Category Archives: Interview with an Author

Before They Were Authors: Geoffrey Wells on Writing & The Analysis of Change

A South African farm left Geoffrey Wells with a writer’s imagination. Piano and drum kits and Mozambique led to his first thriller. Advertising art direction led to the American Film Institute, and Information Technology to vice president for two US broadcasting networks. Wells has written an award-winning animated film, visited elephant reserves, and climbed Kilimanjaro. He swims the open water and runs a video and design company on Long Island.

Here’s Geoffrey’s story:

The job I had before publishing my first thriller was Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO)—though I had no intension of going down the IT (information technology) road. I was aiming to work in the movie business, after a career as Art Director in Advertising, which tempted me with filmmaking. After graduating from The American Film Institute (while working the graveyard shift at a Beverly Hills hotel, where I provided room service for famous and infamous actors and rock stars), I did work in Hollywood: I shoveled shit under freeways, plastered ceilings, scouted locations, produced small movies, and worked as a director’s assistant as a “reader” evaluating screenplays submitted by his agent. Not what I thought it would be.

A temp research job at Disney in television syndication had some promise. However, they hired me for admin and technical duties—making sure executives got their show ratings, 9 a.m. Monday to Friday. The blossoming job was making sure that the disparate data sources used in the systems were “normalized” for data integrity. It was a problem, and I set about solving it. To make my case I studied structured system analysis—an approach to identifying only the “true” and essential activities required for a system. The literary equivalent is developmental editing, but I didn’t know that then. This attention to integrity endures in my writing.

This knowledge landed me a permanent position and catapulted me to manager, then director in charge of application development and then Vice President of IT. The years slid by. The pattern that emerged was that my steadily-improving methodology led to disruptive projects. I felt justified in modeling a system’s essence. I still do, in the stories I write. I found obsolete remnants that had been in place for years. In some cases decades. Management got on board seeing the value over the long-term and started calling me “the velvet fist.”

Stakeholders did not. They called me other names, like the anti-Christ. Yes, that happened! It hurt, and my white South African liberal skin grew thicker still—but the job paid well. After all, it wasn’t a popularity contest. End users of systems fought me, which is why I can kill my literary babies, torture my characters and edit ruthlessly. I don’t mind when readers say they don’t like a protagonist’s choices. For me the truth of the story must always prevail.

The hardest part of change wasn’t technology, it was the people who operated it. My success in persuading them to accept change lay in asking them to imagine a way of working that not only befitted them, but also the business. I under-promised and over-delivered hope to everyone from the end-user to the CEO. You’ll find that value proposition of hope in my writing. My projects grew in budget and in ambition. I had become a Chief Information Officer (CIO) for a major broadcasting company.

And then, new technologies started to change too quickly for me to implement them. By the time a system was replaced, there was a better technology waiting to be implemented. What Thomas Friedman calls, “the age of accelerations” in his book, Thank You for Being Late, had begun. Suddenly I knew what I did, could not keep up.

I wanted to be back in control. I started to write—mornings at 4 a.m. A short story turned into a novel. By habit, I applied systems analysis to my story and it became tight, acquired pace and turned into a thriller.

The writing (pun intended) was on the wall. Corporate IT departments, and broadcasting itself was—and still is—being swallowed by Internet services in the Cloud. It was time for me to make a change. I published that first novel independently because I did not want to trade one hamster wheel for another. A year later I left the corporate world.

My wife and I, two dogs and cat moved to the North Fork of Long Island where I write, and we run a video and graphics studio. And the change management disciplines I learned get applied to time management, careful plotting and the elimination of the non-essential remnants—of a different story.

 

Find out more about Geoffrey and his books on his website.

 

 

Before They Were Authors: Sybil Johnson (from software development to crime fiction)

Today on BEFORE THEY WERE AUTHORS, we have Sybil Johnson, who worked in software development for twenty years before turning to a life of crime writing. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she now resides in Southern California where she writes the Aurora Anderson Mystery series (FATAL BRUSHSTROKE, PAINT THE TOWN DEAD and the recently released, A PALETTE FOR MURDER) featuring computer programmer and tole painting enthusiast Aurora (Rory) Anderson. To find out more about Sybil, visit www.authorsybiljohnson.com.

 Judy: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers with day jobs? 

Sybil: Persistence, persistence, persistence! The life of a writer is filled with rejection. It’s hard not to take it personally. But, just because one editor or agent rejects a story, that doesn’t mean they all will. Sure, sometimes it needs to be rewritten, but not always. Most of the short stories I’ve sent out were rejected multiple times before finding a home. The same goes for novels. It took me many years and many drafts before my first book was published.

The other piece of advice: keep on writing. The more you write the better you’ll become. Write the kind of stories that you want to read. If it’s a novel, you’re going to spend a heck of a lot of time with the story so you should like it. If you’re bored with the story, that will come across in your writing.

Judy:  What made you decide to become a writer?

Sybil: I’ve loved reading, particularly mysteries, since I was a kid but never thought of myself as a writer. Then, sometime in my early 40s, I woke up one morning with the image of a young woman finding the body of her painting teacher in her garden. That image stuck with me for days. I was coming to the end of a programming contract and was looking for a new challenge so I decided to dive in and give writing a mystery a try. Many years and lots of trial and error later, that idea became my first published book, FATAL BRUSHSTROKE, the first book in the Aurora Anderson Mystery series published by Henery Press.

Judy: What was the best job (besides being a writer) that you ever had, and how has it influenced your writing?

Sybil: I started studying Computer Science before the IBM PC came out, when FORTRAN was king and a time share system was state of the art. For twenty years, I worked in software development in a lot of different roles: programming, designing software, managing programmers and projects.

In many ways, it prepared me to be a writer. The most obvious – I was used to sitting in front of a computer screen by myself for long periods. Writing and programming are both fairly solitary activities, though since I worked on large projects that required many programmers, I had more interaction on a day-to-day basis with people when I was programming than I do now.

Cover of The Fortran Automatic Coding System for the IBM 704 EDPM, said to be the first book about Fortran.

One of my favorite things to do was designing software, figuring out the overall structure of the code. The process is similar to outlining a story—deciding on the crime, the victim, the setting, the general plot points. As you might have guessed, that’s my favorite part of writing.

Software development also taught me the importance of creating intermediate deadlines. As a programmer, you have a code completion deadline to work toward, but you often have to create your own deadlines in between to make sure you get everything done on time. Same goes with writing, especially if you have a book contract. You have to break down the tasks and figure out what needs to be done when in order to meet that date.

It’s a pretty exciting thing creating something from nothing, whether it’s a piece of software or a novel. An elegant piece of code is a beautiful thing, to my mind just as beautiful as finely crafted prose.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story, Sybil.

Before They Were Authors: Jennifer Alderson

Jennifer S. Alderson

Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After years of traveling the world, she now calls Amsterdam home. She’s the author of two novels, a travel fiction thriller set in Nepal and Thailand, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, and a suspenseful whodunit set in Amsterdam, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery. Here’s more about Jennifer, in her own words:

I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge and I love learning new things. As a result, my career path has taken many twists and turns along the way. Before my novels were published, I worked as a journalist and editor for regional newspapers, then as a multimedia developer for large corporations, before finally transitioning into my latest role as collection researcher and project assistant for museums. All of the jobs and experiences I’ve had have influenced my writing by inspiring and informing storylines, plot twists, and characters.

The University Library (UBA) is the largest library at the University of Amsterdam.

When burnout forced me to rethink my career in the ICT sector, I moved from Seattle, Washington to the Netherlands to study European art history at the University of Amsterdam for a year. At the time, art history seemed like the perfect antithesis to sitting behind a desk pushing pixels all day long. I’d minored in the subject while majoring in journalism and figured doing something completely different would help me find my path in life again.

Those first few months of classes were a revelation. I loved the subject matter, lectures, and numerous field trips so much that I ended up staying longer and earning a Master’s degree in Museum Studies. Unfortunately the world-wide economy crashed in 2008 – the year I graduated – and my dream of becoming a senior curator at the Van Gogh Museum was never realized. However, I was lucky enough to work for several museums in Amsterdam before subsidy cuts for cultural institutions translated into massive layoffs.

Museum Willet-Holthuysen on the Herengracht canal in Amsterdam

One of my favorite assignments was creating an exhibition plan for Museum Willet-Holthuysen in Amsterdam, a well-maintained canal house bequeathed to the city in 1895 by its’ last occupants on the condition it become a museum bearing their names. It’s still filled with the former owners’ impressive furnishings and extensive collection of sculptures, paintings and decorative arts. Technically my title was collection researcher and my goal was to find connections between the many tomes on ceramic in Abraham Willet’s extensive library and his collection of European ceramic objects. To what extent did he follow the advice and trends mentioned or discussed in his books, the majority of which he purchased himself; exhibition catalogues, contemporary art theory and other guides containing the latest trends and tips for collectors. My research into his collections, as well as my observations of the dynamics inherent to a museum’s exhibition project team, inspired several of the characters and scenes in my second book, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery

My work as a collection researcher for an exhibition of Bispoles at Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum directly inspired my current work-in-progress, the third book in the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series. During my search through photographs and film fragments of Asmat tribes, missionaries and anthropologists working in Papua New Guinea during the 1950s and 1960s, I discovered that a well-known Dutch missionary – Reverend Gerald Zegwaard – was one of the last people to see Michael Rockefeller alive. During their meeting they’d made an appointment to meet up after Rockefeller returned from an acquisition trip upriver. The young American disappeared days later, resulting in one of the most famous unsolved mysteries of our time. That little detail about his un-kept appointment with Reverend Zegwaard stuck with me and eventually inspired me to write my next art mystery, about missionaries, anthropologists and Bispoles. If all goes well, it will be released in the summer of 2017.

Find out more about Jennifer and her books at http://www.jennifersalderson.com.

 

 

 

 

Before They Were Authors: Dawn Barclay

I was introduced to Dawn Barclay through  Mystery Thriller Week, an initiative to support authors by promoting their books.

Dawn’s debut novel, written under the pseudonym of D.M. Barr, is Expired Listings. Before we find out what Dawn did before becoming an author, here’s a bit about her book:

Someone is ‘deactivating’ the Realtors in Rock Canyon and almost no one seems to care. Not the surviving brokers, who consider the serial killings a competitive boon. Not the town’s residents, who see the murders as a public service. In fact, the only person who’s even somewhat alarmed is Dana Black, a kinky, sharp-witted yet emotionally skittish Realtor who has no alibi for the crimes because during each, she was using her empty listings for games like Bondage Bingo with her sadistic lover, Dare. And yet, mysteriously, all clues are pointing her way.

Judy: What was the best job (besides being a writer) that you ever had, and how has it influenced your writing?

Dawn: All of my previous jobs involved communications and sales & marketing which is probably why I enjoy promoting my book as much as writing it. I loved working as a reporter and editor at Travel Agent Magazine because I was around erudite people, but since that involved writing, I’ll skip that. I loved working in Sales, Marketing and Public Relations for Barclay International Group (short-term apartments and villas around the world) because I grew the company from nothing to a major player during its time, and I also got to host press trips with amazing people who went on to write articles about the company in Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Diversion, etc.

Judy: What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you at work?

Dawn: The one time I let down my hair on a press trip (I was working as a travel writer), I stayed out late and drank and had a great time. When the reporter from a major NY paper filed *his* story, I discovered he had alluded to my entire night of semi-debauchery for all the world to read.

Judy: What made you decide to become a writer?

Dawn: I LOVE being read. It’s probably why I spent years writing for magazines at minimum wage. I remember back in the fifth grade, I had read Harriet the Spy (one of my favorite books!) and everyone was writing slam books where we wrote down what we really felt about other people. Someone stole mine and I grabbed it back and ripped it up…and then helped them piece it back together so they could read what I had written!

Judy: Tell us a bit about yourself and where we can find out more about you.

Dawn: My background includes stints in corporate communications, marketing, travel journalism, meeting planning, public relations and real estate. I was, for a long and happy time, an award-winning magazine writer and editor. Then kids happened. Now they’re off doing whatever it is they do (who knows, they won’t friend me on Facebook) and I can spend my spare time weaving tales of debauchery and whatever else tickles my fancy. My first novel, Expired Listings, can be found at http://www.expiredlistingsnovel.com.

Interview with an Author: Rita Lee Chapman

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Rita Lee Chapman in Egypt

As someone who has “visit Australia and New Zealand” on her bucket list, I’m beyond thrilled to introduce Australian author Rita Lee Chapman. Okay, Rita was born in London, England, but she did move to Australia in her early twenties. Like many before her, it was only when she retired that she wrote her first novel, Missing in Egypt, a romantic travel mystery. Winston – A Horse’s Tale followed, and was written for horse lovers like herself.  As Chapman is quick to point out, “It was the book I had to write.” Rita’s latest book, Dangerous Associations, is her first foray into crime mystery. When she’s not writing or reading, Rita enjoys playing tennis, swimming and taking walks along the local beaches, lakes and river. And that’s in Australia…in case you missed it the first time around!

Judy: Tell us a bit about Dangerous Associations

Rita: Dangerous Associations was my first foray into crime and I must say I enjoyed it immensely! It was fun to do an accent for Geoffrey and I enjoyed the power of being able to choose to kill off a character!

Judy: What’s the best writing advice you have ever read or been given?

 Rita: Edit, edit, edit!

Judy: What advice and/or resources would you recommend for aspiring writers?

Rita: Now that Amazon has made self-publishing of e-books a viable option I would advise any aspiring write to just do it! Sit down and write that novel that is going around in your head. Amazon’s CreateSpace enables you to produce a print copy to hold in your hands and they only print on demand so there is no outlay. Just don’t forget to Edit! Edit! Edit!

 Judy: Can you recommend a lesser-known author well worth reading?

Rita: Oh, there are so many, but I would certainly recommend Rebecca Bryn and Sarah Stuart, who set up Worldwide Authors, to enable us to reach across the world. You can find information on these two authors and their books on my website.

Judy: Do you read your genre when writing? If so, why? If not, why not?

Rita: If you mean, do I read a crime book when I’m writing a crime mystery, then the answer is no. I read across quite a wide range of genres and I just choose something that appeals to me at the time. I think trying to study someone else’s style or story would only be confusing, but of course everything you read is stored somewhere deep in the recesses of your mind.

Judy: What’s next for Rita Lee Chapman? 

Rita: A holiday! My husband and I will shortly be going back to San Francisco, then driving through Yellowstone National Park (keeping an eye out for Yogi) then on to Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise before heading over the Rockies to Vancouver. I also hope to release Missing at Sea, the follow-on from Missing in Egypt, early next year.

Heres’s a bit about Rita’s books! 

Dangerous_Associatio_Cover sml_Dangerous Associations: An ex-husband, a new love, a stalker. Cathy Thompson’s link to her ex-husband fills her life with threats and intimidation. She must either trap her stalker or find Geoffrey to put an end to her life of fear.

Missing_in_Egypt_CoverMissing in Egypt: Twists and turns, romance and adventure as well as its insights into Australian and Egyptian cultures. Australian Anna Davies travels to Egypt with her lover to help him search for his brother, who disappeared whilst on holiday. The Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel and the Temple of Karnak are amongst the settings for their search. Will they be able to track him down and find him alive – or is Ramy already dead? What tragedies await Anna and Kareem as they come closer to retracing his footsteps? This fast-paced action plot will keep you guessing until the end.

Winston_-_A_Horse's__CoverWinston – A Horse’s Tale: One for horse lovers! Winston is a good-looking palomino horse whose life involves several different owners and many adventures. As you read his story, told by Winston himself, you will appreciate horse ownership from the horse’s point of view. Born on a country property in Australia, Winston tells of his breaking-in and education and the different people he encounters – good, bad and ignorant. As well as his own story, Winston includes the experiences of other horses he meets along life’s way.

 Whether it’s jumping, eventing, hunting or just hacking, Winston tries hard to please his rider. Follow his successes and his failures from his breaking-in to his show jumping win. It is an eventful life – the story of one Australian horse out of thousands, but one that you will remember.

Find Rita:

Website/Blog

Amazon

Goodreads

Facebook

Pinterest

 

Authors Talk: Lesley A. Diehl on The Problem with Cozy Mysteries

3578It is my pleasure to introduce Lesley A. Diehl in the first of my “Authors Talk” series. Today, Lesley reflects on the cozy mystery sub genre.

The Problem with Cozy Mysteries. What a disparaging thing to say about cozy mysteries. I write them, so why would I find them problematic? I didn’t begin my career in mysteries by thinking I’d write mine in the cozy mystery genre. I kind of fell into it by crafting stories that I wanted to read, stories with a lot of humor in them and set in small towns. I had no background in law enforcement or as a lawyer, so I knew my protagonists would have to be like me: nosey women who just couldn’t let go of a puzzle until they solved it. My protagonists would have to be amateur detectives. So, voila! I was writing cozy mysteries like one of my favorite writers of mysteries, Agatha Christie. As for the humor in them? I was unashamedly mimicking Janet Evanovich. (The other day I noted my local bookstore had shelved my books under mysteries, not local authors. I was worried I might lose readers, but then I noted they were alongside Evanovich. That was exciting. I hope her popularity rubs off.) Several books into my publishing career I began to note issues arising in my writing. They’re not ones I alone own. They are common to all cozies. So here are some difficulties in cozies, and how I think they can be solved.

The amateur sleuth and her lack of knowledge about the crime

A writer of police procedurals once commented that she couldn’t understand how anyone could have an amateur sleuth solve a crime when she couldn’t get access to the information about the crime the police could. That is indeed an issue, and one a writer of cozies shouldn’t solve by making the police out to be stupid and the sleuth a genius. The only way around this conundrum is to make friends with the police. Cozies often accomplish this by pairing the protagonist with a police detective as a good friend or a romantic interest. The latter provides an additional source of tension in the story, romantic tension. It’s like getting two for the price of one.

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I’ve taken both approaches. In my Eve Appel mysteries, Eve has a close friend who is a detective for the police, and Eve also is having a fling with a private eye. This is the perfect twosome for Eve to play one off the other for information. Other cozy writers find similar sources of information. Diane Mott Davidson’s protagonist is married to a cop as is Mary Daheim’s protagonists in both of her series. Before she married the town’s chief of police in Mary Daheim’s Alpine series, her protagonist was the editor and publisher of the local newspaper, another good source of information about a crime.

It’s not necessary for an amateur sleuth to have the detailed forensic information found in mysteries where the protagonist is a cop or an attorney because the cozy mystery’s revelation of the bad guy or gal is more about putting together the pieces of the mystery puzzle, and the reader is encouraged to work along with the protagonist. The murderer may be clever, but the protagonist is cleverer and so is the reader who shares in the hunt. Finding the killer is more about the make-up of the killer and less about blood spatter, fingerprints and DNA.

 The limiting nature of first person

Many cozy mysteries are written in first person in order to get close and personal with the amateur sleuth. First person pulls the reader into the thinking, feeling and activities of the protagonist, but it also means both the writer and the reader are limited in knowing about the activities and thoughts of others except through the eyes of the protagonist. There is the danger of being too much in the sleuth’s head.

Having a gal or guy pal, someone the protagonist talks with and works with as well as gets insight and information from is a way of expanding what she knows and what the reader is allowed to know. If the protagonist is a less than reliable source of information, this can be offset by the gal pal. What she says about the protagonist and to her also gives a more complete picture of the sleuth. We may have an idealized view of ourselves, but our interactions with others provide a more veridical view. Because cozies are as much about character as plot for me, developing my protagonist is as important as solving the crime.

51kzq6styllThe reputation of the cozy mystery

The cozy mystery genre or subgenre is usually not viewed as serious literature. Those of us who write cozies are the poor relations of even the mystery genre which is considered the poor relation of main stream literature. The only pat on the back I ever received from someone in literature was from a person running a literature salon who said my books could be displayed there as long as they weren’t romance. Isn’t it interesting how well romance and cozy mysteries sell, yet how little respect even those writing in the genres have for them? We are tarred with the “commercial fiction” brush. As for me, I’d like even more commercial tarring!

There appears to be a phenomenon among writers where cozy writers “evolve” into writers of serious mysteries, those thought to be more literary, more serious, more likely to win awards, or they “graduate” into writers of psychological thrillers or suspense. I admit to having been swayed by the thoughts of being taken more seriously by my fellow writers and have several book ideas which might fall into the psychological suspense category. But who am I kidding? These manuscripts are better classified as noir cozies.

In fact, an examination of many cozy mysteries reveals an abundance of serious themes in them, issues that impact daily lives but are not really considered high impact themes. These include domestic violence, sexual abuse, drug use, human trafficking, sexual harassment and, of course, murder. Their presentation in cozy mysteries is usually more personal and intimate than that found in police procedurals, yet cozy writers insist that these issues belong in cozies. I agree and include issues of family dysfunction, sexual abuse, and human trafficking in the Eve Appel series and in the Laura Murphy mysteries. The use of serious themes in cozy mysteries is important to the development of the characters as well as providing realistic plots for murder and subplots for enrichment of the story. Cozies using these themes probably come closer to the reality of the lives people live than many suspense and action publications, yet we still find cozies the perfect escape literature because the bad guys always are made to pay. Their popularity speaks to what escape literature can provide to feed an optimistic note in an otherwise confusing and upsetting world.

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The use of humor in a murder mystery

What’s funny to me may not tickle your funny bone, so it’s always chancy inserting humor into a murder mystery, yet I do it as do other cozy writers such as Diane Mott Davidson, Nancy Cohen, Rabbi Ilene Schneider and Janet Evanovich. Some of the humor works, other does not.

For some, the aspect of humor paired with murder is an impossible idea, but there are ways to make it work. Funny interactions between characters, odd and unusual descriptions of clothing or other aspects of the environment, unexpected behavior, snappy and quirky dialogue all work to create humor or lighten the mood. What never works is humor around death. The murder of someone is to be taken seriously and respect shown for the deceased. To do otherwise is insulting.

I wish I could say more about how to write humor, but I think it’s not something easily taught. I find it a useful tool to create as well as defuse tension. Laughing is important to our mental health, and being able to create the vehicle to provide that for a reader gives me a feeling of absolute joy. As I said, my sense of humor is not the same as others’, but my litmus test for funny is if it makes me chuckle when I write it. I write humor into my cozies for selfish reasons: I like to enjoy my writing. 51nrf3ak6gl

You probably have other views on cozy mysteries and have considered other issues in writing and reading them. I invite you to share them here.

For more information about Lesley, visit her website at www.lesleyadiehl.com and her blog at www.lesleyadiehl.com/blog. You can find her books at www.Amazon.com/author/lesleydiehl

 

Interview with an Author: Sherry Harris, ad writer turned mystery author

51eqctkkoalSherry Harris, a former director of marketing for a financial planning company, decided writing fiction couldn’t be that different than writing ads. She couldn’t have been more wrong, but eventually because of a series of fortunate events and a great many people helping her along the way, Kensington published the Agatha nominated Tagged For Death, the first in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries. Other titles include: The Longest Yard Sale, All Murders Final. AGood Day To Buy comes out in April 2017.

Sherry honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country, while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry uses her love of garage sales, her life as a military spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for the series. Sherry is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters In Crime, the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters In Crime, where she serves as President.

Judy: Tell us a bit about your most recent novel, All Murders Final.

ALL MURDERS FINAL mech.inddSherry: All Murders Final is the third book of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series. It’s winter in Ellington, Massachusetts, and Sarah has to come up with a plan for her garage sale business. She starts a virtual garage sale thinking that online she can avoid cranky customers but soon she’s getting death threats. When Sarah finds a client is murdered, one she had an argument with the night before, she doesn’t know who to trust online or off.

Judy: What or who inspired you to become a writer?

Sherry: I’ve wanted to write every since I read the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. From a young age Betsy wants to be a writer. She loves to write in a tree behind her house and a cigar box holds her pencils and notebooks. I even went as far as to try writing in a tree when I was young. Balancing on a limb while writing, wasn’t nearly as much fun as it sounded in the book! But it was those books that sparked my interest in writing.

Judy: Describe a typical day in your life.

51z8lzdbvhlSherry: I’m lucky enough to have a home office to write in. I like it quiet but can tune out the noise of my family. My desk faces a window that looks out over a wooded area. Sometimes I think I should turn my desk to the wall because it’s easy to get distracted by a bird or neighbor going by. I don’t keep set writing hours. It depends on the day and what’s going on. My three best times of day are around 10:00 am, 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm. I find setting a word count works better for me than keeping hours. I usually try to write between 1000 to 1500 words a day. Sometimes I take the weekends off but the closer I get to a deadline the less likely that is.

Judy: What’s the best writing advice you have ever read or been given?

Sherry: The best writing advice I ever got was from author John Dufresne. It’s two bits actually. The first being: sit your butt in the chair. You aren’t ever going to write if you don’t and reading about writing or researching don’t count as writing. Second was his advice on what to do if you get stuck. John recommended looking around, write down everything your protagonist can see, hear, and feel. It’s gotten me unstuck every time. Most of that writing gets tossed out but it’s the process of moving on that’s important.

 

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Find out more about Sherry Harris on her website.

Before They Were Authors: Tracy L. Ward

Portrait of young beautiful medieval woman in red dress

I first met Tracy L. Ward at Bloody Words Toronto in 2012. At the time, we were both aspiring authors. Fast forward to Bloody Words Toronto 2014, and Tracy had not only followed her dream,  her Peter Ainsley historical mystery series was selling, and selling well. Here’s a bit more about Tracy before she became an author (and I had no idea that Tracy had such an interesting history):

 

Shortly after my husband and I got married he enlisted in the Canadian Air Force. Within a year of his swearing in we were on the road, destined for military life and the frequent moves that accompanied it. As a recently graduated journalist this did not bode well for me. So much of the reporter’s job meant getting to know the community and the people in it. My employment prospects looked bleak. To my surprise I landed a position at small museum in an old, converted train station in the beautiful town of Collingwood, once a hub of activity where trains and laker ships met to transport goods to all the ports of the Great Lakes and beyond.

As a historical research assistant, I was charged with the wonderful task of creating a new archive, so the town and museum could centralize information regarding the new Historic District. It was my job to scour the archives at the museum, the local library, the county archives and even some provincial ones in Toronto, to find any information available regarding the over 150 properties within the designated district. I interviewed home owners, some who had lived in their homes for decades. I took pictures of historical aspects of buildings that remained such as coal shoots and root cellar doors. I walked every inch of the district over the course of that summer and relished every single second of it.

small-prayers-coverArchive retrieval can be monotonous. I would often spend days in front of the microfiche and only find a handful of helpful articles or pictures. The work is solitary, sedentary and quiet, but oh the little historical gems you will find!

I couldn’t help but smile every time I walked through the museum doors. When I donned the white gloves required to sort through old photographs and other artifacts I felt like my heart would explode. Lunch was often eaten sitting on the decommissioned train platform with my legs dangling over the edge to the tracks below. I never realized how much I loved history until I took that job. While working there I wrote a number of short stories, my first historicals, which were often inspired by photographs I had seen during my day job.

It was this job at the museum that inspired me to visit each and every historical museum and pioneer village within a few hours driving radius of my house. I was still a few years away from attempting my first historical novel but this job placed a spark in me that I didn’t realize was there. While trying my hand at contemporary novels, a few romances and some mysteries, I read non-fiction books about the early days of Canada, the wives of Henry Tudor and the lives of Victorian servants. I never imagined siting down to write a historical novel, not until an idea sparked inside me about a doctor called in to help solve a suspected poisoning.

The position was only available for the summer. By the time September rolled around I was switching gears and settling into a new position as a volunteer coordinator at a small charity. The commute was shorter, the pay better and there was never a shortage of people to converse with. Even though I only worked at the museum for four months I see it as the one job that inspired my writing the most. I don’t think I would have had the courage to write a historical if it weren’t for the summer I spent sorting through piles of old photographs and bent over dusty storage room boxes.

author-headshotAbout the author: A former journalist and graduate from Humber College’s School for Writers, Tracy L. Ward has been hard at work developing her favourite protagonist, Peter Ainsley, and chronicling his adventures as a morgue surgeon in Victorian England. The most recent book in the series, PRAYERS FOR THE DYING, was published in May 2016. She is currently working on the sixth book in the Marshall House Mystery series. To find out more about Tracy’s books follow her on Facebook or visit her website