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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Interview with K.J. Larsen

When I read Liar Liar, I wanted to know more about the wonderful author who brought me such fun characters and hysterical dialogue. Imagine my surprise when I discovered K.J. Larsen is three fabulous authors! The series is written by a trio of sisters, and I'm so pleased to be able to introduce you to them here.

Kari Larsen lives at the foothills of Mt. Rainier and loves hiking, stand-up comedy, and the Blues. She’s written a column for a local paper as well as numerous plays and children’s stories. She’s a mean baker and a bit like Cat’s crazy Mama. Her canolli will drop you to your knees.

Julianne is the youngest of the six Larsen girls and spoiled as God intended. She teaches classes in organic gardening and is a gifted artist and poet. She lives on a farm with her horses, her beagle, and more four legged children than any person with good sense. Like Cat, she prefers jeans and a sweater but she cleans up nice.

Kristen is a gifted writer, weaver and actress and has appeared in plays off off Broadway. Her eyes are green like Cat’s and she’s a shoe-in for the role in the blockbuster movie to come. She lives in the Chicago area and was recently spotted dancing in Bridgeport with Chance Savino. Kristen’s shitzu, Buster, and Cat DeLuca’s beagle, Inga, are rumored to be dating.

I’ve heard of couples working together on books, but this is the first time I’ve encountered three authors behind a single novel. That brings up a few questions:

What kind of home environment produces three authors?? (Or are there more writers, as you come from a family of six siblings?)

Kristen: We grew up in a family where there was a high premium on reading and story-telling. We always read a book together on family vacations. And our parents liked to illicit stories out of us by asking, "Tell me a story?" I think the love of story and story-telling has influenced all of the siblings. In our large family, it was an advantage being a good story teller because it was a sure way to get attention.

Kari: In our family, creative expression had the greatest value. We didn’t have much money but we made a lot of music and art together. We made our Christmas presents: we wrote songs and poems and painted pictures. Our sister Diane spent one Christmas Eve in the emergency room. She slashed a finger carving Rudolph.

How did Liar Liar come about? Was it one sister's idea or the result of brainstorming? 

Kari:  It was an accident. We were joking around one day, talking about our favorite books and characters. Somebody said something about catching cheaters and someone said "Liar Liar!" Then "Pants on Fire Detective Agency!". We thought it would be a funny book. No one else was around to write it so we decided to do it ourselves. It's just as well we didn't know how much work it would be.

Are your individual writing styles similar or did you each have to adjust to keep the voice the same throughout the book?

Kristen: We do have similar writing styles, but each of us brings our own particular strengths and weaknesses into the mix. We don't try to adjust our voices to each others'. We adjust our voice to Cat's voice. It was difficult at first, but once we knew her voice, things went more smoothly and cohesively.

Kari: The one voice thing wasn't entirely new to us. Our dad was a pastor and he had all six daughters pumping out plays for church and community events since grade school. He's retired now and he's writing his first mystery novel. We're his biggest fans.

How do the logistics work? Do you trade emails or get together in person?

Juli: The sisters email me each day's scenes. I put them together and make small changes to insure we have one voice.

Kristen:  I live in Illinois and Kari and Juli live in Washington State. We had to figure out how to really write together long distance. The best solution for us has been to Skype every morning, and some evenings as well. We need to see each other while we're working. It's more spontaneous, honest, creative, and quite honestly, fun, when we can see one another's face. And the fun part keeps us at it and enjoying the work.

Juli: We didn't have a plan when we wrote Liar Liar. We were pretty clueless. We'd wake up every morning and say, What happens to Cat today? When we got to the end of the story, each sister thought someone else committed the murder. We sort of solved the case as it evolved. The sister with the most compelling argument won. (Ta Da!)

Kari: There's no bloodshed between sisters. (But we do have bandaids!)

Does each of you bring something specific to the writing process?

Kristen:  We like to begin by brainstorming a scene together. There's a lot of silly laughing. Much of the sassy dialogue is created as a team here. The one who's writing the scene will take notes.

Juli: The person writing the scene may zoom off in an entirely different direction. you can't know where the story will take you until you're alone at your computer. You gotta listen to your muse. Sisters adjust.

Kari: Juli is the youngest sister and has the best instincts for this genre. She lightens up the language. She's sassier than I ever was and she has great instincts. She also dresses Cat. When I write a scene, I leave empty spaces and Juli fills in designer bags, shoes and whatever Cat's wearing. Kristen is an amazing writer and has great character development. She sees the big picture. I do mostly humor and dialogue. And I love a splashy finish.

I think of my own relationship with my sister and I wonder, did sibling rivalry ever rear its head while working on the book?

Kristen: People don't believe this when we tell them that No, it really didn't. When we were growing up, we were not allowed to fight. It was just forbidden. Now there are some consequences in growing up in that kind of household that are not positive. But the positive consequence for us was we had to learn to cooperate with each other. I mean, when you can't fight, you eventually learn to listen to each other and work things out. That's really served us well in writing a book together.

Kari: There are times when we have different visions for the story or a particular character. I wrote a scene for Liar Liar where I killed off a rookie cop named Tommy. Julianne wasn't having it. She raised Tommy from the dead and threw him in the hospital. I mostly hated giving up my funeral scene. I thought it was hilarious. Tommy's back again in "Sticks and Stones", and he's one of my favorite characters. Writing as a team is a game of give and take. We have to trust that what we create together is larger than what one can create alone. And we forget the nonsense of being right.

Just a note, I'm really glad you gals didn't kill off Tommy!

When I wrote Family Matters, my mother immediately recognized some of her character traits in Deanna Wilder. Did you pull your characters from people you know? (Please tell me that Mama really exists!)

Kari: I love this question. I hadn't considered similarities between our characters and people we know. Julianne and Kristen are strong women who might recognize some of   their character traits in Cat DeLuca. Our paternal grandmother, Inga, scared the crap out of young children. Very much like Cat's. Our Uncle Bart was larger than live (and a bit on the shady side) like Uncle Joey. As for Mama, I suppose she's rather like me.

I was raised in the Chicago suburbs in a Catholic family (but, alas, not Italian.) You've nailed the ethnic neighborhoods and priestly influence so well. Is the book a reflection of your childhoods?

Kristen:  We were not raised Catholic, but we have an Italian side of the family. We lived in Chicago for a period of time growing up and there we got to know the ethnic neighborhoods. Do to our father's work, we moved around a lot as children and that gave us a breadth of experience with different groups and how they live their lives.

Kari: The DeLucas reflect some of my own experience with family. The laughter, fierce loyalty, and staggering portions of pasta and guilt.

You left the implied sex to our imaginations, which is something I appreciate. Was there a specific reason behind this decision?

Kristen: Yes! Our father is still living!

Kari: People tell us Liar Liar made them laugh out loud. It's exactly what we wanted. A woman will read the book and pass it on to a grandmother or friend. I love that. I want to write something almost everyone can enjoy. A little romance can make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. A tickle for the imagination.

Juli: I think by leaving it to our imagination, it can be much better than anything put in print.

In Liar Lair, Catarina (Cat) DeLuca (Or DeLucky as one character calls her) runs the Pants on Fire Detective Agency, a private detective firm that exposes cheating spouses. After a subject she is tailing--Chance Savino--tells her he isn't married, he is allegedly killed in an explosion, and his wife, Cat's client, turns up dead.

Why set the book in Chicago?

Kristen: I live in Chicago and the family lived in Chicago for a period of time growing up. We love the energy of the City, the distinctive neighborhoods, and the rich ethnic diversity.

Juli: You gotta love the Windy City. It draws you in. Chicago has a tradition of great literary detectives who hand their shingles there. There's an easy charm you can't quite pull off in Cleveland.

One of the things I loved about the novel is that this heroine is surrounded by strong male characters, including several brothers. Then I discovered that all of your siblings are girls! Was this wishful thinking, or did you have strong male influences growing up?

Kristen: I think all of us sought out male friendships and mentors growing up to try to create more balance. And thankfully, we found them.

Kari: Speak for yourself, Sissy. I'm giving myself brothers and less competition in the bathroom!

The book leaves off on a potential romance. Will these two characters partner up in future books?

Juli: Let me just say this guy is eye candy and Cat is no fool. 

Could you tell us something about the second book in the series, Sticks and Stones, which is due for release in August, 2011?

Juli : Sticks And Stones is a kick. Liar Liar readers will remember a client named Cleo. Cleo’s cheating husband was sleeping with her sister. Cleo shot Walter’s bum full of buckshot. He slunk under the radar taking her money, dog and sister with him. At the end of the first book, Cat vows to find her client’s money and dog. In Sticks And Stones, she and Cleo break into Walter’s house. They find Cleo’s dog and a mysterious big ol’ bag of money. And they find Walter’s very dead body. Cleo is charged with murder and the cops suspect Cat is involved. Now it’s up to Cat DeLuca, catcher of cheaters, to bring Walter’s murderer to justice. But with so many enemies dancing on his grave, it’s not going to be easy.

Thank you so much for blogging with me!  For those who want to experience the full flavor of the books, K.J. Larsen's website includes recipes from Mama's Kitchen! You can FB KJ Larsen as well!

You can order the book from the usual sources (the website includes some independent bookstores!) and it's available in several formats, including Kindle, and you can order directly from the website. Sticks and Stones is due out August, 2011.

Review of "Liar Liar"

Cat DeLuca’s cheating ex-husband did give her one thing--the experience necessary to run the Pants on Fire Detective Agency. Using the skills she honed tracking her wandering ex, Cat makes a living exposing philandering spouses.

Her latest client is Mrs. Chance Savino. Odd that when the husband manages to corner Cat he claims that he’s not married. Odder still when a building explodes just as he walks inside. Cat is caught in the blast and winds up in the hospital with minor injuries, though everyone assumes she has a major concussion when she claims to have seen the dead man walking around.

Then Mrs. Savino turns up dead. Only she’s not really Mrs. Savino. She’s a reporter who was working a story that got too hot. Did the story involve Chance Savino? If only Cat can catch up with the allegedly dead man, she might get some answers. But first she has to avoid a family intervention, the protective arm of the Chicago police department--populated by many of her male relatives--and a few attempts on her own life.

Liar Liar will have you laughing from beginning to end. Cat DeLuca is an engaging character who is refreshingly free of bitter cynicism. It's hard not to fall in love with her family. The second book in the series is Sticks and Stones and will be released in August, 2011. I’ll be the first in line.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Interview with Author Mark Schweizer

I am so excited to have author Mark Schweizer on my blog. His award-winning liturgical detective mysteries have taken me to that place where I can't breath, my words make no sense, and tears roll down my cheeks because I'm laughing so hard.
Mr. Schweizer has waited tables, written articles for Collgehumor.com, won opera competitions, sung oratorios, taught in college music departments, raised pot-bellied pigs and hedgehogs, directed church choirs, sung the bass solo to Beethoven’s 9th with the Atlanta Symphony, hosted a classical music radio show, taught in a seminary, sung recitals, started a regional opera company, published choral music, built a log cabin, written opera librettos, directed stage productions, helped his wife to raise their two children and managed to remain married for thirty-two years. He also owns several chainsaws.
Welcome, Mark!
Your sleuth, Hayden Konig, is both the Chief of Police in St. Germaine, NC, and the organist and choirmaster for St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. He likes fine wine, fine cigars, and knows both music and liturgy inside and out.

When I read your biography, it was easy to see how you came by your musical expertise. One job caught my attention--you taught in a seminary! How did that happen, and is that where you honed your liturgical knowledge?

I actually taught as a replacement for a music professor at the seminary who was on sabbatical. I directed the seminary choir, taught voice lessons, helped with planning the weekly services, introduced new music, and did my best to teach the seminarians (priests-in-training) how to chant. My experience with the musical end of the liturgy in the Episcopal (and other Protestant denominations) comes from a long career as a church musician. I've been working in churches, part and full-time, for 35 years.

How did a nice musician wind up writing mysteries?

The first one (The Alto Wore Tweed) came out of a choir newsletter that I started and that ran for several years. I wrote the "bad" story as filler when I ran out of material. And, of course, along with the bad detective story that found its way into the first book, I found myself ten years worth of "articles," most of which have been included in the books in some form or other. I wrote the first book thinking that church musicians — directors and choir singers — a demographic I was already involved with as a composer, would enjoy it. Then, when the first book did well, I kept at it.

Your books include a mystery within the mystery--the story that Hayden is working on at the time. Which mystery comes first when you’re writing the book?

I do the mystery within the mystery first if I can. Frequently it changes along the way, but it gives me a good, fun place to start from. And really, its the most fun to write. As my character says, "To write badly is something I can well do." For example:

"It was a dark and stormy night, although Tessie, the one o'clock weather-girl on Channel Two, had nasally predicted a clear and starry night, but was once again dead wrong, chiefly due to her education (Meteorology for Blondes), her inability to read a tele-prompter, and her current preoccupation with the ever-burgeoning hope that this fellow she'd be hearing about, Doppler Radar, would ask her out on a date."

Your series has done very well, and your books have gone into multiple printings. I heard about you by word of mouth--my mother, the Voracious Mystery Reader. How else do you promote your books?

There is an email list we send to when another book is in the offing. There's a website, of course, and Mystery Bookstores do a tremendous job in "hand-selling" the series. Basically though, it's been word-of-mouth from mystery readers.

Your publisher, St. James Music Press, is also the publisher of fine church anthems. (Music Directors and Choirmasters: Note that you pay a onetime fee for the music and receive the right to copy your heart out--for your use.) This definitely “brands” your books. Do you have any interest in creating a separate series?

I just finished with the first book in a different series. That is, I think it will be a series. It depends, of course, on if anyone likes it! It's titled "Dear Priscilla," and follows a couple of 1940's Chicago detectives. It's a harder-edged book — a 1940's comic noir thriller. (How's that for a description?)

As a Catholic, I’m well aware of that fragile and fallible human element that exists in organized religion. I find your humor hysterical, even when it targets our traditions and the many blessed items in the Vatican. (I should mention that you NEVER make fun of the subject of worship, unless, of course, it’s a confection.) Do you get mail from offended parties? And was this something you worried about when you began the series?

I never worried about it, because I'm VERY careful, and when I poke fun at the foibles that occur when we try to make the liturgy (literally: work of the people) into what we think will be more relevant to today's worshipper, I do so with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. Also, there is line that I do not cross and I know where it is. The practices of worship are fair game. Faith and beliefs are not. I will add that ALMOST everything that happens in the church is taken from actual experience. Well, not the murders....

Humor aside, your characters are unapologetically Christian. Did you worry that this might limit your audience, and did this affect your marketing strategy?

It might well limit the audience. I didn't do any actual marketing strategy on this, but if every Christian in America bought just one book, I'd be VEEERRRRYYYYY happy!

How did you hook up with Jim Hunt, the fabulous illustrator who brings us the covers of your books as well as drawings for your blog and web site?

I saw Jim's political cartoons in the Charlotte Observer years ago. He has a very identifiable style and he captured the whimsy and humor of the books in his preliminary sketches immediately. I looked up "Jim Hunt Cartoonist" on the internet, sent him an email and we were off and running. Interestingly enough, as soon as I have the "bad story" finished (3000-4000 words), I call Jim and get some sketches for the book. His illustrations really help to push the writing ahead.

The blurbs offered on the first pages--from unpaid interns, students, and M.D.’s-- are just as much fun to read as the book! Are some of these actual people?

Almost all of them are actual people (although some of the quotes are invented!) We couldn't sit around waiting for reviews to come pouring— or rather dribbling—in. We call them Advance Reviews, because none of these folks have actually read the book.

Hayden Konig is influenced by Raymond Chandler. Who influenced your writing?

Well Raymond Chandler, of course. But more than that, the good comic writers —Dave Barry, Garrison Keeler, Bill Bryson—and early Robert Parker (for dialogue.)

Could you tell us what’s up next for you?

Number nine in the St. Germaine series. I have the "bad story" finished, and now I have to get cracking on the rest of the mystery. I have a couple of choir commissions to compose, editing, and an opera to sing in the spring. I'll stay busy.

Thank you so much for appearing on my blog.

Visit Mark's website, and you can sign up for his email list. Don't forget to read the blog and watch the video of Noylene's Beautifery and Dip-n-Tan. The Litergical Series in on sale right now from SJMP for only $10 per book. (I completed my set!) You can also get them from independent booksellers and Amazon, and they are available on Kindle.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Getting Author Interviews for Your Blog

Author interviews are a nice way to spice up your blog. Readers love them. They help promote authors. It's a win-win situation.

So how do you get authors? Ask.

It's intimidating to contact a stranger, but I've found most authors willing to answer questions and happy to appear on your blog. If he's too busy, most of the time he will let you know when he's available.

I enjoy the Joanna Fluke books, so I contacted her when I was on Writers in Residence. She supplied us with a guest blog. I've just contacted the authors of "Liar, Liar" and they have agreed to an interview. I'm thrilled because I loved their book.

Where do you find authors? Well, what are you reading right now? It makes sense to talk to authors whose books you love because your enthusiasm will reflect in your questions. But you shouldn't limit yourself to household names.

Introducing new authors to readers isn't only fun, it gives your blog an edge. Voracious readers are always looking for a new series to devour. I speak from experience. Check out the author list on sites such as Sisters in Crime and Romance Writers of America, or any other writing site populated by authors.

Should you interview authors you disagree with? That's a tricky question. On one hand, do you want to promote something you don't believe in? On the other hand, you have the opportunity to ask where that person is coming from. You can always stay away from the topics you disagree with and focus on what the author has to offer.

Is this blatant promotion for other writers? It sure is, but doing something nice for another writer is good karma, and we writers can use all the promotional help we can get now that publisher budgets are slim.

There are three ways to showcase an author on your blog.

  1. Ask for a guest blog. You may want to supply a topic to help the author out.  
  2. Send interview questions and ask them to return them by email. Make sure to personalize the questions. It takes more effort, but the authors appreciate it and you'll have something new to offer readers.
  3. Ask the author to send you around 1,000 to 1,500 words telling the audience anything she wants them to know about herself or her books. Then work the information into an interview. This idea came from Morgan St. James, and it works well. You wind up with tidbits of information you wouldn't have thought to ask about.
What kind of questions do you ask? I prefer not to put authors on the spot with political or religious questions or anything that might be interpreted poorly. I try to be specific to the books and the author. At the same time, I don't go too crazy, because the authors usually have a full plate and I don't want them to have to apply the same effort to the questions that they'd give to a college essay.

Some extras:

Make sure you get a photo of both the author and the book cover. You can get the cover from Amazon or the writer's website, but I ask for a current photo in case she has something more current they prefer. Make sure you specify what format you need it in. Jpeg works for blogspot.

Include a book review. Just make sure you post it first so that it appears under the author interview.

Links to buy the books are appreciated. I know when I'm eager to try out an author, I like being able to click through right from the blog. Be sure to include a link to Independent Bookstores such as http://www.indebound.org/ . We want to keep those people in business.

Author Interviews are a great way to get readers, and the authors just might reciprocate when you're promoting your own novel.