1. Tell us about your latest book.
Dead Wreckoning is set in a small Texas town where everyone knows everything about the other—or at least think they do—until an old woman named Boo Murphy heads into the swamp behind her house and spies a brass-bowed pirate schooner sitting eight feet up out of the water. She recalls tales of her ancestor, Mary Anne Radcliff, granddaughter of the infamous 1700s pirate, Anne Bonny, and who sailed with privateer Jean Lafitte. Cleaning litter from the pirate schooner, Boo mindlessly tosses a discarded bottle into the bottom of her flat-bottomed boat along with a pile of other trash, and soon forgets about it. The next day she takes her cousin Sasha out to see the schooner, but all they find is Sasha’s husband, Zeke, dead.
Sid ends up taking Boo’s case after she’s accused of the murder. Once again, Sid faces her enemy on her feet, but this time the enemies know their business much better than she does hers. With their ruthless take on interference, how does she get herself out of this mess? But they don’t know Sidra Smart. And until now, neither has Sid.
2. PI Sidra Smart is an exceptional character who I find very refreshing – I like that she’s middle-aged, left a controlling relationship behind, and makes “sassy pickles” to de-stress. What made you decide to do a series based on this type of character?
Perhaps because I find older women wise, brave, experienced and ready for adventure. Many times they have left that controlling relationship behind and launched out on their own for the first time in their life. They know good junk! They know how to say no when they mean no, and yes when they mean yes. They are comfortable with their own bodies and often don’t have anything to prove in the way of fashion, spike heels and men. They know who they are, what they want and what they don’t want.
3. Sidra lives with her aunt, cat and dog in a haunted house. These are great characters and I hope will remain with the series as it goes forward. What brought about the idea of incorporating “ghosts” into the series?
Oh, I love ghosts! I’ve never seen one, but find the idea of spirits from another world assisting us in ours, most fascinating. Since I’ve never seen a ghost, they do not show up in my books as a certainty. Rather, I leave a question as to their actual existence, both for the reader and for Sidra. To me, that ghostly presence adds more color and intrigue to the plot. I hope my readers feel the same way.
Speaking of ghosts, I’ve been doing research for a historical novel I’m working on, set during WWII which includes a plot line around the Romany Gypsy. I had never heard their belief about the mulo. According to what I’m reading, many years ago, before the gypsy converted to Christianity, they believed that when an evil man died, his mulo, his bad spirit, stayed in his grave with him. When the sun went down, the mulo arose and walked the town causing trouble, wrecking havoc. With the cock crow, the spirit had to return to the grave. Then, at 12 noon, it came out again, but only for 30 minutes. Some believed that the mulo was not the dead man at all, but rather the devil in disguise. This belief resulted in the gypsy band being out of site over lunch, and they never traveled after dark. You can bet this fascinating fact will show up in my work in progress!
4. You co-founded the Georgetown Library Writers College in Georgetown, Texas in 2008, where you teach writing and marketing classes. What do you think is the most common mistake writers make? What is the most effective way a writer can promote?
Most effective? I don’t know if there is one most effective way for a writer to promote. The most effective is whatever works for you. Writers must try every way imaginable, and then some. My most effective way has been signing events in my hometown, which is also where my series is set, and involving my sister when I do. I’ve been gone from there since high school, but she’s lived there all her life and knows virtually everyone in town. She attracts people to my events like flies on honey. Book signings in places other than the traditional bookstores also work well for me. I’ve signed at antique stores, coffee shops, tea rooms, chamber of commerce, art festivals, book festivals, Mardi Gras, Xmas bazaars, and any other place I can think of, or who invite me. Internet marketing is getting more and more successful.
Related to writing—the biggest mistake, I think, a writer can make is to either not participate in a good critique group. And while in such, to defend their work rather than receiving the feedback. Some authors get defensive, and want to explain why they did something a certain way. Not so. Just listen, say thank you, and then go home and consider the feedback.
5. You also organized a critique group called the Williamson County Coroners. Do you think critique groups are important to writers, no matter where they are in their career, or more beneficial for beginning writers?
Without a doubt, critique groups are most valuable for beginning writers. They help that writer look at their work from a different perspective. They learn how to monitor for point of view, consistency, character development, plot problems, grammar and punctuation, showing versus telling, emotional filters, and such. That being said, I’ve recently released my third book and I don’t know if I’d ever write without such a group’s feedback. I find them invaluable and marvelous support.
6. What do you love about writing? What do you hate?
I love taking a group of words and playing with them, reordering, cutting, adding more, enhancing, all in the attempt to communicate a feeling, an emotion, an action, a setting, a dialogue, a character. What I hate is when I don’t know where I want my work in progress to go next. It’s frustrating to get stuck in the muddling middle.
7. Are you an “outliner” or “pantser”?
Most definitely a ‘pantser.’ When I pick up pen and paper and attempt to outline, my brain heads out the window and refuses to return until I put aside the attempt and just get to writing.
8. Do you belong to any writers’ organizations? If so, do you find it beneficial?
More than I have time to do effectively. I am president of our local Sisters in Crime chapter, VP of my local writers league, member of Mystery Writers of America, three critique groups, and numerous online support/marketing groups. I find them invaluable, and also a big time consumer from writing. So it is a balancing act.
9. It’s obvious you are an animal lover, as are the Dames. Tell us about your pets if you have any. If not, what’s your favorite animal and why?
Sad to say, right now we do not have a pet. We are slated to inherit a Japanese Chen dog one of these days, so hesitate to get one before then and end up with two of them. We live in a condo and feel two dogs would be more than we could handle with our travel schedule. I love dogs, as you might guess from my last two books. Cats are nice but my youngest son is allergic to them. He is grown and away from home, but since he does come to visit, I wouldn’t put him through that agony when he’s here. So we wait.
10. You live in Texas and your series is based in Southeast Texas. Tell us about the area you live in and what appeals most to you about Texas.
My Sidra Smart series is indeed set in the town of my birth. Orange, Texas is southeast, sitting right on the border of Lake Charles, Louisiana. The area is filled with swamps, bayous, Cajuns, and mosquitoes big enough to carry you off to glory. Orange is one of those places that has its own gravity. You either get out early or you don’t get out at all. I did, at 18. But my family still lives there and I return often. The area is made up of strong people who never say die. They survive hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, union strikes, a stagnant economy, and still they celebrate with their Cajun crawfish boils, fish fries, and Mardi Gras celebrations. They are my biggest supporters. In one weekend I sold over 150 copies of my latest book Dead Wreckoning.
11. What’s your favorite Southern expression?
Oh, my favorite would have to be, “If I tell you a hen dips snuff, you better look under her tongue.” (Translation: When I tell you something, you can be assured it is the truth.)
Or one of the most common: L I B (a shortened exclamation used in place of, “Well, I’ll be!)
12. Tell us about Murder, She Writes.
I’d like to invite everyone to listen in on Mondays at 5:00 pm Central time to Murder, She Writes, an internet blog talk radio show. I interview women mystery authors, with an occasional male mystery author squeezed in who writes with a female protagonist. Go to www.blogtalkradio.com/murdershewrites and tune in. Next week I interview P.D. Brown, and the next, Betty Webb. Also, if any of your author/readers is interested, email me at Sylvia@sylviadickeysmith.com and tell me of your interest in being interviewed on the program.
For more information about Sylvia Dickey Smith: http://www.sylviadickeysmith.com