An Exclusive Interview with

Dorrie O'Brien

by

Carol Givner

 

Ms. O'Brien, how did Write Way come into existence?


WWP actually began when I was about, oh, about 10 years old, and wanted to own a publishing company. I loved to read and thought it would be really neat to get all these books for free! It hardly worked like that, but the dream did come to fruition in 1993 when I was laid off from the company I'd worked for for a decade.


Are you a writer yourself? If so, what experiences have you found to be most valuable as you fulfill your role as editor?


I did, of course, try to write a novel myself (two are still hiding in a desk drawer), but couldn't come up with any new plots but discovered that I could edit anything anybody put in front of me, so that seemed to be the gift I was given, rather than writing. Thanks to my efforts at writing however, I have nothing but admiration for those who do complete novels -- I think it's the hardest work anybody can do, even if those novels never come out of a desk drawer.


What influenced you to concentrate on publishing genre fiction? Which books did you read as a child, and how did they add direction to your career?


We publish fiction because it's what I know best. I started reading when I was five or six (and already knew I wanted to be a publisher at 10) and had read Treasure Island by age seven and I think I was into Leon Uris (!?) by the time I was 12. And all those dull old school books were non-fiction so I knew that wasn't what I wanted to publish! I did early-on discover a love of history and will still read anything about history, whether fiction or non-fiction, but mysteries have been my first love and will probably continue to be.


What problems did you face and how did you overcome them as a new publisher?


The biggest problem we had as a new small publisher was to overcome the industry's complete disdain for the small publisher. At that time, small publishers were either self-publishing their own books or were putting out trade/mass market paperbacks without foru color covers or author endorsements, they didn't have distributors and couldn't get any reviews. We overcame this problem simply by being better than anyone expected a small press could be.


Fantasy and fairy tale are an integral part of our literary heritage from epic legends to Grimm and Anderson and on to the fantasy writers of the present day. Why are we compelled to seek out the fantastic? To find meaning in the symbolic? What is the ultimate fantasy novel, classic or newly published? Which fairy tale is the most soothing to our questing souls?


I think fairy tale/fantasies & sci-fi books answer a need in all of us (given to us by god for better or for worse, called imagination-- that we can slay dragons and conquer worlds and rescue fair damsels (no matter how vicariously) -- a need that can't be filled in our usual day-to-day job life of filling out forms, renting another apartment, or typing another dang letter for our boss. It's tough to be a hero nowadays, let alone own castles to defend or space ships to guide through space. I would venture to guess that those people who visit/research active volcanos or graph earthquake faults or dig for diamonds or drill for oil or dive for sunken treasure aren't big fantasy readers because their lives are a bit more fantastical than the rest of ours in the first place. I think mysteries will always be popular because they give us something that we again can't get in our everyday lives -- answers. I'm sure that I can't tell you what the ultimate fantasy or sci-fi novel out today (or even yesterday) is the best, but I know we have two titles that I thoroughly love: Wolf's Cub, by Mackay Wood and For the Time Being, by Marie Desjardin.


What is the state of the science fiction market as the new century approaches? Are you seeing an upsurge in the number of millennium proposals?


Oh my, There a certainly a goodly number of Y2K books out there aren't there? I suspect by September 1999 there will be evern more. We don't have any, but then we didn't have enough product to get it into production in time to publish before 1/1/2000. (Which is something of a must, I should think.) There are, though, three titles that disaster lovers might enjoy: 5/5/2000, by Richard Noone; The New Madrid Run, by Michael Reisig, and 8.4(I can't remember the author, but Putman was the publisher.)


Many of our authors write romantic suspense. How can a romance relationship be woven into a thriller to add to the plot and characterization? What might detract? What are the characteristics of an effective, page-turning mystery? What plot still scares you?


When we publish what could be called romantic mysteries (seldom thrillers) we have a 20% romance, 80% mystery limit, since it is the mystery we focus on. As far as we're concerned, any time the romance becomes the story and the mystery is the subplot we won't publish the book. We have two romantic mystery series out now: the Cat Austen/Victor Cardenas mysteries, by Jane Rubino; and the Tory Travers/David Alvarez mysteries by Aileen Schumacher, both of which are perfect examples of the balance we have for mystery/romantic subplot. An effective mystery has its clues placed in such a way that makes you want to know "well, who the hell did this?" If the reader can figure out both the who and the way (many can figure out the who) before the end of the book, it's a poor book. I don't think any plot has ever scared me (at least a mystery plot).
What makes a good manuscript? What qualities would catch your attention in a query letter? What would spell immediate disinterest?


A good query letter has the title, the number of words and the genre in the first paragraph. The second one or two paragraphs has the basic plot, or, better yet, words that could be used as jacket copy. Always think "jacket copy." Millions of readers buy books based on jacket copy--a good query letter should do the same thing. An author should always include chapters one and two and an SASE. (No SASE, no response.) A good manuscript comes in EDITED, 1.5 spaced 12pt font, justified. We turn down even looking at the first two chapters if the work submitted is not in our publishing genres: who-done-it mysteries; soft sci-fi; Arthuriun fantasy; and, soft horror (not occult paranormal or slasher -- well, to put it better, we only want honest-to-God monster stories like Frankenstein or The Birds, etc.). We also look for disaster books like those listed in #9 above, but haven't had any submitted that we've really liked, so far.


What are your goals? What do you hope to accomplish in publishing? Which of your achievements have pleased you most so far?


I would like to see WWP, Inc., gain name recognition (and hey, maybe respect, too) with the likes of the editors at Simon & Schuster, St. Martin's, Random House, Walker.... We hope to continue to put out quality hardback mysteries that will draw in many more big name authors so that we can afford to publish more than 14 titles a year. So far, I've been incredibly pleased with the number of other publishing companies who've bought rights to our books for paperback reprints -- I'd really like a movie deal, next.


What advice would you give a new writer? A new editor?


Advice to the new writer -- keep at it, but have a professional editor (preferably one who's have publishing experience) take a look at your work before you submit it to a publisher. For the new editor -- volunteer your time at any publishing house to hone your craft and read, read, read everything in the genre you one day hope to edit professionally.

You can find Ms. O'Brien at Write Way Publishing, 10555 E. Dartmouth. Aurora, CO 80014. Their website is http://www.writewaypub.com Turn to our Market News in this issue for a summary of their guidelines, which are available in their entirety on the site.