Janice MacDonald interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Mar 6, 2018 11:38:10 PM
Janice MacDonald interview with David Alan Binder
Janice MacDonald is a Canadian author of literary and mystery novels, textbooks, non-fiction titles, and stories for both children and adults. She is best known for writing six novels featuring amateur sleuth Miranda “Randy” Craig. The Randy Craig Mysteries were the first detective series to be set in Edmonton, Alberta, where Janice lives and works. The next installment, The Eye of the Beholder, will be published in September 2018 by Ravenstone Books, an imprint of the highly respected Turnstone Press. Janice is a lifelong fan of detective fiction and even wrote her master’s thesis on the subject. However, in recent years Janice has concentrated increasingly on literary short fiction, essays, and creative non-fiction. Confederation Drive, a passion project about her trip across Canada on the 50th anniversary of Expo ’67 in Montreal, was released by Edmonton-based Monto Books to coincide with the “Canada 150” sesquicentennial celebrations in 2017.
1. How do you pronounce your name?
With a capital D.
2. Where are you currently living?
I am from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and that is where my mysteries are set.
3. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
I feel far more organized when working on a manuscript; perhaps the carving out of time requires everything else in my life to be a bit more regimented.
4. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
When I am writing on weekends, I brew a pot of French Market coffee. Family and friends send it from the southern States to me. I also brought back a suitcase full of it from Bouchercon in New Orleans.
5. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
I have never self-published, mostly because I began writing in a time when traditional publishing seemed to be more authentic. Nowadays, I think perhaps it is because I have no stomach for sales and hawking of wares. What I want to do is write.
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they located?
My Randy Craig mystery novels are published by Ravenstone Books, an imprint of Turnstone Press, Winnipeg.
My children’s book, The Ghouls’ Night Out was published by Ronsdale Press, Vancouver.
My memoir, Confederation Drive, was published by Monto Books, Edmonton.
I wrote a university textbook on rhetoric and composition, True North, for Addison-Wesley.
And I wrote a couple of non-fiction books for Lone Pine Press early on (in the careers of both Lone Pine and myself.) Those are now out of print.
6. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
As a Canadian who publishes with small and medium-sized publishers who can’t afford to pursue publishing agreements with other countries, e-books make it possible for readers in other countries to read my mystery novels. So I am a fan of e-books.
From a personal angle, I like taking my Kindle on vacation, because it makes my suitcases ever so much lighter. But on the whole, I prefer real books, as I like to share good books with a pal of mine. Besides that, I can never actually gauge how much “83% of a read” is so I cannot gauge whether I can keep my eyes open enough for one more chapter.
7. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
Write a better book than all the other people hoping to get published.
Sorry, that is glib. What you really need to do is write a book that is unlike anything any written previously, but not too unlike them. In mystery novels, it’s as if you take the previous books you’ve loved, and give them one more turn of the screw, just a bit different…a new location, a protagonist no one has ever seen before. Plot twists are fine, but there are only so many stories in the naked city. Mysteries come alive because of their characters, and the quality of the writing.
8. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
I’ve never had an agent. I am not quite sure how one goes about getting one.
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)?
Don’t give everything away for free. For every story you hear of someone being discovered through Twitter or a story they’ve posted online, I can show you seventeen writers who have sucked their time and energy into social media with nothing to show for it.
That said, don’t worry about having to copyright everything you write, either. Write for charities, toss a story into an anthology by an up and coming writer. We’re a community. Be community-spirited. Someday, you’ll have a book launch and you will look up and see mostly other writers there. We support each other.
10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned with your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
The location of the Randy Craig mysteries are considered interestingly exotic to people outside Edmonton, and I have many committed fans in other countries. This doesn’t surprise me, because I did my master’s thesis on detective fiction, and I knew that the revelation of a new or different location was a strong element of why readers chose certain series.
What does surprise me is that people here always seem really shocked that a book would be set in their own familiar territory, with the characters walking down streets they know and eating in restaurants they recognize. I often wonder if Walter Mosley makes Los Angeleans perplexed, or if PD James startled Londoners.
11. How many books have you written?
Twelve are published. There are a couple more moldering in a drawer.
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)?
When working on a manuscript, I usually suggest to my students that they set a page limit per writing session (mine is five pages a morning on weekend mornings) and not write much beyond that when setting out their first draft.
Writing in a white hot heat tends to make you feel “written out” and when you come back to the blank page, you may scare yourself into thinking you have nothing left to say. I am certain that is how “writer’s block” happens.
13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
Surprise yourself. If you’re stuck, look around for a door and either make your protagonist go through it, or have it open and figure out who enters.
14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
My mysteries are set in Edmonton, the first mystery series to be set here (although now there are a couple of others, so it isn’t so lonely). My character, Randy Craig is a woman who grows and ages throughout the series, so in ways she explores her own changing landscape as well as situations in which she finds herself. And I like to think the issues she deals with are more than superficial: misogyny on campus, the damage that discrimination can do to the next generation, the similarities of the academic and creative processes. Oh, and they’re funny.
15. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
My wonderful husband maintains my website, www.janicemacdonald.net, and my Wikipedia page. I have a moderate presence on social media, (I’m @RandyCraigBooks on Twitter and @RandyCraigMysteries on Facebook) and hopefully not to the point of oversaturation, and I will appear wherever my publishers suggest I do.
When a new book comes out, the local media will often interview me in place of reviewing the books (there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of reviewing sites in newspapers anymore.)
16. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
I usually joke and say, marry for money. But probably what I would have done differently would be not to have spent so much time as a freelancer and then an adjunct/sessional lecturer in universities and colleges early on. My writing discipline on weekends is much more fruitful and focused now (with a fulltime day job) than it was when I was teaching and marking papers constantly, and I could have retired with a full pension several years ago if I’d been working in a job with benefits and a pension from the get go. I sigh about thinking of how much writing I could be getting done now, instead of still punching a time clock.
I think one’s writing gets better the more age and experience you pile up, so setting right up to be a freelance writer was probably a somewhat limiting move. I did get a few books written and establish myself in peoples’ minds as a writer, but I had no way to support that life, along with bringing up children, since book reviewing didn’t bring in a lot and you can’t provide orthodontia on what you get in royalties.
17. What saying or mantra do you live by?
Sorry. Nothing springs to mind.
18. Anything else you would like to say?
No, but thank you again for the exposure to your readers.