Death Unmasked

death-unmasked-rick-sulik

One of the sweet dreams of a reincarnation belief is that we will continue to be reunited with the souls of those we loved. Conversely, a nightmare of that same tableau is a cyclical encounter with our worst enemies and the inherent challenges of dealing with the dark side of any unfinished business.

A Houston homicide detective investigates his, and his wife’s murder … in his next lifetime. Such is the premise of Rick Sulik’s Death Unmasked, a novel of reincarnation, retribution and timeless love.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who or what had the biggest influence on your personal style?

A:  I have high admiration, and give much credit for my personal style, of knowing who I am, where I came from, and where I am going, to my loving parents during my growing-up, and self-awareness years. My parents taught me to believe in myself, and I learned to develop a can-do, positive, and constructive attitude, so that I would be able to accomplish whatever I set my mind on doing in life. They were my main inspiration.

Q: What were you doing career-wise prior to penning your first novel?

A:  I spent thirty-nine years in law enforcement before retiring in 2013.

Q: How did your real-life career experiences shape your approach to the challenges and discipline of writing fiction?

A:  It was a challenge to switch from ‘descriptive’ police report ‘fact’ writing, to, ‘creative’ and colorful, ‘story-telling’ novel writing. It took true grit, and I completed my story, the way I saw fit, without outside influence or interference.

Q: Where did you find the inspiration to write Death Unmasked?

A:  Music – These three inspiring, and entrancing tunes dramatize the storyline in, Death Unmasked, ‘Greensleeves,’ by Mantovani, ‘Think of Laura,’ sung by, Christopher Cross, and ‘Mary in the Morning,’ sung by, Al Martino.

* Oscar Wilde’s Disquieting Poem – ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Jail).’

* My belief in Reincarnation.

Q: I love the title! Does it hold special meaning for you?

A:  Yes. When it’s quiet, I like to mediate, and within a few minutes, my free, and lighter than a feather, ‘spirit,’ is floating in the center of the cosmos. Now, close your eyes, clear your mind, and meditate. Let your ‘mem’-ory, shine through the darkness, so you can, re-‘mem’-ber. As strange as it may seem, I didn’t choose the title, Death Unmasked, it chose me, and, the reincarnation story was written, ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye.’

Q: So what is Death Unmasked about?

A:  Death Unmasked, is a suspenseful, mystery police thriller spanning lifetimes, using reincarnation, karma, psychic ability, remote viewing, and out-of-body experience to out-wit an evil incarnated entity stalking women in, Houston, Texas.

Q: You describe its genre as “Romance / Mystery / Suspense / Thriller / Police Procedural / Urban / Fantasy / Paranormal / Supernatural / Poetry.” If it were found on the shelves of a traditional bookstore, though, where would it most likely be located?

A:  A copy of, Death Unmasked, would be found on the shelves, in the following book sections:  Romance / Mystery / Suspense / Thriller / Police Procedural / History / Urban / Fantasy / Paranormal / Supernatural / Past Lives / Poetry.

(Editorial Comment: We are assuming the author is being facetious in this reply. Unlike a virtual platform where novels can be categorized with a long list of tags, a traditional bookstore has a finite amount of shelf-space. It’s unrealistic to suggest—and especially to aspiring writers—that multiple copies of the same title would be found in a dozen different sections of the store. This is also critical to keep in mind for those of you pitching your own projects to agents or publishers. While many books certainly contain aspects of multiple genres, the objective is to define which genre is the predominant one.)

Q: Who is your target readership?

A:  High School – Adult.

Q: Given its reincarnation theme, is reincarnation something you personally believe in? If so, how did this belief come about?

A:  I believe in reincarnation. When I was young, my mom and I would walk a mile in the evenings after dinner around a lake near our home. On our last walk together before she passed away, she looked up at me, and said with a sweet smile, “If I had to do it all over again for you, and your brothers, I would.” Instinctively, without her saying another word, the knowing look in her beautiful hazel eyes communicated her thoughts, and it all came together ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye,’ and I fully understood what my mom had meant. She had been my mother in other lifetimes.

Q: Do you plan to come back in your next lifetime? If so, as what?

A:  As a, – human being, of course. In the very beginning of time, all ‘spirits’ were created at one time, and baptized at the same time in the ‘spirit’ world by Our Creator. All spirits have their own ‘personality,’ or ‘identity.’ When a spirit uses their ‘free-will’ and incarnates to the ‘physical’ world as a human being to experience a lifetime, or lifetimes, they have their own individual ‘fingerprint,’ what the Chinese call, a ‘chop,’ or mark, which is their signature that identifies their unique spirit  from another spirit. That ‘fingerprint’ belongs to them, and only to them, each and every time their spirit decides to incarnate to ‘physical’ earth. From the very beginning of time, we were all ‘identified,’ and keep only one set of ‘physical’ fingerprints – – – for eternity. We cannot learn, ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye,’ all about life in one lifetime. It takes many lifetimes for our spirits to evolve, and come around full-circle, in order to become completed spirits with Our Creator.

Q: Tell us about your main characters in the book. Did they spring forth from your imagination or are they modeled after real people (including yourself)?

A:  The protagonist, Sean Jamison, and his police colleagues, Roman Addison, and Captain Virginia Schaeffer, are a combination of police personalities (veterans) of all my Houston Police Department, Field Training Officers (FTO’s), during my training / probationary period in the late 70’s.

Q: What were some of the challenges you encountered in developing the plot, the characters and their interactions?

A:  I wrote from my daily experiences, and on-the-job training, in those thirty-nine years of service.

Q: Did you work from an outline or just wing it from day to day?

A:  My mind started in the middle of, Death Unmasked. At night, I would type chapters until a fog, or, ‘writer’s block,’ kept me from advancing. I would then ‘change tactics,’ and start writing chapters in the beginning, and continued typing towards the middle of the book. You probably heard the military saying – ‘Improvise, adapt, and overcome.’ I wanted to write, Death Unmasked, in a different writing style from the norm, and I tried to keep the story rolling along at a fast clip.

Q: Is there a hidden message in the story that you would like to convey to interested readers?

A:  There are no hidden messages. It’s all laid out in black-and-white. At the conclusion of the story, the reader should be able to decide for themselves in the comfort, and in the silence of their sanctuary, if the story convinced them that reincarnation – is a reality.

Q: When and where are you at your most creative?

A:  When I’m in my element. I can switch it on, or off, as I please – anywhere.

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

A:  I’m a fallible human being, no better, no different than another earthly human being, and my blood is the color red.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your work?

A:  It took many painstaking hours of searching. Tenacity finally prevailed. I finally found the light switch in the very dark and empty room.

Q: What are you doing to market it?

A:  I hope, Christina, your blog will attract many interested readers, and book clubs to read, Death Unmasked, and that everyone will enjoy discussing, and learning something new, and be inspired by my intriguing reincarnation story.

Q: Any new projects in the works?

A:   None. I’m retired and a senior citizen. I’m enjoying life at a much slower pace these days. There are no more schedules for me to keep up with. My motto – Live life to its fullest, and forget your age. I now have more time to stop and smell the roses. I might consider penning another book in my next incarnation – somewhere down the road, and over the next hill, in the not so near future, and only when I decide the time is right, to use my God gifted free-will again.

Q: What’s your best advice to aspiring writers?

A:  I will quote Richard Bach, author of, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Q: Where can readers find your book?

A:   www.christophermatthewspub.com

Amazon Link:  http://amzn.to/2r2LpFI

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27510127-death-unmasked?fromsearch=true

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I thought it interesting, since Army General George S. Patton Jr., (born 11-11-1885) believed in reincarnation, that his Warrior ‘spirit,’ in foresight, would choose to incarnate (Free-Will) back into the ‘physical’ on the date, 11-11. General Patton’s poem, ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’ is evident of his resolute belief in reincarnation. I quote, “So as through a glass and darkly, the age long strife I see, where I fought in many guises, many names, but always me.” To Patton, who strongly believed in God, the date 11-11, might symbolize ‘spirits’ re-entering the ‘physical’ (earth) by way of the top left inside 11, and eventually departing by way of the lower right inside 11, back to the ‘spirit’ world, only to be ‘reborn’ again (a cycle) at some future date by using – The All Merciful Father’s (God) greatest gift to humanity – ‘Free-Will.’ At 11:00 am, of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, WWI came to an end, and it was to be the war that would end all wars. Patton lived half of his adult life at this point in history. General Patton’s Warrior ‘Spirit’ might have foreseen, before reincarnating on his latest birthday, 11-11-1885, that years after WWII, his birthday (November 11) would be remembered as a National Holiday, and would honor all veterans, and that Armistice Day, would be eventually changed to – Veterans Day.

Thank you very much, Christina, for taking time out from your busy schedule to do this  interview.

 

 

 

 

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The Chandler Affairs

GWRenshaw

Who among us hasn’t enjoyed the challenge of playing armchair detective and vicariously solving crimes? In his paranormal mystery series, The Chandler Affairs, author G.W. Renshaw invites readers to learn from the sleuthing skills of his Canadian private investigator protagonist, Veronica Chandler—an intrepid young woman whose professional cases and personal life are weirder than she could ever have imagined.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What an eclectic background you have! A gunner in the Canadian forces, medieval skills gleaned from the Society for Creative Anachronisms, a Search and Rescue manager, a spelunker, a Linux druid (and okay I have absolutely no idea what that last one entails). With all of these things in your arsenal of talents, how and why did you make the time for writing?

A: A lot of these are in my past, which helps with time management. As to why I became a writer—I’ve always been an avid reader, but there are stories I’d like to read that nobody has written yet. It’s a case of “if you want something done, do it yourself.”

Q: Which of your skill sets figures the most prominently in The Chandler Affairs?

A: The biggest ones are investigation, counseling, martial arts, and cooking.

I learned investigative techniques from Search and Rescue, where we often found ourselves collecting evidence in the field, securing potential crime scenes, and interviewing witnesses. The Calgary Police Service has a three-month course for civilians that covers the operation of every branch of the service. I have the Canadian Private Investigator’s Handbook, and taken mantracking from Terry Grant (the original TV Mantracker).

My lovely wife and I are both trained critical incident stress counselors, which means we work with victims of traumatic incidents helping them avoid PTSD. Some of the techniques used by Dr. MacMillan in the books come from that background.

As for my PI’s fighting skill, I’d have loved to have her share my black belt in Aikido, but it’s not an easy art to describe and it’s difficult for her to start a fight. I could have gone with karate, in which I have a blue belt, but Krav Maga is more exotic and fits her personality better.

I’ve been cooking ever since I was eleven years old, and I love exploring new cuisines. At the moment a friend in Finland is helping me explore Bulgarian food. Guess where Veronica gets her passion for the kitchen?

Q: What attracted you to the paranormal mystery genre?

A: Oddly enough, it was more or less by accident. Several friends of mine were having a good time writing mysteries, and it sounded like fun. Of course, I wanted to do something different.

I created my investigator and started writing short stories about her adventures. Then things became surreal for her. I realized that her story was too complex for short stories, and started planning the novels instead. Most fictional paranormal investigators are also magical practitioners of some kind. In keeping with being unique, my investigator not only has zero magical talent, but doesn’t believe that the paranormal exists. It’s a lot of fun feeding her red herrings as she tries to put her understanding of reality back together.

Q: Your protagonist in the series is a Canadian private investigator named Veronica Chandler. Why did you choose to write in the voice of a female rather than a male?

A: There’s a conventional wisdom that people only want to read books with protagonists of their own gender. My experience in talking to people over the years is that this is nonsense. It doesn’t matter to most people what characters are as long as the story and the characters are gripping. The traditional fictional private investigator is a 50ish, male, ex-cop, perpetually in debt, and has a bottle of scotch in his desk and/or an ex-wife. The male viewpoint is over-represented. There are several amateur female sleuths (Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Veronica Mars, Nancy Drew, for example) but I wanted to give people a woman who broke with tradition and was a competent professional and normal, well-rounded individual.

I also wanted to explore some of the issues that women face in a male-dominated world. It was enlightening to ask women for their thoughts and feelings on a variety of subjects, and then incorporate that research into the story. I’ve had young female readers tell me that, although they don’t want to be Veronica, some of her struggles in coming to terms with life have inspired them to examine how they handle their own lives. That gives me a lot of joy.

Q: What are some of Veronica’s unique traits that she brings to the table?

A: For one thing, dolls completely freak her out. Her parents encouraged her to read whatever she wanted as a child, which makes her more mature than her years would suggest, at least in a theoretical way. Sometimes reality trips her up. Veronica is really impatient and extremely stubborn. She’s discovering that her sexuality is more complex than she initially thought. Professionally, she’s been investigating since she uncovered the truth about Santa Claus when she was eight. Her mother arranged for her to do an unpaid internship with the Calgary Police, and she took the investigator’s course online while she was in high school. She’s very young for a licensed PI. Eventually she’ll find herself in situations she could never have imagined in her wildest dreams, with no real option but to rise to the occasion. Despite what many believe, courage and leadership are learned traits.

Q: How is The Chandler Affairs different from other private investigator series?

A: Firstly, Veronica earns her PI license at 18, which as far as I know is only possible in Alberta. The real trick was to give her a background that made this not only possible, but plausible. Sometimes her age trips her up, as one might expect. Veronica lives with Canadian law. She can’t carry a gun. She does carry a licensed tactical baton and has considerable Krav Maga skills. Her mother is a homicide detective, but Veronica can’t just call her up to run a license plate for her because of our information privacy laws. Any help she gets from her police contacts has to be oblique at best so nobody loses their job.

I’m a cruel writer. Most of the problems she faces must be solved with intelligence and cunning rather than violence. Each book presents a different problem for her, but they all fit into the overall arc of the series. Her biggest question isn’t who-dunnit, but rather what-the-heck-is-going-on-here.

Q: Do you have recurring characters who assist or thwart Veronica’s efforts?

A: Her mother and father, Janet and Quin, are loving parents who eventually support her decision to become a PI. Janet wants her to become a “real” police officer, and Quin wants her to take over his restaurant when he retires. He’s the one who taught her to be a chef.

Her best friend/adopted sister is Kali, formally known as Liliana Marina Hernandéz Rojas. She transferred to a Calgary school when her family moved from Colombia. She owns an occult shop and tries to help Veronica make sense of the things she encounters.

Beleth and Sitri are demons. So are a lot of their friends. Need I say more?

Q: What governed your decision to write a series rather than a stand-alone title?

A: Originally I planned to write some short stories about Veronica’s cases, but once I started coming up with ideas it became obvious that her overall story is too epic for a collection or a single book. She’s definitely on a complex journey.

Q: What are some of the challenges or benefits you’ve encountered in developing series fiction?

A: The challenge that trips up a lot of people is continuity. Without meticulous notes and pre-planning (yes, I’m a plotter) it’s far too easy to contradict something you said in an earlier volume, or to forget a dangling subplot. Some readers won’t start a series until it is complete. I can understand that, although I don’t do it myself. On the other hand, publishers tend to like a series that is planned because they know that if the first book is a success there is more money to be made. Another benefit is that each story has a natural length. Some can be told in a few thousand words, some in a hundred thousand, and some in not fewer than a million.

Q: How long do you envision this series continuing?

A: At the moment, I’m planning on about ten books in the series. It depends on how long it takes to tell the full story. I’m a plotter, but I’m also open to the characters telling me to pursue side streets that are important to them.

Q: Can the books be read out of order or do they have to be read sequentially?

A: The reader will be happiest reading them in order simply because there is an overall arc. Each book is relatively independent, but there will always be details that were covered earlier that might cause some confusion.

Q: Tell us about the research involved in bringing The Chandler Affairs to life.

A: I over-research everything. The Chandler Affairs takes place in Calgary, which is where I live, so geographical research isn’t too much trouble. If Veronica goes to a specific restaurant, you can be sure it really exists and is good as she says. I did as much research as I could about Colombian culture, politics, geology, and language before writing scenes with Kali and her parents. Then I had a Colombian friend read them to make sure I got the details right. One funny thing happened when I needed Kali to be really angry with Veronica. I handed an outline of the situation to my friend for translation, and he gave it to his wife because, “she’s much better at swearing than I am.”

For The Kalevala Affair I had to do a huge amount of research: Finnish mythology and law enforcement; Swedish history and libraries; Polish history, geography, geology, and universities; volcanoes, Korean airports, Austrian tourist attractions, Slovakian history. The scene where Veronica goes to a random concert was serendipity: a friend I asked about Finnish highway signs turned out to have been in that concert. I’d never heard of Nightwish before and now the band is reading the book and I’m friends with their music teacher. He’s originally from Bulgaria and we talk about food at lot.

Q: Did/do your characters ever surprise you over the course of developing their story?

A: Wow, did they ever. Beleth was initially a one-time character in the first book. As is typical of her, she took over when I wasn’t looking. Constable Holley had some background I wasn’t aware of and Constable Watkins had some interesting extra-curricular activities. Sitri turned out to be pivotal and he has his own story (and sweetheart) that leads to a lot of running around and screaming.

Q: What are some of the tools and techniques you use in your writing?

A: I use Xubuntu Linux as my operating system because it lets me do anything I can imagine. Just so you know, Windows has wizards but Linux has druids. All of my writing is done with LibreOffice with a few extensions (LanguageTool, Alternative Searching, Template Changer, and about a dozen extra language dictionaries). Every time I find a grammatical error that isn’t covered by LanguageTool I write a new rule to fix it, including my bad stylistic habits. I also created a proofreading mode that makes that task easier.

Once the books are designed, templates are built so I can write my drafts exactly as they will appear in print. That way I can work on the content, but also the presentation at the same time. We can then switch templates to format the ebook version. It saves a lot of time and effort as well as looking really cool while I’m writing.

I use other free software for various tasks. Inkscape and The GIMP for graphics; Calibre and Sigil for reading, creating, and fixing ebooks; Celtx for writing screenplays; Marble which is an open-source atlas and gazetteer; and Stellarium which shows me the sky from any planet for any date within the past or future 100,000 years. I’ve also written a few custom programs for creating minor character names and alien languages.

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

A: Except for asking specific people to vet certain scenes/facts, I make them wait.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would be your dream Veronica?

A: Tatiana Maslany, star of (and half the characters in) Orphan Black. She’s an utterly brilliant actor with the skills for the action scenes and the talent for everything else. I’ve seen her play characters anywhere from 16 to 30s. Tatiana would be awesome. Besides, she’s Canadian.

Q: What do you wish you’d known when you started writing that you know now?

A: I wish I’d known how to write. Most of us have bad habits in our speech, such as starting a statement with “I think” that get in the way when we start writing. Except in special circumstances such as “I think you need to reconsider how much respect you show the boss,” it doesn’t make a character sound humble. Just weak and indecisive. It would also have been nice to understand the publishing industry instead of tripping over things I didn’t know. Of course, that’s the problem with being a beginner—you don’t know what you don’t know.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your work?

A: I tried pitching to a medium-sized publisher, but their list was full for the next two years. Rather than waiting, I pitched to one of the Big Five, and got a lot of interest, but there was some internal reorganization and the people who were interested moved on before things got to the contract stage. Rather than re-pitch to them, I pitched to a small press who were looking for a project and was accepted. Sometimes it’s all in the timing.

Q: You also maintain a website called When Words Collide. What’s it about?

A: When Words Collide is an annual festival for readers and writers in Calgary, Alberta. We’re currently working on our eighth edition. We get about 750 people coming, and we’ve sold out early the past few years. Unlike most literary conventions, we cover the interests of both readers and writers with a huge amount of programming, and we cover everything that has to do with the written word: poetry, screenplays, short stories, literary forms, and novels. We don’t do film, TV, or media guests.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Books five and six of The Chandler Affairs, tentatively titled The Diplomatic Affair, and The Private Investigator’s Cooking Course. The latter will be the textbook for the cooking course one of Veronica’s friends suggested she teach. It won’t be the typical one-theme cookbook, but rather present all the dishes Veronica has cooked along with explanations of the techniques involved.

I’m also starting work on a stand-alone steampunk-horror novel that’s been stewing for a while.

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

A: At my web site: gwrenshaw.ca; or on Facebook at GWRenshaw. If you are at an event that I’m attending (such as When Words Collide) come and say hi. I love to talk to readers.

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Megan Edwards

GooFS-Cover

“Every wall is a door,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you swap out the word wall for obstacle, it’s as true to life as you get. Whether it’s the sensation of feeling boxed in, running up against impediments, banging your head repeatedly, or simply not knowing what’s on the other side, a wall can either curtail your journey or provide a chance to forge your own detour. For Megan Edwards, the fire that completely destroyed her home subsequently became the spark of imagination that led to the smokin’ hot keyboard she has today as a published author. Getting Off on Frank Sinatra is the launch book of her new mystery series.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: If we could time-travel and visit the bedroom of your 10-year-old self, what might its contents—and bedside reading material—have revealed about your career dreams of the future?

A: At ten, I was living in Berkeley, California. One book I read that year was Ishi: Last of his Tribe, the partly fictionalized story of the last Yahi Indian who lived in San Francisco until his death in 1916. I loved going to the anthropology museum at the university and thought I might one day become an anthropologist or archaeologist. I did later study classical archaeology, although I never worked in the field professionally. Also that year, I was confined to bed for a couple of months with an illness that was never diagnosed. While recuperating, I read a book about bookbinding. I wrote, illustrated, and bound my own book, a story about a rabbit that gave everyone else gifts but never received any. It wasn’t a great story, and the binding was far from professional, but I guess it was technically my first book!

Q: What advice would the adult you give now to that 10-year-old self?

A: Keep that inquiring mind! Don’t let anybody force or nudge you in directions you don’t want to go, just because they’re safe, respectable, or normal.

Q: Who would you say had the most influence on the person you grew up to be? A favorite memory to share?

A: My mother always got great books for me to read and encouraged me to pursue a wide range of interests. She gave me Ishi: Last of His Tribe when it was first released. “I think you’ll like this,” she said, and she was so right. I was enthralled. She also encouraged and provided for my artistic tendencies.

Q: In what way(s) did your study of Greek and Latin in school shape your outlook about the human condition … and the challenges of wordsmithing those views into something that would one day captivate readers?

A: I am grateful to have a familiarity with Greek and Latin literature and language, not so much because I agree with what those cultures valued and promoted, but because they have been so influential in shaping the world we live in today. I’ve always loved words, grammar, and etymology. A background in Latin and Greek has given me a sort of “operating system” I draw from all the time.

Q: Are there particular books that truly resonate with you and/or authors whose work you admire?

A: As a child, I loved C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books. I still admire his storytelling brilliance. Three books I admire right now are Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen, and The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. The first is an amazing tour de force that is sadly underappreciated because the film version featuring Marilyn Monroe has completely overshadowed it. The second is the best memoir I’ve ever read. I admire the third because it’s an enthralling story about a horrible topic: the Black Death. In spite of the gloomy subject matter, the story conveys a message of hope and has the best ending of any novel I’ve ever read. While it’s difficult to choose just a few titles when there are so many fabulous books, these rise to the top of my list right now.

Q: What did you learn about yourself from the devastating experience of becoming “stuffless” when your home totally burned to the ground in 1993 and you had to start over?

A: I’m still learning from that experience! One realization that appeared rapidly is that “stuff” had been keeping me from doing things I longed to do. In the years since, “stuff” has once again accumulated, but my relationship with it is utterly different. In a nutshell, it was my boss before the fire. Now, I’m the boss. I now prize access over ownership. I’m not quite a true minimalist, but I admire the concept and lean toward it. We’re all only visitors on earth, and the platitude is correct: you can’t take it with you. I’ve learned that I like seeing myself as a traveler through life, and that I like to travel light. I will admit, however, that I’m a virtual hoarder. My digital attic never runs out of space!

Q: One of the positive outcomes of that tragedy was the development of your first book, a travel memoir called Roads from the Ashes. Were you actually writing notes the whole time on the road or did the concept for the book not come together until you finally settled into a home without wheels and a windshield?

A: I did keep a journal while traveling, but the idea of writing a book came after we’d been on a roll for a couple of years. When we first set out, we never dreamed our journey would last as long as it did, and it took a while for me to realize that the beginning stages of the Internet revolution were a fascinating time to be traveling the continent and possibly worth writing about. When we hit the road in 1994, email was just becoming ubiquitous. In 1996, my husband and I launched our first website, roadtripamerica.com. It’s older than Google, which may be the reason we did at times feel like pioneers. I wrote the book toward the end of our odyssey, and it was published just before we decided to make Las Vegas our home.

Q: Tell us about Marvin, the road dog.

A: Marvin was a white cockapoo. Or maybe he was a bichon. Because he was a rescue, we never knew for sure, but he was white and fluffy, and he didn’t shed. He was very friendly, and he loved our motorhome—when it was parked. He definitely preferred being settled to being in motion, but he was a good sport and wore his own special seatbelt without complaint when we were on a roll. He could be a scoundrel, of course, like the time he chased a mule deer through a campground in western Oregon or the time he disrupted an entire newsroom in Staten Island. Good thing he was cute!

When we finally settled in Las Vegas, we called our new house Marvin’s Resort. He loved it because 1. It didn’t move, and 2. It had a pool with a shallow beach area. Marvin wasn’t a swimmer, but he loved basking.

Q: Marriage is all about compromise, especially cohabiting a tiny place. I’m trying to fathom what it must have been like for you and your husband to share an RV (and miniscule closet space!) without driving each other crazy. How did you manage to make it work?

A: We had about 200 square feet of living space, so yes, some negotiation was required. Early on, I remember showing a visitor around and saying, “We don’t have much space, so we have to get along.” The man replied, “Honey, when you aren’t getting along, the whole world isn’t big enough.” He was so right, and there were times my husband and I did drive each other crazy. Thankfully, we worked it all out, and those negotiations still govern how we live together now. One thing about a motorhome that helps make up for the lack of interior space is that you can move it. Having a backyard the size of North America makes a big difference.

Q: You originally went to Las Vegas for a six-week stay. Seventeen years later, you’re still there. How did this come about, and what’s the principal attraction that happily keeps you there?

A: We were still living in our motorhome when I finished writing my travel memoir and decided to try my hand at fiction. The protagonist in the novel I began writing had to be a Las Vegas native. As I wrote, drawing from my limited, biased, and heavily stereotypical knowledge of southern Nevada, I realized I would never be able to craft an authentic character and backstory without spending some time in her hometown. So, off to Las Vegas we drove, thinking that a week or two—six at the most—would be more than enough time for me to learn everything I needed to know about a city I was sure I would dislike. We found a pretty nice RV park on Boulder Highway, I bought myself a bus pass, and I proceeded to learn what I could about Las Vegas beyond the neon.

Whenever you spend time getting to know a person or a place in depth, your opinion changes. In the case of me and Las Vegas, mine quickly changed for the better. As I rode every bus line to the end, wandered around neighborhoods I never knew existed, and took a hike or two in Red Rock Canyon, I got over being surprised and started wanting more. I was also discovering the city’s amazing libraries at the time and reading up on its unique history. I feel fortunate that my husband and I both felt like we’d found a home after we’d been here a month or so. But—if someone had told us nearly seven years before when we left Pasadena, California that we would drive all over the continent and then decide to live permanently in Las Vegas, I would have said, “Never!”

Q: A lot of people have impressions about Las Vegas based on what they’ve seen in movies—many of which involve glittering casinos, scantily attired showgirls and Bugsy-esque mobsters. What was the most surprising thing you discovered about Sin City once you actually became part of its population?

A: Las Vegas is the most conservative place I’ve ever lived. I shouldn’t have been surprised—Las Vegas was founded by Mormons and boasts the largest Mormon population outside of Salt Lake City. Although expanding population has changed things, the city used to have the highest number of churches per capita in the country. Another feature that surprised me is its large Hawaiian community. Hawaiians call Las Vegas “the ninth island.”

Q: Las Vegas is the setting for the debut book in your mystery series. Is it just because you live there and are familiar with it or was there another reason that influenced your choice?

A: I came to Las Vegas to do research for a novel and found way more fascinating material than I ever anticipated. I could write twenty more novels and still have ample subject matter for more. It’s a writer’s gold mine!

Q: Where did you get the idea for Getting Off on Frank Sinatra? Is it based on real events?

A: When I was first in Las Vegas, I taught for a year in a private prep school. While the story is not based on that school or actual events, I have drawn from my experiences to craft a story that is entirely fictional but also, I hope, authentic.

Q: If Hollywood came calling to make Getting Off on Frank Sinatra a mini-series, who would you like to see play Copper Black?

A: I’ll go with Abigail Breslin, but I’m sure there are a number of young actors who could do a great job. It’s important that Copper be the right age—twenty-something and still caught between family and true independence.

Q: What was the transition like for you going from nonfiction to fiction? For instance, is one easier/harder than the other?

A: After my travel memoir was published, I developed an itch for making things up. When I started working on a novel, it didn’t take me long to realize that fiction set in a real location requires just as much truth as nonfiction, even when the plot and characters are fabrications. When I chose to set a novel in Las Vegas, I had to be able to paint Las Vegas believably, because readers don’t like to be pulled out of the story by errors and inaccuracies. In addition, fictional characters must behave according to their constructed personalities, which is why authors often comment that their characters tell them what to do. So—I find fiction every bit as challenging as nonfiction. It must ring true to be successful, even though the stories may not be based on real events.

Q: What governed your decision to make this book the first in a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: The idea of creating a series grew while I was working on the first book. I’d had the idea in mind, but as I worked on the first project, I saw some longer arcs connected to Copper’s life that could be developed in subsequent stories. In addition, I saw the potential for some of the secondary characters to have larger roles in future novels.

Q: What are some of the benefits/challenges you envision in having a recurring character rather than writing a new protagonist each time?

A: When you create a recurring character, it’s a little like marriage—you’re committed to that character for better or worse. I tried to create one with enough depth and potential for growth to carry a story—and then another story. I also created secondary characters with their own backstories that can fuel events in new stories.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your chapters in progress or do you make them wait until you have typed “The End”?

A: My husband is my biggest fan and harshest critic. I run things by him all the time. I have a few other friends from whom I elicit impressions while working on a project, but I never give it to my editor until I’ve finished a complete draft. It’s important that the person in that role experience the whole work at one time. First impressions of the work as a whole are important.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your work?

A: When I first completed a manuscript back in the early 2000s, I signed with an agent. While no fiction deal came of that relationship, I kept writing, querying, and submitting. It’s perhaps ironic that I landed my first fiction contract without an agent, but I know my earlier experiences all contributed to my securing that deal.

Q: What are some of the things you’re doing to promote your work and which ones are the most effective for you?

A: I am active on social media and blog once a week on my website. I speak at events and host signings in bookstores and other retail locations. I’m especially appreciative of media coverage (newspaper, TV, radio, and Web), because it reaches potential readers very efficiently.

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

A: I’m pretty boring, but I did attend fourteen different schools by the time I graduated from high school, including three in Costa Rica. My father was a career army officer until I was about twelve, which meant my family moved often. My four years at Scripps College, where I earned my bachelor’s degree, were the longest stretch I spent at any one school, and I spent one of those semesters in Rome.

Q: Any advice for aspiring authors?

A: Go for it! Find a way to make yourself write, whether it’s committing to a blog or a writing group. For most people, deadlines are essential. The only other advice I have is that you really do need to know the rules. You can break them later, but you must know them first.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website is meganedwards.com. I’m on Facebook at megan.edwards.author, Twitter @MeganEdwards, and Instragram @meganfedwards. I’m also on Goodreads.

 

 

A Chat with Anita Davison

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When I was in high school, my second favorite subject after English was History. Many a time, I’d imagine what it would have been like to live in a different time period and, accordingly, it was a natural step in my wordsmithing to invite my characters to cross paths, rub shoulders and even exchange in snappy banter with people who actually called those time periods “home.” Discovering fellow authors who share that same passion for the past is always a delight, even more so when it’s not just a stand-alone novel but, in fact, an exciting series. Our feature author this time around is Anita Davison, whose latest release, A Knightsbridge Scandal, is Book 3 of her Flora Maguire Mysteries.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q:  Tell us about your journey as a writer and when you first knew that penning stories of history and mystery was what you wanted to do?

A:  Being a published author was not something I ever aspired to. Ordinary people like me didn’t get books published. Those with Master’s degrees in journalism and English literature who have put years of practical work experience into their apprenticeship – those people write books.

In my early 20s I lived and worked in central London, where the National Portrait Gallery was a favourite haunt. In the 17th century room hung a painting of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, the eldest of 12 illegitimate children of Charles II who tried to seize the throne on his father’s death by raising a rebellion in the West Country. Inspired by his tragic story, and reading Cynthia Harrod Eagles’ The Long Shadow, at the time, I began to create a story about a family caught up on the wrong side of the rebellion. I enjoyed the process, but became aware that I was a novice where novel writing was concerned. However the idea of putting my work ‘out there’ for others to comment on terrified me, but I decided I might as well  find out whether or not I could do something with it, or if I had no discernible talent.

I found an online critique group made up of both published and aspiring writers to whom I submitted my first chapters. I would like to say my submission came back covered in compliments – it didn’t! The group pretty much trashed it!  Nicely though. They didn’t attack the plot or the characters, more my sentence structure and my head-hopping prose. Do I hurl the manuscript into a corner and never touched it again, or hunker down and try again? I did the latter, and that’s when I began to learn rules which aren’t taught in schools – how to use active voice as opposed to passive, putting a scene into one point of view, showing not telling, how to write effective dialogue etc. I also discovered my epic saga of over 200k words would never be accepted as a debut novel, so I split it into two and  it a series; now available as The Woulfes of Loxsbeare. One day I will finish Volume 3.

I was accepted by the Kate Nash Literary Agency, who, after a brief flirtation with Victorian romance, they secured a contract for Royalist Rebel, my biographical novel about Elizabeth Murray who was a teenager during the English Civil War. I now have a five book deal for my Edwardian Cosy Mystery series with Aria Fiction. The agency’s list of authors represented is pretty impressive these days, and I would like to say my career has taken off in the same way– but that hasn’t happened – yet.

Q: Who are some of the authors whose wordsmithing structure, plots and characters have had the most influence on your own style?

A: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles ‘Dynasty’ series about a Yorkshire family inspired me to begin writing.

Q: If we could travel back in time, what are some of the books we might find on the nightstand of your 10-year-old self? How about as a teenager?  And now, as a successfully published author?

A: The book I clearly remember reading at aged 10 was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury which fascinated me. In my teens I started reading Jean Plaidy, Dennis Wheatley, Agatha Christie. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor cemented my love of the 17th Century. Lately I tend to read for research but for pleasure I enjoyed Tasha Alexander’s historical mysteries, Erin Morganstern’s Night Circus, and C S Sansom’s stories of the Tudor lawyer, Matthew Shardlake.

Q: Speaking of different time periods, what was the attraction for you to Edwardian England as the backdrop for heroine Flora Maguire’s adventures?

A: I was given a subscription to a genealogy site as a gift and became fascinated with my own family history. My family were Prussian immigrants who came to London in 1880, which led me to reading all I could about London during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. With all the photographs of London at that time, as well as a store of vintage videos on the web, I soon became hooked. Less than a hundred years ago, life and attitudes were vastly different to today. It’s accepted that the Regency period was a male dominated world, but these attitudes were still firmly in place in the early 20th Century. Women did not eat out in public unless they had a male escort, and many restaurants had male only dining rooms. Simpsons restaurant in the Strand didn’t allow women in their downstairs dining room at all until 1984.

Q: A college professor of mine once said that if one is going to write mysteries in which a broad spectrum of skullduggery is afoot (including dead bodies), it’s easier to do it in an earlier century when technology was not a prevalent tool for crime-fighting. Do you find that to be the case with your own work?

A: In some ways that’s true because the clues have to be more prosaic; an overheard conversation, a document, etc., and the villain revealed without the use of forensic science. In the first book, Flora finds blood on a knife, but in 1900 there was no test to tell whose it was as blood grouping had been thought of but not perfected. Also, fingerprints weren’t used for identification until a landmark case in 1902 – but were still not considered conclusive. And poisons were easier to obtain, arsenic being an ingredient in all sorts of products. Cocaine was used in cough linctus until then 1950s.

It was easier to change identities and information was much harder to find, you had to know where to look. The SS Minneapolis was one of the first ships to carry wireless telegraphy, so my character was able send a telegram to an associate on land to find out certain facts about a suspect.

Q: Writing out-of-your-time-zone, of course, requires a lot of research in order for the storyline to feel both plausible and authentic to your readers. There’s always a danger, though, of getting so carried away by these vintage details that they can easily overwhelm—and detract—from the plot. What governed your choices regarding which research should be included and which could/should be left out?

A: Absolutely – and this is a major problem for historical writers. Personally I get so immersed in historical events that I always put too much into my stories, assuming the reader will be as fascinated as I am. Editing tends to illustrate these ‘info dumps’ though and I do follow advice and remove most of it by reminding myself I am not writing a history book. Anything which doesn’t drive the story forward or fit seamlessly into the narrative without jarring – or boring the reader – must go!

Q: When and where did the fictional Flora Maguire first step into your imagination and demand your attention?

A: I was writing a Victorian romance which began with my female character travelling between New York and London on a steamship I had researched extensively right down to the patterns on the stateroom curtains and bed covers. When the book was contracted, my editor said the novel should begin when my character steps off the boat onto English soil – thus all my intricate research and writing was dumped. However, I kept my meticulous research. I had worked too hard to consign it to the bin – and when Flora Maguire needed a crime to solve, I wanted a  ‘closed room’ environment with a limited number of suspects, my steamship was ideal.

Q: Did you always intend to turn that first Flora Maguire story into a series?

A: No I didn’t. As my first try at mystery writing, I wasn’t sure if it would be credible, but the critique group and my agent said mysteries did better as a series as readers like to be familiar with the main character. When the critiquing process ended, the group asked me what was going to happen to Flora when she got off the ship. It was while I was writing Books 2, 3 and 4 that my agent secured a five-book deal for the whole series from Aria Fiction. Thus, I am currently writing Book 5. Books 1 to 3 are available and Book 4 will be released in November 2017 with Book 5 scheduled for next year.

Q: Series fiction is not without its own set of challenges; specifically, if there’s an expectation or hope that readers will read these books chronologically. But what about someone who jumps in and reads the most recent book first? How do you handle that fine line of giving them just enough background teaser to want to go back and see what they missed without giving away too much information on how the prior “episodes” were resolved?

A: I have suggested to readers that they are best read chronologically as Flora’s personal life changes, although the murder mysteries are complete stories.  Flora has a mystery in her own life, which develops a little more with each book.

Q: Flora starts out her career as a governess. Given the circles in which she moves as crimes unfold, wouldn’t she be more effective as a wealthy, titled lady or an actress?

A: Flora’s station in life was a major consideration before I began. I don’t know anything about the thespian world, either now or the Edwardian era, so didn’t feel I could portray it with any conviction. The aristocracy, unless they baulked the system and existed on the fringe of fashionable society, led restrictive lives. Unmarried girls in 1900 had to do what their parents told them, while married ones had to obey their husbands. Unless I made Flora a widow, like Tasha Alexander’s heroine, Lady Emily Ashton, Flora couldn’t gad about town on her own, which is why I introduced Sally Pond, her maid and sometime sidekick. I felt that as a governess, Flora would be intelligent by nature and discreet by necessity. As an upper servant, she moves between the two worlds with ease with an ability to be invisible, so people tend to talk in front of her, forgetting she is there.

The first story is set in 1900, the beginning of a new millennium where great changes in science, medicine and society were taking place in the run up to WWI. She ventures into some unsavoury areas at times which no titled lady would enter, and with more freedom.

Q: You make mention of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in this novel. Is Flora herself a Suffragist?

A: She’s a non-militant Suffragist and an admirer of Millicent Fawcett who worked for years to have women’s rights acknowledged by the government, and succeeded to a point with the Liberal Party. Flora’s status was gained by her marriage, and had she remained a governess, the movement wouldn’t have represented her at all as they were fighting for women who owned property. One aspect people forget about the ‘Votes for Women’ fight was that the majority of working class men didn’t have the vote either. Thus, Flora has mixed feelings about the aims of the Suffragists. Flora also believes that the WSPU- Christabel Pankhurst’s breakaway militant group with their campaign for vandalism and public protest was not representative of most women who wouldn’t dream of destroying works of art or throwing bricks though windows.

Q: What does her husband think of her stance on equal rights for women?

A: He admires her and holds similar views. He’s a solicitor from a wealthy background who has fallen on leaner times and has to make his own living, so he is sympathetic to the struggles of the working man – and woman, but he also has the ability to function in both societies.

Q: Do you have a favorite character in this series?

A: Flora is my favourite as the stories are written from her point of view, so hers is the head I am inside most of the time. I do like her young charge, Eddy, though, who enters the stories as a 13-year-old boy. My editor says he is one of her favourites, so Eddy is making an appearance in Book 5 as an 18-year-old university student. He gets into trouble and runs to Flora and Bunny for help.

Q: So what’s in store for Flora in future novels in this series?

A: No 4 is at first editing stage where a murder leads her into the shady world of child trafficking. This ties in with the International Agreement for the Suppression of the “White Slave Traffic Act” which was ratified that year in the UK.

Q: Do you start with an outline or make up the plot as you go along?

A:  Plotter every time. I research specific historical events which I would like to include, then work out the crime, the villain and the clues and misdirection. Then I sketch out each scene synopsis, its goal, content and conclusion– I need to know exactly where the story is going or I get lost.

Q: Does anyone get to read your work in progress or do you make them wait until the very last page?

A: I am still a member of the Historical Fiction Critique Group to which I submit my draft chapters for feedback. We have been working together for some years and trust each other’s opinion. If they tell me a character is hollow or not credible in the first draft, I do something about it.

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you and gone off the path in dialogue or action that you hadn’t originally fashioned?

A: On occasion, a character I had given a cameo role to has developed into a major one because the group really liked them and wanted more. Bunny’s mother was going to be a shadowy figure who made an occasional appearance, but now she is Flora’s nemesis. Beatrice Harrington is the archetypical Victorian widow with unbending principles and an opinion on everything. Naturally she doesn’t believe any woman is good enough for her only son, especially a governess brought up below stairs by a Scotsman. I thought she could be one character readers could love to hate and I allow Flora to score the odd point against her to assert herself.

Q: Are your previous novels Edwardian-themed as well?

A: I have written two Victorian Romances, but my first love was the 17th Century. The Woulfes of Loxsbeare are about an Exeter family caught up in the political chaos of the late 17th Century. Royalist Rebel is a biographical novel about Elizabeth Murray, who became Duchess of Lauderdale. A friend of Charles II, she was also one of his spies during the Interregnum, and was published by Pen and Sword Books

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

A: That I am happiest at home with my writing and only venture out when absolutely necessary or when bullied by my family. I don’t even like eating outside! I’ve been accused of everything from being an agoraphobic to a vampire, but I just like the indoors!

Q: What do you think is the best thing about being a writer?

A: That I can manage my own time and workload and create my stories from any premise I like, when I like. The autonomy is very important.

Q: And the worst thing?

A: Those times when I sit in front of the computer, a coffee at my side and fingers poised over the screen – and nothing comes. It doesn’t happen too often but when it does it can be soul destroying. Writers are insecure at the best of times [well, maybe not all] and when your mind is as blank as the screen, it’s hard to accept you will feel differently tomorrow, or maybe the next day. You think it’s over – forever!

Q: What’s your best advice to an aspiring author who is just starting out?

A:

  1. Find your author voice and have confidence in it.
  2. If you write, you are an author – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  3. The story is the thing. A steadily moving plot, plenty of conflict and a satisfying ending is more important than flowery descriptions and a ton of woven in research. No one recalls what the heroine was wearing when she finally wins the battle or falls into her hero’s arms.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My social media links:

BLOG: http://thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.com

GOODREADS: http://www.goodreads.com/AnitaDavison

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/anita.davison

TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison

LINKEDIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anita-seymour-davison-9ba57014/

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Other than promoting my current book? No, I don’t I think so, I have gone on long enough.

 

 

 

Ten Days in Summer

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In chatting with novelists over the years, it has always fascinated me how they go about choosing careers for their protagonists. Some of those professions are dream jobs the writers themselves would love to have pursued–provided, of course, they could gracefully pirouette across a stage without tripping, fearlessly jump out of a plane to pursue a villain in the alps, or design breathtaking architecture that truly takes everyone’s breath away. Others draw from personal experience and give us insider insights into career choices with which we may not be familiar The insurance industry, for instance. The latter was the case for author Susan Calder, who drew from her expertise as an insurance adjuster–and her remembrance of some of the more unusual claims–to create a most watchable series character, Paula Savard. In her new novel, Ten Days in Summer, we meet Paula as she is investigating a suspicious building fire that caused the death of a hoarder.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What (or who) first ignited your passion for writing?

A: As a child, I wrote a few plays for the kids on our street to perform for our mothers. I also enjoyed writing stories and poems for school, and got encouragement from my teachers. My sister and I spent countless hours making up stories with our paper dolls or simply with our voices talking out characters. I set that kind of storytelling aside for 27 years, until a personal crisis shook me up and landed me in a place where I felt I had things to say and wanted to create stories again.

Q: Were you a voracious reader as an adolescent and teen? If so, what are some of the titles we might have found on your bedroom nightstand?

A: I recall an uncle admonishing me for burying my nose in a book rather than appreciating the sunset, so I must have read a fair bit. My most memorable books on my teenage nightstand were Gone With The Wind, High Wind in Jamaica, The Catcher in the Rye and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. I also loved two novels we studied in class: Pride & Prejudice and Of Human Bondage. They led me to read other novels by Jane Austen and Somerset Maugham. Glad as I am that I read all of these books and more, I think my uncle was right about the sunset.

Q: What attracted you to the mystery genre?

A: My childhood reading included an abundance of mystery novels. Whenever I found a series I liked, I read every book I could get my hands on. It began with The Bobbsey Twins and continued to Nancy Drew, The Happy Hollisters, Trixie Belden and several British series. In my teens I enjoyed Mary Stewart’s romantic mysteries and later I got into Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier. So, mystery novels were never far from my nightstand and we tend to write what we read, for good reasons. Several themes intrinsic to the mystery genre appeal to me. The search for the truth. Who can you trust? What’s really going on beneath the surface?

Q: Who are some of the mystery authors whose work you especially admire?

A: Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, for their complex characters and plots. I like Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series for its Venice setting and the dark story endings that rarely show justice completely served. And I still think my classic favourites, Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier, stand up to the best of mystery writing.

Q: In your view, what governs the choice to make a mystery novel a standalone title or a series?

A: When I wrote my first novel, Deadly Fall, I intended it to be a standalone. Paula, my protagonist, functioned as an amateur sleuth and I wrote it as a story of personal growth within a mystery plot. It was only toward the end of the second draft that I thought I would like to continue with these characters, to see what happens to them next. This was partly because, with the attention needed for the mystery of the victim’s life, I didn’t have space to explore all I wanted about Paula. A standalone is probably a story where the protagonist primarily investigates her own life. It becomes her defining, life-altering experience and why would she need another one?

Q: One of the biggest advantages of series fiction is that one’s lead characters are already well known to readers. A challenge, though, is in ensuring that one’s readers actually read the books in the same order in which they were written. Is this the case with your own work or could a reader be introduced to your protagonist at any juncture in the line-up?

A: I think a new reader to the series could pick up book 2, Ten Days in Summer, and quickly become acquainted with Paula, her family, friends and colleagues. They are where they are at this point in their lives and I make little reference to past cases and experiences. I plan to do the same for book three. Except, there are a couple of spoilers in Ten Days in Summer for those who read Deadly Fall afterward and there will probably be one more spoiler in my next book for people who read that one first.

Q: What aspects of your real-life career in the insurance industry influenced your approach to planning and writing works of fiction?

A: I wanted Paula to have a career and figured it would be easiest to give her one I know well—insurance adjuster. It didn’t occur to me until I was almost finished with the first draft of the novel that adjusters might stumble on insurance claims that conceal a murder, such as burglaries, fires and automobile accidents. Rather than continue with Paula as an amateur sleuth, a genre that’s hard to make believable, I wanted her next mysteries to come from her job. To start each novel off, I have to think of the kinds of insurance claims I encountered in my work.

Before Deadly Fall, my insurance career inspired a short story called “Adjusting the Ashes,” which in several ways is a forerunner to the Paula books. I chose a type of case we encountered periodically, which I found peculiar and humourous. Our company insured a brewery. Every so often someone would claim he swallowed a mouse in his bottle of beer. We settled these claims for nominal amounts to get rid of them. But I thought, what if one of these nuisance claims mushroomed into something huge? This story has been published so I can’t do the mouse swallowing again, but it would be fun to come up with an unusual claim for a future Paula story. Maybe for book four.

Q: Ten Days in Summer is set in Calgary. What elements of this city’s “personality” are infused in the storyline and make it as much a living, breathing character as the human players?

A: The Calgary Stampede wild west festival takes over the whole city of Calgary for 10 days each summer. People dress cowboy and cowgirl; banks and stores sport bales of hay and drawings of horses on their windows. I wanted the atmosphere to permeate the novel and I doubt there’s a chapter without some reference to the Stampede. Several scenes feature it prominently. Another aspect of Calgary is that it’s an oil town, subject to boom and bust. Ten Days in Summer is set when the price of oil and the city is near bottom, and that mood prevails in the book. But during the booms, Calgary’s a place where people come to try their fortune or escape their past. It’s also a city of entrepreneurs and individualists, reflecting the western spirit. I try to bring this out through the characters Paula meets in her investigation. Paula, herself, is a migrant from Montreal, who moved west to improve her life and found that everything didn’t work out as she’d hoped. Now she’s moving in new directions.

Q: What was your inspiration for this particular plot?

A: I was mainly inspired by the Stampede and Hoarding. Since Deadly Fall was set in the fall, I wanted the sequel to take place in another season and settled on summer. Among other things, summer in Calgary means the Stampede. I find two weeks or thereabouts a good time frame for a novel and realized I could set the whole story over the Stampede’s 10 days. My sister had once lived on the top floor of a building with a view of downtown Calgary and the Stampede grounds. I joined her one evening to watch the fireworks from her deck. I decided the novel would begin with Paula at the opening day parade and end the last night of the Stampede, with a group of characters watching the fireworks from the deck of the building damaged in the fire claim Paula was investigating.

At the time I was developing the idea, my siblings and I were engaged in assorted legalities regarding our late grandmother’s house. With our mother also gone, we had to deal with her only sibling, a hoarder who occupied the home’s second floor. He made things so difficult that I decided to fictionally kill him off. A hoarder’s home would be a high fire risk, which gave me the idea to have this character die in a suspicious building fire. Paula would come in to handle the property insurance claim and deal with his heirs, who gained financially from his death.

Certain things changed in the process of writing the book. I discovered it worked better to start the story the night before the parade. Technically, it’s still Stampede time, since the fair grounds are open for preview on this sneak-a-peek night. And the hoarder character inspired by my annoying uncle became the most sympathetic character in his fictional family.

Q: Which comes first for you – the characters or the storyline?

A: The characters. For Deadly Fall, I first thought of Paula, her associates and her family members. Then came the inciting plot incident—her best friend from childhood is murdered. Next more characters arrive: two detectives, people from her friend’s life. Their actions and agendas fuel the plot, which develops all the characters, including Paula.

For Ten Days in Summer, I already had Paula and the continuing characters in place. So the characters came first again. To start things off, I needed a plot point, the insurance-related incident, and decided on the fire. Through her work, Paula meets people involved with the victim and the claim. They create plot and are, in turn, affected by story developments.

Q: Do you work from an outline or allow the plot to unfold as you go along?

A: I start with a few elements – basic ideas for characters, a murder or suspected murder, and setting details. I also have some thoughts about what’s happening in Paula’s personal life. Paula spends the first quarter or so of the novel draft meeting with suspects, colleagues and family members, setting up the story problems. I try to write loosely, letting unexpected details and dialogue creep in, while keeping on top of the pacing, to make sure this beginning doesn’t get sidetracked or go on too long. From this setup, the plot unfolds. There should be enough to keep it rolling to the middle, when I need new wrinkles to raise the conflicts and tension until the end.

Q: You’ve won a number of contests for your short stories and poems. Are these two outlets easier or harder than writing a full-length novel?

A: Generally speaking, I find the more words in a piece of writing, the longer it takes to write and revise to make the best I can. In that sense, a full-length novel is harder than shorter works. The few short poems I’ve written have come to me almost fully formed. I can write them down in an afternoon. After that, I tweak and revise, but there are only so many words and punctuation marks to play with. I also feel I’m not experienced enough in poetry to know how to improve poems a lot. I haven’t won contests for poems, but have published four—vs. only two published novels that represent many more years of work.

While there are contests for unpublished novels, there are many more contests for unpublished poems and short stories. Usually these contests come with publication. I discovered I had better luck getting my short stories published through contests than through regular submissions. Perhaps this was a fluke, or perhaps there is less competition in contests due to the entry fee. To build a resume of published credits, I entered contests and sometimes won or placed. It’s nice to say now that my stories have won contests, but it doesn’t mean more than publication.

Q: Do your characters ever surprise you over the course of writing their story? 

A: Since I develop my characters in the process of writing the story, they always surprise me, at least in small ways. A large surprise in Deadly Fall was realizing, in draft # 4, that a character I had not considered a suspect might be the killer. I seriously considered changing my plan about who did it. I figured, if I hadn’t had a clue, how many readers would? In the end, I stuck with my original vision, although this character’s new involvement in the case solved a plot glitch.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would you like to see cast as Paula Savard?

A: This is fun. Since no one came immediately to mind, I did a Google search for Hollywood actresses aged 50. I like Diane Lane. She’s not highly recognizable and I’ve admired her work in movies. I can also see that a number of others who are more familiar could suit the part and infuse themselves into Paula’s character. Choices might be Emma Thompson (if she’ll do a Canadian accent), Andie McDowell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Julianna Marguilies, who I enjoyed on the TV show ER when she was involved romantically George Clooney’s doctor character. I could handle George Clooney as my movie’s male romantic lead.

Q: How much was research was involved and what were your principal resources to ensure authenticity?

A: My insurance work experience was long ago and didn’t involve many property claims. At a literary reading, I happened to talk with a man who told me that he’d recently retired from insurance claims work. He gave me his email address and I contacted him with questions about insurance, to get those details right and up to date in the book. To learn about building fires, I called a friend’s son who is a fire fighter and met with him and his colleagues at a Calgary fire station.

When I was writing my first mystery, Deadly Fall, I belonged to a Calgary Mystery Writers group that featured monthly speakers on topics related to crime writing. Some of these were police officers or others with knowledge relevant to my book. I learned much about police procedure here and also took the free Calgary Citizens Police Academy course, a 12-week program with speakers from different branches of the police.

Any time I step outside my immediate experience, I have to look things up, even something simple like the location of a particular street. The Internet helps. I read a couple of books on hoarding to confirm and enhance my understanding of this psychological condition. It’s surprising how much research you need to do for a contemporary story set in your home town, but I want to make things as accurate as I possibly can.

Q:  Do you revise and edit scenes as you move along or wait until the very end? Why is your chosen method an effective one for you?

A: I write to the end before doing any editing. The rare times I might revise a scene would be when I can’t move forward without doing this. Since I don’t write from an outline, the first draft becomes my process of developing the story and discovering what it’s all about. Only when I reach the end do I fully know if the novel works and what I need to add, delete, change or enhance in the earlier chapters.

Q: Do you let anyone read your work in progress or do you make them wait until you have typed THE END?

A: Ideally, I wait until I’ve typed THE END. I believe the first draft should be only the writer’s vision. After that, you find out how the story and characters are coming across to others and modify them for readers. Now that I have more confidence in my writing, I will occasionally show people small pieces before I’ve finished the first draft. For someone newer to writing, I think if you show your work too early, you risk being swayed too much by their opinions and you might lose what’s strongest and most original about your story.

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

A: I mainly write at home, in my den at my computer and don’t feel the need for different locations to wordsmith better. I like writing best in the mornings, when I’m fresh, but other activities often get in the way of this.

Q: What, for you, is the hardest part of the writing life and what helps you to move past this hurdle?

A: Rejection. By this I mean rejection from publishers and losing out on contests and awards that I’d thought I had a chance with. It’s also criticism of my writing at any stage in the process, from showing an early piece of work to others or receiving a critical print review.

What helps me move past this, is forcing myself to sit down and write. Before long I’m into it, and realize that it’s the process of writing that I love and it’s not really about outside opinion.

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

A: That I read The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell as a teenager? It surprises me to recall that I did, partly because today we don’t hear much about this philosopher, mathematician, political activist and 1950 Nobel prize recipient for Literature. ‘Bertie’ inspired me to take a math option at university because he declared that math was essential to the study of philosophy.

On the other side of the intellectual coin, for the past forty years, off and on, I’ve followed Coronation Street, the British TV soap opera about working classes residents in Manchester. I enjoy the tangled relationships between those everyday blokes. This was one thing I didn’t need to research for Ten Days in Summer, when I made Paula’s mother a Corrie fan.

Q: When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?

A: Travel. Over the past few years, my husband and I have been to Europe and Mexico several times each. We make regular shorter trips to eastern Canada to visit relatives and friends.

Hiking. For the past 8 years, we’ve belonged to a hiking club that does weekly day trips to the nearby Rocky Mountains from May-Oct. Our club organizes an away trip each summer, this year to Revelstoke where I’ve never hiked before. The rest of the year, we do two hour walks in Calgary and region parks. Every couple of years, a member organizes a hiking holiday. This winter, about 25 of us spent a fabulous week in Mesa, Arizona.

I also enjoy my twice-weekly Zumba class and look forward to bicycling when the ice and winter grunge finally disappear from Calgary’s pathways and streets.

 

 

 

A Chat With Joan Hall Hovey

Joan Hall Hovey, Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-Journal

Joan Hall Hovey

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

 I’m very pleased to introduce thriller/mystery writer and fellow Canadian, Joan Hall Hovey. Joan has been blessed with a talent for telling dark stories that stay with the reader and keep them asking for more. A self-described “avid listener of stories”, she loves weaving tales that chill to the bone, however she enjoys a quieter, saner life in her lovely home in Saint John, New Brunswick. Welcome Joan!

Q: What is it about writing thrillers and dark mysteries that holds and keeps you?

A: It’s hard to know why I’m drawn to the dark side in the human psyche. Some people can’t get enough romances or westerns. My son and granddaughter are hooked on SciFi, but since childhood you could always get my attention with a good ghost story, or any story that had tension and chilled the blood.  I read everything by Edgar Allan Poe, love the Gothic suspense novels, my favorite being Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I collected my pennies and went to see all the scary movies. Later I discovered authors Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith of the Ripley books, and Stephen King.  All those authors have influenced my work in some way.

Q: You often write about strong women who are facing challenges in their life, or who must learn to trust themselves and others. What is it you want female readers to take away from your stories?

A: My main job in writing a suspense thriller is to entertain; to keep my readers at the edge of their collective chairs and turning those pages until the last and hopefully satisfying sentence. The underlying message in my books is that we’re stronger than we think we are. We find this out when we’re forced to draw on that inner strength we didn’t know we had in the face of challenges that can shake us to our very core. Most of the time we manage to come out the other side, not only relatively intact, but often to find we’ve grown in confidence and in our ability to not only survive, but thrive.

Q: What do you think is the future for print and e-books, and why?

A: I think print books will be around for a long time to come, but many people, including me, have also embraced the technological age. I have always had a passion for books. I love the heft of them, the smell, everything about books. Unfortunately, my eyes are no longer as sharp as they once were, and I can make the font on my Kindle as large as I need it to be. Because I like to read in bed (too busy writing and teaching during the day), the Kindle is very lightweight to hold in my hand, so my arthritis is thankful for it.

Q: What advice would you give to new writers just starting out on this crazy journey?

A: Focus on your writing, make it the best it can be, and try to write every day. Pick a time that works best for you. I like to write in the mornings before the rest of the world is quite awake—that time between the black and gray zone. This is how you become a disciplined writer. Learn to do the work whether or not you’re inspired, because a page you’re not happy with can always be edited and improved. The rest—publishing your book, promoting it, etc., can be learned. You can Google anything today.

As far as publishing your work goes, writers definitely have more options today than when I began. You can try for a big publisher through an agent, or a good small press, or you can even self- publish.  If you choose the latter road, keep in mind that you’re solely responsible for everything involving your book’s success. 

Q: Would you say writing the beginning, middle, or end of a book is the most difficult for you, and why?

A: I don’t find one part of the novel more difficult than another. If it’s going well and I am really into my story by experiencing what my characters are experiencing, seeing clearly those scenes in my imagination, I’ll be fine. It’s not easy, although there is nothing I can think of that’s more rewarding. Expect lots of trial and error.  Some authors like to outline, while others write by the seat of their pants. I’m somewhere in the middle. I outline mainly in my head, and take copious notes as I go along. Sometimes a plot problem will solve itself while I’m on a walk, or doing the dishes. Magic happens when you’re there, deep in the book.  Stephen King calls those great gems that come to you when you least expect them gifts from ‘the boys in the basement’.

Q: Many of your books contain an element of the supernatural in them. Have you had any experiences with the supernatural that you can share with us?

A: Yes, there are a few occurrences in my life that caused me to wonder, and sometimes even lose a little slept. I want to keep those to myself, though, so I can draw on them for future books.  

Q: As an actor you have the opportunity to act out characters and experience storytelling in a very different way. Does your acting experience influence how you write?

A: Absolutely. Just as I enter the skin of the character I’m portraying on stage, it is the same with my characters on the page. I really must inhabit their bones, take on the emotions and sensibilities of the character, because it’s how I’m able to grasp that character and make him or her real to the reader.

Q: So many novice writers balk at learning to effectively use social media and the Internet, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs and book trailers, in order to connect with other writers and readers. What advice would you give them when it comes to marketing and promoting their work?

A: There are literally thousands of books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and so on. Readers will simply never find your book if you don’t find ways to point them to it, and we’re so lucky now to be able to take advantage of social media and the internet. Marketing your book is your job as the book’s author; it goes with the territory. It can be the difference succeeding as an author or not, regardless of the level of your talent. I’d suggest spending an hour or two each day on promoting your work.

Q: What have you learned about others since you began writing?

A: I’ve been writing stories and poems since childhood, and then professionally for more than 40 years, so it’s difficult to say. The writing grew and changed as I grew and learned. I believe that’s true for most people. In September 2015, I lost my dear husband of 63 years, following a lengthy illness. It was a numbing shock, even though I knew death was inevitable. It has changed my life in ways that I don’t even understand. I’ve learned that you recognize the changes more with the passing of time, but rarely while they’re happening.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your latest novel?

A: My latest release is titled ‘And Then He Was Gone’. Here is a little about it from the back of the book:

AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON PRINT/EBOOK and other online bookstores.

WHERE IS ADAM?

Julie Raynes’ husband has been missing for six months. Devastated and confused, she refuses to believe that he would leave her voluntarily, though her best friend thinks differently. However, her Aunt Alice, a psychic, tells her Adam has been murdered, and when she reveals how she knows this, any hope that Adam is still alive, dissipates.

The police are also beginning to believe that Adam Raynes was murdered. And Julie is their prime suspect. Her life in ruins, Julie vows to hunt down whoever is responsible for Adam’s murder and make them pay for their crime.

In the meantime, David Gray, a young man who was pulled from a lake by a fisherman when he was 9 years old, wakens from a coma after nearly two decades. Unknown to Julie, Adam and David share a dark connection, a darkness that threatens to devour both of them, in a terrifying race with death.

Q: What’s next for you Joan?

A: Probably another suspense novel, but I want to explore other options as well . I have always loved writing short stories, so I may return to that at some point. I will say that I expect they will also fall somewhere on the dark side.  🙂  

You can find Joan here: http://www.joanhallhovey.com

And she loves to hear from readers.

 

 

 

Raisin the Dead

 

Karoline Barrett

“Cooking,” wrote American journalist Harriet Van Horne, “is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” The same can be said about the craft of writing, and when these two passions come together in a culinary themed mystery, it’s the recipe for a mouth-watering delight that leaves readers hungry for more. Karoline Barrett – today’s featured author – joins the ranks of Ellie Alexander, Miranda Bliss, Christine Wenger and other kindred spirit wordsmiths whose protagonists have a taste for solving neighborhood crimes. In Barrett’s latest release, Raisin the Dead, library director Anne Tyler is a person of interest in a murder, a scenario that compels bakery owner Molly Tyler to step in to help clear her mother’s name.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: When did you first know that writer’s ink was flowing through your veins and you just had to do something about it?

A: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but didn’t take it up seriously until I was older (we won’t discuss how much older). My husband encouraged me to take writing classes from an online writing school in Connecticut, where we now live, called Long Ridge Writers Group. They were wonderful and I learned so much. My very first published novel, The Art of Being Rebekkah, started as a short story in one of my classes.

Q: Stylistically, what authors (living or dead) do you feel have had the greatest influence on your own approach to storytelling?

A: Ann B. Ross (author of the Miss Julia series) because of her character portrayals, they’re so very real, and Janet Evanovich because of her humor.

Q: The Bread and Batter mystery series is a clever concept. What inspired it?

A: I was having a hard time thinking of another writing project and my agent asked me what I liked to read. The answer was mysteries. She suggested I write one, and I took her advice. I like discovering new bakeries, so I wanted the series to center around Molly and the bakery she owns with her best friend, Olivia. I’m happy to say it worked out.

Q: Which of your characters is secretly your fictional self?

A: I’m asked that a lot. In reality, my characters come from my imagination. If I had to pick the one I want to be my fictional self, it would be Emily, the owner of Barking Mad books. I’ve always thought owing a small bookstore would be delightful.

Q: Favored baked dessert – a cake, a pie or cookies?

A: Since ice-cream isn’t a choice, chocolate cake with chocolate icing (do you see a chocolate theme here?)

Q: Store-bought or homemade?

A: Homemade. The best kind!

Q: In your daily writing routine, when and where do you feel you are at your most energized?

A: I’m a morning person, so I do well between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. My writing desk faces a window, so I navigate between that and my recliner when I’m writing.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your material while it’s still a work-in-progress or do you make them wait until you have typed The End?

A: They have to wait. My work-in-progress goes through a lot of changes between the time I type the first work and the time I type The End.

Q: Which do you feel is more challenging – to pen a short story, to develop a stand-alone novel, or to create recurring characters for a series?

A: I’ve done all three, so I have to say a series. I have to keep each book fresh, make sure all the characters come back with the same names, eye colors, etc. Make sure the town names haven’t changed. It’s also a challenge not to say too much about the previous books in case someone hasn’t read them yet. Then there’s the challenge of keeping all the characters interesting.

Q: Let’s say Hollywood comes calling to turn Raisin the Dead into a new TV series. Who’s on your wish list for casting?

A: I have to confess I don’t keep up on who’s who in Hollywood. I don’t know who the Gilmore Girls are, and I thought The Game of Thrones had something to do with Queen Elizabeth. I’m going to chicken out of this one and say I’d be so thrilled to see it as a TV series, I don’t care who was playing the characters. Although, I’d love to hear from readers on whom they think would be good casting.

Q: How did you go about finding the right literary agent to represent your work?

A: As mentioned, my first novel was The Art of Being Rebekkah. I compiled a list of agents who were looking for women’s fiction.  I got a lot of requests for the partial manuscript, and the full manuscript, but no takers. After going through 120 agents, I was thinking about calling it quits. Then, on Twitter, I saw someone discussing Frances Black. She and a partner own Literary Counsel. Okay, I thought. One more time! She loved my book and signed me. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being published?

A: Pleasing my readers and having them ask for more books!

Q: Promoting a new title is almost as much – if not more – work than writing it in the first place. What are some of the activities you’re pursuing in this regard to put your book(s) on everyone’s radar?

A: It really is! I’m a constant presence on Facebook. Both on my author page and personal page. I’ve connected with a lot of other authors, readers, and bloggers. I do a lot of blog tours and giveaways. I love the giveaways, but I make my husband pick winners. I just can’t do it. I’d pick everyone!  Since my Bread and Batter series is e-book only, I can’t do book signings, which I’d really like to do.

Q: To celebrate your success, you’ve made reservations for dinner at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three famous authors to join you. Who are they, what are the seating arrangements, and what question would you most love to ask each of them?

A: I’d have Shirley Jackson, Janet Evanovich, and Debbie Macomber. I’d be at the head at the table, so I could see and hear everyone.  Shirley’s question would be, “How on earth did you come up with The Lottery? It’s my favorite short story of all time.” For Janet, I’d want to know how she comes up with all the scrapes her characters get in to and how she keeps all her books so funny and fresh. I’d like to talk character development with Debbie. Her books are so character driven, which is what I love about them.

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

A: I want to write a psychological thriller like The Girl on the Train.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

A: Read, shop, spend time at the beach. Think about writing.

Q: Do you typically read one book at a time or have multiple stacks throughout the house?

A: I can handle reading two books at once, but more than that and my brain starts complaining.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished A Muddied Murder by Wendy Tyson. Time for a trip to the library!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:I’m working on book three of my Bread and Batter series, I’m outlining a new series I want to present to my agent, and I also have a romance half-written.

Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Write what you love, believe in yourself, and have patience, lots of patience.

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

A: My website is karolinebarrett  On Facebook, readers can find me here, KarolineBarrettBooks

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you so much for having me, it’s been fun! Of course, a thank you to all my readers!