Margaret Coel interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Jun 30, 2016 3:22:29 PM
Margaret Coel interview with David Alan Binder
A shortened Bio from her website: Margaret Coel is the New York Times best-selling author of the acclaimed Wind River mystery series set among the Arapahos on Wyoming's Wind River Reservationand featuring Jesuit priest Father John O'Malley and Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden.
The novels have received wide recognition. They have been on the bestseller lists of numerous newspapers, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. Five novels have received the Colorado Book Award. THE SPIRIT WOMAN received the Willa Cather Award for Best Novel of the West and was a finalist for the Western Writers of America's Spur Award for Best Novel.
She attended Marquette University.
Along with the Wind River mystery series, Margaret Coel is the author of five non-fiction books (two of which are featured on this site), including the award-winning Chief Left Hand, published by the University of Oklahoma Press. This biography of an Arapaho chief and history of the Arapahos in Colorado has never gone out of print. The Colorado Historical Society has included both Chief Left Hand and Margaret's memoir-history of railroading in Colorado, Goin' Railroading (which she wrote with her father, Samuel F. Speas) among the best 100 books on Colorado history.
Her articles on the West have appeared in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, American Heritage of Invention & Technology, Creativity! and many other publications. Speaking engagements on the people and places she loves best have taken her around the country and as far away as Australia. She visits the Wind River Reservation every year, "just to catch up with my Arapaho friends."
1. How do you pronounce your name?
Funny, I get that question a lot. People want to give it all sorts of exotic pronunciations, such as Co- EL, Call, Ciel (sounds like shale.) But it is pronounced like coal. Very simple.
2. Where are you currently living (at least the state or if outside US then Country)?
I am a Colorado native. Still here.
3. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far? Don’t take anything for granted, not even the things you know really, really well—or think you do. Look it up. I have highly intelligent readers, and they catch me up if I get something wrong.
4. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
I need quiet to write. No music in the background, no music pounding in the foreground, no grandkids running around the house, and no Starbucks for me. Yes, I know writers who actually go to Starbucks to write. Are you kidding me? I would be so caught up in people watching, I wouldn't get a word down.
5. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
My career has gone the traditional publisher route, but I know a lot of authors who have taken to self-publishing. A lot of advantages, I am sure, but when I look at it, I see a lot of work. You really have to work to bring readers to your books. You have to dig into the social media, write blogs, newsletters, blast emails—on and on. I would rather spend my time writing stories.
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?
My novels have been published by Berkley Publishing, part of the Penguin/Random House group.
6. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I do believe the publishing world is changing dramatically and much faster than probably anyone anticipated, especially the publishing world which is pretty hidebound and traditional. Let’s face it: It is made up of people who love books. Who, until very recently, loved to edit manuscripts with their pencils. The internet changed everything. Now the submitting and editing of manuscripts are done online. No more pencils. And eBook sales are growing and contributing more and more to the author’s bottom line. We are in a digital world. Which is fast, speeded up, always changing, and catching everybody, even the most resistant. There will always be print books, in my opinion, but I expect to see smaller print runs of beautifully crafted books, with quality paper and great illustrations that will target a specialty market of book collectors. For the rest of us ordinary readers, there will be eBooks.
7. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published? Three words:
Persevere. Persevere. Persevere. The great thing about this digital world we are in is that you can self-publish. You can get your book into the hands of readers. You just have to be willing to do the work.
8. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
First, write the book. You can’t sell a product you don’t have. I wrote my first novel, The Eagle Catcher, then started going to writers’ conferences where I met numerous agents and editors. I pitched them my novel. Eight different editors said they would like to look at my manuscript, but I did not send it to them. Instead, I chose several agents, whom I had met and liked, and I sent them a letter, pitching my novel again, and giving them the names of the eight editors waiting to see it. It was a no-brainer. All the agents were interested, so I chose the one I liked best. Basically I had done the work.
9. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
Join a writers’ group. Libraries and bookstores often sponsor such groups. No such groups around? Sign up for a writing class. You will meet other writers interested in forming a group. Read your writing to the group and listen to their comments and suggestions. Then go home and rewrite. Do not be defensive about your writing. Your goal is to make your story the best possible and get it published, not argue with the other members about how great it is. Anything that stops someone in your group, I guarantee, will stop an editor, who will reject your manuscript. So, clean up all the “stops.” I found my writers’ group immensely helpful when I was getting started.
I also took three novels that I had loved—crime novels, because that is what I was writing. I analyzed those three novels. That is, I read them carefully and made notes on such things as: how did the author introduce new characters, handle dialogue, work in description without stopping the story, work in subplots, and bring the elements of the plot together. It was a great exercise during which a light when on in my brain, and I thought: Oh, I get it.
10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
How deeply your words can impress and affect complete strangers. I learned that your writing matters.
11. How many books have you written?
A total of 26. Four non-fiction books, including Chief Left Hand, a history of the Arapahos and biography of a great chief, which gave me the background to write my crime novels set among the Arapahos on the Wind River Reservation. Twenty-two novels, including 20 in the Wind River series and 2 set in Denver. A collection of short stories, Watching Eagles Soar. Plus numerous magazine articles and essays.
12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?
What I suggested above: join a writers’ group and analyze really good books that are similar to what you hope to write.
13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
Everything is in the set-up. You set the reader up for something, then switch it out. The trick is, the switcheroo has to make sense. For example, in The Man Who Fell from the Sky, I set up a character named Cutter to be a pretty interesting, attractive guy, then I switched so that gradually the story begins to reveal that Cutter may not be the man he appears to be. To make it work, there had to be enough subtle hints when he looked good that, later, the reader can look back and see—oh, he wasn’t that good.
14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
Characters. Every good novel is about the characters—the story of their lives, their struggles, and the way in which they prevail.
15. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
Facebook. Website. An occasional emailed newsletter ( I try not to burden the folks on my email list.) Book signings. Speeches. Appearances. Internet Q&As such as this.
16. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
I would have planned my career more carefully and taken charge. It is a tough business and you have to believe in yourself and stand up for yourself at every step of the way. Whenever I did take a stand, it was amazing how my agent or publisher were more than willing to oblige. I just had to let them know my concerns, and I was shy about that. My advice: Don’t be shy.
17. What saying or mantra do you live by?
Today is a beautiful day, and something wonderful might happen.
18. Anything else you would like to say?
Writing is a great gift. Treasure it. You are able to articulate the stories that people live but can’t articulate. You do it for them. I’ve always loved the story of the Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova. She was sent to the gulag where she endured horrendous conditions. Once, standing in a long line in freezing temperatures, hungry and thirsty, she heard the woman beside her whispering, even though talking to another inmate meant an instant beating. The woman whispered: “Who could ever describe this?” And Anna whispered back, “I can.” Which she did. She went on to write about the experiences so many had endured, but could never articulate. She did it for them.
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