It’s not every day you’re lucky enough to spend time with a person who is just so down-to-earth and real that you feel like you’ve known them your entire life, even though your friendship may only be about a year and a half old. Maureen McGowan is that kind of a person to me. And it doesn’t matter how many days have passed since I last saw her, when we sit down over drinks and food (ah, yes, always drinks and food) to have a visit, it’s as if we hang out on a daily basis and are just picking up where we left off the day before.
That’s why I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview this wonderful friend and fellow torkidlit author. You may have noticed I’ve mentioned Maureen in previous posts, and that’s because she’s not only an amazing human being, but also a voice to be heard in this venture called the writer’s life. Maureen’s super supportive, tons of fun to be around, and she’s also wise and insightful and very open to sharing her experiences and lessons learned.
Maureen’s debut YA books (yes, I said books) were released this past Friday, April 1st. CINDERELLA: NINJA WARRIOR and SLEEPING BEAUTY: VAMPIRE SLAYER are both clever choose-your-own-adventure stories featuring feisty kick-a** heroines, rather than traditional sit-on-your-a**-and-let-fate-determine-your-destiny princesses. (Written in the light of a wealth of experience, I’m sure. Being feisty and choosing your own adventure are two things Maureen does very well ;))
And to make this interview even sweeter than it already is, comment below for a chance to win a copy of either CINDERELLA or SLEEPING BEAUTY – winner’s choice! (Winner to be chosen by super secret random method. A.K.A: I’ll have my kid choose a number from 1 to however many comments there are. Maybe not so secret anymore, but pretty super and random, all the same.) Hint: Subscribe to comments so you will be notified when the winner is announced.
And now it’s my pleasure to introduce you to this feisty kick-a** YA author: Maureen McGowan.
Please introduce yourself to us.
I’m a recovering accountant and shoe addict who writes novels for teens and adults.
Tell us about your books.
My first two novels, Cinderella: Ninja Warrior, and Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, both just hit the shelves! They are the first two books in the Twisted Tales series published by Baker & Taylor Publishing Group as their first twelve-and-over books under their Silver Dolphin imprint.The stories are adventurous retellings/re-imaginings of classic fairy tales that are suitable for readers of just about any age. The publisher put twelve on the cover, but strong readers as young as nine or ten would enjoy these books. There’s lots of danger, but nothing too terrifying, and not too much “kissing stuff”. In my versions of these classic tales, the heroines don’t sit around waiting for someone to save them—they fight for their happy endings.
The stories are told with a choose-your-own-adventure element. At three points during each story, the reader makes an important decision for the heroine, and the story unfolds differently depending on those choices. It’s possible to read the book eight different ways!
Why did you choose to write children’s books?
Children’s books kind of chose me. But I am so glad they did! I love writing for the young adult market and it’s my main focus now.
When the genre found me, I had been writing adult books for a number of years, but had only managed to sell one short story, albeit into a pretty popular anthology. My last adult manuscript was a sexy urban fantasy novel, set in a world entirely of my own making, but sadly, my former agent failed to find the right editor for it.
But, one of my critique partners who’d read it was hired on a freelance basis to be the editor for the Twisted Tales series. She knew I was between projects, frustrated and, although everything I’d written up to that point had been decidedly adult, she thought I might be perfect for this project and asked me to try my hand at writing a proposal for the target publisher. About six weeks after writing a chapter and an outline for Cinderella: Ninja Warrior, and listing a few titles for follow-up books, including Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, I had a two-book contract.
So, an overnight success after seven or eight years of banging my head against the wall. 😉
Is there anything specific you want to achieve through CINDERELLA and SLEEPING BEAUTY? Were they written with a specific purpose in mind?
My main purpose with these two books was to entertain readers. I hope the books are fun and exciting and fast to read. But underneath all that, I wanted to write fairy tales I would enjoy. Fairy tales where the heroines aren’t just victims waiting for a Prince to spot her in a pretty dress and shoes, or sleeping for a hundred years waiting for someone else to break her curse.
In addition to the traditional fairy tale themes of true love conquers all, and good triumphs over evil, each of these stories has other underlying themes. Cinderella: Ninja Warrior is also about believing in yourself, and seeing through the superficial to what really matters—the person inside. Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer is also about the dangers of prejudice, and about being a child of divorce—realizing that it’s not your fault when your parents fight (even if you’re cursed).
Is the writing community important to you? If yes, how so?
Unbelievably important. As much as everyone you talk to thinks they know about writing and publishing—only other writers, who’ve gone through the highs and the lows, can truly understand both how fabulous yet difficult it is. How sometimes the things that sound like failures are actually triumphs—how fabulous you got that chance to fail!—and the things that sound like huge successes don’t always measure up to our dreams.
I rely daily on my close writer friends, as well as the wider network of the writing community, to get through both the good and the bad times with some semblance of sanity and self-esteem. 😉
Do you believe in the concept of a muse? Explain.
Yes and no. I don’t believe in the concept of waiting for your muse. I think if you want to be a professional writer, you need to sit down and work. Writing is hard most days—really hard—and if you only write when the “muse strikes” then it’s possible you’re treating writing as a hobby, not a profession.
That said, sometimes it does pay to clear your head when you’re stuck. And there is no better, more magical, feeling than having an idea pour out of your fingers onto the page from somewhere unexplainable. Or realizing near the end of the first draft that you’ve been setting up some amazing twist entirely by accident or via your self-conscious. I suppose those days when the magic comes could be attributed to a muse. Those are the days that keep me going through all the bad days where nothing I write seems good enough. If it’s a muse? I’m down with that. Keep her/him coming. 🙂
Was there a specific event that encouraged you to develop your artistic, writerly self?
Oh, I love this question. I think I always wanted to be a writer of some kind—or at least to do something artistic and creative. But I was also very practical, wanted to earn a living, and was “cursed” with being a good student. Not that it was a curse—at all—but my aptitude for school did mean it was easier to paddle in the direction my parents/teachers expected me too, rather than to fight the tide and follow my dreams.
I actually went to University for accounting and have a Masters Degree in that field. After a successful and (sometimes interesting) career in finance I found myself in complete burnout mode. The last few years of my previous career were pretty horrific and I didn’t even recognize myself.
If I were to advise Teen Me now, I think I’d tell her that it’s fine to want a good job that pays well, but it’s also important to work at something that interests you. Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you should do it. Ambition and accomplishments can only get you through so many years of a job your heart’s not in before it starts to change you.
How did you come to find your own voice? Did you emulate anyone in the beginning?
This is an interesting question. I think I found my voice by writing—a lot—and revising—a lot. I don’t think I emulated anyone in the beginning, but I do think that I was, at once, too loose with my prose and too tight with my grammar. That is, I was obsessed with writing grammatically correct sentences, but my work was riddled with unnecessary words and embellishments. (Not to mention unnecessary and/or overwritten scenes.)
When critiquers of my early work pointed this out, I got angry. But that’s my voice!! If I take out all those words or scenes, or sections of snappy dialogue, it will be flat and not sound like me!! It took time and experience to learn that it’s possible to edit voice into prose (rather than my early assumption that too much editing would take all the voice out.) I also came to understand that voice is as much about the stories we choose to tell, and the characters we choose to create, as it is about style.
Are there any helpful books on writing that you’d like to recommend?
I have a huge collection of writing books… But some “old faithfuls” are:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Brown and Dave King, On Writing, by Stephen King, and Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction, by Debra Dixon.
The first is one of the best out there for helping writers hone their prose. It really helped me understand how to strengthen my writing through multiple drafts and using words and scenes in an effective way. On Writing I loved because I read it at a time when I was really struggling with whether I wanted to be a “literary” writer. Stephen King helped me see that if my goal was to have people read my books, story trumped all else. Nothing wrong with aspiring to have fabulous prose, but I didn’t want that to get in the way of the storytelling. I decided reading his thoughts that unless you’re writing poetry the words serve the story, not the other way around.
Not sure if he actually says that in the book, but that’s one thing I took away. And speaking of the importance of story, that’s why I included Debra Dixon’s book. There are better known books on story structure, but I love the way she boils it down to always understanding your characters’ goals, why they want what they want, and what’s keeping them from attaining what they want. Know each of your characters’ GMC on every page and presto you’ve got a tension filled story. 🙂
Can you leave us with a favorite quote?
Oh, I’m terrible with quotes. I never remember them. When I was answering your muse question, I wanted to mention a great quote I once saw on the topic. It was a famous writer who said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I only write when the muse strikes. It just so happens that my muse strikes every morning at five am when I sit down at my desk.”
But that’s not the exact quote and I can’t for the life of me remember who said it. (And my google attempts came up short.)
Thanks so much, Maureen! I like the way you think. (Even though you can’t remember quotes!) 🙂
Readers, remember to comment below for a chance to win one of these fabulous books – the choice will be yours, should you win!
If you want to contact Maureen, or would like more info on her, here are some links for you to check out: