Years ago, I read a lot of Phyllis Whitney’s books and also Victoria Holt’s. Then I got into reading Agatha Christie. I loved them all. Whitney and Holt really knew how to make situations eerie and suspenseful, while Christie had surprising twists and great characters. I—afraid—because I’d only written non-fiction up to that point. But I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did, as my first novel, Light on Fire Island, became a best-seller in the LDS market.
What inspired you to create your protagonist, Erica Coleman for this series?
I wanted someone smart and saavy, but I also wanted someone who was a bit quirky and also a nice person. So I decided to have Erica have OCD. She drives her friends and family a little crazy but her OCD helps her pick up on clues, so it’s a great trait for a private eye to have!
How long did it take for you to write your first novel?
My first book, Light on Fire Island, took me three years. But I was working nearly full time and had small children. Now that I have more experience, I’ve gotten a little faster. Right now, if I work hard, I can write a mystery in 9 months.
Was it harder or easier to write your second book?
It was much easier to write my second book. I knew more about how to plot out the novel and the entire process of writing—from start to finish.
Are you active in any writing critique groups?
I was for several years, then the group slowly fell apart. Right now, I have chosen to use Alpha and Beta readers instead, and they give me a lot of great feedback.
What type of research do you do for your books? Tell me about the process.
I love to do research, as people can tell by my non-fiction books. For my novels, I take great pride in going to each and every setting I write about and taking tons of pictures and notes, so that everything is accurate. My husband and I plan our vacations around places I want to use as a setting for my next book.
For A Death in the Family, my husband and I drove to Oregon, rented a car and drove all over Florence and Lake Oswego, When I describe the Sea Lion Caves and how the gift shop and caves are laid out, it’s all accurate, as are the descriptions of the beach, Heceta Head lighthouse, the historic Siuslaw Bridge, Charl’s Restaurant, etc. For Crooked House, my husband and I flew to Philadelphia, then drove to Dover and spent days taking notes and researching the area.
Did you go through the normal process of pitching your book to agents and traditional publishers?
I haven’t written for the national, or traditional publishers, preferring to stay within the LDS market. I started by sending my unsolicited manuscript to Aspen, a small LDS publisher. Then, with one book under my belt, I went to a larger LDS publisher, who published 3 or 4 of my books. Then I went to a still larger LDS publisher and when I decided to do a novel, I sent it to Covenant, who accepted it.
What feedback did you get on your first book? How long did it take for them to accept the manuscript?
I was delighted that they seemed to love the book. It went through the normal editing process. I believe it took 2-5 months for them to accept it.
You’ve published one book a year since 2011 which is usually quick for traditional publishers to turn around a book. We’re any of these already written and just needing a polishing?
None of the books were previously written. It may seem remarkable to have a book out a year, but not when you consider that after accepting my first book, Covenant held onto it for three years before publishing it. In those three years, I was able to do a lot of writing. Also, I did much of the research for Gaze Into Heaven—Near-death Experiences in Early Church History, while working on other non-fiction books. So the writing time for that book was greatly reduced.
Since you write full time, what is your daily writing schedule?
First, I read the newspaper, my scriptures, and a few pages in whatever writing book I am studying at that time. (Not always in that order!) Then I have breakfast. Next comes whatever housework or yard work I can fit in by 10:30. At that time, I stop doing chores and start to write. I stop about 12:45 for lunch, during which I read. Then I take a 10-15 min. power nap and go back to writing. In the afternoon, I take my dogs for a walk, then I work until 7 p.m. Then I get dinner ready, (hubby usually helps) and watch TV until bedtime.
When the weather is good, I take my laptop outside and work in our little gazebo. I love being able to write while being outdoors! I have three dogs; Biscuit, (a Westie) Snickers, (a mini-dachshund), and Brandi, (a Welsh Corgi) who are my constant companions. If I’m working inside, they settle under my desk and if I go outside, they’re right there with me.
Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
Usually character development comes as I work on the plot. I’m definitely an outliner. Since I mostly write mysteries, I need to have a good foundation in place before I write. And I come up with character traits at the same time as I develop the plot. Often the plot helps determine character traits and just as often, characters determine what happens next in the plot.
What type of publicity do you do to promote your book?
What has worked best for you in generating sales?
I don't really know. I track my online sales on Amazon, but don't really have any way of tracking how people find out about my books. It’s be nice to know if it is from my Good Reads giveaways, or from Facebook, newspaper reviews, blog tours, etc., but since I can’t track each one individually—I have no way of knowing.
What do you like best about writing your novels? Any part that you find more difficult?
I enjoy revising the most. The first part, coming up with an idea for a book and plotting it is exciting, and I love using my imagination, but it is hard work. The next part is writing the rough draft down, and that is the hardest part of writing for me. It’s hard to make sure all incidents and events line up and the mysterious planted clues and revelations area are all in order. At this point, the manuscript is so far from being a coherent novel that I wonder if I can ever mold it into a book. But you have to get something down before you can revise, so I grind through it. Then, comes the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth edits. I enjoy that the best. Each time I go through the book and revise, the manuscript becomes better and better. And with that comes a great sense of pleasure and satisfaction. I love polishing!
What is the best advice you've been given about writing or that you've learned that you would like to pass along?
Never. Give. Up. People don’t fail because they can’t write, they fail because they stop trying. I have a yellowed newspaper clipping by my computer that says; “For most of us, it isn’t that we don’t have the ability to write, it’s that we don’t devote the time. You have to put in the effort.” Another way of saying that is if you want to write and be published bad enough, you’ll work for it. And if you work at it, your writing will improve, and eventually you WILL be published.
What other works do you have in the process?
I’m working on an LDS romance; Apple Creek—On the Wings of a Dove. Kelsi, the main character is trying to keep her family together after her husband dies. When her grandmother gives Kelsi an old, rundown house, Kelsi jumps at the chance to move to Apple Creek. She hires Jason to remodel her house and finds herself falling in love.
But there are problems galore, from her moody teenage daughter, to a resentful brother who tries to take away the small house her grandmother bequeathed to her. When Kelsi decides to go into business with a man, against Jason’s advice, conflict arises, causing Kelsi to questions the feelings she had for Jason. Was it love? And if it was, will they ever be able to work things out?
Sounds intriguing. I'm sure you've piqued the interest of my readers. If you would like to learn more abut Marlene's writing, here's some links to do that.
Her website: www.marlenebateman.info