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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Discovering the Mystery of Writing: An Interview with Sally Goldenbaum

Today's interview is with an author who had been publishing for decades and has learned what it takes to write a popular novel. So read on to learn about her writing journey.

You’ve definitely paid your dues as a writer. I see you started in the ’80s with romance novels racking up 10+ publications. Why did you drop that genre and move to cozy mysteries?
I guess I do have rather a checkered past. The switch was kind of serendipitous. I stopped writing romances to accept a job as editor of a healthcare ethics journal (my graduate work was in philosophy, so it was a nice fit.) But after a few years, I missed writing and had always wanted to write a family/women's fiction novel, so I left and went back to writing. 

About that same time, a good friend asked if I'd be interested in co-writing a mystery she was working on. She was kind and generous, knowing I had never written a mystery, and convinced me it would work. (She is a master mystery writer, which was the real reason it worked). 

After we finished that book a small local publisher of quilting books asked if we would be interested in doing a mystery series featuring quilters. Nancy had her own books under contract, but I had truly enjoyed writing the mystery (and had learned so much from her) so I said yes. I wrote three of them ~and the story continues with your next question.

At the time you made the switch in genres, did you have an agent? How long did it take for you to get published in the new genre? What did that process entail?
I had an agent for the romances but did not use an agent for the quilting mystery series (although the mystery I had written with Nancy Pickard was agented by her agent). But as I was debating about adding a 4th book to that earlier series, an agent I had worked with years earlier contacted me and suggested I write a similar series, one focusing on women's friendship and small-town living, but one she would take to a large publisher where it would get wider distribution and marketing. 

So, I happily left the small publisher. I began formulating the new series by writing long essays about the four women who became the seaside knitters, learning as I wrote what their backgrounds were, their personalities, their likes, and dislikes. We--the knitters and I —became friends through the process. I sent the essays, along with a brief synopsis of a mystery, to my wonderful agent, and she was able to find it a home. 

I don't deny or gloss over the fact that I was very, very, lucky in this journey. I think the publishing industry is filled with happenstance and luck. So many wonderful books don't find homes simply because they might land in the wrong hands at the wrong time.  I am grateful my stories have seen the light of day. They might well have sunk to the bottom of a slush pile.

Your books are about knitters in a seaside village who solve murders. What made you choose that locale and craft?
The locale came from my love of the sea and New England. But the deeper, heart-reason was that my first grandchild was about to be born, right along with that first seaside knitters mystery. And his mother (my daughter) and father lived on Cape Ann. where I have set the seaside knitters books. I could visit often, do some research while there, and spend a LOT of time cuddling this beautiful baby boy, soon to be followed by a sister and brother. 

The knitting theme came about because I needed a way for my four protagonists of very different ages to be pulled together over a common love. At the time, my agent's young assistant was an amazing knitter (she actually designed the pattern printed in Death by Cashmere) and she suggested the knitting. Grandchildren on the way provided an additional impetus.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension?
The first chapter usually isn't difficult. I'm often inspired by something I've read or seen—a baby car seat abandoned on a beach, a story I read in the NY Times book of obituaries, a newspaper story about bullying.  But the next few can be very difficult. I begin each mystery with only a vague idea of what is going to happen. I usually know who the victim is but rarely know who the murderer is, and that sometimes makes for some difficult writing days.

I spend a lot of time begging my characters to tell me where we're headed. I love dialogue and creating scenes and a town, once the plot emerges from the shadows.  

What does your editor remind you to do most often?
 I write about a small town, and that means following around the people who live and work and love and play there. But my editor reminds me that the number of people can become confusing to readers, and she kindly requests I don't bring too many newcomers to town. Sometimes they sneak in anyway.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
The best encouragement comes from family and a dear friend who is also a writer--and who convinces me my books are wonderful even if I have had a writing day that argues strongly with her opinion.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.
The kinds of books we choose to read and love is such an objective thing. And that's what I remind myself when a reader or reviewer addresses something they dislike in one of my books. 

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing? 
One of the things that's surprised me is the personal element, getting to know the editors, the people in PR, etc. And especially the fact that readers become friends, people I know and whose lives sometimes become intertwined with my own. I never wrote a writer after reading one of that writer's books. Not ever. But I love it when I hear from the people who read my books.

What frustrated you the most?
The thing that frustrates me is the need to be a part of social media. And it's not because it's bad; it's because I'm not very good at it!

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
I keep a quote from Nora Roberts on my computer that addresses writing as a habit. Even if you're writing gibberish, at least you have something to work on, you're strengthening the habit. If you don't write at all, the habit quickly wanes. And, of course, no story is told. 

And as far as giving advice, I think reading is vital to writing. Anything. Everything. I rarely read a book that doesn't teach me something about writing. I'm almost always inspired by what I'm reading to be a better writer. Also—and writers differ on this—I always have a book or two that I am reading while I'm in the process of writing a new book. When I get stuck writing, I will pick it up and read a few pages, and the author's sheer use of language (not plot) inspires me to want to get back to writing.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
My most recent book, How to Knit a Murder, was released the end of November, and the next in the series, A Murderous Tangle, will be out November 2019. Here's a snippet from the publisher's copy:

Ivy Bean—a bright-eyed environmental activist with a way of charming both animals and humans alike is teaching part-time at the Sea Harbor Community Day School. Birdie’s granddaughter Gabby is mesmerized by ethereal Ivy’s passion for saving the earth and ocean, and even Izzy’s old Irish setter becomes attached to the young woman’s gentle touch.

But not everyone is a fan of Ivy and her strong opinions, especially after she starts questioning the “clean” practices of small-business owners. So, when a popular bar owner whom Ivy publicly calls out for bad practices is found dead from a fall off his club’s deck, it’s not long before she tops the suspect list for murder. 
But all is not what it seems. And in addition to a murderer walking their streets, the knitters are grappling with an unusual wave of thefts up and down Harbor Road, troubling—and very personal.

As Birdie’s 12-yr-old granddaughter struggles to protect her mentor’s reputation, the Seaside Knitters must solve a dangerous mystery that not only threatens to unravel the fabric of their community and the approaching holiday, but also the lives of those they care about the most.

Sounds intriguing! If you’d like to learn more about Sally’s books, here are some options to get you connected.

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