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