They say that once you reach your forties, you undergo some sort of mid-life crisis. That must have been what happened to Aislinn Macnamara when she finally made up her mind to set down some of the stories that had been accumulating dust in the dark recesses of her brain for years. As space becomes available, other plots and characters have developed the pesky habit of moving in to take their place. She has just signed a two book deal with Ballantine Bantam Dell.
Aislinn lives in the wilds of suburbia outside Montreal with her husband and two teenaged daughters. When not writing, she looks for other excuses to neglect the housework, among them knitting, reading and wasting time on the internet in the guise of doing research.
1. Was there any kind of a turning point for you in your life when you decided that you were a writer? How much writing did you do before that?
I’m not one of those people who’s been writing ever since she could hold a crayon. Making up stories in my head? Yes, for sure. Committing them to paper (yes, paper—do you know how old I am?), no. Beyond school assignments, I never even tried much in the way of creative writing until I joined a round robin story for fun, and that was fanfiction. But that was the beginning for me. No one told me to stop, so I started making up my own stories and kept going with them.
You’re going to make me out myself? Oh, all right. Harry Potter and a smattering of Lord of the Rings.
My first full manuscript, which I wrote in about three months, spent another month line editing and then blithely annoyed various and sundry agents with. I naively thought they’d all be just thrilled to offer me representation. That one will never see the light of day again, but it was good practice. I currently have three other full manuscripts in various stages of polish. I’m not going to completely give up on them. One needs a total rewrite, and I would love to salvage the other two.
4. How was your experience with NaNoWriMo?
I’ve never done a true NaNoWriMo. Last year I did a book in a month challenge. It was similar to NaNo in that I goaled to write 50,000 words in a month. I fell short by maybe 20,000 words, but I did make a lot of progress on the manuscript that became my Golden Heart® entry.
5. What is the Golden Heart®?
It’s a contest that the RWA® holds every year. Up to 1200 unpublished authors send in the first 50 or so pages of their manuscript, along with the synopsis. The top ten percent in each category final. I hear it’s a bit prestigious.
6. What other contests have you participated in?
Quite a few chapter contests. I didn’t final in everything I entered, but I finaled when it counted, so I’m happy with that.
7. Is it all right that I ended that last question with a preposition? Don’t you have an extensive background in grammar? And what is a gerund?
It’s all right by me. I’ve ended a few of my sentences here in a preposition. In my opinion, if you have to twist the sentence into a pretzel so that it doesn’t end in a preposition, you might as well suck it up and stick that old preposition at the end.
I do not have an extensive background in grammar, per se, but when I was at university, I took a lot of foreign languages. I was a French literature major, and McGill didn’t have strict distribution requirements, so I took German and Russian on the side. I find that learning the grammar of another language really helps you understand the grammar of your native language.
Also, back when I was in elementary school, we had to walk five miles through the snow both ways while fighting off rogue dinosaurs… Um, sorry. I mean, we were actually taught grammar back then. We still diagrammed sentences. I was the weird kid in the back who thought that was fun.
A gerund occurs when you take the present participle (-ing form) of a verb and use it as a noun. In the sentence: Writing is hard work, “writing” is a gerund. But contrary to what a lot of writers claim, not all -ing forms are gerunds.
- You recently signed with Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency. What is this stage of your writing career like, and what tasks are you working on before the day you see your work published?
It’s equal parts exciting and scary. Everything has happened so fast. I signed with Sara about three weeks after I got the GH call. She had me do some revisions, and we went on submission in May. Two weeks ago, I had a couple of offers on my books, and we’ve just signed with Ballantine Bantam Dell. Now I not only have to think about my next book (which I’ve started) but the whole terrifying world of promotion.
9. How did you find your agent? What does it mean Qui ne risque rien n’a rien?
I’ve queried the Nelson Agency before. The very first query I ever sent out for that first, bad manuscript was to Kristin Nelson. I can’t remember how I found them originally. I probably just googled literary agents. I wasn’t in the RWA at that point, so I was on my own. I remember one of the reasons I liked them was they took e-queries. Then after I joined the RWA and learned a little bit more, I found out how respected that agency is. With my second manuscript, I queried Sara, because I’d seen her mention on a blog interview that she was looking for historicals. She asked for a partial and passed the following day, but when I was ready to query my A-list after the GH final, she was still one of my top choices.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Qui ne risque rien n’a rien means “he who risks nothing has nothing.” It’s a risk putting yourself out there. It still is for me, even though I’m agented. When I was on submission, I faced rejections from editors. Now I’m facing the prospect of working with an editor who’s worked with some top romance authors. I’m sure she’s not going to like everything about my book. But the only way to be published is to put yourself out there, and that means taking that risk.
10. In writing Regency romance, how do you get the historical details right? I’m always confused by why an Earl’s wife is a Countess, but a Count’s wife is… well, it’s confusing!
In English aristocracy, there are no counts, only viscounts, and the wife would be a viscountess. I had to research this. Regency wasn’t really something I set out to write, actually, although I’ve read my fair share. I was confused about the titles, too, but there are some good resources online to straighten you out. I’m also a member of an online chapter geared toward authors of historical romance, and we have a few Regency experts among our membership.
11. How and when did you choose your pen name?
I’m a redhead (though not natural—the why I’m a redhead is possibly another story for another time), so it seemed natural to go for an Irish name. I do have some Irish blood in me, as well. I sort of just picked two names I liked and put them together. I wanted something a bit out of the ordinary. Also the Aislinn is a bit of a nod to the city where I live. The Montreal Gazette has a political cartoonist who goes by the name Aislin.
12. Under what circumstances do you use the pseudonym, and when do you use your real name? In particular, when you’re communicating with your agent, editor, and prospective publishers, which do you use?
I always signed my query letters with my real name followed by “writing as Aislinn Macnamara.” I’ve also used both names on my manuscript. Within the RWA itself, my fellow chapter members know me by my real name. I’ve only recently begun using the pen name more consistently. When the GH announcements were made, I had to decide whether I wanted to have my final announced under my real name or my pen name. I went with the pen name for the recognition factor. I’d always intended to publish under this name, and in finaling in such a high profile contest, it only made sense to use my pen name.
13. What social media do you use? Do you combine your personal and professional or keep them separate?
I have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, as well as a blog on my author website. I have a separate personal page on Facebook under my real name, but there’s been some carry-over as certain of my non-writing friends are interested in following my author activities. My twitter feed started out as a way of following industry professionals, like agents and editors. I’ve found it a great resource for online pitch opportunities, for example. But then again, on Wednesday nights during the season, you’ll find me live-tweeting Survivor with a friend.
14. What is your favorite electronic or digital writing tool?
I’m pretty old-school, actually. I use Word, obviously, but I actually write my first draft long hand on paper. I find the internet, email, twitter, blogs, what have you, way too distracting, for the most part, to compose directly on the computer. Of course, then I have to type what I’ve written into Word, but I take that opportunity to do some preliminary editing, cleanup and expansion.
15. What is your favorite non-electronic writing tool?
My college-ruled spiral-bound notebook and a pen, but it has to be a good pen. I hate it when the ink starts giving out on me at random intervals.
16. What is the most persistent distraction from writing?
Specifically? Kakuro. For the uninitiated (run, run now—it’ll get you too), it’s a logic game with numbers, similar to Sudoku, only harder. I keep telling myself just one game, but I inevitably click on “hard” and then it takes me two hours to fill in the grid.
17. What is your ideal writing environment? Have you ever been able to create it?
I don’t know about ideal, but I usually write for an hour or so at night. I have to get in bed in my PJs with my notebook and then I write.
18. Do you have rules for how steamy you write your sex scenes?
My characters make the rules, not me. Not just with love scenes, but in general. If they want to get interesting, I have to let them, or they take their toys and go home. (And now that I’ve typed that, I realize that can be taken in an erotic sense—but I don’t write erotic romance.)
19. Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
I was 13 when the first Star Wars movie came out. I saw it multiple times that summer. I can’t remember anyone but Han shooting first. I don’t hold with ret-conning any more than Sam Gamgee’s gaffer holds with wearing iron-mongery. Hmm… seems like I’ve hit some kind of geek trifecta here with Harry Potter, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Oh well, I own it.
20. When the day comes that you are on stage, accepting some prestigious award, who are you most likely to forget to thank?
At this point, I can’t fathom winning any kind of prestigious award. Part of me is still in denial about the GH final. So knowing me? Everyone.
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