Today I am delighted to welcome thriller writer Stephanie M. Matthews to the blog for the first Author Interview of 2023 :)
So, without further ado, I'm going to hand you over into her very capable hands and let her tell you about her books, her advice to writers, and her general pearls of wisdom.
Take it away, Stephanie...
Hey Stephanie! Thank you so much for joining me. Please introduce yourself, and tell us a little about your books.
My name is Stephanie M. Matthews, and I am a Canadian author. I grew up on the East Coast of Canada meaning fishing villages, rolling hills of vibrant colours, and lots of fresh lobster dinners served by old ladies at community churches in the middle of nowhere. Which sounds both delicious and quaint now, but to a ten-year old it was definitely not the definition of a fun time! A desire to travel and opportunity took me to other places and now I live in Ontario working in the sport industry and writing on the side!
I have published two books which are Christmas thrillers, the first called The Gift and its sequel The Eve’s End. They tell the story of a young woman who is given the “gift” of a choice between personified good and personified evil on Christmas Eve, and then follows the consequences of her choices, both short term (as seen in The Gift) and more long term (The Eve’s End). In addition, I also sometimes write for an ancient history magazine as my educational background is in ancient history and I still love everything about it!
That's such a great and unusual concept! What kind of things inspire your writing?
Good ideas that I want to invest in are hard to come by for me. Some people are idea machines and love them all, but I am not so lucky. So, I always keep my eyes open to the world around me for situations that hit me in a personal way, or maybe there’s something in my own life that I want to work through and explore via a story.
The latter situation was one of the main sources of inspiration for the direction of my two books. I spent a few years working through my relationships with organized religion and that struggle really became the struggle my main character, Fae Peeters, had to deal with as well.
Writing can definitely be a useful way to process things that have happened to you, and it's interesting to hear that you've brought that to your stories. What's your favourite thing about writing?
I actually love editing the most. With writing it can be hard to pull out what is in your mind and translate that into words, and that first draft is ROUGH.
With editing, though, you can chisel that rough story down into something you can be proud of, solving the puzzle of how to improve the story, what can stay and what can go. It’s the process of finding the diamond in the rough and that’s incredibly rewarding!
I completely agree, there's a huge sense satisfaction in breaking a first draft apart and building it up in a better way - but I know a lot of people hate the process! So, if you love editing, what’s your least favourite thing about writing?
The feeling of obligation that comes with it. There’s pressure to always be writing, always have a new project on the go.
I write because I like to write, so if I’m always writing, I’m not living and experiencing all the other wonderful things in the world around me, and I’m limiting everything else that I like to do.
Learning that it’s okay to not currently have a work in progress, and that it’s okay to only write 100 words in a week, and that it’s okay to take a few days off, or weeks, or months as needed, was a really important lesson. I feel like taking whatever time I need to write a good story is not only beneficial to my quality of life, but also to the quality of the stories that I write.
Absolutely, constantly writing just doesn't suit everyone's lifestyle or way of working - especially not when you're managing all the other aspects of being an indie author! It's fun and exciting, but it's exhausting too. Why did you choose the indie publishing route?
Probably for the same reason that a lot of self-published authors come to indie publishing: the control.
Traditional publishing has an aura of desirability that it doesn’t deserve anymore. Many traditionally published authors are still expected to do a lot of the same work that that indie authors do, such as marketing, and it comes with the baggage of not being able to choose your own cover (everyone judges a book by its cover), quality control over your editor (they can make or break your book), almost never any special placement in bookstores (the bottom shelf in the back is about as helpful as not being in the bookstore at all), no ownership of your ISBN (he who controls the ISBN control the work), and the added pressure of needing to succeed to impress the publisher.
And all that is often after years of trying to find an agent who can spend years trying to pitch your story. Being an indie author gives you full control.
That's almost exaclty the reason I chose to self publish, too. We're not doing it completely alone though, which is wonderful. What ways would you recommend for readers and friends who want to support indie authors?
Leave. A. Book. Review. Online.
Talk about the book. Recommend the book. Buy the book as a gift. And,
Leave. A. Book. Review. Online.
You really can't beat reviews and personal recommendations! What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
I stole all this advice from other authors, but I always remember it.
Write like no one is going to read it, then edit like everyone is going to read it.
Leave out the parts that readers will skip over.
And, more practically, when you’re editing and have to cut a scene or sentence that is really hard for you to remove, keep a separate document where you can put those cut pieces. It’s emotionally easier to put them somewhere else for safe keeping than pressing the “delete” button.
That's all great advice! Writing is only half of the battle though, so what’s one thing authors should know about marketing?
If you’re not excited about your book, no one else will be either.
Talking about your book and promoting your book can be hard but that doesn’t mean you have to be bad at it.
Practice out loud an elevator pitch as this will not only help you find the keys of your book, but it will also make it easier for you to talk about your book when someone asks. And then you have the confidence and the love of your story at the ready to make it contagious to the person who was interested enough to have asked about it in the first place.
Be excited about your book and let your enthusiasm spill over into your marketing; be proud of what you’ve wrote and don’t be shy about it!
Note from Saffron: Hooky lines like this are also a good thing, especially online!
Can you give an example with your own stories?
Sure! My elevator pitch for The Gift is this:
A young woman is invited by her grandmother to spend Christmas in a little Belgium village, but as soon as she gets there, she starts experiencing dark, strange things. What she thought was a simple Christmas invitation quickly becomes a fight for survival against a darkness that no one should have to face alone.
So, I have that core pitch that I carry with me in the back of my head at all times. If someone still looks interested and engaged after I give them that nugget then I’ll dive back in and give them more.
For example, “It’s a Christmas story for people who aren’t into the Hallmark genre, it’s dark, but it’s also a beautiful Christmas story. The main character, Fae…” and I’ll keep talking about the book from there, reading my audience’s engagement. Usually, the more excited I am the more likely they are to want keep listening, and the greater chance I’ll have that they will consider buying my book.
That's such a great idea, I'm terrible for freezing when someone unexpectedly asks about my books, so I'll definitely be taking that on board. What’s one thing new authors should know about writing?
Less is more.
I am so grateful to have had an amazing editor who taught me this and pointed out how I was failing pretty badly in my first book. I improved that draft a lot but looking back at it I wish I was better skilled at that principle.
I think I learnt a lot when I began writing The Eve’s End though I know I can still improve my skill in this principal. It’s amazing how readers pick up on details and carry them through a story a lot better than you—as a writer—may realize.
Does your character have an anger problem? Letting that anger play out once or twice is enough to establish it before you can let it rest until it needs to be activated again for your plot; that anger doesn’t have to show in every scene.
Do you have an attractive character? Please don’t describe their beautiful eyes and attractive body every time they show up on the page.
Less is more.
Agreed, the principle of everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler, certainly applies to books imho. Speaking of books which of your books would you recommend people start with?
The first book in the series is The Gift, the sequel is The Eve’s End, however, The Eve’s End can be enjoyed independently.
For readers who are particularly sensitive to dark imagery, The Eve’s End would be the best place to start, and then they can judge for themselves if The Gift would be right for them.
Awesome :) Where can people find you online, and where can they buy your books?
You can purchase my books on most online retailers: Amazon, iBooks, Chapters, Barnes & Noble, and so many more. I have e-books and print copies available for both books, so pick your favourite!
Brilliant, I hope lots of people will go and find you there and hopefully check out your books! Before you go, is there anything else you'd like to share with my readers?
If you’re not having fun then stop what you’re doing and rediscover the fun.
Leave reviews online and support your fellow authors on social media. We’re not in competition with each other, we’re in this together.
Get outside and experience nature.
Be kind to each other.
You are a writer and that is cool.
I love that. Thank you so much for your time, Stephanie, and all your brilliant insights into the writing and publishing life. I wish you all the very best of luck with everything :)
Next time, I'll be back with a post about having a crime fighting romantic couple - specifically why I chose that setup and the pros and cons of that, so I hope you'll come back then!