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
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]