Elaine Marie Carnegie
By Leta McCurry
Please welcome Leta McCurry to the Writer's Journey Blog this week in Interview forum.
1. Tell us a bit about your books. I have four published books, a college textbook published by Prentice Hall in 1990, and three novels, High Cotton Country, published about seven years ago when I was 80. I’m now 87, and have since published two others, A Shadow Life and Dancing to the Silence. I’ve finished my fourth and it is now in editing and cover design. My tag line is Women Lighting Fires of Self-Discovery, so I write about women, who, through no fault of their own face overwhelming odds. They are face down so deep in the mud, a bookie wouldn’t bet two cents they’d ever see the light of day. So, it’s about, how they reach down inside themselves and find the strength, courage, and just plain bad-ass determination to beat the odds and do it with dignity and honor.
2. What has been the best part of creating your book world? So many things: the pure joy of writing, meeting (mostly online) amazing readers, and hearing their reviews, the satisfaction of achievement.
3. Let's talk about your marketing. How do you market your work, and what have been the most successful tools? Marketing has been and is my biggest challenge. It’s a hit and miss process and sometimes, when I think I’m finally onto something solid, my hits turn into misses and vice versa. There are several issues. Marketing trends are constantly changing. I’ve recently taught myself to make marketing videos and I’ll be posting those wherever I can, including on my YouTube channel. I’ve set up a podcast called The Fire of Self-Discovery. I’m on shaky ground there because it’s way out of my comfort zone. I also have a website – letamccurry.com – recently redesigned.
There’s advertising like Facebook and Amazon , and book bloggers. and author interviews. I’ve done them all at one time or another.
Another issue with marketing is that, with the growing acceptance of indie publishing the competition for the reader’s attention is fierce. Literally, anyone can publish anything these days. There are so many truly brilliant writers in the indie community that will likely never receive the recognition they deserve just because of the congestion of books and authors trying to gain credibility.
4. What piece of literature has had the most influence on you? Why? Obviously, the greatest literature ever written, the Bible, but I assume you’re looking for a different answer. This is a difficult question. I’ve been a voracious reader all my life. My parents weren’t readers, so I had no reading supervision. I brought books home from the library by the armload every week. At the eighth-grade grammar school graduation, when I was in seventh grade, I was called on stage and awarded a certificate for reading and writing book reports on more non-required books in one year than any other student in the history of the school.
That was just the books I wrote reports on for extra credit. By the time I was twelve or thirteen I was reading books I didn’t mention to adults – books like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Death of a Salesman, The Naked and The Dead, and the list goes on and on. I had my first exposure to a written four-letter word in The Sun also Rises. I was so titillated.
If I must narrow it to one book, I’d say Atlas Shrugged because Rand had vision and guts. She nailed the development of the exact social and political crisis we face today back in the late 1950s. Her solution to the problem was a little wacky but the story overall was powerful. She went straight for the jugular.
FIRST START WRITING
5. Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing?-Family get-togethers, reading, travel. I used to love cooking and entertaining. Riding motorcycle (until a couple of years ago) A lot of things I’m not physically able to do now but the call of a long, lonesome road is still very strong. We replaced the motorcycle with an ATV, and we go into the mountains and back country with that. I’d love to buy a Slingshot and get back out on the road.
6. How do you balance between writing, your family, other pursuits? Not well. By nature, I’m a recluse. My instinct is to isolate myself and write, write, write. I suppose if I really did that, I’d get tired of it soon enough.
7. Tell us about the projects you have in the works? My fourth book, All the Colors of my Soul, is now in the editing process. The best way to give a glimpse into what it’s about is to read these few lines from the first chapter:
Opening: My parents raised me right. I’m a good person. I love God. It’s important you know that because I’m about to kill someone. It is a certainty. Nothing will stop me other than my death.
Close: Believe me, in those long, dark hours of the night, as I cried out for mercy, I held up to the Lord all the colors of my soul. You know me, Lord, I said. You’ve known me from my mother’s womb. I’m a good person. Cleanse my mind and soul of this burden, Lord, and set me free. All I heard was silence. So. I will kill her. Soon.
On the heels of that, the working title of the next project is Potts & Koone. I think. I have several others cooking in my mind but Peony Potts and Ada Faye Koone are nagging me the most persistently. We’ll see.
8. Can you tell us about your writing process? I’m not a traditionally educated creative writer. I entered adulthood as a barefoot, pregnant, high school dropout. I had three kids before I was twenty, and five by twenty-five. I was a grandmother at thirty-five. It went downhill from there. I couldn’t get into the school of hard-knocks, so I attended the Survive or Die University. I’m still a high school dropout, I’m only barefoot sometimes, and I’m certainly not pregnant.
When asked to define writing styles, it’s common to separate writers into two kinds: plotters and pansters. I know nothing about traditional writing rules, so I’m not even on the same planet with plotters. I think it’s admirable that people can plan out the entire book at the beginning but the very mention of story arc, and such and I’m going “duh.” The whole plotting process seems like some kind of magic to me and I’m in awe of plotters.
Of course, my books have a plot but for me it’s all about the characters. I usually have the tiny seed of an idea about plot, but I don’t spend a lot of time on it. If characters are well-developed and vibrant, they’ll take care of the plot and move the story to conclusion.
I want to know the characters intimately. I like to get in and root around in their psyche when they think I’m not looking. What are they really like both in and outside the pages of the book? What line won’t they cross? Is there a line? What could make them cross it?
For instance, in my upcoming book, All the Colors of My Soul, the character dilemma is, what could make Neva, an ordinary, middle-class, family-loving, PTA-parent, God-fearing woman commit cold-blooded murder? What could make her cross that line?
The other definition is panster and that is closer to my writing style as I tend to sit down at the keyboard and let’er rip.
9. If you couldn’t write books what would you want to do? At this stage in my life, I don’t have a clue. Back in the day I did a lot of things to survive. To make a long story short, I fought and clawed my way to eventually becoming a commercial real estate agent. I never sold a house but I sold lots of shopping centers, office buildings, industrial parks, mini-storage warehouses and mobile home parks, all requiring income analysis and projections (after I was told in the third grade by the teacher I was too dumb to learn arithmetic. I believed her and never tried after that.)
There were almost no women in commercial real estate sales at that time. I didn’t know of any. I was consistently the number one agent with closed escrows in my local office at that time and made it to #5 nationally. It was tough, surrounded by men – young Turks, lawyers, accountants, MBA’s, etc., who had no doubt I was a token female until I whipped their butts, then they decided I was a fluke.
This resulted in Prentice-Hall, New York, contacting me to write a college textbook about commercial real estate which I did. This process gave me one of those landmark moments in my life. At one point in the publishing process, my editor sent a letter. The salutation read “Dear Professor McCurry.” I thought that was pretty cool for a high school drop-out who was too dumb to learn arithmetic. I have that letter to this day. Regardless of what else I have done, there are two or three main things that define me and writing is one. I often say I write so I know who I am and it’s not completely a joke.
10. What gender-specific challenges have you had to overcome? Plenty in commercial real estate. None related to writing.
11. What advice can you give to women authors? Obviously successful ones have it figured out. To beginners, I would first give the standard advice: read, read, read. Write, write, write. Write even if you’re drawing a blank and don’t know what to write about. Describe your cat. Write what you think he’s thinking. Develop your skill with words with practice even if it’s nonsensical. I’ve read and enjoyed many books by authors who use words with skill and ease. I encourage beginning writers not to settle for skilled wordsmithing, but to aggressively and relentlessly cultivate a burning passion for words and the magic they can create.
My intent, as a writer, is to romance a reader with words, so that that he or she is immersed in a love affair with my characters from the first word until the last. I want to captivate them at the very beginning and not let them go until the very end. Keep the pedal to the metal as the saying goes. I want to woo them with the enchantment of a good story well told, and I want fond memories to linger long after the last word is read.
I think I have an emotional love affair, not only with my characters, but with words as I write. Two of my favorites come to mind. They are both from Dancing with the Silence. The opening lines are: Macy Tate Eldridge knew something was terribly wrong even before she opened her eyes and found Mr. Pib stone cold dead on the pillow beside her.
Another of my favorites is also from Dancing to the Silence: Macy stared at the bottom of her coffee cup well aware Connie was intently studying her. She looked up and met Connie’s gaze. “I needed to pull my life close around me so I could stand in the center, reach out and touch the boundaries and know who I am.”
Do I achieve this with my books? Only readers can say, but it is my sincerest heart’s desire. To me it is matter of keeping faith with readers, a matter of integrity, that I deliver perhaps more than the reader expected.
One fan who was reading High Cotton Country, reported she was in the car with her husband one day, kind of daydreaming when she said to him, “I wonder what Owen’s doing?” She said she did a kind of mental double take and said, “Oh, my gosh. He isn’t real.” To me, that’s a reader who is having an emotional love affair with a character.
12. Is there anything else you would like us to know that I haven’t asked about?
You’re never too old.
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Leta McCurry – Author-7/27/21
BIO: Tale-spinner. Revealer of secrets. Cornbread and fried okra country girl. Shares life and space with The Chief and Bailey, the rescue pup, who would be the perfect dog if she could hold her likker. Enjoys writing and reading. Answers the siren song of any long, lonesome road, preferably on a motorcycle. Blessed by a large, forgiving, fun-loving family, and a handful of solid-gold friends. A pushover for good food, intrigued by genealogy, and travel. (Favorite destinations: Ireland and Singapore.) Writes Twentieth-century historical fiction about ordinary women lighting fires of self-discovery and find within themselves the strength and courage to overcome overwhelming adversity and live life on their own terms. Author of Introduction to Commercial Real Estate, a college textbook published by Prentice-Hall. Published first fiction in High Cotton Country, at age eighty, followed by A Shadow Life, and Dancing to the Silence. Presently, at age eighty-seven, in publication process for fourth book, All the Colors of My Soul.