Meet the Writer: Tess Makovesky

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Meet the Writer: Tess Makovesky

I want to thank Tess Makovesky for stopping by Grab the Lapels to discuss her writer life! Tess maintains a website where you can learn more about her writing and a blog to update readers on her life and work. If you like what you see, follow Tess on Facebook or Twitter!

Do you know someone who would like to be featured at Grab the Lapels? Send her my way so she can participate in the Meet the Writer feature!


Grab the Lapels: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Tess Makovesky: I wrote my first story, about a mouse having an adventure, aged five, and promptly announced to my family that I wanted to be a writer. They laughed indulgently, but actually it awoke a quiet but life-long passion and I really meant it. Sadly, it didn’t happen for many years as I had to go out to work to support myself, but I used to daydream about being a writer even while I was doing the chores or getting the bus to work.

Then two things happened which changed my life. The first was an injury at work which left me with a permanent disability in my right hand. It makes typing at 60 words-per-minute just about impossible and since I was a secretary at the time, you can imagine the result! Luckily, the second change was meeting my long-suffering Other Half, who has supported me ever since and given me the wonderful opportunity to practice and develop my writing.

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GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?

TM: My writing has developed out of all recognition. When I first started, I was still in “essay-writing” mode and found it hard to use colourful, creative language, and to write anything other than brief, concise reports. My early attempts at writing featured long waffly novels because I didn’t realise there were any other forms. Then a local writers’ group introduced me to the concept of the short story, and suddenly something clicked. I could write creatively, but still be concise.

Since then I’ve written hundreds of short stories and been lucky enough to have many of them published. (There’s an example, called ‘The Floor’s the Limit,’ available to read free in Out of the Gutter Online here). More recently, I’ve realized that if I string a number of “short stories” together, in the form of separate but thematically-linked chapters, then I can develop longer pieces of work without giving up on my trade-mark snappy style. This is the format I chose for my newly-published novella Raise the Blade, which features sections from the point of view of seven or eight different characters. None of them seem to be linked at first, but gradually you realise that there is a link – and that link is a psychopathic serial killer.

I’ve also taken a journey through various genres, starting with my first love of gritty crime, moving on to romance and erotica (under a different pen name) and finally coming full circle back to darkly humorous noir. The romance/erotica was less successful for me because I kept trying to include dark, gritty aspects that I’m not sure the readers appreciated! I’m much happier with the grim reality of crime, which lets me explore character motivations and psychology to my heart’s content.

GTL: What happens when you’re not happy with your writing?

TM: Well, for starters I get very grumpy. Like many creative people I have an unstoppable urge to give birth to my ideas, and if anything interrupts that process then watch out! It can also make me quite depressed – something I suspect a lot of writers are prone to.

If I’ve already written something but I’m still not happy with it, it nags me like an aching tooth. I know it’s not right; I know the character wouldn’t say something like that, or act in that particular way; or I know that the language I’ve used is clumsy or formulaic. At that point I either sit and stare at the screen in complete frustration for hours, or walk away and leave it to fester for a while. If I’m lucky, a solution suggests itself and I can get going again – although sometimes that process can take days, weeks, or even months.

GTL: What is your writing process like? Which do you favor, starting or revising?

TM: I’m a real “pantser” (flying by the seat of my pants) in that I tend to do little or no advance planning. I get an idea, a title, a first line, and a general idea of the direction/ending I want to head towards, and then I just plunge in. It can lead to disaster, but I find that too much additional plotting, planning and note-making sucks all my creative energy and I have nothing left to actually write the book!

I almost always write chronologically, starting at the beginning and muddling through until I reach what I’m happy with as the end. However, if my characters take over and run off with the plot, I do sometimes go back and add extra sections, paragraphs, or even whole chapters earlier on.

Being something of a perfectionist I used to edit as I went along, but realized that it was slowing me down, and sometimes meant I didn’t finish a piece because I got bogged down in depressing minutiae. Now I tend to write fast, first, and go back and edit later. Sometimes it leads me to think “what the hell was I thinking?” but mostly it seems to work!

GTL: How has your writing process evolved?

TM: When I first started writing I hand-wrote everything, painfully thanks to my wrist injury, and then typed it up when I was reasonably happy with it. Over time the keyboard took over more and more, and now I type everything straight onto the screen, and will only resort to pen and paper if I need to fiddle with a brief section that’s fighting back. Or to sort out something that requires mathematics, since my grasp of numbers is terrible! In Raise the Blade there’s a complex structure where each character discovers the body of the victim before them, and I simply could not keep track of that at all! In the end I had to make a list of exactly who had found whom, and where; otherwise, I’d have ended up in a complete muddle.

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GTL: Do you have a relationship with book bloggers? Why or why not? If yes, what is it like?

TM: I think book bloggers are wonderful! But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? Heh, seriously, I think bloggers and writers often have a great symbiotic relationship where writers provide the source material, and bloggers help to introduce it to the reading public.

Done well, it benefits both. The bloggers develop their own supportive group of readers and gain access to a far greater range of reading material than they might if they were just shopping at their local book store. And the writers get a conduit between themselves and new readers, who might never otherwise come across their work.

However, as a note of caution, it can sometimes go wrong. I know of cases where bloggers and/or reviewers in general have made damningly negative comments about books, sometimes factually incorrect, which have gone on to blight a writer’s entire career. I’m not for one moment suggesting that bloggers should gush about every book they read, as that would be both dishonest and dull! But I do think it’s important for the relationship to be mutually supportive. Without bloggers, authors wouldn’t have as many readers, but without authors, bloggers wouldn’t have as many books.

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About Grab the Lapels

I'm a graduate of the MFA fiction writing program at the University of Notre Dame. I also have a MA and BS from Central Michigan University. I teach composition, creative writing, and literature, which has inspired me to follow along with trends in teaching, publishing, and reviewing.

22 responses »

  1. As usual, you’ve come up with an in depth and insightful author interview. I’m glad though I mostly blog about old books as I wouldn’t like being seen as ‘supportive’ of a current author. Now I’ll go and follow the link to the free story.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Cool! Thanks for stopping by! And old book reviews are excellent, too. Frequently, a contemporary look at an old text makes me rethink whether or not I should read a book that previously sounded dreary to me.

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    • I don’t think you will. Book reviewers have to be responsible, ethical people. Publishing ideas online is so easy 2016, but that doesn’t mean the writer shouldn’t be held accountable for those ideas.

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  2. Insightful interview about one way to write. Glad your persistence is bearing fruit, Tess. I’m a plotter, though often the plot is only a route map, not detailed, and research and characters can provide the additional creativity to keep it interesting (I hope!) Yes, I think trying more than one genre is good for a writer – and reader, come to that!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A great interview – you do ask interesting questions, and get interesting answers! However, nope to the last answer – mutually supportive is not something reviewers should ever be if they want people to trust their reviews. Reviewers who never criticise are the reverse of the boy who cried wolf – no-one will believe their reviews are honest or insightful. And no publisher, nor NetGalley or Amazon Vine, ever asks a reviewer to hold back on criticism if it’s genuinely felt. TBH, this is why I very rarely review self-published books – I don’t want a relationship of any kind with the writers I review. Say, seven or eight hours work for the price of a paperback? It’s not worth losing my integrity for…

    I make an exception for people I knew as bloggers before I read their book, but I always slap a huge health warning on my review and warn readers to beware of my likely bias…

    Liked by 3 people

    • You do make it very clear if you know the writer, which I appreciate as a reader! I think developing relationships with bloggers can come in the form the author also blogging, like Margot Kinberg does. Unfortunately, I’ve lost friends over reviews that the writer/friend didn’t like (and once was e-stalked for months). I hear what you’re saying for sure, FF. My interest is in book bloggers vs traditional reviews in e-zines, magazines, etc. Basically, mutually supportive can mean the small press writer community by reading their books (I’m not so much into self-published authors myself (see above e-stalking comment)) and those writers can support bloggers by agreeing to do interviews and guest posts. I’m not sure how Tess interprets her comment, but this is what I think.

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      • E-stalked! It’s ridiculous really – I don’t know why people go into a field like writing if they’re not prepared to handle criticism. I’ve had a few rude comments left on reviews on Amazons and Goodreads from disgruntled authors, and one (a rather well known one, with a reputation for harassing reviewers) tracked down my e-mail address through my blog and sent me a couple of pretty horrific e-mails, till I told him I’d be passing them to my (mythical) lawyer. On the whole, I try not to give wholly negative reviews to debut authors, but I do think part of being reviewer is to be honest about saying when a book is “bad”, so long as I give reasons for my opinion so other people can decide whether the things I disliked would bother them. For example, I hate a lot of swearing in books but loads of other people wouldn’t be put off by that.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This was very interesting! The writing process is fascinating, and she gave such clear and thoughtful answers. I wonder if by mutually supportive relationships between bloggers and writers that she meant constructive criticism. I know that if there’s something about a book that bothers me I will try to also include something positive. (And if I really hate a book, I’ll often abandon it and then not even write a review of it.)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This was very interesting! I haven’t read any of her books but I might want to. Raise The Blade sounds interesting. She’s right about bloggers though. I know a few who rip the book apart when the author is of a race/community they don’t like that’s such a no no.

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  6. I’ve made connections with several authors through my blog and especially on Twitter. It’s such a rewarding experience! I try to be honest, but in a polite and diplomatic way. If I had several negative things to say about a book, I’d rather not review it. :/

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  7. Wonderful, insightful interview. I liked the part about book bloggers. Its unfortunate to find out that there bloggers who have ruined careers like that. I always try to balance my reviews even if I don’t like a book much. I try to include some positives too. She is right about the symbiotic relationship. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

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