Interview Transcripts

T.C. McMullen: Wearing Two Hats: Editor and Writer 5/5/05

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Mary Rosenblum

Hello, all!

 

Welcome to our regular Thursday Professional Connection with T.C. McMullen, Senior Editor of Crimson Dagger, an online mystery 'zine

 

as well as thriller author!

 

T.C. McMullen is Senior Editor of Crimson Dagger, a new online mystery magazine which includes articles on the art of mystery writing as well as short stories to tickle the senses. She also edits for two publishers, Jada Press, and Star Publish and does book cover design and interior formatting as well. She is also the author of five novels, including The Manipulated Evil trilogy set for conclusion September 2005.

 

TC, welcome!

T.C. McMullen

Hi Mary and all, thanks for having me

Mary Rosenblum

I must say, I was particularly pleased at being able to invite someone who wears both writer and editor hat!

 

So tell us how you got here? Just how did you get started in the writing world?

T.C. McMullen

I've always written stories from as far back as I can remember

 

I started thinking of it as a career after graduating high school.

 

I found Long Ridge through a friend, submitted and then enrolled with them. Everything snowballed from that point.

Mary Rosenblum

You know, it is particularly cool that you're a LR grad! Did you publish while you were a student?

T.C. McMullen

No, I didn't publish as a student.

 

I had my two daughters while enrolled and they took most of my time.

 

I didn't actually publish until 2002 when Booklocker published my first novel.

Mary Rosenblum

So you went straight into book length work? No short stories first?

T.C. McMullen

I wrote short stories and did submit a few, but my heart was more with the long fiction.

capd

What genre was your book?

T.C. McMullen

My first was a psychological thriller I first submitted to an agency in 1997.

 

That is when I first delved into the publishing world and started researching.

 

In 2001 I bought my first computer and searched out the best ways to reach my individual goals. Booklocker was a great start for me.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm not familiar with them. Are they one of the smaller publishers, or an imprint of one of the big NY houses?

T.C. McMullen

They are a small publisher who uses print on demand though they are one of the few who scan submissions

 

They were another step in my learning experience

Mary Rosenblum

There are quite a few good small-press publishers out there. The new Print on Demand technology has allowed small publishers to actually make a profit.

T.C. McMullen

Very true Mary

wingedwarrior24

What does 'scan submissions' mean?

T.C. McMullen

They don't publish just anything. They do look for quality.

Mary Rosenblum

Do let me make the distinction between 'print on demand' as a small-run publishing technology used by quality small press publishers, and print on demand houses like iUniverse that DO publish anything and charge a fee to do so.

T.C. McMullen

Correct. But charging a fee isn't the red flag it used to be either.

 

Some good small presses do select books to publish but must charge a fee to cover the cost of production. But many of them also offer extremely high royalties, some as much as 100%

Mary Rosenblum

And when they scan submissions? Does that mean you can send them a printed page instead of an electronic file?

 

That's the only definition of 'scan' that I'm familiar with.

T.C. McMullen

Most that I know will take either or. Electronic is faster and easier for both parties these days.

capd

When did you take the LR class?

T.C. McMullen

I took the Breaking Into Print Course from home

 

from 1993- 1995

Mary Rosenblum

Long before my time here. :-)

 

So how did your path lead from publishing to the editorial side of the desk?

T.C. McMullen

It has been a few years :-)

 

I discovered a group of authors published untraditionally shortly after Whispers of Insanity was published.

 

The book itself gained attention. It was through that group that I was offered a job as Senior Editor.

Mary Rosenblum

Wow, cool! That was with Booklocker?

T.C. McMullen

Yes, it was.

roe

Did you have an agent with your first book?

T.C. McMullen

At one point I did. But after much researching into contracts and such, I chose to take everything into my own hands.

 

I wanted to control my work.

Mary Rosenblum

That's much more doable with the small presses. NOT a good idea with a New York giant!

T.C. McMullen

Exactly, Mary!

gwanny

Has your course at LR served you well in your career?

T.C. McMullen

Yes it has. My instructor opened my eyes to so many aspects, such as plot and logistics, that I had never thought of before

Mary Rosenblum

That's great

brpeterson

I'm having problems keeping short stories short. Any tips?

Mary Rosenblum

Did you have trouble with short stories, seeing as you're a novel writer by choice?

T.C. McMullen

Well... that was my problem too, hence the book length

 

but I've learned over the years, keep focused on exactly why you are telling the story.

 

Decide exactly what you need to do to tell it

 

and cut back on subplots

tkat_2

Did you learn to edit while writing your first novel or did that come later?

T.C. McMullen

My last assignment with Long Ridge was actually a part of my first novel.

 

I did learn to edit with my first novel.

 

I studied everything I could get my hand on and I also worked with an editor.

 

I learned how to better spot and control possible problems such as passive voice.

speckledorf

Do you find being a writer makes you a better editor or vice versa?

T.C. McMullen

I think it does.

 

I work on my first draft in "author mode".

 

Then when I look over it a second time, I slip on the editors hat...

 

becaue of my experience editing, I can often spot problems in my own work before my editor sees it.

 

And as for being and editor...

 

I can see other people's work from both sides - this enables me to possibly see what they are wanting to accomplish with a story...

 

and I can then help them improve places that may need help yet still keep their story true to them - hopefully not inflicting too much of myself into their tale

Mary Rosenblum

I think it's always true that you can see how to fix someone else's work before you can see the problems with your own...but it's a great way to see YOUR problems sooner!

T.C. McMullen

It works for me because I truly am my own worst critic lol

Mary Rosenblum

So how did you take the step from working for Global Authors Publications  to Crimson Dagger? How did that come about?

T.C. McMullen

My experience at G.A.P. made me known.

 

When the publisher of Crimson Dagger started the magazine, she approached me. And we had mutual acquaintances.

Mary Rosenblum

And am I right that Crimson Dagger isn't gone forever, just taking time off?

T.C. McMullen

Crimson Dagger is gone, as far as I know. I do have plans of starting my own Ezine in the future, but it will be different from Crimson Dagger.

 

I plan on having more genres included

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, that's too bad about Crimson Dagger...not many mystery markets out there!

 

But a multi-genre 'zine sounds good!

T.C. McMullen

No, there aren’t. I plan on keeping mystery, but also incorporating horror, speculative fiction - the darker genres

Mary Rosenblum

Great!

roe

Hi TC glad you could join us, Can you tell us the biggest mistake new writers make when submitting?

T.C. McMullen

The biggest would have to be not choosing the right market.

 

This is also the hardest thing to get just right.

 

Much research has to be done, and a beginning author needs to learn how to see their work from an outside perspective.

 

They need to see if what they are trying to accomplish with a tale or article is actually what they are accomplishing with the finished product.

 

Often times, beginners think they've written something so clear and perfect for a market

 

but often times it's not so. We authors tend to sit too near our stories sometimes to view them objectively.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, no kidding! I think you've really put your finger on something here, TC...that what you THINK you are doing with your article or story may not be what others are reading!

T.C. McMullen

Exactly! I've learned that by how many different responses I've gotten to my own works.

 

Some readers will see something totally different from what I was actually trying to do.

Mary Rosenblum

So what do you suggest writers do in order to figure out if what they THINK they're writing matches what they ARE writing?

T.C. McMullen

It's always good to let a story sit for at least a week or so to gain some distance from it...

 

I don't know exactly how to suggest doing it, but I always try to pretend I'm someone who just picked up the work

 

and I ask myself questions - does it say anything to the new reader?

 

Is it clear, answering the important questions?

 

Does it invoke emotion and draw readers into character and plot (fiction) or information (non-fiction)?

 

It’s not easy to do for your own work though. Sometimes outside opinions help - if they are honest ones.

Mary Rosenblum

That is a very good check list for anyone.

 

And I do think good readers help...do you use readers regularly? Exchange critiques?

T.C. McMullen

Yes, I do. At least three others read my novels before a finished draft.

 

They are able to spot holes in plot, characterization etc. That I miss - because I know what's going on, sometimes it's easy to miss things.

 

Others will see these holes and then I can fix the problems.

gwanny

Are your readers pros? Friends? Family?

T.C. McMullen

They are all friends now :) I have a secretary/avid reader who is also a relative who pushes me the hardest to get it all right.

 

I also have a fellow author who knows the ropes... and another relative proofreads when I can't look at things anymore.

gwanny

So, how can you be sure you are targeting the right market?

T.C. McMullen

You need to know exactly who your piece targets - who will want or need to read it.

 

After you can concisely answer that, you need to find where those people are - what magazines they are choosing.

 

Then you need to find out what market is most likely to be interested in what you've written - your style, topic etc.

Mary Rosenblum

This is good advice for both fiction and nonfiction!

T.C. McMullen

yes, the two often overlap with marketing techniques

brpeterson

What are editors looking for when they open a manuscript?

T.C. McMullen

I can only speak for myself here - I look for something that grabs my interest with the first few lines.

 

I look for skill in writing - use of words, readability.

 

I look for pieces that will teach or show readers something new and I look for what will work best for an issue.

Mary Rosenblum

How do you decide what story belongs in which issue? Do you have a theme for each one?

T.C. McMullen

I found it easier to try and link things together - yes, a sort of lose fitting theme

Mary Rosenblum

What will get a story rejected by you?

T.C. McMullen

If I open a manuscript and the first sentence is full of something such as passive voice

 

I can tell right away when someone has some skill in writing - either taken a course or has studied elsewhere.

 

Many people think it's so easy to write down a story, but there is skill to it, and it's obvious to see when you know what to look for.

brpeterson

Do you publish those themes in your guidelines?

Mary Rosenblum

Or will you, when you start the new 'Ezine?

T.C. McMullen

Yes, I believe I will. I give everyone a chance and always read stories through to the end.

 

If it has potential, I will tell the author. I hope to always be able to do this because that is how I learned, through the patience of others.

roe

Will you let LR know when you start it or when you'll be ready to take submissions?

T.C. McMullen

I sure will

Mary Rosenblum

Just let me know, TC, and I'll put it up in our markets section and mention it in a website update.

gwanny

I'm not sure I know what you mean by passive voice?

T.C. McMullen

Passive voice is one of the hardest things to explain and to understand - at least in my experience.

 

It isn't always wrong either - sometimes it is called for, but in general, using active voice is better.

 

Active voice puts the action front and center - it puts the reader right into the action- passive tends to remove them from the action.

 

I see passive as a sort of showing a story from across a football field - the reader knows it's happening but they can lose interest quickly.

 

With active, they are thrust right into the action. With short fiction, this is a must for having a strong tale.

Mary Rosenblum

I agree, TC.

T.C. McMullen

Passive voice is often involved with words like "was" - She was waiting. Active way to write this is: She waited.

gwanny

Is it the same then as narrative distance?

Mary Rosenblum

Actually, no, gwanny.

T.C. McMullen

No, it isn't

Mary Rosenblum

In active voice, the subject of the sentence DOES the action of the verb.

 

The dog ate the steak.

 

In passive voice, the subject does NOT do the action of the verb.. The steak was eaten by the dog. Wordy!

T.C. McMullen

Thank you Mary, I'm drawing a blank on how to explain it right now lol

Mary Rosenblum

I get LOTS of practice as a LR instructor, LOL!

gwanny

Okay,,,I got it,,,thank you,,this can get confusing.

Mary Rosenblum

Yep!

T.C. McMullen

Yes, it can. It took me a long while to get a strong hold on the passive vs active thing. And as I said, passive isn't always a bad thing - just use sparingly.

brpeterson

Do you like quotation marks around a character's thoughts?

T.C. McMullen

No

 

Italics should be used for interior monologue

Mary Rosenblum

So you began life as an author, rather than an editor. Has your 'author' experience helped you as an editor, do you think?

T.C. McMullen

Yes, I started as author.

 

It has helped me in that I had learned the technical skills such as punctuation. And it helps me be able to see a story for what it is.

 

I don't see a tale only as a block of words with punctuation like some who are only editors seem to do. I see a story's "heart".

Mary Rosenblum

You know, I think that's what divides the really good editors from the rest...they deal with the heart of a piece, not just the technique.

 

Both in fiction and nonfiction.

T.C. McMullen

Very true. And an editor who deals only with technical can destroy the heart of a story without even realizing it.

Mary Rosenblum

ohyeah.

T.C. McMullen

There has to be a mix - and sometimes it's okay to break a rule or two for the sake of the story.

Mary Rosenblum

So let's talk publishing for a bit. You worked with an Ezine. Once upon a time all publishing was paper and New York WAS book publishing. How do you see the publishing world changing?

T.C. McMullen

The rise of computers has changed so much,

 

publishing included. With the web, a publisher can be located anywhere in the world

 

and so can an author.

 

It is also enabling smaller publishers to reach authors and offer more choices - choices they would never get from the big houses.

 

The big houses also seem to be a bit trapped in the past. New voices are finding ways to reach readers through the small presses.

 

And the internet enables them to reach many more people than they could have before - even without a huge budget or book tours.

Mary Rosenblum

It is certainly true that there is more variation, more risk-taking going on in the small press and Ebook Ezine market.

brpeterson

What about payment for Ezines?

Mary Rosenblum

CD didn't pay, as I recall. Correct?

T.C. McMullen

Some pay, some don't. Some can only offer free subscriptions.

 

No, CD didn't pay, but it was planned that they would whenever they became financially stable. It isn't easy starting out.

brpeterson

What's the motivation for writing for an Ezine?

T.C. McMullen

Exposure and having your work published - it adds to a writers resume.

 

It’s also good experience for the author.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, let me add to that one! Some of the emarkets are not only

 

highly respected they DO pay well.

T.C. McMullen

Oh yes, some do.

Mary Rosenblum

SciFiction is THE top market in SF and it's an Ezine.

 

But right now, most Emarkets are either supported by what, TC? Subscriptions? Did Crimson Dagger bring in ad money, too?

 

Or they're funded by a parent organization.

T.C. McMullen

Yes, the subscriptions - and advertising.

 

I believe, though I wasn't involved with that aspect of CD

 

that the revenue generated by others buying advertising spots would enable CD to pay for the stories

brpeterson

Does a thick resume lend to getting published?

T.C. McMullen

It certainly helps.

 

It shows an author’s willingness to work, skill in placing pieces and things like that.

 

For publishing a novel, a thick resume is very helpful too.

 

It shows the author is skilled in some aspects of marketing - a very good thing.

brpeterson

So you read a story, get interested then look at the resume?

Mary Rosenblum

Or do you read the resume first?

T.C. McMullen

I generally read the story first.

 

If it is good and I want to use it, the resume, I will only glance over.

 

If it isn't quite what I'm looking for, I will look over the resume and it helps me get a feel for the type of author I am dealing with

 

but I'm also much more willing to help beginning authors than most editors are.

Mary Rosenblum

Now, one of the realities in the universe of writing is that we use a lot of words and give them slightly different meanings...so could you really define 'resume' for everyone? Do you mean the

 

cover letter with clips, that writer's personal experience?

T.C. McMullen

LOL, very good point Mary.

Mary Rosenblum

What DO you want from the author?

T.C. McMullen

I consider a resume to be a writer's past history - everything from education to works published.

 

I also love to see well written cover letters,

 

the ones that are not form letters - ones that let me see a bit the author's personality and why they are doing what they are doing.

 

Some write just because they believe it's a fast and easy way to make some money.

 

Those are the kind that will most likely not be in this business long.

Mary Rosenblum

They sure won't! Soon as they figure their hourly wage...LOL!

T.C. McMullen

LOL, that's for sure

brpeterson

Do you keep résumé’s on file?

T.C. McMullen

Sometimes I do - especially if I liked their style or work but their story just wasn't right for the issues I'm searching for.

 

Sometimes I have to reject stories I truly enjoyed because they aren't quite right for the issues

 

but I keep the author's information for possible contact later when I need their style of story.

ashton

Ever read a "million dollar" story you couldn't wait to publish and the author has practically nothing on their resume...a person who doesn't write often but what he/she does write is top of the line?

T.C. McMullen

I've come across a few stories by beginning authors that were very well written

 

but I think those who take the time to learn - or those few who are naturals to write so well --

 

those people will continue to write because it is what they do. Most authors "must" write. It's not just a thing they do.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding. I'm chuckling! If it was a matter of income, I'd be a plumber!

T.C. McMullen

LOL, that's for sure. My family always knows when I haven't had the time to write for a while. It's not pretty lol

sirlurker

So a good cover letter can make up for a skimpy resume?

T.C. McMullen

Absolutely - for me and many, it can.

Mary Rosenblum

So what catches your eye?

T.C. McMullen

Something that truly feels fresh and honest. Not arrogance --

 

no "I'm the next Nora Roberts." Or "My story is a must read for everyone."

 

What I look for is honest information on the story- and in the cover letter, I get a feel for the author's voice, so it needs to be well written, not thrown together.

jmr

Arrogance, interesting. How does a writer show arrogance in their writing?

T.C. McMullen

If they assume everyone wants to read their work

 

they usually won't put the effort into getting to know their readers and their work suffers for it.

 

Arrogant authors rarely believe they have room for improvement either - difficult for editors to work with

 

so any kind of arrogance like that is usually what we editors try to avoid.

Mary Rosenblum

Let's talk about the editor/author relationship. How would you describe the process of editing?

T.C. McMullen

For me, I read an authors manuscript, and mark possible problems.

 

I explain to the author why the flagged aspects are problems and then work with them to teach them how to fix them

 

for the current manuscript and future ones. I always take into consideration the author's views. It's important to have mutual respect between author and editor.

Mary Rosenblum

Have you had authors who simply would not take advice?

T.C. McMullen

Yes.

 

And it can become a nightmare of the worst kind. I make a habit of not taking repeat jobs from these types.

 

If an author is not willing to learn, there's not much one can do to help them.

brpeterson

You're speaking of magazine articles/stories or novels?

T.C. McMullen

Mostly novels - but it could also tie over to articles/stories.

 

If a story has potential and will work well for an issue but needs some editing - if the author is unwilling, then the story doesn't get published.

brpeterson

So if you like a story, you'll work with the author to fix it?

T.C. McMullen

I did have one story I used that needed some considerable editing - the author was more than willing and turned their story into a much stronger piece

 

and I'm more than willing to do that if a story is worth it.

 

I can see potential and enjoy helping authors make their work stronger.

speckledorf

Do you feel the personal attention you give these stories you reject to be worth the "nightmare" types?

T.C. McMullen

Most of the time :-)

 

I've begun making it clear that an author has to be willing to work with me.

 

I don't want to "okay" a work that isn't the best it can be. There's much too much competition.

jmr

What about deadlines... If you start working with a hard to work with author that could blow a deadline?

T.C. McMullen

Then I drop the author...

 

I replace the story. As far as novel length - the responsibility of deadline falls on the author, not me.

pliz

What do you think of Ezines and online publishers?

T.C. McMullen

I think many of them are great for authors and readers alike

 

but authors need to be aware of the not so good ones - do research, find out all you can about them to be sure they do what they say.

 

The internet is a great tool for authors, but authors also need to be aware not all things are for their benefit.

 

Research and knowledge is an authors best defense.

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, there ARE publishers who are simply out there to collect money from naive aspiring writers!

 

One more question, TC

 

and then I'd like you to wrap up by telling us about your forthcoming work! And it's a good question!

pliz

What is the best advice you would give a new writer?

T.C. McMullen

Be yourself - try not to copy other writers in your work - let your own voice shine through because it is what will make a story unique.

 

Discover why it is you want to write and what you want to accomplish with it. Then reseach how to reach those goals.

 

Be aware of the business aspects. Learn all you can about both the business of it, and the craft of writing

 

and be careful not to let expectations get so high - set reachable goals and don't get discouraged.

 

And never stop learning.

Mary Rosenblum

Great advice TC! And now, tell us what you're working on, and what will be out next! And when!

T.C. McMullen

I'm currently working on Scorching Eden: Book Three in the Manipulated Evil trilogy. It will be out this September, 1 year after Book One.

Mary Rosenblum

Wow, that's fast. :-) Another benefit of small press.

T.C. McMullen

It's a mix of thriller, fantasy, and romance - and has many aspects that were inspired by today's world events.

Mary Rosenblum

Cool!

 

Where can we find it? And your other books?

T.C. McMullen

All my books are available through online stores such as Barnes and Noble.com and Amazon.com. And all can be ordered through local bookstores using the ISBN numbers.

 

All except my Gone Before Dawn. It is out of print until next year.

roe

Who do you publish with now GAP or Booklocker?

T.C. McMullen

Actually, I started my own publishing company and have moved all my titles to it. Since I do all aspects of publishing, it simplified things.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh ,cool!

T.C. McMullen

Open Reign Publishing - though we are very selective and publish only the darker genres.

Mary Rosenblum

TC, I'll be very interested to hear how that turns out! Keep me posted!

 

And do you have a website for Open Reign?

capd

Do you publish other writers?

T.C. McMullen

Yes, Open Reign Publishing. It is brand new and I'm still in the process of determining exactly what direction to take the company.

 

I'm currently looking for just the right authors and tales to place with Open Reign.

Mary Rosenblum

You’ll have to come back and talk with us about publishing later on!

T.C. McMullen

I would love to!

brpeterson

I enjoyed this much.

Mary Rosenblum

I think we all did!

 

Thanks for coming, TC!

 

It was very informative and a lot of fun, chatting with you.

T.C. McMullen

You are very welcome, I had a great time. Thank you for having me here.

Mary Rosenblum

Do keep me posted. I'm happy to put guidelines up on the website and to let people know when you have a new launch!

roe

Great interview Mary and TC

Mary Rosenblum

Thanks for coming, all!

 

And thank you again, TC. We sure enjoyed having you here.

 

Good luck with your publishing venture.

T.C. McMullen

Thank you. I had a wonderful time also.

Mary Rosenblum

I'll be talking to you!

 

Good night and take care!

T.C. McMullen

Night all

Mary Rosenblum

Night!

 

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