Another day, another talented author as a guest on my site. Please welcome McKenna Dean. Not only has she been gracious enough to answer some questions for us, but she’s also sharing an excerpt from her latest book, Ghost of a Chance. Read on.
What is your reaction to a negative review?
In the past, I’ve let negative reviews ruffle my feathers. It’s funny, you can get fifty stellar reviews, but it’s the one harsh review that sticks with you. Most of the time, I can shrug them off. After all, if you check out the reviews of some of your all-time favorite stories, you’ll discover they’ve received negative reviews, too. Sometimes it’s simply that the reader couldn’t connect with the story. Sometimes the problem is the reader doesn’t like things you love, and that’s not going to change.
When it comes to the truly nasty gif-laden review, I finally realized there were only two reasons someone would write such a review. Either they are writing to an audience, one that expects and appreciates a kind of Simon Cowell harshness—or they really intend to wound with their words.
In the first case, it isn’t personal. They are just playing to an audience who applauds them for being cleverly mean. In the second, you have to ask yourself this: will this review, which is mean to destroy your confidence, make you quit writing?
If the answer is no, then it becomes clear that negative reviews have no power over you. Congratulations.
What is your reaction to a positive review?
Aw, positive reviews are like crack to an author. Especially when you get that email out of the blue, telling you how your story brought joy to someone, or helped them through a dark time. When a reviewer sings my story’s praise—going so far as to quote their favorite bits—I practically bark like a seal, clapping my hands with delight and spinning circles in my desk chair. That’s the kind of review you want to share with everyone, even if you feel as though you’re boasting when you do so.
Writers are going to write. We can’t help it. But that kind of validation makes us sit down at the keyboard and tappety-tap out the next story. It overcomes exhaustion and discouragement. It’s the like a can of spinach to Popeye.
Think back to the first book you wrote and then the last book you wrote. In what ways have you grown?
I think in some ways, when I wrote my first story, I was attempting to write to market expectations—or at least what I thought the market wanted. I had hopes becoming successful enough I could scale back on the day job to spend more time writing. I’ve since learned that I’d much rather publish a story that satisfies me as a writer than to crank out one after another that have nothing to distinguish them from each other.
I’ve also had to accept that I’m not speedy enough to develop a big following overnight. That’s okay. I’m in this for the long haul.
How long does it generally take you to write a book, from the spark of an idea to the finished product?
Hah! Sadly, at the moment, it seems to take me about a year to write a story that I’m proud to publish. That wasn’t always the case—I used to be more productive than I am now. Unfortunately, demands of work and family mean that I frequently find myself too wiped out at the end of the day to write the scenes I’ve been dreaming about all day long.
I’m taking steps to carve out more writing time for myself, though. That means less time online and making the social media rounds. The best advertisement is the next story.
There are many ‘systems’ to write a novel: story-boarding, the 7-point structure system, the snowflake system, to name a few. Have you tried any of them? If so, share your thoughts and experiences.
I’m the worst kind of pantser. I get an idea for a story that usually starts as a ‘what if?’ question. The characters come to me next. Sometimes I write out of sequence, getting the scenes I see the most clearly down on paper without worrying about how it will all come together. Sometimes I write 20 K words before I realize what the real story is and where it is headed. Most of the time this works for me, but I can see how inefficient it might seem. If I outline too much, it feels as though I’ve already written the story! But now that I’m writing series, I can see the need for a greater degree of outlining than I’ve used before. I re-read my material a lot. This helps me spot underlying themes that were perhaps only subconscious thoughts before, and allows me to expand upon them and weave them into subsequent scenes. It may slow me down a bit, but I frequently get compliments on my pacing and flow, and I believe this habit is a big factor in why it works for me.
What is the kindest comment/compliment you have ever received from a fan regarding your work?
I recently had a fan tell me my writing was as delicious and cozy as a Jennifer Crusie story, but because I write about shifters, which was right up her alley, it was a win-win for her. (I might have to have that printed up on a flyer!)
Do you have a blog and if so, what types of posts would a visitor find on it?
I do! I try to post once a week on my blog. I generally post about writing and the creative process, with guest spotlights of other authors. I also live on a farm, so I tend to post slice-of-life things as well. Once a month, I hold a WIP Wednesday, in which I post 500 or so words of the current WIP, and invite other authors to do the same. I love taking photographs, so any excuse will do to post pictures I’ve taken!
Describe a typical weekend.
Today was a good example. We’re having amazing fall weather right now, so I got up early to make blueberry muffins for the family, and then I headed out to the barn to go horseback riding. After that, I took the dogs out to the National Forest for a long walk among the falling leaves, stopping to take lots of photographs along the way. It was such a quintessential autumn day that I baked an apple pie this afternoon when I got back to the house, and as soon as I finish these interview questions, it’s me and the WIP for the next couple of hours. I like to participate in #RWChat Sunday evenings on Twitter, and then I have to do laundry and get ready for the work week tomorrow.
If every day could be like this one, I could knock out a novel every couple of months.
Here’s a look at McKenna’s latest book, Ghost of a Chance
(Redclaw Security Book 2)
At sixteen, Sarah Atwell walked away from her love of horses and a promising career as a competitive rider after discovering she’d inherited the family curse. Years later, her grandmother stunned everyone by leaving Sarah her horse farm—worth millions—but with conditions Sarah might not be able to meet.
A former Redclaw agent, Casey Barnes retired when a security assignment went bad, killing his partner and leaving him as a partial amputee. His inner wolf is in hiding. He’s been living quietly as a horse trainer, but June Atwell’s death now pits him against her granddaughter for rights to the stable.
With both of them snowed in at the farm, a series of increasingly serious accidents draws Sarah and Casey closer together, but they each harbor secrets that might tear them apart.
And now for a sneak peek:
For some reason, he glanced back at Sarah where she waited by the door. The back-light of falling snow through the glass in the shadowed hallway created the suggestion of a black-and-white photograph. The only spot of color was the bright red scarf at the collar of her coat and the wine-dark lipstick she wore. She leaned against the wall with her eyes closed. Something inside him clicked, as though recognizing a scene from a movie. His heart stopped a beat, flipped over, and thudded again with increased intensity.
No. It couldn’t be. Not her.
He hurried away, head still reeling at his reaction.
When he returned with an armload of clothing, she was nowhere to be seen. Her laptop sat by her shoes, one pretty little pump turned over on its side. As expected, he discovered her in the living room, staring at the pictures on the wall. “There you are.”
She jumped at the sound of his voice.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.” He adjusted the heap of clothing piled over one arm and held out a pair of snow boots.
“She had so many photographs of me.” Sarah took the boots almost automatically, and indicated the walls covered with pictures, ones Casey had seen many times.
That had to be it. Why she felt so familiar. Why she seemed to be the one. Relief washed over him. Obviously, he’d spent too much time alone if he thought Sarah Atwell was his destined mate.
Sarah spoke quietly, as though she felt a sense of reverence as well. “So different from my own place. My walls are largely bare.” She turned in a slow circle, taking in everything in the room.
“Why is that?”
Her shrug seemed self-deprecating. “Less to dust, according to Simon. I got rid of most of my furniture when I moved in with him. It made sense at the time. His place was small and there wasn’t room for all my clutter.”
“I’m not much of a house-keeper myself.” There was no way he’d ever let someone as classy as Sarah into his ramshackle single-wide trailer. “But if something makes you happy, I think you should keep it.”
She smiled, though not at him. At his words perhaps. “This room is a shrine to a life well-lived. A love letter to the beauty Gran found in the little things around her.”
On the wall facing the door was a large dramatic shot of a bay horse jumping down from an impossibly huge obstacle into a body of water. Where her forelegs struck the surface, the spray shot up into the air, beading in the sunlight like tiny prisms. It was Casey’s favorite photograph of Athena, one of the best horses June had ever bred. Taken at one of Sarah’s last competitions as a teenager, Sarah was rocked back in the saddle, the reins looking dangerously long to the untrained eye. Of course, she had let them slip to allow Athena to drop down into the water. Seeing Sarah standing in front of the photograph now sent a weird jolt of recognition combined with dissonance through him. It was hard to believe she was the girl riding that mare. The look on her teenaged face in the photo had always captivated him. It was one of sheer joy, the thrill of the ride itself.
That girl had not only found life worth living, but had taken it by the reins as its master. The woman standing beside him looked closed off from joy, shielded.
What had happened to her?
Ghost of a Chance is available on Amazon and these additional retailers.
About the author
McKenna Dean has been an actress, a vet tech, a singer, a teacher, a biologist, and a dog trainer. She’s worked in a genetics lab, at the stockyard, behind the scenes as a props manager, and at a pizza parlor slinging dough. Finally she realized all these jobs were just a preparation for what she really wanted to be: a writer.
She lives on a small farm in North Carolina with her family, as well as the assorted dogs, cats, and various livestock. She likes putting her characters in hot water to see how strong they are. Like tea bags, only sexier.
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