Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bestselling Author Michelle Gagnon Shares Journey from Dancer to Crime Fiction Novelist

Transcript of August 20, 2008, Athena Isle
Writers Meeting in Second Life

Alas Zerbino: Welcome to this Athena Isle Writers meeting at the Story Mountain Center for Writers on Athena Isle.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Thanks for having me.
GaiusJulius Drut: thank you
Alas Zerbino: You're most welcome!!
GaiusJulius Drut: it is a long time ago since I was here last
Alas Zerbino: I'm literally thrilled to introduce our guest today: Michelle Gagnon, author of two crime thriller novels (sorry...couldn't help the pun!)
MichelleGagnon Gothly: lol

Crime fiction novelist Michelle Gagnon at writers meeting at Story Mountain
Michelle Gagnon (back to camera) "talks" with the Athena Isle Writers Club Aug. 20, 2008, at Story Mountain Center in Second Life.

Alas Zerbino: Before she became a writer, Michelle was a modern dancer, dog walker, bartender, freelance journalist, personal trainer, model, and Russian supper club performer. (Sounds like lots of stories there.) Her 2007 debut thriller The Tunnels was an IMBA bestseller about "ritual murder, ancient magic, and buried secrets." (James Rollins) Her second book--just released last month--is Boneyard, about dueling serial killers in the Berkshires. Definitely a page-turner!
Michelle is appearing in Second Life as the avatar MichelleGagnon Gothly. Welcome to Athena Isle Writers, Michelle! Please add whatever you wish to introduce yourself.

Series to Continue After Jump to Bestseller List
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I just got great news, actually, Boneyard just made the July IMBA bestseller list too!
Alas Zerbino: YAY!!!!!
Chepooka Laval: congrats!
Alas Zerbino: Congratulations!!!! (not surprised)
GaiusJulius Drut: congrats
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Thanks! It was exciting. This means that we'll be continuing the series for at least two more books
GaiusJulius Drut: wow
Alas Zerbino: Super!!!

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Can you tell us more about the IMBA & their list?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Sure, IMBA is the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. It's comprised of mystery bookstores both in North America and abroad.
Alas Zerbino: Hi Chrissia -- welcome and have a seat
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Hi Chrissia, thanks for coming
Chepooka Laval: hi Chrissia
Chrissia Tyles: hi all
GaiusJulius Drut: Hi
Chrissia Tyles: nice to see you again Chepooka
Chepooka Laval: you too! :)
Alas Zerbino: Michelle just announced Boneyard made it to the IMBA list, which means at least 2 more books in the series.

Thriller novelist Michelle Gagnon at Athena Isle Writers meetingAlas Zerbino: QUESTION: Tell us more about your main characters.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I have two characters who run through the series, one is FBI Special Agent Kelly Jones, the other is Jake Riley. So Kelly has been an FBI agent for over a decade. She's in her mid-thirties at the start of the series, very good at her job but somewhat socially awkward. Think Clarisse Starling ten years further into her career, slightly jaded but adept. Jake is a bit of a rogue. Former FBI, now he works private security. He's sort of the on again, off again love interest.
Alas Zerbino: I started reading Boneyard this morning and it was excruciating to put it down to come to this.... lol
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I always love the hear that!
Chepooka Laval: oh, I LOVE that feeling! sounds so fun, I'll be dashing to Barnes & Noble later -- hee.
Alas Zerbino: /you'll love it, Chepooka!

When Character Is Killed, Thriller Is Born
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: How did you get started writing crime novels?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I actually set off to write a very different book initially. It was going to be my great American novel, a college coming of age story.
Chepooka Laval: wow
MichelleGagnon Gothly: and I kept getting 20 or 30 pages in and losing the thread, and one night I was typing away, and "accidentally" killed off my main character, and that book became The Tunnels, which is about a series of ritualized murders in the abandoned tunnel system beneath campus.
Alas Zerbino: LOL -- Cougar?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: That's too funny--did you like Cougar? My editor LOVES that character.
Alas Zerbino: yeah, I relate to him -- nerd to nerd! lol
MichelleGagnon Gothly: lol. I joke that I'm going to have him make cameos in every book now just to tease her.
Alas Zerbino: LOL
Alas Zerbino: Hi Irisgrl! C'mon in!
Chepooka Laval: hi Irisgrl!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Hi Irisgrl
GaiusJulius Drut: Hi
Irisgrl Saphir: Hi...

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: How did you come to use those tunnels as the basis of your first book?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: There was an abandoned tunnel system under Wesleyan, where I went to college. People used to sneak through the tunnels at night to go into the library, chapel, etc. They were really scary, dark, dank, and covered with graffiti.
Alas Zerbino: LOL They had one of those at my Catholic college, too.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: funny, I got so many emails after the book came out from people asking, "Is it set at this school?" because I never name the college and so many of them have these tunnels, especially in the northeast
Alas Zerbino: and in the Midwest....
MichelleGagnon Gothly: true! Anywhere with a lot of snow, I think.

First Novel: "will never see light of day"
Alas Zerbino: Yup! QUESTION: Tell us about how you got The Tunnels published -- how long it took, what you did to market it, etc.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Tunnels was actually the second book I wrote. I have another one in a box under my bed that will never see the light of day. But that one was my learning experience. I queried over 50 agents with that one, and got turned down by all of them. So when I finished Tunnels, I went through multiple revisions, then only sent it to three agents. One of them got back to me right away, and I ended up signing with her. And it sold a few months after that. So things went fairly smoothly with The Tunnels, but that first book was a bit of a disaster.

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Did you sense that Tunnels was somehow "better" or at least different from your first?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Tunnels was definitely a tighter story arc. And in truth probably more interesting subject matter. But I'm partial to Boneyard at the moment. I think writers tend to prefer their latest release.

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Do you think most authors have to write one unsellable novel first?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Not all of them, but definitely most. There's sort of a prototypical first novel. It's usually semi-autobiographical, written in 1st person. I'm in an open writing group, and probably 80% of the books that come in represent that. First books are tough, you have to know when to put them away and start over.
Alas Zerbino: Lots of coming-of-age stories?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: yes, TONS of coming of age stories. I remember one written by a girl who'd made a fortune in the dotcom boom. And she wrote this very self-indulgent book about deciding what to do with the rest of her life. It was basically like she was coming in and reading her diary every week, and frankly diaries are like dreams--not that interesting to anyone outside the person featured in them.

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: I think several of us have a first novel sitting in the drawer. How do you know when it's time to move on?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I think if you've done multiple revisions (ideally a few months apart. I always like to let a book sit for awhile before looking at it again). And you've queried a few dozen agents and haven't gotten much of a response, it's time to at least consider moving on. The thing is, if the book is finished enough that you're shopping it, chances are you're going to spend 3-6 months waiting for an agent to get back to you anyway, so it's always a good idea to start something else in the interim. In my genre, most people want multiple book contracts anyway, preferably with the same characters.
Alas Zerbino: Very true!

Athena Isle Writers at roundtable discussion with Michelle Gagnon
Athena Isle Writers gather in a round-table discussion with Michelle Gagnon, author of The Tunnels and Boneyard, at the Aug. 20 meeting at Story Mountain Center for Writers in Second Life.

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: What's the research process like -- and where do you get all those great procedural details and FBI inside "color"?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Initially it was really tough, since I had no law enforcement background, and really didn't know anything about forensics, FBI procedure, etc.
Chrissia Tyles: good question, Alas
MichelleGagnon Gothly: But by going to conferences I've amassed kind of a database of experts. And I have 3 FBI agents who chat with me while I'm writing the books, and they check them for mistakes when I finish.
Alas Zerbino: Wonderful
Alas Zerbino: Welcome, Annesh! Have a seat!
Annesh Perl: Hi! Glad to be here
GaiusJulius Drut: hi
Annesh Perl: I'm sorry I'm late
Alas Zerbino: np
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Hi Amnesh!

How to Find an Agent
GaiusJulius Drut: QUESTION: How did you contact the agents?
Alas Zerbino: Good question, Gaius
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Things have really changed; with the first book most agents accepted mail queries only, now most take email. I initially contacted a lower agent in the agency via email, and she kicked it up to her boss, who ended up taking me on. Most agents have websites now with specific submission guidelines. The trick is to make sure you're contacting people who represent the type of work you write. And who are actively acquiring authors.
Alas Zerbino: Makes sense
MichelleGagnon Gothly: There are some good sites for that.
Alas Zerbino: You mentioned the conferences ...
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Conferences are a good place to get agents, too--a lot of them have "speed dating" pitch sessions.
Alas Zerbino: Yes, I've heard that.

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Do you outline your novels? Do you know how they'll turn out from the start, or do they change as you write?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I'm not an outliner.
Alas Zerbino: /I like hearing that -- I'm not either! lol
MichelleGagnon Gothly: It's funny, I toured this summer with Simon Wood, a former engineer who literally has color coded spreadsheets for each novel.
Alas Zerbino: Wow!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: While I wing it--I have a first chapter in mind and a really rough idea of what the book will be about. I usually write the last fifty pages in a rush because I can't wait to see how it ends.

From Personal Trainer to Writer . . .
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Did you go to school for writing -- MFA?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Nope. I majored in a general humanities major. I did write short stories based on my grandfather's WWI diaries for my senior thesis, but then moved to NYC to work with a dance company and didn't write at all for several years.
Alas Zerbino: So how did you get back into writing?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I was living in SF, working as a personal trainer, and a college friend who was working for a fitness website asked me to write content for them.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: So I started writing a lot of non-fiction then, and around 2000 started working on my first novel (the disastrous one). Tunnels I started in 2004.
Annesh Perl: So your writing was more for fun and a hobby?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Well, the fiction was--non -fiction paid at least some of the bills for about a decade. After the dotcom bust I wrote for magazines mostly, random stuff, everything from travel articles to fitness to lifestyle pieces.

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Where are you at in the writing process for your next novel?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Right at the beginning. I actually have two books going right now, one is the next in the series, the other is a whole new series I'm toying with. I've written about thirty pages of each, so I really need to get going on one of them.

Chrissia Tyles: QUESTION: Tunnels sounds like a great movie idea...any interest there?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I have a film agent, but so far there's been more interest in Boneyard. Tunnels has a lot of Norse mythology back-story in it, which apparently the studios aren't interested in after the new Wicker Man did so poorly.
Alas Zerbino: (for those who came in recently, Michelle's just got word that Boneyard made the IMBA best-seller list.
Annesh Perl: Congratulations!
Chrissia Tyles: good going
Irisgrl Saphir: Congrats Michelle on making the list!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Thanks!
Irisgrl Saphir: Looking forward to the transcript (wondering where it will be) because this is great stuff!!
Alas Zerbino: Irisgrl -- on
Irisgrl Saphir: Thanx Alas......and thanx for getting Michelle here today.
Irisgrl Saphir: Thanks and see you all!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: See you!
Alas Zerbino: bye for now, Irisgrl

GaiusJulius Drut: QUESTION: Did your characters always want what you want or gain their independent existence?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: They're tricky, those characters. Mainly because I'm not an outliner, there are days when I expect them to go somewhere and do something, and they go off in a different direction. In Boneyard, I have a character sneaking out the back of a house, and he runs into someone that I wasn't expecting to be there. So they're constantly surprising.
Alas Zerbino: That's a lot of the fun of writing, too!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: it keeps it interesting for me.

Great Community of Mystery Writers/Readers
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Have mysteries/thrillers been a favorite genre of yours?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I wasn't a big crime fiction reader at the time I started writing Tunnels, but when I thought about it afterwards, I realized that growing up, mysteries is pretty much all I read.
Alas Zerbino: Fascinating!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: all those Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy books, The Great Brain series, Arthur Conan Doyle. I ate those up when I was a kid.
Alas Zerbino: Oh yes -- mainstays of my youth!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: So I think they were always in the back of my mind.
Alas Zerbino: ...and when you ended up with one, you weren't disappointed, I take it? :)
MichelleGagnon Gothly: No, what I love about writing these books is that there's a really great mystery community out there. Everyone knows each other, and everyone is really supportive. That was amazing to discover since I had no idea it existed.
Alas Zerbino: Sisters in Crime?
Alas Zerbino: Hi Artful! Welcome!
GaiusJulius Drut: Hi
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Hi Artful!
Artful Kidd: hello
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers. Plus there's a whole slew of yahoo groups with both writers and fans.
Alas Zerbino: Roberta Isleib [president of National Sisters in Crime] has been a guest of ours.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Oh, I love Roberta! I think I read her blog post about coming here.
Alas Zerbino: Yes, she was fun!
Alas Zerbino: and we're planning on having an office for SIC here at Story Mountain.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Awesome!!! That's such a great idea.
Alas Zerbino: Yes, I think so, too! She and Beth Groundwater have talked about how supportive those organizations are....
MichelleGagnon Gothly: They're really amazing. Plus everyone sees each other on this conference circuit. Which is a lot of fun. Next one is in Baltimore in October, that kind of closes out our year.

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Are there similar writers' associations for mainstream fiction writers? Or would any writer benefit from those organizations?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: There don't seem to be, which is a shame. I have some friends who write more literary fiction, and they hang out together here in SF, but there's nothing "official." So I'm not sure how they go about getting blurbs for their books etc. The groups have made such a difference for me with that.
Alas Zerbino: That's wonderful! I was going to ask how you got so many well-known authors to write blurbs for you!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I got them drunk at a conference and made them promise to give me a blurb
Alas Zerbino: LOL!!!!!
Artful Kidd: lol
Alas Zerbino: I love it!
GaiusJulius Drut: lol
MichelleGagnon Gothly: and I taped it, so they couldn't back out afterwards. ;) Plus I have compromising photos of Jeff Deaver.
Alas Zerbino: LMAO
Annesh Perl: LOL
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Seriously, all I ever did was ask, and everyone I asked said yes. But then I think having met them at conferences definitely helped.

Alas Zerbino: writers' conferences are important for writers, in general, I think.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: definitely: pricey, though. That kind of flying really costs you these days.
Alas Zerbino: well, yeah, especially if you have to fly
Annesh Perl: Conferences seem a big investment, and how do you know the best ones to go to?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I've spent the past few years rooting out which ones to go to. I always go to cons close to where I live. There are a few national mystery cons that everyone goes to, those are a given. And the regional ones can be hit or miss.

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: What's the most important thing an unpublished writer can do to move toward publication?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: huh, that's a tough one. Writing every day is my best advice. And to not give up. It's one of those industries where you subject yourself to a ton of rejection, so you need to be persistent and not give up.
Alas Zerbino: persistence -- everyone says that is the key.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: It really is.

On Writing Genre Fiction: "No respect, more money"
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: What--if anything--is different about writing genre fiction, vs. mainstream fiction?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Our joke is that as genre writers, we get no respect and have to comfort ourselves with outselling literary fiction 10 to 1.
Chepooka Laval: lol
Alas Zerbino: LOL!!!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Our deadlines are tighter and more set in stone. I have friends who write literary fiction, and they're allowed to spend years on a manuscript. I need to produce at least one book a year. Also, our print runs are much higher.
Annesh Perl: You make more money right?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Yes, usually--of course, I think Khaled (The Kite Runner) did ok. But we generally do make more money because there's a wider audience for our books.
Alas Zerbino: Well, you've now convinced me to ditch that mainstream novel in my drawer & head over to the genre side! lol
MichelleGagnon Gothly: lol! I'm telling you, we're the fun crowd.
Annesh Perl: I believe it
Alas Zerbino: LOL! I believe it, too!
GaiusJulius Drut nods

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Any other advice (besides write every day) for unpublished authors?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: That plus persistence--wish I could add more. Someone once said to me when I complained that it was hard to find time to write, "but if you only write a page a day, at the end of a year you'll have a book." I love that.
Alas Zerbino: yes -- that one page a day sure adds up!!

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: I'm really curious to know -- where did you get the idea for Boneyard?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: One of my FBI friends and I were chatting, and she was saying that she thought the estimate of the number of serial killers was way off. She said that in her opinion, they were only catching the sloppy/flagrant ones. That if someone was careful and targeted the "missing missing," (prostitutes, illegal immigrants, etc.) and disposed of the bodies where they wouldn't be found, they could operate in a small area for years. I found that fascinating.
Alas Zerbino: wow! I always thought it was due to alien abduction! lol
MichelleGagnon Gothly: lol--that too!

On Marketing: "It's up to us to do it on our own"
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: What's your involvement in marketing your books?
Annesh Perl: I find the research and submitting, etc. takes more time than writing actually / where do you find time for that? LOL
MichelleGagnon Gothly: This year I spent three straight months doing nothing but marketing.
Annesh Perl: That helps to know / so you actually took a break from writing to do marketing?
GaiusJulius Drut: QUESTION: Three month of marketing? What did you do exactly?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I did-- I had a huge marketing campaign, did everything from assembling "chapbooks" (the 1st 3 chapters of the book) and sending them to bed and breakfasts in resort areas. To blog ads and a huge blog tour. I had bookmarks & magnets made, planned a tour. It was a tremendous amount of work. Unfortunately most publishers have slashed their marketing departments, so it's up to us to do it on our own. And frankly some of them aren't that comfortable with new media outlets.
Artful Kidd: like SL..?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: exactly!!!
Alas Zerbino: Yes, the book publishing industry is rather traditional....
MichelleGagnon Gothly: This is kind of sad--I'm holding a drawing for an Amazon Kindle at the end of the tour, and asked my editor if Boneyard was available on Kindle. And she asked, "what's a Kindle?"
Alas Zerbino: No kidding??!!!??
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I found that very depressing.
Alas Zerbino: What I want to know is when The Tunnels will be available on Kindle.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: It already is!!! And so is Boneyard. Plus if you want to win one, you can still enter the drawing. Just sign up for my newsletter on my site (I don't send it out often, promise)
Alas Zerbino: I'm reading Boneyard on it, but it didn't list Kindle as an edition of Tunnels.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Really? It was before. I'll have to doublecheck that. Amazon has been a little screwy lately. They erased all my reviews a few weeks ago.
Alas Zerbino: Ah, I've also noticed that.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Don't you just love the Kindle? I'm hooked on mine.
Alas Zerbino: YES!!!!! I hate it when a book I have to read isn't available!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I know, me too. Really wish they had more travel books, it's so perfect for that! But in a few years everything will be an ebook IMHO. It'll be interesting to see how it changes the publishing industry.
Alas Zerbino: I think so -- despite your editor's ignorance!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I think it's clearly a generational thing.

Crime fiction novelist Michelle Gagnon at writers meeting at Story Mountain

Alas Zerbino: Michelle's website:
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Thanks Alas!
Alas Zerbino: You also write on a blog...

GaiusJulius Drut: QUESTION: How important is it to write the manuscript as norm pages?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: You mean formatting?
GaiusJulius Drut nods
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Manuscripts are pretty standard Times New Roman 12 pt, inch margins, but honestly, unless you do something really wacky, these days most agents don't get too nitpicky about formatting; it's so easy to change.

Alas Zerbino: Wow -- the hour's flown!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I know, it has!!!
Artful Kidd: yes..I'm sorry now I got here late
Alas Zerbino: I really have enjoyed your coming, Michelle! Thank you so much!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Thanks so much for having me, this was a blast!
Chepooka Laval: thank you Michelle, this has been wonderful!
Annesh Perl: Thanks this was great
GaiusJulius Drut: yes, thank you very much Michelle
Annesh Perl: Nice to meet you
MichelleGagnon Gothly: And I'm always happy to answer questions, just contact me through my site; that email goes right to me.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Thanks so much to all of you for coming.
Alas Zerbino: And I highly recommend her books -- Boneyard, at least, is the one I'm reading and it's wondeful!
Artful Kidd: thankyou!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Aw, thanks Alas!
Chepooka Laval: I am excited to read it!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Thanks Chepooka!
Alas Zerbino: And thanks everyone for coming -- it was great.

Chepooka Laval: I hope you'll come back and visit us in SL again.
Alas Zerbino: I'd love to have you back sometime -- maybe for a voice reading on the stage upstairs? Is that a possibility?
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Sure, that would be great!
Chepooka Laval: awesome!
GaiusJulius Drut: yes. great idea
Alas Zerbino: Super!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: My schedule is wide open now, this is the final event on my tour until October! Yay!
Alas Zerbino: Wow, what a relief for you!!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: It's been a crazy summer for me, I traveled almost every day in July. This was so nice to be able to go to an event without leavig my house!
Alas Zerbino: At least you didn't have to ttravel to be here.... lol
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Exactly!
Alas Zerbino: Well, I'm delighted to meet you and will let you know when the transcript's up on the blog.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Perfect, thanks so much!
Alas Zerbino: And I can't wait to get back to Boneyard after work tonight!!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Aw, thanks!
MichelleGagnon Gothly: I'll definitely be blogging about this, probably next Thursday.
Alas Zerbino: Great!! for a bit more on SL & writers, I write a blog on that:
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Oh, cool-- will check it out.

MichelleGagnon Gothly: All right, I'm off to do some exploring. I want to figure out this flying thing.
Chepooka Laval: Have fun Michelle! thanks ALas, another fabulous event.
MichelleGagnon Gothly: Thanks again!!!
Alas Zerbino: Thank you!!!
Alas Zerbino: Thanks Gaius & Chrissia & Chepooka!
GaiusJulius Drut: Thank you Alas. it was a great meeting
Chrissia Tyles: thanks Alas
Alas Zerbino: You're most welcome! We don't have a meeting set for next Wednesday, but most Wednesdays we have one scheduled, so come back whenever you can!
GaiusJulius Drut: I will
Chrissia Tyles: alright
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bestselling Novelist Michelle Richmond Shares Support & Writing Tips With Writers in SL

Transcript of August 13, 2008, Athena Isle
Writers Meeting in Second Life
Alas Zerbino: Welcome to this Athena Isle Writers meeting at the Story Mountain Center for Writers on Athena Isle.

I'm honored now to introduce our guest today. Michelle Richmond's first book of fiction, a short story collection, won one of the major national writing awards in 2001. Her first novel, Dream of the Blue Room, was an award finalist. Then her second novel, The Year of Fog, did what every writer dreams of: it became a NY Times bestseller, as well as hitting many 2007 top-book lists. Now, her third novel, No One You Know, is just out -- and to stunning reviews!

Michelle Richmond speaks to Athena Isle Writers on SL
Michelle Richmond (center, in pink dress) "talks" to the Athena Isle Writers meeting on Second Life on Aug. 20, 2008.

Alas Zerbino: Michelle is appearing in Second Life as the avatar Michelle Mefusula. Welcome to Athena Isle Writers, Michelle! Please add whatever you wish to introduce yourself.

Michelle Mefusula: It's great to be here. Thanks for inviting me, Alas. And thank you all for being here. Looking forward to hearing your questions.
Alas Zerbino: We're delighted you came! And you've been such a trooper about the weirdnesses of SL!
Michelle Mefusula: It is indeed weird, but wonderful! I could get lost in here.
Alas Zerbino: LOL -- we all do from time to time.

Michelle Mefusula: Are you all writers?
Alas Zerbino: I am
Chepooka Laval: I am not, but I'm a reader! :)
JMB Balogh: Me, I'm just a blogger but a fan of yours and a big reader too
Alas Zerbino: Great -- readers!!
Irisgrl Saphir: I am a writer --lol
Chepooka Laval: she is a writer.
Michelle Mefusula: Ah, yes, I've read your blog, Alas. Are you a fiction writer? Chepooka and JMB ... we writers need readers!
Irisgrl Saphir: yeah--write on!
Irisgrl Saphir: JMB's blog? where?
JMB Balogh: Nobody important is its name
Irisgrl Saphir: Fiction and non-fiction
Alas Zerbino: Yes, I write short fiction and novels -- only published short stories & some poems.
Michelle Mefusula: JMB...a fan..yay! Thank you. Oh, JMB, of course, I've read your blog before.
Michelle Mefusula: Alas...great! It's wonderful that you've published stories and poems. That's not easy to do.
JMB Balogh: You did, did you see my review of Year of Fog?
Alas Zerbino: What's the URL of your blog, JMB?
JMB Balogh:
Alas Zerbino: What a name!! Thanks!
JMB Balogh: YW
Michelle Mefusula: Yes, I did JMB... thank you!

On Publishing and Agents
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Your books have been far more successful than many of today's novelists. Why do you think that's so?
Michelle Mefusula: Alas: Well, The Year of Fog did achieve a level of commercial success that I never expected. It was my third book, and the first one that sold well. I think it was a combination of things--the story, the publisher's efforts, right time and place, etc.

Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTION: How did you find an agent?
Alas Zerbino: Good question!
Michelle Mefusula: I published my first two books without an agent. I'd tried very hard to find an agent for my story collection and for my first novel, to no avail. Dozens of rejections.
Michelle Mefusula: I ultimately found my agent while at the Sewanee Writers Conference. I was there as a fellow, and got to sit down with a NY couple who have an old and respected agency in NYC. We hit it off, and I sent them my new novel, The Year of Fog, when it was complete.

Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTION: if without an agent how did you find a publisher?
Michelle Mefusula: My first book was published as a result of the Associated Writing Programs contest. It's an annual contest for a story collection, and University of Massachusetts Press publishes the winner.
Michelle Mefusula: My second book was published by MacAdam/Cage, a small San Francisco literary publisher which, at that time, accepted unagented submissions. I'm not sure they do that anymore, though.

Alas Zerbino: So it's true that agents do sign up writers they meet at conferences?
Michelle Mefusula: Yes, I think agents do sometimes sign up authors they meet at conferences, although it definitely helped that I had two books under my belt at that point.

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Can you elaborate more on "right time and place" (no need to elaborate on the story -- it's a great one!)
Michelle Mefusula: Hmmm, right time and place. Well, The Year of Fog is set in San Francisco, and I did a lot of events when it came out. I also wrote an essay about the inspiration for The Year of Fog which appeared in the San Fran Chronicle magazine, and the following week it was on the SF Chron bestseller list. When it made the list, my publisher took notice, and began to put more effort behind it. So I'd say the success of a book by an unknown writer is often the result of a slow-building avalanche of good publicity.
Alas Zerbino: Wow! Fascinating story!
Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTION Is San Fran Chron article online?
Michelle Mefusula: Yes, the SF Chron article is online. May I post the link here, Alas?
Alas Zerbino: absolutely!!

Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTION: Have you started working on #5, or do you take a break after pub?
Michelle Mefusula: I've been on a break for about two months, working on events, guest blogging, and preparing for an interview I'm going to do next month with one of my favorite authors, Paul Auster. I'll begin working on number 5 in a couple of weeks.
Irisgrl Saphir: very helpful info on getting published

Unpublished Writers: Submit Short Fiction to Journals
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: What's the most important thing an unpublished writer can do to move toward publication?
Michelle Mefusula: Most important thing an unpublished writer can do: I had my start publishing short stories in literary magazines, and I think that's a very good place to start. When you have a story that is polished and represents your best work, choose ten magazines you'd like to be published in, and send it to ALL of them. I'm a big believer in multiple submissions.

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Did you ever worry that your fiction wouldn't "make it"?
Michelle Mefusula: Yes, I worried for years that my fiction wouldn't make it, and there were times when I became very discouraged, when I couldn't find a publisher for my books. But I just kept thinking "One day..."
Michelle Mefusula: I think it actually turned out to be a good thing for me that my first two books were not commercial successes. It made me able to manage my expectations. I know people who are discouraged if their first book doesn't make a huge splash, but I always feel fortunate to be able to publish and to write the story I want to write.
Alas Zerbino: That's so important for writing!

Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTION: who do you get to read/edit your work before submission--lots of people?
Michelle Mefusula: My husband is my first editor, and the only person who sees my work before it goes to my agent or to my editor at the publishing house.

Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTION: Do you have a blog?
Alas Zerbino: Michelle's blog:
Alas Zerbino: Her website:
Michelle Mefusula: Thanks for posting my blog address, Alas. As for that article in the Chron, you can got to my website, click FOG, and then click "the story behind the book." (I couldn't paste the link.)
Alas Zerbino:

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Do you write fast first drafts, or deliberate over each paragraph as you write it?
Michelle Mefusula: I deliberate, Alas! Do you deliberate over every paragraph? I did, however, write No One You Know in a year, which is very fast for me. It was the first time I was on deadline for a novel, and it helped.
Alas Zerbino: I do both -- which is why I'm curious. Sometimes I deliberate forever; other times I can't write fast enough.
Michelle Mefusula: Alas, don't you love those times when you're able to not deliberate and you "Can't write fast enough?"
Alas Zerbino: YES!!!!
Irisgrl Saphir: Plugged into the Muse--yeah!!
Michelle Mefusula: But back to what's important for unpublished or beginning writers: find a good reader for your work, someone who will be honest but encouraging. And once you believe something is ready to send out, just keep sending it and sending it until someone bites.

Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTION: Are your stories "there" when you start or do they grow as you write?
Michelle Mefusula: Inrisgrl: my stories definitely grow as I write. With a novel, I always have an idea where it's going, but not outline. With a short story, it's pretty much a free-fall, and I love that.

Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTION: Do you re-write a lot--revise for longer than it took to write?
Michelle Mefusula: Oh, yes, Irisgrl, I revise a TON. Every book goes through many rounds of revision.
Alas Zerbino: Sometimes I think I could revise forever.....
Michelle Mefusula: Sometimes it's difficult to know when to stop revising.

Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTION: Did your editors at the publisher edit a lot or just barely?
Michelle Mefusula: My editor was very hands-on with The Year of Fog and made many, many suggestions, some of which I took and some of which I didn't. A good editor won't even want you to take ALL of her editor is wonderful. With No One You Know, she did less editing. Part of that was that we had less time, but part of it was that the early drafts of that book were less messy than The Year of Fog.

About Novel Settings
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Your settings are very "atmospheric" - almost dreamy at times. Do you do that consciously or does it come out in your writing process?
Michelle Mefusula: Can I just say it's so cool to have that big poster up over the fireplace?
Alas Zerbino: *big smile* Great!! I'll take a photo and send it to you.
Michelle Mefusula: I think the settings are a natural part of my writing process-it has a lot to do with the way I observe and process the world. I knew that, in The Year of Fog, I wanted San Francisco to be a character unto itself, just as I wanted China to be very present in Dream of the Blue Room.
Michelle Mefusula: When I read a book, I like to have a very strong impression of the place--the sights, smells, sounds, etc, so I think it's something that comes naturally to me when I write.
Alas Zerbino: Yes, I like it when the setting is a character -- especially when it's well done.
Michelle Mefusula: With San Francisco, that was kind of easy--the setting being a character. I live in the fog belt out by the ocean, by far the foggiest part of the city. It's been freezing most of this month!
Irisgrl Saphir: Like Alaska this summer--cold drizzly overcast--but no fog
Alas Zerbino: I know the area! We actually had intense fog here last night and this morning...maybe because I was going to be meeting you?!! :)
Michelle Mefusula: Are you in Alaska, Irisgrl? That's so cool and romantic! Alas...I love that the parameters of our virtual world are infringing upon your real life, bringing fog into your neighborhood.
Irisgrl Saphir: Yep--Alaska, with a sweater on
Alas Zerbino: Yes, and the more time I spend in SL, the thinner the separations seem to be!

Michelle Richmond at Story Mountain Center for Writers in Second Life

Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTIONS: Do your stories come out of your life or are they mostly made-up?
Michelle Mefusula: Irisgrl, the events of my novels are entirely fictional, but the emotions, I'm sure, come partially from things I've experienced. In No One You Know, the narrator has lost a sister. That has never happend to me, but I do have two sisters and was able to emotionally connect with the character on that level.
Irisgrl Saphir: Cool--so many people around me write their life
Irisgrl Saphir: I can't wait to read Fog
Alas Zerbino: If I wrote my life, the stories would be intensely boring! lol
Michelle Mefusula: Me too!
Michelle Mefusula: I do write personal essays for fun, which I publish here and there-- my husband probably wishes I wouldn't!
Alas Zerbino: LOL!

About MFAs for Writers
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: How important is it for an apprentice writer to get an MFA?
Michelle Mefusula: Even though I've taught in MFA programs for years, I don't think anyone needs an MFA to be a writer. I think it's helpful to many people--for one thing, it provides a writer with deadlines and a community of like-minded persons. But there are more and more ways to connect with other writers these days, from virtual workshops to workshops in university extension programs. I think the degree is totally unnecessary. Of course,I'd like to hear an agent's take on that--they might disagree.
Alas Zerbino: Hmmm, I've heard agents say the MFA isn't essential....
Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTION: Do you have an MFA?
Michelle Mefusula: I do have an MFA. The reason I decided to get one was that I knew I wanted to teach, because I felt that was a career that would give me time to write. Although I don't teach much anymore, and writing is my bread and butter, for many years teaching paid the bills while allowing me summers off to write.
Irisgrl Saphir: Imagine earning a living from your writing--my hat off to you!
Alas Zerbino: Mine, too!!
Michelle Mefusula: I also did my MFA in a very different time--1995. BAck then, the majority of the MFA programs were fully funded--meaning students did not pay tuition. I taught a couple of classes and received a living stipend. Many of the newer programs are expensive, and I don't think it's a good idea to go into debt for an MFA!
Alas Zerbino: Stipends -- WOW!
Irisgrl Saphir: The new low-residency ones are great, though.
Alas Zerbino: Irisgrl -- that's been my experience, too
Michelle Mefusula: Yes, I love the idea of the low-res program and actually think these may be worth the money, because you don't have to quit your day job and move across the country to attend.
Michelle Mefusula: As for earning a living as a writer--that only started happening about a year ago. Believe me, it came as a huge surprise!

Alas Zerbino: I was chatting with another writer (fantasizing maybe?) about setting up an unofficial, uncredited, but useful "MFA program" here in SL,
Michelle Mefusula: Oh, I like the idea of the unofficial MFA in SL--I bet it would be popular!

Bestselling author Michelle Richmond at Story Mountain Center in Second LifeAlas Zerbino: QUESTION: What are your thoughts on whether literary fiction writing can be taught? (some say it can't...that writers are "born")
Irisgrl Saphir: Well, it can be honed, developed, with the right guidance and great feedback
Michelle Mefusula: I'm torn about whether literary fiction writing can be taught. I think the desire to write is something that can't be taught, and a writer has to have that. A certain degree of talent helps. But writers can learn certain things--about craft--that make them much better at what they do. Yes, it can be honed, developed.
Michelle Mefusula: And despite what I've said about MFA programs here, I have had the opportunity to watch my students grow and develop. But I've also seen them be discouraged by too much workshopping.
Irisgrl Saphir: That's where low-res is handy---more focus
Irisgrl Saphir: But you gotta want to tell a story......
Alas Zerbino: Yes, the desire to write -- that's essential -- otherwise why go through the pain?
Irisgrl Saphir: The desire to have written is big, too!
Michelle Mefusula: Ah, yes, the pain. The desire to have written--can you elaborate?
Irisgrl Saphir: Having a story and wanting to see it between hard covers, especially when it's not coming out well . . . ahhh

Michelle Mefusula: Is JMB still here?
Irisgrl Saphir: Left about 15 minutes ago, did JMB
Alas Zerbino: JMB seems to have left.
Alas Zerbino: (People come and go much more readily here than in first life.)
Michelle Mefusula: Coming and going more readily...ha!
Irisgrl Saphir: Like the Muse--who comes and goes a lot!
Alas Zerbino: LOL!!
Michelle Mefusula: Ah, yes, that muse does come and go!
Michelle Mefusula: Oh, I just found JMB's blog post about The Year of Fog. She did a very thoughtful write-up and links to another writer's website that focuses on missing persons, very interesting:
Alas Zerbino: Thanks for getting that, Michelle!

Michelle Mefusula: With low-res you get more one-on-one with the instructor, I think. In a traditional MFA program, a huge volume of the feedback you get is from your classmates--which can be very helpful, but sometimes all the different voices are daunting and confusing.
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Workshopping is the biggest source of complaints & disillusionment from friends who've done an MFA. Do you think there are better ways to get feedback?
Michelle Mefusula: I think perhaps the best way to get feedback is to form a group of three or four writers who also happen to be excellent and avid readers. People who are really concerned with helping each other become better writers. Workshops are often just so big, and the people who talk the most are not necessarily the ones who are the most helpful.
Irisgrl Saphir: QUESTION: Are the workshops required or can you skip some?
Michelle Mefusula: Usually you're required to do a workshop per semester. Frequently the final semester has "Thesis hours" instead of a workshop.

Most Useful Writing Advice
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: What's the most useful piece of writing advice you can give to writers (other than "just write")?
Michelle Mefusula: Useful writing advice: Read widely and ecclectically. Some of my best passages have come about when I was just sitting reading a book and was suddenly inspired. For that, it's good to have a notebook in hand when your're writing. And reread! I have some books that I go back to over and over again. Do any of you have those books that speak to you in multiple readings?
Alas Zerbino: Yes, there are several I've re-read -- both for clues and for enjoyment.

Michelle Mefusula: My other writing advice: Know when to let a story go. Not every story is going to work out. Before I wrote No One You Know, I was three hundred pages into a novel that I just couldn't get a handle on. I finally abandoned it, and when I did so, the new novel just sort of came pouring out. I was liberated! So liberate yourself from failed stories.
Alas Zerbino: Great advice!!

Irisgrl Saphir: Thanks for coming, Michelle; I can't wait to read your work!
Michelle Mefusula: Thank you all! I can't believe the hour is over. This has been so much fun, I'm going to have to become a regular SLr now.
Alas Zerbino: That's super, Michelle!
Alas Zerbino: Thank you so VERY much for coming here!!
Michelle Mefusula: A book for all of you to read: The Death of a Beekeeper by Lars Gustafsson. I read it every year. It's amazing and inspiring.

Chepooka Laval: Michelle this was so great! I can't wait to read your work.
Chepooka Laval: I have subscribed to your blog as well
Michelle Mefusula: Thanks for subscribing to my blog, Chepooka! I frequently post writing exercises on my blog--just see the WRITING EXERCISE category if you're interested.

Alas Zerbino: You've given us so much information and advice -- and support!
Alas Zerbino: Chepooka, I'm halfway through No One You Know and can hardly put it down.
Michelle Mefusula: Alas, thank you for reading No One You Know, and thank you for the kind words!
Alas Zerbino: You've been wonderful Michelle!
Irisgrl Saphir: You sure have!
Irisgrl Saphir: Bye!

Michelle Mefusula: I've kind of grown fond of this dress and hate to take it off. Speaking of taking it off, last night as I was trying to figure out SL, I accidentally removed my shirt and couldn't figure out how to get it back on. I was afraid I'd have to appear topless.
Alas Zerbino: LOL! When you find yourself without a piece of clothing, open your inventory (lower right side), open the Clothing folder, find a shirt, right-click onit and choose "wear"
Michelle Mefusula: That's nice to know about the clothing. But now that you've informed me, I have no excuse for wandering around naked, which might have been kind of fun...something I'd never ever do in real life.

Alas Zerbino: Thanks to everyone for making this a great meeting, and I'll let you know when the transcript goes up.
Michelle Mefusula: Thanks Alas, Irisgrl, Chepooka, and everyone for your wonderful questions. This has been such a delight!
Alas Zerbino: Come back again!
Chepooka Laval: Absolutely Michelle!
Michelle Mefusula: Over and out, and I hope to run into you again soon.
Irisgrl Saphir: See you again!
Alas Zerbino: Perhaps you'd come in sometime for a voice reading
Michelle Mefusula: Would love to. Bye!

* * * * *
Editor's Note: Based on reader feedback, I've made some changes to how I post these transcripts. The words of each avatar are the same, but I've rearranged the comments a bit so Michelle's answers fall immediately after the questions they pertain to. Also, I've deleted the date/time stamps and some of the introductory logistics at the start of the meeting. I hope this makes the transcript easier to read if you weren't able to attend the event itself. Please add a comment to this post to let me if these changes work for you. Thanks! ~Alas Zerbino

Friday, August 15, 2008

Crime Thriller Novelist Michelle Gagnon to Join Athena Isle Writers Meeting Aug. 20 in Second Life

Michelle Gagnon, author of the thrillers The Tunnels and Boneyard (just out), will join the Athena Isle Writers round-table discussion on Wednesday, Aug. 20, at 12 p.m. SLT (i.e., Pacific time), at the Story Mountain Center for Writers in Second Life.

Michelle Gagnon at Athena Isle WritersMichelle is a former modern dancer, dog walker, bartender, freelance journalist, personal trainer, model, and Russian supper club performer. To the delight of her parents, she eventually gave up all these jobs for an infinitely more stable and lucrative position as a crime fiction writer.

Her debut thriller The Tunnels was published in the United States and Australia, and was an IMBA bestseller. Described as "Silence of the Lambs meets The Wicker Man," the story involves a series of ritualized murders in the abandoned tunnel system beneath a university.

The second book in the series, Boneyard, depicts a cat-and-mouse game between dueling serial killers in the Berkshires.

"I defy anyone to read the first chapter of Boneyard and put the book down. Pure reading pleasure—creepy, terrifying, and utterly believable," says New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston.

Michelle is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers.

In her spare time she runs errands and indulges a weakness for stale cinema popcorn and Hollywood blockbusters. Hopelessly addicted to Scrabulous, she's seriously considering a twelve-step program. She lives in San Francisco with her family.

Everyone – writers and readers – are invited to come meet Michelle Gagnon on Wednesday, Aug. 20, at 12 noon SLT at the Story Mountain Center for Writers on Athena Isle. The meeting is free!

Monday, August 11, 2008

NY Times Best-Selling Novelist Michelle Richmond to Join Aug. 13 Athena Isle Writers Round-table Discussion

No One You Know by Michelle RichmondJoin in a round-table discussion with best-selling and award-winning novelist Michelle Richmond at the August 13 Athena Isle Writers meeting in Second Life. The one-hour meeting begins at 12 p.m. SLT at the Story Mountain Center for Writers on Athena Isle.

Michelle is the author of the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle best-seller The Year of Fog, which was one of Library Journal’sBest Books of 2007,” a Kirkus Reviews top pick for reading groups, a Washington PostA-List” selection, and a San Francisco ChronicleNotable Book.”

The Year of Fog has been translated into nine languages and is currently in development with Newmarket Films.

Michelle’s third novel, No One You Know, is just out from Delacorte. In addition to The Year of Fog, her previous books are the award-winning story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, and the novel Dream of the Blue Room, which was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award.

Her stories and essays have appeared in Glimmer Train, Playboy, Oxford American, The Believer, Salon, The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2006 Mississippi Review Fiction Prize and the 2000 Associated Writing Programs Award, and has received fellowships from the Millay Colony, the Saltonstall Foundation, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, among others.

Michelle holds an MFA from the University of Miami, where she was a James Michener Fellow, and teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at California College of the Arts. She has also taught in the MFA programs of the University of San Francisco, St. Mary’s College of Moraga, and Bowling Green State University.

A native of Mobile, Alabama, Michelle lives with her husband and son in San Francisco. She is the founding editor of the literary journal Fiction Attic, and she serves on the advisory board of the Christopher Isherwood Foundation.

Come meet and discuss writing with Michelle Richmond on Wednesday, August 13, at 12 noon SLT, in an intimate round-table meeting at the Story Mountain Center for Writers on Athena Isle (SLURL).

The meeting is free and open, everyone is invited to attend.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Writing Wisdom & Advice of Vampire Huntress Author Leslie Banks: Transcript of Athena Isle Writers 7/30/08 Meeting

Best-selling paranormal/women's fiction/crime-suspense novelist Leslie Banks made a guest appearance in Second Life at the July 30 Athena Isle Writers meeting. She offered advice about writing and publishing with great warmth and supportive energy to the other writers attending. Following is the transcript of the meeting.

Novelist Leslie Banks reclines on the couch as Athena Isle Writers gather around the table, preparing for a Q&A session with the Vampire Huntress author.

Alas Zerbino: We'll all sit around the table by the fireplace, under the poster for Leslie.
Alas Zerbino: You can take a seat at the table by right-clicking on an empty chair and then choosing “Sit Here.” Another empty chair will automatically appear then.
BanksVamp Magic: Am I in the right grouping of chairs?
LOL... the VampHuntress just tried flying--that is so funny!
Alas Zerbino: Yes, Spellbound.
Sheryl Skytower: or we can all just grovel at her feet... :)
Spellbound Jorysch: haha
Misia Tigerpaw: Hehe
Alas Zerbino: LOL - very true!
Spellbound Jorysch: I can do that
Alas Zerbino: :)
Spellbound Jorysch: haha
BanksVamp Magic: BIG SMILE--this is really, really an awesome site!
Alas Zerbino: Yeah, I love it here!
Spellbound Jorysch: It's a cool place
Spellbound Jorysch: :)
Alas Zerbino: When anyone sits in that chair, another will rez
Spellbound Jorysch: ok?
Misia Tigerpaw: How cool :-)
Alas Zerbino: yeah, I call it my magic table!
Spellbound Jorysch: that is so cool
Sheryl Skytower: now if I could only do that in RL...
Spellbound Jorysch: haha
Misia Tigerpaw: lol too true
Alas Zerbino: wouldn't that be nice????!!!
Spellbound Jorysch: yes now THAT would be cool
Spellbound Jorysch: does it start at 12pm
Alas Zerbino: Yes, it does, and we should get started.
BanksVamp Magic: Yep... ready for questions whenever you guys are :)
Alas Zerbino: OK, then, I'll do my little spiel....
Spellbound Jorysch: ok

Alas Zerbino: Welcome to this Athena Isle Writers meeting at the Story Mountain Center for Writers on Athena Isle.
Alas Zerbino: OK, I’m thrilled now to introduce our guest today.
Leslie Banks began writing novels in the 90s, after leaving her high-powered business career to take care of her daughter. Interesting that a fiction contest by Essence magazine prompted her to write her first book, and this year, more than a dozen years later, she was named Storyteller of the Year at Essence’s First Annual Literary Awards event.

She has written more than 30 novels and contributed to 10 novellas, in multiple genres under various renderings of her full name, Leslie Esdaile Banks. She’s particularly beloved by her readers for her popular Vampire Huntress Legends series of 12 books, of which the last two are yet to be published. She’s also published other paranormal novels, women’s fiction, crime/suspense novels, and novelizations of movies and TV series – among many others.

She is appearing in Second Life as the avatar BanksVamp Magic. Welcome to Athena Isle Writers, Leslie! Please add whatever you wish to introduce yourself.

Alas Zerbino: BanksVamp, anything you want to say to begin -- before the questions start? :)
Photobucket BanksVamp Magic: BIG HUG to you and all... I'm honored to be here and love the avatar, BIG SMILE. The intro said more than enough--how's everyone?
Spellbound Jorysch: Hi
Storm Parx: great
Alas Zerbino: We're so delighted you're here!
Misia Tigerpaw: Great! and yourself? :-)
Spellbound Jorysch: how great to meet you
Misia Tigerpaw: Indeed

Misia Tigerpaw: QUESTION: How did you obtain a love for paranormals?
BanksVamp Magic: This is a fabulous group--are you writers, readers, or a combo of both? I ask because we can get into writing topics or book content stuff, whatever you all would like.
Spellbound Jorysch: I am a writer
Storm Parx: both
Misia Tigerpaw: Writer and reader yup
Sheryl Skytower: writer/reader
Alas Zerbino: I think the focus should be on writers -- that's what we primarily come here for.
Alas Zerbino: yes -- and readers, too!!

Paranormal was "normal" in Banks' life
BanksVamp Magic: Ah... the paranormal was sorta "normal" in my life. Grew up with old wives tales, superstitions about stuff--culturally it was a norm, LOL... then I LOVED every chiller flick out there, especially the B movies with killer tomatoes and ants, LOL!
Misia Tigerpaw: Lol awesome
Alas Zerbino: Jump in any time with comments or questions - anyone - just preface questions with QUESTION!

Sheryl Skytower:
QUESTION: do you see the market shrinking for paranormals with so much stuff out there? And where do you find such great ideas to write about and be fresh and original?
Alas Zerbino: BanksVamp, feel free to break the questions down and share as much as you want!
Alas Zerbino: We're here to learn from you!
BanksVamp Magic: I actually stumbled into the genre. When I wrote the piece that was going to be my short story contest entry, it was about star crossed lovers who'd died under a curse 500 years ago, reincarnated, and didn't know each other in the present--then began sharing the same dream as bad guys hunted them (protecting each other unwittingly.) This became a novel, the first one... from there, the rest is history--once you're pegged.
BanksVamp Magic: I don't see the market drying up in the least--there is a feeding frenzy going on right now for this genre, and I think it'll morph into other areas, just like romance did... paranormal romance, para suspence, para mystery, etc.
Spellbound Jorysch: No, I agree, there is a thirst for the paranormal

Spellbound Jorysch: QUESTION: I write and have had published 3 pieces of non fiction and am half way through my first non fiction. How do you find your inspiration?
BanksVamp Magic: Inspiration for the paranormal (herein after PN for short, smile) comes from the world news. OMG! What is on the news reads like sci-fi and horror daily... woman cuts baby out of another woman's stomach... need I say more? :)
Spellbound Jorysch: haha, that answers it
Sheryl Skytower: eep! no snacks, please!
Alas Zerbino: Hi Leslye, come on in and a seat

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Some descriptions make it sound like you “turned” to writing out of a need to put food on the table. But given the quality of your writing, I’m assuming there are other reasons why you write. True?
BanksVamp Magic: Yes, yes, so true Alas... need sent me in the direction of a latent talent. Let me be clear--I LOVE TO WRITE. It was never fully supported at home or as a kid, so it was my secret thing--I wrote stories in my head, never committed anything to paper--then when the need arose, the floodgates opened. Go figure :)

Which comes first: agent or sale?
Storm Parx: QUESTION: What was your secret to finding an agent?
BanksVamp Magic: The agent thing happened after I got a few solid books under my belt. Oddly, when I entered the market, there wasn't a thing called PN romance, so they shelved me in romance since sci-fi still had very clear lines of demarcation. Nobody wanted to rep a new romance writer... so I had to rep myself. Once the numbers started showing promise, then I literally went to conferences and found one there (RWA)
Spellbound Jorysch: That is so interesting

Sheryl Skytower: QUESTION:so do you like being categorized or would you place yourself in any one genre?
BanksVamp Magic: While we all hate to be categorized, it's a reality of marketing and shelving at the bookstores. If I have to be shelved anywhere, my truest love is Paranormal... if they leave me there, I can express the creativity any way I want--smile... and that's cool.
Alas Zerbino: That's really cool -- that latent talent showing up.
BanksVamp Magic: Yep... and this is why I tell the new writer, don't be so hard on yourself. You've been using your writing talent for YEARS and didn't know it--every time you observe something, each conversation you rewrite in your head (you know those we all have--the "I should have said THIS not THAT!" conversation), you've been writing.
Alas Zerbino: Very true!

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: So before you had an agent, you went directly to the publishers?
Spellbound Jorysch: QUESTION: Nowadays, isn't it true that most publishers don't entertain any work without an agent on the scene?
BanksVamp Magic: Yes, I went direct to the publishers--and the best forums for that is going to the conferences and signing up for the pitch sessions... believe it or not, publishers really do scout for work and new talent at those events. RWA, RT, I know for sure have great sessions like that--and ALL the majors turn out to those conferences.
Spellbound Jorysch: In the UK, most publishers won't look at you unless you are represented
Spellbound Jorysch: The US is prolly different
Alas Zerbino: Yes, Spellbound, but some say you need a sale to get an agent, and others say you need an agent to get a's all case-based, I guess
BanksVamp Magic: Not all true, Spellbound... like I said, it is genre specific--but I know St. Martins and Tor don't require one, and they do major work in the sci-fi fantasy world, same with Kensington (they do Brandon Massey, Jonathan Mayberry)... so there are still open doors.
Leslye Writer: US from what I read says the following: To get an agent you need to be published and to be published you need an agent.
Spellbound Jorysch: That is interesting Leslye, I will take that on board
Alas Zerbino: LOL That's sometimes the vicious cycle I hear about!
BanksVamp Magic: True Leslye--BIG SMILE! Here's the thing... I would send in my manuscript to those houses that allow open submissions. Once you get a contract, shove that under an agent's nose--wait to sign it. That's what I did. I sold my first book, it was a two book deal... then went to an agent (who was at the same conference) and told her I had a sale. When the contracts came, I faxed them to her--instantly, LOL, I had an agent!
Spellbound Jorysch: haha, I might try that
Spellbound Jorysch: sounds good to me
Alas Zerbino: LOL Smart thinking!


Sheryl Skytower: QUESTION; how do you keep all your series and characters clear? do you have a master file of papers pinned up on a wall the size of Manhattan? :)
Alas Zerbino: / good question, Sheryl -- I was wondering that myself!
Spellbound Jorysch: me too :)
Alas Zerbino: and related to that one, QUESTION: How do you manage to be so *prolific*? :)
BanksVamp Magic: OMG! Yes! I have a white board and papers up on the wall with post-it notes and color pen sketches EVERYWHERE--my office looks like a mad scientist's lab... if it were equations, I could land the space shuttle, ha ha ha!
Sheryl Skytower: :D
Alas Zerbino: Hi Misia, welcome and have a seat

Spellbound Jorysch: QUESTION: I have an agent but she is way too nit picky, is this normal?
BanksVamp Magic: Your agent works for you--but she is trying to get the work saleable... if that is uncomfortable, tell her so--and tell her to send the damned book out, LOL! Seriously... they can jack with your work so much till you're feeling defeated, time is marching on, and there's no sale--only to get really mad and pissed off when it does go to a house and the EDITOR changes it to the way SHE/HE wants it. There's no reason an agent needs to be an editor. She's in the wrong profession trying to do that :)
Leslye Writer: interesting. wow
Spellbound Jorysch: I'm pleased you said that Banks because that's exactly how I
Alas Zerbino: Misia, jump in with a question any time -- I just ask that you type QUESTION before it so I can keep track.
Misia Tigerpaw: Okay :-)
Alas Zerbino: (and so Leslie can keep track, too, though it sounds like her organizational skills are extremely developed!!)
Misia Tigerpaw: :-D

How she "churns" out six books a year!
Sheryl Skytower: QUESTION: do you have a routine, or just write when it "takes" you... or is it a case of Butt In Chair?
BanksVamp Magic: Oh, no, you can't churn 6 books a year writing as you "feel" like it. I club and wrestle my Muse to the ground daily--I keep an office routine... coffee and kid out the door... 8am, clear email till 10am, then edit the previous day's drivel, LOL, make it right (my day editor is the butcher), I put in 8-12 hours a day, 5 days a week--7 when on deadline.
Spellbound Jorysch: I understand that
Alas Zerbino: Wow!!
Spellbound Jorysch: I have been there last year.
Spellbound Jorysch: But 6 books a year......WOW
Alas Zerbino: I know -- one book in 6 years is a lot for *some* of us (which is probably why our careers are so sluggish...ha-ha)
BanksVamp Magic: Yeah, crazy, LOL--my hair should be white, LOL! 2 vampire novels, 2 werewolf novels, a romance and usually 3 anthologies (which equal a book all total)... insane :)
BanksVamp Magic: Oh, no, one book a year is reasonable--this is crazy... you guys are not sluggish career-wise. Better to get it down pat before you mass produce it, than to mass produce junk. It took 10 years to build the muscle to do this now, in the early days it was a book a year or less... truth.
Alas Zerbino: Ahh, that sounds more doable...
Spellbound Jorysch: I don't feel so bad now :-D
Misia Tigerpaw: I can tackle that now yeah hehe

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: If you weren't *born* with that kind of energy, what can a writer do to stay on task like that?
BanksVamp Magic: Energy-wise, it's like exercising--you don't jump up and run a marathon without passing out or killing yourself (smile.) Just try to set a consistent 2 hours a day aside to do nothing but write. That can be researching for the project, editing what you wrote earlier, or new prose, but make that time yours for your craft--then watch how it gets good to you and creeps into being 3 hours... then 4 hours... then 5 -- smile. It's a habit, or an addiction -- LOL!
Alas Zerbino: LOL -- that's so true!
Spellbound Jorysch: It's an addiction for me lol]

Spellbound Jorysch: QUESTION: Have you ever co- written a book? I have been asked to co -write a book for America with an established author
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: You mention your daughter often – what role does she play in your writing career?
BanksVamp Magic: Quick 2 answers... I have co-written books--early years worked with a big name romance writer, and because we were and are buds, it was a hoot... but we wasted a lot of time playing, shopping, jawing about other stuff and had to really make ourselves focus--the hardest thing is if styles and mindsets don't blend. then it can be like a really bad marriage--ugh! But when it's sweet, it's really good :)
BanksVamp Magic: Now, the daughter... she runs for pizza, answers the phones, and keeps the wolves away from the door (family interrupters, ha ha ha), and collects mail--when I'm head's down writing, I forget to sleep, eat, and pay bills--she tells me, Mom, pay the electric bill so your tube doesn't shut down. LOL!
Spellbound Jorysch: Thank you for that. I am wondering whether it is the right thing to do and the marriage may not be as good as I initially thought. I know exactly what you mean
Spellbound Jorysch: :)
BanksVamp Magic: Choosing an agent, getting the right editor, and choosing a writing partner is no diff than a real marriage--seriously. If your values are different, outlooks on life don't jive, belief systems don't mesh, all of that intangible stuff, you will have issues with those folks. It also takes time, just like dating, to find that soul-mate agent, that special editor, and that ideal co-writer... so be gentle on yourself while you're looking.
Misia Tigerpaw: Lol I love that
Leslye Writer: I feel so much energy from you BVM, even in this conversation! I am so impressed!
Spellbound Jorysch: you are obviously very dedicated :)
Alas Zerbino: so do I!
Spellbound Jorysch: what a wonderful evening
Alas Zerbino: That makes a lot of sense.
BanksVamp Magic: BIG HUG, Leslye
Spellbound Jorysch: I have had seven years of difficulties finding the right marriage on all accounts. :0

PhotobucketSheryl Skytower: QUESTION; do you think that proper education, such as a MFA, helps writing or is it more a skill you have to cultivate on your own outside of the "higher institutions of learning"?
BanksVamp Magic: Special Forces training would help more than an MFA, LOL--seriously--life experience is what hones you, and conference workshops are more to the point than grad school. Here's the thing--it's a business and time to market is everything. Show then you are a Marine and can get more done by 5am than the normal person, they'll hire you to write their books, flaws and all--because those can be fixed--what cannot be fixed is a non-deliverable. They look at your baby (the book) as a product :)
Spellbound Jorysch: nods

Spellbound Jorysch: QUESTION: When you write do you have off days....writers block and all?
BanksVamp Magic: I have off days where I get stuck--and that's writer's block--when you are stuck... the only cure I've found is research... generally when you're stuck it's because you ran into something you didn't expect or don't have the answer for, so you don't know where to go next. Stop, drop, and roll, lol -- go back to research for a day or so and find out the answer to what's sticking in your craw. Yeah, we're all human and all have those days :) Uh huh!
Leslye Writer: Is this being logged or put somewhere so we can have access to it, this conversation?
Spellbound Jorysch: thanks you Banks :) making me feel better
BanksVamp Magic: HUGGGSSSS!
Spellbound Jorysch: you can copy and paste it Leslye
Misia Tigerpaw: Oh good question. I was wondering that as well. Would love a copy. (i got booted earlier and missed some of it)
Spellbound Jorysch: can you? not illegal?
Spellbound Jorysch: lol
Alas Zerbino: Yes, Leslye, I always put up the transcript on the Athena Isle Writers blog: a few days after
Spellbound Jorysch: ah there you go
Misia Tigerpaw: Great! Thanx :-D
BanksVamp Magic: LOL--writers--ah the copyright clause--BIG SMILE!
Spellbound Jorysch: HAHA
Alas Zerbino: This time doesn't work for some people, so they can only "attend" these meetings via the transcript on the blog.
Misia Tigerpaw: LOL
Leslye Writer is very encouraged by the energy and the quickness and the positive-ness of this meeting. It is like being cheer led. Thank you BVM.
Alas Zerbino: so true about that copyright concern! :)
BanksVamp Magic: I know things were scrolling fast--did I get everyone's question? Don't wanna miss anyone -- BIG HUG!
Spellbound Jorysch: omg....people are going to read what I write???????
Misia Tigerpaw: I agree this is awesome :-D

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Why did you start writing the Soul Food TV Series novels? (and other novelizations)
BanksVamp Magic: At the time, had a break in the action, and had (then) 4 kids that needed shoes, LOL!
Alas Zerbino: LOL Supporting the kids is always a great motivation, isn't it?
BanksVamp Magic: LOL--yes, the things we do for the kids---but heck yeah... if you can do novelizations and get into that end of the business, for sure. Many people have built steady careers doing just that.
Alas Zerbino: I thought so.

Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Would you recommend that as a way to get into publishing?
BanksVamp Magic: No, seriously (and yes, seriously) -- I love the silver screen... always wanted to do a film and TV series... one day. There wasn't a spot for me to do that just yet, but my agent is a crazy man and told me to backward engineer the stories for the opportunity that presented itself. There an MFA did help from being about to interpret visual data into narrative... the Scarface one was the most challenging.
Alas Zerbino: I can sure understand why!

Sheryl Skytower: QUESTION: any movie deals on the horizon???
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: So your agent looks at all possible opportunities for you?
BanksVamp Magic: Yes, my agent has no shame, LOL! If there's an opening to write sandwich boards, he'll pitch it to me, LOL!
Spellbound Jorysch: haha

Misia Tigerpaw: QUESTION: How did you get your agent, if I may ask? (I hope this wasn't answered but if it is I'll check the log later lol. Thanx!)
Alas Zerbino: LOL
Misia Tigerpaw: Lol
Alas Zerbino: (I don't know if she has more to say on that Misia, but she did address it earlier, so it'll be in the transcript.)
BanksVamp Magic: The current one I have came from a recommendation through another writer buddy. the first could I had happened from conference connections and on the spot hook-ups and networking... then they sold a few of my books, we did the dance, the marriages didn't work, and I bailed--smile. Then I met Manie Barron, who was actually a sales rep for Random House and had worked in all aspects of publishing, was an editor at one time, et al, and he was enroute to William Morris and just building his stable of authors there. timing, the cosmos--like I said, half of this stuff does boil down to timing.
Alas Zerbino: Well our hour is almost up -- it went so fast!!! You've been so awesome, BanksVamp

Second Life is "awesome community" for writers
Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: What do you think of Second Life so far, and how it can support writers?
Sheryl Skytower: *applause* y'all come back now, please?
BanksVamp Magic: BIG BIG HUG right back at you--I think Second Life is an awesome community! This was an absolute pleasure! I think links to author info, posting conferences, any of that helps writers. Also, SFWA and NWU has some good tips on agents. THANK YOU for having me and I'd be honored to return! Much Love!!!
Alas Zerbino: That would be super!!
Spellbound Jorysch: ah, well we are honoured to have you :)
Spellbound Jorysch: thank you so much for giving us your time and wonderful insight
Alas Zerbino: I hope you'll come back to SL -- and to Story Mountain!!
Leslye Writer: Thanks to all of you for making this happen
Alas Zerbino: Yes, what a great group of writers!
Spellbound Jorysch: a big thanks to you also Alas

BanksVamp Magic: Thank you all sooo much--we'll set it up and I'd love to come back soon... take care! Have a wonderful rest of the day, folks! :)
Alas Zerbino: Thank you, Spellbound!
Sheryl Skytower: best of the day to everyone!! and keep writing!!!
Misia Tigerpaw: Thanks so much for having this meeting and a big thanks to Ms Banks for coming to SL :-D
Alas Zerbino: BanksVamp, you've really made the week special!
Spellbound Jorysch: yes you certainly did
BanksVamp Magic: Thanks, all! Good luck on the writing! Keep the faith, ok!
Sheryl Skytower: now someone take her to the vampires! :)
Misia Tigerpaw: Lol
Alas Zerbino: We'd love to have you come back and maybe do a reading and do a voice event.
Alas Zerbino: LOL, Sheryl
Misia Tigerpaw: That'd be awesome :-D
BanksVamp Magic: Kewel! YEAH! OK! BIG SMILE!
Alas Zerbino: YAY!!!!!
Spellbound Jorysch: YAY!!!!
Spellbound Jorysch: APPLAUSE
Misia Tigerpaw: Wooo!