Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mary's Rants: Guest Clare O'Donohue

Please welcome to Mysteries and Margaritas, Clare O’Donohue, author of the Someday Quilts Mysteries. Anyone who comments or asks Ms. O’Donohue a question will be in a drawing for one of her books.

Clare, before we begin can you tell us a little bit about your background? I don’t mean why you write books, etc. I mean about you as a person.

Clare: I was raised on the South Side of Chicago, very working-class immigrant neighborhood. My parents were from Ireland, my friends had parents from Italy, Germany, Poland, Lithuania… I think I was about nine before I realized your parents could be born in this country.

I’m the youngest of four. My dad died when I was seven, so I was raised by my mom, an English teacher, who valued education. She used to talk about the fall of Rome at the breakfast table, and we’d quote our favorite Shakespeare passages at holiday dinners. I studied International Politics in college, because I thought I would become a political speechwriter. Instead I worked first as a newspaper reporter outside Joliet IL, then as a TV producer on shows for truTV, History Channel, Food Network and others. I still produce shows when I’m not writing books.

Now we have a little background about you, how did that shape you as the writer?

Clare: I think everything shapes the writing. Losing my dad so early certainly shaped me as a human being. It made the world less certain, which has oddly made me more willing to take chances and go after things that I want. But it probably also made me more cautious with people, more of an observer, which is a handy trait for a writer as it turns out. My mom was and is a huge influence. Words & stories matter to her and she passed that on to me.

The area I grew up in was a wonderfully close-knit community, but I remember the reaction when I said I wanted to be a writer. In my neighborhood I might as well have been saying I wanted to walk to the moon. As someone once told me, “Writing is what rich people do. We get jobs.” It wasn’t said to be mean, it was actually said with love. I think it makes me work harder, not get too caught up in patting myself on the back. I know how lucky I am to have walked to the moon, and I take that opportunity seriously.

Mary: We know why you love quilts and have woven them into your stories but why did you decide to write mysteries?

Clare: I like mysteries. I like the high stakes of a dead body on the floor, and the way people react to that. It automatically creates a situation where the characters, innocent or guilty, are slightly off balance. I think that’s an interesting place to start a story.

 I’m a big Murder She Wrote & Matlock fan because they’re fun, light, and yet satisfying. But as a producer, I’ve also worked on some true crime shows, like Forensic Files, and so I’ve met real life killers. There is something fascinating about people who kill, but the nuclear fallout for the victim’s friends and family is truly horrifying. I always walk away from those experiences trying to understand why it happened. Maybe writing mysteries is my way of exploring that.

Mary: Please tell us a little about your Someday Quilts Mysteries series. How many books do you plan to have in it?

Clare: I like to think of Someday Quilts as a modern take on a classic cozy. Nell Fitzgerald is a 26-year-old art student who lives with her grandmother and works at Someday Quilts, the grandmother’s shop. Nell’s openly nosy, doesn’t mind breaking a few rules, and is fiercely loyal to her friends. And because of that, when a murder happens she’s right in the middle of it. Mostly the focus is on the mystery, but quilting and romance are key elements, and I think I’m most proud of the intergenerational friendships between the women in the quilt group. I like how the women, from their 20s to their 70s, depend on each other for everything from romantic advice to help with the murder investigation.

I don’t know how many books there will be in the series. I want to tell Nell’s story until it’s finished, and then stop. While some series can still be fresh and wonderful after 30 books, others get repetitive after six. I love these characters so I want to make sure that each book is something new.  

Mary: Are you ever going to write something other than mysteries? And will there be other series in your future?

Clare: Funny you should ask. In May of 2011 I’m launching a new series, called The Kate Conway Mysteries, about a 37-year-old Chicago-based television producer, whose job (much like mine) gives her access to all sorts of people, from CEOs to prison inmates.  In the first book, MISSING PERSONS, Kate is in the middle of divorce when her husband dies mysteriously. Kate is used to asking questions, but now she has to answer them. And she doesn’t have answers. So while she tries to figure out what happened to her husband, and by extension their marriage, she also has to work on a true crime show that’s investigating the disappearance of a nursing student. Being objective is part of her job, but with her personal life unraveling, she finds herself connecting to the family and friends of the missing woman - possibly to her detriment.

Kate is a much more reluctant sleuth than Nell, and she’s also dealing with a more complicated life; in-laws, money issues, and the girlfriend of her late husband, who wants to be friends.  It’s a bit edgier and darker than Someday, and definitely not a cozy, so I hope the Someday Quilts fans will stay with me for it. It explores friendship and love the way Someday does, just from a very different point of view.

In terms of writing something other than mysteries, maybe at some point, but right now I’m really enjoying the genre and I know I have a long way to go before I run out of ideas for books.    

If you love it, then I say continue, what better way to make a living than by doing something you love? You obviously know about quilts, but how do you research the ‘mystery’ part of your story?

Clare: From my work on true crime, I know people who work in law enforcement and forensics. I email ballistics experts, coroners, cops and I ask a lot of questions. I will say though, even without my background, I think someone could make a few phone calls and find people very willing to help. These folks are rightly proud of what they do, and are more than happy to help novelists get it right.

For Kate, which is set in Chicago, I drove all the streets she drove, went to the police station she went to, just to make sure I described it correctly. For Someday, even though I quilt, I went to The International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska and asked a lot of questions to get the history of quilting right. I think that’s my favorite part of the writing process, getting to ask a lot of questions I’d want to ask anyway, but having an excuse to do it.

Do you belong to any writing organizations? If so, what are they?

Clare: I’m a member of Mystery Writers of America. I really love talking with other authors and getting/ giving support. Mystery writers are a really encouraging group, and it’s nice to have an opportunity to interact, especially since writing is so solitary.

What is your writing process? Do you plot and outline? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

Clare: I have a summary, but mostly I wing it. I love not knowing what will happen next. It’s what gets me working the next day – to find out. I know eventually I’ll have to think about the readers but as I’m working the first draft, it’s really for my pleasure. I’m the only audience. It does mean that sometimes I’ll have my character turn a corner and scream, and I have no idea why she did that, but isn’t that the fun part?

Mary: How do you organize your day? Do you have your schedule set as if you have a job? Or do you write whenever the story and/or your characters strike?

Clare:  I like to walk every morning to clear my head and because the rest of my day is pretty sedentary. Then, well, I have the best of intentions. I’ll either come back and get started right away, jumping into the manuscript and writing twenty pages, or I’ll check my Facebook page a lot and maybe download a missed episode of The Big Bang Theory to kill time. I’m still at my computer so it kind of counts as work. I don’t have a “I write five pages a day” thing that some authors do. I try to keep a schedule of writing 25-30 pages a week, which I find to be very do-able, but some days it’s easy and some days it’s not.

Do you have a web site? Do you belong to any social media’s? If so how can we find you on line?

Clare: My website is I’m on Facebook, and people can friend me (Clare O’Donohue) and/or join my fan page (Someday Quilts Mysteries). I’m also on Twitter (somedayquilts), but I’m really bad about remembering to tweet.

Mary: What is the most important thing you think a new writer should know about writing and/or the industry?

For starters, I guess, that it’s possible. People do publish their novels so don’t get discouraged by someone telling you it’s a pipe dream. But it’s also not an instant ticket to wealth and fame. Writing a book is hard, and sometimes lonely. It’s like running a marathon alone. And writing it is just the beginning. After you write it, you have to sell it, market it, and write the next one. You have to really enjoy the process, not just the idea of seeing your name on a book. If you love to write, then keep doing it. And if you need support or advice, organizations like Mystery Writers of America, are great places to go.

Thank you, Clare, for sharing your busy day with us.


Kari Lee Townsend said...

Wow you are sooo right! Writing a book is only the beginning....there's so much more to it than most people realize, but it's so worth it.

Great interview ladies :-)

Lindsay said...

Clare, thnks for a great interview. Both your series sound interesting and intriguing.
I agree not only is writing the book the beginning but is sometimes lonely. Even with people around it's still just you, the writer, with your computer or pen and paper.
I hope the discussions about the fall of Rome weren't in latin because that could really ruin a meal.

Mary Martinez said...

Thanks for visiting us Clare, I'm sorry I haven't checked in yet. I'm undergoing internet changes so I'm going to be on and off line all day.


Liz Lipperman said...

Claire, welcome to M & M. Both your mystery series sound wonderful. I can't wait to check them out.

Cassy Pickard said...

Clare, welcome to M&M. I'm behind in checking in today. My apologies. What fun it is to read about your combination of a love of quilting and weaving (oops, stitching) that into your stories. Plus you have done the same with your TV work. I love it.

Taking our life experiences and turning them into mystery and mayhem is wonderful

Question: How do you think about incorporating the quilting or TV into the stories? What I mean by that is, do you have your plot and then you work the other in, or do you know that there is a theme around the quilts or the TV producing that then leads to a plot?

Clare O'Donohue said...

Thanks everyone for the nice comments. In answer to Cassy's question, I go both ways. Sometimes I have a quilt idea and build the plot around it, but mostly I start with a story and find a way to put quilting in that supports it. In terms of Missing Persons, in the first I had the idea of a woman in the middle of a divorce when her husband dies. That was with me for a while before I realized I could turn it into a mystery with the character as a TV producer.
And Lindsay - actually my mother speaks some Latin and tried to teach us words, but nothing stuck!

Lindsay said...

I ended up learning mote than a few. Took Latin for two years and even helped my dad with a little translation.

Erin Hartshorn said...

I haven't read Double Cross yet, but I loved Lover's Knot. I look forward to your new series, too.

Clare O'Donohue said...

Thanks Erin. There's also A Drunkard's Path, the second in the Someday Quilts series. I hope you like that one, and The Double Cross. I've been having so much fun writing both series.