This week we interview USA Today bestselling author Mary Ann Marlowe, an award-winning romance writer with seven published novels under her belt. By day, she works as a computer programmer/DBA in Central Virginia. By night, she travels to far-off imaginary lands and likes to make her characters kiss. She also writes under the name Lorelai Parker.
Suzy: What are you working on at the moment?
Mary Ann: I’m juggling a few projects. I have a bad habit of writing about 50–60k on an manuscript, then I get bored or panic about the ending or get an idea for something new. So I’m constantly circling back around to old projects hoping to wrap them up. At the moment, I’m bouncing between two romcoms and two traditional contemporary romances, and of course I have a couple of other half-baked projects calling my name. Side note: I can write specifically about one of these projects, but it all sounds weirdly half-pitchy half-snoozefest.
Suzy: When did you realise you wanted to be an author?
Mary Ann: Is this a thing someone realises all at once? I feel like I took a lot of running starts at writing fiction before I got up the nerve to try for a full novel. I was an avid reader and went to grad school to study literature, but most of my writing was about other people’s books. Around 2013, I started writing my own short stories for no other purpose than to share with friends. And then there was that one month at Nanowrimo camp in 2014… and I finished my first women’s fiction, which has never seen the light of day. After that I was hooked and turned into one of those people who can’t talk about anything but writing. And when you surround yourself with authors, by osmosis, you become one.
Suzy: How does the reality of your writing career compare with what you expected being an author would be like?
Mary Ann: I wasn’t prepared for the long gaps of silence and waiting. In movies, agents and editors are knocking down an author’s door to get that next manuscript. In reality, there’s a lot of refreshing of the inbox and wondering if you imagined that whole authoring career.
Suzy: What risks have you taken with your writing (career or process-wise) that paid off?
Mary Ann: This will sound cliche at this point, but TikTok has been a game changer for me. Like a lot of authors, self-promotion doesn’t come easily for me, especially in the social media areas where I’m mixing business with personal. I don’t want to spam my sister-in-law with ad campaigns targeted at anonymous readers. TikTok algorithms allow me to imagine I’m not bothering anyone I personally know with nonstop promo. And it works.
Suzy: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Mary Ann: I desperately want to be a plotter, but I’m a die-hard discovery writer. I have an idea of what the book might be, but it’s vague, and half the time I change my mind about 20k in once I get to know my characters better. I’ve written two books on proposal, meaning I had to pitch them before they were written, and for those, I was required to turn in a detailed synopsis before writing. When I know what the plot is up front, the actual writing becomes robotic to me. I prefer when my characters get messy and make decisions based on their internal motivations and misbeliefs.
Suzy: What’s your favourite writing software (and why is it good?)
Mary Ann: Scrivener. What’s not to love? It organizes my scenes in a way that makes it easy to move around in the book. It has incredible features that I don’t always use but which allow me to try new ways to develop scenes. I love that there are options for leaving myself breadcrumbs—highlights, inline commenting, and scene-level notecards. The notecards can also display as a corkboard or a synopsis outline for the illusion of plotting. And when it’s time to send the manuscript off, it can compile to Word, epub, pdf, etc., which gives readers more flexibility.
Suzy: Do you participate in any writing challenges on social media? Do you recommend any?
Mary Ann: The only challenge I occasionally participate in these days is run by Becca Syme in her Better Faster writing group. She does a daily ‘open the manuscript’ challenge that might be for thirty minutes or only two minutes. Sometimes the biggest hurdle in a day is just opening up the manuscript, and two minutes doesn’t feel very daunting, so I’ll use her challenge to help me remember to make time to write, if only a few sentences. I don’t find sprints work for me anymore (I just lie and tell people I’m writing when I’m actually reading Twitter) and word count goals have lost their magic, mainly because I like to stop and read back, which slows forward progression.
Suzy: What are your top 3 tips for emerging writers?
- Don’t take writing advice as gospel. If something works for you, lean into it and trust your process.
- Celebrate every single win, no matter how small. We get precious few.
- Befriend other writers. The support system is crucial.
Suzy Darlington writes science fiction fantasy stories and consumes more of the same than is probably healthy. In another life she wrote copy for game streaming academy, GGWP, and reported on the Capcom Pro Tour for Canadian news outlet, Dailyesports.gg. When she’s not having unexpected (but totally welcome) dreams about being Timothée Chalamet’s best friend, she’s searching for high-angst, LGBTQ+ romantic tension in fiction.