I was so excited when Jeanne Magill approached me about interviewing one another for our respective blogs (click here to read her interview with me). Jeanne’s first novel, Damaged In Service, was published last summer. It is a terrific book. I think Jeanne has a great writing style and has created two completely engaging characters in Zeke and Anne. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. As we interviewed one another, I had a chance to ask Jeanne a lot of writerly things I’d been curious about. It was a really fun conversation and we could have gone on a lot longer but figured we’d keep it blog length. Enjoy!
ADR: That’s really interesting. Do you think as a result of your early ability in art that when you write you see things cinematically? I definitely had the sense at times reading Damaged In Service that you could really see what what you were writing. As a result, the reader could see it too.
I suppose it’s kind of combination of art and theater as well as being a little right brain dominant. You’re correct, I do have kind of a cinematic vision that is both visual and auditory. Generally, I can’t listen to music when I’m writing because I need to listen to the dialogue. And I try to write it down as quickly as I hear it. I also use a speech recognition program and dictate, which also produces some hysterical word combinations. (For example, I said dictate and ended up with duct tape.)
If I’m writing narrative, I often close my eyes and just describe what I see. I know it’s a cliché, but I have only a vague idea of story and work hard to develop the characters who will actually tell the story. If the scene is particularly vivid, it’s easy for me to go overboard with description and I have to rein it in. ADR: Too funny! I think dictation machines have long been a source of amusement.
I know a lot of writers make detailed biographical notes on their characters, much of which never make it into their actual work but inform it all the same. How do you go about creating character? Do you pull them out of thin air or are they inspired by people you come across? JBM: Hmm, creating characters… I’ve tried using several methods. First let me say (…of course you will, you’re not here to stop me, <grin>). Unlike almost every author I know, I do not have a system or even a repository for notes. When I do research, I cull facts from several different sources and generally let them marinate overnight or for however long, until they distill down to something I can use. No outlines, no index cards, white boards, or detailed schematics.
The same goes for characters. As a general rule, none of my characters are actually based on real people. Of course, if a nurse appears in my story, the odds are good she will likely share my own educational and philosophical views.
Although I have a reasonably clear idea of what my characters look like, I rarely have a specific individual in mind—with the exception of my beloved Zeke Cabot who bears a striking resemblance to a taller version of Halle Berry.
One of the tools I’ve used on several occasions is horoscopes. I’m not an expert, but I have a general idea of the qualities for several astrological signs, so I pick a birth date including date, year, time of day, location then I run a complete character study on each character and another one for compatibility. That gives me a very good idea about strengths and weaknesses and areas of compatibility. I’ve used it in a couple of stories and it’s helped to flesh out some of the inner workings that stubborn characters are reluctant to share.
On a recent experiment with another writer, we each made up the character and then went to iStock photo and selected a dozen likely candidates. When we both easily agreed on two, we had very good likeness’s of our protagonists and we could build from there. For another story about opera singers, I just mentally combined the aspects of three familiar singers to create an amalgam of the stereotypical singer.
ADR: You’ve done a great job creating a very compelling character in Zeke. I know that we can expect the sequel to Damaged in Service from you soon which I’m sure lots of readers are anticipating. What else do you have brewing? You’ve written about the opera world before — can we expect a full length novel with that setting?JBM: Thanks, Amy, I’m very fond of Zeke and I’m still ‘learning’ her.
After a break and some fresh writing, I’ll start the revisions for book 3 in the series, which will amp up the action for the Girls.
In the queue I have a novella and a full-length story featuring two characters I introduce in book 2 of the series, “Defying Gravity”. It will involve two very different widows and a trip to Scotland.
My opera novel, “Diva” is screaming for attention. Although it’s complete, I need to do some major revisions. It’s my only book in first person, (an excellent exercise).
Last year, I started a little tropical adventure about Belize and a hurricane. And recently, I’ve been helping with a sort of speculative-coming of age-adventure.
Bottom line, when the Muse speaks, I listen.
ADR: You have a lot of things in the works — that’s sure to make your fans happy. Would you talk a little about the differences you found in writing 1st person vs. 3rd person? Which feels more comfortable for you? And what do you find to be limitations of each?JBM: You know, Amy, I’m still so new to this writing business that a lot of it feels like experimentation. The first manuscript I worked on—for 10 years—grew and expanded with absolutely no understanding of craft. My first editor sent me 15 pages of notes, most of them having to do with learning little things like point of view. Who knew? I evidently wrote the whole thing in what was known as third person omniscient. I’m told that style went out with Charles Dickens. But it was also an easy way for me to keep track of everything. I knew what everyone was thinking, doing, and planning and I shared it all.
With the beginning of the Damaged Series, I limited the story to third person with only two points of view. The essential backbone of this story belongs to Zeke, but as her relationship with Anne grew, it was important for the reader to learn more about her. Third person feels comfortable for me especially if there’s a strong romantic component.
I’m not sure why I chose first person for “Diva”. The impetus for this story was: “If you had the opportunity to work as a personal assistant for someone you idolized for years, what would that feel like?” So, it seemed natural to answer that question in first person. The subject of the book (The Diva) is seen almost entirely through the eyes of her personal assistant. Although it’s a romance and I could’ve done it from third person limited, I felt that first person gave the reader the opportunity to share the experience. I have had at least one reader suggests that first person is too difficult to write and I should redo it. We’ll see.
In terms of difficulty, it is hard to stay in first person because sometimes I want to share thoughts from the other character. On the plus side, I have to be inside that character all the time, so I really have to know her and know nothing about the other protagonist except for her reactions.
ADR: Your early experience with POV brings up an interesting question — I wonder if the most “natural” POV might be 3rd person omniscient? Isn’t much of the Bible in that POV? Just rhetorical — that’s much too big of a can of worms to get into here! Now, to The Diva — I can see why you chose 1st person for such a story. Can I ask if you had a real life diva in mind when you created her?
JBM:I think you’re right that 3rd omniscient flows the easiest, but it is the least intimate. For Diva I was inspired by one particular performer, but tried to use an amalgam of three different ones to increase her versatility and characteristics. Of course, I know none of them personally, but worked with a former New York City Opera Diva for several years.
ADR: I know before I was a published writer, I had a lot of false assumptions about the industry. Has there been anything that particularly surprised you — both in the general industry and in the lesfic world in particular?
JBM: Like you, I heard a lot of stories–both glorious and heinous (I have a flair for the dramatic). A number of people regaled me with dire cautions, which boiled down to “Read any contract carefully”. I think I’ve had a pretty gentle introduction. My publisher is new and so am I, so we’re both finding our way.I guess what’s surprising is how quickly the publishing world is actually changing and from the bottom up! New York is pretty dug in, but out here in Middle America, writers are pushing the envelope in all directions. Not just in publishing, by embracing the technology, but also in the kinds of stories they want to write. Quite honestly, you were one of the first to write a military story with only a hint at romance. It’s a terrific story. Now several other authors are sharing their experiences with the military. I think it’s just the beginning.
And that’s all folks. Hope you enjoyed getting to know Jeanne a little better — I know I did!
For the giveaway. To win a copy of Damaged In Service, leave a comment on this blog post, I’ll throw the names in a hat and draw one out next Tuesday, February 21st and post the winner.
You can find Jeanne’s book and read an excerpt here through her publisher’s website.
Or on Amazon here.