I find it endlessly fascinating to “meet” other writers and discover more about them, their work, and what makes them tick. Today I’m introducing you to an exciting new crime fiction writer, Sue Coletta, who writes great murder mystery stories. I couldn’t resist poking around inside the mind of a crime writer (Castle, anyone?), and Sue generously shares her thoughts and insights freely. Join me in welcoming Sue to the spotlight!
Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure
Q As a crime writer, you must think about how to commit the perfect crime or murder all the time. How do you plot the crimes for your books?
A I’m a big proponent of Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and Story Physics. For those who haven’t read these craft books, basically I plan the important milestones– Hook, Inciting Incident, 1st Plot Point, 1st Pinch Point, Midpoint, 2nd Plot Point, 2nd Pinch Point, All-is-lost Moment, Resolution– on index cards. I include theme, concept and characterization and think: What’s the worst crime that could happen to that character, one that strikes at her inner demons? I pose this question as a “What if?” And then work from there. Usually the “What if?” question will lead to more “What if?” questions, thus writing the entire book. Did I answer your question or did I get totally off track? LOL
Q What is it about crime and mystery writing that draws you in and holds you?
A I’ve always been fascinated by how a killer’s mind works. What makes someone want to kill? Is it money, passion, or a fantasy they’ve had since childhood? And by people’s inner demons. What drives them? What happened in their life to make them into the person they are today? And the big question; why would one person turn to murder where another wouldn’t? I guess the short answer is psychology.
Q Who is or was your greatest mentor, either personally or professionally, and why?
A Again, I’d have to say Larry Brooks. He’s an amazing person and a talented storyteller/teacher and writing coach. His writing is crisp, clean, with a voice that deeply resonates with me. I’m glued to the pages of his books, both craft and crime thrillers. I dissect them like a surgical intern curious about how the body works, and then take what I’ve learned and use it in my work. I’m very fortunate to call him a friend.
Q You wrote a piece on Molly Greene’s blog about going after the traditional publishing package, which is where you and I “met”. What do you think the future of publishing will look like for writers? (I’ll include a link to that article)
A Contrary to what some believe, I don’t think traditional publishing will ever die. Or that e-books will be the norm above paperbacks or hardcovers. There’s something uniquely special about the smell and feel of a physical book, and I think too many people feel like I do for the industry to shy away from printing. I do, however, think there will be more hybrid authors that have an agent, continue with traditional publishing, and then self-publish books that don’t fit neatly on a shelf. That’s the best of both worlds, if you ask me, and my ultimate goal.
Q What is the most difficult part of writing for you, the beginning, middle, or end, and why?
A That first line is always a bugger to figure out. Really, the first paragraph, trying to encapsulate the protagonist, genre, voice, and characterization, all in one fell swoop. However, since I’ve planned my book in advance I don’t really have much trouble after that. Although, during the planning stage it’s always the big twist ending that I think on the longest.
Q What is your advice to new writers regarding marketing and building a platform?
A Start a blog now! Don’t wait. Don’t worry that you think you’ll have nothing to say. Just do it. While you’re at it, implement an email list with a giveaway to lure people into signing up. Everyone loves to get something for free. It can be a short story, a writing tool like my “50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters” (see how I got that in there?), something that peaks interest. I also think it’s important to gear your blog toward your brand. Brand; meaning you, the author, not your book. That’s your product. For instance, when you click on my site it screams crime because that’s what I’m passionate about and write about. When you gear your blog this way your passion shines through, it becomes infectious, and leads others to want to hear what you have to say. It’s magical, really, when you think about it. Give people a slice of yourself, be genuine, help other writers, and you’ll do fine.
Q People have been fascinated by true crime and mysteries for centuries. Why do you think that is?
A How much time do we have? I think it boils down to “the forbidden”, “the taboo”. What makes killers tick? What’s the worst thing you can do to another human being? Kill them. Of course the crime writer in me can think of worse things. 🙂 But let’s say “to kill”. Then it becomes what kind of person does this? What pushed them over the edge? And when we hear about killers that had a great childhood, a good marriage, successful children and a high-paying job, we are totally baffled. Again, it’s the psychology of it, I believe, that drives people to want to know more. Sure, some are probably motivated by the gore, but I don’t think that’s the norm. It’s like when you drive by a car accident and can’t look away. You want to know, what happened? Why? Who’s to blame? Because human beings are curious creatures, we try to put logic ahead of madness, and sometimes the two aren’t separate issues. Sometimes the reason, or lack thereof, is simple– because he wanted to see if he could kill and what it felt like. And that’s frightening to think about, because it means we could end up the next victim.
Q What kind of research do you do for your novels?
A It depends. I have a few police consultants/coroner/firearm experts I turn to when I need a quick answer. Otherwise, let’s say I’m writing more of a police procedural and I better get my facts right in case a detective reads my story. On my site I have a menu option entitled “Crime Writer’s Resource“, where I’ve listed links to forensic sites, homicide crime scene checklist, writing sites, craft books, writing tools, etc. Each link leads to more links. There are pages and pages of information I’ve gathered over the years, including former detectives who answer questions for writers. All are welcome to use it, by the way.
Q What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness, and why?
A My greatest weakness is also my greatest strength, and I’ll tell you why. I love supporting other writers. I love the writing community as a whole. But when helping someone means I can’t get my own work done, it’s a problem. I have a terrible habit of putting others’ needs above my own. That’s not to say I ever want to stop supporting other writers. I just need to find balance. Does that make sense? I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. Put another way; if I can’t achieve my own goals, how can I help someone else achieve theirs?
Q If you could interview any writer, living or dead, who would it be and why?
A This is easy. Edgar Allen Poe. I wish I could crawl inside his mind for just an hour. What a fascinating yet disturbing place that would be.
Q Crime and mystery writing can take both the writer and reader into some pretty dark places. Have you ever had to wrestle with a character or scene that challenged you to examine your own sense of right and wrong? If so, how?
A Ooh, good question. I’ve definitely given myself nightmares on more than one occasion, where I was stuck in my fictional world and couldn’t get out. I’ve cried when I’ve had to kill a character I loved. I’ve laughed at other characters. Writing is magical that way. As far as wrestling with my inner demons, no. I’ve never had fantasies about taking a life. When someone pushes me to the breaking point, I just go home, turn them into a character, and then kill them in unspeakable ways. Sure makes me feel better.
Q What’s next for you, Sue?
A Good question. Who knows? That’s up to the literary gods, I guess. I’ll keep writing and keep journeying toward my dream. I’m working on two projects now. One is based on a question that’s haunted me for years; what lengths would you go to spend one more day with a lost loved one? And the other is based on a true story; how an undercover operative befriended a serial killer to take him down. Since I’m working with a confidential informant, I can’t say more than that, except that it’s exciting, clandestine stuff.
Find Sue here:
My website/blog: http://www.crimewriterblog.com
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/suecoletta1
Author’s blog: http://www.auniqueandportablemagic.blogspot.com
50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters giveaway: http://bit.ly/1HlrCrC