Learning from a pro~ an interview with C. Hope Clark

A mentor might not be aware they serve as a mentor. They might be someone you watch from afar, learning from their work, website, blogs, and Facebook posts. I’ve considered C. Hope Clark a mentor ever since I read The Shy Writer. (since updated as The Shy Writer Reborn) As a fellow introvert, I wasn’t sure how I would face book-signings or public speaking, but thanks to her book and a great deal of hands-on experience, I’m now comfortable with both. Not only have I discovered a few markets for my writing from her FundsforWriters newsletter, Hope’s column and the short articles in it taught me a lot about the writing world. You can find some of them reprinted in the Best of FundsforWriters Vol. I. The fact that she actually took the time to reply to my e-mail with good advice when I asked about promotion and marketing shortly before my Coupon Crazy was released in 2013 facilitated that mentorship. Now, I follow her closely on Facebook, and respect her opinion on issues related to writing and publishing.

Hope holds a B.S. in Agriculture with honors from Clemson University and 25 years’ experience with the U. S. Department of Agriculture to include awards for her management, all of which enable her to talk the talk of Carolina Slade, the protagonist in many of her novels. Hope is married to a 30-year veteran of federal law enforcement, a Senior Special Agent, now a contract investigator. They met on a bribery investigation within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the basis for the opening scene to Lowcountry Bribe. Hope and her special agent live on the rural banks of Lake Murray outside of Chapin, South Carolina, forever spinning tales on their back porch over a bourbon.

Hope, can you give us some background information about how you came to be a writer?
I’ve written by choice since I could hold a pen. Wrote a romance novel at eight years old with my best friend. But I spent most of my life pursuing the sciences and business, thinking writing was a tool, not a profession. However, once I’d risen pretty high in the ranks of a federal agency, one day during lunch, a peer of mine asked why I didn’t write for myself. Everyone knew I could write. I penned every important document that left the agency – justifying budgets, endorsing awards, supporting project. Even had an employee thank me for her disciplinary letter because it read so nice and didn’t tear her down like she expected.
So I went home and started writing 15 minutes a day, without exception. I worked a high-level job 10+ hours a day and had three teens in the house, so I had little time to spare, but I could justify 15 minutes. Soon it was a habit and it grew to 10-20 hours a week. Then I reached back in time to when I was in the field working directly with clients, when I was offered a bribe, and I wrote a memoir. Then it became a novel when it wouldn’t sell. When that wouldn’t sell, I turned back to freelancing which I learned I could do in my sleep. Four years later, a published mystery author asked over dinner what I wrote for myself. When I mentioned the old mystery on the shelf, she told me to get it down, rewrite it, and attempt to publish or I’d regret it. I literally pulled it off the shelf in its manuscript box (this was around 2001). It stank! So I threw it away, kept an outline, and rewrote it….twice. Joined a critique group who helped me hone it. I shopped agents for two years (72 queries), then after landing one, achieved a contract after 18 months. In other words, I just took an idea and kept putting one foot in front of the other. Nothing magical about the journey at all. It was difficult, frustrating, but I couldn’t stand to NOT do it and look at myself in the mirror. A writer writes. And that journey has led to FundsforWriters newsletter (35,000 readers), eight novels (in two series), and two nonfiction books plus a little freelancing here and there (I do podcasts for Writer’s Digest and publish in their how-to books like Writer’s Market).
You write both fiction and non-fiction. Do you have a preference?
That is a difficult question. I am more natural writing nonfiction. It just rolls off my fingers as I’m typing. However, I adore my fiction, which is a struggle to compose. Like running through mud. I’m in love with my novels, and I fall in love with my characters and fictitious worlds. I’m probably more proud of my novels as a result of all that. However, nonfiction is my bread and butter. So I guess I just cannot choose! If I could achieve the income and platform for my novels that I have with FundsforWriters (though I’m slowly, actually getting there), I’d consider just writing novels.
What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist? Would that advice differ for an aspiring nonfiction writer?
For the novelist: Quit thinking about publishing and making money. Writing novels is an art that you have to hone and polish until it shines. It does not happen easily nor naturally, and with the competition in the world right now….where everyone things they can pen a novel….you will get disappointed about the sales if THAT is your goal. Writing fiction is a slow and steady journey with each book helping you rise. Write daily….religiously. Do not publish until you are sure you have a voice. If you aren’t sure, you don’t have it. Work at the craft. A novelist almost never publishes their first book. Mine still sits on a zip drive on a drawer.
For the nonfiction writer: Become the expert required of a nonfiction book author. Your focus is on making that book one of your tools. You are a teacher. However, your writing skill is very important in order to keep a reader interested, educated, as well as entertained. It’s a different craft than fiction, but a solid voice is still required. You have a wonderful chance to test your writing via articles and blogs. However, remember that any work you put out there is up forever, so do it judiciously.
Once the book is published, how should a writer promote it?
They write entire books on this subject, so I cannot answer it thoroughly here. I do suggest you take count of your strengths and start with that. If you speak, speak. If you prefer to blog, do that. Begin locally and work out. And of course, a lot depends upon your genre. Romance promotes differently than scifi or nonfiction. There is no real wrong way if it sells books, so study what others are doing then glean what you like. However, keep in mind that promotion requires daily attention just like writing. When you don’t promote, you don’t sell. Just like when you do not write, you do not improve. You cannot think yourself into being a better writer or promoter. It’s all about the doing.
Tell us about your fiction books and your newest release.
The fourth in the Carolina Slade Mysteries, “Newberry Sin” is set in an idyllic small Southern town where blackmail and sex are hush-hush until they become murder. Slade holds an investigative position with Agriculture similar to what I had. She works alongside Senior Special Agent Wayne Largo, a badge and gun-totin’ real agent with a specialty in agriculture. She loves her rural South Carolina almost as much as her family, and both are displayed front and center in both books. She might not understand how a real agent would investigate, but she usually gets her guy, with Wayne often grumbling about her methods along the way. Her family’s been sucked into her cases a time or two, raising the tension, and if they aren’t involved, they have catastrophes of their own. She’s spunky with dialogue that tends to kick up dust along the way. I have to say I love this woman. And she has a pretty strong fan club.

Newberry Sin FINAL COVER.jpg
The Edisto Island Mysteries are entertaining in their own way. Set on a real island in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Callie Jean Morgan is real law enforcement. Born and raised in the Carolinas, she leaves a dysfunctional family and moves north, marrying a Bostonian, both in law enforcement. He dies as a result of one of her cases, and riddled with guilt and faced with a teenage son to raise, she returns to South Carolina. Her mayor dad gives her the deed to the family vacation home on Edisto Beach, and from there she builds her life back.

The characters in this book are to die for. They are colorful, humorous, and unique, much like you’d find amongst natives of a beach community. Tourism comes into play, and the series is as much about Callie’s growth as an individual as the crimes solved.
There are four Edisto mysteries with a fifth under contract. And by the way, this fifth will also find Slade from the first series, visiting Edisto and crossing Callie’s path. A fun experience for fans of both books.
What do you love most about being a fulltime author?
Being able to fall into my alternate universes when I so desire. But I still get a thrill meeting someone who’s read my stories and loved them. That’s still so unreal to me. That someone picked up my book, on purpose, and spent hours enjoying my words. It never gets any better than that. I still pinch myself. That person-to-person connection is the ultimate joy.

To learn more about C. Hope Clark, or her books, click HERE.

Follow her on Facebook HERE.