Elizabeth A. O’Connell lives in Corpus Christi, Texas with her two cats. She has been writing for almost as long as she can remember, and The Rowanwood Curse is her first novel. I met Elizabeth on Absolute Write, and we’ve beta read partial manuscripts for each other. She’s a lovely person to work with, and I highly recommend her work.
So, Liz, who’s your favorite character you’ve written so far and why?
I have to say I really do love Hal Bishop as a character–I’m a sucker for the analytical, highly intelligent, socially awkward type of character. I also really enjoy writing that type of character in a universe where you wouldn’t expect him–investigating mysteries in a world where magic is real and fairy tales have a great deal more truth than people realize.
I like Hal, too, and of course, I agree with the sentiment about fairy tales. Can you tell us more about your book?
The Rowanwood Curse is my first novel, and the first in what I plan to be a series of mysteries set in an alternate universe Victorian England where magic, not science, was the driving force behind the Industrial Revolution. The main character, Hal Bishop, is a magician whose father was an architect of this magical Industrial Revolution and who died under mysterious circumstances. Hal and his brother Jem (who narrates the books and serves as Hal’s apprentice), investigate curses.
How do you decide where to set a story?
For this set of novels, the choice was easy–Victorian England lends itself nicely to the Gothic tone of the stories, and there was so much interest in spiritualism and the supernatural at the time that making magic a new frontier of science seemed like a natural extension. That’s probably the most important part of setting for me: how well does it fit the tone of the story? Does this seem like the kind of story that would happen in this setting? Those are the questions I ask myself.
Who are your writing heroes and why?
I very much admire Susannah Clarke, both for her incredibly detailed world-building and historical research and for her extreme persistence–she spent, I believe, ten years writing Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is just incredible. It is a valuable lesson to never stop working on something you believe in.
I also admire Agatha Christie, who took the basic structure of the classic cozy mystery and mastered it so completely that every book of hers that you read is different–she had such a gift of characterization and description and such a wonderfully inventive mind. Anyone who sets out to write mysteries ought to start by studying hers.
I’m a huge admirer of Agatha Christie, too. 🙂 Any basic writing philosophy or tips?
Write to entertain yourself. If you’re not enjoying your story, the odds are very good that your readers won’t either. Writing is hard work, and the writing of a novel is a long and sometimes arduous process–so you ought to enjoy your story and your characters, because you are going to spend a lot of time with them.
Do you use a particular story structure, or do you pick and choose?
I’m actually really awful at plotting, so having a preordered story structure is ideal. For the Hal Bishop series, I used the two-body plot as described by John Murphy on his blog. I find it a very helpful guide in deciding what plot points I need beyond the beginning and the end. I’m also very fond of the seven-point story structure developed by Dan Wells, which is especially useful as it gives a rough idea of precisely where particular story beats should fall in a manuscript.
Dan Wells is amazing. I’ve watched his Youtube videos over and over again. Understanding story structure is one of my favorite bits of advice. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Fiction, non-fiction, in your genre or out of it. That’s how you learn to write and it’s where your best inspiration will come from. And write! Even when you think you’re no good–that’s how you get better.
Do you have a writing routine?
I write first thing in the morning every day. I make myself a cup of coffee and I sit down at my laptop. I have a full-time job and I ‘m usually exhausted in the evenings, so if I’m going to write I have to do it before work. I write five hundred words a day, every day, during the week, and a thousand words a day on the weekends.
Daily effort is an important quality in trying to become a successful author. What’s the single most important quality in a novel–what must an author do to win you over?
Character, character, character! If I don’t love the characters, I won’t stick around for the plot or the world-building.
If your writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do with your success?
Pay off my student loans. I’m sure I’d do other things, but that would happen first.
Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
I’m a flautist–I’ve been playing the flute for over twenty years, and finally managed to achieve mediocrity. I also have two cats and I love to spoil them.
I’m not sure what it is about writers and cats, but most of us seem to have them. Tell us about your lovely new book cover. What do you do for cover art? Do you do it yourself, hire an artist, or purchase premade?
The first cover for my book was one I made myself on Amazon Cover Creator. I am by no means an artist, so let’s just say it was . . . lacking. The cover I have now was made by an artist on fiverr (vikncharlie–I really cannot recommend her enough!) The price was very reasonable. So if you’re thinking of self-publishing and need a cover, don’t sell yourself short. You can get very professional-looking work without paying through the nose.
How did you decide on your genre?
I’m a huge fan of classic Agatha Christie/Rex Stout drawing room mysteries, and also a huge fan of urban fantasy in the vein of The Dresden Files. And what I noticed was that most urban fantasy drew on the noir traditions, so I thought, “Why not write an urban fantasy that drew on Golden Age tropes instead?” And fairies, in the old stories, have this sort of relentless logic that drives their conduct, so they are natural fit for that type of intellectual puzzle story. So I put together fairy tale logic and a mystery plot, and there I was.
Well, the result was certainly worth waiting for. Thanks so much for coming to visit with us today. 🙂
I always enjoy reading about other writers and how they write. Nice to meet you, Elizabeth O’Connell. I agree the cover art of your book is a huge draw to come closer. Love it. Wonderful and interesting interview. 😀
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A fascinating interview, Cathleen. You ask questions that lead to thoughtful answers. I like the way Elizabeth chose an historical period and location, the Industrial Revolution in England, and tweaked it to suit the borders of her story.
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Liz’s story is in my TBR pile. I’ve started it in beta, and I’m just getting to finishing it. Well worth the read.
And thanks, Sharon and Tess, for your kind words about my interviews. I started them just to help other authors. I had no idea how much I would learn from them in return.
And from all of you. 🙂
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