Today author A.M. Boyle is visiting to share how she switched careers from lawyer to novelist, her writing process, and her dark trilogy! Visit her blog for inspiration and advice on writing.
You were a trial lawyer for 17 years. How did you decide let go of that profession to join the writing field?
Writing has always been my first love. However, the practicalities of life swayed me in the direction of a more stable career, namely law. The practice of law, as you know, is very demanding, and trial work can be all consuming. It doesn’t leave much free time to pursue other interests. Still, even while practicing law, I always found time to write. I couldn’t stop myself. I used writing as an escape, a chance to get away from the stresses of trial work. It was difficult, though, like having two spouses, each demanding your attention. The situation became harder to manage when I started my own law practice.
As a solo practitioner, your very survival depends on the number of hours you put in. The cases weren’t handed to me anymore—I had to go out and find them. This meant I had to put my writing to the side and focus on my practice. Building a business from the ground up is difficult and draining but after a while, I managed to establish a fairly lucrative practice in West Palm Beach, Florida. Financially, we were doing well, but the situation was very hard on all of us. We had two children and not a lot of time to spend with either of them. Both my practice and my husband’s job were stressful and demanding, taking away valuable family time. Then things got turned upside. My husband lost his job but found another back East, in New Jersey.
When we moved from Florida to New Jersey, I was faced with a choice. I could either get licensed in NJ as an attorney and start building my practice again from the ground up (a daunting task), or I could give it up entirely and pursue my first love, writing. We looked at our finances and decided that we could make it—just barely—on my husband’s salary only. It was a huge leap of faith, but we decided that I should make a go of this writing thing and, as an added bonus, working from home would allow me to spend more time with the kids. I give a lot of credit to my husband for supporting the decision. It seemed a little insane at the time, but he stood by my and encouraged me to follow my dream. He’s an amazing guy.
What challenges did you face leaving a steady income and how did you overcome them?
Of course, the biggest challenge was the financial one. For instance, I had no idea that, as a tween, my daughter would become something of a fashionista, wanting only the latest styles and most expensive brands. It’s been difficult to have to tell her no, we’re on a budget.
We’ve had to cut back on a lot of things to compensate for the lost salary. Mostly frills and luxuries, but enough to bring on the guilt. We drive used cars, mow our own lawn, have a fridge that leaks water, and our carpets look like they’ve been trampled by a pack of mud-covered elephants with cleats. We don’t take extravagant vacations and don’t go out to eat very often. Things like that. Nothing earth shattering, but it’s really the guilt that I battle with the most; it’s the endless “what if’s” that wake me up at 3:00 a.m. Every time we see something we really want but can’t afford, I get a little pang in my gut and I wonder how things would have been different if I’d stuck it out as a lawyer.
Still, I know that we may be poorer but we are a lot happier. In the long run that means more than money. When the kids are older, they might not remember how many times we went out to eat, but they will remember that they were happy and that mom was there waiting for them when they came home from school.
What has your career path been since leaving a legal career?
Aside from writing my novels, I’ve done odd jobs here and there to bring in some extra cash. Initially, to ease the guilt and the financial squeeze, I tried various part time adventures to support my writing addiction. At various times, I was a substitute teacher, a receptionist, a document review expert, and a cafeteria lady. Then I discovered that I could actually make money as a freelance writer. It was a life-changing revelation. Make money doing what I love? What a concept! So, when I’m not working on my novels or marketing/promoting, I’m doing freelance writing jobs. It’s fun and brings in that extra cash we need.
How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
My childhood was a little quirky, to say the least. The last of five children and the only girl, I was a surprise (and not a pleasant one) to my parents and my brothers. My mother was aloof and preoccupied—and big on corporal punishment. My father was overworked and tormented by a gambling addiction and the constant disapproval of my old, cantankerous Italian grandmother (his mother-in-law) who lived with us. Except for the occasional ass-whooping, I didn’t get much attention from the parents—not your “snuggle up and lets read stories” kind of household. The brothers had better things to do then entertain their pesky little sister (although they did take particular delight in scaring the cookies out of me every so often, just for the fun of it). Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, I wasn’t allowed to stray far from the house, so friends were scarce. I became something of a loner and learned how to entertain myself by inventing incredible worlds populated by a host of amazing characters. These characters became my friends, my guardians, my companions, and I created stories around them, watched them unfold in my mind, sometimes weaving myself into the fabric of the tale, thus becoming someone else for a little while. Many of these worlds and characters from my childhood grew up with me and later found their way into my novels and stories. Had my childhood and upbringing not been as quirky, they may never have been born to begin with.
Tell us about your novel SENTRY’S PAST: Veil of Darkness!
At its core, it’s a story of courage and sacrifice in the face of insurmountable odds. It’s also a story that challenges our preconceived notions of right and wrong, exploring how motivations and intent often color or perceptions of those terms. It comes wrapped in the package of a contemporary science fiction thriller and touches upon the possibilities recognized by many scientific organizations today that there are alternate worlds, or quantum premier-pharmacy.com/product/xenical/ planes, that exist in tangent to our own. The storyline revolves around an extraordinary situation where the boundaries that separate the quantum pharmacy-no-rx.net/cialis_generic.html planes are overcome and the beings that exist in one world cross over into another, namely, ours. In a heartbeat, the world as we know it could change, and our perceived reality could morph into a twisted nightmare, where we are the hunted, easy prey for beings that feed upon our pain much like a moth feeds upon a flower’s nectar. Our reluctant hero, Jack Monterey, holds the key that can either stop this catastrophe from happening or bring it to fruition. Unfortunately, Jack has no idea who he is, no memory of his past and no clue as to the power he possesses. Deception runs deep and Jack is pushed to the limits of his endurance as he is caught up in a desperate race to uncover the truth before it’s too late.
The sequel , SENTRY’S TIME: Veil of Redemption, is due out this fall. What’s it about and is there a third book to come?
SENTRY’S TIME picks up where SENTRY’S PAST leaves off. It is a stand-alone book, but draws upon the question of “what next” after the desperate situation in SENTRY’S PAST reaches a resolution. Things have changed radically in Jack’s life, and he must come to terms with what was revealed and the horrific events that occurred as a result of those revelations. Afraid to face the truth of who he is and what he has the potential to become, he craves redemption but it eludes him at every turn. Yet the implications of all that has happened are more far-reaching than he ever imagined. The Balance that holds the boundaries between the quantum planes in place has shifted, and new threats have emerged, hovering at the edge of our world and rising up from within. Any expectation he had for life on his own terms is shattered as he discovers that what he thought was the end was only the beginning. But before he can confront the dangers that lie ahead, he must first face the most frightening menace of all—himself.
I’m currently working on the third book in the series entitled SENTRY’S RETURN: Veil of Reason. I can’t really say where this one is going because I don’t really know. When I write, my characters reveal the story to me a little at a time. It’s what keeps me writing—the need to find out what happens next!
Dark or light? What are you most drawn to writing?
Definitely Dark, with tiny pinpricks of light.
What is the one thing you wish you knew before you published your first book?
To have a third set of neutral eyes read over the final copy before print. There are typos that both my editor and I missed. Nothing major, and most people wouldn’t even notice them. But I know they’re there and it drives me crazy. That’s what happens when you read over the copy too often—your brain already knows what the words are supposed to say and it tricks your eyes into seeing them that way, even if that’s not the case. Like I said, it’s all about perception!
How do you create your characters?
I don’t create them; they just sort of exist. Many of them I’ve known since childhood. Yes, I know—sounds insane, but that’s what writing really is…a sanctioned form of insanity. Putting them on paper is really just a matter of taking a snapshot in my mind and letting the words paint the picture I see. Then I simply listen to their voices and write what they say, the way they say it. I’m sort of a glorified transcriptionist!
Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. It’s not really a message per se, and different readers will take away different messages, I suppose. But I want all of them to challenge their perception of the world around them, and recognize that some of what they see or believe may be no more than illusion, shaped by their own preconceived notions and experiences. I want them to dare to open their minds to the possibilities of “worlds unseen” and the hidden battles that may be raging under our very noses.
Did you learn anything from writing your first book and what was it?
I learned so many things, I could write pages and pages. But I think the most important thing I learned was that I could do it.
When I first started writing, I did it for my own sanity, as an escape. I never intended anyone to read anything that I’d written. But certain people who came into my life encouraged me to develop the story and “dare to share.” Showing my story to someone was extremely far out of my comfort zone, like walking into Shoprite naked. But I did it (referring to the writing, not the naked shopping spree). And I opened myself up to criticism and you know what? I survived—I didn’t crumble. And now there it is—a piece of myself, a world that at one time was only accessible to me, now open and available for anyone to visit and explore. That is an amazing feeling and a true life lesson.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Nothing too exciting. When I’m not working on my novel or some freelance project, I usually read or play games on Facebook (Zuma Blitz champion here!) I’ll watch DVR’ed shows, like Grimm, American Idol or Touch. I spend a fair amount of time chauffering my kids around or doing household stuff—you know, shopping, cleaning… practical nonsense. I hang with the family when they’re around, sometimes strum a few songs on the guitar (so long as no one else is listening). Truth is, though, I’m pretty obsessive and when I’m not writing, I’m usually thinking about writing, or something writing related.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best?
Social media is my primary marketing tools. I like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn the best. I play around with Pinterest and Google Plus, but I find they’re a bit time consuming with little benefit.
Blogging (and doing guest blogs) is another great marketing tool. Of course, I have a website and I also use Constant Contact to keep fans and friends up to date on what’s going on.
Aside from the internet, I get out to local fairs and other events. I also go to writer’s conferences and network as much as possible with other writers. I find that word of mouth is always the best marketing tool. If I’m looking for a good book to read, I’m more likely to ask a friend than rely on a blurb sent to me by some author I don’t know. Consequently, I encourage anyone who has read my book and liked it to tell others about it.
Marketing and promotion is a time consuming process. You can get lost in it if you’re not careful. In fact, next week, I’ll be doing a blog post on Marketing and Promotion. I hope you’ll stop by and check it out!
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Most days, I don’t know if I’m qualified to give anyone advice about anything, but this is what I suggest:
You’ve heard the phrase, “dance like there’s no one watching?” Well, I say, write like there’s no one reading! Don’t be afraid to let your imagination run wild and let it all hang out. When writing a first draft, don’t worry about who’s going to read it and what they might think. Don’t worry about proper grammar, spelling, rhythm and all that. That can all come later in the endless edits you’ll have to do. Just write the story you want to read, and write it for all it’s worth! Hold nothing back!
Learn to take criticism. Be open to it. It’s hard but it is so worth it! Some people will be nice about it, some won’t. I’ve been told that my initial drafts were “trite,” “cheesy,” and “pedestrian.” It’s a Hellish experience, like someone calling your baby ugly. Instead of cursing out the respective critics out or throwing your manuscript in the trash, stop, take a deep breath and ask them what might be a life-altering question…”why?” What did they see that you don’t? The answers might surprise you and enlighten you and will help you improve your work and grow as a writer. Criticism hurts, no doubt, but just consider it growing pains.
Don’t give up. It took me years and many drafts (of the manuscript and of beer) to complete my first novel and get it published. But I believed in it. I didn’t want I’d get rich; that wasn’t the point of writing it (and if that is your main goal as a writer, you’re likely to be very, very disappointed). But I had a story to tell, and I wanted people to read it. If I’d have given up after a few failed attempts, I never would have reached my goal. Don’t stop writing, don’t s top reaching, and don’t stop growing in your craft. Success is typcially born of persistence.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know how interesting it is, but whenever I get stuck and I’m not sure in which direction the story is heading, I take a shower. For some reason, the answer always comes to me in the shower. You can imagine that, on those days when the voices in my head are garbled and the muse is nowhere to be found, I might not get much accomplished, but I’ll be very, very clean.
Where can we catch up with you at an upcoming event?
On June 2, I’ll be at the Gloucester Township Day festival, for a meet and greet and book signing. It’s a local event that takes place in Gloucester Township, NJ. On July 1, I’ll also be at “Not Yo Mama’s” Craft and Artisan Fair in Riverview Fisk Park, Jersey City NJ. You can find addresses and information for each of these events, as well as information on other upcoming appearances as they’re scheduled on my website (www.amboyleauthor.com).
You’ll also find the first chapter to “SENTRY’S PAST” on my website, as well as links to my Facebook page and Blog. Or you can look me up on Twitter (@AMBoyleauthor)…I always follow back!