Today, Killer Nashville is proud to interview New York Times bestselling author MARY BURTON. Mary is a Richmond, Virginia native and a graduate of Hollins University. After a career in marketing, she shifted gears and became a full time writer. Her latest suspense novel, Before She Dies, is a February 2012 release. Burton’s The Seventh Victim will be released in February 2013 and No Escape in November 2013. Mary is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America. She resides in Virginia where she enjoys yoga, cooking and hiking. You can learn more about Mary and her books at http://www.maryburton.com. Welcome, Mary!
KN: You’ve written a number of historical romances, then turned to romantic suspense. Is your writing process different for each genre? If so, in what ways?
Mary: In some ways my writing is the same. I always start each book with character and then develop the plot from the character’s strengths and weakness. What’s changed is my process of writing a novel. I’ve really refined my approach over the years. And this approach, works for both for romance or suspense.
I’ve learned the best system for me is to write in drafts. The first draft is the Rough Draft. During this stage I don’t edit at all and my entire focus is on just getting the story on the page. I noticed in my early books I would spend days and days trying to perfect the opening pages, but I’ve since learned that if I can finish the rough draft first, rewriting the opening chapter is much easier. The second draft’s focus is making sure all the scenes are in order and flow relatively well. I don’t worry too much about word choices at this point. I’m looking at story structure. The third and fourth drafts are about honing the sentences and word choices. By the fifth draft I’m printing out the book, putting it in a binder and reading it like an editor. Always amazes me how different the story looks on the printed page versus the computer screen. Drafts six and seven are about more smoothing and honing and finally I have a Last Draft Checklist (it’s on my blog). This list is filled with weak or filler words that can slip into my writing. I spend several days searching out these words and really tightening my sentences. I can cut out several thousand useless words at this stage. Then I send my manuscript to a couple of proofreaders.
KN: How does your experience as a romance writer influence your suspense writing, and vice versa?
Mary: My focus is not only on the mechanics of the mystery but also on character emotions. Emotion is not only a big motivator in romance but can be in suspense as well. In my first suspense I’m Watching You my hero and heroine are married but estranged. She’s a suspect and he’s the lead detective. In Before She Dies my hero and heroine are lovers. He’s the detective and she’s a defense attorney. In my upcoming book, The Seventh Victim, my hero is a Texas Ranger. He’s attracted to the heroine, a critical witness in a cold case.
I’ve found the romance and suspense genres dovetail really well, which is why all my suspense novels have a romantic element. I make a point to braid or blend the romance and suspense storylines. The romance should complicate the suspense and the suspense should complicate the romance.
KN: You write stand-alone novels. How do you go about making your various protagonists different from each other?
Mary: For me it always gets back to the character’s strengths and weaknesses. Each character has their own unique set of challenges and once I understand what those are it’s easy to create unique characters.
KN: It was very brave to leave a successful career in marketing to pursue a career as a writer. Could you write a little bit about taking that leap, what you did to prepare yourself for it, and how you overcame doubts and insecurities (assuming you had any).
Mary: Writing was something I always wanted to do and once I made the decision to start writing I immediately set up a daily writing schedule. At the time I had a six month old and a 19 month old so my days were insanely busy. So from the very beginning, I got in the habit of getting up early and working. My children are in college now but I still get up early and work.
Doubts and insecurities seemed to go hand in hand with writers. When I first started writing I had a critique group and we met every Friday to exchange chapters, read and comment. We were very supportive of each other and encouraged each other not only to send out the work to editor/agent review but to cheer the other on when the rejections came.
I never liked getting rejections (who does) but I received quite a few. I can laugh about some now but it wasn’t so funny at the time. I wanted to write so much that I tried to learn as much as I could from the rejections. And once I’d gleaned what I could, I put them aside and got right back to writing. It never really occurred to me to stop.
KN: How, if at all, has your former career in marketing helped your writing career?
Mary: I came at writing with a business mindset. I understood that I had to master the work creatively and so I spent a good bit of time reading and focusing on craft. But I also never forgot that publishing is a business. Be professional and positive when you are at a conference, on the phone, email or social media. At conferences, I dress professionally and have bookmarks with me. I remain very deadline conscious.
KN: For a lot of us, marketing is the hardest part of being a writer. Do you have any tips you could share?
Mary: Create a marketing piece your clients want to keep. As writers our clients are our readers. Most readers won’t hold onto a promo piece that talks just about me or the book but they might hold onto a recipe card shaped like a bookmark. Always be asking yourself what relates to the book and is useful to the reader.
Marketing is time consuming. Blogging once every few months (something I’ve been guilty of this year) isn’t enough to grab readers. It’s blogging daily or hitting Facebook and Twitter often that gets a reader’s attention. Consistency is also very important. I read once a person needs to see your name nine times before you are noticed, but you must put your name out there at least 27 times to get those nine notices.
Dress for the job you want not the one you have. When you show up at a conference, dress professionally. That doesn’t mean a suit necessarily but try to look your best. Bring business cards or bookmarks and bring a blank notebook so you can make notes of the people you meet. You’d be amazed how quickly you can forget a contact’s name.
KN: Thank you, Mary. We hope to see you back at Killer Nashville in 2013!
(The Killer Nashville Guest Blog series is coordinated by KN Executive Director Beth Terrell (http://www.elizabethterrell.com/). To be a part of this series, contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.)