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Monday, June 27, 2011

Interview with Karen Cantwell

I first "met" Karen Cantwell back in 2009 when both of us had novel manuscripts entered in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards competition. Hers was the one excerpt I remembered because the writing was funny and because there were...monkeys. So when I saw "Take the Monkeys and Run" as a completed novel on Kindle, I thought "this has to be the same woman!" It was, and I was so excited when she agreed to be on A Writer's Jumble.

Welcome, Karen!

When I first saw your book "The Monkeys in My Trees", it was in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, doing well as a semifinalist. Can you tell us what happened to the book between then and its release as Take the Monkeys and Run?

The ABNA was a very fun experience and I feel lucky to have made it to the semi-finals. After the contest ended, I did another re-write based on feedback from reviews, as well as from a professional editor. I also changed the title to reinforce the movie theme. I sent more queries to agents and small press publishers to no avail. Finally, I decided that my book could sit around in a drawer, or could actually have some readers, and that's when I published them myself on Kindle. Eventually, I followed with publishing to Nook and in paperback.

I love so many things about your book, but let’s start with the protagonist, Barbara Marr. (Great name, by the way). Even though crazy things are happening to Barbara, I found her refreshingly normal. Did you have to resist the urge to make her over-the-top?

No, I never did feel the need to make her over the top because I think that's what makes her and the book funny - she's this normal person (relatively so, anyway!) caught up in this wacky craziness going on in her neighborhood.

The quirky--I know it’s an overused word, but it really applies--supporting cast is where the crazy comes in. An Irish woman who adapt Italian lingo after marrying an Italian, an ex-hippie with a poodle named Puddles, an intimidating and successful mother who would make any daughter cringe. Did you come up with these characters from scratch, or are they based on people you know?

Yes, they are a quirky crew and I'm proud of that fact. (smile) Some of the characters seemed to just evolve before my eyes, while others are a mish-mash of people I've known or come into contact with sometime in my life. Barbara's mother, for instance, just wrote herself. I decided that she MUST not be anything like my own mother, or I'd be in BIG trouble, so I went the opposite, and before I knew it, she was this larger than life (literally) character that just appeared on the page. That was fun.

I loved that “no animals were harmed during the writing of this book”. I also loved that Barbara doesn’t succumb to the easy road after Howard leaves her. It’s so rare to find an author who takes the high road. Was this a conscious decision? (I’m trying not to give anything away.)

Yes, it was conscious. I started out writing this book, intending that the protagonist would not be a wimpy woman. I hate it in books, in movies, and on TV, when women are weak, and have to be "saved" by a man. Nope. Not Barb. She's afraid, but she's going to overcome. I'm really glad that came across in the story!

The plot was pure screwball comedy, right out of an old black-and-white movie. What authors, books or movies have influenced your writing style.

Screwball - I love it! I'm going to start using that in my promotion. It is screwball - like Lucille Ball. (smile) And I will say, that shows like Lucille Ball and The Carol Burnett Show definitely have influenced my writing. And when I was younger, I would watch, just like you said, the old black-and-white comedies. Dean and Lewis, Abbott and Costello, Marx Brothers. As a young girl, my favorite books were humorous - Are You There God it's Me Margaret and Harriet the Spy were two I read several times.

The Chronicles of Marr-nia is a short story collection of Barbara Marr stories. Did you find that this helped introduce readers to your character?

I'm not sure that Chronicles of Marr-nia introduces people to Barbara Marr or not. It sells well for a short story collection, but I have my suspicions that most people who buy Marr-nia have already read Take the Monkeys and Run and are looking for another dose of Barb and her friends. (smile) There's actually a short story in that collection that is a between-the-novels mystery short that occurs between Monkeys and Citizen Insane.

Citizen Insane, the second Barbara Marr novel, is now available on Kindle. Can you tell us a bit about the plot?

Yes, it's just released and doing nicely already! (sigh of relief) In this second mystery, Barb attends a rather spicy PTA meeting, and always one to get into trouble, learns the hard way that a yearbook scandal is part of a much larger, sinister plot involving some high-profile criminals.

Is it necessary to read Take the Monkey and Run before delving into Citizen Insane?

No - in fact my first review on Amazon is by someone who read Citizen Insane first and she didn't feel she'd missed anything. (another sigh of relief!)

You took the self-publishing route, which many authors, including JK Rowling, are doing. How difficult was it to establish a following of readers by taking this path?

That JK Rowling is one smart cookie, isn't she? And we were all buying that line that she didn't like ebooks . . .

I first published on Kindle with Amazon, and I have to say, that's the easiest place to find an audience if you are self-published. That's not to say that I didn't have to get myself out there and promote the book, but once I did, Kindle readers found it. If I had just published a paperback, I never would have been on a bestsellers list with Janet Evanovich and Charlaine Harris. That was like gold for promotion. But the promotion is definitely the hardest part of self-publishing. It's my own money, and my own blood, sweat, and tears. On the other hand, that's the beauty of it as well. On a good sales day, or when I get that WONDERFUL email from a new fan, I know I did it all by myself. Watch out, I think I'm going to start channeling Frank Sinatra here . . ..

What’s next for you?

I've already started book number three in the Barbara Marr series: Silenced by the Yams. After that will be the fourth book, tentatively titled, Lethal Wet One. Once I have four Barb books written and published, I want to delve into a thriller/mystery about an optometrist that "sees" the future. It won't be as funny as the Barbara Marr books, but my guess is there will be an element of humor, because I can't seem to write anything without throwing at least a chuckle or two.

Thank you so much for this opportunity, Jackie! It's been fun.

Visit Karen at her website and on her blogs, A Moose Walked Into A Bar . I highly recommend that you check out "Take the Monkeys and Run" and "Citizen Insane".  After reading the first book, I can't wait to find out what happens in the second!
I thought the book description from A Moose Walked Into a Bar summed the plot up well, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it! So read the description as well as reviews, including one from Publisher's Weekly. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Self-Publishing Versus Traditional: A Conversation with Two Authors

 On June 18th, I moderated a panel for Sisters in Crime/LA at Barnes and Noble, Valencia, with two fabulous authors to discuss the above topic. Sue Ann Jaffarrian and Pamela Samuels-Young (bios at the end) brought two very different perspectives to the conversation, and I, as moderator, got out of the way. A big shout out to Lori Christian and the staff at B&N for a great job setting up the venue.

Publishing is definitely changing, and the changes are making self-publishing an option that more authors--even established authors--are looking at with interest.

Pamela noted that there is a lot of work involved in self-publishing, but Sue Ann pointed out that authors who aren't in the top tiers of traditional publishing have many of the same responsibilities. The author is still expected to foot the bill for travel expenses to marketing venues such as book signings and conferences. 

Control is a major plus in self-publishing. While Pamela has to find vendor herself such as copywriters, cover designers, and distributors, the author has say in the entire process. No more bad cover art selected by the publisher. One place to look for freelancers is on Elance , but make sure you get at last two recommendations from authors who have used the person's services. Sue Ann pointed out that her publisher has gotten her books into many foreign markets without her having to worry about it. In fact, sometimes she's pleasantly surprised by a royalty check!

Is an agent necessary for a self-published author? Pamela prefers a literary attorney. Since you don't need to shop the book, an agent is an unnecessary expense. Just make sure your attorney specializes in the business of books. Pamela also suggested joining the Author's Guild, as you can get free advice on contracts as one of their benefits.

Much of Pamela's marketing is done through book groups. She meets with them in person, over the phone, and via Skype. Sue Ann suggested that authors think outside of the box when they look for marketing opportunities. She sells books when she speaks at charity functions. Being a paralegal, she also speaks and sells books at legal functions.

The two hard-bound editions of Pamela's books came from book clubs. Otherwise, it's too expensive to go with hard covers. Both authors preferred trade paperbacks.

One of the more difficult parts of self-publishing is getting book reviews. Pamela suggested Pump Up Your Books , which is an on-line book promotion agency. They can put you on a blog tour and get reviews. Reviewers can become fans, as evidenced by one online reviewer who came to see Sue Ann.

It's only fair to point out that, though both authors have won awards and been on various best seller lists, they still have day jobs. Only a lucrative television or movie deal and the big bucks that go with it would entice them to write full time. One point: Full time authors don't have insurance, though the Author's Guild is able to offer some type of plan, depending on what state you live in.

Both authors also recommended that authors subscribe to Publisher's Lunch and Publisher's Marketplace as a way to keep up on publishing news.

How much social networking do the authors do? Sue Ann considers her blog personal, which can sometimes cause problems when readers don't agree with the author's opinions. Both authors are on Facebook, and Sue Ann has learned to take advantage of the opportunities there, including a FB page set up by fans of her books.

What's next for these authors? Pamela is busy at work on her next novel, and Sue Ann intends to self-publish a short story on Kindle.

Sue Ann Jaffarrian is the author of three series--plus sized paralegal Odelia Gray Series, The Ghost of Granny Apples Series, and now the Madison Rose Vampire Series.  In her “other life” Sue Ann is a paralegal and a motivational speaker, and she just hosted a talk through sisters in crime for writers on how to find an agent. You can find out more on her website.

A corporate attorney in her spare time, Pamela Samuels-Young has written four novels, one standalone “Buying Time” and three series books featuring savvy African-American attorney, Vernetta Henderson. She’s a self-help speaker, and her talks for writers include “Self Publishing in 10 Easy Steps” and “Finish That Book Despite Your Day Job”, and if you can’t make it to a talk, you can find her CD “Writing Your Novel Despite Your Day Job’ on her website.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Interview with Prolific, Fantastic Author Marilyn Meredith

Marilyn Meredith is the author of the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series as well as the Rocky Bluff P.D. series. One of the first authors to embrace e-publishing she has several books that are available in both e-format and trade paperback, among them, the award winning mystery Guilt by Association.

Christian horror is another of the genres she writes in-The Choice, Deeds of Darkness, and Cup of Demons are prime examples. She also has a chapter in the best seller, "THE PORTABLE WRITERS' CONFERENCE" from Quill Driver Press.

Also a writing teacher, Marilyn has been a featured speaker at several writers' conferences. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, EPIC, and the Public Safety Writers Association.

Marilyn is an inspiration to many writers, and she introduced me to that fabulous organization, PSWA. Welcome, Marilyn!

I'm not giving anything away to say that Stacy and Doug are on their way to the altar in Angel Lost. Once they get together, do you envision any changes in the Rocky Bluff series?

I’m not sure what’s going to happen with Stacey and Doug. What I do know is the next book in the series focuses on Gordon Butler—he’s the one that bad stuff happens to all the time. Of course Stacey and Doug are prominent in the book because they are Gordon’s best friends. I’m still editing that particular book.

In this book, you work an Angel into the story. In your Deputy Crabtree mystery series, you included the legend of the Hairy Man. Are you attracted to the supernatural?

In my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series I like to incorporate Native American legends. The Hairy Man is a legend of the Tule River Indians, the Indians who live on the reservation near me. I visited the pictographs of the Hairy Man and knew I had to write about him.

As for the angel’s appearance in Angel Lost, the idea also came from something that actually happened in a nearby town except it was Jesus’ face everyone thought they saw. For about two weeks crowds gathered around the carpet store window every night to view the face—until they figured out that the face was being caused by a reflection from a light across the street. I knew I had to include something like that in a book.

And now for the answer to your question about whether or not I’m attracted to the supernatural, yes. It’s fascinating. I like to write about ghosts too. And my husband and I have stayed in several haunted places on purpose like the Queen Mary and a hotel that is supposed to be haunted as well as a B and B where we stayed in the haunted room. We didn’t see any ghosts, unfortunately, though on the Queen Mary you could definitely feel a different atmosphere.

I've read and enjoyed both of the above series. Do you use a different approach for each series?

The Deputy Tempe Crabtree series mostly comes from Tempe’s point of view. In the latest, Invisible Path, the first chapter is from the point-of-view of the murder suspect, but that is an exception.

In the Rocky Bluff P.D. the point-of-view and scenes shift from different members of the police department and their families. My intention from the first book I wrote in this series was to show how the job affects the family and what’s going on in the family affects the job. Because each series is different from the other, I’m glad I’ve written them this way.

Your books are part police procedural, and you always include interesting technical details. Do you have a special advisor or resource you use?

The Rocky Bluff P.D. doesn’t have much money so they don’t have the up-to-date technical stuff a big city has, and in fact, they have to send off some of their evidence to the Ventura P.D. to be tested. This way I can really keep what happens centered on old-fashioned police work.

Tempe is a Native American resident deputy in a mountain community and things are done a bit different than they are in some other places. It really isn’t her job to do investigative work in a homicide, but she often does because she doesn’t think the detectives have chosen the right suspect. Over the years she’s gained the respect of the lead detective though she’s not always happy when he gives her the job of questioning Indians on the reservation as they are as suspicious of her as any other law enforcement officer.

As for advisors or resources, I am a member of the Public Safety Writers Association and friends with many law enforcement officers. I get some help from them and I’ve certainly asked them lots of questions. However, I always tell them that the Rocky Bluff P.D. is my police department and I can do it however I want.

What's next for you?

My next Tempe mystery is called Bears With Us and will be out sometime in the early fall. Bear Creek is being overrun with troublesome bears. This is another book I had lots of fun writing. No Bells is the next one in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series.

I'm asking every writer I interview this month: Do you have any tips or tricks that will help authors with rewrites?

Oh, my goodness, I had such a terrible time with names of supporting characters in Bears With Us. I had them written down, but didn’t do enough checking and thought I could remember and mixed up names like Vera and Nora, and spelled names differently too. Thank goodness I had a great editor who caught the changes.

Another thing I did was mess up the time line, skipping a whole day. I kept a calendar of what happened each day, but I think when I got toward the end and so much was happening, I quit checking the time line. So—my advice is keep a good record of the characters’ names and check back to make sure you’re using the right on. And a timeline is always important—and don’t do like I did, keep it up to date.

Be sure to visit Marilyn's website and blog, Marilyn's Musings. You can order her books from the usual places, but don't forget the independent booksellers. Thank you, Marilyn!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Review of "Angel Lost" by F.M. Meredith

For those fans of the Rocky Bluff PD mystery series, it's no surprise that Officer Stacey Wilbur is distracted at work. She's breaking in a new member of the police force on a sting operation to trap a flasher who has been frequenting the beach, all while she finalizes the arrangements for her wedding to Detective Doug Milligan.

The new guy, Officer Vaughn Aragon, is happy to assist her. He's a recent transfer from the LAPD, and though he wanted a quieter life, he wasn't prepared for the slow pace of Rocky Bluff. There's little night life, and his latest assignment is crowd control in front of a store window on Valley Boulevard--a store window reflecting the unexplained image of an angel.

As the wedding date closes in, it appears that there might be something more ominous going on at the beach than mere flashing, and when Stacey disappears on the morning of her wedding, the FBI steps in to handle the case.

Meredith's writing is part police procedural part soap opera--and I mean the latter in the most complimentary sense. She touches on the private lives of both supporting and main characters to show that they don't exist only when they share "screen time" with the lead. The result is an extended family of officers, wives, and children that the reader cares about, just as if the reader were a citizen in that seaside town of Rocky Bluff.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Has Modern Media Condemned Good Books?

When I first read Dorothy Sayers' "The Nine Tailors", I was a third of the way through the book when I tossed it aside and said, "If I hear one more thing about change ringing, I'll scream!"

Change Ringing is the act of ringing church bells in sound patterns, and it seems like a pretty big deal in England if my recent viewing of Midsummer Murders is any indication. In "The Nine Tailors", the bell ringers are preparing for a record-setting Christmas Eve performance, though I gave up long before that Holy midnight.

A few years passed, and I learned to love Lord Peter Wimsey. Once again, I sat down with a copy of "The Nine Tailors" and gave it another go. This time, something wonderful happened. An entire world opened up before my eager eyes. By the time I reached that ominous third-way mark, I could feel the December cold in my bones and see the moonlight and shadows peppering a flat country covered in snow, making for a truly Silent Night.

My muscles ached at the thought of the Herculean strength required to ring bells for hours straight, and as the last chime echoed through the early morning, the chill I felt could only be followed up by murder. It was.

Why did the second read satisfy? In the interval between reads, I like to think that I grew up, and part of growing up is learning that anticipation is often much more satisfying than the quick rush of the payoff.

Now that instant gratification is available via the Internet, and movies and television shows rely on unceasing action while they skim over character and setting, too many people have forgotten the pleasure of immersing oneself in a good story.

I recently read Anthony Edward's "The Second Shot". The narrator is long-winded and verbose, not to mention a stuffy prig. After a few pages I paused. Would I be able to read an entire novel of this voice? I'm happy to say I gave it a few more pages. The payoff was delicious and it could never have worked without setting up an unpleasant image of the narrator, and I'm grateful I took the time to allow the author to work his magic. I would have missed out on a gem.

Writers are often told to get the murder in as soon as possible or the reader won't bother with the book. I wonder if Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" would have been so successful if she had not been allowed to introduce us to the characters on their way to that ominous island? Or if we hadn't seen the reactions of each household as they read the morning paper in "Murder Must Advertise"?

Are nuances a thing of the past? Does everything have to be spelled out in black and white? And will characters be allowed to develop in subtle ways? Or must readers be beaten over the head. And is it for our benefit as writers or for their benefit as readers? It's certainly easier to get on with a scene than to take the time to dig deeper.

I had someone complain to me that Poirot wasn't any fun because he "told" you everything at the end of the book. I took one of her books and read through it. While Poirot certainly did give a summation at the end of the story, EVERY SINGLE clue was laid out in the book. It was a lesson in subtlety and excellence.

This episode happened quite a few years ago. Does that mean that there have always been lazy readers, but that the market now consciously caters to them? Are we in danger of training entire audiences to avoid deep thought and subsist on a diet of candy bars instead of living fully on balanced meals? A candy bar can be perfectly wonderful as long as that's not the only thing I'm putting into my body.

I'd love hear other opinions.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest Blog by Erotic Fiction Author Beverly Diehl

My name is Beverly, and I write erotica and erotic romance.

Yes, there are those who think I should be in some kind of 12-Step group for this. And others who are enthusiastic, and still others who couldn’t give a flying... uh, fig.

As a little girl, I wanted to be Nancy Drew; as a bigger girl, I wanted to write Nancy Drew. As I wrote in Discovering Our Genre and Our Voice, I tried to write mystery, but it turned into a sex-charged thriller. (While my mentor, who tried to write genre romance, kept killing off her lead characters and decided to join MWA.)

I wrote a lot of short stories in various genres, then my first novel. As many first novels are, it was highly autobiographical. I wrote it primarily to assuage the pain of a failed love affair. Since sex and sexual attraction had been a big part of said affair, they also had to be a big part of said novel.

It served the purpose of helping me exercise my writing muscles and exorcize my ghastly feelings. Though it was thoroughly awful, it hooked me firmly on writing, and so, I decided to keep going.

Next novel was more of a chick lit thing, again with sexual attraction themes. Now what? Should I make the sex scenes as explicit and erotic as I possibly could, or should I go in the direction of euphemisms and lightly touching (pun intended) on the subject?

I decided that if publishers wanted a change in the heat level, it would be easier for me to tone down already written sexy scenes, than to take a barely steamy scene, and try to make it hotter.

That novel scored me an agent (if not yet a sale.) I’m now writing my third agented novel, Close Knit, about the sexual adventures of the men and women of an LA-based knitting group. It’s still not easy for me to write a sex scene - I tend to squirm in my chair when I do (take that however you will.) My sex (writing) is somewhat conservative: a little bondage, perhaps a few menages a trois, voyeurism, but mostly straightforward one male-one female interactions.

I continue to read other erotic material in the current market. Some is similar, some is much more subdued, and some is "Release the Flying Monkeys" material that makes me almost wet my pants, and not in a good way.

To each their own trapeze, I guess.

As far as my family and what they think about my writing... I admit, I held back a bit while my last surviving grandma was alive. My remaining family are all cheering me on, though I tend to feel a little - call it queasiness - over them reading the smexy parts and wondering if it’s about me. Which is kind of silly - does anyone believe that Agatha Christie went about stabbing and shooting people on trains?

I decided to write under my own name, as it seems that many erotic authors who write under a pseudonym, like Judy Mays, find themselves being outed by the "pillars of the community" anyway.

I don't think every writer can or should try to write explicit sex scenes. However, I do believe that since sex, sexual attraction, and just plain sensuality are such a major factor in most people's lives, that it's dishonest and off-putting not to acknowledge and deal with it. As a human being, I’ve noticed whenever healthy, relatively attractive people are closely involved in a joint activity - whether that’s digging wells in Africa, operating a fast food restaurant, or acting in a play - the issue of sexual attraction always comes up. Mutual? Perhaps not. Forbidden because of age, gender, existing marriages and relationships, or religious beliefs? Perhaps.

Just don’t try to make me believe there isn’t an elephant in the living room. As a writer, I love the conflict and tension that forbidden love can add to any work. As a reader, I need to see that the feelings are there, and that they are resolved in some believable way, not simply ignored as if the characters were sexless robots. (Unless the characters actually are sexless robots. Though even Wall-E had a girlfriend.)

I’ll be posting sections of Close Knit on my blog as part of the Romantic Friday Writers group, and I also have a short story up on Rose City Sisters  that gives a good sample of my smutty style (don’t worry, it’s PG-13.) Come by and join in the fun!

I was going to introduce Beverly at the beginning of her blog, but it was so funny, I thought I would get out of the way and include  her bio at the end.
Beverly Diehl writes on the wild side. Tired of too many 19-year-old heroines with perky breasts, she decided to write stories that featured real women. She's a past president of the Alameda Writer's Group, spent four years as columnist in The Working Title, a monthly literary publication, put in six years as editor/contributor to Hoofbeats, a monthly equine newsletter, and writes occasional op-ed pieces for the Los Angeles Times.

She blogs at  Writing in Flow, and she's now Tweeting @writerbeverly. Visit her web site to find out more about this author!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Interview with William S. Shepard of the Diplomatic Mysteries

William S. Shepard is a former career American diplomat who is at home in the world of embassies and diplomacy, and wants the reader to be too. He is also Wine Editor for French Wine Explorers  and hopes you will enjoy learning more about superb wines as you read Vintage Murder.

And, yes, that is William on the cover of his books. Doesn't he look like James Bond?

Welcome, William.

Tell us about your diplomatic mystery series.

The first in the Robbie Cutler diplomatic mystery series, Vintage Murder, is now published as a Kindle Ebook . The story is set in Bordeaux and Paris, France. Robbie is a thirty something career American Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State. He has always been interested in crime solving, and he loves good wine. You get a full measure of both in Vintage Murder, including insider tours of the Bordeaux wine country, topped with receptions at Château Margaux, and the American Embassy in Paris.

In Vintage Murder, the Basque terrorist ETA organization is blackmailing the great Bordeaux vineyard owners. One of the victims calls on Robbie, who is Acting Consul General at the American Consulate General in Bordeaux. The blackmailer’s voice sounded like an American! Robbie goes through the visa files, and locates a possible suspect. Since Robbie is already working with the French police and their FBI equivalent to share information on terrorism, cooperation to solve this crime is a logical next step, particularly when Ambassador Adams in Paris gives his approval.

He has an enthusiastic helper in Sylvie Marceau, a French newspaper reporter. Together they explore the great vineyards of Bordeaux, and as the series develops, their detection team becomes a memorable love story. You won’t be surprised when Sylvie solves an attempted murder that had baffled Robbie!

What an exciting (and delicious) world to occupy, even if only for the length of a book.

You have another book which I like to think of as Encyclopedia Brown for adults.

In my eBook “Coffee Break Mysteries”, the reader is the sleuth. Twenty short mysteries are set forth, with the solutions following each story. Each mystery is just long enough to enliven your coffee break. To begin with, we have “The Plot To Poison George Washington.” It was in late 1776 and the revolutionary cause was desperate. Some traitor tried to poison the General – but fortunately the plot was discovered in time. Perhaps you will solve the mystery, for the court martial was never held!

Or … perhaps you will prefer “The Geneva Summit Goldfish Mystery,” featuring President Ronald Reagan in an actual event that took place during a Geneva Summit with the Russians!

These short stories are not as easy to solve as you might think. Why not give them a try?

I did want to point out, with all the talk about branding, that I love the way William consistantly depicts that chic, almost James Bondish, political world on his covers. And fine wines seems a natural extension of this environment.

You can also visit William on his web page , where you can get great info on French wines as well as his mysteries. Finally, if you want fact and not fiction, William has written Diplomatic Tales, a memoir about his time in the diplomatic service.  The second half of the book includes fictional tales.

Thank you, William!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Interview with Author J. Michael Orenduff

I am so pleased to have author J. Michael Orenduff today. His Pot Thief mystery series is a joy to read--fun facts, characters, and cooking combined with a historical Southwestern atmosphere. You can't help but feel your time has been well-spent after reading a J. Michael Orenduff. But enough gushing.

First off, congratulations are in order. The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein won the “Lefty” award at the Left Coast Crime Convention, and both The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras and The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy consecutively won the “Eppie” for eBook Mystery of the Year. How has this changed things for you?

I’ve received many congratulatory messages (thanks for adding yours), my sales have increased, and I’ve received several invitations to speak at conferences. Unfortunately, none of them has offered me a large honorarium.

But despite the notoriety that comes from winning these awards, publishing with an indie publisher remains a challenge. My publisher, Oak Tree Press, is great to work with. They pay advances and good royalties. They produce a handsome product. They try to promote my book within the limits of their promotion budget. From what some writers with bigger presses tell me, even they don’t get much promotional help these days. Authors have to market their books. But many bookstores simply don’t have the staff or time to sort through all the books offered by all the publishers, so they play it safe and just order from the big NY publishers.

In The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier, you take protagonist Hubie Schuze out of his comfort zone in Old Town Albuquerque and drop him in Santa Fe. Instead of copying pots, he’s crafting an original design, and rather than read about scientists, he’s reading up on a chef. Did this take you out of your comfort zone as the author of the series as well?

Actually, it returned me to my comfort zone. I’ve always been a big fan of Agatha Christie and her cast of characters on a boat, an island, a train etc. Escoffier sets the cast in a restaurant, but it is, in some ways, an homage to Christie with the differing personalities of the restaurant workers coming to light and their interactions being clues. There are also several characters whose identity – or at least full identity – is obscured until the end. It was great fun to write.

Each book so far has revolved around a scientists and his specific theory. Escoffier is a chef, not a scientist. Will you be expanding your titles to include other experts outside of the field of science?

I will. The next one is D. H. Lawrence who loved New Mexico and lived outside of Taos for a couple of years. Much of the action in that one takes place of the Lawrence Ranch, now owned by my alma mater, the University of New Mexico. The one after that features Lew Wallace who was the Territorial Governor of New Mexico when he wrote Ben Hur and when he double-crossed Billie the Kid. So the first six will have included a mathematician, astronomer, physicists, chef, writer, and Civil War general. I’m open to suggestions about number seven if anyone out there wants to send me a name.

Hubie has been considering the pros and cons of marriage. And Susannah showed a new side in this book as well--the efficient and professional waitress. Does this mean they are each entering a new life phase? No more evenings at Dos Hermanas Tortillaria?

I don’t think either my readers of Hubie and Susannah would allow me to end the evenings at Dos Hermanas Tortillaria. But characters do evolve, and Hubie continues to struggle with love and marriage in book number five. I don’t have a long-term plan for him. Of course, he doesn’t have one for himself. You are correct that Susannah is a consummate professional as a waitress, but she doesn’t want to consider it a career. At least not yet. That’s why she is still taking classes part time, but that doesn’t seem to be leading to a career either, so she’s also a bit in limbo. Maybe that’s why they are such great friends. Despite being of different genders and generations, they have more in common than either one of them realizes.

I also noticed the steps as Hubie cooked were more explicit, and you even included one warning. Have people been contacting you for recipes? Will there ever be a Hubie Schuze cookbook?

A resounding ‘Yes’ to both questions.

(A big Yahoo! from me.)

Hubie always has an “Aha!” moment when the crime’s solution hits him, usually while he’s doing something unrelated to the murder. Did you set out to make this his sleuthing trademark?

I did. And I planned for the “Aha!” moment to arise from the ideas of the person he was reading about. It hasn’t worked out as neatly as I had hoped. But that’s the difference between planning a book and writing one. Once I get into the story, it takes on a life of its own, and multiple ideas from Hubie’s reading help to tie the plot together. And while one or two of those may help him solve the murder, the breakthrough idea does not necessarily come from the person in the title.

You and your wife, noted art historian Lai Chew Orenduff, gave a presentation about book covers at last year’s Public Safety Writers Association Conference. Your series books have a definite look to them that makes them easily identifiable, and they are attractive as well. Do you have any advice for authors about to release a series on how to come up with an effective book cover? (As much as it is within the author’s control.)

Yes – hire my wife to design the cover. Short of that, try to get your publisher to allow you to have some input. Now I didn’t do either of those on my first book. The publisher’s designer did the work, and I never saw it until it was complete. Luckily, I loved it, and so do readers. I get hundreds of compliments on the covers. When I got the contract for the second book, I asked for and received input, but my main input has been to insist that the general theme of the covers remains the same so that the fact that it is a series is reinforced. It may be true that you can’t always judge a book by its cover, but people are a lot more likely to pick one up and start reading if the cover attracts them.

I’ve asked this question of Mark Schweizer of the Liturgical Mystery series and L.C. Tyler of the Elsie and Ethelred series (just so you don’t think I’m picking on you!)

Hubie has a wry sense of humor that pokes fun of many things, but you never get the impression that he’s mean. As an author, how do you avoid crossing this line?

Great question. I wish I had an equally great answer. I spent a lot of time creating my characters. I actually wrote a biography of Hubie, starting with his parents and their backgrounds. I traced him through school, university, etc. I noted his attitudes, likes and dislikes, weaknesses and strengths, etc. I keep that biography at hand and refer to it as I write in the hope of avoiding inconsistencies. I did have one change in his physical description in the last book, but so far no one has asked about it. It wasn’t something that couldn’t happen – he didn’t get taller or change eye color – but he did change. But he could never be mean.

What’s up next for you?

In addition to the next two books in the series mentioned above, I’m still looking to have one of my plays produced. Getting a play staged these days is even harder than finding an agent or a publisher. I guess I should count myself fortunate that I have two out of three.

Thanks for a great interview. It is refreshing to have an interviewer who does her homework and doesn’t just use stock questions.

And now, for the question of the month: Do you have any tips or tricks that might help writers with the rewrite process?

It helps me to put the work aside for a couple of weeks and work on the next book. Immersing myself in a different story gives me the distance to deal with the older story when I get back to it. That's why I always have two book in process.
Thank you, Mike! Find out more about The Pot Thief on J. Michael Orenduff's website. You can pick up his books online or at independent bookstores.