Murder in Old Bombay

A despairing plea from a widower leads a recuperating officer in British India into dangerous adventures to reach the ultimate prize—a sense of belonging.

Our featured author, Nev March, takes us a world away to the culturally rich tapestry and darkly mysterious backdrop of 19th century India. Nev’s passion for historical research and a diverse cast of characters is well evidenced in her debut novel, Murder in Bombay.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What was the inspiration behind Murder in Old Bombay?

A: As a child I’d heard of ‘the Rajabai Tower Mystery’—the tale of two Parsi girls who fell from Bombay University clock tower in broad daylight. Though these were ruled suicides, 90 years later I heard this as a cautionary tale to warn girls that danger is ever present.

Researching these events, I learned that the husband of one of the victims was Ardeshir Godrej, who went on to become a famous entrepreneur and inventor. At the time of his wife and sister’s deaths, he was a 22-year-old law student. He never remarried, so I thought he must have been deeply in love with his young bride.

How does a young man recover from such a blow? An intense and private man, this must have been traumatic. From his remarkable achievements in later life, I wondered whether he’d hired a detective to solve the mystery of his wife’s death. The trial and acquittals of those accused were splattered over newspapers for months, so Ardeshir would not want more publicity… that was the start of my imaginings. What sort of man would he hire as private detective? At the time, British army officers often retired to take up private employment. So, I invented a young soldier recovering from injuries, disenchanted with the army and longing for a family of his own.

Q: Tell us how you handle the balance required in integrating a real-life event into the tapestry of a fictional murder mystery (i.e., taking liberty with the facts to accommodate the progression of the plot).

A: Many events in my book are based on fact—the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny which left resentment simmering within many Indians, the patchwork of self-ruled Princely States within British controlled India, the tragic deaths of the two girls.

I took some liberties with history in the plot: Karachi and Lahore were not attacked in 1891-92 as I’ve described but my plot is based on 1891 skirmishes in the Hunza and Nagar Princely states and the 1897 tragedy at Saragarhi. Published notices of Victoria Cross awardees describe many skirmishes between Afghan and British troops, before and after the second Afghan war of 1882. Until 1896 when the Durand line was drawn as the border between India and Afghanistan, the north-west Frontier Province of India was dangerous wilderness. Therefore, while fictional, history informed my plot.

The Parsi tradition of marrying within the community is very real, although in recent decades there are many more marriages of Parsi youth to non-Parsi spouses. In India, Parsi women who marry out still suffer disadvantages—their children aren’t considered Parsi. (In other parts of the world they are accepted.) Many of my aunts and uncles did not marry at all, because of this taboo. When women married out of the community—like tragic beauty Ruttie Petit who married Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan—they often became estranged from their families. So that part is based on fact.

Q: What historical characters make appearances in your chapters?

A: Only one historical character is named: Lord Harris, Governor General of Bombay makes a brief appearance at the end of the story.

The editor Tehmtan (Tom) Byram is based on Behramji Malabari, a Parsi reformer who advocated later marriages, was against infant marriage and lobbied to allow widows to remarry. Editor Jehangir B Murzban of the Jam-e-Jamshed Newspaper was another such reformer. These thought leaders wrote that the high number of maternal deaths was caused by early marriages and asked couples to avoid having children until the wife was over 20. In the era before birth-control, that meant allowing the bride to remain in her parent’s home until a suitable age, or keeping celibate–not an easy task for a young married couple! In my book I cite this to explain why both married girls were virgins when they died.

Q: Is Prince Akbar based on a real person?

A: No, he is not. Akbar is loosely based on a number of Indian princes who squandered their wealth or were cruel to their people.  There’s the tale of Maharaja of Alwar, Jai Singh Prabhakar, who was exiled after numerous excesses. He is said to have purchased six Rolls-Royce cars to clean streets, after he was slighted at the car showroom in London. Other rulers like the Nizam of Hyderabad amassed incredible wealth. Some extorted horrific taxes even during times of famines. However, many rulers like Digvijay Singh Jadeja of Nawanagar and the Gaikwad of Baroda were benevolent, promoting education and uplifting the poor.

Q: How about Ranjpoot—is it a real place?

A: Ranjpoot is based on the princely state of Balasinor near Ahmedabad, which had Muslim rulers and a female regent till 1882. The capital-city is based on Hyderabad, the gorgeous palace of its Nizam. The princely states have unique cultures and history, but were hotbeds of intrigue and political maneuvering. Reading Cornelia Sorabji’s books brought me some incredible true stories which served as my inspiration.

Q: Over the course of writing a book, plot changes and even twists often emerge. Sometimes these are even driven by the very characters whose actions we believe we are controlling as their creator. Was this the case for you?

A: The middle section of my book was really hijacked by Captain Jim. It contains two rather dramatic adventures while Captain Jim chases down a lead in Lahore and gets stuck in the middle of a civil war. While some see these as a detour to showcase the divergent landscapes of India, they are essential to resolving the romantic sub-plot. So while I didn’t quite plan these detours, they turned out to be invaluable in the end.

Q: There’s also an element of romance in your debut novel. Tell us about it.

A: Yes, the subplot is a ‘doomed romance’ between mixed-race Captain Jim and Diana, the daughter of the aristocratic Framji Family. Captain Jim wants a family—reflected in his affection for the Framjis who treat him as a trusted friend, and his adoption of a group of waifs on his journey. The sub-plot also echoes this, as he falls for Diana’s classy charm and spunky courage–but socially, she’s out of reach. She’s English-educated, widely read, and full of surprises, some good, some not so good. Ultimately—oh wait, you have to read the book to find out more!

Q: Murder in Old Bombay depicts 19th century Indian society as misogynistic. Was this actually the case? If so, what appeal will this hold for 21st century female readers who advocate for equality?

A: Traditional societies are often misogynistic—I can cite many examples. In 2014, when Malala Yousoufzai got the Nobel Prize, the Tariq Khattak, editor of the Pakistan Observer, a Karachi newspaper said, “She is a girl — a normal, useless type of a girl. She’s nothing special, nothing in her is special at all except they are selling what the West would buy happily.” 

Sati (the practice of burning a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre) was banned by British law in 1830s, but continued to be practiced in secret. In India, widow remarriage was rare before written into law in an 1856 Act. India has been called the ‘rape capital’ of the world for the outrageous number of crimes against women. Female infanticide has resulted in a lopsided sex ratio: In 2018, India had 943 women to every 1,000 men. Where are the millions of missing girls?

While my affection for India is plain in the descriptions of places and people in my book, a writer’s job is to hold up a truthful mirror, no matter how painful that picture might be, and propel both men and women to advocate for more equality.

Q: What is the overarching theme of this novel, and how do/will you identify themes for future works?

A: In my novels I explore essential truths. To feel a truth is so much more persuasive than hearing it. If one hears an argument, one usually counters with our own experience. However, to feel it brings emotion, so that this story is our own experience, and we are more likely to accept it. These truths are the human experience, the way we navigate the world. Bringing an essential truth to someone elevates their thinking, so that they will behave differently in their own worlds.

In Murder in Old Bombay, I portrayed the plight of women, who, regardless of wealth, are imprisoned by social attitudes. I also touched on the intrinsic unfairness of discrimination.  

In my next book two themes are intertwined. First, an immigrant’s journey from delight through disenchantment. A pair of immigrants must work together to foil a terrible disaster—yet are they willing to pay the final price for a society that sees them as insignificant? Second, my story is set in a period of conflict between haves and have-nots—during the gilded age, an era of social injustice. If entrenched interests resist change, can democracy survive? Is it worth saving?

Q: You left a successful career in business to pursue your passion for writing about history. What lessons from that prior occupation have been instrumental in influencing how you do research, how you craft suspense and how you structure/organize your writing schedule?

A: After two decades in a corporate career, I’ve learned to organize my time and materials—my files, research sources, and promotional assets. What surprised me is the amount of planning: I write from a well-researched, detailed outline. Market research helps me find information, as well as solicit input from critique partners. I needed to find my tribe, building partnerships with early readers, writers and advocates of my writing. My marketing skills were needed to create pitches, query letters, and then to promote my book.

To keep honing my skills, I allocate time between 1) Sprints to focus on writing 2) Teaching/coaching 3) reading craft books/courses. Learning to build suspense with emotion and pacing is something I keep working at. Teaching creative writing helps keep the energy flowing. I enjoy the conversation, the flow of ideas to catch glimpses of opportunity, dramatic scenes, intriguing contradictions!

Q: Aspiring authors often lament that they just can’t find the time to write. Based on your own experience, what’s your response to that?

A: I’ve learned that life and art cannot be separated, they co-mingle, informing each other. When I’m distressed I usually cannot write. But my emotion finds its way into a scene, building great dialog.

Composer Ludwig Van Beethoven was deaf, broke and isolated for his final years, fighting a bitter legal dispute over his nephew. All this he poured into writing the most beautiful music ever created.

When I’m writing the first draft, I write obsessively. Scenes haunt me even during sleep. While editing and revising phases I go through periods of intense doubt, chopping and tweaking until a chapter ‘works’. Then I have a fallow phase where I work on short stories, editing older work, or submit to magazines. However, when family medical issues pull me away, I tend to drop everything and just focus on family. Being a writer means one has to toggle between life and art. Each feeds the other.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. Do you allow anyone to read your work while it’s still in progress or do you make them wait until you have typed THE END?

A: For Murder in Old Bombay I wrote continuously for four months, barely taking the time to eat. When the draft was complete, I presented a chapter each week to my critique group. For my most recent book, I shared three chapters at a time with my agent each week, so we got the first draft done in three months—this after I had researched and agonized over the outline for 15 months!

It was the first time I allowed someone to see my work while it was still evolving. Jill, my agent was the perfect partner, offering support and propelling me with excellent questions, pointing out gaps so I could flesh out the evolving plot. I usually end up modifying the outline as I work so getting input helped. This new process allowed me to have a more balanced life than when I was writing Murder in Old Bombay, much better for my sanity!

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

A: I’m claustrophobic—can’t stand tight spaces! I didn’t realize this until I got special permission to go up into Bombay University’s Rajabai Tower where the original events in my book happened in 1891. The tower has been closed to the public ever since. On a sweltering hot day, as I climbed up 200 steps, my elbows touching stone on either side, the ceiling only a foot above my head, the only thing that kept me going was that there was no-one behind me. I could turn around if I panicked. So I didn’t. It was terrifying, but I managed to get all the way up to the gallery door, following the lady guard who I had been assigned.

Then tragedy struck. I asked the female guard to open the door. Blushing, she said, “They didn’t give me the key!” I guess University officials decided to “save me from myself!” So, after that torturous climb, I didn’t see the gallery the two girls fell from, but learned that I am claustrophobic!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on a sequel set in 1893 Chicago, where twenty-seven million Americans will visit the Columbian Exposition that summer. Captain Jim sets off to investigate a murder at the World’s Fair. When he doesn’t return, Diana travels into unknown terrain in search of him. Chicago hosts the first Parliament of World Religions that summer, while at the same time, the World Convention of Anarchists has assembled. What could possibly go wrong? When this pair of young immigrants discovers a possible plot to blow up the World’s Fair, the stakes rise–everything they care about is at risk, even each other.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Writing is such joy! I’d dreamed about having a career as an author for decades—to have it finally happen, to be living it, has been such joy. I’m deeply grateful to all that helped me: My friends who read my work over the years, my husband who said, “we can manage on one salary,” my fabulous critique group, and MWA who launched my career with the Best First Crime novel award, thank you!

I’ve been amazed at the welcome Murder in Old Bombay has received, and getting readers glowing emails and reviews! It tells me that when you speak from the heart, it reaches the recesses within other souls, and finds a home there. I’m so grateful.

Hot Ice, Cold Blood

For Victor Sykes, business is good. His illegal diamond importing business is thriving, and circumstances require that he bring more people to his team. His niece and nephew, Rubi Lee and Zeke, are as dangerous as they are desperate, and they follow orders to make sure everything goes right. But when the shipment of diamonds–sewn into the inner lining of a sweatshirt–is mistakenly confiscated, the entire operation is put at risk. Such is the set-up for author Holly Spofford’s second novel, Hot Ice, Cold Blood, a pulse-pounding thriller that will appeal to anyone who loves a good mystery.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with what sounds like a very intriguing career path. You’re a former middle school teacher and coach of 25 years. Tell us about your decision to leave the world of teaching to enter the world of writing.

A: My decision to leave the world of teaching was difficult and emotional because I loved my colleagues, my students and I loved teaching. For the last ten years of my career, I taught in a small all boys school with the greatest colleagues. We were a happy family.  I was very tight with my students; many of whom I taught for two years in a row because I taught sixth and seventh grade boys. The day I told my sixth graders I was not going to return the following year was April 1st. They knew I loved to joke around, so understandably they all were convinced I was pulling an April Fool’s day prank. It was heartbreaking to tell them I was not kidding, especially when some of them started to cry. That got me. I’ll admit, I cried too!

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

A: I now know that writing is easy; writing well is difficult. I’ve learned writing requires patience, personal trust and humility. I’ve learned writing is personal, scary, and very rewarding. I’ve learned to walk away when I am struggling because if I try to force the words, the work will be contrived. It’s a profession in which we (authors) expose ourselves to the world for all to see. That is a vulnerable feeling.  With regards to publishing, I self-published and I found the process to be painless. What I did not know about publishing (because I’m new) was how much there was to learn about designing covers, formatting, marketing, etc. I am lucky because I have gotten a “free” education.

Q: You published a murder mystery in 2017, yet your current book is a thriller. Which genre do you prefer to write?

A: Since the age of ten, I’ve wanted to write a book. I was not sure in what genre at that young age. As I grew older, I loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers. This was a tough question since I love both genres. My final answer: Thrillers with murders peppered throughout the book.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I’m a Planster. I have an old school black and white composition book in which I create character sketches, jot down ideas, and write skeletal frames of chapters. I love the feel of pen in hand. However, there are times when I do zero planning because an idea grabs me from out of the blue, and I must run with it. As a result, I end up writing several pages of a chapter in which that ‘IT’ factor is there.

Q: What was the inspiration for Hot Ice, Cold Blood?

A: After Christmas in 2016, my husband and I visited DC. We spent three nights there enjoying all the magnificent museums, memorials, and restaurants. We loved everything, especially the gorgeous War Memorials.  I loved the layout of the city, too. After that trip, I knew I had to write a book with DC as the setting. I felt the city’s vibe in my bones when we walked the streets.

Q: You kept a diary for many years. Do you feel that writing in those diaries was a pre-cursor to your career as a writer of fiction?

A: I do. I found the bag of my diaries in our attic. I laughed out loud at some of my more riveting entries as a twelve-year old: “Dear Diary, today I ate ice cream.” “Dear Diary, I really like G.O. but he likes L. D.” I enjoyed chronicling events in my life. Eventually, I realized how mundane they were, so I intermingled the real events with things I WISH were going on in my life- and BAM! A career in writing fiction was born.

Q: What governed your decision to self-publish your work?

A: As a new author, I figured self-publishing was the safest route to take. I knew my work would be published this way. I enjoy the autonomy of self-publishing, especially since I can set my own deadlines and schedule. With that, I can work at my own pace. Cost helped to govern my decision, too. Going forward, I will continue to explore publishing houses and see what they can offer. I would like to have three books completed before I begin to seriously explore them.

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors planning to follow the DIY route?

A: Find a GREAT editor who edits solely in your genre. My editor is awesome.

Do your research on the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. a publishing house

Make sure to educate yourself on the different self-publishing platforms -many are available.

Q: Have you ever found your characters taking the reins and saying, “Oh, I think we should go a different way?” Do you tug them back or listen to them?

A: Yes, I have, and I am a good listener. If they want to go, I let them. Listening to them does not always guarantee they make the final cut though. Several times, specifically at the start, I had been 100 percent convinced that a character was necessary. And as the story unfolded, I realized they were not as relevant as I first thought. Rather than tossing that character away, I “save” them for potential use in another book.

Q: Where do your characters come from—straight from the ether or inspired by people you actually know?

A: The creation of my characters comes from both real people and the ether. I often “mix” a few real people together to create the ultimate character(s). I enjoy observing people and inventing stories about their lives. Creating characters is one of my favorite aspects of writing. I love describing their looks, their backstories and I love watching my characters evolve. I walk in their shoes and hope to have my readers cheer on the good ones and detest the bad ones. In my second book, I created some very dark people which made me wonder about myself!

Q: What do you find to be the most satisfying/rewarding aspects of penning works of fiction?

A: The most rewarding aspect was when the box containing copies of my first book arrived. I was so emotional I asked my husband to open it! When I held A Letter for Hoot in my hand and admired the gorgeous cover, I was overcome. Another highly rewarding aspect is hearing all the positive comments about my books from my readers. They motivate me to continue to write.  

One of the most satisfying aspects is how natural it feels to write. I never doubted I would publish a book. Sure, I struggle at times. However, I am very tenacious, and I know I will break through whatever barriers are thrown my way. In addition, another gratifying element is the improvement I see in my work. For example, I’ve learned to improve the pace of a novel by eliminating the superfluous. While I may LOVE a certain description or paragraph, if it’s not relevant and drags the pace along, it gets axed.   

Q: And the most frustrating/challenging?

A: The most frustrating thing is self-imposed: trying to make it all ‘perfect’. Nothing is perfect. I am working hard to avoid deleting and/or rewriting the same sentence a thousand times. My intellectual side says, “That’s why you write several drafts!” Yet the stubborn side of me doesn’t listen all the time. I drive myself (and my husband) nuts when I delete and delete. It is counterproductive and irritating.

Q: Tell us about an average writing day/week in the life of Holly Spofford.

A: I thrive on a schedule. Call me boring, but I need one. I love to exercise, therefore every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning I swim at least a mile. The pool is a fantastic place to engage in creative thinking. Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I spend writing thoughts/ideas/scenarios in my black and white composition book. In the afternoons, I walk with my stepdaughter and grandsons. I work almost every evening from about 5:00 until dinner which is usually around 8:30–we eat late! My husband and I come up with creative ideas during cocktail hour! After dinner, I often check sales, website traffic and other authors’ websites. I also indulge in some Words with Friends. My husband and I are avid golfers and play when we can-weather permitting. During our rounds we talk a great deal about my books. In essence then, I “work” on the golf course, too.

Q: What is the oldest, oddest or most nostalgic thing in your bedroom closet?

A: I’ll go with the oddest. An 18” long, hand-made machete from Costa Rica.

Q: If we took a peek at the books currently on your nightstand, what would be on it?

A: The Guest List,

Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar,

A Prayer for Owen Meany

The Family Upstairs

Q: You’re an avid golfer. What three authors (pretending they play) would comprise your perfect foursome and why?

A: Louise Penny: She is one of my favorite authors. I admire her writing style, she creates fantastic characters, and she always keeps me guessing. Her work inspires me to hone my writing skills and push myself to develop intricate plot lines, memorable characters and produce great books.

John Irving: I’ve read many of his books and loved them all. His character development is excellent, especially of Owen Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany. His sense of humor comes across vividly in that book. The World According to Garp was one of my and my mom’s favorite books. Hollywood did a magnificent job (in my opinion) of turning that book into a movie. I don’t know how many times my mom and I laughed about Bonkers the dog.  Like Louise Penny, he makes the reader want to turn the page to find out what happens.

David Sedaris: He’s hilarious. My brother lent me Naked about twenty years ago and I still laugh at excerpts. I quickly read several more of his books, and I admire him because writing humor/comedy is extraordinarily difficult. Another reason he would be in my foursome is his wonderful story of achieving such success. I’d like to hear about that firsthand.

Q: As an indie writer, what have you found to be the best way to market your books?

A: My husband and I are my best marketing agents. He ordered face masks designed with my book covers on them! Voila! Instant advertising-and it works. I carry bookmarks and books with me wherever I go. My family and friends have helped spread the word of my books. Social media, creating videos, word of mouth and book signings have been helpful in marketing.  I have joined several writing groups too. A goal of mine for the next year is to start a newsletter about my books.  

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am currently working on the third book in my Daisy and Nick series.  I hope to publish it sometime in 2021.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Readers can go to https://hollyspofford.com​ for more information about me and my books.  I can be found on Independent Authors Network, on Instagram as hssauthor, and on Facebook as Holly Spofford Author. My books are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thank you for the support, dear readers. Stay tuned for more and be well.

Old Sins Never Die

The good news is that journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief/insurance investigator Gregory Longdon have an opportunity to thwart an international assassination when they overhear someone attempting to hire a rogue MI5 agent for the deed. The bad news is that they have no idea who the intended victim is going to be. In the latest book in Daniella Burnett’s mystery series, Old Sins Never Die, the intrepid pair has more than enough on their plate to keep them one step ahead of certain danger.

It’s enough to put any new marriage to the test.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s talk about your journey as a writer. Who or what would you say had the greatest influence on your passion for storytelling?

A: It began with a love affair with reading. I thank my parents for reading to me and my sister from a very young age. This developed into an appreciation for the written word. All writers are readers at heart. Writing is like breathing. It’s something I must do. I can’t imagine not writing. I would be like an empty shell, lost and forlorn on a stretch of silken sands. I love devising plots, adding twists and turns, and leaving a string of red herrings in my characters’ wake just for a bit of fun.

Q: Were you an avid fan of mysteries when you were growing up? If so, who are some of the authors whose work especially resonated with you?

A: Since my mother introduced my sister and me to mysteries and thrillers, I’ve been off on a literary adventure. Agatha Christie is my hero. She was truly a master at her craft. Her deliciously wicked and ingenious plots appeal to the reader’s intellect. Christie had an astute insight into human nature and all its foibles. One wouldn’t characterize Daphne Du Maurier as a mystery author, but I admire the brilliant way she created an atmosphere of suspense. As each page was flipped, the reader had the sense that he or she was taking another step toward the danger.

Q: Do you ever play armchair detective in your real life or do you leave all the savvy sleuthing to your fictional characters?

A: Oh, I am definitely an expert armchair detective. I enjoy racing the sleuth to the solution. It’s a matter of paying careful attention to the clues that the author casts before readers. Only on very rare occasions have I been proved wrong, when it comes to unmasking the murderer. I suppose it’s because my mind leans toward the devious.

Q: Do you share any particular attributes with your lead players, Emmeline and Gregory?

A: I think a part of every author is in his or her characters. Perhaps it’s a trait you wish you had. Or a witty riposte you should have flung back at some quite insufferable person. Now, as an author, you have a second chance. Anything is possible. The author and his or her characters set out on a journey together. It’s a conspiracy, if you will. Each brings something distinctive to the story as it unfolds.

Q: What do you feel makes you uniquely qualified to shine in this genre?

A: Everyone comes from different backgrounds. Each one of us is shaped by the myriad people with which we come into contact; the situations in which we find ourselves; and the opportunities we’re given—and let slip through our fingers—in life. It is this confluence of factors combined with our inherent nature and temperament that make us unique. Therefore, only I could have conjured up Emmeline and Gregory. It is the story that I wanted to tell.

Q: Tell us what governed your decision to develop a series rather than a standalone title.

A: I chose to write a series because I wanted to take time to develop my characters—their flaws, admirable qualities, likes and dislikes. Each book provides another nugget of information to peel back the curtain on Emmeline and Gregory, while also leaving something dangling. After all, the human species is full of contradictions that are begging to be explored.

Q: Series fiction is not without its own set of challenges, especially if your readers don’t read the books in the sequential order in which they were intended. Share with us how you addressed keeping each book fresh and yet still building on what your readership already knows.

A: Each book can stand alone. Readers will be fine if they pick up one of the middle books because I include some of the backstory so that they understand the characters and don’t feel lost. Of course, if readers want to see how the relationship between Emmeline and Gregory develops, then they should start with the first book.

In terms of keeping each book fresh, I find it devilishly good fun to dangle a little surprise on the last page to leave readers clamoring to know what happens next. It also sets me on the path of the plot for my new book.

Q: Oftentimes the kiss of death in television series where there is sexual chemistry between the two leads is the decision to marry them off. How do you plan to maintain the heat between Emmeline and Gregory now that they have said, “I do”?

A: Gregory’s shadowy past provides endless possibilities and the fact that he continues to derive an adrenaline rush from stealing jewels. Meanwhile, secrets and lies are a constant threat. And yet, Gregory has gotten under Emmeline’s skin. She can’t deny her love for him. What’s life without a dollop of trouble, now and then.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast?

A: I’ve often been asked this question. Naturally, all my choices are British actors. Rufus Sewell would be perfect as Gregory. He’s charming, witty and handsome, and extremely talented. Emmeline is a bit more difficult, but I believe Lily James would bring her to life with great skill because she has such a wide acting range. Hugh Bonneville would pull off the character of Superintendent Oliver Burnell of Scotland Yard with aplomb. Rupert Penrys-Jones would be terrific as Philip Acheson, who ostensibly works for the British Foreign Office, but is a MI5 agent.

Q: What makes for a good mystery?

A: A tantalizing puzzle that the reader must unravel hooks me every time. It has always been about answering the question, “Why?” I love following the clues that the author has strategically dropped. Once the reader understands a criminal’s motivation, everything falls into place.

Q: What tropes do you loathe the most in mystery novels?

A: I find insanity (although terrifying) a boring motive. Rather than devising a knotty reason for the crime, an author is taking the easy road by suggesting that the murderer could not help himself or herself. On the same token, serial killer novels make me shudder. They focus too heavily on gore and violence.

Q: Who’s your favorite detective and why?

A: Hercule Poirot, bien sûr. I adore Poirot for his razor-sharp mind. Yes, he is fusty and arrogant, but not in a mean-spirited way. He is merely confident in his own abilities and impatient with those who are slow-witted. Poirot has a tremendous respect for the law and therefore cannot allow a criminal to flout it. Meanwhile, he is sensitive and empathetic. He understands that we all have faults, as well as good qualities.

Q: If you were throwing a dinner party and could invite any three writers to join you, who would be on the guest list and what would you most like to ask each one?

A: Agatha Christie, of course. I would hang on her every word, absorbing things like a sponge. I would like to know whether she was involved in any adventures in her personal life that influenced her writing. Anthony Horowitz would be invited too. I saw him in an interview once. He has an incisive mind and a droll personality. I would ask him for advice on subtle ways to add shocking twists to the tale. Finally, Jeffrey Archer would round out the table. I would pepper him with questions about his life. He’s a peer of the realm, a former politician and was sent to jail for perjury and perverting the course of justice. I would be curious to know about the fascinating life he has led.

Q: What’s on your current reading list and where do you most like to spend time enjoying the work of others?

A: I’m looking forward to reading The Rose Code by Kate Quinn; Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig; Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz; Hidden In Plain Sight by Jeffrey Archer; The King’s Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal; Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers by Tessa Arlen; A Devious Death by Alyssa Maxwell, and so many others. My TBR pile never dwindles since there is a perpetual need to nourish the mind and the soul.

As for the nook where I like to escape with a book, I usually like to read curled up in a comfortable armchair or in bed. In the summer, I often lose myself in a good book in the cool shadows of a tree as the dulcet susurration of the balmy breeze dandles the branches above me.

Q: Best advice for aspiring authors?

A: I would tell aspiring authors to write the story that they want to write and not what others tell them or what the current market trends are. To write a great story, you have to breathe it, live with it, and nurture it in your dreams and waking hours.

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

A: I am utterly useless when it comes to technology and anything mechanical. Don’t ever ask me a question having to do with a computer. If my laptop starts giving me a problem, my first reaction is to throw it out the window. Another secret I will share (more of a warning) is that I’m impatient and have a short temper.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Viper’s Nest of Lies, Book 7, will be published in fall 2021. I’m currently working on Book 8. There’s no rest for the wicked. Emmeline and Gregory are always dragging me off on another adventure.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If readers would like to learn more about me, my website is http://www.daniellabernett.com. There’s an e-mail address on the site, if anyone would like to drop me a note. Readers also can follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008802318282 or on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/40690254-daniella-bernett.

A Palette For Love and Murder

A Palette For Murder

Author Saralyn Richard knows how to weave an excellent tale of murder and mystery in her newest page-turning book, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, that’s sure to pull readers in and hold them fast. Fans of her protagonist, Detective Oliver Parrot, will enjoy continuing to follow his adventures, and his life, in this intriguing new series that’s winning readers from all walks of life. A creative writing instructor at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Saralyn loves to pen stories of mystery, mayhem, and love that have garnered terrific reviews. Read on to learn more about this fascinating author and her work.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q Why did you choose to set this series in the world of Brandywine Valley?

A I’ve been fortunate enough to visit relatives in Brandywine Valley frequently. It is one of my happy places. The country landscape is scenic and lush, and the people who live there are among the country’s wealthiest and most powerful. Whether I’m hanging with the equestrian crowd, visiting the amazing Brandywine River Fine Arts Museum, antique shopping at Kennett Square, or hiking through the gorgeous vegetation at Longwood Gardens, I know I’m experiencing some of the best that rural America has to offer.

Some years ago, I attended a birthday celebration at a country mansion there, and after the nine-course meal, I was lounging by the fireplace and chatting with another partygoer. I said, “This would be the perfect setting for a murder mystery.” When she recovered from the shock, I added, “but for that to happen, one of us would have to die, and one of us would have to be a killer.”

What struck me about the setting was that it was so serene. It was the last place one would expect a murder to take place.

Now, having set two novels in Brandywine Valley, I have to say that the people who live and work there are so friendly and cooperative. I’ve interviewed policemen, architects, restaurateurs, artists, horse owners, magazine publishers, funeral home directors, museum employees, landscapers, and others. Everyone has been delightful to talk with and very happy to be interviewed—as long as they weren’t going to be the murder victim or the murderer!

Q What distinguishes Detective Oliver Parrott from other literary detectives?

A In MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, the first book in the series, we meet Oliver Parrott as he starts his rookie year as detective. He’s African-American, raised in an underprivileged urban neighborhood, and a former college football hero from Syracuse. He’s chosen a career in criminal justice because he wants to right wrongs, but sometimes the people he meets and the milieu in which he serves rub him the wrong way.

The fact that he’s an outsider, an Everyman detective (as Kirkus magazine calls him in its review of MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT), gives him a strong rooting interest with the reader.

Parrott’s fiancée is a Navy SEAL on tour of duty in Afghanistan. His cousin Bo has been killed by policemen in a random accident. Throughout the first book and the second, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, his personal and professional lives come together in various ways, and Parrott becomes more than just a detective. He is a smart, responsible, organized, determined, moral, and caring individual; someone we would all want for a son, a husband, an employee, or a friend.

Q Why did you choose to write with a male protagonist?

A I don’t recall choosing at all. Parrott came to me, fully developed, and he happened to be male. As a former teacher, administrator, and school improvement consultant, I’ve spent a lot of time around young people who come from similar backgrounds as Parrott, and I suppose he is an amalgamation of the best of them. I’ve written other mysteries with female sleuths, but it never occurred to me to make Parrott a female.

Q How much research did you do into the art world, and how did you choose which aspects of that world to incorporate into your work?

A Art history was an area of concentration in my college curriculum, so I’ve long been an appreciator of paintings, sculptures, museums, and artists. The Brandywine River Fine Arts Museum is one of my favorite small museums in the world, and I admire the works of the Wyeth family. It was easy to imagine a plot set in the art community of Brandywine, but I did do extensive interviews with artists, dealers, museum personnel, and others. The National Arts Club in New York, which is mentioned several times in the book, is another place I adore.

Q Do you dabble in art yourself? If so, what do you do? If not, have you thought of exploring that area of expression?

A In one of my previous positions, I was the Fine Arts Chairperson of a large high school, so I was able to hobnob with the creative types. I’ve always had a creative passion, and I’ve taken piano, art, dance, and needlework classes. One of these days when I have time I hope to be able to paint, but right now, I’m content to admire the work of others.

Q Why did you choose the art world as your backdrop in this book?

A The proximity of the Brandywine Valley to the museum, and art galleries in the Kennett Square area, made it a perfect choice to center the book on the art world. I enjoy reading art mysteries, and I knew I would enjoy writing one.

Also, artists are fascinating people. In a sense we lead double lives—the interior lives of our imaginations, and the exterior lives of reality. Sometimes there are struggles and obstacles and secrets that live within this dichotomy, and those provide fertile ground for stories.

Q  The art world can seem mysterious and nebulous to many people. What have you learned about it that surprised you and that you’d like to share with us?

A I learned about climate and security-controlled art warehouses, where a person who buys a multi-million-dollar painting for an investment can store his purchase and avoid paying taxes until he takes the painting out to sell it. Sometimes paintings are stored in these warehouses for years, and the privacy of the owners is strictly preserved.

Q What is your favorite part about writing mysteries?

A Because a mystery author presents an intellectual and emotional puzzle for the reader to solve, there is a tight connection between the author and the reader. Every step of the way, the reader is discovering clues and evidence and foreshadowing that the author has carefully laid out for the reader. In no other genre is that author-reader wavelength so well-matched. Any time I talk with a reader, I delight in the conversation. I love hearing what the reading journey was like, whom the reader suspected, whether or not the reader was surprised by the ending.

A mystery is a feeling person’s book; a thinking person’s book. It’s a joy to engage with the reader’s heart and mind.

Q Reviewers have lauded A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER for its in-depth depictions of characters and relationships, as well as its sensitive treatment of difficult topics, both of which are rare in mysteries. Did you intend to veer away from the genre tropes, and, if so, why?

A Traditional mysteries are plot-based, but, over time, genre-blending has changed that landscape, particularly when it comes to using the tools of characterization, such as deep point of view, unheroic characters, villains with redeeming characteristics, unreliable narrators, and amateur sleuths. Many of my favorite mystery writers portray characters with complexity and depth. For example, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch is someone I know so well—he could be my friend, my neighbor, my brother. My detective, Oliver Parrott, is the same way. After you’ve read the book, you will know him inside and out. Modern readers want to connect with protagonists. They want to feel the story from inside the protagonist’s shoes. As an author, I want the same thing. I feel it makes for a more authentic, relatable reading experience.

Q How do you come up with the names in your books?

A I approach name selection in the same way as I would if I were naming a new-born baby of mine. The name has to endure throughout the writing of the book, and long afterward, so I want to make sure it has staying power. Many of my characters are named after people in my life whom I want to honor. Many names are ethnic in nature, or attuned to the time period in which the characters were born. Once in a while, I’ll change a character’s name after I’ve started writing the book, but that’s rare. Once I’ve named him, that name starts to fit him perfectly, and I think of him as ___. In Brandywine Valley, the houses have names, too, so I have an added opportunity to play with names. The house in A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, for example, is named Manderley, after the mansion in Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA.

Some of my characters’ names are humorous, some are intentionally ordinary or unusual, and some are nods to famous characters in other authors’ books. Parrott, for instance, is a nod to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Q As a teacher of creative writing, what is your belief about talent vs. craft in the act of producing a work of fiction? How important is research in the writing of a fiction book?

A Talent vs. craft is the age-old question, much like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Over the years I’ve had students with immense talent, but little regard for perfecting craft, and I’ve seen the opposite, as well. The truth is that both talent and craft are required to produce a work of fiction, and there is no ideal measure of how much of one or another is needed. A facility with words is certainly important, as is having a good story to tell. Whether those constitute talent or craft is debatable.

Research, however, is a much more concrete and definable part of the process of writing. I believe research is indispensable in developing a story that is realistic, believable, and authentic. Today’s reader wants to come away from a work of fiction knowing more about the people, places, and things within the novel. Research keeps the story up-to-date and relevant.

Q Who is your ideal reader?

A My ideal reader is anyone who is open to immersing himself in the milieu of the story; willing to engage with the appropriate characters; alert in catching the subtleties of clues, humor, and tension; and allowing himself or herself to be drawn in.

Q What is your greatest satisfaction in being an author?

A Because being an author is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me, I have many satisfactions: having a job that delights me every single day, being able to interact meaningfully with other authors and people in the publishing industry, holding my books in my hands, attending book clubs and other meetings where my books are being discussed, winning awards for my writing, and the list goes on and on. But, hands-down, the most important satisfaction for me is having a reader understand and appreciate my book. When someone tells me I’ve touched his or her life, I know I’ve succeeded as an author.

Q What plans do you have for future books?

A I have a standalone mystery, A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL, coming out in January 2021. I’m writing another standalone, BLOOD SISTERS, which I also hope will come out in 2021. Meanwhile, with all of the political unrest and recent events related to police brutality, Detective Parrott has been whispering in my ear. I’m sure he has another story or two to share with us.

Reviews, media, and tour schedule may be found at http://saralynrichard.com.

Buy links: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/A+Palette+for+Love+and+Murder?_requestid=2258777

https://www.amazon.com/Palette-Love-Murder-Detective-Parrott/dp/1644372045/ref= Social media links: https://www.amazon.com/Saralyn-Richard/e/B0787F6HD4/ref= https://twitter.com/SaralynRichard https://www.facebook.com/saralyn.richard, https://www.twitter.com/SaralynRichard, https://www.linkedin.com/in/saralyn-richard-b06b6355/, https://www.pinterest.com/saralynrichard/, https://www.instagram.com/naughty_nana_sheepdog/ https://www.pinterest.com/saralynrichard/ and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7338961.Saralyn_Richard. https://www.bookbub.com/profile/saralyn-richard

 

 

 

 

The Sign Behind the Crime Series

Ronnie Allen

No matter the season or reason, who among us doesn’t love playing armchair detective? In her The Sign Behind the Crime mystery series, author Ronnie Allen invites us on a ride-along through the mean streets of New York … and the meaner minds of crafty villains seeking to elude capture for their dark deeds.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When I read that you and your husband made a relocation leap twelve years ago from the bustle of New York to the rural quiet of Central Florida, I couldn’t help but hear the Green Acres theme song dance through my head. Is it true that you can take the girl out of the city but not the city out of the girl?

A: Totally, Christina. I miss NYC on so many levels; the diversity, the restaurants, shopping, fast paced energy. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Floridian. And I went back home through my novels which are set in NYC. The last time I was in Manhattan was for ThrillerFest in 2015 as a debut author.

Q: Tell us how your educational and professional background made you such a natural to pen a pulse-pounding crime series with psychological elements.

A: For one, psychology is my formal education. I’m a NYS licensed School Psychologist, and have been a teacher in the NYC Department of Education for thirty-three years, retiring in 2003. Aspects of my careers are in my books. The killer in Gemini is a pretend school psychologist, and one of the detectives, Det. Samantha Wright, in Aries and the rest of the series was an elementary school teacher before she joined the police force. My holistic and alternative therapies training and experiences are also in the books, manifested through character development and the plots. Dr. John Trenton in Gemini is psychic and clairvoyant and has the same skills in the areas in which I’m certified. Det. Samantha Wright is at the beginning of becoming in tune with her abilities and her approach was similar to mine when I first became aware.

Q: Did you envision writing a series when you began or did typing THE END on the first book inspire and dare you to not let go of the gritty crime world you had created for your readers?

A: Actually, I didn’t foresee the series until I was in the middle of writing book two, Aries. I had started writing book two before Gemini was in contract. I didn’t want to write the same characters if I didn’t know the book would be picked up. When I was writing Aries, the astrological components started to reveal themselves, and I got that ‘ah ha’ moment. My tag line was The Mind Behind the Crime because I write psychological thrillers. The Sign Behind the Crime popped into my mind as the astrological signs give the clues to solving the crime. I approached my publisher about it and we ran with it.

Q: Whether it’s a novel, a film or a television program, writing about crime requires a high degree of accuracy, plausibility and realism in order for the fiction to ring true. Tell us about the level of research you employed in order to click on all cylinders.

A: Yes, research is crucial in the crime genre. Nothing is as easy in real life as portrayed on TV. I had several consultants; a detective in NYC, and a Captain of Major Crimes here in our small county, and others for the different subplots. I have folders of printed out research from police procedural courses I’ve taken as well as internet searches. I was at FBI headquarters in NYC in 2015 and received a wealth of information there. Also, getting forensic psychiatry correct was crucial for my characters and the situations in which they found themselves. Police procedure, department names, terminology used all vary from state to state. It was interesting to see the differences between the NYC PD and our Sheriff’s office. The author also needs to know what organizational names and locations have to be fictionalized, such as psychiatric organizations, hospitals, and schools.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your books while they’re still a work in progress or do you make them wait it out? Why does your chosen method work for you?

A: During my writing process, no one reads them. When I get a complete first draft, or second, or third, then I go to my critique partners and beta readers. This works for me because I strongly believe that writing is rewriting and rewriting. Nothing is written in stone in the first or even following drafts. I want people to see my best possible work effort. If someone points out something, I don’t want to say, “Yeah, I know, I have to fix that.” It’s very frustrating for a critique partner to spend their time giving you feedback and then for you to know about it.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I started out being a plotter, a very intense plotter. I had Gemini in my brain, and in notes before I hit the computer. As I was writing, if my character started to take over, which they did, I ran with it. The second book was also heavily plotted. Book three, Scorpio, was a mix, and by the time I was writing Libra, I was like, “Whoa, where are you going so fast?” Libra is the longest book.

Q: The four books in your series have all been given the names of zodiac signs. Why is that?

A: I’m a Gemini, so I decided to start with me. It went through several title changes, and when the Gemini aspects came out, I said, ‘that’s it!” And as a series, I felt it was fitting for the rest of the books.

Q: Do they need to be read in order or could each be read as a standalone?

A: Gemini and Aries can definitely be read as standalones. The third and fourth books have the characters from the first two, and I weave in enough backstory so that the reader will not get lost.

Q: Will there be more books in this crime series? (You do, after all, have eight more zodiac signs to go …)

A: I’m not sure. I wrapped up Libra with the happiest ever after the reader could want, so I’m content with ending the series there.

Q: Are any of your fictional characters fashioned after real-life people you know (including yourself)?

A: Definitely me. My readers will learn a lot about me. I’m a part of all of the major characters. My parents, Esther and Sam, are Dr. John Trenton’s parents in the series. It’s their personality, and names, not their careers. I tell my friends that no one I actually know is in the books.

Q: Which of these fictional personas would you most like to go to lunch with (and why)?

A: To go to lunch? Definitely Drs. John Trenton and Frank Khaos. Frank is the forensic psychiatrist who’s introduced in Aries. For one, I love hunky men. Dr. Trenton is a holistic psychiatrist, and I can lean more about Medical Orgone Therapy that is one of his specialties. I participated in this in the 1970’s in another form, and it pivoted me into wanting to work with chakras as part of my holistic healing practice in NYC. Frank is a BJJ fighter and I’m fascinated with martial arts.

Q: What’s the takeaway for your fans after they’ve read the final chapter(s)?

A: There are several takeaways; dreams can be manifested, your childhood traumas do not have to determine the quality of your adult life, resolving an issue from childhood is not as fearful as you thought before you took the action, traumas can push you to be a better more compassionate human being.

Q: As a fellow wordsmith, I have an extensive collection of reference books, most notably the Howdunit series published by Writer’s Digest. (You can imagine how unsettled it made our dinner guests on the occasion I’d leave one out on the coffee table.) Hypothetically, if you were to embark on a successful life of crime, what would you be most likely to pursue?

A: Yes! I can imagine how it made dinner guests feel. I don’t know! If I hadn’t resolved my childhood trauma around asthma like AriellaRose Larcon in Aries, I probably would have been a serial killer. I can’t imagine me hurting anyone, though.

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors before they begin their journey to getting published?

A: Thank you for asking this. I feel too many writers want to cut short this process. My words of advice; make sure you listen to those who have accomplished what you want. For example, in social media groups, be careful on whose advice to take. Don’t fall for any scams. Have critique partners and beta readers go through your manuscript before you submit. I’m a proponent of traditional publishing. Make sure your manuscript is as good as it can be before submission. Read the publishers guidelines on their website before you submit. Follow the directions. That’s a major reason for rejection. If you’re lucky enough to get feedback and it’s consistent between editors, listen. Edit, rewrite. Don’t submit the same manuscript repeatedly with the same errors. The writer has to step back and get their ego out of it. Don’t say, “It’s my manuscript, and I want it this way.” Because I listened, I received my first contract on only my seventh submission.

Q: What do you do to prepare yourself mentally for each new project?

A: When plotting, it comes to me naturally. There isn’t mental preparation. I don’t have to talk myself into it.

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

A: I’m very much like my characters, except for the murders or violent parts. I’ve had a very pampered life, so writing these scenes is really a stretch for me. Some scenes have actually happened. Not telling which ones, though.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m coming from a film and screenwriting background from the late ‘70s through mid ‘90s, and I would like to get my books to a TV episodic series.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Thank you so much, Christina. My website is http://www.ronnieallennovel.com, and your readers can find me on Facebook at Ronnie.allen.507. On Twitter and IG, I’m @ronnieanovelist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Caroline England

 

Caroline England headshot

Caroline England knows the law, and she knows how to write stories that capture and hold a reader. That’s a powerful combination! Born in Sheffield, England, Caroline now resides in Manchester, UK. Having left a lucrative career as a divorce lawyer, she now writes stories filled with mystery and intrigue, and characters readers are drawn to.

Her domestic psychological thrillers, Beneath The Skin, also known as The Wife’s Secret (ebook), was published by Avon Harper Collins in October, 2017. Since then she’s gone on to pen many more stories that are gaining quite a bit of interest on many fronts. Also writing under the pen name, Caro Land, her first Natalie Bach novel, Convictions, a legal suspense, was published in January 2020, with additional titles just released. What tremendous accomplishments! Welcome, Caroline.

Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

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Q You had a career in the law before turning your hand to writing. How much has this career influenced your writing?

A I was from a family of lawyers, so I was somewhat blinkered when I applied to study law at the University of Manchester. After my degree I tried to break free by applying for a journalism course, but at the time it felt easier to take the professional legal exams and become a solicitor.

As a trainee I worked mainly in criminal law. After that I practiced divorce and matrimonial work, then went on to do professional indemnity, also known as legal malpractice, representing professionals such as lawyers, accountants, and surveyors, who’d made a mistake – or not – as the case might be.

All these areas of the law helped on a practical level (see below) but also on an emotional level in terms of characterization and digging beneath the human facade. Being charged with a crime and facing prison is terrifying; going through a divorce or having a fight over the custody of your children is often deeply traumatic. An allegation of professional negligence can be debilitating too. Accordingly, I was given a fabulous insight into the human psyche because I saw people at their lowest ebb, emotionally stressed and raw, having to bare their souls and admit to their darkest deeds, sometimes keeping secrets and telling lies like the characters I write about!

Additionally, where people are in conflict, it’s fascinating – and eye-opening – to hear the same story told from completely different viewpoints, which is very much what writing is about.

As an ex-lawyer I’m able to write about UK legal procedure and cases, so the law has also influenced my writing on that practical level. My three published Caroline England books, Beneath the Skin, My Husband’s Lies, and Betray Her are psychological thrillers, but have lawyer characters. Also, under a pen name Caro Land, I have written two legal dramas: Convictions (published in January), introduced my solicitor protagonist, Natalie Bach. Though a feisty legal eagle on the outside, Nat is vulnerable, real, relatable and, I hope, engaging. Though there are legal cases, crime, darkness, and intrigue, there’s humour, love, and friendship too.

The follow-up, Confessions, was published this month. We follow more of Nat’s challenges and dilemmas both personally and professionally. Her cases range from mercy killing to cowboy builders, from revenge porn to murder, and all sorts in between.

In Confessions, Nat is seconded to criminal law firm Savage Solicitors, so I was able to draw on my duty solicitor days when I sat in on police interviews, visited inmates in Strangeway’s Prison, and frequented the local magistrates courts.

Q How did you jump from lawyer to writer?

A When my third daughter was born I took the decision to give up the law and be a stay-at-home mum. Before I abandoned my solicitor’s desk, I wrote the first few lines of my first novel. After that I became pretty much addicted to writing, spending my free time on the first drafts of three or four books. My novel writing stayed firmly in the ‘novel closet’, but I did admit to penning poems and short stories, and I joined a writer’s group. I regularly sent the short stories to magazines and literary publications, and I was delighted to have many of them published. I was even more thrilled to be approached by an editor who had seen one of my twist-in-the-tale short stories and wanted to publish a collection of them. This short story collection, Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses, and the follow up, Hanged by the Neck, are available to buy on Amazon. If your readers like a quick fix, these sweet and sharply twisted dark tales might appeal to them!

Q Why did you choose crime fiction as your genre?

A Back in the novel closet days, I just wrote stories I would like to read without any ‘genre’ in mind. When my debut, Beneath the Skin (known as The Wife’s Secret in ebook), was taken on by HarperCollins, I was told, to my surprise, that it was crime fiction, albeit on the psychological thriller or domestic suspense end of the spectrum. On reflection, I think my style of writing is a blend of crime and contemporary because my real interest is people, their secrets and journeys and lives. The legal drama novels are an extension of that, but this time the characters revolve around the law.

Q How much do you draw on real life to create fiction?

A Like Frankenstein, I get inspiration by pinching tiny bits of people’s lives, news stories, films, TV, newspapers, documentaries. The legal cases I have worked on help, though of course it wouldn’t be ethical to steal them outright! Like many authors, I put a bit of myself in characters and storylines too. Then there’s my crazy imagination…

Q How important is location?

A My novels could be set anywhere in the world because they are predominantly about people, which, of course, is universal. We may be different sizes, shapes, age, race, colour, sex, or creed, but we’re all human beings with the same joys and emotions and worries and fears.

However, they do say to write what you know, so my novels are all set near to where I live in Manchester, UK. Knowing an area gives a story heart and authenticity, and that helps the reader visualize and experience it, even if they live far, far away!

A How did you get a traditional publishing contract?

A The publication of my short story collection gave me a huge confidence boost, so I concentrated more seriously on the draft manuscripts I had already written. Beneath The Skin was the first of those and I started sending it out to literary agents. Though like most authors, I had a lot of rejections (and a book deal that fell through), I eventually got lucky and found my agent through submitting a short story in 2016.

The offer from HarperCollins came through a few months after signing up with my agent. Fortunately I didn’t know a great deal about the process back then, so I wasn’t constantly fretting or looking out for emails. My agent didn’t tell me about any rejections, but waited until an offer was made. I had assumed that if an editor liked a manuscript, that would be a yes, but in fact any new novel needs the thumbs up from various departments, such as marketing and sales. I was thrilled to be offered a digital deal initially, but the real pleasure was when the publishers confirmed the book would be in paperback too! It was published in 2017. My Husband’s Lies followed in 2018 and became a Kindle top ten bestseller. Just this week the audiobook of My Husband’s Lies was published by Penguin Random House Audio – I’m so excited to listen and see how the narrator has vocally interpreted the characters.

Q What are your top tips to budding writers?

A Only a few writers get lucky with an agent or a publisher the first, tenth, or even thirtieth time of trying. When yet another rejection comes your way, my advice is to shed a few tears, then pick yourself up, dust yourself down and carry on polishing that manuscript until it positively gleams.

Looking back, I would also recommend paying for a professional edit if you can afford it. An alternative is to find a beta reader to give feedback on your work. Don’t ask your great aunt Mildred, who’ll say it’s fantastic, but someone who is prepared to dish some hard truths if necessary – doing a swap with another writer is a great idea.

Above all, write, write and write more – never give up!

Q Your main characters are strong women of action. How much of your own personality finds its way into your written characters?

A As mentioned above, I think most authors put an element of themselves into each character they write – both male and female. Beneath the Skin and My Husband’s Lies have sections from different character view points, but Betray Her, as well as the two Natalie Bach legal books, are from one female POV. My next novel, Truth Games, is due out in November 2020, and it’s again from one female POV. Perhaps having three strong daughters and a brilliant female publication team at Little, Brown Book Group is an influence. However, I do have more written books which include male POVs ready to spring from my laptop!

Q Do you weave fact and fiction (i.e. real stories that have been fictionalized) in your books? If so why, and if not, why not?

A My stories and characters are entirely fictional. Some of the legal cases in the Natalie Bach books may be roughly based on real ones I have come across, but they are very much inspirational only! As a former lawyer, I most certainly wouldn’t want to be sued for libel!

I also personally feel that you need to abandon ‘fact’ or real life experiences when writing fiction. Trying to be factually accurate can hinder the creative flow. Also, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and therefore not always believable.

Q When writing a new story, have you ever been “surprised” by a story line, angle, character, or aspect of the story you hadn’t anticipated?

A All the time! I’m very much a ‘pantser’ (in that I fly by the seat of my pants rather than plotting out a story). I have a vague idea of a secret, a lie, a twist or a reveal and I head towards that, but all sorts happens along the way. Some authors talk about a ‘writing magic’. I’m delighted to have experienced some of that. I love it when a character decides to go in an unexpected direction. Mine very often do!

Q How much research do you do when writing a new story?

A Fortunately I don’t need to do too much in depth research, and I’m in awe of authors who do, but I like to keep my writing as realistic, grounded, and as honest as I can, so I carefully research issues such as mental health or other medical aspects. I also need to check out any legal implications, as the law changes all the time!

Q What have you learned about yourself during and after the writing process?

A I’m fairly single minded, self disciplined, and dedicated whilst I’m writing, as well as tenacious. I guess I already knew these things, but they are pretty vital in the writing process, as there are so many disappointments along the publication journey, and it’s all too easy just to give up at times. You also have to be flexible and take your editor’s feedback on the chin! It’s pretty disheartening when you have to delete a whole chunk of beautiful writing to up the pace, or take out a favourite twist, but a good editor really does know what’s for the best.

Q What’s next for you, Caroline?

A Although Betray Her has been available in ebook and audiobook for some time, I’m very much looking forward to the UK paperback release on the 16th of July 2020. I’m also looking forward to seeing Truth Games ebook out later this year. I have just seen the cover and it’s FAB!

I’m still writing away and I’m just polishing my fourteenth novel, another psychological thriller, but with a gothic element. I’d love to see that and all my other manuscripts published.

Another huge wish is to see my stories on screen, so fingers crossed Natalie Bach or my other characters will one day appear in film or on the TV

You can find Caroline’s work and connect with her here:

Website: carolineenglandauthor.co.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CazEngland

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CazEngland1/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cazengland1/

 

 

Reaper: A Horror Novella

JonathanPongratzHeadshot

As far back as The Inquisition, the speculative existence of demons among us has woven a dark seduction over impressionable minds of all ages. Despite centuries of religious teachings that things which go bump in the night, wander fog-shrouded cemeteries, or assume the shape of bats and wolves to feed on human prey are to be avoided at all costs, curiosity has not only killed many a cat but lured many a reader into creepy plots that conjure nightmares. But hey, what’s not to love about a good story that brings on goosebumps? Jonathan Pongratz, author of Reaper: A Horror Novella, explains his own draw to the horror genre.

Interviewer; Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Did you read horror novels and watch horror films when you were growing up?

A: Growing up, my parents wouldn’t let me read or watch anything relating to horror, but I was determined. Though I couldn’t buy any horror books against their knowledge, I spent many late nights creeping from my bedroom to the dark living room. In time I watched all the great classics, in turn giving myself constant nightmares, but it was very much worth it!

Q: Is there a favorite that stands out in your memory?

A: As far as films go, Halloween is probably my favorite. The film really focuses on the mystery and terror of the boogeyman, while also having a great build up to the blood and gore. I rewatch it every year around Halloween.

On books, I really haven’t read that many horror novels to be honest, but my favorite thus far is Sarah by Teri Polen. A scary spirit with an insatiable lust for vengeance made it a real page turner for me.

Q: Last book or movie that really scared your socks off?

A: The last one that terrified me was IT Chapter One (the remake). Every scene had such scare factor that by the end I was something of a nervous wreck. It’s very rare that that happens to me, and I was extremely impressed.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished up reading the Watchmen comic series. If you’re not familiar, it’s a superhero themed comic set in the 80s, but much more grisly, dark, and violent than most other superhero novels I’ve read before. It is pretty similar to the movie adaptation, and I absolutely loved it!

Q: What was your attraction to writing a horror-themed story?

A: I’ve always loved the horror genre. I have watched hundreds of scary movies, and writing a horror-themed story was a way for me to pay respect to the genre itself. Chills, thrills, adrenaline,

I wanted to write something creepy that got my blood pumping and hopefully the readers as well.

Q: Whose work in the horror genre do you most admire?

A: I’d have to say George Romero and James Wan. George Romero is popular for his zombie movies, Wan for Insidious and The Conjuring franchises. Both have been able to create compelling, dark landscapes that are simply unforgettable. I always gravitate back towards their works, and it’s a constant source of inspiration for my own ideas.

Q: How and when did your own journey as a writer begin?

A: My real writer’s journey began when I moved to Kansas City about eight years ago. I was at something of a crossroads in my life, and though I hadn’t written anything in years, something about the change of scenery awakened something within me. Ideas started forming in my mind, and I couldn’t ignore them. I felt an intense compulsion to write, more than I had ever felt before. I haven’t stopped writing since.

Q: Share with us the inspiration behind the plot and characters for Reaper: A Horror Novella.

A: I was watching horror movies around September of 2018 when an idea started forming in my mind. The boogeyman, creepy basements, and vanishing children are all themes that I’ve seen in movies before, but for some reason, as I rewatched my favorites this time around I was more inspired than usual.

I wanted something nostalgic, an ode to my own days as a kid, so I went with the early 90s. I wanted to write a creature feature centered around Halloween and the boogeyman, while portraying the sibling rivalry between a comic book kid and his bratty little sister. A lot of the main character’s personality are actually small pieces of my childhood.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Plotter all the way. I like to have a chiseled out plan before I start writing, even if I do end up pantsing here and there on the spot. If there isn’t a chapter summary, it won’t get written.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would your dream cast be for this title?

A: You know, I’m not very good with names, so I would just want each character to be portrayed correctly and settle for that. Gregory as a classic 90s comic book nerd, Imogen as a bratty little sister, their parents as loving but detached. The one person I did have an actress in mind for is his mother, Patricia. I’d like to see someone that looked like Catherine Mary Stewart play her part.

Q: How long did it take to write Reaper: A Horror Novella from start to finish?

A: From draft to publication it took me about six months, which I believe to be a bit fast. The first draft itself took about 2-3 months.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read it while it was still a work in progress? Why or why not?

A: I used to do that, but nowadays I don’t. I feel that I’ve grown enough in my writing that I should be able to complete a compelling, well-written first draft. Sure, there will always be little things here and there, but you can’t catch everything. I also don’t like other peoples’ opinions weighing in until after I’ve completed the story in its totality, so that I know what I actually want to keep and what I can compromise on if there’s a problem.

Q: I understand that a sequel is already in the works?

A: Yes! I am in the late stages of writing my first draft of the sequel. Ironically, I had no intentions of continuing this story, but a week after I published the first one I woke up one morning and the sequel just started pouring into my head. If that’s not divine intervention, I don’t know what is! Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, so I did.

Q: What are some of the challenges/rewards inherent in continuing an existing story versus leaving it as a standalone?

A: Well, I believe that writing a standalone may be a bit easier. You can write a great, compelling story and move on to other projects afterwards. Some readers are series-averse. I have phases where I do not want to read a series. Sometimes you just want a one off, and that’s okay. Writing a series, however, can be quite the headache. Not only are you writing more than one novel, but ensuring the continuity is there is extremely important, amidst a plethora of other things you have to watch. That being said, it can be easier to write more than one book once you solidify your style of writing for the main characters. I had a much easier time with Gregory when writing the sequel than I did with the first book.

Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to go the self-publishing route. What did you learn from this that you didn’t know when you started out?

A: A lot, actually. Without a traditional publisher backing you up, you literally have to do every single step of the publishing process yourself, which can easily get confusing. ISBNs, the cover, formatting the digital copy, setting up with a print-on-demand service. I lucked out that my dear friend and fellow author Emerald Dodge took mercy and held my hand through a big chunk of the process.

Q: How are you going about marketing your work?

A: Honestly, for the most part I stick to my social media platforms. I use WordPress and Facebook primarily, but also utilize Tumblr and GoodReads to boost my presence when I can. Marketing is definitely something I could work on quite a bit more, but honestly I don’t have a lot of time after all is said and done.

Q: When and where do you feel you get your best wordsmithing done?

A: I usually write in my room with the ambient music cranked up. I have a desk and desktop with a large screen that makes things so much easier. As far as timing, that’s where the plotter in me thrives. I write before work, on lunch, and after work in at least 30 minute intervals. That’s about all I can do with my crazy busy life, but I have a system that yields results.

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

A: I’m pretty predictable nowadays, but every once in a while I love to rock out with some karaoke. I was a choir kid growing up and was even in several show choirs. Jazz hands!

Q: It’s a dark and stormy night and you’re out by yourself. Which would you rather face down—a vampire, a witch or a zombie?

A: Face down or persuade to turn me? Haha! My answer is vampire all the way. I’ve always had a love for vampires since reading Anne Rice in high school, and I’m pretty sure I would be able to convince a vampire that I’d be the best prodigy ever rather than have one kill me. I mean, my vocal and writing skills alone should earn me a lofty eternal life.

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

A: At my website www.jonathanpongratz.com. I also post frequently on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jonathanpongratz but the content is richer on my website. I’ve got a lot of great stuff planned!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I always like to impart a little bit of wisdom to newer writers. If any of them are listening now, I’d like to urge them to keep writing. Find a time every day to write in a comfortable space, even if you have to fight for that time. Some things are worth fighting for, and you’ll grow so much faster if you stick to it. The world is full of possibilities!

Once Left the Field of Valor

ONCE LEFT IN THE FIELD OF VALOR

As of this writing, Hulu is debuting an adaptation of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, a satirical novel about the insanity of war. It, thus, seems only fitting to feature an interview this month with R.C. Sprague about his latest release, Once Left the Field of Valor, a gripping story about a young lieutenant’s guilt and post-traumatic stress to deliver a German soldier’s death letter to his lover. Military enthusiasts and fans of historical fiction will want to add this one to their bookshelves.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your stint as an Army pilot has not only taken you around the world but also allowed you to see humanity at both its best and its worst. How much of your own personality and personal experiences shaped the development of Damien Shaw’s moral journey and are embedded in the story?

A: Damien Shaw is a character that reflects a lot of myself. At times he has a rough exterior, which many people have told me I do. About two years into writing the book I gained a new understanding for the guilt that plagues Damien throughout the book when two of my friends were killed in Afghanistan. Just as with Damien, it took me a while to come to grips with what happened.

Damien’s home town of Sackets Harbor is actually a small town in northern New York only a few miles from Fort Drum which was where I was stationed during much of the writing process.

Q: When did you start writing Once Left the Field of Valor?

A: I started writing Once Left the Field of Valor in the summer of 2012. During a lack luster lecture at the U.S. Army’s flight school, I began writing the first chapter. The idea came to me the night before and after sharing it with my wife, I knew I had to tell the story.

Q: What inspired the title?

A: I wanted the title to sound correct for the setting. I drew inspiration from classics like All Quiet on the Western Front and  For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Q: Plotter or panster? And why does your chosen method work effectively for you?

A: I am absolutely a panster. When writing fiction, I find that free flowing allows the story to surprise me and keeps me wanting to write. It may sound strange, but my imagination keeps me on the edge of my seat with unexpected twists and turns. There are scenes in Once Left the Field of Valor where I was like wow I didn’t see that coming. I really enjoy the twists and turns that come with being a panster.

Q: Did you know the novel’s ending before you began Chapter 1?

A: The ending was a mystery to me until the late chapters. Even then, and now, I wonder if I should have chosen the alternate ending. Luckily, reviews have cited the ending as surprising and well written, so I guess I chose wisely.

Q: Had you written anything prior to this and/or dabbled in other genres?

A: Writing is a main part of who I am, and I have done it for as long as I can remember. Once Left the Field of Valor is my debut novel. Prior to releasing it, my published works were non-fiction leadership and sports articles.

Q: What appeals to you about this particular genre?

A: I’m a history buff who loves to study people. In a situation such as war, I wanted to get into the mind of a soldier and paint a picture for the world. I feel historical fiction allows reader to time travel and live in another time.

Q: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of the writing process?

A: Balancing life demands with writing. While writing Once Left the Field of Valor I had three kids, moved three times, spent nine months in Afghanistan, and worked full-time. Luckily, I’ve gained better understanding for how to squeeze in writing!

Q: And, conversely, the most rewarding?

A: I love watching characters develop and take on lives of their own. Certain characters such as Albert were initially supposed to have a minor role. As I wrote him through his back story, it became more elaborate and his impact on the story became crucial to the plot.

Q: How have your talents as a lyricist influenced your ear for writing dialogue?

A: Writing song lyrics forces the creator to hone in on the flow of the words. When writing dialogue, I always say it out aloud to test whether it sounds natural in a conversation. Just as with song lyrics, conversations are filled with slang and broken sentences. I’m hoping that my dialogues sound natural and don’t detract from the story.

Q: Tell us about the characters in your debut novel and which ones you most admired or despised.

A: There are so many characters that are close to my heart in this story. Aside from Damien and Emily, my favorite characters are without a doubt Madame and Albert. Their roles as supporting characters were instrumental in Damien’s journey. By far my least favorite character is Geordan. His brutish attitude and insufferable demeanor made him despicable but a necessary supporting character.

Q: Historical fiction often calls for in-depth research in order to make events ring “true” for one’s target audience. There’s always a risk, however, in either overstuffing a narrative with too many facts that make the text read like a history lesson or embroidering it with so many liberties as to deviate significantly from reality. Tell us about your own research strategies to embrace a plausible balance.

A: When researching the time period, I watched several movies, read books, and went to military museums to get an idea of what it was like to live in that time. I take great pride in getting the locations of major historical events correct and painting a scene that allows the reader to flawlessly fall into the book.

Q: The cornerstone of Once Left the Field of Valor is a bloodied letter penned by an enemy soldier to the one he loves. Is this letter’s hold on Damien of supernatural essence or is its impact all in his head?

A: There is some form of supernatural connection with the letter. Whether you call it fate, divine intervention, or a self-fulfilling prophecy, the letter is the key to Damien’s future.

Q: Favorite quote about redemption?

A: My favorite redemption quote comes from Lewis B. Smedes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” I think it’s such a powerful statement and really sheds light on the cycle of guilt that plagues many people.

Q: Like many authors, you decided to go the self-publishing route. What governed that choice?

A: Breaking into the traditional publishing scene is a difficult process. I felt that my story would resonate with readers and needed to be released without any further delay or bureaucracy.

Q: What did you learn about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Self-publishing can be a very tedious process. Properly formatting your document can be an ordeal. Overall, I do enjoy the creative freedom that self-publishing gives me.

Q: What are you doing to promote the book?

A: I have completed several written and podcast interviews, all of which can be viewed on my website rcsprague.com. In addition to interviews, I held a free eBook event in April and did a live reading on Facebook. I’m quite active on social media and can be found on Facebook and twitter @rcspraguewriter as well as @rcsprague on Instagram and Youtube.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from this story by the time they turn the last page?

A: I want readers to know that redemption is possible. A person can overcome their past and take back their destiny.

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

A: One of my “guilty pleasure” is singing along to showtunes.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: In July I’ll release my debut poetry collection, The Soul Behind the Mask. Additionally, I’m revising my second novel which is the first in a three-part series called Tales of a Toy Soldier. I hope to release part one of that series in spring/ summer 2020.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I just want to say thank you for the opportunity to conduct this interview and I hope everyone has enjoyed getting inside my head.

 

 

Think of Me

THINK OF ME Cover.jpg

When you’re single, separated, divorced or widowed, there’s no shortage of well-meaning friends wanting to fix you up with someone new. For Detective Josh Hartnell, it’s not just about finding romantic companionship for himself, it’s about finding a caring woman to be a mother to his little girl. Not every relationship, however, is a blissful match made in Heaven … as Josh is about to find out in Kat Schuessler’s new romantic suspense, Think of Me.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
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Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or were there other career paths percolating in your imagination when you were growing up?

A: When I was younger, I read Harriet the Spy and wanted to be a spy when I grew up. I was obsessed with spy gear and sneaking around. As I grew older, I realized the movie was more about Harriet being a writer than being a spy. Then I read the Harry Potter series and my yearning to be a writer increased.

Q: Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

A: The first thing I remember writing is a series of short stories featuring myself as “Super Kat” and my neighbors as the villains.

Q: What titles might we have found on your nightstand as an adolescent? As a teenager?

A: As an adolescent I was reading Harry Potter, Harriet the Spy, and Anne of Green Gables. As a teenager I read Stephen King books, the Series of Unfortunate Events series, Twilight (don’t judge haha), and all of the books I read as an adolescent.

Q: Which authors do you feel have had the most influence on your wordsmithing style?

A: I was definitely influenced by Kresley Cole and Stephen King. The snarkiness and backstory they give their characters always delights me and I strive to at least resemble their characters a little bit.

Q: What inspired you to start writing romance?

A: I first read A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole and became addicted to the whole series. It had never occurred to me that I could write so visually about sex and people would not only read it but enjoy it. I decided to try writing a sex scene and when it flowed so easily, I knew I had found my genre.

Q: If your own life were an existing romance novel or movie, what would it be (and why)?

A: Pick the most pathetic one you can think of and that’s it. You’re probably thinking Twilight but at least that included vampire action.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Pantser. I have tried to plot and I can barely stick to a timeline.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works in progress or do you make everyone wait until you have typed The End?

A: It really depends on the person but I tend to want to wait unless I hit a wall and need advice.

Q: Think of Me is part of a series. How did you come up with this title and the titles of your other books?

A: The first book was untitled until halfway through the book, and I just could not think of a name. I was watching Phantom of the Opera and a line from one of the songs stuck with me, so I decided to go with it. After that, I just tried to find more lines that made a good book title.

Q: What do you find to be the biggest challenge in creating a series as opposed to a standalone novel?

A: I always feel like I need to make the next book better than the last, and it’s a lot of pressure for me. I’m also unsure how much of a review of the last book I need to include.

Q: Who are your favorite and least favorite characters?

A: My favorite character is definitely Rory from No Backward Glances because she represented my past and how I wish I could have been. We both had dark times and contemplated suicide, and we both made it through, but she did it with more grace. She was also able to actually be with somebody she loved who helped her learn to trust again.

My least favorite character was Kelly, Rita’s roommate in Think of Me. I don’t think I spent enough time developing her character, and even though she was only a side character, I feel like I could have made her more interesting than I did.

Q: Are any of them patterned after people you know (including yourself)?

A: Almost all of my characters are patterned after people in my life, including my sisters, best friends, parents, nieces and nephews, lovers, and exes. I also tend to include a few inside jokes between the characters that I have with people in my life. It makes me feel closer to my characters.

Q: How does pop culture influence your writing?

A: I actually wouldn’t say it influences my writing. I just do my best to reference it as much as I can, because I feel like it not only makes people laugh, but it connects my readers to my characters by giving them something in common. This is also why I try to write speech the way it’s usually spoken, including slang words, despite the fact that a lot of professional writers frown on this. Real people don’t speak with perfect grammar; they use slang and speak easily, and it’s instantly relatable.

Q: How do you ensure that pop culture references won’t “date” your material down the road?

A: I do my best to choose references that are iconic enough that people will always understand them. I also try to throw in some that are mildly obscure but hit little niches of people that get excited about their fandom being mentioned.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to experiment with in your path as a writer?

A: Although I don’t have any experience with it, I would love to try writing a lesbian romance. I feel like it would be enough of a challenge to keep me interested.

Q: Ever had writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?

A: I have writer’s block a lot. I actually have a really odd treatment for it:  I watch the movie Bag of Bones, which is an adaptation of Stephen King’s book by the same name. It contains a writer who has writer’s block and he finds a way to overcome it. Watching his joy as he finds his ability to write again always inspires me to get going so I can try to find that joy.

Q: What’s your greatest weakness when it comes to writing?

A: My greatest weakness is definitely coming up with my blurb and synopsis. I find it very difficult to sum up a 60,000 word novel in just a couple of paragraphs, all without giving too much away.

Q: Like many authors today, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. What governed that choice and what do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I chose to self-publish mainly out of necessity. I would much rather publish traditionally but it seems to be a dying art. What I know now is that my dream of seeing my book on a literal store bookshelf is probably never going to happen because technology has taken over. I’m very old fashioned when it comes to books.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10 years? 20 years?

A: I have a really bad feeling that print books are going to disappear and ebooks will be the only format. I really hope that isn’t the case but that’s the way the world seems to be going.

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

A: The only thing I can think of is that I have been learning American Sign Language and have really been enjoying it. I’m definitely not fluent but I believe I could hold a conversation.

Q: Best advice to fellow authors?

A: Edit. Edit. Edit some more. Then put the book aside for a while, maybe a month or so, then re-read it and edit again. Finally, have somebody else proofread it. When you’re that close to your book, you’re going to miss a lot of errors because your eyes will just slide over it.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m trying to work on a third book but with my daughter running around like a maniac it’s hard to find time to write.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: First, thank you to my readers for reading my books, whether you enjoy them or not. The very idea that you read a novel that I wrote astounds me and I am so grateful for the time and money it took to buy and read it. Second, I want to encourage everybody to remember that, even with technology encroaching on our lives, nothing will ever be better than holding a physical book in your hand, turning the pages, and inhaling that classic smell. There is no battery on a book. And if we keep buying and reading physical books at least as much as, if not more than, ebooks, they might just stick around.

 

 

Black and Single Blues

Black and Single Blues Cover

You think finding the love of your life is hard? Try keeping her. Keith Jackson is a globe-trotting guitarist in great demand and with legions of ladies along the line. When he crosses paths with Lesli—a woman who wondrously stops his life dead in its tracks—it looks as if a happily-ever-after will be in the cards for both of them. Or will it? 

Minnesota novelist, essayist and playwright Dwight Hobbes offers a sneak peek into his new release, Black & Single Blues, and shares thoughts on his journey as a savvy wordsmith.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: With a long list of credits to your name in Essence, Reader’s Digest, The Washington Post, The San Diego-Union Tribune, guest appearances on public radio and television, and theatrical expertise at The Loft and The Playwrights Center, it seems a natural segue to your latest passion for the world of book publishing. Such success, however, never happens overnight. What was your own journey like insofar as getting the stories in your head in front of a paying readership?

A: Tough. Essence took about two years to buy a short story and, aside from placing a play, “You Can’t Always Sometimes Never Tell” in a reasonably successful anthology, Center Stage, it was all queries and rejection slips from 1980 to 1992. Went through a marriage to a lovely, very disillusioned young lady. Frank Sinatra sang that if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. Doesn’t necessarily mean you can make it in New York, where the assistant to the editor probably has an assistant. The Twin Cities is a much smaller, very different world. Being rejected wasn’t nearly as coldly impersonal and you had a significantly greater chance of catching on. At the magazines, newspapers. Even book publishers. Something I Said (collected essays on domestic abuse, rape, race and more) I was able to pitch to Papyrus Publishing by calling Anura Si-Asar and having coffee. Made a magazine sale a year after I got here, then newspapers and haven’t stopped since. It’s been fat, sometimes lean but it’s steady. Never gone without some kind of check whether it’s big or small.

Q: Who are some of the authors you admired from adolescence and into adulthood, and what insights did you glean from them in shaping your own successful career?

A: Well, I cut my teeth on James Baldwin and Chester Himes as a teenager. Later, John A. Williams, Ann Petry, Zora Neal Hurston. Insights?  I’ve never tackled the same subjects as any of them but did thoroughly digest their styles. Doubted myself for that until I saw that Baldwin, one of my greatest heroes, parroted Carson McCullers. Literally. After ages, I actually arrived at my own voice but even the most original pen is going to echo some influence.

Q: How did you feel the first time your saw your name in print? Was it a surprise or an expectation?

A: The greatest surprise was that Essence contract. It’s like, “What do they mean by ‘Yes.’?”  It was staring me in the face and I still couldn’t believe it. Not only was I going to be in a national magazine but the only black one that ran fiction. Negro Digest had died years before and you have to understand, it was decades before opportunities got better. I just sat there, making myself believe it was real.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Black & Single Blues?

A: The story in Essence. Which had been an attempt at an essay, really, debunking true love as a pleasant fantasy. Wound up trying it as fiction and that worked. It was still cynical until the weekly, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, a few years ago, needed a romance to serialize.  In the process, it became hopeful because, frankly, I welcomed a break from coming up with caustic commentary week in, week out and wanted to do something on the lighter side. Shoot-from-the-hip sardonic but good-natured, put a smile-on-your-face fun.

Q: With whom will its storyline most strongly resonate?

A: I’ve said, you don’t have to be black, single or have to the blues to enjoy it, but, yeah, it resonates best with black women. Those who, for instance, like Lifetime but want to see someone who looks like them and has a good profession. Lesli, the female lead, is a head librarian, what you could call a sexy nerd. She’s self-possessed, intelligently articulate and, of course, hot as a sunburn. Keith, the male lead, is an easy-going, fun-loving guitarist who comes across her and is just blindsided by this fascinating woman. It affords readers a seldom seen look into the heart and mind of a man in love.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast for this book?

A: I suppose Paula Patton. And if there’s a youngish Denzel floating around out there somewhere.

Q: Are you a plotter or a pantser? And why does this approach work well for you?

A: Had to look pantser up. No, if I don’t know where my story’s going to go, I’ll be lucky to ever get there. Before writing the first word, I need to decide how things will end. How they begin. In-between, sure, that’s a free-for-all, nudging here and there, letting the characters – you have to create them solidly enough – allowing their behavior to carry the action.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of developing the plot and characters?

A: I have to care about the people in order to convincingly create them. Know them inside and out. Well enough to give them each spontaneous behavior and distinct dialogue. The plot, the story has to be something readers or an audience finds an interesting experience. Something they’ll feel.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works-in-progress or do you make them wait until after you have typed THE END?

A: Nope. Nobody reads nothin’ ‘til it’s done.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work and what was the takeaway from that experience?

A: With Essence where else was I going to go?  They owned the market. The plays, you just keep knocking on doors until one opens. Of course, you don’t send dramas to a shop that specializes in comedy. You open up the old trusty Writers Market and see who’s looking for what. Black & Single Blues lucked out. I knew Shelley from reviewing her novels, which is how we originally came across on another. She doesn’t even do romantic fiction but asked to look at it, anyway. And liked it.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10-20 years?

A: With all the advent of electronic this and that, e-books, I-Pads, what have you, God alone knows. I do have a sneaking suspicion that just like even the biggest big chains, let alone small, independent stores that have gone out of business, have run into serious trouble selling something you can hold in your hand and turn the pages of, it’s conceivable actual books could become obsolete. Not a good thing

Q: Why do you write?

A: It’s a cliché but it’s true. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. When it’s something to which you’re naturally suited you don’t, to coin another corny phrase, choose it. It chooses you.

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

A: That I started out reading comic books and that’s how I got hooked on books. And, these days, I thoroughly enjoy, am engrossed in Warriors. A children’s book series about clans of kitty cats adventuring in the wild.

Q: What are your best tips for aspiring writers in terms of (1) being an original voice, (2) not giving up, and (3) dealing with rejection?

A: Being original ironically calls for first finding a style you admire. You learn to speak by hearing someone else’s voice. From childhood, y’ know?  Eventually your own way of walking and talking through a story will develop. Not giving up?  What can I say, you have to refuse to lose. Have the attitude that if you ever fail, you’ll never know it because you’ll have died trying. Rejection is easier to deal with in love and life than it is in writing and dealing with it in love and life is plenty tough. With writing, you can get turned down because you don’t have the chops or simply because your material isn’t what they’re buying. And never know which reason it was. Just that you got turned down. It can be, and my ex-wife told me this, entirely arbitrary. Which is the God’s honest truth. I found out, a couple years after the Essence sale, that it happened because Marcia Ann Guillespie peeked at the editor’s desk, saw it sitting in the rejection pile and overruled her. Had she been looking left instead of right as she went past, that would’ve been that. Ultimately, you have to develop a thick skin. It helps keep your morale up to always have something out there on somebody’s desk. That way, you’re always giving yourself a chance.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Working on two manuscripts before I get to the three waiting behind them. A Black Life On The Great White Way, memoir of ushering 20 years at Historic Theater Group/Hennepin Theatre Trust, a company that brings Broadway seasons to Minneapolis. The book is sort of a Backstairs at the White House only instead of historic drama, you get a nonetheless engaging tale of some entertaining trials and tribulations. And Ella Stanley, a play based on Effa Manley, the Negro Baseball Leagues’ only female owner who, in the late 40’s, refused to sit down somewhere, shut up, be a pretty face and let men handle things. She was a savvy businesswoman and community crusader way ahead of her time. Who, however, like the men, lost her livelihood when Branch Rickey and, after him, the rest of Major League Baseball, raided black clubs for talent like Jackie Robinson. That’s social progress for you.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Www.dwighthobbes.weebly.com. That’s about it. Marcie Rendon, a former student, successful writer and good friend, tried to do a bio on Wikipedia but found the rules and regulations too tricky. Of course, there’s always Facebook.