Rebecca Engel Talks About Writing Books and Wrangling Characters

When I visit The Cavanaugh House on Amazon, I often see Secrets in Stone as a recommended read. I contacted the author, Rebecca Engle, and invited her to be my guest on Meyette’s Musings. I am thrilled that she accepted! Welcome, Rebecca! I am so excited to hear about your writing journey.


How do you describe your writing process? Do you outline? Let the muse lead you? Or something else?

Rebecca A.Engel 300x400My writing process is currently in a state of flux. I’ve always considered myself more of a panster than a plotter. When starting a new novel, I do know how it will begin, how it will end, and a few of the scenes in between the two. The rest evolves organically.


Of late, I have begun to wonder if my productivity could be increased with more preplanning, so I’ve done a little research into plotting. I had always thought of plotting as being like outlining a term paper in school, I, II, III, A, B, C, etc. However, I came across a method that was more like a guideline rather than the traditional outline I was familiar with. I used this method for the first draft of the novel I wrote most recently, and found it was the quickest first draft I had ever produced. This method still had enough freedom to it that many things that weren’t on the guide were still able to evolve. So it is something I will try again.


Now if I could only find a method to make rewrites and edits go more quickly…


I would love to learn your method! Has writing changed how you read books now?

I find when I read a book now, I am far more aware of how the book was edited. If I see a word or phrase used too frequently, I wonder why no one picked up on that and changed it, or why a clumsily worded sentence wasn’t corrected. When I’m reading a traditionally published book, I sometimes feel relieved when I find mistakes (in the plot or typos) because that means even the professionals, sometimes a whole team of them, fail to catch errors.


I agree. I have found comfort in errors in traditionally published books, too. How do your characters influence your writing? Do you have disagreements with them?

PermDamage - 2X3I’m always surprised by the way characters take on a life and will of their own. I recall writing a scene in one of my Valerie Urniak books that was very dramatic, and I really liked it. But Valerie did not like it at all because her behavior in it did not fit her character. It wasn’t exactly a disagreement with her over it, but while editing, I saw she was right and rewrote the scene completely. Apparently she was satisfied with the revised scene as she didn’t pester me about it after that. There have been other instances where the characters suddenly stop doing what I had planned for them and do what they want to do instead. I’ve learned to let them take control, as it usually works out better that way.


Oh, my word! My characters do the same thing! What is the best piece of advice about writing that you have ever heard or read? What would you tell aspiring writers today?

More years ago than I would care to admit I read an interview with novelist Susan Isaacs. In that interview she said what started her writing career was a book on writing by author John Gardner. I found that he has two books on writing fiction, On Becoming a Novelist and The Art of Fiction, and although I read it at the time, I don’t recall which book it was. I do recall what it said: if you write two pages a day, in a year you will have a novel completed. At that time, I didn’t have children, and it was often possible for me to read a book in a day or two. I somehow had the idea that I should be able to write a book in that timeframe as well. That, of course, never worked out, so I tried his method. Two pages a day was easily doable, and shortly thereafter I found two pages a day was not enough, and I wanted to write more. I kept two pages as a minimum for the days when the words weren’t coming quite as easily or I was short on time. It ended up taking less than a year to write the first draft of my first novel with that method. Just knowing you can actually complete a novel is an encouraging thing, and when you’ve done it once, you know can do it again.


I would tell an aspiring writer today that writing the first draft of your novel is a great accomplishment, but to bear in mind what you’ve written is just that: a first draft. When you type the last word, it’s not really the end but the beginning. It takes a lot of time and effort to get your book from first draft to a finished product.


Excellent advice! What are you currently working on?

SIS300x400I completed two novels earlier this year, and along with another novel that was already completed, I’m alternately working on editing and proofreading them. The first is a prequel to my gothic novel, Secrets in Stone, with a working title of Sorrows in Stone. The second is Book 4 in my Helen Wiels Mystery series, titled Relative Matters. The third is Book 6 in my Valerie Urniak Mystery series, which had a working title of True Colors, but that definitely will be changed due to the high number of e-books that already have that title.  


You are a busy lady! Talk about the books you’ve written. What was the first seed of an idea you had for your books? How did they develop?

I have fifteen e-books published to date. Most of my books are romantic mysteries, with two series in that genre, the Helen Wiels Mystery series and the Valerie Urniak Mystery series. A third series is a romantic saga, the Lies and Lovers series. The rest of my books are stand-alones, and there is only one of them so far in which no one is murdered.


L&LBOOK 1-A-2X3The seed of an idea can spark from almost anything. With Secrets in Stone, I had purchased a small gargoyle to place in an outdoor planter, and as I put it in the planter, I thought how cool it would be if gargoyles had once been living creatures. I combined that snippet of an idea with my love for gothic novels, and it took off from there. My Lies and Lovers series evolved from comments by two co-workers, a man who said he had two children that he knew of, and a woman who replied that the big difference between men and women was that a woman always knew she had a baby while men could have children without knowing about them. That made me wonder if a woman would always recognize a child as hers, which turned into a generational saga (with some murders thrown in).


I like to play with ideas and plotting when I’m doing something physical and mindless, like mowing the lawn or shoveling snow. This has made my husband very thankful that I’ve become an e-author because now he doesn’t have to do those things.


It’s a win-win! What kind of response do you get when you tell people you are an author?

PastMatters-series name - 280x448I actually have not told very many people personally that I am an author, which makes me very bad at self-promotion. But I didn’t want my friends and family to feel obligated to buy my books simply because they know me. However, I have no objection if they find my books and want to buy them at their own discretion. (I’m not completely reticent about my writing. When someone’s called or emailed to let me know they found an author with the same name as mine, I do admit that it is, in fact, me.) And while I’m not outgoing enough to announce to people I don’t know that I write books, I have a husband and a sister who have no qualms about letting people know that on my behalf. The most common responses I get from people they tell are, ‘Oh, really? You write books?’ and the ubiquitous, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’


Rebecca’s books are available on Amazon





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