The Dames would like to welcome Morgan St. James, a prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction who also writes under the pseudonym of Arliss Adams.
1. Tell us about your latest book, Seven Deadly Samovars.
The most recent Silver Sisters Mysteries book, written with my sister Phyllice Bradner, is Seven Deadly Samovars. In case people don’t know, a samovar is a Russian tea dispenser. When Goldie Silver receives seven exquisite antique samovars from Vladivostok instead of the ones she ordered, they sell quickly. Then murder and mayhem hits quiet Juneau, Alaska. What made these teapots worth killing for? The twins track the bumbling but dangerous Russian thugs from Juneau to Seattle, where they hook up with their eighty year old mother and uncle, former vaudeville magicians attending an awards banquet, and the chase continues from Seattle to Los Angeles. The quartet is hot on the heels of the murderous Russians, despite many backfires. Vanishing Act in Vegas, our third comical crime paper, is now nearing completion. Target release late 2011.
In August, Devil’s Dance, the first novel in my new Twist of Fate series, will be released under my new pen name, Arliss Adams. The second book, The Devil’s Due, will follow in September.
2. Share a little bit about how you came up with the idea for the Silver Sisters Mysteries.
My sister and I both love funny mysteries and we were both published writers when we began; however, we had never written fiction, or written together. Drawing from the premise of “write what you know” we created the Silver Sisters based upon our opposite life styles.
Phyllice who is the model for Goldie lived in Alaska for many years, is a flower child with a heart as big as outdoors and did own an antique shop there. Godiva is based on me although I’m not as selfish as she is, am happily married, lived two houses outside of Beverly Hills and I’m not wallowing in greenbacks. I admit to being manipulative, people ask me for advice but I haven’t written an advice column. We grew up in a wacky family, so funny mysteries were a natural. Other characters are composites of friends/family or figments of our imagination. The same theme runs through all the books in the series: How do an over-the-hill flower child who owns an antique shop in Juneau, Alaska and a selfish, manipulative wealthy Beverly Hills widow who writes the advice column “Ask G.O.D.” (her initials) get into such messes?
By the way, Goldie Silver and Godiva Olivia DuBois are identical silver-haired Mae West look-alikes born on different days in different months, different years and even different decades.
3. Can you tell us what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
Phyllice and I are currently doing an editing read-through of the manuscript for book number three, Vanishing Act in Vegas, and already thinking about number four, Diamonds in the Dumpster.
On a personal note, I’m working on several projects, both alone and with other co-authors. I’ve passed the half way mark on the first draft of Anything But Paradise, a “9 to 5 meets The First Wives Club government embezzling comedy,” written as Arliss Adams with co-author Meredith Holland. A proposal is currently out on a humorous reference book that can also be a gift book, You Don’t Say, (murdering the English language) with co-author Mike Dennis. It is based upon a column we do for On The Prowl, the Sisters in Crime/Southern Nevada newsletter. Add to that projects in various stages: ABCs of Writing-Tips, Tricks and Techniques-26 Things You Need to Know About Writing a Book, based upon one of my Examiner.com features, Confessions of a Cougar,—the title is pretty self-explanatory—and an anthology entitled, Women on the Edge, which includes two of my award-winning short stories. There are more, but I’ll stop there.
4. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
I would have to say everywhere. I am fortunate in that I’ve led an interesting and varied life, and of course my experiences through the years are fertile ground. I never know when the next idea will pop into my head. For example, I read something about cougars, not the mountain lions but older women with younger lovers, and instantly the premise for Confessions of a Cougar popped into my head. It all centers around a fictional version of a trip a friend and I made through England at age 42 and…well, that a story in itself. Suffice to say it’s fun, it’s racy, and since I lived the parts that aren’t fiction, it’s proving to be a very fast write.
5. What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you have any habits or established routines that work best for you?
Generally, the first thing in the morning I check my hits and comments on Examiner.com as well as the ranking of my books on Amazon. It helps to give me an idea of whether there are any spikes generated by media or appearances. If Phyllice and I are editing, we will usually start after eleven when her Katz and Dawgs Boutique in McMinnville, Oregon is open, and our verbal editing can go on for up to five hours. Bless unlimited long distance and the fact that we only do that while plotting or editing a finished first draft manuscript. I usually alternate between projects that I’m writing. Since I’m a multi-tasker by nature, if they aren’t too diverse I easily slip from one to the other. I write best in the afternoon and also from about eleven at night to as late as four in the morning.
The only time I couldn’t write side-by-side was when I was working on Devil’s Dance and The Devil’s Due. I found it impossible to switch into the light-hearted humor of Vanishing Act in Vegas. Writing about kidnapping and emotional trauma next to the comical capers of Goldie and Godiva were just too hard. I finished the “Devil” books, got them to the publisher, and then easily balanced writing my other, light-hearted books like a juggler tossing pins or balls.
6. You have an incredible body of work so far, both in fiction and non-fiction and you also write a column on Examiner.com. Plus, you have two romantic suspense novels coming out later this year under your pen name of Arliss Adams. How do you stay motivated?
I’ve had many professions in my life, from interior designer to barter exchange owner and co-owner of a marketing promotion company, with many others in between. I love writing. I don’t seem to have a challenge getting motivated. My challenge is to turn it off, because I always have a new idea and can’t wait to start it. Fortunately, I do finish my projects even though I might have several going at one time. I always take the time to write a paragraph or two for future reference when a new idea hits me. I’ve found that even the great ideas can go by the wayside if there isn’t some place to park them until you’re ready.
7. You co-write humorous mysteries with your sister, Phyllice Bradner. I’m currently working on a novel with my sister, Christy Tillery French and we’ve—or I should say, I’ve—enjoyed collaborating with her. We haven’t hit any snags yet, though our writing styles are very different. For instance, Christy has this amazing ability to write scenes out of sequence while I write strictly from beginning to middle to end. Are there any differences you ran into while writing with a co-author? If so, how did you handle it?
Each co-author I write with is handled in a different way. I’m an “A-type” and Phyllice is a self-described C-. The Energizer Bunny paired with someone who needs a bit of a poke. We both have different strengths and by identifying what they are and maximizing them, we’ve developed a style of writing seamlessly, as described by Los Angeles Books Examiner, Frank Mundo. We plot together. I can dash off chapters in and out of order, I guess that’s like your sister, and I know Phyllice can’t resist editing. So I send her the chapters, she edits and adds quirky humor, then sends it back to me. Often, I find myself laughing out loud when I receive these. If I have no corrections, it goes into the first draft. Otherwise, I send her the second round of edits. When we are finished with the first draft, we do two read-through edits either in person in Oregon, Las Vegas or L.A, or on the phone, and send the resulting edited manuscript to the publisher.
Meredith Holland, my co-author for Anything But Paradise, is a fabulous idea person with a very creative mind. She loves to research. So she sends it all to me and I sort through it, keep what works and develop the manuscript. When she receives the chapters, she comments, offers suggestions and we settle upon a version that’s acceptable to us. Everyone should have a co-author with so many ideas. Our only problem is that it’s like standing in front of an amazing buffet. Sometimes it’s hard to choose the items that will fit on the plate. Our short story, Welcome to Paradise, a story related to an event in this book, will appear in a soon to be released anthology, Dreamspell Revenge.
Mike Dennis and I pretty much work at par, but again, Mike is the real wordsmith, having been fascinated by bloopers and challenges in our English language for many years. My designer spirit comes out in working on You Don’t Say, because the pages have varied formats. I co-author content and additionally figure out the best layouts for the type of information in the chapter. Mike, in the meantime, comes up with oxymorons, words that sound alike but have different meanings, etc. to spice up our content.
8. Can you tell us a little bit about how you promote your work? Any tips for other authors?
When you have the finished product is when the work begins. I have developed workshops that I teach at writer’s conferences and meetings, presentations for other types of fan or reader groups, write the columns for Examiner.com, helped to establish Sisters in Crime/Southern Nevada and serve as Vice President and editor of the newsletter, do radio interviews, hope to get some TV interviews, and network, network, network. Strangely enough, I’ve only done a few signings at brick and mortar bookstores. I participate in many social networking sites and try to have a few press releases go out on a regular basis. I’m constantly on the lookout for other ways to promote my work. Websites are updated as often as possible. I’ve won awards, and am not shy about referring to them. My advice would be: don’t expect to have people knocking down your door. Get out there and toot your own horn. Speaking of “tooting” in the coming year I hope to appear at many more conferences and events, so if anyone reading this would like to recommend me, I’d love it. See. I’m not shy about asking, either.
9. What is your most cherished reader reaction to your work?
There are a few things that really grab me. If my work makes someone laugh or cry, that means my writing isn’t cardboard. People always tell me that the Silver Sisters make them laugh out loud. I love it. When I wrote Shopping for Dancing Shoes, a short story in Chicken Soup for the Shoppers Soul, the editor told me she cried because it could have been anyone’s mother. They used it as the first story in the book. When my publisher accepted the Devil books, she said the poignant parts brought her to tears. They were supposed to. I did my job.
On another note, when I teach workshops and people tell me it was very well presented and they learned a lot, I puff up like a peacock.
10. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
My mother and the values my sister and I were raised with. Mom believed her girls could do anything they set their minds to. Even before she passed away, just shy of her 97th birthday, she had become frail, but still had passion when she said, “You can do it, honey!” She taught us to keep open minds, enjoy the gifts around us and speak our minds. What better strengths for a writer. She is my muse. If I ever feel I need inspiration or the will to bypass obstacles, I simply look at her picture by my desk and the problem solves itself.
11. What part of the craft of writing has improved since you wrote your first book?
I believe you start with natural talent, but just like a baby who doesn’t come into this world with an operating manual, techniques and styles must be learned and cultivated. I constantly keep learning when I attend conferences and workshops. Writing tight and understanding point of view immediately come to mind.
When we first submitted A Corpse in the Soup to agents and publishers, we were complimented on our professionalism, polish and content but the manuscript was rejected stating, “Your point of view is all over this place.” At this year’s Public Safety Writers Conference, I had learned enough that I presented the workshop: What’s the Point of Point of View. My presentation received very high ratings. I’ve learned to wield the machete and my writing is now much tighter than is was in the beginning. I always look forward to two things: learning and teaching.
12. I have to ask you about the pigs, how did you get started collecting them and more important, why pigs?
Ah, my pigs. Well I now have over 200 in my collection ranging from stuffed animals to collectible Wade pigs. Back in the late 1980’s I’d decided that I wanted to collect something, and was considering paperweights. Then a friend gave me one of the battery-operated pigs that walks, stops, snorts and continues on. It gave me such joy to watch this silly animal, that I decided to begin a collection. Wherever I traveled, I’d look for a pig souvenir. Then I wrote the date and place on the bottom. The pigs have become my walk down memory lane. I look at their funny faces, and the inscriptions and remember the special memories tied to them. People began to give me pigs as gifts, and I did the same thing. When I look at those pigs, it reminds me of a special friend. Some are no longer with us, but the pigs are.
To find out more about Morgan visit:
Her personal website: www.morganstjames-author.com
Silver Sisters Website www.silversistersmysteries.com
Examiner articles archive: http://bit.ly/MorgansColumn
Sisters in Crime/SNV www.sistersincrimesnv.com