In the bio on your website, you say that you grew up in a small town in Michigan, moved to California, then to Edinburgh in the UK. That’s quite a lot of uprooting. How do you think these moves influenced your writing?
I had a vague idea about wanting to write toward the end of grad school, but after jotting down a few paragraphs one evening and cringing at the results, the thought left my head until I was settled in Los Angeles and working for my first corporation. That was the time I realized that the business world was really just a way to pay the bills and I wanted to do something more meaningful. Obviously, what’s “meaningful” to people is subjective; I guess I wanted to create in a way that meant something to me personally. I suppose the move to LA gave me more confidence in myself, which then allowed me to seriously contemplate becoming a writer. Prior to that, I had always greatly admired novelists but had never thought I could write anything worthy of being read.
My move to Edinburgh hasn’t affected my writing as such, but it’s a wonderful gothic city so I’m sure at some point, the “gothic-ness” will creep into one of my books.
When did you first realize you had a gift for writing?
I suppose I’ve always been able to write. I think my obsessive nature has a lot to do with it. I literally bleed all over the keyboard (well, not literally, but you know what I mean) when I write anything, even when I was in school. I’ve now come to realize, though, that the pain of writing is also the beauty of it – there’s nothing so empowering as finding the right words.
Who are your favorite authors? What are you reading now?
I think writers are either storytellers or wordsmiths. One doesn’t preclude the other, but most great storytellers tend not to be spectacular wordsmiths, and vice versa. I love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series because he is such a brilliant storyteller and I love the world he’s created. I also enjoy all the parallels he makes with the real world. I am in awe of wordsmiths, though, and if my writing skills ever get close to those of Neil Gaiman, Vladimir Nabokov or Kurt Vonnegut, I will die a happy woman.
I’ve decided to start supporting the indie community, so I’ve purchased my first indie book by Brian Holers called Doxology. I’ve just started it but I’m enjoying it so far.
Recently you received the prestigious Trophy Award from NNAAMI for WHEN RED IS BLUE. Tell us about the organization and what the award means to you.
NNAAMI (national network of adults and adolescent children who have a mentally ill parent) is an organization that offers counseling and support to families of the mentally ill through forums and information services.
The award means a lot to me for two reasons. First, I think the work they do is so important and I really wish they had been around when I was growing up, though the internet didn’t exist back then so I’m not sure how I would have found them. Second, the award says that NNAAMI thinks my book is an honest portrayal of the issues a child faces growing up with a mentally ill parent. My main goal for the book was that it was honest and sincere, so I’m honored that they feel I accomplished it.
Well, I love that you love the cover, but I’m getting some mixed reviews on it, so I’m planning on doing a couple of tweaks to it. The feedback I’ve received is that the Polaroid (which is a real photo of my parents and me) is too small; I’ve also been told to switch the colors on the word RED to blue and BLUE to red. I agree with both suggestions – and that’s one of the amazing things about being an indie author. You can make changes if you need to without having to go through another set of decision-makers.
The book took me about 13 years to write – I know, a crazy amount of time. When I first began, I would write during my train rides to work, which were about an hour each way. I also tried writing for a couple of hours over the weekend, but I wasn’t all that disciplined so I only managed it a handful of times. To be fair, I used to work long hours at the LA Times (and then other corporations), so I didn’t have much energy left at the end of the week. When I moved to the UK six years ago, I finally made the time to finish the first draft, and then the file sat untouched on my computer until about a year ago, when I decided to dig it out again and begin the process of second draft/editing/more editing/still more editing and so on until I allowed my little story to venture out into the world.
My writing process involves lots of research and planning of the story and characters before I write the first word, which then allows me to write non-stop, without having to get distracted mid-flow by having to do more research. It seems to work for me, so I’ll continue with the “planning first” method for the next book.
I’m interested in how or why you chose to be an independently published author instead of going the more traditional route?
It’s funny, but I didn’t realize I was going “indie” until I started to do a bit of soul-searching as to why I hadn’t made much of an effort to find and agent. A few years ago, I spent a couple of weeks putting together a list of potential agents in the US and UK. I then sent out a grand total of four query letters. Two of the four responded that they were interested in reading three chapters. They subsequently passed, but strangely, the thought that I had even a little interest so quickly freaked me out and I began making every excuse I could think of not to send out more.
I guess being so close to a story makes you protective of it. Not the writing so much – I’m always happy for people to tell me if I’ve written a crap sentence (or three) or if I’ve let them down in some way as a writer. But since my goal was to write a very real, very honest story about a dysfunctional family, I was leery of having to make any fundamental changes to the story. Plus, I’m not the most patient person, and the thought of having to wait and wait and wait some more seemed a bit silly when I could just manage the process on my own. I also wanted control over where, when and how it was published. There is a cost for that sort of freedom, though. I’ve made loads of mistakes and I continue to make them. Hopefully the next book will go more smoothly.
Sabrynne McLain received her B.A. and M.S. degrees from Michigan State University and then went on to hold numerous positions in marketing, operations and finance in the U.S. and U.K. In addition to her first published article in the Journal of International Consumer Marketing, she has written for travel and lifestyle websites such as Pology.com and Panalba.com. During her tenure as a financial adviser, she also wrote a three-part series on financial planning for Scottish Woman magazine. She currently divides her time between writing (her author blog, the occasional article and her next novel) and working as a financial adviser. She lives in Edinburgh, U.K. with her partner Gareth Thomas and a very demanding cat named Barnaby. When Red Is Blue is her first novel.
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