Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Authorsday - Mary Reid and Eric Mayer

Co-authors Mary Reed and Eric Mayer are here today to answer some questions.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Mary had made her mind up by the time she was nine or ten. She used to remark that when she grew up she wanted to be a writer and live in a garret, probably inspired by Jo March in Little Women, who didn't actually live in a garret but wrote in one. Jo is the only fictional character with whom Mary identified herself.

Eric can't remember when he wanted to be a writer, at least in the sense of wanting to spend his time writing, because he was drawing picture stories in crayon before he knew the alphabet. Probably when he began checking science fiction books out of the library was when he decided that it must be wonderful to be able to do nothing but get paid to make stuff up, like all those science fiction authors. In that sense, he's still hoping to be a writer when he grows up.

--How did you pick the genre you write in?

Mary loves mysteries and has always been interested in history, so writing historical mysteries was an easy choice. She also prefers Golden Age mysteries to modern ones and those older books are, in some sense, historicals now. It was Mary who first sold mysteries, to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and she suggested Eric collaborate with her. He'd read some mysteries, along with other genres, and he also loved history, so it seemed like a good idea. We both read a lot of science fiction and fantasy when we were younger and the historicals allow us to incorporate some of that sense of exotic locations and alien societies we both enjoyed reading about.

--Do you plot or do you write by the seat of your pants?

When we write together we plan the books out in detail, using a scene by scene outline. Since we trade chapters back and forth, writing and rewriting each other's work, it would be too easy to become confused without having a master plan to refer to as necessary. Especially since we need to keep track of the clues involved in the mystery puzzle. This is fine for Eric, who always outlines, but Mary, left to her own devices, prefers to dive in and see where she ends up. She's happy enough to call a character. "Fred" until she knows his real name. Eric, on the other hand, can't write the first sentence until he knows "Fred's" first, last, and middle names, his eye color, the identities of his father and mother, his place of birth, and his mother's maiden name.

--What do you know now that you are published that you didn’t know pre-published that you wish you knew?

We weren't aware of the importance publishers place on authors' promotional efforts, or anything about how to promote our books. We learned, for instance, that a website is vital, as a calling card when querying publishers, and for giving the writer a presence on the Internet, a place where people can go to find information about the work.

Also, we knew that it was difficult to get published, that it took not only skill but a lot of luck and that many deserving writers never do find a publisher. However, we didn't realize just how difficult it is. It's probably fortunate we didn't know. We might not have been quite so blithe about submitting our manuscript.

--How many rejections have you received?

Lots. Sometimes it seems like we have both had endless rejections so altogether...well, what's twice infinity? Neither of us are any good at math.

When Mary was writing nonfiction her record was twelve rejections in 24 hours. They were all eventually published. Her theory is to always get the rejected piece out again immediately.

Eric tried, briefly, to keep track of his rejections when he started to make a serious effort to publish nonfiction and essays. He had six rejections before his first essay was accepted. That seemed like a pretty good record. Forty-four rejections later, without another sale, and decided maybe he wasn't the record-keeping type.

One for Sorrow, the first novel we sold, only garnered five or six combined rejections from agents and publishers before it sold.

--Why did you pick the publisher that ultimately published your book?

When Mary saw in the Mystery Writers of America newsletter that Poisoned Pen Press had a nonfiction book nominated for the Edgar she wrote to congratulate them and asked whether they planned to branch out into fiction. They did intend to do so. It transpired editor Barbara Peters had often thought that someone should set a mystery series during the Byzantine period. Not only did One For Sorrow, which takes place in sixth century Constantinople, fit the desired time period, it also matched the description of the sort of books the new press sought to publish -- well written but not the sort of thing big publishers, with their enormous sales expectations, might want. We're not sure how often writers choose their publisher. It is usually the other way around. But in this case Mary might well have chosen the only publisher who would have published the series.

--What three things would you want with you on a desert island?

Mary could do with a working computer, a complete collection of all Golden Age mysteries, and a large tent. Eric would go for Mary, our cat, and a lifetime supply of coffee.

--What’s your favorite food?

Mary likes egg curry, peaches and custard, cheese sandwiches, and cheese cake, ignoring the blandishments of long ago favorites such as liver and onions or tripe. Eric will agree with those likes (and heartily agree to ignore the "old time favorites") but he also enjoys pizza and Chinese take-out, or the mid-eastern cuisine he had when he lived in Brooklyn, but which doesn't seem common in other parts of the country.

--What would you like to learn to do that you haven’t?

Mary reckons she would like to learn to play the accordion or juggle, preferably both at the same time. It might come in handy at book signings. Eric wanted to play professional baseball even before he wanted to write. Of course, being a bookworm and writer, he never played organized baseball even as a kid. He suspects he will never get started on his baseball career since he is too old to join the Little League.

--What was the hardest scene to write?

There is a scene in Eight For Eternity in which the excubitor (palace guard) Felix finds himself in the midst of a riot in a narrow alley. The fighting is chaotic and bloody. After having hinted at the chaos in the streets as mounted imperial troops battled the mobs, we felt it necessary to finally show the reality. It was difficult, however, since neither of us have ever been in a street riot, or served in the military, or wielded swords or spears, or sharpened sticks, or thrown bricks and stones. At least not at other people. Nor have we ridden horses, except on carousels. Eric could at least imagine how terrifying it must be to see a horse bearing down on you, even without an armed rider. Mary recalled having queued up outside a store on the opening day of a sale. With that little to go on the scene did require some heavy lifting from our imaginations.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

1 comment:

Mark Terry said...

I would have enjoyed writing a scene in a riot. And now that I think about it...