Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Michele Corriel, international woman of mystery

Michele Corriel lives and writes in Montana, where she is also a freelance magazine writer, as well as the Regional Advisor for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Her organizational skills are prodigious, but her generosity to other writers is more impressive. It's pretty safe to say that I wouldn't be a published author today if it hadn't been for her ability to organize the 2007 SCBWI event at 9 Quarter Circle Ranch where I learned the magic formula for YA

She's the sort of person who can juggle kittens and chainsaws, so she's pretty busy this fall. Along with Swati Avasthi, Janet Fox, and Jacqueline HoutmanMichele will be presenting "From the Author’s Perspective"--at Kidlit Con 2010. She will also be presenting at Montana Festival of the Book in Missoula.

Best of all though, Michele's debut FAIRVIEW FELINES: A NEWSPAPER MYSTERY, is fresh ink from Blooming Tree/Tire Swing Press. Check it out and don't miss the trailer.

"More than anything, Thomas Weston wants to start his own school newspaper. But first he has to prove himself worthy. When the cats in Fairview begin to disappear Thomas seizes his chance to make headlines. By solving the mystery he may be able to finally get his shot at a front page story."

I asked Michele to answer a few questions about writing, mystery, and audience. 

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You are a journalist. Does that background influence your approach to fiction? 

I was a writer before I was a journalist, but I had terrible writing habits. I went into journalism because I knew it would force me to look the blank page differently, as more of a challenge than something to be afraid of… it taught me to write every day, even if what I wrote ended up lining the bottom of a garbage can. As an added benefit, I am very deadline oriented. So much so, that I often give myself deadlines in order to push myself along. (When I’m working on a first draft, I like to write one chapter a week.) As far as an influence in my fiction, I would say definitely. I love to work in details of things, scenes, people, the tiny things that show what kind of person or situation you’re getting into, without hitting someone over the head with a two-by-four.

Do you think it influences your working relationships with your editor or publisher?

As for my relationships with editors, for the last ten years I’ve been freelancing, writing articles for about a dozen regional and national magazines, and that has allowed me to work with a variety of editors, with different styles of editing. So back to your question about working relationship with editors and publishers I think journalism and freelancing has given me a thicker skin when it comes to criticism and rewriting (which is, by the way, my favorite part of writing).

What do you think is the key appeal of mysteries to younger readers?

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Life is a mystery. Every day is a mystery. Dinner is a mystery (at least in my house!) It’s really a great way to push the story along and delve into a character’s motivation and passions.

When you read for pleasure, do you pick up adult mysteries?  

I read everything that isn’t nailed shut. And of course mysteries are one of my favorite genres. 

Do you have a favorite mystery author?

I love the old hard-boiled detective novel writers, like Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane (I even have a few original paperbacks!) and of course Sir Arthur Conon Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is the possibly the greatest detective who ever lived in fiction. Of the more recent mystery writers I love Tana French and Harlan Coben. I always keep my eye on who wins the Edgar and then quickly pick up those books. 

What do you admire about those authors' craft?

I think good mystery writers, whether they have a steady series character or whether it’s a stand-alone novel, are able to twist things and guide the reader through mind-bending plots while making the reader want to follow the main character through it all. For me, the character, whether it’s an accidental detective or a “real” detective, has to have great flaws and great talents (and sometimes they’re the same, as in Sherlock Holmes).

What makes a good red herring?

It’s funny, but you don’t always think of a red herring as something good. It has to be believable, for sure. And it has to have a reason for happening, something innocent or maybe not quite innocent, but it has to have a plausible explanation. You don’t want your main character running off after something dumb.

I know you are working on a YA. How do you shift gears from one audience to the other?

To me, it isn’t switching gears as much as listening to a different character. Some stories are meant to be told from the perspective of a twelve year old and some from that of a seventeen year old. Some come in the form of a boy and some from a girl. I’m only trying to give each story the best possible narrator.

What is the best writing advice you ever received?

Hmmm … that’s a tough one because I’ve gotten so many good ones. My agent, the fabulous Mark McVeigh, told me to try journaling as my main character to get inside her head before I started on a rewrite. That was magic. But the best writing advice is probably READ, READ, READ! Weird, I know, but it totally works. It’s motivating and it gives you options you never knew you had in regards to style, perspective, plot, set-up and genre. I usually get some really good ideas when I’m reading a really good book – it just gets my mind sailing in a direction it might not have gone to without the impetus or inspiration of great writing.

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