Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the guest post series, it is my pleasure today to welcome the author of the recently published thriller, Sister Dear: Hannah Mary McKinnon. She would be responding to questions on writing and editing a thriller.
1.What does your typical writing day look like?
That largely depends on which stage I’m at with my various projects. As I’m on a book a year schedule, I might, for example, be promoting my latest novel (Sister Dear in this case), editing my next one (You Will Remember Me, which publishes in May 2021), and either plotting or writing the one after that (as yet untitled, slated for publication in 2022).
If I’m editing, I’ll usually do so in my office, but if I’m working on the first draft of a manuscript I’ll use a laptop in a different room and make sure my phone is on silent and somewhere else. The internet connection on the laptop is disabled, too, so I’m a hundred percent focused on what’s in front of me. It’s amazing how much work I get done when I don’t let myself be distracted.
2. What extent of research do you put into your writing, and what are the research pitfalls writers must watch out for?
I’m going to have to give another “it depends” answer. For Time After Time (my debut, a rom com) there were geographical considerations, and as the novel took place from the 1980s to the 2010s, I had to ensure my references to pop culture were accurate. In The Neighbors, Her Secret Son and Sister Dear (suspense / psychological thrillers) there were similar geographical issues to consider, but I also had to research legal details. I sought help from child protective services, a lawyer, a medical examiner, and a police detective, to name but a few. I’m continually amazed how people are so incredibly generous with their time, knowledge, and expertise when I call and say, “I’m an author, honest, and I have a few weird questions.”
As for the pitfalls, you can easily get sucked into deep rabbit holes, which chews up so much time if you’re not careful.
I don’t do a lot of research before I start writing but tend to put placeholders for areas that need fleshing out and go back to them after I’ve finished my first draft. That way I’m not spending hours on facts that don’t make the cut.
Writers must judiciously decide how much detail to include from their research, and only add it if it’s relevant to the story.
3. Your novels are very well plotted. What are the things a new writer could keep in mind while outlining their novel?
Thank you very much for the compliment! First off, let me say not all writers plot or outline. Some authors feel it stifles their creativity, whereas I spend a lot of time plotting and developing characters before I work on a manuscript because it gives me a good sense of where I’m going. There’s no right or wrong method. It depends on what works best for the individual.
If you do want to plot a novel, I’d suggest deciding where your protagonist is at the beginning of the story (both physically and emotionally), and at the end, and work on how you’ll get them there, essentially breaking your idea down into more manageable stepping stones.
4. You help other writers edit their work. What’s the advice you would give a writer looking to hire an editor?
Before getting to the point of hiring a professional editor and paying for their services:
- make sure your manuscript is in the best possible shape it can be.
- use beta-readers (preferably not friends and family because lip-service is of no use to anyone in this business) so you can address things like plot holes, insufficient character development, and stilted dialogue.
- ask for references if they didn’t come recommended.
- have the potential editor read through the first ten pages or so to see if they think the manuscript is a good fit for them.
- if possible, speak with them directly so you can understand their process and what you should expect.
- agree terms and conditions in a written contract.
5. Could you recommend five thrillers that you have enjoyed reading?
Only five? I have sooooo many more… Okay, here goes: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell. He Started It by Samantha Downing. The Swap by Robyn Harding. Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier. Broken Genius by Drew Murray.
6. You write both novels and short stories. How does the writing differ, and how long does it take you to write a short story/ novel?
For me, writing short stories is vastly different. I don’t plot them, but generally start with an idea or character, or maybe an ending in mind. And then I write. The short stories I’ve penned, and which you’ll find here, took no more than a few hours each. Actually, The Icing on the Cake took about thirty minutes.
Novels on the other hand are a much bigger undertaking—a good six months before I send a first draft to my editor, and multiple rounds of structural and copy-edits thereafter. It’s a longer process by far.
7. What advice would you have for a debut author on promoting their work?
- Engage with other authors, book bloggers (e.g. bookstagrammers), librarians, book clubs and other readers as much as you possibly can.
- Don’t always promote your own work online but share information about the novels you’ve enjoyed.
- Participate in online events and ask your publisher how you can help.
8. What is the world and setting of your new book Sister Dear?
Sister Dear is set in present day, and the story unfolds in Portland, Maine. I chose Portland because I live near Toronto in Ontario, Canada, and have family in New Brunswick. Whenever we visit, we drive through the US, and on one of those trips we stopped in Portland. I loved the city, the vibe, and cobbled streets, and decided my next book would be set there. Having visited in person made describing it so much easier than only using Streetview.
9. What is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Sister Dear before they dive into the book?
This is a dark and twisted sisterly tale full of deceit and lies. I aim to surprise readers, and hope they’ll still think about the book long after they’ve finished the final page. Whatever I write, my main goal is to entertain, and to leave readers satisfied with a feeling of, “I enjoyed that. It was time well spent!”
Want thriller writing advice from Hannah? Do you have questions for her?
What thrillers have you read recently? Would you like to recommend any? When reading a thriller, what else fascinates you, other than the pace? If you’re not a thriller fan, what other books have you been reading lately?
Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing. While her debut, TIME AFTER TIME, was a rom com, she transitioned to the dark side thereafter. Her suspense novels include THE NEIGHBORS, HER SECRET SON, SISTER DEAR and the upcoming psychological thriller YOU WILL REMEMBER ME. Hannah Mary lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons.
Go to the site to see the other participants. In this group we writers share tips, self-doubt, insecurities, and of course, discuss the act of writing. If you’re a writer and a blogger, go join rightaway!
Optional IWSG question: If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?
I’d definitely choose Kate Atkinson, because I love how her crime novels are about so much more than crimes. She would have great advice on how to balance pace and characterisation–the toughest nut for me to crack when it comes to writing my novels.
It is available in India here.
Reviews are appreciated–please get in touch if you’d like a review copy.