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Interview with Mary Carter, author of My Sister’s Voice

MARY CARTER is a freelance writer and novelist.  My Sister’s Voice is her fourth novel with Kensington. Her other works include:  She’ll Take It, Accidentally Engaged, Sunnyside Blues, and The Honeymoon House in the best selling anthology Almost Home. She is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, which is part of the Rochester Institute of Technology. She has just completed A Very Maui Christmas, a new novella for Kensington that will be included in a Christmas of 2010 anthology. She is currently working on a new novel, The Pub Across the Pond, about an American woman who swears off all Irish men only to learn she’s won a pub in Ireland. Readers are welcome to visit her at marycarterbooks.com.

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Mary .  Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

My Sister’s Voice is my fifth published work for Kensington, I’ve previously released three other novels and one novella.

Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?

My first book was published, and it was called She’ll Take It.

Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?

I kind of cringe when people ask me this, because I know how hard the process is for the majority of people, and as far as rejection is concerned I paid my dues as an actress.  But with the book, I was lucky.  I had an agent within two weeks of looking for one, and he sold the book to Kensington four months later.

Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?

Even though I didn’t experience as much rejection as some people do, I still know how much it stings.  With each agent that said “No”, I felt deflated and worried.  You panic a little, you doubt yourself a little, sometimes a lot.  You just have to push through it, and keep trying.  I heard of one writer wallpapering their bathroom with their rejection slips.  I think that’s a completely healthy reaction.

Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?

Kensington Books published it and they chose me!  Random House was in the bidding until the very end, and then they decided not to go with the book.  I think it was meant to be, I’m very happy with Kensington and my editor, John Scognamiglio.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

I was on top of the world.  I was living in Seattle at the time and I’m sure I cracked open champagne and called everyone I knew, but the moment I remember the most is walking down the dock to my houseboat (lived in one for a year) and I looked up in the sky and I saw a double rainbow.  It was a great day, and of course, I thought the rainbow was just for me.

Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

I see the next question starts with “If you had to do it over again”— if I had my first book about to be published all over again, I would have done more publicizing.  I was naïve and thought the publishing house would take care of it.  The truth is, it’s a fierce and competitive business and fledgling authors need to self-promote.  I did a lot more to publicize my second novel and it had a better sell-through than the first, and I honestly think it’s all because of promotion.

My Sister's Voice by Mary Carter (click on cover to purchase at Amazon)

Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?

No. I think authors need to have an agent, and I was never in a position of having a bidding war for my book, so my choices were to say yes to Kensington or not be published.  That said, I’m glad I didn’t have a choice.  I may have been seduced by a larger publisher, but as my agent said at the time, John (my editor at Kensington) likes to encourage his authors to keep writing for him, whereas bigger publishing houses may be more concerned with your sales, and if you don’t meet your numbers, they are liable to drop you.  It’s not always a pretty business.  I think I’ve been lucky in many ways.

Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?

Yes, I am on my fourth novel and just finished my second novella.  I’ve learned a ton about the process of writing.  I try to better myself with each book, and it’s never easy.  I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is– I can do it.  It might sound silly, but I still get overwhelmed when I’m beginning a book, and the fear that I won’t be able to do it always creeps in.  Then, I remind myself that I felt that way about each book I’ve written, and that all I have to do is take it a word at a time, a scene at a time, a page at a time.

Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up?  What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?

I think in my case there are things I did right that helped me get an agent and published so quickly.  I won’t discount luck, but it wasn’t all luck by any means.  I worked on my first book for two years.  I read everything in the genre I was writing in.  I sent copies of my manuscript to ten friends with targeted questions for feedback.  I rewrote it until I knew I couldn’t improve it anymore on my own.  I read many, many books on writing in addition to reading and even breaking down the structure of novels.  Then I researched how to submit your work to an agent, and followed their directions to the letter.  I did my homework, and it paid off!

Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?

Writing five more works for them since publishing my first book is by far my biggest accomplishment.  Definitely one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.  I never used to stick to anything—ask my piano teacher.  But I’ve stuck to this, and I’m proud of that.

Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?

I started out as an actress, and then became a sign language interpreter and still do that for a living in addition to writing.  So I have to take those out of the running as well, or that’s cheating.  I always fantasized about being a travel writer, taking pictures and writing articles for National Geographic, or being a reporter, or a news anchor, or maybe even a lounge singer.  A spy would be cool too. That’s why I originally chose acting—I couldn’t make up my mind, I wanted to be so many people, do so many things.  I’m not good at sitting at a desk all day, that’s one thing I wouldn’t be able to do.  And yes, I guess I do sit a bit with my laptop, but that doesn’t feel the same. Sometimes I’m in a coffee shop, sometimes I’m on the couch in my pajamas.

Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?

Hmmm.  Camera slung around my neck, a Zebra galloping across my path.  Snap! Why?  Do you know someone at National Geographic?  Are they looking for someone who makes up in enthusiasm and fantasy what she lacks in skills and reality?  If so, I might just put down the pen for the camera, the books for a giraffe.  But don’t tell my editor that.  And I’d probably cheat and still write books anyway, you know in between photographing the lions, tigers, and bears.

Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?

Oh no.  I can’t read.  Did I tell you that?  I have this assistant reading these questions and dictating the answers, and she won’t tell me what this one says, so I have no idea how to answer.  My birthday is coming up and I don’t even want to think about that let alone another ten years.  Why are you doing this to me?  Is it because I said that thing about National Geographic?  Okay, my assistant is back and she’s telling me to calm down and answer the question. In ten years I see myself as a giraffe-photographing, lounge singing news anchor SPY who writes best-selling novels in her underwear.  Like the Naked Cowboy in Times Square.  I’m going to have to start dieting.  Do you feel better now?  Because I certainly don’t—I just ate an entire plate of nachos.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Write. Read. Rewrite. Read books for pleasure.  Read books on writing.  Take a class.  Don’t expect praise—learn to love feedback.  Be open to it, and examine it objectively.  You don’t have to agree with all the feedback you get, and eventually you get enough sea legs to weed out the good from the bad, (or helpful versus not-so-helpful), but please, please, don’t give your novel to someone hoping they’ll say it’s the best thing they’ve ever read. If someone told me my book was the best thing they had ever read, I’d say—“Liar!” (Or in one particular case I would just say, “Thank you mom.”) I can’t believe the number of people who act as if you’ve just told them their baby is ugly if you give any little suggestion on how they can improve their book.  Writing a novel is like falling in love.  You’re too close to see the flaws. It’s really a weird kind of distortion.  Check your ego at the door. Feedback is a gift.  Use it!  Send your work to ten people you trust, people who love to read, and give them structured questions you’d like to know about your work.  Think like a scientist, don’t take anything too personally. Ask them if any passages bored them or confused them.  Chances are if more than one person has the same comment, you might need to do some rewriting.  That’s the way this job works! Be willing to re-write.  This is HUGE.  I’ll say it again. Writing is re-writing.  I’m lucky I guess, I LOVE re-writing. It’s first drafts I hate.  When you are ready to submit your work, make sure it’s ready.  It’s ready when you’ve done several drafts and you just know you shouldn’t mess with it anymore.  Follow submission guidelines.  Never turn in sloppy work.  And most of all, don’t give up.  But while you’re submitting, and waiting, and worrying, GO ON TO THE NEXT BOOK.  Even when you’re published, it’s not a free ride, and the minute you finish one book, you’ve barely had time to say “Yea me!” when it’s on to the next.  It’s not huge money for most of us either.  It’s work, work, work.  So why do we do it? Because we love it, that’s why I do it, and that’s why you should do it too.

Mary Carter is on virtual book tour throughout April and May ’10 to promote her new book, My Sister’s Voice.  If you’d like to view her official  tour page, click here!

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