Interview with Paranormal Author Maggie Shayne
by Bea Sheftel
Maggie Shayne is a multi-published author of some of the most innovative and
creative books I have ever read. I met her when she came to Connecticut to be
interviewed on my cable TV show, Author Chat. I was impressed with this young
looking mother of adult girls who lives on a farm in upstate New York. Her work
schedule alone is one to be admired, but her success with her single title books
I asked Maggie what inspired her to write her first novel.
" I have always written, beginning when I was very small," replied
Maggie. "I wrote stories as soon as I could spell. All through my
elementary school years and teens I wrote short stories and poems. The first
romance novel, though, started one night when I was up walking a sick baby who
wouldn't let me sit still to read. I was up all night that night, and kept
myself awake by plotting a romance in my head, thinking what the perfect story
would be like. The next day the ideas were still with me, so I started jotting
them down, longhand, in a yellow legal pad. The story never sold. I had no
intention of doing anything with it. In my mind, I was just writing it for my
own pleasure. I chose romance because that was what I had in mind to read that
From the beginning, Maggie went on to sell 30 novels and 6 or 7 novellas with
four different publishers. Besides the paranormal books, she also does
contemporary romances. Her first book was published by Silhouette Intimate
Moments. Her second with Silhouette Shadows. She alternated between the two
until Silhouette Shadows folded.
She now writes for Silhouette Intimate Moments and Berkley Jove. Most recently
she signed a contract with MIRA.
Maggie started writing when her children were young. She has five daughters.
Three still live at home and go to school. The other two live in their own homes
on the family property. After the younger teens are off to school, Maggie has
coffee with her husband. She then goes down to the basement office and checks
her email. She calls her second oldest daughter on the phone. After a little
chit chat, she starts working on her writing and forgets about everything else,
including lunch. She doesn't stop writing until the teens come home from school.
After school, her oldest daughter who is a teacher, stops in for coffee and a
chat. Nights are busy with family activities. The girls are all interested in
sports and they play basketball, soccer, and softball. Is Maggie bothered by
having her family so close when she's writing? Not at all. This talented writer
enjoys her family. They enrich her life and she always makes time for them in
her busy schedule. Unless Maggie is on a tight deadline, she takes the weekends
off to be with her family. She is a mother and a grandmother, though she hardly
looks old enough to have teen children.
Maggie has written a number of books, including cowboy contemporaries. Her
favorites, though, are her single title paranormals, the Witch series and the
Vampire series. She not only enjoys writing books on the dark side, but loves to
read other authors in this genre, as well. She prefers books that delve deeply
into the psyche, paranomral or not. Her favorite fiction authors are Anne
Stuart, Anne Rice and Stephen King. She also reads a great deal of nonfiction.
When Maggie reads a book she wants one with a story that grabs her from the very
first page. She hates to wade through pages and pages of background and setup
before the action starts. In her own writing she has trained herself not to give
into this type of writing. She considers it lazy to ramble on in the beginning
before getting into the actual story. She strives to create great opening lines
and gripping opening scenes to attract and hold the reader. In her own writing,
and in others, she enjoys powerful conflicts and major obstacles to be overcome.
She likes to have her characters take risks. Through her novels the characters
evolve. Even though she writes paranormals she creates reasonable people and
"In convincing your character, you convince the reader," Maggie
explained. She lives up to her expectations by writing with authority and
authenticity. To do this she prepares with research.
Since she writes more than one type of book I asked her to explain the
difference between straight time-travel and paranormal books.
"There's a huge difference in my mind between a paranormal and a time
travel," she explained. "In a time travel, there's a paranormal
premise. The rest of the book is either historical or contemporary. In a
paranormal, the magic and otherworldly elements are present throughout the
entire story and are not simply the hook at the beginning. This is a major
difference, in my opinion."
Maggie writes more than one book a year. I asked her how long it takes to write
a short contemporary romance.
"About three months per book, sometimes I need less time," she
The age-old question every writer is asked is, "Where do you get your ideas
"I don't have a list of ideas," she commented. "I come up
with one idea, write some of it, present it to the editor, and she either offers
to buy it or declines. The only time ideas are editor-generated is in the
continuity series such as Fortune's Children. In those the editors outline an
entire series and then invite authors to participate. These are far more
difficult to write because the ideas are not the authors' own, and often make
little sense to us. We usually wind up doing major tweaking on the plots of
these--at least I do. The characters' motivations for doing what they do have to
make sense to me, or I can't write them with any authenticity. So I often add to
that end of things."
She is a successful writer with one of the top agents in the business, Eileen
Fallon, and contracts for major publishers. But money isn't the only reason she
enjoys writing novels.
"My greatest reward is being able to do what I love for a living, and being
able to do it at home, so I'm available to my kids," she stated.
Maggie enjoys hearing from her readers. She can be reached at: email@example.com
Snail mail: Maggie Shayne, PO Box 180, South Otselic NY13155-0180
"Email gets answered right away," she stated. "Snail mail gets
added to the mailing list, and will receive newsletters and bookmarks as
available. I love to hear from readers, but advise them to remember that if I
answered every letter individually, I'd have no time left to write the books
they want to read."
Maggie's latest book is in a two-novel collection: Witch Moon Rising, Witch Moon
Waning: Two Novels by Maggie Shayne, Lorna Tedder
Ayn Hunt And Her
Houston native Betty Amorelli
wanted to be a writer all her life. By writing under the pen name of Ayn Hunt,
she has fulfilled her dream. Her first book, UNWILLING KILLERS, now online at
londoncircle.com., is the first of a 13-book paranormal series. Following it
will be OBSESSED!
In UNWILLING KILLERS, Ayn presents the challenge of Jessica Amy Moore, a
30-year-old fourth grade school teacher, with no background in investigative
techniques, to solve the murder of Mr. James T. Harding, a wealthy industrialist
who was murdered in the 1920s.
To learn more about Ayn Hunt's books log onto: http://londoncircle.com/killersR.html
Now, for the interview.
Denise: Tell us about your writing background.
Ayn: I've been writing all my life, and wrote my first novel when I was
12. I also took journalism in high school, working on the school papers at all 5
high schools, which I attended. For the past 20 years, I've had articles
published, and was runner-up in a national fiction contest. Then, last year, my
first paranormal mystery was published online by London Circle Publishing.
OBSESSED my second paranormal mystery will be online with them later this month.
My goal is completing this 13-book paranormal mystery series, of which UNWILLING
KILLERS and OBSESSED are the first two books. In addition to promoting them, I'm
currently working on the third book in the series, entitled THE CHRISTMAS PARTY.
Denise: In "UNWILLING KILLERS who encourages Jessica to investigate
the unsolved crime?
Ayn: Jessica, a 30-year-old school teacher, is a recent widow. Because
her aunt Alice senses she is restless and at loose-ends, she feels this is her
chance to indulge her life-long passion for solving unsolved murder cases. Also,
Aunt Alice (at 87-years of age) realizes that this might be her last chance to
indulge her passion, since she has taken ill.
Alice was only 12-years-old when Mr. James T. Harding, a local millionaire
industrialist was brutally murdered in his bed in 1926. She remembers very well
the headlines and the furor about the case, and is obsessed with trying to solve
But no one realizes that Jessica herself, by trying to solve the case, will,
herself, become the target of a murderer.
Denise: Why is Jessica given Mr. Harding's room when she decides to take
the case? Why is the Mansion being rented?
Ayn: Mrs. Johnson is the ancient housekeeper who, by a fluke, inherited
the Harding Mansion when Mr. Harding was murdered. But she's not a financial
genius by any means, and is now forced to pay back taxes on the valuable
property. In desperation, she decides to rent out rooms in the mansion to help
her get the money.
Because Alice is convinced the clues she needs to solve the murder will best be
found in Mr. Harding's old room, she asks Mrs. Johnson to let Jessica have that
room. Because Jessica is her only renter, Mrs. Johnson, desperate for money,
Denise: What is going bump in the night and who are these thieves robbing
the mansion of its valuables? Are these men for hire or working independently?
Ayn: Brent is a good-cop-gone-bad. When a notorious crook named Synder
offers him the chance to get rich by robbing the Harding Mansion, Brent seizes
the opportunity. To make sure they aren't seen by old lady Johnson, Brent rigs
hidden cameras and microphones throughout the vast house. But they do make
noise, and it is that, along with Mr. Harding's restless spirits that both Mrs.
Johnson and Jessica hear.
Denise: Does Jessica seem to have a sixth sense about what's happening
during her stay there? Does the ghost make its presence known?
Ayn: Jessica has always had a strong sixth sense. But at this point in
her life, she's practical, and decides the noise she hears must be caused by
humans, rather than a ghost. In this, of course, she's mistaken. So, yes, the
ghost makes its presence known, but only Mrs. Johnson correctly attributes it to
the ghost at this point.
Denise: What would you say your strengths were when writing this book?
Reviewer Elizabeth Bennefield seemed to believe your use of dialogue and
character development were a big plus.
Ayn: I read everything I write out loud, and many times, act out the
parts while I'm writing. It's like I'm seeing a movie in my mind, and want to
make sure everything is correct and realistic. I think that comes across in the
character development and dialogue.
Denise: How did you add detail to your descriptions of the mansion? Did
you visit any of the historical homes in your area? Or did you research mansions
during that time period?
Ayn: When I lived in Galveston while going to the junior college there, I
toured the Bishop's Palace, which is what I base the Harding mansion on. While
there, I knew some volunteers who were staying there. They told me things that
set my hair on end so I sent away for everything I could get from the Galveston
Historical Society and studied it all before I sat down to write my story. The décor,
the reputation, etc. are all based on actual documents I received.
Denise: What exactly is your ghost after?
Ayn: Mr. Harding's spirit does not like it that his beloved house is
being robbed and that a stranger is in his very own room.
Denise: How do you instill fear and detailed imagery in the minds of your
Ayn: In a sense, I became Jessica. I felt her fear, her frustration, her
love for a total stranger. That, I think, came through in the story.
Denise: And what type of working relationship do you have with your
Ayn: My publisher is great, bless his heart. We sometimes disagree about
things, but overall, I couldn't have asked for a better first publisher. I've
learned a lot from him in the year we've been working together.
--Denise Fleischer, Gotta Write Online
An Interview with Jon F.
conducted by Cindy Lynn Speer
Looking at Jon F. Merz’s website, you secretly wonder how
he‘s able to fit in the minor details of life - you know, like sleep, maybe
eating once or twice a day. His first publication credit was for "I, the
Courier" in Rictus Magazine. The check from that first real break “still
hangs above my computer, uncashed - as beautiful today as it was back in
November 1996 when I got it in the mail.” He has several books in the works,
and sample chapters up so you can get a taste of his intriguing style. His debut
novel, The Fixer, has just hit the shelves, with a second book, The Invoker to
follow next October. He is also the co-founder and co-editor of Planet Pulp, an
e-mail magazine that interviews key figures in the publishing world, runs his
own web forum, and writes free articles for writers that are featured on his web
site. I recently had the pleasure of asking him a few questions about his work
Cindy: You mention on your site that Stephen King was an inspiration for you.
Who else has inspired you?
Jon: I've always enjoyed reading, but I think my influences might strike some
people as odd. The reason I say "odd" is because I haven't read
"the greats of literature" all that much. Tell people you write and
inevitably they expect you to name off Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Shakespeare, or
countless other folks as inspiration. For me, it's always been the opposite.
I've learned all my technique through what I love to read. Stephen King's
excellent short stories really got me going. I loved David Morrell's Brotherhood
of the Rose, Fraternity of the Stone, and League of Night & Fog and used
them as models when I started trying to write novels. Elmore Leonard writes the
most incredible dialogue and characters around today. Robert B. Parker's plots
deserve special study - they're simple in so many ways, but they're
multi-leveled in others. I learned a helluva lot from reading Spenser. I groove
on the pulp fiction detective stories from the 30's through the 50's, most
especially Robert Leslie Bellem, Mickey Spillane, and others. Robert Bloch's
stories are fantastic. Growing up I read Tolkien's The Hobbit in a single
afternoon. Fantasy novels like the Belgariad and Shannara series also shaped
some of what I write. Probably the most "literary" influences I could
point to would be anything by Poe. There's a guy who knew how to shake people
Cindy: A lot of writers find themselves turning away from fiction, and reading
more and more nonfiction. Have you found this to be the case with yourself? What
reference books do you find indispensable?
Jon: I probably read an equal amount of both. My non-fiction tastes tend to be
pretty small: military history, martial arts, a lot of East Asian history, and
biographies. For fiction, it can get tough. The fear is that you will read
something that will end up in what you write. I'm not so sure that happens to
me, but I love good scary novels, action adventure brain candy, mysteries, a
little SF, and graphic novels. I'm also on a quest to buy up every Calvin &
Hobbes cartoon book I can find - I really miss those guys! Finding the time to
read is the toughest thing, I suppose. But when you get a few minutes alone with
a really good book, the world just seems to disappear.
As far as reference books go - I wouldn't be caught dead
without a dictionary, a thesaurus, and Sol Stein's "Stein on Writing."
Cindy: There are so many different takes on the vampire mythos. What makes
Lawson different, and what inspired you to use vampires as characters?
Jon: I suppose you should know how the idea even came about. The Fixer was
originally a short story I sat down one evening and cranked out in one go. It
was one of those rare times when the planets must have been aligned just right
or my muse had just had a hit of speed. It came out intact and ready to go. The
blend of espionage and horror seemed weirdly correct. I'd been trying to write
an espionage thriller and also had been selling horror shorts. The sudden fusion
must have been inevitable and looking back it reminds me of that old Reese's
Peanut Butter Cup commercial - to paraphrase, "you got your espionage in my
horror - you got your horror in my espionage." But it worked so who am I to
argue? Anyway, I submitted the short to the Zoetrope.com writer's website where
everyone who read it thought it should be turned into a novel. I thought, why
not? But I also realized that if it became a novel, the tendency would be for it
to become just *another* vampire novel. I wanted something different. So I
brainstormed and discovered no one (at least I didn't discover any other writers
doing this) had supposed vampires as being a living evolving race that somehow
got splintered off the main line of humanity so many thousands of years ago. So
vamps in my series aren't undead - they live. They live longer because they
ingest blood which contains the life-force of their hosts, but they live just
the same. Before I knew it, I'd tied in concepts of Asian philosophy (the
life-force, or "ki" in Japanese is what vampires need) as well as a
host of other slants that really made the mythos seem almost new again.
I used vampires as characters because they've always
fascinated (read "scared the holy crap outa me") since I was a young
child. Believe it or not, the very first nightmare I can recall is being sick as
a child and being convinced the Count from Sesame Street was out to get me! So
vampires and I have always had an affinity for one another.
Cindy: Selling a whole series to a publisher is a really impressive achievement
- how did you do it?
Jon: I didn't. My agent did, heh heh. Seriously, when I wrote The Fixer it was a
one-shot deal. Then I fell upon the Harry Potter books and devoured them. I
thought about how cool it would be to have a series. I landed an agent who
wanted a series as well, so while she was trying to sell The Fixer, I started
writing book 2, The Invoker. And then she got a two-book deal. A few months
later, she managed to sell two more unwritten books in the series, bringing it
up to four. My editor is supposed to be considering buying books 5 & 6 this
summer some time.
Cindy: What are your future plans for the Lawson Vampire series? What other
projects are you working on?
Jon: Oh, Lawson will never ever get much of a break, I fear. I like telling
people that every day is Monday for Lawson. The poor dude will be battling
lycanthropes in book 3, The Destructor (due out May 2003) and going up against
vampires engaged in organized crime in book 4, The Syndicate (due out in October
2003). Future plans are to have him over in Japan for a bit, but I don't want to
say too much about that.
I've got some other projects as well. I'm trying to get a
short story collection out through a small press publisher. And Parallax is the
latest paranormal/espionage thriller I'm working on. I hope to have the first
draft done some time over the next few months. I'm still trying to get Vicarious
and Danger-Close sold as well.
Cindy: What is Vicarious? Do you think your fans will get to see it at the
Jon: Vicarious is a true horror novel. While the Lawson Vampire series got
branded as horror since it has vampires in it, I don't consider it horror. It's
more of a thriller. But Vicarious is definitely a horror novel. It tells the
story of Steve Curran, a former FBI agent who got kicked out of the Bureau for
failing to capture a serial killer known as the Soul Eater. The corpses the Soul
Eater left behind bear no evidence of murder, but they're dead just the same.
The killer shows up in Boston, where Curran is now working as a homicide
detective. Before he realizes it, he's back on the case, this time paired up
with a soon-to-be nun named Lauren. Together they figure out the true quest of
the Soul Eater - something that will change the course of destiny itself.
I'd love to say, yes - you'll see it at the movie soon. But
then again, this is the entertainment world. Things move as fast as frozen
molasses on a perfectly level surface. Dimension Films via Miramax is looking at
it right now (it's been with them since January). It's also being considered at
Pocket Books. I'm not sure if it will even make it to the gate. Some editors
have said it's too long and others thought the storyline felt too familiar. But
we'll see. Anything's possible.
Cindy: Your web site has some interesting marketing strategies. Where did you
come up with the idea to use posters? Do you think it's helped?
Jon: Well, I don't think it's hurt matters any. In truth, the flier campaign was
initially supposed to be an every week thing. I did it the first week. My wife
was pregnant at the time. Then the weather was bad for two weeks straight. Then
my son decided he wanted to hit the ground running five weeks ahead of his due
date. So - heh heh - while the flier idea had merit, it really didn't take off
the way I'd hoped.
A lot of authors hate marketing their work. They think it's a
dirty word. I don't. You can write the best book in the world but if people
don't know it's out there, it won't really matter, will it? There are 40,000
books published every year supposedly - I need to do a lot to stand out in a
crowd like that! So, personally, I like hearing new ideas and trying them out.
I'm trying to make a TV commercial with a furniture company upon whose sofas I
wrote a lot of the novel! You never know unless you try - and I try a lot.
Cindy: Please tell us about Planet Pulp. What inspired you to do an e-mail
Jon: When I started writing seriously - at the point I knew I'd need an agent
eventually, I started looking around for contacts and friendly faces who could
help. What I found depressed the hell out of me. Writers who had enjoyed some
degree of success had, by and large, turned away from those of us still "in
the trenches." That kind of caste system disgusts me. I can't stand people
who forget where they came from, what the struggle was like. I vowed back then
to always try to help fellow writers out as best I could. Planet Pulp is part of
that realization for me. I launched it with fellow author Joe Nassise - a truly
great guy who feels the same way I do about helping other writers - and our goal
is to interview as many top industry pros as possible. Our subscribers get the
kind of information they need to further their own careers. Our first issue
interviewed top agent Donald Maass and horror publisher John Turi of Medium Rare
Books. Issue 2 will feature spots with Mindstorm Creative producer Shannon
Fitzgerald who will talk all about the ins and outs of movie deals for authors,
as well as author Karen Taylor who will talk about writing a series. Issue 3
will be a SF spectacular - 4 interviews with some incredible guests: Jack
McDevitt, Ellen Datlow, Gordon Van Gelder and John Joseph Adams. The mag is
shaping up to be fantastic!
Cindy: When you're not writing, what do you like to do?
Jon: I'm a martial arts junkie. I've been studying various systems for almost
seventeen years - twelve in the system I study now. So I work out quite a bit.
It helps relieve the pressures, lets me think, that kind of thing. I also read
as much as possible. And right now, most of my time is devoted to helping care
for my newborn son. Interestingly enough, he seems to require a lot of attention
Cindy: If someone where to describe you as a writer using only one word, what
would it be?
Jon: Unpredictable. First of all, *I* never know what I'm going to write. I also
never know what sort of weird ways I'll try to market my work. If something
isn't working I change it and try something new. I don't care about convention.
If it looks like it'll work, I'm all over it.
Cindy: What do you think is the most important thing for a new writer to
Jon: Absolute perseverance. If you want this, you cannot stop trying for one
second. You can't stop believing in yourself. I've seen plenty of writers tell
aspiring folks "forget it, it's too much work, blah blah blah." Hell
with that! If you've got a dream, get out there and live it! Remember the motto
of the British Special Air Service Regiment: "Who Dares Wins"!
To order your copy of Jon F. Merz’s The Fixer, you can call
1-888-345-BOOK, or check out your favorite on or off line book retailer. You can
find more information about Jon F. Merz at http://www.zrem.com/,
or take a look at Pulp Planet at http://www.planetpulpmagazine.com