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Monday, April 05, 2010

Author Interview ~ Vicky Delany

Vicki Delany writes everything from standalone novels of suspense (Burden of Memory, Scare the Light Away) to a traditional village/police procedural series set in B.C. (Winter of Secrets) to a light-hearted historical series (Gold Digger) set during the Klondike Gold Rush. She lives in rural Prince Edward County, where she rarely wears a watch. Visit Vicki at www.vickidelany.com. She blogs with five other mystery writers about the craft of writing at http://typem4murder.blogspot.com and about the writing life at http://klondikeandtrafalgar.blogspot.com

What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

My newest book is Winter of Secrets coming from Poisoned Pen Press in November 2009. It’s the third in the Constable Molly Smith series, a traditional village mystery set in small town British Columbia. (Think Hamish Macbeth meets Cindy Decker). It’s set in winter in the mountains, and has some skiing scenes, so I am hoping it will help to get people in the mood for the Winter Olympics.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

I had been writing about five years when I got a contract for my first book, Whiteout. That was way back in the year 2000 so I don’t remember much except that I was certainly pleased. I particularly remember the day the box of my copies of the books arrived, hot off the presses. I had just arrived home from taking my daughter to the dentist. She is totally dental phobic and had to be sedated; her medication was wearing off, and I had been warned she would be very emotional. There were two pieces of mail waiting for us – a rejection from the college she wanted to go to and my box of books, the first ever. I remember carefully holding the open box and thinking “I will remember this moment for the rest of my life” while she howled in the background “My life is ruined!”

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Constantly!

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I was too impatient and aimed too low. I believed that a first book is a stepping stone - it is not: It’s an elevator that puts you off at the level you will remain at.

The book I mentioned above, Whiteout, was published by a small electronic publishing company that also did a few print-on-demand books. It wasn`t properly edited and got nothing in the way of promotion or distribution or recognition. Then the company went out of business. Your first book is your only chance at having a first book. I blew it. When my first book with a reputable publisher, Scare the Light Away was published by Poisoned Pen Press, I couldn`t enter it in any first-novel competitions.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Be persistent. This is a tough, tough business. If one person says ‘no’ you move onto the next. If hundreds of people reject your manuscript, start a new one.

Do you begin writing with a synopsis in hand, or do you write as the ideas come to you?

Yes, and no. Mostly yes. I was a systems analyst in my career. I designed computer systems. Before beginning to write for a computer you certainly have to know what you want to end up with, and have a pretty good idea of how to get there. I take the same approach to my writing, I know the villain and their motivations, I know how the book will begin, and probably the personal conflicts the protagonist will confront along the way. From that basis I can, and do, go almost anywhere.
Winter of Secrets is an exception to that. I was in Nelson, B.C. driving home on Christmas Eve. It was snowing; the snow falling, as it does in those mountains, heavy but straight down. What, I thought, would it be like in a real snow storm with high winds? Right there I had the first scene in my mind, and I just carried on writing from the opening until the end with no idea of what was going to happen next. I look on that book as if I was really in the mind of the protagonist, sifting clues, discovering peoples’ characters. Would I do it that way again? Nope, too much work after the first draft trying to make it all fit and make sense.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

The importance of networking. It was only after I was published that I joined the Crime Writers of Canada and similar organizations. I wish I`d known that I could enter contests like the Debut Dagger, and the Unhanded Arthur in Canada. As I said above: A first book is not a stepping stone, as I had believed. It`s like an elevator: that first book (in most cases) puts you off at the level you will remain at.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

I always stress the importance of reading, reading a lot, to people who want to write. It’s not only a matter of reading so as to know what’s current but I believe that only by reading constantly can you see what works and what doesn’t. Here’s an example I always give. I was reading Voices by Arnaldur Indridason, and his description of two minor characters was so outstanding I ran to look at what I’d written today: She had blond hair and blue eyes. I’d go so far as to say to anyone who doesn’t have time to write as well as to read, that they should read. Store up all that knowledge until you have time to do both.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

I don’t know about proud, but I really love writing the Klondike Gold Rush books. I just have fun with them. The history is fascinating, the people (the real people) so totally off-the-wall that I know readers sometimes think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. The tone is somewhat mad-cap and I find that a lot of fun to write.

What is your best advice on maintaining a good editor-author relationship?

Never take anything personally. Trust your editor, but not totally. Presumably you have gone with this publishing house because you believe in them, and you believe that their editor knows what they’re doing. If you disagree, don’t be afraid to stand your ground. If you have a reason you want to have X as the ending and the editor wants Y, you had better be ready to explain, carefully, convincingly, why X would work better.

How many drafts to you edit before submitting to your editor?


I write three drafts and then submit it to my critique group, one draft after that, and then send it to my agent, one more draft and off to the editor. And then it can go back and forth several times. The ending of Winter of Secrets was re-written and re-written. Now that it’s finished I see that she was right, but I took a lot of convincing.

We often hear how important it is to write a good query letter to whet the appetite of an editor. What tips can you offer to help other writers pen a good query?

Don’t oversell your work or yourself. The work has to speak for itself. “This will be a knock-out success in the style of Dan Brown” is just a turn-off. Short and to the point: One page is best, two at the max. And it must be totally professional: have someone proofread it.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

About once a week, but it only lasts a couple of minutes.

How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?

I do a lot of marketing. I have two blogs, a group one on the craft of writing as well as a personal one on the writer’s life, I enjoy being a guest blogger on other sites. I travel a fair amount; with my last two books I’ve done a book tour to the West Coast of the U.S. In October I’m going to the East Coast of Canada. I am lucky in that I really enjoy book signings. I hate organizing them (hate it hate it) but once I’m in the store, I love it. I have a pretty heavy schedule for November and December for Winter of Secrets, but this time mostly close enough that I can sleep in my own bed every night.
My advice: you absolutely need a good web page and a card or bookmark to hand out that reminds people of your web page. You will meet plenty of people who for lots of reasons can’t buy a book right now. Hand them something that directs them to your web site and they might buy later.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

Scare the Light Away is about a family destroyed by alcoholism. At the end, the alcoholic accompanies his wife to an Al Anon meeting. I got a lovely letter from a woman who had been saved, she said, by Al Anon. She thanked me for including it in the book. I was very touched.

Parting words?

Read lots, write what works for you. Don’t give up, but never forget that you should be having fun.
CONTEST: Leave a comment to win a free copy of Vicky's book!

4 comments:

Janie Upchurch said...

Thanks for sharing some much needed information in your interview. I am going now to look up your blog.

ggdouglas said...

I appreciate what you said about the small electronic publishing deal. I am in a similar situation and trying to decide what to do. Should I go with it just to get the first book out there? After reading your advice, I think not.

Cynthia Schuerr said...

Thank you for all of your insight. Reading your interview has answered a few very important questions for me. Thank you, Vicky.

Vicki Delany said...

ggdouglas, that would be my advice - however, my advice only. The key for me in deciding on a publisher is distribution. Will this book by this publisher get into libraries and bookstores? If not, does it matter to me? If not, how much work am I prepared to put into it?