Monthly archive

May 2015

Historically Successful: An Interview with Novelist Anne Perry

anne_colourI have been a fan of author Anne Perry for about 20 years now. I have read nearly all of her novels and novellas and would have a hard time choosing a favorite.

About a year and a half ago I reached out to Anne via email to ask her for some resource recommendations for a Victorian-era book I’m working on. I thought there was a decent chance that either I wouldn’t hear back from her at all or she would tell me in a polite way that she had no time for a lowly aspiring author. Imagine my surprise, when not only did I hear back from her (and right away), but she also responded most graciously with some great tips and encouragement.

Fast forward to about a month ago when I reached out to Anne again to tell her how helpful her advice had been. I also asked her if she would grant me the privilege of interviewing her for this blog. I was amazed and thrilled when she said yes, not just because of her status as a writer, but also because she is a very busy woman. At 76 years old she shows no signs of slowing down. Read on to learn more about Anne’s success as a writer and the advice she has for aspiring authors.

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Anne Perry is the international bestselling author of over fifty novels, which have sold over 25 million copies worldwide and have never been out of print. The Times selected her as one of the 20th Century’s “100 Masters of Crime.” In 2015 she was awarded the Premio de Honor Aragón Negro.

Her first series of Victorian crime novels, featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, began with The Cater Street Hangman. The latest of these, The Angel Court Affair, is her most recent of many appearances on the New York Times bestseller list.

In 1990, Anne started a second series of detective novels with The Face of a Stranger. These are set about 35 years before the Pitt series, and feature the private detective William Monk and volatile nurse Hester Latterly. The most recent of these (21st in the series) is Corridors of the Night (April 2015).

Anne won an Edgar award in 2000 with her short story “Heroes.” The main character in the story features in an ambitious five-book series set during the First World War. Her other stand-alone novels include her French Revolution novel The One Thing More, and The Sheen on the Silk, which is set in the dangerous and exotic city of Byzantium.

Moving into a different area, Anne has responded to requests for workshops and teaching by producing her first ‘how to write’ instructional DVD Put Your Heart On The Page,” which is now available to buy direct from her website. It is also available to US customers on (click HERE) or in audiobook format (click HERE).

Here is a little preview of the DVD:

1) How did your writing career get started? My career began when I wrote my first mystery, instead of just a straight historical adventure, and then I got an agent.

2) What did you do for a living before you became a writer? How did you balance working and writing? Before I got anything published I did a large number of things, some secretarial, some in shops, airline stewardess, ship and shore assistant purser, etc. You write when you can. Weekends, holidays, evenings.

3) Your first book wasn’t published until you were in your late 30s. Was there a time you thought it might never happen? Did it matter? Certainly I feared that I would never be published, and it mattered very much.

4) About how many times did your first manuscript get rejected before it was published? How did you persevere through the rejection? My first manuscript was never published. As soon as you send it off, you start on something else. If you wait for a reply, which may never come, you will waste half your life. The most helpful thing, which you rarely get, is to be told what is wrong with it.

5) You are a prolific writer. I read somewhere that you now work on three novels per year. Is that true? How do you sustain such output? Tell us about your process. I write two novels and one novella, only 150 pages, a year. I outline in considerable detail, probably 15 to 20 pages, single spaced, scene by scene, and then several more pages of character outline and back-story. That way there is never a ‘writer’s block.’ And I keep going, never go back and edit until I am finished, then I do several rewrites as needed to make it the best I can.

6) What is the most helpful piece of career advice you have ever received? Write the sort of thing you like reading. If it bores you, it will probably bore other people, too.

7) What makes a good agent? What should an aspiring writer look for in an agent? What makes a good agent is very hard to define. What makes a bad one is anybody who asks for payment other than the regular percentage (usually about 15) of whatever they sell the book for. Nothing, if they don’t sell it, which is why they cannot afford to take on one they don’t think they can sell.

Useful suggestions about rewrite are gold. However, ones that change what you are trying to say, for example, [add] more violence, more overt sex etc., — get a different agent. It should be your work, your style, just better.

8) What has been one of the biggest career challenges you have faced? That’s hard to say, because there is a need to keep fresh all the time. Each book needs to be different from the last, and a little better, at least in some way.

9) What would you do differently if you could do it all over? I would have read more books about writing much sooner in my career. Good ones are priceless.

10) What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a traditionally-published author?

1. Get a good agent and listen to their advice.
2. Never write something you don’t believe. People will sense it and turn off.
3. Be prepared to rewrite, several times if necessary.

11) How do you define success? To what do you most attribute your enormous success? Real success? When strangers write to you and say that your book had meaning for them, and better still, they read it more than once.

12) You travel a lot these days giving talks about your books and the writing process. Apart from the publicity aspect, have you benefitted from these “teaching” experiences in other ways? Have they informed your writing in any way? I benefit enormously from travelling and meeting people. I think nothing teaches you more than trying to teach other people. How much great advice do we give and not always take ourselves?

13) Tell us about what you are working on now. Right now I am finishing up the Christmas novella for 2016. Almost there. I think!

14) If you were conducting this interview, what is one question you would ask? Is there anything else you would rather have done than write? Nothing at all.

You can read more about Anne by visiting her website: You can also find her on Twitter: @AnnePerryWriter.

Artfully Successful: An Interview with Writer Mark Cantrell

Mark Cantrell, Writer

Recently I interviewed freelance writer Mark Cantrell. Mark has over 15 years’ experience as a full-time writer, coming to the profession after an unsatisfying stint in the IT field. Mark is also vice president of Triangle Area Freelancers (TAF), a North Carolina-based networking organization comprised of freelance writers. I met Mark through my membership with TAF, a wonderfully supportive group of professionals. Not only is Mark a super-nice guy, he is sharp and witty and holds an impressively vast knowledge of space and weather-related trivia.

Read on to learn more about Mark, his definition of success, and what it’s like being his own boss. Be sure to check out Mark’s bio at the end of this interview.

1) How did your writing career get started? How long have you been at it?
I worked at a hospital in south Florida for 25 years until it went bankrupt and closed. I briefly worked at an alcohol and drug rehab place after that, which was by far the worst job I ever had. In 1999, I got married and moved to North Carolina, immediately beginning a search for another IT job. Meanwhile, Don Vaughan kept trying to talk me into writing, but I had no experience and was reticent. My wife told me if I wanted to try it she’d support me, so with a great deal of trepidation, I walked off the cliff. It’s been more than 15 years now, and although it doesn’t pay nearly what my computer job did, it’s been very rewarding experientially and educationally.

2) What is your favorite aspect of being a freelance writer? What do you find challenging?
I like working from home. Many people have told me there’s no way they could do it, because they need that human companionship. I grew up as an only child, and for me, having others around has never been so much a need as an option I could avail myself of. (Good thing we can now end sentences in prepositions.) That’s a plus, but I think my favorite thing has been travelling for stories, meeting people I otherwise would never have been able to talk to, and finding that, to a person, the higher someone has risen in life, the nicer and more helpful they are.

For me, the challenge comes built-in, with the transcription process. If I could afford it, I’d hire someone to do all that so I could concentrate on research and writing. Another frustration is when sources don’t return messages or phone calls. In my experience, scientists and researchers are the best at getting back to you; doctors the worst.

3) You also have a background in art. Tell us about that. Have you ever had an opportunity to combine your talents as writer and artist?
My aunt was an artist and started teaching me to paint when I was about five. In high school, Florida wildlife artist Robert Butler took me under his wing and tutored me for a while, but I was a teenager and other things beckoned, like girls and cars. I next started cartooning, and sold several single-panel gag cartoons to various magazines, but it didn’t pay very well. I’ve never written and illustrated anything – yet.

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4) How do you generate new writing ideas?
I constantly comb the web, more because of a mild case of OCD than anything else, and make a note of anything that might make a good story. But ideas can come from anywhere; an overheard conversation, a chance encounter with an old friend, or from friends and relatives. It’s a matter of keeping your feelers out.

5) What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a freelance writer?
Don’t. Do. It.
Kidding! First thing: Don’t quit your day job. I was lucky in that I had a mentor (Don Vaughan) who showed me exactly what to do, and a wife that was willing to wait a while for the money to come in. Trying to go it alone from a standing start will probably not end well.

Second, become a rejection collector. Since rejection is inevitable, try to get as many as you can, because each one brings you closer to a sale, and you’re also inoculating yourself against the disappointment you feel so acutely when you’re starting out. I was no different, but these days, I see it as just another part of the process.

Third, don’t stop. As soon as you’ve penned a proposal, send it off and start on the next one. If you’re a fiction writer, start on the next book as soon as you finish one. There’s no better way to prepare to be a writer than to write, and the more you do it, the sharper your skills get and the more confidence you gain.

Bonus answer: Read. How-to books, lectures and conferences are great, but only reading others’ work will give you a visceral appreciation for how to craft a sentence. I wrote very much like Don when I started, because he was my teacher, but before long I developed my own voice and style.

6) If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Make money.

Seriously, I probably would have pushed a bit harder in the beginning. I used to send off a proposal and then sit back and wait for a response before starting the next one; hence answer three. I would have also tried to branch out into a wider range of markets. Once I got a few regular clients, I didn’t go out and pound the pavement as much as I might have. Of course, it’s never too late.

7) What have been some of your mistakes and what have you learned from them?
Aside from the above, I learned the hard way to never show your entire article to a source. The one time I did that, the person made a number of corrections and then turned them in…to my editor. That was a very awkward phone call. She was nice about it, but did suggest that I show a source only their own quotes, advice I’ve followed since.

Don was trying to turn me into a writer long before I made the leap. Because I collect old model kits and used to read Toy Shop magazine, he suggested I pitch an article about a Miami ad agency that had a toy museum in their offices. It sold, so he and I went down there and I took a lot of pictures of the collection. At one point I turned the camera sideways to capture a vertical shot, and the flash broke off. I was using 100 ISO film and couldn’t shoot without the flash, but fortunately Don had brought his camera and saved the day. Lesson: Bring two of everything to an in-person interview. I now carry my DSLR and my point-and-shoot, along with two digital recorders, when I travel for a story.

8) Tell me about one particularly satisfying or memorable event in your career.
I’m an aviation and space geek, and sold a story to Military Officer magazine about aerial demonstration teams. As it happened, the Blue Angels were coming to an air show at Cherry Point, and I was able to snag a press pass. The day before the show, they took us out to the airstrip and we watched the formation land, then were able to interview the pilots while standing beside their jets. The next day, we had a special press area with bleachers where we could watch the show. Doesn’t get much better than that.

I also interviewed Eileen Collins, the first female Space Shuttle pilot (and later, commander) for a profile. They gave me a number to call at the Johnson Space Center, but no one answered. She finally called me about ten minutes later, explaining that she’d gone to the wrong conference room. We chatted for a few minutes, and then she had another interview, but asked me if I’d like her to call me back afterward. Well, yeah. Without time constraints, we talked for the better part of an hour about all kinds of things, including the time her shuttle lost an engine on the way to orbit and they nearly had to abort the ascent. I was geeking out big-time.

9) How do you define success? To what do you most attribute your success?
Success is being able to do what you want, when you want to do it, and having the resources to make it happen. One of the best things about freelancing is getting to be your own boss, but it comes with a responsibility to get the job done without constant prompting. I had a problem with that in the beginning because I was so used to an office environment, but at this point I would have a serious problem with going back to a regular job.

I have Don, Maryanne [my wife], and my grandmother to thank for whatever success I’ve experienced. My grandma was a former English teacher, and after high school I went to Alabama and lived with her and my grandfather for a couple of years. She corrected me constantly, and although I was often peeved at the time, it turned out to be good preparation for my eventual writing career.

10) Where do you see yourself, career-wise, five years from now?
Is this a job interview? Crap – I should have practiced more. 🙂

One of the things I’ve had on a back burner for a long time is a kids’ book about the weather. I came up with the idea after writing The Everything Weather Book, which was my first book sale. I finally realized I was procrastinating because it was a completely unfamiliar genre, but hearing David Morrell speak at the [Triangle Area Freelancers] conference (“Writers write; it’s as simple as that.”) lit a fire under me. So five years from now, I hope that I’ve completed “Walter Windchill and the Amazing Weather Machine,” and a couple more books to boot.

11) Tell us about what you are working on now.
I’m just starting an article called Eyes in the Sky, about aerial surveillance, so I’ll be talking to the main service branches about how they conduct their missions. I’m also preparing a presentation for WonderFest, a modeling convention in Louisville that Don and I have been going to for years. I’ll be talking about my book “A Weird-Oh World: The Art of Bill Campbell,” and showing illustrations of his work. In the wings I have a piece called The Art of War, about Vietnam-era soldier/artists and their work for the Army Art Program. I’m making notes for the kids’ book as I think of plot points, and planning a few pitches to markets I haven’t sold to yet. Then there’s laundry, cooking…the usual.

12) If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?
Why do you write?

I will even answer it. From what I’ve seen, writing is a vocation that very few retire from. Don has a friend in south Florida from the tabloids who must be pushing 90, but he’s still going like the Energizer bunny. Whatever the impetus is – and I don’t pretend to understand it – it’s a strong one. But the answer seems to be that writers write because they have no other choice. I think David Morrell said something similar last weekend, which only shows I steal from the best.

Mark Cantrell is the author of several books, including The Everything Weather Book for Adams Media, Sixteen Minutes From Home, a study of the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, for AMI Books, and A Weird-Oh World: The Art of Bill Campbell for Schiffer Books. He has been a full-time professional writer since 1999, has written hundreds of articles for publications as diverse as Air & Space Smithsonian and Mad Magazine, and has received three Communicator Awards for various articles. Cantrell lives with his wife and three cats in rural Wake Forest, North Carolina. His hobbies are building models and chasing varmints out of his garden. You can read more about Mark by visiting his website: You can also follow him on Facebook at:  or on Twitter: @maccanwrite. Connect with him on LinkedIn at:

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