I’d like to welcome Michelle Cox to the Sunday blog this week. Michelle Cox holds a B.A. in English literature from Mundelein College, Chicago, and is the author of the award-winning Henrietta and Inspector Howard series. Book two of the series, A Ring of Truth, was released April 2017 with She Writes Press. Cox is also known for her charmingly popular “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” a blog dedicated to Chicago’s forgotten residents. Michelle lives with her husband and three children in the Chicago suburbs.
What genre do you write in and why?
I write historical mysteries because I have a fascination with the past, especially the 1930’s and ‘40’s. In fact, sometimes I think a part of my brain is always somehow there. I so wish I could have lived during those years, but that unfortunately not being the case and not having something handy about, like let’s say a time machine, the only way to get there is to write myself there. And so I do; it’s an immensely fun process.
As for mystery, I shamefully picked that because I naively thought it was a genre that would sell. Regardless of whether that’s true or not (a discussion best had over drinks and in a bigger space than afforded here), I’m really not (full disclosure) a huge mystery fan. For what it’s worth, I was as a kid—Trixie Belden was my perfect heroine! But mystery, as it turns out, is a great genre to work within because it gives your characters something to do and likewise keeps the plot moving nicely.
I should note, though, that as The Henrietta and Inspector Howard series continues to evolve, it’s becoming less a mystery series and more of a straight-up historical fiction series. I think it still works, though. It’s kind of Downton Abbey meets Upstairs, Downstairs with a little mystery thrown in. In my feeble defense, however, I once read that all stories, all novels, are actually mysteries of a sort, and I think that’s true, for obvious reasons.
When do you write? Do you have a set schedule, or do you write when the muse hits you?
I write every morning first thing. When the kids are in school, it’s a little easier, in a lot of ways, because as soon as they’re on the bus at 6:50 am, I grab a coffee and head up to the little office I’ve managed to rustle up in a little alcove off the master bedroom. I’m allowed a quick glance at my inbox and FB page, but barring any emergencies, I’m not allowed to respond to anything. Instead, I force myself to bring up Word and start writing.
I usually try to write for only an hour (I have to force myself to stop!), and then I spend the next six-ish hours on writing my blog, newsletter, guest posts or articles or just general PR stuff until the kids get home. It’s amazing how little time is actually spent working on the actual books!
I’m very disciplined, however, and I write (or edit) every day no matter what, even birthdays and holidays (if I can squeeze it in!) and vacations. You might think it would be easy to write on vacation, but not so much, especially if you have kids. Writing in hotels is really very challenging, especially with everyone crowded into one room. No early morning writing is going on in there, believe me, so instead I find myself sneaking out, laptop under my arm, but to where?
Have you ever noticed how all hotel lobbies either have a TV playing or piped-in music? It’s maddening! I can only write in silence! Thus I’ve been forced on many a family vacation to type in stairwells or darkened ballrooms—that is, before security discovers me and politely escorts me to the breakfast area.
You’re wondering why I don’t just give it up for a week, which is a great question, really. Sadly, however, I find that if I don’t write every day, I tend to get very crabby, which doesn’t really bode well for a day already potentially fraught with frustration as I attempt to herd us all to our pre-determined, exhausting destination of the day, be it a grueling amusement park or the hallowed halls of some crumbling English estate.