Maureen Milliken interview with David Alan Binder

posted Oct 9, 2018, 3:53 PM by David Alan Binder

Maureen Milliken interview with David Alan Binder

 

My website is https://www.maureenmilliken.com/.

Find me on Goodreads click here

I’m between blogs right now, but I blog monthly with the Maine Crime Writers at https://mainecrimewriters.com/.

My books are available on Amazon, at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005WV2EGU

They are also available on my publisher’s website, S&H Publishing, http://sandhbooks.com/contributors/maureen-milliken/

You can also look for Maureen Milliken, mystery writer on Facebook.

 

1. How do you pronounce your name (only answer if appropriate)?
Just like it’s spelled!
😊 

2. Where are you currently living (at least the state or if outside US then Country)?

Central Maine, USA

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

That is no way to get around working hard and taking the time to make sure the book is complete.

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

I don’t know how interesting it is, but I’ve found I’m not a linear writer. In my 30-year journalism career, I was. But when I started writing fiction, I realized my process is to let scenes and themes develop in my head, to get things down on paper and move forward, even though I don’t know where I’m going, then double back and fix/change things as the story develops. About two-thirds of the way through I do a giant whiteboard color-coded outline just to see what the hell I’ve come up with. I refer to it occasionally, but then don’t touch it again no matter how much the book may change as I finish it. I don’t think any of this is unique, but it was a revelation to me when I figured out that’s how it was going to work.

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

I use a publisher. As someone who’s edited many self-published books, and also was a judge for many years in a major self-published book contest, I saw first-hand the pitfalls of self-publishing. I won’t go into a long thing about those pitfalls -- I will say that out of hundreds that I read I can count the ones that were well-edited on one hand. Ditto for professional formatting. And most were first drafts, but the writer didn’t realize it. This isn’t a knew-jerk disparagement of self-published books, just based on what I’ve seen after reading/editing hundreds of them. The important thing about having a publisher is that there’s someone (not your mom or the English teacher text door) who can take a professional, critical look at your writing, among other things, as well as provide a platform to get your book out there with resources and knowledge most writers just don’t have. Also, I’m stubborn and my feeling from the beginning was, no matter how long it took, I wanted the validation of someone believing in me and my work enough to put their resources behind what I was doing.

5a. What is the name of your publisher and in what city are they located?

S&H Publishing, Purcellville, Va.

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

I fully believe in and support any platform that gets a writer’s work out there. My books are available in print, ebook and digital audio. Writers (should, at least) make more money from ebook because costs are lower. Digital also keeps books alive forever. It’s awesome! But print books are great, too. Aside from being easier on the eyes, you can lend them to people and they feel more substantial. As a voracious reader, I love them all. I have Kindle on my iPad, I have an old Nook that I got when the technology first came out, I read iBooks on my iPad as well. I have shelves of print books and love to browse bookstores. It’s all good! “Conventional” publishing is evolving, so more and more publishing is alternative now. My  publisher is a small startup that took advantage of digital opportunities that have developed. There are drawbacks to having a small less-conventional publisher, but as things evolve, the book world is adapting.

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

It’s not a secret -- as both a writer and long-time editor, the only tip is to work hard, learn the craft, respect the craft, go to conferences and do research online to find out what’s needed/expected. PAY FOR AN EDITOR. A real one, who knows the difference between a long dash and a hyphen. Not your mom, not the English teacher next door. There are no shortcuts. How hard you work, how well you know the craft and what’s expected, how tenacious you are, makes the difference. I’ve been asked this question many times and lots of people are looking for a magic trick. There isn’t one. Oh yeah -- write a good book, too.    

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

Attend conferences for your genre, look up agents online, do your homework. Don’t submit to agents who don’t accept your type of book. Have a well-written, well-edited book to pitch. Know the craft. Be tenacious. Don’t give up. Also, the publishing world is changing enough that there are smaller publishers who will publish without an agent. But the advice is the same when submitting to those publishers as it is for submitting to agents. When I was trying to get my first book published, I can’t tell you how times I heard “Lots of people have a manuscript in a drawer.” I didn’t my book in a “drawer.” I knew it was good enough to be published and I wasn’t going to give up.

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)?

Aside from everything, I’ve said above? Biggest one -- don’t put the cart before the horse. Write your book before you start looking for an agent/publisher. You aren’t a writer until you have a completed manuscript. The only secret to writing a book is to sit down and do it. Read Stephen King’s “On Writing” to get motivated and figure out how to get started. Also, go to a writer’s conference for your genre, and join an association (like the Mystery Writers of America, or a local writing association), find meet-ups and writers groups in your area, and hang out with writers and pick their brains.

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

Aside from the answer I gave early on in this interview, I’d have to say that the way the book starts flowing and things happen I never would have expected once I get some momentum. I have no idea where it comes from. I keep legal pads all over the house to catch scenes that spring up unexpectedly, and when I’m really in the thick of writing a book, I have a lot of sleepless nights as scenes work themselves out in my head.

11, How many books have you written?

Five -- three in my Bernie O’Dea mystery series “Cold Hard News” (2015), “No News is Bad News” (2016) and “Bad News Travels Fast” (due out October 31); one non-fiction, “The Afterlife Survey,” published by Adams Media (2011), which I was commissioned to write; one self-published book, “Get it Right: A Cranky Editor’s Tips for Grammar, Usage and Punctuation,” that I wrote on a whim after I was lecturing a coworker on some esoteric punctuation thing and she said, “You know, you should write a book,” and I said, “I believe I will.” I went home and did it in about a week. It’s not a work of art, it was just for fun.

11. 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)?

There are no “tricks” or “tips” to good writing, and so I don’t have anything to say about it that probably hasn’t been said a million times before. But it’s worth saying again. Everything I said in this interview applies, but I’ll stress that you must know the craft. It’s important to know sentence structure, punctuation and grammar, as well as the more amorphous parts of writing, like point of view, good dialogue and plot structure. Take a course if you have to relearn (or learn) the basics of writing. I’m not talking about a creative writing course, but start with the basics of grammar and punctuation. Then take a creative writing course if you have to. Also, read, read, read, read. If you don’t read, start reading -- you can’t learn how to write a good book from watching buddy movies.

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

First, know your story, know your characters, know your plot. Research what makes good plot structure. A twist has to come at a certain dramatic point in a book and if the rest of the book doesn’t support it, it’s not going to work. And make sure the twist isn’t gratuitous -- it has to work within the story or it’ll fall flat. Also, make sure it’s not a cliché. It’s astounding how many “twists” well-read readers can see coming from a mile away because they’ve seen it so many times before. If you’ve done all the foundation work, your twist should work fine and be fresh and surprise the hell out of your readers.

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

Since reading is so subjective, and what people like is so subjective, there are a lot of things. A big one is writers should try to be fresh and stay away from clichés and worn-out tropes. One thing that I look for in a book is character development -- I’m very interested in people, who they are, how they relate and why they do what they do. I’m told my books do a nice a job with that. I also feel strongly, when I write a book, that I want to have something to say above and beyond just having a plot. As a journalist, I was constrained by what I could “say” in a story. As a fiction writer, there are things I want to say about human nature, friendship, loyalty -- bigger truths that we all live. The trick is doing it without hitting people over the head with a preachy narrative. I’d like to think I have a decent touch with that.

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

I’ve created a slide show on my laptop that I use for my author talks at libraries (when they let me). I tweak it for the audience I’ll be speaking to. It’s a big hit and it’s entertaining, and libraries ask me back. I wanted to do something beyond the standard reading and answering questions. I ended up buying my own projector as well as a variety of cords, because I found out when libraries say they “have what I need,” they sometimes don’t. I also rarely say no to a talk, a book donation, or an event. Not only to build good karma, but also because marketing success is a bunch of little bricks, not one huge block.

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

Honestly, I can’t think of a thing. There may be some things I should’ve done differently, god knows, but I’m not a look back with regret kind of person. I like to keep moving forward, like a shark. Who knows how doing something differently would have affected what happened after? It doesn’t necessarily mean thing would have happened in a more positive way. It’s all part of the process.

16. What saying or mantra do you live by?

Aside from, “Keep moving forward, like a shark,” 😊 I have a favorite quote, from Thomas Edison: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.” In other words, if you want something to happen, you have to work to make it happen, not wait for someone to hand it to you or for it to suddenly appear.

17. Anything else you would like to say?

I know I’m a broken record on the hard work thing, but that’s the bottom line. You know what the payoff is? Something I never thought about until after my first book was published -- people I don’t know emailing me or messaging me to tell me how much they liked it. It’s mind-blowing and worth every minute of the work. This interview counts, too. I want to thank you for asking my thoughts and taking the time to reach out to me. It’s hugely appreciated.

And, of course, my latest book, “Bad News Travels Fast,” is out October 31. It’s a traditional amateur sleuth mystery set in Maine, and those reading this interview can find out more about it and my other books at maureenmilliken.com 

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