Mary Metcalfe, Author


Tell us something about yourself.  A mini-biography of sorts.

I’ve been a professional writer and editor for over three decades, but all of it non-fiction and primarily in the health and social policy fields at the federal level in Canada. For 20 years I had an incorporated company in partnership with my husband. We had a good stable of associates and a constant stream of work. In 2008, after a major health scare, I decided to simplify my life and found one contract that allows me to work 30 hours a week, 25 of them from home, so I have more time for my personal writing. It’s been great not having to constantly drum up business.

Did you always want to be a writer?

From high school on, my dream was to be a full-time fiction author but life sent me in other directions for quite awhile.  I’m living vicariously through my daughter now. She is a full-time writer and author of both non-fiction and fiction.

What part of writing do you find the most fun?  The most difficult?

Getting to know my characters is a hoot. It takes awhile to get into their heads and discern their values and motives. But, once I have a real person developed, their stories take on a life of their own.

How much of your personal life do you incorporate in your writing?

I would say a fair bit, from the perspective of stories and anecdotes that come my way through conversations, reading and social networking. I know that my interest in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression came about because of my late father’s difficulties when he returned from WWII. And, the psychopathic character in my second novel is a composite of real people I know or have heard about, supplemented by research.

Tell us a little about what you’re working on right now.

I’m well into my third novel in a trilogy.  This one is about a young mother trying to escape an abusive marriage.  Just as she finds a way to rebuild her life and pursue a career in animal husbandry, her brother and husband are involved in a severe car accident. Andrea is torn between wanting to follow her dream or let it go to care for a husband who may be permanently disabled.

Is there anything surprising you’ve learned about the publishing industry that you’d like to share with us?

Only that there is now so much to learn and then do on your own. Every day feels like I’m learning something new that I didn’t realize I needed to know. Two weeks ago, I was seeing SEO all over the place without knowing what it stands for. I know now that it’s search engine optimization and I need to figure out how to do it to drive traffic to my web site and blog.

What’s the most rewarding aspect about writing?

It helps fulfill my innate need to communicate. I’m one of those people who think of something witty to say an hour after the opportunity has passed. But, give me a keyboard and the lines pop out one after the other!

Do you feel you chase the market or do you write from the heart, knowing you’re writing the best you can and someone will eventually publish your work?

I write from the heart, knowing that I’m the one who will publish my work. I’ve always been self-motivated and entrepreneurial. My mantra is “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me”.

How would you describe your writing style and genre?

My writing style tends to be very journalistic as that is my training and background. I’m not literary in the sense of a Margaret Atwood. Genre gets sticky. I’ve been told my first novel is Women’s Fiction with Romantic Elements; as is the third. I have issues with “women’s fiction”, however, as there is no corresponding “men’s fiction” genre and neither have shelves in bookstores. Also, there is no consensus on a definition of  what women’s fiction is, other than it may or may not have a HEA. My second is a definite romantic suspense.

Do you create challenges for your characters to overcome and why?

The whole point of a good novel, in my view at least, is to journey with the characters as they learn about themselves and what is important in life. We tend to learn best when we are challenged; when we have to dig down deep to our core values; to what’s negotiable and what’s not negotiable. I don’t cut my characters any slack when it comes to challenges.

What challenges you personally in your writing?

I’d have to say not being able to do it full-time on the fiction side; spending too much time on social networking to build my platform; and, the amount of technical research about indie publishing. I love weekends because I can focus my full attention on the writing, whether it’s the novel or my blog.

Do you work on paper or a computer?  At home or in an office?  What time of day do you write and why?  How much do you write a day?

I have a beautiful home office that is very zen, with a desktop fountain, a candle and lovely landscape art. My office is as close to paperless as you can get. I do everything on computer, starting most days at 5:30 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m., with breaks for exercise and meals and playing doorwoman to three cats and a dog. On a good fiction writing weekend I can usually do a couple of chapters, including scene expansion and editing.

The inevitable:  are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am a devoted pantser! I tried doing a full novel outline and it bogged me down. Life doesn’t unfold according to a plot; things never happen as planned. If they did, it would get boring in a hurry. I work hard on my characters’ back stories, dreams and motivations; give them a setting and then let them loose. I write a short synopsis for each chapter for structure: goal, motivation and conflict, but apart from that, it’s a trip for them and me.

Do you have any favorite websites and/or blogs that you avidly follow?

I tend to dip into an amazing variety of blogs depending on my learning interests that day or week. I spend a fair bit of time on Goodreads and NovelPublicity. A long-time friend blogs regularly and I follow hers with interest. It has nothing to do with publishing, which is a good break for me and gives story ideas.

Who is your favorite author in the whole world and why.

That’s easy! It’s my daughter. She is the one who motivated me to finally chase my dream of writing novels. When I held her non-fiction book on the day of the launch in 2009, I was finished! I just HAD to get my butt in gear and finish the novel I’d started (with the detailed outline) in 2006. I haven’t looked back since.

And, lastly, who has impacted your writing the most?

Never thought I’d say it because I don’t read his novels, but Stephen King. His autobiography/reference book On Writing has helped me discover and recognize my voice. And I know in my heart that it is authentic.

Thanks Patti!! That was FUN! Made my day.



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