In Which Cyn Balog Gives Courtney McKinney-Whitaker Some Advice and Reveals the Origins of Her Secret Identity
Cyn's excellent advice is right here at the top, but you'll have to read all the way to the end to discover the origins of her pseudonym.
You've published quite a few books. What advice do you have for someone like me who is just starting out, with only one published novel to her name?
Probably the most important thing for a writer to understand is that writing is a business. Sure, it may start out quite innocently, you may call it your “fun little hobby” at first, and then as the pages peel away it transforms, and fairly quickly you may suddenly realize that your prose is more dear to you than your internal organs. But once you parade your talent in front of the wide world, whether that be agents, editors, reviewers, or readers, a fact will become clear:
Your prose, and your internal organs, mean much less to them.
So my big advice is: The sooner you can detach yourself from your book after it is written, the better. A book does not an author make. Thus you will not see that agent rejection as the end of your world. You will not see your editor declining to adjust your cover the way you want it as her hating your soul. You will not see that scathing review as a reflection of your talent. Not everyone is going to be rainbows and puppies and smiley-faces about your book. This is the hardest lesson for a writer to learn: Everyone has different opinions, not everyone will like your book, and the sooner you just shut up about it, put your head down, and get to writing the next book, the better. Trust me on this. Any complaints/cries for help/throwing oneself on the floor and screaming for one’s mommy because they are ruining your “creative vision” will earn you major diva points. And that’s the second thing to learn about this business: It doesn’t have a lot of room for divas.
I'm already finding this to be true. It's interesting the difference between how I felt about my book/internal organs when I finished writing it nearly two years ago and when it released about a month ago. My heart is with the book I'm working on now, so nothing about the first book feels so life-and-death.
I also am a huge fan of Agatha Christie! I read all her books in middle and early high school. However, while you prefer those featuring Hercule Poirot, I'm a Miss-Marple-4-Life kind of girl—which is weird because in real life interfering busybodies drive me nuts! What appeals to you about the Belgian detective? Have you learned anything from Christie that you apply to your own work?
Oh, gosh, I grew up reading her books because my father was a big fan, and then a long time ago started accumulating the David Suchet movies, which I’ve watched, no joke, about a thousand times. One of the first ones I read was THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, and it is still a favorite of mine. Hercule Poirot is such a funny and interesting character; he has so many quirks and such method to his madness.
I like writing a little bit of everything, but have never even attempted a mystery because I bow down in reverence to the great Dame. The way she manages to write all these characters having all these secrets, keeping them straight and peppering in little clues for the reader without giving anything away . . . then hitting you with this reveal that was right under your nose the whole time and yet still takes you by surprise… I could never do it! I have tried. Some of my books have twist endings, but I don’t think they’re nearly as clever.
The first one I read was THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE. I still have a taste for those English country house murders.
You write in different genres under different names. While my first novel is historical fiction, the one I'm working on right now is more of a historically based fairy tale. (And I wish I could think of a better way to describe it.) Do you find that anything about your actual writing process changes when you're working in different genres?
I think that when I write contemporary, I can usually bang it out pretty quickly—because the setting and dialogue and situations are so similar to ones I’ve actually experienced. But writing dystopian takes more brain cells, for me—trying to visualize a place or a way people talk or how I would act in a situation I couldn’t possibly be in. I just wrote my first historical and that killed me because I was constantly having to google how people dressed or acted or spoke during that time period, which interrupted the flow of my writing every two seconds—I don’t think I’d do that again!
My recently released novel is a historical, and I agree that sometimes the research necessary for those pesky details can be agonizing. I find that I have to do "big picture" research first, then spend some time drafting, then go into the draft and make a note about where I need a research question answered, then spend some time researching, THEN draft to incorporate those details. I guess that's why they call research a "process."
I loved learning about your supernatural fantasy novels because you depart from the big name monsters like werewolves and vampires and bring in creatures like fairies and the Sandman. I enjoy a good vampire or werewolf story as much as the next person, but sometimes other supernatural creatures don't get enough press. What inspired you to write about them?
I got the sandman idea when I was driving home from work one day, with my daughter in tow, listening to Aiken Drum on the CD player, about the man who lived in the moon. Well, I thought that he was a sandman, looking over everyone, and then I started thinking, “What if the man in the moon’s job was to come down and seduce young women to fall asleep?” So after that, it all just came really quickly. But really, I’d been sick of all the werewolves and vampire stuff and wanted to do something different. I never really follow the current in my subject choice. There is really nothing new under the sun and we’re all doing different takes on familiar subjects, but I pride myself on being wildly different with those choices.
Well, I think they're pretty cool ideas, and I look forward to checking these novels out.
How did you choose the pen name "Nichola Reilly" for your post-apocalyptic work? Is there a story behind it?
When I moved from writing paranormal romance to dystopian, I thought I should have a different name. So I chose my daughter’s middle name and my maiden name. I sign all my books “Nic Reilly,” and Nic is Cin backwards.
Nice. Thanks for chatting with me, Cyn!