Today I’m very pleased to be introducing C. Hope Clark, author of Lowcountry Bribe and founder of FundsforWriters.com, where she runs two free newsletters and one paid newsletter. Her newsletters contain inspirational articles and quotes alongside information about grants, markets and job opportunities in the writing world. I’ve been subscribed to all her free newsletters for several years. She’s even published one of my articles in WritingKid and agreed to publish a second article in the Funds for Writers newsletter, which I’m told will be released later this year.
All in all, I’m thrilled to have her here–but I’ll stop rambling now and let the interview speak for itself:
1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Lowcountry Bribe?
Lowcountry Bribe by C. Hope Clark is the first in the Carolina Slade Mystery Series. Set in South Carolina, particularly along the coast in Charleston County, Lowcountry Bribe introduces readers to Carolina Slade, a smart, focused, sometimes over-thinking woman who feels safe in the bureaucratic world of the U.S. Department of Agriculture . . . until she’s offered a bribe . . . from a hog farmer, no less.
Slade follows proper protocol and reports Jessie Rawlings to her superiors. The next thing she knows, Slade is besieged by Senior Special Agent Wayne Largo from the Office of Inspector General in Atlanta. He and his partner have come to investigate Slade’s accusations, and if possible catch Jessie in the act of handing over money. While the situation disrupts her life, Slade reminds herself that following the book in reporting the incident was the right move.
However, events do not go smoothly. The IG isn’t telling Slade everything. The agents are also investigating the disappearance of Slade’s manager the year before in connection to possible land fraud. And when the sting on Jessie goes bad, the case is put on hold and Wayne is recalled to Atlanta, leaving Slade exposed and vulnerable, fearing not only for her life and job, but for her children’s safety.
2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?
When I was burning out as a federal government bureaucrat and escaping at night to write. I’ve written all my life, and my writing ability helped garner a couple of my promotions. But I’d reached a relatively high position that was political, and I decided life was too darn short. I asked for an early retirement to write, and at 46, I walked out and began writing for a living. I’d written the first draft of Lowcountry Bribe and started FundsforWriters three years earlier, which I had managed part-time. So it took being fed up with the day job to tackle writing as a career. I never looked back. However, disclaimer ahead, I made sure I had health insurance, an emergency fund, and most debts paid in full. I also packed up and moved cross country so my husband could take a promotion to help cover my loss of income. My writing was a family decision and continues to be a family affair.
3. Why did you create the Funds For Writers newsletters and how have they helped build your writing career?
FFW was accidental. I started it to keep from answering so many emails. I was already freelancing online as a hobby back in the 1990s, and a local writers’ group asked me to speak about writing for the Web. The chat turned into complaints about writers earning a living, so I helped advise them on the spot. You see, I knew loans and grants and budgets from working with the federal government. The newsletter grew without my trying. Two months – 200 members. Six months – 1000 members. Today – 45,000 members. Of course the notoriety of being selected by Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers each year for the past 12 years has tremendously helped my platform. Between that, my freelance work, and my speaking engagements, I’ve been able to make FFW thrive. And that reach has helped sell my mystery, Lowcountry Bribe. However, while FFW was accidental in origin, it became precious to me as I realized how much it aided new and mid-level writers. I can’t count the hundreds of thanks I’ve received over the years. It’s so darn rewarding, and it not only keeps me excited, but it also keeps me up to speed on what’s happening in the industry. It has connected me with people who have assisted my own writing career. It’s just a darn good networking tool, in addition to being a great tool to aid writers.
4. What advice would you give to someone trying to start a weekly newsletter?
Pick a theme that POPS. Nothing milk toast. Nothing average. Have a unique idea. Then decide how it will be eye-catching and useful. Then be very consistent with its delivery. In 13 1/2 years, FFW missed two issues – once when I was moving cross country and another when I was in Europe. That’s a lot of Fridays where I delivered come hell or high water, and the readers appreciate it. Consistency can make or break you these days with so much competition.
5. What have you learned through managing Funds For Writers that you’ve been able to apply to fiction?
Let’s see . . . I found contests to enter, which placed my fiction manuscript in the eyes of people, to include agents. My agent signed me up partially because of my earned awards. I’ve learned of freelance markets which I’ve pitched and won. I’ve been invited to innumerable events to speak and sell my books. FFW has been a bridge for me, teaching me the markets, publishers, agents and opportunities for fiction writers. I not only use them myself, but I pass them on via social networking and the newsletters to other writers. Those writers often buy my fiction. It’s just a great cycle. But also, writing so many editorials for FFW newsletters improved my writing 100-fold. I changed my novel to first person simply because I’d honed that perspective so well via my editorials in FFW.
6. When and how did you first come up with the ideas for Lowcountry Bribe?
Lowcountry Bribe started with a bribe offer to a federal employee. I was that employee once upon a time and was offered a bribe. It was hair-raising and stressful. However, the real event wasn’t as dangerous as a mystery commands, so after the bribe offer, I took off with pure fiction and had a ball making up the obstacles for my heroine.The bribe offer was twenty years ago, but I brought it up to speed with technology and made it a suspenseful story. Once I established the characters, the subsequent story was just plain fun.
7. What is the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?
I hate the first draft. Most writers love that part and hate the editing. I’m the opposite. The first draft is like running through mud. However, when I sit down to write fiction, I do not get out of the chair until a chapter is written. Doesn’t matter what time it is. I’m a night owl anyway, but I’ve often written until 3 and 4 in the morning because I was not quitting until I’d ended the chapter. Not sure that’s easier in any way, but it’s what I do. It’s a driving force to reach the end so I can enjoy the edits.
8. Have you ever considered writing fiction in a genre other than murder mystery?
I tried romance shorts for a while. I lost interest. I love the plotting, innuendo, red herrings and double entendre of mystery. I love pitting story against reader, in a genre where the reader is trying to guess the end and out-think the author. I rarely watch movies other than mysteries or suspense. Love that challenge. Why change?
9. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice, what would it be?
Fight not only to write daily, but to write BETTER daily. If editors aren’t buying your work, you’re doing something wrong. We too often try to argue with that truth. Keep struggling to improve until someone bites on your manuscript. Never stop tweaking.
10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?
I am about to enter edits for Book Two of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series and it’s expected out first quarter of 2013. I’m finishing Book Three’s first draft. I’m also trying to outline a new series to run parallel to The Carolina Slade Mystery Series. It’s in very raw stages at this point, having just spoken to the editor about it this week. Then there’s always a nonfiction book I’d love to complete, that’s 40 percent done . . .of course I write on it when the fiction doesn’t interfere with its editing and writing deadlines. In other words, I’ll write fiction until I can no longer write. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure!
About the Author:
C. Hope Clark was born and reared in the South, from Mississippi to South Carolina with a few stints in Alabama and Georgia. The granddaughter of a Mississippi cotton farmer, 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 most of her novels. Her love of writing, however, carried her up the ranks to the ability to retire young, and she left USDA to pen her stories and freelance.
Lowcountry Bribe’s opening chapter took first place in the Phillip Mangelsdorf Award, third place in Alabama Writer’s Conclave Competition and honorable mention in The Writing Show Chapter Competition as judged by bestselling mystery author C. J. Box. The chapter also made finalist status of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense sponsored by Romance Writers of America. The novel enjoyed semi-finalist status (top 100 out of 10,000) in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.
She also currently manages FundsforWriters.com, a weekly newsletter service she founded that reaches 45,000 writers to include university professors, professional journalists and published mystery authors. She’s published in The Writer Magazine, Writer’s Digest, Chicken Soup, Next Step Magazine, College Bound Teen, Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA), TURF Magazine, Landscape Management and other trade and online publications. She speaks at several writers’ conferences a year. Hope is a member of Sisters in Crime, EPIC, and MENSA. She is published by Bell Bridge Books. Her personal website can be found at www.chopeclark.com