Demi: Your novel Payback is about a canine search-and-rescue handler. What research/life experience did you need to draw from?
Maria: Payback was written from pure passion as a search and rescue dog handler myself. I was able to draw from real life experiences regarding the training involved and the type of dog we look for in this line of work. I’ve been in the search and rescue world since the early ’90s which has included working with, training, and deploying canines on searches regarding lost persons. The work has allowed me to meet handlers and trainers from all around the US and their canine partners. The canine training world is an intriguing world, but can also be overly dramatic with so many personalities and egos and the constant flux within organizations. That, in itself can lend enough fodder to write many books.
Demi: As your first book, it won an IPPY award in 2016. What advice do you have for other first-time novelists who are considering applying for awards?
Maria: I would say go for it, but before you enter, make sure you do in-depth research and read, read, read the parameters and rules of the contest you are entering. Contests are exciting, but can also be costly. Look for contests that have a name in the industry and have been around and stood the test of time. Make sure you choose the correct category for your book and take advantage of the early bird entry – it will save you money.
Demi: Your book club invites regional authors in to its meetings. Can you tell us how their books get chosen?
Maria: Generally, our club gives each member their turn to choose a book. We love thought provoking books whether they are fiction or non-fiction. Allowing everyone to have a choice so they feel included, no matter what they pick allows a curiosity to try new authors and genres – to read outside the box. Our book club usually picks a local author a few times a year and will invite them in for discussion. It can be pure randomness, like finding a local author at the Year of the Book Expo – but there is normally a draw of some kind. An example would be Don Helin’s book, Devil’s Den. The woman who organizes our book club chose this novel from the book expo based on content that included Ireland and she is from Dublin and it was her turn to choose a book. We took this meeting a step further and made pot luck with foods from Ireland which turned out to be great fun.
Demi: You’ve also published a beautiful children’s book, Lonely Little Pony, and have a sequel to your novel coming out next year (Setback). Any writing/publishing tools or resources you’d suggest to others who are getting started? What keeps you motivated?
Maria: Taking classes for a start if you are just beginning down the writing path. A few elements I have found for me that are musts – an awesome editor who you work well with and can also form a positive relationship for both entities involved, continuing your crafting education, and keeping up with the ever-changing publishing world. I knew when I first started this journey with Demi Stevens that I needed someone to help me learn how to format my story into book form and I also needed a good editor to go behind and help clean up my grammar. But what I didn’t realize was that I was clueless when it came to learning more about writing as a craft. I thought I didn’t need to continue to read books on writing, take lectures or go to classes. It’s just writing right? How hard can that be? That was a mistake and it took me awhile to come around to being receptive to my need for continuing education on the writing front. There is so much to learn! And you can learn something from everyone. It’s an on-going process.
You can find writing fodder in everything, but for me, writing about my passions in life spur me on the most and keep me motivated to write. Accomplishing a writing goal gives me a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that keeps me going. There is no better feeling than to take a story from a tiny spark of an idea, watch it unfold and see the published product at the end. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Follow Maria on her website mchillegas.com or her social media accounts: Twitter @mchillegas or www.facebook.com/M.C.Hillegas