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Inkwell Inspirations: An Interview with Mo Conlan, author of The Lost Books

Conlan 1

I began my career as a writer when I became a “story gobbler” at an early age. I began reading through the entire children’s section of the library and moved on.

I worked for more than thirty years as a journalist, wearing various hats on my hometown newspaper. It was still thrilling to be in newspapers, working with a bunch of smart idealists and word nerds.

One of the highlights, during my stint as Books Editor, was riding in the back seat of a car with author Wolfe. He wore his crumpled white linen suit. When he got over being shy, the wit just poured out of his mouth.

One of my first jobs was editor of a weekly newspaper whose Dickensian offices were in an old poultry shop. One New Year’s Eve, I was working in the paste-up department working on the next day’s edition when I pivoted just as a colleague thrust his X-Acto Knife. The blade went into my butt up to the hilt. Lots of blood, which I staunched with toilet paper. I finished paste-up and then went to the emergency room.

Since leaving newspaper work, I have been writing poetry and fiction and editing books.

I have a close extended family. Some of my siblings still call me Maureen, reminiscent of the days when I was a quiet mouse in a starched white blouse and brown uniform, scared by the nuns at Catholic School. That kind of upbringing almost guarantees you will become a writer.

You can buy The Lost Books here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

It came rather easily, drawn from my subject: The Lost Books. That phrase, I believe, holds mystery and meaning—to attract readers who love books. I added the tag Romance and Adventure in Tudor Times to place the book in history and to promise readers two things they like: romance and adventure. I thought about more “clever” titles, but decided this one fit best.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

It was a stunning moment. I love the beauty of the cover and the feel of the book in my hand. My book! Ah!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

For me, books have been more faithful than some friends, comfort in a sometimes-lonely childhood. They are, to me, more real than religion—I learned compassion early from Dickens and Hugo. And they are more instructive than most of my school days. I learned about the history of my ancestors, the Irish, and their terrible oppression by the British from reading Leon Uris’s Trinity. These characters and their stories and lessons stay with me. Currently I am enjoying audiobooks—rediscovering the genius of Agatha Christie, M.C. Beaton, and the humor and consummate “wordsmanship” of P.G. Wodehouse. I continue to be entertained and also to learn from these writers. I keep wondering how Michael Connelly’s novels can be so riveting when he breaks so many “commands” of the story arc. Good writers can break the rules.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I am also an artist and was recently featured in the Poetry East magazine. When I become immersed in writing, my art is a place to refuel. I love to create with words or paint. One of my favorite art projects was to make dolls out of discards and detritus—bottles, used coffee filters, scraps of fabric, interesting packaging materials. The art hangs on my walls, the dolls live in various rooms. (My two cats try to “work” with me, whether it is typing or painting!)

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

I loved the ease of working through the creation of the book—from cover design to final edit. The professionals I worked with were fun, knowledgeable, and keen to help me produce the best book possible. This is 180 degrees from what I have experienced and heard of in the old ways of publishing. In traditional publishing, you are merely a means to an end for publishers—they want you to produce books to make them money. In the new hybrid model, you, the author, and your book are their sole concern and mission. They help you create your book; you, then, can make money with it, or just enshrine it in your home. My book is selling, but I never expect to make a fortune with it. It is the making of it—all the interactions to date—where the real gold is. And, who knows—somebody might want to make a movie of it.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I hope my readers take away from my story a sense of hope—of seeing how in the worst of times people survive and thrive, have fun and do good things. I hope they come to like or love my characters, such as Morwenna, feisty and canny and nobody’s fool.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I am working on a sequel to The Lost Books, with many of the same characters. I am also writing poetry and short essays. I am working on art pieces, as well.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

Working with Atmosphere Press was a delightful surprise. Everything was transparent, intelligent, friendly—with a great outcome, as promised. I would recommend it to any writer—especially as I hear so many stories of good writers being disheartened by the daunting chase after agents and publishers, and disappointments when what is promised is not delivered. With Atmosphere Press, you get exactly what is promised—and the ride is fun.

You can buy The Lost Books here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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