Creator Profile - Stella MacLean
A prolific New Brunswick writer who started writing later in life shares some of her experiences.
The NB based novelist who goes by the name of Stella MacLean agreed to be interviewed for How About This and we’re very pleased about this! Stella’s story is quite interesting because she didn’t start writing until her mid 50s, focusing first on family and her nursing career. She’s been going strong with her writing for the past 20+ years and her story is a great story!
When you were a teenager, what did you want to become when you grew up?
I wanted to be a nurse, and that was my ‘first’ career. I trained at Victoria Public Hospital in Fredericton. I always wanted to write but between work, children and family I didn’t get to write until I was in my fifties.
Have your experiences in nursing informed your writing in any way?
Yes. I wrote a book, Unimaginable, about a hospital director whose life is threatened. I used my knowledge of the physical space of the hospital and my experience as a director. The seed of Unimaginable is based on my first morning as weekend supervisor at The Moncton Hospital. One of the checks I had to do was morgue check, that is being sure that I had ‘paperwork’ for each deceased person in the morgue. When I checked I had one too many pieces of papers. On first glance it would mean a body was missing. But on checking it out, someone had released a body from the morgue to the funeral home without getting the paperwork signed. You can imagine my angst when I went into the chilly dark room to check….
Do you prefer writing by keyboard, do you prefer pen and paper, or do you have another favourite method?
I’m always working on a story in my head.
But when it comes time to put it down, I love to sketch out a story on a yellow legal pad, then start typing once I know the beginning scene of the story. I used to write most of a manuscript longhand but as my typing skills improved it was easier to type the story.
Why do you think yellow legal pads have been so popular with writers over the years?
I was told years ago that the colour yellow stimulates the creative process. I don’t know if that’s true or not. What I do know is that the pad of yellow paper allows you to scribble in the margins, tear off a page and start over. You can carry it anywhere, including the bathroom if the story’s running hot!
What’s the story of how you came to publish your first novel/book/major piece of writing?
When I finally found time to write, I joined a romance writing group called Marshland Romance Writing, based in Sackville. They taught plotting and story and story arc, character development, all the things that weren’t available to me in Moncton. My first book was published by Harlequin in 2008. It came about because I was writing a monthly book review for the Chronicle Herald in Halifax. I was going to a romance writing conference in the US, and got permission from my editor in HFX to interview one of the Toronto editors for Harlequin. Paula Eykelhop was the editor, and she offered me a three book contract, which led to two more contracts. Today I self-publish, and she does a lot of my editorial work. I write suspense, romance, self-help and I’m working on a family story that took place in Saint John and Sussex.
What kinds of stories have you not written yet that you'd like to complete someday?
I started out writing romance, which like all genre fiction has rules about structure of the story. In the case of romance the HEA or happy ever after ending. In mystery, the mystery must be created and the case solved. So, you can see that I’m used to writing ’to formula’ as some people like to suggest. That means the structure is set, and the story offers the reader something specific they want. And by the way, that’s why those genres are so successful. But as a writer I have wanted to try something different but felt I didn’t have the time. But poor sales and my incredible inability to market my work has left me open to other possibilities. Not to mention marrying a poet who is all about words! I do have a very short list of books I’d like to complete before I stop this insanity. One is the book I’m working on now. It’s about a daughter who has not grieved for her mother and has sought help to find out why. It is basically the story of the mother interspersed with the daughter’s visit to the psychiatrist. It’s long and complicated but hopefully it will get finished. (In the meantime I’m working on a light romance called Finding Mr. Christmas, part of a series. It’s the story of a woman who is facing a dateless Christmas until she is asked by her cousin to be his date at an event in London where he has to pretend to be straight. Being the good cousin she agrees only to discover a man at the event is someone she’s dreamed of all her adult life! The dream guy knows her cousin is gay, so she’s not going to have an easy time setting that particular record straight.
The other major book I’d like to write before I quit (in whatever universe that would be), is a story that I’ve been rolling around my head for almost two years. It’s about an aging alien aboard a space ship bound for earth where he hopes to find creative people to help restore his world. His world has been turned into mindless clones due to AI. He’s among the few people who hasn’t had every part of his body reworked under the direction of the Clone Directive. He knows that without the creative spark his world will simply exist as an ant hill designed by very intrusive AI. Because of his age, he’s allowed to take his life whenever he is ready. So this is his last mission. He finds earth on the verge of annihilation, and has to do what he can to save it. But people from his world have tracked him to earth. Working on it…
Do you do any writing exercises or other work to further develop your writing skills?
I am always looking for articles and books on writing. I just learned about interstitial writing which I’m using on my family story. Before Covid I went to a writing conference once a year, and plan to get back to that. I’m hoping to go to a writing retreat in the UK in April.
What’s one thing about being an author that most people don’t understand?
That it is a very consuming activity. I am 77 years old and I work/write six hours a day. I think I may be an oddity!
What are your feelings about New Brunswick (or the Atlantic Provinces in general) these days? Are you feeling good about things or do you have concerns?
Other than a three year stint in Halifax when my husband went to University, and a four month stint as Writer in Residence at Vancouver Public Library, I have lived my entire life in New Brunswick. I love it here. Life in New Brunswick is the best kept secret in Canada. I think the ‘ace in the hole’ for NB’ers is that whatever comes our way, we pretty well see it as part of life. Unlike other parts of Canada we aren’t always standing there crying over life. We get on with it. Yes, the Ottawa crowd like to paint NB as always needing more financial help, but compared to several provinces I could think of…
Imagine you wake up one morning and the Internet has been destroyed. What's the first thing that you do?
Breathe a sigh of relief! Then panic that I can’t book a trip or go on FB. It’s a split relationship. I would like to ignore it but I need what it can do for me.as
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