Thursday, May 3, 2018

Interview with Jane K. Cleland

What is the title of your newest book? How many books have you published?
Antique Blues is the 12th entry in my Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series, all from St. Martin’s Minotaur. I’m thrilled that it received a starred review from Library Journal. I also write nonfiction. Mastering Plot Twists will be published in June [Writer’s Digest Books].

How did you become interested in writing?
My mother, Ruth Chessman, was a writer, so on some level, I thought that’s what women did. I remember writing my first book when I was seven. It was a Nancy Drew mystery involving a cow that got in trouble because it crossed a state line without a passport. (Yes, I lacked a certain worldly knowledge.)

What is a day in the life of an author like? Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening, etc? 
I write all the time, or I think about what I’m going to write. Here’s a little excerpt from Mastering Plot Twists on the topic of my writing process.

Some authors say that in order to write, they need a block of time, a few hours or a full day. I understand that, but not everyone has that luxury—I didn’t, so I had to come up with another approach, and I did. I taught myself to write in ten-minute increments. That was in 2011, the year I was a full-time MFA student and teaching six courses (yes, six) as an adjunct professor, with all the class prep and grading that implies. I’d just learned that my MFA thesis was missing key components, and I was on deadline for the next entry in my Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series. To say I was busy is an understatement.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating when I tell you I had no time, let me provide an example. During this nightmare semester, I stopped going to the “real” grocery store, which is four blocks from my midtown-Manhattan apartment, opting instead for the smaller specialty story, which is only one block away. It takes me one and a half minutes to walk a block, which means going to the “real” store was a twelve-minute commitment (4 blocks each way = 8 blocks/trip x 1 ½ minutes/block = 12 minute walk) versus a three-minute commitment (1 block each way = 2 blocks/trip x 1 ½ minutes/block = 3 minutes), and I simply didn’t have an extra nine minutes to spare.

What I did have was a twenty-minute break between each class, and what I discovered was that I could spend ten of those minutes writing. Ten minutes was long enough to reread the last paragraph I’d written—getting my head back in the game, revising a bit as I read—and write another paragraph. If you do that three times a day, guess what? You’ve just written a page. This tactic can be a lifesaver, because professionals don’t miss deadlines. When you miss a publishing deadline, you throw your publisher’s editorial and production schedules into disarray. Meeting deadlines doesn’t simply satisfy your obligations, it also boosts your confidence.

Do you plot the entire book first, then write or plot as you go?
I am a plotter. When I got off-track in an early novel, I designed what I call Jane’s Plotting Roadmap. I use it to delineate the key elements of my plot, add in two subplots, control the pace, and ensure the plot is complex enough to hold interest. I introduced this tool in Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot, which won the Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, and is discussed further in Mastering Plot Twists.

Do you use real people and places as models for your books?
No. I make stuff up. In fact, at the beginning of very novel, all of which are set on the rugged, rocky cost of New Hampshire, I add a disclaimer: While there is a seacoast region in New Hampshire, many geographic liberties have been taken.

Who is your favorite author?
Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries are my favorite mysteries. I also love Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances.

How do you promote your books?
I go to a bunch of conferences and book events. I just love talking to readers! My schedule is always posted on my website here: I also conduct many writing workshops at writing conferences, MFA programs, and other author events… I love meeting writers too! I see my job as introducing folks to Josie (my fiction) and my writing tactics (my nonfiction).

For a review of Antique Blues, click here.

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