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.