As any writer knows, crafting a story—whether fiction or nonfiction—often takes a writer on a journey of discovery. Sometimes the road is virtual. Other times, its actual.
Mary Buckham, USA Today bestselling author of high-concept urban fantasy and romantic suspense stories, credits her many international travels and her natural curiosity to creating her highly sought-after fiction books noted for their pacing, setting details and in-depth characterizations. She also credits teaching other writers of all genres, live and online, as the reason her writing craft books have been consistent bestsellers at Amazon.
In addition to Mary’s travel and teaching, she has co-authored the Red Moon series with New York Times bestseller, Dianna Love. Currently, she is neck-deep into her Urban Fantasy series, INVISIBLE RECRUITS, about five women who combat preternatural beings fighting for world domination. And the latest of her three-book series, WRITING ACTIVE SETTING, assists thousands of writers worldwide with techniques to create super-powered manuscripts.
During the 2014 Missouri Writers’ Guild conference, Buckham will present two breakout sessions on Saturday, April 12, teach a 3-hour workshop on Sunday, April 13, and present the keynote during the Saturday luncheon.
The first of Buckham’s breakout sessions, “Analyze This: Scene Survival Test: Test Your Scene’s Strength,” will assist writers in learning the three key elements to what makes a powerful scene, what a scene MUST do, the difference between scene and sequel, and how POV impacts your scenes.
Another of Buckham’s popular workshops, “Active Settings: For All Genres and Sub-Genres,” spells out the difference between active and passive setting, as well as how setting can show conflict, emotion, and characterization, among other important aspects writers need to consider when crafting a story.
Her Sunday Master class, “Super Power Openings,” expands on developing techniques such as characterization and hooks, as well as pacing that writers can use for a powerful opening and throughout their entire manuscript.
A complete description of Buckham’s workshops can be found on the Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference web site.
Brian Katcher: First, Mary, I’d like to thank you for being a part of our faculty at our 2014 MWG Conference, We are all very excited to have you at our MWG “Fifty Shades of Writing” conference. So, “Welcome to Missouri!”
Mary Buckham: Thank you! Both for having me as a speaker at your amazing upcoming conference and for the opportunity to connect with so many writers through this blog, too!
Brian: I see that you credit your success in writing to your years of international travel. Could you give us a bit of background on how you began your writing career, as well as how your adventures helped you build your success as a USA Today bestselling author?
Mary: As for how my background helped in launching a writing career, I think writers are like sponges—nothing they see, hear, experience or learn goes to waste. It’s all grist for a story, a better understanding of a character, a motivation that can drive a plot forward. For myself, while in college I attended four different universities in four distinct locations in order to see, not only a larger world, but to understand first hand about different people and cultures and what makes them tick.
In those four years I spent time in my home state of Washington, but in a different city 300 miles away from home (Seattle). Then I went to Hawaii (eastern cultures), then Italy for a year, where I traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East.
Then I was back in Washington, D.C., where I graduated with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Sino-Soviet History. Before settling down, I returned to England where I was married, then jumped into the most intense career I’ve ever had—raising five children while working in International Finance and Accounting as a magazine editor and contributing editor. All of which have fueled my story lines and my fascination with people and what makes us tick.
Brian: If I may lift a question from your FAQ on your website, what advice would you give the aspiring author who says, “I want my book to be on the shelf next year!” What are the magic steps to become a best-selling author right now?
Mary: LOL! My first response is there is no quick path to publication.
We hear about those whose first book is published and make millions, but the reason we hear about those books is because they are the exception, not the norm. We also don’t hear about the number of versions that book went through before it was ready for publication, or how many years were required to master the craft.
Knowing that becoming published is a process, can help us pace ourselves, accept the speed bumps that will happen, and continue to move forward. This process is not a sprint; it’s a marathon, but it is doable.
That’s the important part to remember. There are no magic steps and there is a lot of hard work, but for those who persevere, who don’t give up, and continue to write, publication is a reality.
Brian: Conventional wisdom tells us that it is the characters and the plot most readers remember about a story. However, we know there is much more to a good story than just its characters. In your three-book series, “Writing Active Setting,” it is mentioned that setting is just as important in creating a good story, and that “Ordinary Setting bogs down your story,” but “Active Setting empowers your story . . . regardless of what you write.” With that in mind, is there a bullet list for writers to follow to insure their settings go from ho-hum to Wow! And is there any one particular aspect of writing active setting that is more important than another?
Mary: Because every writer struggles with different elements of good story telling there’s no one answer for everyone. Joe may need to learn how to create deeper subtext on the page via Setting. Sue may be using chunks of narrative description that’s slowing her pacing to a snail’s pace, so she needs to learn how to interweave Setting so the reader experiences the story while flipping those pages.
A history or fantasy writer is juggling different reader expectations than say, a thriller or procedural mystery writer, yet all can benefit by understanding how to power up their stories by using Setting.
I think that’s one of the most amazing elements of teaching this particular aspect of writing craft; the fact many writers don’t realize what they are missing on the page until someone is able to point it out. Time and time again I hear writers say, ‘I had no idea how powerful Setting could be,’ and for each of them it’s a different aspect of Setting that took their story from okay to Wow!
Brian: Thank you Mary for your answers to my questions so far. Part 2 of our discussion will be posted on Monday. Be sure to subscribe to the MWG Conference Notes blog so you don't miss anything.
You can meet Mary during the upcoming Missouri Writers' Guild "Fifty Shades of Writing" Annual Conference. Click here to check out all our speaker line up. Everyone who registers between now and Dec. 31 will get the Early Bird Rate.
Interviewed by Brian Katcher, author of Playing with Matches, winner of the 2010-2011 North Carolina Young Adult Book Award; and Almost Perfect, winner of the 2011 Stonewall Young Adult Book Award. His newest book, Everyone Dies in the End: A Romantic Comedy will be out March, 2014. Visit him on the web at www.briankatcher.com