Interview with Maureen McGowan: What it Takes to Become an Author!

*Do you love fairy tales? How about a book that let’s you decide where the story goes? Come back tomorrow to enter into a Multiple Book Giveaway for Cinderella Ninja Warriorand Sleeping Beauty Vampire Slayer!

I have the fabulous YA author Maureen McGowan, whom was just featured in apopular Canadian magazine for kids, and she’s here to tell us: What it takes to become an Author!

 1) What did your job occupations include before you became an author?

I’m a Chartered Accountant, believe it or not! But I didn’t exactly have a typical accounting career. After working as an auditor, I worked in research and software development for a while and helped develop an artificial intelligence system for assessing risk. I also worked in the finance industry for a while as the CFO of a hedge fund.

2) Wow! So what made you take the plunge into writing?

I think it’s what I always wanted to do, but would never admit it to anyone, including myself. In the early 2000’s, totally burnt out from my previous career, I decided to take a break from work to explore my creative side. I signed up for classes in drawing and painting and then a novel writing course. Once I was 100 pages or so into my first novel (a book that will never see the light of day) I was hooked!

 3) The big question: How did you become a published author? How did you get your agent?

The best way to become published is to write—a lot. I got my current agent the old-fashioned way. I sent a query with a few pages attached, he asked to see the manuscript, and I was his client a week later. I said yes exactly a week after he requested the manuscript.

This is actually agent #2 for me. I got the first one based on a submission that started with a conference pitch.

4) Despite your success, did you ever feel like giving up? How did you get through the uncertainty of publishing?

I’ve had many dark moments, during which I wondered if I should give up, or whether the only reason I’ve kept going was out of stubbornness, rather than passion. (I am a Taurus—stubborn and passionate.) But when remember all I’ve gone through to get where I am, it makes me realize that I must have a very strong passion for writing. Why else would I keep going!

I’ve had offers fall through, publishers close—lots of heartbreak and disappointment. But the joy of writing and having others read my stories is worth it. The uncertainty on the business side of publishing is difficult. Very. I’m actually giving a workshop at a conference in NYC on June 30th that’s entitled: Getting Past “So Close”. I really do think it’s the hardest thing to deal with. Even the few lucky people who publish faster than average almost always have some major setbacks. Publishing is not for the faint of heart.

I think the key is to focus on the part that you love, and the part you can control—the writing. And to remember that none of it is personal. If agents and editors reject your work, or if reviewers or readers dislike it, or if your books don’t sell as well as you’d hoped, you can’t take it personally. I’ve come in contact with a few writers over the years who seem to believe that the publishing world is a big ugly machine out to get them. If you think that way, all you’ll end up with is misery.

5) Too true! What more advice would you give to aspiring writers?

You’ve got to be committed and take it seriously. Even if you haven’t yet found an agent or earned a penny, you need to treat writing like a job, even if it’s your second (or third) job. It’s also important to set your ego aside and be prepared to work hard and learn.

No one expects to perform surgery because they watch Grey’s Anatomy, yet many people assume they can write a novel because they’re avid readers. Even with innate talent, it takes time and hard work to learn the craft.

6) Perfect. What has been your favorite author experience so far?

Last week I went to speak to a Grade 5/6 class at a local school. That was fun. The kids were so eager and interested in stories. And the few girls in the class who’d read my books said a lot of flattering things. Can’t beat that.

7) Aww! You really can’t.

Now when your writing a novel, what’s the hardest and easiest part for you?

Getting the first draft down on paper is the hardest part for me. I need to make a daily word count goal, hold myself accountable and remind myself, constantly, that I can change it later if it’s terrible.

My favorite part is the fine-tuning. When I’m feeling confident that the story is working and all I need to do is work on the sentence structure and the word choices and the rhythm of the actual prose. I rewrite a lot… I once heard a famous genre-fiction writer say that, “It’s really hard to write a book that’s easy to read.” And that stuck with me. Sometimes the hardest way to say something is “simply”.

8 ) Love that quote. So tell me all about your YA novels, Cinderella: Ninja Warrior and Sleeping Beauty Vampire Slayer

They are retellings of the fairy tales with lots of adventure, danger and magic. Plus, they have a choose-your-own-path element. The heroines in the stories do meet and fall in love with handsome princes, but they’re not waiting around for princes to solve their problems. My heroines are capable of saving themselves.

9) How did you come up with the idea to put a modern spin old fairy tales? 

I was actually approached by a freelance editor to write a proposal for a series of updated fairytales with a choose-your-own-adventure element. So the original spark wasn’t mine. But as soon as I heard the basic premise I loved it and jumped at the opportunity to “fix” some of the issues I had with the classic tales and make the heroines stronger and the stories more exciting. Luckily the publisher loved my take on the classics.

In Cinderella: Ninja Warrior, Cinderella’s stepmother is an evil wizard who’s trapped her in the house using a series of spells that she tries to break using ninja and magic skills learned in secret.

Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer unfolds from a twist on the classic curse. Instead of the kingdom being cursed to sleep for 100 years, Sleeping Beauty is cursed to sleep only during the daylight hours, while everyone else in her kingdom has the opposite curse and falls asleep each night at dusk. So, our poor heroine is alone in the dark every night, the only one able to defend herself and her kingdom from evil vampires sent by a jealous Vampire Queen with a grudge.

10) How did you decide to write a story in which the writer took an active role in how the story went?

I was asked to include that element and to be honest, I’m not certain I would have chosen to do it on my own. I found it challenging because I decided early on that, since the stories were based on fairy tales, they should lead to a happy ending no matter what route the reader takes. And certainly for Cinderella, the first story I tackled, the reader expects a fairly specific happy ending… It wouldn’t be Cinderella if she didn’t end up with the prince!

I also decided not to include dead end paths along the way—a la “bad choice, you die!” I figure that every day we’re all faced with choices that aren’t necessarily right or wrong, just different. And that if my heroines (and the readers) were smart, they wouldn’t follow paths that were obviously “wrong”.

11) What do you want young teens to take away from your novels?

In addition to the traditional fairytale themes of “good triumphs over evil” and “true love conquers all”, I did add some additional themes to the stories. Cinderella is also about believing in yourself and seeing the true beauty inside others. Sleeping Beauty is also about coping with being a child of divorce and learning that not everything is your fault—even if you’re (literally) cursed.

But mostly, I want readers to be entertained and have fun!

12) What’s in store for your next novel?

My next novel, Deviant, is actually aimed at an older young adult audience and is set in a dark, post-apocalyptic world. I’m hoping it will be out in the first half of 2012.

13) I’m already hooked–I love those books! Tell me about your 1st book, Time Travel: The Mammoth Book of Romance? You were a co-author? How did that happen?

I actually got the opportunity to submit a story for that anthology through a romance-author friend. She had read one of my manuscripts and knew my history of several heartbreakingly close calls in the publishing department. She was asked to contribute a story for the anthology, didn’t have time, and told me that if I could write an appropriate short story quickly, she’d ask her editor to read it. Luckily the editor loved my story and included it in the anthology.

14) If you could meet any author, who would it be?

Oh, good question. I have a list… But I think today I’ll pick Suzanne Collins. I’d love to pick her brain.

15) Since you live in Canada, I have to ask. I’ve recently become a huge fan of Maple Sugar Cream pies. What’s your favorite Canadian dessert?

Butter tarts. J I didn’t even realize they were a Canadian thing until I moved to the US for about nine years. Nine years without butter tarts. Oh, the humanity!!

**Come back tomorrow to read my review of Cinderella Ninja Warrior and enter into a Multiple Book Giveaway for Cinderella Ninja Warrior and Sleeping Beauty Vampire Slayer!


4 thoughts on “Interview with Maureen McGowan: What it Takes to Become an Author!

  1. Kelly says:

    Lovely interview Brittany! Thanks for the great advice on wirting Maureen!! Sounds like an awesome spin to a great fairy tale.

  2. Hi RK. Thanks for stopping by. I hope I’ll be able to announce something about the next book soon. 🙂

    And the nine years without butter tarts were hard. No Shreddies, either.

  3. RK Charron says:

    Hi Brittany & Maureen 🙂

    Thank you for the fun & informative interview. I’m looking forward to reading DEVIANT.
    And I didn’t know buttertarts were a Canadian thing!
    (Makes note to stock up if travelling)

    All the best,

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