Marsha Canham's Blog

March 8, 2011

Answering Juliet

Filed under: Uncategorized — marshacanham @ 2:14 pm

Wow Juliet asked some Great questions.  I’ll try to answer them one by one. *s*

Why did you decide to become a writer?

Actually, it happened purely by accident.  I had no burning desire to lock myself away in a garret watching spiders spin cobwebs while my brain flashed through and around scenes of angst and romance.  It was all my neighbor’s fault.  Years ago *coughs to hide the number 30* when a certain publishing house used to put free books inside boxes of laundry detergent, my neighbor got hooked on reading them…which was the point, I suppose, of giving them away free.  I had never read one and asked her what the appeal was, so she gave me one to read.  It had a storyline that blew up a few thousand brain cells, that of a young perky feisty woman driving along a lonely highway in Texas and having to stop in the middle of nowhere to rescue a baby calf that was in the middle of the road.  With no mama cow in sight, she put the cute little thing in her car and kept driving until she came to a motel in the middle of that same nowhere, where she started arguing with the studly handsome motel owner over keeping the calf…her pet, now…in her room.

I have no idea how it ended, but I can guess.  I told my neighbor point blank that her brain would turn to mush if she kept reading stuff like that so she said to me:  If you can write something better, then do it.

And that’s how I started writing *s*.

How long did it take you to get published?

Well, my first attempt was almost as laughable as the cow story.  The writing was bad, bad bad. In fact, I have taken chapters to writing workshops and handed out copies, not telling the students who wrote them, and spent the next two hours pulling them apart and pointing out all the dumbass structure errors, lack of character in the characters, lack of energy in the writing.  I wait until it’s been truly shredded and laughed over before I reveal it as my first effort…which never fails to win blinks of disbelief as well as a lot of smiles when the realization strikes that there truly is a learning cycle in writing.  I used to laugh at the wench on Knots Landing who got dressed in her velour jumpsuit, had hair and makeup perfectly in place, sat at her cute little desk and put a clean sheet of paper into the typewiter then just started typing her bestseller.

Doesn’t work that way.  I wrote four (not even counting the first attempt, it was that bad) books that had multiple rejections before I wrote one, China Rose, that was accepted on the first pass.  Those four unpubbed manuscripts were a reminder to me that it takes hard work and persistence (and more than a little stubbornness) before you find your *voice* and feel comfortable in your writer’s skin.  Looking back through each of them, I can see where I discovered the knack of describing a scene properly, where I discovered the importance of dialogue as a plot tool, where I learned to edit, edit, edit and edit again.

So, to answer the question, it took me about five years and about 6 dozen rejections to finally get published.

What inspires you?

Inspiration comes from all kinds of sources.  The inspiration for The Wind and the Sea, for instance, came from reading a sentence in a magazine that contained the words …and the wind and the sea….  Boom.  The words conjured up sea battles and tall ships and Errol Flynn swinging through the rigging.  Through A Dark Mist came out of a recurring dream I’d had since I was a teenager.  If you read the prologue…that was my dream, beginning and ending exactly how I wrote it down.  My editor and I were having lunch and I was telling her about the dream and she told me I should write it down…which I did…and that started the Medieval Trilogy and exploring the whole Robin Hood legend.  Oddly enough, after I wrote it down, I never had the dream again *softly plays Twilight Zone muzak*

Each book has had some sort of trigger like that and when it happens, it’s an awesome, tingly feeling *s*

What kind of books/writers do you like to read? Who is your favorite writer?

It may seem odd to hear this, but I rarely read romance novels.  I decided years ago that I didn’t want to be influenced by any other plotlines or storylines or writers. My favorite kinds of books are action/adventure/crime/mystery.  I read Wilbur Smith and Clive Cussler, Michael Connelly is an absolute fav.  Finder, Deaver, some Pattersons…the Ken Follett cathedral books.  I loved DaVinci Code, but kind of cooled off with his other books.  However, reading Da Vinci inspired me to read about a dozen other books on Templars and the Holy Grail.  It’s kind of like surfing on the net.  Read one thing and it leads to reading another *s*

Was there ever a scene or story that was hard to write?

Oh hell yes…two of them stand out.  In The Blood of Roses, when Catherine and Deirdre find Aluinn on the battlefield…I was sobbing like a baby while I wrote that.  I changed my mind a hundred times but in the end knew that the tragedy would mean more and have more impact if I wrote it the way it ended up.  The second hardest scene was Sparrow in The Last Arrow.  I loved that little guy and again, was sobbing like a fool as I wrote his final scene.

What do you do when you are blocked or write yourself into a corner?

I get up and walk away.  Leave it for a few days, even a week or more.  Forcing something never works, and the brain will click in when it’s ready.  I’ve spent, literally days working on a single paragraph to get it to say exactly what I want it to say, then I get fed up and put it aside for a few days.  When I come back and rewrite it again, the words just click into place and I end up snorting at myself for wasting so much time trying to force it.

What advice do you have for anyone trying to break into romance writing?

Before you actually put pen to paper, read, read, read.  My mistake, after reading the cow book, was not to pick up half a dozen more and read them whether I wanted to or not, if only to get an idea of what the publishers were looking for.  The editor actually called me after I submitted it and said she couldn’t remember a Harlequin ever having a murder in it (this was back in the day when the kiss came on the last page and everything else was left to the imagination) or drug dealers or car chases.

Know your genre.  Then write the words that will make the reader *see* it clearly in their mind’s eye.  I always try to envision a big screen with a movie scrolling by.

Edit, edit, edit and when you think you’ve pared it down as much as you can, edit it again.  Read the dialogue out loud.  If it sounds goofy, it usually is.  Read the whole book out loud to yourself and if you find yourself gasping for breath, then the sentences are too long or you need some commas in there somewhere.  Find someone who will be honest and give an honest opinion and tell you it sucks if it actually does suck.  You don’t need to hear someone being kind and saying, oh, it’s wonderful I’m so proud of you.   Nyet.  You need someone to tell you if a scene makes no sense or the characters are boring or the story is predictable.  I was lucky enough to find someone who did exactly that for me when I was starting out…she was responsible, in fact, for me tossing out the first version of The Pride of Lions a month before I was set to send it off to the editor.  She read the final version and handed it back with a little shrug saying, “it’s good, but…predictable and sort of ….boring”

AUGH.  Kiss of death.   I scrapped the whole damned thing and started over, and thanks to her, ended up with the two books, POL and Blood of Roses, that I am most proud of.

When is that next book going to be available?

Ahhh…the great mystery *s*.  On the one hand, it’s great to be writing without an ironclad deadline (none of which I ever met on time, by the way)  On the other, a deadline would give me a kick in the ass and I probably wouldn’t get so distracted by the Florida sunshine.  *s*  But it’s coming along.  I should have a teaser chapter ready soon.

How did you manage not to kill your ex? Do you still believe in love?

It was touch and go, believe me.  The thought as well as the urge came over me more than once, especially as time went by and more and more of the ugliness of his betrayal and deceit came out.  I think I was in shock most of the time, and needed to stay angry enough to come out ahead in the long run.  Which I think I have done.  The papers for the divorce blindsided him… victory for me.  His skank dumped him faster than a hot rock when she found out he got hoofed out with nothing but the clothes on his back… victory for me.  DNA tests came back proving she lied to him about who fathered her kid…nother small victory for me.  Turns out he wasn’t the only one she was shtupping on the side…I laughed out loud at the blow to his pride that must have been cuz he *luvvvvvved* her so much.   *snort*

All the little victories added up and helped me get through it without resorting to homicide.

As for believing in love, allow me to quote my icon here…

I believe that everything happens for a reason.  People change so that you can learn to let go.  Things go wrong so that you can appreciate them when they’re right.  You believe less so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself.  And sometimes good things fall apart so that better things can fall together.”          Marilyn Monroe



  1. The last question was my favorite because I’m still catching up. “Let me esplain…no, there is too mch, let me sum up.”

    Comment by Flyboy — March 8, 2011 @ 5:54 pm | Reply

  2. Thank you so much for answering all my questions. If I have anymore I will definitely send them your way. You are probably thinking…oh God no. You are still and probably will always be my favorite. The first time I ever cried while reading a book was when I was reading Midnight Honor. Thanks again.

    Comment by Juliet — March 8, 2011 @ 7:50 pm | Reply

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