Welcome to the one hundred and fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with mystery / romance author Wendy Gager. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello, Wendy. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Wendy: I don’t think I came to be a writer. I’ve always been a writer. My first writing memory was eighth grade when I was names editor of the English class paper. That was the first time I was ever recognized for my writing and that was enough. I was hooked. I’ve been writing ever since and starting novels and putting them aside. My jobs also have been writing related from a journalist and speech writer to public relations writer. Five years ago I told myself I was chained to my desk until I finished a book. I was hooked and always have at least one novel in progress at all times.
Morgen: Am I green with envy? No, of course. Absolutely not. Oh no, not at all. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Wendy: I write mysteries but my first novel was a romance. I’ve read thousands of romance novels and thought I could write one. Turns out I wasn’t so hot on romantic entanglements but excelled at planting clues. My first mystery book called A CASE OF INFATUATION won the Dark Oak Mystery Contest and then published. Go figure it was a mystery with a touch of romance, sort of.
Morgen: That’s my kind of writing; a bit of one genre with a touch of another. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Wendy: I have three books in the Mitch Malone Mystery Series. My first book was A CASE OF INFATIATION in 2009, A CASE OF ACCIDENTAL INTERSECTION in 2010 and my third just came out called A CASE OF HOMETOWN BLUES. I have two stories about my books. The first was a signing at Barnes and Noble in Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids. It was so cool sitting in the front of the story and signing books. The second was a display at Schuler’s Books on Alpine in Grand Rapids. They had a display of my books with a sign: “Great reads from local authors.”
Morgen: We have the same in our local Waterstone’s but rather tucked away, but then we don’t have that many. 😦 So I’ve set mine here. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Wendy: Not enough. I’m still experimenting with different things to see what works. So far, I haven’t found anything that produces great results. My favourite thing is my Mitch Malone Mondays on my blog, http://www.wsgager.blogspot.com. My main character, Mitch Malone, interviews authors and other book characters in his own style. These are great because Mitch can get away with asking all these questions, I wish I could ask.
Morgen: Sound like a good plan, I wonder if I should be braver. 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Wendy: As I mentioned above, my first book was published because of the Dark Oak Mystery Contest. My second book, A Case of Accidental Intersection, won first place in the Public Safety Writers Association Contest in 2010 and A CASE OF HOMETOWN BLUES took second this year. I’m not sure how many books it sells but it helps validate what you do when you wonder if your work is any good.
Morgen: It does, and it makes your CV longer which is always useful. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Wendy: Yes I do. Mainly because my married name is Polish and very hard to pronounce and secondly when I do make the bestseller list, I can still preserve my family’s privacy.
Morgen: Wouldn’t that be lovely. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Wendy: I don’t have an agent but do think they are worth the 15 percent. Anyone who cheers on writers is very helpful and can keep you going when sales lag or the writing isn’t going well.
Morgen: And they can usually get you more money than you’d get on your own, earning their 15% in the process. It’s great to have the options these days. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Wendy: I received a Kindle for Christmas and am loving the easy access. However, I still read paper books too. My books are available in ebooks and that makes it easy for anyone to find. I luckily don’t have to format my ebooks, my publisher handles that for me. You can find my books on Kindle through my author page, or on nooks at Barnes & Noble or from my publisher at http://www.oaktreebooks.com.
Morgen: Yay, Oak Tree again. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Wendy: Yes. What I do is take a day and indulge myself in things I like to do, which involves eating chocolate and burying myself in a book to lick my wounds. The next day I’m back at the writing and promoting and submitting. It’s a wild ride with lots of highs and lows!
Morgen: Isn’t it. 🙂 Self-indulging in books sounds like great therapy. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Wendy: I am currently editing the next Mitch Malone Mystery that should be out next year. It is in the rough draft stage and I’m not sure about a title yet. I am also working on a short story for an anthology that is due by the end of the summer.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Wendy: Usually I write every day. This summer I’ve gotten away from my schedule a bit with travel and other commitments but plan to be back at it by the time this interview airs. When I am writing the first draft I can get anywhere from 2,000-5,000 words in a day. Editing takes much longer for me.
Morgen: Me too. Whenever I’ve done a NaNoWriMo (50,000+ words in a month) I know the hard work’s just started. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Wendy: I think we all get dry periods where we struggle to get an original idea or cohesive thoughts on the page. I worked for a dozen years as a newspaper reporter and you were not allowed the luxury of time. You had to produce and do it quickly. I take that same thought with my fiction blocks. If I can’t see to come up with anything, I still put words on the paper and it eventually with work itself out.
Morgen: I’ve had other journalists say that, I guess that’s why so many end up as writers. 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Wendy: I so can’t plan! I have an idea and come up with where I think it will end. However, I always end up killing off the person I started with as the bad guy usually half way through and need to come up with another. When I write, my characters just take over and I have little control other than putting the words down. Sounds crazy but that is the way it works for me.
Morgen: Not at all crazy. I’d say 90% have said that. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Wendy: I have an idea what makes the character tick. To create names I have a baby name book next to my computer that I used regularly. I often try and play off names that you might recognize but are just a bit different. In the first book I had a character as a news editor named Ken Clark. It was my own joke after Superman and Clark Kent. I also try and make sure they don’t sound like other characters because I hate it when I get confused with different characters in the books I read.
Morgen: We have a politician in the UK with the same name (well, Ken Clarke) but he looks nothing like Superman (sorry Ken). Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Wendy: I have a wonderful critic group that reads one chapter a week and helps critic it. When the whole book is done then it becomes a family affair. My mom and my daughter read it and give me feedback. I also send it to a retired police officer to make sure I get the details right.
Morgen: I’m planning to write crime and have just made a contact in the local CID which is really useful. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Wendy: My writing gets cleaner and cleaner the more I write but I still need editing. As I write and it gets exciting, I type faster and faster and make more mistakes and typos. Sometimes the computer autocorrects them and makes more mistakes.
Morgen: Computers have their uses but yes, I find the same. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Wendy: I do my best creative thinking in the shower. Before I write, I think about what I do while showering and by the time I get to the keyboard, I know where I’m going and just start working. I’ll quit when I’ve exhausted my thoughts. Usually it is about an hour later or could be as much as four hours. I have a huge water bill!
Morgen: Good grief! Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Wendy: Computer. I have horrible handwriting and wouldn’t be able to read it after writing it.
Morgen: 🙂 My writing isn’t too bad but it’s much slower so I only use paper when I’m out or to print and edit afterwards. What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
Wendy: I have a bunch of songs from the 60s, 70s, 80s classic rock on a playlist in I-tunes that I listen to. It has a good beat and keeps me going.
Morgen: You’re one of a minority here. Most have said no music at all and some, like me, have gone for wordless classical. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Wendy: I’ve never tried second person. It could be interesting.
Morgen: Oh yes do. It’s great. I put at least seven sentence beginnings a week on my sentence starts page (this week’s are: ‘You knew his family came first but…’ and ‘You knew it was wrong but…’). 🙂
Wendy: My Mitch Malone Mysteries are in first person. I’m not sure I know how to do third person anymore.
Morgen: I’m sure it’s still there, like an unused language. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Wendy: I’ve used both but never in the same book. In A CASE OF INFATUATION and A CASE OF ACCIDENTAL INTERSECTION I used a prologue in the killer’s point of view to give a bit of information at the beginning because you only get to see what Mitch Malone sees and thinks. In A CASE OF HOMETOWN BLUES, I used an epilogue because Mitch returns to his hometown and I needed to wrap up a lot of information about people he went to school with and used the epilogue for that.
Morgen: That sounds sensible. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Wendy: Lots of them. Mainly it was the first three or four novels I wrote. I keep thinking about reworking them and trying to sell them but other work gets in the way. Maybe soon… my publisher would like me to try a romance again and I’m thinking about it.
Morgen: Ooh great. Oak Tree does sound really supportive. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Wendy: I love the creativity and all the possibilities that I never expected with the twists and turns. That is a real high. The downside is I write a great book but I can’t figure out how to reach the right market who would enjoy it. I hate that part.
Morgen: Then maybe you could release it as an independent eBook and see what happens? If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Wendy: The biggest surprise is the surprises! How the books come out and the bad guy are the biggest surprise and I usually don’t know who or why until three-quarters of the way through the first draft.
Morgen: Isn’t that great? What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Wendy: Write. Write often. The more you write, the better you will be.
Morgen: Absolutely just practice. It’s the same with drawing or playing the piano… or languages as I mentioned a moment ago. What do you like to read?
Wendy: I love to read romance when I need a break. A quick romance will help relieve stress. I enjoy mysteries but don’t read a lot of them because I tend to dissect them and that ruins the reading-for-pleasure theory.
Morgen: Ah ha, romance. That’s why Oak Tree wants you to write it. 🙂 In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Wendy: I live in Michigan in the United States. It is a bit tough making inroads in getting my book out and developing a fan base. I have to travel to Chicago and central Indiana for conferences and networking events. I’m currently trying to get a Sisters in Crime organization in southern Michigan.
Morgen: I’ve heard good things about them too. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Wendy: http://www.wsgager.com and http://www.wsgager.blogspot.com.
Morgen: Thanks Wendy. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Wendy: It’s an exciting time to be a writer. The new publishing model with ebooks allows all writers an equal footing and isn’t controlled by the big publishers. The internet also makes it easy to get to people all over the world. Finding out how best to utilize those is the one question my crystal ball hasn’t answered yet.
Morgen: I know, isn’t it great? 🙂 Thank you Wendy.
I then invited Wendy to include some of her writing:
“HEY, MALONE. HOW can we expect to get a Pulitzer in this backwater?”
I wanted to roll my eyes. I had been nominated for the top prize in investigative journalism twice, but never won. My topic for this seminar to a sister newspaper’s staff was finding big stories and working sources. However, Biff and Bob, I think that’s what they said their names were, heckled me just for kicks.
This routine was familiar. I’d been known to do it when I was required to attend a seminar or two in the past. The rest of the afternoon was going to be painful, if I didn’t stomp on these two and fast. I didn’t do painful. I was an award-winning journalist who covered the crime beat. I was immensely qualified to lead this seminar after receiving national headlines on a story in each of the last two years.
When a Mitch Malone exclusive ran, the advertisers ponyed up for weeks afterwards and circulation rose, making my editor and publisher happy in a business that struggled to survive. I was asked to talk to other newspapers in the chain to encourage them to get bigger stories and edge the bottom line into black. I didn’t like it, but didn’t have a choice.
Morgen: Thank you Wendy, I love reading anything writing-related and Biff and Bob are great! 🙂
W. S. Gager has lived in Michigan for most of her life except when she was interviewing race car drivers or professional woman’s golfers. She enjoyed the fast-paced life of a newspaper reporter until deciding to settle down and realized babies didn’t adapt well to running down story details on deadline. Since then she honed her skills on other forms of writing before deciding to do what she always wanted with her life and that was to write mystery novels. Her main character is Mitch Malone who is an edgy crime-beat reporter always on the hunt for the next Pulitzer and won’t let anyone stop him, supposedly.
Morgen: I only realised what I wanted to do with the rest of my life when I started to write seriously… it’s a wonderful feeling.
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