Category Archives: Interview with an Author

Before They Were Authors: Heather Weidner

Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Guppies, Lethal Ladies Write, and James River Writers. Her debut novel is Secret Lives and Private Eyes.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Heather earned her BA in English from Virginia Wesleyan College and her MA in American literature from the University of Richmond. Through the years, she has been a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Let’s find out what her best, worst, and funniest job memories are before she became an author.

Judy: What was the worst job you ever had, and how has it influenced your writing?

Heather: When I first moved to Richmond, Virginia, in the early nineties, I took a job as Director of Special Projects (aka all the tasks that no one else wanted to do) with a company that did band, choral, cheerleading, and dance competitions. They also did a sleep-over band camp in the summer. They sent me to band camp as an adult. We worked fifteen-hour days and didn’t get much sleep. There were several high schools on the campus at the same time, and we had to monitor teen behavior around the clock. And if that weren’t bad enough, I can’t tell you how many weekends I spent with thousands of screaming cheerleaders. On the plus side, I met some interesting folks at that job, and some of their quirky characteristics have appeared in characters in my work.

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

Heather: In the early eighties, I landed my first part-time job at the Virginia Beach Recreation Center in Kempsville. I was the part-time weekend receptionist. When it wasn’t busy, I could read or do my homework. You don’t have to tell me twice to bring a book. Plus, every teenaged boy within a twenty-mile radius came there to swim; play racquetball, basketball, or soccer; lift weights, or shoot pool. I would have done that job for free. It was such a fun place to work, and I kept it all through high school and college.

There was never a dull moment at this job. I learned a lot about customer service and how to handle a variety of situations. Most of the job was fun, but I often had to call the police, fire, or rescue squad for emergencies that happened. Several of my co-workers, our regular clients, and several funny situations have made it into my Delanie Fitzgerald mysteries.

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

Heather: One Christmas, I volunteered to go with Santa Claus to drop off gifts to one of our angel tree sites in rural Virginia. I reserved my Mrs. Santa suit at the costume store way ahead of time. When I went to pick it up, it was raining, and I cut my tire when I parallel parked. I finally made it to the costume shop, and I was horrified when I found out they didn’t have any traditional Mrs. Santa outfits. The only ones they had on the rack were the sexy, short ones. The racy costume wouldn’t do, so I became a fully dressed elf for the visit. Who knew you had to specify what type of Mrs. Claus outfit you wanted?

Synopsis for Secret Lives and Private Eyes: Business has been slow for Private Investigator, Delanie Fitzgerald, but her luck seems to change when a tell-all author hires her to find rock star, Johnny Velvet. Could the singer whose career purportedly ended in a fiery crash almost thirty years ago, still be alive?

And as though sifting through dead ends in a cold case isn’t bad enough, Chaz Wellington Smith, III, a loud-mouthed, strip club owner, also hires Delanie to uncover information about the mayor’s secret life. When the mayor is murdered, Chaz, is the key suspect. Now Delanie must clear his name and figure out why landscaper Tripp Payne, keeps popping up in her other investigation. Can the private investigator find the connection between the two cases before another murder – possibly her own – takes place?

Secret Lives and Private Eyes is a fast-paced mystery that appeals to readers who like a strong, female sleuth with a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations.

Find Heather just about everywhere:

Website/blog

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Goodreads

Amazon

Pinterest

LinkedIn

 

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Before They Were Authors: Christina Hoag

Before I was a novelist, I was a journalist, specifically a newspaper reporter. The two are obviously linked as they both involve writing, albeit from very different angles: fact-based versus imagination-based. But frankly, I cannot think of a better foundation for writing novels than writing news stories, at least for the type of fictional stories I want to tell. That’s probably the way journalism has most influenced my fiction, my short stories as well as novels.

I’m drawn to writing stories set in the real world, as opposed to, say, science fiction or fantasy. My novels also gravitate toward exploring social issues, which I consider one of the primary missions of journalism, and which I wrote about a lot as a reporter.

Much as I did as a journalist, as a novelist I want to make a point by exposing readers to experiences they may not have lived, or cultures and places that they have not been exposed to. For me, this is vital role of fiction and one of the key reasons I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life. You can learn, as well as be entertained, through novels by vicariously experiencing other worlds–and character’s bad choices!–without having to live them.

My YA novel “Girl on the Brink” is about dating violence in a middle class New Jersey suburb, while “Skin of Tattoos” is about gang violence in a gritty immigrant neighbourhood of Los Angeles. For both I relied on firsthand experience, research through memoirs and other nonfiction books, and interviews, all skills that are an integral part of a reporter’s job, as well as the essential tool of a novelist: empathic imagination.

News events and feature stories I wrote as a journalist are also a source of things to write about as a novelist. The novel I’m currently working on is also rooted in real-life circumstance. “The Revolutionaries” is a political thriller set in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2002 during the coup attempt against then-President Hugo Chavez. I was living there at the time and reported on the coup for various media outlets.

Having interviewed people from all walks of life also helps me with developing characters. Reporters interview scores of people over the course of their careers, but there’s always a couple interviews that stay with you.

“Skin of Tattoos” grew out of interviews I did for a magazine story about former L.A. gang members who were deported to El Salvador. Several years later, I still vividly remembered being out of the streets of San Salvador with those guys. I sat down and banged out a ten-page outline for a novel about gang members, although the actual novel turned out quite differently than that early outline.

Coverage of specific news events and stories and covering beats like cops, courts and business gave me a wealth of knowledge about how the world works, whether it’s the legal system, police procedure, or corporate regulations. That always comes in handy in different ways, though I often have to complement the generalist’s thin layer of knowledge with research to acquire the level of detail required by a novel.

So while I certainly admire writers of fantasy and science fiction, you won’t likely catch me writing those genres. My focus in fiction was honed by my three decades as a journalist and at this point is pretty engrained in me, but that’s what makes fiction so valuable, everybody contributes their own life experiences.

 About Christina: Christina Hoag’s YA thriller Girl on the Brink (Melange, 2016) was named to Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 list, while Kirkus Reviews praised her as a “talented writer” with “a well crafted debut” in Skin of Tattoos (Martin Brown, 2016), a gangland thriller. A former journalist for the Miami Herald and Associated Press, she reported from Latin America for Time, Business Week, Financial Times and the New York Times. She lives in Los Angeles and on the web at www.christinahoag.com.

 

Before They Were Authors: Melissa Yuan-Innes (Melissa Yi)

I had the pleasure to meet Melissa Yuan-Innes in Toronto at the Ontario Library Superconference this past February. I was immediately struck by her inner kindness and boundless energy. I downloaded her first book in her Hope Sze medical mystery series, CODE BLUES (written under Melissa Yi) as soon as I returned home.  

Judy: What’s the funniest thing that happened to you at work?

Melissa: Ha! I can answer three questions in one. Medicine is the best, worst, and funniest job rolled into one. For example, I got sprayed with pus the other day. I’m talking my face, hair, and clothes. I felt contaminated for the rest of the shift, even though I washed myself as best I could at the sink.

Later, some doctors started talking about the stench of retained foreign bodies (forgotten tampons, usually), which made me thankful I’ve never had to deal with that. And now, if I do, I will fill a bottle with water to quench the foreign body. They say it really kills the smell.

Judy: Have you quit your day job?

Melissa: Not yet. As long as I have enough energy, medicine is fun and keeps me out of the poor house. Even when the work itself is draining (and let me tell you, my last two shifts had me driving home with gritted teeth), I work with people that I consider friends. There is nothing like throwing yourself into saving someone’s life, or fighting for the best care for your patient, and trading war stories afterward.

That said, doctors often call emergency medicine a young person’s game. The nights and weekends weigh you down after a while. I limit my number of shifts so that I can continue to write and enjoy my children instead of yelling, “Mommy needs a nap! Be quiet!”

Judy: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Melissa: Sure! Work hard and enjoy it.

That would apply to most things in life. But I think that the Internet, books, and Aunt Minerva are overflowing with so much advice, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So in the end, you just have to jump in. You want to write? Write. Start there.

Also, when I interviewed author and editor Sarah Cortez, her parents told her, “Follow your dreams, but pay the freight.”

I paid the freight by becoming my own patron of the arts, using medicine to support my writing during years of learning the craft and selling zero short stories. Even if my writing never makes significant money, I want to write for the joy of it.

Other writers have take different paths, including teaching, crowdfunding, having supportive spouses/families, choosing dead end jobs so they can focus on writing, or just leaping into the abyss. All of these can work. Whatever you do, do it hard, and with your whole heart. And make some friends while you’re at it, because otherwise, writing is a lonely road.

About Melissa: Melissa Yi is an emergency physician and award-winning writer. In her newest crime novel, HUMAN REMAINS, one doctor battles bioterrorism. Previous Hope Sze volumes were selected by CBC Radio as a best crime novel of the season and called “entertaining and insightful” by Publishers Weekly. Find her at www.melissayuaninnes.com/

Authors Talk: Second Series Syndrome by Lois Winston

I was first introduced to USA Today bestselling author Lois Winston when she put out a call for authors interested in being part of her first cookbook, Bake, Love, Write. I’m not much of a baker, but I did manage to submit a recipe! The following year, she invited me back for We’d Rather Be Writing. Today, Lois guests on my blog to talk about “Second Series Syndrome.” Since I have two series (with a third one percolating in my head), I had to hear what she had to say. Without further ado, here’s Lois!

In the early 1960s after years of trailing behind frontrunner Hertz, the Avis car rental car company launched their “We Try Harder” campaign. It was an instant success. As any second child knows, you have to try harder to get noticed. The first-born claims the spotlight by virtue of being first born. It’s called second child syndrome.

The same seems true for mystery series. My first series, the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, debuted in 2011 and received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews called it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” There are now five full-length novels, with another on the way, and three mini-mysteries. I have no plans to stop writing about Anastasia.

However, a few years ago, I got the idea for the Empty Nest Mysteries, a modern day twist of the 1930’s Thin Man movies, with the wife as the sleuth. In 2014 I published Definitely Dead, followed by Literally Dead last year.

Even though I’ve promoted my Empty Nest series through my newsletter and on guest blogs and social media, few readers (including many of my diehard Anastasia fans) know it exists. Gracie Elliott, my sleuth, is definitely overshadowed by her “older sister” Anastasia.

So in order to shine a light on Gracie—a woman who is one part Goldie Hawn, one part Jessica Fletcher—I’ve embarked on an ad campaign that hopefully will be as successful as that old Avis campaign. For the month of June Definitely Dead, the first book in the series, is available on Amazon for .99 cents and will be featured in several discount book sites and daily newsletters.

A parent should never show favoritism to one child over another. Like my real-life sons, my “girls” are unique individuals but equally loved by me. However, Gracie needs a chance to show readers who she is. My fingers are crossed.

Definitely Dead

When her career is outsourced to Asia, fledgling romance author and empty-nester Gracie Elliott wants a job that will allow her time to write. So she opens Relatively Speaking, becoming a wing woman to the senior set. Since her clients need several hours each morning to find their teeth, lube their creaky joints, and deal with lower GI necessities, and they always turn in after the early bird specials, she has plenty of time to pen her future bestsellers.

Gracie deliberately avoids mentioning her new business venture to husband Blake until after she signs her first client. Blake joins the company as a not-so-silent partner, tagging along to make sure Gracie doesn’t cause a septuagenarian uprising. When Client #13 is found murdered in the parking lot behind the Moose Lodge, Gracie knows, no matter how much Blake protests otherwise, she can’t wait around for the police to find the killer if she wants to save her livelihood.

Find the book

Kindle http://amzn.to/2sehJqR

Paperback http://amzn.to/2rUIoM4

Literally Dead

After her last disastrous episode as an amateur sleuth, Gracie Elliott is back. The budding romance writer has spent the past year crafting her first novel. Her hard work and determination pay off when her manuscript wins the Cream of the Crop award, a contest for unpublished writers, sponsored by the Society of American Romance Authors. First place entitles her to attend the organization’s annual conference, normally open only to published authors.

With husband Blake in tow, a starry-eyed Gracie experiences the ultimate fan-girl moment upon entering the hotel. Her favorite authors are everywhere. However, within minutes she learns Lovinia Darling, the Queen of Romance, is hardly the embodiment of the sweet heroines she creates. Gracie realizes she’s stepped into a romance vipers’ den of backstabbing, deceit, and plagiarism, but she finds a friend and mentor in bestselling author Paisley Prentiss.

Hours later, when Gracie discovers Lovinia’s body in the hotel stairwell, a victim of an apparent fall, Gracie is not convinced her death was an accident. Too many other authors had reason to want Lovinia dead. Ignoring Blake’s advice to “let the police handle it,” Gracie, aided by Paisley, begins her own investigation into the death. Romance has never been so deadly.

Find the Book

Kindle http://amzn.to/2se8Opr

Paperback http://amzn.to/2rbngzS

About the Author: USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name.

Find Lois at  www.loiswinston.com and

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth

Newsletter: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5

 

Before They Were Authors: Kristina Stanley

Kristina Stanley is the author of the bestselling Stone Mountain Mystery series, published by Imajin Books (who also happens to be the publisher of my Marketville Mystery series). The series is set in a fictional ski resort in British Columbia. Kristina is here today to talk about her days as the director at Panorama MountainVillage ski resort.

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

 

Kristina: When I was a director at Panorama Mountain Village, I changed the policy to allow dogs at work. There was a selfish motive. I brought my dog, Chica, to work with me. She was under 6 months old, and I thought, fully housetrained, so I let her run free in the office.

Unbeknownst to me, a meeting was happening in the conference room.

“Okay, someone admit it. Who did that?” says one of the resort managers. “I can’t take the smell anymore.”

Giggles around the table, but no one admits to the gaseous emissions.

Chica

Then, a knock at my door. “Has Chica been in the conference room?”

“Sure,” I say.

“You’d better come with me.”

So I follow the manager down the hallway. A group of people is moving from one conference room to another.

The manager points to the rug below the table. And there it sits. One big pile of steaming…

Let’s just say everyone had a fun time laughing at me while I cleaned up.

 Judy: Have you quit your day job?

Kristina: I quit my day job at Panorama Mountain Village in 2009 and spent 5 years sailing on a catamaran with my husband, Mathew. During that time, I wrote DESCENT, BLAZE and AVALANCHE. I also discovered I loved editing. I now have a new day job as the CEO of Feedback Innovations and we are building a webapp to help writers turn a first draft into a story readers love. So now, I have the challenge of finding time to write while running a small business.

Judy: What made you decide to become a writer?

Kristina: Late one night in Unteruhldingen, Germany, I was reading MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU by Mary Higgins Clark. The opening—a woman trapped in a grave. Darkness and silence surround her, and she doesn’t know where she is. I can still see her fingers clawing at the edges of the coffin.

Tucked in my bed, I knew a driver would arrive at 4 a.m. to carry me to the Zurich airport for a flight to London, England. The sensible thing to do was sleep. But I couldn’t. I turned pages until the car arrived. I was exhausted, bleary-eyed and excited. At that moment I knew I wanted to write something that forced a person to read and to forget about life for a while.

When I finally started my first novel, I’d been living in a ski resort for five years. Skiing is one of my passions and seemed the obvious topic.

About Kristina Stanley: Kristina is the co-founder and CEO of Feedback Innovations: a company created to help writers rewrite better fiction. She is the best-selling author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series. Her first two novels garnered the attention of prestigious crime writing organizations in Canada and England. DESCENT, BLAZE, and AVALANCHE are published by Imajin Books. THE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO SELLING BOOKS TO NON-BOOKSTORES is her first non-fiction book. Find her at www.KristinaStanley.com

 

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