Hello and welcome to my blog for another round of Meet the Author! Today I am featuring a fantastic author who has graciously agreed to do an interview and share some fun facts about herself. Don’t you just love getting to know your favorite authors? I know I do! So, without further ado please join me in welcoming author, M.S. Spencer!
1) What is the first book that made you cry?
Captain Appleby’s Ghost—no, I mean it. I cried when it ended. And of course I cried at Wuthering Heights (they should have a tissue pocket in the end-papers)—though at the age when you usually read Bronte you’ll cry at anything.
2) Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Each of my eleven books are stand-alone novels. People have asked me why I don’t do a series, but I have so many stories sloshing around in my head that it would be frustrating to be restricted to one setting or one set of characters. A series that highlights a different character each time can be very interesting, but I just don’t have the patience. I do however, love to throw in references to earlier stories when possible. You have to be careful not to give away the ending though!
3) How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Technology hasn’t changed all that much since my first book was published in 2009. I have learned with each new book to write a running detailed synopsis so I can check for consistencies in the plot, and a running timeline so I don’t end up with the characters going to work on a Sunday (or swimming in December). I have always edited a gazillion times—each time memorizing a little more of the story so that each run-through I can detect anomalies or repetitive words.
4) What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I lived abroad for many years off and on from the time I was four years old. I have studied several other languages, each with its own structure and idiosyncracies. Then I was fortunate enough to go to grad school in social anthropology, which includes an examination of the interdependency of language and culture. Language is an incredibly powerful tool, which can be used to reflect the beliefs of a group or to sway them. Even today, the “memes” created by the media or interest groups can divert people into channels they would not have otherwise traveled—think calling someone “racist” or “sexist” when they disagree with you. What happens to the conversation when one person uses those terms? They color the discourse without advancing the dialogue. On the other hand, a powerful speech (Lincoln’s Gettysburg address? Washington’s farewell address? Mark Antony’s eulogy of Julius Caesar?) can refocus listeners on the real issue. Every word you choose is essential to ensuring your meaning is clear to the reader. Even if that word isn’t a common one—if it conveys exactly what you want to say, use it.
5) What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Actually, from early childhood I’ve concentrated on “classics”—the idea being that if it’s a classic it’s probably pretty good (I know this is heresy to people who make jokes about school reading lists). I tried a lot of the modern angst books (Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, William Kennedy) and found them seriously wanting in the “sympathy for the human condition” department. Of works read not often enough I’d include The Late George Apley by J. P. Marquand. Remarkable book.
6) How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I had a whole murder mystery that somehow ended up tossed during a move—interestingly enough, the victim was based on Anne Gorsuch, first female director of the EPA and mother of the current Supreme Court nominee. I have some wonderful children’s stories featuring the adventures of Edward the Fly, Lila’s Island, an allegorical tale about Noah’s Ark, and mysteries set on Chincoteague Island and in Maine. Eventually they’ll see the light of day.
7) What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I LOVE research. I’m a librarian (reference) after all. Besides actually writing the story, there’s nothing I like more than researching background on my settings. Usually a story begins with the setting, and then I continuously do research as I write the drafts. My current WIP is set on Amelia Island, one of the Sea Islands on the East Coast. I learned that it had an amazingly colorful history, which led me from there, to early American history, to Cuba, to Gullah culture, even to Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement. You pick up so much just making sure things like the gun used in the murder is appropriate, or whether a victim can ingest water after death, or how to tell when an ancient skeleton had periodontal disease. Great fun.
8) What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I never had much trouble, until this latest work-in-progress. For some unfathomable reason the hero emerged as the protagonist. Couldn’t shut the fellow up. So I finally gave up and handed him the lead. He seems okay with that, but I’m halfway through the drafts (#4) and I’m still not sure whether he’ll sound authentically male or like a female with a lot of testosterone.
9) How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
I’ve been writing since I could hold a piece of chalk, so in that sense I’ve been part-time my whole life. I wrote lots of papers during my eons as a perpetual student, and statements and speeches when I finally got a real job (you know, one where I had to wear heels and underwear). When I contracted for my first book in 2007 I concentrated on it. I’m retired now, so I can devote my full attention to writing.
10) How many hours a day do you write?
Golly, if I knew that I’d feel REALLY guilty. I usually manage three hours in the morning and maybe two in the late afternoon (usually motivated by the approaching meal or cocktail hour). Someone once said that just because a writer is staring out the window it doesn’t mean he/she isn’t working. Very true. I can’t work through plot problems or character issues without pacing or scratching or staring out the window. Can’t be done.
11) How do you select the names of your characters?
One of the both most agonizing and most fun parts of writing a novel. I have lists of names I like that I consult when I first start writing. I change them often through the first three chapters (thank God for “Find & Replace”) until the characters have settled in and are allowed to choose for themselves (remember A Thousand Clowns? Anyone?)
12) What is your favorite childhood book?
To Sweep the Spanish Main—stories of the pirates of the Caribbean. Also every single Oz book (I have a collection).
Although M. S. Spencer has lived or traveled in five of the seven continents, the last thirty years were spent mostly in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, Congressional staff assistant, speechwriter, editor, birdwatcher, kayaker, policy wonk, non-profit director, and parent. After many years in academia, she worked for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Department of the Interior, in several library systems, both public and academic, and at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
Ms. Spencer has published ten romantic suspense novels, and has two more in utero. She has two fabulous grown children and an incredible granddaughter. She divides her time between the Gulf Coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine.
Connect with M.S.:
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Thank you for joining us today! I hope you enjoyed this round of Meet the Author and will join us again next week!