Author Interview: Jeanne Cooney
Editor’s Note: This week we hear from Minnesota author Jeanne Cooney, as she talks about her latest book, Hot Dish Heaven, baking competitions for the Minnesota State Fair, and advice for new authors.
When did you first start writing?
I've been interested in writing ever since high school. I had a couple very encouraging English teachers. But it's been a slow process. Both my Bachelor's and Master's degrees focused on writing, and I write a lot for my job as a public relations director. Still, for decades, I didn't do much in the way of creative writing other than take a class once in a while. Then, several years ago, after my kids had grown, I started working more diligently at my writing.
What is your favorite genre to write?
I enjoy a variety of genres, but I love to read and write "cozy" mysteries, where the protagonist is often a female "detective by default," meaning it's not her profession. In particular, I'm a fan of the quirky, contemporary cozy--those that feature smart-mouthed women and a little romance along with the mystery that's at the core of the story. I love writing the banter that's part of the dialogue in these stories. What's more, I like writing humor of any kind, from a mere play on words to an entire funny scene. And I enjoy playing around with technique, such as switching tenses and using sentence fragments, both of which are very common and quite popular in contemporary cozies.
When did you decide you wanted to be an author?
It was never a conscious decision to become an author. I only submitted my manuscript for Hot Dish Heaven after being cajoled into doing it by some writing mentors of mine.
How was the writing process for Hot Dish Heaven?
Hot Dish Heaven: A Murder Mystery with Recipes is my first published novel. In fact, it's the first novel I ever completed. And it started out as a goofy cookbook that I was putting together for family members for Christmas. I started out by writing the cooking directions for each recipe as a funny short story, wherein we learn as much about the characters as the dish to be prepared. Over time, the stories got longer. Then, I began stringing them together. And, finally, a novel was born. Again, it wasn't easy. I started and stopped a lot. Sometimes I'd go for months without working on the project, thinking it was too dumb. But then I'd get an idea from something I saw or heard that would work perfectly in my story, so I'd go back to it again.
What was the publishing process like?
The publishing process has been frustrating. Since this was my first published work, I had no idea what to expect from North Star, my publisher, and they had no idea what they could expect from me. They offered a one-day seminar for new authors, which was very helpful, and I studied the process on my own too. For example, I researched how to use Amazon more effectively to market the book to a wider range of people. As a result, my book jumped in sales and is now regularly ranked in the top ten nationally on Amazon in the rural humor section.
My advice for newcomers is threefold:
A. Make sure your story is well edited--technically and story wise--before you submit it to the publisher. Even if you have strong editing skills, have a editor review it. You don't want to slow the publishing process down by submitting a weak manuscript.
B. If you want your book to succeed, you have to get out there and sell it. Like it or not, you have to attend events, such as fairs, festivals, and book signings. And you have to research and schedule those events, choosing the ones that best suit your book. The publisher has dozens of authors, and while they may plan a few general events, they don't have time to work up an event schedule specific to each book. (E.g., a book on fishing should be pitched at different events--and stores--from a book that highlights cooking, unless, perhaps, it's a book about cooking fish.)
C. Don't quit your day job. You're highly unlikely to make a living by writing novels. I say the writing field is a lot like baseball. There are a few who make it to the major leagues, where they sign big-money contracts. But most of us will continue to struggle in the minors, doing what we love to do but, after expenses, taking home next to nothing.
So, what’s next?
The sequel to Hot Dish Heaven: A Murder Mystery with Recipes is due to be released in 2014. It's called, A Second Helping of Murder and Recipes, a Hot Dish Heaven Mystery.
Have you ever been skydiving?
I've never been skydiving and have no desire to do so. I love to read, though. And I also enjoy baking. I've even won several ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair in the baking competition. And some of those recipes appear in "Hot Dish Heaven.
Where is your favorite place to write?
My favorite place to write is my log cabin, located near Alexandria. It's on a quiet lake, and I love being there. And, for me anyway, if I'm content, I can write.
Which classic author would you like to meet for tea?
Of course I have certain classic writers and novels I admire. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, is my favorite novel. I'm not sure how many times I've read it. But I'm also a big fan of Trinity, the story of Ireland, as written by Leon Uris.
I admire some modern-day writers just as much though. Janet Evonovich, the author of the Stephanie Plum mystery series, is my idol. Her style and wit are tough to match. I also think highly of Lois Greiman, a Minnesota writer who pens an incredibly funny mystery series. And when I'm in the mood for something a little more serious, I turn to John Sanford's Prey series. As for lunch? I'd be thrilled to dine with any one of these people. But I don't do tea.
For more on Jeanne Cooney, visit her website www.JeanneCooney.com and make sure to see her at the St. Olaf Christmas festival in early December.