Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Marian McMahon Stanley shares 5 lessons on publishing her first novel

HALLIE EPHRON:  Several years ago I read the opening of Marian McMahon Stanley's then unpublished novel, THE IMMACULATE. Ever since then, the nun who haunts those opening pages like Poe's raven has stuck with me. 

The book is just out, and I'm here cheering for Marian. It's a terrific heartfelt read with a fierce courageous nun whose death sets the story in motion. 

I asked her to tell us what she's learned from writing and launching her first mystery novel.

MARIAN MCMAHON STANLEY: Two years ago, I wasn’t sure where this journey of writing THE IMMACULATE would take me. I am happy to say that it’s taken me to three wonderful places - to getting published, to becoming part of a spirited writing community and to meeting a great group of readers. Here, I share five lessons I learned along the way. Probably not new to you, but were for me.

1. How hard could it be? I’ve read mysteries all my life. I’m a pretty good writer. I think I’ll write a mystery story. I mean, how hard could it be?


Oof. . . it’s hard. Pulling a tight plot together, developing a compelling storyline, creating believable characters, researching, polishing prose. The writing itself, classes, workshops, manuscript critiques, revisions, revisions, revisions. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that writing a readable mystery novel is hard work.

2. I’ll fit it in somehow. Well, hmmm. Not a great plan. Maybe
because I hadn’t published a book yet, I first tried to fit my writing into the corners, the small spaces of my life that weren’t taken up with other responsibilities. Then, I evolved into an early morning writing schedule, scribbling on a yellow legal pad in the pre-dawn darkness before anyone else was awake. In the green chair in the living room, a small white dog asleep on my lap.

Now, I still start writing in the green chair, but I move to the parlor where I can close French doors against household activity as the
morning progresses. I put up a WORKING sign with the Parlor Dragon on guard. The doors to my now office/parlor stay closed till I’m done. The dog still sits on my lap. Simple. Why didn’t I think of that before?

3. We live in the story. We’d better choose a story and a set of characters we can live with. I was not prepared for living in two worlds – this world and the one I was creating. I forgot my characters were not real and I worried about them. “They’re even tougher than you are, Aurelius,” I’d whisper. Or “Be wise, Rosaria. Listen.” or “For crying out loud, Leo, just let it go!” This can be disorienting, but it’s also kind of fun and enriching.

4. Even I get tired of hearing about me, but you have to do it. As a reader, I often feel inundated by author promotions. But if we don’t promote, then the book that we worked so hard on will get lost in the marsh. I’m still in the process of learning that delicate balance.

5. A bonus – the writing community! What a bessing. Sisters in Crime, the Guppies (Great Unpublished etc.), Grub Street Writing
Workshop – all communities of hardworking, talented and enthusiastic authors ready to embrace and support new, unpublished writers. Generous with advice and experience – and maybe even showing up at some small bookstore where you are doing a reading on a rainy night. An unexpected and sweet benefit.

A question for you, dear reader. Which of these lessons resonate with you as a writer and/or a reader?


HALLIE: They all do for me, especially finding the time and place to write. The green chair and the white dog asleep in your lap - I love the image - and the dragon guarding your gate.

THE IMMACULATE, set in Boston, opens with the brutal murder of Sister Mary Aurelius, a tough old nun at the Immaculate Conception School. A former student, Rosaria O’Reilly, is distraught and outraged by her mentor’s death and returns to the neighborhood to find that nothing about this crime is as straightforward as it appears.

Like her protagonist, Rosaria O’Reilly, author Marian McMahon Stanley enjoyed a long corporate career with a Fortune 500 company and, more recently, a senior position at a large urban university in Boston. She is the mother of four adult children and a small pack of adorable grandchildren. She writes in Concord, where she lives with her husband Bill and – just as in the story – a Westie named Archie.

Marian’s next Rosaria O’Reilly book, BURIED TROUBLES, is set in Boston and Ireland. A young Irish journalism student visiting Boston on his independent study project pays a deadly price for his initiative as the long shadows of old grievances and crimes in Ireland reach across the Atlantic.

www.MarianMcMahonStanley.com

40 comments:

Barb Goffman said...

Love the dragon, and the book sounds great, Marian. The concept of fitting writing in is still something I struggle with. I'm not as good at juggling multiple projects as I'd like to be.

Joan Emerson said...

Congratulations, Marian; your books sounds fascinating.
There are many wise words in your lessons learned; I found your thoughts on living with the characters in the story particularly insightful . . . .

Edith Maxwell said...

I'm so happy for you, Marian. You know I love the book, and I think you're pulling off the balance with grace. I also love the dragon! Can't wait to read the next book.

Michele Dorsey said...

Congratulations, Marian! I like the sign on your door. I think it's a message to you also. That "fitting in the writing" resonates with me. And I share your feelings about BSP. You hit what seems like some universal truths. Looking forward to your book. I spent eight years with nuns, a few of which I could have murdered!

Ramona said...

Congratulations, Marian, on introducing your book to the world. I love your morning routine of moving from the green chair to the parlor behind a WORKING sign. I think any kind of announcement makes you stick to it. And the writing community--yes. Solace for the solitary hours.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Hearty congrats, Marion! I need a dragon, too!

Ann in Rochester said...

Congratulations Marian. I am a reader and a fan girl, who can barely write her grocery list. It is fascinates me seeing the tremendous amount of work it takes to birth a book. And way longer than nine months. What an accomplishment!

Before posting this I went to Amazon and bought your book, and the plan is to take it into the garden this afternoon and read while a crew of men finish the demolition of my kitchen.

Hallie Ephron said...

Want the dog. Want the dragon...

And remembering when my first novel came out the thing I wish someone had told me was GET BUSY! WRITE THE NEXT BOOK! So, Marian, are you??

Hallie Ephron said...

Ann - I'm still stunned when someone can say "I bought your book and I'm reading it TODAY..."

(watching my hedges get shaggy while I wait for the hedge trimmer I ordered 2 weeks ago from Home Depot get here... too bad there's no such thing as an e-hedge trimmer.)

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Marian, congratulations! I still remember that nun too from Seascape days and cannot wait to see what you've done with the story.

Your tips are perfect. Unfortunately, I need the dragon inside my head rather than outside the door:).

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Marion this is so fabulous! And you know I love the book too..
Oh my goodness, how hard can it be? I have said those very words myself, 11 years ago or so. Now, of course, I know how hard it can be.

Protecting the writing time is such a key. Once you start to let it go, it is easy just to keep letting it go. On the other hand, don't you love that moment when you realize all you can think about is the book? It always happens… But you have to push to get there.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

I am dictating this, and sometimes the dictation gets it wrong, Marian, like your name, grr. It also changed key to cutie. Which I should've left.

Mary Sutton said...

I adore the dragon. I want one - even though I do most of my writing in "public" in a chair in the cafe area at work. But I want a dragon (I want the dog, too but I'm more likely to get the dragon as he probably doesn't require feeding, bathing, walking, etc.).

Oh, yeah - I remember thinking "how hard can it be?" Right. About that. =)

Keenan Powell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keenan Powell said...

Congratulations, Marian! I look forward to reading your book. Cute little Westie. My Wolfhound sits on my lap too. He's too lumpy to write on but is a good lap desk for reading.

Deborah Crombie said...

Congratulations, Marian, and I look forward to reading your book! I need the sign and the dragon. Maybe someone should start a little business making dragons for writers...

And everything you've said is so true.

Marian Stanley said...

Hi Barb Goffman - I think we are always learning and relearning the art of being immersed in multiple tasks. It's not a prerequisite, but it helped me to have been the working mother of four lively children. Many "Who's on first?" moments!

Marian Stanley said...

Thanks, Joan - I wish that I could claim credit for the living with characters comment. I first heard it from a talk that author and presidential biographer Doris Keans Goodwin, who wrote so wonderfully about the Roosevelts and others, gave on the subject of her writing. She said she worked so intensely on these historical figures for at least two years that she had to choose a subject she could spend deep time with over a long time frame. That resonated with me!

Rhonda Lane said...

Congratulations, Marian. Or maybe we should call you Khaleesi? :) Seriously, though, what a fun signal for your mind to get serious about making entertainment. It IS serious business. Anyway, many congrats!

Libby Dodd said...

Please look at the font size at the end of this post.
Are you kidding? I need a magnifying glass to read it.

Marian Stanley said...

Ha, Michele Dorsey! Several people have asked me if I have a problem with nuns as I bumped one off in the first chapter of The Immaculate. Truly, I have good memories is the Sisters of Notre Dame, but I can understand when others have less fond memories of the teaching nuns. Of course, I briefly taught in a Catholic school - the only lay person on a staff of nuns - and after almost a year of teaching every subject to a class of 50 seventh graders, I wondered why teaching nuns didn't go off the rails more often!

Marian Stanley said...

Well, Ramona - your early morning sprints are part of what keeps me going! And you are right on - the WORKING sign is as much, perhaps moie, for me as anyone else!

Marian Stanley said...

Susan Elia MacNeal - well, the dragon did sign an exclusive aqgreement with me, but I understand he has relatives that are looking for work! They work for an agreed upon number of chocolate glazed donuts from Dunkin. Their contract also requires a willing suspension of disbelief.

Marian Stanley said...

Ann in Rochester - writerly blessings on you! Hope you enjoy the read.

Marian Stanley said...

Hallie - oh, right you are! You'll be glad to know that Edith Maxwell asked that uncomfortable question the other weekend when I was doing a booktalk at Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport. I gave a glib reply "When I get down to business." But the fact is that I'm about a third of the way done with Buried Troubles, set in Boston and Ireland. I look to get down to busines again this summer and aim to have book completed in 2017. The truth of the matter - I've been swept away by a number of life events, but I miss the writing of Buried and I miss the characters - have to get back to both.

Marian Stanley said...

Hi Roberta - I'm glad you remembered the old nun! That Seascape workshop with you and Hallie and Hank was really where it all began for me. "Much harder than I thought, writing a mystery - but maybe I can do this." (Or - "I think I can, I think I can . . . ")
Re: the WORKING dragon, perhaps the thing to do is to have him facing you. As Ramona says - he's there as much for us as for other people!

Brenda Buchanan said...

I'm sold on The Immaculate. Thanks for visiting, Marian. I have added it to my list.

Marian Stanley said...

Hank - ha - like the cutie part! Yes, time does just slide away if we're not vigilant, doesn't it? Lots of reasons not to carve out the writing time, and I'm beginning to know them all. One of the things about being a first-timer is that it's sometimes difficult to set proirities - so many things to learn and do - not knowing which is most important. Sisters in Crime and Guppies are helpful and frank about working our way through that part. Also, the parlor dragon is teaching me to be just a teeny bit fierce about writing time. He can be very cranky.

Marian Stanley said...

Mary Sutton - well. I suppose you could have a LITTLE dragon on your table at a cafe or on your screen.
Kudos to you for being able to be able to work in a cafe. I'm visiting in Pittsburgh and tried late this AM to do some work in a favorite diner here - not terribly productive. The waiter's voice seemed intrustive and all the conversations around were distracting. Not to mention wifi that kept cutting out. Even my dragon couldn't have helped me out!
This inability to work in a cafe or diner does make me feel like a wimp as I know so mnay people who can turn out great stuff by working in those environments. But - there we are. I'm a wimp.

Marian Stanley said...

Keenan Powell - a wolfhound - wow, now that would be a challenge! The good news is that I think they are docile and wouldn't be squiggling around as you are trying use them as a writing desk. I'll bet your wolfhound is a sweetheart - I've always admired them.

Marian Stanley said...

Deborah - yes, I think this would be a good side business - selling stuffed dragons and WORKING signs - but don't give me any exciting new ideas. I am easily distracted!

Marian Stanley said...

Thanks, Rhonda - yes, it is entertaining, but toward a serious end. Just having a little fun with myself! Good to hear from you.

Marian Stanley said...

Hi Libby - not sure what to do about the size of the text at the bottom of the blog posting. I'm just visiting! Any way to enlarge it on your own computer? M.

Marian Stanley said...

Brenda Buchanan - so glad you are going to read The Immaculate! Makes it all worthwhile. M.

Kathy Reel said...

Marian, I'm not an author, just a reader and reviewer, but, as a reviewer, I know how hard it can be to get it right. Even though I love promoting the books I love by reviewing, I often struggle to make authors' wonderful characters and stories come alive for a brief moment, so that other readers will want to experience the story, too. So, I think all writing takes great effort and commitment. However, there are times I've wondered why I don't try writing a book because it must be doable if others do it. I think that is me being a bit naive.

The item on your list that most resonates with me is the amazing community of people with which you become acquainted in the world of writing, and for me reading. I think that the mystery/crime community is an especially generous, supportive group, and I am so happy that it is my favorite genre. Authors are so giving of their time and energy to their readers/fans and other authors.

Your books sounds so interesting, Marian. I'm going to put it on my wishlist now.

Marian Stanley said...

As is often said, writing is a solitary activity - excepting, of course, for the characters always chatting with us in our heads! - so that perhaps we are always looking for community. For me, it was an unexpected delight - the extent to which readers and other writers support the writing life. It is hard work to write a book, but all worth it when readers appreciate the story and just get it - and your fellow writers support you all the way. Then, it can become - well, joyous.

Ann in Rochester said...

Marian, I stated The Immaculate as promised, and I hereby declare it a TGR*

*Thumping Good Read

Kathy Reel said...

Marian, I meant to add my voice to how great the dragon is for your door, and your dog is adorable, too.

Oh, and I'm with you about writing in a coffee shop or cafe or diner. I don't see how one can concentrate with so much going on around. I need it to be quiet to read, too. Maybe I'm just too easily distracted.

Marian Stanley said...

Yes, Kathy - not sure how it came to be that I like quiet while working. I grew up in a large family, had a houseful of kids myself - and it was never quiet! Ah well.
Archie the dog (who is also in the book) will be pleased you think he is adorable and the parlor dragon will be full of himself too!

Marian Stanley said...

Ann in Rochester - well, a "thumping good read" - I'll treasure that accolade!