Friday, October 2, 2009

Interview with Margaret Carroll

I’d like to welcome our guest today, Margaret Carroll. It’s a pleasure having you come visit us at Much Cheaper Than Therapy, where chocolate is plentiful and advice is free. So grab some chocolate and a lounge chair. Your therapy session has begun.

Thanks, Kim! I’m a huge fan of both therapy and chocolate, so I’m definitely you’re happiest guest!

I understand you have a new release out called Riptide. Can you tell us a little bit about your fabulous new book?

Riptide is the second of two back-to-back thrillers being released this fall from Avon. The first is called A Dark Love, which was published in September and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly (7/13/09 issue). But I’m getting off track……

Riptide tells the story of a Hamptons socialite whose marriage and life are in a downward spiral. She checks herself into rehab, where she receives the shocking news that her husband has been found floating facedown in the deep end of the swimming pool of their oceanfront estate (talk about a bad therapy session). She goes home to plan his funeral and seeks solace in the arms of her bad-boy lover, Daniel Cunningham, only to realize a lot of people – her in-laws included – believe she and Dan had
something to do with her husband’s death.

The story takes place in East Hampton, New York’s fabled beach community, within a tight three-day timeframe.

Riptide is a very interesting title. How did you arrive at that name?

The title Riptide came to me quite late in the process. I was nearing the end of the first draft last summer, staying with family out on eastern Long Island. It was a bad year for drowning. All along the Island’s south shore, people were getting caught up in a series of really strong riptide currents. When I was a kid swimming at those beaches, you just didn’t hear of riptides very often. But now, probably because of global warming and its effect on the gulfstream, Long Island has had a spate of deadly riptides.

So the daily newspaper out there – Newsday – was full of stories about riptides and drowning victims. I’d always planned to have my novel take place against a backdrop of stormy weather with a deadly current (it was always meant to be a metaphor for my main character, Christina Cardiff, and her struggles with alcoholism and love addiction), so one day it just came to me. Duh.

Would you describe your book as a cozy, mystery, suspense, or thriller?

I would describe Riptide as very much suspense, very much a thriller.

What made you decide to write in this genre?

My characters told me it was time to make the change from romantic comedies (I have two chick-lit style romances, The Write Match and The True Match, published by Avalon).
I kept trying to write feel-good love scenes with HEAs and had a really tough time! For my option book with Avalon, the only way I could give the characters in The True Match a Happy Ever After was to write a quick sketch (that nobody ever saw) pretending my hero was dying of cancer and only had two months to live. Once I knew my happy couple was doomed, I was able to give them the small pleasure of falling in love. The suggestion, btw, came from my therapist (told you I love therapy) and she was right. I was able to finish the book.

But I knew it was time to move on. I need to put my characters in danger.

Where did you get your idea for this particular book?

The newspaper, I guess, if you count all those stories last summer about swimmers being dragged out to sea.

Do you have all the key suspense/mystery elements thought out before you begin writing?

I wish! I usually have a ‘big picture’ idea of something that poses a threat to someone, and a rough idea of the denouement. But that’s about it. For me it’s a very scary process, like skiing with a blindfold on.

Did you have to do a lot of research for the book? What are your favorite research books or sites?

I did need to find out about crime scenes, drowning deaths, police interrogation of witnesses in a potential murder investigation. I spoke with friends in law enforcement and I’m very blessed to have some doctor friends and relatives who put up with me.

I also spent some time in East Hampton, driving along those beautiful oceanfront lanes, stopping to take in the view and imprint my mind with visuals that my main characters would have as they acted out their drama.

Which character did you like writing about the most, and why?

Definitely my main character, Christina Cardiff. She’s flawed and trying to work through it. She’s a wife and mother, and wants love and security in her life more than anything. I can really relate to that. She just went about getting things the wrong way. She wants to fix things, make her life as good as she can, and I can relate to that, too.

From there, it was pretty easy to give her a juicy plot to work with. All I had to do, once I set out her priorities, was let Christina’s recent past – the one she is working so hard to put right – come back to haunt her.

Tell us about how you develop your characters. Do you create character sheets, do interviews, that sort of thing? How does your research affect your character development?

I do make lots and lots of notes on characters. Nothing so organized as sheets, I’m afraid! I scribble notes in longhand for page after page, then staple batches together as they relate to each character. As the story fleshes out, I scribble more notes, sometimes on new notepads and sometimes on sticky notes that I stick to the original notes.

It winds up being a series of messy piles all over my office floor. The dog walks all over them and sometimes kids run through, which really ticks me off.

But I never really refer to those notes again. They’re just there till I’m done, like a security blanket. So I can look back if I need to. But I usually don’t sort through the piles again, I just keep adding stuff and vacuuming the dust bunnies around them.

Do you have any authors that inspired you?

Oh, any and all! Going all the way back to the Bobbsey Twins in the Land of Cotton, which was my first big-girl novel that I remember reading on my own.

More recently, I’ve gained so much inspiration from the RWA loops. When I read about an author whose daily output is two or three or even five times my current top number, it helps me open my mind to the possibility of writing more better faster.

I’m a perfectionist whose instinct is to go over and over and over the pages from the day before. The problem with that – for me – is I don’t move the story forward that way. I’ll edit and re-edit and have fun with it, spend hours turning a phrase, and then look up and it’s time to pick up my kid from school and I’m done for the day. That’s no way to put out a book a year.
So I like to hear about other writers and their writing routines.

What do you feel is the most effective promotion you have done for your book?

I pitched in with my local media. I knew most of them from volunteering on the marketing committee at my daugthter’s school, so it was a natural move for me. I sent out ARCs to regional media with a handwritten note and did my own followup. I think if you live in a small town like I do, that’s probably your best bet.

I did a lot of advance legwork for my hometown booksigning at my local Borders for my debut thriller, A Dark Love. I printed up 200 invites and hand-delivered them and advised all my local media myself. It was a great event – it went so well they invited me back (woohoo!), so I’ll be signing copies of Riptide at Borders in beautiful downtown Grosse Pointe, Michigan, from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, October 4th.

What do we have to look forward to next?

I’m working on another thriller with romantic elements, set once more in NYC and the Hamptons, about a young woman who unwittingly gets caught up in her boyfriend’s Ponzi scheme and its links to a terror cell that deals in weapons sales to the Mideast.
Watch for it…

Thanks, Margaret!

To celebrate her book release, Margaret Carroll is offering a free book of Riptide to one lucky commenter on today's blog. (please check the blog Monday night to see who won. Chances of winning determined by the number of entries.)

She will be around all day today. I'm sure some of you have questions or comments for her, so please ask away...

Check out author’s website at



Anonymous said...

Good Morning Margaret. Thanks for joining us here today. We hope you do enjoy your therapy time with us. Your book sounds like a fascinating read and I can't wait to dig into my copy. I did receive the books, my bad for not emailing you that. So were there any scenes or characters that you loved that had to be cut in the final version? Inquiring minds always want to know:)

Margaret Carroll said...

Hi Kim! The interview looks great. I love this question. Yes, I did have to cut a lot in a scene in the middle of the book that takes place in a restaurant I made up (and I wish it really existed!) called Jimmy Langdon's.

The setting - on a tidal bay with a terrific view of the sunet and a decade's worth of crushed oyster shells for a front lawn - is a mash of places I love: Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., (which has fantastic food and really does have piles of oyster shells in front), the drive up to Shinnecock Hills Golf & Country Club in Southampton, N.Y. (where I really did almost collide with a giant buck one night in the fog) and Menemsha on Martha's Vineyard, Mass. (one of the best places to watch a sunset of anywhere I've ever been, right up there with Pattaya Beach, Thailand, looking west to Vietnam and catching the 'Green Flash' on Florida's Captiva Island . . . ). But I digress.

The travel writer in me came alive for this scene! Next thing I knew, I made up a history for Jimmy Langdon's restaurant, complete with details that it had been a hangout in the 1950s and 60s for Jackson Pollack and his band of artists from the city. I decided the original proprietor, Jimmy Langdon, had been a friend of the crew, offering them free steaks and brew and a place to hang out till the wee hours back when East Hampton was potato fields and still mainly known mostly to native American Shinnecocks who lived nearby.

I got carried away! Had to cut, cut, cut much of that description and scene. But I really had fun writing it. Wish I could go eat in a place like that.

John said...

Reading your interview made me realize that you -- and I guess all authors -- have to get very caught up in the world they create to make what you write seem authentic and real. I'm wondering how you "come down" from that and come back to the "real world" of, you know, buying groceries, picking your kid up from school. And once you finish a book and it's off to the printers do you have a post partum feeling? Just wondering.

CrystalGB said...

Great interview. Riptide sounds good. :)

Jeannie said...

Hi Margaret,
The interview is great fun. I find it fascinating to see how you go about creating your fiction, and admire how you've managed to balance your professional work with your life. I can't wait to read Riptide!

Margaret Carroll said...

Wow, it's so nice to see people are reading Kim's blog today!

It is pretty weird being a writer. But not really much weirder than being a housewife. By the time I go to pick up my kid from school, it is many days the first time I've left the house since dropping her off in the morning. And maybe I only just brushed my teeth a little while ago. Okay, way too much information here.

But the point is, yes, I live in my head. We all do. I've just whipped my mind into shape - like a heavy duty aerobics class for your brain - so it's really working in overdrive all day. So by the time afternoon rolls around, I'm like Fred Flintstone when the five o'clock whistle blows - ready for a mindless brainless afternoon on the playground followed by some great reality T.V. or a book - nonfiction if I'm writing a first draft - that doesn't take too much concentration. Vanity Fair and People are always good.

Yeah, when I finish the first draft of a book I do have a breather. I'll go through the teetering TBR basket in a corner of my bedroom and start plowing through all the novels I've put off reading for months.

You can't let the down time last too long. Time for a new bunch of people to move in and start writing the next book!

Lori T said...

Hi Margaret~

Great interview and Riptide sounds really good. Plus, you have amazing covers...I love a good cover!

Do you have any say in your covers? Do you think that they fit your books?

Margaret Carroll said...

Great question Lori. I think I'm supposed to very powerful and on top of things, so I should probably lie and tell you I get input into the cover design.

The truth is, not one little bit. I'm brand new, and was not at all inclined to do much more than make one little suggestion (I wanted towering mountain peaks with a jagged skyline for A DARK LOVE). A friend who works in a Borders pointed out every thriller has used that.

Needless to say (since you've seen the covers) they didn't use my idea. What I got was really stunning and beautiful and unique. I think both covers suggest the stories will be full of high emotion and passion, heavy on the intrigue, and will involve strong conflict between people who are physically intimate with one another.

So I think they're eye-catching and terrific and get the job done.

Carol Webb said...

Hi, Margaret. I just finished A Dark Love about two weeks ago. I really loved your characterizations. Very dark. The villain was very creepy to say the least. I read the sneak peak in A Dark Love for Riptide. I have to admit, I'm hooked. It sounds like a great book.

I agree with Lori. You've got some really beautiful covers.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting us over at Much Cheaper Than Therapy!

Margaret Carroll said...

Hi Carol, Thank you for your kind words - what a great way to kick off the weekend! I absolutely positively loved working with Dr. Porter Moross. Again, since the blog is called Cheaperthantherapy, I can share here that I loved my bogeyman bad guy!!! The scenes with him flew off the keyboard. I'm serious. It is the only time in my fiction career my fingers couldn't keep up with the scenes in my head. Go figure.

I absolutely loved working with Christina Cardiff in RIPTIDE as well. She was complicated (she gave me cluster migraines as I wrote the first draft) but I found I could really relate to her because as a wife and mother I also want what's best for my family.

I really hope you enjoy RIPTIDE. Drop by my website any time and let me know.

Bruce said...

Hi Margaret,
I read a Dark Love and it was so great I couldn't put it down until I finished it. I looked forward to reading Riptide. I just bought two copies, one for me and one for a friend of mine who is laid up for a while. It'll be wonderful entertainment for her. I think you are a great writer. Keep those books coming. Helen Normile

Margaret Carroll said...

Helen!! Your kind comments made my day! I hope you like Riptide. Check out my website and let me know when you finish it.

Hope your friend feels better soon. Hope the book helps!

kimmyl said...

Great interview. Riptide sounds like a really good book. I would love to enter.

Virginia C said...

Hello! Your main character sounds very flawed and human, and very interesting! The lives of the rich can be just as problematic as those of the poor! gcwhiskas at aol dot com