Today I'm interviewing a special guest - author and artist, Mary Carroll Moore. I met Mary at my first writing workshop that Mary presented in 1994. It was then and there that I became inspired to take myself seriously as a writer. I've been a fan of Mary ever since. Mary is as gracious as they come and it has been an honor and a privilege to interview her.
Lynn: You have an extensive writing career from being a nationally syndicated columnist to publishing over 12 books—your most recent nonfiction, Your Book Starts Here: Create, Craft, and Sell Your First Novel, Memoir, or Nonfiction Book and your fiction novel, Qualities of Light. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and how did you get started?
Mary: I always loved writing but never dreamed I’d build a career from it. It started after my final undergraduate year. I lived in Paris, studying French and taking cooking lessons. When I returned to the States, the local community college asked me to teach French cooking classes using healthy ingredients. Next, a regional magazine heard about the classes. I began writing a monthly food column which led to opening a cooking school in the San Francisco Bay Area. The school was reviewed in USA Today. A cookbook publisher contracted with me to write a book, which won a national book award, and so my career as a writer was launched. For twelve years I wrote a weekly column on healthy cooking. Eventually the column was bought by the Los Angeles Times syndicate and syndicated to 86 newspapers around the U.S..
I wrote and co-wrote a number of books on diet and health, worked on a medical team studying heart disease, and learned a lot about the publishing industry and how books were crafted. Eventually I published two books that were memoir/self-help hybrids, a novel, and a book on how to write a book.
Lynn: What has been the most fulfilling in your career as a writer?
Mary: Receiving letters from readers whose lives were changed in some way by my books.
My three most successful books in that regard have been How to Master Change in Your Life, Qualities of Light, and Your Book Starts Here. Three different genres, and very different readerships, but I have file folders of letters and emails that came from each. I share my own story, my characters’ stories, in an effort to bring light into the world, so it’s wonderful when the writing touches someone.
Lynn: Not only do you write, but you’re an artist as well. You teach, edit, coach, and probably something else I haven’t named. How do you balance it all especially now with all the social media? Do you stick to a schedule or what is your routine like? How much emphasis do you put on social media? What’s your secret with discipline in juggling all that you do?
Mary: My writing and art are very seasonal. I tend to write in winter and paint in summer (I paint outdoors as well as in my studio). The writing works with the language part of the brain, and the painting with the wordless part, so they complement each other. When I am stuck for words, I often go to the easel and paint for an hour or so until the ideas begin to flow--the creative well is filled again.
I tend to write in the early morning, fresh from sleep, before my family is up and my teaching day begins. Ideas are clearer then. I also like to take a break from the writing when I am in full flow—rather than when I feel stuck—so I feel the pull to come back to it and finish the scene. Stopping when I’m stuck usually just makes me stay stuck longer.
Lynn: Which do you find easier to write, fiction or nonfiction? And why?
Mary: Nonfiction is easier for me, since it’s very logical and I can work from an overall plan which often stays intact during the development process. I also have years of experience and training as a journalist. Fiction is a completely different language. It demands a lot of letting go, of listening and following very thin threads that become a good scene or chapter. I work much harder with my fiction.
Lynn: As a writer, what do you struggle with the most?
Mary: The overwhelm of a book, when it is drafted and in revision. I use lists and charts to help me keep the overview when I am lost in the words.
Lynn: Is there anything you wish you could “do over” in your writing career? Is there some hindsight that would help others avoid the same issue?
Mary: I wish I had known earlier about writing in “islands” (unconnected scenes and snippets that are later threaded together) versus writing with an outline. We’re trained in school to use outlines, but they are left-brain creatures and do not allow the random images of the right brain. I also wish I’d learned storyboarding early on. Luckily, the editors I worked with at my first publishers’ were trained in this and helped teach me. Writing in islands and using storyboards are two techniques I teach in my workshops and online classes. They have saved many writers many years of struggle.
Lynn: I know this is a question frequently asked of professionals, but I always find it interesting. What’s the number one advice you can give to a writer?
Mary: Get good help early on; don’t believe you can go it alone, especially if you’re a first-time author. You need to know the basic guidelines of how books are structured. Then, in the later stages, get good support to keep going—a writing partner, writing group, mentor, online class. It’s impossible to do this solo, despite the myths we hear about great writers from the past. Most of them had mentors and companions for the journey.
Lynn: And for fun, if you could ask yourself a question, what would it be? And how would you answer it?
Mary: I have a list of questions that I keep adding to. They are about my current novel-in-progress. My question is: What is the prevalent image in this story, that ties all three characters’ lives together? I don’t have an answer yet, but I’ll keep you posted!
Mary, I want to thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview.
Mary Carroll Moore Bio
Mary Carroll Moore is a writing coach and teacher, book doctor for major publishing houses, the award-winning author of thirteen books in three genres, and a former nationally syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and other newspapers. Her latest book, Your Book Starts Here: Create, Craft, and Sell Your First Novel, Memoir, or Nonfiction Book, won the People’s Choice award in the 2011 New Hampshire Literary Awards and her novel, Qualities of Light, was nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award. Over 200 of her articles, essays, short stories, and poetry have appeared in publications such as American Health, Boston Globe, American Artist, and View from the Loft and her short stories have won awards in national fiction contests with Glimmer Train Press, Santa Fe Writers, and other publications. “Breathing Room,” a chapter of her second novel (forthcoming), was a finalist in the 2001 Loft Mentor Series Awards and won an honorable mention in the 2005 McKnight Awards for creative prose.
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