Guest Author: Iain McChesney

Please welcome gothic mystery author Iain McChesney to the blog today! He has some invaluable wisdom about plotting vs. pantsing, and a helpful reminder for the editing process 😉 In fact… just about all his answers are winners, so check them out!

If you are interested in being a Guest Author, please check out this page.

Iain McChesney

iain-author-portrait-e1372837185415Tell us your name, and a link to where we can find you (blog, Facebook, etc).

A: Hi Sarah. Nice to meet you and your readers. Thank you for having me on.  Where can you find me? I have the obligatory author site – – which should be relatively up-to-date. There are occasional giveaways, promos, and competitions. I’m on Facebook too (they don’t let you not be) at Feel free to drop by and say hello. Since I’m dropping cards I’ll mention too that you can sign up for the mailing list of my publisher – You’ll be among the first to be alerted when a new book comes out. Is that enough self promoting for now? 🙂


How many books have you written? This can include both published and unpublished works. Describe each of them in 1-2 sentences apiece (if published, feel free to include the links as well).

The Curse of Malenfer Manor is my first published novel. It’s a Gothic mystery.  What is a Gothic mystery?  Oh you know. Old spooky house, mysterious heroine, hero with a dark past, something wicked out to get them both… and then the candle blows out.


Tell me a little bit about your current WIP.

I’ve got two irons in the fire.  Krator I promised the kids. It is a genre jump, so my publisher is not as keen. :-p  The Calling (or whatever it ends up being called – for the title of Malenfer I put it to a vote on the blog) will be another Gothic mystery. Anyone who enjoys Malenfer will find The Calling to their taste. In Tweet speak: A varied group is invited by a reclusive industrialist to a remote Scottish island in the 1920’s. Bad things happen.


What does writing preparation look like for you? Do you do full outlines and character profiles, or do you just start with a general idea and write?

What you are asking is whether I am a plotter or a seat of my pantser. I thought I was a pantser – make it up as I go along. I wrote Malenfer with a pantser’s methodology and I remain, in a sense, one at heart. But let me tell you, there is a lot of road kill as a pantser. The clean up in the editorial stage made writing the book twice the work. I’m guessing I wrote a solid 150,000 words for this novel of which almost half was put in recycling. That was my experience of writing free thought – it worked, but it went everywhere, and everywhere wasn’t good. I have since adapted. I haven’t gone entirely the other way, though. I heard a story that William Golding, of Lord of the Flies fame, was so detailed in his planning that when he was finally ready to write, he sat down and wrote the book straight through. One sitting. Urban legend? I don’t know. But that is not me. What I am happy with (at time of press) is a ‘goalpost’ process of writing. I have enough of a plot that I know who I want in a chapter and where they have to get to by the end of the next twelve pages – what hints or events need to take place, where they must go. Then I let it fly. I give the characters their freedom so long as they pass through the goalposts at the end. It works for me.


Editing is a challenge for many writers. Give us some of your tips for editing efficiently and well.

Make sure you have a lot of ice on hand.  There is nothing worse than running out of ice and your drink (or headache bag) is crying out for a refill.  Another tip is to write down the names of your children on a handy notepad so that when you are finished editing – moons and moons and long hours later – you don’t embarrass yourself by forgetting.


small MM coverResearch is another challenge writers face, but is an important part of the writing process. What are some of your research tips?

Goodness. That is some question. I don’t know really. I mean it obviously depends on what your book is about.  Most writers I know are imaginative and descriptive sorts, and that plus a bit of empathy makes almost anything real. What you have to be careful about is the understanding, the knowledge base, that your audience possesses.  Readers, in my experience, will buy into any story – they want to be carried away – and in genre writing there are expectations that when fulfilled help cement a trust that you know what you are doing.  But the illusion dissolves when something seems fake.  What am I trying to get at?  Just that it is okay to have space ships do warp jumps in science fiction but you’ll get nasty reviews if your 1940’s cars zoom at 20mph over their engineered speed.  I’m sure any writer watches shows and reads in their genre, and if you don’t (or if you don’t think you have a genre) then you are wrong on both accounts. A few well researched and expressed facts buy you a lot of line.  I want to read E.L. James answer to this question.


if you have been published (self or traditionally), what type of marketing did you find worked the best for you? What was the least helpful?

That, Sarah, is the million dollar question.  How do you sell your book?  How many titles on Amazon today? How many being added weekly?  I don’t think anyone knows what works best to push a book in this brave new world of digital, or everyone thinks they have the answer. What I hear again and again is volume breeds brand.  Write something then write another. Then another.  Then another (but write the same thing and stick to a genre).  I get it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a little dry.  And limiting.  Still, no one is stopping me or any of your reader writers from doing whatever we want, but know that if you walk your own path you are not making your publisher happy.  If you like *this* you’ll like *this* is here to stay.


What genre do you write in? What are some of the challenges to writing this particular genre well?

I do Gothic historical mystery romances (try saying that with your mouth full) – and I didn’t even know I was doing it.  I was recently given a level 1 heat rating from Steamy Romance Books. What the heck is a level 1? Does that mean we are going steady?


What advice would you give to a writer who is starting out?

Don’t quit your day job.  And don’t quit.  You know what was good for me? No? I’ll tell you.  I had always wanted to write and did in bits and bobs.  What I think I had was a length block – that is, I was in awe and fear of something as long as a novel.  Doing the NaNoWrMo thing helped me get over that, I would genuinely recommend doing that to anyone trying to write.  It gives you an idea of the grind, the sit on your pants and crank the pages. It helps you get a sense of the writing habit.


What are your writing, editing, marketing, and research goals for 2013?

More sleep. Win the lottery. Pick up after the dog more than once a week in the garden.  Write something that makes someone cry, somewhere, and something else that makes someone laugh. Sell a million. Plant some flowers. Everything else is between the ears.


Pretend I am from a publishing house and you are looking for me to take on one of your books. Pitch it to me in 1-2 paragraphs.

Forgive me if I decline.  I hated pitching.  There are some great (and awful) web pages devoted to the art form and demeaning necessity that is grovelling to be published.  I am looking forward to postponing this noxious chore as long as humanly possible.


Finally, is there anything else you would like your readers to know?

Only that the therapy is going well and that no animals were hurt in this production. Read widely. Write worth.

2 thoughts on “Guest Author: Iain McChesney

  1. Excellent! One of the best interviews I’ve read all year! My favorite point: while editing put your kids names on a post-it so you don’t forget. Fantastic! I would add roommate, partner, spouse and dog to that list.

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