Your novels often are set in two different time periods. Tell us a little bit about your research process, which must be double for researching the modern and historical periods.
I spend about three months to a year or more researching… during that time I keep a handwritten journal for the main character where I also make notes on the research. When I’m ready to write I close the journal and rarely go back to it. The most number of periods I had on one book was in The Book of Lost Fragrances where I had 4 different and kept crazy charts and lists and drove myself insane.
I read that you were inspired to write THE REINCARNATIONIST because family lore has you telling a story as three year old about Russia. Your great grandfather was a Jewish scholar, and took your story seriously. Do we see him in any of the characters in your novels? How did this family background translate into your work?
He was quite a character. Pretty mean, nasty and a miser. He invented Ajax cleaner and sold it to P&G in the 1950s. He also created Kosciusko mustard which was sold in a clear beer mug-like jar. He hasn’t figured into any of my novels – I tend not to write about people I know or situations that have happened to me. I write about what I don’t know but want to learn.
You've always had a love of art - be it painting yourself, or visiting museums. For THE HYPNOTIST, you spent a lot of time talking to a very high up member of the FBI Art Crime Team. What it everything we imagine it to be from the movies?
In many ways yes except for how much boredom he described. The movies have to cut all that out or we’d all fall asleep.
I love your use of scent memory throughout the series, and the description of old perfumes, formulas and ingredients - that research had to be fun. Did you get to experience any of these in person? What is your favorite perfume?
I loved that research – it actually started years before when I was in advertising and worked on the launch of Charles of the Rtiz perfume from idea to on sale. While doing research one of the perfume historians I worked with sent me dozens of samples of the old fragrances. I fell in love and I started to collect - its not a hobby I’d suggest as it’s painful when you see a bottle you want going on eBay for thousands of dollars when your limit is under $100. My favorite vintage is Guerlain’s Column D’Or. I have a quarter of a bottle from 1946 and keep it in the dark. My favorite current is Van Cleef and Arpels Orchidee Vanille.
Tackling a famous historical figure (Victor Hugo) as a protagonist in SEDUCTION is a slight departure for you. How did writing him differ from writing your completely fictional protagonists?
We sold the book before it was written and when it was time to write - I panicked. Sure I had made a huge huge mistake. How dare I take on Hugo?! And not only take him on – but write a journal in his voice? He was a genius. How could I even begin to conjure him? I wanted to buy my contract back but my wonderful agent convinced me to read Hugo’s letters first. Dan (Dan Conaway, Writers House) thought the letters might show a man who was easier to relate to than the brilliant novelist who wrote Les Miserables. Dan was right. Hugo was more accessible as a man writing to his son or friend or mistress. It was through those letters, he came to life for me in a way that made me think I could take on the book. But then when I sat down at my computer. I froze again. There I was. Trying to write what a 19th century novelist and poet would be writing to a woman he’d had an intimate relationship with. And doing it on a 21st century lap top. After many false tries, something clicked. I picked up a pen ,a bottle of ink and a notebook and started writing the way Hugo would have written. Longhand. And 120,000 words later…. I finally put down the pen. It was an astonishing experience. Not sure I want to do it too soon again – but it was the only way I think I could have written this book.
You've written thirteen books, how do you feel your writing has changed from your first novel, LIP SERVICE, which you self-published? What did you learn from that experience? What’s your advice for other authors on self publishing?
Hopefully I’ve grown and evolved but I don’t go back and read my old novels so I don’t know.
When it comes to self-publishing and traditional publishing its changed a lot since 1998 when I did it so what I learned wouldn’t really be that relevant anymore – except to say that whether you are traditionally published or self published the important things are the same- no one can buy your book if they don’t know it exists and because of the internet no book every dies.
Whether to self publish or not has so much to do with your personality, how you want to spend your time, what your goals are…. I think every kind of publishing is like a lottery. Self or traditionally - few of us will win big.
So I think its important focused on the process and not just end result. To love “writing” as much as “having written”.
You've said before that your least favorite part of being an author is the marketing. Has your background in advertising helped with that at all?
Yes it’s because I’ve been in advertising my whole life and run a marketing company for authors that it is my least favorite part. I’m much better doing it for everyone else
You're a founding member of ITW (International Thriller Writers). Can you tell us a little bit about the organization, and how you got involved?
In 2004, at Bouchercon in Toronto, I was invited to an informal meeting with David Morrell, Gayle Lynds, Lee Child and about thirty other authors. The subject was how to bring more attention to thriller authors and their books in innovative ways. The challenge appealed to me and I signed on. It has been wonderful to watch the organization grow from that small group to over 2000 authors who together have sold billions of books. Come to Thrillerfest – it’s from July 10th to 13th in NYC.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE SCENT MEMORY? Tell us or comment on the interview by using the Comments box further down on this page, or commenting on this blog entry on our Facebook page and be entered to win a copy of SEDUCTION!
QUICKIES WITH M.J.:
Writing ambience? Still. Scented. Green.
To outline or not to outline: Some outline.
Reading now: APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA by John O'Hara.
Book or eReader? Both.
Book she wishes she could read again for the first time: REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier.
Favorite sentence she's ever written: Written By M.J. Rose.
Where she'd time travel: I'd like to visit the Tsar's palace before the revolution. My great great grandfather was the clock repairman for Tsar Nicholas.
Greatest fear: Pain and illness for me and those I love.
Favorite online resource: http://1000fragrances.blogspot.com
One thing she wishes she'd known when she started writing: Writing is an art, publishing is a busines and an oft broken business at that.
If she could have one superpower: Making medical miracles...not sure any super hero has that power but that's the one I want.