M.M. Chouinard is the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon Charts bestselling author behind The Vacation, a standalone psychological thriller. The Detective Jo Fournier series, featuring The Dancing Girls, Taken to the Grave, Her Daughter’s Cry, and The Other Mothers.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember—my first fiction piece was published in a local paper when I was eight. My guess is the desire to write was born from being exposed to wonderful stories in books since I was a baby.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I’ve tried hard to write in as many different situations as I can: at home, in cafés, in hotels, on public transit, etc., (even while waiting in the doctor’s office!) and with whatever distractions occur. The reason is I’ve tried to train myself to be able to focus wherever I am, so I can meet my deadlines no matter what’s going on.
Tell us about your writing process: I’m halfway between a planner and a pantser. I start with what I call a ‘roadmap’—it’s nowhere near as detailed as an outline, but it gives 10-20ish stops I want to make along the way. I always know who my murderer is (and why they’re murdering), what my main twist will be, and have my characters ready to go. From there, I find that the story will come together in ways I never expected, and I love that. But, I believe the writing goes far more smoothly when I have the journey generally laid out.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The days when you feel like every word you write is horrible, and it’s like pulling teeth. Some days I can write 3,000 words, almost as easy as breathing, and other days it feels like I’m slogging through mud, and I struggle to get a thousand. The only way to break through it is to keep writing, so I just chant to myself, “You can’t edit a blank page, you can’t edit a blank page, you can’t edit a blank page.”
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I’m a member of Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and they’ve both been amazing! I wish I’d joined sooner, and I’d advise any new crime fiction writers to join one or both ASAP.
How long did it take you to write your first book? The first book took over a year to write the first draft. Since it still isn’t published and still needs revision, you could say I’m still writing it…The first book that actually got published I wrote in six weeks (bad first draft). Part of that is because I was no longer working full-time at another job. Still, part of it was learning how to turn off that internal editor and trust myself to get that first draft down on paper.
Give us a hint about your latest project: My current release is The Vacation – One of them is missing… One of them did it…
The Thanksgiving retreat was meant to be a time for them to get away from it all, miles from the secrets that threaten to tear their family apart. But they’re each hiding something:
Rose hopes the pretty house overlooking the sea is just the break her family needs. But as she gazes at the water and remembers her childhood, she is utterly terrified.
Brandon knows his wife Rose has barely forgiven him for his affair. He’s started drinking again, a road that led him to disaster once before.
Brianna, Rose’s sister-in-law, is recovering from her fifth miscarriage. When she looks at her adorable niece, she can’t help but see the daughter she deserves.
Then three-year-old Lily disappears from her bed in the villa. Isolated in what should have been paradise, it quickly becomes clear that one of them took her.
As one by one their secrets are uncovered, who will be destroyed next?
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? Mine tend to do exactly what they want, exactly when they want to do it. If I try to force something on them, the writing dries up. So if I’m having a hard time with a scene, the first thing I do is back-track and figure out what I’m making them do that doesn’t fit their personality in that situation and fix it. Their reactions play a huge role in why I can’t do a full outline—sometimes I’ve quite surprised with what I discover.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? In my series, I try to make sure my detective’s personal life has parallels to whatever’s happening in the main plot. I try to make sure the case she’s investigating gives her something to think about and potentially learn from. In The Vacation, every character is bringing their own subplot to the main plot, so the main plot is really a tapestry of the consequences of those subplots.
What kind of research do you do? I always do a lot of research about the crime that’s being committed so I can do my best to get the forensics facts, legal facts, and police procedural facts right (hopefully!). But I also do a lot of specific research for each book too. With The Vacation, I did a lot of research about Jamaica (even down to what you can buy in pharmacies there), Lake Merritt and Children’s Fairyland, and a thousand other little things. That’s one of the things I love about writing—I’m always learning things, and I never know what I’ll need to look up on a given day!
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? A blend of both. For example, my detective series is set in Western Massachusetts but the exact county my detective works in is fictionalized. For The Vacation, every location was real. And for the private investigator novel, I’m writing, all of the locations are real places in the Bay Area, except for the town my PI lives in, because I had a very specific idea of what I needed for her where she lives.
What is the best book you ever read? That’s like asking which cell in my body is my favorite!! But a few that I love with all my heart are Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Pillars of the Earth, The Princess Bride, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Don’t give up! Keep writing and improving. And join an organization like Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America (or whatever is relevant to your genre) sooner rather than later. There are so many resources that will turbo-charge your writing.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about your books?
The Vacation is available for pre-order now:
My Detective Jo Fournier series, which begins with The Dancing Girls, is available wherever you buy books.
How do our readers contact you?