Morgan Hart is home. The thirty-six-year-old former Detroit detective has just moved back to Bijoux, Michigan, the lakeside town where she grew up. Returning to take up the reins as the new police captain since her father, Able, retired, Morgan hopes for a fresh start and a welcome change from the gritty police work she did in the Big D. Morgan also hopes she’ll be able to get her life back on track since her husband Ian Daniels, also a detective, was murdered on a case five years ago. Still unsolved, her husband’s death haunts her even as she settles into her new role.
Morgan has mixed feelings about being back home in Bijoux. Her relationship with her dad is complicated, and the townspeople have no qualms about telling her how she should do her job. Her childhood nemesis, Connie Graham, a reporter for the local TV news station, always seems to show up at the worst possible time, and the owner of the local bookstore, Caleb Joseph, is far too attractive and far too nosy. At least she and her deputy, JJ Jones, get along and bond over their mutual love of cupcakes.
The quaint, old town has gone through quite a transformation since Morgan was there last. Quirky new shops are opening up to attract summer tourists. And many of the old stores along Main Street are getting a facelift. Even the historic Firefly Bed and Breakfast, is changing. It’s hosting a romance writer’s conference with some of the biggest names in the biz. But someone else is determined to make a few more changes. Deadly changes that will leave the town reeling and will have Morgan investigating the first murder in Bijoux in 100 years.
Crime and mystery lovers will be flocking to Toronto next week for Bouchercon 2017, the biggest mystery authors convention happening October 12-14, 2017. With that in mind, I spoke with Alison Bruce, the new Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) to see what wonderful events they have planned for Bouchercon, about her new role as ED of the CWC and her much anticipated second book in her Men in Uniform Series.
LB: Can you tell us a little about CWC and what the association does on behalf of crime and mystery writers?
AB: CWC is a national non-profit organization for Canadian mystery and crime writers, associated professionals, and others with a serious interest in Canadian crime writing. Our mission is to promote Canadian crime writing and to raise the profile of Canadian crime writers with readers, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, and media.
Our most important means of fulfilling our mission is our website: Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) . Through the website, readers around the world can find out about our member authors, their books, and their events, as well as what CWC as a whole is doing as an organization and within the larger community.
Through our free monthly public newsletter Crime Beat, subscribers access Author Events and Cool Canadian Crime– our catalogue of our members’ published books, updated quarterly – which are also available directly through the website, and they can get updates on our Arthur Ellis Awards as well as what CWC is doing at events like Word on the Street and Bouchercon.
For authors interested in what we do, I suggest checking out Member Benefits because the list is too long to include here.
LB:How has the CWC evolved as an organization and what does that mean for you and your new role as Executive Director?
AB: One of the strengths of CWC has been its ability and willingness to adapt. My new role as Executive Director is a great example of this. My predecessors played to their strengths and so will I. One of my strengths has been my past involvement with most aspects of the organization. As well as being the Publications Manager, I was the Arthur Ellis Awards Administrator and the ED’s deputy.
Now Ted Griffith is taking on the Arthur Ellis Awards mantle and I have a very able and personable Assistant Executive Director who will be sharing the administrative load so I can continue to be hands on in the publications and website development. We are already discovering where our skills complement each other and I am looking forward to us teaming up for the benefit of CWC.
AB: This is one of my favorite CWC stories. It was just after my dad died and for the first time in years, I was able to get to Word on the Street in Toronto. At the time I had an urban fantasy and a mystery novel making the rounds of the publishers so I was on the lookout for professional organizations that I could join. I knew about the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and found them first, but they didn’t take unpublished authors. A couple of tables over, I discovered Crime Writers of Canada. Not only did they welcome associate members, they had a new category in their awards for unpublished first novels. I joined on the spot.
That year I was longlisted for the Unhanged Arthur Award, I got involved as a volunteer on the board and later went on to become the Publications Manager.
LB: Bouchercon 2017 is taking place October 12-14 in Toronto, can you tell us a little about the event?
AB: Bouchercon is run by the World Mystery Convention, a non-profit, all-volunteer organization. It is named in honor of Anthony Boucher, mystery fiction critic, editor, and author. It is held in a different North American city every year and this year is it being held in Toronto.
It is huge! There will be around 1600 people attending, including fans of crime fiction, along with published authors, aspiring writers, librarians, large and small publishers, editors, agents, and booksellers. There will be panels and special events, exhibitions and a dealers room, and CWC will be part of the excitement.
I’m excited. It’s my first Bouchercon and I’ll be in the thick of things.
AB: On Friday night, CWC will be hosting a crime-themed pub quiz. All day Saturday we’ll be sponsoring the Refreshment Room. We’ll also have a CWC table outside the dealer’s room where we will be able to sign up new members, and getting those who don’t want to join us but would like our free monthly newsletter CRIME BEAT. Each venue is a great opportunity to get our authors and readers together.
With the impressive list of panels, tours, and authors, what are you most looking forward to at Bouchercon 2017?
I’m going to be relaxed about the panels. There’s so much to choose from and I will be mostly there to work so I reckon I’ll play it by ear. Who knows who I’ll be meeting for coffee?
In addition to being the Executive Director of CWC, you are also an accomplished mystery author. Your book “A Bodyguard to Remember”, the first title in the Men in Uniform Series featured the unforgettable heroine Prudence Hartley. Will readers get the chance to see Pru again?
There is a book two or my publisher would kill me. Book 2 of Men in Uniform will see Pru Hartley getting thrown into the deep end of trouble because of a house guest her ex-husband foists on her. My working title is “Something the Ex Dragged In.”
What other work do you have coming out now?
I have a new book coming out soon. It’s a novel I wrote before Men in Uniform and then forgot about for a while. I’m hoping it will be out in time for Bouchercon so I can read from it at “20 on 20” (twenty minutes with an author every twenty minutes).
I know you have a lot going on with your new role and getting ready for Bouchercon but in the midst of all the chaos what is your guilty pleasure? I am assuming its loads of coffee!
I don’t feel the least bit guilty about drinking coffee. That would be like a car feeling guilty for needing gas. My guilty pleasure is having a treat with my coffee.
Now that is something I can also relate to! For anyone interested in attending Bouchercon 2017, the event details and links are below.
Alison Bruce writes history, mystery, and suspense. Her books combine clever mysteries, well-researched backgrounds and a touch of romance. Her protagonists are marked by their strength of character, sense of humor and the ability to adapt (sooner or later) to new situations. Four of her novels have been finalists for genre awards.
Copywriter, editor and graphic designer since 1992, Alison has also been a comic book store manager, small press publisher, and web designer. Currently, she is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.
This is what Vinnie Esposito knows: When you see a guy floating in the water, you jump in and save him. You don’t stop to ask if he’s connected to the mob. Unfortunately for Vinnie, he is. And now she’s in trouble. Again.
Her boyfriend, hunky State Trooper Marcus Richmond, is fed up with Vinnie’s misadventures, not to mention that every mobster in town seems to know who she is. At least Vinnie knows she can rely on her best friend Lola Trapezi to whip up some delicious dinner at her deli. She also knows Lola is always ready to help, even if it means getting into some hot water herself.
Everything Vinnie knows and doesn’t know—including how she really feels about her sexy friend and upstairs tenant FBI Agent Aaron Grant, and whether her dad really is connected to the mob—is all up in the air. And what Vinnie doesn’t know, might just get her killed.
Please don’t be dead.
I peered at the floating body as I stripped off my jacket and ran toward the water. Frigid temperatures and freezing waist-deep water numbed my skin, leaving me with uncontrollable shakes as I hauled the body toward shore. Struggling against strong winds and soggy clothing that hugged my skin, I slogged on. His clothing drenched, he grew heavier and heavier as we drew closer to land.
Blood floated halo-like around his dark hair, leaving a trail behind us. While blood is my least favorite thing in the whole world, I doggedly ignored it in order to get this stranger ashore. My stomach hadn’t revolted from the sight of it, not yet anyway, and I guessed I was safe. In shallow water, he became heavier still, and my breathing labored at the strain of his weight. Land was within reach. So what if it just happened to be a cemetery, big deal.
In good physical shape, I stand just short of six feet, tall for a woman, but I take after my aunt Livvy. I’m not a weakling either, though my struggle to pull this inconsiderate fool ashore tested my strength. We finally reached dry ground. Shivering and puffing from exertion, I dragged him by his arms and flipped him onto his back.
Pale, cold skin stretched tight across his prominent features. He wasn’t dead pale, so I dropped down onto my knees and felt his neck for a carotid pulse. Pressing an ear against his chest, I listened for a heartbeat before I checked for breathing. With my cheek near his nose, I didn’t feel any warmth from his breath. I should have known better, I’m never that lucky.
My jacket lay on the ground where I’d flung it before wading into the bitter and still wintry water of the Scituate Reservoir. With fingers stiffened from my recent drenching, I fumbled in the dry jacket pocket for my cell phone. I dialed 9-1-1 and set the phone on speaker mode. In the time it took for the operator to answer, I had started CPR. I’m not trained as a professional life-saver, but I’m certified to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Besides, I figured the guy had nothing left to lose.
A distant male voice echoed as I counted chest compressions. His voice droned from the speaker as he asked what the problem was.
“I’m performing CPR on a guy who drowned in the Scituate Reservoir. Send me some help. I’m in the cemetery behind the church in Scituate village.”
“What church would that be, ma’am?”
“The only damned church with a full-on cemetery behind it.” I breathed into the man’s lungs and started counting compressions once again.
“Ma’am, that isn’t enough information. What is your name and present location?” The voice was calm. I was not.
“One and two and three and four and five and . . .” I counted and breathed, counted and breathed. Silently, I prayed this man wasn’t beyond help.
The cool, collected dispatcher waited for enlightenment. Of course he wasn’t soaked to the skin, freezing his ass off, performing CPR on a dead guy, and trying to talk all at the same time, either. I could have used a break here.
“Listen up,” I yelled toward the phone, “alert the freaking North Scituate Fire Station and tell them to help me, Vinnie Esposito. They’ll know who, and where, I am.” I ignored the man’s babbling and multi-tasked for another moment.
Seconds later, sirens blared as trucks left the station less than a quarter mile away. Sound carried in the small rural village, edged by the reservoir. Within those same seconds, my victim coughed, spewing water and saliva onto my clothes as I leaned over him.
How lucky could I get?
Turning him on his side, I watched the bedraggled man while blood continued to dribble from his head wound. Folding my legs beneath me, I leaned back and listened to him haul ragged gulps of air into his lungs. His breathing steadied as color flowed into his face. I huffed and puffed, shivered and shook, while watching the man become stronger with every breath.
Fire and rescue trucks halted at the top of the slope. I glanced over my shoulder. The rescue team was heading toward us at a run. Relief spread through me like warmth from a crackling fire.
Bill MacNert, an old timer at the fire station, approached. His lips always held a secret smile and I never could figure out what went on behind his twinkling eyes. I’d known him and his family for what seemed like forever. He drew closer, his eyes on me, while shaking his head back and forth.
Directing the younger men toward the victim on the ground, as though they didn’t already know what they were doing, I moved back and smiled at Bill.
“Leave it to you.” He smirked.
“Hey, I did my good deed for the day,” I said and took the emergency blanket a team member handed me.
The EMS crew knew their stuff. They worked on the floater and then loaded him into the rescue. A large bandage was wrapped around his head, heavy blankets were piled over him, and an oxygen mask covered his nose and mouth. I watched the rescue move away, figuring the stranger was fortunate indeed.
Eyeing me with a keen gaze, MacNert asked, “Ya know this fella?”
“Never laid eyes on him until today.” Shivering, I walked toward my coat where it lay in a jumbled pile on the ground. I glanced around and realized that I’d hardly visited with my dead aunt.
There’s always tomorrow, Livvy.
Visits to Aunt Livvy usually occurred when my life had turned to crap or I’d managed to stick my way too curious nose some place it didn’t belong. I would unload my woes onto her grave and feel better for having done so. Livvy isn’t a ghost or anything. Don’t get me wrong, she’s as dead as they come, but it just gives me comfort to know I can come here and talk. She had always been a great listener. I missed that the most now she was gone.
A local cop arrived on the scene. Slowly, I hiked up the slope toward the road, my feet squishing in soggy sneakers while drenched jeans chafed my skin. Dressed in winter attire, with a heavy jacket and husky boots to keep his dry feet warm, I envied the cop. Knowing full well that he would want a report, I sauntered forward. Gosh, I was cold, shivering so hard my teeth chattered nonstop. After all, it was only the beginning of March, and in Rhode Island, it’s a cold, wet month.
“Are you Lavinia Esposito?” The officer stared at me.
“The one and only.”
His narrowed eyes held a doubtful gleam, but I ignored it. Cops tend to be suspicious about everyone and everything. I know this for a fact, since I teach criminal justice at a local university to cops, or po-pos as they’re called, and to security personnel, nicknamed wannabes by the cops. Often, a few legal students take my classes as well, which, in turn, creates an interesting, yet kindergarten-like atmosphere. The egos alone are a challenge when it’s time for order in the classroom. I know they’re adults, but it doesn’t always seem as if they know it.
“Did you see the accident?”
“No, I heard a splash. Branches snapped, and I went to see what happened. The guy was floating face down in the water.”
His wary expression never left my face. “What were you doing here?”
Vacations are supposed to be relaxing right? That’s what Vinnie Esposito thinks, until she spies a dead mobster bobbing in the water at her feet while she’s sipping her morning coffee.
All Vinnie wants is a leisurely get-away on Block Island with her best friend Lola Trapezi. Lola has been going through a rough time since she found out that she isn’t a real Trapezi, but the product of an illicit affair between her mother and a notorious mobster.
Vinnie is determined to support her friend no matter what, but when Vinnie stumbles across more dead mob guys, not even her ex-boyfriend, State Trooper Marcus Richmond, nor her friend, FBI Agent Aaron Grant, can keep her out of the hot seat with the Block Island authorities. And when Lola’s mobster-father shows up, everything goes from bad to deadly. Can Vinnie get off the island unscathed, or will she end up deader than dead?
Bob is a longtime resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who graduated from the University of New Mexico with a B.S. in physics and an M.S. in materials engineering. He worked for Sandia National Laboratories in the Solid State Physics Research Department before becoming a full time writer. I caught up with Bob at this year’s Bubonicon in Albuquerque.
DLS: As I understand, you started out working in the Solid State Physics Research Department at Sandia National Labs before becoming a writer. How has your background in physics and materials science influenced your writing?
REV: While we call it science fiction, what we enjoy most is actually technology fiction–how science affects our lives (and our characters’ lives). Science moves so fast these days, other than trying to avoid simple mistakes, what I learned back in the days of yore is outdated. Bell’s Inequality, which changed so much, came 15 years after I quit working at Sandia. Nano tech meant ICs then. Hubble and soon Webb space telescopes open the universe to dark matter and energy. I read about new discoveries but mostly I don’t understand them. Instead, I try to put it all into a technology framework and figure out what the effect will be on our lives.
DLS: How did you get started writing? When you started writing for fanzines, did you have an idea that you wanted to be a professional author?
REV: I’m one of the exceptions to the “I always wanted to write” rule. I never did. I wanted to be a nuclear physicist and more or less ended up there, though X-rays and RTGs were as close as I got. I had a few months between quitting Sandia and going to UC Berkeley where I had been accepted to work on a PhD (in ceramic engineering) when I visited my good buddy Geo. Proctor. Geo. was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, had a couple novels and short stories printed and had always wanted to be a writer. He suggested we coauthor a story. Why not? We did, it sold. (and we never got paid–the magazine folded before publication). Over the years this story sold twice more with the same result. Ironically, the title of the story was “A Killing In the Market.” I enjoyed the process, wrote a fantasy proposal and sent it out. It sold. I was faced with finishing the book or going to Berkeley, so I postponed school by a half year. In that time I sold two more novels and decided this was more fun than designing materials for rocket throat liners. As it turned out, this was a good decision on another front. The prof who would have been my adviser died of cancer 2 years after I would have begun. Such a tragedy easily could have derailed my dissertation, research and career.
DLS: You’ve written under several pseudonyms including Karl Lassiter and Jackson Lowry for westerns, your science fiction has appeared under your own name as well as F.J. Hale and Edward S. Hudson, and I could go on. Authors often build brands around their names. Why have so many pseudonyms? What kind of work do you put into building a brand for each new pseudonym?
REV: The sf pen names came about to keep from competing with myself. One month I had three titles, out, two fantasy and an sf book. Publishers loathe such self-competition. The shift in western pen name from Karl Lassiter to Jackson Lowry came about for the same reason. When I switched publishers, the new one insisted on a different name to keep from supposed promotion of titles from a competing publisher. In a way, this was good. Lassiter did more epic, long form novels while Lowry does short stories, lighter westerns and weird westerns.
DLS: Not only do you have several pseudonyms, but you’ve run the gamut from publishing with New York houses to publishing with small presses to self-publishing. Why work with such a range of publishers?
REV: It took me a while to figure out that I would be terrible doing repetitive assembly line work. After a few minutes, I’d be changing how Part A fitted into Part B. Keeping with one genre (and publisher) is like that. New challenges, new ideas, “what if” always beckons and not necessarily in the same field. I am prolific and varied ideas flow constantly (I am aware of the difference between constant and continuous, alas–the ideas flow constantly). It takes a lot of ink and electrons to keep up.
DLS: Tell us about the Empires of Steam and Rust series. I thought this was an especially innovative approach to self-publishing where several authors write in a single world and help each other market their works. How can we learn more about the books in the series?
REV: Shared worlds aren’t too uncommon, but I decided on a different approach. The basic steampunk framework could be applied in myriad ways–all suggesting myriad authors could contribute. The idea of “holes” into a world consumed by rust gave a world lacking in oxygen and the possibility of invasion from (and into) it. Rather than being the editor for all this, I let trusted authors use the framework to tell stories in their own way and bring their readers to the world. Hopefully that story interests their readers to look at other writers working in the same framework. Each author is responsible for story, editing, publishing, cover, marketing, everything. And the individual author collects 100% of the revenue from their own work. No charge for use of the world. Entries so far have been strong and interesting and varied. I look forward to writing more myself in the world and hope other authors ask if they might join the fun (send me an email to inquire).
DLS: Your career started before we’d heard of things like Twitter and Facebook. How has the world of book marketing changed now that social media has come on the scene? How do you fold social media into your own book marketing campaigns?
REV: I coined the term VIPub a few years ago. Vertically Integrated Publishing. Indie authors have to do it all, think up the idea, write the story, edit it, get a cover, publish and promote. It all rests on the author’s shoulders. This is overwhelming if you try to do whatever is currently hot in social media since it is a moving target and changes in 6 months (or less). In a talk David Morrell said 10% of a writer’s time ought to be spent on promotion. The question arises as to how to allocate that time. From all the possibilities, I say pick three that interest you most. Twitter or Facebook or blogs or Instagram or…whatever else is out there. I have a website I update periodically (www.cenotaphroad.com) and an online store (www.robertevardeman.com). I do post fun stuff on facebook every day and link it with Twitter. I have let blog writing lag since I can’t do it all. One element that is the author’s and no one else’s is a mailing list. Self-selected fans are the greatest. (Sign up for mine via my website or online store) I only send out the n/l when a new book is available or other publishing info comes to light. I don’t like getting inundated so hold down frequency to make each one special (and give special offers of free books, etc)
DLS: What can we look forward to in the coming months from Robert E. Vardeman, or your other identities for that matter?
REV: One novella I am especially excited about is “Jupiter Convergence” in the new anthology Rockets Red Glare. A weird western short story, “The Sixth World”, is forthcoming in the Baen anthology Straight Outta Tombstone. The final volume in a Jackson Lowry weird western trilogy, Punished, is due out in November (#3: Bayou Voodoo joins #1: Undead and #2: Navajo Witches). I am returning to work on an sf book with a different take on first contact and have a major project mapped out set on the moons of Jupiter. And when I get a chance, I have a really strange detective novel in synopsis. Final mention is one of my pen names, Dana Fox. Burning Man Anomaly is joined by a 3-author follow-up Aztec Automaton Anomaly with a 3rd title being sketched out now set in a haunted 1930’s Texas luxury hotel slated for release in 2017.
Patricia McLinn is a USA Today bestselling author of more than 30 books that include mystery, romance, and westerns She began her novel writing career with Silhouette Books (Harlequin) and was nominated for and won several writing awards, but her career really took off when she decided to go indie. She made the decision to go indie well before the explosion of indie publishing began.
Before becoming a full time author, Patricia was an editor at the Washington Post for 23 years and a journalist for several years before that. She has a degree in English Composition and a Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University . A truly impressive resume.
LP: You began as a traditionally published author and now you self-publish exclusively. Tell us how that came about?
PM: My traditional career was so up and down that it would be banned as unsafe if it were a carnival ride. With one publisher I had about 32 editors for 25 books – hard to get any continuity or rhythm going. Some of those editors said I was “pushing the envelope.” Huh? What envelope? Where? I never got that.
I became increasingly frustrated with editorial limitations and poor decisions on scheduling, titles, marketing. I did encounter some outstanding editors. Frequently their hands were tied by the hierarchy. The upshot for me and many authors was having our careers ill-served.
Well before there was anything to do with them, I was getting rights back to my previously published books. No matter what, I figured I’d be happier with the rights in my hands.
In 2006 I remember thinking ebooks were going to pop sometime, some way. No idea when or how, but I was on the lookout. By 2008 I had ebooks available online, expanding to the major retailers in 2011.
An unexpected and marvelous benefit of going indie is that writing is a lot more fun now. Writing and publishing are very different activities. My experience in traditional publishing was that they actively conflicted. As an indie author, they do not conflict. They bolster each other.
LP: What are the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing?
PM: When the traditional publishing model works the way we all dream it might – think of it as the Richard Castle model from the TV show Castle– it’s marvelous. Brand name authors become an asset that publishing houses tend with some care. It’s different for mid-list or most entry-level authors. I was just listening to a Joanna Penn podcast with Jane Friedman in which they said contracts traditional publishers are offering first-time authors are worse than ever.
The exception is if you have a blockbuster book, everyone agrees it’s a blockbuster book, multiple publishers are willing to pay an advance commensurate with a blockbuster, the publisher you pick follows through on its promises, and all the marketing efforts work so that, in fact, your book becomes a blockbuster.
Traditional publishing can reach a broader audience — the folks who read one or two books a year – while indie authors’ audience are devoted readers.
PM: Now, for the pros and cons of self-publishing.
Pro: Nobody tells you what to write. Some indies might say the market tells you what to write, but that’s only if you listen. 😉 I’m to a stage where I write what I like to read, then try to find readers who enjoy that, too. I do not tailor my writing to trends. Writing is too consuming and too difficult to do if you’re not, first, enjoying it yourself.
Pro: You’re in charge. You decide when your book will come out, what it will look like, how it will be marketed.
Con: You’re in charge of implementing all those decisions. It’s a lot of work.
Pro: You can change things that aren’t working and you can do it quickly. Cover redesign? Tweaking something that always bugged you? Altering the book description? Price change? All that and so much more you can consider, decide on, implement, and then view the results in less time than it takes for a traditionally published author to hear back about whether his/her editor took his/her request to any of — much less all of — the meetings required to decide on a change.
Con: You’re in charge of implementing all those changes. It’s a lot of work.
Pro: You set your schedule. When it comes to “hurry up and wait” traditional publishing puts the military to shame.
Pro: You get paid in 60 days.
Pro: You’ll never fire yourself.
Con: You have a boss who’s a b**ch. 😉
LP: Ball-park figure. How much MONEY do you spend on each self-published book and what are the expenses involved in publishing your own book?
PM: Book cover — $200-900 (largely depending on cost of photos.) Formatting — $100-150. Editing/Proofing — $100-600. Marketing — $0 to the national debt.
I have a couple advantages. I was an editor with the Washington Post for 23 years and a journalist longer. I’m an experienced editor. However, nobody catches everything, especially not in their own work, which is why I always have a proofer.
The second advantage is that from having been published for twenty-six years, I have author buddies I can call and brainstorm with for story issues. In essence, they are my developmental editors. And I repay in kind.
LP: Based on YOUR OWN experience. How much TIME do you spend each day doing marketing and promotion (over all and including social media, newsletter, booking ads etc . . .) Do you think it’s enough or not enough? Why?
PM: Oh, boy, I get to use my favorite answer – it depends.
When I’m deep in writing mode I try not to do much of that because it engages a different part of my brain/personality that is not conducive to writing. When I’m writing I don’t want to think about audience reach or ROI or strategy or any of that. I want my head so thoroughly in the fictional world that I’m astonished to walk outside and discover it’s not the season I’m writing about. (Which is why the neighbors think I’m that strange woman who wears winter coats to walk the dog when it’s 76 degrees out.)
Other times I will spend all day on various aspects of marking and promotion. That’s on top of the time my executive assistant Kay devotes to these areas, along with help from a team of great folks helping with individual aspects. It’s been wonderful to be able to delegate some of this, to free up my writing brain.
Enough? Nah. Because there’s always something else I see out there that I could have done. Another strategy or outlet to try. The possibilities are never ending.
But that’s okay, because all those strategies, all those possibilities are in service of finding the right reader-author match.
LP: You have many series on the go. Including the bestselling CAUGHT DEAD IN WYOMING SERIES. Why do you write series books? Tell us about your series. And what can an author—self-published (or otherwise) accomplish with a series?
PM: I love the interconnectedness of the communities in the series I’ve written. I love how a character learns a lesson in Book 1 and shares it with another character in Book 4. I love how the characters continue to grow past the end of their book. In romances, I don’t believe the ends of my books are Happily Ever After. Instead, they’re Happy Beginnings. What the characters learn and how they change brings the hero and heroine to the point where they can have a Happy Beginning.
InCAUGHT DEAD IN WYOMING each book has a mystery that’s completed by the end of the book. But the story of Elizabeth Margaret Danniher, her friends, and her stray dog Shadow develops over a number of books.
Elizabeth faces multiple crossroads in her life. Her marriage ended, her successful career was pulled out from under her, she’s plunked down in Wyoming, and trying to figure out what’s going on. Between solving murder mysteries, she is also solving the mystery of her life.
For me, writing a series lets me explore that great question “What happens next?”
LP: What social media networking sites do you use? Which one(s) work best for you and why?
PM: Mostly Facebook and Twitter. Some on Pinterest. I am looking at Instagram … mostly so I can inflict photos of my dog and garden on the wider world <eg>. The conversational threads are great on Facebook. Twitter appeals to my newspaper background. I wrote headlines for a lot of years, so 140 characters feels comfortable.
LP: You’ve hit the USA Today Bestseller’s list. What are 3 KEY THINGS THAT an author needs to do whether they are indie or traditionally published?
PM: Enjoy what you’re writing. Both because it comes through to the reader and because it will allow you to keep writing though a long career.
Fulfill your pledge to the reader. From the first paragraphs, you promise the reader a certain kind of read. Heck, before the reader starts Chapter One, s/he has an idea of what kind of reading experience this book is going to give him/her – from the packaging, the description, the title, your previous books.
Respect the reader. Those envelopes I kept being accused of pushing? Well, a lot of them had to do with this point. Readers do not need to be told the same thing 47 times, to have limited vocabulary, to have references constrained to current pop culture. Reading has always been a great education — as well as a great enjoyment – for me because authors didn’t undersell my ability to pick up new information from context or look something up.
LP: What is the most important thing you do when you release a new title?
PM: Inform the loyal, wonderful folks on my readers list via my newsletter. I try to give them any news first, along with deals, behind-the-scenes, and consumer tips. That’s the most important external thing. The most important internal thing is a lot of self-talk about one of the wonders of ebooks being that a book’s life is long and this is only the first day. Lots and lots of days to come when a good match can be made between the reader looking for my kind of read and my books.
LP: WHO are 3 authors that YOU look up to and admire and why?
PM: Limiting this to three is cruel. I’ll go for diversity in these three.
John McPhee in non-fiction. Because he can get me interested in topics I don’t care about beforehand (oranges, geology) and sustain my interest.
Georgette Heyer: Because her books seldom hit just one note – all-angst-all-the-time or over-the-top comedy. Instead, they have moments of humor, of seriousness, of confusion, of clarity – just like life. I especially like this in her murder mysteries.
LP: When readers message you – which series or book comes up most often as a fan favourite and why?
PM: Interesting question. It made me realize that people have contacted me about every one of my books/series.
I see reading as interactive. Readers don’t passively accept a story from the author. They bring so much of themselves to each book they read. A reader’s life experience or where they are at the moment will affect how they react to a book.
Okay, but you asked “most often.” Probably a tie between:
The Caught Dead in Wyoming series, saying they love the realism of the characters and that the mystery has some humor, while still respecting the seriousness of the crime.
(Boy, this was hard, because there are devoted readers of the other series I feel like I’m leaving out.)
LP: Bonus: Dogs or cats and why?
PM: Dogs. Because there’s so much communication with them. Because they pick up on your moods and care. Because they’re inside pets who don’t use a litter box inside 😉 Though, realistically, it’s probably because my family had dogs all along, so that’s what I know better.
For the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend writer and artist retreats. While you may think there are considerable differences, and there are some, the foundation of these types of retreats is creativity and what the effect is on those who attend.
There are many things that happen when attending these functions, such as listening to speakers, learning to use methods we haven’t tried before, eating great food we didn’t cook ourselves, and most of all we gather together to network and grow. We meet different people, get to sit and chat with our friends while making new ones. You might find yourself at a table with an agent, editor, publisher, a new author, a seeking-to-be author, and multi-published novelists/hybrids. The list goes on, but you get the idea. What a perfect time to ask those questions you’ve been trying to find the answers to from those who have been there, done that. A dining table is a perfect place for conversation, take advantage of it.
Every year, some friends and I attend the Maine Writer’s Retreat in Portland. We’re greeted with enthusiasm, warmth, and much friendliness, which encourages us to return year after year. The RIRW retreat is the same way, and a good time is had by all.
Retreats allow us to relax, to connect without inner creativity, to learn from one another and the presenters, who are as relaxed as everyone else. You’ll find speakers are more willing to sit and talk with you, to be available to us, the creative people, who are interested in what their specialty.
Unlike conferences, where large amounts of money are required to participate in all the events taking place, including hotel costs, and airfare charges, I find retreats offer cozier accommodations and fewer attendees that make the atmosphere warmer than conferences will. While I enjoy both of these get-togethers, I would choose a retreat over a conference unless, of course, I was interested in attending speaker events all day, or pitching my latest work. This is only my personal preference, and I acknowledge others may feel differently, especially if they are only starting out and want to learn the ins and outs of the writing and publishing business.
To make the most of either of these venues, we must step outside our comfort zone and talk to complete strangers instead of remaining with our friends, to be daring enough to pose questions to those people we stand in awe of. It’s difficult, but we can do it, all of us, because to network, we must leave our comfort zone. Retreats are offered all over the place. Google has lists of them for writers, including Christian writing retreats, and more. I Googled writer retreats for New England and came up with some great places in Massachusetts, Vermont, and one in Hopkinton, RI.
After the man of her dreams, Scotsman Aidan Sinclair, walks into her bread shop, The Hole in the Wall Bakery, in Providence, Rhode Island, Melina Cameron’s life takes a sharp left turn. But then Melina’s entire life veers off course when she finds her temperamental landlady in her best friend’s psychic shop next door, lying in a pool of blood, with a crust of bread sticking out of her mouth!
Which means she and her friend BettyJo are suspects in the murder. Unless, Melina takes matters into her own hands and finds the killer herself. But finding a killer is a heck of a lot tougher than baking bread!