Write On, Wednesday: Interview with Simone St. James–Ghosts, Books, Agents, & More

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By Leslie Lindsay

I am super-excited to share a new-to-me author, award-winning Simone St. James. She writes gothic ghost stories that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Toss in a little love and a great setting—the lost era of the 1920s—and you’re in for a very compelling read.

Leslie Lindsay: Simone, thanks so very much for being with us today. I must admit to just now reading your 2012 debut, THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE and I love it! It’s dark, it’s gritty, and it definitely makes me think. But not just anyone can pull off a ghost story without it appearing contrived. What kind of research did you do to fully

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understand ghosts and ghost hunting in the 1920s?

Simone St. James: Hi Leslie, thanks for having me!

The idea for MADDY CLARE wasn’t based on any specific historical fact. People were as fascinated by ghosts in the 1920’s as they are today. There were psychical research societies, though they were considered eccentric and not taken seriously. I started with the idea of the heroine being assigned to assist an eccentric ghost hunter by her temp agency, and the story grew from there.

Leslie Lindsay: Have you ever had any personal connections to ghosts?  

Simone St. James: I’ve never seen a ghost, and the thought of it terrifies me. I figured that if it terrifies me, it might terrify a few readers as well, and that’s what I draw on. However, since the books have been published I find a lot of people want to tell me their personal ghost stories, and I love to hear them.

Leslie Lindsay: What advice would you give to a writer who wants to incorporate ghostly happenings into her work?

Simone St. James: There are two things about ghost stories: One, the “rules” are whatever you want them to be – can the ghost physically touch things? Does it speak? As a writer, you get to re-invent that with every book, which is fun. Two, the challenge is always giving a reason why your characters don’t just pack up and get the heck out of there! You have to motivate them to stay. You have to get creative.

Leslie Lindsay: I know you have a background in television—and the two are close cousins—but how did you eventually break in to writing?

Simone St. James: I broke into writing by coming home from work and writing manuscript after manuscript in my off hours, on my weekends and holidays. My first manuscripts were rejected, but I kept going. Eventually, my agent found MADDY CLARE in her slush pile. She loved the The Haunting of Maddy Clarebook and took me on, and the rest happened from there.

Leslie Lindsay: I understand you’re Canadian and I can’t imagine the process of acquiring a literary agent is all that different from country to country, but what did you feel you did “right” and what could you have done better when it came to getting an agent?

Simone St. James: No, the process *isn’t* different. With the manuscript of MADDY CLARE, I looked up the agent of an author I felt had written a similar sort of book (many authors mention their agents on their websites in the acknowledgment pages of their books), and queried her, as well as a few others I felt were highly regarded and capable of selling it. I queried agents only, no publishers. I got a number of rejections and non-responses, but the agent I had targeted was the one who loved the book.

As for doing something better, I queried agents when my first two books weren’t really ready for publication. It’s a common mistake for new writers, and all it got me was rejection.

Leslie Lindsay: As for the process of writing, do you follow the pen or do you follow a carefully crafted outline?

Simone St. James: I’m still refining my process. I try to do at least a rough outline, because that way I don’t write myself into a corner, but I also like to discover plot points and ideas as I go. What often happens is that I write the first sixty or seventy pages blind, just following an idea, and when I start to get a clear view of it I stop and sketch out the rest. That said, each book is different – some of them just pop up, and others really fight you – so I don’t follow any hard and fast rules.

Leslie Lindsay: What is currently obsessing you?

Simone St. James: Oh, I love this question! I could go on and on. In books, I just read a ghost story called I REMEMBER YOU by an Icelandic author named Yrsa Sigurdardottir. It’s set in Iceland and it was so scary I couldn’t read anything else for two days. It’s made me seek out more Icelandic fiction, which is fantastic. In television, I’m obsessed with the BBC’s Sherlock and, like millions of others, Game of Thrones – I read the books years ago and I love watching it on screen.

Leslie Lindsay: What are you working on next?

Slience-for-the-Dead-Web-350Simone St. James: My next book (out April 2015) is called THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT. It’s about a spirit medium in 1920’s London who is drawn into the murder investigation of her greatest rival, and she’s paired up with a man whose job is to investigate and debunk psychics like herself. I’m revising it now and I’m very excited about it.

Leslie Lindsay: Ooh! I think I’m hooked!!

For more information, head over to Simone’s Social Media:

Bio: Simone St. James is a lifelong reader of ghost stories and other spooky reads, but it wasn’t until she was an adult that she discovered two wonderful genres: romances and old, classic gothics.

Wishing she could read something that combined the three, with a 1920′s setting thrown in as well (and having written two full novels that were rightfully rejected everywhere and will forever live under the bed), she wrote THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE, which was the book she really wished to read. An agent’s representation and a publishing contract soon followed, and she has been happily writing in her chosen, made-up genre ever since. THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE won two of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® awards, as well as Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Book. [author image and bio taken from her website on 5.13.14]

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