1) Tell us about your latest book:
The seed for World of Mirrors is in a trip we took to an island off the coast of (former) East Germany—just a long weekend vacation. The island spoke to me so strongly that when I got home, I temporarily abandoned the book I was planning to write and began to read everything I could find about what happened in East Germany just before the reunification with West Germany, and some of the bizarre little known things like what happened to all the dogs that had patrolled the “death strip” border between the two Germanys and what was the fate of all the North Vietnamese “guest workers” who were imported for menial labor (they were sent home).
World of Mirrors is set on an island off the Baltic coast in the former DDR, and the year is 1990, the “time of the turn.” The Berlin wall has crumbled, but Germany is not yet reunified. Against the seductive decadence of an old resort with its classic sailboats, nude beaches and crumbling casinos, Zara Gray, a consultant to high tech firms, and T.K. Drummond, a man who finds people and fixes situations, must track down an American software thief before he can fence a stolen copy of his company’s bleeding-edge new software.
Zara narrates the story as she fights the fear that their mission is jinxed from the beginning. Bad decisions and chilling discoveries threaten to sabotage the project. The situation further unravels during a sailing weekend, and turns deadly at a Midsummer Festival. Trapped in a matrix of betrayal, Zara and T.K. must rely on two unlikely people to help them escape the island and in a final, desperate gambit to save the software, Zara must perform her own dangerous treachery.
2) Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I’m working on something completely different, neither mystery nor suspense framed by technology, but a novel (women’s fiction) set in the Los Angeles area in 1928. After she died, I found the germ of a story in some of my mother’s papers along with a photo album and a scrapbook. The story that inspired me is much changed from when I started, and only the bare bones are recognizable, and it’s finally coming together, 75,000 words and many, many hours later. What has been fun and rewarding is the research I’ve had to do, from reading, searching the web and even a trip last year to some of the places I wanted to set scenes. A young Kansas schoolteacher travels to California for a summer in search of love and adventure. Nearly all of my novels begin with a voyage of some sort. I like to place my main character in an unfamiliar setting (fish out of water) and milk the character’s discomfort. The working title is Such Stuff As Dreams.
3) How Long Have You Been Writing?
Would you believe almost twenty years? I began my first mystery (never published and rightly so) when I became frustrated with my job and needed an outlet. Somewhat naively, I thought writing a mystery would be duck soup. Boy, was I ever wrong, but it led to six novels (some still unpublished) and I’m working on number seven. It’s been rewarding, frustrating, fascinating, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. One learns that much of writing is actually craft, not inspiration or imagination. And craft can be learned. This was a wonderful realization. One of my writing teachers back in college always proclaimed, “I can teach you to write not badly, but I cannot teach you to write well.” I have often chewed on those words.
4) Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why.
By now there have been many influences, and I would have to say that Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America have been wonderful influences, but the biggest influence is my writing group that I’ve been with for probably fifteen years. The best thing about my writing group is that they won’t settle for an okay or mediocre scene. They insist that I have it in me to make that scene sparkle and shine. In other words, they don’t allow me to be lazy. It’s always so tempting to take the easy way out, and they won’t let me. The writing always becomes better and I’m so grateful that they insist that “good enough” is NOT good enough.
5) Tell us a little bit about where you live.
I live in a medium-sized suburban town south of Boston. We moved here from another suburb ten years ago when my husband retired. In many ways it’s a quintessential New England Town with a village green, the modest white frame church, a nice library and public-spirited people. Our village has good schools and lots of backbone, enough to say “no” to a huge casino that wanted to move in. Our condo overlooks acres of wetlands (a slough) and there’s a small herd of Scottish Highland cattle and a “burying ground” (New Englandese for small cemetery) around the corner. We love to sit on our deck and watch the birds and whatever wildlife visits, from the colorful dragonflies to the feisty hummingbirds and cheeky chipmunks. I have a few garden beds in back and a wildflower garden along the border of the yard. It’s idyllic to watch the sun set behind the trees across the slough. When we want a little excitement, we drive or take public transportation to Boston so I have the best of both worlds.
6) Who were your favorite authors as a child?
I always loved Annie Fellows Johnson’s “Little Colonel” books. Naturally, I read Nancy Drew and I also liked Edgar Rice Burrow’s Tarzan stories. In junior high, I discovered the western writer Zane Gray and devoured his many books. I worked my way through our little jewel box of a Carnegie Library—this was in a small town in Northeastern Colorado. Once I got to the adult books, I read everything whether it was suitable r not for a youngish teen, books like Guadalcanal Diary and the works of Elinor Glyn. The librarian never batted and eye and I don’t think my parents had any idea what I was reading, although I was chided for always “having your nose in a book.” I really loved historical novels and foreign settings. One of the best things about school was at the end of the day when the teacher read aloud. Even the rambunctious boys were transfixed by Anne of Green Gables, Ethan Frome and the tales of Edgar Allen Poe. Reading is still one of my favorite pastimes.
7) What are your thoughts of the standard writing advice, “write what you know.”
When I started writing, this was troubling advice, because I felt I only knew technology, housework, cats and gardening. So I began to write crime and suspense novels about a woman (not me) that were framed by technology. I did this for a very long time until I realized that technology changed faster than I could write about it. Flannery O’Connor wrote that anyone who “survived childhood” had enough material for a lifetime, and I believe that is true. I also realized that as a writer, I didn’t actually have to know a lot about a topic to write about it—that unless the subject was nuclear physics, it was fun to do research and learn to things while I wrote. On the other hand, there are also things the writer thinks she knows and finds out during the writing that she doesn’t. If I’m writing about a place I have been or something I know, I will to back and revisit the place to look with a writer’s eye. A writer’s eye sees all the picayune details and glosses over nothing. I can write about my mother’s Kansas home town, the place I lived from ages ten to eighteen, and the suburban life of the young mother the off the top of my head, but that’s about all. I put a scene about a nervous woman visiting her safety deposit box in a story, and actually did a practice run just to make sure I had the details right. The devil, as they say, is in the details. I would change the advice to “write what you know or can learn.”
8) Beside writer, what else are you? What is your “day job”?
For twenty-five years I worked in information technology. Sitting in an office all day writing code, analyzing systems, testing and doing project management does not lend itself to fascinating stories, so I had to get my characters into the field, so to speak. I chose to have them work in computer security to give them more interesting lives and travels. I sent them all over the world and discovered that computer criminals would morph into garden-variety murderers and felons without too much coaxing. Most of the time, I loved working in technology in spite of the brutal hours and sometimes having to work all night, or on weekends and holidays. I discovered “hackers” and their fabulous slang and weird outlook. My sleuth must always be analytical but as a writer you have to dive into feelings and emotions and the reasons people do illogical things. For this reason, I gave my sleuth problems with men, and her analytical skills got her nowhere. It was fun to make technology sexy and scary and even to put a literary spin on it.
9) Any family influences? Memoirs in the making?
Yes and yes. A short memoir piece that Kansas City Lights published. In it, I wrote about myself as a young girl watching my grandmother catch, kill, clean and fry a chicken for dinner. I have a few other ideas for short memoir writing. I already discussed finding a story in my mother’s memorabilia that gave me the idea for the book I’m writing now. When she was a young woman, a Kansas schoolteacher, my mother had the dream trip of a lifetime to the Los Angeles area to visit some girlhood friends. There was a love interest that failed and even an unexpected death. Of course the character is no longer anything like my mother, and the story is no longer hers, but I am using what I know and can surmise to create my novel, now at 75,000+ words. Last fall my husband and I travelled to the area and visited art galleries and museums along with historical societies to do invaluable research. I had never written historical fiction set earlier than 1990 before, and writing knowledgably about the twenties has been a fun challenge.
10) Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are everywhere. I got the idea for The Shadow Warriors from a tiny blurb in the Singapore Airlines Magazine. It said that the 5th International Computer Security Conference was meeting in May at Raffles Center in Singapore. My book started at the conference. I already had some characters from an earlier (not published) book. Places give me ideas, too. The area around the MIT campus has lent itself to many scenes. I set part of The Shadow Warriors in my husband’s hometown in Germany. A vacation furnished the idea and the setting for World of Mirrors. My son’s tale’s of Scout Camp gave me the idea for a novel set in the Northwoods, and two trips to the Burning Man Festival and a visit to a New England Folk Festival turned into Festival Madness, soon to be published on Kindle.
Sometimes ideas come at you like kazekamis. I was all set to do the 1928 book, had done a lot of research and everything, when a woman I didn’t know, a figment of my imagination, started telling me her story, I dropped everything and started writing the book, Chased By Death, now with an agent. Of course once we got into the story she stopped talking to me and I had to figure the rest out by myself. It was very weird. And her story took me to Colombian drug dealers, Panamanian banks, and swanky clubs in Miami and Cartagena. Even to Cuba! Talk about research! Sometimes you start from scratch, knowing nothing, but Google and Google Earth and the World Wide Web are your friends and constant companions. And did I mention a Spanish dictionary? Still, the ideas for this story came from former associates, friends and relatives. I just had to listen to my muse. There will always be a muse, but with the noise and chaos of our lives these days the muse may be hard to hear or understand. She talks to me in the shower and even during my aerobics class. I also like to go to art museums to hear her and to listen to unusual music or see a foreign movie. Ideas are everywhere.
11) Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
Love, love, love my Kindle! I read it in bed and in the living room, but most of all I read it when travelling. Once I ran out of paperbacks in Europe and discovered that books in English were very dear, like fifteen dollars each and I needed three more to make it home! The Kindle does away with that sort of thing. Another great thing about my Kindle is that I can email the Word manuscript of my work-in-progress to the Kindle. The typos and slow spots jump out at you! I can bookmark the errors or write down a few words to scan for. Not having page numbers is the only drawback.
Electronic Publishing? I sold my first novel, The Shadow Warriors, to a small ebook publisher that promptly went belly up. I took it to a POD publisher who also put the novel in an e-format. Sales were slow until Amazon bought the publisher and The Shadow Warriors became a Createspace book and a Kindle book. This was years ago and I still sell copies every month. So I like e-publishing a lot, so much that I’m considering taking a couple of old unsold novels out of mothballs and formatting them for the Kindle. I still love books of paper and continue to buy a lot of them. Books are wonderful in any format.
12) Are you in a critique or writing group? If so, how does it work and specifically how do the members help your writing?
As I mentioned earlier, I am in a writing group and I find it so helpful because my fellow writers insist that I can do better than what I just read to them and they are right, of course. I CAN do better. This group has been going on for many years, either in a bookstore or at a library. Members come and go and we soldier on. The format is a weekly meeting for a group of eight or nine, but we seldom have more than six in attendance at any meeting. Each member brings about six pages with copies for everyone. We read our work aloud and then we go around the table and the reader remains silent while each member of the group gives a “sandwich” critique, that is, what you like and what worked for you, what could be improved upon, and again, what you liked. There are usually good suggestions on how to improve a scene. We nitpick grammar and punctuation and discuss how the plot is working and is the character seems consistent.