Congratulations on the release of Painted Black.
Thanks Helen, and thanks for inviting me on your blog.
Deb, did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, I used to write stories even as a child. I remember writing a “book” one time that I typed on half sheets of paper and then put construction paper on cardboard and illustrated it as a cover. The book was a very bad imitation of a Bobbsey Twins mystery story. I was big into Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys in those days.
What writers do you think have influenced you?
Well obviously the two mentioned above, since my preferred genre is mystery/suspense. I would say from Steven King I learned the importance of characterization even in a suspense/horror story, and from historical fiction writer Dorothy Dunnett I saw fascinating world building illustrated. Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer are just two of the many I remember from my bookworm days growing up. I think it’s true that everyone I read in my childhood and teen years influenced me because I loved “living” in the worlds they created and was inspired to create my own worlds in which other readers could immerse themselves in as well.
Some writers have a preferred writing schedule. Do you?
Not really. Now that I’m not working full time, I do find myself at the computer by 9 a.m. at the latest, but right now my morning is usually taken up with marketing and research. Writing doesn’t happen until the afternoon and can extend into early evening.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I can write anywhere if my head is into it. A good deal of Painted Black was written at a coffee shop near where I worked at the time. I used to hang out there to avoid the Chicago rush hour traffic.
Is there one person you can think of who has played a significant part in your writing career?
I did have a drama teacher, Mr. Rogers, who inspired me to appreciate the arts and believe in myself. I didn’t even have an acting role in the play we did (I was a back stage hand) but something about the way he treated us and taught the class made me long to grow beyond my small town Illinois confines.
Tell us a little about your first novel, Painted Black. What inspired you to write this?
The book was inspired by my own interest in the plight of homelessness, but also by a character that wanted to have her story told. The main character of Jo Sullivan developed in a previous novel which never made it to print. It was also a suspense story – Jo helps an old high-school friend whose son has been taken from him. However, Jo’s character was not finished when that book was over. She wanted to continue to help people in trouble, and “coincidentally” around the time, I developed an interest in working with the homeless, Jo got hired by a Chicago newspaper doing stories about the homeless. One of the first people she meets on the job is Lexie Green, a fifteen-year-old prostitute who has a bizarre story about a dead homeless guy in a glass coffin dressed to the nines. The poignancy of the girl’s story catches Jo’s attention and when she disappears and Jo realizes no one cares enough to find out what happened to her, she begins her quest to discover the truth.
How did you go about editing your novel?
Painted Black has gone through several major revisions and was put away in a drawer several times thinking that was it. I belonged to a writers’ group for eleven years during that process and their input was invaluable to me. I honestly don’t think it would be this good without them, which is why I give them a special thanks in the book. The book also benefited from my growth as a writer thanks to books I’ve read on writing, to conferences I attended, to the simple act of writing, writing, writing. Finally, my publishers at New Libri had excellent suggestions for ways to improve the commerciality of it without compromising my voice or the feel of the book.
Your book is published by New Libri Press. How long did it take you to find a publisher?
As I mentioned, there were several incarnations of Painted Black over at least eleven years. Every time I thought I had the perfect manuscript, I would start submitting again, using a database I’d created to keep track of agents and editors. I have records of submitting over 180 times. I got enough nibbles and complimentary comments to maintain my confidence that I could write and that this book itself had potential. However, with the latest publishing craze, I had almost decided to go the self-publishing route when New Libri made their offer. How I found them is an example of why sometimes networking can be as important as a great query letter. One of the publishers was actually someone I’d met at a writing class I’d attended a couple years previously. When I congratulated him on starting New Libri, he remembered excerpts from Painted Black read during that class and asked if they could take a look at it before I jumped into the self-publishing ring.
Are you also involved in marketing your book?
Because New Libri is a fledging small press, their marketing budget has to be focused on getting their own name out there by showing their full line of books. So basically any marketing done for individual books is largely the author’s responsibility. That said, they have been very supportive in exchanging ideas about what we should do and materials we can use to do that. I am lucky enough to be local to their physical location so I actually met with them recently to discuss a local marketing plan and we expect to get together every two weeks or so to talk about how things are going and what I can do next.
What projects are you working on now?
I do freelance writing as well, so I am working on a couple of editing and ghostwriting fiction projects, including a mystery novel for a company that sells personalized novels. But I’m also very active in writing my next Jo Sullivan novel, Bend Me, Shape Me, in which Jo is the only one who believes a young bi-polar street kid, Snow Ramirez. Snow is convinced the psychiatrist supposedly helping her brother is actually brainwashing him for some purpose they have yet to discover.
What attributes do you feel are necessary to be a successful author?
Belief in yourself and a love for writing. Most important, however, is persistence. Most “overnight” successes are actually the result of years of working hard and not giving up.
And Deb, just to finish up, could you please complete the following:
At school I was … shy and awkward
When I was a child I wanted to be …a writer.
I relax by …watching TV (sorry, but I do!).
Interview links at:
- Author Podcast Interview at Wise Bear Books
- Featured Author at Thoughtful Reflections
- Author Spotlight at Morgen Bailey’s Blog
- Author Interview at National Assoc. Women on the Rise
- Author interview at 2012 Writers AliveBlogtalk radio
- Author interview at Paper Dragon Ink
Thanks Deb for an wonderful insight into your path to being published. And wishing you every success with Painted Black and your next book.
Helen Ross interviews Debra R Borys. Copyright 29 March 2012.
Helen Ross writes supports independently published authors and small independent press.