Today’s Debut Author Q&A features a very special writer to me and to this blog. Julia Munroe Martin has been a supporter of Baby Grand and Making ‘Baby Grand’ for as long as I can remember. It is a privilege and an honor to have her here today to talk about her debut novel, Desired to Death. Her answers to my questions made me think about my own fiction journey – our paths are very similar, our ideas for our novels formed many years ago. So without further ado, I bring you the world’s newest mystery writer.
Name: Julia Munroe Martin (writing as J.M. Maison)
Name of book: Desired to Death (Book 1 of The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series)
Book genre: Mystery
Date published: April 29, 2013 (ebook); paperback in about 3 weeks
Where can we find your book: Amazon
What is your day job? This is it! I am a journalist by education, worked as a technical writer for about 10 years, then as a freelance writer. Now I focus almost exclusively on fiction.
What is your book about? This book answers the question: What am I going to do with the rest of my life? After her daughter leaves for college, former-SAHM Maggie True is faced with an empty nest and doesn’t know what to do with herself. Never in her wildest dreams does small-town Maggie imagine the answer will come in the form of a middle-of-the-night call for help from an estranged friend who has just been arrested for murder. But it does, and as Maggie solves the mystery of who killed A.J. Traverso, a sexy kickboxing instructor, she also solves the mystery of what to do for the rest of her life.
Why did you want to write this book? This idea came to me after my son left for college, when I wondered what the future held. It was a very tough transition for me, especially when a few years later my daughter left for college. Going through that transition, from stay home mom AND writer to “just” work at home writer, wasn’t easy. I’ve always been the kind of person who observes and watches everything and, clearly, makes up stories about it all. And my loose ends led me to ask the question “What if?” or maybe even “If only.”
What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? The insecurities. I wish I could count the number of times my husband would get home from work and I’d say, “Wow, this is the best thing I’ve ever written, listen!” And then the next day, or maybe even while I was reading it to him, I’d say, “Wow, this is literally crap.” That inner critic. By the way, my husband is the least challenging thing about writing a book. Always there to listen, to support, and always supports me as a writer no matter how much (or more to the point, how little) I earn.
Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write this book (visit certain locales, etc.)? I researched Empty Nest Syndrome pretty extensively and talked to other women who were coping with the empty nest. I also did some research on detection and spent quite some time with a friend who’s a police officer.
What motivates you to write? I love writing, and I think writing. What I mean is that when something happens, my first thought is: How will I write this? Also, writing fiction is a real pleasure for me. I just really have fun with it.
Did you experience writer’s block? After my kids left home, I did have writer’s block for about a year. I could not write anything. It was incredibly frustrating. My solution was to force myself to write more. That was when I started my blog, and I wrote a post every single day for a year. At the same time I made myself sit and write fiction every day. It was pretty amazing. Not only was I incredibly productive with the blog, but I also finished a manuscript I’d been working on for almost seven years (not this one), and I started two more novels. In the past two years I’ve written three manuscripts, and I can honestly say I owe it all to two things: blogging and “butt in the chair time,” as my journalism advisor used to say.
How long did it take you to write this book? From idea to finished manuscript, through different drafts and fits and starts, nine years. This included different plots and ideas for the main mystery in the book. When I got really serious with this particular mystery idea it took me eight weeks to write the first draft.
You originally wanted to pursue a traditional publishing deal for this book. What made you change your mind? The simple answer is I got tired of waiting. The longer answer is that it’s complicated. I’ve been writing fiction for about 25 years, off and on, and I’ve written about 8 books now (everything from middle grade to adult). I really wanted to see something in print. I also realized that the timing was pretty perfect — I liked the way the industry was changing and the speed with which it was changing. I watched several self-published mysteries do very well on Amazon (books that seemed to be comparable to mine), and I knew that series mysteries do pretty well. I queried this novel to about eight agents, with pretty good feedback, but no one bit, although they loved the writing, the characters, and one described it as “a charming, charming, lovely read.” Still, it wasn’t quite right. After hearing the good feedback, combined with the fact that I’d already been thinking about self publishing something, I decided this was the one I’d try with.
You chose to use a pen name for this book. Why? I just finished a book that I plan to shop to literary agents, and it’s in a completely different genre (historical time travel). I’ve heard some people say that publishers prefer debut authors to not have “genre confusion” with readers. I don’t know if this is true, but I didn’t want to take a chance, so I decided at the last minute to use a pen name for this mystery series. Plus it makes it a little more mysterious!
What would you say is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That fiction writing is the easiest kind of writing you can do – you’re just telling a story, right? I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction books now, and I’ve been a professional writer for 25 years, and I can say without any hesitation that writing fiction, especially a novel, is the hardest kind of writing I’ve ever done. That said, it’s the hardest but also the most satisfying and the most fun!
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? The speed with which I wrote the first draft. I do a lot of writing “in my head” so that when I really sit down to write, it comes out fast and furious. I can barely type fast enough to get my thoughts down “on paper.” I also think I’m an adrenaline junkie because I love the feeling!
I know it’s only been one day, but do you find yourself obsessively checking sales stats? Thankfully I’m not at that stage yet, but I’m assuming I will. There’s nothing about writing – or anything else – that I don’t not approach obsessively.
So, you have more books?! YES! I am currently revising a historical-time travel novel, and next I’ll be writing the second Empty Nest Murder Mystery series book. Planning in progress!
My favorite last question: Oprah once famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I totally and absolutely agree (and not just because I want Oprah to read my book). I think particularly with writing, which can take years and years to prepare for while developing craft. For me, the “moment of opportunity” was blogging and self publishing, and they are what may allow me to be successful.