Clea Simon is the author of three nonfiction books and now a new mystery - hopefully the start of a series - called "Mew is for Murder" and introducing a Daring Female, Theda Krakow. As the book opens, Theda has just taken a big leap: She's quit a secure job as a copy editor in order to pursue her dream of being a writer. You can learn more about Clea and her writing on her website, www.cleasimon.com.
Did you always want to be a writer? How did you begin? What did you do before you started writing?
I have written since I was a little girl. I've always made up stories, and once I learned to write, I wrote them down. The hard part for me was believing I could make a living as a writer, that I dared to define myself as a writer.
What did it take to get your first publishing deal?
A whole lot of patience! My first book grew out of an article I did for the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, but it was months before I even dared approach agents with that - and then, once I found an agent, months and MONTHS of waiting. I hate it. I'm bad at it!
Your book's heroine is a truly Daring Female - she quits her secure job to become a writer full-time. Where did you draw the inspiration for this character?
It's what I did in real life. Of course, I have a supportive husband, who also has health insurance, so it was less of a leap for me than it was for Theda.
What would you say has been your life's biggest dare?
To live as I want to. As a writer, as an independent thinker, as a size 14 redhead in a petite blonde world.
What are some challenges you encounter daily - writer's block? Fear of people not liking your book?
Discouragement - it's HARD to sell your writing and sometimes even my enthusiasm falters. Also, monetarily it's hard. I still do a ton of journalism to support my book promotion. My husband calls it our "get rich slow" scheme.
Any advice for other Daring Females who would like to write and get published?
Apply ass to seat. I hear so often "Oh I want to write a book." Well, much of it is simply doing it. And then keeping your spirits up so you can persist, persist, persist through the revisions and the struggle to get published. As that sneaker ad says, just do it. Life is too short to wait for permission.
One of my best friends - a Daring Female who has worked in the film and advertising industries and is now writing her own book - once pointed out to me: "Clea, there are enough people out there who are willing to put you down. You don't need to help them. What you need to do is be one of the few who believe in you." I love her.
Below is a short sample from Clea's newest book, "Mew is for Murder."
"You ever hear the one about the cat lady who died alone with her precious pussies? By the time they found her, the cats." Ralph’s voice boomed across the open room.
"That’s an urban myth, Ralph," I snapped back. I couldn’t help but see his broad grin. "And you know it." I was sorting through a stack of mail on a big, empty desk in a big, almost empty newsroom, but I heard him hoot with pleasure. He’d gotten to me.
They’re heartless beasts you know. He swiveled his bulky bottom in the ergonometrically correct desk chair and called back over his shoulder. "No point in loving them."
"Well, you’re not any kind of winner," I muttered. "Not with that attitude." Head turned away, he didn’t hear me and I saw him swivel back toward his desk, the only exercise he apparently ever got. He reached into the mountain of paper and cardboard mailers, cleared a space to reveal a computer keyboard, and pushed his Discman headphones back up on his head. As his tiny ponytail began to bob, I knew I’d been dismissed. Still peeved, I was tempted to grab that thin grey queue, as I’d never grab a cat’s tail. To pull him on his rolling chair through the city room would be pure fun.
But that kind of fun was too expensive for me. I was a freelancer, an interloper in this newsroom, even if I preferred to call myself talent for hire. An outsider, despite having labored as a paid employee here for the better part of a decade. Ralph was a staff writer - the Morning Mail’s senior rock critic - which made him a fixture while my kind came and went. And I’d just sold my former boss on a story that I cared about. Better to not ruffle any feathers - or fur for that matter. Despite the itch in my palm as I walked by that paltry bobbing lock, I resisted. Instead, I dumped the junk mail that had accumulated in my mailbox, tucked a long reporter’s note pad in my bag, and walked toward the escalators that would lead me out.
Sunlight, one of the first real days of spring. I fished my dark glasses from the big flat courier bag that held my life, pushed an unruly red curl back out of my eyes, and enjoyed the view through the paper’s glass front. The trees were budding, the strip of earth that rimmed the building glowed with a faint green that would soon be lawn. Next week, or maybe in two, either the heat would kick in with all its wonderful bugs and mugginess, or it would turn frigid again. In Boston, you could never quite tell. But on one glorious May Monday, it was spring.
After years of using the grim employee’s entrance in the back, I stepped out through the big, glass doors of the Mail and enjoyed the damp, fresh scent of the season. The first hint of lilac, salt from the nearby bay: it smelled to me of freedom. Which, considering I’m thirty-three, was coming just in time. Thirty-three, the "Jesus year" as my friend Bunny, a lapsed-Catholic-turned-Wiccan had assured me, would be a year of changes and decisions. Professionally, at least, she’d been right. Sure, my income had plummeted when I’d left the copy desk a few months back, giving up nights of spelling checks and correcting grammar for financial instability and freedom. But now I could tell anyone who asked that I was Theda Krakow, writer, and not want to correct myself, to tack on "part time" or even "hopeful." I had three months’ rent in the bank, a reasonably sound Toyota, and I was doing what I loved most, finally, with no restrictive clause attached.