A Conversation with C. S. Lakin

C.S._Lakin

A Conversation with C.S. Lakin

C.S. Lakin is a prolific author, blogger and advocate for writers, with her website Live Write Thrive (http://livewritethrive.com/ which is aptly named), writing workshops and critiquing/editing services. As an author of fairy tales for adults, she combines Christian scripture with myth and fairy tale to evoke fascinating worlds.

It is a treat to experience her work, fiction or nonfiction, because of the heart behind her words. It was a pleasure to chat with her about her Gates of Heaven series, her upcoming workshop and how-to book –  Shoot Your Novel – and to get a broader perspective on writing and engaging with others in this digital, fast-paced age.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

**********

Q: As an author of fairy tales for adults, you manage to employ recurring themes and rich textures without upsetting the balance between too much or too little description and the messages don’t become overly repetitive. How do you weave these aspects into your stories?

A: Thanks for the compliment on my writing.

I always start with themes, since those are the most important to me. And once I have themes, I try to come up with some motifs, which can be ideas or quotes, that are repeated by the characters throughout. As far as textures go, I’m all about beautiful language and imagery—the more the better.

I’ve been writing novels for nearly 30 years. I have over a million words in print. So it’s just putting that requisite 10,000 hours in to become proficient as a writer. I feel like it takes about 4-5 novels to get a voice, a style, a rhythm. I think craft/skill is 95% and the other 5% is inspiration and creativity. That’s why a lot of untalented people can write good, successful books without really having talent. My agent told me that—only 5% is talent. But sometimes that 5% is amazing and stands out. But overall, writing is like learning anything. It’s a skill anyone can learn if they put their mind to it. I’ve just developed my style through practice, such that I rarely ever write past a first draft. I usually edit and proofread my first draft and it’s done. I plot extensively but also listen to my intuition. I just wrote a blog post on that. And now I have a series on mind mapping and brainstorming, and I do that a lot.

Q: What is your favorite method of research for your Gates of Heaven series?

A: I read fairy tales. Hundreds of them. I’m finishing the last book, though, and I am so happy with the variety of themes and topics and characters. I feel I have created a wonderful, amazing world.

Q: Even as a series, each book stands alone. Does your process of writing change with a Gates of Heaven book from your process of writing your contemporary fiction or other fiction such as Time Sniffers?

A: Hmm, if you are talking about the difference between writing a series and a stand-alone, there can be huge differences. With a seven-book series like mine, I have one overarching world with overlapping locales and characters, but with a complete fairy tale in the story. Since I decided to have seven sites in seven places, I had to create almost a new world for each book. It’s been a challenge but the last book is like the final curtain, bringing all the main characters from the first six books together, although I’m trying to also make it a stand-alone book. And it’s a story within a story within a story, so that’s a huge challenge.

Q: Wow! That will be fascinating to see how you create that, when the books are already multi-layered.

You have held a series of “Writing for Life” workshops for writers earlier this year, with your next event scheduled for December (“Sizzling Scenes”). What do you enjoy most with these workshops?

A: I love teaching these workshops and seeing how these new perspectives help writers become better writers. All the material I teach is also on my blog, Live Write Thrive.

Q: What can we expect from “Sizzling Scenes”?

A: I created this workshop because I see as the biggest problem with my critique and editing clients that few writers know how to correctly craft a scene. There really are “rules” to structuring scenes, and I like to liken it to preparing a meal, with many different entrees. A dish must have spices, have a surprise, leave a specific aftertaste, etc. You’ll just have to take the workshop to get the whole flavor!

Q: I love that analogy. Among your posts on Live Write Thrive are those about “shooting your novel,” some of which will be included in your upcoming how-to. What inspired you to approach novel-writing in the context of film technique?

A: I was raised in the TV industry and spent my growing-up years reading scripts and on sets. So I have a cinematic take on writing fiction. Some of the best novelists were first screenwriters. It’s crucial to make scenes visual in a way the reader can picture events unfolding in real time. Readers are so accustomed to movies and TV that they expect book scenes to also have this technique. This entire year covers all this movie technique. The book, Shoot Your Novel, will hopefully be out soon!

Q: On Live Write Thrive you share your critique checklist and different paid options for your critique services. What is the most challenging, and the most rewarding, aspect to critiquing the works of others?

A: I love the challenge of working on every kind of genre with clients in six continents. It’s so fun and exciting. The reward is in seeing writers grow in their love of writing and their ability. I’ve watched so many writers I’ve coached go from writing a train wreck of a novel to a masterpiece that sells big or wins awards. I love helping writers as much as I love writing, so I’m always torn between wanting to do both. Right now I work full-time doing critiques and edits, and still write two novels a year. It’s a challenge but I don’t want to cut back on either activity.

Q: That’s amazing! How do you manage to juggle everything?  

A: I get up early, run two miles on my treadmill at about 6:30, spend most of the morning working in between throwing the Frisbee for the lab. I go to the library from 11-5. I write fast because I’ve learned to do that. I don’t rush my editing, though.

Q: Smart to have a schedule like that. You share many articles and guest posts on your site, and you have built quite a large social media presence. There is a fine line between being engaged and becoming overloaded–how do you navigate that?

I was taught the best way to draw fans and readers and clients is to share as much free information as possible, and I love to do that, so I dedicate a lot of my time to my blog. I write about 150,000 words a year on my blog, the equivalent of a couple of novels. I also tweet my posts, put on Facebook, and share with about 30 LinkedIn groups. I love how discussions ensue and people write me every day to thank me for the great info. Basically I felt I wasted twenty years as a writer floundering around not knowing what I was doing, so my hope is to teach methods in a way that will spare other writers the grief I went through.

Q: Much appreciated! On your site, you offer your editing services. How would you say editing others has strengthened you as a writer?

A: Editing definitely helps me as a writer, especially reading so many beginning novels and noting what is missing or wrong.

Q: How did you develop as an editor—were you an editor first, or did you learn as you wrote and worked with other editors?

A: I’ve been writing novels for nearly thirty years. I’ve also been editing a while but didn’t begin taking it seriously, in terms of learning Chicago style and making book editing my career, until five years ago. I was still writing novels full-time, but in the last two years moved to full-time editing. Since I’ve written about fourteen novels, in a half-dozen genres, I began to specialize in critiques, since most editors aren’t novelists, so now about 90% of my work is critiques—I do about 200 a year of various lengths. I have a couple of great copyeditors on my team who often do the initial content editing for my clients, but I always have my hands and eyes on the projects and do all the final proofreading. I’ve never “worked” with other editors, but I am on editing loops and groups and learn from others as well as share my insights with them.

Q: That’s great. Your website (cslakin.com) notes “In all her books she seeks to journey to the heart of human motivation, to uncover unmet needs, and show the path to healing and grace.” When and how did you determine this was what you wanted to evoke with your writing?

I’ve been through a lot of pain and misery in my life, spiritually and emotionally. Like many, I’ve used my writing as a cathartic way to understand and process those experiences. I’ve always been fascinated by the human psyche, and love how complex people are. I’m a very character-driven novelist and most of my books are relational dramas or journeys of the heart for my characters.

Q: Yes, I enjoy that about your work. Is there anything else you would like to say?

A: I don’t sleep (just kidding). Really, although people look at what I do and are astonished, I look at some of my other author friends and they make me feel like I’m downright lazy. Meaning, don’t compare yourself with other writers. Their journey is their own, and yours is your own. Write because you love it. Cherish the freedom you have to write, even if it’s just a few minutes a day, and remember there are a lot of other people like you out there trying to be the best writer they can be. They are not your competition. Let them be your inspiration. God has a plan for your life and your writing. He won’t tell you what it is, and more than likely, it will not look like the plan you have. That’s how He works. I’m trying to live in that place in peace. It’s not easy, but if you focus on the joy of telling a story and be there to encourage and help others, the journey will be an utter blast! Take off!

 

Advertisements

How to Look Good Naked: Exposing Yourself to the Real You

how_to_look_good_naked_cover_4


“We look into mirrors,” wrote Pearl Bailey, “but we only see the effects of our times on us – not our effects on others.”

When you study your own reflection, how well do you really know that person who’s looking back at you? Is she someone whose value is forever being held up for scrutiny and comparison to others? Are there dreams she plays close to her chest, as reluctant to divulge as she is to pursue? Is she someone you’d like to get to know better but haven’t a clue as to where you should start?

Authors Courtney Frey and Jen Kelchner just may have the answer to starting your own journey of discovery in their new release, How to Look Good Naked: Exposing Yourself to the Real You.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Let’s start with your respective backgrounds and what drives your passion.

Jen: I worked with a Fortune 100 organization for a number of years in Administrative Management which is where I began my coaching career. Over the last three years, I have focused on my life coaching, writing and speaking in order to develop solid tools to help others on their personal journeys. I live in the Nashville, Tennessee area and have two almost grown sons.

Courtney: I hold a B.S in Psychology and Human Services and have spoken across the country for women’s conferences in all avenues of women’s issues.  I have a background in social work, sales, writing, and management and am the published author of several non-fiction women’s books. I live in Iowa with my amazing three teenagers, my significant other, and my three energized dogs.

Q: I’m always curious how independent thinkers connect with kindred spirits and decide to collaborate. What’s the story behind how the two of you met?

Jen:  Ours is a crazy story to be sure! Courtney commented on a blog post of a friend of mine and they began to communicate. Then he introduced me to Courtney and it was love at first sight. I read her book and immediately knew we had been divinely placed in each other’s paths. Our stories, although different, had led to the same emotions and wounds to be overcome. I think it took us all of two days to realize we were truly kindred and that our purpose and passions were in alignment.  It would be a fatal error to ignore something so powerful. So, we decided to launch this movement.  All of this took place in the span of about six weeks from meeting to our decision to create change together.

Q: The two of you have also recently founded your own company, www.igniteyourtruth.com. What inspired this decision and how did you go about structuring its development and subsequent launch?

Jen:  We met in April, formed the idea around the first of June, and we went live on July 1st of this year. Three years ago I made the decision to leave my corporate career for the sake of my relationship with my sons (which led me on my personal journey as it turns out). I realized about a year into that journey that my focus was no longer business but people. My sole purpose in life became to affect change in others and places around me.  With each passing month, my focus became more and more laser-like to be bold with my passion and form an outreach. My problem was I really needed a counterpart to walk this out with me.  I mean it is a tough journey to do solo! As Courtney and I developed our friendship in those few weeks, we saw how our energy, passions and visions matched so perfectly. In truth, we created a general outline for the short term and long term visions and just winged it from there.  I designed our website and put our technical arena in place for podcast and off we went. Thankfully, we are both very resourceful gals and we operate from ingenuity and hard work to get whatever we need done.

Q: What strengths do you each bring to the table?

Jen: I have days I regret that I have technical skills as I see my task list grow and grow. My personal gifts really lie in being able to see a big picture when someone else is talking. It is like I see images or phrases forming in the air and can quickly snag those and connect dots. It really helps cut to the chase fast if I’m coaching an individual or helping a company identify their issues.

Courtney:  Thank God for Jen who can organize and deal with the technical side of things, because it’s like Chinese to me!  Because she can magnificently handle the details, I am able to utilize my strengths and networks to really get out there and engage our marketing plan and focus on writing.

Q: What is Ignite Your Truth and who is the target audience for your particular message?

Jen:  It is a movement to bring people into knowing who they are, know their value, having authentic relationships, helping them to change their thinking and embrace their visions. We are loved, valued and accepted.

Q: “Not So Lady Talk” – the name of your new series – seems inconsistent at first glance with the genre of Christian/Spiritual. Was the choice of this phrase just a catchy marketing hook or is there a deeper connection in play to a faith-based platform?

Jen:  That is a great question! At our core, we talk about authenticity. Authenticity and transparency has been missing from the church for generations. Our generation craves authenticity. We are tired, bored and hungry for something real. There is a serious gap that needs to be addressed for women in the church culture, especially for women in their 30’s and 40’s. We are highly intelligent, multi-task and get things done. So, when we show up to a women’s function, we don’t want to swap recipes and chit-chat. We have apps for that. We want high-energy, deep, real conversation. We want to know that we can remove our masks and be unfiltered without judgment so we can address our needs. It might be inappropriate and not-so lady-like at times; but it is real and healing. We are out to redefine what women’s outreach looks like – especially for this generation.

Q: Tell us about How To Look Good Naked, your first book in this series.

Courtney:  This book is really an exposing of our true selves and the journeys we have taken to getting to the truth of who we are.  It’s not always pretty, and it’s very humbling.  However, we wanted to be transparent in that journey so that other women would see and believe that they are not alone, they have grand purpose, and are unique and empowered. We address issues from identity to shame to self-acceptance all while being very vulnerable.

Q: Did the two of you start with a formal outline of what you wanted to cover in the book or were you brainstorming as you went along?

Jen:  We started with a general outline for each chapter. Individually we went about our writing then pieced it together for proper flow. Any time we write, we wait until we feel a specific nudge for a topic. Our guideline helped us to stay on point but we really work as we feel directed individually and weirdly it always ties together.

Q: Were you working in the same room this whole time or communicating via phone/email? What were the advantages/disadvantages of this collaborative approach?

Jen: We live over 700 miles apart and have seen each other one time. We wear out Facebook instant messaging all day long! However, when we write we both unplug and then come back together to review. Somehow it all works together perfectly.

Q: How did the two of you resolve creative differences such as what to put on the cover, how to organize the content, what to add/delete, etc.?

Jen: Thankfully we balance each other very well. Courtney defers to my graphic design talents and she will tell me if she doesn’t like it. Since I’m the “organizer” of the two of us she lets me manage the content, edit and such.

Q: What’s the best part of working with a partner?

Courtney: We definitely balance one another out.  Not every day is an easy day and having a partner who is able to be strong when you are weak, who can pull you up and inspire you, is definitely a key to our success.

Jen: I agree that our being in this together is what is making this work so well. Our personal stories include a lot of being the odd ball in our lives, never really being accepted as we grew up. And, let’s face it that entrepreneurs and game changers are generally odd balls. We push the boundaries of what is acceptable in societal norms – especially as women and mothers.

Q: You share several personal experiences in your book and state that everyone has a story and that story matters. Please elaborate on this.

Jen:  A lot of times we want to run from our stories because we carry guilt or shame with them. We need to encourage each other to embrace our stories and that we are the authors of the chapters yet to be written. Our past gives us a rich history to draw from that can encourage others and provide us with new tools and skills. Our stories serve others and build communities of change. There is freedom in owning your story…it cripples fear and returns the power to you.

Q: What inspired each of you to break through your own layers of roles, labels and inhibitions over the course of dispensing advice to your prospective readers?

Courtney:  I desired first and foremost to be authentic.  If I was going to talk to women about exposing their true selves, I had to be willing to really go there as well.  I didn’t want to just talk the talk; I wanted to walk with them hand in hand through the journey.  I believe that the best support comes from those who have gone through the valleys and come victoriously out the other end. And, if I wasn’t willing to do that with my readers then the message was false.

Jen:  Definitely. In my own journey, the only thing I have found to keep fear at bay is to be authentic and put it out there.  I am empowered when I put my life out there. Fear dissipates. The need for others acceptance becomes invalid. It’s freeing.

Q:  Would you categorize this book more as self-help or inspirational?

Jen:  Honestly, I can’t stand labels and so have a difficult time knowing how someone else wants to categorize it.  It’s a real, honest look at life and humanity. It is inspirational as it offers hope that you can really overcome anything.  It is also self-help because it provides tools and direction. Then again, you could stick it in the spiritual bucket as parts of our stories bring our foundation of faith into the mix.  At the end of the day, it is a book about real people who had messy lives and crawled their way out of life’s pit to embrace wellness.

Q: There’s no shortage of books on today’s market about journeys of self-discovery, introspection and empowerment. What do you feel makes your content unique in this regard?

Jen:  I think for one, we don’t play around. If you ever have a conversation with Courtney or me, you will quickly learn that we get to the heart of the matter fast. We don’t want to waste one more second of someone not knowing just how valuable and loved they are. We are very transparent and bring our very personal stories into the mix so people can engage and relate quickly. We have walked out all of the things we talk about. It is not text book or theory; it is a survival guide built around actual events.

Q: Given that the material is faith-based, will the book resonate with women whose religious beliefs are different from your own?

Jen:  Absolutely as we share universal truths not religion. While Courtney and I have a few moments where we put it all out there from our perspective; we do take care to use words that remain open to universal truths.  At the end of the day, truth is truth.  And the light of love, forgiveness and acceptance will break through any darkness in life.  The tools we provide others to walk through their journeys with are practical, proven exercises or affirmations.

Q: What governed your decision to self-publish?

Jen:  The content was timely and needed to be out there to the masses not just our known group of people. It was so heavy on our hearts and we didn’t feel like we had time to spare.

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you started?

Jen: Honestly, we still don’t know nearly as much as know we need to.  Our goal remains to connect to women, not necessarily focus on the business aspect of selling mass books.  I suppose the one thing we do, and it’s where our hearts are, is network and connect to others whose visions are in alignment with ours.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

Jen:  I am a serious Doctor Who fan.

Courtney: I am a sushi loving classic literature addict!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

Courtney:  Our next book in the series is a 15 Day Relationship detox book. We have also had men ask us about a guy’s version of our series so we are exploring that option. And, we are very excited about our speaking and first retreat in 2014.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

Jen and Courtney: Thank you for the opportunity to discuss our business and our latest series; we truly appreciate your time and your passion!

 

In The Shadow of Sacrifice: Thoughts on Life and Success

Calhoun

Born amid poverty, illiteracy, and abuse, Howard Calhoun lived his youth as a sharecropper’s son and spent a large portion of his formative years moving from one shack to the next. Saddled with a serious stuttering problem and demoralized by a succession of demeaning employment experiences, this soft-spoken observer of human nature went on to become an owner of several successful businesses with a workforce that numbers in the hundreds. For anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed, helpless or threatened by events beyond their control, In the Shadow of Sacrifice encourages them to look within, tap their faith and use that positive energy to recognize their own excellence.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Let’s start with the $64,000 question: who is Howard Calhoun and why is he here?

A: I consider myself as a simple person who acquired modest and humble values from an upbringing populated by a large, tight-knit family and a very involved community.  I believe I have been entrusted with some very important gifts that I have been compelled to share.

Q: You’ve had a number of diverse careers over your lifetime. Who – or what – charted your course to pursue each of them?

A: A relatively unknown school counselor was the first one to actually sit me down and tell me that he thought I ought to be thinking about something (college). That opened a world of opportunities to me! My successes from that point expanded my interests and desires and helped me identify and crystallize areas of strength without losing the value of multiple exposures.  I have tried to align my career choices with my passions and strengths.

Q: Which of your careers did you enjoy the most?

A: My last public job was as a school counselor. It was my most rewarding one. In a sense, it was as if I had come full circle from that afternoon as a senior when I had that conversation with a school counselor.  This has been my opportunity to give back as so much has been given to me. After I completed my public career, I have added several more professional counseling credentials to my resume and it has been a joy to make counseling and changing lives for the better my life work.

Q: Is there a single life-changing event that leads you to be the person you are today? If that event had not occurred, where do you think you would now be instead?

A: Actually, it was an event in which I did nothing. It occurred on the heels of a supervisor telling me that I would work where he damn well told me and that if I didn’t like it, then I could let the door knob hit me where the good Lord split me. And he finished with, “Now get the hell out of my office.” This occurred because I was inquiring about the fairness of being passed over for transfer to a shift of my choice by other employees with less seniority than me. The decision not to be rash taught me a value in restraint that I still use today.  It allowed me to continue my career without what most likely would have gotten me terminated, locked up and a criminal record. My young career did not have the sustainability at the time to take such a hit. Also, personally, mishandling that situation certainly would have placed me on a trajectory counter to my life’s choice.  A full recovery may still lay in wait.

Q: What was the inspiration that led you to tell your compelling story in the genre and format you chose?

A: My mother’s sacrifice and the encouragement of so many others.

Q: Tell us the meaning behind the book’s title and how it reflects the book’s core themes.

A:  The book is a loving tribute to my parents, siblings, and community; all who had a hand in my development, but especially my mother. With her life, she demonstrated unwavering love, strength, courage and faith. She encountered constant stress and uncertainty that was complicated by a disability (hearing impairment). I learned early that my speech impediment (stuttering) was not to be used for sympathy, pity, or an excuse. My personal and professional successes were made possible because of her examples. Amidst poverty, abuse, and illiteracy, the strength of my mother’s life in quietness proved too much not to be heard.  I am that voice. As a product of that sacrifice, her constant message of love, above all else, is the resounding inspirational theme throughout this book.

Q: Would you define your book in terms of being motivational or would it better fit the label of self-help?

A: It is both, but I could see how it may be considered more motivational because the format of loosely connected short stories easily translates into motivational pieces where self-help generally offers step-by-step guidance over many stories on how to achieve a specific goals. My book implores readers to draw comparisons and contrasts from my life’s experiences with theirs and to use those experiences as encouragement to enrichment their own lives.

Q: You’ve indicated that the book will resonate with anyone 15 years or older. What do you think a teen reader might have in common with a reader who is over the age of 60?

A: Life experiences and stories are common for all ages. A youth with few experiences can use help in connecting the dots.  As a more seasoned individual, I hope that telling my story is helpful in ensuring that youth get a better understanding of how their experiences at an early age can serve as a foundation for tomorrow.  Many of my stories in the book had their genesis before age fifteen.  For adults, many are still vibrantly chasing their dreams but sadly, many others have given up on what they deserve. I want my stories to keep the adult engaged, sober, and in pursuit of his or her dreams.

Q: Do young people today have it harder or easier than you did when you were growing up?

A: I think levels of difficulty are hard to compare and measure from one generation to the next because each era offers different variables measured against factors germane to that era.  So without a reliable tool to account for an accurate rate of adjustment for eras, I think to say one is harder than the other is…just too hard to say.  History has shown that advantages and disadvantages have neutralized each other so often by people failing to capitalize on advantages or others using disadvantages as motivation. One generation has limited opportunities and another generation, limits their opportunities. What gives!

Q: What are some of the takeaway values and lessons you’d like your readers to come away with by the final chapter?

A:  We are all products of sacrifice. If we are here in 2013, much has been sacrifice for us. We are a survival of billions of years of evolutions and to be tripped up by so many trivial matters shames our miracle birth, divine purpose, and our Creator.  My mother’s life was difficult, but it was as if her purpose was always greater than herself, perhaps connected to evolution in a way that always made the moment look small, yet appeared too important to waste in complaining or gossip.

Q: “Soft negative” is a recurring phrase in your book. What, exactly, does it mean?

A: A negative that camouflages not as a true negative. It may be even appear positive, but over times always produces negative outcomes. Human beings will stay in situations that they believe aren’t that bad a lot longer than they would in situations that are obviously bad.  Many times the negative effects of situations aren’t present at the outset or it may not be the intent of the person in charge of the situation, but it turns out to be negative, nonetheless. Often we just pass it off by saying that’s life or that is the way it is. Perhaps it is the lack of careful examinations of routine matters because they are routine matters that set us up for negative outcomes.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: Actually, we operated as our own publisher, but did research to find the best support we could in helping us produce a quality product.  We were satisfied with much of what Book Master was able to do for us.

Q: What do you know about today’s publishing business that you didn’t know when you began this journey? Are there things you might have done differently?

A: It was a little harder than I anticipated and much more time consuming than I expected.  One pays dearly for what one don’t know. I did enjoy the experience. I wish I knew how to use a crystal ball. One of the things, I would do differently would involve learning more about the intricacies of book releases, so I would not mislead so many about release dates.

Q: How involved are you in the marketing and promotion of your new title?

A: I am involved in a lot of the promotion.  I try to do something at least every other day. I wish I could say daily, but because of the demands of my other ventures, I have to integrate marketing and promotion into my other commitments.  I could probably use someone dedicated to marketing.

Q: If your book were adapted to a movie, who do you think could best capture you?

A: Terrence Howard.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Promoting this book to a larger audience, even foreign markets.  I do have enough material for an In the Shadow II, but I would like to maximize this project first.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: www.facebook.com/calhoun705 and www.librikamedia.com.

Murder on Camelback Mountain

Steven Wyner book cover

“Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle,” wrote Mickey Spillane. “They read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.”

It’s a formula for success that Arizona author Steven Wyner has taken to heart with the debut of his Herb Nash series, Murder on Camelback Mountain. Wyner artfully couples his passion for the Southwestern landscape with his extensive knowledge of how lawyers and private eyes operate in investigating crimes and bringing wrongdoers to justice.

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Prior to penning your Murder on Camelback Mountain, you spent 20 years doing ghostwriting for lawyers. How did you fall into that particular profession and what did the work entail?

A:  I owned a bus tour company during the Reagan years that ran turnaround gambling trips to Las Vegas. This was before Las Vegas reinvented itself, and way before Indian casinos had proliferated the Phoenix area. Competition amongst tour operators was fierce and nasty. My company was sued by a larger competitor. I spent two years fighting them and fighting with my own attorney who liked to say I had a propensity for the law. The case was finally dismissed but I had lost my zeal for the bus tour business and went back to (night) school. As I was about to complete my paralegal studies people began asking me to help them represent themselves in family law and guardianship cases. The self-help craze was sweeping the nation, but people still needed help completing complicated court paperwork. It wasn’t long before I was being solicited by lawyers looking for ways to save money on fulltime payroll. They hired on a contract basis to legal ghostwrite for them and the next thing I knew I was in demand as a legal ghostwriter.

Q: Is truth really stranger than fiction?

A:  I’ve found that to be true in the legal world. That’s why you may often hear workers in law offices say I ought a write a book.

Q: What are some of the challenges you encountered as a wordsmithing “silent partner”?

A: Lawyers don’t really burn midnight oil, at least not since the advent of the computer age . . . and the light bulb.  They’ve become increasingly dependent on others to do their legal research and writing, while they’re in court or out looking for more clients. Skilled legal ghostwriters anticipate what needs to be written or not written, as the case may be, even before a lawyer orders up a project. One even learns to write in that particular lawyer’s voice. It gets real scary sometimes when that happens. There are two main challenges to deal with. First, take nothing for granted. I’ll vouch for about 85% of what I write, but I insist the lawyer take the time to double check my work to make sure they’re comfortable with what I have researched and written. Many lawyers like to cap off what I write with something I may not have been privy to. But sometimes they sign off without reading what they have just signed. Yes, that’s what I said. Maybe it’s because they trust my abilities more than they should, or maybe because they’re just lazy or in a hurry. Sometimes, that can come back to bite them in the ass . . . usually in open court. Lawyers are only people, even though they’re held to a higher standard. So my second challenge, even though it shouldn’t be, is to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Q: How did you make the segue from ghostwriting for attorneys to becoming a published author?

A: You mean how did I go from writing legal fiction to writing real fiction? A few years back I was involved in another (yes, frivolous) lawsuit. This time I did all the legal ghostwriting for the attorney who was representing us. The case was dismissed in our favor halfway through a two week jury trial that followed three years of litigation. It was my mother who said, “You ought a write a book.”  I had no interest in recounting the horrible events of that case, so I tried to fictionalize them. The characters literally jumped out of the keyboard and begged me to tell their story. But I didn’t know who the hell they were. I felt like I was conducting an intake interview in a law firm. After a year of writing, I had a novel called Zepka’s War which originated during WWII. It’s about Saul Zepka, a demolitions expert who wrongly believes he killed some American soldiers in the hedgerows of Normandy and then discovers 40 years later that he’s a hero. I had totally forgotten about writing the book about the lawsuit. Then I spent a year or so writing query letters to literary agents and trying to perfect the art of being rejected. They’d say things like “I’m too busy this year” or “Zepka’s War is not a good fit for this agency.”

Q: So what is Murder on Camelback Mountain all about? Inquiring minds want to know.

A:  Herb Nash is on his way back to Phoenix from a lost weekend in Los Angeles. It’s really been his first chance to be alone since his recent divorce after 25 years. On his way to a business appointment at friend’s law office to discuss working on a new probate case, he discovers he and the lawyer, Lamar Madison, are about to be questioned by a homicide detective who suspects them both of brutally murdering a small time con-artist and only son of one of the city’s wealthiest widows.

The dead man’s dismembered body parts were discovered earlier that morning splayed around a storm drain in the heart of an exclusive Camelback Mountain neighborhood. All because their business cards were found tucked inside the dead man’s shirt pocket, they’re “persons of interest” and potential suspects in the murder investigation.

The only thing Herb Nash has ever used his PI license for was for skip-tracing deadbeat dads and credit criminals. Lamar convinces him to use it to open doors in search of more likely persons of interest to keep the police busy and off their backs. In the process Herb Nash cheats death, takes down a psychopathic killer, and discovers a startling secret about him.

Q: What was your inspiration to write it?

A:  During my Zepka’s War experience I found that many literary agents were looking for detective novels. I had read everything by Michael Connelly, John Grisham, Lee Child, Joseph Wambaugh and many other lesser known published authors. I was familiar with the style and convinced myself that I could write something along those lines. I knew it would not be a Michael Connelly or a John Grisham, but maybe it would be a Steve Wyner. Since I was in the legal support business with significant experience on the legal side and exposure to the detective side and 20 years of case files to use as my inspiration, I decided my protagonist, Herb Nash would be created as a private detective who dabbles in paralegal work on the side, or the other way around, as the case may be. He becomes a go to guy indispensible to lawyers. Particularly, lawyers who often find themselves in ethically challenged situations. I’ve found lawyers in these cases are looking for a non-lawyer possessing legal knowledge to help them through their ethical dilemma, even while they snobbishly try to knock the guy down a peg or two on the socio economic scale.

Q: Did you work from an outline or simply listen to your muse as you went along?

A: The title came to me from I don’t know where, and then I just started writing on the basis of people I’ve known and what I always thought should happen to them, or would not have been surprised to discover what did happened to them.

Q: Tell us about your protagonist Herb Nash and what makes him unique in the world of sleuthing.

A:  First, he’ not a super hero, which means the reader only has to suspend disbelief once in awhile.  Unlike a Jack Reacher, where you have to do that cover to cover, which is obviously fine, I know there are a lot of readers who also enjoy reading about a guy like Herb Nash. Second, he’s in the mid age range of baby boomers. He’s dealing with no longer being 30 or even 40. Mentally, he’s okay, but physically he’s starting to feel his age. Third, carries no gun after a lifetime doing sedentary PI work, tracking down basically non-violent offenders of one kind or the other. He does own a gun, but it’s not a sexy Glock or Beretta. Herb’s 38 snub nose is a hat tip to Raymond Chandler, and it’s used for target practice and nothing more. In the real world where Herb Nash dwells, PIs don’t usually carry guns.  He’s carved out a niche for himself and as I said earlier, he’s built a reputation among local lawyers as a go to guy. They may love him or hate him, but not because he can shoot and hit anything that moves.

Q: What made you choose Arizona as the backdrop for your story?

A: I’ve lived here for over 30 years. It made more sense than Debuque.

Q: How much research was involved to get all of the investigative/procedural information right?

A: Much of it is from personal knowledge from cases I’ve been involved in, and some of it came from a Phoenix cop moonlighting as a security guard at Starbucks.

Q: Did your characters “talk” to you during the development of the story? Did you listen to them?

A: Not so much as they did in Zepka’s War. Herb Nash looks to me for just about everything. He and the rest of them do pretty much what I tell them to do without too much complaining.

Q: From start to finish, how long did the book take to write?

A: Probably about 6 months stretched out over a year.

Q: Did you allow anyone to see your chapters in progress or did you make them wait until you were completely finished?

A:  Occasionally, I’d test ideas and partial paragraphs on a lawyer I work with. My mother helped proofing.

Q: Did you envision Herb Nash to be a recurring character in a mystery series at the start of the book or was it a case of simply not being able to let go of him after you typed “The End”?

A: I knew he would be a recurring character the minute he woke up at that truck stop in Monterey Park on page 1.

Q: Let’s say that Hollywood comes enthusiastically knocking on your door and wants to turn Murder on Camelback Mountain into a feature film. Who would comprise your dream cast for it and why?

A: William H. Macy . . . he’s the right age and has the mix of average guy softness around the edges, quirkiness, and go for the jugular cunning I imagined.  I’d settle for John Malkovich for the same reasons.

Q: If you could go to lunch with a contemporary mystery writer, who would it be and what one question would you most want to ask him/her about their life, their books or the publishing industry?

A: Michael Connelly. We’d be having Moo Shoo chicken at the Friends of China Restaurant, in Los Angeles, a place I’ve actually eaten at to confirm Harry Bosch’s opinion of the food quality. I’d ask Mr. Connelly how he can stay focused cranking out at least one best seller a year for the last 20 years without having to take out the garbage, or fix a leaky faucet . . . at least in the beginning, before he hit the big time.

Q: Like a lot of authors today, you’ve gone the route of self-publishing. What were some of the considerations that went into your decision to ultimately choose Create Space?

A: My age and my ability to make something from nothing. I’m too old to wait a lifetime for some snarky literary agent to tell me I just hit the query letter jackpot. I tried that but enough is enough already. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and what with the self-publishing industry maturing the way it has, it was full speed ahead. I’m comfortable with Create Space’s model and it’s user friendly.

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you began?

A: I know how to write a great query letter, my walls are papered with them. But seriously, tastes in writing are clearly subjective. So getting published for an unknown author is more a numbers game played by literary agents and publishers that is not always necessarily based on quality or skill, although that is essential.  Imagine my surprise when I find a typo in a John Grisham novel. Anyway, I guess I always thought that a book is published, therefore, it was meant to be. But now I believe many books are being published that should not have been and many are not published that should be. And that getting published is all based on the whims and biases of literary agents and publishers. It would be nice to be discovered by one of them and see Herb Nash depicted on the silver screen by William H. Macy, but in the mean time I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A:  That I tried to heal myself by getting on the highway and listening to Elvis, and dangerously ignored the damage to my psyche?

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A:  Keep an eye out for the next Herb Nash thriller The Crossword Killings and the paperback and Kindle editions of Zepka’s War on Amazon.com. Also on Amazon.com is a book called Four Quirky Short Story Compilation: Lifetime Guarantee Series & Money Grows on Trees, inspired by endless nights of watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Netflix. And I’m working with a couple of attorneys to ghostwrite AZ Primer on DUIs.

If anyone wants to know where I stand on the issues of the day, they can catch me on FB anytime and feel free to request that I be their friend.