Writers at Work: Hank Phillippi Ryan Welcomes Kathy Lynn Emerson

Writing SecretsHank Phillippi Ryan: Yes–it’s interview day! And more of those in-depth discussions with your favorite authors are in the works. (Who would you like to hear from? What would you like to hear about?)

But I’ve been thinking. What makes an author successful? What are the traits that can help move you from crossing fingers to applause?

One thing you will hear from everyone–persistence. Nothing in the world takes the place of persistence. Never never never give up. You can’t win if you don’t play. Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle. On and on. I say these things to myself every day. Every day. Do you?

So. Given that commitment is a must-have in writing world, what other traits do successful authors have? And are they shared?

I wondered–do exceptionally successful authors do certain things exceptionally well?

Yes, of course they are all wonderful writers, with unique voices and everything else we can all list.

But every time I go to an event, someone asks–“what’s your process?”  Almost as if there’s some secret thing a person could do to to be more successful/creative/brilliant.

It’s fascinating, right? So we’ve devised a little–quiz. A series of easy and brief questions very specifically about the work habits of successful authors.

Timage004oday we welcome Kathy Lynn Emerson, who also writes as Kaitlyn Dunnett and Kate Emerson — Kathy, of course, is the Guest of Honor for the upcoming Malice Domestic — talk about success! That’s about as good as it gets. So let’s see how she does it … 

1. When you need to do your writing for the day, how difficult is it to get yourself to begin? Why?

That depends on whether or not I know what comes next in the story.

2. Is there something you say to yourself every day? Whether it has to do with responsibility, or deadlines, or commitment, or fear, or optimism, or creativity?

“It takes as long as it takes.” This is a reminder to myself that I’m not going to write the whole book in one sitting and I should be happy with whatever I manage to get done that day.

3. When you sit down to work, what’s the first thing you think?

“Need coffee!!!”

4. What’s the first thing you do?  Really?  Do you check your email, or Facebook, or Twitter FIRST?

I’m not on Facebook, Twitter, or any of those. With breakfast (toast and the first cup of coffee) I check email and read the blogs I enjoy on my iPad, but that’s all done before I go into my office to start work. At my pc, I start by calling up the WIP and figuring out where I left off.image002

5. How do you handle the temptations of the Internet?

I’m not all that tempted while I’m working. I’d have to exit the WIP to look at anything else, so I don’t. I don’t allow interruptions by incoming email (or phone calls). I’m very good at turning things off.

6. When you begin writing, are you optimistic or pessimistic about where you’ll be two hours later?

Optimistic. If the WIP is moving ahead, then I’m making progress.

7.  Do you have a daily word or page quota?  How committed to that are you?

When I’m working on a new book, I try to write at least the next scene each day and keep moving forward, but I do a lot of backing and forthing. I write down my total word count just to see how far I have to go, but that number is pretty meaningless. I always write short in the first draft. Trying for a certain number of pages or a certain number of words a day isn’t a workable goal for the way I write.

8. Do you work on the book every day?  How do you feel when you have a day where you don’t write? How often do you think–“I should be writing!” ?

I try to work every day, although not necessarily on the same project. It’s easier to keep track of the flow of the story if I don’t take days off. But I don’t even try to work if I’m traveling or at a conference. And I don’t feel guilty about it. If I’ve been away from something for a week or more, I usually have to go back to the beginning and read everything before I can go on . . . and of course I end of changing stuff along the way!

9. Are there things you have given up as a result of your–well, okay. What have you given up to allow yourself to write?

I have no social life, and more friends in distant places than in my home town, but I’ve never felt I was making any big sacrifice to shut myself away and write. I married my best friend, so he’s right here with me. On the other hand, I do enjoy myself at conferences and conventions.

10. Do you actually drink the wine or champagne your friends gave you when you succeeded at something? Or do you save it for a more special occasion?

I don’t actually drink, except for the occasional beer, so no one gives me wine or champagne. They know better.

11. Think of your last success. When it happened…how long did you float? How soon after did you start focusing on the next success?

Hmm. I don’t usually think in terms of success as much as in reaching goals. The big one is image001usually sending in a finished book to an editor. But I did recently have a surprising bit of good news that counts as “success” when my agent called to tell me that one of the non-mystery historical novels I write as Kate Emerson was the lead title in a book club in Russia and has sold 140,000 copies. For a confirmed mid-list writer like me, that’s mind-blowing. I’m not sure I’ve ever even had a print run that big in the U.S. So, from that success, I’m still floating (and gobsmacked) two weeks later, but it didn’t really interrupt the forward movement on the WIP.

12. For extra credit: what do you wish someone had told you? (Something personal and specific. Not like how wonderful Sisters in Crime is, or how supportive everyone is, or how wonderful librarians and bookstores are. We agree.) What is something you really–learned?

I wish I’d learned sooner not to drive myself crazy because I wasn’t doing everything “they” say a writer should do to promote a book. I’m going to turn this around and say the best advice I can give other writers is to figure out what works for you and keep doing it, but don’t feel you have to do everything.

12+. For double-duty extra credit: because this is a very important question which may be difficult to answer but may be very helpful to others. Do you think you are a good writer?

Yes, I do think I’m a good writer. Not a great writer, mind you, but definitely a good one.

Hank: Fascinating, huh?  Turning off things, shutting herself away…hmmm.  What do you think? Are you similar, or different?  Of course we’ll give a book to a lucky commenter! And come back this time next week for another peek inside another writing life.

* * *

Learn more about Kathy Lynn Emerson and her books at her webpages, www.KaitlynDunnett.com, www.KateEmersonHistoricals.com, and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com.

* * *

Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 Emmys and dozens of others honors for her ground-breaking journalism. The best-selling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: two Agathas, the Anthony and the Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the Mary Higgins Clark award. Her newest thriller THE WRONG GIRL (now an Agatha and Left Coast Crime nominee) was dubbed “Another winner!” in a Booklist starred review. Her upcoming novel is TRUTH BE TOLD (Forge, 2014.) She is 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime.   http://www.HankPhillippiRyan.com

About bethkanellbooks

My life is always a three-strand braid: love for Vermont, love of reading, and the need to write (and write better and better). Come visit and chat at any of my blogs and posts -- there's a big wonderful world of writing and reading, and we're in it together.
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15 Responses to Writers at Work: Hank Phillippi Ryan Welcomes Kathy Lynn Emerson

  1. This post is perfect timing for me. Just keep writing…will do! Kathy, really looking forward to cheering you on at Malice! Congratulations on being the Guest of Honor–see you in DC!

    • hankpryan says:

      I know–isn’t that the whole key? One day I said to my mother–I’m not sure I can finish this book. She said: Well, you will if you want to.
      How about THAT?

  2. jpchoquette says:

    Great interview–I love learning what authors do “behind the scenes” to be successful. Congrats to you, Kathy, for the honor of your recent book hike in Europe and also for being selected as guest of honor at Malice Domestic. Wonderful!

    • hankpryan says:

      Yeah, isn’t it fascinating? Our new Sisters inCrime motto is “you write alone, but you’re not alone.” This sure proves it, doesn’t it?

  3. Kathy, I love the news about your Russian best-seller! (Great cover, too …) And what I especially enjoy about this Q-and-A is the sense of balanced optimism you’ve nurtured for your writing process. I want to live up to exactly that! Hank, what an insightful set of questions you provided. This new feature on the blog is a keeper.

    • hankpryan says:

      Oh, thank you! I am learning so much form these questions…We are all so unique, but so connected and walking the same path.

  4. Sally says:

    Thanks for another great interview. Kathy, you seem so together and focused and the fact that you are comfortable with your process comes through loud and clear. Hank, questions with a different twist so we can see more of the “inner workings.” Amazing how each set of questions so perfectly fit each author. I am starting to see a theme, though. All of these successful writers say they just keep at it, do what works for them and don’t give up. Not bad advice for any of us.

    And such a nice variety of books for the TBR list.

    • hankpryan says:

      Sally, thank you. And yes, the persistence theme is certainly consistent! ANd since it is, why do we keep wondering about it? Because working hard is–hard. 🙂

  5. Thanks, everyone, and especially thanks to Hank for coming up with such great questions. I’m looking forward to talking to some of you in person at Malice (and maybe at Maine Crime Wave in Portland before that?)


  6. Great interview, Hank and Kathy,
    I identify with so many things Kathy says. For instance:
    – I no longer feel guilty about promotion I don’t do
    _ I write in scenes and mentally work on the next scene in the story before I start writing the
    next day.
    _A scene a day is great, and “it takes as long as it takes.” No daily quota.
    _I check email, but after that, am not tempted by internet or phone.
    _ I, too, sacrifice lunches with friends and social events to write.
    _ “I don’t think in terms of success as much as in reaching goals.”
    Her answers were ones I would have given. We’re so alike, (except for her Russian book
    club sales and honor by Malice Domestic), it’s scary. Actually, it’s very encouraging.

  7. hankpryan says:

    I’m laughing, Nancy! I agree…it’s VERY reassuring! ANd you are obviously on the perfect path..

  8. hankpryan says:

    And make sure you all tell me who you’d like to hear from!

  9. Pingback: Weekend Update: March 15-16, 2014 | Maine Crime Writers

  10. jrosebooks says:

    Wow. Great interview! Her answer about knowing you’re not going to write the whole book in one sitting especially hit home. I think sometimes I feel that way, that if I just type a little faster or work a little harder, or give up more non-writing activities, then I’ll be able to get the max amount writing done in a day (12k was my best ever). Thinking about it in those words is very helpful to me.

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