Back in October 2011, I interviewed author Anne R Allen for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the one hundred and seventy-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with mystery author Anne R Allen. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Anne. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Anne: I grew up in an academic household—both my parents were university professors of literature—so I was always surrounded by books. I pretty much wrote from the time I could hold a crayon. I used to name all the characters in my coloring books and make up stories about them. I wrote my first mystery novel when I was seven.
Morgen: Wow, you’ve got a good memory. I can’t remember much about my childhood (ooh, is that a violin I hear in the distance?). :) What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Anne: I keep coming back to mysteries. I’ve written women’s fiction, literary fiction, and romance, but somehow a dead body always appears and suddenly I’m back in whodunit-land.
Morgen: <laughs> What have you had published to-date?
Anne: I had my first book published as a serial in a California entertainment weekly—a comic mystery called COMING UP FOR AIR that ran thirty weeks—and that was exciting, but the biggest thrill came when a UK publisher accepted two of my chick lit mysteries: FOOD OF LOVE and THE BEST REVENGE and I went over to England to edit and promote them.
Morgen: Oh yay! That was dedication, it’s a long haul… but then I’m not a fan of flying. :( Can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Anne: Seeing FOOD OF LOVE on the shelf of the W. H. Smith bookshop in Gainsborough, Lincs for the first time was one of the great moments of my life.
This September FOOD OF LOVE was finally launched in the US (in a new, improved form) by Popcorn Press, a small publisher in Wisconsin. They’re going to publish THE BEST REVENGE in November.
I’ve also signed with UK publisher Mark Williams international Digital Publishing for three more books, THE GATSBY GAME, GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY, and SHERWOOD, LTD. MWiDP is handling the ebooks and Popcorn Press will publish the paper versions.
THE GATSBY GAME debuted on October 4th and GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY today October 30th. SHERWOOD LTD is due in mid-November.
Morgen: Wow that’s good going. Do send me the link for Sherwood Limited when you have it and I’ll add it to the links below. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Anne: I do a lot of the marketing (and yes, it’s exhausting to be launching five books in such a short amount of time. I’m a tad frazzled). I have a popular blog, which is why both of these publishers approached me: I had a ready-made “platform.”
Morgen: “a popular blog”… I like the sound of that. :)
Anne: Almost all my mysteries are about writing in some aspect, so my writing-blog readers will (hopefully) be interested.
Morgen: I love stories about writing… and crime (and humour) is my favourite genre… I just wish I had more time to read. I know, make time Morgen! Do you have an agent?
Anne: I’ve had four agents, but none of them could get me a book deal. But I don’t think it was their fault. My writing doesn’t fit into a neat category, and it’s funny. Humor is subjective, so it’s harder to sell, especially in the US. Americans don’t seem to like verbal humor as much as Brits. (As you’ve probably gathered I’m a confirmed Anglophile)
Morgen: I have, no complaints from me. :) And see earlier reference to my two favourite genres…
Anne: A couple of agents tried to sell my books as Chick Lit, but they’re pretty dark for that genre: more like Dorothy Parker-meets-Agatha Christie than Sophie Kinsella or Janet Evanovich. But once Chick Lit was pronounced toxic by New York publishers, I suddenly became “too chick-litty.”
Morgen: I had that at this July’s Winchester Writers’ Conference; three one-to-ones with agents and they all said chick-lit is past it and they want more crime (and historical). Do you think agents are vital to an author’s success?
Anne: Absolutely. I think having a good agent on your side is the best way to a solid career. I’m still hoping. Many agents are now saying: “go indie and get some sales, and then we’ll talk.”
Morgen: There’s hope for me yet then. :) Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process?
Anne: Yes. All five of these books will be first launched as ebooks. It’s a great way to do it, because if we get negative feedback, we can fix things before the paper version comes out.
Morgen: I love that about it, although I’m hoping that between Rachel and I we’ve spotted them all. Do you read eBooks?
Anne: This is embarrassing—I don’t have a Kindle yet.
Morgen: That’s OK, nor have I. I have a non-Kindle eReader but I’ve used it twice since I bought it (nearly a year ago) but mostly because I never travel and have so many books at home I still want to read. Most people still prefer reading a portable tree and I think while I still have books in my ‘to read’ pile I will too.
Anne: I’m kind of holding out for an iPad, but I’ll have to get some kind of e-reader soon. Reading on the computer feels like work.
Morgen: And not great for the eyes. I was debating earlier this year (just after the iPad v2 came out) between an iPad and Mac Air but went for the latter as I wanted to use it to do podcast audio interviews (which I’ve since wound down in favour of these blog ones but hey, I still love it)… plus I like having a proper keyboard. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Anne: My first acceptance was that serial for the entertainment weekly, and it was exciting, but mostly it was scary. I hadn’t even written the thing—just four sample chapters. I wrote an installment a week, incorporating things that happened in local news into the story. Yes, it was an insane thing to do. I honestly don’t know how I pulled it off.
The acceptance of FOOD OF LOVE in 2003 was one of the biggest thrills of my life, because it came with an invitation to live and work for the publisher in England. I was already half in love with one of the editors, who had an adorable Hugh Grant persona online. It was the start of an incredible adventure—which I’ve incorporated into the story of SHERWOOD, LTD.
Morgen: Oh great! Sherwood… mmm, Nottingham by any chance? :) Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Anne: Ha! I’ve had thousands. Literally. They all hurt—some more than others. You know how it is: you develop soul-calluses after a while.
Morgen: Now there's an image.
Anne: Last summer I decided to empty my old file drawer full of paper rejection letters from the pre-electronic days. I had a huge bonfire and told myself I was letting go of the rejection, so some positive energy could come into my life. And you know what? I got an acceptance from Popcorn Press only a week later. (And yes, to answer the previous question—it was an immense thrill.)
Morgen: If I burned my rejection letters I wouldn’t even warm a snail – but that’s not because I’m necessarily brilliant but that I don’t send much out. I have about 28 rejections (for short stories and novels) in case anyone reading this was wondering. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Anne: I’ve got a new mystery series in the works that will incorporate the characters from GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY, SHERWOOD, LTD and THE BEST REVENGE with some new characters. I’m going to set it in my own home town of San Luis Obispo, CA—which Oprah Winfrey recently called “the happiest town on earth.” The new book is about suddenly-homeless former billionaires. The working title is NO PLACE LIKE HOME.
Morgen: Ouch… sounds fun though, and I remember you said your work has humour. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Anne: OMG. I’ve been writing 14 hour days practically non-stop since July. Mostly blogging and promotion and endless editing. If anybody asks you if you want to edit and promote five books in three months—just run. My life is insane.
Morgen: I have 5 eBooks going up shortly but not novels (a workbook, anthology and three free shorts) so probably not as much work as you’re having. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Anne: I think writer’s block can be a mechanism that protects the brain, so if you’ve been writing long hours every day the way I have, or you’re doing NaNoWriMo, and you suddenly can’t write another word, it can be your brain sending you a warning. Scientists have recently found out that creative writing and depression use exactly the same part of the brain, so any writer with a history of depression needs to take off every so often and do something entirely different or you could be in for a bad time. When I’m blocked, which luckily doesn’t happen often, I go out and listen to music or go dancing. Or I garden or walk on the beach—anything to clear the brain and get back into my body.
Morgen: Ah, the beach… I’m so land-locked here (c.3 hours) and we get seagulls… I think they come here to taunt me. :( Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Anne: Probably. I have one book I worked on for ten years. I’m still in love with the title: THE ASHTRAYS OF AVALON. It’s some of my very best, most literary writing. But the plot never came together. I’ve published bits of it in anthologies, but it doesn’t hold together as a novel.
Morgen: I have one of those… ah, yes, the aforementioned chick-lit. Part of the rejections for those I reckon was the fact I had too many incidental characters (over 40!) so they’re being split up into a cameo-based anthology. I love almost all of them (some not even their mothers would love) which will hopefully be ready sometime in the New Year. What do you like to read?
Anne: My tastes are pretty eclectic. My favourite writer right now is probably Marian Keyes. I can get lost in one of her novels and know I’m going to be entertained by wonderful, quirky characters and charming wit. I also love the comic “Spellman” mysteries of Lisa Lutz.
Morgen: I have Marian’s ‘Under the duvet’ and ‘Further under the duvet’ anthologies… in my 300+ reading pile. :) Where can we find out about you and your work?
Anne: Read my blog, Anne R. Allen’s Blog http://annerallen.blogspot.com, which I now share with NYT bestselling author Ruth Harris, who used to work as an editor at some of the big New York publishers like Bantam and Dell. She blogs once a month with a lot of insider info. We try to entertain as well as let other writers benefit from our mistakes.
Morgen: The perfect combination I’d say… no wonder it’s popular. :) Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Anne: Yes—Thank you so very much for hosting me!
Morgen: You’re so welcome. I really enjoyed chatting with you, especially having had snippets of conversation around the electronic ether. Is there a question you’d like to ask me? :)
Anne: Yes—As I’m writing this, you’ve just posted your 162nd author interview. Do you find we all start to sound the same?
Morgen: Surprisingly not actually. Back in June when I started with a few questions and thought I’d have to vary them to get different answers. To save time I put them in a document and asked the author to pick the ones he or she wanted to answer. As time went on I added a few… then a few more and now there are 47 (I’m not nerdy enough to know off by heart – I checked :))… which is a ridiculous number (even I hadn’t realised there were that many) and I’m surprised how different the answers all are. Of course there are some that overlap (for instance Stephen King’s ‘On writing’ being the most popular writing aid) but apart from a hardy few who I know read most of them, most visitors pop by every now and then (I’m very fortunate to have an average of 150-200 a day over the site) so I think there’s enough variety to keep them interested (I read everything, and I am but then I would say that, wouldn’t I? :)). Is there an excerpt of your writing you’d like to include?
Anne: How about some of my favourite lines?
Morgen: Great! Fire away. :)
Anne: From THE GATSBY GAME:
“Punch had the kind of pansexual magnetism that comes from good bone structure and an unquestioning sense of one’s own self worth.”
From FOOD OF LOVE:
“Amaretto isn’t chocolate, but if you close your eyes and think of chocolate-covered cherries, it can be quite satisfying. Especially by the tumblerful.”
“Hollywood celebrity isn’t the celebrity of power. It’s the celebrity of the victim: the virgin about to be tossed into the volcano, the garlanded lamb being led to the altar of a blood-hungry primitive god.”
From GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY:
“The man took off his helmet. His look was something between cave person and aging rock star entering rehab. His eyebrows might have done damage in their own right. I edged away, scanning the garden for a nice rock or weapon-sized garden gnome.
Morgen: ‘chocolate-covered cherries’… yum (why do I always spot the food?). Thank you Anne. :)
Anne R. Allen is the author of five comic mysteries debuting in 2011 with two publishers: Popcorn Press and Mark Williams international Digital Publishing. She is also working on a self-help guide for writers with PAY IT FORWARD author Catherine Ryan Hyde. Anne is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and spent twenty-five years in the theater—acting and directing—before taking up fiction writing. She is the former artistic director of the Patio Playhouse in Escondido, CA and now lives on the Central Coast of California.
You can find out more about Anne and her writing from: Her blog, Anne’s author pages at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, MWiDP. US readers can also order Anne’s books in paper from Popcorn Press. Ghostwriters in the Sky is now available from Amazon.co.uk.
Update July 2012: All five of my books did come out--but only two have appeared in paper. Then Popcorn Press closed its doors during the last week in June---the same week my 6th book came out: HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE...AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY, written with Pay it Forward author, Catherine Ryan Hyde. We just finished a marathon week culminating in a huge sold-out seminar on Saturday here in SLO, and a freebie weekend on Amazon where our book went to #1 in writing guides and stayed there for its whole free period. Very nice. And Mark Williams international is taking on the Popcorn books and re-issuing them. That's great too.
Morgen: Absolutely! Congratulations. :)
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.