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November 17, 2014 in Author Speak | Tags: author, ballroom dancer, choreographer, Colby Marshall, Color Blind, ebooks, fiction, mystery, paperbacks, suspense, thriller, writer | by christytilleryfrench | 2 comments
Don’t get me wrong…if you love e-readers because they help you read more often/easier/in a way that ensures no one on your subway commute can see the cover of your self-help book about how to overcome your intense fear of Slinkies, then have at it. I just know that for me, printed books are my preference. Maybe this is because I write my own books on the computer, so electronic books often automatically become “work” in my mind no matter the author or topic. Maybe it’s because I resist change (I do. I’m pretty much the only person under the age of thirty who still has an AOL e-mail address, and I will cling to my Blackberry until the day someone tries to steal it so fast and violently that they rip my whole hand off with it.). But while those things might be true, I think the most likely reason I lean towards printed books is because they happen to be less dangerous.
Let me explain.
Books are not safe in my house. If I was a book, I would be terrified to live here. Why, you ask? Because the mortality rate of books in my home is extremely high, and none of the causes of early demise for literature around here are particularly painless. Methods of torture for books include being ripped apart by a toddler (who may or may not have inherited my penchant for thrillers, but that’s another post for another time), becoming the hairball-catcher for one of the not-so-naked cats (Yes, there is one naked one), and being buried under a pile of other, heavier books when our makeshift book shelves buckle and send our extensive collection raining to the floor.
But as bad as those fates may be, the worst of them—and the one that accounts for the highest percentage of book deaths in this house—is the very reason I steer clear of the e-reader: the bathtub drop.
I can’t count the number of books we’ve laid to rest due to a dip in the bath bubbles. I’m a tub-reader (Definition: Person who reads in the bathtub, not a person who reads bathtubs). I’m a perpetual workaholic, so the only time I let myself “off” long enough to squeeze in a respectable chunk of a book for fun is when I can rationalize it by pairing it with general human hygiene (sounds psychologically healthy, huh?). This habit benefits my favorite authors immensely; any time a copy meets its watery doom, I shell out several dollars for two more—one to pick up reading where I left off, and another as a backup for when, inevitably, the first of the two new copies makes a splash all its own. I’m pretty sure Katrina Kittle owes a substantial percentage of her sales of The Kindness of Strangers to my serious bathtub addiction.
Which brings me back to why I’m still quite solidly in the books in print on paper camp and will likely remain there for the foreseeable future. If I were to let my e-readers take “swims” as often as my paper books, I’d likely need another job to support my book habit. But this time, I wouldn’t be paying the author a second time for another copy of their book I loved so much—I’d be paying a big company for a new e-reader. So, the idea of simply replacing the damaged merchandise is not only pricier in this situation, but it doesn’t appeal to my sensibilities as much, either. After all, who would you be happier to give a few extra dollars to on a given day? An author whose work has informed, helped, or entertained you, or to a stockholder whose name you don’t even know but who happens to hold a few shares of that e-reader company and has so many dollars in various stock statements that he won’t even notice when the investment you shelled out shows up in his statement numbers, because that amount you spent, while significant to you, didn’t even make a blip on his radar?
Besides…while I don’t think you can be electrocuted by making your e-reader your accidental rubber ducky, I’m just not keen on adding anything into water that contains me that happens to carry a charge of any kind. If by some off-chance it so much as gave me a little zap, I’d probably need to buy a dozen self-help books about how to overcome extreme fear of bathtub shocks. And given that I’d be too traumatized to ever buy another e-reader, everyone would be able to see those books’ covers on my subway commute.
Writer by day, ballroom dancer and choreographer by night, Colby Marshall has a tendency to turn every hobby she has into a job, thus ensuring that she is a perpetual workaholic. In addition to her 9,502 jobs, she is a proud member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. She is actively involved in local theatres as a choreographer and occasionally indulges her prima donna side by taking the stage as an actress. She lives in Georgia with her family, two mutts, and a charming array of cats.
About COLOR BLIND: There is something unusual about Dr. Jenna Ramey’s brain, a rare perceptual quirk that punctuates her experiences with flashes of color. They are hard to explain: red can mean anger, or love, or strength. But she can use these spontaneous mental associations, understand and interpret them enough to help her read people and situations in ways others cannot. As an FBI forensic psychiatrist, she used it to profile and catch criminals. Years ago, she used it to save her own family from her charming, sociopathic mother. Now, the FBI has detained a mass murderer and called for Jenna’s help. Upon interrogation she learns that, behind bars or not, he holds the power to harm more innocents—and is obsessed with gaining power over Jenna herself. He has a partner still on the loose. And Jenna’s unique mind, with its strange and subtle perceptions, may be all that can prevent a terrifying reality…
Color Blind is Now Available:
On Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/pbs3uts
On Barnes and Noble: http://tinyurl.com/pbs3uts
And other places books are sold!
To learn more about Colby and her books, check out her website at www.colbymarshall.com
September 17, 2014 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: author, Bright as Gold, Denise Weimer, fiction, historical fiction, historical romance, S, Sautee Shadows, Southern Fiction, Southern literature, The Georgia Gold Series, writer | by christytilleryfrench | 4 comments
Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Denise! Tell us about your latest book.
My most recent release is Bright as Gold, fourth and final novel of The Georgia Gold Series. The series, which begins with Sautee Shadows in the time of the 1830s Georgia Gold Rush, connects the mountains and the coast as readers follow four fictional families through the mid-1800s. One of my main characters is Mahala Franklin, a half-Cherokee girl who grows up trying to find out who killed her father and stole the gold he mined from the Sautee Valley. Eventually, her white innkeeper grandmother brings her to town to raise her as a proper young lady. There she meets Carolyn Calhoun, an unwilling and shy socialite forced to choose a husband between two very different brothers, and Jack Randall, shipping entrepreneur from Savannah. When Jack buys a competing hotel and the two also fight their attraction to each other, sparks fly. The middle two novels include lots of adventure set during The Civil War, and the most recent one is Reconstruction-era. It’s a more introspective and relational look at how the characters overcome during a very difficult period of time.
When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I start the momentum with my research, timeline and plot plans, but the characters have been known to take over at times. I think we have to be sensitive to what a certain character would or would not do. If it doesn’t feel true to their personality or development, we need to find a little flexibility.
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 started local, doing signings at book stores, gift shops, festivals, book clubs, etc. I crafted a basic news release that could be altered for each. I also contacted clubs and groups in the region which might have interest in an author’s visit. I supported all that with online publicity. Recently my publisher and I have worked to get the word out past the hour-and-a-half radius where I can personally appear. I’ve joined Goodreads and Twitter as well as Facebook and am doing more guest blogging, author networking, requesting reviews, and conducting giveaways. I’m also planning a book signing tour to a wider area.
How long have you been writing?
I began writing at age 11. We don’t have to talk about how long ago that was, do we? I grew up visiting historic sites with my parents. My active imagination would wonder what type of people had lived in the homes or towns and what their lives might have been like. Eventually I bought spiral-bound notebooks and would whip those out and scribble down the stories from right there in the back seat as we traveled. I went straight to writing novels, of course, although I wouldn’t want anyone to read those now!
What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
I love this advice. It’s great to apply to selecting the setting for our books, for starters. If we create a story set near where we live, we are more apt to accurately capture the local “feel:” the ins and outs of the way people think, their ethnicity and heritage, the hole-in-the-wall places they frequent, their lingo, their history; the sounds, sights and smells of nature there; the area’s secrets and idiosyncrasies. Research is far easier; we run less risk of either error or the expense of visiting our chosen locale. Marketing is far easier; we have a strong natural geographic starting base for events with an instant niche. I believe it’s also good to write what we know in terms of what we have experienced. If we’ve lived through something, there’s a reason. There’s wisdom in finding the meaning in that experience. We can relate it with authentic emotion that will pierce the consciousness of the reader and share life lessons that may encourage others.
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.
The Georgia Gold Series is historical fiction or Southern literature (or could be dubbed historical romance). While I will probably write more in that genre in the future, I expect there will be some out-of-genre surprises.
Besides “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
Wife, mother of two daughters, and keeper of the home. Swim/taxi mom most specifically. I spend a lot of time commuting and sitting in car rider lines. But writing is what has allowed me to be flexible and available for my family. I really feel the flip side of writer is saleswoman. I’ve created a blog article on that shocking conversion as well.
Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.
I’m an organized type of person, so I like to do my research first. I put facts in the mental hopper and allow them to percolate. As plot ideas spring forth randomly over time, I overlay those on my timelines. Then I’m free to daydream and let the actual scenes come to me – the fun part! – grab a pen or my laptop, and start composing.
Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
In my childhood home, academics and literature were greatly appreciated. My parents encouraged me to read the classics and would read aloud to me from series like Little House on the Prairie and The Chronicles of Narnia. My parents provided great examples of how being well-read made you well-educated and able to interact on a variety of subjects.
Any teachers who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged?
Well, I had one who scared me, and sometimes that can be motivational. She was my 8th grade English teacher. We’d do these exercises in class where we had to fill in a blank that had to do with the correct form of a verb or part of speech. But she’d do it in rapid-fire succession. We’d try our best to count ahead to which question might hit us, but she liked to mix things up. Everyone in class would be trembling like they were about to be tied to the execution pole. Because if you got the answer wrong she’d explode with something like, “NO! You ding-dong! That’s a dangling modifier!” Or some such nonsense. This was before calling children in a classroom names was politically incorrect. And she had a startling repertoire of originally insulting but not quite cursing names. We won’t even talk about how hard it was to get an ‘A’ in there. But … when I had to recite the balcony scene from “Romeo & Juliet,” she looked quite entranced. And there was a calendar she kept with literary scenes on it. The last month in her class “The Lady of Shalott” graced the wall. Of course I had a fascination with that poem then because the GPTV “Anne of Green Gables” had just come out. I would stare at the romantic depiction of the lady in the boat and wish it was me, “drifting down to Camelot,” away from English class. At the end of the school year, I asked Mrs. S for that page. Her look of surprised pleasure almost cracked into a warm smile. I walked away with a firm command of sentence structure and a print that now hangs matted and framed in my Victorian-style guest bedroom.
Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
I do have a Kindle. I hear there are some people who are e-reader-only people and others who are print-only people. I’m sure this is true, but I have found for me (and probably others, too) there’s a place for both. I love to find free and discounted books for the Kindle and take it with me on trips for ease of packing. But for books I want to keep forever because I love them that much or a friend wrote them – or a situation like with my Georgia Gold novels where the covers are one-of-a-kind prints done by a regionally collected artist – I value the physical copy on my shelf.
How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
My characters often come to me in those “loosely constructed” or “unplugged” moments described in the question on writer’s block. But before that happens, I spend time pondering what sort of person I want to represent a certain group of people and how I want them to be shaped from beginning to end by the trials and circumstances of history or what’s going on in the story. Mostly they are their own people, but occasionally a real-life person will bear some influence. An example of this would be Maddy, the hotel cook in my Georgia Gold Series. She was my grandma who has since passed away, who cleaned immaculately and was a wonderful cook but was never satisfied with her own efforts.
Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block?
I just read some fascinating research having to do with brainstorming. Basically it stated that we use different parts of our brain at different times in the creative process. And that the best thing to do when you’re stuck is to “unplug” your brain for a while … just take a walk or do another task requiring less concentration. The ideas will start to flow. That’s why we have our best inspiration at odd moments. Check out my blog at deniseweimerbooks.webs.com for an upcoming article on this!
Why do you write?
I write because when God gives you a gifting and a desire in the same area, you don’t squander it. There are so many talented writers out there, and I have no claims or delusions of fame. But I do believe if you’re a writer, you know it, and God will also give you the story or the manuscript, whether it be meant to entertain, instruct or encourage.
Thank for joining us today, Denise. For more information about Denise:
March 5, 2014 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: anthology, Conversations at the Party, fiction, fiction writer, Perfect Strangers, psychological thrillers, Randall Brooks, short stories, The Maze, The Two Worlds of the Mind, Von Wyck | by christytilleryfrench | 4 comments
The Dames are pleased to welcome author Randall Brooks to our blog today.
Randall, as you know, I recently read and reviewed Conversations at the Party. I must admit, I’ve never read a book like that before and compared you to the literary world’s version of Quentin Tarantino. You definitely write “outside the box”. I wonder, do you deliberately do this or is this just your own unique style?
You know, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever thought about that. Glad you asked, that is a good question. Oh, and let me say first off that I find the comparison you made to Tarantino to be one of the nicest, possibly the greatest compliments I think I’ve ever gotten about my writing, and I am very humbled by it, thanks. Now, back to the question, I don’t think I necessarily write outside of the box on purpose as much as just that since my style is what it is, it just comes out that way.
I found it quite unique, with a lot of psychological twists. Tell us about your latest book.
Well, the most recent book I’ve had published is my third collection of short stories, “The Maze”. It’s another collection of some more psychological mystery thrillers, and then capped off with a non-fiction piece at the end dealing with politics and religion. I think that may be a sign of some kind that I may need to maybe take a break from writing all these genre thrillers for a while.
I admire that you’re such a prolific short story writer. I find it much easier to write a full-length novel than one short story! Can you share a little about what you are working on now or what’s coming next?
Well, I’ve been slowly but surely putting together what is going to be my next novel, a comedic fictionalization of my band Von Wyck, a band that I formed in my high school days and worked with for a few years after I graduated. I’ve also already done the outline for my next short story collection, Phases of Travel, and already have one or two stories completed for it.
I love comedy. That sounds like a fun book. How long have you been writing?
I first started writing short stories sometime around my 8th grade year of middle school, back in 1981, and I started writing lyrical poems later during my high school years. Now, when I look back on a lot of the stuff I wrote back then, I don’t know if it actually qualifies as writing or not, lol. But I can see where I had the potential, and a lot of those older stories I’ve recently been able to go back and re-work some of them, and they are now featured in some of my published short story collections.
As I tell people who are just starting out, the best thing you can do is just keep writing, no matter how good or how bad, and it doesn’t matter what you write on. Use paper, receipts, paper towels, toilet paper, paper bags, anything that you can write on. I know that has definitely helped shape me as a writer, constantly going at it, getting in practice any chance I could get.
Sounds like you got an early start. I agree about practicing writing. I feel, well hope, my writing has improved over time and with practice. Who or what has been your biggest influence in your writing career and why?
Oddly enough, I know the typical answer would be naming some fellow authors but mainly my biggest influences and inspirations have been some very good filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, and John Carpenter. Oh, sure, there have been some really great authors that have helped influence and shape me as a writer, mainly Stephen King, Peter Straub, Mary Higgins Clark, and Jackie Collins.
And, you know, I guess the reason why would take us back to the first question you asked me, because they are artists that have always worked outside the box, so to speak.
Funny, I now live in the same area as where I grew up, Strawberry Plains. I can still remember right after I graduated high school I felt like I couldn’t get away from here fast enough and moved to Knoxville, a neighboring county, where I lived for about 20 years before moving back. And, I came back kicking and screaming about how I didn’t want to move back to Strawberry Plains, lol. But after the first night in my new house, I didn’t want to go back to Knoxville to get the rest of my stuff, because it is so tranquil, so nice and quiet and peaceful. And so beautiful! I wish now that I had never moved away in the first place, but I guess I maybe had to so I could appreciate living here as much as I do now.
We’re practically neighbors. Strawberry Plains is a beautiful area, and as you say, quiet and peaceful. 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 guess I would classify myself as writer of erotically charged satiric psychological mystery thrillers. And, yes, lol, I’ve been told that is a very “unique” category, to put it nicely. I guess I could also fall under the short story category as well, seeing that I have 3 collections published and am in the process of working on a 4th one to get published. I also have written 4 volumes of lyrical poems, so I also fit in the poetry category as well.
And, funny that you should list paranormal as an option, because that is something that I’ve never felt that I’ve ever succeeded at writing, and am going to try to tackle that in one of my upcoming short stories in my new collection.
You’re what I consider a diverse and prolific writer. It will be interesting to see what you come up with in the paranormal genre. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I would like to think I am in control, being as how I am such a control freak in so many other aspects of my life, but honestly, when I start writing, sometimes it’s the characters that have control, and other times it’s the actual story that may take control of where things are going.
I think that’s the first time we’ve gotten an answer like that to this question. Usually, it’s one or the other. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
Honestly, as I’ve mentioned to a few of my friends that are fellow authors, lately I’ve been having trouble reading a lot of mainstream authors that I used to love to read almost faithfully before I was published, people like Dean Koontz, Mary Higgins Clark, Anne Rice, etc, but for some reason ever since I’ve been published myself, I now see things in their writing that actually makes me cringe. I blame it on modern day editors and not the authors themselves, because what I seem to be noticing is the same in all their books, not just in one author, but all of them, and it’s the same thing that glares out at me the most in everyone of their books.
On the flipside, some authors that I have recently discovered and enjoy tremendously are Christy Tillery French, Mark Allan Gunnels, Steven Michael, and Andrew Wolter. These are some really talented writers, and why they aren’t more world-widely discovered is beyond me. Matter of fact, not only have I enjoyed their fiction for reading, I have found it (and them) truly inspirational to myself and my own writing, and they have been a big influence on some of my newer material.
I’m honored to be listed with such talented writers, Randall. Thank you! Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
Let’s see, I used to read pretty much anything from Laura Ingalls Wilder and S.E. Hinton to Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark. I think they all share in common helping me form a love for the written word, and in how to tell a story, and even how to lure the reader into something they may feel comfortable with, then hit them with some unpleasant surprises.
Honestly, oddly enough, most times I have found it in everyday life and/or in people who have been involved in my life path at one time or another. As you can probably guess from some of my writing, I most times like to take someone and put them in situations that would be the farthest thing from their real life counter-part. It’s also a very healthy and therapeutic way to exorcise some personal “demons”, if you know what I mean. And I try to tell people that have inspired characters in my work to take it as a compliment, no matter what the character says or does in the story, or the fate of the character.
Heck, I’ve even offed myself in a story or two, lol.
That’s funny! I agree it can be therapeutic – I’ve used writing for that very purpose. Thanks for joining us today, Randall!
January 29, 2014 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: A Gift for Murder, fiction, fiction writer, Karen McCullough, mystery, mystery series, mystery writer, The Wizard's Shield | by christytilleryfrench | 4 comments
Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Karen! Tell us about your latest book, A Gift for Murder.
A Gift for Murder was originally published in hardcover by Five Star/Cengage, then in mass market paperback by Harlequin Worldwide Mysteries, and was recently released as an ebook. It’s a cozy mystery with some romantic elements.
For fifty-one weeks of the year, Heather McNeil loves her job as assistant to the director of the Washington, D.C. Commerce & Market Show Center. But the Gifts and Home Decorations trade show, the biggest show of the year at the center, is a week-long nightmare. This year’s version is being worse than usual. Misplaced shipments, feuding exhibitors, and malfunctioning popcorn machines are all in a day’s work. Finding the body of a murdered executive dumped in a trash bin during the show isn’t. The discovery tips throws Heather’s life—personal and professional—into havoc.
The police suspect the victim’s wife killed him, but Heather doesn’t believe it. She’s gotten glimmers of an entirely different scenario and possible motive. Questioning exhibitors about the crime doesn’t make her popular with them or with her employers, but if she doesn’t identify the murderer before the show ends, the culprit will remain free to kill again.
Her only help comes from an exhibitor with ulterior motives and the Market Center’s attractive new security officer, Scott Brandon. Despite opposition from some of the exhibitors, her employers, and the police, Heather seeks to expose the killer before the show ends. To solve the mystery, she will haves to risk what’s most important to her and be prepared to fight for answers, her job, and possibly her life.
Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I have a couple of projects in various states completion and submission. The story I’m actively working on right now is the sequel to A Gift for Murder, tentatively titled Wired for Murder.
My current working blurb is: Amidst the chaos of the opening of the Business Technology Show at the DC Market Center, Heather McNeil, assistant to the center’s director, has to deal with a few extra bits of trade show madness, including a loud and very public argument between the president of the largest exhibitor and an arrogant engineer working for a competitor. When the engineer is murdered, while on the phone with Heather, she has to find a way to cope with the trauma. And being Heather that means wanting to know why the murder happened and who did it.
What is a typical writing day like for you?
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been trying to get on a regular schedule of writing for two hours from 8:30 to 10:30 before I get to work at the business that pays the bills, doing websites and other graphic design for authors and small businesses. So far it seems to be working. Before that I generally wrote in the afternoons, but I’ve realized that isn’t my best creative time. I usually write for an hour or two in the evenings as well.
Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
Barbara Michaels, Sarah Addison Allen, Ellis Peters, Charlaine Harris, Mary Stewart, Gillian Roberts, Jim Butcher, J.R.R. Tolkien, Andre Norton, Jack Campbell, Lois McMaster Bujold, Simon Green, Susanna Kearsley. I don’t really know what they have in common that makes them appeal to me except that they’re all very good writers and storytellers. They all do intriguing plots with characters who develop in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways.
How long have you been writing?
About thirty years. Yeah, even I can’t believe it’s been that long. I wrote my first full-length novel in 1984. I still have the manuscript—it’s in the attic, with a sticky note on it that says, “Burn me.” It’s bad. Really bad. I had a decent idea but no idea how to write a novel. The first novel I sold (to Avalon Books, in 1988, published 1990) was actually the sixth novel I’d written. It took me that long to learn how to do it right. I’ve had an up-and-down career since then, but I’ve had quite a few things published since.
What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
Because I’m a “pantser,” writing without an outline or much knowledge of how the plot works out, I’m always antsy through most of the first draft, wondering how, when, and even if a story will finally come together. So far, it’s always worked, though, and it’s a great feeling when the threads of the plot all start to mesh and I see the whole pattern. And then when I finally finish the first draft, it’s a real high. There’s usually plenty of rewriting that needs to be done, and lots of editing and polishing, but for me the hard part is getting that first draft done.
Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
My earliest reading memories involve reading all the Nancy Drew books I could get hold of, along with my brothers’ collection of Hardy Boys as well. I graduated into my Dad’s library of mysteries, which included Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett and others. A school friend introduced me to science fiction and fantasy, and I dove into Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlein, Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, etc. As a kid, I worked the fiction section in our local libraries hard. Somewhere along the way, I found Gothic romances and it was love at first paragraph. Obviously it’s no accident that when I started writing, I produced mysteries, fantasy and science fiction, with some romantic elements.
How many hours a day do you write, where, any specific circumstances help or hurt your process?
I write four hours a day most days, two hours in the morning and two in the evening. I have a home office and I try to start right after breakfast as the first cup of coffee is hitting my system. I don’t listen to music or anything else while writing. I start a writing session by reading over what I wrote last, making a few corrections along the way. When I get to the end, I’m usually ready to keep going.
I’m a straight-line sort, starting my first draft at the beginning and writing from start to finish, although I occasionally will go back and fill in missing things when I realize the need them, but for most things, I’ll simply make notes on post-its on my desk for things I know I need to change. Once the first draft is done, I do the major editing pass, where I go through and smooth out the rough spots and make the corrections from the post-its. After that I do another polishing run, then send it to my critique partners and beta readers.
Beside “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
I’m a website designer/developer, who also does book covers and other graphic design. I’ve been doing it for about ten years now, but I’m starting to cut back the time I spend on that to make more time for writing.
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?
Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
For several years, I read books on my iPhone, which worked reasonably well, but then I got a Kindle, and I totally love reading on it. My eyesight has never been all that good, and it’s great to be able to enlarge the text to a size that’s comfortable for reading. Plus I can hold it one hand. On the writer’s side, it’s a wonderful opportunity as well. I’ve been requesting my rights back on my backlist books for a while now and have been epublishing them. I still have a few more yet to go, but it’s been nice to see some of those older books getting a new lease on life. Then there are those books that none of my various publishers wanted—usually because they didn’t fit into any marketing niche. I’ve already published one of them (The Wizard’s Shield) and have a few other manuscripts that have been languishing on my hard drive. That’s the upside. The downside is that too many would-be ‘authors’ are putting out books that really aren’t ready for public consumption. I’ve read a few epublished books that were awkwardly written, full of inconsistencies and grammatical errors. Now, if a book sounds intriguing, but I don’t know the author or haven’t read reviews, I’ll download a sample and judge from that whether to get the whole thing.
How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
Honestly, I’m not sure where my characters come from. I see them in the film running in my head and at first I don’t know much about them, but as the story continues while I’m writing it down, I gradually get to know and understand them. Most of that comes from seeing their actions and listening to what they say. I’d have to say that most of them aren’t really based on anyone I know, but they probably have aspects of many people I’ve met, heard of, read about, or seen on television or movies.
Karen McCullough is a web designer by profession, and the author of a dozen published novels and novellas in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres as well. She has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy, and has also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, four grandchildren and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.
January 1, 2014 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: A Killing at the Track, Bit Player, Death Rides the Zephyr, Don't Turn your Back on the Ocean, fiction, fiction writer, historical fiction, Janet Dawson, mystery historical mystery, mystery series, Take a Number, Till the Old Men Die | by christytilleryfrench | 4 comments
–Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Janet, and Happy New Year! Tell us about your latest book.
DEATH RIDES THE ZEPHYR is a historical mystery set in December 1952. That may not sound historical, but it was over 60 years ago. Most of the book takes place aboard an eastbound run of the train known as the California Zephyr. It was also called the Silver Lady, because of its shiny stainless steel cars. The train, a streamliner, was known for its luxurious amenities and service, and for its Vista-Domes, which gave passengers a 360-degree view of the scenery in the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. The Zephyr also had a female crew member, much like a stewardess, called a Zephyrette. The first time I found out about Zephyrettes, I knew I would write a mystery about one. The Zephyrettes did everything from make announcements and dinner reservations, to minor first aid and minding kids. They were expected to walk the train every few hours and assist passengers. The Zephyrette, by my reasoning, was just the person to observe behavior, collect clues, and solve a mystery! So all aboard the Silver Lady for an adventure with my protagonist, a Zephyrette named Jill McLeod.
–Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I have written ten mysteries in a series featuring Jeri Howard, who is a private investigator in Oakland, California. The most recent is BIT PLAYER, which was published in 2011. I am now working on another Jeri Howard novel, with a working title of COLD TRAIL, with a pub date of spring 2015. Jeri’s mother and father have played roles in the previous books, and I’ve decided in this book to center the plot on Jeri’s younger brother. More than that, I will not say! As to what comes after that. I have the plot for another California Zephyr mystery featuring Jill tumbling around in my head, as well as half a short story. There are several other historical novels I’d like to do, some mystery and some not, plus a couple of contemporary mysteries.
–What is a typical writing day like for you?
Until the end of October, I was working full time. My day started at 4 AM, so I could put in an hour or so at the computer before going to work. I’d been doing that for over 30 years. I retired in November, so I’m still defining my days. I’ve taken some time off from writing to focus on Christmas preparation. A pattern is emerging, though. I get to my computer around 8:30 or 9 AM and write until mid-afternoon, then I go for a walk. I know when I get caught up in writing, several hours will go by in the blink of an eye.
–When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I like to think I’m in control, but I never know. When I was writing the second Jeri Howard book, TILL THE OLD MEN DIE, I had figured on one character as the killer of two victims. However, in the course of writing the novel, another character began waving hands at me, saying, “I did it!”
–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 done a lot of promotion during the 20-plus years since my first book came out. The landscape has changed so much. In years past I went to almost every convention, especially Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, and Left Coast Crime, which is held in the Western United States. I also did lots of booksignings, both here locally in the San Francisco Bay Area, and other locations in the country. I no longer do that. I got burned out and I’m not sure its effective any more. I do usually go to Left Coast, and am planning to go to Bouchercon in 2014 because it’s in California. But I’m no longer willing to drive 90 miles on a week night to do a signing, or fly to another city to do a couple of signings. I am also finding, like lots of writers, that doing a booksigning in a store has become less effective. I am involved in two blogs, one of my own and one for Perseverance Press authors. The blog are not so much for promotion as for me an opportunity to write short pieces on things I want to write about. I was on Twitter for a while but no longer. Just don’t get it. I’m also on Facebook but don’t check it very often. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best thing for me to do is write and get a lot of books and stories out there.
–What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
Write what you know is fine, with one caveat. If you don’t know, then find out. I had always wanted to write a horse racing book, because I do enjoy them. I’d written a short story called “Witchcraft,” with a jockey as a protagonist. I like the character, Deakin Kelley, and I wanted to use him again, so I devised a plot for a Jeri Howard novel, A KILLING AT THE TRACK, with Deakin taking a strong supporting role. As I started the book, it became clear to me how little I knew about the business and sport of horse racing. I needed more information, the kind that couldn’t be gleaned solely from books and articles. Through a friend of a friend, I connected with a woman in the Bay Area who trains race horses. I spent several days following her around the track, getting the information I needed. I was very pleased when the book was favorably reviewed by California Thoroughbred, which said I’d done my homework well. I’ve had similar research experiences with other books. For DEATH RIDES THE ZEPHYR, it was very important to me to accurately portray the operations of the California Zephyr. I interviewed two former Zephyrettes, spent hours in the archives of railroad museum libraries, climbed around on trains, and even drove a locomotive. I was thrilled when a volunteer at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum told me I had both the history and the train stuff right.
–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. I write mysteries and historical fiction, two genres I like to read.
–Besides “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
In years past, my “day job” has been everything from newspaper reporter, Navy journalist, Navy officer, legal secretary, to administrative assistant. Now that I’m retired, it’s writer. Also gardener, seamstress, birder and cat wrangler.
–Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.
I don’t outline, much, but then what I do could be construed as an outline. When I’m starting a book, I’ve already been mulling over the ideas and characters, jotting down notes here and there, clipping articles from the newspaper or printing them from the Internet. When I finally sit down at the computer, I write whatever comes into my head, for several weeks. As that one document grows, it will contain plot ideas, character sketches as I get to know the people who populate the book, location information, notes to myself about what I need to research and scenes I need to include. Then I gradually begin shaping the document into a synopsis, a road map of where I’m going and hope to wind up. At this point I’ll have the start of a first chapter and pieces of various chapters, though I may not yet be sure in what order those chapters will go. Eventually, in the middle of writing a book, I’ll do another synopsis, a detailed chapter-by-chapter look at where I am so far. This generally helps me figure out where I need to go and what scenes I need to include to get me to the end.
–Where do you get your ideas?
I like to say they are in the air, like pollen. Frequently they will come from real-life events. The plot of my first Jeri Howard novel, KINDRED CRIMES, came from a murder case in Colorado, where I grew up. The second, TILL THE OLD MEN DIE, came from another Colorado case involving a missing professor. TAKE A NUMBER came from a case in Missouri where the murder victim was so disliked that there was no shortage of suspects. And my Monterey book, DON’T TURN YOUR BACK ON THE OCEAN, involved something I’d read about in the newspaper, pelican mutilations on the California Coast. The newspaper also provided a plot twist for BIT PLAYER, a small article I clipped out and kept, knowing I would use it one day. And sure enough, I did. The idea for DEATH RIDES THE ZEPHYR came from the train itself, the old California Zephyr, and learning about Zephyrettes. The ideas can come from anywhere. What I do is grab hold and follow along for the ride.
–Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
I have a Kindle, which was a gift to me. From the standpoint of a reader who used to travel with five or six paperbacks (didn’t want to run out of anything to read), now I carry the Kindle loaded with all sorts of books. Much (but not all) of my new book purchases are electronic. I’m one of those readers who has run out of places to put books. As a writer, I really like electronic publishing. It has given me the opportunity to get my entire backlist of Jeri Howard novels, plus all 12 of my short stories, out there for readers. I anticipate publishing my California Zephyr short story electronically, once I finish it.
–How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
Frequently the characters show up in my head and I realize I have to put them in my books. Sometimes a character who was supposed to play a peripheral role becomes more important during the course of a book. I allow myself time to explore the character and their quirks and this helps me write fully realized characters. I don’t usually base characters on people I know. However, I will say that the murder victim in my Jeri Howard novel, TAKE A NUMBER, is based on an old boyfriend, and yes, I really enjoyed killing him off.
My blog, Got It Write:
The Perseverance Press blog, Get It Write:
By Laurel-Rain Snow
Welcome, Marilyn Meredith! Today we’re going to chat a bit about your books and your creative process.
–-Tell us about your latest book, Spirit Shapes.
Spirit Shapes is the latest in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. Ghost hunters discover a young man’s dead body in a haunted house. When Tempe is called to investigate she immediately is confronted by many spirits. Besides trying to find who is responsible for the present day crime, she is confronted by unsolved crimes from the past.
—What is a typical writing day like for you?
I try to write every day, though that doesn’t always work. Mornings are when my creative juices flow most freely, but I have to battle against the lure of email and Facebook. I begin each day with a cup of Chai latte—believe me that seems to help.
—I am a fan of mornings, too. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
I love too many to list, but I’m finding many of the authors published by small independent publishers are leading the pack. One of the reasons is they seem to be more creative and are allowed to write shorter books without any obvious filler. Something I’ve seen too often in some of the major publishers’ books.
—Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
Actually I enjoy promoting and I do all sorts of things: the usual Facebook and groups on Facebook, and I have blog that I enjoy writing and hosting other authors on and have a good following. I love doing blog tours and being a guest on others’ blogs, like this one. I have a quarterly newsletter. I really enjoy doing in-person promoting: library talks, craft and book fairs, and I love going to writers’ and mystery cons. I have cut down on my airline traveling though—it is just getting more and more difficult.
–-I think many of us are finding social media to be a good place to promote our work. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
Hands down it’s the critique group I’ve belonged to for over 30 years. In the beginning there was one writer named Willma Gore who taught me so much about writing in general. And she’s still writing and publishing at 91—and I hope to do the same. I still faithfully attend the same critique group, though the members have changed over the years. I now consider them my first editor.
–-That’s amazing! What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
I love writing. I love spending time with the characters I’ve created. However, the most satisfying is when someone writes a great review about one of my books or comes up to me at an event and tells me how much they loved one of my books.
—Tell us a little bit about where you live.
I live in the foothills of the Southern Sierra. To those of you who have no idea where that is, Sierra means mountain. The mountain range is the one dividing Nevada and Arizona from California. I’m on the California side in what is called the Central Valley. The little town I live outside of is much like Bear Creek in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series though I moved it 1000 feet higher in the mountains for better trees and more weather.
—You live in a beautiful part of our state. Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
Of course I have to say Carolyn Keene and the Nancy Drew books. But what really got me started on writing mysteries were all the mystery shows on the radio when I was a kid. I listened to them all. I also loved to read about crime in the newspapers. Back when I was a kid, we got three newspapers at our house and anything exciting or lurid was described in great detail.
—I was also a fan of Nancy Drew. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
Because I write two series, my major inspiration is curiosity about what is happening in my characters’ lives, what crimes they might be confronting, what personal problems they are dealing with. The only way I can find out is to write about them. I keep a file of interesting articles I find in the newspaper or on line and it really doesn’t take much to send me off answering the “What if?” question.
—I like the idea of the file for interesting articles. What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?
I write short. Once I’m finished, I’m finished. I certainly do go back and edit and make sure I’ve added necessary details. What I don’t do is add unnecessary fluff just to add to my word count. This has cost me being published by some major houses. Do I care? No, I’m happy with both of my small publishers.
—What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
I’d change that to write what you can find out about or imagine.
–-A great twist on the familiar saying. 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 definitely a fiction writer, and all my latest books have been mysteries. My Deputy Tempe Crabtree series has touches of the supernatural and Indian lore along with the crime to solve. Writing is my main occupation, besides being a wife, mom and grandma.
Thanks for joining us today, Marilyn, and here are some links:
Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Chris. Tell us about your latest book, Which Exit Angel.
It’s about an angel who hasn’t received her wings yet and a preacher who is questioning his faith. Together they have to stop the coming fight between good and evil. It’s set down the Shore.
Well, I’m hooked with just three sentences! What is a typical writing day like for you?
My assistant gently wakes me with breakfast in bed and coffee just the way I like it. Oh wait. That’s my fantasy. My writing has to fit around the rest of my day. I usually write in the morning and then again in the late afternoon. Sometimes even at night, but everything depends on whether I have the energy or not. I have a husband and two sons who need things from me so they need to come first.
LOL. Love your sense of humor. And I agree, family first. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I am a plot-driven writer so I am always in control. I don’t have voices in my head I see movies. I just have to get those movies down on paper.
Movies? That’s interesting and the first time we’ve received an answer like this. How long have you been writing?
I have been writing since I was ten years old. I’ve been writing for publication for about fifteen years.
Tell us a little bit about where you live.
I live in New Jersey. I don’t live in the New Jersey of the Sopranos or Jersey Shore. I actually have woods behind my house and various wild life scampering through my yard including foxes and wild turkeys. My one son is in 4H. You get it. We’re country folk.
I live in the country too and love it. Can’t imagine being an urbanite anymore. Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Do you have a favorite southern saying you can share with our readers?
Bless his/her heart. You could say a terrible thing, but add that phrase at the end and it makes it all better.
Gosh, I bet I hear that phrase every day. If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?
Julia Child. Remember, she’s a cookbook author. I like to cook and love to bake so I would love to have her show me a few advanced techniques. Besides, she led such an interesting life, she would be so fascinating to talk to.
I loved the movie “Julie and Julia” and the way Julia Child was portrayed. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “Write what you know”?
I think you can start out writing what you know, but I think you can expand it to write what you want to know. My first book had a serial killer in it. Clearly I’m not one, but I was fascinated by them after seeing “Silence of the Lambs”.
I write fiction, mainly suspense, though I’ve got some romantic comedies waiting in the wings.
I love romantic comedies – one of my favorites! Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
Huge. Both parents were avid readers and we lived a block away from the library. My siblings were so happy when I was old enough to cross the street to get my own stack of books.
One of my favorite memories as a child is walking to the library with my mom and siblings. Any teachers who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged?
Mrs. Inman was my English teach Senior year of high school. She taught me everything I know about writing. She also had a passion for books. Once day she closed the blinds, turned off the light and had one candle burning on her desk. She read us A Cask of Amontillado. I remember it so vividly even today.
Thanks for joining us today, Chris! For more information about Chris and her works, visit: http://www.chrisreddingauthor.com/
October 9, 2013 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: Betrayed, Diamonds in the Dumpster, fiction, La Bella Mafia, Mafia, Morgan St. James, mystery, mystery series, nonfiction, Silver Sisters Mystery | by christytilleryfrench | 3 comments
Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Morgan. Let’s start with what everyone wants to know, information about your latest book.
Well, actually there are two, released within weeks of each other and both dealing with women in jeopardy. LA BELLA MAFIA is the astonishing true story of Bella Capo, a woman who has survived enough for ten lives and landed on her feet. The abused child of a power broker with mob ties, she became a power herself in the club and after-hours club life along Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, later became a white woman boss in the Crips and now devotes her life to helping abuse victims and those in jeopardy through the online movement La Bella Mafia. An unbelievable read that I co-authored with true crime writer Dennis N. Griffin. Release date October 15.
Then, BETRAYED, a work of fiction inspired by events that really did happen in the late 1950s through the 1960s. The entire first part was inspired by those events, and the rest is pure fiction. However, the parts inspired by the true events are fictionalized and author’s license is taken, unlike the true story of Bella Capo.
Laurel Murphy, a teenaged ballet protégé is kidnapped, sold into a high class brothel where she is severely beaten and left for dead. But she doesn’t die and has to rebuild her spirit and her life, all the while harboring a desire for revenge and dealing with horrendous nightmares and flashbacks. She thought she had it all together with a new family and successful career in the theater. Then the unthinkable happened and a ghost from her past was seen by accident, forcing Laurel to face her demons. The Kindle is currently available on Amazon and the paperback will be released by the end of October.
I’ve read LA BELLA MAFIA and it’s a powerfully written book. BETRAYED sounds intriguing as well. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I’m working on another true story with Dennis N. Griffin that is told by the daughter of a Las Vegas character who was a mob member and a favorite of celebrities. Those who knew his public personality thought he was a great lighthearted guy and fun to be with. Behind closed doors, his family knew different and were constantly exposed to his dark side. When one mentions his name to Las Vegas long-timers, a wealth of stories are told—some funny, some absolutely shocking.
Phyllice and I are also writing the fourth Silver Sisters Mystery, DIAMONDS IN THE DUMPSTER, and this time the twin’s 80 year old mother and uncle, feisty former vaudeville magicians who love to dress in disguise and go undercover, have featured parts. So many readers told us how much they love Flossie and Sterling that we listened to them and cast the oldsters in the lead this time.
Well, you’ve got my interest with your next book! And for those who haven’t read your Silver Sisters Mystery series, Flossie and Sterling are a hoot! What is a typical writing day like for you?
I watch the news while drinking my coffee and have a bit of breakfast. Sometimes items in the new will grab me and I mentally file those away for the future or if something really intrigues me I’ll hit the record on the DVR. I usually go up to my office around 9:30 or 10:00 and tell myself that I’ll write for an hour or two. Because I always have so many balls in the air, at least two or three projects in process at any given time, I generally forget to eat lunch and remember somewhere around 3:00. The writing is interspersed with Facebook posts, LinkedIn posts, Tweets and keeping my websites up to date, as that is one of the most time consuming things an author must do to keep their books visible.
Then I take a break and back to the computer. I’ll generally work until anywhere from 5:00 to 7:00. I’m a very prolific writer and accomplish a lot. I’ve been asked for one word to describe me and I think if you look up “workaholic” you’ll find my name.
Prolific certainly fits you! When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
For the most part it is me because I’m an analytical person and like to see the road ahead of me. However, every once in a while a character will catch me unaware and literally lead me down the path they have chosen. For example, I won’t give away what happened in this case, but the father-in-law in BETRAYED really took me by surprise. There I was tapping away at the keys and he revealed all kinds of things I didn’t know about him and actually made the storyline take a turn that I believe truly improved it.
When they want to speak, you have to hear what they have to say.
Oh, I agree with that. How long have you been writing?
My first published magazine article was back in the late 1970s. I wrote magazine and newspaper articles until the mid 90s when my sister, also a published writer, and I decided to create our own mystery series and the Silver Sisters Mysteries and all of the zany characters who populate them, came into being. However, the first Silver Sisters caper wasn’t published until 2006.
I still write many newspaper and magazine articles, and have written over 500 related to the writer’s world about techniques and the people populating it.
I co-wrote a book with my sister Cyndi (aka Caitlyn Hunter) and it was such a great experience. We’re presently working on the sequel and I love working with her. Since your series continues, I’d say it’s the same with you. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
I love to share my ideas with my readers and make my characters come to life—not like paper doll cutouts but like real people. Many readers have told me they feel like they want to really know my characters and wish they were real.
Since I give workshops and appear on panels, I also love to share what I’ve learned through the years with both aspiring and published writers whether in person or through my articles in examiner.com or my book Writers’ Tricks of the Trade.
I’m a strong believer in paying it forward and love knowing authors who do the same. Tell us a little bit about where you live.
Until February I had a foot in Marina Del Rey CA and the other in Las Vegas NV. Then after ten years of doing this, and practically considering the 15 Freeway my third home, Las Vegas became my full-time home. I’ve loved Las Vegas since I began doing business in Sin City in variety of capacities back in the mid 80s and actually did move here once in right at the time of Desert Storm. Unfortunately, business in Las Vegas was pretty devastated by that first Iraq war and I went back to L.A. with my tail between my legs and relatively broke.
Most people picture the Strip as being what Las Vegas is like, and want to know things like how I like living in hotels, etc. I live in a beautiful residential community about 20 minutes from the Strip that is just like any other planned community. The people are friendly and we really do have grocery stores, movie theaters, big box stores like Target and Costco, restaurants—you get the picture. In other words, once you leave the Strip it’s like a big city with a friendly small town mentality.
It definitely helps. It is difficult sometimes to write about places or circumstances that you have not personally experienced. Why? Because it is easy to get it wrong if you don’t research properly. Don’t just rely on the internet, but speak to people who have either been to places you refer to or done the things you include in your stories.
For example, I spent many years as an interior designer and absolutely cringed when I read a mystery that was set at the Hi Point Furniture Market in Hi Point, No. Carolina. The author got so many things wrong I couldn’t believe it. Someone who didn’t know that business might have assumed that’s how it is, but anyone who was savvy could only chuckle or shake their head while reading some of the bizarre assumptions and scenes.
Any family influences? Memoirs in the making?
Actually, two memoirs are “in the made.” That is to say they are in publication. When my mom was 80 I encouraged her to write her memoir so we wouldn’t lose all the wonderful stories about growing up in the early 1900s as the youngest and tenth child in a zany immigrant family. Laughter carried her through all of her nearly 97 years. She was proud of her manuscript but passed away in 2006 well before CAN WE COME IN AND LAUGH, TOO? was published. She missed her 97th birthday by about 4 months.
As for me, and I loved writing this one: CONFESSIONS OF A COUGAR is the mostly true story of basically coming of age at 42. A friend and I had three glorious weeks in England and during that time had some very fun adventures and met all sorts of young, luscious Englishmen. To find out more, you’ll have to read the book.
So sad your mom passed before the book was published. Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
My father died when I was 17 and my sister was 12, but my mother was an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction and it rubbed off on both of us. When I was in the 2nd grade, I was reading at 8th grade level, and literally devoured books. I still read one or two books a week and listen to a ton of audio books while driving.
I can’t imagine my life without holding a book or ebook in my hands. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
Somehow people I know often creep into my characters. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve done that until I’m re-reading sections or proofing and recognize them waving at me from the pages. Other times I create composites based on several people I know.
In BETRAYED the character of Vince was inspired someone I adored for many years who passed away too soon. I memorialized him in the character of Vince with no parts of anyone else and captured as many of his traits and sayings as possible. And, yes, often your characters speak to you in your head. Vince said thanks, how did you know I was perfect for the part? Among the many things he did in his life the person Vince was modeled after was an actor at one time.
Oh, that’s interesting. Any books on writing you have found most helpful? Or classes you’ve taken?
In 2005 I took a class called “Machete Editing” that forever changed the way I looked at editing in a fantastically good way. I used many of the things I learned in some of the chapters of Writers’ Tricks of the Trade.
Books I’ve personally found extremely helpful are “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Brown and Dave King; “The Frugal Book Promoter,” by Carolyn Howard-Johnson; “The Synonym Finder,” by J. I Rodale; and “Don’t Sabotage Your Submission,” by Chris Roerden, just to name a few. I made it a point to put a bibliography in Writers’ Tricks of the Trade of books I’ve personally used and learned from for more in-depth looks at many topics I touch upon in the chapters.
I devour Chris’s books – they’re well-written and informative. I was excited she used me as a sample in “Don’t Sabotage your Submission”. “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” is a book I refer to quite often. And Carolyn Howard-Johnson is a great resource for writers. She’s written several good books about writing.
Thanks for joining us today, Morgan. Here’s a short bio about Morgan and her works:
MORGAN ST. JAMES – Author/Speaker/Columnist
Award-winning author Morgan St. James has ten published books to her credit and with the latest, La Bella Mafia, a true crime book co-authored with Dennis Griffin and Bella Capo (whose story it is), due for release October 15 she joins the authors at Houdini Publishing. http://labellamafiabook.wordpress.com
Also scheduled for release at the end of October is a haunting story inspired by true incidents. Find out more about Betrayed, at http://betrayedthebook.wordpress.com
In addition to books she has written on her own, Morgan’s funny crime caper’s include the recent government embezzlement scam Who’s Got the Money? and the comical Silver Sisters Mysteries series co-authored with her real-life sister More information about these books can be found on www.morganstjames-author.com
She has written over 500 published articles related to writing and frequently presents workshops, appears on author’s panels and moderates panels Her book Writers Tricks of the Trade launched a bi-monthly eZine for writers of the same name.
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
September 11, 2013 in Author & Celebrity Interviews | Tags: author, fiction, License to Lie, mystery, mystery series, nonfiction, Photo Finish, Terry Ambrose, writer | by christytilleryfrench | 5 comments
Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Terry! Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
What’s coming next is a sequel to “Photo Finish.” The new book, “Kauai Temptations.” begins when Wilson McKenna returns from a visit to LA to discover a batch of returned check notices in his mail. McKenna has never written a bad check in his life. So how did he end up with $4,000 in returned checks on an island he’s never been to? He knows one thing, make that two, the bank wants their money, and he’s going to Kauai to track down the crook who stole his checks. Before you can say “welcome to the island,” he’s almost arrested for impersonating himself, the woman who trashed his credit turns up dead, and McKenna feels like he’s up to his waiûpaka in hot lava. After all, some temptations can get you killed.
That sounds like an intriguing book. What is a typical writing day like for you?
Oh, would I love to have a typical writing day! My typical day starts around 6 am. If I’m lucky and don’t have a huge project from our business to work on, I’ll be able to start some editing at that time. However, if I’ve got a project, which happens a lot, that becomes programming time. By around 8 or so, I’ll knock off for a while and then come back to deal with email, which is what kicks off the chaos that destroys any semblance of “normal.” In any case, by the end of the day, I’ve found time to squeeze in time on social media, grabbed a couple of hours to write, worked my way through my “to-do” list, and hopefully done what it takes to keep my little world in balance.
Social media gets me every time. I constantly vow to get away from that but never seem to be able to. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
I tend to operate best when I’m letting the characters take control. Before I write a scene, I let the POV character give a first-person account of what he or she wants. Once I know what their goal is, I can better channel my writing to deal with that.
Oh, I like that. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
I’m a big fan of T. Jefferson Parker. His writing style is crisp and clean, his choice of words precise. Another writer who amazes me is Sue Grafton. Her ability to make each of the Kinsey Millhone books different from those before it demonstrates a talent and dedication many writers lack. She, too, isn’t afraid to try something new and just shows how good she is with every book she writes.
I’ve always liked Sue Grafton. I think she, along with Linda Barnes and later Janet Evanovich, paved the way for the popularity of books about women sleuths. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
Other than the usual social media stuff, which I find to be remarkably ineffective for the amount of time required, I find the best way for me to promote is to get in front of people. I write three columns for Examiner.com in hopes of getting my name before different markets. I’m also working with a publicist to find ways to expand the ways I connect with new readers.
Smart. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for more than 25 years.
Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
Over the years, critique groups have had a big influence on my writing, but perhaps the biggest single influence was the editor I dealt with on my first two books. The reason I consider him to be the single biggest influence is that I was just learning how to write fiction. I thought I knew, but really, I had everything wrong. He helped me understand what I was doing wrong and put me on the right path.
Editors are valuable to the publishing process. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?
Bringing people enjoyment is what satisfies me most. That’s why I love using humor in my novels. The McKenna Mystery series, which is set in Hawaii, is written in a way that, I hope, touches people. I hope they laugh at the predicaments McKenna gets himself into and I hope they feel they’ve escaped by reading about Hawaii.
Tell us a little bit about where you live.
We live in the San Diego area overlooking a golf course. I love the view and since we re-landscaped our back yard last year, that’s become a very relaxing place. If I can’t go outside, I can gaze out the window and regain focus by seeing the tranquility.
Sounds calming. Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
The earliest authors I remember reading on my own were Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. They had me thinking about the stars and science and sparked an interest in science. I’m fascinated to this day by those same subjects, but have also have become intrigued by how people communicate. That interest plays out in my novels as my characters influence other characters actions and read their reactions.
Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
Inspiration is everywhere. It can come in the choice of words, the inflections, or body language of two people. For me, it usually takes a combination of two or three incidents that occur close to each other and are all somehow related. Sometimes it’s just visiting a place. On our last trip to Kauai, we walked along a path we’d never been on before and came across a huge structure that extends out of a cliff. Below the structure, 50 feet or more feet down, is the ocean, crashing against rocks. It was a former crane used to bring in supplies (as near as I can tell—I’m still tracking it down). That structure is on the cover for “Kauai Temptations” and inspired a critical scene in the book.
What are major themes or motifs in your work? Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?
In “Photo Finish,” the story was all about McKenna finding redemption for things he’d done 5 years earlier. In “License to Lie,” the theme was trust. The tag line was “Never trust a soul…even your own.” The underlying human issue in “Kauai Temptations” is greed. I like writing to an issue because it keeps me on target.
If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?
A dream chat for me would be with Sue Grafton. As I said earlier, she’s one of my favorite authors. But, if I were to choose someone who’s not an author, I’d love to talk to Bernie Madoff. I’d love to know if he saw himself as a con man or was he thinking he could actually make his scheme work?
Okay, Bernie Madoff – first time we’ve gotten this answer but I think that would be one interesting conversation. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
I think that’s BS. I think it should be “write what you want to know.” Whether you want to write about macrame or a trip to a distant galaxy or an amateur sleuth in Hawaii, the resources are available to learn. Human beings were born to learn; once we stop, we’re as good as dead.
I love that answer! How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or nonfiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
I love writing both fiction and nonfiction. Whether I’m investigating a recent scam and writing an article to educate others or working on a scene in a novel that has to be drop-dead funny, I’m in the moment.
Beside “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?
I’m a web designer/programmer. We have a product I programmed from the ground up and license that to Kiwanis clubs. We also have a small number of custom clients for whom I’ve implemented WordPress websites.
Thanks for joining us today for a fun interview, Terry! For more information about Terry: terryambrose.com
Terry’s newsletter (love it!): http://terryambrose.com/thesnitch/The_Snitch/Newsletter.html