Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Writing Porch Author Q&A with Margot McDonnell

Margot McDonnell is the author of Torn to Pieces (Delacorte Press, 2008) and has been nominated for an EDGAR award in the young adult category. She lives in Arizona.

About 'Torn to Pieces':
When her mother disappears, Anne learns that everything she once believed true about herself is a lie and she is in grave danger.

How did you get your start in writing?
As a kid, I was always an avid reader with a big imagination. By twelve I had written two books, a collection of short stories, a musical comedy, and a drama. I think I liked to show off because my teachers always picked my stuff to read to the class. The first published book, 'My Own Worst Enemy,' Putnam, 1984, materialized when my sons were teens. They and their friends were so amusing that I used them as inspiration.

What does you writing routine look like?
First, as an online college instructor, I read and evaluate lessons. Shortly after, I take a walk and think about my current writing project. Back home, it's straight to the computer for several hours. If I can't get past a snag in the plot, I sleep on it, and the problem usually resolves itself. Once in a while I take a few days off and make a quilt.Some writers whose work I admire. William Faulkner is the kind of mystery writer ('Light in August' and 'Absalom Absalom') who buries clues in all those dense sentences worth wading through. I also admire Harlan Coben's books. He's got it going with crisp prose and irresistible mysteries I can never quite figure out. Laura Lippman's well-thought-out psychologically focused plots and excellent characterization make her books fascinating.

What are you working on next?
Another mystery, but I never talk about a current project although I think about it constantly.

What made me decide to write this novel?
'Torn to Pieces' began when I saw a guy play with the hair of the girl in front of him in my English class. I wrote a few pages, then challenged myself after retiring from high school teaching to finish the thing. At first, the book explored young girl's issues at a large high school. When I kept falling asleep from boredom, it morphed into a mystery. With no idea where it was going, I put obstacles in my character Anne's path and let her figure them out. It really annoyed her.

What challenges did you face with this book?
I had to take out some stupid content and rewrite the whole manuscript because no editor liked it. Then, when an offer came, my editor requested two major (and I mean MAJOR) plot changes. I almost cried, but changing the book actually made it better. The hair playing part is still in it.

What advice would I have for other writers/would-be writers?
Today, the book business is tough, writing is tough (what else is new?), and getting a foot in the door is tough. So a manuscript must be finished, topnotch, and free of errors, at the least. But first it has to tell a gripping story. Readers other than family members who are known for their honesty should read the manuscript and critique it. They should be brutal and blunt. This can help find rough spots and fine tune the work. Then comes the query letter. I worked on mine every day for a month and secured an agent in a few days. In short, the writing and the approach to finding a publisher must be professional, and that includes reactions to requests for revisions by the agent and editor. Both have the writer's best interests in mind, and it's not productive to balk.

Where can someone find my work?
'Torn to Pieces' is available on almost any online bookstore and in dozens of public libraries. I am excited to see it in so many libraries because my focus is to write stories for kids who might not care to read but pick it up, enjoy it, then read another by someone else, and another...

EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006, and is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

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