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Laura’s note: I was the kid staying up late reading under a blanket with a flashlight. I cannot get enough material. As a language major in college, I had the opportunity to read in three languages and stories that spanned a few centuries. I love many genres, but historical romances have intrigued me for many years. Some authors spin a more fascinating tale than others, though the genre as a whole is quite passionate.

Readers need to understand that a lot of heart and a lot of research and work go into writing one of these novels. I know, I’ve written a few and am pursuing publication. Here I present an interview given most graciously by a successful writer of historical romances, Mary Reed McCall. I presented her with my request for an interview first because of all the romance novels I have read lately, hers, “The Maiden Warrior,” was my favorite. She offers great inside information to aspiring writers. Check out this interview, and then pick up one of her books. Talent and class are not always found together in any given individual, but in the case of Mary Reed McCall, they are.

Interview with Mary Reed McCall (2005)

Who is your publisher, and what have you written?

My publisher is HarperCollins/Avon. They are my only
publisher, and since 2001, I've seen 5 books published with them: SECRET VOWS (9/01), THE MAIDEN WARRIOR (6/02), THE CRIMSON LADY (6/03), THE SWEETEST SIN (6/04) and the upcoming BEYOND TEMPTATION: The Templar Knights (6/05).
I'm currently working on the second book in the Templar Knights series.

What is your upcoming or current novel about?

I like to call it JANE EYRE meets IVANHOE, LOL...but I guess a more detailed synopsis of the story might go something like this:

BEYOND TEMPTATION: The Templar Knights, tells the tale of two honorable people living in troubled times: Sir Richard de Cantor, the younger brother of Braedan, from THE CRIMSON LADY - all grown up now, a Templar Knight, and a tormented, powerful, and sinfully handsome force to be reckoned with – and Lady Margaret Newcomb, a beautiful yet fallen noblewoman whose heart has been deeply wounded in the past. When the two meet, passions spark and the chance for love beckons, forbidden though it might be...but first they must find the courage to face and conquer all the darkness, pain, and betrayal that has haunted them both for so long. Of course they do and in the process find their "happily-ever-after" together. :)

The book will hit bookstore shelves on May 24, 2005, and I am very excited about it, as it's the first book in what is going to be my first ever series.

When did you get your first "Yes" and how long did it take you? Did you get your first story published after trying for a while, or did you write many novels first?

I got what I consider my first "Yes" in May of 1999, when my then-agent Ruth Kagle of the Jane Rotrosen Agency in NYC called with an offer to represent me with my unpublished manuscript, SECRET VOWS. I'm still with the Rotrosen Agency, represented now by Meg Ruley and Annelise Robey, as Ruth has since left the industry.

The "Yes" from HarperCollins/Avon came eight months later, on January 11, 2000. I began work on my first manuscript in May of 1993 and wrote on and off until 1996, when I began to be more focused and write more regularly. SECRET VOWS was my third completed manuscript - though my second completed manuscript ended up coming out in 2004 (THE SWEETEST SIN) - albeit heavily revised from its earlier incarnation. My first manuscript will likely never see the light of day, in good part because 2/3rds of it takes place in eighteenth century Russia. :)

Do you have other work out, such as short stories that readers can look at?

No I'm afraid not. I tried my hand at short fiction, but it wasn't for me.

What happens upon the first sale of a novel?

Well, I recall jumping up and down and whooping a lot, after I got off the phone. *G*

But seriously, there are many, many processes one goes through from that moment of sale to seeing your "baby" on bookstore shelves. In my case it took a full eighteen months - but it turned out to be a good thing, as I was able to enjoy the process more (and I had some medical issues at the time, that were in control by the time the book actually came out, so the long wait was a blessing in disguise).

In general, it goes like this (and it's pretty much the same for every book, not just a first one): after the initial sale, the book is read by your editor and a revision letter is issued, with recommendations (not commands) for making the story/characterization etc etc stronger. The length of time given for the revisions to be made varies, but for me it's usually one month. The revised mss. goes back to the editor, who then forward it to a copy editor, who reads it for continuity, anachronistic errors, spelling and/or grammar errors that haven't been caught yet, etc. The mss. Comes back to me *again*, at which point I get to read over the copy editor’s recommendations (and the ce is different for each book - not like your editor who is with you from book to book). What I agree with I leave alone and/or clarify if it's been asked of me, and what I don't agree with I ask to have left in my original form (it's called STETing - you write STET next to anything you want left as you had it, rather than as the ce changed it).

The mss. goes back to the publishing house yet again, this time to be typeset into "galleys" or "proof" pages (these are pages that look like someone opened a book, pressed it against the copier machine glass and made photo copies...it's your book as it will look once it's bound, inside the cover). It comes back to me one final time (and this is anywhere from 4-5 months after it was handed in the first time, to the editor for its first critique), and I have the opportunity to make no more than 50 additional changes (and a single word adjustment is considered a change). This is for cost purposes, as it's expensive to change type-set pages. However if I catch any typesetting errors (misspellings that weren't in the original mss etc) they are not counted as part of "my" additional 50 changes.

Once I send the proofs back, I won't see the book again until it comes out in print - usually another 5-6 months from that time.

In between I get to see mock-ups of the cover art, and eventually (around 5 months before publication, right around the time I turning in the proofs) I get a big box of cover flats to use for promotional purposes. THAT is
exciting, as it's the first glimpse of the "real" look of the book, in all its vibrantly colored glory. :))

What is your advice to aspiring authors concerning the craft of writing, a writer's life or the romance genre?

Read as much as you can and most importantly, WRITE. Some people make the mistake of talking about writing, or visiting message boards about writing, or even attending conferences, without really doing the actual work of writing themselves. You cannot produce a book without sitting in the chair and writing it. That can be daunting and even downright frightening, but it's the only way to produce a saleable manuscript. And three chapters and a synopsis won't cut it. In most cases, you need a finished manuscript to offer an editor that first time, to prove that you have the ability to finish a book. There are thousands of writers who write and polish those first few chapters, but perhaps only a few hundred who go all the way to finish a book. Be one of those - hone your craft and keep at it until you got a finished product that shines.

I have a series of articles on my website, specifically for aspiring and/or struggling writers of all kinds, published included (because believe me we ALL struggle at various times with our craft). Many other authors offer similar help on their sites, so it's not a bad idea to surf around a little and see what's out there (but only after you've actually sat down and written your page quota for the day - no procrastinating! *G*)

What should aspiring authors know about the publishing industry (besides everything)? Is there something important in particular that you have learned?

Hmmm...I guess one piece of advice I could offer is that writers must realize that publishing is a business, like any other. You won't get that first contract by being someone's friend, and you won't keep getting contracts, no matter how much of a strong, friendly relationship you have

developed with your editor/publishing house, if you cease producing what they consider saleable manuscripts. There is a bottom line, and while you shouldn't be a slave to the market or trends or anything else like that, you must be aware, as a writer, of what will break the camel's back, so to speak, in terms of your creative offerings. Learn to choose your battles, in regards to story-lines, revisions, plot elements, characterization concerns etc, in order to stay true to yourself and your artistic beliefs without shooting yourself in the foot in the process.

That said, I do believe it never hurts to practice professionalism in your dealings with everyone, whether agent, editor, art department, publicity director, sales and marketing executives etc etc. That means leaving the prima donna attitude in the closet. Stand up for what you need to, but do it in a way that makes people glad to work with you. It never hurts to be polite and gracious to others, to their faces and behind their backs. Never, ever indulge in negative gossip about anyone - not only is it unprofessional, but the publishing industry is rather small, and word travels around quickly. That editor you trashed last week on an e-mail loop may end up being your editor next year, when the houses consolidate or someone transfers jobs.

Basically, always try to be classy. It really is a good rule of thumb, and not only in the publishing industry, but I think also in all areas of life. It's easier to make it a habit that way. :)

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I can't think of much - except to thank you for giving me this opportunity to share a little bit about myself, my books, and my philosophies of life with the internet audience. I do appreciate it! :))

Thank you Mrs. McCall, for taking the time to answer my questions. It’s been a lot of fun communicating with you! Your writing is compelling, and I hope you continue to publish books for a long time.

Mary Reed McCall