Interview with Author Meg Wolfe: How Do You Write?

MegWolfe

After I’d read An Uncollected Death and An Unexamined Wife by Meg Wolfe, she let me pillage her brain for thoughts on how she pieced together the stories, the mysteries, the characters.

How long did it take to sort the plot details for book 1? Creating the bits of the mystery, I mean. A month? A year?

It took me sixteen months to write that first book—there were two two-month spells where I couldn’t do any writing because of health and family problems, but of course I kept stewing it over in my mind even when away from the computer. There was a lot of time spent on learning to plot, then changing from a four-part to a three-act structure, which “felt” better to me. I was also learning to use Scrivener.

I developed the characters along with the plot. It really is character-driven. What happened was that I had many, many strands of interrelated stories that I braided together, changing and tweaking details by working backwards, then forwards again. The last third, Act III, went really quickly, once I got the first two acts properly braided. The same thing happened in the second book, and in this third one, as well. The second book took me a little over eight months to write. This one has taken me ten–I had some health problems again during the summer which really slowed me down.

Why the French Resistance? Special existing knowledge on your part, or just interest?

I saw Olivia as a sort of Marguerite Duras type, a very dark and repetitive writer (she wrote Hiroshima, Mon Amour). She was involved in the Resistance, and in the course of researching it, I saw that Samuel Beckett was, too. It was a great fit, and got my imagination rolling, working out timelines, birthdates, important world events, and fleshing out Helene’s family story.

I’m intrigued by the potential of a little ol’ town in Indiana for having connections to a much larger world.

What would you say was the first through plot? The core around which you built the rest?

Probably the one about finding something of real value amid a hoard of collectibles after the death of the owner and competing against both other searchers and against the clock.

I kept testing each scene and chapter against Why? How? and What if? Since I write character-driven stories like you do, everything, whether sinister or benign, comes down to motivation. From there the plot fleshed out, as well as the subplot.

That’s the thread that interested me. I love rarities and antiques, especially books.

Do you give much thought to the positioning of story elements the way a TV or movie scriptwriter does?

TOTALLY. Three-part structure is my firmament. Without it, I will wander off course.

What do you see as the first plot point, the midpoint event, and the second plot point?

Chapter 6 has the actual death of the victim, plus Charlotte’s pawned her silver and jewelry and has found an apartment and committed to an auction. She’s now fully on her way into both the job and her lifestyle change. That’s the first plot point.

Midpoint is when Barnes tells Charlotte that the blood on Olivia’s rug and bat belongs to one of the shady pawnbroker brothers–but that the cause of his death was drowning. Until things get cleared up a little more, both Helene and Charlotte are suspects along with everyone else.

Second plot point was when she realized that Olivia didn’t do anything willy-nilly; the notebooks were deliberately written, deliberately hidden, and if she said she had another copy of the valuable book, she probably really did have it. Somewhere.

That’s for the plot line directly related to the murder mystery.

Do you aim for specific percentage points (a 25% first act, 50% middle act in two parts, 25% third act)?

It was iffy in the first book, but much closer in the second and third books. Practice makes perfect, I guess. That being said, much depends on the balance between plot and subplot, and between action and contemplative scenes. I might shift the percentages a little because it might take longer to explicate a situation leading up to a plot point, or less time. Depends on the tempo, I guess. I’ve become more aware of that with the third book, a little more in control of it.

How much planning did you do for book 3, now that you have some practice? What kind of outline, scene cards, and whatnot did you compile before you started writing?

I sat down and came up with the plot points and the basic outline back in January, then started writing it out, a prose outline. I use Scrivener to write, and I set up the folders, around 26-30 folders for chapters that average around 3500 words each (I’ve learned that that’s my average; it’s not an imposed number). I then laid out a time line for the story. So far all three books seem to have taken place in a 2-3 week period. I knew what had to happen in each chapter in order to get to the next. Then I got out of my own way (mentally) and just had at it—up every day around 5:30 a.m. and write write write, and researching on the fly.

I really thought I could shave a month or two off the writing process with all this planning.

Hah.

Took me four months longer to write it than I planned, and nearly two months longer than the second book. Oh well. It might be because I’m learning to construct novels—and mystery novels, no less—at the age of 60. There’s definitely less dexterity than I had in my 20’s. On the other hand, I’ve tons more life experience to draw on. But it’s probably because everything is character-driven, and if it isn’t ringing true I end up going back and changing things. Rinse, repeat.

On the bright side, Act III in this and the previous two books tends to write itself–those last 25K words just fly off the keyboard and it’s great fun. By the time I get to that second plot point I know where I’m at, how I got there, and exactly where I’m heading.

That is very nice of you to recommend the books. If you’re like most of the guys who have read the second book, it probably made you cringe. Women either love it or hate it. But there was a reason I wrote it that way. The third book is called An Undisclosed Vocation. I’m still working on the blurb. It does form a sort of trilogy with the other two, definitely takes up where #2 left off, and Charlotte has to do some serious thinking about things in it; the reader also learns a lot more about her past.

Love it. Sometimes, our art needs more from us, and more takes time. Cringe, where? Why? I think I want to go live next door to Charlotte. I finished this one eager for book 3 (which, in the “about” page of book 2, is called “An Undisclosed Location” which spoils the joke; your titles are priceless!) I don’t understand men any more than men understand women. Women, I seem to get intuitively (my wife thanks me for this about eleven times a week; somehow, she reads my mind from the next room all day long and twice on Sunday.)

You’re funny.

I plan to publish the Kindle version of the 3rd book on November 21st—if all goes well.

I hope all goes well. So, about the cringing . . . ?

Oh, the Charlotte/Donovan romance, unquestionably. Many women, too, find it way too sweet—or it makes them uncomfortable. Chuckle.

Huh. Best part of the book. Don’t break ’em up, okay? Maybe they just remind me of Sue and I. A lot.

You’ll just have to read the next book to see what happens to them.

Awww. C’mon. Okay, fine, we’ll all read An Undisclosed Vocation. Get it at Amazon and find out for yourself, eh?

Meg Wolfe is the author of the Charlotte Anthony Mysteries and other fiction and creative nonfiction, having finally settled down after a lifetime of varied and interesting careers in garden design, cooking, and art.

She lives in Northwest Indiana with her husband, photographer and artist Steve Johnson.

An Undisclosed Vocation

An explosion. A death. The destruction of a popular Elm Grove business.

Charlotte Anthony, caught up in the ensuing chaos, wonders what the victim meant when he said he knew something “that could get us both killed.”

Once again, Charlotte teams with Detective Barnes as they strive to unmask the criminal. Her efforts are complicated by her relationship with Donovan, when it seems that they both have secrets they are unwilling to share—and as important figures from her past suddenly appear in town.

As Charlotte uncovers the layers of the murderer’s motivation, she also reveals the dark pasts and secret lives of those she thought she knew well, testing her faith in her fiancé, her friends, and herself.

Get it at Amazon.

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