Creative Careerists: Interview with Elizabeth Spann Craig

Creative Careerists is a new, ongoing series on Creative Juicer that features short interviews with successful creatives to learn about their creative process and how they reached their success, whether in art or career.

Do you know an inspiring creative? Nominate someone for an interview by emailing emily [dot] wenstrom [at] gmail [dot] com.

Meet the Creative:
Elizabeth Spann Craig is a mystery author. Elizabeth’s latest book, Quilt or Innocence, released June 5. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently. She blogs at Mystery Writing is Murder.

What does an average day look like for you in your creative career?
I get up before five and start writing as soon as I get my coffee.  I’ll write about thirty minutes and am able to average almost two pages during that time.  Then (after driving school carpools), I’ll start working on promo.  For me, that entails answering emails, writing and responding to blog comments, scheduling tweets, and spending time on Facebook (I have several accounts under different names) and Google +.  I write another 1.5 pages in the carpool line outside the high school around 2 p.m.  After the kids are home from school, my writing day is effectively over. 🙂

How did you get to where you are now in your career? What key moments, decisions or circumstances brought you here?
Honestly, I think luck played a huge role and the longer I work in this business, the luckier I think I was.  I did query agents and publishers for my first project and amassed probably 100 or so agent rejections and probably 25 publisher rejections.  That was for one project, but there were other projects before that–and many rejections. Finally I gave up trying to find an agent and just started researching publishers and sending unsolicited material out. As hard as it is for me to believe now (at the time I didn’t realize what a stroke of luck it was), I got two bites on that project … both from the slush pile.

What excites you most about your work?
I love creating characters.  And I love that moment where I come up with a cool plot twist or a good clue for my mysteries.

What is its greatest challenge for you?
Oh gosh, there are plenty of challenges. For me, it’s a challenge to write, promote, and stay on top of industry changes.  It’s also a challenge to write quickly and cleanly and to make sure I’m delivering what my readers want.  From a family perspective, it’s a challenge for me to put my writing away when I should be engaged in family time.

How do you get your best ideas?
I used to get my best ideas as  unexpected brainstorms out of the blue.  Now I’ve got so many different projects going on at once that I have to actively sit down, pull out a notebook or a fresh Word doc, and focus on creating a list of ideas.

What do you do when you get stuck?
With such a tight schedule, I just have to keep pushing through it. it’s miserable, because you know you’re not writing your best material when you feel that way…but it ends up working out okay.  I go back later and fix everything–sometimes that might mean cutting out the scene that I struggled so hard to write.  Occasionally, if I’m really stuck, I’ll write my book out of order–I’ll write whatever scene that I feel confident about tackling.  When I’m stuck, it’s usually a sign that I’m not certain how to approach a scene.  If I analyze the reasons why that’s the case, then I’m usually able to work through it.

How do you make sure you make time for creativity in your life?
It’s easier because I’m a mom.  The schools are cutting back on the arts because of budget issues, so that means that I  take up the slack.  It also means that *I’m* exposed to theater, ballet,  the symphony, and museum exhibitions.

What advice do you have for other aspiring creatives who want to follow in your footsteps?
I think stubbornness gets a bad rap. 🙂  We have to be pretty determined to pursue art in any way.  There’s a lot that stands in our way–our own schedules, family (and our families may not be comprised of other creatives, so frequently can’t understand us), and the industry itself. Determination helps us focus, I think.  And interacting with the online community of writers is also incredibly important for writers–there we can find support, information, education, and industry news.

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20 thoughts on “Creative Careerists: Interview with Elizabeth Spann Craig

  1. You lost me at ” up before five”. Unless you mean 5pm . .

    I know what you mean about the “get through it” sometimes too. You obviously have a busy schedule, and its great that you know exactly when you will be able to sit and just write. This is good advice for writers on their way thru publication.

    And enjoyable interview.

    ………dhole

  2. Elizabeth,

    Great to see you here! It is always such a boost to hear how other creatives juggle life, art and family. And what you say about luck is so true. I really think, though, that in most cases, it’s when luck and talent intersect. I think, as obvious in your case, you definitely need both. In my experience, it was a crazy weather event that caused my plane to be grounded so I missed one writer’s event, attended another, and found an agent there who expressed interested in my first book. And all because of the Great Seattle Ice Storm. : )

    I love what you say about stubbornness. Whether we call it by its more positive names—determination, persistence—I agree that it’s what pushes us to keep going. Loved getting to know you a little better!

  3. Elizabeth, I only wish I could be as organized as you. But I can see the results in the volume of work you complete. Thank you for letting us get to know you.

  4. Elizabeth: I like what you said about analyzing the reasons why you may be blocked, and re-assessing an approach to a scene. Good advice, and great to get to know you a little better.

    A question, though, about your background: did you end up writing two series for Penguin without an agent? Do you now have an agent?

    • Hi Kathryn,

      I have an agent now…but I did *not* have an agent when negotiating a contract with my first publisher (Midnight Ink.) It was harder to find an agent than it was for me to find a publisher! I sent to the publisher slush piles and got 2 bites that way. By the time I found an agent, I was already in talks with Penguin about a possible series….and that did make the agent search *finally* end.

  5. Pingback: Friday Features #13 | Yesenia Vargas

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