“Monday Mystery” – 3 Romantic Suspense Novels, All for only $.99

TTT Too Deep 3-D cover

I try not to toot my own horn too much, but today my book, THE RECKONING, is available in ebook form in a box set, which also includes Christy Barritt’s HOME BEFORE DARK and Julie Coulter Bellon’s ALL FALL DOWN. Titled TOO DEEP, the set features suspense novels with a touch of romance. And the whole set is on sale beginning today for only 99 cents!

Here’s a peek at each story:

HOME BEFORE DARK by Christy Barritt

Home Before DarkSynopsis

Nothing good ever happens after dark. Those were the words country singer Daleigh McDermott’s father always repeated. Now her father is dead, and Daleigh fears she’s returned home too late to make things right. As she’s about to flee back to Nashville, she finds a hidden journal belonging to her father. His words hint that his death was no accident. Small town mechanic Ryan Shields is the only one who seems to believe that Daleigh may be on to something. Her father trusted the man, but Daleigh’s instant attraction to Ryan scares her. She knows her life and career, however dwindling it might be, are back in Nashville and that her time in the sleepy North Carolina town is only temporary. As Daleigh and Ryan work to unravel the mystery, it becomes obvious that someone wants them dead. They must rely on each other—and on God—if they hope to make it home before the darkness swallows them whole.

Christy Barritt

Bio

Christy Barritt is an author, freelance writer and speaker who lives in Virginia. She’s married to her Prince Charming, a man who thinks she’s hilarious–but only when she’s not trying to be. Christy’s a self-proclaimed klutz, an avid music lover who’s known for spontaneously bursting into song, and a road trip aficionado. She’s only won one contest in her life–and her prize was kissing a pig (okay, okay… actually she did win the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Suspense and Mystery for her book Suspicious Minds also). You can find out more about her work here.

ALL FALL DOWN by Julie Coulter Bellon

All Fall Down

Synopsis

Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes we all fall down… That simple rhyme turns negotiator Claire Michaels’ current hostage situation into an international incident. As the crisis escalates, Claire realizes she’s dealing with an al-Qaeda operative with the potential to attack America. Can she overcome her scars of the past in order to get the hostage out alive and possibly stop an assault on U.S. national security? Navy SEAL Rafe Kelly is on leave to recover from a knee injury he suffered during his tour in Afghanistan and he doesn’t expect to be fighting terrorists on his home turf. But when he is taken hostage and his brother is kidnapped, Rafe teams up with a hostage negotiator in order to stay alive and get his brother back. The situation quickly turns from desperate to deadly. Will Rafe be able to save himself and his country without anyone he loves getting caught in the crossfire?

Julie Coulter Bellon

Bio

Julie is married with eight children and ten published books. She loves to travel and her favorite cities she’s visited so far are probably Athens, Paris, Ottawa, and London. She would love to visit Hawaii, Australia, Ireland, and Scotland someday. She loves to read, write, teach, watch Castle, Hawaii Five-O, and eat Canadian chocolate. Not necessarily in that order. Her website can be found here.

THE RECKONING by Tanya Parker Mills

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Synopsis

Journalist Theresa Fuller has epilepsy, but this hasn’t slowed her search for stories of injustice to broadcast to the world. When she and her cameraman, Peter Cranston, are captured inside Iraq, she is cut off from her medication. Seizures resume, and dreams and visions of her American childhood in Baghdad begin to trouble her. Tormented by the relentless Colonel Badr, she is forced to focus on her own father’s death years before in a Baghdad prison. The strain of her own captivity is relieved only by her growing attraction to Tariq al-Awali, the Iraqi captain who took charge of her capture. The more she learns of him and his family, the clearer her haunting dreams become, and the more puzzling her past. Before American bombs begin to fall, and all of Iraq is thrown into even darker chaos, Theresa must find a way to escape the cruelty of Colonel Badr, and save those she cares for most.

(I don’t think you need my author photo and bio here. It would be redundant. But do check out my book trailer in the side menu. :D)

If you can spare a dollar for three great, exciting reads, here’s the link to order the set on Kindle. It would also be a terrific Christmas gift for your friends who are into suspense. If you wait too long, the price will go up.

FISHING 101: Choosing the Right Bait to Hook Your Reader

I know, I know. I was going to write, publish, and record in October . . . and I haven’t. You see, I’ve been absent from my website for several weeks due to an injury that required surgery and recovery time, but hopefully I’m back now. During that period I had to cancel one appearance at the ANWA Northwest Writer’s Retreat, but I managed to hobble my way around in a boot (and on a knee scooter) for my presentation at the recent Kanab Writer’s Conference.

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It was titled “Fishing 101: Choosing the Right Bait to Hook Your Reader,” and, as promised to those in attendance, I’m posting the main points of my presentation here:

I’d heard a great presentation by Tess Hilmo at this year’s LDStorymakers Conference in April about what agents and editors are looking for in the beginnings of manuscripts. She based it on what she learned from two of her editors. According to them, within the first 50 pages of your fictional work, you should:

line

1. DRAW A LINE IN THE SAND

This means you make an assertion about your main character that the reader knows will be overturned in the end. In Tale of Desperaux, the mouse is told he is nothing, but the reader knows he will be a lot more. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Harry is nothing, an orphan . . . but the reader knows he’s special because of the scar. In other words, you’ve got to make the protagonist believe he/she is not special and then use the story to prove otherwise. It makes for a strong character arc.

 

fold in

2. FOLD, DON’T DUMP IN CHARACTERS AND INFORMATION

All important characters should be introduced in a gradual, natural way by page 50, not page 5, with backstory being dribbled in, a bit at a time. This allows your readers to be both smart and patient. And your story doesn’t get bogged down in backstory.

 

ticking clock

3. INTRODUCE A TICKING CLOCK IN THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS

It can be either time-related or situational. If it’s time-related, this means your protagonist only has a set time to accomplish something. Think of The Hunger Games, for example. A ticking clock builds suspense and tension and drives the reader to keep turning the pages. If it’s situational, this means an approaching event, such as a flood, threatens to cut short the protagonist’s time as in Three Rivers Rising.

 

man with obstacle

4. PLAGUE YOUR PROTAGONIST WITH DISCOMFORTS AND OBSTACLES

These can be both outer and inner challenges. It’s very effective to make the menacing seem ordinary at first. Professor Quirrel was an apparently harmless teacher in the first Harry Potter book, while Snape was shaped to look like the real villain until things turned at the end of the book. You’ll want to insert compelling details that, upon hindsight at the end, take on a more menacing light.

 

threads

5. PULL YOUR STORY THREADS THROUGH THE ENTIRE BOOK

Every so often, something seeded early needs to be touched on again (whether it’s a character’s idiosyncrasies or habits or whatever) just enough to make it consistent without being annoying. No more than 4-5 times throughout the whole story, perhaps once every 30-50 pages or so. Pull them gently, thoroughly, and seamlessly so they don’t stand out but feel like a natural part of the story.

 

internal focus

6. RELY ON INTERNAL FOCUS, OR VOICE, RATHER THAN EXTERNAL EXPERIENCE

Bring the story to life with specific details and tap into your inner feelings to produce an authentic voice for your character. Remember that your voice is your soul and readers want to connect with that, so you have to be willing to be vulnerable.

 

pie in quarters

7. FOLLOW THE RULE OF QUARTERS

Use the first quarter of your novel to set up characters, implant the setting in the reader’s mind, draw your line in the sand, and add a ticking clock. You should have something exciting, compelling, or heart-wrenching in each of the second and third quarters to build or maintain momentum and engagement. Use the last quarter to wrap up details, pull final threads through, and end the story.

Every quarter needs something real, something remembered and something imagined. The “real” refers to what’s happening in your story. The “remembered” refers to backstory (which should be no more than 5% of the quarter) or characters remembering their inadequacies. The “imagined” refers to thinking ahead . . . the protagonist imagining a better future (and, again, this should comprise no more than 5% of the quarter).

 Hooked

I then shared some tips from Les Edgerton’s excellent book, HOOKED.

According to Edgerton, you should include most, if not all, of the following in your opening scene:

  • Inciting incident
  • Story-worthy problem
  • Initial surface problem
  • Necessary setup and backstory
  • Stellar opening sentence
  • Powerful language
  • Introduction on protagonist
  • Setting
  • Foreshadowing

Don’t start out with a dream, an alarm clock buzzing, unintentional humor, too little dialogue, or all dialogue. He also advises against prologues unless it’s a crucial brief scene setting up the story or it’s for a book in an already established series. Remember, short is best. As he put it, “First chapters should end powerfully, leaving the character worse off than when the chapter began.” The powerful ending is important because you don’t want to leave the reader wondering, like Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?”

I also shared some terrific quotes from agents and editors as to what they look for in the first few pages of a manuscript, but you’re going to have to buy your own copy of HOOKED to get those, as well as further details about his “must haves” for an opening scene.

Anyway, I’ll be posting more about baiting your readers in the future. Hope this helps!

As for my writing, publishing, and recording . . . one out of three ain’t bad, eh? Beginning November 9th, my story THE RECKONING will be available in ebook form along with two other great novels by two other authors, all for only $.99! I’ll post more about it in a few days.

Once I finish mailing out all my daughter’s wedding announcements, I’ll get back on track with my writing too. I’m afraid the recording will have to wait until January once the wedding is past.

“Monday Mystery” – BLIND MAN’S BARGAIN

In the mood for a mystery with a great twist right at the end? You might want to check out Tracy Winegar’s latest, BLIND MAN’S BARGAIN.

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Synopsis

When a blind old man hobbles into Nelson Rune’s private investigation office, the young PI doesn’t expect to be hired to solve a forty-five year old murder mystery.

Harry Fletcher claims he adored his wife, Caroline — so why did he go to prison for her murder?

With the help of Cleo, his pretty neighbor, young Nelson will sift through clues of Harry and Caroline’s marriage to clear Harry’s name and find the real killer.

Tracy Winegar seamlessly weaves a story of love and secrets, opportunities and regrets in a novel that surprises to the very last page.

Excerpt

Nelson reviewed everything he had pertaining to Harry Fletcher’s case and had come to the conclusion that there was nothing that he hadn’t overlooked in his own trove of records and evidence. He determined that he would have to figure out a way to actually look at the evidence from that night. He would have to try to talk his way into being allowed to see it; that’s what he would do. But how?

When he inquired into the matter, he was told that no one was allowed access to evidence, even to a case as old as the Fletcher case. It was an irritation, much worse than a burr under a saddle. To come so close to wrapping it up, to nearly having all of the loose ends neatly tied, and then be rebuffed was more than he could bear.

And then it dawned on him. As he struggled with sleep one night, the answer came to him in a soft sibilant murmur to his brain, as if someone else had given him the solution to his problem. If he wanted to see the evidence, he was going to have to steal it…

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503

Bio

Tracy Winegar enjoys cooking and gardening in her free time. She loves all things vintage and considers several family heirlooms to be her prized possessions. She’s also always on the lookout to score pieces to add to her growing Jadeite collection. Tracy lives with her husband and four beautiful children in Northern Utah. Although she doesn’t mind living in the desert, she still misses the green of the Midwest where she was born and raised. Her philosophies of life, love, and family are deeply anchored in those small town Indiana roots.

(If you want to know more about Tracy, check out my earlier interview with her here.)

BLIND MAN’S BARGAIN can be purchased online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

October is for Publishing, Writing, and Recording!

It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I have . . . in between house guests. But there have been so many that my writing time has shrunk. The wonderful thing about moving to St. George, Utah is this: Suddenly, we’re on the way to wherever so many of our acquaintances are going! And sometimes, we’re even the destination. We’re right off I-15 (not so close that we don’t have peace and quiet) and this time we have lots of extra sleeping space too. It’s been wonderful to have friends and family pass through, stay over, or even just meet for lunch. Indeed, those who stay over generally get treated to our New York (German-style) pancakes!

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But . . . Now that September has hit, it’s time to buckle down and firm up my routine again. Besides, I’m presenting at two different venues in October: ANWA’s Northwest Writer’s Retreat and the Kanab Writer’s Conference. So, along with my regular writing, I’ve got to prepare my presentation about hooking readers.

Northwest Writers Retreat(ANWA Northwest Writers Retreat)

2014 Kanab Writers Conference

(Kanab Writers Conference)

Also in October, my first novel, THE RECKONING, is being published as part of an e-book box set by Mirror Press. The Triple Treat Romance set is called “Too Deep” and features romantic suspense novels by best-selling authors Julie Coulter Bellon and Christy Barritt, as well as my own. So, if you liked THE RECKONING, this might make a terrific Christmas gift for friends and family.

TTT Too Deep 3-D cover

Not only that, but Liz Adair and I are teaming up to record audio books! She’s making me a portable sound booth and I’m going to handle the equipment and do the recording, beginning with my first novel. After all, I’ve been told I have a fairly good reading voice and style, and I trust myself to put an Arabic accent on the English (and the smattering of Arabic words) used by my Iraqi characters.

Admit it. When you read a book, wouldn’t you want to hear it read by the author, the person who knows the story and its characters best?

After that, I’ll tackle my second novel, A NIGHT ON MOON HILL, and Liz’s COUNTING THE COST. So stay tuned. I’ll be providing more details in the coming weeks.

“Wednesday Writer” – Tracy Winegar

As I wrote last week, Tracy Winegar and I share a couple of things in common: we both have sons with an autistic spectrum disorder, and we both wrote novels about it, though she set hers, KEEPING KELLER, in an earlier time period long before doctors really knew what to do about it.

Tracy WinegarME:  What was it like growing up in Indiana, and who were your earliest and/or strongest literary influences? Also, how would you compare the Western and Midwestern mindsets, and where do you come down between the two?

TRACY:  Growing up in Indiana was not a bad way to spend my youth. I had a fairly carefree childhood. I was the third of eight children. My mom was a stay at home mom. She was very fun and had a great sense of humor. My dad provided for our family. I had nothing but sisters until I was about five years old, when my brother was born and then two more sisters before my last sibling, another brother, was born. I grew up in cornfields and with a small town mindset. There were very few LDS people in our area, so I knew from an early age that I was very different, at times excluded because of it. Hard work was important and I began working part time when I was fourteen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Tracy as a teenager)

I spent summer vacations on my grandparents’ farm in Tennessee. When I think of my favorite places, that is one of them. It was quiet, and beautiful, and simple. Very few distractions gave me and my brothers and sisters the opportunity to use our imaginations and spend time in the great outdoors. My grandmother was a great storyteller and we loved to sit with her and hear her stories of when she was growing up and how she met Grandpa and fell in love.

I enjoyed a lot of different activities, but I loved drama and I loved writing. Each year they had a competition called the Young Authors Competition. I entered every year and always placed. (So, the talent showed itself early!) The prize for winning was that you were able to attend a lecture with a real life author. That was when I got to hear some of the great authors of my youth speak, one of which was Judy Blume.

Judy Blume(Judy Blume)

When I was young I loved to read Pippi Longstockings, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Little Women, Calico Captive, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

As I got a little older, one of my biggest influences was a teacher I had my sixth grade year. Mrs. Meier-Fisher. She had us read some really beautiful literature and she gave us some great writing assignments. I was on cloud nine when she read one of my pieces to the class as an example. (I’ll bet!) She had us read some of the great Hoosier writers and I fell in love with Gene Stratton Porter.

Gene Stratton Porter(Indiana poet and novelist Gene Stratton Porter)

One of my Grandma Beaty’s favorite books was her novel, A Girl of the Limberlost, and when I read it I was in love with it too. I also really loved James Whitcomb Riley, another Indiana author who had become a great poet. In seventh grade I read Gone With the Wind and loved it as well. I discovered that anything historical was right up my alley, fiction or non-fiction alike.

James Whitcomb Riley(James Whitcomb Riley)

I am still very much a Midwesterner, although I have lived in Utah for the past twelve years. I like things simple and uncomplicated. I love being home with my family as much as possible, and I miss the green landscape and beautiful stretches of empty land. I would love an acreage, but land here is very expensive and every space is taken up with houses. Gone are the cornfields and soy bean fields that stretched for miles.

ME:  When did you first know you wanted to be a writer, and what brought about that realization?

TRACY:  When I was a kid, I loved paper. Before I could even write I spent a great deal of time “writing” cursive loops, although none of it was actually words. In third grade I wrote a tall tales story for a school wide competition and was hooked when I was one of the winners.

I did a lot of creative writing in high school, but then I got married and had children and didn’t have a lot of time for writing. When I turned thirty, I told my husband that it was a dream of mine to write a novel and so I began and I kept at it and somehow managed to finish the thing. That was my first novel KEEPING KELLER.

Keeping Keller 1

ME:  Why did you move to Utah at 19? And if it involved college, how did your college studies impact the kinds of things you write today?

TRACY:  I moved to Utah because I wanted an adventure. I moved to Utah because I wanted to see what it was like to be surrounded by people who were like me and not be the odd man out for once. (I know exactly what you mean. That’s why I went to Utah after high school in Beirut.) It was fun to be able to go to parties and to have social events where I knew I would be welcome. I enjoyed dating and being independent. I missed my family very much, but also was happy to be experiencing new experiences.

ME:  What type of writer do you aspire to be, and which writers have influenced you the most?

TRACY:  My goal is to try and make people feel something when they read my writing. To invoke a reaction, to get people to relate on some level to the story or the characters would make me a happy character.

I love classic literature and I enjoy historical fiction. It’s hard to say who has influenced me the most, because I have read so many quality books by so many awesome writers. My favorites are the books that leave me feeling haunted… I just can’t forget the characters or the storyline. As I stated before, I love A Girl of the Limberlost, but I also loved Gone With the Wind and A Tale of Two Cities. More recent books that I enjoyed were The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton.

Kate Morton(Australian author Kate Morton)

While many great authors have inspired my work, I also attribute my writing style to the themes I know best. Motherhood, marriage, and my relationships with friends and my family (thanks Mom and Dad) are themes that are always reoccurring in my writing, because that is what I know best.

(And it shows.)

ME:  Strangely enough, I’d forgotten we were both Whitney Finalists in 2008 in the General Fiction category for our first novels, KEEPING KELLER (yours) and THE RECKONING (mine). (That’s why your title sounded so familiar to me.) As an awards program, what do the Whitneys mean to the LDS writing community in general and to you, personally?

Whitney Awards

TRACY:  I think it’s great that there is a forum for LDS writers. I thought it was a wonderful honor and was very excited to be involved when I was a finalist. It is difficult to be seen or stand out in a field where anyone can publish and the market is saturated with books, both good and bad. This gave me the opportunity to be seen, which is any author’s dream.

(Amen!)

ME:  We’ve both written novels based on our personal experiences with an autistic son. Please tell us a bit about KEEPING KELLER and how much of your son comes through in the book. Also, I’d love to hear the story of your son’s diagnosis and your reaction to it (and post a picture of you with him, if possible).

TRACY:  The character in KEEPING KELLER is nothing but my son. Many of the experiences I wrote about in the book were based upon things that had happened to me. It was very personal. I love the story, but do feel it could have been better with more editing. However, that was a very honest look into the life of a mother dealing with autism, as well as the difficulties she would have encountered during that time period (the 1950s).

I had it much easier than Beverly, because I was able to get help and learn how to work with my son. When he was young, our family life was very complicated and difficult. Thankfully he has gotten a little better and a little better, until we are now in our own comfortable normal. He throws us some curve balls every now and again, but I don’t feel as though I might have a nervous breakdown a majority of the time any more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Tracy with her son, Luke)

My son was my second child. I first had a girl who was very smart and very vocal. He began to develop normally until about eighteen months old. We noticed that the few words he had acquired seemed to be lost. He had odd behaviors that we couldn’t quite figure out. A lot of people told me that it was because he was a boy and that boys were very different than girls. I knew instinctively that something was not right. I persisted in trying to get him help until he was diagnosed with Autism when he was two years old. At the time, I was a month away from having my third child, another son.

(I imagine that made you extra nervous.)

One of the reasons we moved back to Utah from Iowa was in order to get my son into the Northern Utah Autism Program. There were many difficult and sad years. It is hard to come to terms with the fact that your child will never be normal. We love him, but Autism is such a devastating thing to live with. We have had many bad experiences, we have been judged and treated badly, but we have also had a lot of compassion and some true friends to come of it.

(That’s a blessing, indeed. It sounds like your son’s on the more severe end of the spectrum. You and your husband must be twice as strong and even more patient.)

Sometimes I see boys his age and think “He would be doing this” or “He could have done that” and I feel sad. But then there are times when I see boys his age and things they are doing and I am very grateful that he is innocent. I will never have a missionary, a football star, see him graduate, or go to college, or get married. But I will always have Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and that will always fill my life with the magic of childhood.

(How true!)

ME:  Your second novel, GOOD GROUND, came out last year. What led you to write this story and what are its main themes?

Good GroundTRACY:  I wrote GOOD GROUND based on my love of my grandparents’ farm. I loved the setting and the time period, which was when my grandparents courted and fell in love. I had a deep commitment to telling the story of a man who was what he was because of his rearing.

I like to think that we have the power and ability to change the destiny of children who seem to have no future. I work with children on a daily basis, mine and many others. I see such great potential, but I also, at times, have seen children whose potential has been robbed of them by the adults in their lives and the examples they have set. There are more than a few that I have daydreamed about rescuing, taking into my home and raising as my own.

I also liked the idea that nothing is coincidence, things happen for a reason. The whole analogy of farming tied in so perfectly with the themes of work, family, and investing in something that will produce results. I think the thing I am most proud of is the change that you see in the characters from the beginning to the end, especially Clairey. Interestingly enough, she is someone that many women have related to, which makes me very happy. I love the fact that the love story is very real, based on mutual respect, an established relationship, hard work, and sacrifice.

(Sounds good. I’m going to have to check it out!)

ME:  Are you an organic type of writer when it comes to the process, or do you prefer outlining, and why or why not?

TRACY:  Very, very organic! I always have an end in mind, but I rarely outline. I am far too unorganized and my life is way too unpredictable for me to keep up with planning it all out. I’m not sure if that is beneficial or harmful. I could probably get a lot more done if I were able to outline, but then too, I am open to different impressions and ideas as they come to me and have the ability to be somewhat creative because of my oddball style.

(Yet one more thing we have in common…)

ME:  When do you do your best writing and what are you working on now?

TRACY:  I am definitely best writing in the evening, but I try and write whenever I have a free moment.

Right now I am trying desperately to finish a trilogy set during the Civil War. I have successfully finished the first two novels and am about 2/3 the way through the last. But the last one is KILLING me! Hopefully I will be able to complete it this summer. (Fingers crossed.)

ME:  Finally, I’m of the belief that a writer’s space is crucial. When you consider the area that you use to write, what five things stand out about it that makes it uniquely yours. (And I must have a picture.)

TRACY:  I wish I could say I have a space of my own. I do not. I write where there is quiet. Sometimes that is my dining room table, sometimes my bedroom, sometimes outside on my porch, or sometimes my lunch break at work.

I dream of an office with large open windows in a restored older home. Someday I may actually have that space. Right now I make do with what is available to me.

(Everyone…order Tracy’s books and spread the word so she can afford her own writing space!)

WritingSpace(Her temporary space at the dining room table)

Tracy has a website and a blog, where you can learn much more about her and her writing (and she’s posted lots of pictures on her blog). Her books are available on Amazon.

I only have two more weeks to go in my Wednesday Writer series because after July 2nd I’m putting it on hiatus in order to complete some exciting projects during the rest of the year. So be sure and check back next week to read my interview with Theresa Sneed, who’s recently released Book 1 of a new YA fantasy series.

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“Wednesday Writer” – Marie Higgins

If you’re into romance, Marie Higgins is your author. She has a clean romance for everyone! If you like heroic rogues, she has a series for you. Victorian Romance, Regency Romance? Covered. She even has Time Travel Romance! But enough of all her sub genres. Let’s get to the heart of Marie! (I know, don’t groan. That was a bad pun.)

Marie HigginsME:  Where did you grow up, and who or what were your earliest influences in terms of your writing?

MARIE:  I grew up between Salt Lake City and Clearfield, Utah. The reason I say ‘between’ is because I was born in SLC, then we moved to Clearfield, and then moved back to SLC, then finally came to plant our feet in Clearfield.

Little Marie age 18 months(Cute little Marie at 18 months)

As for my earliest influences… I really don’t know who influenced me in terms of my writing. I remember as a child in school that I hated to read the books the English teachers made us read for a grade. They were boring! Yet somewhere in my junior and senior year in high school, I started playing with poetry. (Go figure!) I created poems…yet the poems were always in story format.

Marie's Seminary Graduation 1984 (2)(And here she is as a senior in high school)

It wasn’t until my senior year when I started writing skits for my community and church. These skits were performed and judged and I received awards of “Funniest” and “Best Written”. This was what gave me the drive to write after I was married and my daughters were in grade school. I haven’t stopped yet. So maybe my influences were those books I had to read in school that were boring. They influenced me to write fun stories with sweet romance, action and adventure, and suspense.

(A little reverse psychology, eh?)

ME:  Can you share the gist of the first story you ever remember writing?

MARIE:  Oh dear…you’re going to make me strain my brain, aren’t you? (You bet! I dig deep. :D)

I remember having a dream of a ballerina (I don’t know why because I was never really fascinated with ballet), but I remember there was some kind of mystery to the plot. I think the hero was a detective or cop. I had started writing the story to the way my dream had shown me. I don’t think I finished the story, but soon after I started writing, my muse kicked into action and gave me ideas for other stories. The rest, they say, is history…

(That’s all it usually takes, all you writers in embryo–a good dream…that you can remember, anyway.)

ME:  Which romance authors have influenced you the most and how?

MARIE:  The very first romance I read was titled A Rose in Winter, written by Kathleen E Woodiwiss. I was amazed that this author could get me into the story so quickly and make me feel like I was one of the characters. And the plots….woo-wee, what a ride!

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss(Kathleen E. Woodiwiss)

A Rose in Winter

(Woo-wee, indeed!)

From there, I read Judith McNaught, LaVryle Spencer, Jude Deveraux, and Johanna Lindsey.

Judith McNaught(Judith McNaught)

LaVyrle Spencer

(LaVyrle Spencer)

Jude Deveraux

(Jude Deveraux)

Johanna Lindsey

(Johanna Lindsey)

After sweeping through them at record speed, I realized there were other romances out there written by Christian authors. I was very happy to start reading more.

Anita Stansfield(Anita Stansfield)

The two authors that influenced my writing the most at this time were Anita Stansfield and Rachel Ann Nunes. Anita wrote some very emotional stories, while I absolutely loved Rachel’s suspense! (Amen!)

Rachel Ann Nunes(Rachel Ann Nunes)

ME:  I know romance sells best in our country (and perhaps worldwide, for all I know), but besides the money, why do you choose romance over other genres?

MARIE:  Because I enjoy falling in love—over and over again. And I enjoy my readers telling me how much they enjoyed falling in love—over and over again, too.

(Ah, so you’re a true romance novelist. Money has nothing to do with it.)

ME:  You’ve written over 30 novels. Has the content and style changed over the years, and if so, how? Please compare your first novel to your latest. Also, are covers changing in any way?

MARIE:  Yes, the style of romance writing has changed over the years. Back when I first started writing romance, my writing/critique groups drilled into me the need for descriptions…TONS of description. If you’ve never read a Kathleen E Woodiwiss story, she is the queen of description. She could describe one countryside in three pages.

But now…it’s short, sweet, and to the point. Flowery words and phrases are not that popular any longer, and although I still wish I could write that way, now it’s all right if I don’t. As long you can pull the readers into your story and never let them go until the very end, you’re doing great.

Another thing that has changed is pages per chapter. When I first started writing, our chapters had to be at least 20 pages long. Now ten pages for a chapter are appropriate.

(Personally, I think this is because we live in a “fast food”, ADD-type world. Too many interruptions and too often. It’s definitely had an effect on fiction of all genres.)

It’s funny you’d ask me to compare my first to my latest. They are nothing alike. With each story I write, the plots get more complicated, and there is more suspense.

As for covers, I think they are changing. With the first books that I had read (see A Rose in Winter above), some of the book covers looked like paintings or drawings. Some covers just had one or two objects. Now covers have models in period costumes. Personally, I like the covers with models dressed to look like my characters. Of course with today’s technology, it’s easier to find pictures for book covers. There are tons of websites for this now.

(And, by the way, if you want to learn more about making your own covers, among many other things, you should come to the Indie Author Hub Writing & Publishing Conference this Saturday, June 7th, in Provo, Utah at the Courtyard Marriott! I believe Marie is going to be there, along with other fabulous authors like Rachel Ann Nunes, Heather Moore, Liz Adair, and Julie Wright. And there’s a mass book signing at the end.)

ME:  You’re what I would call a fast writer. You’ve said it takes you about 6 weeks to produce an 80,000-word novel. Is that before publication or including the publishing process? How do you account for your speed?

MARIE:  I wish six weeks included the publication process. The six weeks is an average of what it takes me to write a story. If there is stress in my life, the time frame gets stretched. Six weeks is from beginning chapter one to writing THE END.

Once I’ve finished my story, I let it sit a few days, maybe a week while my mind clears. Then I’ll get started on second-round edits. This is reading back through the story looking for mistakes and plot holes.

Once this is completed, I send the story to some of my critique partners, between 3 and 5. They go through and check for errors and plot holes. When they are finished, I add in their suggestions and read through it one more time before sending the story to 3 beta readers. After they give me their feedback, then I go through my story one last time to add in their suggestions and any others I might find.

FINALLY it’s time to publish. This process could take a month, or if I’m lucky, only a couple of weeks.

(Thanks for reviewing the whole process!)

In some of my stories, my characters are very excited to tell me their stories and they can’t stop talking in my head. That’s when my fingers fly across the keyboard so fast, and my fingers can’t keep up with my muse. That’s where the speed comes in.

Another thing I do that’s different than other writers, is that after I’ve written a chapter, I only read through it once before moving to the next chapter. I don’t take the time to go over each sentence, and each paragraph to make them perfect. I wait to do that during my second-edit process.

ME:  What turned you from traditional publishing to indie publishing? And how much more are you earning per month now that you take in 70% of the royalties? Do you miss anything about traditional publishing?

MARIE:  I don’t miss anything about the traditional publishing.

What turned me away was the small amount of royalties we authors get because a portion goes to the cover artist, another portion goes to the editor, and another portion goes to the marketing director, and another portion goes to the publisher themselves. Then…authors get the tiny amount that’s left.

In some publishing companies, they make book covers without the author’s approval, which I think is very wrong. Publishers have a very long release date scheduled for books (some are more than a year).

And my biggest beef with traditional publishers is that no author really knows if they are being cheated. Believe me, I’ve had a few publishers who cheat their authors!

What I love about indie publishing:

  • Finding my own editors
  • Creating my own book covers
  • Choosing my own sale price
  • Seeing my sales every day
  • Writing what I want to write instead of what the publisher thinks I should write.
  • MORE FREEDOM!

ME:  How does your family (meaning your husband and children) feel about you writing all of this romance?

MARIE:  When I first started writing nearly 20 years ago (gads, has it really been that long?), my family didn’t like all the time I spent in the computer room writing my stories. It took quite a while, several years, in fact, before they realized that I would rather create a story than watch TV. All my daughters remember from their childhood is that their mom wrote stories and told everyone about them. Hahaha

Family(Marie with her family)

Anyway, now that my books are published and selling, my husband is very proud of me and encourages me to write more. (Go figure!) My daughters are out on their own now, and they have told me they are proud of me, too…because when people discover their mother is Marie Higgins, it shocks them. :D

(I’ll bet!)

ME:  Tell us about your latest release, and what’s up next?

MARIE:  My latest release is titled AMAZON SUNSET. The setting of this Victorian romance is in the Amazon Rainforest. I had so much fun researching this and trying to figure out what things could go wrong in the jungle.

Amazon Sunset

Here is the blurb:

Katrina Landon’s life is about to change. The wealthy father she has never known wants to meet her, but she has to travel from the slums of Boston through the Amazon rainforest to his plantation. As if that’s not bad enough, her guide is the handsome, self-assured, too confident for his own good, Mr. Knightly, who immediately stirs her temper.

Felix Knightly isn’t looking forward to escorting a spoiled rich girl through the jungle no matter how much her father pays. Yet when he meets her, he finds Katrina’s distracting innocence and charming demeanor unsettling. She makes it nearly impossible to concentrate on his job—a problem he’s never had around women. He’d rather fight off the fire ants, howler monkeys, and crocodiles than risk losing his heart to her, since he’s never met an honest wealthy woman.

As they delve deeper into the shadows of the rainforest, they discover they weren’t just wrong about each other, they were wrong about the dangers of the jungle. Someone wants them dead and they have to find out who and why before it’s too late.

(Yummy…sounds steamy and suspenseful. If you’re interested, here are the links for the Kindle version and the paperback version.)

The book I’m working on next is #2 in this series. This story will be about one of Felix’s sisters. Her story is titled Amazon by Moonlight, and will also take place in Brazil in the jungle. So much fun!!

ME:  Finally, please describe your writing space in the voice of one of your favorite “bad boys.” (And I must have a picture of said space.)

MARIE:  My bad boy, huh? Well…I’ll give it a try… Okay Felix Knightly, take it away!

“Bad boy?

Do you realize how long it’s been since I was called a bad boy? The last time anyone referred to Felix Knightly as a bad boy, I was a lad wearing breeches, and I got caught slipping a toad into my sister’s bed. Needless to say, my parents punished me and I never did it again. That being said, I shall try to describe Marie Higgins’ office space as nicely as I can (because believe me, at one point I might not be able to hold back my disgust).

As I stand at the doorway of the kitchen and look into this small room, the desk is to the right of me, and beyond that is the door leading into her bed chamber. On the left side of me is the door leading to the bath chamber which has an indoor latrine. Very interesting concept, I might add. I wish they had thought of it in my era… This is a very old house and over the years rooms have been added on, but nevertheless, the space used is really quite remarkable with a closet and drawers built right into the wall.

The window nearby the closet is always open, and welcomes in the sunlight. Pictures hang on every wall, three depicting old fashioned hats and white, wicker furniture. The other wall has a glorious picture of Christ which brings serenity while gazing upon it. The third wall has a picture of a pirate ship. My personal favorite. Near the desk (which I’ll describe momentarily), stands a bookcase full of Marie Higgins’ favorite books from over the years. Lining the top of the book case are pictures of her family.

Now I’ll describe her desk, and try my hardest to be polite. Never in my life have I seen such a clutter! How could anyone be organized with such a mess? Forgive me, but, I cannot fathom how she’s able to write with so much distracting her from her stories. On the top of the desk she has a lilac scented candle that she lights quite frequently. She has some awards that were presented to her as well. One is a service award given to her from the Romance Writers of America Chapter in 2008, and another plaque was given to her when she was President of said chapter from 2006-2007. Another plaque—that I personally like the best—reads: “Grandchildren complete the circle of Love”. Papers, phone books, camera, lotion, calculator and other miscellaneous items also complete the disorder.

Regardless of this mess, Marie Higgins finds this environment comfortable and this is where she spends a lot of her time away from her full-time day job. Although I do not agree with such a mess to work around, she seems to do just fine with it, for which I’m grateful or else my story would not have been written and I would have never met the lovely Katrina Landon.

So Marie Higgins…I thank you.

Sincerely, your hero, Felix Knightly”

(Delightful! And here are the pictures:)

DSC00599(The view from the kitchen)

DSC00598

(And from the other direction)

Marie has a blog full of details about her books and writing. You can also watch a trailer there depicting her different series and books. And all of her books are available on Amazon.

For those of you familiar with my son Jason, diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder since age six, I’m excited to announce next Wednesday’s writer, Tracy Winegar, historical fiction author of KEEPING KELLER about a boy with autism. Be sure and check back next week!

Tracy Winegar

“Wednesday Writer” – Serena Clarke

Last week I interviewed her mother, so this week, as promised, I’m talking with Serena Clarke, fantasy author and book cover designer for a small publishing group here in Southern Utah.

Serena ClarkeME:  Having just interviewed your mother last week, I can’t help but be curious about how influential her example as a writer was to you as you grew up? And tell us a bit about your early years, as well as your early experiences with writing. (Including a photo of you as a child, and you with your mom when you were younger)

SERENA:  I have loved writing for as long as I can remember, long before my mom became an author. I took creative writing classes throughout high school and college and I was constantly coming up with ideas for stories. I was mostly writing short stories because I never thought I would get a book published.

me(Serena as a young girl)

But when she became an author, she inspired my decision to get my books published. She has not only been a big inspiration, but also a big help in the whole publishing process. (I’ll bet! And I’ll also bet she’s been grateful for your help with covers!)

me and mom

(Serena with her mom, Linda Weaver Clarke)

ME:  Which authors (and we’ll leave your mom out of the equation) do you admire most and why? How have they influenced your own writing?

SERENA:  I have always loved fantasy and romance. I loved the idea of escaping into a world of magic and princesses and fairies. Gail Carson Levine is one of my favorite fantasy authors. Ella Enchanted has always been one of my favorite books. I love the way she created a whole new world and she took a classic story and made it unique. Her style made me realize that as an author I can create my own world and come up with my own rules.

Gail Carson Levine(Gail Carson Levine, author of such works as Ella Enchanted)

ME:  Growing up in the red hills of Southern Utah, you might naturally be drawn to this kind of setting in your novels. Do you incorporate this kind of terrain (and please provide a picture of the scenery near your home) in your fantasy novels, and why or why not?

home(Her view of home)

SERENA:  I grew up surrounded by colorful, rugged mountains, fields of lava rock, sage brush, and creosote bushes. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful places to be. (Agreed!) But I don’t prefer to write what is familiar to me. If I write what is reality to me, it takes away from the fantasy world. I write about a world that I would like to visit.

(Interesting.)

ME:  Besides writing, you work with a group called Red Mountain Shadows Publishing. Please describe the group and your role there. (And I’d love to post a sample or two of your cover work.)

rmsp-logo-bw_big6

SERENA:  Red Mountain Shadows Publishing is a company that helps Independent Authors get their books into shape. We help with the editing process as well as the formatting and cover design.

treasure of isian2

(Book 1 of Serena’s fantasy series)

I do some of the editing, but my main role is as a Graphic Designer, designing the book covers. This is something I enjoy doing just as much as writing!

melinda2(And here’s a cover with a Western flavor)

ME:  Which plays a larger role in your stories—romance or fantasy? And can you see yourself writing in a different genre at any point in the future?

SERENA:  The romance and the fantasy go hand in hand. Usually what sparks the idea for a story is the idea of a developing romance. But what moves the plot line along is the fantasy.

For fun, I have written in many different genres and someday I may publish some of them, but I prefer fantasy. It is the most enjoyable for me.

ME:  Please describe the process you follow in drafting your stories. When it comes down to it, would you consider yourself an outliner or a “pantser,” and why?

SERENA:  I am definitely a “pantser!” As I go along, I may begin to sketch up an outline, but I rarely know where my story will lead me until I am there. I usually begin with a single idea or a scene and think “Hmm…that would make a good story.” So I will write down the scene and think, “Well, what now? How do I get to this point? What happens after this scene?” And then begins the real work!

ME:  What are you working on now and how far into it are you? Also, once this series is concluded, what’s next for you?

alliance of isian(Book 2 of the Isian Series)

SERENA:  I am currently working on the third book in the Isian Series. It is called The Secret of Isian. It should be out by the end of the year, fingers crossed!

What’s next? That is a good question! I have so many other books in mind and not enough time to write them all. So we will see what my imagination decides is priority when I get to that point!

(Since I somehow forgot to ask her the storyline of this series, here’s a quick blurb about the first in the series, THE TREASURE OF ISIAN:

Prince Garin is a brave, proud, adventure-seeking prince. Elani is his most trusted servant and she would do anything for him, even die for him. Their quest to find the mystical Treasure of Isian is immediately interrupted and they find themselves confronted by angry giants, soul-stealing elves, bewitched dragons, a vengeful water-witch, battling foes, and a mysterious kingdom. Elani must face her greatest fears to save her prince and her kingdom. Garin must decide what the most important things are in his life. Will they be able to make a great sacrifice to save the kingdom? And will Elani find true love? Become lost in the adventure, love, loyalty, and mystery of The Treasure of Isian!)

ME:  Finally, please describe your favorite writing space. (And I must have a picture.)

SERENA:  My favorite writing place is laying in the hammock outside my house. A big mulberry tree shades it and it faces the Red Mountain. Being in nature helps inspire my writing. It is most enjoyable in the spring and fall, but not so much in the summer when it is over 100 degrees! (Like today will be :@)

hammock(This is a first in my series–not just a chair or a bed, but a hammock!)

You can learn more about Serena, her writing, and book design on her website. Her books are available on Amazon but you’d do better to click here to get to them (since she’s not the only author named Serena Clarke).

And next week I’m excited to interview clean romance author Marie Higgins!

Marie Higgins

 

“Wednesday Writer” – Linda Weaver Clarke

Linda Weaver Clarke says she enjoys writing stories that have adventure and romance with good old-fashioned values. I would say that the books she has published thus far certainly fill the bill. Some emphasize the romance, others the adventure, but they’re always “clean reads.” Now to dig a little deeper. :D

Linda Weaver Clarke

ME:  Some of my ancestors helped settle southeastern Idaho. In which town were you raised, what were your favorite and least favorite chores on the farm, and how did you end up in southern Utah? (I’d love to post pictures of you as a youngster on the farm and then as a mother in southern Utah.)

LINDA:  I was raised in Whitney, near Preston. (That’s about 165 miles south of my dad’s hometown of Parker.) My favorite chores were mowing the lawn and hanging up the clothes to dry. My least favorite was weeding the garden. (Here is a pic of me in Idaho when I was little. I’m with my mom and older sister.)

Eastertime(Dressed for Easter)

I ended up in southern Utah because my husband found a job here. We were instantly interested in this area simply because of the warm winters. We were both tired of shoveling snow, especially driving in it. (Here is a pic with my six daughters, sons in law, and grandchildren at our home in St. George.)

Family2(We’re practically neighbors!)

ME:  What was the first thing you ever wrote that made you think, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this. I think maybe one day I’ll get published?” And how old were you at the time?

LINDA:  When I was a young girl, I wrote plays and added songs to them; songs that were published, of course, since I was so young. I always thought my little musicals were clever.

Then one day my daughter wrote home and said that her mission president wanted her to know more about her ancestors, so she requested me to write their stories. I did, but when I was done, I couldn’t stop writing. That was the beginning. I now have six historical romances, four mystery/adventure novels, one children’s story, two non-fiction pieces, and a new cozy mystery series.

(Prolific!)

ME:  I take it college was interrupted for you by marriage. If so, what were you majoring in at the time, and at that time did you think you’d finish your degree one day? Why or why not?

LINDA:  I started back to college in 1998, when all my children were in school. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to graduate or not because I was so worried that it might be more than I could handle. To put it simply, I was scared.

It took one of my daughters saying, “Hey, take a class with me. It’ll be fun.” So I did and it was fun. I majored in music and theatre and graduated in 2002 at Southern Utah University.

(Congratulations!!!)

ME:  I have to hand it to you. It takes an awful lot of courage to step back into a college classroom thirty years later to pick up where you left off. What was the same and what was different? Please share some of the highlights of those later college years (along with a picture or two).

LINDA:  My husband was so proud of me. (I’ll bet!) He’s giving me a “congratulations kiss” in this pic.

George and me3

What was the same? The professors.

What was different? My mind wasn’t as young as it used to be. And scantrons? I had never heard of such a thing. Not only that, but computers were a new thing to me. My children had learned how to use them in school, but I was completely baffled at how they worked. They said I couldn’t graduate without taking a computer class. I think that was my most difficult class of all. If not for my daughter, I would have been so lost.

One of the highlights I had was being in Guys and Dolls. I was the head missionary: General Cartwright. It was fun. (Too bad you didn’t include a picture of you in costume.)

ME:  What was the first book (fiction or nonfiction) that you had published, and how does it compare to your latest of that same genre?

LINDA:  MELINDA AND THE WILD WEST was my first published book. It’s a historical romance and it won an award. It was one of the semi-finalists for the Reviewers Choice Award. I was so excited because this was my first book. All my romances are clean and sweet.

MWW web

How does it compare? My husband said he could see that my writing skills improved with each book I wrote.

(That’s always a good sign.)

ME:  You’ve written (and are continuing to write) several series. What’s easier and more enjoyable for you—a stand alone novel or a series, and why? Also, which of your series is the most fun to write, and why?

LINDA:  A series isn’t harder than a stand-alone because each book has its own plot. I love writing a series because I usually fall in love with the characters, and then I can create another story for them. When I write a series and it’s the last book, I usually shed a few tears because it’s like a “farewell” to those people. Crazy, huh?

I’ve had the most fun writing my cozy mysteries. I don’t know why, either.

ME:  I know you do a lot of research for your novels. Which book was the most fun to research, and which was the most difficult, and why?

LINDA:  The most fun was learning about Bali Island in THE BALI MYSTERY and learning about Ireland in THE SHAMROCK CASE. I wanted to go there so bad after my research.

The most difficult research for me was for MAYAN INTRIGUE. It was hard work. I had to read The Trial of the Stick of Joseph and Ancient Ruins of America by Jack H. West. I took the knowledge I gleaned from that book and let my characters tell the story of the Mayan people. It turned out to be one of my favorite mystery/adventure stories.

Mayan IntriqueME:  Tell us about your latest book and what you’re working on now?

LINDA:  This is called the Amelia Moore Detective Series and it’s book number 2. Amelia Moore, the founder of the Moore Detective Agency, specializes in missing persons. Her cases have taken her to some very interesting places and put her in some dangerous situations, but she always solves the case. With the help of Rick Bonito, her new partner, her business is flourishing.

Shamrock web

In THE SHAMROCK CASE, Amelia is hired to search for her client’s grandparents. The case takes them to Ireland. Kate must learn about her heritage. Who are her grandparents and could they still be alive after all these years? Why did her parents leave Ireland suddenly and move to America? Is there more to this case than meets the eye?

What am I working on now? Book number 3 in this series. It’s called The Missing Heir. Dell Murphy has passed on and left a fortune to his nephew. He wants his nephew to continue his work at the orphanage in Mexico, but there is one problem. Neal Woods is missing! If Amelia and Rick can’t find him soon, the fortune will be turned over to Dell’s brother and sister who intend to close down “Uncle Dell’s Orphanage.” If that happens, where will the children go?

ME:  Finally, please describe your writing space, highlighting the three things about it that make it uniquely yours. (And I must have a picture of that space.)

LINDA:  I have several writing spots. I have a small desk that I can write at. If I’m not feeling good or my back is sore, then I put pillows behind me and I write in bed. If I miss the out-of-doors, I go outside and sit on my swing, put my laptop on my lap, and have fun writing. When summer arrives here in St. George, it gets in the hundred degrees, so I usually go outside early in the mornings and am back in the house by eleven o’clock. So it always varies with me, depending on my mood. Here’s a pic of what I see when I’m outside on my swing. We call it Big Red.

big-red-web(Here’s the view without the room. It looks very familiar.)

For more information about Linda and her writing, click on her website. She even has a page for purchasing her books.

As a special treat, I’ll be interviewing Linda’s daughter, Serena Clarke, next week. Unlike her mother, she delves entirely in fantasy.

Serena Clarke

“Wednesday Writer” – Lisa Alber

I first met Lisa Alber about ten years ago when we were placed in the same group of aspiring authors at the Maui Writer’s Retreat. Under the tutelage of published authors like Gail Tsukiyama and others, we studied and worked on the craft of writing, in general, and our own stories, in particular. It’s a real pleasure to introduce her to all of you now, especially since her debut novel KILMOON has received such glowing praise.

?????????????????ME:  Growing up in Marin County as you did, what aspect(s) of your childhood or youth led you most to become a writer? (I’d love to post a picture of you as a child.)

LISA:  I spent a lot of time rambling the Marin Headlands, which were essentially my backyard. Without realizing it, I steeped myself in a moody, fog-enshrouded atmosphere that was almost like a giant incubation chamber for my imagination. It’s no wonder I love setting my books in Ireland—the atmosphere is very similar.

(And here’s a picture of the Marin Headlands to prove it. Below it is a picture of Lisa as a kid.)

Marin_HeadlinesKid_LisaME:  What book or books led you to believe you could be a successful novelist, and why? Also, how old were you when you came to that realization?

LISA:  As I think about this, I realize that there aren’t any books that led me to believe I could be a successful novelist. The closest thing I can think of is Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE, and that’s only because of her chapter about allowing yourself to write “shitty” (her word) first drafts.

Bird by Bird

That permission was all I needed to feel comfortable with writing first drafts—which is key. No one gets published who can’t get over themselves enough to complete a first draft. I read Lamott’s book when I was around 30 years old.

(I have to admit I’m relieved to interview an author who didn’t really take herself seriously until she was middle-aged. :D)

ME:  Why on earth did you major in economics at Berkeley? And why a minor in Spanish literature, given your ancestry in Ireland?

LISA:  Ah, economics … I was raised by very practical parents. Get good grades, go to a good college, major in something practical so you can support yourself. Writing fiction was a slow-dawning realization through my 20s, not a forgone conclusion. I majored in economics because it was the least practical of the practical alternatives.

Being a book lover, I minored in literature to keep my sanity, and Spanish literature in particular because in high school I’d done volunteer work in Central America. I wanted to keep up my Spanish. My infatuation with Ireland didn’t come until later.

I thought about majoring in psychology – which would have been a good fit – but I could never have been a psychologist. Or any service profession that centers around working with people all day: doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher. I’m too introverted. (That, I understand. Most of us are introverts.) ME:  In the early 1990s, before we met, you worked in the editorial departments at Warner Books and Doubleday. What did you do there, and why did you decide to leave? LISA:  So, economics with Spanish literature took me to South America after college. I worked in Ecuador and then Brazil as a financial assistant (learned Portuguese too). That was all very nice, and it sounds good, but I hated it! Come to find out that in the real world I SUCK at numbers. I’ve always been a words-oriented person. So much for being practical, right? I returned to the U.S. eventually and changed careers – to book publishing, which was a far better fit. I had a blast living in New York City, but eventually I left because I’m a true west coaster. I never felt entirely at home in NYC. (Aha! The Atlantic didn’t compare to the Pacific, eh?) At Warner and Doubleday, I worked for senior editors as an editorial assistant. Book heaven, plus a great education in the publishing process. (I’ll bet!) ME:  How pivotal have writer’s conferences and retreats been in your quest to become a published novelist? How many different ones have you been to and which have been your favorites? LISA:  Writer’s conferences and retreats have been instrumental. People I’ve met have opened all kinds of doors, leading to short story publications, a writing grant, long-term wonderful friendships – to eventually being a panelist and speaker at writers conferences. (The latter is new; I’m not very comfortable with that yet.) (Ever the introvert, eh? :D) The defunct Maui Writers Conference (which we both love, right?) is dear to my heart because it was the first and it paved the way. These days, my favorites are specialized conferences such as Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime, which cater to the crime fiction community. ME:  You seem to have had two great influences in your life that have been reflected in your writing—NYT bestselling novelist Elizabeth George and the country of Ireland. Could you talk about the impact each has had on you? (And please provide a couple of pictures for each.) LISA:  Elizabeth George was my first-ever workshop teacher. I consider her a mentor because over the course of three workshops, she gave me specialized feedback.

With-Elizabeth-George_atMWC(Lisa with Elizabeth in Maui)

I was lucky – maybe she liked something about my writing, or she saw my growth – because after the third workshop she invited me to apply to her foundation for a writing grant (which I got) and she also invited me to write a short story for an anthology she was editing called Two of the Deadliest: New Tales of Lust, Greed, and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery. This was my first paid fiction publication.

Two of the Deadliest

Most of all, she was the first to tell me I had talent and should keep working at it. I’ll always be grateful to her.

withEGeorge(Elizabeth and Lisa more recently)

And Ireland! Wow, what can I say about that? Something about the country inspires me. It might be my genetic connection to the ancestral homeland … But I think it’s also a comfort thing because of what I mentioned above about rambling the Marin Headlands. Also, Ireland is steeped in a kind of mysticism that will never be totally eradicated by modern life. There are countries/cultures we just fit with, you know what I mean? (I think I do . . . that’s how I am about the Middle East.) ME:  Tell us a bit about your debut mystery, KILMOON, and what gave you the idea for the story.

kilmoon_72dpiLISA:  KILMOON is a mystery set in Ireland. In it, Californian Merrit Chase travels to County Clare to meet her long-lost father, the famous Matchmaker of Lisfenora. Her simple, if fraught, quest turns complicated when she’s pulled into a murder investigation and she discovers that her father’s dark past is at the heart of the chaos. Murder, vengeance, betrayal, and family secrets—not the family reunion she was hoping for!

matchmakerpub

The first inkling for a story idea came as a result of wandering into a pub called, of all things, “Matchmaker Bar,” Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare. (And I remember you talking about this experience in Maui!) Come to find out that every September Lisdoonvarna hosts an annual matchmaking festival with a bonafide matchmaker. The man’s a local celebrity. Since I tend to think in sinister terms rather than fluffy terms (no romances for me!), I got to wondering what could lurk beneath the façade of a charming matchmaker. I liked the juxtaposition of darkness hiding beneath happily-ever-afters.

Kilmoon-Church-sign(And nothing connotes darkness like an old Irish cemetery)

ME:   What are you working on now, and are you going to stick with Ireland for now or set a story closer to home in Oregon?

LISA:  Sticking with Ireland! I’m currently revising the second in the County Clare Mystery series. This story centers around the detective, Danny, who along with Merrit, are the series protagonists. (KILMOON is Merrit’s story.)

I’m calling the second novel Grey Man, and in it things get personal, oh so personal, for Danny when a teenage boy dies and disaster hits Danny’s family as a result. (Sounds great! Can’t wait.) ME:  Finally, what five things about your writing space make it specifically yours and why? Please tell us about them in the voice of your protagonist’s father, Liam the Matchmaker. (And I must have a picture of your office or writing space.) LISA:  (As Liam) We Irish, we love our symbols and our spaces. We like nothing better than to ritualize the simplest tasks, from making tea to stoking a peat fire. I suppose it should surprise no one that Lisa Alber parked her writing desk in front of the picture windows in her living area. Not to be hemmed in, that lass, even while pursuing her solitary writing tasks. You can see her rituals right there, in the latest journal that always sits at her side (with an owl on it; she loves owls). You will also see a framed German proverb that says, “Begin to weave and God will give the thread,” not to mention her mascot, Liam the Lion—which is my nickname, if you must know. She also can’t be without her full-spectrum desk lamp because it does get a mite murky in Oregon, just like it does in Ireland. (Love it! And you have to read it with an Irish accent, whether you can do a good one or not!)

photo(And here’s the photo…I spy an owl.)

Lisa Alber’s County Clare mysteries feature Merrit Chase, a recent transplant from California, and Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern. Her debut, KILMOON, has been called “moody,” “utterly poetic,” and a “stirring debut.” She received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on KILMOON. Ever distractible, you may find Lisa staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions.

You can find Lisa at: website | Facebook | Twitter | blog.

Please come back next Wednesday when I’ll be talking with Linda Weaver Clarke, author of cozy mysteries, sweet romance, adventure stories and more!

Linda Weaver Clarke

“Wednesday Writer” – Virgil Alexander

A lover of history, particularly that of the American Southwest, Virgil Alexander pens mysteries set in that region. His mysteries explore current issues as well as the different cultures of those that live in Arizona, be they white ranchers, Native Americans, or Mexican immigrants. I featured his latest, SAINTS AND SINNERS, just this past Monday, but let’s get to know the author better.

Virgil

ME:  Growing up in Arizona as you have, and raising horses and livestock, who turned you on to reading—your mother or your father, or both? And which book in your youth first gave you the idea that one day you might like to try writing fiction yourself? (Please provide a picture of you as a child in Arizona, either camping or riding a horse.)

VIRGIL:  I have loved reading as far back as my memory goes. Even before I could read Mom would read to me (as well as the other kids). We had two or three hundred children’s books, and a good encyclopedia; I think we had every “Little Golden” book ever printed. (I remember those!) As I think about it, that is remarkable because we were poor with very little disposable income, yet we were rich in books.

Mom was herself an ardent reader and a constant student; she read almost every genre, the Bible, many magazines, the daily paper, and loved history, archeology, and geography. (She sounds like a woman after my own heart.) So there is no doubt that she was my earliest and strongest reading influencer, but Dad was also a frequent reader. He was a very physically active man, a skilled outdoorsman, hunter, cowboy, mechanic, and equipment operator. He read the paper every day and would read western paperbacks in the evening. Strangely enough, I have always enjoyed writing; I can’t remember a seminal event that spurred it. I got a lot of recognition in school for my written answers, reports, and term papers so maybe the recognition encouraged me to keep writing.

Virgil Cowboy Hat 1949(The author as a child with his Great Uncle Virgil, his mother’s uncle)

ME:  When and why did you first get interested in the ranch history of Gila County, Arizona?

VIRGIL:  Our family routinely explored back roads and trails within thirty miles of our home, so we grew up knowing where ranches were and some of their history, as well as a number of the ranchers personally. When I was a little kid and people would ask me what I wanted to be, the answer was, “a cowboy and a preacher.” So the interest was just intrinsic in me.

I was never as skilled in cowboy things as my two brothers, and none of us could hold a candle to Dad’s skills. I loved riding and was good at all the work of taking care of our horses and livestock (didn’t like it all that much), but never qualified, as hoped, to be a cowboy. Ironically I did become a preacher – I joined the LDS Church at 16 and served a mission to Canada from age 19-21, and was later a bishop and high councilman, so have done a lot of preaching.

What started me working on Ranching in the Heart of Arizona – The history of ranching in Gila County, was a conversation with a life-long friend and school-mate, a ranch owner named Jane Bohme Hale. We were lamenting the passing of a long time rancher and I said something like, “Somebody should get these people’s history before they are all gone.” Jane said, “Why not you? You are good at writing and are interested.” Why not? I started researching and interviewing shortly after that.

(Good for her!)

ME:  Why did you go into mining? And please share a couple of your most interesting trips abroad as a corporate businessman for an international mining company? (Plus photos. :D)

VIRGIL:  Globe and Miami were founded in support of mining, first rich silver and gold deposits, then even richer deposits of copper. Ranching, government, and tourism are also important parts of the local economy, but 80% of the families either work in the mines or are secondary businesses or organizations supported by the mines and the family budgets of miners.

Mining towns are a real melting pot of people from many countries, with many skills and professions. They probably have a larger proportion of scientists, engineers, technologists, and business professionals than most major cities, with the difference that people of all economic strata attend the same schools, churches, and organizations. They are vital and interesting places to live.

(Actually, I can understand that having recently moved from the Tri-Cities in Washington, where everything developed around nuclear engineering…similar type of melting pot.)

As a native of that community, and considering the fact that mining paid better and offered opportunity for education and advancement, mining was more or less a natural choice for a career. I started as a laborer and eventually became a corporate process manager and technical superintendent.

Arequipa-Peru(Arequipa, Peru)

One of our South American properties was a mine near Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru. I made dozens of one or two week visits there and enjoyed the place and the people.

I will mention two interesting things about working at that mine. When we first acquired the mine, in the process of analyzing its strengths and weakness many existing employees of all levels of the company were interviewed. We could not help but notice that virtually all the female employees out of a total workforce of over 600 were clerical workers, single, and quite attractive. As an executive secretary was interviewed, the interviewer somehow found out she was married; she broke into tears and begged them not to tell anyone, or she would be fired. It turned out that part of the job of a clerical worker was to be mistress to her boss; to avoid any problems with husbands they required the workers to be single. It took us years to change the culture toward female employees. I moved two Peruvian female engineers onto my team and stood behind them as they took leadership over the old guard and eventually gained acceptance. (Good for you!)

On one two week project we worked the weekdays but had the weekend open, so I arranged with the company to book our team for a tour of Cuzco and Machu Pichu. We flew to Cuzco, toured the city and the nearby Sacsayhuaman ruins. We took the train to Machu Pichu, toured that ruin, and then flew by helicopter back to Cuzco. It was an unforgettable experience of breathtaking beauty and ancient marvels.

(I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.)

Cuzco Peru(Cuzco, Peru)

sacsayhuaman

(Sacsayhuaman)

Machu Pichu Peru

 (Machu Pichu)

While there were many interesting assignments, I really enjoyed conducting a weeklong project at our plant in Rotterdam, Holland. Not only was the plant a marvel of great processes and effective management, but the people were wonderful and the history and scenery were terrific. I loved the old fortified city of Brielle, with its great history.

Brielle Holland(Brielle, Holland)

ME:  When did you write your first piece of fiction on your own (meaning other than as a school assignment) and what was it about?

VIRGIL:  I dabbled with short fiction stories on my own throughout my youth, generally with my only readers being my mom and my pal, Dale. I started my ranch research in about 2007. My first attempt at a commercial fiction story was inspired by the migration of the Bohme ranch family from Texas to Arizona in 1885. I wrote a piece about a young man leaving home to help on the cattle drive and falling in love with the Arizona frontier. I sent it to a few magazines and literary journals, but it received no interest.

(Sounds like it was a good start, though.)

ME:  You say you’ve also written poetry, and since we’ve just concluded National Poetry Month, would you mind sharing one of your shorter poems?

VIRGIL:  Most of those were written before I was married, and perhaps fortunately, they are lost somewhere in my unpacked moving boxes. One I was proud of and actually illustrated with pen and ink sketching was about the Superstition Mountains, and it was several pages long. I typed it on my portable typewriter while at Eastern Arizona College, I think, in 1964. I really don’t think I am good poet, but I enjoyed it. The following, based on an actual incident of my Dad’s, is the only piece of my so called poetry I could find:

The Day We Lost Buck

by Virgil Alexander

 

Buck was a big horse; Buck was a good horse,

he knew all the tricks a’ the trade.

When he was a ropin’ at a hard run or lopin’,

he saw that the catch was made.

 

No cow, young or old, frightened or bold,

could leave the herd with Buck on guard;

He’d cut and he’d bite, he’d kick and he’d fight,

‘til at night the cattle was in Cherry Creek yard.

 

Dub the cowboy, on Buck astraddle,

he knew all the tricks a’ the trade.

On Alf Devore’s roundup Dub drove the cattle,

an’ deserved ever’ cent he was paid.

 

Deer season, ‘n cowboy turned hunter,

riding old Buck, he had good luck,

but when he pulled the trigger,

with no warnin’ Buck went amok.

 

He threw Dub ‘midst a cedar, spinnin’ like a beater,

he rolled, he leaped, he jumped, all a’ quiver

‘til he broke the reins, lost the saddle,

an’ kickin’ and pootin’ hightailed it up Salt River.

 

Alf and the boys come a gawkin’ “Why the big noise?”

They was still a laughin’ as they spurred after old Buck.

Pickin’ up the trail and Dub’s scattered toys

they searched ridge and canyon without any luck.

 

Alf said, “Buck was a big horse; Buck was a good horse,

An’ he knew all the tricks of the trade.

He could do the job, and keep the cattle a’ mob,

but he might a’ been gun shy, I’m afraid.”

(:D)

ME:  In what way is the American Southwest a leading character in your writing?

VIRGIL:  I spend a lot of time describing the setting, geology, natural history, and human history in my stories. For example THE WHAM CURSE begins with:

“The Southeastern boundary of the San Carlos Apache Indian reservation in central Arizona is located in a remarkable “mixing and jumbling” of geology, as if the Apache ga’an (mountain spirits) had stirred these ranges, mesas, canyons, plateaus, and broad valleys with huge trowels into a great practical joke on puny man. Among these features, seemingly occurring with total randomness along canyons and washes are peculiar cliffs consisting of large river rocks of many types and colors mixed into a matrix of hard pale-tan caliche.

The cliffs have a rugged texture consisting of many protruding rocks and of holes of varying size and depth where boulders have been eroded free of their surrounding matrix. Some rocks long ago fell to the sand wash below the cliffs and some remain in their little cave created by wind and rain. These holes are used by insects, snakes, rodents, and birds as nesting places; and sometimes by man as a place to stow or hide something.

Earl “Boy” Begay lived in his grandma’s home on the reservation, and often played and explored along the bottom of these cliffs. He liked nothing better than mysterious places. He…”

Note there are two descriptive paragraphs of the setting before the first character is mentioned.

Wham Front Cover 2 14

ME:  Tell us more about your first novel, THE WHAM CURSE, and its historical background. What writing process did you follow to produce it?

VIRGIL:  I have been a student of Southwestern history since I was in elementary school, so I was surprised when, as part of my ranch research, I stumbled on the story of the ambush and robbery of Major Joseph Wham’s US Army payroll escort near Ft. Thomas in 1889.

I got sidetracked and researched it and discovered that it is one of Arizona’s lost treasure stories. It occurred to me that fictionally answering the question of what happened to the loot (it is lost by the robbers), and what would happen if found today (for one thing a murder), would make a really good story line.

(I agree!)

My process was simple. I imagined the plot and the characters I wanted involved, and the problems and subplots that might take place in such a story. I turned this into a general outline and started writing. As I developed the story I did a lot of research on each scene and the processes that would be involved in it. I found myself working in a series of vignettes, and have continued to use that technique.

ME:  You say SAINTS AND SINNERS is a sequel, to be followed by The Baleful Owl. What are the basic themes in this series and what are you hoping readers will take away from it?

CF - Saints and Sinners final frontVIRGIL:  The continuing themes from one story to the next include: 1) the setting is rural and small town; 2) the three main characters, who share a trust and friendship; 3) recurring supporting characters; 4) continued development of the characters’ family and personal relationships; and 5) description of setting, geography, ecology, geology, and human and natural history.

I felt particularly moved when developing my characters to create them with differences, but each with a strong moral compass. Al is a student of his Apache Heritage, yet he is also an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church. Bren is a faithful Mormon. Manny is a Catholic, but in many ways has some of my own characteristics, such as his love of local history and his efforts to research everything. These three fully respect each other and consider each to be equally Christian. I hope to let the reader see that we can be different but still value the good in others.

In the end my desire is to create a story the reader will enjoy and characters with whom they can identify.

ME:  Which authors have influenced you the most in terms of Western fiction, and how?

VIRGIL:  The summer before I started high school, I found the full collection of Zane Gray westerns in the Miami Public Library and read every one of them. As my introduction to western fiction that event was very important.

Zane Grey(Zane Grey, author of such stories as Riders of the Purple Sage)

My favorite authors of all time were mystery writer Helen MacInnes, thriller writer Alistair MacLean, and Tony Hillerman. I also love the contemporary southwestern fiction of JA Jance and Michael McGarrity, although at times they are a little too edgy for me.

Helen MacInnes(Helen MacInnes, Scottish-American Espionage Novelist)

Alistair MacLean

(Alistair MacLean)

jance-ja-ap1-240

(J.A. Jance)

Michael McGarrity

(Michael McGarrity)

Without question, though, I think Hillerman touched my writing more than anyone else. Not only did I love his writing and the way he captured the world he wrote in, but I respected his actual life and the person he was. It must have been from his example that I found it comfortable writing in the vignette style.

Tony Hillerman(Tony Hillerman, his greatest influence)

ME:  Finally, please describe your favorite writing space (office, plateau, easy chair, whatever) in the voice of the tribal police officer, Allen Victor, from THE WHAM CURSE. (And I must have a picture.)

VIRGIL:

Mrs. Alexander had given Al a key to her murdered husband’s office, saying, “If you don’t mind, I’ll stay here on the porch swing. Take as much time as you wish looking at Virgil’s office, but I can’t face seeing it without him rattling around in there.”

As he entered the office, he stopped in shock. What a mess; I wonder if someone broke in and roughly searched the place. Piles of books, files, correspondence, bills, and even some kind of medication were heaped around the open laptop computer. There was a comfortable high backed armed chair at the desk, and the place barely had adequate light. How on earth did he create stories that tracked such order and detail in such a messy place? I think I’m going to have to move Mrs. Alexander to the top of the suspect list after seeing this.

(Ooh. I hope you don’t get into trouble for this, Virgil, with your wife.)

Virgil Looking for Cover(He doesn’t look worried, does he?)

DIGITAL CAMERA

(His office “sweet”…Al wasn’t lying)

You can buy Virgil’s books from these physical or online bookstores listed here on his website.

I’m very pleased to be interviewing my friend Lisa Alber next Wednesday regarding the debut of her mystery set in Ireland, her writing life, and other things.

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