Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Weight Loss for Writers, or How I Trim Ugly Fat from My Manuscripts by Jackie Houchin

Okay, I've followed up on those cool ideas for articles (part I). I've conducted my interviews, checked my facts and written my piece (part II). Now I'm ready to submit my story (along with the invoice, of course) and wait for my check to arrive, right?


There's one more step to take before I hit that "SEND" button. I must get out the scale and weigh my chubby little darling. What I usually discover is not pretty. My manuscript is not the lean, fit article I thought it was. There are double chins, love handles, and soft, flabby appendages. Eek! Now what?

Editing, like dieting and exercise, is not fun, but if I want a story tough enough to make it to publication, I must be ruthless.

Portion Control

The first thing I check is Word Count. Whether it's a magazine guideline or an editor stipulation, I usually know the approximate number of words I can use. Mystery Scene Magazine limits reviews to 250 words. Some newsletters want no more than 400. The local newspapers I write for stipulate 600-700 words for articles, with an occasional "feature" story at 1,000-1,500.

Microsoft Word 2007 keeps a running count at the bottom of the document window. It also gives an accurate character/word/sentence count in its "grammar check" feature. I have no excuse for word count bulge.

If I'm only slightly over, I do a quick scan for superfluous words ("tiny little" to "tiny"). If I've switched words, I make sure I've eliminated the previous one (I drove the my car). Of the 15 times I used the word "just" I take out all but one.

Hyphenations change two words into one, so do contractions if the tone of the piece allows it. This is not exactly cheating.

Sentences average about 10 words, so if I can cut one word from each sentence, I've reduced my count by 10 percent. (I usually shoot for 20 percent.)

If I'm way over count, major surgery is required. I view the piece as a whole and consider where I can condense or cut entire paragraphs. I'm always surprised when this makes my article stronger. (Imagine how great you would feel if you could loose 15 pounds of fat overnight!)

Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs

Okay, my article is now comfortably within the allowed word count. Is it ready to submit? Not quite. While I have my red pencil out (finger hovering over the DELETE key) I review it once more, this time checking the "nutritional" value of my words.

I look for cliches ("pretty as a picture"), delaying words ("It seems that..."), redundancies ("I thought to myself," "large in size"), and grand phrases (Institute of higher learning" instead of "college.")

I change empty calories into powerhouse protein; "a dead body" is upgraded to "a corpse;" "he said in a loud voice" to "he shouted;" "dark golden horse" to "Palomino;" and "really very funny" to "hilarious."

I exchange fat for fiber (the passive "was meeting" becomes the active "met"), and remove bloated descriptive words (some adjectives, most adverbs). Away with those unhealthy words and phrases! I want fat-burning, muscle-building prose!

Lean at last!

Editing is not easy. It hurts to cut away words and phrases (or paragraphs) that I thought at first were brilliant. I do it because I want my articles to be published. If I want clips, creds, and checks, I have to work (and re-work) at it. As they say, "No pain, no gain."

Wait, was that a cliche? Darn!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Interview with Author Hugo Cipriani

We are honored to have as our final guest on Writers in Residence the indomitable Hugo Cipriani, an inspiration to us all. While many writers worry that it may be too late to start a career, Mr. Cipriani released his first book at 94 years of age, making the rest of us sound like whiners! And, yes, he does get out there and do book signings, including at the Los Angeles Time Festival of Books!

Va Fa Sa” is the name of your first book. What does this mean, and why did you choose this as the title?

The Italian words Va Fa Sa translate simply as “you go, you do, you know”. Struggling to become a student at UCLA, I realized the wisdom of You Go--Courage first, Action follows.

You Do --Confronted by new conditions, you do what you have to do to surmount all obstacles. You Know--With new confidence and knowledge you know why this proverb is true.

Would you tell us what your book is about?

The memoir explains why I left home in 1934 and had to leave again in 1938. My fateful first departure on Sunday, September 9th may strike readers with disbelief. But the second departure on Tuesday, August 2nd, was believable and more significant. My story unfolds with the fateful events that lead me to overriding truths. Infused with courage and a new confidence I surmount hardships in the Great Depression.

Can you tell us how you came to start a new career as an author so late in life?

At age 88, I was diagnosed with cardiac heart failure. My doctor had recommended open heart surgery but I hesitated due to my advanced age and diabetes. With my life ebbing I got a sudden urge to write. I wanted to explain how my leaving home led to Va Fa Sa and my happiness at UCLA.
After typing a couple pages I was rushed to the hospital for surgery -- a quadruple by-pass. While convalescing I returned to typing my first chapter, completing it in September, 2001. I was surprised when my grandson, Daniel Lowe, informed me that he put my chapter on his website and I was astonished that it made a “hit” with my family, friends and strangers. They encouraged me to continue writing. Four years later, with 18 chapters completed in 2005, it was prudent to close the memoir with my enlistment in the Navy. Still young at 29, my book’s title became “Va Fa Sa: A Young Man’s memoir”.

Personnel Addendum:

“My writing” began in 1934, after I left home. Writing letters became an obsession. In California, I had “free postage” during my stay in Camp Cummoche and in a CCC camp. I wrote profusely to family, relatives and friends and later, even more so, while at UCLA, Lockheed, and in the Navy. In writing those letters, I now realize, I began the writing of my Va Fa Sa memoir.

Note from WinR: You can find Va Fa Sa at Amazon.com, Independent Bookstores, and Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Interview with Cheryl Malandrinos of Pump Up Your Book

Cheryl Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. A regular contributor to Writer2Writer, her articles focus on increasing productivity through time management and organization. A member of Musing Our Children, Ms. Malandrinos is also the Editor in Chief of the group's quarterly newsletter, Pages & Pens.

Cheryl is also a Tour Coordinator for Pump Up Your Book, a book reviewer, and blogger. Her first children's book will be released in 2010 by Guardian Angel Publishing. Ms. Malandrinos lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband, two children, and three cats. She also has a married son.

You can find Cheryl online at http://ccmalandrinos.tripod.com/

Cheryl, could you tell us about yourself and what Pump Up Your Book does for authors?

Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog today. I’m honored to be here. I am a freelance writer, copy editor, and perhaps by the time this interview appears, I’ll be able to add published author to that list. My first children’s book, The Little Shepherd Boy, is due out this month.

My main source of income, however, is as a virtual book tour coordinator for Pump Up Your Book (formerly Pump Up Your Book Promotion). Authors contract us to set up blog tours to promote their books. Whether the books are new releases or the authors are looking to draw attention to an older release, they hire us to send them on a journey around the blogosphere to create an online buzz for their books.

How many blogs can an author expect to be on during a tour, and how long does the average tour last?

This differs per company, but Pump Up Your Book offers a variety of tour packages at affordable prices. Authors can tour for two-weeks, which would be stops at 10 – 12 blogs, or they can tour up to two months, which means they would appear on 30 or more blogs. The most popular package I sell is the Gold package, which is a one month tour with 20 blog stops.

At what point in the book’s publication should a writer be thinking about setting up a blog tour?

While it is an excellent idea to research virtual book tour companies months before your book’s release, approximately two months before copies of the book are available will be the time to sign up for a virtual book tour. By this time you should have an idea of who you would be most comfortable working with, what is expected of you and what the company will provide. This should also give you time for bloggers to receive copies of the book to review. It takes a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks to put together a successful virtual book tour.

What are the advantages and benefits of a blog tour as opposed to a book store tour?

I’m not an either or type of person. I feel authors need to look at their marketing budgets and decide where their money is best spent. I have three events planned within the first few months of my book’s release, and I am coordinating a virtual book tour to expand my reach.

That said, virtual book tours allow authors to easily find readers beyond their local area. In our current economic situation, one of the largest advantages of a virtual book tour is that you don’t have to spend money on gas, a new set of clothes, and hotels. No one knows if you’re checking your blog stops from your kitchen table in your robe with your hair sticking out like you just jammed a fork in an electrical outlet.

Consumers are busy people. Many people buy more products online than in stores. Amazon is my best friend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I rarely step into a mall during the holiday season. Authors need to go where the buyers are. A virtual book tour gets you and your book into search engines so potential readers can find you. Bloggers have loyal followings. If they recommend your book, it’s just as good as their next door neighbor telling them how wonderful some new product is.

The other great advantage to a virtual book tour is its longevity. Readers can find out about your book months after your virtual book tour is over. Tours are also an excellent way to network. Bloggers are some of the nicest folks out there. If they like your book, they’ll tell everybody about it!

How can an author judge a blog tour’s success?

Obviously, authors are looking at sales numbers. If I don’t sell a boatload of books while on a virtual book tour, then it can’t be a success. Right?

The objective of a virtual book tour, like any marketing tool, is to help you create a brand and let people know about your product. Virtual book tours do this by splashing your name all over the Internet, putting you in touch with markets you wouldn’t easily reach unless you’re online. If you can type your name or the book’s title into Google and have your blog stops come up within the first three pages of results—the only ones most readers look at—then your tour is a success. If you’ve gotten some reviews you can post on your website or use blurbs from in a press release, then your virtual book tour is a success. If you’ve networked with bloggers who are willing to help you promote your next release, then your tour is a success. Yes, the ultimate goal is sales, but spending time to create that brand must come first.

How can an author get in contact with your company?

Authors can visit our website at www.pumpupyourbook.com If they go to the “Book Your Tour” tab they will find our current offerings and fee schedule. There is a contact form on our website. I can be directly reached at cg20pm00(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thank you so much for taking the time!

Thanks again for letting me discuss virtual book tours with your readers. When I began working for Pump Up Your Book three years ago, virtual book tours were the wave of the future. Now, like cell phones and social media, it seems we can’t imagine life without them. Like e-Books, they aren’t half as scary as they seemed when they first came out. They help put authors in touch with readers all over the world!

Just a note: Cheryl will be on A Writer's Jumble this fall when her first children's book is released!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Interview with Author Pam Ripling

Pam Ripling as Anne Carter

While romantic mystery and suspense are her favorites, Anne has written middle grade mysteries, literary shorts, poetry and non-fiction. Long a lighthouse fanatic, it was only a matter of time before her obsessions intersected and a series of lighthouse novels emerged. Paranormal elements abound in both POINT SURRENDER and CAPE SEDUCTION, where mystery, romance and troubled ghosts provide hauntingly entertaining tales set in California lighthouses. A member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles, her short story Just Like Jay (written under author name Pam Ripling) appears in their newest anthology, MURDER IN LA LA LAND.

When she is not writing, editing or promoting, Anne enjoys time with her husband and children, two happy dogs and a psychotic cat. She is a skilled photo editor and loves restoring old snapshots and creating digital slideshows. Watch for the third paranormal lighthouse mystery, ANGEL'S GATE, coming soon!

For more about Anne Carter and to read excerpts, visit www. BeaconStreetBooks.com or write AnneCarter@BeaconStreetBooks.com.

Cape Seduction is your most recent romantic suspense released under the pseudonym of Anne Carter. Can you tell us a little about the plot?

How's this:

1948. Post war, recovery. Hollywood was wooing back the public with blockbusters like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo and The Three Musketeers. The beautiful people were “seen” at the Brown Derby and held their not-so-secret trysts at Chateau Marmont. They drove fishtail-finned Caddies and flew in the luxurious Douglas DC-6.

Darla Foster wanted to be in pictures. Just 21, she worked the circles, attached herself to the arm of any available actor with connections. On this night, March 20, 1948, one of her dreams came true as she sat at Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theatre watching Hollywood’s brightest accept their coveted Oscar statuettes. Later, at the Derby with her date, she met one of Tinsel Town’s favorite sons: the suave, slick headliner, Jordan Kent.

Darla’s life was about to take a sudden left turn as she found herself cast in Jordan’s next big film, about star-crossed lovers, a lighthouse and murder. Exciting fantasy or true life?

In 2008, photojournalist Rebecca Burke can't just walk away after experiencing the lingering pain and heartache surrounding the abandoned, off-short beacon on Dragon Rock.

In Cape Seduction, you travel back and forth between present day and 1948, and the latter includes a lot of authentic detail. Where did you go for your research on forties Hollywood?

I grew up in North Hollywood, California – just a short drive from the studios that made Hollywood famous. I hung out, with my girlfriends, anxiously hoping to glimpse a famous face now and then. So I was already a movie buff by the time I started writing books. Of course, the internet is a tremendous resource for any author. Finding out what it was like to be a person of affluence during the post-war years was lots of fun. Many, if not most, of the locales mentioned in the book are still in existence. The trick is to embed those details without committing the sin of an "info dump." The reader has to experience the era, not be inundated with impressive but useless facts. The aura of 1940's Hollywood can be subtly created through bits of character dialogue, nuances of setting, recognizable events, etc.

Once again, the story revolves around a Lighthouse. Could you give us some background on the story’s Dragon Rock Lighthouse? And what makes you choose a particular lighthouse for each book?

Dragon Rock is a fictional name, but the lighthouse that inspired the setting for CAPE SEDUCTION is St. George Reef Lighthouse, located off the coast of Crescent City, California. I could write volumes about this intriguing beacon. When I first discovered its remote, lonely existence, I immediately went into author-mode. I thought about how scary it would be out there, surrounded by angry seas, all alone and fearful that no one would ever come back. I read everything I could get my hands on, interviewing others who had actually been to St. George Reef (including one of the last Coast Guard lighthouse keepers ), hoping to authenticate my story.

My previous lighthouse story, POINT SURRENDER, deals with a completely fictional lighthouse I placed somewhere near Big Sur, California. But in my mind, I saw it as looking much like Heceta Head Lighthouse near Yachats, Oregon, a classically beautiful, cliff-hugging sentinel that has a rich history and is said to be haunted.

Were you passionate about lighthouses before you started including them in your stories?

Absolutely. In fact, I don't know why it took me so long to incorporate them into my work! I've loved them forever, visited many, and collected numerous knick-knacks and all sorts of lighthouse memorabilia. I am also a member of the United States Lighthouse Society.

Congratulations are in order! Your short story, Just Like Jay, is in the newly released Murder in La-La Land anthology by Sisters in Crime. How much time do you dedicate to short stories?

None, actually. When I heard the criteria for this submission, it sounded like fun—a murder mystery that involves nuances specific to Los Angeles. I did it as a lark, didn't really expect to be chosen, and I was. I started out writing short stories many years ago but stopped in favor of full-length fiction. The anthology has sparked new interest, however, and I'm thinking of revisiting this fun form of fiction.

You write Young Adult fiction under Pam Ripling. Do you have any new Pam Ripling books in the works?

I have one middle grade reader published, titled LOCKER SHOCK!, about a boy and the gun he finds in his middle school locker. I wrote a second, OLD ENOUGH, that involves the same group of friends. I have not submitted it, however. I've found it extremely difficult to support two personas, two very different genres, simultaneously. I'm not sure at the moment what I will do about that!

Could you tell us what’s next for Anne Carter?

I've just begun the third lighthouse mystery. This one will center on Los Angeles Harbor Lighthouse, also known as "Angel's Gate," and the portion that deals with the past will probably concern the California coast during World War II. This will be the first time I write about a real lighthouse using its real name. Angel's Gate is set to begin a $1.8 million dollar restoration project, and I'm hoping to get the opportunity to visit this not-open-to-the-public beacon that sits at the end of the breakwater in our harbor. (See my lighthouse blog for a stunning photo of this lighthouse.)

Thank you so much for stopping by!

My pleasure! Thank you for having me. I so enjoy this blog and am thrilled with the opportunity to stop over.

Note that Pam will appear on "A Writer's Jumble" on September 10th.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Interview with Robert Fate

Robert Fate has written scripts for network TV, screenplays for features, produced an indie feature, and as a sp/fx technician won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement. A Marine Corps vet, he studied at the Sorbonne in France, worked as a TV cameraman and an oilfield roughneck in Oklahoma, a fashion model in NYC, a sales exec in Las Vegas, and a chef in L.A. His wife Fern is a yoga enthusiast and ceramic artist. Their fabulous daughter Jenny is a senior at USC. They live in Silver Lake in L.A., and have a dog, four cats, and a turtle named Pharrell.

Welcome, Robert!

After four Baby Shark novels, you decided to write a stand-alone with a male protagonist. Why step away from something that’s working so well? And was this a nerve-wracking decision?

You know, Jackie, it never occurred to me that I was stepping away from anything. There was a story I wanted to tell, I’d finished Jugglers at the Border, and it seemed like the right time to do it. I am already at work on the next Baby Shark, an idea I’ve had for awhile about a grass widow who needs Kristin’s help. There may be some gunplay in this one––I can’t promise, but maybe.

Your question is interesting, though. I wonder how many other readers are concerned about a two-year pause between Baby Shark books? I’m crazy about Kristin, Otis, and Henry and the rest of the gang and am really looking forward to being with them again. Something has to be done about Henry’s loneliness, something more than dogs and chickens can solve. So, I’m thinking about that. And Kristin has to shoot more pool––lots of emails about that. And Otis had some big decisions to make at the end of Jugglers––how is that going to turn out?

Anyway, so, yeah, I’ve taken a little chance here by taking some time and telling a story off to the side. Will my readers accept it? We’ll see. Perhaps this chat will draw some comments.

Was it difficult to get into the head of a new character? Did you have to keep double-checking to make sure the voice wasn’t that of Kristin Van Dijk?

You wouldn’t think that would be an issue, but you’ve hit on something, Jackie. The biggest challenge I had with Erik Lamar, the gigolo, was to keep him from becoming too tough. Kristin learned to fight in order to survive, and she came back from her training as one tough cookie. Erik is not a tough guy. He’s a smooth operator who knows how to please a woman. When ruthless thugs confront him, he has to learn on the job or die. He’s clever and resourceful, but has some weaknesses when it comes to women.

Here is copy that may end up on the book cover – whether it does or doesn’t, it can give you a quick overview right now of what’s happening in Kill the Gigolo:

Gangster Al Foley has a grudge to settle and only the head of Erik Lamar will even the score. The Irish Mob is given an assignment: kill the gigolo. When the mutilated corpse of Erik's friend, Freddy, is found dumped in the street, Erik gets the warning--what happened to Freddy is a Girl Scout demerit compared to what is planned for him. But first, they have to catch him. One step ahead of Foley's thugs, the smooth-talking ladies man flies off to Mexico, thinking he has traded terror for a life of leisure with a rich older woman who likes bad boys like Erik. But it's not so easy. Lies and deceit become his way of life in the tropics, and in no time losing his head to the mob becomes the least of his worries.

You’re moving to New York City for your new novel, a big change from Oklahoma. Can you tell us a little bit about “Kill the Gigolo”? And will it be set in present day or in the past like the Baby Shark series?

I used to live in Manhattan. I had apartments on west 8th in the village, and on 75th just off Central Park West during the sixties when I was writing stage plays and working as a fashion model to pay the rent. In the early eighties, when I was a writer for a daytime show for CBS (Search For Tomorrow), my wife and I lived in a garden apartment in Chelsea. I would love to have work that would take us back to New York. We were happy there and would return in a flash. So, setting the early portion of Kill the Gigolo in Manhattan was an easy task. After years of living there, it was a pleasure setting the scenes and creating New York characters.

Unlike the Shark series that is set in the 1950’s in Texas and Oklahoma, Gigolo is present day with cell phones and modern transportation. Writing Gigolo was a real departure from what I’ve been accustomed to writing the past five years, and yes, thinking for a man instead of a young woman was a tricky challenge. It was strange, as I mentioned before, to be writing a man who is not as tough as the woman I write for in the Shark series. But, as I also mentioned, he learns on the job.

There are scenes in New York, and in Boston, but most of the story takes place on the west coast of Mexico in a fictional location called Los Acantilados, where an enclave of wealthy ex-pats have their villas that overlook the ocean from mountainous properties carved from the jungle. It is in that environment that Erik faces his most dangerous challenges.

One of the biggest differences between Kristin, the protagonist of the Shark series, and Erik in Kill the Gigolo, is their worldview. Kristin may do some violent things––in fact, she often does violent things, but without exception, the bad things she does are against bad people and in the defense of good. Erik is a different animal. Though it is not his nature to be violent, he finds himself capable of that when it’s called for. Kristin is concerned about what she is and what she might become if she keeps killing, but Erik seldom concerns himself with the rights or wrongs of his lifestyle. He sees himself as a businessman, pure and simple. But his customers identify him in the manner most comfortable to them––as a friend, an escort, a date, or a hired lover––and the mob sees him as a target.

Here was the thing, Jackie, in order to write this character, I felt I had to understand how he operated. I wasn’t at all certain that I was so different from my readers – how many of us have met or even know that much about gigolos? My friend Bruce Cook says I should fess-up that I worked as one in my younger days. I deny that. But okay, what do we know? A gigolo is a man who is paid to please women, but besides being handsome and a good lover, what are some of the details of that occupation in a day-to-day sense? So, to deal with those unknowns, I created back-story, material that I knew would not end up in the book, but rather would paint a picture that could help me know my protagonist. Here is a tiny bit of the tons of back-story I created to help me write Erik Lamar, the gigolo:

Erik knows how to exchange glances with successful middle-aged professional women who recognize at once what he is about. Especially women flying into the city on business––brief visits that afford them little more than the time to “window shop.”

He knows where to be in order to be seen. Realists only may apply.

Most often, the ones interested in him are women accustomed to running the show. If Erik is something they want they record his number in their Blackberries.

As his database grows, calls from out of town have become routine from clients who invite him to meet them on their turf, usually at hotels near airports in their cities. Commonly, his business is conducted in an evening, and it is not unusual for him to catch the redeye home, but he never rushes. Hurrying will not gain him referrals. His clients set the pace.

“I’m a friend of…” referral phone calls invariably begin. “She says you’re sometimes over our way…” or something like that. But it never takes them long to get to the point.

There is a bravura shared by the women who come to him via referral. He is sight unseen for them. They are taking their friend’s word in reference to every aspect of the rendezvous they’re requesting, and there is no room for timidity. Arrangements and rules of play need to be spelled out and costs agreed upon.

The beginnings to the relationships with Erik, the “referrals”––as he makes note of them in his appointment book––are candid. What do they expect of him? What do they think they’re paying for? The quid pro quo nature of the deal. That is his opportunity to weed out the strange women with weird ideas. He doesn’t play games. He’s a bit old-fashioned, in that respect.

Erik is sensitive to a woman’s preferences and knows by her response when he’s pleasing her. Some are outspoken, of course, and make it clear what they desire. Those women are always the repeaters. They’re eager to get to know him better. A few back-to-back visits usually get that crazy need out of their systems, and they settle into a more rational schedule. His fees are such that unless a woman has a sizable amount of expendable income, seeing him too often can trigger the attention of their accountants. It is to everyone’s advantage for him to remain beneath the radar.

For Erik the out of town visits are bread and butter, like a doctor’s routine––see me again in six weeks or whatever, and with the repeats and the constant addition of new clients, his business is growing nicely. And, since the out of town work is virtually invisible to his Manhattan clientele, he never seems overbooked, or too busy, and remains credibly “fresh” to the more demanding.

Though this Gigolo character may not be the easiest protagonist to like, he does live an intriguing existence and his story is exciting to follow. He gets deeper and deeper into trouble in his attempt to avoid capture by the mobsters, and the people and situations he encounters while on the run are exhilarating. The story is noir in the classical sense, that is to say, the protagonist is unsavory, and those characters he takes up with along the way are not much better––in fact, most are far worse. Kill the Gigolo is crime drama.

My hope is that readers will enjoy the ride.

I understand that Baby Shark is going celluloid! Which book was optioned? Can you tell us about this process? And do you have an actress in mind for the role of Kristin? (Even though we all know that by the time Hollywood is done with it, the role will be played by Betty White.)

Baby Shark was under option to a Hollywood producer for eighteen months, beginning in the spring of 2008 and ending late in the year 2009. The producer, acting in good faith, attempted to garner financing during a very tough economic period, wasn’t successful, and decided against renewing the option. Another producer, who had shown strong interest in Baby Shark and was waiting in the wings, negotiated briefly for an option, but because of other commitments decided against going forward. So, as of this date, Baby Shark is available if the motion picture industry should come calling again. Having worked in the industry for many years, I was not surprised by any of the above. Seeing a book into film is a tough and tangled process. What a writer can hope for is the first sale. After that, things often flow with more ease for subsequent properties. However, selling to Hollywood will never be without the difficulties that define Hollywood. It’s just that it’s easier once someone has stepped up. “New” makes producers nervous––note all the sequels.

What are you working on next? And if “Kill the Gigolo” is as successful as the Baby Shark series, will you consider turning that into a series?

I believe Kill the Gigolo is a story that should stand on its own––no series is anticipated.

As mentioned above, another Kristin Van Dijk story will be next. When the widow of a long-ago friend of Otis’ shows up desperate for help, Kristin and the gang find themselves up against some heavy odds in their attempt to make something go right that has gone terribly wrong.

I have enjoyed working on a stand-alone, but I’m anxious to return to the world of Baby Shark.

Thank you for being with us.

And thank you, Jacqueline. It has been a pleasure visiting with you.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Interview with Author Darrell James

Darrell James is a California writer living in Pasadena. His short stories have appeared in numerous mystery magazines and book anthologies, and have garnered a number of awards. Most recently, The Art of Avarice, as appearing in the book anthology Politics Noir was a 2009 Derringer finalist. Darrell is highly visible among his peers, serving on the Board of Directors of Sisters In Crime/LA, and as an Active member of the SoCal Chapter of Mystery Writer’s of America. His personal odyssey to publication appears in the Writer’s Digest book HOW I GOT PUBLISHED, along with J.A. Jance, David Morrell, Clive Cussler, and other notable authors.

Darrell, after much success with short stories (several awards and high placement in competitions, inclusion in anthologies and the release of your own collection) you signed a three book deal with Midnight Ink for a mystery series. Congratulations!

Can you tell us about your sleuth and the first book in the series?

My series centers around a very determined young female protagonist named Del Shannon who works for Desert Sands Covert in Tucson, AZ., an investigative firm that specializes in finding missing persons (some who my not want to be found). Written as thrillers, each book sends Del on a dangerous assignment, while dealing with life and love and happiness. (I try to pick intriguing themes and unusual settings for the conflict.)

In book one, having already developed a reputation as being good at finding people, Del goes in search of her own mother—a mother she’s never known. Her search leads her to the clannish community of Nazareth Church, deep in the hills of Kentucky, where she encounters the fabled faith healer Silas Rule. Dark secrets and malevolent conspiracies surround the man and her mother’s past. There’s love and some sexual intrigue along the way. But, can Del survive the ordeal and find her mother?...

I guess I’ll say here… only time (and story endings) will tell.

You are now in that waiting period between signing the contract and holding the book in your hands; your novel will come out in September of 2011. What are some ways that authors can make good use of the time leading up to the release date?

There’s a lot to do actually: Marketing and promotional campaigns plan are a major part of an author’s work. Of course, books 2, 3 and beyond also need to be written. No matter what the length of time, writing must still be a priority. I have book 2 finished and I’ve started a first book in an entirely different series with the expectation of getting it to the market as well. I also try to keep my visibility high by continuing to promote my short stories (they number close to thirty now in various anthologies and mystery magazines).

Beyond that, things will start to get exciting around November to December of this year, as my publisher begins the process of creating book one for a September 2011 release. Final edits will be completed, cover design approved, publishers catalog of 2011 fall line-up established… (I’ll note that I’ve intentionally avoided stating the title of the book as it may change between now and the publication date.)

Some might think that an author writes a book in solitude, sells it, and then steps out and introduces himself to other authors and readers. There’s actually quite a bit of groundwork that an author must lay if he wants a successful career. Can you share with us some of the steps you’ve taken to prepare for your inevitable best seller?

Well, one of the most important steps is to develop skills (experience) as a writer. I feel very strongly that, regardless of background, all fiction writers begin as inexperienced rookies and must learn the craft of both writing and storytelling before they will see success (meaning published). Almost every writer I know has at least one or more failed attempts in their drawer. I have two such novels, as well as an original screen play, that will likely never see the light of day.

I believe that short stories are also an effective way to gain experience. They teach an economy of writing that plays well in today’s genre market. They also offer you some short-run validation of your efforts. Short stories have served effectively as my training wheels. A number of them have been winners or finalists in award competitions.

In addition, I’ve learned that it takes integrating with the writing community (writers, agents, editors, reviewers, and readers) and discovering exactly what success demands. I can’t over emphasize the importance of this. And this is anything but a solitary pursuit. It takes getting out from behind the laptop and meeting people.

I currently do more than thirty organizational events, conferences, and workshops a year and my first novel isn’t out yet. I have also served on the boards of two major writing organizations—Sisters In Crime/LA and (currently) SoCal Mystery Writers of America . I expect these efforts to only increase.

Where do you see this series taking you and what are your hopes for the future?

I am totally grateful to the terrific folks at Midnight Ink, who saw value in my series and agreed to publish it. I would hope for a long and fruitful relationship with them. In the end, however, book sales dictate the longevity of a series and the longevity of the author. I’m extremely excited about Del Shannon as a character and about the direction of the series overall. I thrill to writing these stories. My hope (and maybe my belief) is that others will thrill to them as well. If so, I expect that there will be many more book contracts, and books, to come.

Could you share a piece of advice to the authors struggling to get to where you’re at?

Be patient! Nothing happens fast in this business. (Okay, I’m as impatient as the next, but persevere.) There will be many, many rejections and disappointments along the way. But to get there you have to keep going.

And write! I’ve always said “You can’t sell from and empty wagon.” You must have completed projects to offer a publisher. Finish the short story (finish dozens of them). And submit them. Finish the novel and immediately start the next. Writing is what writers do. If you’re not inspired to put words on the page and tell a great story, perhaps another career is best. (Just my honest opinion.)

Thank you so much for sharing, and we look forward to the release of the first of many Del Shannon mysteries.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Interview with WinR Jackie Houchin

Most people know Jackie Houchin as that lady who shows up with pen, paper and camera and churns out articles that make the rest of us look good, whether she's covering an author event or a play. She has her own blog at Jackie Houchin's News & Reviews and writes regularly for Sisters in Crime and local newspapers. Her book reviews can be see in magazines such as CrimeSpree and Mystery Scene.

Welcome, Jackie!

You’re a photojournalist, a children’s book writer, a book reviewer and a theater critic. What’s your favorite type of writing and why?

I really, really enjoyed writing the serialized stories for my three granddaughters (a different one for each of them). It was fun making up the characters, plotting the story lines, and seeing the girls eagerly awaiting the next installments. Sometimes I drew simple illustrations to make them more fun. When I wrote the two "Kinko-published" children's books for them, I also included simple line drawings in each chapter. However, my "Drawing Muse" isn't always so cooperative!

The reviews and articles I write for my "News & Reviews" website and the various local newspapers and newsletters are ways to use my "teaching gift" if you want to call it that. (Yes, I've always been sort of bossy and "know it all." Ha-ha) I enjoy meeting all the interesting people I interview. I use photography instead of drawing in this genre.

I also love seeing theatre plays (for free!) and reading books before they're published. But lately this writing angle is becoming stressful for me. Call it writer's block, but I seem to approach each new review with trepidation, even dread! Help!

How does someone with so much to do plan her writing time?

Funny you should ask! For one who enjoys everything organized and in order (some would call me OCD – ha-ha!), I don't plan my writing time well. Usually it's a looming deadline that gets me in the chair in front of the computer, frantically pounding the keys, while guzzling an entire pot of coffee.

Of course I have to be responsible about dates & times for the events I cover and the people I interview (these are faithfully marked on my calendar), but the actual writing is usually a last minute scramble. (Does it show?)

As a book reviewer, what mistakes do you find repeated, and what brings joy to your work?

Mistakes in the BOOKS, or MY mistakes? In books, I often see typos, of course. They are less evident with big-name authors and publishers. Occasionally I've seen name changes mid book, and even sex changes. (Yikes, I didn't mean it THAT way!)

As for MY reviews, sometimes when they are printed - and I cringe here - I see a typo I've forgotten to correct, or two words remaining where I changed one and forgot to take out the other. Gulp!

The joy comes from seeing my work in print, and in the feedback I sometimes get from authors (or actors in the case of theatre reviews).

What’s your favorite type of book to read?

Absolutely my favorite reads are mysteries – strongly plotted ones without too much grit, grizzle or gore. I also enjoy "adult" women's fiction (not chick lit) and historic novels. I will listen to audio books on history and biography, IF the author gives his information in "story" form. And, surprisingly, lately I've enjoyed a few Westerns. Go figure!

Christian fiction is a huge and growing market. Have you thought about writing either fiction or non-fiction for that market?

I'm a Christian, and ALL my writing is influence by that. My children's stories always have a moral to them (be it vague or bold), and often use Bible passages, proverbs, or parables as a foundation. (Don't worry! They aren't "preachy.")

I try to keep all my writing clean, and as positive as possible. (Even the newspaper events I cover.) I also won't review books or plays that are offensive to me (sacrilegious, sexually explicit, or with overt violence or language). And, while I'm no academic, I did write curriculum for a 10-year Bible study I taught.

Are there any fiction projects in the works for you?

Fiction.... hmm. Do I dare share my secret?

I have a women's fiction novel started and languishing in my files. It's an ambitious work (or so I've been told) and tracks the stories of three sisters, each in a potentially life or lifestyle-threatening dilemma. I've been told I should tell each story separately, like Nora Lofts does in her trilogy books. But these women's lives and problems are inexorably entwined, as are the eventual solutions, each dependent on what the other does.

So will "Sister Secrets" ever see the light of day and be at least "e" or self-published?

Your guess is as good as mine!

Thank you, Jackie.

Just a note: I've read Jackie's books and they are some of the most entertaining, well-written children's fiction I've ever read. Please get them published!!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Interview with Author Marilyn Meredith

We at WinR are pleased to welcome back author Marilyn Meredith!

When she last visited, Marilyn shared great information about the writing craft. This time she is generous enough to share some marketing tips as well as a peek into her recent release, "Lingering Spirit".

Welcome, Marilyn!

Marilyn, you have your finger in so many pies! You have the Rocky Bluff PD series, the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, Christian horror novels, and your stand alone paranormal romance, “Lingering Spirit”, just became available.

Is it possible to market so many different series and genres at events? What is your approach?

I don’t always market all my books at every event. The Apple Festival in Springville where I live, a two-day event, I take copies of all my books and do very well. I never know which books will sell.

Recently I was invited to a Jane Austen Festival and I only took copies of my Tempe books and the two latest books in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series. I felt a bit like a fish out of water, but did surprisingly well.

The Springville Library invited me to bring my books to their celebration of 100 years of the Tulare County Library and I knew there would not be many people there, so I just took my Tempe books which are set in a place like Springville. I still managed to sell four books in a very short period of time. When I do an event over on the coast, I take more of my Rocky Bluff P.D. series since it is set on the coast.

You attend conferences, book fairs, craft fairs, and other events. Where do you have the most success selling your books?

I love conferences and conventions but I’m not a big name writer so don’t sell a lot of books, but if I can get on a panel or give a presentation, I do pretty well. Book and craft fairs work pretty well for me. Craft fairs are fun because there usually aren’t many authors and so being a “real” author is a novelty to people who don’t go to bookstores and book events. This year I’ve been to Celebration of the Whales and I’m going to be at the Fourth of July Celebration at Channel Islands Harbor. Because my Rocky Bluff P.D. books were inspired by the Oxnard P.D. they sell well there. I’m also going to the Central Coast Art and Book Festival in San Luis Obispo, which is also a good venue. I go to much smaller fairs too, heading to one at the Lompoc library in August. I’m pretty much “up” for any event like that.

I mentioned in your into that you have your finger in a lot of pies! You're latest book is an example of that.

“Lingering Spirit” is a departure from your usual writings in that it includes a paranormal element. Could you tell us about the story and the characters?

“Lingering Spirit” came about because of a tragic event that happened in our family. Though the idea developed from a real and very sad event, the story is fiction. It’s about the death of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty, leaving his young wife a widow and his two daughters fatherless. His spirit remains around for quite some time. Did that part really happen? Not as I wrote it, but there is an inkling of truth in the supernatural part.

This book began as an e-book. I parted company with the publisher and the book was unavailable. The publisher of my Rocky Bluff P.D. books asked if I had older books I’d like her to put on Kindle and I gave her “Lingering Spirit”. She loved it and it’s been available on Kindle for awhile. At the beginning of this year she asked me if I’d like to have “Lingering Spirit” as a trade paperback. Of course I said yes, and she put it on fast-track so it would be available this month.

Many of your books are available both in paper editions and as e-books. You tried e-books before they were such a hot topic. What are the pros and cons of publishing electronically over publishing in print?

I was e-pubbed before there were any e-reading devices. Didn’t work so well back then. Once the e-readers started coming on the market things changed and they keep on changing. Nearly all of my books have been published in electronic format as well as in paper. The two publishers I’m working with now always do both types of publishing.

The e-publishers know what they are doing as far as e-publishing is concerned, where the New York publishers are making all sorts of mistakes—but are slowly catching on. Most e-publishers accept queries and manuscript submission as attachments and the whole submission process is much faster and more personal. The finished product is done in a far shorter time than with a New York publisher. Most e-publishers do not give advances, but the royalties are usually a bigger percentage for either kind of book than the New York publishers give.

What are you working on next?

I have a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Invisible Path, coming out this fall. I have another that I’m finishing up the editing on now. My next Rocky Bluff P.D., Angel Lost, is ready for the first part of 2011. I’m starting another Rocky Bluff P.D. now, and have written four chapters so far. Been hard with all the promotion I’ve been doing for all my books and because I’m the program chair for the Public Safety Writers Conference, which has kept me busy too. I must confess though, I love it. I’m doing exactly what I dreamed about doing when I was younger.

Thank you, Marilyn!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Interview with Author Michael J. Manno

Mike Manno practices law in West Des Moines, Iowa. He also teaches law and political science at Upper Iowa University. An amateur ventriloquist, he has done numerous school shows and has also appeared twice at the Iowa State Fair. For nine seasons he raced Formula Vees with SCCA. Mike is the author of “Murder Most Holy”, and his new book, End of the Line, featuring former star prosecutor, Parker Noble, will be out this spring.

Welcome Mike!

Practicing attorney, race car driver, ventriloquist. What led you to add mystery writing to your resume?

Actually, I was a writer first. I always enjoyed writing and my mother tells me that even as a kid my favorite school classes were those where I had to write. My undergraduate major was journalism and I spent the better part of my first four years out of college news writing and editing. And, of course, practicing law means spending a lot of time drafting and editing legal briefs and documents.

Were there any websites or books you found especially helpful?

Yes, probably too many to list here. There is a series of books that I do recommend to budding mystery writers: The Howdunit Series by Writers Digest Books. They cover all the things you need to know to write accurately about crime, such as poisons, motives, police practices, autopsies, etc.

I realize that writers have to take some license to create a good story, but I think you should try to be as factual as you can. Avid mystery readers will be able to pick apart a writer who is writing about something he doesn’t know. I think this series will help writers keep on track. I also recommend my friend Todd Stone’s Novelist’s Boot Camp, also from Writers Digest Books, and Robert McKee’s Story.

There are also plenty of web sites out there that are writer friendly. Joe (J. A.) Konrath has a particularly good site for writers. My friend Jerry Hooton also has a great site and offers a free monthly newsletter. Jerry has given advice to many “big name” writers, such as Michael Connelly.

You also might try your favorite author’s web site. Many have great links and very valuable information for writers.

You certainly jumped into the genre with a bang—the murder of a nun! Please tell us how you came up with your first Parker Noble story.

Actually, I came up with the motive first, then created the characters around it. I don’t want to say anything more or I might give something away. The murder of a nun, however, probably came from so many years in a parochial school! No, not really. I did enjoy the nuns, but like most kids, I have a fonder memory of them than I had opinion back then.

I can’t help wondering: Did being Catholic influence your writing or your story line? (And were you waiting for the wrath of the local convent over your choice of victim?)

No, being Catholic doesn’t have an obvious influence on my writing, but it does have some subtle influences. I am Catholic, and as every writer has heard, write about what you know. So if I need a religious influence or story line I go back to my roots. I also try to write books that parents would not mind letting their teen-aged kids read, so I don’t have a lot of profanity, sex or violence in the book. Those things can all be hinted at without being too graphic.

In the first book, you paired Parker with Detective Sergeant Jerome (Stan) Stankowski, making a delightful duo who play well off each other. What does each character bring to the story?

I think they bring a great tension into the story; Parker is an attorney and thinks like one while Stan is a cop and thinks like a cop. Putting them together where people mistakenly believe that Parker is in charge sets Stan up for a lot of frustration – especially when Parker seems to come up with the solution for the crime. It’s also a challenge telling the story first person through Stan when Parker is the main character.

Will the two remain together in your series?

Yes, definitely! Both will continue, as will Buffy Coyle, the news reporter who doesn’t know what she wants more: Stan or a scoop.

You were a recent presenter at the Catholic Writers Conference*. Tell us what it’s like to prepare a class on mystery writing and what it’s like to give this class online versus the way you usually teach--in person. Any difficulties? Is it a surprisingly easy format to use?

I teach college law and political science in a regular college classroom. Obviously you can connect better with students in person and the classroom discussions are easier to follow.

On-line is more difficult as a teacher since you can’t see the students so you don’t know if you are connecting with them. You can do that in a classroom and if you see the students are not picking up on something you can change focus and approach the issue from another direction.

Classroom discussions are a bit better in person, too, since on-line there is a lag time from when a student types a comment or question and when it appears on the screen and often there is more than one at a time. However, that having been said, the on-line conferences are still a great way to pick up valuable information without the added expense of travel and lodging that you would incur in a traditional conference. And, once you get use to the on-line format it is surprisingly easy to use.

What’s the one piece of advice that you hope the attendees took away with them about writing a mystery?

Actually, three things: One is to outline your story so you know where you are going. I think that is very important when writing in any genre.

The second is to make sure your facts are correct. I’ve seen (actually read) writers who get some important facts – especially the legal ones – wrong.

Finally, lay out all the clues for your reader – they need not be obvious, but the reader will feel cheated if at the end of the book the clue that tripped up the culprit was hidden from them.

In your class (which was excellent!) you stressed the importance of outlining a mystery. Do you outline every detail or do you lay out a general path for your characters to follow?

I lay out a general path. I liken outlining to a road map. You decide where you want to go and find it on your map then sketch a route to your destination. You know where you are going to end up, but you are free to take any interesting side trips that might appeal to you on the way.

It’s the same way with my writing. I know where I’m going to end up, but along the writing “trip” I might find an interesting side trip (sub plot) to follow. You might call this “flexible certainty,” and I think it is important when writing a mystery since you will always be looking for ways to hide clues and red herrings.

“End of the Line” was just released. Was the second mystery more difficult or easier to write than the first book?

A bit easier, mainly because the characters had already been developed in my first book, Murder Most Holy. The hardest part is to keep the relationship between the characters fresh. Their relationship is like a kaleidoscope that has to give a slightly different view each time it is turned.

What can we look forward to next from you?

I’m working on the third book in the series, which is about a college dean who is shot to death at his desk during spring break. I also am working on a non-mystery about a little girl who sees a vision in a church yard.

Thank you!

You can find some tips for writers along with links on Mike’s blog, and visit his web page for upcoming events and the release date of end of the line. You can order “Murder Most Holy” and “End of the Line” from the usual online booksellers such as Amazon. We recommend you support your local independant bookstores. Find them here.

* You do not have to be Catholic to take advantage of the fabulous AND free Catholic Writers Conference Online. More info to follow when the next conference is set up.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Interview with Short Story Guru Kate Thornton

With stories in three of SINC/LA's anthologies and numerous books and magazines, retired US Army officer and federal agent Kate Thornton has been writing for publication for over ten years. She teaches workshops on writing short stories and enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. She lives in a marvelous mid-century modern house with her husband of 30 years and their pets.

Welcome Kate!

With more than a hundred short stories in print, you are the queen. Why do you think you are so successful?

I just keep on writing – then submitting – then writing more. There are many more writers with many more stories in print than I, but there is only one way to get your stuff out there. It's persistence that makes your writing better and allows you to get your work published.

You teach a fabulous short story class. Which question are you most often asked and what is your answer?

Everyone always wants to know how to turn their idea into a story. If you break it down to a beginning, middle and some sort of satisfying ending, then you've got a story.

The first thing a writer should do is check the guidelines, but when you market your mysteries and science fiction, do you find that mainstream sites, if they don’t specifically state a preference, are receptive to genre fiction?

Yes – all good stories, regardless of genre, are about some aspect of the human condition. If your story appeals to that common thread, is well-written, and provides a satisfying experience, then genre fiction transcends its label.

How long should a writer wait for a response before she submits to another market?

If response times are not specified, I usually find out what the average is for that particular market, give them an extra couple of weeks, and then query. Sometimes, they never received the submission or lost it.

You’re going on your second mystery cruise next year. Can you tell us what that‘s like and what the cruise expects from you as an author?

Well, the first one wasn't specifically a mystery cruise, but mystery author Sue Ann Jaffarian was aboard and gave a bang up presentation in which I participated. This year's cruise, Mystery on the High Seas, is going to be quite a production. I believe I am going to speak on one of several formal panels, and the cruise is chock full of authors, agents, producers, editors and fans. Here's the site: http://www.2010mysterycruise.blogspot.com/

Tell us about the book you have coming out in November!

I am working hard, although I'm not sure I'm going to make my self-imposed deadline on this one. It's The Inhuman Condition: Tales of Mystery and Imagination and is a collection of twenty of my favorite stories.
Thank you!

Visit Kate's blog It Doesn't Take a Genius for great articles and short fiction that will entertain and move you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Let it Rest

Let it rest.

We hear it again and again as writers--"Let it rest"--and each time we "let it rest" we wonder, right at the moment of completion, when we're awed by our own brilliance, if maybe, just this once, just this one time, this particular piece of writing shouldn't be on display for the world to see as soon as possible.

Hmmm. A little breathing room might have saved that first paragraph.

Last night, the hubby had to work through the night. Unable to sleep, I decided to take advantage of the extra time and write. Isn't everybody in the perfect frame of mind to pen a blog at 3 AM?

Once I finished my masterpiece, that tiny voice said, "Let it rest." Although positive my piece was ready for the send button, I took my own advice and walked away.

Things look much different at 8 AM. Last night, I was rehearsing my acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature. This morning, I saw a mess.
Are there warning signs that you should walk away and air out your writing before subjecting other people to reading it?

1. You think you've been extremely clever.
2. The subject matter rouses strong emotions.
3. Your sides still hurt from laughing over your own jokes.
4. You were in a hurry.

I had titled my wandering, blathering blog "Stick to the Point".

My subconscious was having a laugh.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Interview with WinR Bonnie Schroeder

We are very excited to introduce you to WinR Bonnie Schroeder. An author of women's fiction and short stories, Bonnie can effortlessly move her readers from tears to spine-tingling chills. She can also make you laugh while you squirm, recognizing yourself in her characters. You can read a sample of her fiction on The Rose City Sisters blog by clicking here.

Bonnie, you are one of the most positive people I know. Good fiction includes tension, but it surprises me how well you are able to show pain and anger and frustration in your characters. How do you access these “darker” places without bringing yourself down?

Therapy, and years of practice! Seriously, it’s kind of cathartic for me, to let all that dark stuff out, transfer my own bad feelings and experiences onto the page and give them to someone else. I learned in writing classes that you have to “let your characters get dirty.” And after dragging my protagonist through the mud, I can look at my own life and think, “Heck, it’s not so bad.” And when all else fails, I hug my sweet Elvie cat; it is impossible to feel down when a cat is purring in your ear.

I’ve heard speakers dismiss writing groups as a waste of time. You belong to several as well as a book club. What would you say are the benefits offered by both types of groups?

Each has its own advantages. From my writing groups I get support, encouragement and specific suggestions on how to improve my craft. Seeing my fellow writers struggle with language, plot, characterization, internal logic, etc., is priceless reassurance that I’m not alone on this weird journey.

And I’m very blessed to have found some amazing, insightful, sensitive writers whose work I admire and who have mastered the art of the critique: first tell the writer what worked, so he or she doesn’t want to give up and knows what strengths to build on. Then move on to what didn’t work, without rewriting the story from the ground up.

There are not that many writing groups around who can pull this off. But don’t give up until you find one, or build one yourself. Trust me: it’s worth the struggle.

My book club also contains several writers – fortunately none are in direct competition! The club introduces me to work by writers I might otherwise have overlooked and suggests new directions for my own fiction. The members are all intelligent, perceptive people with strong and specific opinions on the books we read. Their comments and reactions give me a ton of insight into what appeals to readers, and what turns them off.

You read a wide range of subjects. Can you tell us what your favorite type of fiction is?

I have a lot of faves. I like well done suspense thrillers like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, and then again I’m a sucker for anything by Alice Hoffman or Anne Tyler, those sweetly incisive, literary, relationship-type novels.

I also enjoy well-written fiction that involves animals, such as Spencer Quinn’s “Chet and Bernie” mystery series, or The Art of Racing in the Rain – a two-hankie novel if ever there was one!!!

I’m a huge fan of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) with all its violence and gore. I know, go figure. . .

Actually, my favorite book is one that doesn’t cheat the reader, that delivers on its initial promise. I can tolerate a few technical errors if the book meets that mark.

I know how to plot a murder mystery, but how do you plot a literary novel or women’s fiction? Do you start with a character? An inciting incident? A character goal?

It’s weird, because they come to me in different ways. Sometimes it’s a “situation”: for example in my novel Remember to Breathe, it started out as an idea involving a woman whose husband had left her for another man. What if. . . . what if she learned he was dying? How would she feel? What would she do? What kind of woman would she be? And the story evolved from that.

My latest project is mostly character-driven. I started by seeing the two main characters and am in the process of following them around and trying to figure out who they are and what they want. I know the beginning and the very end, but everything in between is still a mystery to me.

Can you tell us anything about your current project?

I’m kind of superstitious in that I think telling the story dissipates its energy. . . and other such whoo-whoo beliefs. But it’s (I hope) a literary/commercial novel about a woman who marries an artist. Starts in 1966 and ends in 2000-something. Famous artists romp through the pages, along with pot-smoking hippies, corporate pirates, and a folksinger/rock star. All of which is subject to change, of course.

My main challenge is that I was actually married to an artist in the swinging 60’s, and although the story is purely the product of my imagination, I worry people will think, “Oh, that’s all about her and John.” Take my word for it: it’s not. If only my life had been that interesting!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Tried (and sometimes True) Interview Techniques

Last time, I wrote about where I got my ideas for the articles and profiles I write. I started out by getting the assignments from my editor.

Then I began seeing possibilities for my own stories everywhere i.e. in Starbucks, at bookstores, or on the street. I followed up on referrals from friends and information I found in newspapers, newsletters, or around my neighborhood. I let my curiosity lead me to hobbyists, collectors, and folks with unusual occupations.

So many people: so many interesting stories! Next I needed to to pick their brains, pry out their deepest secrets, find out how and why they do what they do! I had to interview them.

There are three main steps (or methods to my madness) in how I interview folks.

Before the interview

I first decide why I want to interview the person, what I hope to learn, what kind of story I want to write. (A lot of this will depend on where I hope to place or sell the story.) Will it be informative, inspiring, promotional, or...simply someone I personally want to know more about. (Having my own News & Reviews website, helps with that last one.)

I contact the person (on the spot or by phone) and set up a time and date. I let them know who I am, who I write for, and the general topic I want to cover.

Then I do a little research on the person or their specialty, occupation or craft. From my "research" I make a list of questions I want to ask.

I make sure I have a notebook, pens, MY CAMERA, and a tape recorder if it's going to be a fact-heavy interview. (Fresh or recharged batteries are a given, of course)

During the Interview

I try to establish a conversational mood by commenting or complimenting (depending on where we meet) on our surroundings. I thank them for letting me interview them, tell them what I hope to write about, and get a bit of basic info from them (correct spelling of name, title if any, etc.)

Then I pick up my notebook and pen, turn on the recorder if using it, and dig right in with the first (and easiest) questions. I never stick strictly to my written questions. If something more interesting (or tantalizing) comes up in their answers, I will follow it like a vein of silver in a Colorado mine. And – confession-time here – sometimes I will ask a question I have no intention of using in my story, just because I want to know.

I mostly listen and add questions as promptings to keep them talking. I smile and encourage them with nods or soft, sympathetic sounds. I haven't mastered the "silence strategy" yet, but I'm told that if you can simply remain silent, your subject will begin to fill it with more info. It's usually too uncomfortable for me to do that.

I take "off the record" seriously and will never write something I'm asked not to. That doesn't mean I don't want to hear it, however. Secret confessions sometimes help me to understand where the person is coming from. I'll take notes, and I might use the revelation to shade or slant the story, but not even that, if it is too sensitive.

If I get behind on my note taking, I ask them to repeat, slow down, or clarify what they said, especially if I plan to quote it in the story. (Quotes must be 100% accurate!) If they are showing me objects they've collected or made, I will ask if I can photograph them. Always at the end of the interview I will get several shots of them with something meaningful to the story. (Projects, pets, creations, gardens, workplace, etc.)

When the interview is winding down, I quickly look over my questions to see if I got everything I need, then I'll ask if they want to tell me anything I didn't ask about. (Great stuff sometimes comes out this way.)

I thank them, give them my card with contact info, and offer to send them a hard copy of the finished story (or the link, if it appears in an online magazine).

After the Interview

I review my notes (it's easier to decipher my scribbling if I do this right away), underlining key words and looking for a really cool approach to the story. I also try to come up with a good strong opening statement – whether it's dramatic, provocative, humorous, or teasing. What I want is something that will suck in the reader. Wait, that's called a "hook" right?

I also look for facts that I might need clarified or explained. If I find any, I'll do a brief call-back by phone.

And, the rule is to never show the interviewee the piece before it is published. But on occasion, under special circumstances, I have been known to do that.

(I'm such a softie!)

Next time: How I Edit or "Weight-watching for Writers"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Interview with Pamela Samuels-Young

There is a very exciting workshop coming up in July! In conjunction with Sisters in Crime Los Angeles, author/attorney Pamela Samuels-Young will present a "The Business of Books: Everything You Need to Know About Self-Publishing...And Then Some."

The details follow, and we've also re-posted our interview with Pamela so you can get reacquainted with this fabulous writer!

Date:July 17, 2010

Time: 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Place: Hill Avenue Grace Lutheran Church, 73 N. Hill Avenue, Pasadena.

Author of the edge-of-your-seat Vernetta Henderson series, Ms. Samuels-Young will focus on the economics of self-publishing and distribution channels as well as promotional opportunities for the self-published author. Most writers do a lousy job of promoting their books. So whether you're self-published or with a major publisher, this workshop will show you unique and cost-efficient ways to get your book in the hands of readers.

There will be time for lunch between the two sessions. Either bring your own lunch, or there are a few fast food places in the area. There is a refrigerator on the premises.
Cost for the workshop will be $25 for SinC members, $35 for non-members. (This might be the time to join SinC.) Checks may be sent to: SinC/LA, 1107 Fair Oaks. Ave., PMB 338, South Pasadena, CA 91030. NOTE: This workshop will fill up fast, so sign up early.
Workshops can also be paid through PayPal (if you have set up an account) by:
Going to the PayPal website: http://www.paypal.com
Clicking on: Send Money
Typing in recipient: sistersincrimela@gmail.com
Putting in dollar amount
Adding a note explaining what the payment is for; i.e. The Business of Books, July 17th
All questions should be directed to: lillianpritchard@earthlink.net

And now, for our interview with Pamela!

We are happy to have with us today author Pamela Samuels-Young, author of the Vernetta Henderson legal thrillers and a new stand-alone, Buying Time. Pamela is also an accomplished motivational speaker and corporate attorney. Welcome, Pamela! 

In Murder on the Down Low, the victims are all successful African-American men who claim to be straight, but have sex with men. Your latest book, Buying Time, involves buying the life insurance policies of terminally ill patients for profit. Where do you get such unusual and interesting ideas?

I find ideas everywhere. The Oprah show gets credit for Murder on the Down Low. I can still remember the day I watched in stunned silence as Oprah interviewed JL King, the author of On the Down Low. He boldly professed to sleeping with men, but at the same time, claimed that he was heterosexual. His shocking revelations about the secret world of men on the “down low” really shook me up. The very next day while I was driving to work, the plot for Murder on the Down Low came to me: What if attractive, successful African-African men were being gunned down on the streets of L.A. and no one knew why?

The idea for Buying Time came to me while chatting with a friend at a party. I knew he was in the insurance business, but when he explained that he was a viatical broker, I started asking lots of questions because I’d never heard of the viatical industry. When he finished explaining how he brokers the insurance policies of terminally ill patients, I knew there was a thriller in there someone. On the ride home, I thought to myself: What if a disbarred lawyer stumbles into the viatical business and his clients start dying before their time and he becomes the prime murder suspect?

I’m always on the lookout for interesting stories. My background as a television news writer helps me spot a unique and compelling story when I hear one. I don’t ever foresee having a problem coming up with interesting story ideas.

You have such strong female characters in your books. They are also complex—the level-headed female cop, the fiercely loyal friend who is ruled by her emotions, and the brilliant but insecure attorney. Are these characters a compilation of people you’ve met? And did you intentionally set out to make them so diverse?

While I outline my novels before I begin writing, I don’t have all the elements of the characters nailed down at the beginning. I spend a lot time on plot and very little on the specific personality traits of my characters. When I start writing, I simply let the characters develop. It’s a lot of fun to see where they go. I’m rarely thinking of specific people when I write. I do, however, set out to create a diverse cast of characters in terms of race, sex and class. I definitely like having strong female characters.

Murder on the Down Low deals with “straight” men having sex with men. Did you encounter any resistance or criticism from readers? And are you nervous about tackling controversial subjects?

I did receive an angry email from someone who accused me of “promoting homosexuality” in Murder on the Down Low. Someone else let me know that they did not plan to read the book (even though they enjoyed my other books) because it dealt with gay men. But that did not faze me one bit. I learned a great deal about HIV and AIDS while researching the book and I made a point of passing on what I learned to readers. For instance, before writing the book, I had no idea of the high HIV infection rates among African-American and Latina women. We are only 24% of the female population in the U.S., but more than 80% of new HIV diagnoses among women. There’s a clear message in the book that women must take responsibility for their own bodies. Murder on the Down Low is entertaining people, but educating them too.

New York Times bestselling author, Sheldon Siegel, refers to your “deft plotting” in Buying Time. I know from reading Murder on the Down Low that your books are impossible to put down. Do you have any advice for authors on how to keep the reader turning the page?

Before I became a published author, I spent lot of time studying the structure of books that I thought were page turners. Two of the earlier books that I literally took apart were The Firm by John Grisham and Roses are Red by James Patterson. I actually studied the dialogue, the action, the description, the length of the chapters, how the authors opened and closed each chapter. I asked myself: Why did I race through these books at lightning speed? After structurally dissecting several books, I came up with four techniques that I apply to each of my novels: 1) begin the book with something explosive that will immediately grab readers’ attention and pull them into the story; 2) hook readers at the end of the every chapter so that they are dying to know what happens next; 3) keep the chapters short, which makes readers feel as if they’re moving through the book at a faster pace than they really are; and 4) read the finished manuscript into a tape recorder and listen to the story as if it were a book on tape (editing while listening). It’s amazing the kinds of writing flaws that you can “hear” but not “see”. These techniques have helped me create novels that I’m proud to say are consistently described as page turners.

What made a successful and busy attorney step into the role of author?

Frankly, I got tired of never seeing women or African-Americans depicted as attorneys in the legal thrillers I read. I would close the books feeling satisfied with the story, but disappointed about the lack of diversity of the characters. One day, I decided that I would write the kind of characters that I wanted to see. In the process, I discovered my passion. At the time, I was an associate at O’Melveny & Myers, a large corporate law firm. Despite the demands of my law practice, I somehow managed to get up at four in the morning to squeeze in a couple of hours of writing before work. I wrote all weekend, in hotels, in airports, whenever and wherever I could find the time. I never really had a true passion until I discovered mystery writing. I’m currently practicing law as an in-house employment attorney for Toyota, yet I’ve still managed to publish a book a year for the last four years. Nothing short of passion made that possible.

There are plenty of sites that dispute the crime solving methods that investigators use on television and in books. Are there any attorney practices in fiction today that make you roll your eyes?

I will sometimes read something in a novel that is procedurally incorrect. I do roll my eyes and wonder why they didn’t do the research. But then again, mistakes are easy to make when you don’t write what you know. So if I’m off track with some of the non-law aspects of my novels, please forgive me!

Buying Time is your fourth book and your first stand-alone novel. When you parted ways with your publisher, you chose to self-publish a couple of your books in order to keep your name and books in the public eye. How has this worked for you? And would you recommend the experience to other authors?

I would definitely recommend self-publishing. Initially, I did not want to be self-published and resisted it every step of the way. But it has turned out to be a great experience for me. I felt very strongly that Murder on the Down Low was an entertaining book that readers would enjoy. After my previous publisher rejected it and my agent was unable to sell it to another publisher, I had three options: 1) put it on the shelf; 2) continue to try to sell it; or 3) publish it myself.

After developing a fan base with my first two books, I was really concerned about staying out of the market with a new book while I hoped and prayed that Murder on the Down Low was picked up. Victoria Christopher Murray, a very successful (financially successful!) Christian fiction writer, told me that publishing a book a year was one of the keys to her success. I definitely wanted to do the same. I felt that if I stayed out of the market, I would lose the momentum created by my first two books.

After a great deal of prodding from my husband, it finally dawned on me that if I really wanted to be a writer, I would have to take charge of my own career. I thoroughly researched the various publishing options and decided to create my own publishing company and find my own printer rather than go with a print-on-demand company. The distribution deal that I signed with the Independent Publishers Group (“IPG”) was definitely a Godsend. IPG got Murder on the Down Low on store shelves nationwide and even sold book club rights. As a result, both Murder on the Down Low and Buying Time are published in both hard cover and trade paperback.

I self-published Buying Time without giving my agent a chance to sell it because I knew that even if he got me a deal, it would be more than a year before the book made it to store shelves. Wherever I go, people are always asking me when the next book will be out, so I felt it would be a mistake to sit on the sidelines and wait for a book deal.

If a publisher decides to pick up one of my self-published books, great. If not, I’ll keep writing and publishing them myself. I’m about to enter my third printing of Murder on the Down Low and have made back my investment. In fact, Murder on the Down Low made more money than my first two book advances combined. So for me, that’s success.

Booksellers have their own ideas about how to categorize books. Have you ever had a problem with a bookstore wanting to place your mysteries solely in the African-American Fiction section? Where is your preference?

I’ve gone back and forth on this issue. Borders has my books in the African-American section. Barnes & Noble has me shelved in the general fiction section. Since I don’t have name recognition, I don’t mind having my books in the African-American section because they have a special appeal to African-American readers. But store placement isn’t a major concern for me. Most people don’t buy books solely by browsing bookstore shelves. There are so many other ways to reach readers. (Thank God for the Internet!) After the release of my first book, a bookstore owner in Atlanta told me that if I focus on my core audience, “crossing over” would happen in due course. I truly believe that. Once I nail down my core audience, I know my fan base will broaden. Mystery readers don’t care what color your characters are. They just want an engaging story, and that’s what I strive to write.

You are also a motivational speaker, and your topics range from the practical (how to self-publish) and the motivational (finishing your book despite your day job) to the spiritual (using faith to pick yourself up). If you had to pick one piece of advice that would most help our readers, what would it be?

Don’t let anyone deter you from pursuing your dream. Most successful authors experienced years of rejection. John Grisham, for instance, received 45 rejection letters and self-published A Time to Kill because people told him no one wanted to read about lawyers. How wrong they were! So if you think you have a marketable book, don’t give up on your dream. My goal is to become a New York Times bestselling author and to eventually write full time. I recognize that few authors ever achieve that level of success. That fact doesn’t stop me from dreaming big. I feel very strongly that there’s a significant market for my legal thrillers and I’m confident that I’ll eventually break out of the pack. Until that happens, I plan to continue publishing a book a year and watching my fan base grow. My best quality is my ability to get back up after a fall. The publishing industry may knock me down, but I’ll keep getting back up again and again and again.

As a follow up to the previous question, how would a group go about booking you as a speaker?

I love meeting new people and I enjoy public speaking and encouraging others to pursue their passion. (Take a look at my packed tour schedule!) To schedule me for a book club meeting or speaking engagement, visit my website at www.pamelasamuelsyoung.com or email me at author@pamelasamuelsyoung.com. I’ve attended more than 100 book club meetings either in person, via speaker phone or via webcam. My goal for 2010 is to double that number. So all invitations are welcomed!

Finally, could you tell us what you’re working on now? The next Vernetta Henderson mystery? Something completely different?

The legal thriller I’m currently working on is another Vernetta Henderson mystery and will be the fourth book in the series. It’s called Attorney-Client Privilege. Vernetta squares off against an unscrupulous female attorney in an explosive gender discrimination case that could bring down a corporation. The story line involving her best friend Special will make you laugh, cry and root for her until the very end. Assuming I can continue to keep all my balls in the air, Attorney-Client Privilege will be released in November 2010.

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us. Pamela has a website where you can check out her novels her audiobook Writing a Novel Despite Your Day Job, a great tip sheet 101 Essential Resources for Fiction Writers. You can order her latest book Buying Time .