The first book of my Cobble Cove mystery series, A Stone’s Throw, was discussed today at my library, and I was asked to attend to open the discussion and answer any questions the readers had about me or the book. Because this was a local event, I decided to write a summary for my blog readers who who may have also read A Stone’s Throw or might be interested in learning more about the book and my writing.
I opened the discussion by explaining that the version of A Stone’s Throw published in November 2015 that the book group members had read is no longer available except for a ridiculous sum from third-party sellers because it is currently out of print. A new version will soon be released by my current publisher, Solstice Publishing, and will contain some fresh material, although the main plot and characters will remain the same. The new book will also feature a different cover. It will be available in both paperback and ebook editions.
Before I invited the book group members to ask questions, I spoke about five of the characters in the book and how I had created and/or named them. I explained that Alicia, my main character who is also a librarian, was based on me and also shared some of my personality traits such as being a bit hesitant to try new things and being afraid of letting go of the past. As the book progresses, Alicia becomes more open to change and realizes that “things happen for a reason.” The elderly character, Mac, is actually the first person who says this phrase in the book. I based him on a man I worked with in my college days at the C.W. Post library who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch every day. In the book, Mac has a special recipe for PB&J sandwiches and, in the second of the series, I have included a recipe that won a contest that one of my readers submitted.
Mac’s first love who he never completely forgot, was named Carol after my mother-in-law who passed away a year before I wrote the book and to whom I dedicated it. The library cat, Sneaky, was modeled after my Siamese, Oliver. I even started a fun blog where Sneaky “interviews” cat characters from other books, but he also branches out sometimes and interviews real cats of authors or those with a special story to tell. For instance, he recently interviewed some cats who live at a winery. To read his blog, you can visit: https://sneakylibrarycat.wordpress.com/
The last character I discussed was John, the widower and newspaper publisher with whom Alicia becomes involved with romantically when trying to locate her dead husband’s family in the small upstate New York town of Cobble Cove where she ends up working in the local library. Although John is not based on my husband or any particular man, he is named after a childhood friend who I was sorry to learn had recently passed away. In the new book, I’m adding a dedication to him along with the one for my mother-in-law.
Having given some background about my characters, I opened the discussion up to questions. Some that were asked related to the book; others to the writing and publishing process. Below are some of them along with my answers. I am always interested in readers’ comments and questions. If you have any that aren’t listed below, please post a comment. I also started a Facebook group where a different character from the series answers questions each month and also offers a contest. January’s host is John. The Cobble Cove Character Chat group is located here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/748912598599469/
Here are the book discussion questions and answers. Some of them have been edited for clarification.
Was Gilly, Alicia’s friend, based on anyone you knew?
No. I have had a few friends and known women with similar personalities, but Gilly was not based on any particular person.
Is Cobble Cove a real town?
No. Although many of the towns mentioned in the book are real, Cobble Cove is fictional as is the nearby town of Carlsville. I decided to create a fictional place and populate it with quirky characters.
How long did it take you to write A Stone’s Throw?
It generally takes me six to eight weeks to write a first draft. I then edit and revise it a few times before submitting it to a publisher and that can take another two months. I also try to send it to beta readers, friends or fellow authors who give me feedback on it, before I submit it. After I submit it, if I’m offered a contract with a publisher, I’m assigned an editor. Sometimes I get one quickly, and other times there can be a wait. Once I start working with the editor, we go back and forth through a few rounds of edits before the book is published. So, you see, the writing itself is only part of the time it takes to publish a book.
Do editors change your work?
I’ve heard that some editors and publishers require some authors to make changes, but I’ve been lucky that the editors I’ve worked with have allowed me to review their suggested changes and decide whether I accept them or not. Working with an editor is a two-way street. I’ve found things my editors have missed and vice versa. Even after something is published, errors might be noticed. It’s good to let writing sit a bit before looking it over yourself and also important to have other people proof and edit it. You can go crazy revising and editing, so you have to get to a point where you’re satisfied enough with the manuscript to let it go.
Do you make a lot of outlines and notes before you write or let the plot and characters develop as you write?
There’s a term for people who do a lot of preparatory work before they write. They are called plotters. The opposite are pantsters who “work by the seat of their pants.” I fall in to the latter category, although I try to create character sketches and a flexible plot to start. I often don’t know who-dun-it until more than midway through the book. In my second of the series, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, I ended up killing off a character I had not planned to have murdered. I figure if I surprise myself, I’ll probably surprise my readers, too.
Do writers need a lot of real life experience to draw from to be good writers?
I believe that’s helpful, but there are other ways of gaining experience than actually living them such as research. For instance, for my second book, I spoke with pediatricians and new mothers to gather some facts about babies. I have a daughter, but I couldn’t remember the things she was able to do or not do at six months old. Real-life experience is always useful, though. If you are writing about something you’ve never done, like skydiving, you might want to try it, so you can accurately describe it in the book. But if you’d rather not jump out of a plane, you could talk with a skydiver for the info. If you haven’t been to a certain country you’re setting a scene in, you may want to travel there, but if you can’t afford to do that, reading about it or speaking to someone who lives there, could be a good substitute.
Is it very hard to get published?
The problem with getting published is that there’s so much competition. Publishers and editors receive thousands of submissions a day, and many of them end up in the slush pile, even if they are promising work. It takes authors many years to establish themselves and build a fan base. There are pros and cons to self publishing, landing an agent, being at the right place at the right time, etc. I currently have a wonderful publisher. They are small but have been around for nine years which is a long time in the small press business. I’d love to have my books published by a large publisher, so they would be distributed more widely and in additional formats. I have one I’m currently querying with agents, but I’m happy with my progress so far. I love writing. I like editing. I’m not too fond of promoting because I have a hard time pushing people to buy my book, but I realize writing is a business and to continue to publish I need to show sales.
How do writers get paid?
If you publish with a small publisher, like I do, you usually get a statement of your book sales and then receive payment through Paypal or a check for the royalty amount which is less than what the publisher receives. Like any small business, you usually spend more money on promotion the first few years than you make back in royalties. If you publish with a large publisher, you may get an advance which you keep but which you need to earn out before you start earning additional royalties.
Besides the questions the book group members asked, people also made some comments. I always find it interesting to hear what people take away from reading my books. One person thought the epilogue was too neatly tied up and would’ve been better placed in the second book, while another really liked the epilogue and love how I tied together all the subplots. One person said they had trouble keeping track of the characters and their relationships with one another, but another person thought the characters were easy to follow and that the book was an easy and quick read. Someone suggested I submit the books to the Hallmark channel (several other people have told me my series would fit there, so I’m giving this some consideration).
Along with the positive comments, I received a few negative ones which I took as constructive criticism. One person thought I featured the police officers in the book as too stereotyped eating donuts and not pursuing the investigation seriously. I explained that one of the reasons for this was my attempt at putting some comic relief into the plot, but I assume it didn’t work for this reader. Someone else thought the character of John was not likable at the beginning and seemed to be hiding something, but as they read the story, they realized it was because I was trying to make his behavior suspicious to test Alicia’s trust and have the reader question whether he was a bad or good guy.
I was thankful that I had the opportunity to interact with the library book club group, and I hope some of the feedback I presented here might be of interest to other authors and readers.