Monday, July 12, 2010

My mystery author guest: Cricket McRae

As promised yesterday, mystery author Cricket McRae is is is visiting my blog today to answer interview questions. Above is a cover photo of Something Borrowed, Something Bleu, the fourth book in her Home Crafting mystery series, which was just released on July 1st. In the book, Sophie Mae has accepted Barr's marriage proposal, and they're trying to keep her mother, Anna Belle, from taking over their no-fuss, no-muss wedding plans. But when Mom finds a cryptic suicide note Sophie Mae's brother wrote two decades earlier, Sophie Mae must return to her hometown of Spring Creek, Colorado to suss things out.

See what Cricket has to say in response to my questions below, and feel free to ask her additional questions in comments.

Interview with Cricket McRae:

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

I’m envious of people who started writing when they were three years old and never stopped. That wasn’t me. But when I was nineteen I wrote in my journal that I would be a mystery author. A shiver ran down my back, and I knew it was a True Statement. Since then I simply assumed I would be a writer, and stabbed at it a bit during college and my corporate career without a great deal of follow-through. In my mid-thirties I decided to really dive in. A much rewritten version of my first mystery novel snagged an agent, who sold Lye in Wait, my first Home Crafting Mystery, to Midnight Ink. That original mystery remains unpublished, though.

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

For primary characters I like clustering. I fill up whole notebooks with little circles filled with words attached to other little circles filled with words. It’s weirdly right-brained, and a good way to get to know someone, to figure out why someone would actually kill someone else, and to understand motivation and cause and effect. I often use clustering for plotting individual scenes as well.

3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I have a rough outline of what’s going to happen and then see how the characters like it as I write. It always changes a lot. I inevitably start out thinking I know how the book will end, and then something happens and about sixty percent through I really find out. Then I go back and change things to reflect the real ending and finish up the book.

By the way, that’s not a method I recommend to anyone. If I could figure out how to do it differently, I would.

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

They go hand in hand, though for me it’s a combination of character and situation to begin with. A swaggering cowgirl with a bad mouth isn’t suitable for a cozy mystery featuring crafts and cooking. Likewise my protagonist, Sophie Mae Reynolds, would be the wrong type of character for a psychological thriller. Since I write a series, I already know the characters. I figure out the situation, which usually centers around the featured home craft, and then determine the ancillary characters. Finally, I plot within that framework.

5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

Right now feeling randomized is my biggest challenge. I’m promoting one book, polishing another manuscript, reworking a third, and developing proposals for two other mystery series for my agent to look over. Between that and the usual summer fare of gardening, golf, house renovations, visitors and a bit of fun, changing my focus from project to project has been a challenge.

Trying to stay organized and mindfully moving from one task to another helps keep my concentration sharp. I also tell myself that all the variety feeds my creative well rather than depleting it. That actually might be true. ; - )

6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

I rarely write fiction at night, though that’s often when I write my blog posts. When I’m working on a first draft I try for an average of ten pages a day, five days a week. I try not to take two days off in a row, though. When I’m rewriting or editing I think in terms of hours – usually four hours a day is about right to stay on track.

7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Learn your craft and be persistent. Write a lot. Then learn some more and write some more. Repeat.

8. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

As much as I go on about cooking from scratch and eating real food on my blog and even in my mysteries, I have a strong and secret love of SpaghettiOs with Franks. I like them hot, sprinkled with potato chips or grated cheese, even spooned out of the can cold. Though I haven’t eaten them for five years or more, I’m embarrassed to say my mouth is actually watering as I write this.

9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I just finished the fifth Home Crafting Mystery, Wined and Died, which features mead making as the home crafting backdrop to the murder and mayhem. I’ll be spending a lot of time promoting Something Borrowed, Something Bleu for the next few months as I develop the sixth in the series, and then I’ll get down to work on that. Eventually I hope to have a second mystery series and write the occasional standalone.

10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

If you want to know any more about my Home Crafting Mystery Series or about me, please visit my website. My blog features my musings on writing and all things domestic. I’m available to attend book club meetings in person within 40 miles of Fort Collins, CO or via cell phone or Skype. You can find discussion questions for my books on my website.

And finally, a big Thank You, Beth!

Okay, readers, fire away! And given Cricket's revelation about her SpaghettiOs with Franks craving, let's all divulge our secret food cravings. He, he, he! ;-) I'll go first. Along with dark, dark chocolate, which everyone who knows me at all knows that I crave like the dickens, my comfort food is cinnamon graham crackers dipped in vanilla yogurt. I can eat a whole pack (a third of a box) at one sitting, which is why I don't do it often!


Patricia Stoltey said...

SpaghettiOs. That one's hard to match for unhealthy and loaded with salt...but I'll try.

For me, it's no secret about my love of dark chocolate (Lindt 85% cocoa bars), but my secret, secret passion is for Oscar Meyer full-calorie bologna in a white bread sandwich with mustard. I haven't had one in at least ten years and maybe more.

Now my mouth is watering.

Maureen said...

I find it interesting how many published authors have a first novel that hasn't been published. Gives all of us looking-to-be-published writers hope!

My secret food craving is shortbread cookies and a slice of cheddar. Weird, but good! Like Cricket, I haven't had that in a few years, but I think about getting it a lot! Plus I too love dark chocolate. Since my heart surgery my husband buys it for me as additional "medication." Yum!

Alan Orloff said...

Nice interview, Cricket and Beth. I have a question (multi-part). Is Cricket your real name, and, if not, is there a story behind it?

I don't think I have any weird food cravings, but I do like to throw all the leftovers together in a "kitchen-sink" stir-fry. Sometimes that leads to some bizarre meals.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Nice interview!

Here's my secret food: I love DQ's peanut butter cup blizzards. I live in a town with a university that offers a course in making ice cream. I'm a big believer in buying local, organic, etc., etc. But when I have an ice cream craving, I pass by the good stuff and head to DQ.

Cricket McRae said...

Lol, Patricia. You could alway fry the bologna to add a few calories (I had a fried bologna sandwich once -- it was pretty awesome).

Maureen, I once had an agent tell me she liked to know a potential client had an old manuscript in the drawer. She felt authors' writing kinks get worked out in first novels.

I'm also a big fan of dark chocolate. Don't like milk chocolate at all.

Alan, Cricket is a nickname that's a lot easier to remember than my real name. And as an author I thought it might be a good idea if people remembered my name. ; -) I'm also a big fan of kitchen-sink stir fries (and soups, and fritattas, and...)

Kathleen, I love the idea of a college course in ice cream! And the only thing better than peanut butter and vanilla ice cream is peanut butter and chocolate ice cream, imho. I really miss the Baskin Robbins that went out of business where I live.

Beth Groundwater said...

I remember the "good old days" of fried baloney and ketchup sandwiches made on white bread. My sister still likes to remind me of my gross habit as a child of eating the crusts off a slice of white bread, then rolling the remainder into a tiny ball. I'd pop it into my mouth and suck on it. ;-)

Yes, Maureen, lots and lots of authors have one or more "trunk books" stashed away that we practiced on. My practice book was a futuristic romantic suspense. I remember hearing Jim Butcher say he has 14 trunk books. I'm glad it didn't take me THAT long to get published!

kelly said...

fritos and cottage cheese is my vice, enjoyed that interview, at one point i had eight full length mysteries under the bed, didn't have a clue about revision so i chucked them all in exasperation one day. i still regret it, it was really dumb.

Anonymous said...

Nice interview! Now I have a new author to check out, and I have a long car trip coming up, so what better time?

Secret food craving? Hm. Ruffles potato chips and cottage cheese. Cant' get much saltier than that. Although I'm a sucker for salt and vinegar chips, too. My mother used to make creamed peas and eggs on toast, and she and I were the only ones who liked it.

MB (hi, Beth!)

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi MB!
Okay, now I know what snack to serve at our next critique group meeting! ;-)

MB's comment brought up a topic already addressed by Alan's question about Cricket's first name, which is a nickname. MB is also a nickname. My name, Beth, is short for Elizabeth. Anyone else have a nickname? Is it one you use or plan to use for your author name? Why or why not?

Cricket McRae said...

What fun, learning everyone's quirky cravings. Though I must admit I relate to most of them. I'm more of a potato chip and cottage cheese gal than fritos and cottage cheese, but I'd be willing to give the latter a try!

Thanks for stopping by, everyone, and thanks to Beth for interviewing me!

Rosemary Harris said...

You'll notice Cricket didn't actually reveal her real name. Hi, Cricket, long time no see.
Good luck with the new book.

Secret food craving? Blueberry pancakes with lots of syrup and butter. It's been a few years, so I'm long overdue.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Vienna sausages. I know...I am ashamed. Great to read more about the behind-the-scenes of your books, Cricket.

Cricket McRae said...

Hey Rosemary and Joanna -- thanks for stopping by and your kind words.

Blueberry pancakes with syrup sound wonderful! And I think the "franks" in my favorite SpaghettiOs are probably first cousins to Vienna sausages -- only with fake smoke flavoring. Erm...

Lois Winston said...

My secret food craving is quite different from the rest of you. I grew up a block away from the original Tabachnick's deli. My mouth waters at the thought of nova and cream cheese on a fresh bagel. Unfortunately, nova is extremely expensive, so it's a craving that rarely gets indulged.

Unknown said...

Beautiful photo of Something Borrowed, Something Bleu,and also about the facts of the interview is great to read.


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