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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Author Interview: Maggie Toussaint

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome back Maggie Toussaint, whose debut release, House of Lies, won Best Romantic Suspense in the 2007 National Readers Choice Awards. Her latest offering, Muddy Waters, is now out from The Wild Rose Press.

Muddy Waters grew out of Maggie's love for the South in all her glory.

"I write a blend of romance and mystery, and that’s what this book turned out to be, more of a romantic mystery. You won’t find people jumping from airplanes and saving the world. This book is about a struggling realtor and a security expert who team up to search for his missing inheritance," she told me. "With his bad boy reputation hanging like an albatross around his neck, Sloan is a questionable catch at best. But who knows if the inheritance even exists? Sloan and Roxie dance around their physical attraction, until danger strikes."

I asked Maggie who she would star to play in the movie of Muddy Waters.

"I’m thinking Kristin Stewart (Bella from Twilight) for Roxie, since she’s brunette, gorgeous, and vulnerable. And for Sloan, I like Johnny Depp, who has mastered the bad boy look and behavior in several starring movie roles."

Her next two contracted releases are mysteries, with strong romance subplots. The first mystery, On the Nickel, is a continuation of Maggie's Cleopatra Jones series, which began in In for a Penny. In On the Nickel, Mama's car is the murder weapon that killed the church lady, but the question is—was Mama behind the wheel? Her second, Death, Island Style, is Maggie's first mystery set in the deep South. In the book, a Christmas shark from MaryBeth’s Christmas gift shop is found on the body of the dead man in the surf. The cops think she had something to do with this man’s murder, so she has to find out who really killed him or else spend the rest of her life behind bars.

She's currently working on the third book in the Cleopatra Jones series and, after the first of the year, hopes to start writing another romance that's bouncing around in her head.

"What would you consider your highest point since becoming an author?" I asked.

"Dang. How to choose? The first contract? The national award? The latest contract? Holding that first book in print? Holding an advance check? Having a signing? Appearing on panels at conferences? It’s been a wild ride, and I’ve loved every minute of it!"

She started writing several years ago when she had gorged on paperbacks after being laid up with a back injury. Some of them were poorly written, which made her wonder if she could write a better book that what was available at her supermarket.

"Just like that, a writer was born," she said. "Little did I know that writing would take me on many new adventures and that it would feel like I’d finally found myself."

I asked her where she saw herself in ten years.

"Writing on a new computer! Seriously, upgrading your equipment, both the hardware and the software is critical for marketing and writing. The dinosaur I’m using is way behind the power curve," she told me. "On a more serious note, I’d like to publish a book a year over the next ten years. I hope my reader list continues to expand. Not so much from a desire to be famous, but because my stories offer an entertaining escape from reality, and everyone needs an escape outlet."

When talking about which came first, plot or characters, Maggie told me that her brain had one answer and her heart another.

"I’ve written books both ways, plot intensive and character friendly, and found a hybrid way that works best for me," she explained." I start with a 'what if' moment and an ending. Then I create flawed characters with opposing goals and put them on a self-guided journey with several check points. The checkpoints ensure that there’s a plot, and the freedom of character choice keeps the story fresh. If you want to be a writer, don’t let anyone tell you how to write. Figure out how you write best, then have at it."

She told me that one of the hallmarks of good writing is that you don't notice the craft elements of writing.

"You never finish a good book and say: her point of view was spot on, her characterization made my heart sing, she nailed that plot, etc. To me, the most important element of good writing comes after mastering writing craft. The intangible threads of story that stay with a reader after the book is done, that’s good writing. That’s what I aspire to do, write books that people remember."

To choose a title for her books, Maggie brainstorms like a maniac. She first writes down all the obvious titles, the really bad titles, and the cutesy titles. She knows that if she doesn't get all that stuff out of her head the good titles won't surface.

"Once the drek is gone, interesting titles appear," she continued. "I let them flow until the well goes dry. Then I study the list for a few hours/days. The right title makes itself known."

One thing she has to work hard at is not editing while she writes the first draft.

"My editing brain wants to take over, and that’s not good," she told me. "Writing brain needs equal time or the book won’t get written."

On a personal note, I asked Maggie if she had any strange handwriting habits.

"In high school and college, I drew a line through my print zs because I thought that looked cool. Later, I thought my grown-up signature looked very contemporary, but a handwriting analyst told me that by not making a full loop with my g in my name that indicated I was lazy. I was appalled. Who knew these things? Since then I’ve always been careful to have big swoopy loops on my gs. My handwriting is an odd mix of print and script. It’s been Maggie-cized."
You can keep up with Maggie on her website,

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