Clare O’Donohue interview with David Alan Binder

posted Aug 11, 2019, 10:25 AM by David Alan Binder

Clare O’Donohue interview with David Alan Binder


About Clare (there’s more on her website)¨ She got her degree in International Studies, with a minor in Economics, then worked as a newspaper reporter on a small weekly.


Later still, she moved to Los Angeles and got work in television. For years, and years, she’s traveled as a field producer on documentary and true crime shows, interviewing all sorts from CEOs to prison inmates, Malaysian orphans to sports heroes. She’s had tea with a member of the House of Commons at Parliament in London, suited up to examine the Ebola virus at an infectious lab in Brussels, flown a single engine plane, and dipped a toe in the Sea of Galilee – all of it part of the job.


Writing books has opened up a whole new world – meeting authors she has loved for years, and finding new friends among authors, bloggers and readers


Beyond the Pale is her 8th novel. She hopes this is just the beginning.


Her website:


1.     How do you pronounce your name?

In America, it’s pronounced O’Don-a-hue. In Ireland, usually it’s O’Done-a-who. I use and answer to both.


2.     Where are you currently living?

I live in Connecticut, and work in Manhattan. I’m originally from Chicago, so I spend a lot of time there too.


3.     What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

Creatively, the most important thing I’ve learned is to let the characters determine the story. I might have an idea of how a book will end but as I write, my characters will grow and change in unexpected ways. If I try to impose my original plot on them, it will seem forced and implausible. We’ve all watched shows or read books where the ending didn’t make sense. I think it’s because the writer didn’t listen to the characters.


4.     What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

I read the dialog out loud, which is why it’s unusual for me to write in public places. But it’s so helpful to hear the dialog and make sure it sounds natural. When I do have to write in public spaces, I just accept I’ll seem like I’m arguing with myself.


5.     Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

I’ve been with a publisher my whole career and I think the major lesson is that while it’s great to have the support and distribution abilities of a publisher, it’s still on the author to get out there and make sales. I’m publishing the 6th book in my Someday Quilts series, Storm at Sea, on my own. I thought I’d finished the series several years ago, but I got an idea and wrote the story. I’ll have more insights on to the contrast between the two worlds once I’ve done that. I predict most traditionally published authors will hybrid at some point. Whatever stigma was once attached to it is fading, and it’s an extension of being in charge of our own careers. 


a.      Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they located? I’ve published 7 books with Penguin, in NY and 2 with Midnight Ink, which was located in Minnesota but has since shuttered.


6.     Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

As a writer, I don’t worry too much about the way a reader gets my book. I don’t know if any reader could tell you the name of his favorite author’s publisher, so I don’t worry too much about that either. There was a time when the feeling was ebooks would wipe out print, but that hasn’t happened. Personally, I like print to read when I’m curled up at home, ebooks for travel, and audio for road trips and commuting.


7.     Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?

My first series, Someday Quilts Mysteries, came with a business plan. Seemed obvious to me to let my potential agent and publisher know who I thought the audience was, and how I intended to reach them but I’ve since heard it’s pretty unusual. Writers tend to think that “everyone” is our audience, but that’s not true – not for me, or Stephen King or JK Rowling, or anyone. Thinking about who is most likely to read your book and what traditional and unconventional ways you can reach them will impress publishers that you’re thinking like a professional.   


8.     How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one?

I got my first agent by emailing a bunch of my friends and asking         if anyone knew a literary agent. Turned out two of them did. One of them had a kid in the same class as the kid of a literary agent. My friend made an introduction and that woman became my agent. Point is, you don’t know who people know. Your co-worker’s college roomie could be an agent; your cousin’s neighbor’s daughter could be an agent…. Definitely send out letters to agents who work on projects like yours, but also let everyone know you’re looking. Can’t hurt, and it may get you in the door.

9.     Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be so specific that this most likely will not have been seen elsewhere)?

I’ve learned that consistency is key. Writing for a half hour every day is much better than writing for 8 hours once a month. I stay with the story, and I’m much more likely to get a book finished if I put in a little bit of time on a consistent basis then if I wait until I have that magical free time that never seems to appear.   

10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned with your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

I’ve been surprised by how attached people become to the characters. I’ve met readers who knew more about my characters than I did, and I’ve met readers who’ve told me that reading one of my books got them through a stay at the hospital or inspired them to take a trip to Ireland. I don’t think I understood the impact, even though I’ve been inspired and helped by reading other authors my whole life. It’s incredibly touching to think someone out there is enjoying what I’ve written.

11. How many books have you written?

I’ve written 10 and I have two half-written. Nine of my books are on the shelves and the 10th will be out soon. And hopefully by end of 2020 I’ll have finished one of my unfinished books.


12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be so specific that this most likely will not have been seen elsewhere)?

Be honest. People connect to books that feel like people living their lives, even if their lives are as spies or on the moon or in the body of a cat. Emotional honesty, sometimes digging deep into your own scars and frailties, will help you write something no one else could.


13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

For me it’s about not getting too clever aka implausible, but about building on a mis-direction. Letting readers be led to believe one thing is true, mostly by inference, but having put in enough clues that once you reveal the truth, it’s been there all along. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is a book that does it brilliantly.

14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

For me it’s always characters. Real people with intelligence, with flaws, with hopes, with problems. Paper cut-out characters saving the world isn’t interesting to me, but write about real people dealing with anything, from the mundane to the ridiculous, I’m in.


15. What is one unusual way in which you promote your work?

I did quilt shows for my Someday Quilts books and have gone to Irish fests for Beyond the Pale, which is set in Ireland.  For me, it’s important to look beyond the mystery audience. Tap into other genres that may have cross-over appeal for your work, look for the kinds of people who might not usually read your genre but would love another aspect of your book.   


16.  What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

I would take more control of the marketing. I thought, naively, that I would write books and my publishers would handle the rest. I learned slowly that it’s my job to handle the promotion of my books and I do wish I’d been more serious about that right from the beginning. 


17. What saying or mantra do you live by?

“Stay in chapter 3”…. When I was writing my first novel, a friend who was reading it would lovingly tell me that she could see it as a published book, a movie… whatever. It was great, but also beside-the-point. I would say, “I’m in chapter 3, so that’s what I’m focused on.” So that’s become my “Stay in the moment” reminder. Don’t get caught up in things you can’t control – awards, publishing contracts, and, you know, life. Stay in the moment and focus on what is under your control. It’s an easier and happier place to be.


18. Anything else you would like to say?

I’ve sometimes met aspiring writers who imagine themselves in mansions or on private islands. It can happen (hasn’t to me, but I know it can happen). Here’s the thing though – whether you’re sitting at a café writing your first book, or sitting in a castle on heaps of cash, the actual writing process is the same. Make sure you love it. Make sure that you’re doing it for the writing and not anything peripheral to it. It’s a very hard path if you’re not having fun.