I had the pleasure several months ago of reading The Grave Tender by Eliza Maxwell, an extremely powerful debut novel. Ms. Maxwell will be joining our Mystery Readers meeting next Saturday in Georgetown, so I asked her if she would mind answering a few questions for me:
How long have you been writing?
For as long as I can remember, in some form or other. But if I’m honest, my first true love was reading, not writing. Reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. From my Dad’s Louis L’amour and Stephen King paperbacks to my Mom’s dog-eared romance novels, I was hooked from the very beginning.
Writing came about as an experiment, almost. A little like an alcoholic that decides to try out home brewing. Because, why not, right? I was, and still am, looking for just the right concoction. The one I can’t put down. Then I share, and hope there may be a few fellow readers out there that like it too.
What was your reaction when you made your first sale?
As a decades long smoker, I finally managed quitting for what I hope was the last time this past summer. The first two weeks was rough. I was antsy, irritable, agitated, and I couldn’t keep my hands occupied enough. I wasn’t fun to be around, to say the least. At one point I overheard my husband mumbling about a rabies shot for women, but when I called him out, his only response was, “I said your hair looks nice, babe.” Smart guy.
Making the first sale? Awesome. No doubt. The time between making the first sale and the point when the reviews start to trickle in? That part felt pretty much the same as nicotine withdrawal. It’s a wonder my husband still speaks to me.
Where you do get your inspiration?
Inspiration… Hmm. That’s a tricky one. To me, drama and story come from secrets. From mood. From the dark, deep parts of the heart that we all know are there, but most don’t care to look at too closely. And somewhere in my head, all of that is intertwined with east Texas and pine trees and riverbanks meant for bare feet. Trying to separate those, for me, is like trying to unwhisk the eggs from the milk. It can’t be done.
Whatever takes me to those places is inspiration. Certain music. Bluegrass, zydeco. A spring afternoon in the sun, listening to the birds. But especially the stories. You know the ones. The weird ones that you hear over iced tea on a wraparound porch. Like the one about the abandoned cabin down the road with iron bars on the windows. How the old man just couldn’t face the place after that tragedy with his son… Bless his heart.
Those stories, the ones that seem to pepper small towns and quiet places like the seasoning in a good stew, those are the purest form of inspiration for me. I can’t seem to help dwelling on things that are probably best left alone.
Have you found it difficult to market your work? Any tips for things that worked?
Marketing. The dreaded, despised mystery of marketing. All I can speak to is what I’ve tried myself. Upon launch, I did a blog tour, and connected with some amazing book bloggers. The tour did little for sales, but I did get a nice boost in reviews. Some good, some bad, and that was just fine with me. Expecting everyone to like your book is a bit like expecting the holidays at the in-laws to be drama free. It ain’t gonna happen.
But the boost in reviews helped to land a Bookbub ad. And Bookbub knows how to sell some books.
Do you enjoy interacting with fans, or are you an introvert? Do you get much fan mail?
I absolutely love interacting with fans on a personal basis like email, or a book club meeting. I am, however, a down-to-the-bone introvert. Social media is an amazing tool that I’ve seen many use masterfully, and though I’ve tried it out, it’ll never be something I do well. And that’s a shame.
In spite of that, I really do adore hearing from readers. There’s nothing that quite compares to it.
What has been your most challenging project to date?
My biggest challenge was, and still is, book number 2. The first time around, I had no expectations. Not of myself, and not of the characters. Number 2 is proving to be my problem child.
What are your other hobbies and interests?
I love anything that involves creating something with my hands. Within that framework, it’s all fair game. I paint, I cook, I occasionally build things, and I put more enthusiasm than skill into all sorts of home improvement projects. I try, sometimes more successfully than others, to keep my family clean and fed. And in between it all, I read as much as I possibly can.
What does the future hold for you?
My hope is that the future holds all the hours one could need to turn two small children into functioning human-ish creatures, rather than sociopathic cat burglars. When I’m not setting aside funds for future bail money, my hope is to be able to sink into another character’s secrets and fears as they unfold on the page in front of me.
Not asking too much… I hope.
What advice do you have for new writers…or just those of us not as accomplished as you are? 😉
It feels presumptuous to give advice when I still have so much to learn. But I don’t mind passing along some words of wisdom from those more successful and talented than myself that I’ve found helpful.
To paraphrase the imitable Chuck Wendig, writers write. So do it. I take that to mean, for better or worse, show up and write something. Anything. You can always fix it later.
And my favorite piece of advice, from Elmore Leonard: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Where can readers find you?
I’m on Facebook, and you can follow me on Bookbub for updates on when the next book will be ready to go, but if you really want to reach out, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d sincerely love to hear from you.
Here is the book blurb if you are interested in seeing more:
Hadley Dixon was ten years old when her life changed forever. Since those few tragic weeks, she’s tried to keep the past buried, but old bones have a way of rising up. Grown now, Hadley can’t hide any longer.
And if anyone is going to be in or near Georgetown, Texas Saturday March 12th at 2:00 pm, the Mystery Readers will be meeting upstairs at the Library. You are welcome to join us to hear Eliza speak about her book and her career in general. 🙂