You are currently browsing CTHodges’s articles.
The Dames are pleased to welcome back fiction author Laurie Boris. Hi, Laurie! Tell us about your latest book, Sliding Past Vertical.
Sliding Past Vertical is not a typical love story. Sarah, a graphic artist, has made a few mistakes…okay, a bunch of them. Her life in Boston has not turned out the way she planned and everything is going wrong, including her codependent relationship with a charming-but-kinda-sleazy guitar player. Fortunately, her old boyfriend Emerson (no stranger to codependent relationships himself) is just a phone call away to help her clean up the mess. When her current mess is too big to handle, she decides she needs a radical change. This move puts her back in the same college town where Emerson still lives. And much too close for everyone’s comfort.
Sounds great! Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
Sure! I’m writing a “spinoff” novel based a character from Don’t Tell Anyone who wanted his story told. It’s been a great writing challenge for me so far. Also on the burner this year are a couple of romantic suspense novels. I hope to publish at least one of these in 2014.
It starts with coffee. I’ll write for a few hours, taking breaks to stretch and get more coffee. If anyone tries to talk to me, I’ll get crabby, because the characters are still wandering around in my head telling me things. They don’t like the competition.
As a coffee addict and a writer who needs complete isolation when she writes, I can completely understand the “crabby” bit. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
They are, at least for the first draft. I’ve tried it the other way, but it hasn’t worked out so well. An experiment with outlining lead to a near-mutiny, and I found myself letting the characters call the shots on scenes and then trying to shoehorn them into my plan. So I stopped and gave the story back to them. They were grateful. So is my husband, because I am much less crabby now.
Yes! The same thing happened to me when I tried writing from an outline; my main character completely rebelled and it took me twice as long to write the book. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
A foot or so from my left hand sits a copy of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. I really, really want to be reading it right now. I love baseball novels, especially this one, chock full of tasty prose with far more going on than just the game. My current favorite authors—TC Boyle, Joyce Carol Oates, JD Mader, so many others—look at life a half a bubble off plumb and not always on the pretty side. That appeals to me, because I’m fascinated with the “human” part of human nature: the part that’s flawed and broken but still redeemable.
Starting to hear the them from The Twilight Zone in my head. I love baseball, too! What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
When I make a connection with a reader. I’m huddled away in my room, pouring out the story I want to tell, the stories my characters tell me, and after, six, seven, thirteen drafts, I often develop a skewed perspective on whether it’s working. But when I start hearing from readers that they liked what I wrote or at least identified with it, I feel like I’ve done my job. It forms a complete loop.
What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
Well…clichés become so for a reason. On the cliché face of it, you will write with greater authenticity about actual life situations you’ve experienced. It’s in your blood; it’s in your pores. But I think a lot of writers have allowed themselves to be hamstrung by that advice. Writers have boundless imagination. We have empathy. We have the ability to learn. Arthur Golden dressed and made himself up as a geisha to get a better feel for the characters in Memoirs of a Geisha. I think we write what we want to know or what we want to better understand. I’ve written from the point of view of characters I’ve never been and never will be, mainly because I want to tell their stories. If I don’t listen well enough, or if I don’t allow myself to empathize with them, readers will sense that and the story will feel false.
Exactly! Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.
I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I’ll try to listen to the characters in my mind. Then I’ll start typing. Some of my writing friends say that they see their characters first, that their early scenes are visual and have lots of detail. Maybe I’m just odd, but I hear them first. I hear the dialogue, the conflicts. I’ve tried experimenting with outlining a novel, but either I don’t have it yet or my mind doesn’t want to go there. So I go back to listening. That’s why so often my first drafts look more like screenplays.
I can’t say I’m as quick as you are to get to the typing point, but I do the same thing, listen to the characters before I start writing. Did the classics have any effect on you in your formative years? (Shakespeare? Alice in Wonderland? Gulliver’s Travels?)
Because of the way literature was taught in my school district, and because of my own distaste for being told what to think, I turned away from the classics for a while. To me then, Shakespeare, Melville, and Steinbeck meant themes and symbolism that I didn’t necessarily see or believe in. I’ve forgiven my teachers and assigned myself to reread many of the books I’d been force-fed as a student. Several of them, like Moby-Dick, A Separate Peace, and The Grapes of Wrath, have become my favorites. I hope kids today are encouraged to reach outside the box and give their own interpretations of what they’re reading.
Are you in a critique group? If so, how does it work and specifically how do the members help your writing?
I’m in a critique group, and I consider it some of the most valuable time in my schedule. Even when—especially when—the members of the group tell me what I don’t want to hear. I trust their experience and opinions. The other writers will tell me if something isn’t working or if a character’s motivation is not clear. And by critiquing the other members’ work, I’m also learning. It’s a reciprocal relationship.
Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block?
I suffer not from “block” but “overwhelm.” Staring at a blank page usually means that I’m tired. So I’ll work on something else or take a break. Getting out for a walk or a swim usually shakes something loose.
“Overwhelm”—I like that! What is your VERB? (this is a big poster at a local mall)? If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and your behavior or attitude, what would it be?
My last verb was “swim.” These days it’s “breathe.” My mind gets ahead of itself at times, and once in a while I have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the view. Plus, a wise writing coach once told me that you can’t breathe and panic at the same time. It felt like good advice.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Laurie. I’m looking forward to your new book and the one that comes next. Readers, if you’d like to find out more about Laurie and her work, please visit the following sites:
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon/author/laurieboris
February 5, 2014 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: author interview, Minutes Before Sunset, multi-genre author, paranormal romance, Seconds Before Sunrise, Shannon A. Thompson, The Timely Death Trilogy, Young Adult | by CTHodges | 5 comments
The Dames are pleased to welcome YA author Shannon A. Thompson to our blog today. Hi, Shannon! What is your VERB (this is a big poster at a local mall)? If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and your behavior or attitude, what would it be?
I used to think my ultimate dream was to be a published writer until I actually became published. Then, I realized there was an even greater emotion – the happiness I feel when a reader expresses that I inspire them to follow their own dreams. I want to continue helping others achieve their dreams while I follow my own.
My ultimate goal – no matter how extreme it might seem – is to open an affordable art school. It might not be accredited, but I want it to be a place where artists can come together and meet accomplished artists in their field in order to network and grow into their art without needing thousands of dollars to do so.
Wonderful answer, Shannon, and I wish you luck in reaching your goal. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
My late mother is my biggest influence because she is my inspiration, and her inspiration is immortal. She taught me to read and write, using the art of storytelling as a coping mechanism for my night terrors and nightmares. When she died, I decided I wanted to spend my life pursuing what I love, and I haven’t stopped since. Ten years later, her photo is still on my desk, and her memory encourages me with every word I write.
What a lovely tribute to your late mother. I’m sure you miss her with every beat of your heart. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
My next novel releases March 22, 2014. Seconds Before Sunrise is book 2 of The Timely Death Trilogy, and the trilogy centers on a dark vs. light theme, which I explain below. It is a young-adult, paranormal romance, and it is told from two perspectives – one girl and one boy – because I wanted to give the guy a voice in young-adult romance genre instead of him simply being a mystery. The first installment, Minutes Before Sunset, was awarded Goodreads Book of the Month in July of 2013 for General Fiction. I am really excited to see where the trilogy takes readers as it continues into 2014!
Sounds intriguing and more than that, it sounds like a book I’d like to read. Congratulations on the Goodreads award! 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?
I have different themes in all of my works, but I’m going to focus on my latest piece, which is The Timely Death Trilogy. The major motifs, themes, and symbols revolve around dark vs. light – except the dark is good and the light is evil – and fate vs. choice. Identity is also a pressing issue because every character has two identities and each side of them is different.
Readers surprise me the most when they pick out their favorite quotes. I’ve never been able to guess which combination of words would stick out the most, and it’s always a delightful gift when a reader lets me know what their favorite moment, character, or quote was.
Not only intriguing but original, too. Where do you get your ideas?
As a child I suffered from extreme night terrors and nightmares. I often did not understand the difference between my dreams and reality, and for a child, this was very frightening. It was my mother who taught me how to turn my confusion into stories, and I continue to do so. Most of my novels are based off of my dreams, especially the trilogy, and I actually shared the dreams that inspired the trilogy on my website here: http://shannonathompson.com/2013/11/15/my-dream-goodreads-extras/ It began with a boy visiting me in my sleep.
Okay, your trilogy just moved to the top of my TBR list and I’m also going to check out your website more thoroughly. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
My characters are ultimately in charge. I look at my story’s outline like a road trip plan: I know where I start, I have an idea where I am ending, and I hope to visit a few places in-between. But I’m not always the one driving that vehicle. My characters often take over, so I can nap, and they make the biggest decisions about where we end up. I lose myself in those moments; they are my favorite.
Those are my favorite moments as a writer, too. What is a typical writing day like for you?
Every day is different for me, but it usually involves a lot of coffee and a loyal desk lamp. I have a very bizarre writing style. I write all of my dialogue first (like a screenplay) and then I later add in all of the other details. Then, I go back and add more before editing. This causes a lot of versions as well as binders full of papers, pictures, and notes. I actually wrote a little (humorous) piece about my average day as a writer on my website. Feel free to check it out: http://shannonathompson.com/2013/12/27/my-average-d/
I’ll be sure to take a look. Any teachers who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged?
Many teachers influenced me, and I was both encouraged and discouraged. The first teacher to truly take a moment to guide my passion was Mrs. Metcalf in elementary school. She would take my stories home, even though it wasn’t homework, and return with advice the next day. Her kindness has always stayed with me, and I found her kindness in many other teachers as well. I strive to be that kindness for someone.
Every writer needs a teacher like Mrs. Metcalf. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
I think electronic publishing has opened many doors for emerging writers, and it’s a fantastic opportunity for both writers and readers to explore the publishing world outside of the monopolized market. That being said, I still struggle to read on an e-reader. I prefer hardbacks.
I used to be that way, too, but as the years pass, I’m growing to love my ereader almost as much as I once loved my treasured hardbacks. How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
I honestly don’t classify myself with any specific genre. So far I have had young-adult fiction published of which included science-fiction, paranormal romance, and fantasy, but I also have poetry published, and I was invited to read more poems at a museum. Beyond that, my short story, Sean’s Bullet, is military-fiction, and I have even more genres – specifically nonfiction – that I hope to publish in the future. I believe in adventuring outside the constraints, and learning to love a variety of genres allows me to explore places in my mind that I would’ve never imagined before.
Yes, I agree. I’ve never cared much for that old advice to authors, “write what you know.” I prefer writing what I want to know. It’s so much more interesting. Are there any books on writing you have found most helpful? Or classes you’ve taken?
Like I said before, I truly believe in exploring in genres outside of your comfort zone. In college I made sure to study two different kinds of writing that were not fiction, and I fell in love with poetry – something I could have never guessed – and it taught me more than how to read and understand it. I also studied screenwriting that helped refine my focus on dialogue and simple movements.
Oh, I remember falling for poetry in college; Dickinson, cummings, Emerson, Gibran. The list goes on and on. Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block?
I believe that writer’s block happens when a writer is forcing something unnatural. For instance, a writer might want a scene to happen how they planned it, but the character sits down, crosses their arms, and refuses to say or do certain things. I think writer’s block can be cured by many things, but it can help if the writer keeps an open mind, listens to the story’s directions, and/or takes a short break (emphasis on the short. Too many people treat a break like the beginning to quit.) Writer’s block is nothing to be feared. It can actually be a good sign that your story is becoming so believable that you must now let it take over the reins.
“Too many people treat a break like the beginning to quit.” I love that and yes, I’ve been guilty of that too many times to count. Thank so much for joining us today, Shannon. Readers, to find out more about Shannon and her work or to purchase your own copy of her books visit the following links:
Website: http://shannonathompson.com – I share writing, editing, and publishing tips as well as my own experiences as I move forward as an author.
Amazon purchase link of Minutes Before Sunset: (book 1 of The Timely Death Trilogy)
$3.89 for Kindle, $12.79 for paperback.
Goodreads link for Seconds Before Sunrise: (book 2 of The Timely Death Trilogy)
Welcome, Robert. Tell us about your latest book, The Dead Don’t Forget.
The Dead Don’t Forget, from Oak Tree Press, is the second in a crime fiction series featuring screenwriter-sleuth Billy Winnetka. The books are set in Los Angeles in the 1990s. In this installment, Billy meets a screen legend—a now 80-something woman who was a huge star in the silent film age. Gwendolyn Barlow is living in her deteriorating mansion in Hancock Park, largely forgotten. But someone remembers her, because she has been getting disturbing phone calls, threatening her with death. Or so she says—no one really believes her at first. But things turn uglier when someone actually makes an attempt on her life. Billy is soon mired in an investigation that suggests more than one person may have a reason to want Gwendolyn dead. Meanwhile, Billy is spending his days on the movie set where his screenplay, Perchance to Dream, is being filmed. It is not going well. A hothead novice director is wreaking havoc, and, being Hollywood, innocent heads will roll. Billy’s only solace is a new romance—with Gwendolyn’s attorney, Kate Hennessey. But in Billy’s world, nothing, especially not love, is without complications.
A forgotten screen legend, a screenwriter sleuth, and a touch of romance. Sounds unique and intriguing. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
That is such an interesting question. I don’t think non-writers often realize that characters do take on a life of their own and sometimes take the lead in what happens to them in a novel. And when they intersect with another character who has a mind of his or her own, that’s when things can get really complicated! Of course, as the writer, I have the responsibility of not letting things get out of hand—but, really, sometimes characters just do what they want to do and you are pretty powerless in keeping them from doing it.
I love that answer! I often think of my days teaching with my characters as my students and me doing my best to keep them in control. As with teaching, I’m not always successful. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
I have a professional background as a book publicist, so the promotion side of things comes pretty naturally to me after years of publicizing other people’s books. Having said that, I was raised not to be self-aggrandizing, so it is far harder for me to hawk my own wares than someone else’s. And book promotion, like all of publishing, has changed so much, for better and worse, since I started working thirty-some years ago. Certainly the explosion of social media and web-based book sites (like this blog!) have made it easier to reach an audience all over the world quickly and cheaply, but advances in technology also means that there are far more writers and books out there vying for the attention of a relatively fixed audience. I like to keep promotion on a grass-roots level, connecting with readers as directly as possible, and I hope that those readers will like my work and spread the word. I don’t hate promoting—but it certainly is time-consuming and steals time from writing. That’s a reality writers of an earlier time didn’t have to deal with as much.
Book promotion has changed in so many ways since I started writing and I consider myself something of a rookie having only been writing (seriously) for a handful of years. How long have you been writing?
Well, I started writing in junior high, and published things in high school and college literary magazines. But I was forty before my first book was published—the literary cookbook, A Taste of Murder—and my first novel didn’t appear until six years after that.
I live in southern California, and that locale has certainly played a significant role in my two mystery novels, which are set in Los Angeles inside the film industry. I’m not a native Californian, but came here of my own volition almost thirty years ago. L.A. gets a bum rap, but there is so much about the city to recommend it—not just the weather—if you really get to know it. That’s the key: I think you really need to live here to understand this sprawling landscape. A tourist visit can’t capture its charms, many of which are hidden. Readers have told me that the books do convey those charms, as well as the quirks, of Los Angeles. I am always pleased to get that feedback, because I think of the books as love letters to the city—imperfect as that love may be.
I always enjoy a book more if the author takes the time to include the location as part of the story as if it’s another character. 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?
Hm. If I think about it, I guess that all of my work, or at least my best work, is built on the belief that our expectations and plans in life do not always play out as we intend. Not regret, exactly, but the bittersweet realization that life is defined by compromises and decisions that we don’t—indeed, can’t—foresee when we are younger. It is always thrilling when a reader identifies something in a story that you didn’t realize was there. When they do, it underscores how much good writing is built on unconscious intentions and subtle execution rather than calculated or dictatorial narrative. A good writer shouldn’t tell a reader what to think.
What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?
My greatest weakness, I think, is that I am easily distracted. I am curious about many things and always have more than one project on the back burners. Sometimes it is hard for me to focus and finish one. It seems I am often more interested in working on whatever book or story or play I am not working on at the time. Admittedly, it is a fractured approach. Not one I would recommend to aspiring writers.
Oh, I can relate. Distraction is my biggest weakness also and one I wish I could learn to control. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
It is sage advice. One can only write well about what one knows. Of course, you can increase the parameters of what you know not only by living life to the fullest, but also by reading and researching. I think a good writer learns how to take what he or she “knows” as raw material and transform it into something larger. My novels, for instance, are set in Hollywood and certainly draw on my own experiences working in the film business, but they are not reportage. That would be too dull. I hope I have been able to use the essential truth of my own experience and knowledge to create something more interesting than what might actually have happened.
What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall) If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and you behavior or attitude, what would it be?
I don’t have a verb, but I do have a motto, spotted once on a bumper sticker, which is “Don’t Die Wondering.” I don’t want to go to my grave wondering what might have been. I think we should try things that interest us, even if we are afraid we might fail. And we might. But we don’t know until we try.
Another great answer and I love your motto! Any family influences? Memoirs in the making?
My father died very recently after a long illness and for some time I have toyed with the idea of writing about my experiences as a son wrestling with illness and loss. Right now, the emotions are still a little too raw, and, going back to what I said about writing what you know, I’m not sure that I would be able to turn my experience into anything worthwhile that others might want to read. But it is certainly on one of those aforementioned back burners.
After writing two books with my sister about a family member I can tell you it’s an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
I do use a Kindle, but still prefer the old-fashioned bound book. But, that’s just personal preference. E-books are books. Mainstream publishers took a long time to embrace electronic publishing, but have finally come to the realization that many readers came to first: that it is just another means of conveying or delivering information. As a writer I just want people to read. I don’t care how they choose to do it.
As a writer and a teacher, I agree wholeheartedly with your answer—it doesn’t matter how they read, only that they are reading. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
Well, I’ve told this story many times. My protagonist, Billy Winnetka, was born while I was driving on the freeway in Los Angeles and passed the exit for Winnetka Blvd. His name flashed through my head and right then and there I decided it was the name of a fictional detective. By the time I had driven the rest of the way home I had created the rough outline for the first book, The Wicked and the Dead. None of my characters is based directly on anyone I’ve known, but some of them certainly have characteristics of people I have known. I would say that many of them are composites, borrowing attributes from many people, but in the end fictional.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Robert! Readers, to learn more about Robert and his books, visit the following links:
Oak Tree Press blog: http://otpblog.blogspot.com/
Read my monthly book review column, “Well Read,” at www.BookPage.com
December 11, 2013 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: author interview, Mags and the AARP Gang, mystery author, mystery series, Nancy Lynn Jarvis, Regan McHenry Real Estate Mystery series | by CTHodges | 8 comments
Welcome, Nancy. Tell us about your latest book, Mags and the AARP Gang.
I’d written three books in the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series and was working on the fourth, but about half way through The Widow’s Walk League, in my mind this pesky old woman started telling me to take a time out and write about her. She and her octogenarian friends decided to rob the bank that was about to foreclose on their mobile home park to pay off the mortgage and things ― well ― things got out of hand. She was funny and quirky. I made her wait until I finished the mystery, but then I gave her free reign and wrote Mags and the AARP Gang.
How fun. I love it when my characters talk to me. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
Much as I loved Mags, I missed Regan, Tom, and Dave. Regan, a Realtor who swears she’s not going to play amateur sleuth again, has a logical husband, Tom Kiley, who tries to explain why her flights of fancy about murder mustn’t be right. I enjoy writing about the way their minds work together, but I especially enjoy writing scenes with Dave, Regan’s long suffering best friend whose official title is Santa Cruz Police Department Ombudsman, and all that her antics put him through. It was time to get back to them. The book I’m working on now, The Murder House, should be out right about now.
I think I already know the answer to this question, but I’ll ask it anyway; when you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
Oh, what a question. I like to think I am, but then they tell me something I didn’t know. The worst (best) case was the murderer in Backyard Bones. I changed my mind about who the killer was two thirds of the way through the book. No problem, I thought; before continuing, I’ll just go back and put clues about the murderer’s identity in the right places. When I went back, the clues were already there. It felt like the murderer was playing me just like Regan was being played by him.
Like I said, I love it when my characters talk to me but when they start messing with my mind, that’s a little spooky! How long have you been writing?
I began writing in 2008; I never had any aspirations to be a writer before then. Writing began as a time filling game when I took a time-out from selling real estate after the market collapsed; boredom was my motivation for writing. I wrote The Death Contingency, put it on a shelf, and started on Backyard Bones, never intending for the books to be published.
That changed when a friend, a woman who worked at writing every day for years, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Charlotte had always surrounded herself with critique circles, mentors, and writing instructors and groups who sidetracked her enough that she never finished anything she wrote. She said her one remaining desire in life was to see her name in print. You could say she was the biggest influence in my writing career. My first book was dedicated to her and got published so she could see her name in print.
Without a doubt it’s meeting other writers and discovering we have shared experiences. But I’ve had so many adventures I would never have had in life if I didn’t start writing and “met” people from all over the world because of the books which is wonderful, too. It’s also pretty amazing when someone writes a good review, or stops me and says, “I love your books. I’ve read all of them.”
Being a writer is definitely an adventure—with or without the other writers! Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
I was a Realtor for twenty-five years ― all Realtors say they could write a book, I just do. I’m also the sort of person who can’t have dinner in a restaurant without making up stories about all the other patrons.
I watch people and what they do and then steal from them. When I was trying to figure out how Mags and her gang could gently rob a bank, I sat in my bank to think about it. A woman came in and caused such a commotion that everyone in the bank focused on her. She created a perfect diversion and became the distraction Mags used so customers wouldn’t know the bank was being robbed…at least until everything went wrong.
I’m a people-watcher, too, and I’d say most writers are How many hours a day do you write, where, any specific circumstances help or hurt your process?
I am the world’s laziest most undisciplined writer. I have no routine. I only write when the mood moves me. I do, however, think about the plot and dialogue constantly, especially when I’m driving. I hope I never hurt anyone because my mind is elsewhere.
I’m with you. When I try to set up a schedule and stick to it, that’s usually when I can’t accomplish anything so I avoid that at all times, if possible. How do you classify yourself as a writer?
Although the book covers may not suggest it, my books are cozy mysteries. The books are set in a small community, there’s a female amateur sleuth, there’s a body in the first chapter, little graphic violence or sex, and the books have nicely resolved and satisfying conclusions. Even Mags follows that pattern although it’s not exactly a mystery.
Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
Mysteries were. I read all the Nancy Drew books before I discovered The Hardy Boys, which I liked much better. But I was a good reader at an early age and bored by most age-appropriate books. My grandmother was a lover of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers as well as some pretty dreadful true crime novels. She let me read her books even though my mother would never have approved.
Oh, yeah, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, they were a major part of every child’s life back when I was growing up. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
I have a love-hate relationship with my Kindle. It’s not a book. I love the way books feel and smell. I love turning real book pages and being able to find and return to a passage I didn’t know I would want to read again, and therefore, didn’t bookmark. I like that when I fall asleep while reading a real book in bed, I won’t suffer a plastic crash injury. But…there’s nothing like the instant gratification of going to the computer at ten o’clock at night, pushing a couple of keys, and having a new book to read.
As a writer, I know significantly more of my books have been read because they are published electronically as well as in print, so I have to be pleased with it.
I love the feel of a book in my hands and I have some favorite “comfort reads” that I refuse to read as an e-book but as you said, the convenience of an e-reader is a big plus. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
My characters usually start out as someone I know. I’m a visual writer: I need to see what, and who, I’m writing. Most characters start out with their own names and mannerisms, too, but in the course of writing them, their names and personalities change to suit the characters in my books.
What’s your attitude toward the standard advice: write what you know?
For me, that’s the only way I can write. I so admire J.K. Rowlings for being able to create the world of Harry Potter. I could never do that. I write about what I know well, and then have fun embellishing like crazy.
Thanks so much for joining the Dames today, Nancy, and for sharing a bit of your writing journey with us. Readers, to find out more about Nancy and her books, visit her website, Good Read Mysteries.
Watch for Nancy’s latest installment in the Regan McHenry Real Estate mystery series, The Murder House. Coming in January!
The Murder House
Every community has a house that people walk by hurriedly, nervously peeking at it out of the corner of their eye. Bonny Doon is no exception. A bloody double homicide occurred in the Murder House almost twenty years ago and the killer has eluded capture ever since. Recently the house was inherited and the new owner wants to sell.
The problem is no one wants to buy a house with a reputation and reports that it’s home to ghosts. The seller thinks Realtor Regan McHenry would make a perfect listing agent ― after all; with her penchant for playing amateur sleuth, she’s no stranger to murder.
This is the perfect book for you to read if you don’t believe in ghosts — and an even better book to read if you do.
November 13, 2013 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: Chanukah Guilt, cozy mystery, Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries, Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Talk Dirty Yiddish, Unleavened Dead, Yom Killer | by CTHodges | 4 comments
Today the Dames are pleased to welcome cozy mystery author Rabbi Ilene Schneider. Tell us about your latest book, UNLEAVENED DEAD.
UNLEAVENED DEAD is the 2nd book in the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries. It is, like the 1st book CHANUKAH GUILT, a cozy, humorous mystery featuring a rabbi in a small town in So. Jersey, not far from Philadelphia, who finds herself taking on the role of an amateur sleuth. She is looking into what appears to be an accidental death by carbon monoxide poisoning of a couple who belong to her synagogue. At the same time, her niece’s partner becomes the prime suspect in the hit-and-run death of a new dean who had demoted her. It doesn’t help that an SUV similar to hers was seen hitting the dean, and that her car has a body-sized dent on the front bumper.
Sounds intriguing and fun—I always like a little humor mixed in with my mysteries. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I have just finished the editing and proofing of the galleys for the 2nd edition of my first book, CHANUKAH GUILT. I rewrote sections that seemed to point to only one suspect as “the bad guy” so they are more ambiguous. In the same way that DVDs often include bonus specials, I also appended an “alternate solution” after the end of the book. I am also working on the 3rd book in the series, YOM KILLER.
I don’t have a typical day, as I still have a day job (as a chaplain for a hospice) which can be emotionally draining. I often find myself reading (my favorite way to unwind) when I should be writing. I cannot write at home, so I take myself off to a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks or some other location that doesn’t mind people using them as an office and has wall plugs to recharge laptop batteries. I find I can concentrate when there is ambient noise I can ignore because it has nothing to do with me. At home, my unwashed laundry and unwatered plants, not to mention telemarketers who ignore the Do-Not-Call list, are always interrupting my train of thought.
I’m your opposite as I have to have quiet when I’m writing. I can’t imagine writing even on sentence in a crowded venue, I’m always too busy people watching. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
My characters, absolutely. They tell me what is going to happen. I sometimes have only a vague idea, and then they take me in a different direction. As you can tell from my answer, I am a pantser, not a plotter.
Okay, not opposite on this one. I’m a pantser too and love giving the control over to my characters. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
For one thing, I participate in online interviews and guest blogs! I am also on Facebook and have an email list for readers who are not on Facebook. I participate on several listserves and email groups. I attend quite a few mystery writers conferences, and volunteer to be on panels at them. And I accept almost any invitation I receive to speak to an organization, book club, library. But there are times when I feel as though I’m “preaching to the choir,” and promoting to the same people all the time. I’m always looking for new ways to expand my fan base and to network with new people.
How long have you been writing?
Since I was about 8 or 9 and began writing parodies of nursery rhymes. In a way, I have been a professional writer for 50 years, ever since Ingénue Magazine paid me $5 to print a eulogy I sent them about JFK. But I began writing my 1st fiction book in 2002, so it’s been 11 years now.
Parodies of nursery rhymes—I love that idea! What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
When people tell me how much they enjoyed reading what I wrote. When UNLEAVENED DEAD was published, a woman who serves with me on the board of our local library bought the book. (She was a big fan of CHANUKAH GUILT, and had been waiting patiently for book #2.) Her husband of many years had died just a few months before, and she was still mourning the loss. When she came to my book launch party a few weeks after she had bought the book, I asked her if she had read it and enjoyed it. She said, “Enjoyed it? I got home and began reading it in bed. I went to sleep with a smile on my face for the next three nights.” That to me is not just satisfying, but a symbol of success. It was the best praise I could have received.
What a lovely thing to hear from a reader. Tell us a little bit about where you live.
I live in southern New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia. When people make jokes about New Jersey, it’s because of No. Jersey. So. Jersey is a different state. It is more rural. It is the site of the Pine Barrens, 1.1 million acres of preserved land that is protected by State, Federal, and even U.N. statutes. It’s a wonderful place to live. If I drive a mile in one direction, I’m in the middle of suburbia (unfortunately, including the traffic caused by suburban sprawl); a mile the other direction, I’m in the middle of the Pine Barrens. And if I feel the need for some urban atmosphere, Philadelphia is only about 12 miles away.
I had heard that New Jersey differed quite a bit depending on where you were in the state. Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?
Yes! I had written the character of Aviva’s 1st ex-husband (she’s been twice married and divorced) so she would have an entrée into the police department after he was appointed the temporary Director of Public Safety for her town. I had expected him to be an important albeit fairly minor character. But readers kept asking me about Aviva’s relationship with him and how it was going to develop. I hadn’t planned anything further, but did explore their interactions in the 2nd book and will continue to do so.
Another example is when readers tell me they were on the edge of their seats during certain scenes, which I had not considered to be all that suspenseful. But, of course, I knew what the outcome would be.
Ha, knowing the outcome does tend to take the suspense out of it! What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
I agree to a certain extent. I write in the 1st person, and Aviva’s personality reflects a lot of mine, although her personal life is different. Physically, she and I look alike – it’s hard for me to put myself into the mindset of someone young, svelt, fit, tall, and flat-chested. And even though I have worked in a pulpit only part-time, and it was many years ago, I do understand the day-to-day life of a congregational rabbi. But there are aspects of the books I do not know from 1st hand experience. Fortunately, I enjoy doing research.
How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
I call myself a cozy mystery writer, as opposed to a suspense or thriller writer, although I also have a nonfiction book in print, TALK DIRTY YIDDISH, and plans for some other nonfiction works as well.
How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
I observe people. Some of my characters are based on strangers, people I see at bookstore cafés or restaurants or stores, and my idle speculations about them. I am also an unabashed eavesdropper, and sometimes work overheard conversations, particularly one-sided cell phone ones, into my books. But my main characters are never based on people I know. At the most, they are composites.
Thank you for joining us today and sharing a part of your writing world. Readers, to find out more about Rabbi Ilene Schneider and her books, visit these sites:
October 16, 2013 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: author interview, Dames' Dozen, Emily Castles Series, Helen Smith, Invitation to Die, mystery author, mystery series | by CTHodges | 6 comments
Welcome to the Dames of Dialogue, Helen. Tell us about your latest book, Invitation to Die.
Invitation to Die is the first full-length novel in my new British murder mystery series. It’s an entertaining read featuring an amateur sleuth, twenty-six-year-old Emily Castles. When a murder takes place at a romance author’s conference in Bloomsbury, London, Emily teams up with eccentric philosophy professor Dr. Muriel to investigate.
The paperback and ebook were published in May this year. The audio CD was released yesterday, 15th October, narrated by award-winning actor Alison Larkin.
Sounds intriguing. I’ll be sure to add it to my TBR list. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
The follow-up, Beyond Belief, will be published in January 2014. It’s set in Torquay, England. A famous magician has offered £50,000 to anyone who can prove the existence of the paranormal during the Belief and Beyond conference that takes place in Torquay over the Easter weekend. When a celebrated psychic predicts that the magician will die that weekend, Emily and Dr. Muriel investigate.
I love series book which only makes Invitation to Die (love that title, by the way!) more appealing. What is a typical writing day like for you?
I’m trying to be healthy and take some exercise every day because writing is so sedentary. I have promised myself that a typical writing day will begin with a swim. After that, I’ll spend about five hours writing and an hour or two on emails and admin. The truth is that my days can vary wildly, depending on how the writing’s going. I need to spend less time doing more. But I think we all feel that, no matter what kind of job we do.
Less time doing more, yes, that’s a problem for almost every author I know. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
For me, promotion means meeting people in a sociable, fun environment – whether in real life or online – and giving them the opportunity to discover my books, with no pressure to buy. I enjoy doing it.
I give readings and participate in panel discussions at book festivals and other literary events, including crime conventions like CrimeFest and Bouchercon. I have hosted a popular event called The Literary Cabaret at book festivals in London, programming a mix of readings from award-winning authors interspersed with music from our house band. I have also taken part in Literary Death Match: four authors read from their books and are judged on literary merit, performance and intangibles. I have been a judge and a participating author, and was delighted to win my event. It was a lot of fun –I have a medal to prove that I’m a Literary Death Match champion!
Facebook, Twitter and blogs provide an online opportunity to “meet” and interact with people from all over the world, even when they can’t get to London to hear me read. I’m very grateful to book bloggers for hosting me on their sites and giving me the opportunity to connect with their readers by doing interviews and guest posts like this one.
I started my first novel when I was about ten years old, with the world-weary feeling that I had already “left it too late” to make my mark on the literary scene – I was right, too, because it never did get published. In my teens, I made a plan to live an interesting life and then settle down to write when I was thirty, which is what I did. I traveled all over the world with my daughter. And then I came back to London and started writing my first book, which was published a few years later.
All I can say is congratulations for your determination. I often say my biggest regret is that I waited so long to get serious about my writing. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
It makes me really happy if someone tells me one of my books made them laugh.
Love that answer! Tell us a little bit about where you live.
I live in London, where most of my books are set. It’s an extraordinarily inclusive, ethnically-diverse city with a rich literary heritage and I’m fortunate to live here.
London is in the top five on my list of places I’d like to visit someday. Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
I loved reading when I was a child. The books I read had such a profound effect on me that I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. My favorite authors included Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, Mary Norton and Joan Aiken.
All wonderful authors. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
I find inspiration in the things around me. My books usually start as a “what if…”
Ah, the old “what if?” game. I play that all the time and it’s an excellent way to get your writing going. What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall) If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and your behavior or attitude, what would it be?
Good one! I don’t believe we’ve ever gotten that answer before. Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.
I make plenty of notes before I start. I always know how the book will progress, including the beginning, the middle and the end, together with most of the major plot points. I use a document on my computer as a notebook and I work up ideas and revise blocks of text in it before transferring them to the manuscript. I only count the words that go into the manuscript in my daily word count, so sometimes the total can be quite low.
A very organized—and probably effective—way to write. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
Yes, I have a Kindle and I love it. Electronic publishing is a fantastic innovation. People are buying and reading more books and the author gets a cut of royalties on every sale. Electronic books are reasonably priced and easy to download. What’s more, they will never go out of print. It’s a revolution and it’s good news for all of us, whether readers or writers.
I agree wholeheartedly, Helen. Thanks so much for joining us today and giving us a brief insight into your life as a writer. The Dames hope you’ll come back and visit us often!
Want to find out more about Helen and her books? Visit the following links:
Today the Dames are pleased to shine the spotlight on multi-genre author James Callan. Welcome, Jim! Tell us about your latest book, A Ton of Gold.
My latest published book is a suspense novel. I asked the question, can an old Texas folktale affect the lives of people today. A Ton of Gold was the result. In it, Crystal Moore, a young computer scientist, is thrust into the midst of murder, arson, and kidnapping all because of a long forgotten folktale, coupled with greed. She needs all the help she can get from a former bull rider, a streetwise friend, and a seventy-six your old feisty grandmother. It is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions, or from the publisher, Oak Tree Press.
Wow, sounds great. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now?
I am just finishing a book on the craft of writing titled: How to Write Great Dialog. Last year, I had been asked to write a book on character development, which was published earlier this year. It was well received, so when asked to write one on dialog, I quickly agreed.
Writing dialog is something every author should strive to get right so I’m sure the book will do well. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I always say, it’s my book and I am in control. The characters may not see the big picture I have for the book. But, since they are in the middle of the book and if I’ve crafted them well enough that they begin to talk to me, I listen. More than once, I’ve changed the direction of the book, or the role of a character because of what a character is telling me. I guess the answer is, I maintain control, but I am open to other opinions and if they make sense to me, I will adjust to accommodate them.
A combination of both or in other words, a collaboration between the author and the characters, That’s what works best for me, too. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
I read Baldacci and Grisham for their intricate plotting. I read Dick Francis for his smooth flow of words. And I read Jory Sherman for his ability to paint pictures with words.
You have a couple of my favorites in there. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer.
When I write a scene that makes me cry or laugh, even on the fifth or tenth reading, I know why I spend time writing.
Fabulous answer! There are at least three scenes in Whistling Woman, the book I co-wrote with my sister, that still, even after hundreds, maybe even thousands of times reading, still bring tears to my eyes. Tell us a little bit about where you live.
My wife and I are fortunate to live in two places. We have a lovely home in Texas in the middle of a forest. If we hear a car, we know someone is coming to visit us. It is quiet and peaceful, with a small lake down a gentle slope from the office where I write. But we also have a beautiful place on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It is in the middle of constant activity and music. It is the absolute opposite of our place in Texas. But, we love both of them.
That’s wonderful, you have two very different worlds to choose from. What are the major themes or motifs in your work? Do readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?
I would say the major motif in my books is an ordinary person thrust into an extra-ordinary situation. My protagonist is never looking for trouble, thrills, or even excitement. Generally, they are reluctant to get involved. But their sense of justice or duty forces them to become involved. And yes, occasionally a reader sees something I didn’t, an added benefit, so to speak. I love it when that happens.
How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
I began writing non-fiction because that’s what I knew. I had been in the mathematics and computer science field for twenty-five years. When I started to write, what I knew about was math and computers. But my goal was to write mystery and suspense. That’s what I’ve done for a number of years now and have seven published. But, as I mentioned above, over the last twelve months, I’ve also written two non-fiction books on the craft of writing.
Besides “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
My two activities now are: writing and traveling. Of course, nowadays, writing must include social media.
Ugh, social media…the love/hate relationship in every author’s life—at least in mine! Where do you get your ideas?
From everywhere. A 95,000 word suspense novel titled A Silver Medallion (due out in 2014) came from a three paragraph story I read in the L.A. Times. A Ton of Gold was the result of reading an old Texas folktale and wondering how such could affect people’s lives today. Several churches were torched in east Texas a few years ago. The arsonists were eventually caught, but no satisfactory motive was ever given. I wondered what a motive would be to burn several churches. Cleansed by Fire resulted. Other books have come from similar prompts. Ideas are floating around us every day. We simply have to ask a few questions. How? What if? Why? Why not?
I’ve always thought it’s amazing how a creative mind can take a flicker of time and turn it into a story or a novel. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
I like a “real” book. I like the feel, the smell, the familiarity of a paper book. However, e-books are not only here to stay, but are growing in popularity. So, my wife and I each have e-readers. At this point, I’d say I read about half as many books on my Kindle as I do in paper. My wife is probably fifty-fifty. E-publishing will become more important every year. The younger generation is geared to electronic devices. As they become the dominant market for books, e-books will flourish. That may be what saves publishers. With e-books, they have no returns, no remainders, no warehouses of books, less delivery cost, and on and on. We all need to applaud e-books. But, I still like paper books and have a library full of them.
I’m with you and your wife—though I’m probably more at 75% e-books and 25% print, which is usually reserved for my favorite books, the ones I read over and over again. There’s just something about holding them in my hands. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
Good question. I’d say my characters are based loosely on people I know. Key word here is “based.” I do not model any characters after people I know. But I will take a characteristic of someone I know and let that be the basic characteristic of one of my characters. Beyond that, the character will diverge, sometimes sharply. I don’t think I’ve ever had a character based closely on a person I know—at least, not that I realized.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Jim. I enjoyed learning more about you and your writer’s world. We hope you’ll come back to visit often!
To find out more about Jim and his work, visit the following sites:
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG
Hi, Betty. Welcome to the Dames of Dialogue. Tell us about your latest book, “BROKEN SILENCE #15 OF THE HAWKMAN SERIES”
Annie and Babs Smith, along with their dog, Lucy, are being held hostage. Detective Chandler and his officers, along with Hawkman, trek through the wooded hills in search of the group to no avail. With the help of Hawkman’s new friend Harmon, and his helicopter, they are able to corner the group… but will that be enough to end the trauma?
When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I might have control for the first 3 or 4 chapters, but as soon as the characters are cast, they take over. There’s no way I can gain control unless I quit and start a new book. However, I thoroughly enjoy the take over as it’s always fun to see where they’re going to lead me.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve dabbled in writing most of my life, but didn’t get serious until the last thirty-five years. The first book of the ‘Hawkman Series’- “THE ENEMY STALKS” took me approximately seven years to complete and many rewrites before I submitted it to a small e-book publisher. This person gave me a fabulous critique; told me to go back to the computer, fix it, then resubmit.. Which I did and found myself a published author within a year. What a thrill. Before I found this publisher, I had a very bad experience with a fraudulent one. Along with several other writers, we were able to drum this bunch off the internet. I no more got settled with my new publisher and had written several more books for the ‘Hawkman Series’, when he announced he was going to have to quit because he needed to work a full time job to support his family and couldn’t do his authors justice. So I was off and running to find another publisher. It wasn’t easy, as I had a series fully developed and adding volumes. What publisher would want me? I lucked out and Deb Staples of SynergEbooks took me under her wing; lock, stock and barrel. I’ve been with her ever since, and stayed very happy.
What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?
I find working on the first chapters and the end of my book are my strongest areas. The middle of my book, which should hold my readers with tension and suspense; I slow down and occasionally stumble. Knowing this I pay special attention to this section.
How many hours a day do you write, where, any specific circumstances help or hurt your process?
My hours of writing vary. There are days that I have other things on my agenda-like housework, or I may spend hours marketing. If I do settle in on writing I usually spend anywhere from 3 to 8 hours at the computer in my office. I like it quiet, no music and (if possible, no interruptions).
How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
I’m a fiction writer of Mystery/Suspense. I love the challenge of plotting scenes.
Where do you get your ideas?
The ‘Hawkman Series’ was born at Copco Lake. This is a lake nestled in the hills of Northern California, We have a home located on the bank where the Klamath River dumps into this body of water. The surrounding area is covered in forest and sparsely populated. Many colorful characters live in the log cabins and shacks scattered through the woods. If you listen carefully the stories are bountiful. An active imagination can take bits and pieces and run with them. Many stories have evolved from this practice and I have many more developing in my mind.
Any family influences? Memoirs in the making?
My whole family has encouraged me from the very beginning not only to write a book, but once I did, they read them. Since I’m a mystery/suspense writer, I have no desire to write memoirs. I will pick out life experiences and use them in my stories, which are fun, especially with my grandma and grandpa who lived on a farm and were poor as church mice.
Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
Yes, I have a Kindle and love it. Electronic publishing is wonderful. I’ve always said that one day we’d be reading books on our cell phones, and we are. Great way to get younger kids into a reading habit. They were practically born with a reader in their hands. I think e-books are a boon for all of us.
How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
Hawkman, my protagonist in the ‘Hawkman Series’, was in my head for years before I finally put him on paper. Other characters were figments of my imagination, and I’m sure they have mannerisms I’ve observed in other people. I love doing the colorful personalities of the extras in my stories. Some were eccentric, others odd looking with idiosyncrasies.
Are you in a critique group? If so, how does it work and specifically how do the members help your writing?
Yes. The group is very diverse. I’m very weak in grammar and without the help of some of the members, I’d never get published. They are also excellent in catching typos and sequence problems.
12-What’s your attitude toward the standard advice: write what you know?
I have no problem with ‘write what you know’, as long as you’re willing to do research on things you don’t know. No one person can know everything, so regardless of whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, you’ll need to spend time looking things up. You want your information to be as accurate as possible.
HAWKMAN SERIES (urls for each book)
STAND ALONE THRILLERS
Today, the Dames are pleased to welcome multi-genre author, Phillip Depoy. Tell us about your latest book, DECEMBER’S THORN.
DECEMBER’S THORN is the 8th novel in the Fever Devilin series. In this particular one Fever is awakened late at night toward the end of December by a woman claiming to be his wife, though he’s never been married and, in fact, has a very lovely fiancé. There ensues, as they say, a fairly bizarre story filled, as are all the Fever Devilin books, with folklore and traditional stories. This one is quite related to the Tristan mythology from Wales. The Tristan stories, with King Mark and Iseult, predate the Arthurian romances, and are, as it turns out, the basis for the Guinevere, Lancelot, and Arthur love triangle. Which gives us a bit of a hint as to the storyline for DECEMBER’S THORN. Complicating the issue is the fact that none of Fever’s friends believe that the mysterious “ghost wife” exists anywhere outside of Fever’s troubled, hallucinatory imagination.
Wow, that sounds intriguing. I’m definitely going to have to check out your series. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I’m working on several things, actually. I’m about half-way through the next Fever Devilin (tentatively called MURDER’S HARP). I’m working on a thriller concerning ancient documents. A non-fiction book called FAMOUS UNKNOWN is in the works. And as a playwright, I’ve got a twisted Appalachian version of OEDIPUS set during the Depression scheduled soon, and a theatrical version of the aforementioned TRISTAN AND ISEULT mythology.
Lots of irons in your fire and all of them, like your aforementioned December’s Thorn, sound intriguing. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure anyone’s in control. It’s chaos in here. But having been involved in the so-called professional theatre world for 40 years, I do have a fairly easy time assuming characters and letting those people work themselves out, especially in dialog. They have lives of their own, I just watch. I mean, when the writing is at its best, I don’t have the feeling I’m writing at all. I have the sensation that I’m—I don’t know—just taking dictation. No idea where it comes from.
Oh, I love it when I get in the zone like that and hardly notice what I’m typing, much less where it’s coming from. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
I don’t read as much fiction as I used to, because if it’s really good I find myself wanting to imitate it, and if it’s not very good, I find myself irritated by it. Either way its distracting. But I like John Fowles a lot. Of course I liked THE MAGUS and THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN, but recently I finally read one that I didn’t like when I was younger and now believe to be one of his greatest works, a book with the unappetizing title A MAGGOT. In the non-fiction arena, I’ve been enjoying John Macintyre’s books, AGENT ZIG ZAG and OPERATION MINCEMEAT. I also read poetry. I’m still amazed by Emily Dickenson, and I saw Richard Wilbur read live four or five years ago and I still can’t over his poetry.
Emily Dickenson was the first poet I remember reading and loving back when I was in junior high school and first beginning to develop a love for poetry. How long have you been writing?
I started writing in the late spring of 1965 and I’ve written something every day since then. Seriously, every day. I mean, you’d think I’d be better than I am by now, after all that. My 10th grade English teacher, Marilyn May, encouraged me to write more after a fiction exercise in her class. There are only three things in the world I like doing better than sitting and writing.
Every day? Wow, I wish I had your drive! 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 the Fever Devilin series, traditional literature, folklore, and mythology are very important. I was a folklore minor in undergraduate school had the fantastic opportunity of doing field research in Appalachia as part of my course of study. I collected songs and jokes and stories on tape. I documented, on video, a traditional chair maker, the last of his kind in the state, as it turned out. I made a lot of friends and have continued to use that material over the years. Because of that I sometimes get really great notes from readers who’re fans of Joseph Campbell (whom I met in 1979 in Atlanta). I’m also interested in Taoist thought, and occasionally people who understand those philosophies better than I do send me really interesting commentary.
Having grown up in east Tennessee and now living in western North Carolina, I can tell you this area is rich in folklore, be it from the mountain people or from the Cherokee. If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?
I would talk with Jorge Luis Borges—and a really good translator, because while my Spanish is fair, I’d really want to understand everything. It’s actually a travesty that he was never awarded the Nobel Prize. I have long believed him to be the greatest writer of the 20th Century. I would like to discuss the nature of Time, the concept of the Aleph, and hear any story he wanted to tell me.
I generally write for most of the morning. I have an office in my home; it’s exceedingly eclectic, which is a very much nicer way of saying messy to the point of chaos. I usually have a goal of a number of pages. That number depends on the urgency of a deadline or the project itself—theatre, fiction, or non-fiction. After lunch I usually read and edit. Since I write every day no matter what, the specific circumstances of the day, my so-called life, health, psychology, even sobriety, never enter into the process one way or the other.
Like I said before, I wish I had your drive. Mornings are the worst time for me to try to write—my brain simply refuses to function until around noon!—and unlike you, I often can’t put aside the interruptions life throws my way on some days. Besides “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
I have, in the past, played in a jazz band, been the composer in residence for a theatre, been the artistic director of another theatre, been the head of several university theatre programs, served as a writer in residence for the Georgia Council for the Arts, and, for a short time when I was very much younger, enjoyed the title of “television writer” for a public television enterprise.
A very eclectic life and a very creative one, too. Any teachers who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged?
I’ve mentioned Marilyn May, my 10th grade English teacher, she really was the first person to encourage my writing. The Shakespeare scholar at Antioch College, Dr. Milton Goldberg, was very instructive about my poetry in the late 1960s. Dr. John Burrison was my folklore professor, and he introduced me to the writing of Joseph Campbell, as well as the conjunction of Carl Jung and world mythology. And Dr. Charlie Thompson, long after he was my graduate professor in Philosophy of Education, continued to write me little notes when he’d read something of mine that he liked. I’m really glad that I get a chance to mention their names.
Oh, those English teachers, for me it was Mrs. Robbins in 7th grade. Did the classics have any effect on you in your formative years? (Shakespeare? Alice in Wonderland? Gulliver’s Travels?)
I was more influenced by poetry at a younger age: first Robert Frost and Emily Dickenson, then Wallace Stevens and Borges. I liked GREAT EXPECTATIONS when I was in high school, and my mother read LAMB’S TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE to me and my brother when we were in elementary school. I also read Edith Hamilton’s MYTHOLOGY about a million times. Put them all together and they spell, I think, many of the ideas in most of my work.
How wonderful to have such a rich literary background. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
I have been fortunate to encounter, over the years, such an impossibly surreal array of actual human oddities that I can scarcely take credit for any characters in my books. I actually met the Albino dwarf who is a hit man in one of the Fever Devilin Novels. I know the Shakespeare scholar in those books as well. I’m able to count among my good friends an amalgam of famous singers, well-known actors, carnie folk, junkies, and, worst of all, theatre critics. Seriously, when the Universe presents you with such a human panoply, it would actually be a sin not to use those characters in a book, right?
Thanks for joining us today, Phillip. I enjoyed “talking” with you. Readers, if you’d like to learn more about Phillip and his work, check his website at http://www.phillipdepoy.com.
June 12, 2013 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: A "Real" Man's Guide to Divorce, author interview, Broken Promises, Escaping Innocence: A Story of Awakening, Joe Perrone, Jr., Matt Davis Mystery Series, mystery, mystery series, nonfiction, Opening Day, The Twig is Bent, Twice Bitten, writer, Writing | by CTHodges | 5 comments
Today the Dames are pleased to shine the spotlight on multi-genre author Joe Perrone, Jr. Hi, Joe, and welcome. Tell us about your latest book, Twice Bitten: A Matt Davis Mystery.
My latest release is Twice Bitten: A Matt Davis Mystery, which is set in Roscoe, NY. When a local meth dealer is found murdered in the cab of his pick-up truck, it appears at first glance as if it is nothing more than a drug deal gone south. However, after the actual cause of death is determined, the investigation takes a decided turn toward the bizarre, and eventually the focus of the investigation centers on an itinerant preacher who dabbles in snake handling – the venomous kind – and his attractive assistant. Ron Trentweiler is an ex-convict who has found religion, and Winona Stepp is a young woman with a very murky past. The devil, as it is said, is in the details, and Matt’s investigation of the pair takes him as far away as the coal mining area of Pennsylvania in an effort to get to the truth about his two suspects. The ending will leave you gasping for breath.
Sounds great. I love books that leave you gasping for breath at the end. They always make me want to read more so you can be sure Twice Bitten is going on my TBR list. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I am currently at work on the fourth Matt Davis Mystery called Broken Promises. In it, an 88-year old woman is found dead on the grounds of an old burned-out hotel, shot once through the heart. If that’s not mystery enough, there is no apparent motive and there are absolutely no suspects. But, as Matt’s investigation progresses, a steady drip of information from numerous sources begins to lead him in a most unlikely direction: back to the hotel itself. The action is divided between the ongoing investigation in the present, and a description of the series of events that led up to the killing, dating as far back as early in World War II. This one is a true murder mystery.
Ah, a series, that’s even better! What is a typical writing day like for you?
No two writing days are exactly alike for me, but they all have one thing in common: they are draining. On a good day, I’ll awake around 7 a.m., traipse downstairs to my computer, check my emails, and then go back upstairs to have my breakfast. After breakfast, when I sit down to write, I will go over whatever it was that I last wrote and re-read and re-edit it until I’m fairly happy with it. Then, hopefully, I will begin to write new “stuff.” After anywhere from one to three hours, I will either stop for the day or take a break, because I am exhausted. I may do some research on the Internet or answer some emails or check my book sales. Then, I will have lunch. If the spirit moves me, I might go back to work for another half hour or hour, and then I’ll quit for the day. That’s a good day! On a bad day, I might just re-read and re-edit the work from a previous session and then just sit there praying for something to happen. If I’m lucky, I might have a publishing project that I’m doing for another author that I can put my energy into; if not, I’ll probably go to the gym.
Okay, you hit on the one thing that would probably make me force myself to write on a bad day; going to the gym. I’d much rather write—even on the hard days. When you’re re-writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
For the most part, I would say that I am in control—that is, until they start to speak. Then, I listen for their voices and write down what they say. The same is true for storyline. When it’s working right, I have a germ of an idea and then it kind of goes where it needs to go – which is not always where I had planned for it to go.
I absolutely love the times when my characters “speak to me” and wish it would happen more often. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
I am embarrassed to say that I don’t really read that much. I have some physical problems with my eyesight – and I have ADHD, which has always made it difficult for me to read at length. I also have a dread of co-opting someone else’s work subconsciously, and that keeps me from reading any murder mysteries – especially when I am at work on one of my own. As a result, I have taken to reading mostly non-fiction books about such subjects as travel, exploration, mountain climbing, and politics. I also enjoy reading biographies.
I—and I think most other authors—live with that same fear and like you, I tend to stick to nonfiction when I’m writing fiction. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
I spend at least an hour or more per day at promotion. I utilize all forms of social networking, including Facebook, Twitter, and various sites that cater to writers and readers. I also maintain an aggressive advertising campaign, both through Google AdWords and Microsoft Bing. I maintain a website, and blog about once a month on it.
I haven’t tried Google AdWords or Microsoft Bing yet, but I’ve been hearing good things from authors who have. Maybe one of these days I’ll check them out and see if I can figure out the process. How long have you been writing?
I guess I have been writing since around the third grade, which would make it about 60 years. My “serious” writing career began in 1969-70, when I was a sportswriter for a major New Jersey newspaper. From there I went on to write advertising copy, free-lancing with two ad agencies. Then, in the late 70s, I wrote feature articles for local newspapers, as well as fishing articles for local magazines. I started my first book in 1987 while working three jobs, one of which was as a limousine driver, which gave me ample opportunity to write. For three years, I filled up spiral notebooks (six in all) with the memoirs of my time coming of age in the 60s. Somewhere along the line, I came to the realization that no one really gave a damn about my memoirs, so I morphed them into a novel, Escaping Innocence: A Story of Awakening, which I eventually published nearly twenty years later after completely re-writing it at least three times.
Wow, 60 years, that’s a long time. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t start writing seriously until about 10 years ago, although I played around with it for most of my life. Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Do you have a favorite southern saying you can share with our readers?
That would definitely have to be: “Well, bless your heart.” My mother was a native North Carolinian, and she used that phrase all her life. Since I was born in “The Capitol of the Confederacy,” I feel obliged to follow in her footsteps.
One of my favorites, too. And Southerners are very adept at using that phrase in a multitude of ways. Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
My favorite authors as a child were Mark Twain and Edgar Alan Poe; one would be hard pressed to find two more diverse writers, I suppose. I loved Twain’s humor, and I loved Poe’s darkness.
I love Twain and Poe, too. In fact, when I was much younger than I am now, I went through a serious Poe fan-girl stage. If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?
I would love to meet Truman Capote. He is one of my favorite authors – and one of the most fascinating individuals to ever put pen to paper. He was a true character, and his major work, In Cold Blood, is probably my favorite book.
Great choice. I, too, loved In Cold Blood. Mine would be Harper Lee who was a good friend of Capote’s. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to talk to both of them at the same time? What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?
Without a doubt, my biggest weakness when it comes to writing is my inability to create a plot; doing that is definitely the hardest part of writing for me. On the other hand, my greatest strength is my ability to write realistic dialogue, something that I take pride in doing. Perhaps I like dialogue because I love to talk to people and to tell stories. I am probably a natural born story teller.
Yeah, I’m better at dialogue than plotting, too—or maybe I should say my characters are better since I’m one of those authors who allow them to take full control when I’m writing. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know?”
I don’t know who coined the phrase, but he or she really knew what they were talking about. When I am at my best is when I am writing about something I really know, like fly fishing – and my relationship with my wife. Both of these subjects find their way into my writing with regularity.
I always enjoy hearing the answer to that last question. Unlike the plot driven or character driven question which tends to lean toward “character driven,” I think we may be about 50-50 on the answers to that one.
Thanks so much, Joe, for joining us today. I enjoyed learning more about you and hope you’ll come back to visit the Dames often!
Readers, to find out more about Joe and his books, visit his website at: www.joeperronejr.com or follow him on Twitter: @catsklgd1.
The first two books is Joe’s Matt Davis Mystery Series: