- Sara J. Henry
- Edith Maxwell
- Barbara Ross
- Hank Phillippi Ryan
- When did you start writing?
- What career did you have before you published your first crime novel?
- Why did you start writing fiction?
- How long did it take from when you started writing fiction to seeing your first book published?
- Did you take writing classes or complete an MFA program and did that help?
- Were you in a writing group and/or hire an independent editor to work with you on your first published book?
- If you could do it over, what would you do differently?
Sara J. Henry Latest book: A COLD AND LONELY PLACE, Broadway Books
Crime novels published to date: 2
Before writing: USDA plant and soil scientist, columnist, newspaper sports editor, newspaper editor, magazine editor, health/fitness writer, book editor, bicycle mechanic, in roughly in that order.
Started writing: At 6 I was writing one-page short stories, and at 12 started a novel. Then I stopped, and didn’t try fiction again until my early 40s.
Why started: I quit at 12 because I didn’t know what to do after the first chapters. I started again nearly three decades later because life was ticking by, and writing fiction was my dream.
How long from starting writing to publishing first book: I put my first finished novel in a drawer in 1999; took it out and tackled learning to rewrite in 2008. Book deal in 2009; publication in 2011, at age 54.
Classes, MFA: No fiction writing classes. I took some journalism classes, which gave me confidence I could write, and later got a masters in journalism.
Writing group, independent editor: I joined a writing group when I moved to Nashville – I don’t think I would have started a novel without them. No editor, just trusted readers (I self-edit as only a right-brain/left-brain person can do).
Do over: Not be so scared. Ask more questions. Have more faith in myself.
Edith Maxwell/Maddie Day Latest book: FLIPPED FOR MURDER by Maddie Day, Kensington
Crime novels published to date: 6
Before writing: Auto mechanic, conversational English teacher in Japan, adjunct professor in linguistics, speech recognition researcher, at-home mom/organic farmer/childbirth educator/freelance editor, technical writer.
Started writing: 1994
Why started: My now-ex-husband, when our younger son headed off to kindergarten, said, "You like to read mysteries so much, why don't you write one?" One of the best things he ever did for me, other than help create our sons.
How long from starting writing to publishing first book: 18 years
Classes, MFA: I took workshops at Crime Bake and with SINC-NE, and a few online classes with the Guppies (I've never studied creative writing in an academic setting). All of that really helped; I wouldn't be published without Sisters in Crime.
Writing group, independent editor: I joined Susan Oleksiw's writing group when I first started writing crime fiction, and I learned a huge amount about POV, use of weather to advance the story, keeping characters' names distinct, and so much more, and I'm still in an in-person writing group. I didn't hire an independent editor for my first book, but now either Sherry Harris or Ramona DeFelice Long edit all my books before I send them in.
Do over: Start earlier, I guess, so I would have more time in my life to write all the books I have ideas for! But I am loving the ride now as a full-time fiction writer and I have no regrets.
Barbara Ross Latest book: MUSSELED OUT, Kensington
Crime novels to date: 4
Before writing: Mostly, I worked it tech start ups with the most challenging and rewarding years, as a Chief Operating Officer in higher education technology, coming after I started that first book in 1996.
Started writing: I always wrote, but I didn't start my first novel until 1996.
Why started: I sold my stock options from the first start up I worked out and took a year off from working. My kids were in middle school. It was a now or never type of thing.
How long from starting writing to publishing first book: This always embarrasses me, but it was 14 years. I finished the book in 1998 and got an agent easily, but the book didn't sell. Meanwhile, the tech startup I co-founded survived the dotcom crash and, against all odds, took off. I was crazy busy. Finally, when we sold that business in 2006, I took another year off and rototilled that first book.
Classes, MFA: Lots of classes--at the New England Crime Bake, at Seascape, at Grub Street and online. I loved taking classes and it's one of the things I miss now that I'm a working writer with tight deadlines. I never have time to do the homework.
Writing group, independent editor: I have been in the same writers group for 20 years. Love them. My life (and my work) would have been so much less without them.
Do over: When my first book didn't sell and my agent dropped me, I went into a bit of a tailspin. Yes, my business was taking off and I had teenagers, so I was busy, but I wish I'd been more resilient. That really set me back, the net net of which is, I have less time and I'll get to tell fewer stories. That said, writing a novel, much less several novels requires a lot of skills--the ability to recognize a story, an ear for the words, the discipline to finish and do all those rewrites, the drive to get an agent, etc. Some people have all those skills when they're young, and God bless'em, but I had to grow into it.
Hank Phillippi Ryan
Latest book: WHAT YOU SEE, Forge
Crime novels to date: 8
Before writing: Investigative Reporter/television. Still on the air at Boston’s NBC affiliate.
Started writing: 2005
Why started: I always wanted to write crime fiction! But I simply never had a good idea for a plot. One day in 2005—I did! From that moment on, I was obsessed. My husband said—but Hank, do you know how to write a mystery? I said—how hard can I be? I’ve read a million of them. I was so wrong. But that one good idea propelled me. My first manuscript was 723 pages long. I had to CUT 400 pages! Best education ever about my writing. I learned more about myself that way than from any other writing experience.
How long from starting writing to publishing first book: Two years.
PRIME TIME was my first novel, and it sold. It also won the Agatha for Best First novel.
Classes, MFA: I took one two-day writing class—yours, Hallie! I had almost decided not to, and then I remember, clearly, saying to myself—you wouldn’t attempt to make a cake without a recipe. So why are you trying to write a book without any guidance? It made a profound difference. Partly craft, partly attitude.
Writing group, independent editor: I hired an independent editor, one of the best decisions I have ever made. She is brilliant, and 10 years later, I would not consider turning in a book she didn’t read and work on with me first. The influence and guidance of an experienced second set of eyes is beyond valuable. The suggestions and changes and observations she made turned my manuscript into a different—and better-- book, and turned me into a different—and better--writer.
Do over: One, I realized that some of the decisions I made in the first book were made too quickly. It seemed natural and organic at the time, but I should have worked harder, even though, back then, I thought I was working as hard as I possibly could. I didn’t comprehend how lasting each and every choice is to the book. And in a series, even more so. I would have made a better mailing list. But would I have started sooner? No. Absolutely not. When I was cultivating my career as a journalist, in my 20, 30s and 40s, I was not the person I am today. I started writing at 55—and that was the perfect time. I am convinced these things begin exactly at the right time, and I am very grateful for how it turned out.
HALLIE: My favorite thing here is all the different careers we've all had. Plant scientist. COO. Corporate trainer. Psychologist. Investigative TV reporter. Linguistics professor. The list goes on... And none of it goes to waste, because we weren't wasting time, we were just doing research for our writing. We just didn't know it.