Sally Carpenter is a native Hoosier who earned a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school two of her plays, “Star Collector” and “Common Ground,” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. The characters in “Star Collector” provided the inspiration for the mystery series.
Carpenter also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s worked a variety of jobs including actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for a major movie studio as well as for a community newspaper.
Most young girls have a crush on a favorite teen idol, but what happens when the idol and the fans both grow up? My book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” takes up the life of former ‘70s teen idol Sandy Fairfax—star of the hit TV show “Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth”—long after he’s left the public eye. Now he’s a 38-year-old recovering alcoholic, divorced and desperate for a comeback.
He takes his only job offer, a guest appearance at a small Beatles fan convention in Evansville, Ind. The easy gig turns deadly when a member of the tribute band is shot and the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect. When Sandy’s forced to take the dead man’s place in a concert, the boy sleuth is back in action to solve the “Beatle-ly” clues.
His biggest fan, Bunny, is on hand to help him.
Beatlemania. I’m old enough to remember. How did you come up with this character?
I grew up in the ‘60s when the Beatles were together, but I didn’t get into them until I went to college and met some real-life Beatlemaniacs. They taught me the “lore” of the group. A friend of mine gave me a Sgt. Pepper’s picture disc album and that started my now-extensive record collection.
I’m also a teen idol fan. A number of years ago, VH-1 ran “The Monkees” TV show five days a week and I was hooked. I saw the show when I was a kid and I was on a nostalgia kick. I went to concerts, collected records and merchandise, and talked to other fans.
I was intrigued by teen idols—what do they do at home? What’s it like to have every person in the world know your face? I researched teen idols and found many similarities in career paths, personalities, and even hobbies among the guys I studied.
I though a “grown up” teen idol would make an interesting character with limitless possibilities. In each book of the series, Sandy performs at a different type of gig, meets new people and possibly travels. This way the character stays fresh.
Caper. I actually asked you if this was a juvenile book because of the word “Caper”. I love that word! What made you it in your title?
I suppose that’s how I’m “branding” the series. On Sandy’s TV show, every episode title ends in “caper” and the rest of the title is made up of alliteration, such as “The Billowing Big Top Caper,” “The Different Drummer Caper” and “The Sunburned Surfer Caper” (these episodes are mentioned in the book). So the book titles in the series all follow the same pattern.
I like “caper” because it’s a fun-sounding word. I think of my books as “Hardy Boys for adults,” with lots of action, comedy, clues and cliffhangers (there’s that alliteration again!). I don’t care for mysteries that are ultra-dark or have excessive gore or sex. I want my reader to have fun. And the word makes me think of those “caper” movies where the good guys have to break into a vault/secured room and steal something from the bad guys. I love those movies (“Sneakers” is the best).
You’re a newly published author. Where your experiences different from what you’d heard from other published authors? How?
Nearly all of the authors I know personally are with the big publishers. Many of them have agents. They’re under contracts to produce a new book by a deadline. These contracts are for two to five books. Some authors I know ended the series when the contract was up—not always by their choice, but the publisher didn’t renew the contract due to so-called “poor sales.” Some authors have their backlist out of print.
I’m with a small publisher (Oak Tree Press) that does things differently. I don’t have an agent and my publisher prefers not to work with agents, because they won’t make much money with the company and some agents are too demanding. My manuscript was turned down at first, but the editor let me revise it and resubmit—large publishers won’t give you a second chance.
My book came out six months after acceptance. The usual print time is 12 to 18 months. The large publishers do an initial “print run” of several thousand books and hope they all sell. My publisher uses print on demand, which means books aren’t printed until an order’s place, so there’s not extra stock left over and sitting in a warehouse. Because of POD, Oak Tree keeps books in print for a long, long time. The downside is a large order will take a long time to produce so I need to plan ahead when I have a book signing.
One advantage of a small press is that I have the freedom to choose my own book titles and give input on the cover art. The publisher asked me the title, I told her, and no argument. Even some midsize presses will have the author send in a list of suggested title and the marketing department picks what they want. Big publishers will often arbitrarily pick a title even if the author hates it and not change the cover art if the writer isn’t happy. The cover art on my book is based on my idea.
A disadvantage is that many bookstores won’t stock my book because they don’t want to deal with small presses.
My publisher doesn’t do multi-book contacts. Whenever my next book is finished, I contact her and she works it into the release schedule. I’m not under a tight deadline to crank out another book. The downside of this is that I procrastinate and need a “nudge” to get working. As long as the books keep selling, I suppose I can keep the series going indefinitely, which is what I’d like. I have many more adventures planned for Sandy.
Many authors have success with book clubs and even include questions on their web pages or in the books for these clubs to consider. What’s one question you’d like to ask readers to consider when reading your books?
At the end of my book I have a “teen idol quiz,” personal questions that a true fan would know about Sandy, such as the color of his eyes and the names of his kids. I got this idea from some real-life fan websites.
On a serious note, my book deals with important issues such as alcoholism and broken relationships. Sandy’s estranged from his family and as the series progresses he makes contact with various relatives. He ruined his career and social life through booze and he’s trying to rebuild his life. The great comedy movies have an undercurrent of pathos, which makes the characters real people, not just caricatures. I hope readers will see the humanity as much as the humor.
For a book club, I’d ask if they were ever in a similar situation where they were “starting over” in life and what they did to reach their goals.
Social Media is such a big deal now. How much time do you spend on it, and what platform works for you?
Social media is my principal tool of marketing. In-person book signings are not effective for new authors. I live near LA, where there’s an author on every street corner, and tons of book signings every week. The general public won’t show up except for celebrities or the big name authors.
Some authors do extensive travel to bookstores and events but right now that’s not financial viable for me until I have an audience built up.
When the book came out, I spent a great deal of time as a guest blogger (like right now!). I got on some Beatles fan websites, which was cool.
I recently set up a Facebook page and am still figuring out how it works. Please send me a friend request! Be careful, though, that you reach the correct “Sally Carpenter” as I discovered many people have the same name.
The downside is that social media can take a great deal of time. While I enjoy guest blogging, it takes time away from book writing.
Also, I don’t know exactly how many new readers I pick up at each site. It’s hard to tell right now which marketing tools are the best.
I hope to get a website up, which probably won’t happen until my next book comes out. With only one book to my name, I don’t have much to say on a website right now!
What’s the hardest part of being an author?
Money issues. I work a day job to pay the bills, which sharply cuts into my writing time. I’d like to write other things besides mysteries, but with limited time I can’t be pulled in different directions. Most writers don’t earn enough from their writing alone to do it full time, unless they have a spouse supporting them or have secondary teaching or consulting work.
Writing is expensive—computers, Internet access, conferences, travel, marketing, agents, publicists all cost money. Some authors sell many books but make little profit once the bills are paid.
Wanabees who go into writing expecting to become wealthy will be sorely disappointed. One has to write for the love of the craft and the characters, not for financial gain.
What's next for you?
I’m working on the second book in the Sandy Fairfax series, “The Sinister Sitcom Caper.” Sandy’s a guest star on the lowest-rated TV show of the fall season. Early in rehearsal, one of the actors drops dead at his feet. He investigates with the aid of a dwarf and an animal actor, while also dealing offstage with his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend. But wait; could there be a new romance in the air?
The book was inspired by my experiences working at a major motion picture studio in Hollywood. I had the tremendous opportunity of actually seeing sitcoms filmed and learning how shows are produced. TV buffs will find the book educational as well as entertaining.