With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with bestselling author Mary Buckham
USA Today bestselling author Mary Buckham learned to get into and out of trouble at a very early age. Time has added to her opportunities—detained by Israeli intelligence; strip-searched by a Greek border patrol while traveling with a priest, sneaking into Laos. When not personally avoiding nuisances caused by her insatiable curiosity she creates lots of disorder in her two Urban Fantasy series—Alex Noziak and Kelly McAllister. In her spare time Mary writes Writing Craft books including, Writing Active Setting, Writing Active Hooks and Break Into Fiction® co-authored with Dianna Love.
When did you first begin writing? Did you know then that was what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
I thought in terms of story since childhood, snagging my brothers and sisters to act in plays I created with great gusto. As for writing for publication, not until my late thirties when I left an intense management job that easily meant six and seven days a week to stay on top of the demands. After I left that I looked for an opportunity to do something from home so I wrote my first novel, which taught me that writing for publication was a whole different beast than writing down what was in my head.
Can you tell us about your writing process? How do you manage your time? In general, how long does it usually take you to finish a book?
My writing process involves doing whatever it takes to get the next book written and the one after that. There’s no set schedule as I travel to teach workshops, teach online and consistently juggle multiple demands. I was fortunate, as I started writing with five children between the ages of nine and one. Best time management trainers in the world. As for length of time to finish a book, I let it gel in my head for a while so that when I sit down to write it can take from one to two months before it’s making the rounds with my content and copy editors, then on to my beta readers.
As the acclaimed author of the Invisible Recruit series, what is it that attracts you to the urban fantasy genre? What do you think it is about Alex Noziak that makes her such a compelling heroine for the series?
I love Urban Fantasy because it’s such a cross-genre smorgasbord of so many types of books—the pacing of a thriller, the complexity of a suspense, romantic relationships that always add complications and the who-done-it of a mystery. Plus, in this particular series it’s about women’s’ empowerment and growth, so there’s a lot of juicy material to explore on the page. As for Alex Noziak, she’s part witch, part shaman; born in Mud Lake, Idaho and is half Native American. She comes with a lot of baggage and an equal amount of heart. She doesn’t expect life to be easy but is willing to fight for the greater good anyway and readers appreciate those qualities in her.
You have a third Kelly McAllister novel, titled Invisible Embrace, coming out this summer. How would you compare writing a character like Kelly to a character like Alex? They are both strong female heroines, but is one more difficult to write than the other, and why?
For me writing about former Kindergarten teacher Kelly McAllister was much harder than in-your-face Alex Noziak, which is why, as a writer, I wanted to push my comfort level and write about a very different type of heroine. Kelly has had to face a lot of hard knocks, which tries her innate goodness, her defining characteristic in the eyes of her fellow Invisible Recruit Agents. So as Kelly grows and changes, her whole team must also grow and change.
You also collaborate with NYT author Dianna Love to become author Micah Caida on the young adult, sci-fi/fantasy Red Moon Series. What strategies work best when collaborating with another creative mind? How is the workload split up?
The lovely element about collaboration is that there is no one formula that works for all writers or types of books. Early on my co-collaborator and I agreed there would be nothing sacred. We worked and reworked until we could no longer tell who wrote what and our guiding mantra was “it works if the story is made stronger”. Every collaboration is different as far as workload, but for us we passed pages back and forth and set deadlines for ourselves that worked. Collaboration takes a lot of communication, commitment, and a strong work ethic that’s in sync with your co-author. I was very fortunate to be able to work with Dianna and would do so again in a heartbeat.
In addition to being an author, you also teach others the craft of writing. How has this been rewarding for you? What are some of the challenges of instructing others?
I think that to be a strong teacher it helps to actually learn by trial and error. I love to analyze but that’s only half the picture. Writing is more than an intellectual pursuit, it’s also a physical process—it’s a verb. Working with thousands of writers both online and in person has expanded my world in so many ways, and to see a student take the concepts and apply them to strengthen their own work, regardless of what they write, is extremely rewarding. The challenge? Making the time to create my own work, which has required cutting back on a lot of my in-person and online teaching.
Who are the most influential writers in regards to your own work, and how have they affected you?
I don’t think it’d be easy for me to acknowledge certain authors over others as everything I’ve ever read, from myths and fairy tales to poetry and novels, have shown me the power and possibilities of the written word. I’m thankful to all writers who took the risks of putting their words down on paper to share with total strangers.
You credit years of global travel and a deep interest in world cultures as directly influencing your work. Could you name a place that has most influenced/inspired you?
I think that travel forces a person to live in the moment and that’s one of its greatest gifts. When we arrive someplace new, walk down a street we’ve never before seen, are exposed to sights and sounds and scents then the world opens wider. That then becomes fodder for the page. To allow someone to step into a story, into a world they’ve never been in before, is to expose them to the experience I feel when traveling.
You’ve focused three of your non-fiction books on writing active settings. What is the difference between ordinary settings and active settings?
I use the term “active setting” to illustrate using narrative description in multiple ways to enhance a story, versus stopping the forward momentum of a story to describe a place or things that can derail the experience of being in a story. Working with hundreds and hundreds of writers I saw them struggle either with too much descriptive narrative that bogged down a story or not enough description to help anchor a reader into a story. The Active Settings books help show writers how to use Setting descriptions in multiple ways that can change their understanding of the writing craft and what’s possible on the page.
You’re teaching a “2 Day Power Plotting Retreat” soon. Can you explain what power plotting is, and why writers (both published and unpublished), would find it useful?
The power plotting workshops come out of the Break Into Fiction® writing craft book I co-authored with NYT author Dianna Love. Plot is the structure of a story that makes sure a story framework meets readers’ expectations. Since many writers spend years on their first commercial novel, learning to create the next one and the one after that in a more timely manner can be challenging. For multi-published authors the marketing needs required of authors means their writing time can be compressed, so they are often looking for a quicker and cleaner way to plot. At this two-day Retreat, I not only walk authors step by step through a understanding of ‘plot’ but also work one on one with them, with their own stories, so they can transfer a general understanding to a specific story (or series of stories) of their own. Plot is a road map, and having someone break out the key stages that create a strong story, and why, can be a very liberating experience.
Is there any advice you can give to other writers about getting their work out into the world?
There are readers for every type of novel, so keep writing until you find your readership. That said, don’t neglect learning the craft of writing as necessary to become, and then grow as a published author. Know what you want from your writing—a memoir to share with family vs. a long career writing X types of stories—all have validity. Becoming a published author is not an end goal, it’s a means goal, so staying published and becoming more well known as an author is not for the faint of heart. But just because it can be hard does not mean it isn’t worth the challenges.
What’s next for you? Do you have any new books coming out in the near future? What workshops or events do you have coming up? I’ll be seeing you at the PNWA writers conference in July.
This year, I hope to have at least 3 more non-fiction works published (Writing Active Body Language: Book 1; Book 2 and Book 3] all dealing with different elements of incorporating powerful body language on the page; 1 and possibly 2 more fiction novels and at least 1 fiction novella. As for workshops/events I’ll be teaching 3 more Power Plotting Retreats (Denver, Hartford, CT and Canandaigua, NY] as well as Workshops in the greater Seattle area (PNWA and Write on the Sound], Columbus, OH with the COFW folks and Richmond, VA with the VRW writers. I also hope to have a series of online writing classes made available for writers to learn more about the craft in the comfort of their own homes. It will be delightful to meet you at PNWA in July! Another lovely bonus of writing is in meeting with so many amazing creatives in the world of writing—editors, agents, instructors and writers at all stages of their careers.