Aug 09 2011
My guest this week is Margot Kinberg, a mystery novelist, blogger and professor who lives with her family in Southern California. My sources tell me that she is only dangerous when she writes ;-).
I’m honored to have you as my guest this week, Margot. Please, tell the cool peeps a little bit about yourself.
Thanks for having me, Molly! I’m originally from Pennsylvania. That’s where I went to college, married my college sweetheart, and spent most of my adult life until we moved west. I still consider Philadelphia my home. My husband and I are very proud parents and grandparents, and are happily owned by two dogs ;-).
I’m always fascinated by how different people set out to turn their ideas into novels. Some plot meticulously, some plot a little, and some just fly by the seat of their pants. As a mystery writer, do you have to plot meticulously? Can you describe how your books take shape?
I’m not that rigid when it comes to my fiction, but I do use a process, so in a sense it’s meticulous. I always start with the victim and oddly enough, that person often just pops into my mind. Very unscientific, I know ;-). Then I ask, “Who is she or he?” And then I ask why anyone would want to kill that person. As the character of the victim takes shape, that leads me to the other characters in the novel, and then the events. And the outline.
I outline the people and events and then I start writing. As I’m writing, new characters and scenes come up. I write them in, too. The basic points of the story are there from the start, but as the story takes shape, I add things spontaneously.
Once the draft is finished, I go through to pick up obvious mistakes. Then it’s off to my first readers, and then I revise. I start with plot and characters and look at mechanics later.
Since the academic writing I’ve done is formal, I don’t have a really “folksy” writing style. I don’t use a lot of long words but my style isn’t as “chatty” as I think it would be without that background.
Also, I tend not to be very wordy. In fact, I’ve had to learn how to flesh out characters and scenes so that readers can get into the story.
You’ve just finished writing the third book in a series. That’s a serious hat trick. Congratulations. Please, tell us about the series.
Thank you ☺. My novels feature Dr. Joel Williams, a former cop-turned professor in the Criminal Justice Department at fictional Tilton University, in fictional Tilton, Pennsylvania. Tilton is a small college town, so it’s a mix of university types and locals, which gives me lots of flexibility.
Because of where Williams lives and works, my mysteries are academic mysteries. Still, that allows for all sorts of possible characters and plots. For instance, this third novel takes place mostly in and around Philadelphia. And one other thing: My stories aren’t exactly cozy mysteries, but they aren’t graphic.
All writers put themselves into their books. Years ago, I remember a famous author (whose name escapes my cluttered mind) say that the more books he writes, the less of him the reader can find in each book. That stuck in my head because it made a lot of sense. How much of Margot is in your books? How have the different places you’ve lived played a part in your books?
Oh, there’s definitely Margot in my stories. I’ve spent just about all of my adult life on and around college campuses and I love them, so my choice of setting definitely reflects me.
As I mentioned, I’m from Pennsylvania, which is one reason it’s the main setting for my series. I live right now in Southern California, and that, too, has found its way into my writing. For instance, in my second novel B-Very Flat, one of the main characters is from Southern California, so her backstory has been influenced by my more recent experiences.
Do you plan to continue writing mysteries, or is there another genre that intrigues you?
I love crime fiction. I love reading it and writing it, talking about it and learning about it. So for the moment, I think I’ll probably continue in that genre. But honestly, I never say never. I think if I did write in another genre, it would be historical fiction. I love that genre, too, and I enjoy history very much. In fact, I toyed with becoming a history major when I was an undergraduate.
Please, tell us more about your academic career as an associate professor. For starters, what do you teach?
Most of my academic career has been in the field of teacher preparation. In my time, I’ve taught educational psychology, introduction to students with special needs, multicultural education, adolescent development, literacy and other courses.
But since my main research background is in language I mostly teach courses in that area. I usually teach second language teaching methods, sociolinguistics and teaching English to non-native speakers.
I know you have a great interest in second language acquisition and foreign language pedagogy. What are your special areas of research? What have been some of your most surprising findings?
I’ve always liked language. In graduate school I decided to really look at how we learn second language, and in particular, how second language immersion programs work. Those are programs in which students who speak one language are taught only in another. I’ve mostly focused on two-way immersion programs, where students who speak one language are grouped with those who speak another. Instruction takes place in both languages and in the end, all students become bilingual. One of my finds is that while most of us know that our first language influences our second language, we may not know that our second language also influences our first.
The world of publishing is changing so rapidly. It’s hard to keep up. Any thoughts about the ever-evolving landscape? Predictions?
You’re quite right about publishing. No longer are traditional publishers the only way for an author to get her or his work “out there.” Authors can opt for independent publishers or they can self-publish. There’s also the question of format. Most books are now available in electronic format, and studies suggest that format will continue to rise in popularity.
Today’s authors have to be aware, more than ever, of their options. Authors need to decide what their target market is, learn how other authors reach that market, and know what the market demands. They also need to find out what the implications are of aiming for a traditional publisher versus an independent or small publisher versus self-publishing. Remember that the reader is the ultimate priority. Readers want interesting stories, engaging characters and well-structured plots in a professionally-presented format. There isn’t just one way to do that, but anything that takes away from that also takes away from an author’s reputation.
It’s hard to know what the future of publishing will be. Ten years ago I would not have predicted the rise in social media as the way to promote one’s work, but here we are with social media one of the most important avenues for promotion. That said, though, I think global communication and the ease with which authors and readers can reach each other directly will continue to change the way authors market and book lovers buy. Also, authors will have to be increasingly flexible about the way they write, present themselves, reach readers and market their work.
Social media can be a freakin’ crazy, demanding, and time-sucking beast. I know many peeps have a serious love/hate relationship with it. How do you feel about it? What do you think are the best and worst ways to feed “the beast?”
Social media really is time-consuming. But it has allowed me to reach readers, fellow authors, publishers, editors and agents from all over the world. I’ve learned more from those resources than I could have imagined, and I’ve gotten wonderful support. I believe savvy authors are comfortable with and use social media, and they have blogs or websites. That way readers can “meet the author,” publishers, editors and agents can sample the author to see if there’s a fit, and other authors can learn from and teach the author.
But…the beast needs to be controlled ;-). The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to decide on the persona one wants to present online, make that identity clear, and keep that persona consistent across all media, choosing those media carefully. Also, it’s important to be professional and never say anything, anywhere online that one wouldn’t want a potential publisher, agent, editor or fan to read.
If you could have a dinner party and invite your favorite fictional characters, who might we see seated around the table?
You’d see a full room! Here are just a very few. Since it’s a dinner party, I’d have to invite Andrea Camilleri’s gourmand sleuth Salvo Montalbano. I’d like to also invite Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson, Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple and Charlotte Macleod’s Max Bittersohn. There are lots more, too, but how many people can you have to one dinner party?
What do you know now that you wish you knew five years ago?
I know a lot more about blogging and other social media than I did. And I am always learning more about good writing.
Why do you hope to know in five years that you don’t know now?
I hope to know the proper way to thank everyone as I receive the Nobel Prize for Literature – just kidding ;-). Seriously, I mostly hope to learn and use more of the “tricks of the trade” that my favorite authors use.
I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?
I’m picky about carelessness (including my own). There are myriad ways to write well, tell a good story and express oneself effectively. But do it carefully. Revise the story, proofread, edit and fix weaknesses before submitting or posting. Nobody expects perfection, but writers shouldn’t “go through the motions.”
Any parting words for the masses? Any shameless plugs? Where can people find you online?
Since you asked… ;-). I’ve just finished my third Joel Williams novel. No publication date yet but meanwhile, you can check out both Publish or Perish and B-Very Flat on Amazon. My online “home” is at http://margotkinberg.wordpress.com. Besides my main blog, there’s a Writing tab where you can check out my novels, other interviews and other places to find me.
On Facebook? I’m at: Margot Kinberg, Author
Are you a tweeter? I’m @mkinberg
Thanks so much for having me, Molly!