Author Interview: Marla A. White

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

At first, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, but was discouraged from trying because (shocking) I was a girl. By the time I went to college I wanted to be a park ranger.  Pretty soon, however, I discovered the outdoors was cold and wet. Then I realized I wasn’t all that interested in being a ranger, I liked a TV show about park rangers, so I switched majors to communication instead.  

Looking back, I realize nearly all my career choices were tied to stories I read or watched. Did I really want to be a vet, or was it just that I was reading the “All Creatures Great and Small” books?   Maybe not so deep down all I ever did want to do was tell stories.

How long did it take you to write this book?

I started writing this book over twenty years ago but I haven’t been working on it all that time.  With the feedback of three other writers in our “Friday Night Book Club”  I finished it in probably two years. Considering I was working full-time and had a full schedule with my horses, I was pretty happy with that. Then I sent it out to publishers who accepted open submissions, countless agents, and even tried to get TV agents I worked with to help, all to no avail.  Certain there had to be a better way, I stuck it in a drawer where it would be safe from the slings and arrows of mean people, but I never forgot about it.

Last year, when I sold my first novella, “The Starlight Mint Surprise Murder,” to The Wild Rose Press, my editor asked if I had anything else.  The rest is history. So stick with it, never the haters get you down, and eventually you’ll find a way.

Do you play music while you write — and, if so, what’s your favorite?

When I wrote “Cause,” often times I was writing at five in the morning to fit it in my schedule so music was not an option.  I just got in the habit of writing in the quiet, preferably outside.

When I do play music, I prefer movie soundtracks or classical music.  I admire writers who include in their forwards the music they played while writing, but I’m too easily distracted to be able to write or even read when a song with lyrics is playing.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I’ve finished five, a sixth just needs a polish, and two more are close to the finish line for first draft.

It’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all so very different. All the mystery books are the kind of stories I grew up reading as a kid and am still drawn to, so they feel like part of my DNA.  “The Angel By The Tower” was my first urban fantasy and now I’m kind hooked on the genre.

 But I have to admit “Cause” is the nearest and dearest to my heart. It’s the biggest swing as far as taking on some serious issues, and it’s set in a world that I love.

If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?

From “Cause for Elimination” it would hands down be Dearg. He was meant to be in one small scene and spun out to have his own storyline. His backstory is dark and mysterious, and desperately needs telling.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?

A sequel has always been in the back of my mind but I was never sure what the plot would be. However, after taking a dream vacation to watch the prestigious Land Rover Kentucky Three Day event this year it became clear the sequel would entail Emily going to her first Kentucky Three Day as a spectator.  During a slightly tipsy course walk, we even plotted out where the body will be found!  

It was sort of a homecoming for me because I went to the University of Kentucky in Lexington. That’s where I took my first horseback-riding lesson, in fact. 

What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?

Write every day.  Write one sentence, even if it takes you and hour.  Write for ten minutes if that’s all you’ve got, write in half-sentences, or scribble notes on a napkin. For me, characters are like plants, they can keep growing in the back of your head on their own, but they need you to give them water and light every day or they’ll wither. 

What are your favorite series or series authors?

So, so many and discovering new ones all the time!  When I was pretty young and absolutely horse crazy I went right from Walter Farley’s “Black Stallion” series to the legendary Dick Francis’s mysteries. Later, after college, Robert Parker’s Spenser books became my drug of choice.

Then a friend and fellow author, CJ Bahr, introduced me to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books and a fantasy super-fan was born.  There are so many great authors in that under-appreciated genre like Seanan McGuire and the writing team of Ilona Andrews and many more.

What author in your genre do you most admire, and why?

I greatly admire the amazing Louise Penny for crafting characters I worry about between books (I’m looking at you, Jean-Guy!) and stories that go beyond just whodunit. 

When I read the first book of her series I was puzzled.  Here she was head jumping willy-nilly from character to character without a chapter break or a single asterisk to mark the change of POV.  What?! I thought we weren’t supposed to do that? But I kept reading and by the time I got to the end I learned rules are meant to be broken when you’re as good as Louise Penny.   

What is a significant way your book has changed since the first draft?

I owe a great deal to my editor at The Wild Rose Press for making me trim out almost 50,000 words and getting rid of POV’s I didn’t need. Some of the POV’s I still miss; being inside Lottie’s head was always a fun time, but it didn’t serve the story. If you can, I highly recommend working with an editor whose opinion you can trust.

Leave a Reply