Happy Birthday to Swimming Alone by Nina Mansfield! Nina is a long time critique partner and I am so excited to share in her publishing success by featuring her interview on this special day. Nina Mansfield is a Greenwich, Connecticut based writer. Her debut novel, Swimming Alone, a YA Mystery, was published by Fire & Ice YA. Her short mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mysterical-E. She is also a published and internationally produced playwright.
Congratulations on your debut novel! Tell us about your journey. How did you publish this book?
Thank you! I started writing Swimming Alone over ten years ago when I was in a writing group in NYC. Most of us were playwrights, but I asked if I could bring in some fiction. I had started writing some pages of what I hoped would become a young adult mystery novel. The group really enjoyed the pages I brought in, and that encouraged me to keep writing. But life got in the way, and it took me a long time to finish the first draft. And then I rewrote it many, many times. Eventually, I was able to land an agent, but despite some great feedback, the book did not sell right away. I put it away in a drawer; several years later, I stumbled across the website for Fire & Ice YA, and thought that they might be the perfect publisher for my book. I was right! They loved the book, and I have loved working with them.
When did you decide to become an author?
I wrote and illustrated my first picture book when I was five. But I decided to really take my writing seriously about ten years ago. That is the summer I finished writing my first draft of Swimming Alone. Up to that point, I had considered writing a hobby.
Your book, Swimming Alone, is a mystery. How did you decide when to drop clues? Did you have a plan or did it just come out organically as you were writing?
When I started writing, I had no idea where the book was heading. I just wrote and wrote and eventually I figured out the plot. At that point I started to outline. But my outline kept changing as I continued to write. Once I had a novel-length work, the real work began. The original book was written in the third person and contained a series of flashbacks. I got some great feedback from a friend who suggested that I tell the tale from the beginning (rather than through flashbacks) and focus on the friendship between Cathy and Lauren. During this rewrite, I knew where the book was heading so I was able to weave in the clues, and also a number of red herrings. (Incidentally, I would do one more complete revision to work on the character’s voice.)
How do you plan to celebrate?
There’s an online Book Launch Party on tonigh from 7-10pm (EDT) on Facebook, Twitter and on my blog Not Even Joking. I will also be launching the book at the Byram Shubert Library in Greenwich, CT on September 26, 2015 as part of the Authors Live@Byram series. The event starts at 3pm. Refreshments will be sold, and copies of Swimming Alone will be available for purchase. In addition, I will be making a bunch of cyberspace appearances (like this one!)
You are also a playwright. How do you use that experience when writing novels?
Hmmm… I’m not really sure. I would like to say the writing process is similar for both, but it isn’t. With plays, I usually start with a line of dialogue. I hear my characters speaking the words. When I write fiction, I tend to immerse myself in imagery and the feelings of the characters. I don’t know why some ideas come to me as plays and some as works of fiction. With my plays, I also always try to get a group of actors to read the play aloud to me, and stage a reading in front of an audience. A live audience is really essential for a play. With a novel, there is just the book and the reader. I still rely on feedback, but it is a different kind of feedback.
Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Oh yes! Many, many times. There were times when I would see a production of one of my plays that did not really work, and I would think of digging a large hole and hiding in it. There were times that I brought work into my critique group, and after receiving some feedback, I would think, “why am I trying to do this?” The process of attempting to get work published and/or produced can also be very disheartening. But every time I was about to give up, the universe would send me a sign that I needed to keep going.
Is there anything about becoming a published author that has surprised you?
I was surprised how much the editing and final proofreading process has taught me about my own writing. I think the experience has helped me to really grow as a writer.
Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Writing is hard work and takes patience. Don’t try to rush things. And don’t become overly attached to any piece of writing. Find a critique group or a beta reader you really trust. Listen to their comments (but always stay true to the story you want to tell). Join a writing organization (like SCBWI or Mystery Writers of America) and meet other writers. And don’t be afraid to put your writing away for a while so that you can look at it with fresh eyes.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you or your books?
I finished writing the first draft of Swimming Alone the summer after my first year teaching high school. I had worked with a lot of students who were not really interested in reading. I wanted to write something that even a reluctant reader would find suspenseful and entertaining. I hope I succeeded!