spring. When I need a break from that, I work on the sequel to ‘Under A Texas Star’.
Morgen: Ooh great, love the cover by the way. You sound busy, do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Alison: When I was doing NaNoWriMo, I had a 6,000 word day. Up until I sold ‘Under A Texas Star’, I was averaging 2000 per day, five days a week – or the equivalent in editing. Promoting the book put the kibosh on that for a few months. I’m having to work my way up again. I have to admit, when I have a writing contract, I count that work as well as fiction writing.
Morgen: Ah yay. I’ve done NaNo three times too and want to keep doing it although I’m concentrating more on short stories these days. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Alison: When my sister died I suffered from the worst writers block I ever experienced. We worked together on a book I hope to find a publisher for someday. She made sure I had time to write and edited my first drafts. While the book was languishing on a publisher’s slush pile, I tried to write a sequel. I couldn’t concentrate. The cure was an entirely different story and NaNoWriMo. I participated for three years – each year I increased my daily word count.
Morgen: I can understand why things ground to a halt. I must admit that I need something like NaNo to focus my attentions, nothing like having to write 1667 words a day to actually do it. I went from 52K in 2008 to 117K in 2009 but then bumped down to 51K last year – with everything I have going on at the moment (the blog, getting my eBooks out) I’ll be happy with any of those three figures. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Alison: “It’s all grist for the mill.” ‘Under A Texas Star’ was inspired by the research I did as a result of watching Bordertown on TV. The show featured a Mountie and a former Texas Ranger. Some day I’ll have to use the research on Mounties in a story. The characters in the mystery I’m editing came to me in a dream. The dream didn’t make a lot of sense, but the characters resonated with me.
Morgen: And knowing characters they probably took over. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Alison: I have crates full of stories I “ran with”. Most are unfinished. Although the characters come to me first, I plot out the main arcs of the story before I get down to serious writing. I’m also a research junkie. With all my notes and tables, it’s a cause for celebration when the novel finally has a larger word count than my “bible”.
Morgen: 🙂 We touched on characters a minute ago, do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Alison: I have a few name books. My favourite is The Baby Boomer Book of Names because it give humorous explanations as well as entymological and historical references. Most of my names come from there. Each of my characters also has a backstory far in excess of what is strictly needed for the novel. Often my main characters start out as an aspect of myself and grow into their own people. “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players…” Fortunately, I’m adept at playing multiple roles, sometime simultaneously and usually, but not always, in my head.
Morgen: Do you write non-fiction? If so, how do you decide what to write about?
Alison: When I write nonfiction, I write what my client wants.
Morgen: Ah OK. Do you write any poetry?
Alison: I’ll skip this one
Lest poets make fun
Of my terrible rhyme
And poor sense of time
Morgen: You’re a poet and you didn’t even… OK, I’ll not go there (I try not to). Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Alison: I edit, proof, polish, sometimes ghostwrite for other professionals whose expertise does not include writing. That’s one of my “day jobs”.
Morgen: Cool. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Alison: My best friend Nancy usually sees my work first. We’ve known each other since high school. She’s a teacher and is ruthless with my spelling, grammar and logic errors. At the same time, we like a lot of the same books so she gets what I’m writing. I’m fortunate to have other critical but supportive friends, but Nancy usually gets first crack at my work.
Morgen: I’m the same with Rachel (my editor / friend / editor – she’s firm but fair enough to be two-thirds editor, one-third friend :)) Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Alison: Yes to both questions.
Morgen: 🙂 How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Alison: I’m a research junkie. I probably do more research than I need to. In the case of ‘Under A Texas Star’, I’ve been complimented on the authentic feel of my novel.
Morgen: Then it’s all worth it. Research is my least favourite although having the internet does help. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Alison: Sometimes I feel like I’m working on stories 24/7. Most of them never get beyond my brain. Some get worked out in notes and vignettes – I have a box of notebook stories in my office and even more in files on my computer. At some point there will be a tipping point and that story will become a novel. That’s when I start plotting and researching and creating character notes and story arcs.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Alison: I love my laptop!
Morgen: Me too… my laptop, that is not yours, although yours is probably very nice. 🙂 Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Alison: One of the reasons I love my laptop is because I love working in coffee shops. I can write with music, without music, and in the midst of my children arguing. I almost always carry a notebook and pen just in case – but have been known to write on cocktail coaster at the bar with a borrowed pen. I prefer writing on my laptop with a mug of coffee beside me and light jazz or swing in the background.
Morgen: That sounds a bit like the interviewees who had to have something to read (cereal boxes amongst other things). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Alison: I love writing in first person notwithstanding the fact that Under A Texas Star is written in third-person because there are two protagonists.
Morgen: Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Alison: If used in the right way, prologues and epilogues can be useful.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Alison: Crates of them. I’ve been writing since I was twelve, after all.
Morgen: That’s true – I’m so envious, although maybe not of having crates of ‘never see light of day’ writing. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Alison: I love to write. I don’t mind editing. Not crazy about proofing. All the promotional stuff can get a bit wearing but I’ve been working at this interview for an hour or more now and enjoying myself.
Morgen: Oh great… 🙂 <wipes brow with relief> If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Alison: It isn’t a surprise exactly, but I have received unexpected praise for my storytelling. One person compared me to Hemmingway because there was nothing superfluous in ‘Under A Texas Star’. If only they knew how hard I worked to get it that way.
Morgen: Wow… that is a compliment. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Alison: The most common advice is “Don’t give up your day job.” I would just say “Don’t give up.” If I could go back in time, I’d kick my younger self in the gluteus maximus for giving up on trying to get published.
Morgen: But you came back again and succeeded. 🙂 I’ve only just started the first time round in my early / mid forties! What do you like to read?
Alison: My favourite author is Terry Pratchett. I probably read the Guards books in the Discworld series once a year. Though I have been reading her novels since I was elevenish, I’ve never tired of Georgette Heyer’s historicals. As a member of Crime Writers of Canada, I’ve been making a point to read books by our members. I can safely say there is something there for every taste in crime fiction, but if I mention one and not another I could get hanged.
Morgen: That is possible – the genre of writers you don’t want to upset is crime. 🙂 (tell me later) What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Alison: Not writing, telling stories or making them up in my head? I have two wonderful children that keep me busy and entertained. In addition to writing and editing, I’m a graphic designer. When I have the time – and sometimes when I don’t – I create cartoons and illustrations. My party trick is being able to come up with a song for every occasion.
Morgen: Oh I love cartoons; watching and creating. I have a cartoon corner in my dining room with some peculiar characters including a Spiderman with a wobbly head. 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Alison: These are two sources that I used when I decided to get serious about my fiction. How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author by Janet Evanovich. This is a book but I enjoyed the audio book even more since it fit the conversational tone of the material. It was like sitting in a workshop with the author. http://www.sfwriter.com/owindex.htm Robert Sawyer on how to write. I had lunch with Robert years ago at a literary function. I’ll never forget how encouraging he was. I checked out his website and found that he was really serious about helping new authors.
Morgen: And rightly so. We were all learner drivers once… if you see what I mean. And yes, Janet has done extremely well. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Alison: I live in Canada but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that 90% of my reader are American. That’s what happens when you write a western. Thank heavens for the Internet! Since my book is also a mystery, I can promote it via Crime Writers of Canada (I’m not only on staff, I’m a member.)
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Alison: Ah. Social networking. With practise, I’ve improved my skills at social networking. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m on Twitter and I have an author pages on Facebook, Amazon and Goodreads. I know that Twitter as well as the forums on Amazon and Goodreads have brought me new readers. I don’t know if Facebook has increased my readership, but it’s early days.
Morgen: I have that to look forward to (hopefully). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Alison: I have a website: http://www.alisonbruce.ca with all the basic information about my books, business and community work. I also have two blogs. The first one, “have laptop – will travel” http://alisonebruce.blogspot.com combines personal stories with book promotion. You can also find an excerpt from ‘Under A Texas Star’ there. My second blog, Nighthawk Talk http://nighthawktalk.blogspot.com, is an imaginary radio show, hosted by Nighthawk, and talking to characters from mine and other authors’ books.
Morgen: I like the sound of that (those). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Alison: In my case I’m hoping for movie options and bestsellingstatus. Seriously, the world will always need storytellers. They said radio would kill books, then movies, then television. Yet, not only do we keep on reading books, but radio, movies and television also need writers. Blogs and eBooks have only made it easier for writers to reach an audience.
Morgen: And I’m pretty sure getting more people to read. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Alison: I can’t believe I answered the whole thing!
Morgen: I’m very grateful that you did (no-one has to but most do which is great). 🙂 Is there a question you’d like to ask me? 🙂
Alison: Which one of your characters would you like interviewed on Nighthawktalk.blogspot.com? Is it the character most like yourself?
Morgen: Ooh good question. There are two characters I’m particularly fond of; one is the title protagonist from a short story I wrote called ‘April’s Fool’ which will be one story in a forthcoming eBook anthology and the other is a nameless chap who was the narrator in a 650-word monologue based on a true story. That will be released in another collection – both probably early / mid next year. I’d ask April what her slob of a husband was really like when they first married and my other character (who I guess I’d have to name) I’d probably ask what his favourite flavour jelly was (the opening scene is him feeding it to his father).
Thank you Alison.
Alison Bruce has an honours degree in history and philosophy, which has nothing to do with any regular job she’s held since. She grew up surrounded by golden age mysteries – Christie, Sayer, Stout – Georgette Heyer’s historical romances and the classic westerns of Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. Naturally, her debut novel, ‘Under A Texas Star’, is a mystery-romance set in the old west. You can also read Alison’s author spotlight here.
Update July 2012: Since this interview was first published, Deadly Legacy (A Carmedy and Garrett Mystery) was released by Imajin Books and is available in eBook and paperback formats at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca and in Europe too. 2018: When Joe Garrett dies unexpectedly, he leaves his daughter Kate half interest in Garrett Investigations, his last case that ties to three murders, a partner she can’t stand, and a legacy to live up to. He leaves his partner Jake Carmedy a case to solve, one that has detoured from a simple insurance case to a murder investigation. No matter how hard they try, Carmedy and Garrett can’t avoid each other – and they might be next on a killer’s list.
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