Next we need to check in with our luncheon keynote speaker, Angie Fox!
Tell us about your first publishing contract, and how it came about. Are you still with the same publisher?
I’ve always loved to read, so it was no surprise to anyone when I eventually decided to write a book of my own. When I did, I attacked it head on. I planned, I worked, I outlined more than any woman should. The end result? I wrote three mysteries that didn’t sell.
I don’t know how many of you ever watched Seinfeld, but there is a time in George’s life where he decides what he’s been doing hasn’t been working, so he decides to do the opposite. That’s what I did with my books. I’d been writing serious mysteries, with lots of science and research involved. They’d generated some interest, enough to almost, almost sell. But nothing quite happened.
To take my mind off the latest mystery making the rounds with agents, I decided to write something completely different, a funny paranormal romance where I could build my own world and make up my own rules. I fell in love with the idea of a preschool teacher who is forced to run off with a gang of geriatric biker witches and The Accidental Demon Slayer was born.
Instead of a 20-page plot outline, I had a 5-page list of ideas, one of which included “but little did they know, all the Shoney’s are run by werewolves.” Instead of following the rules, I broke a few. Instead of painstakingly writing over the course of a year, I giggled my way through the book and had a complete manuscript in five months.
The opening chapters did well in contests and caught the eye of an editor, who asked to see the whole thing. That same editor bought the book less than a week after I finished it.
While I’m not sure Seinfeld is the best place to go for life lessons, I really do think there’s something to be said for following your instincts – in writing and in everything else.
And, no, I’m not still with the same publisher. The Accidental Demon Slayer series was bought by Dorchester Publishing, and alas, Dorchester folded in 2011. I moved on to St. Martin’s/Macmillan. I’ve also sold books to Kensington Publishing and I’ve self-published as well.
What is a typical workday like for you?
I start writing at 8:30 in the morning, after the kids go to school. I grab a Coke Zero, I sit down and write until lunchtime. I take about a half hour break to get something to eat, and then I get back to the story until about 4:00 when my kids come home. Evenings are spent answering email and handling any book promotions or extras that come my way.
Do you outline or plan a book or series in any way, or just let things happen on the page?
I want to outline. I always plan to outline. I think it’s a really good idea. But the truth is, outlines tend to stifle me. If I know too much about a book or a plot, I lose interest in actually writing it. To me, one of the joys of writing is watching that story unfold on the page. For example, in The Accidental Demon Slayer, I had no notes about a sidekick for my main character. But in the second chapter, when Lizzie learns she’s a demon slayer and there are some very scary, very angry creatures on her tail, she takes comfort in her dog. As I was writing, I thought, ‘This is a sweet moment. Now how do I throw her off?’
I made the dog say something to her. Nothing big. After all, he’s only after the fettuccine from last week. And he knows exactly where Lizzie can find it (back of the fridge, to the left of the lettuce crisper, behind the mustard). It tickled me, so I did it. Thanks to her unholy powers, Lizzie can now understand her smart-mouthed Jack Russell Terrier. Pirate can say and do things that Lizzie can’t. He’s such a kick to write. And my editor loves him too. Pirate made the cover of the book – front and back. Not bad for a terrier.
You have the Accidental Demon Slayer series, Monster M*A*S*H books, the Southern Ghost Hunter mysteries, family and friends to keep up with: how do you juggle all of this at once?
By having a plan. Seriously. For as much as I don’t like to over-plan my actual books, I have my writing schedule down pat. I treat it like a job, with a boss (me) who isn’t very understanding if I don’t get my work done.
Seriously, boss Angie is a hard nose. Writer Angie is much more fun. But I know that the story isn’t going to develop the way I want if I’m running around shopping or lunching all the time. If I take too much time away, I lose the flow of the book and it becomes hard to write. So I stick to my schedule and do my best during that time so that I can focus on my friends and family all the other times.
Your Goodreads blog page includes a quote from The Accidental Demon Slayer, “Well aren’t you full of sunshine and donkey feathers.” Do you speak like this to friends and family? How do you come up with such lines?
I’m the person who thinks of a witty comment five minutes after I should have said it. But that’s the great thing about writing—I can insert it later.
Do friends and acquaintances ever claim that you’ve inserted them into one of your books? If so, how do you respond?
Friends and family can read the books and notice parts of me that I’ve left on the page, but I don’t really insert people I know into the books. Except for my friend Ben Terrill, whom I used as a small placeholder character and forgot about and now he’s in the book. But typically, everything that ends up on the page is a mash-up of life and people and experiences to the point where I’m not sure any one person or incident stands out as any sort of a biographical portrayal. Except for Pirate the dog. He really is real.
About what age did you begin writing and what genre did you write in?
I wrote stories in high school for my friends, where each of us got the dream guy, and our own car, and lived the high school version of happily ever after. But then I switched to newspaper reporting. After college, I worked as an advertising copywriter. I didn’t get back into fiction until I started to seriously work on my first book. That was in 2000. I tried writing mysteries at first because I thought the plotting would be easier. Ha. I know. I was adorable back then. I wrote three mysteries that didn’t sell while at the same time, I became a ravenous reader of paranormal mysteries and romances. I found the emerging genre to be fun and refreshing. So for my next book, I wrote a paranormal and that was the book that sold and started my career. Then it took me four more years to sell my first mystery.
Who are your favorite writers? What book have you read recently?
I’m one of those people who always has a book in her purse. Right now, re-reading the Sookie Stackhouse series. I loved Undead and Unworthy (although Undead and Unwed will always be my favorite). I read Katie MacAlister, Juliet Blackwell, Jim Butcher, Rhys Bowen, Lynsay Sands, Elizabeth Peters, Laurell K Hamilton, JR Ward. I just discovered Kathy Love’s “Young Brothers” books (yes, I’ve been buried under a rock). I’m blowing through those right now. I also have Erin McCarthy’s Vegas vampires, the latest Michele Bardsley and Victoria Laurie’s newest two on my ever-growing TBR shelf. And I just read a really great cozy mystery by Julie Hyzy.
If you could have changed something about your early career, what would it be?
I would have listened to my voice sooner. Early on, I kept writing the wrong thing. I’d sit down and write these serious mysteries and then sneak off and read MaryJanice Davidson, Charlaine Harris, Lynsay Sands. It took a while for it to click and for me to realize that hmm…maybe I should write the kind of books I love to read. Even now, my mysteries are fun and lighthearted, not at all like the mysteries I first tried to sell, the ones I thought I “should” be writing.
Can you give us a teaser of what you’ll be speaking about in July at our All Write Now! Conference?
Yes, I’ll be talking about how to find your writer’s voice, find your inspiration, so that it’s a joy to sit down and write every day. When you find what’s in your heart and discover how to express that on the page, the words flow and it’s not only readers who are engaged—you find new meaning in your writing as well.
It will be great to listen to what Angie has to say--to find our writer’s voice and inspiration and then to “express that on the page” with the advice in her address. Who better to give advice to a group of writers than a best-selling author? I hope you will all plan to join us July 11 in Cape Girardeau!