On Nov. 6, we had a wonderful chat with author Abby L. Vandiver as part of our celebration of National Novel Writing Month at our Come Write-In Online event.
Abby L. Vandiver was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and has been a lifelong resident of Northeast Ohio. A former lawyer and college professor, she has a bachelor’s degree in Economics, a master’s in Public Administration, and a Juris Doctor. Abby has also been a Writer-in-Residence at her local library and works with Literary Cleveland.
A Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and international best-selling author, Ms. Vandiver has had success in both self-publishing and traditional publishing and has written more than thirty books and short stories under her own name and as Abby Collette. Her most recent novel, A Deadly Inside Scoop, was published by Penguin Berkley in Spring 2020, and she has two books coming out this week: Body and Soul Food and an edited anthology, Midnight Hour: A Chilling Anthology of Crime Fiction from 20 Authors of Color. You can visit her online at authorabby.com.
Our conversation with Abby covered a wide range of topics, from her writing process to advice to aspiring writers.
According to Abby, she can (and regularly does!) write a book in 21 days – “from idea to done” – at a rate of 3-4,000 words/day. NaNoWriMo came along after she knew she could write a book in (under) 30 days, so she hasn’t participated in the annual event. However, her advice is if she can write a book in under a month, “so can you!” She writes when she has the time, “hit or miss,” and has been known to write ideas on the backs of receipts or whatever paper happens to be available. She has aspirations to have a regular schedule, but, honestly, she believes the best advice for anyone is “write when you can.”
Abby shared that one of the hardest parts of her writing, since she is primarily an author of mysteries, is how to get the ending right. She will often write the last chapter first. She then knows how the killer got caught. The hard part then comes in figuring out “how did they get caught?” “Now I have to do that!” she said. This is the part that is “reader interactive” for her, in finding the best way to drop clues into the story.
Her favorite part of writing is when a book is done!
When asked if she keeps her readers in mind when she’s composing the book and writing, she had some excellent advice. She said she always keeps the reader in mind and makes a habit of reading her 1- and 2-star reviews online. Abby mentioned that sometimes reviewers just want to be mean, but other times they have very good critiques. She said she wants her books to get better each time, and readers have provided some very good feedback that she has taken to heart.
Her process of coming up with the ideas for her mysteries involves getting the basics down: Who done it? Who was killed? Who are the five suspects? and so on. She also shared how important the names of characters are to the story. Especially if she’s looking for a particular character who may be Polish or Italian, for example, she will go through lists of names, sometimes with her collaborator. She will make a list of first names, then last names, then combinations of both, until the perfect name is found. “Joe” is a favorite name so she tries not to overuse that one. She will also ask people she meets if she can use their name in a book if she finds it intriguing. She’s never been turned down.
Abby also shared her perspective as a hybrid author, engaging in both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Her first traditionally published book was 2018’s Secrets, Lies, & Crawfish Pies (published by Henery Press). The big change for her was going from a 35-50,000-word self-published work to a 75-90,000-word novel traditionally published (the average number of words a traditional publisher requires). When asked how she made the transition, Abby mentioned her solution was to put a sub-plot into the novel! Voila, an extra 40,000 words or so to tell that part of the story!
Abby didn’t start out wanting to be a writer, not one of those who dreams of being a writer from an early age. After getting sick and having to take it easy, she decided to try her hand at writing then turned to self-publishing. She also encouraged people to truly self-publish their work, from cover design, formatting, and the entire process. She made it sound easy! She also teaches classes on self-publishing through the Cuyahoga County Public Library’s Skirball Writers’ Center. Check out her workshops there!
It was an inspiring conversation, and we greatly appreciate Abby Vandiver taking the time to speak with us during everyone’s favorite month-long writing challenge. She also encouraged people to follow her on social media, contact her with questions, and attend her free workshops. You just might get inspired, too!