Interview with Author, Donna Huston Murray
I'm really thrilled to welcome Donna Huston Murray to my blog today. I recently joined my local chapter of Sisters In Crime where I've already connected with many incredible writers. Donna was published by a Big 6 publisher for many years, and recently she has gone Independent with a new suspense novel that is a departure from her successful cozy series. I was quite anxious to hear what she had to say about writing and the publishing industry. So let me give you the skinny. Here's her bio:
Donna Huston Murray writes character-driven mystery and suspense novels from the perspective of a woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously. The seven Ginger Barnes Main Line mysteries (four now e-books), were recently joined by Murray’s suspense debut, CURED…but not out of danger, described by Publisher’s Weekly as, “a gripping page-turner,” “with an admirable, down-to-earth heroine.” (Kirkus Review).
Her new novel is called CURED . . . but not out of danger
The synopsis is thus:
Cancer survivor and ex-cop, Lauren Beck can’t seem to catch a break. Now her friends, phone, home, credit and credibility are all gone, severed with surgical precision by an enemy intent on framing her for murder. Is it one of the insureds she was hired to investigate? The fellow employee she upstaged? Does the daughter of her landlady and dear friend, Corinne Wilder, hate her even more than she thought?
Whoever targeted her should beware. Lauren Beck knows how to fight for her life.
You can get it here:
And here is my interview:
You’ve had several cozy mysteries published by St. Martin’s Press. What drew you to writing cozies?
I began reading the Nero Wolfe whodunits by Rex Stout when I was ten. It can’t be true, but I felt as if they were all I read for fun until I got to college. It is true that they made me want to write mysteries, and I never changed my mind. Stubbornness is our family trait.
Regarding the cozy part, early on cozies were probably the most age-appropriate. Then, after dabbling with articles and short stories, when I was ready to write full-length fiction, my kids were in school and my husband headed a private school. Rather than embarrass them with anything inappropriate, I stayed with the genre I knew best. My aim was to add more of what I was looking for myself–a lighthearted character dealing with a serious crime, an Archie Goodwin who had to be home to make dinner.
Since your first novel was published, how has the publishing industry changed?
Cozies aren’t quite as hot, for one thing. They became over-purchased around the time I was ready to experiment with a different style. My second editor (of four) had recommended that I try a “bigger” book, a challenge I welcomed after seven Ginger Barnes books. However, the learning curve was steeper than I expected, and a couple of agent mismatches slowed the process. When you’re insecure, you’re inclined to adopt any well-intended advice in the belief that it’s what you have to do to succeed. Discovering that most writers ride a rollercoaster of confidence and insecurity was extremely helpful to me. Now when I’m at the bottom, I recognize the terrain and can say, “Oh, right. I’ve been here before. Next!”
The real trouble is that insecure people make bad decisions, and writers have to make decisions all day every day. So scraping together some confidence is essential. It was a long time coming, but now I feel genuinely secure in my work, enough to publish it independently, to promote it and stand by its quality. That’s a huge personal accomplishment for me. Probably more significant than being published by one of the Big Six, to be honest.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
Readers of mystery and suspense are usually the sharper pencils in the box. They’ll catch any inconsistency, any slip of logic, any typo, any sort of mistake you can name. Being a mystery geek myself, I can’t help doing that, too (although for obvious reasons I’m very forgiving.) So from the outset I try to be as careful as possible, beginning with the plot.
My system is this: Put every little piece of action I know I want on its own white file card, hot action on pink, reference stuff on green. Banish the dog, then put the white and pink in some sort of order on the living room floor. Read it in order. Shuffle as needed. Add transition. Watch that the pink cards are spaced to create a wave of tension and relief, tension and relief. Note where I need more research. When I have about 40 cards, I stack them in order and flesh out paragraphs on the computer–my outline. Divide into chapters, and now I know where to start every morning.
Usually I stick to one scene a day, which I “see” as if it were a real event; so when it’s done, I’m done. When my head is in a book, it’s like living a second, secret life.
How long did it take you to find an agent? How many rejections? How long were you on submissions?
Let’s just say that when I wasn’t writing publishable material, I didn’t sell. When I was close, the rejections became personalized, and I felt as if I were standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Getting to the other side required some serious calculation. I chose a saleable topic (the internationally famous Philadelphia Flower Show) and the title FINAL ARRANGEMENTS. Then I devoted all the time I thought was necessary to do the best job I knew how. The result interested an agent, and he got me a three-book contract rather quickly.
Your newest novel, CURED…but not out of danger is a departure from cozies. Why the change?
Now that my children are adults and my husband a consultant, there’s no reason not to let my fiction grow up, too. Also CURED is the “bigger” book the editor who supported me most recommended.
You were published successfully with a Big 6 publisher. With your newest novel, you’ve struck out on your own. Why go independent? Why now?
I wrote a blog explaining that more completely (“Declaring My Independence”), but I’ll say here that expedience, freedom, money, and control are all factors. Also, the support you get from everyone involved is fantastic. I feel as if I’ve caught a wave, and that’s really exciting. For me, it’s much more fun being in business for myself. An entrepreneur at heart–who knew?
What do you think are the most important things that any author can do to successfully market their book(s)?
Write a book that’s interesting to both you and others like you. Then study the offerings and choose what seems logical for your audience. Each success story is different, and trends shift quickly. If I knew a better answer, I’d be doing it myself.
What advice would you give to writers who are just beginning their journey to publication?
DHM: Learn to be a tough self-editor. Believe in yourself. Don’t quit.
For more about Donna, please visit her website: http://www.donnshustonmurray.com.