Better Storytelling Secrets
Authors discuss their writing techniques.
Hi, I’m Mark O’Bannon. Welcome to this rare look into the secrets of storytelling from published authors. Today, I’m joined by New York Times bestselling Paranormal Romance author MaryJanice Davidson, the creator of the Boffo series and the Undead series.
Life as a Writer
How did you get into writing?
I was an Air Force brat, so we were always moving and I was always the new kid. Rather than put myself out there and make friends I knew I’d leave in less than a year, I wrote stories. When I was 13, we moved to Minnesota and I went to the same school for the next four years…long enough for people to get to know me, to ask why I was always writing in class.
When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?
When kids started waiting for me by my locker to ask how the stories ended!
Where do you get your ideas from?
Everywhere! From my every day life, from magazines and books. My story ideas breed pretty easily; I can be working on one book and get ideas for four more while researching the first one. The world is full of weirdness; it’s not hard for me to find stuff to write about.
How do you develop your ideas into a story?
I do a lot of “what if…?” until things make some sense. What if…an ordinary woman with an ordinary life got fired and killed on the same day, and came back as not just a vampire, but as the queen of the vampires? And what if she has a lot of the problems that come from being a vampire as well as the everyday problems of being unemployed (“Will my social security number still work even though I’m dead?”)? And what if…? And I keep doing that until I can answer them all.
What kind of stories do you enjoy working with?
Right now my preference is paranormal romance as well as suspense. I’m contracted for two different series right now, and the nice thing about the Undead series is that there’s very little police procedural happening, and the nice thing about my FBI/BOFFO series is that there’s absolutely no paranormal in it. If I get stuck on a chapter in one universe, I can skip over to the other one and work on it for a while until I’m un-stuck.
What genres would you like to explore in the future?
I’ve always been tempted to do a historical, especially a fish out of water story (modern hero or heroine finds themselves back in sixteenth century England, or what-have-you), but the amount of research would be daunting! I’d also love to write a non-fiction book about writing…how to write a query letter, how to pitch an editor, deciding if you need an agent or an editor or both, how to sell your book to the movies…like that.
Do you work from an outline?
Yeah, I have to…it’s in my contract! J I’ll usually write a three to five page outline so my editors know what the story’s about and where it’s going. The funny thing is, I’ll be halfway through actually writing the book and will get a much better idea of who the villain is or their motivations, and I’ll finish the book accordingly. So often my outline and my book have different endings. D’oh!
How do you build your story?
I follow the “what if…?” questions; they’re like my bricks, and one gets stacked on top of another and another and another until the house is done.
For you, what makes a great hero?
To me, a hero is someone who manages to do the right thing even when they’re terrified.
If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?
Um…”power hungry asshat”?
How much time do you spend researching the setting for your stories?
It depends on the setting—I spend months and months researching my BOFFO trilogy because I’m not only not in law enforcement, I don’t have a psychiatric background. I know just enough to understand I don’t know anything. The UNDEAD books don’t need as much because I make the rules (Betsy can handle crosses, holy water doesn’t bother her, etc.). Though I do get the occasional disgruntled fan mail that begins, “In real life, vampires wouldn’t do that” or, “Your werewolves defy all laws of physics!” Um…thanks for setting me straight?
What settings would you like to explore in the future?
Hell! No, really: literally hell. One of my characters is the Anti-Christ, and…
SPOILER FOR UNDEAD AND UNSTABLE
…and Betsy, the vampire queen, actually kills Satan at the end of UNSTABLE. So the Anti-Christ, Laura, inherits hell. I’d love to do a spinoff from the Undead books with Laura as the heroine. As with the Undead series, Laura would have real-world problems as well as paranormal problems. Also, who can’t relate to the nightmare of starting a job which you have no training or aptitude for?
Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?
Naw. Don’t get me right, it’s nice to know the purpose, but often I’m not quite sure where things are going until I get there.
Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?
“Get away from her, you bitch!” No, wait. That’s Ripley, from Aliens. I guess one fave line would be the closing line from Undead and Unwed: I’m still waiting on the red Beverly Feldman pumps. Beverly Feldman is a wonderful shoe designer, and her assistant reads the Undead books. That line led to Beverly sending me a dozen of her designer shoes…for free!
Do you have a routine? A certain place to write? Do you listen to music?
I write most afternoons…mornings are spent answering reader mail, giving interviews, reading galleys…like that. In the afternoon I edit whatever I wrote the day before, and try to add at least ten new pages.
The sad thing is, I’m lucky enough to have two houses, and a beautiful office in each, and in both I usually write in the living room on my laptop. D’oh! I don’t usually listen to music, but I’ll often have an old movie or show on as background…it’s my white noise.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
By writing two books at the same time (see above).
How do you go about fixing a story?
I pay strict attention to my editor’s advice! What also helps is being able to set the manuscript aside for several weeks, then re-read it with fresh eyes. I recommend that every single writer do that, all the time. You’ll be amazed at what you missed a month earlier, when you were sick of the sight of the thing.
How do you know when to stop?
When I’ve answered all my “what if…?” questions. Okay, when I’ve answered most of them.
Words of Advice
What words of advice would you give to new writers?
Besides the set your manuscript aside for weeks or months, I’d advise any writer to never give up. I had over a decade’s worth of rejection slips…my twenties were all about rejection, frankly. I didn’t get a book contract until I was 32, UNDEAD AND UNWED came out when I was 33, and I’m 42 now. The years of rejection were worth it, and vital to improve my writing, but if I’d quit trying to get published in my twenties, you’d be interviewing someone else right now. J
So, what is YOUR plan for the zombie apocalypse?
A bottle of prescription sleeping pills? I’d just as soon miss the whole thing.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
I have no idea. At all.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing my paranormal anthology, UNDEAD AND UNDERWATER, as well as YOU AND ME, ME AND YOU, the third book in my FBI/BOFFO series.
I’d like to thank today’s author, MaryJanice Davidson for being with us today.
I’d like to thank you as well. Please check out the other great interviews in this series with authors, and remember to keep writing! The next published book could be yours.
– Mark O’Bannon
About the Author
MaryJanice Davidson invented a) her children, and b) the vampire chick lit genre. Also the Internet. She is kind to (some) children and (occasional) small animals, and enjoys referring to herself in the third person. Appearing several times a year on the best-seller list, as well as occasional Federal “person of interest” sheets, she takes time from the living hell that is being paid to do what she loves best to seek out the nearest Cinnabon franchise. Her goals include working for world peace, figuring out how to make potstickers, and speaking at writer and reader conferences around the world. (Australia is still recovering.)
Visit MaryJanice Davidson Online:
Written by Mark O’Bannon
Mark O’Bannon is the CEO of MEOw Publishing and is the author of “The Dream War Saga.” His books include: “The Dream Crystal”, “The Dark Mirrors of Heaven”, and “Aia the Barbarian.”
You can find Mark on Google+ and Twitter. Over the past 15 years, Mark has taught Writing, Self-Publishing and Internet Marketing for authors. Visit his blog, “Better Storytelling” or his website, www.MarkOBannon.com