On the Art and Business of Writing: An interview with Wendy Corsi Staub

Absolute Blank

By Erin L. Nappe (Billiard)

Last year, I picked up a new novel in Harlequin’s “Red Dress Ink” line titled Slightly Single by Wendy Markham. I was intrigued by two things; the author’s light, witty style, and the fact that the main character was from the geographic area I now call home.

I learned that Wendy Markham was a pseudonym for writer Wendy Corsi Staub, who grew up in Dunkirk/Fredonia, N.Y.—about 40 miles from Buffalo. I was soon captivated by another one of her books, In the Blink of an Eye—a thriller set in the nearby spiritualist community of Lilydale, N.Y. When I finished, I was inspired to write to Wendy and tell her how much I enjoyed her writing. Luckily for me, and for all of you reading, she graciously offered to chat with me.

Wendy majored in English with a minor in Creative Writing at the State University of New York. She sold her first novel at age 27, and she has published in several genres including historical and contemporary romance, television and movie tie-in, biography, suspense, and horror.

She is the author of more than fifty novels, published under her own name and three pseudonyms: Wendy Markham, Wendy Morgan, and Wendy Brody.

TC: How long have you been writing? How did you get your start?

WCS: When I was in third grade I wrote an essay about Abraham Lincoln and my teacher, Janet Foster, thought it was so good she read it aloud to the class, telling me I had real talent. I was encouraged by her reaction and went home and told my mom I was going to be an author when I grew up. I never wavered from that goal, believe it or not. I read everything I could get my hands on as a kid, and I’ve been writing “books” since elementary school, though I never finished one until I was in my twenties. I used to scribble chapter after chapter in longhand on that colored notebook paper that was so popular in the mid-seventies, ambitiously thinking that I would be the youngest bestselling author the world had ever seen. At least half that dream came true. I became a bestselling author…but not until I was in my thirties! I worked in a bookstore during college and moved to NYC right afterward, where I worked for several book publishers-always with the goal of networking and learning the book business inside out.

TC: When was your first publication? How long did it take you to get published?

WCS: Not counting the local newspaper column I wrote in high school and for my college newspaper, my first “real” publication was a poem in Seventeen magazine when I was twenty. They spelled my name wrong and I earned only $15, but I was thrilled.

TC: I noticed that you write in several different genres…do you have a favorite?

WCS: To be honest, while I love creating chick lit, romantic comedy, and young adult, suspense is my absolute favorite thing to write. I’m itching to finish my current project and get back to the new suspense novel I started a few months ago, because my books tend to be page-turners as I write them, not just as readers read them. Even though I know whodunnit, I can’t wait to see how, or why.

TC: A lot of writers have a hard time with the “business” of writing. Do you have any advice on the practical side of publishing?

WCS: If you’re going to write purely for your own pleasure and for the sake of art, then you can afford to think of your work as art. But if you’re going to write for publication, you have to think of your work as a product, which requires a certain level of professional detachment. Remember that you are a salesman, not an artist. You must have a thick skin. If a salesman’s product isn’t marketable, he doesn’t take it personally. He also should not be opposed to tweaking it until it works and should accept constructive criticism gracefully.

Too many beginning authors make the mistake of becoming too emotionally attached to the project they’re trying to sell, stubbornly refusing to adapt and write for the market’s needs, and then wondering why they’re not making progress. Pay attention to what’s on the bookstore shelves. More importantly, pay attention to what’s flying off the bookstore shelves. I’m not urging writers to engage in plagiarism, but it’s a good idea to note what works and what doesn’t, and which publishers are having success with which genres. Do your homework. Nothing turns off an acquiring editor more than a clueless or a cocky novice. I used to be an editor and I encountered more than my share of both.

TC: What writer (or writers) do you like to read?

WCS: I’m a big fan of nonfiction-biography, history, true crime. I have to read a lot of nonfiction as research so I rarely have time for pleasure reading. But I’m also a big fan of pop culture stuff and humor. Not cartoon humor, but humorists like Dave Barry. When it comes to fiction I love suspense—to name a few favorites: Harlan Coben, Lisa Gardner, Patricia MacDonald, Joy Fielding, and Tom Savage.

TC: Do you have any writing “rituals”?

WCS: Absolutely. I can’t produce fiction anywhere other than on my own laptop, on Word Perfect software, in my office at home. I can’t be wearing shoes, I must have a cup of coffee at hand, and one leg is always tucked beneath me, the opposite foot up on my chair in a comfortably contorted position. I write best when I rise at four or five in the morning, before the pressures of the day can “taint” my mindset. And when I’m on a deadline-which I always am lately-I have to have a set number of pages I’m going to accomplish that day. I don’t stop until I’m done. If I finish at noon, great. If it’s eight o’clock and dinner is over and I still have four pages to go, guess who has to miss Must-See TV?

TC: What advice would you offer to those writers struggling to balance writing and “real life”?

WCS: Discipline is the key. You have to treat your writing as responsibly as you’d treat an obligation to an employer. I would love to sleep in every morning and lounge around watching Matt and Katie till ten, but I make a point of hauling my butt into my chair without fail every weekday morning and most weekends. Writing is a fun and thrilling career, but it takes hard work to remain successful. I try not to answer the phone when I’m working, and I try not to let e-mail become a distraction. The one exception is my young children. If they need me, I drop everything. If they have a little league game or a cub scout program or school trip, I’m there, regardless of deadline pressure. They, and not my career, are “real life” right now. I love being a writer but Mommy is the most rewarding job of all.

Learn more about Wendy Corsi Staub and her writing at WendyCorsiStaub.com

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