Saturday, July 9, 2011

Interview with Award-winning author Mary Buckham - Part One

Every so often, you meet a teacher who takes you closer to the Promised Land. The land of published authors. No conjuring of magic spells to get your little grey cells in shape, but it does seem that way.

Recently, I found such a teacher who has dusted off the cobwebs strangling my poor, little brain. She is Mary Buckham, teacher and writer extraordinaire. Mary is not only a teacher, but also an award-winning author of romance-suspense novels and has co-written a book with Dianna Love on power plotting your novel, “Break Into Fiction.”

It covers 11 steps to building a story that sells. I was so impressed with her method of teaching and the book, I wanted to introduce her to you.

Let’s start with a question for writers who have not read your book. NY Times best-selling author Sherrilyn Kenyon in the forward of the book asked the question, “How do you write a publishable novel for today’s market?” How would you answer that?

****Short answer – you bust your butt and never give up! Long answer – you challenge yourself everyday to take your writing to the next level whether it’s with learning the craft, who you associate with, what you’re willing to do or not do, investing in yourself and reading not just for enjoyment but to study the craft and see how the best authors create. Then you write your heart out every time you sit down to the page, and never give up.

What are the essentials a writer needs to get published?

****Determination. Perseverance. A refusal to stop. A willingness to learn from what’s not working. A willingness to move waaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy beyond your comfort zone. A willingness to constantly challenge yourself. Get into the game and play it for all your worth. Expect to win and play to that level.

Can your book be used before starting a novel and/or after the story is written? What are the benefits for either?

****There’s no one “right” way to plot/plan a book. If your process means you want no road maps and just want to discover the story as it unfolds – not a problem. The Break Into Fiction© book can challenge you after the fact during the revision process and as a tool to make sure your story structure is solid. Break Into Fiction© is the book Dianna and I wish we’d had when we were starting out to understand story structure. It’s not meant to convert all pantsters to plotters, or demean one process of writing over another. It’s meant to explain story structure in a way that allows writers to immediately start applying the concepts to their story, vs reading a book and, only after you’re finished, hoping you are applying the concepts to your own WIP.

I remember from class, the one comment that you brought up frequently was to be more specific in the answers. Some of the writers in the class wrote several lines, some only one. Obviously it wasn’t the quantity you were after. Can you go into your approach of why being more specific is vital in all phases of story development? And on the other side of the coin - Is it possible to have too much information?

****The challenge with writing a great story is to engage a reader so that they are deep into the world you’ve created. Specifics can do that. The eighty-year old shuffling down the grungy linoleum hallway of the Alzheimer’s Home gives you, the reader, a specific image necessary to be in the world I’m creating. The words matter.

If I’d written about a man walking down a hallway in a Rest home, you as the reader would be 1) kept at arm’s length because you have no image to anchor to and 2) are left to create your own images based on your own experiences.

IF the old man or the place matters to the story I as the author better give you enough info to not only engage in the story or situation but to remain engaged.

IF the details do NOT matter to the story, then vague or general works fine. So yes, too much of the wrong information can have a negative impact on the pacing of the story and the readability factor.

IF in the story created about the old man above I describe every resident, and every room, and the meals, and the building, and the story isn’t about the Gone Away Rest Home but about Nurse Nancy having a torrid affair with the postman who works next door, then I’ve shifted the focus too much on the wrong type of details.

Is there such a thing as going too deep into the character and do you have a suggestion on how to keep on track when it comes to choosing the most important motivation?

****IMO character drives a plot. For example, if you have a story about your daughter bringing home the boy she loves to meet the parents for the first time. In one story she brings home O.J. Simpson’s son as the love of her life. In another story she brings home Prince Harry. Two very, very different stories and the only thing that’s been changed are the characters.

So based on the assumption that characters matter the challenge then becomes how to understand WHAT matters about characters. Some info about them is texturing – ways to show individual traits, [he loves broccoli, she doesn’t] but that texturing doesn’t drive a story. Conflict drives a story and conflict comes when a character’s core belief systems are challenged and put under duress.

Example: Sue believes life is sacred. Now most of us can nod our heads and agree. But what happens to Sue when she must make a choice to end a life? But we’re not going to stop there. Let’s make it a hard choice. A man threatening her child might not be that hard a choice. But what if she must choose between the life of one of her children over another?

Here’s a true story. There was a woman in the Tsunami that ravaged Thailand a few years ago that faced that choice. She was holding on to her two children, two little boys. One an infant and the other about age seven. She let go of the seven-year old to save the infant, and herself. Now you have a story. She had to make a choice none of us would wish upon our enemies and has had to live with it. Her belief system was tested to the extreme.

Good news is the seven-year old was found alive, but now he and she must live with that split second decision for the rest of their lives. That’s going deep into character. There are two key questions in the Break Into Fiction© book about character that we have heard time and time again, and can really challenge a writer to think about their characters on a deeper level. I’m going to be a tease and not tell you what those questions are, but they are there, and you will know when you reach them because they will not be easy to answer.

Thank you, Mary for such detailed answers.

Isn't she amazing? There's more tomorrow in Part Two. Stay tuned...

Till next time,

Mary Buckham is an award-winning romantic-suspense author and co-author of BREAK INTO FICTION™: 11 Steps to Building a Story That Sells who, before becoming published in book-length fiction was a freelance article writer, selling hundreds of articles to local, regional, and national publications. She was also an editor of a regional magazine. Mary co-founded an online educational resource for writers and is a sought-after speaker and writing craft teacher for both online and in live presentations throughout the United States and Canada. For more on Mary visit or


Mary Buckham said...

Elizabeth ~~ Thank you for the interview, the great questions and for sharing!!

Cheers ~~ Mary B :-)

Doreen said...

Good information! Thank you for sharing!

Margie Lawson said...

Mary is amazing!

Every fiction writer should read, annotate, and assimilate BREAKING INTO FICTION. Mary and Dianna truly teach writers how to build a story that sells. Plus, it's a fun and engaging read. :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Doreen ~~ Thanks for stopping by - delighted to see you here! Cheers ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Margie ~~ How fun to see you here!! Thanks for the kind words ~~ you're the best!
Cheers ~~ Mary B :-)

EW Gibson said...


Thank you! Thank you for being a great teacher, even when you had pneumonia you pushed until the last gong. Incredible! You inspire me!!!

Thank you again. Don't forget Part two is tomorrow. :)

EW Gibson said...


Glad you like it. Thanks for following the SpecSalon.


EW Gibson said...


I agree. Mary is one heck of a teacher.
Just finished an online workshop with you. Awesome class. In my crit group we call you and Mary the "M & M's." LOL! Sweet and addictive.


Mary Buckham said...

Margie ~~ Super fun to have you stop by today ~~ always fun to see you even if we only get to do it online lately :-) Thanks for your support and have a great summer!

Cheers ~~ Mary B :-)

Ellen Russell said...

Hi, Mary.
Already looking forward to my next online class with you in September. And today I officially signed up for your two-day workshop in Portland. Can't wait to meet you in person!
BTW, I'll be attending that workshop two days after I return from Margie's Immersion Class! Do you suppose my head will explode?

--Ellen (one of Elizabeth's "M&M" crit group)

Mary Buckham said...

Hi Ellen ~~ What exciting news and yes -- I will guarantee a brain drain having Margie for two days and then moi for two days [first day Dianna Love and I will be teaching together-second day only myself]. So we'll have a great time! How fun that you get to work with Elizabeth, too. What a small world!!
Cheers and looking forward to placing a name with a face come September :-) ~~ Mary B :-)

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