Killing Time

The Etonville Little Theatre is producing Dracula and somebody planted a stake in a stranger’s heart. Sleuth Dodie O’Dell is on the job!

Just in time for Halloween, a bewitching new mystery by author Suzanne Trauth.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: We’re clearly kindred spirits in our respective expertise with novels, theatrical scripts and screenplays. Of these three storytelling platforms, do you have a favorite?

A: Choosing one would be like choosing a favorite child! You love them all. Because my background is in theatre, playwriting was most familiar but the genre I started writing last. Writing screenplays taught me storytelling structure. But novels have provided the most freedom, the most leeway in storytelling. I would have to say my favorite is whatever genre I am working on at the moment and right now, at least through the pandemic, it’s been novels, so novels are my favorite genre right now.

Q: What was your first foray into publishing and where did it lead in your evolution as a writer?

A: My initial publishing ventures were in the academic arena—a book co-written with a colleague on acting technique titled Sonia Moore and American Acting Training, that focused on character development and the creation of story. I also co-edited a play anthology that included a play I’d co-written. The anthology, Katrina on Stage, focused on plays written about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Though these works were either non-fiction or theatre-based, writing them sowed seeds of discipline, the importance of editing, meeting schedules. And character development was the topic, or formed the basis, of all the works which naturally fed into the creation of character in novels.

Q: How do/did these various genres influence each other?

A: Since I started writing screenplays first, I had an opportunity to learn structure, hone dialogue, and create the specific world of characters quickly. Writing plays was an easy transition with dialogue and character, though I felt screenplays were more like an outline and theatrical plays allowed characters more room to express their emotional and internal lives. Once I settled into writing novels, both genres influenced my storytelling via a tight structure, dramatic dialogue that pushed the narrative forward, and characters that were specific, had clear wants and needs, and relationships.

Q: If you could sit down with any three writers whose work most influenced your own style, who would they be and what would you like to ask them?

A: Elizabeth George: “Though you are an American living in California, your Inspector Lynley Series takes place in England. How do you mine a foreign country and its language, manners, history, geography, and customs to be credible for an international audience?”

Agatha Christie: “When you disappeared in 1926 for eleven days, what really happened to you?” It’s still one of the great mysteries about the queen of mystery.

Louis Penny: “You’ve created a lovely, gentle, intelligent protagonist in Armand Gamache. How do you balance these wonderful character traits with the need to have a flawed protagonist as well?” I love this series and am working my way through all of her books.

Q: Tell us how your Dodie O’Dell mystery series came about.

A: I had written a book a number of years ago that featured Dodie and some of the characters currently in the series. When I approached an editor, a terrific help, he suggested I decide which I was writing: women’s fiction or a mystery? “Where do you see your book on the bookstore shelf?” I immediately said “mystery” and he set to work assisting me in the developmental editing process. I queried Kensington Books at his suggestion and was offered a three book contract.

Q: What is it about female sleuths that make them so appealing to mystery lovers?

A: Good question. I think most mystery readers are women and more and more protagonists are female. In my experience, they are rarely hard-boiled and bring sensitivity, humor, and personable traits to the sleuth. I’m thinking Kinsey Milhone in Sue Grafton’s series, Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich’s books, even Miss Marple and Nancy Drew which, by the way, I grew up reading!

Q: Is there a particular character in this series with whom you strongly identify?

A: I suppose I’d have to say Dodie…in a way she is my alter ego. I would have enjoyed engaging in amateur sleuthing on a regular basis years ago. However she manages a restaurant, and I include lots of menu items in the books, but I don’t cook so much…at least I didn’t before the pandemic hit. I’m actually cooking more now!

But since I spent decades teaching, producing, and directing theatre, I have a soft spot for Penny, the whistle-blowing stage manager. I was able to channel my funny, crazy, traumatic theatre experiences through her.

Q: Your mysteries include a good amount of time spent in the world of theatre, a focus which reflects both your academic background and the number of years you spent acting, directing, teaching and penning plays. In light of the current pandemic which has shuttered production companies across the country and around the world, what is your prediction for theatre’s comeback…or will it?

A: Yes! I definitely believe theatre will come back. It’s an art form that has an almost three thousand year history…an institution like that cannot simply die. However, I think “coming back” will take time and require flexibility. For example, some regional theatres are producing work outside under tents; some are severely limiting indoor seating and size of productions and casts; new plays are being written and presented in staged readings on Zoom and other platforms. Writers are still creating and actors still performing. I do fear, however, that it will be a while before Broadway reopens. But I am hopeful that even two thousand seat houses will one day be able to fill them. I so look forward to it.

Q: How do you choose which plays and details of production to feature in each book?

A: When I started the series I began with Romeo and Juliet, a play that is well known to most readers, for the first book, Show Time. I continued to choose shows that most people would have some familiarity with: classics, a musical, a new play based on an old chestnut. Once I had the play, I worked the mystery around it: Who is murdered? Who is new to the theatre company? What characters in the company would have a motivation to kill? What would the rehearsal process be like with this particular production? How does the rehearsal and performance mesh with Dodie’s sleuthing and attempts to solve the mystery? I could then incorporate running jokes, like the artistic director’s comical pre-show warm-ups. I have to say, much of the theatre activity is based on my experience, and then enhanced.

Q: Writers often do “casting” in their heads as they develop their characters. Is this the case for you?

A: While I don’t actually cast characters in my mystery series, I do see them and hear them as I am writing and they give me quite the runaround! Sometimes they get ahead of me and I have to catch up…maybe it’s my theatre background but the characters are always “acting out.”

Q: In your own experience, what are the pros and cons of writing a mystery series versus standalone works?

A: Writing a series gives me the opportunity to develop characters and setting over a number of books. I have the time to create arcs for the main characters and watch them change and grow. Readers tell me they love to see the small town of Etonville come alive book after book. However, I have to be careful not to repeat myself with a series: though each book has primarily the same cast and setting, the play, murder, motivations etc. have to change.

I am writing my first standalone novel now and I am finding it exhilarating. I have the freedom to wander in different directions. I can make the book breathe. On the other hand, each standalone novel requires a whole new setting and cast of characters. I think it takes much more preparation and research time. Though I have to admit I am a “plantser,” I combine some plotting with writing by the seat of my pants.

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

A: I am a celebrant and perform weddings in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania area.

Q: What’s currently on your reading list?

A: I have several great books that I am in the midst of or looking forward to reading:

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Aftermath by Julia Alvarez

Bury Your Dead by Louis Penny

The Abolitionist’s Daughter by Diane McPhail

Q: Best advice for aspiring writers?

A: The same advice I was given over and over: persist. Don’t get bogged down by perfectionism (especially on that first draft), in-your-head criticism, or distractions. Write every day even if it’s only one sentence! Find a great editor when you are ready to share your book with the world. And, I am doing it for the first time this year, try NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. It is a project to push writers to attempt 50,000 words during the month of November. In other words, draft a new novel. I am cheating a little since I hope to have the novel half-drafted by November.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am in the midst of a standalone mystery that I hope to have drafted by Christmas—with the help of NaNoWriMo. I am also finishing a last draft of a new play.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Thanks so much for having me on your blog! I really enjoyed sharing my thoughts on writing with you.

A Chat with Pamdiana Jones

There’s no doubt about it, travel and adventure can often lead to humorous moments that remain in the memory long after the intrepid traveler is home, safe and sound. Such is the case with author Pamdiana Jones (pseudonym) in her new book, When In Roam. In addition to the memories are the lessons, the people, and the places that resonate, and sometimes even change our lives irrevocably.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q         By your own admission, you were a naïve traveler back in the ‘90s. Looking back on your experiences of that trip, given the chance, what advice would you give yourself back then?  

A         Yes, pretty naive. I didn’t watch or read news, I didn’t understand world politics, religions, sciences, history, cultures… It took me awhile to find my confidence in my own instincts. I really felt in-tune with it later in the trip, but wish I’d known that earlier on. I might have gone deeper into Africa and really spent time with the tribes, if I’d known I wasn’t really headed home!


Q         What stands out in your mind as your most memorable event during your adventure?

A         On a “life” level, it would be my father’s death, but on an adventure level getting chased by a herd of elephants in the wild animal park. You don’t forget something like that! Plus that very full day in Sumatra where I picked jungle plants for Malaria prevention tea, had leeches on me, rode an elephant through the jungle and woke up to thousands of bugs in my room. I’ve never had a day quite like that since!


Q         What did you learn about yourself through that experience that you still relate to today?

A         I just trust that life will be ok. I now listen immediately to my instinct and can read a situation, or a person, quite quickly from learning the subtle signs. Most people in the world are good people. 


Q         What did you learn about the people and cultures you encountered that surprised you?

A         When I left Los Angeles, I was a bit bored of people asking me lame questions, like what I ate, did I get a haircut, did I see the latest movie? I wanted to speak about much deeper, more worldly things, like politics, religion, cultures, why we are the way we are, how we got from cavemen to now, etc… On my travels I noticed that everywhere I went, as I made new friends, they’d all ask what I ate, and if I got a haircut, the same types of questions, yet now I could appreciate them as the very act of caring. When asked what I ate for lunch showed I was truly feeling love from all different cultures. I learned we are all the same, no matter where we go. We all just love our families, like to laugh, move to music, want food in our belly, and a good night’s sleep!


Q         You use a lot of self-deprecating humor in your book. What was your goal in utilizing that narrative approach?

A         I’m not sure it was really a thought out goal, it’s just the way I always am! I still talk like that, even though the trip was 25 years ago.


Q         What, if anything, would you change about that solo travel experience?

A         At this point I would like to change nothing, because the trip as a whole was life-changing. I might have wanted to share it with someone, but then I would have been talking with them the entire time instead of making new friends. I’d love to say I wish I had more money to travel more comfortably, but then I would have stayed in a fancy hotel, and I wouldn’t have taken that local’s home to stay in and would’ve missed out on knowing these incredible locals. I wish I didn’t just have to eat so much plain rice, but it made me appreciate when I had a proper meal. I will say it took me five years to eat rice again after the trip!

Q         What advice would you give to today’s solo female travelers?

A         It is so very different now, with Uber, and Tinder, and WhatsApp, and phones in general. I was unable to contact my family or friends from home because it was very expensive to call, and I had to just use snail-mail, so when I sent a letter not one person wrote me back, as I was always on the move. It sounds awful, but I would tell them to put the phone away, get off social media—you don’t need the perfect Instagram picture—really feel the culture, the new scents, the new sights, the new foods, and the people. You might never get back to that place again. 


Q         What has been your biggest challenge in getting this book published?

A         I guess lack of knowledge about what I was even doing. I have young twins and we moved twice, so it took me five years to write the book. It was finished in three years, but then I spent a year getting burned financially from two different editors with stellar resumes. The last year I had to learn to edit and format myself, as I navigated the self publishing route on my own, without a mentor. It is kind of fitting though, as the book is about finding your own confidence alone in the world. Now I’m doing the same in the world of publishing!

Q         What advice would you give new writers, either on writing or publishing?

A         I read early on that you can’t edit an empty page, and that has really stuck with me. I took huge three, four, and five month breaks without picking it up, out of nervousness that not one person could like what I’d written. I worried that every person on the planet has a story to tell, so why me? But then I just thought it might be fun for my kids to see my adventures one day (not until they’re 30!) and it motivated me to keep going. I saw the movie and read the book Eat, Pray, Love, and while it was cute and heartwarming, I thought there might be a few more girls like me—a bit more wild and free. So I wrote the book that I had wanted to read, but couldn’t find anywhere.


Q         How and why did you come up with your pen name, Pamdiana Jones?

A         When I was writing my letters home, at times I felt like Indiana Jones, and I cracked a joke that I’m now Pamdiana Jones, and my family loved the reference. My mom fell at a museum in the 1970’s and who caught her? Harrison Ford! Now my own son’s middle name is also Harrison.


Q         What’s next for you, Pam?

A         Because of the very warm reception as a newly published author, I’m already three countries into the second travel memoir, where I go through the South Pacific and bits of Europe with friends. In the future I can write travel memoir three, traveling with my husband and twins. They’ve already been overseas a few times, but I’d not thought about it until we flew to Grandma’s home on a 90 minute flight. They couldn’t believe that was even a real flight, as they were used to 22 hours and 15 hours and more!

During lockdown I’ve written two children’s books, where my twins get sucked into a portal to meet Santa on Christmas Eve in book one. In book two they dissolve into their own shadows and meet historical people on July 4th. I’m still looking for an illustrator, but I’m hoping to get them out soon!

You can find and connect with Pamela here:

Facebook-Instagram-Pinterest: @PamdianaJones