Today I welcome suspense novelist, Laura McNeill, whose debut novel, Center of Gravity, just released this month.
IDI – Congratulations on your release, Laura. A new release, especially a debut, is always an exciting time.
LM – Thank you. It has been exciting.
IDI – We all draw from within and I believe there is an element of ‘us’ in everything we write. How much of you will a reader find in any given book?
LM – Ava Carson definitely reflects some of my personality traits. She is an optimist who fiercely loves her children. She’s also a people person, enjoys spending time with friends, and is involved in her children’s activities.
Like me, she prefers a simple, no frills lifestyle, adores handmade cards from her children, and doesn’t mind driving a car that isn’t brand new. She enjoys cooking, but is better off baking cookies and preparing BLTs than attempting to prepare a gourmet, seven-course meal.
In Center of Gravity, I see Ava as the “girl next door.” In my next novel, Sister Dear, which comes out in April of 2016, Allie Marshall is the “all-American girl” who’s fallen from grace. It’s even darker than Center of Gravity, and is based, in part, on a close friend’s experience.
IDI – What is the message you hope readers take away from Center of Gravity?
LM – It’s my hope that readers connect with Ava – a woman who finds strength deep within herself when almost everyone else has given up on her.
Like so many of the women I’ve met over the years, Ava is tenacious, smart, sensitive, and, as it turns out, a bit naïve, when it comes to trusting and believing in the man she’s chosen to marry. She’d like to cling to the fairytale of having a perfect marriage, but eventually sees through her husband’s charming façade.
Center of Gravity is a story about love and loss, betrayal and hope, and the redemptive power of the human spirit.
IDI – I noticed that Sister Dear is already listed on Amazon for pre-order. I just wanted to make the readers aware of that. Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming novel, Sister Dear?
LM – Sure. My second HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson book will be released in April of 2016. Sister Dear is the story of a woman, Allie Marshall, who goes to prison for a crime she doesn’t commit, leaving behind a 5-year old daughter. When Allie is paroled 10 years later, she hopes to reclaim her quiet life and move on, but her daughter, now a teenager, soon challenges her innocence. In her quest to find justice, Allie discovers that the one person she trusts most committed the ultimate betrayal a decade earlier.
IDI – Sounds intriguing. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing? How has this helped you as a writer?
LM – The most important thing that I’ve learned about writing is tenacity. Truly, the ability to believe in your work enough to never give up on it is no small feat.
I began Center of Gravity more than 6 years ago, and after the first draft was finished, hired a professional editor (a former acquiring editor for a big NYC publishing house) to help me with the novel’s structure and flow. She challenged me in more ways than I can count and pushed me harder than I could have imagined. Getting her feedback, and then working through it, was like hiking Mount Everest in flip-flops and a bathing suit. At times, I honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it!
Center of Gravity has also been through two agents—the first whom wanted it renamed “The Widower’s Wives” and preferred that I rewrite the whole novel in 3rd person. I’m lucky that my new agent found me, and really understood that the book should be published in several first person voices.
IDI – The entire process is so much more pleasant when you and your agent share the same vision. What works for you? Give us a rundown of your ‘writing process’ from beginning to finished product.
LM – I am definitely a planner. I have to have a solid idea of my next story before I begin outlining, and I really have to love the
idea enough to write about it for 80,000 words. I find that I’m thinking about the story idea when I’m going about my day, I can picture the characters in my head, and I have a few ideas for twists and surprising turns, it’s a good candidate for my next book.
Although many of my writer friends don’t choose to outline, I see it as a road map from point A to Point B. Along the way, though, I might deviate from the chosen path. In Center of Gravity, I knew I wanted to write about the breakup of a family, but as I wrote, the character of Graham Thomas came to mind, and I had so much fun with the motorcycle riding attorney, that I gave him his own voice and chapters.
Once I am finished with the first draft of the manuscript, I put it aside for a few weeks, then revise it on my own. After I finish that, the novel gets sent to a professional editor, who goes through the book several times. When she finishes, she delivers a 12-18-page letter of all of her recommended changes. When I finish those revisions, I usually ask a few trusted friends to Beta Read. The manuscript then goes through several rounds of proofreading while a cover is being finalized. All in all, it’s usually a year or more from idea to publication.
IDI – We all have such varying approaches to the writing process. I’ve been conducting interviews for a long time and have heard so many different answers to that question. I have never been able to sit and map out a ‘bullet points’ type of outline, but I do use the 7-point story structure method with index cards and a cork board. Whatever works, right?
Online cafés or writers groups. Do you belong to any and if so, help or harm?
LM – I belong to several local and national writer organizations, but have never joined a critique group. My time is very limited, so I have to protect it, and I do my best writing in the morning, between 5 am and 8 am. The rest of my hours are filled with a full-time job, my two children, graduate school, and book club.
I’m such a social person that if I belonged to a critique group, I would spend all of my time talking instead of writing, and Center of Gravity may have never been finished. I am aware that critique groups can be very helpful, especially for beginning writers, and I would never dissuade anyone from doing what works to enhance or improve their own writing. Every author has to learn, through trial and error, what works for him or her.
IDI – In your opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions new authors have about the publishing industry?
LM – In my opinion, many new authors believe that hitting the “publish” button on Amazon means that their job is over. They may believe that the books will sell itself, and they can go on and write their next manuscript.
Unfortunately, in today’s competitive publishing arena, the manuscript writing is only part of an author’s responsibility. These days, prior to any book publication, authors are expected to have a social media platform, a marketing plan for each novel, and the ability to execute promotions and special events, either online or in-person. Many publishing houses also love authors who blog regularly, which can be a part-time job in and of itself.
For Center of Gravity, I’ve spent at least 10-15 hours a week blogging, on social media, and working with my in-house marketing team. In addition, I spent my own money to hire an outside publicist who works with national and regional media outlets to help spread the word about the novel’s release. Just last week, she scored mentions for Center of Gravity in the Toronto Star, Click magazine, HER magazine, and Willamette Living. You can read the articles here: http://lauramcneill.com/newsevents/reviews/
IDI – So many new authors don’t understand or embrace the ever-changing industry. And although they eventually pick it up, sadly, the shelf life of their previously released books has expired.
What advice would you give to new/unpublished authors?
LM – My best advice is don’t give up. New authors need to finish their first manuscripts, even if they think it is the most awful piece of garbage in the world. Typing “The End” gives a writer an amazing sense of accomplishment, and it teaches tenacity and perseverance. Writing can be discouraging, and it requires discipline to keep at a project for 80,000 words or more. My first awful manuscript is finished, stored on a flash drive, and will never see the light of day. The story isn’t pretty, but it’s done, and that’s a huge part of the growing process as a writer.
As many authors say, success in this business is a marathon and not a sprint. Center of Gravity was a labor of love and went through years of changes and revision. My first Center of Gravity manuscript looks nothing like the first, and that’s a good thing. I learned so much in the process.
IDI – I, too, have an ugly first draft that lives in a drawer in my desk. It’s part of the learning process. Something else I feel is integral to becoming a proficient writer is reading. How important are your reading habits to your writing habits?
LM – I believe that it’s essential for a writer to read. Not only does it stimulate the imagination, it increases your vocabulary, and introduces you to another author’s writing style. It can also serve to expand your interest into another genre. One voice in Center of Gravity is that of an 8-year-old boy, in my next novel, Sister Dear, one portion of the story is told by a 15-year old girl. Lately, I’ve enjoyed reading YA (young adult) so much that I may try my hand at penning a novel in that genre.
IDI – What might people not know about you?
LM – I wrote four books prior to Center of Gravity under the pen name Lauren Clark. I injected a lot of myself in those novels as well, especially my second, Dancing Naked in Dixie, set in Eufaula, Alabama. Dixie centers on a NYC travel writer who finds herself a fish out of water when visiting the Deep South for the first time.
All four of my Lauren Clark books are Southern women’s fiction, were indie (or self-) published and can be found on Amazon, BN.com, iTunes, and Kobo.
IDI – That caught my attention! I am often found singing the praises of southern writers. Most are born storytellers and I love southern culture. I recently read two books by Jonathan Odell and anxiously await his next. I will definitely check out your Lauren Clark titles.
You are a busy woman. You have two children, work full-time, and attend graduate school, how do you deal with all of the interruptions?
LM – There’s a bit of wisdom someone once shared with me, and it makes a lot of sense: “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”
Until your children leave the nest, and sometimes after, there will always be “Hey, Mom” moments. Even if you don’t have kids to worry about, a neighbor might be outside trimming the hedges or leaf blowing when you need to edit, there may be a crisis at work, or your home’s a/c unit may decide to quit in the middle of writing the final chapter of your manuscript.
Roll with it. Learn to write with some noise and interruptions. When you can, head to the quietest corner of the local library or buy a set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones. All in all, it’s better to write with a bit of chaos than not at all. Believe me, I paused hundreds of times to find a favorite toy or fix breakfast while writing and revising Center of Gravity.
IDI – Final thoughts?
LM – I’m so grateful to the amazing bloggers like yourself, the wonderful reviewers, and all of the friends and family who’ve supported Center of Gravity from the very beginning. I’ve been touched by all of the positive feedback about the novel from Beta readers and have been blown away by my fellow authors’ support on social media. If you’ve Tweeted, shared, or told a friend about Center of Gravity, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without you, this novel would not be possible.
About the author – Laura adores hot coffee, good manners, the color pink, and novels that keep her reading past midnight. She believes in the beauty of words, paying it forward, and that nerds rule the world. Laura is a fan of balmy summer nights, fireflies, and pristine mountain lakes. She lives in Mobile, Alabama with her two sons.
You can find Laura Tweeting @Lauramcneillbks and blogging at lauramcneill.com. After July 14th, Laura’s suspense novel, Center of Gravity, can be found wherever fine books are sold.