“You absolutely have to commit to getting the word out about your book. Very few are successful by just uploading the book and hoping readers will find it on their own. I’ve made some mistakes along the way, but I’d rather have made those mistakes than to not try and having nothing happen because I’m worried about what people will think of me.” Mary McDonald 12 January 2011
The Back Flap
Mark Taylor discovers first hand that no good deed goes unpunished when the old camera he found during a freelance job in an Afghanistan bazaar gives him more than great photos. It triggers dreams of disasters. Tragedies that happen exactly as he envisions them. He learns that not only can he see the future, he can change it. Then the unthinkable happened and everyone ignored his frantic warnings. Thousands die. Suddenly, the Feds are pounding on his door and the name they have for Taylor isn’t urban hero. It’s enemy combatant. And, it means they can do anything they want to him. Anything at all.
About the Book
What is the book about?
The premise of No Good Deed is that photographer Mark Taylor has an old camera he bought in an Afghanistan bazaar while working on a photo job. When he uses the camera, it shows photos of near future events, mainly accidents where someone is killed, or other tragedies. After he views the photos, he then dreams about them, allowing him to fill in the details. If he chooses, he can try to change the events and prevent the bad things from happening.
The book opens with Mark being arrested as a suspected terrorist with connections to 9/11 because he’d seen the terrible tragedy in his photos the day before and tried to warn the authorities. Nobody believes him, and his phone calls he made the morning of the attacks, coupled with his trip to Afghanistan two years prior, is just too suspicious for the authorities to ignore. He’s named an enemy combatant and locked away without a trial, lawyer or any way to defend himself.
When did you start writing the book?
The book started out as a short story on a writing site, but after I posted it, feedback from readers indicated that they wanted to know what happened to Mark. (I left him rotting in the cell.) I wrote more, but then readers wanted more of what happened while he was in prison. Eventually, I scrapped that whole story and started over with a plan in mind. That was in January of 2009.
How long did it take you to write it?
About nine months, but then I changed scenes, added scenes and cut scenes after many months of querying agents.
Where did you get the idea from?
Initially, the writing site I began it on had a challenge to have your character wake up in a padded room and wonder how they got there. That scene is still in the book, but somewhat changed because the room isn’t padded as it’s now a regular cell. The reason that idea of the enemy combatant came up was because of stories in the news. I got to wondering what if someone who was innocent was arrested as an enemy combatant. However, I didn’t want the reader to have any doubt as to my character’s innocence, hence the idea for the limited ability to see images from the future.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
The beginning and the ending, and possibly, a bit in the middle. heh. Seriously, the book has had about a dozen different opening scenes. I had one with Mark and Jessie in his loft, with the idea of introducing them as characters. I received feedback that the story didn’t open fast enough. So, I added the opening scene, but after that, Mark went back to his loft for the scene with Jessie. An agent commented that it wasn’t serious enough, so I cut that scene and aimed straight for the jugular. I had hoped that the opening scene with the baby set up Mark as a sympathetic character quickly enough for readers to care what happened to him.
What came easily?
I love writing the angsty scenes, so those just flowed. Anytime Mark had to confront someone or was being questioned, I had no problems writing those scenes. Also, parts where he’s remembering good times, and anything to do with food. lol. Many of the scenes combine the memories with the food, since most of us tend to think of happy times and associate it with special meals and celebrations.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
I don’t know anyone exactly like any of my characters, but I’ve borrowed mannerisms from people I know. I’m not naming names though. I’d rather keep my friends and relatives guessing.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
I love to read, but a lot of the stuff I enjoy is epic history, like James Michener novels, or James Clavell’s Sho-gun. I also really love The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve read that book a half-dozen times and it’s never the same. I wish I could say it’s influenced my writing, but I have no idea if it did.
The only author I consciously sat and re-read passages or noted what made a sentence work, was LaVryle Spencer, a best-selling romance novelist. Even though my book isn’t romance, I think she does an amazing job of making the readers feel for her characters, and that’s what I wanted readers to feel as they read my books. Morning Glory is my favorite romance novel of all-time, and I know that Will Parker influenced the character of Mark Taylor to some degree.
Do you have a target reader?
I expect my readers are adults who like fast-paced books with sympathetic characters in addition to plenty of characters. In fact, it always surprises me when readers say that it’s a non-stop book because I don’t see it as action oriented, but more about what Mark is feeling rather than what he’s doing at any given moment. Often, his feelings come out in his actions, but it’s not the same kind of thriller as, say, a Lee Child book, which has Jack Reacher fighting lots of bad guys–not to say Lee Child fans wouldn’t like this too, it’s just a bit different.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
To get the words out initially, what works best for me is setting up a writing time with another writer friend of mine named Jessie (And yes, Jessie was kind enough to let me use her name for my main female character. ) We meet online and decide to write for an hour or so. She writes her thing, I write mine, and it’s sort of a competition to see who can write the most words in that time limit. I say sort of a competition because she always kicks my butt. lol. Where I might write 900 words, she’ll get 1500 done. However, in my defense, my husband and ten year old often interrupt me while I write to ask me a question, while Jessie just has to contend with a bunch of IMs from all her friends. 😉 We started doing this for short stories back in 2008, and it worked so well, we’ve each written a few novels using the process.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just Chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I don’t use an official outline, but I have used a very flexible one before. Not so much for No Good Deed as it already had been written in bits and pieces before I re-wrote the whole thing from scratch. I guess you could call that an outline of sorts. It was almost like a very rough first draft.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I’ll often start a writing session by editing the previous writing sessions scenes. It gets me in the flow of the story, but sometimes it’s hard to get back to writing new stuff. It’s easier to edit what I’ve already written.
I had some issues with editing No Good Deed, mostly because I had to use about five different word processors because my computer crashed half-way through writing the book. I didn’t get a new computer for about five months, so I was writing some on Google Docs, and some on Word, and then pasting bits back and forth. I also had a beta reader who would make suggestions on the Google Docs parts, which were great, but that added lots of hidden code to the document when I copied it back to Word. It ended up being a nightmare to clean up. With the sequel, I’m sticking to one word processor and not adding notes to the main copy. Live and learn, I guess.
Did you hire a professional editor?
No, I wish I could have, but it wasn’t in the cards. My husband had been laid off for two years, so finances were too tight to be able to afford a professional editor.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I love to listen to music while I write. In fact, it helps block out the questions by my daughter and husband. 😉 Just kidding. Sort of. I have a playlist on Zune with music from Explosions in the Sky, which is amazing mood music. I also have songs that capture the emotion of the characters, and some of those are Collide, by Howie Day, Superman, by Five for Fighting, Hero, by David Crosby, The Garden That You Planted, I Made a Resolution, and Leaves in the River, by Sea Wolf.
I also will listen to Pandora. I’ve found lots of new songs using the above artists as favorites and finding similar music.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
I did. I probably queried too soon, and by the time I’d changed the opening chapter to what it is now, I’d used up just about all the agents who handled my genre. I don’t know if it would have made a difference though. A lot of agents never reply, or conversly, will reply so quickly, you know they never read anything.
I studied the art of querying, had it critiqued, bought books on it, etc, but none of it seemed to work. One agent asked for a partial. He’s the one that suggested that it wasn’t a serious enough beginning. I changed it, but I didn’t resubmit as he didn’t ask to see it again. The day after I uploaded the book to Amazon, I had a reply from a few months prior asking for a full. I told the agent about uploading it, and he then declined to read it.
What made you decide to go Indie? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
After months of querying, I read J.A. Konrath’s blog, and thought what do I have to lose? I can upload the book and see what happens, or I can keep it forever hidden in a file on my computer. It was a no-brainer. I can’t say there was one moment where I changed course though. It was a bit gradual. I went from thinking I’d never self-publish, to reading about the changing attitude, and thinking, well, maybe I’ll self-publish, to just talking it over with my husband who thought it was a great idea.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did it you do it yourself?
I had an original cover that I did completely by myself. It was a sketch of a man who looked like how I pictured Mark Taylor. He was in the crosshairs of a rifle nightvision scope. The whole thing was sort of a black and neon green with yellow text. It was very eye-catching, but definitely not professional looking. I liked it for sentimental reasons, as did my husband, but I changed it with the help of a couple of other people. I’m not happy with the title font though, and would love to change it. I’m not skilled in Photoshop though.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
I’m winging it, definitely. I’ve been fortunate enough to ‘meet’ many other indie authors and I’m trying to learn from their successes. I spend a lot of time chatting on forums.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
You absolutely have to commit to getting the word out about your book. Very few are successful by just uploading the book and hoping readers will find it on their own. I’ve made some mistakes along the way, but I’d rather have made those mistakes than to not try and having nothing happen because I’m worried about what people will think of me.
I’m from a big family one of eight kids. I just celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary, and my husband and I have three children. I work full-time as a respiratory therapist.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Waukegan, Illinois, the town Ray Bradbury grew up in, and also famous comedian Jack Benny. In fact, I went to Jack Benny Junior High.
Where do you live now?
I recently moved to Silver Lake, Wisconsin and we’re enjoying it very much. It’s a small town with a lake and a river. I can’t wait until next summer when we get to be here for the whole summer. We moved at the end of last summer, so only had a few days to get to the nearby beach.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up the sequel to No Good Deed. It will be titled ‘March Into Hell’ and since I had so much fun putting Mark Taylor through the wringer in NGD, I thought I’d up the ante in March Into Hell. I hope to have it ready by mid-January of 2011.
End of Interview
You can buy No Good Deed, here, and you can read my review of Mary’s book here.