We can’t wait until April 6! That’s when best-selling author Lori Rader-Day will discuss the secret of writing memorable characters, her journey to becoming a multiple-award winner, and the inspiration for her new mystery novel set in Michigan. To register for this event, click here.
But we really can’t wait for April 6 to learn from Lori, so here’s a quick Q & A where she shares her thoughts on Sisters in Crime (and how it’s really helped her achieve), earning an MFA, her writing routine and much more.
You are so busy! Besides writing award-winning novels, you are vice president of Sisters in Crime and will be SinC president this October. You also organize Murder and Mayhem in Chicago each year. Thank you so much for your service!
What are the benefits you receive in return for your major time commitment, especially at your level of success?
I learned so much so quickly from being a member of both Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. All I did was help out my chapters with things that I knew how to do: newsletters and other communications, event planning and programming. These are just things I like to do, and I was willing to help out. I don’t want people to think if they help out they have to be president! That’s just a bad habit of mine. But I got a lot of great experience and connections to other authors early on just by saying yes when someone asked me to lend a hand. It’s harder for me to do it now, though I’m still technically at the beginning of my publishing career. This job as national vice-president/president of Sister in Crime is likely to be my last major volunteer commitment for a while so that I can concentrate on writing. Anyway, there are so many talented members of these groups, and they need the chance to grow their networks, too. Taking on these roles is giving my time, yes, but it’s also public relations for my books, so there’s a lot to gain for someone further into their career.
You wrote fan fiction before your novels took off. Would you recommend fan fiction to new writers? What did it teach you and would you do it again?
I JOKE that I started as a writer by writing Beverly Cleary fan fiction, but I was six years old, and I didn’t get very far. Trying to write someone else’s character was my bridge from being a reader to starting to put an original story down on paper, so I suspect that it might work for those having a little trouble getting started.
You already had a degree in journalism. Why did you decide to get an MFA in creative writing?
Pretty sure my dad said something quite like that. I had TWO degrees in journalism when I decided to get a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing—seriously studying fiction writing for the first time instead of going at writing sideways in a “practical” way. You don’t need an MFA to write fiction, but what had happened to me was that I had let it go. I hadn’t written a word for myself in five years, but a high school friend of mine had just published his first book, and he’d gone the MFA route. It was “a” way to approach writing that I hadn’t tried, a way to buy myself some time, deadlines, and community. It worked, but then I had to sustain it, through day jobs and life challenges, and with the training I had done in the writing program, I was disciplined enough to keep at it, even when it was frustrating to find the time.
Would you recommend an MFA, and if so, to whom and for what reasons?
I only recommend an MFA if you can’t get the writing done any other way, or if you can get into a program that makes it cheap or free. And you should only spend the time and money if you’re going to work hard and write your butt off. College degrees are lovely, don’t get me wrong. But a piece of paper doesn’t guarantee anything. Your abilities in writing and teaching (an MFA is a teaching degree) might get you where you want to go, but the paper by itself is not fundamentally helpful.
Love how your website’s look ties in your newest book’s setting. Do you change your site for each new book? Any tips for writers and their websites?
I do change up the site for each new book! Or rather, I have my website designer do it, and I give direction. I updated things throughout the year, but I do have help switching the drapes when a new book is coming out.
My advice for writers and websites is that you should have one, and you should have one that you can do the day-to-day upkeep on easily. They can be expensive, otherwise. But I do think hiring someone to set up the design professionally is a good use of early marketing budget. You want something that looks professional and has room to grow as your career expands. Keep it clean and simple if you have to, but try to put all the basics there so that media can easily get what they need without having to email you for a bio or headshot, etc. And keep it up to date.
What is your writing routine?
Haphazard! I try to write more days than not, 500 to 2,000 words, depending on what else is going on, but honestly some days, goose egg. It happens. Deadlines help. Readers at conferences asking when my next book will be out—that’s inspiring. I don’t have rituals to get the work done, but I do write to music, even music with lyrics. I just put together playlists of songs that are tonally the right kind of thing for what I’m writing. For instance, my next book is partly set in 1942, so I have a playlist of old songs from that era to get inspired.
Who are your favorite authors?
Tana French, Catriona McPherson, Lou Berney, Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey
What do you know now that you wish you’d known before your first novel was published?
I wish I’d joined Sisters far earlier than I did. I had no idea there was this world of mystery writers and readers that I could have been a part of so long ago. Maybe I would have written my first book sooner. Success has taught me that the goal posts move. It’s not fair, but as soon as I accomplish one thing, I’m thinking about the next. I should learn to enjoy the moment a little more than I do, but that’s why I like to do events at libraries and with other writers. And then that’s why it’s important to go home and get in front of my laptop.