I'm a writer because I have stage fright.
(Please note that I am adding the addition of colored text. My questions will be in red and the artist’s answers will be in purple.)
L.N. Holmes: “Where is your hometown?”
M. Reed McCall: “I am originally from Rome, NY, which is about an hour east of Syracuse.”
L.N. Holmes: “What is your chosen artistic profession?”
M. Reed McCall: “I am a writer–although I am also a high school English teacher, which requires its own kind of artistry, and I have been working with students (numbered in the thousands by now) for the past 26 years.”
L.N. Holmes: “Why did you choose to become an author?”
M. Reed McCall: “I have always loved words and the mental images they create when they’re strung together in artful ways. I enjoy reading and so I suppose it was only a matter of time before I had a story of my own to tell and found the confidence to give it a try; that didn’t happen in terms of novel writing until I was 27.
“Prior to that, I tried poetry (as a child) and short stories (as a young adult through to my mid-20’s). Neither of those worked out well for me. It became apparent when I began to write my first novel, that its format was much more suitable for the kinds of stories in my head. I apparently needed a larger canvas on which to work!”
L.N. Holmes: “What messages do you try to convey through your work?”
M. Reed McCall: “All of my books thus far convey very hopeful themes. If I had to narrow it down to one sentence, I suppose I’d say the basic message is that love is the most powerful force in this world (and perhaps in the next one, too, if such is your belief system). It doesn’t have to be romantic love; it could be parental or friendship love, sibling love, love for a pet, or even love for country. Love as a whole works for me. I tend to write about elemental themes like truth, honor, justice, redemption…and love above all.”
L.N. Holmes: “Tell us a bit about your romance novels and why you chose to write them.”
M. Reed McCall: “My romance novels were all published by HarperCollins when I was writing as Mary Reed McCall from 2001–2007, and all are medieval historical romances. The final three are a connected trilogy about Templar Knights, set right at the time in history when the Templar organization was under attack, being charged with heresy, and disbanded.
“One of my earlier books (The Crimson Lady) is a prequel to the first Templar Knights book (Beyond Temptation). I have to add that there is another romance author named ‘Mary McCall’ who began publishing her medieval Scottish historical romances right around the time that I stopped, and although many readers have confused us, we have very different writing styles and are not the same author!
“If I do end up writing other historical romances (which is a possibility) I will continue to use the name Mary Reed McCall to distinguish between my romances and my contemporary fiction, which is published under the name M. Reed McCall.”
“As for why I wrote romance novels, I’d say my answer to the previous question addresses some of it, but I’ll add that for as much as romance novels often receive little respect in the world at large (they’re sometimes called publishing’s “red-headed step-child”–that happen to make a good deal of money for the traditional publishing houses). The genre is a powerful and in my opinion a very worthy one, because it reflects hopeful aspects of life, rather than cynical or negative ideals. Who aspires to be miserable and alone? Who looks forward to tragedy and disappointment in their lives? No one that I know. Yet many of the books out there that are considered more ‘important’ and ‘real’ than romance novels seem to contain those outcomes in high doses.
“Even popular listings like ‘Oprah’s Picks’ fall into this pattern. Many seem saturated in tragedy, sadness, and wrenching situations with no real resolution. Of course that does happen in real life sometimes, and it’s not that it’s not present in romance novels; it is, only tempered with more satisfying outcomes. Romance novels focus on the good possibilities in life. They are about facing struggles and obstacles and unfairness and tragedy, and coming out on top of it anyway. To me, they’re more realistic than many of the ‘serious’ books out there, because they reflect a reality that people aspire to in their real lives. We want things to turn out all right, especially in our real lives. When they do so in the fiction we read, it’s empowering and inspiring.”
L.N. Holmes: “What awards have you won for your writing?”
M. Reed McCall: “I was a finalist more often than a winner–but I did win several national awards for the RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice ‘Best Medieval Romance’ of the year (The Crimson Lady in 2003 and Sinful Pleasures: Book II of the Templar Knights in 2006) and ‘Best Historical Hero’ (for my Scottish romance The Sweetest Sin in 2004). My other two Templar Knights books (Book I: Beyond Temptation and Book III: The Templar’s Seduction) were finalists for ‘Best Medieval Romance’ in their respective years but did not win.
“I was also a finalist for Romance Writers of America’s equivalent of the ‘Oscar’–the 2002 RITA Award for ‘Best First Book’–with my debut Secret Vows, as well as a finalist for the Reviewers International Organization Dorothy Parker Award and the Francis Award for Best Medieval Romance for that same book.”
L.N. Holmes: “You have a new book coming out titled Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven. Why did you decide to try something different and write a contemporary fiction novel?”
M. Reed McCall: “I’ve had the idea for Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven brewing in my mind for more than a decade, since it’s very loosely autobiographical in terms of context and concept though all highly fictionalized.
“I was one of seven daughters (no sons) growing up in an old-fashioned family in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in the late 1960’s–1980’s. That quirky, funny, often a little crazy, homespun, love and conflict-filled upbringing provided a lot of material…and I also wanted to write this story because it’s about something that I think matters a great deal: the necessity and appreciation of connections, of family, friends, and the power of love to transcend boundaries. Values like integrity and the beauty of working together, and themes of life, death, and the afterlife make appearances too.
“I really wanted to reach a (hopefully) broader audience than I was able to do with my medieval romances, which really serve as a highly-specialized, niche genre. Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven is important to me on many levels, for what I hope it will convey and how I hope it will entertain, and also because it is a kind of love letter to my family and to families of all kinds. One of my beta readers commented that she felt it was the kind of story that people need in today’s world.”
L. N. Holmes: “Where do you sell your work?”
M. Reed McCall: “Up until now, because I was traditionally published, my work has always been available in physical places like B&N stores, the grocery store and the local independent bookstore, as well as all online outlets (amazon, B&N, Kobo, iTunes, etc). As some of my earlier books’ rights reverted back to me, I’ve re-released them myself, and they’re still available in most places in print and electronically, but now they’re not carried in so-called brick-and-mortar stores.
“It will be the same with Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven–except that I hear a few stores will be able to carry it. My local independent bookseller has told me they have a direct account through CreateSpace, and they will be ordering physical copies to have for sale in the store when it’s published on February 3, 2015.”
L. N. Holmes: “Do you have any readings coming up?”
M. Reed McCall: “None are scheduled at the moment. I used to do book-signings, but over the years I discovered that unless you’re a mega-author like Richard Sparks or Suzanne Collins, you’re more likely to get asked directions to the rest rooms than you are to have someone approach you to discuss or purchase your book (yes, that actually happened on a few occasions)! It was still a lot of fun, and I may do a few signings locally, but nothing too excessive. I’d be glad to participate in online ‘chats’ and the like, but I have none scheduled so far.”
L. N. Holmes: “How do you support other artists?”
M. Reed McCall: “I offer my services at workshops and student-writer events. I offer autographed copies of my books for raffles, fund-raisers, and fan-based promotions for other authors. I try to plug good books that I read on my blog/website, (though I have far less time to read than I’d like). Most of all, I purchase books! A lot of them, in fact, and often by newer or lesser known writers. I don’t always have time to read them as promptly as I like to, because of my full-time teaching career, but I do get around to it eventually, and I think in the American marketplace, we can best support artists, sometimes, with our wallets.”
L. N. Holmes: “What’s your biggest complaint about the writing industry?”
M. Reed McCall: “I try to focus on the positive, so nothing in specific springs to mind. In general, any ‘complaint’ I’d have isn’t so much about the industry as it might be in general in the world–but it applies to the publishing industry as well. Sometimes it can become so impersonal and feel like it’s a machine out there, rather than living, breathing people.
“So I suppose if I had to find something I’d like to see changed it would be that I wish writing professionals–authors, publishers, agents, and reviewers alike–would all practice being more attentive, kind, polite, and considerate of each other. We are all people, not commodities. A simple emailed note, dashed off, to confirm a submission was received, or to give a brief answer to a query regarding requirements or contact info, etc. a friendly response to a friendly note, even when you won’t gain anything from the person by responding, would be so welcome, rather than the blank wall of silence we can so often encounter. But in the face of all these things, I always remind myself that I can’t change what others do; I can only adjust and control the way I react to it. Usually, I just try to stay professional, upbeat, and positive.”
L. N. Holmes: “What/who inspires you?”
M. Reed McCall: “Far too many people to list. In general though, the things and people that inspire me have to do with depth of character–with a desire to do good for good’s sake, and not simply for personal gain (though of course personal gain isn’t a bad thing; it’s not so great, however, when it’s the primary motivation of a person). I love the quote about people’s character being what they do when they think no one is looking. People of strong, worthy character inspire me the most, I think, and those people can come in all forms and in all walks of life.”
L. N. Holmes: “What would you recommend to others attempting to become professional writers?”
M. Reed McCall: “I would tell them that the actual writing is only one aspect of a writing career. That in and of itself requires dogged persistence, hard work, and the ability to weather constant rejection. But you also need to familiarize yourself with the business side of the profession as well, and learn how to handle yourself accordingly, or all that creativity will have a difficult time getting out there and being seen.”
L. N. Holmes: “Name a few of your favorite books and why they are your favorites.”
M. Reed McCall: “This question always stumps me, because I have so many! If I stick to the classics, I’ll say I love Jane Eyre, Little Women, and A Christmas Carol for their story elements and themes, Shakespeare (especially Hamlet and Twelfth Night) for his word-play and general lushness of language, Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres) for their writing styles, Stephen King (I’m not a horror reader, but I admire his book On Writing) for his economy of language, and Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café for its humor, warmth, and sense of character and place. That book in particular was an inspiration in writing my book, and Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven has a similar format of bouncing back and forth between the past and the present, as Flagg’s novel does.
L. N. Holmes: “Is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers?”
M. Reed McCall: “Just to say ‘Thank you!’ for reading this…and for perhaps giving new-to-you books and authors a try. It’s what keeps it all going so that we all have new stories to read and enjoy. Happy Reading!”
Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven will be available in print February 3, 2015. Check out the synopsis of the book on Amazon.
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