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Interview with Penelope Neri

Penelope Neri

Thank you for taking the time to interview with me! It was great talking to you.

1. How were you inspired to become an author?

PN: Perhaps it sounds a bit trite, but I think my first inspiration to become an author started way back, when I first learned to read. I suspect now that I had a form of dyslexia as a child, although such things weren’t diagnosed in those days. It seemed as if everyone else in first grade could read, except me! I felt so left out, because I knew I wasn’t stupid!

I was about seven or eight when I finally began reading. Once I knew how, I read everything in sight! By the time I was eleven, I was reading books for adults. At that time, it seemed to me that being able to write a book for other people to read was the most exciting thing anyone could do. (I was right! It is!) That’s one reason I was delighted to be asked to contribute to Leisure’s ‘Love’s Legacy’ literary anthology.

2. Who are some of your favorite authors?

PN: I enjoy so many! Historical biographies by Margaret George, great epic ‘place’ books by Edward Rutherford, (London, Sarum, etc.) psychological suspense from British writing duo Nikki French, history/adventure by Wilbur Smith, Mary Stewart, Rosamund Pilcher, Binchy, Nora Roberts, and so many others!

3. How long did it take you to become published?

PN: My first book, Passion’s Rapture, was accepted on its third submission by editor Pesha Finkelstein at Zebra Books (now Kensington). It took about eighteen months to write it, and another eighteen months to find a publisher. I was very lucky.

4. How long does it usually take for you to research a book?

PN: Research is an ongoing process as I write, so about six months or so. I also enjoy watching movies with a similar locale, time period etc. to my current work in progress. This helps me to absorb the feel of a time or place.

5. What inspires you to focus on past eras?

PN: My love of history and the quirks of various cultures and time periods!

6. What do you do in preparing to write a story?

PN: I read ‘all around’ the people, time and place I’m interested in, such as travel books, non-fiction history books, even cook books and recipes. Sometimes I get a bit carried away and my research spills over into the family meal-planning. When I was researching Scotland, my kids were afraid I’d expect them to eat haggis! (boiled sheep’s intestine stuffed with oatmeal, spices, onions and minced meats.) Once I’ve absorbed enough of the atmosphere and flavor of the people/period/location to write about a time or place comfortably and knowledgeably, I begin.

7. Who do you count as your literary influences?

PN: I was raised and educated in Suffolk, England, so my influences tend to be classical British authors such as Dickens, Shakespeare, etc.

8. Many authors are doing strictly e-books, do you think this is just a trend, or does it spell the end of real books?

PN: I hope not. There’s nothing as comforting as lugging around that special title you can’t wait to read, then curling up with it in a comfortable nook somewhere, and losing yourself for a few hours. Of course, you could do that with an e-book and a ‘reader’ too, but I’m not sure the experience would be as personal, somehow. Hopefully, there is room for both e-books and traditional books in the market.

9. Do you see yourself writing in the same genre in 10 yrs? If not then what?

PN: Who knows if I’ll even be here in 10 years? I’m getting pretty ancient! If I am, though, I’ll probably still be writing. I can’t seem to give it up. I’d like to move into the romatic suspense genre, and perhaps from there into mainstream suspense/mystery genre.

10. What advice do you give to those who are just starting out or trying to become published?

PN: 1. Find a well paying job or someone to support your writing habit first !!! Seriously, despite my own good fortune, getting published is usually a long (often frustrating) process. I was tremendously lucky. That said, if you are committed to becoming published…

2. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it! Go for it! Use every moment of your spare time to write, research, and polish your manuscript. If you don’t have time, MAKE time. Trust me, if you want it badly enough, you will find the time somehow, even if it’s fifteen minutes here, twenty minutes there. Those minutes spent writing add up. Plotting can begin in your head while you’re riding a bus, train or the subway, or washing the supper dishes. In a few months, a page a day, or even five pages a week, will become 300 pages. That’s a book!

3. Don’t talk about your book too much while you’re in the writing process. I think sometimes, too much talk can drain the ‘juice’ out of an idea, and steal some of the writer’s enthusiam and excitement, which ideally, should show through in the actual wiring, instead.

4. Set your goals and follow through by making sure that everything you do contributes to reaching them. For example, craft a plot that you would want to read yourself, one that would be suitable for a genre that you know, enjoy, and are very familiar with–then give it that unexpected twist to set it apart from the rest.

5. Study the market and any current/upcoming books from the list published by your chosen publishers.

6. Get yourself a current copy of the Writer’s Market Guide to find out if you need an agent, or if you can submit unagented work to your chosen publishers. This point is very important. Knowing whether a publisher will or will not accept unagented submissions will save you precious time.

7. Try to discern trends in the genre, which I’ve found start to show themselves about one year to eighteen months or so before a certain topic (Scotland, Vikings etc) becomes ‘hot’. You, as the writer, have to be eighteen months ahead of those trends!

8. Decide what the editors are looking/not looking for, then craft a plot that meets and exceeds the publisher of that genre’s requirements. That way, you won’t waste precious time sending a great horse to the wrong stable!

9. If, despite your best efforts, you receive a rejection letter that includes any suggestions from an editor, stop everything, act upon those suggestions and resubmit, ASAP. (Editors rarely waste precious time in offering suggestions unless something tweaked their interest.)

10. I really believe that by setting goals, working towards them and visualizing a positive result you can achieve just about anything. Oh, and good luck!

Interviewed by Sarah on 3/12/04.