Monday, November 22, 2010

Marilyn Leach grew up in the Mountain Time Zone. She majored in art at university and has worked as a missionary, graphic artist and teacher of art in cultural diversity. Just recently she became a full time author. She loves to celebrate Advent and the Christmas season which ties in well with her love of all things British. One of her favorite things to do is cuddle up on a cold afternoon with an English mystery and a cup of hot tea.

Welcome, Marilyn! When did you decide to be a writer?

I’m not sure really. I started writing stories as a child and just kept creating them. I wrote poetry and song lyrics, just for fun you see. I think when I began to write for the stage and saw people respond to what was being created that I first entertained the idea of actually being a full time writer. I began attending writing conferences and taking classes to hone my craft. When I heard Barb Nicolosi speak and present the challenge to influence culture through appropriate Christian writing, I started to pray about it in earnest. It went from there.

How long did you write before you sold your first book?

Actually, I wrote my first mystery, a play called "The Ghost and Mr. Guiltwallet" at the age of nine. I wrote it with a neighbor and we made it into a play complete with clothespins and blankets, plus popcorn. I’ve enjoyed writing most my life and have had the opportunity to co-write stage plays and screenplays, one of which won a semi-final spot for the Kyros prize in the John Templeton Screenwriting Competition and was chosen to be in Act One: Writing for Hollywood’s repertoire. It’s just recently that I decided to take the plunge and make writing a fulltime career. My first book is the one just out, Advent of a Mystery.

Everyone’s journey to publication is different. Now that you’ve walked that road, what tips can you give to authors still hoping for that first contract?

Study your craft, work on it, internalize the three act setup for writing, join a writer’s group, don’t be afraid of criticism, attend writing conferences, and pray for God’s purposes to be accomplished. Then stick with it.

Was there something about the experience of getting published that was a surprise to you?

I am with a small publishing house. I appreciate them because they were willing to take a chance with a first time novelist. What took me by surprise was all the marketing that you have to do and all the time and energy it takes to get your writing out there. With the plays, all the marketing was done by another person. Also, I’ve had a maddening time trying to get my web site to function properly. But it’s rapture to see your book in print.

Are you a disciplined writer or do you just write when you feel like it?

I’m really just working out how to structure my time now that I’m writing full time, as a career. I love to write and I work at the discipline to be consistent. I write every day, only occasionally do I miss. Even if it’s only 20 minutes, due to a grinding schedule of other events, I get it in. While on other days I’m at my laptop 2 to 4 hours, more hours for deadlines of course. Right now, though I’m working on my second book and several articles, it seems most my time is spent in marketing the first book.

What kind of activities do you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

I relish British mysteries and comedies and have volumes of DVDs. While I take a quick lunch, I’ll watch Keeping Up Appearances, a British comedy about a woman who’s keen to impress others that she is quite posh but her colorful family turns things the opposite way. Nothing refreshes like a good laugh. Or I’ll watch an episode of Rosemary and Thyme, a British mystery series about two detective gardeners. Or, since I live on a lake, sometimes just taking a quick walk outside can buoy the senses. I’ve also been known to put on a CD and dance about a bit, whatever feeds the soul and refreshes so that you can go back to pouring yourself out again on the page.

What is your favorite novel (not written by you) and what made it special?

Different books impact you at different points of time in your life. How often I re-read is a measuring stick for me and currently I’d have to say, the Bless Me Father Series written by Neil Boyd (a pen name) is at the top. I had to scrounge around used bookstores in England as it’s out of print, but when I first read it, I was visiting my sister. I would read a section and laugh out loud, it was so funny. My sister would ask, “What?” I’d read the portion to her, and she’d have a good laugh. It went on and on, so she eventually she found it at the library and read it herself. All three books in the collection are infectious like that. Funny to the bone.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

I love to read other’s work always keeping an eye to how they develop their character arcs, the twists and turns in the plots, using visuals to reflect what’s happening both on and off ‘the radar’, and of course, how they keep the energy flowing from chapter to chapter. I read one of Agatha Christie’s short stories that really intrigued me. It set my mind in motion and I thought, “What if this was done here and instead of this means, another means was used? And what if…”. By the time I restructured the whole affair and put it on its head, it was the seed for my second book, Resurrection of a Mystery.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

Advent of a Mystery is a who-done-it that takes place during Advent at Christmastide. The setting is a small English village. The sleuth in the story is Berdie Elliott, the vicar’s wife. She’s not exactly what the parish expects; she’s a former investigative reporter who has attended her husband, a former military officer and now churchman, to Saint Aidan of the Wood Parish Church. When someone dies under calamitous circumstances, Berdie swings into action and before long the entire village is involved in finding the culprit. Of course, in the end, the village celebrates Berdie’s abilities and Christmas is celebrated jubilantly.

Where did you get your inspiration for Advent of a Mystery?

I love to read about and watch Miss Marple in action. Also, the Hetty Wainthropp series influenced me greatly. Both are women of high moral character and an observable faith, who display a special gift to analyze and solve puzzles. The fact that they’re both wise women of age is appealing too. My nephew challenged me to “just have fun creating a British cozy” and I followed his advice. Now, here it is, published.

Which character is most like you?

I like to think that I share the quality of seeking truth just as my main character, Berdie Elliott does. I also believe, sadly, that I share her bend to be quite stubborn at times. But really, I have no specific character that I can say, “that’s me”.

Who is your favorite character and why?

I like almost all my characters. In Advent of a Mystery, Berdie and Lillie are the most fun to write for; they carry the heart of the story and have a brilliant friendship. Although writing Albert Goodnight, the surly village constable, was a hoot too. He’s just so brash and talks such flannel.

Did you know how Advent of a Mystery would turn out? Were you surprised by any of the plot twists or characters?

I plot carefully, first a loose sketch of ideas, then a type of graphic organizer, start to conclusion. But along the way as I’m writing, I also get ideas that add a glint to a red herring or give a tweak to enhance the primary plot line. I can’t say I’ve been surprised in any major way, and in the same breath a scene may turn out somewhat differently, as I write, than I perceived it.

What is the main thing you hope readers remember from this story?

I think different readers may remember different things, but overall I should hope that people remember how much fun it was to go along with Berdie, her friends, the whole village really, to make discoveries, right the wrong, and to see a glimpse of the eternal in the everyday.

What kinds of things have you done to market this book? Have you found anything that works particularly well?

I’ve done most things writers do. I’ve also donated the book to public libraries; a good read can often result in Christmas gifts to friends. One reader is giving the book to a circle of friends for Christmas. Inside each book, she’s including an invitation to tea following the holiday season with the note to read the book by tea time. She’s asked me to come lead a discussion of the book at the tea. Right up my holiday alley. It’s a fun idea and others are interested in doing the same. I did a city wide radio interview and that really boosted sales. Plus, it was fun. I’m currently mailing a notice of availability for signings to every tea shoppe in Colorado. So far, I have four tea shoppe signings scheduled.

Tell us what new projects you’re working on.

I’m currently working on Resurrection of a Mystery; follow up to Advent of a Mystery. I’m keeping the setting and cast of characters as I’ve had several people comment that they want more of Berdie and Aidan Kirkwood. On the drawing board, I have Ascension of a Mystery. I’m following the liturgical calendar of the church and creating a mystery to accompany the different celebrations.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

I should think, follow your passion. If you’ve established a right relationship with God, you’ve got the ground work established. Whether your passion is restoring old cars, volunteering in the hospital natal unit, spotless kitchen windows, or writing, follow your passion.
Want more? Stop by The Borrowed Book on Thursday for an excerpt from Advent of a Mystery by Marilyn Leach.


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