How I Write: M.J. Rose
Published: December 26, 2002
|M.J. Rose is an inspiration to writers who, after countless rejections, still pursue their dream of getting published. Once dubbed by Time the "poster girl of e-publishing," Rose never gave up on her first novel, Lip Service (about a woman who gets involved in the world of phone sex), even when she couldn't find a publisher. Taking the book's fate into her own hands, she published it in 1998 as an e-book. After she sold 2,500 copies online, the book was picked up by the Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club. Pocket Books brought it out in paperback.|
Rose describes her work as "a mix of psychological suspense, mystery, adventure and erotica." Booklist compared her third novel, Flesh Tones (2002), set in the art world, to Ruth Rendell's psychological thrillers.
The author also wrote a column for Wired. She is a graduate of Syracuse University and lives in Connecticut with composer Doug Scofield and their dog, Winka.
Credits: Flesh Tones (2002), In Fidelity (2001), Lip Service (1998).
Why: When I was about 6 years old, I noticed my grandmother's wonderful IBM Selectric, and I was entranced by it. My mother said that if I came up with a story, she'd show me how to type it on the magical machine. Within a few days I had come up with a story about a very small man with very large feet, who was named Mr. Big.
Now, I simply feel as if I am doing the one thing that I was meant to do in the world. I suppose what keeps me going is the novel itself. I become obsessed with the unfolding of the story.
When and where: I swim every morning for an hour. While I am doing my laps, I'm thinking about what I'm going to write that day. Then I do errands and usually settle down to write in the late morning or early afternoon. I have a quota of five pages a day. And usually I stick to it-four to six hours a day, six days a week.
How: I don't even try to start a new novel until I've spent six to 12 weeks researching, outlining and making a scrapbook for my main characters-in other words, procrastinating. I actually teach an outline class called "How to Procrastinate Your Way Into Writing."
I believe that you need to live with a story and its main characters for a long time and discover as much as you can about them and their world before you actually put fingers to the keyboard. Once I've done a good amount of gathering scrapbook items and making notes, I start to write.
I do a two-page outline [of the novel] with one line describing the main action in each chapter. No details. I see a book like a journey. I like knowing where I'm going to end up before I set forth. It changes like crazy in the writing, but the outline keeps me from getting stuck. Then, I revise like a madwoman. I love revising. If I didn't have a deadline on my contracts, I'd never finish.
My novels always start off with a "what if?" For Flesh Tones, I asked: What if a man asked the woman who loved him to help him die? Can you love someone enough to kill them? I carry the "what if?" around in my head, and if it has legs, the story tells itself to me. I literally see it all in my head, like a movie, and just write down what I see.
Hurdles: If I don't see anything, I stop for that day. That night, before I go to sleep, I concentrate on where I stopped. The next morning, before I get out of bed, I focus again on
where I stopped. Then I go swimming, and while I'm doing my laps, I see what's next. I am very good friends with my subconscious--we work well together.
I'm not a wordsmith as much as I am a storyteller. I struggle with finding the perfect words, the right imagery. Plus, I'm dyslexic, so I write a lot of inverted sentences and have to go back and reorder the phrases.
Advice: There are so many obstacles in the writer's path to getting published, that you have to be totally committed in order to get through the tough times.
Photograph by Michael Bergmann