Category Archives: Interview with an Author

Authors Talk: Partnering in Writing by Janet Lynn

Published authors Will Zeilinger and Janet Lynn had been writing individually until they got together and wrote the Skylar Drake Mystery Series. These hard-boiled tales are based in old Hollywood of 1955. Janet has published seven mystery novels and Will has three plus a couple of short stories. Their world travels have sparked several ideas for murder and crime stories. This creative couple is married and live in Southern California.

Here’s Janet’s advice on how to write with a partner:

Someone once came up with the following equation for successfully completing a novel: Butt + chair = book. After publishing thirteen novels I can attest to the truthfulness of this equation. Though a simple formula, it is the best way to get a novel completed.

My husband, Will Zeilinger, a published author, and I joined “talents” and write The Skylar Drake Murder Mysteries, a hard boiled 1950 series. I always wanted to write something like this but couldn’t figure out how to get into a guy’s head effectively, hence this partnership began.

People warned that it would tarnish our marriage. They insisted it wouldn’t work. Concerned, we took a business approach and set rules of professionalism, respect and overall patience.

Here are some things we did to make it work:

  1. Meetings We set a regular schedule and met weekly or monthly depending on where we were in the manuscript and PR. We have a beginning and an end time for all meetings.
  2. Agenda Our meetings always include an agenda in order to keep the discussions on track. We review our deadlines and where we feel the book should be at each point in the journey.
  3. Respect difference of opinions. It is important to check your egos at the door. No one is 100% right or wrong at any times. We find a medium we can agree to.
  4. A sense of humor Laughter decreases anxiety when self doubt hits. Like brainstorming, it would be difficult to do this by yourself or with a pet!

The result-SLIVERS OF GLASS, STRANGE MARKINGS, and the just released DESERT ICE. It has been a wonderful partnering experience for the both of us. And by the way…we are still married!!

Synopsis for DESERT ICE

In 1955, a missing Marine and stolen diamonds lead Private Eye Skylar Drake to Sin City, where the women are beautiful and almost everything is legal—except murder.

The FBI and a Las Vegas crime boss force him to choose between the right and wrong side of the law. All the while, government secrets, sordid lies and trickery block his efforts to solve the case.

Common sense tells him to go back to L.A. but is gut tells him to find his fellow Marine.

Find out more about Will Zeilinger and Janet Lynn at www.janetlynnauthor.com and www.willzeilingerauthor.com

Before They Were Authors: P.A. De Voe

P.A. (Pam) De Voe is an anthropologist and Asian specialist who writes historical mysteries/crime stories immersed in the life and times of Ancient China. Her short stories, From Judge Lu’s Ming Dynasty Case Files, have been published in various anthologies and an ezine. In her historical, Chinese YA trilogy, Warned received a 2016 Silver Falchion award in the Best International category; Trapped is a 2017 Agatha Award nominee. 

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

Pam: Hands-down the best job I’ve ever had was when I worked for the International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis, which I believe is the largest refugee resettlement organization in the Midwest. As an applied anthropologist, my job was to work with the leaders and influentials of the various refugee communities. I developed a series of workshops to help them create and maintain their own ethnic organizations. I also co-developed a multi-ethic and intra-ethnic mediation training programs for not only the influentials, but also refugees coming from Somalia. From all of these survivors of war and chaos, who had so little economically, I learned the power of resilience and generosity, and the willingness to trust and be committed to a larger community. I try to bring some of that redemptive and positive energy to the characters in my stories—whether I’m writing contemporary mysteries or historical adventures and mysteries set in historical China.

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

Pam: When I was an undergraduate, I worked on an archaeological dig in Illinois (Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site). One afternoon, I was kneeling at the bottom of a trench, painstakingly troweling dirt away in order to expose a dark stain in the soil. The temperature hovered around 100 wet, humid, degrees (Fahrenheit) and I had started to blend in with the surrounding dirt walls. As I scooped up layers of the fine dirt, I heard a woman call down, asking if anyone knew where a Pam De Voe was. I looked up from my ditch and saw my mother standing a few feet away. She’d come for a surprise visit, and I was so covered in dirt that she hadn’t recognize me.

Judy: Do you have any writing advice for aspiring authors?

Pam.: If you like to write: write. Write poetry, essays, short stories, plays, novellas, novels, anything and everything. Everything you write feeds into your journey as an author. Don’t get discouraged if agents, publishers, and readers aren’t flocking to your door. Keep working. Develop your own voice. Know your craft and be independent.

 

 

To get a free Judge Lu short story go to padevoe.com.

 

Interview with an Author: Ronnie Allen

Ronnie Allen is a New York City native transported to rural central Florida nine years ago. She taught in the NYC school system for 33 years, with licensure as a school psychologist, and is also a holistic health practitioner specializing in alternative therapies. Ronnie uses her skills and education in her novels. Being a New Yorker, one of the things she misses are New York City restaurants. To compensate, Ronnie created a character in her first book, Gemini, who loves to cook and is professional chef caliber in her home kitchen as well as being the love interest for the protagonist, and now his wife. Vicki Trenton shares some of her recipes, becomes an interval part in solving the murder case in Scorpio, the third novel, and has her own subplot in Libra. Ronnie is the author of The Sign Behind the Crime Series, with Gemini book 1, and Aries as book 1 (Black Opal books, 2015, 2016). Scorpio is coming in September 2017 and Ronnie is writing Libra now.

 

Judy: Tell us a bit about your main character, Dr. John Trenton.

Ronnie: Dr. John Trenton is a forensic psychiatrist who works with the criminally insane at a hospital in Manhattan. Psychic and clairvoyant since he was a toddler, John uses his skills in profiling cases for the NYPD. He actually has the skills that I teach to my clients. Suave and sophisticated, Trenton was once known as New York City’s most eligible and desirable bachelors. That is until he met the woman he grew the worship, Victoria Elizabeth Marin. A female psychopathic killer is dumped in his lap, wrecks havoc in Manhattan, and goes after his wife and unborn child. He fights almost to his death to rescue his love. Trenton goes through his own personal transformation in Gemini re-evaluating his beliefs on what makes him a worthy man.

Judy: Describe your writing process and/or a typical day in your life. 

Ronnie: I definitely am a plotter who lets their characters run free once I start to type. I can plot a few months before I even start chapter 1. I could write anytime of the day, but I start on my iPad. When my chapter is a solid first draft, I will upload it to my main docx on my laptop. Very often I’ll write poolside, and I can block out people talking around me, children playing in the pool, but music throws me out of my writing and my deep POV. I do like to have a tall glass of iced coffee near me.

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

Ronnie: The best writing advice I have been given and that I give is to listen to your critique partners and beta readers if what they are telling you resonates with you. Take a good hard look at your manuscript if several people tell you the same thing, and that will include agent or editor rejections. My philosophy is why keep submitting the same manuscript that’s getting a lot of rejections without looking at it? People’s stubbornness will keep that manuscript from being traditionally published.

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

Ronnie: As a writer, I truly believe that Google is our friend. If you’re writing in our thriller and crime genre, the FBI and DEA websites are wonderful sources with articles, procedures, and other topics that we need to read for credibility in our novels. I’m very big on research, and believe that if you’re writing crime scene investigation, police procedures, medical themes, these facets have to be portrayed credibly. Readers who are experts in the field will call the author out.

 

Find Ronnie on her website, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter

Before They Were Authors: Diners, Shoe Sales & Desk Jobs by Catherine Dilts

Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, set in the Colorado mountains, while her short stories appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Catherine’s day job deals with environmental regulatory issues, and for fun she fishes, hikes, and runs. In her starry-eyed youth, she lived in the delusion that writers could earn a living and was spectacularly uninterested in pursuing a career, knowing that she would soon be rich and famous. She took the type of jobs Elaine Viets uses as a backdrop in her Dead End Job mystery series. Only sometimes not as glamorous!

Here’s Catherine’s story:

My attempt to wait tables in a deli had been an abysmal failure. I lacked the people skills and attention to detail required in the service industry. I received the telltale penny tip more than once.

So far, my stint in the shoe department of a retail store was heading for the same disaster. The manager chided me more than once for the horrifying rate of “shrinkage” during my shift. Perhaps I didn’t take the customer theft of cheaply made shoes seriously enough.

I would check on a customer, turn my back, and when I returned, there would be a ratty pair of shoes in the slot where a new pair of shoes had recently resided. Darn it, they got me again! Sadly, many times the abandoned shoes were child sized. What were these people teaching their kids?

I had a conversation with store security one evening. The rent-a-cop told me about a shoplifter he’d caught. The woman was on parole for, you guessed it, shoplifting. The paltry items included in the $18 haul that would send her to jail included flip flops. Seriously? She ruined her life for flip flops? The security guy assured me that shoplifters weren’t in it for the goods. They craved the thrill of their thievery.

My disgust with the human race had reached a new low. I was determined to help bust one of these miscreants. As this was a chain department store in a poor neighborhood, I soon had my chance.

The man was homeless. That was the obvious explanation for his ratty clothes and unwashed condition. I could smell him two aisles away. I crept near. He didn’t notice me. Probably not due to my policing skills, but rather to his inebriated state.

It was winter in Colorado. The smelly criminal selected a pair of work boots. I had to admire his choice. As if he had a job to wear them to. He loosened the laces, then slipped off his own decrepit excuse for footwear.

The man’s feet were disgusting. Filthy, covered with sores, and in bad need of a podiatrist’s attention to his scary toenails. He glanced about, then pulled the boots on. He hastily tied the laces and headed out of the shoe department, inexplicably taking his disintegrating shoes with him.

I debated calling security. Dropping the proverbial dime on the thief. Then I thought of him facing the cold winter day in his rotting shoes. He had selected work boots. Maybe he planned to sober up and get in line for day labor shoveling snow.

I turned away, knowing he would escape with the boots scot free. I would like to say I made a quasi-moral decision, but the reality was, if they caught him, I would have to handle the boots those icky feet had occupied.

My career in shoe sales ended after that episode. I decided to return to college after a long absence. The degree eventually led to my current career – a desk job in EHS – Environment, Health, and Safety. I monitor product compliance to a plethora of environmental regulations.

Both jobs have influenced my writing. My stint in dead end jobs gave me a keen awareness of the struggles of the minimum wage worker. Environmental compliance opened a world of ideas for stories involving hazardous materials. A recently finished and as yet unpublished story combines both, as a homeless man inadvertently reveals the location of a hidden chemical dump.

Now that I am published, in novel and short story forms, I am keenly aware of the income level of authors who don’t hit the NYT bestsellers list. I’m still hopeful, but I’m not quitting the day job until my writing income equals my salary. Or until I retire. Whichever comes first.

Gotta go. Time to save the planet for another eight hours.

You can learn more about Catherine and her books at http://www.catherinedilts.com/

Catherine’s latest mystery, Stone Cold Blooded – A Rock Shop Mystery, published by Encircle Publications LLC, is available in paperback, and in e-book for Kindle http://amzn.to/2d0uMDB and Nook http://bit.ly/2dHtm4G

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.