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Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Alberta. What inspires you to write and who are your favorite characters? What is your writing schedule?
I am inspired to write because I love the development of creating and capturing characters and storylines that others can relate to. I am also genuinely inspired by everyday people, their lives and their stories. I wanted to create a platform to share stories that are real and relevant and to stir up people to move forward in life and pursue their dreams.
When did you decide you wanted to write?
During the winter of 1996 I decided I wanted to write a book, but I didn’t actually begin writing it until about five years later. In 1996 my oldest sister, Agnes passed away, leaving her three year old daughter behind. I thought, my niece will never know her mother’s story – and I wanted to write about not only my sister’s life, but my father who passed and my aunt. Their lives mattered and I wanted to share their stories in a creative format.
Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
I like to write about very real issues, those that can or have affected everyone at one time or another. I am inspired by what I see happening to others and in many cases what I have experienced personally. In Teach Me How To Fly, I based Jocelyn’s character on parts of my own life and I patterned Angel’s character after a mixture of cases I worked as an Adult Services and Child Protective Service worker.
What made you decide to write a story like Teach Me How To Fly?
I decided to write about faith, friendship and forgiveness with ordinary people because, unfortunately, too many people hold on to things that happened to them in the past and allow those things to hinder them from being happy and moving forward in life. I realize that there are some really great people in this world, but many of those people are consumed with regrets, mistakes and hurt and are unable to see the best in life. The characters are a compilation of many people I know of, but there situations may not be identical to those of some of my characters.
In Teach Me How To Fly, you wrote about domestic violence, is that an issue you feel needs to be addressed in the black and other communities?
Yes, I do feel that domestic violence is not discussed as much as it should be. Especially, since so many women are experiencing it. I think it is very easy for any of us to overlook what is actually going on if we are not in that sort of situation ourselves. But what we really need to do is become more aware and figure out what we can do to help those who are victims.
Why did you choose to self-publish your first novel? What was that experience?
Well, I asked God to teach me how to fly and I set out to learn everything I could about the publishing business. Once I learned how to design a book cover, how to set up files for print and eBook publication and how to market my book, I decided to not only self publish my book, but start my own publishing company, A.L. Savvy Publications. I completed a book project titled, Messages to Our Children, where I enlisted twenty-two others along with myself to write encouraging messages and thoughts to our children. The purpose of that project was to come together as one to help uplift and encourage our children and all children to move towards success in life. I believe we must be the example for the young people following in our footsteps. It was an amazing project – everyday people coming together for a super great purpose. It was thrilled to self publish such a positive body of work. Self-publishing involved a lot of time and a lot of hard work, but it was very well worth it. I look forward to seeing where this venture takes me.
What authors do you admire?
There are, but to name a few, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Pearl Cleage, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Terry McMillan, Victoria Christopher Murray, Danielle Steel, Walter Mosley, etc.
Any favorite books?
As a young reader, I would say one of my favorite books was A Sidewalk Story by Sharon Bell Mathis – she told a great story of a young girl who tries to save her best friend’s things from getting wet after the family was evicted from their apartment – it was heart touching and I was able to relate to how much that girl cared about her friend. As an adult reader, I have to say, I Wish I Had a Red Dress by Pearl Cleage is one of my most favorites – in the story the main character is an advocate for young girls and tries to help the young ladies overcome everyday experiences in life. As an advocate for adults and children, I truly enjoyed the human service aspect of the story – it is a great read.
Most certainly, it was Langston Hughes – I believe he was far beyond his years; he was a dreamer and saw a better tomorrow. That is what life is about, seeing a better tomorrow.
Is writing your only passion?
Right now, it is one of my primary passions, but there are also other areas of interest I plan to pursue in the future. Like, building A.L. Savvy Publications and helping to discover amazing new writers.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I would like to continue to work on mini book projects, such as Messages to Our Children and other collective works. I would like to see A.L. Savvy Publication as one of the foremost independent publishing companies in the industry. I’d also like to see my novel Teach Me How To Fly produced as a national stage play and as a movie.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Please write at least something every single day. Even if it is only a page or two in your journal or manuscript, make a habit of doing it daily. Also, follow your heart and write the book you would want to read.
What would you like readers to learn from your stories?
That their life is an amazing journey and that they are not alone in dealing with their particular circumstance in life and that obstacles can always be overcome. And that even when we are not able to overcome them completely, we can find a way to live with or deal with them and then move forward in our lives. If we have faith and begin making the right choices, we can still find peace and joy at the end of every road.
What upcoming projects are you working on?
I am working on publishing a book written by my husband, who is a Command Sergeant Major in the Army. He wrote a story about his experience as a leader in war. The book is titled, Suicide in the Mountains of Afghanistan. We are looking towards an October 2014 release date. Additionally, I am working on a book project titled, Mixed Bag: A Cultural Journey around the World – it will feature people of diverse cultures who are now living in America and a book project with teen and young adult expressions titled, Our Voices Matter: Through the Eyes of A Young Adult.
Where can people purchase your books? Do you have a website?
All of the books are and will be available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks. My web site address is http://alsavvypublications.com.
Alberta’s bio follows. Thanks for joining us today, Alberta!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alberta is a proud Army wife and has been married to her husband Command Sergeant Major Al Lampkins for over twenty-five years. She is the founder of A.L. Savvy Publications and has been working toward publication for over five years while working as an Adult Services and Child Protective Services Social Worker. In addition, she completed her Master of Arts Degree in Sociology from Fayetteville State University in 2012. Her graduate research project on HIV testing among African American women has been accepted for scholarly publication in the Journal of Research on Women and Gender, Texas State University. All roads have led Alberta to following her dream of writing and publishing her first novel.
Alberta is the Project Coordinator for the book Messages to Our Children and the author of her debut novel, Teach Me How to Fly. She is also the Project Coordinator of the book, Mixed Bag: A Cultural Journey Around the World, which will be released the fall of 2014 by A.L. Savvy Publications.
Alberta founded A.L. Savvy Publications, an independent publishing company, after realizing how much she enjoyed listening and reading stories about everyday people. She wanted to create a platform for others to share their stories in print.
Alberta is a native of Buffalo, New York, however, currently resides in Tennessee with her husband and their son.
Visit Alberta at: Facebook.com/A.L.SavvyPublications. Twitter.com/ALSavvyPub or on the web http://alsavvypublications.com.
The Dames would like to welcome author Nicola Furlong to the blog today. Tell us about your latest book, Nicola.
My latest novel HEARTSONG, is the debut in my new contemporary women’s fiction series the Sisterhood of Shepherds.
Some families have hope. Others have faith. The Shepherds of rural Oregon have Faith, Hope and Charly, three quirky sisters whose lives change forever when they reluctantly answer a personal calling to help others make amends.
In HEARTSONG, thirty-something single parent Charly Shepherd is satisfied with her life raising two children and thousands of plants in her family-owned Sweet Shepherd Nursery. Then, tragedy strikes. As she and her siblings struggle to keep the nursery going, Charly begins to believe her family’s destiny is greater than raising flowers. When the three sisters reluctantly delve into family secrets to help their ailing father fulfil a promise, their lives change forever as they pursue a new inspirational path of discovery, heartache, humor and redemption.
Tagline: Experience friendship, family and forgiveness – Join the Sisterhood of Shepherds.
What great names and what a great idea for a series. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I’m writing the first draft of HOMEFIRES, the next novel in the Sisterhood of Shepherds series. It’s Halloween in rural Oregon and Faith, Hope and Charly Shepherd delve further into their personal calling to help others atone for past misdeeds. The family’s Sweet Shepherd Nursery is also hosting a ‘haunted greenhouse’ event, so everyone is tooling up their ‘thriller zombie’ moves.
Love it! What is a typical writing day like for you?
Wish I could say my life orbits around writing, but it really spins on food, especially chocolate. A typical day depends on the season.
The routine in spring and summer is easy: up early for breakie and in the garden for an hour, write new stuff from 8:30 to noonish, eat, exercise for an hour (bike ride or Nordic pole walking) while pondering my next scene, then take the dogs for a walk, back to being slumped over the computer for an hour or so of marketing and promotion before dinner and then more fun with family, friends or the plants. Fall and winter writing schedule is similar, but revolves around my playing Old-Timer’s hockey three mornings a week and not so much in the gardens.
Sounds like you lead an active life! Dogs and gardening – two of my favorites. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
Oh, I really despise promotion, but I shamelessly plug away. I have a blossoming website/blog, dig in and out of Facebook and GoodReads, and am now sprouting on Pinterest, as it really suits my gardening photos. I also teach writing and self-publishing, am an active public speaker, and attend some writing events.
I’m really lucky to live and garden in a small seaside town on southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We boast the best climate in Canada and my gardens are chock a block with plants and blossoms. I’m currently haunted by striking bamboos, Himalayan blue poppies and fairy and vertical gardens.
Sounds beautiful. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
The Sisterhood of Shepherds bloomed when I decided to dodge out of the mystery genre and plant myself in contemporary fiction. I realized I wanted to write something heart-warming rather than heart-breaking, and two themes naturally occurred to me: family and gardening.
I have five sisters and two brothers and felt it was time to explore the joys, trials and noise of family life. I am also passionate about digging in the dirt and drawn to all the thematic ideas, like life, death and seasons, surrounding gardening. So, putting my family of Shepherds into the plant nursery business seemed an ideal fit.
Love that answer. If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?
I would cherish the opportunity to meet Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is a wonderful novel, focused on family, truth and hope. As a tomboy with an older brother, I identify directly with Scout and her challenges to please her family, her society and yet be herself. I understand that the author had many challenges, some personal, some writing and some societal, in creating the final version. Her perseverance is inspiring.
That’s absolutely my favorite book. Although I understand she’s a bit reclusive, it would be a great coup to talk to her. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
This is an appealing question because I’ve recently completely changed my attitude towards this old chestnut. When I was writing mystery and suspense novels, I thought one should write about what interests you, what you don’t know but would like to explore. With this in mind, I dug into many things, including forensics, professional golf, opera singing and being a stigmatic. Now, with the Sisterhood of Shepherd series, I’m using what I know about sibling rows and reconciliations to grow a new fictional family.
What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall)? If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and you behavior or attitude, what would it be?
Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
Yes, books and reading played huge roles. Both my parents were highly educated and voracious readers. We all read from an early age and several of my siblings have had books and articles published. My father devoured murder mysteries and introduced me to some terrific writers, like Carter Dickson, Rex Stout, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Ellery Queen and Raymond Chandler, not to mention the greats like Christie, Conan Doyle and Collins.
Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
I’m into electronic publishing big time. In 2008, when I learned that Japanese readers had downloaded millions of books to their cell phone screens, I realized I could self-publish my backlist and find a new audience. It was a tremendous challenge and a steep-learning curve but within a year, I had several ebooks available for sale online, awake and alive in the world again, rather than snoozing in drawers or on disks. I now regularly teach electronic publishing at a local college and have had many students succeed in publishing their own work and beginning to manage their career as writers. How cool is that?
I think it’s wonderful. Ebooks are definitely the way to go. Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block?
Write something, anything, everyday. Don’t edit, don’t second guess, and don’t stop.
Thanks again for joining us today, Nicola. For more information, visit:
HEARTSONG is available in paperback and ebook at:
Barnes and Noble:
TEED OFF! is in trade paperback and ebook available at:
Barnes & Noble:
My journey as one of the Dames of Dialogue has been more than four years long, and rich in interesting interactions with other authors.
Parting ways does not really mean goodbye, as I’ll be popping in from time to time, to see what the other Dames are doing, and contributing my two-cents worth in comments.
During the time I have spent here, I have also kept myself busy blogging, which has turned into something of an obsession, with numbers reaching twenty sites at one point, but now down to eleven.
In 2010, I participated in National Novel Writing Month and reached the goal of the challenge with 52,000 words toward a now completed manuscript, Interior Designs. It continues the story begun in Embrace the Whirlwind, but focuses on one of the supporting characters from that novel.
Meet Martha Scott Cummings: an interior designer, an abandoned wife, and a newly single mother to her daughter Meadow. Now she must begin an interior journey to reexamine the life she had, the choices she made, and to find the strength to begin again.
The manuscript has been through the usual edits, as well as Beta reads. Now I have to arrange for formatting, book cover design, and publication. Sometime this next year, I hope!
At the same time, I’ve also completed another manuscript I have called Defining Moments. A story that follows one middle-aged woman through the new life she is forging after her husband’s betrayal. And his betrayal is not the usual kind. Not another woman, but a financial skirmish that leaves her reeling.
What moments in our lives define us? Do our choices determine our future? When unexpected events derail her life, Jillian McAvoy realizes that she now has an opportunity to carve out a whole new beginning. But something happens to her along the way that threatens everything she hoped and dreamed about. How can the obsessions and compulsions that seemingly take over her life lead to her newly redesigned world?
This story has also been through its edits, readers, etc., as well. I have enjoyed my journeys with these characters and will definitely share my progress when they are out there in the world.
My five published novels are available on Amazon, with the latest one, Web of Tyranny, on Kindle, available there as well.
Here’s a blurb about Web of Tyranny:
Web of Tyranny by Laurel-Rain Snow is a proud, if poignant tale of Margaret Elaine Graham, a woman entangled in the trenches that epitomized her abusive childhood home only to flee into a stultifying marriage with Bob Williams. Seduced by the hope of achieving her goal of a college education and a life free from domination, she is blinded to Bob’s true qualities—and in a very real sense jumps from the pan into the fire. Oppression begets oppression and as Meg walks a thin line of human betrayal, she learns to stake her own claim to happiness—no matter how high the cost. Her fight leads to politicking during the radical antiwar movement of the 60s and 70s, which manifests as a near-compulsion, which will turn her world on end. Enticed by the possibilities open to her and chafing at the strictures of the marital ties, Meg bolts from the marriage with her toddler son in tow where a whole myriad of troubles await her.
To find out more about each of my books, check out my website at http://laurelrainsnowauthor.com/
By Laurel-Rain Snow
Welcome, Elaine Orr, and Merry Christmas, too! Thanks for joining us today to chat about your work.
1) What kind of writing do you most enjoy?
Humorous essays or columns. It seems to be my natural voice. When I started my current mysteries (Jolie Gentil series, set at the Jersey shore), I created a couple of character with a similar senses of humor to mine. I like writing a cozy mystery series in part because the characters can continue (and change) in future books. I describe cozies to guys as murders without maggots. (Women seem to know what they are.)
2) I love reading a series, too, to revisit favorite characters. Where do you find ideas for your writing?
Buried in my devious mind. My mom used to say things like, “If you got eggs delivered to your house it would be a good way to pass secret messages.” That probably got me started. Most of my ideas start from something in current events, even if that doesn’t end up being what the story is about. One news article talked about a school getting hydroponic growing equipment that police seized in a drug raid. I created a school that received some computers, also confiscated because of a crime, and “my” computers had a secret buried on one of the hard drives.
3) I like that! What is a typical writing day like for you?
If I’m starting a book there is more reading than writing, mostly on the Internet these days. I still wander library shelves, especially when I used Prohibition as a setting for an older murder in Rekindling Motives. I now can write when I want, which is every day, usually late morning and early afternoon. When I held other jobs, I often wrote for half-an-hour or an hour before I went to bed. It was kind of a reward.
4) There is a wonderful freedom in writing when you like. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know, and are they in control, or are you?
I create characters to perform a function in a book. They are never based on someone I know, though I have occasionally used a phrase someone I know used—especially for the character Lester Argrow in the Jolie Gentil series. I constantly make lists of things my characters need to do, even on the order of service in church.
As I write, characters become more fleshed out and I may use them differently than originally intended. However, I’m not a writer who says, “My sleuth let me know she had to do [whatever] a certain way.” I don’t see it as a matter of control, because a character only exists in my imagination. That said, if I create a flat character, my imagination is not working well.
5) Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
My brain is muddled with possibilities. Now that the sixth Jolie Gentil book is out (Behind the Walls), I have the idea for a seventh and write notes on things like grocery receipts if I’m not at my desk. I’m working on a piece of nonfiction that’s a part-humorous, part-serious look at the art of complaining. That idea came from a whiner in Starbucks. I wrote a thriller in the late 1990s and was still revising on September 11th. A publisher was interested, but I decided not to publish it because a couple of the bad guys were Arabs and I didn’t want to promote stereotypes. I want to rework it, because I liked the basic plot and I had a lot of fun with the research.
6) Who are the authors you read when you should be doing something else?
My mind strays to varied interests. I’ll read anything Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler writes (Accidental Tourist may be the best known), and hers are very character-driven stories. If Harper Lee writes another book I’ll fight folks to be at the front of the line. I’ve recently read through M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series, and a few of Jinx Schwartz’s Hetta Coffey mysteries. Both have humor, with Beaton’s being more understated.
7) Why do they appeal to you?
Somewhat because there is humor in the writing, but also because of what they don’t write. I don’t like sadism or detailed descriptions of mutilated people, and I get bored when a thriller just goes from one tough spot to another. You know the hero always survives, so unless it moves the plot along briskly it does not hold my interest. I would compare this to car chases in a movie. Who cares how many things they wreck? Let’s just finish and get back to the story!
8) Why do you self publish?
Because I can. I shopped around other fiction in the mid-1990s, had some good feedback, took some really busy consulting jobs, and am thrilled some of the work was never published. I spent five years writing the first two Jolie Gentil books, and when they were done I wanted them out. I am sixty-two and healthy, but it’s a fact that any day could be a person’s last. I was just plain lucky that electronic and on-demand publishing were available when I wanted to put my work out there. I’ve published non-fiction with traditional publishers, and will likely go that route again for some historical fiction.
9) Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
a) I send an email about my projects to a large number of friends and acquaintances about every six weeks. There is always one non-writing piece of information; nothing too personal. These are people I know, not names I grabbed from somewhere. In each email I say that anyone who does not want to receive the emails should be sure to say so.
b) I have a Facebook Fan Page in addition to my personal page. Almost every month I boost a post, which means I write a note about something I’m selling and pay about $20 for FB to distribute this post to people who meet a couple of demographics I pick (usually women who say they like to read, as I have a female sleuth).
c) I tweet to a number of hashtags (#mysteryreaders, #cozymysteries, etc.), though these seem to be less effective than a couple of years ago. There are too many tweets out there. I did not have international sales until I used hashtags such as #kindleuk. If you do this, make sure the link you provide is to a site where people from that country can purchase your book. Also make sure you tweet about all web sites that sell your work — #kindle, #nook, #Smashwords, etc.
d) I do some press releases myself and send them to media where I’m known, and I’ve used various (inexpensive) services to send releases to broader media audiences. I doubt anyone reads the latter, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to reach a new audience.
e) There are two short talks I do for libraries or service clubs, and I’m developing more. These draw in people to hear the talk, and a few may buy books. Most important, it gets my name in the media. I’m in a new town now and about to start this again. It should be a good way to meet people.
f) There are lots of other things I do in bits and pieces. I keep photos on Pinterest, a few of which relate to my books. Guest blog posts are fun, and writers’ workshops or conferences let me learn as I market (there are usually sales tables). I write occasionally for Yahoo Voices, again just to get my name out there. There is never enough time!
10) Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
My dad wrote stories, and that let me see that writing was an option. Books I liked were the biggest influence. My mom read authors such as Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney so they were my first mystery authors. I have learned a huge amount more recently by reading J.K. Rowling’s books. She is a master at foreshadowing.
11) What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
Finishing something that I created. Writing is obsessive for me, and I like to read the finished products. I also like talking to other writers.
12) What is an important piece of advice for aspiring writers?
Besides the “just do it” guidance, I’d say putting aside your work for a good while before you begin to revise, and then reviewing it as a reader who has never met your characters. You cannot think of showing a book to anyone besides your best friend or a critique group until you revise (probably a few times). When you have distance from a piece you can see inconsistencies and recognize parts of a story that may be hard for a reader to follow. And pay a copyeditor. I can create more typos in one paragraph than the average fourth-grader. You’ll never see most of your own errors because you know what you meant to write.
Elaine L. Orr writes fiction and nonfiction. She began writing plays and novellas and graduated to longer fiction by the mid-1990s. In 2011, Elaine introduced the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, which now has seven books, including a prequel. She loves to read mysteries with a bit of humor.
Elaine L. Orr
Behind the Walls
Sixth of the Jolie Gentil Series–November 2013
Phone: (641) 455-3257
I’m happy you could join us today, Elaine. I hope you’ll stop in and visit regularly.
December 4, 2013 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: author, Digging Dusky Diamond, fiction writer, historical mystery series, John R. Lindermuth, myster series, mystery writer, Sooner than Gold, Sticks Hetrick mystery series, Tilghman series, writer | by christytilleryfrench | 15 comments
Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, John. Tell us about your latest book, Sooner Than Gold.
Sooner Than Gold, published in April 2013 by Oak Tree Press, is the second in the Sheriff Tilghman historical mystery series. Set in Pennsylvania in the summer of 1898, Tilghman has a murder victim with too many enemies. He’s also coping with threats to his job, a band of gypsies and other problems while trying once more to convince his longtime girlfriend to marry him.
In September, Sunbury Press published Digging Dusky Diamond, a local history book about the lives of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal miners in the 19th and early 20th centuries. More about that below.
Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I’m currently dividing my time between the seventh in my Sticks Hetrick contemporary mystery series (published by Whiskey Creek Press) and a third in the Tilghman series.
When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I like to assume I am, though my characters more often than not hold a different opinion. For instance, in the Hetrick book mentioned above, his protégé is intent on playing a leading role, which wasn’t my original plan. She’s doing alright, so I’m inclined to let her proceed.
How long have you been writing?
I had an early talent for drawing. Eventually I started adding captions to my drawings. At some point in grade school I got the itch to imitate some of my favorite writers and started doing stories without pictures. The Army sent me to journalism school and I spent nearly 40 years in the newspaper business, first as a reporter and then as an editor. Throughout that period I was churning out freelance articles and stories, but I didn’t publish my first novel until after I retired.
What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
Providing pleasure and/or information to a reader and getting feedback from them.
Tell us a little bit about where you live.
I was born and now live again in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region. While that may sound dismal to some, I’d note we’re all nostalgic to some degree about the places where we grew up. My home area is surrounded by mountains and even many of those scarred by mining have been reforested by new growth. There’s beautiful farmland nearby and the Susquehanna River is only a short distance away. There are three universities in the area with all the advantages and culture that has to offer. Knoebels, America’s largest free admission amusement park, is only a few miles away from my home and brings in tourists from all over the eastern seaboard.
Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
My town didn’t have a library until I was in high school. My dad was a reader, though, and I had access to his books—ranging from the classics to popular novels. My early favorites included Jack London, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dumas, Conan Doyle, and others. We’re all influenced to some degree by what we read, but eventually find our own voice.
Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
Most of us live boring, restricted lives. If we stuck to that advice, there’d be a lot more dull writing available. Life is a non-stop learning process. A day when we don’t learn something new is a day wasted. Imagination provides the means to make what we don’t know knowable.
How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
I’m not fond of restrictive classifications. I’ve written fiction and non-fiction and hope to continue doing so. I’ve written mysteries, historical fiction, short stories in addition to articles on a variety of subjects. If the right ideas pop up, I may try some other genres.
Beside “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
Since retiring from the newspaper, I’ve been librarian of my county historical society where I assist patrons with genealogy and research. I also write a weekly history column for two newspapers (which was the genesis for Digging Dusky Diamonds). And I have four grandsons of varying ages, who provide incentive for other activities.
Did the classics have any effect on you in your formative years? (Shakespeare? Alice in Wonderland? Gulliver’s Travels?)
I’m sure they did. Dad had them all. I still love Shakespeare. While I’d never lay claim to being an actor, I once participated in a Shakespeare in the Park group in Louisville, Ky. Don Quixote, Moby Dick and Wuthering Heights are among books I’ve read and re-read many times. With every reading I discover something new and inspiring.
Thanks for joining us today, John. For more information about John and his works:
Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Chris. Tell us about your latest book, Which Exit Angel.
It’s about an angel who hasn’t received her wings yet and a preacher who is questioning his faith. Together they have to stop the coming fight between good and evil. It’s set down the Shore.
Well, I’m hooked with just three sentences! What is a typical writing day like for you?
My assistant gently wakes me with breakfast in bed and coffee just the way I like it. Oh wait. That’s my fantasy. My writing has to fit around the rest of my day. I usually write in the morning and then again in the late afternoon. Sometimes even at night, but everything depends on whether I have the energy or not. I have a husband and two sons who need things from me so they need to come first.
LOL. Love your sense of humor. And I agree, family first. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I am a plot-driven writer so I am always in control. I don’t have voices in my head I see movies. I just have to get those movies down on paper.
Movies? That’s interesting and the first time we’ve received an answer like this. How long have you been writing?
I have been writing since I was ten years old. I’ve been writing for publication for about fifteen years.
Tell us a little bit about where you live.
I live in New Jersey. I don’t live in the New Jersey of the Sopranos or Jersey Shore. I actually have woods behind my house and various wild life scampering through my yard including foxes and wild turkeys. My one son is in 4H. You get it. We’re country folk.
I live in the country too and love it. Can’t imagine being an urbanite anymore. Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Do you have a favorite southern saying you can share with our readers?
Bless his/her heart. You could say a terrible thing, but add that phrase at the end and it makes it all better.
Gosh, I bet I hear that phrase every day. If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?
Julia Child. Remember, she’s a cookbook author. I like to cook and love to bake so I would love to have her show me a few advanced techniques. Besides, she led such an interesting life, she would be so fascinating to talk to.
I loved the movie “Julie and Julia” and the way Julia Child was portrayed. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “Write what you know”?
I think you can start out writing what you know, but I think you can expand it to write what you want to know. My first book had a serial killer in it. Clearly I’m not one, but I was fascinated by them after seeing “Silence of the Lambs”.
I write fiction, mainly suspense, though I’ve got some romantic comedies waiting in the wings.
I love romantic comedies – one of my favorites! Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
Huge. Both parents were avid readers and we lived a block away from the library. My siblings were so happy when I was old enough to cross the street to get my own stack of books.
One of my favorite memories as a child is walking to the library with my mom and siblings. Any teachers who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged?
Mrs. Inman was my English teach Senior year of high school. She taught me everything I know about writing. She also had a passion for books. Once day she closed the blinds, turned off the light and had one candle burning on her desk. She read us A Cask of Amontillado. I remember it so vividly even today.
Thanks for joining us today, Chris! For more information about Chris and her works, visit: http://www.chrisreddingauthor.com/
By Laurel-Rain Snow
Tell us about your latest book.
Murder by Syllabub, the fifth in the Ellen McKenzie mystery series, has been recently released. Ellen lives in a small town on California’s central coast, but in this book her Aunt Mary’s closest friend has inherited a Colonial plantation, or what’s left of it, from her recently deceased husband, and is having a few problems. It seems there is a ghost, dressed as a colonial gentleman, prowling the upstairs hallway and he tried to kill her. Aunt Mary is skeptical; ghosts, if indeed there was one, don’t usually push crates over on people, but she’s going to help her friend anyway. She’s not going alone, though. Ellen insists she’s going with her. They arrive to find the “ghost” dead on the dining room carpet, an empty glass of syllabub in his hand. The police suspect Elizabeth, Aunt Mary’s friend, who not only has a strong motive but a bowl of syllabub in her refrigerator. If Ellen and Aunt Mary are to prove Elizabeth innocent, they have to solve a murder whose roots lie in the eighteenth century.
Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
Aunt Mary has been a strong character in all of the Ellen books, and it seemed time to give her a series of her own. I am almost finished with what is to be the first in the Mary McGill Helping Hands mysteries. I am not, however, planning on abandoning Ellen McKenzie and her now husband, Dan Dunham. They’re just too much fun.
What is a typical writing day like for you?
There is no such thing as a typical day. The way I’d like it to go is, get up, let the dogs out and turn on the coffee, read over what I wrote the day before while I sip the first cup, feed the dogs while I mull over what I like and don’t like and get started on the day’s project. Afternoons are reserved for promotion, which means internet postings, trying to set up signings or appearances, answering emails, etc.; then the late afternoons are devoted to running grandkids to soccer, flute lessons, etc. Somewhere in there I catch the news and start dinner. The evenings are mine. Sort of, because it never quite works out that way.
When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I love this question because that is such a fluid thing. To start off, I am. I have the main characters, protagonist, antagonist, some of the “sidekicks” in my mind, and have an idea of where I want the story to go. Once we get going, and the writing starts to flow, people I do not know keep coming in, and my carefully thought out characters turn on me. Once I had the murderer wrong. I person I had set up (I thought) as the murderer kept telling me “I didn’t do it.” It wasn’t until I finally listened and got the right murderer that the book came together.
I hear this answer often, and I think this process is true for many of us. How long have you been writing?
That depends. If you mean all that stuff I used to write and hide in the cedar chest, a really long time. If we’re talking about the things I wrote after I actually got up the courage to let someone see something I’d written, a little over ten years. The first thing I wrote was an article about my five children’s eventful careers in 4-H. We were a city family and knew nothing about farm animals. We learned. My, how we learned. That article was purchased by Family Fun who actually paid me. I was on my way.
I think we can also count the things you hid. Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
I would love to say Nancy Drew, but my mother wouldn’t let me read those books. I’m still not sure why, but I read all of the Pollyanna books, any book I could get my hands on about animals (I still have a copy of Beautiful Joe on my book shelf as well as Lad, a dog) all of the Louisa May Alcott books, and systematically read my way through the library. I’m not sure how they influenced my writing, except when you read a lot of books that have clearly drawn characters, interesting and intelligent plots, and are well written, it is bound to influence you, even if you don’t realize it at the time. I grew out of those book to read Dorothy Sayers and Josephine Tey. Also Rex Stout and Agatha Christie.
Louisa May Alcott was one of my favorites, too. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
Again, it depends on what you mean when you give that advice. I think way too many times people interpret it writing about a place, a job, a sport you have been involved with. If so, it’s a way to start. But there’s so much more to that statement. Take Walter Mosley. He writes about Easy Rollins, a black man who lives in LA in the 50’s. Mosley takes us through the black districts of LA with a deft hand. He knows that area, but its not the geography that matters. Anyone can tell us what freeway off ramp to take, can describe the houses, the grafitti-covered store fronts, but Mosley knows the people who live in those houses, knows what their lives are like, what their frustrations are, what their dreams are like. I couldn’t write their story. So I choose not to try. I write about people in small towns, no less tight knit communities, no less frustration, lots of dreams, plenty of drama, but from a different perspective. I think that’s what that statement means.
Yes, I agree. Whatever we know that allows us to bring the characters to life…that’s important. Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
They were probably the most important thing in our household. I can remember the day I got my first library card. After that, there was no time I didn’t have a stack of books by my bed, waiting to be read. My father and mother were both avid readers and passed on to my brother and me. My father often read aloud to us and he was a great story teller. Maybe that’s where I got my love of story. Or, it could be the Irish in me.
Love of stories is a familiar theme for us writers. Any teacher who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged you?
I’ll tell you about one who discouraged me. I was in the first grade but read at a much higher level, so was put into a first-second combo class. I could read but my hand writing (they had penmanship classes back then) spelling and math skills were still very much at the first grade level. The teacher had a shelf of books for first grade and another for second grade and you had better not deviate. I had already read all of the second grade books. The fiction ones. I’m quite sure I hadn’t read the math. She used to make fun of me, tell the class how smart I thought I was because I could read, but couldn’t do math or write a paper in cursive. What she taught me was to keep my head down, volunteer nothing and make sure I sat in the back of the class where no one could tell that I had a library book tucked into the social studies book I was supposed to be reading. It took many years before I had any confidence in my abilities to speak out in class again. I share this because sometimes it’s easy to forget how fragile a child’s ego can be.
Teachers like that one do all students a disservice. Thanks for sharing. How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
Fiction. I grew up on stories, lots of them, stories I read, stories my father told, stories on the radio and later on TV. I love fiction, both writing it and reading it. I write mysteries. Why? I guess a number of reasons. I love the puzzle, but unlike the crossword I like the puzzle that people provide. What happened to that person that made him/her a murderer? What chain of events pulled our hero/heroine into this tragedy? What happens when their two worlds collide? No two people react the same way under the same circumstances, especially highly stressful ones, so I love to see how my characters react as one tries to solve a puzzle and the other tries to make sure the puzzle isn’t solved. For both of them, their lives will never be the same.
I agree that understanding what makes people behave the way they do is central to our characterizations. How do your people “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
First, I don’t consciously base my characters either loosely or closely on people I know. Having said that, I’m sure some characteristics from some creep in, but as my characters take form on the page, the less they are likely to be to “real” people. Two of my grandkids asked to be in one of my books, so, I put them in the book I’m currently writing. They were to have a walk-on only and I made it clear the children would have their names but they wouldn’t be THEM. They aren’t. Those two kids marched onto the page, refused to leave when they should have and just about took over the book. They are darling kids, so are my grandkids, but they aren’t the same. I have no idea why that happens, but it does all the time. I often have people turn up that I had no inkling were there when I started to write, but in they walk, full blown. Aunt Mary in the Ellen books was one. Where she came from, I don’t know, but she arrived one day, and five books later, she’s still there. She’s changed very little, which is a good thing. She’s a really neat lady.
I like that aspect of how the characters come to us. Any book on writing you have found most helpful? Or classes you’ve taken?
When I first started to get serious about writing, actually about the time I found out that writing is a craft and like most things you have to learn how to do it, I started looking around for classes. I lived in California then and found that UCLA had extension classes, often on the week-ends. I went to a lot of them and they were wonderful. However, I also went to writers conferences, both big and small, for mystery writers and for general writing skills, and learned a lot from them. I bought, read and re-read many books on writing, some on technique, some on grammar, others on plot construction, dialog, character building, and got something out of each one. But the book that encouraged me the most, that challenged me to think about what I was doing, why, and what I wanted to get out of all this blood sweat and tears that I was expending, was Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird. I recommend it. I also recommend looking up online classes, conferences, creative writing classes at your community college, and some critic groups. But put your toe in those waters carefully. Some are wonderful, supportive and informative, some are okay but it’s the blind leading the blind, and a few will harm more than help. If you think you’re involved in one of those, you’re probably right. Go look some place else.
Thanks for joining us today, Kathleen…I am eager to read your books!
September 11, 2013 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: author, fiction, License to Lie, mystery, mystery series, nonfiction, Photo Finish, Terry Ambrose, writer | by christytilleryfrench | 5 comments
Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Terry! Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
What’s coming next is a sequel to “Photo Finish.” The new book, “Kauai Temptations.” begins when Wilson McKenna returns from a visit to LA to discover a batch of returned check notices in his mail. McKenna has never written a bad check in his life. So how did he end up with $4,000 in returned checks on an island he’s never been to? He knows one thing, make that two, the bank wants their money, and he’s going to Kauai to track down the crook who stole his checks. Before you can say “welcome to the island,” he’s almost arrested for impersonating himself, the woman who trashed his credit turns up dead, and McKenna feels like he’s up to his waiûpaka in hot lava. After all, some temptations can get you killed.
That sounds like an intriguing book. What is a typical writing day like for you?
Oh, would I love to have a typical writing day! My typical day starts around 6 am. If I’m lucky and don’t have a huge project from our business to work on, I’ll be able to start some editing at that time. However, if I’ve got a project, which happens a lot, that becomes programming time. By around 8 or so, I’ll knock off for a while and then come back to deal with email, which is what kicks off the chaos that destroys any semblance of “normal.” In any case, by the end of the day, I’ve found time to squeeze in time on social media, grabbed a couple of hours to write, worked my way through my “to-do” list, and hopefully done what it takes to keep my little world in balance.
Social media gets me every time. I constantly vow to get away from that but never seem to be able to. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I tend to operate best when I’m letting the characters take control. Before I write a scene, I let the POV character give a first-person account of what he or she wants. Once I know what their goal is, I can better channel my writing to deal with that.
Oh, I like that. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
I’m a big fan of T. Jefferson Parker. His writing style is crisp and clean, his choice of words precise. Another writer who amazes me is Sue Grafton. Her ability to make each of the Kinsey Millhone books different from those before it demonstrates a talent and dedication many writers lack. She, too, isn’t afraid to try something new and just shows how good she is with every book she writes.
I’ve always liked Sue Grafton. I think she, along with Linda Barnes and later Janet Evanovich, paved the way for the popularity of books about women sleuths. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
Other than the usual social media stuff, which I find to be remarkably ineffective for the amount of time required, I find the best way for me to promote is to get in front of people. I write three columns for Examiner.com in hopes of getting my name before different markets. I’m also working with a publicist to find ways to expand the ways I connect with new readers.
Smart. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for more than 25 years.
Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
Over the years, critique groups have had a big influence on my writing, but perhaps the biggest single influence was the editor I dealt with on my first two books. The reason I consider him to be the single biggest influence is that I was just learning how to write fiction. I thought I knew, but really, I had everything wrong. He helped me understand what I was doing wrong and put me on the right path.
Editors are valuable to the publishing process. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
Bringing people enjoyment is what satisfies me most. That’s why I love using humor in my novels. The McKenna Mystery series, which is set in Hawaii, is written in a way that, I hope, touches people. I hope they laugh at the predicaments McKenna gets himself into and I hope they feel they’ve escaped by reading about Hawaii.
Tell us a little bit about where you live.
We live in the San Diego area overlooking a golf course. I love the view and since we re-landscaped our back yard last year, that’s become a very relaxing place. If I can’t go outside, I can gaze out the window and regain focus by seeing the tranquility.
Sounds calming. Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
The earliest authors I remember reading on my own were Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. They had me thinking about the stars and science and sparked an interest in science. I’m fascinated to this day by those same subjects, but have also have become intrigued by how people communicate. That interest plays out in my novels as my characters influence other characters actions and read their reactions.
Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
Inspiration is everywhere. It can come in the choice of words, the inflections, or body language of two people. For me, it usually takes a combination of two or three incidents that occur close to each other and are all somehow related. Sometimes it’s just visiting a place. On our last trip to Kauai, we walked along a path we’d never been on before and came across a huge structure that extends out of a cliff. Below the structure, 50 feet or more feet down, is the ocean, crashing against rocks. It was a former crane used to bring in supplies (as near as I can tell—I’m still tracking it down). That structure is on the cover for “Kauai Temptations” and inspired a critical scene in the book.
What are major themes or motifs in your work? Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?
In “Photo Finish,” the story was all about McKenna finding redemption for things he’d done 5 years earlier. In “License to Lie,” the theme was trust. The tag line was “Never trust a soul…even your own.” The underlying human issue in “Kauai Temptations” is greed. I like writing to an issue because it keeps me on target.
If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?
A dream chat for me would be with Sue Grafton. As I said earlier, she’s one of my favorite authors. But, if I were to choose someone who’s not an author, I’d love to talk to Bernie Madoff. I’d love to know if he saw himself as a con man or was he thinking he could actually make his scheme work?
Okay, Bernie Madoff – first time we’ve gotten this answer but I think that would be one interesting conversation. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
I think that’s BS. I think it should be “write what you want to know.” Whether you want to write about macrame or a trip to a distant galaxy or an amateur sleuth in Hawaii, the resources are available to learn. Human beings were born to learn; once we stop, we’re as good as dead.
I love that answer! How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or nonfiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
I love writing both fiction and nonfiction. Whether I’m investigating a recent scam and writing an article to educate others or working on a scene in a novel that has to be drop-dead funny, I’m in the moment.
Beside “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
I’m a web designer/programmer. We have a product I programmed from the ground up and license that to Kiwanis clubs. We also have a small number of custom clients for whom I’ve implemented WordPress websites.
Thanks for joining us today for a fun interview, Terry! For more information about Terry: terryambrose.com
Terry’s newsletter (love it!): http://terryambrose.com/thesnitch/The_Snitch/Newsletter.html
August 14, 2013 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: Alterations, author, fiction writer, Joyce Carol Oates, Lily Steps Out, non-fiction writer, Rita Plush, short story writer, writer | by christytilleryfrench | 8 comments
Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Rita! Let’s start off with you telling us about your latest book.
My latest book is a collection of short stories called Alterations, Penumbra Publishing 2013, written over a period of 20 years, some of them harking back decades to when I was a young child growing up in Brooklyn, walking with my mother in her big-shouldered mouton coat as she did her errands and talked to shopkeepers along 86th Street.
What I’m putting the finishing touches on Feminine Products, my second novel that follows some of the characters in Lily Steps Out. Feminine Products is about Rusty Scanlon, owner of a trendy boutique who has an eye for fashion and a gift for messing up her love life. When she finds Walter, a guy who adores her, she thinks she has it all. Not so, she discovers when she tells him she’s pregnant and he suggests a paternity test. Stir into the mix her disappeared, now repentant father, a con man who dotes on his mother, the reluctant-to-marry Walter, and you have a novel that explores what it takes to make a family, and what it means to be part of one.
Besides the length, what is the difference between writing a short story and writing a novel? Do you prefer one to the other?
I enjoy them both, but because of its brevity a short story requires more discipline than a novel. Every bit of dialogue, every gesture has to contribute to the overall meaning and purpose of the story, whereas in a novel you have a bigger landscape in which to move around, more time for little asides and meanderings. In a short story you need more action and less back story. Things have to happen in the moment and there must be an event that changes or alters the main character. That’s how I came up with the title of Alterations for my collection. It’s also the name of one of the stories in which a young girl’s mother is a dressmaker.
I’ve written one short story and it was so arduous a process I’ve never tried it again. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
Whether you’re a self-published writer or have found a publisher, you’ve got to be your own press agent and publicist. You could write the greatest book in the world, but if no one knows it’s there what good is all the time and effort you spent writing?
One way I promote my books is to research blogs and see if I’d be a good fit for an interview or guest post. There are dozens of such blogs, and reviewers who specialize in indie fiction and unknown writers looking to make a name for themselves. Maybe only a handful respond to my inquiries—I keep them short, a sentence or two describing my book and why they should feature me—Thank you Dames!—but it’s worth the time and trouble.
Another thing I do is contact my local newspapers, tell them a bit about myself and my books and ask them if they’d do a story on me. Libraries are another venue I explore, as are local open readings. Search the internet. Google has it all.
I think the internet plays a huge part for most authors re; promoting. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
When the writing is really going well and the sentences flow, when the plot is moving and the characters speak precisely the way I want them to. When my head, heart and gut are so thoroughly engaged in the story that my fingers dance over the keyboard as if someone else is typing the words, those are the moments I relish.
Yes! What are major themes or motifs in your work? Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?
Though I don’t set out to write with a theme or motif in mind, in my short story collection and in both my novels, I know that relationships and family life play a major role. People and how they get along and interact, the dramas and sometimes mysterious bonds of family life—they are, to me, a never ending source of fascination.
Objects of one kind or another also play a significant role in my stories. They could be as simple as a sewn on button in my short story “Odette,” or as complex as a sculpture that spins and seems to breathe in “Mixed Bag”. But again, I don’t set out to do this. I don’t say this story is going to have such and such. The story comes from the writing itself.
My novel, Lily Steps Out, is about a middle-aged woman who is sick of making beds and cooking meals, and goes out and gets a job. My yoga teacher said the idea that Lily was dissatisfied with her life and wanted to evolve and make her life more fulfilling was a yogic principle. That surprised me.
I really like the premise for that book! I can certainly identify with her. If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?
I’m a great fan of Joyce Carol Oates, her intelligence, her range, her output, and although the conversation was short lived and almost entirely one sided I not only spoke to her, but she gave me a quote I was able to use for the cover of Lily Steps Out.
During the summer of 2004, after reading that she was giving an author talk and book signing at a local library, I decided to print out the first chapter of Lily, enclose it in a SASE and take it to her. Off to the library I went and sat through her talk clutching my offering with sweaty hands and a pounding heart. When her talk was over, I queued up to buy her book and ask her (beg if necessary) to read my chapter. My turn came. She autographed my book. I mustered all my courage.
“Ms. Oates,” I said, “I’m a writer too and I’ve written a novel. It would mean so much to me if you would read the first chapter.”
“Oh, I can’t,” she said. “People ask me all the time. I just don’t have the time.”
“Ms. Oates,” I said. “You’re like a movie star to me.” (This is true.) “I’ve read almost all of your novels and you’re collections of short stories more than once.”
I could sense the impatience of the crowd behind me waiting their turn, but I kept talking to her, until finally I heard, “Send it to me at Princeton.” Words from heaven. I flew home, called the college, got her address and ran to the post office.
About a month or so later I received a postcard from her saying some lovely things about the book. I couldn’t believe it! But there it was—Joyce Carol Oates liked my chapter! If something could be worn out by looking at it, that postcard would be dust today. When I knew my book was going to be published I wrote to Ms. Oates and scanned the post card onto the letter, asking if I could use the quote. A few weeks later I received a reply, “Of course you can. Good luck!”
I know exactly how you feel. I received a letter from Dolly Parton, who read a couple of my books, telling me she enjoyed them so much she was going to pass them on to her family to read. I cherish that letter! How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
I have written articles, essays, short stories, fiction and non-fiction, and I’m comfortable in all genres. What I haven’t done is write a story from an omniscient point of view, and I’ve been thinking about tackling a mystery.
You’re what I consider a prolific writer. Beside “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
I am and have been an interior designer for the past 35 years. I teach interior design in Continuing Ed at Queensborough Community College in Queens, NY, and I’m coordinator of their Interior Design Certificate Program. I lecture on the decorative arts and interior design and have recently designed a talk called, “You’ve Written a Book, Now What,” which focuses on how to get your book into publishable shape.
What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall)? If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and you behavior or attitude, what would it be?
That is a great question! And DO is the first word that comes to mind. DO. DO. DO. And don’t be afraid. Take on new challenges and don’t give up. It took me 93 tries to get my first short story published, and 7 years to find a publisher for Lily Steps Out.
Great advice. Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
There weren’t many books in the house when I was growing up, mostly magazines and newspapers, and my mother sent for a “parent’s encyclopedia” from “Parents Magazine.” I had “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew,” and when I was older, “Nancy Drew.”
My father was a great storyteller though and my mother was more a reader of stories than she was a teller of tales. I remember her sitting beside my bed on a chair she pulled in from the kitchen, me home from school with a fever, chicken pox, or swollen glands, her reading from my books. The comfort of her voice, its changing rhythms and intonations, have remained with me all these years. Sometimes I think my parents are in my stories, my father in the twist and turn of a plot, my mother in the rhythm of the prose.
What a lovely thought. Are you in a critique group? If so, how does it work and specifically how do the members help your writing?
I believe that a writer’s group or a critique group is essential for any writer. I’ve belonged to the same group for 20 years and the members have been very helpful. Writers often can’t see the flaws in their work; we’re too close to it. We need critical thinkers to tell us if a plot is moving, or if it’s bogged down with unnecessary minutiae? Would a character really say that? Or say it that way? Our sentences are our darlings, they’re like our children, and sometimes it’s difficult to see our children’s shortcomings, we need a more objective observer to do that for us.
Thanks for joining us today, Rita. For more information about Rita and where to find her books:
Lily Steps Out Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1935563890
Lily Steps Out Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/lily-steps-out-rita-plush?keyword=lily+steps+out+rita+plush&store=ebook
Alterations Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Alterations-Rita-Plush/dp/1938758153/ref=pd_sim_b_1
Alterations Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/alterations-rita-plush?store=ebook&keyword=alterations+rita+plush
July 17, 2013 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: A Killing at Cotton Field, author, fiction writer, mystery, mystery author, mystery series, Terry Shames, writer | by christytilleryfrench | 4 comments
Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Terry!
Thank you to the “Dames” for interviewing me today. I loved answering the Dames’ Dozen. AND today is my birthday! Yep, 39 again!
Well, happy birthday! I hope you have a fantastic day and we’re so glad you’re sharing it with us. I’ve been 39 now, let’s see… never mind!Tell us about your debut novel.
A KILLING AT COTTON HILL hit the bookstores and the e-waves yesterday, July 16. Set in the fictional town of Jarrett Creek, Texas, it features Samuel Craddock, former chief of police, who is still known as “Chief” because he was the best lawman the town ever had. The book is getting good reviews, my favorite of which came from RT Reviews, “Shames’ novel is an amazing read. The poetic, literary quality of the writing draws you in…”
I read that review and it’s a great one, and coming from RT Review, need I say more? In fact, this book is getting some really wonderful reviews. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
Jarrett Creek is based on the small town where my grandparents lived. I never lived there myself, but when I return it feels like home to me, even after many years of living in Berkeley, California. I’m not sure any two towns could be more different—so I guess they speak to different parts of me. In the novel my protagonist, Samuel Craddock, loves the land around Jarrett Creek. Like me, he sees beauty in the changing colors of sky and fields. He also appreciates the nuances of the people in the community.
Sounds like a great place to base a novel. How long have you been writing?
When I was six, I stole money from my grandmother to buy a notebook to write in. My life of crime came to a bad end when my mother demanded to know where I got the money. I confessed and the notebook was confiscated. But I’ll never forget the look and feel of that smooth, unsullied paper, ready for my story. In 9th grade, my English teacher asked the class members to write a story about anything at all. The next week she said she had enjoyed the stories but that one in particular stood out and she was going to read it aloud. I knew it would be my story—and it was. I never forgot the combined terror and happiness of that experience.
Great anecdote! What are major themes or motifs in your work?
I am interested in secrets and identity. How and why people keep secrets from each other—and sometimes from themselves–and how people identify themselves and each other. I try to give my characters—even minor ones—unexpected dimension. Sometimes they surprise me! In my second novel, Loretta–who isn’t particularly brave–volunteers to confront someone with a gun. It surprised me and it surprised Samuel. When she explains, it’s perfectly in character, but it shows how she sees herself.
Oh, I like that answer – secrets and identity. What satisfies you about writing crime fiction?
I am interested in what pushes normal people to decide that murder is their only recourse. In everyday life, most people find something short of murder to solve their problems. But crime fiction gives writers a chance to speculate on how and why people get pushed to their limits.
I also like to get at the story behind the story. Often after the villain is caught, there is a thread that needs to be dealt with, having to do with what lead to the crime and the aftermath of it.
Very interesting answer. Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Do you have a favorite southern saying you can share with our readers?
One of my favorite old Southern sayings is, “He jumped on that like a duck on a Junebug.” Except for one problem: that isn’t an old Southern saying; it was made up for Rhett Butler to say in Gone With the Wind. A good illustration of how a writer can make up a fresh phrase that sounds authentic.
I didn’t know that! Any family influences?
You can tell from my answers that family was a big influence on me as a writer. I’ve start working on my third Samuel Craddock novel and I realized that, like the other two books, it hinges on a tale I heard growing up. I’ve made the stories my own, but their roots, and the roots of many of the characters, are solidly in family stories.
And I think those are the best kinds of stories. How many hours a day do you write, where, any specific circumstances help or hurt your process?
I write four hours a day maximum. My brain shuts down after that. I can do activities around the process of writing—research, notes on characters or plot, promotion, blogging. But putting words to paper is a four-hour limit. I can write just about anywhere. When I worked at a “regular” job, I would often hide in my car at lunch and write.
A KILLING AT COTTON HILL was written on our boat. Every morning I got up and wrote from 6 until 9 in my cabin. I wrote the first draft in two months. I can write in cafes, in bed, in the backyard. If I’m into the story, it doesn’t matter where I am.
Oh, how I envy you that ability. If there is anything distracting around me at all, I can’t focus on what I’m writing. I’ve tried writing on our boat but more times than not am so calmed and relaxed by the water, I don’t do anything at all. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know?”
You can know anything. You can research and visualize and write your way into a subject or character. But the reason you want to know about that subject or character comes from somewhere inside of you and resonates with you A historical writer like Ann Parker or Priscilla Royal, for example, can’t actually know what it was like to live in Colorado during silver rush years or medieval Europe, but the subjects speak to some part of what they instinctively know about people and places, so they are willing to do the research to know it on another level.
In the Samuel Craddock books I write from a man’s point of view. When I was a kid, at family gatherings I always wanted to be around the men and listen to their stories. They had more action and humor. Once I spent a week with my grandparents and it was clear that they had no idea how to entertain me. My grandmother arranged for me to meet ladies and children. I was bored to distraction. One day my grandfather said, “I’m taking you to the cattle auction.” It was like another world—and it was a big hit. After that, for the rest of the week when he went somewhere he loaded me into the pickup and took me along. I was one happy kid. I wish he could know how that experience stuck with me when I dreamed up Samuel Craddock.
I can see how his world would be so much more interesting to you. Any books on writing you’ve found helpful? Or classes you’ve taken?
All of them. A good way for me to focus my writing is to take a class or dip into a book on writing. There’s always some tidbit that leaps out. I may have read or heard the advice many times before, but for some reason it resonates in the moment.
If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person) living or dead, who would it be?
I’m so lucky. I go to conferences and events for Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and I often meet authors I admire. Most authors are extremely generous with their time and are only too happy to have a lively conversation.
As for dead people I’d like to have a conversation with:
Shakespeare—to find out if he would be surprised to discover how enduring and influential his work has been.
Jane Austen—to hear the sound of her speaking voice and to find out if she’s as witty in person as she is on the page.
Wallace Stevens—I’d like to take a long walk with him and watch him observe his surroundings.
A few of the framers of the U.S. Constitution–I’d like to clear up a few things–although I expect it would take a lot longer than 30 minutes!
I’ve found SinC and MWA great organizations with well-known authors who are generous with advice about this industry. What’s coming next?
My second Samuel Craddock mystery, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN, will be out in January, 2014. And I’ve started working on the next one, as yet untitled.
For more information about Terry and her works: http://terryshames.com/
In A KILLING AT COTTON HILL the chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in to investigate. He discovers that a lot of people may have wanted Dora Lee dead—the conniving rascals on a neighboring farm, her estranged daughter and her surly live-in grandson. And then there’s the stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. During the course of the investigation the human foibles of the small-town residents—their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues—are revealed.
Terry Shames grew up in Texas. She has abiding affection for the small town where here grandparents lived, the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. A resident of Berkeley, California, Terry lives with her husband, two rowdy terriers and a semi-tolerant cat. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Her second Samuel Craddock novel, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN will be out in January 2014. Find out more about Terry and her books at www.Terryshames.com.
“…if you’re as fond of good writing as I am, it will be the characters in Cotton Hill that will keep the pages turning until late in the evening…” Mysteryfile
“Shames’ novel is an amazing read. The poetic, literary quality of the writing draws you in…” RT Book Reviews
“Readers will want to see more of the likable main character, who compassionately but relentlessly sifts the evidence. Convincing small town atmosphere and a vivid supporting cast are a plus.” Publisher Weekly