Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
V.S. McGrath is the author of the completed four-book fantasy Western/Weird West series The Devil’s Revolver, which follows the story of a young woman on a desperado quest to save her sister with the help of a cursed gun that takes a year off her life for every person she kills. The final book, The Legend of Diablo, is available now wherever you buy books and ebooks.
Vicki has also written six contemporary romances for Harlequin Superromance under the penname Vicki Essex.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
I’ve seen all kinds of “mistakes” in books, from glaring plot holes to a clear lack of editing or revision. There is no end to the number of mistakes a writer can make.
The biggest mistake a writer can make, though, is completely ignoring an editor’s suggestions. This is not to say that an editor’s opinion can’t be wrong, but their job is to help make a book better. I’ve heard stories about writers who absolutely refuse to make any changes for the sake of their “art” or because they’re unwilling to put in the time and work. Publishing is a business, and unless a writer is willing to accept low sales or poor reviews, they need to consider their editorial revisions.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
As a general rule, I don’t read many reviews because when they range from 1 to 5 stars, and can be based on something as trivial as “I didn’t like the font” or “my book didn’t ship right away” they aren’t terribly helpful.
At the same time, when someone does write a more thoughtful negative review, I do remind myself that my writing is not sacred. Art is subjective. Once I’ve hit send and the book is published, it becomes the domain of the reader. Regardless of my intentions, their opinion is just as valid as a positive reviewer’s, however unjustified or biased.
If I get a review that I feel is unfair, I remind myself that I don’t have control of perceptions, only of the work. I’ve learned to not take any review or criticism to heart too seriously, especially when it’s a matter of opinion.
How has your creation process improved over time?
Understanding structure and beats and learning the craft of writing has made me a faster writer in that I can see the path my story will take a little more clearly. What happens along the way still surprises me, but knowing how the reversals and turns and changes will happen has given me a better sense of how to direct my character’s actions, especially when I’m stuck.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
I write for pleasure, but it’s also work, which means I do push through even if I’m not always in the best mood or would rather be doing anything else. I’m highly conscious of the fact that being able to tell stories in this way is a privilege: it means I have time, resources, skills and access that give me the freedom to create.
For me, emotion’s effect on creativity is not a simple matter of “I write happy scenes when I’m happy and sad scenes when I’m sad”: rather, it is a matter of stability, whether it’s mental, physical, financial, emotional, and so forth. Stability in all the realms of my life allows me to access a full range of emotions I can tailor to my work at will. It means I can write sad scenes when I’m happy, or happy scenes when I’m enraged, all while not have to worry about starving in the meantime.
When my stability in any of these areas is threatened, it is much harder to be creative and do the work. Being sick, worrying about paying the bills, having mental health issues or any kind of stress absolutely affects my output. And as cynical as it may sound, financial stability is probably the one area that impacts all the other areas the most. This is why I am leery of the clichés of the “starving artist” or the “depressed/emotional genius”—happy artists, or at least stable ones, create good art. Sad and starving artists also create good art, but are unhappy and starving, and could probably make more good art if they weren’t miserable and hungry.
Money helps writers eat, get medical care, afford mental health care, feel validated, and just be well in general. Bottom line: if you like art, pay artists so they can make more great art for you.
What are your plans for future books?
I’m currently working on a Victorian ghost story that’s set in a contemporary, run-down shopping mall. A homeless med student who can see ghosts quits her university program and moves into an abandoned nook in a run-down shopping mall, where she tries to unravel the mystery behind the spirit haunting the mall’s antique carousel. It’s Mallrats meets The Sixth Sense meets The Haunting. It’s a story about liminal spaces and the way we find and inhabit niches in order to survive and thrive. Kind of like my career.