I’m so happy to present today’s interviewee, psychological thriller author Maggie James. Stick around and meet this talented author!
It’s great to have you with us, Maggie James. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I’m a British author who lives in Bristol. I write psychological suspense novels.
I wrote the draft of my first novel, His Kidnapper’s Shoes, whilst travelling in Bolivia. What inspired me? A combination of an impending milestone birthday along with annoyance at having procrastinated for so long in writing a novel. Ever since childhood, my dream has always been to be a novelist but I’ve only achieved it recently. His Kidnapper’s Shoes was published in 2013, followed by my second novel, Sister, Psychopath. My third novel, Guilty Innocence, like my first two, features my home city of Bristol. I’ve recently published my fourth novel, The Second Captive.
Before turning my hand to writing, I worked mainly as an accountant, with a diversion into practicing as a nutritional therapist. Diet and health remain high on my list of interests, along with travel. Accountancy does not, but then it never did. The urge to go off travelling is always lurking in the background! When not writing, going to the gym, practicing yoga or travelling, I can be found seeking new four-legged friends to pet; animals are a lifelong love!
Where does writing fit into your life, and what keeps you motivated/inspired when discouragement sets in?
I’m now a full-time writer, which is wonderful. When I was a child, being a novelist was all I wanted to do as an adult; it never occurred to me that things might not turn out that way. Sure enough, they didn’t. As a young adult, I lacked confidence, telling myself I didn’t possess enough life experience to write a novel. I procrastinated for several decades, until my fiftieth birthday loomed large on the horizon. That was enough to galvanize me into action, and I’ve been writing ever since.
I’m blessed in being able to write full-time; I doubt I’d have accomplished as much over the last four years if I was still working as an accountant.
As for discouragement, from what I’ve read online, it sets in occasionally for many authors, myself included. When it does, I remind myself of my overall goal to be a successful full-time novelist. That’s enough to spur me on.
As a reader, what do you think makes a good story? What have you learned to never do in your own writing?
I think good characters are essential. They don’t need to be likable, but they should be interesting and believable. Sometimes I read a book in which the characters resemble cardboard cut-outs, with no individuality, no quirks. For example, middle-aged women dressed in twinsets and pearls, dumpy, and with graying hair. That’s clichéd, as well as boring.
The other essential is a plot arc that flows well. There don’t need to be twists, turns and sensational events in every chapter, but loose ends should be tied up and everything makes sense. The last novel I read contained a scene in which the protagonist held two people hostage but also let them go. Not sequentially, but at the same time; the author must have been deliberating between two outcomes and forgotten to remove one. It made for disjointed reading, that’s for sure!
When it comes to reviews, do you have a thick skin? How do you handle negative feedback?
I suspect the majority of writers have skins as thin as tissue paper when it comes to reviews. I do. A great review has me dancing with delight; a bad one can dampen my whole day. No matter how good the book, it’s inevitable it’ll attract adverse comments; it’s impossible to write a novel that wows all readers. It’s all part of the learning curve for writers. I tend not to read my reviews anymore, and I certainly would never respond to them, whether they’re good or bad. That’s on the basis of advice I’ve been given by more experienced authors, and it makes sense. Reviews are written by readers for other readers, not for the author. A writer’s time is best spent writing.
Reviews aside, I deal with negative feedback every time I send a new novel to my beta readers. That’s fine, and I have no problem with it. I don’t want them to respond with glowing praise – that wouldn’t provide me with the feedback I need to improve the book. Instead, I’m seeking to know what’s wrong, so I can put it right before publication. So long as my beta readers are tactful (and they are), I’m fine with them telling me what doesn’t work with my book.
What draws you to your preferred genre? Why do you think it’s so popular?
I’m fascinated by human behaviour and how the mind works, so it’s natural for me to gravitate to psychological thrillers. I believe we’re much more complex than conventional psychological theories can explain, and our behaviour provides fertile material for novelists like me. The genre is certainly popular, and I suspect that’s because other people are as interested as I am in human quirkiness. Take my last novel, The Second Captive, which deals with the fascinating psychological phenomenon of Stockholm syndrome. It’s hard for many of us to imagine how somebody can become emotionally dependent upon their captor/abuser, but it captured my imagination as soon as the idea came on my radar.
Can you tell us about your books? What other projects are you working on?
So far I’ve published four psychological suspense novels, and four non-fiction books from my time as a nutritional therapist. I don’t plan to publish any more nutrition books, but I’m currently working on another non-fiction offering. So many people have said to me that they’d dearly love to write a novel, but haven’t a clue where to start. I’m hoping my book will plug that gap. Once it’s finished, I’ll write another psychological suspense offering – probably a novella that’ll be free to anybody who’d like to read my work. After that, another novel. For now, I intend to stay with the psychological thriller genre, but further down the line I may diversify. Possible future genres include dystopia and erotica.
What advice would you give to new writers, especially those looking to break into your genre? Advice on marketing and selling?
I’d advise new writers to set up a website, and probably also a blog, before they publish their first book. I wish I’d done that. As it was, I hadn’t a clue what I was doing; my focus was on writing my novel, and I didn’t give any thought to learning about book marketing or creating a website. Oh, the benefit of hindsight!
I’d also say that wannabe novelists should read widely in their chosen genre. What else? Well, I’d advise anyone, if their spelling punctuation and grammar isn’t up to scratch, to brush up their skills or find a good editor. Many otherwise good self-published novels are marred by such issues, and it’s increasingly common to find typos in traditionally published ones.
As for marketing, there are many great books available from Amazon that can give far better advice than I can. Identify your target audience, and then decide how to reach them. Get included in book recommendation emails and become proficient with social media. Learn about SEO and keywords.
Finally, I’d advise new writers to grow a thick skin. The Internet can be a brutal place. There will always be people who delight in flaming you and doing their best to drag you down. Ignore them.
How can readers get into contact with you?
I’m very active on social media, and I’m always happy to gain new followers and friends. I also blog weekly on all topics of interest to fiction readers, including author interviews and book reviews. Why not take a look?
If anyone wants to contact me directly, they can do so via my website. Here are my links:
Recently, Ken Mooney and Lela Markham, two good author friends, tagged me in a fun and informal writing activity. The assignment: post seven things about your writing…
Only seven? Okay, okay. Write, then edit and revise, right?
*flexes fingers* Here we go!
For the first time, I’m working on plotting a novel. For my first two published books, The Purple Morrow and Wolf’s Bane (and basically anything I have written until now), I wrote them based on what I felt the story needed as well as how the characters evolved. However, now that I am writing the last book of my trilogy, I decided to modify my usual method to make sure I hit all the essential story points. I’ll let you know if I survive.
I’ve been off my normal writing rampage in order to rest my elbow, which has been hit with tendonitis for the last few months. Not fun.
My kids like to write as well. I like to think they have been influenced by watching me. 🙂
I love to chat with readers and other authors, and I get really giddy when I find new messages and review requests in my inboxes.
Self-marketing and promotion are the biggest challenges for me. I just find them emotionally and mentally draining, not to mention time-consuming.
I’m thrilled to be surrounded by great author friends who include me in activities like this. When I started writing, it was a really lonely time. Now, it’s wonderful to know there are people I can turn to for ideas, information, contacts, writing activities and collaborations, and even a shoulder to cry on. Writing’s tough, man.
I enjoy blogging about writing almost as much as writing stories. I think it’s because I like communicating with readers in a voice closest to my natural one (i.e. without all the trappings affiliated with fiction writing). I feel like I’m still telling stories, just in a different, more conversational way.
My friend Dyane Forde visited me following her decision to end contract with her publisher. She is now fully an indie author. Check out my earlier interview with her here.
Talk a bit about the Purple Morrow and where the sequel is in process.
The idea for The Purple Morrow started a few years back when I wanted to explore themes related to loss, redemption, and moving forward. The story of a man unable to deal with the past while being thrown into a crisis demanding that he settle things and move on seemed a good place to start.
The Purple Morrow started very simply; I’d intended it to be a solo book. But as the story developed and the characters matured, I knew the full tale had to be explored. The world of Marathana blossomed, becoming multi-cultural, each people group following their own cultural or religious beliefs. Magic and…
I have the distinct pleasure of hosting today’s guest author, Ned Hayes. Mr. Hayes is a writer of poetry, historical fiction and science fiction. Rather than begin with a lengthy introduction, I think it is best to let Mr. Hayes speak for himself. Please read on! You won’t want to miss this talented author whose passion for books and writing is infectious.
Mr. Hayes, it is a pleasure to have you with us today. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Books are my addiction. I love books and I’ve been an avid reader for decades now in nearly every genre. I read historical fiction and science fiction and fantasy and even romance! I love books. And I think books were my refuge since an early age when I was growing up overseas and then after we came back to the United States and I was a bit of a quiet introvert. I loved living in other people’s skins, and seeing through their eyes: and I think this tendency to step out of my own reality can be seen in all my published fiction and poetry. In the last ten years, I’ve picked up my pen and I’ve written books myself, along the way acquiring one Masters in Literature and another in Creative Writing (which should be completed this year, in 2015). I’ve worked with several agents to sell my work to publishers, and I’m very happy with the publication of SINFUL FOLK in 2014.
I currently work in technology, and I write books on my daily commute to and from Seattle and Oregon. I have previously worked as a journalist and editor.
Are you interested in other forms of artistic expression besides writing? What keeps you motivated/inspired to create?
Storytelling is a powerful motivator: I love the idea of telling stories that fill people with feeling, and this is my prime motivator. My family’s support is also a big part of my motivation: they are so encouraging in my work and my ongoing exploration in storytelling. I also play music and do a little bit of art, but I’m not very talented there 😉
What drew you to write about the Middle Ages?
In the 1990s, I studied medieval literature under noted scholar Richard Emmerson. And as I read Chaucer, I came across a bit of history from the 14th century. Children died in a tragic house fire in a distant village. The families were in such agony that they took their dead children across England to the King’s throne to demand justice. The same night I read of this incident, I couldn’t sleep – I stayed up and wrote a rapid beginning to the story.
But then I put the story on a shelf for nearly ten years. Then, one day, as I was watching my children playing, I thought of the agony of child-loss, and the pain I would feel if one of my children was lost. I wondered how far a mother would go to protect her child’s memory?
So in 2007, I suddenly started writing the book again and my writing rapidly focused on one woman’s story. One mother loving her child. One tragedy. One relentless urge to find answers. I began to think deeply about children, mothers, families, and loyalty.
I picked my old pages back up and suddenly I was haunted by the character of Miriam/Mear – I almost felt that she was a ghost who wanted her story to be told, and I was impelled to tell the truth of her life.
Your writing style is fluid and lyrical. Do you write poetry, or other writing formats? What can you never see yourself writing?
I would love to publish something in nearly every genre I can think of — I love reading across genres, so I’m not interested in restricting my writing to a particular style or form.
Yes, I write and publish poetry as well. I’ve included one poem below, which originally was published in THE MID-AMERICAN REVIEW.
One of my published poems came out of the experience of being a channel for another person’s voice, and I’m republishing the poem here for all of you to read (the poem originally appeared in the national literary magazine The Mid-American Review).
White men’s bodies turn green under the billows of the sea I have been told so; when the young are dragged from the tide their lips have melted into a delicate slash of emerald.
Black bodies turn blue in the brine none of the longshoremen here notice, for there are too many dead; in Jamaica or Barbados it is rarer. There, the heavy pictish tinge is obvious — their friends, dark and strangely indigo, found among the flood of tourist caucasian suicides.
There is a color women’s bodies turn the change is as oblique as the departure of the soul when our flesh takes on the scent of waves, our skin tone melds away. But no one has ever noticed the change of shade; these corpses often float for years.
then, sometimes, they return to shore, marry, take up jobs or clean house, have children, laugh and talk.
I am walking around still, tasting of ocean, undetected.
Wow! Thank you for sharing that with us.
Mr. Hayes, as a reader, what do you think makes a good story? What have you learned never to do in your own writing?
I think a good story is one that is surprising and intriguing — even for the writer.So for that reason, never assume you know what’s going to happen or that you are in control of the story.
At first, when I began writing this novel, I thought that I was in control of my characters and I was making this all up. Years ago, I had heard that the wonderful feminist novelist Alice Walker believes that all of her novels are narrated by “ghosts” from her family’s past – and that she is actually transcribing real experiences from the past, creating a living legacy for stories that have been lost. I always used to kind of laugh at that, thinking that it was silly to think of a story as being “transcribed” from ancient spirits. But my opinion of Alice Walker’s idea changed as I wrote the novel SINFUL FOLK.
Now although I never actually heard ghostly voices, I did find that my main character, Mear, became increasingly real to me – so real that I couldn’t help but find myself impelled to write down her story as her own story, not a construction I had created. Mear was insistent, in wanting her story told her way, and from her proper perspective. She ended up correcting my voice, my assumptions, and my prejudice about what she was capable of, as a woman.
(Note to readers: to see my book review of Sinful Folk, click here)
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strengths are that I persevere with my writing. I write nearly every day, and I just keep plugging away. My weaknesses are that I enjoy communicating with readers and the writing community too much — and it distracts me from the writing I should be doing.
However, I think it’s more interesting to think about my main character’s strengths and weaknesses!
I think that Mear’s great challenge is facing her own worth and her own abilities, and claiming her own voice. The outside challenges she faces are actually no match for Mear when she fully claims her own power. But for so many years she has buried her true strength, that it is a bit of a struggle for her to realize that she can step forward again, and become the powerful woman she was destined to become.
One thing I’d like to mention is that some readers and reviewers have pointed out that they’ve found it a little unbelievable that a woman could live disguised as a man for years, without anyone noticing. What’s interesting about that is that these reviewers (often women) give men too much credit for observing people – as a man, I’d say that we often don’t notice what is right in front of our noses (my wife would agree with me). I’d also like to point out that there’s a LOT of historical precedence for women living quite successfully disguised as a man. In the U.S. alone, there are numerous examples of women successfully pulling off this feat of disguise for many, many years – sometimes helped by other women!
How did you publish your novels? (traditional, indie/self-published) What was the easiest and the hardest thing about your journey? Advice?
I was represented by several different agents for many years, and pursued traditional publishing for a long time before I finally had a book come out in print — and that was thru a small press, called Campanile Books, based in New York City. I’ve enjoyed my experience with Campanile, but I’m also actively pursuing larger publishers for additional projects.
I’ve self-published some SF and fantasy work under my pseudonym’s name (Nicholas Hallum) for work that is not historical or “straight” fiction.
I find working with an agent to be a wonderful experience — you have an active, engaged reader who is part of your process. I especially enjoyed working with the stellar agent Jenny Bent for a few years on SINFUL FOLK. Her input was very helpful.
Can you tell us about your books? What other projects are you working on?
I am working on several active projects right now. One is called WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS, and it’s a historical fantasy, to be published under my pseuodnymn’s name, Nicholas Hallum. More details athttp://nickhallum.com
I’m also working on another “Ned Hayes” “Historical Fiction” novel right now. One is called GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHT, and it is a sequel to SINFUL FOLK, and follows up on the story of Mear a few years later, during the time of the Peasant’s Revolt in England. Mear is now on the other side of the table, as a noblewoman. But during this revolt, she has to go back into disguise, as a peasant, in order to protect her property and family. I won’t say anymore about this novel, so that I don’t spoil it for readers, but I’m quite excited about it. To get early notice about the publication date of GARDEN – and receive the first chapters for free, when they are available – you can sign up on my mailing list right here.
What do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing, and how do you cope with it?
I guess some readers would think that writing from the perspective of a medieval woman – in a first person voice – would be very hard. But actually, once I got into the truth of her life and how she saw her life, I found her voice relatively easy to write.
But the one that gave me the most trouble was my villain.
In fact, I began writing the book from the perspective of my main villain — I won’t tell you his name, because that would give away a major plot point. But as I wrote the rest of the book, I found Mear pushing herself to the foreground, and I found it more and more difficult to find the voice and motivations of my main villain.
So I found it hard to justify the murders, and found it hard to write a realistic and believable villain. You can read the book, and determine if I succeeded 😉
Who are your favourite writers and why?
One of my favorite books continues to be the classic WATERSHIP DOWN, by Richard Adams. If you haven’t read this book, I think you should! The other book that I think should be on every serious reader’s list is the new and amazing JONATHON STRANGE & MR. NORRELL, by Susanne Clarke. She is such a genius at evoking the era of Jane Austen, and adding a touch of magic to a very old form.
Also, I love the following books: Maxine Hong Kingston’s THE WOMAN WARRIOR, Zora Neale Thurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, and Annie Dillard’s PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK.
If you’re in the mood for something more complicated in terms of plot, I’d recommend Tim Power’s best-vampire-novel-ever THE STRESS OF HER REGARD, Neal Stephenson’s strange monks-as-mathematician’s story ANANTHEM and Pete Dexter’s powerful and destructive National Book Award winning novel PARIS TROUT.
For light entertainment, Garth Nix’s ABHORSEN trilogy is a new favorite in fantasy. I’ve also really been enjoying NEXUS, the award-nominated new SF novel by Ramez Naam, and Frank Zafiro’s tense and exciting crime and cops novel AT THEIR OWN GAME.
For readers who enjoy historical fiction like my novel SINFUL FOLK, I’d recommend the following books:
– MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH, Ariana Franklin, whichfeatures a medieval woman solving a terrible mystery. – THE RED TENT, Anita Diamant, whichaddresses similar questions of female voices being foregrounded, and also is about historical Jewish identity. – YEAR OF WONDERS, Geraldine Brooks, which also features a female narrator in early English history. – COMPANY OF LIARS, Karen Maitland features a troupe of travelers moving across England in perilous times. – HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER, Oliver Pötzsch features a female narrator and a mystery to be solved and is set in Germany instead of England.
What advice would you give to new writers, especially those looking to break into your genre?
Write all the time. Read more than you write. Read, read, read!
It is hard to keep writing each and every day: it is easier to just let it go and do something else that isn’t as challenging or as mind-bending. Yet in his early book on the writing craft, Danse Macabre, Stephen King says that if you write just one page a day — 300 words or so — at the end of one year you’ll have a novel. And that has really helped to keep me going — just add another 300 words today, and soon, you’ll have a complete novel. Just keep writing!
The other piece of advice I have is to listen to your early readers and to your editors, fellow writers, and the bookish community. They will tell you what is working in your writing, and what is not working: listen to them!
I read books in every single genre I can find, and I recommend this practice to every serious reader and writer. If you don’t read everything out there, you have no context for what you are doing. Reading other work provides you with grist for your mill, inspiration for your daily life, and models to follow when you need to see how to do something.
When I’m writing in a particular genre though, I try to read mostly in other genres, so I’m not too much influenced by one particular author or book while I’m writing.
How can readers get into contact with you?
I’m always happy to hear from readers and talk about writing and books you enjoy. Feel free to contact me via any of the following means:
Ned Hayes is a candidate for an MFA from theRainier Writer’s Workshop, and holds graduate degrees in English and Theology from Western Washington University and Seattle University.
Born in China, he grew up bi-lingually, speaking both Mandarin and English. He now lives in Olympia, Washington with his wife and two children.
Mr. Hayes, it was a pleasure to have you with us today. Thank you for sharing about what is clearly your passion: books and writing. Readers, I hope you feel motivated to discover some of the authors mentioned above, and of course, read Sinful Folk (which I highly recommend). Don’t forget to leave Mr. Hayes a message here, or contact him at one of the links provided. Thanks for stopping by!