Thursday, January 14, 2010

Please meet . . . Margaret Reyes Dempsey, author of THE BENEFACTOR!

Today I'm delighted to introduce Margaret Reyes Dempsey, the author of The Benefactor. My friendship with Margaret is another one of those "would have never met her but for my book" type of stories. Interestingly enough, Margaret and I attended the same university, Washington University in St. Louis, and we graduated only one year apart. (I confess. I'm the older one.) We probably walked the same halls at the same time, because she majored in Spanish and I majored in English but also took plenty of French classes, and all of the Romance languages were in the same building. But we never met. Until, years later, when Margaret saw a blurb about my first novel, Tell No Lies, in our alumni magazine and wrote to congratulate me. At the time, I was renting a little house for a week up near the coast in Georgia, a little retreat in the middle of the swamps where I go sometimes to write. I take my dog Wolfie and we have a nice, quite week away. Her email came as a surprise, and feeling as isolated as I did out in the boondocks, I was happy to have someone to correspond with. Turns out Margaret was a novelist, also, still trying to get published, and we've been writing to each other ever since! (We've even travelled with each other – see my July 06, 2009 post.)

Well, Margaret is no longer trying to get published. She is published. The Benefactor is romantic suspense novel featuring Kate Barrett, a girl who begins receiving anonymous gifts from someone called Secret Friend after the tragic deaths of her parents when she is eight years old. Years later, after landing a challenging job and the apartment of her dreams, she is caught off guard when another package shows up at her now unlisted address. Troubled that someone is watching her every move, she sets out to discover the stranger's identity.

Margaret took the time to answer a few questions about herself and her writing. (She has a great personality, as I think you'll see from her answers.)

How did you come to write The Benefactor? What initially sparked the idea for the story? Is the story that made it into the published novel the same one you began with?

Exactly four years ago, I was reading the newspaper and saw a brief article about money stolen from a church's poor box. In my typical fashion, I started asking "why" and "what if," jotted down a few notes, and filed it all away since I was already in the middle of writing a novel. A year later, I had finished that novel and was submitting it and wanted to start a new project. I peeked into my Ideas folder and found the notes I had written a year before. I decided that was the next story I wanted to write.

The story in the published novel is somewhat different than my first drafts. I ended up doing a rewrite of the story after my "first readers" reviewed it. I just felt it was missing something. I think what I ended up with is better.

What did you do upon first learning that your novel had been accepted for publication?

That was an odd day. I had just visited my son's fourth grade class for an authors' party--the kids had written books about endangered animals. We walked around the classroom, read their stories, and signed their fan pages. On my son's page, I wrote that I was proud of him and that he could now say he was published before his mom. A half hour later I arrived home to find the email indicating my novel had been accepted. I jumped, screamed, ran around a bit, and hyperventilated. Later that night, a friend and I went to a book signing for Mary and Carol Higgins Clark. I told them the news and they were so excited for me. It was nice to see that they hadn't forgotten the thrill of that first acceptance.

Tell us a bit about your writing history and your journey to publication. Is The Benefactor the first novel you wrote, or do you have others tucked away in a drawer somewhere?

No, no, no and yes, yes, yes. My very first novel was called Survival of the Fittest. I started it in 1987 and rewrote it dozens of times over the past 20 years. It in no way resembles the original story. In fact, it's so different, I could finish the last version and the first version and no one would realize they were the same book. That one is kind of like the child who never grows up and moves out.

After that, there were about a dozen half-finished novels, which are bulging out of my file cabinets. In 2005, I was finally sufficiently disgusted with myself to actually finish a novel. I'll never forget the day I printed out the entire Self-fulfilling Prophecy manuscript. It was like giving birth. The very first one I ever finished. Though that one was never accepted for publication, it will always be special to me.

What writers or other people have influenced you? In what way?

The biggest influence in my life was my grandmother, Nana Mickey, a creative person who was not aware of her own giftedness. She used to babysit for us every Saturday night and thrill us with her made-up stories of smugglers and kidnappers at the South Street Seaport. Each week she'd leave off at a cliffhanger to be continued the following week. When I was a bit older, I would raid her bookshelves for romance novels. I think that's why I've always been drawn to write stories that were suspenseful and romantic.

I know she's smiling down on me, no doubt proud that I've been published. She was always my biggest fan. What a blessing it was to have a whole squad of cheerleaders wrapped up in one cuddly grandmother!

Tell us about Margaret Reyes Dempsey.

I am nothing if not enthusiastic and intensely curious. I love new experiences--visiting new places, meeting interesting people, trying new foods. I'm always thinking. I have a team of hamsters in my head and they are always on their wheels, spinning, spinning, spinning. I'm less interested in the "who" and "what" as I am in the "why." I love "what if" scenarios. It's how I create stories. I start with a nugget and then ask what if this happened or what if that happened; before you know it I'm onto something.

My biggest thrill in life is helping people see their own gifts. It's a shame that so many people aren't aware of just how creative they are. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who just cooked a magnificent dinner for a big party and they're lamenting the fact that they have no talents? Or the person who whips up dozens of beautiful, hand- knit scarves for the holidays and wishes they were creative when they hear you've published a novel? My jaw drops and I want to shake them by the shoulders until they realize just how gifted they are. :-)

Besides my fiction writing side, I also happen to be an entrepreneur. I own a consulting company specializing in technical writing. The experience I've acquired in promoting my business is a huge asset in promoting The Benefactor. Unpublished writers may not be aware that, these days, once you're published, the marketing of your book is mostly up to you. Fun, fun, fun.

And speaking of fun, I believe writing should be fun. Not to say it isn't hard work, but hard work can be fun when you're passionate about what you're doing. I think a lot of needless, personal suffering in life is due to people not following their passions. But this is just my opinion. There's room for others. In fact, I was recently talking to a writing pal and mentioned that I'd jumped ahead in one of my writing projects because I got bored in the current scene and wanted to keep it fun. He was a bit horrified and told me we were supposed to suffer as writers. I laughed hysterically at this and we bantered back and forth until he finally acknowledged we were approaching it from two different directions. I agreed and told him he was "approaching it from pain and suffering and I was approaching it from pleasure and joy. Whatever works for you. Jumping ahead has reinvigorated my writing, it's energized me, it's given me insight into my writing process, and now it's provided something to discuss in Julie Compton's interview. So thank you for disagreeing with me."

What's the one thing you think readers would be surprised to know about you?

When I was eight years old, my lifelong dream was to be a cashier. Alas, I never had the pleasure of fulfilling that dream. However, as a technical writer, I have written several training manuals on how to use sophisticated cash registers. :-)

Okay, I'll admit it...when my son was just a toddler, I played with his toy cash register after he'd gone to sleep.

All right. I'll give you one more. I'm a pretty quirky person. I can't eat the end slices from a loaf of packaged bread. Yuk!

Which authors do you like to read? What books are currently stacked in your "To Be Read" pile right now?

I have eclectic tastes when it comes to reading--anything from beach-read novels to medical textbooks. The following books have been sitting patiently on my bookshelf, waiting to be opened. I purchased many of them just before I found out The Benefactor was accepted for publication, and it's been a whirlwind ever since.

The Anatomy of Story - John Truby
Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger
The Scottish Novels - Robert Louis Stevenson
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke
The Art of War - Sun Tzu
The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Inheritance - Natalie Danford
Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult
A Great Deliverance - Elizabeth George
Gaslit Nightmares - Edited by Hugh Lamb
Daniel Deronda - George Eliot
The Princess Bride - William Goldman
Republic - Plato
1001 Ways to Market Your Books - John Kremer (Guess I should move this one to the top of the list, eh? :-))

What's next for you? Is there a work-in-progress readers can look forward to?

I actually have three works in progress. The latest one was a crazy idea. In the busiest month of my life, with book promotion tasks piling up, I decided to join the NanoWrimo contest and attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November. The idea comes from a real life experience--I was having odd dreams after which I'd wake up feeling there was something very important I had forgotten. I know it was just my mind's way of dealing with the anxiety of being a newly published author, but the idea appealed to me as a story. I started asking my "what if" questions and ended up with a psychological/scientific thriller. I didn't complete 50,000 words by November 30th, but I'm happy with the 25,000 or so I've written so far.

Another work in progress is a romantic comedy novel I'm writing in collaboration with Richard Lamb, a screenwriter from the UK. We met online, have been writing our novel online, and the online theme carries over into the novel. It's the kind of thing that makes you pause and consider what a miracle it is that we can make friends with people in other countries and conduct business all with the click of a mouse. The best part is I don't have to get out of my pajamas for meetings. :-)

The third work in progress is a suspense novel I started last year just before I got the good news about The Benefactor. It starts off as a deceptively simple murder mystery, but it doesn't end up that way. In fact, I'm not sure how it will end. I have two possible paths to explore.

How can readers contact you and learn more about you and your books?

My website provides one-stop shopping. You can read about The Benefactor, hear the latest news about my journey as an author, find upcoming events, access my personal blog, print photos of me to hang on your refrigerator (kidding), access links to buy the book, and send me an email. I love to hear from readers and respond to all emails I receive.

Thanks so much, Julie. This has been lots of fun. Happy New Year to you and your readers.
You're very welcome, Margaret. Thanks for stopping by!
For those in the New York, Long Island area, Margaret will be signing her books this Saturday, January 16, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Broadway Mall in Hicksville, NY. Proceeds will be donated to the LIV LIFE MS Walk Team (LI Chapter of the National MS Society).


Author Roast and Toast said...

Interesting premise. Sounds like a great read, and I am looking forward to it!

Joseph Hayes said...

What a lovely meeting of two fabulous minds. Do I smell collaboration?

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Margaret,
Great interview.
Well we have at least two things in common. Our name and our publisher. I am a TWRP author too.

After that, I think we diverge a bit. I live in Australia and write historical romance.

Jamie said...

What a nice interview, Julie. You always evoke so much interesting material from those you interview. I'm more than usually impressed by this, b/c I just conducted my own first interview--and was horrified, when transcribing the tape, I heard that I spoke at about the rate of four words for everyone one of those my subject spoke!

Also, the book sounds terrific. Just my sort of read. I'm heading out to pick it up.


Book Marketing Bestsellers said...

Yes, move 1001 Ways to Market Your Books up to the top. Would like that. - John Kremer