Marie-Claude Bourque is one of eight American Title V finalists vying for the ultimate prize of publication. Voting in round one has commenced, and she has already received great feedback.
Marie-Claude is a not-yet-published writer of dark paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Having been raised with ancient French songs and legendary tales, the fate of tragic lovers of old and a keen interest in Celtic mythology inspire her stories.
I met Marie-Claude through our WritingGIAM (Goal in a Month) Yahoo! group run by Amy Atwell, whom I interviewed in the post before this one. A prolific writer who pushes herself to meet the rigorous goals she sets, Marie-Claude serves as a source of inspiration to those of us on the GIAMx3 loop.
•Marie-Claude, for those of us in the U.S., the election has come and gone. But you’re in the middle of voting of a different kind. You’re an American Title V finalist! For those visitors who don’t have experience with this contest, would you please give us a quick overview?
Of course, Keli. And thank you for having me here with you today.
At the beginning of September, eight aspiring authors were chosen from their full manuscripts by four editors at Dorchester Publishing, and we became the competing finalists in this contest that will run over the course of five months. We now compete for online votes from readers on the Romantic Times Web site.
There will be five rounds where the finalists present a sample from their book (first line, characters descriptions, story summary, dialog excerpt and romantic scene excerpt). Each sample is posted along with the critiques from three judges at Romantic Times. For each round, the one or two contestants with the least votes will be eliminated. The last finalist left standing will receive a publishing contract from Dorchester Publishing.
•Wow! To have come so far already is quite an accomplishment. Congrats! Waiting through each round to see if you were “voted off the island” has got to be tough. How are you dealing with the pressure?
We are still in the first round now, so I haven’t experienced the waiting yet. But I was very nervous as I waited to see the first judge’s comments that were posted last week. I am lucky to have wonderful writing partners with whom I share everything I go through. And when I get really stressed, I remember how much experience this contest has brought me so far and that whatever may happen, I am very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to participate.
•Writers come from so many different backgrounds and have such varied experiences and education. You’re certainly a case in point. I was impressed to see that you’re a former oceanographer with a B.S. in physics and a Ph.D. in oceanography. Plus, you’re a fitness professional who’s been a trainer and health club director. What led you to leave those positions and take up writing full-time?
Well, life has its twists and turns, and you just make decisions at the time things come. Fitness was a just a hobby for me until I left my science career to stay at home with my children, and then I had the opportunity to work as a manager in a gym. Since I could do most of my work from home and take my children to work with me, that became my second career. But now, since I just moved to Seattle, I decided to stay home full-time for a little while, to make sure my boys are well settled. The writing just seemed to have taken a life of its own. However, I still consider being a mom my main job.
•Writers work to find just the right words to express a thought or idea. You face an additional challenge. Having been born in Montréal and raised French-Canadian, you’re writing in your second language, one you didn’t learn until you were in college. I marvel at such a feat. Do you write your stories in English from start to finish? Are there cultural differences you have to consider as you word things? If you’re aiming for a U.S. audience, where do you set your stories?
I am now perfectly bilingual, which means I usually don’t realize which language I speak. I tend to switch back and forth depending on whom I’m talking to. I now tend to dream in English, and I write my personal journal in English. I write my fiction purely in English, but yes, my sentence structure and word choice are influenced by my first language. I try not to tweak my structure too much because some people have told me it is part of my “voice”, but I make a big effort to change my “latin-root” words for Anglo-Saxon words.
As far as setting, I hope to set my stories everywhere I have lived or visited. Ancient Whispers and a new novella I just finished called Pantera’s Heat are set in Rhode Island, where I lived for seven years. My second manuscript, Gothic Warrior, is set in Paris. I have plans to use as a setting Seattle, Montreal, Nova Scotia, Brussels, Venice, Glasgow and various parts of France and Scotland.
•I saw on your Web site that you’ve already completed two manuscripts and a novella and have three more stories in the works, with plans to complete each one in four months’ time. It’s evident from reading your weekly updates on our GIAM loop that you’re a disciplined writer. What does your schedule look like? How do you handle disruptions—including pleasant ones such as being a Title V finalist with all the related tasks?
I haven’t been that disciplined since I finaled. In fact, I sort of have to bow down and let go of my writing expectations. I am putting a lot of time into promotion, blogging, writing various articles and connecting with people online. I’ve also discovered how to make my own book trailer. I am learning a huge amount and have been given a big opportunity to stretch myself, so I don’t think this time is lost.
On my ideal day, I get up at 5 a.m. and write longhand until 7 a.m. Then I help get my kids and husband out of the door. I’ll spend an hour doing exercise to keep me sane, and then starting at about 10:30 am, I type what I wrote, do some promotion, blog, edits, or catch up with some online course until 3:30 p.m. comes and I am mom/housekeeper again. If I’m lucky, I’ll get an hour of reading before bed, but these days, I am most likely to be online. I am a very boring person. 🙂
•Organized is a word I’d use to describe you. I smiled when I read that you’re a list maker, as am I. How many lists do you make before you start a story? What tops your Things Every Writer Should Know list? And what’s on your Ways to Fuel my Creativity list?
Before I write a story, I need first a plot list. I can easily have 10 plots, plot layers and subplots in a story. I construct this plot list in many ways, looking at my character’s GMCs, thinking of character’s arcs, the hero’s journey’s arc. Then from that, I picture some vivid imagery, some high moments, and come up with a scene list (maybe 60 or so). Then I try to write a scene a day, adding on as I get deeper in the story. I like to have each scene advance a few of my plots.
Things writers should know:
1- That there is a delete key on the computer. People should just write from the heart and revise later. Very few people write a perfect draft on the first try, so it’s okay to just write as it comes.
2- Write what you love and truly believe in. Because the time will come when you will get criticism, and when that happens, you start doubting yourself. But if you write to please yourself first, you’ll always be happy to have written the story, and you’ll feel that sense of accomplishment no matter what.
3- That writing is work. It’s fun work, it’s magical work. But stories don’t write themselves. You have to put the time and the energy into it. You have to be disciplined and act as if you are a professional writer. When I feel low and start to be lazy, I try to think of what a professional writer would do. They would write, of course. They have deadlines. So, I try to push myself that way.
4- That you don’t have to do this alone. I am amazed at the amount of support there is out there in the writing community, especially in romance. Either online or in Romance Writers of America® local chapters, there are tons of groups where writers gather and share their experience. I couldn’t have gone this far in just a year if I didn’t have this incredible support from people in the writing community.
How do I fuel my creativity? While I love hanging out with friends and chatting a lot, I am actually essentially a loner, maybe because I’m an only child. I need time alone to regroup, usually reading and listening to music. Music really feeds the powerful images that I try to translate into writing. I have a play list for each book I write. I like alternative and heavy rock, or medieval classical music. I read all sort of books, but both dark or high fantasy and some historical novels are what give me the most inspiration in writing. And I’m also a big fantasy and action movie fan. It’s a great way for me to unwind, and some of what I watch will usually spark my imagination.
•You’ve traveled a great deal. What places were your favorites? Which are on your Future Destinations list? And do tell us about the wonderful souvenir you found in the Scottish Highlands.
The Pacific Northwest is definitely one of my favorite places in the world. I am quite glad to be living here again. I love having the mountains and the ocean so close and the huge trees everywhere.
My favorite city is Paris. I visited so many times when I was a younger, and then I had a chance to live there for two years. I loved writing Gothic Warrior because it was as if I was going back there again. My future destinations will have to be Quebec and Scotland. I don’t travel much for pleasure. Now my holidays are usually about going back home and visiting my or my husband’s family.
And yes, I have a kilt-clad Scottish man in my life. My husband grew up in Stornoway, in the Hebrides, and came to Canada for grad school. We actually met in Canada during a scientific meeting. We survived a long-distance relationship for quite a while before we were able to be in the same place at the same time. And I know well all about the challenges of a multicultural relationship. Scots and French don’t always see things the same way 🙂 But, we like to call our marriage “The Auld Alliance” after the famous French-Scottish treaties from the middle ages. We’ve been together for 14 years, so we know how to make it work.
•I discovered that you’ve added a new creative venture recently: writing lyrics for a Canadian band. What’s the story behind this exciting undertaking?
Well, I have a friend in my hometown of Quebec City who became fascinated with my stories. He told some of his friends about my wild imagination, and they asked me to write for them. They are doing this mostly for fun, with just a few concerts every couple of months or so. But they record their pieces in studio and have their MySpace profile where they offer their music. Their style (heavy rock) is right up my alley, so I find them very inspiring. I am really looking forward to having my words put to their music. I have all their demos right now and listen to them all the time.
•And now a question just for fun. Since you’re a former oceanographer, which body of water would you most like to explore if you were given an all-expense paid underwater expedition? Why would choose it, and what would you be looking for?
I’ve actually never been underwater, just ocean science cruises in the Atlantic. So, if I could, I’d love to go on one of those expeditions that studies hydrothermal vents at the deepest part of the ocean. Scientists go underwater at about three mile depths in these tiny submersible vehicles, called Alvin, that can carry only two scientists and a pilot. At the deepest part of the ocean, there are these giant worms and clams, and all sorts of life sustained not by sun-seeking plants and photosynthesis like at the surface, but by some complicated bacterial chemistry. This discovery gives lots of insight in the way life began on the planet. It’s fascinating.
I’d be scared to go of course, but it would be a life experience.
It’s been great having you as my guest, Marie-Claude. And now, in closing, is there a final comment you’d like to make or a question you’d like to ask?
Thanks for having me, Keli. It’s such a pleasure to visit with you.
There is one thing we all face as writers and is always hard to handle: rejection. I just received a rejection the other day, and my writing partners got together to cheer me up. I usually repeat the serenity prayer to myself to give me courage. But this time my friend came up with the best quote: from Dory the fish in the movie Finding Nemo: “KEEP SWIMMING, KEEP SWIMMING…”
So I’d like to ask everyone, when the going gets tough, do you have quote or a mantra that you like to tell yourself to help you keep going? Please share; I’d love to hear it.
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All those who leave a comment for Marie-Claude have a chance to win a black spiral notebook with the American Title V finalists logo “We write. You Vote. Love conquers” that she’s donated. I’ll hold the drawing the evening of November 21.
To enter the drawing, please leave your email address in your comment. (Example: name (at) server (dot) com. Using parentheses and spaces keeps spammers from snatching your address.) If I already have your address, consider yourself automatically entered unless you say otherwise.
Congrats to the drawing winner, Minnette Meader!
Learn More About Marie-Claude
Visit her Web site: www.mcbourque.com
Read her blog: http://mysticblu.livejournal.com
If you want to hear what she sounds like, she just did a Desert Island Keepers video interview that was posted on Monday on YouTube. Link.
Vote for the American Title V at the Romantic Times Web site.