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.
Art gallery owner Erin Cameron has a problem. Not only has she lost her way after the death of her parents, she lost a bit of herself as well. Her only solace, is the constant, loving care of her housekeeper, Mrs. Hardy and the beloved family art gallery that she inherited from her father. In order to side-step the limelight and still get her work done, Erin creates an alter-ego named “Penny Boucher” as her assistant. Each day, the beautiful, violet-eyed brunette transforms herself into a brown-eyed, blonde and heads off to work. Her disguise works so well, that her own staff prefers having Penny around rather than Erin.
But a double life has a way of creating double trouble. Especially when a tall, dark, and gorgeous art collector named Tristan Forsyth arrives from Scotland, determined to buy Cameron Gallery. At first, Erin uses “Penny” as a way for her to “avoid” the billionaire and his all-knowing, sexy, green eyes. Until Erin realizes, that not only does she not want to avoid Tristan, she can’t stop thinking about him.
When a valuable painting is stolen, and Erin becomes the prime suspect, can she turn to the handsome, Scottish billionaire for help? And more importantly, can she tell him the truth about her double life?
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.
He also writes occasional nonfiction, short fiction (some of which is collected in Nine Frights), and comic books, including the long-running horror/Western comic book series Desperadoes and graphic novels Fade to Black and Zombie Cop. With writing partner Marsheila Rockwell, he has published several short stories and a novel, 7 SYKOS. He has worked in virtually every aspect of the book business, as a writer, editor, marketing executive, and bookseller.
I’ve known Jeff for several years and was delighted when he agreed to answer a few of my questions.
DLS: When people see an author’s name, they often see it as a “brand”, knowing what kind of story they’ll get. You’ve written in several genres from science fiction to weird westerns to horror. How do you define the “Jeff Mariotte Brand”?
JM: I’m convinced that writing in different genres has been harmful to my career, because readers tend to like a writer who stays put, who delivers basically the same thing book after book. Once you’re well established, you can switch around–like Robert B. Parker eventually turning to the occasional western after writing a ton of mystery books in different series. But shifting around before your “brand” is established seems like a bad move, career-wise.
That said, I don’t see how I could have done it differently. I have to write what I’m moved to write at any given time. I’d get bored writing the same series character over and over. I haven’t calculated out the wisest career path, but have written the books that felt like they needed to be written as they came along. I’m true to myself, if not to market considerations. My agent might prefer it the other way around, but I am who I am.
I hope that readers know that when they pick up one of my books, they’ll get a compelling, suspenseful tale that’ll keep them turning the page; they’ll get well-written and engaging stories populated with characters they’ll believe in and care about. Regardless of genre, I try to always write books that will brighten a reader’s day and life, that entertain and maybe inform and enlighten. My books are generally optimistic, even when they venture into dark places, and one of my central themes seems to be the idea that there’s magic in the world, if only you know to look for it.
DLS: Who was your greatest writer influence/inspiration when you started? What are some books of theirs you would recommend?
JM: I was a bookseller for years before I got published, so I was reading pretty extensively in my preferred genres–horror, mysteries, thrillers, sf, fantasies, westerns. Consequently, I had (and have) a lot of inspirations. Some have changed over the years, and others have been consistent. In the early days, I was strongly inspired by Robert E. Howard (particularly his Conan stories), the aforementioned Bob Parker (his Spenser novels), Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe) and Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer). At the same time, I’ve often been inspired by writers as varied as Stephen King (The Stand, The Shining, On Writing), William Goldman (Marathon Man, Boys and Girls Together) and Wallace Stegner (Angle of Repose, Recapitulation, Wolf Willow). More recent influences include James Lee Burke (any of his books, but especially the Robicheaux novels). That’s a pretty male-centric list, but I could also add in works by Joan Vinge, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, Laura Lippman, Barbara Kingsolver, and plenty of other talented women, as well as one of the best writers I know, Marsheila Rockwell.
DLS: You recently married your writing partner, the talented Marsheila Rockwell. How do your collaborations work? How does collaborating compare to writing solo?
JM: Funny you should mention that…
We collaborate very well, almost seamlessly. We have different strengths–she’s a poet and her command of language is beautiful, while I’m a stronger plotter, for instance–but when we work together, our strengths complement each other, and by the time we’re finished with a story, we usually can’t tell who wrote what. We try to start with a solid outline so we know where we’re going and what each other’s vision of the overall story is (and because we both come out of a tie-in writing background, we’re used to working with outlines). Then we trade off–scene by scene, chapter by chapter, whatever works at the moment and for any given project. On the first book of the Xena: Warrior Princesstrilogy we’re working on, we had a relatively tight deadline and had to be writing different chapters simultaneously, which was a little awkward. But we smoothed it all out, and it came out well in the end.
As for the difference between collaborating and solo work, it is a different beast. A solo story or novel is one person’s vision, and everything in it, good or bad, is a reflection of that one person. A collaboration is necessarily a shared vision. I’ve written a lot of comic books and graphic novels, and because I don’t draw, those are always collaborations. And I’ve collaborated with other writers, too. So it’s not new to me. It does feel more natural with Marcy, and we work together better than I have with anyone else. Ideally, the result of a collaboration is a book or a story one writer couldn’t have written, because each participant brings different skills and life experiences to the table, and that’s what Marcy and I get when we write together. The fact that I get to be married to her is icing on the cake.
DLS: What insights have you gained from owning a bookstore that can help writers be more successful and stand out from the crowd?
JM: I think the experience of working in bookstores, managing them, and being an owner of one, has made me less ready to jump on board the e-book train. I think printed books are an ideal marriage of form and function–they don’t require a power source, they don’t break down or become corrupted, they’re always there when you want to read and you can save your place with a bookmark or a piece of paper or a paper clip or whatever’s handy. At the same time, I have a more realistic view of the book business than some people, who seem to think that Amazon is the only bookseller that matters. The truth is that printed books still far outsell e-books, and other outlets still sell more books in the U.S. than Amazon does, so if a writer focuses all of his or her efforts on Amazon, he or she is leaving a lot of potential sales on the table.
DLS: Not only do you write in your own worlds, you’ve written novels and stories for Star Trek, NCIS, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other franchises. How does “playing in someone else’s sandbox” compare to creating your own world?
JM: I love writing my original novels, and will always want to do that. Creating my own characters and involving them in situations entirely of my own devising is the ultimate creative experience. But it’s also a blast to be asked to write novels about characters I love, like Conan, Xena, Spider-Man, Superman, and great TV shows like CSI and NCIS: Los Angeles. I get to tell stories in beloved fictional universes, and get paid for it–nothing wrong with that!
The skills that are called on are the same. I have to create characters, plot stories, write in an engaging and entertaining manner. And the truth is whether I’m writing in an existing fictional universe or my own, I have to be consistent and true to the rules of that universe as it’s been developed. So the main difference is that in tie-in work, I have to try to capture voices that were devised by other writers (and sometimes actors). Fortunately, I’m pretty good at that.
DLS: If someone wanted to try their hand at writing and selling a novel in the world of a popular franchise, what would they need to do? How should they start?
JM: They could start by visiting the website of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, IAMTW.org. There they can find out a lot about the nuts and bolts of the tie-in business, and maybe find out about licensed fiction lines they didn’t even know existed. The organization has also released a book by its membership that contains more details about the trade.
Typically (although there are exceptions) to write a tie-in novel, you have to have had at least one other novel professionally published. Publishers have already invested a lot of money to acquire a license, so they don’t want to risk more by hiring a writer who hasn’t proven the ability to write a publishable book. And there’s often competition for tie-in gigs, so if it’s a choice between a writer with a solid track record and an unknown new writer, the established pro will have the advantage. So the best thing a writer can do is write a good book, get it published by a reputable publisher, then approach the publisher of the licensed fiction line of interest and say, “Hey, I wrote X and I’d sure like to pitch you something for your Y line.”
DLS: In addition to writing novels, you’ve written and edited comic books. How are writing comic books similar and different than writing novels or short stories? Do you collaborate with the artist ahead of time, or create any kind of storyboard in addition to writing?
JM: As I mentioned above, because I don’t draw the comics, each one is a collaboration, start to finish. I write the script before the artist draws it, so while I’m writing it I’m only speculating about what it’ll look like at the end of the process. Usually what I’m seeing in my head is not much like what comes out on the page. From the very beginning of my career, I’ve had the good fortune of working with some amazing artists, whose work on my scripts has blown me away.
Ultimately, the skill sets the writer brings to the table are similar. You need to tell a story that’s worth telling, that’s interesting and surprising and suspenseful and is hopefully enlightening in some way. The differences are in the techniques and the outcome. In comics, you have to be willing to stand back and let the art tell the story. The writer makes up the story (in most cases), and puts it down in a script that no one will ever see, but the artist is the one whose interpretation of the story ends up being what the readers see. The writer has to let the artist do that job, and keep the words to a minimum so they don’t get in the way of the art.
I don’t try to direct the artist to any great extent. I tell them what has to be in each panel to make the story work, but leave it to them how the panel is composed, how the different panels fit onto the page, etc. I’ve worked, as an editor, with writers who don’t trust their artists and do sketch layouts for them. Fortunately, in most cases, the artists I’ve worked with are far better at that than I would be.
DLS: What kind of research did you do writing the comic book biography of Barack Obama? Did you get to interview the President or did you work from other resources?
JM: That project was fascinating, and required vast amounts of research. I didn’t get to meet or speak with the President (though I’d still love to). I wrote it during the 2008 campaign and the first few months of his presidency, so at the time there weren’t even any books about him other than the two he wrote himself. Obviously he was a well-known public figure, but what had been written about him was mostly journalism coming out on a constant basis, along with a few more in-depth magazine pieces. I read his books and every article about him I could get my hands on, and watched him on TV whenever possible to get a sense of his voice. The scripts were vetted by lawyers, and I had to have every fact triple-sourced, and had to be able to show where every line of dialogue came from. The project was originally three separate comic book issues that were collected into a single hardcover book, which was actually the first book-length biography written about him.
DLS: I sense a certain passion for small towns on the southern border of the United States in your writing. What captivates you about those places in particular?
JM: Borderlands of all kinds are fascinating to me. I have written a lot about the US/Mexico border, but I’ve written about other borders, too–my Age of Conan trilogy, for example, was largely about the border between the Aquilonian Empire and the Pictish lands–which is kind of a parallel to Hadrian’s Wall, where the Roman Empire ended and the wilderness began. Other borders in my fiction include borders between our world and another (or many others). Borders are where different people with different interests and backgrounds intersect. There’s natural drama in that. Along our southwestern border, there are of course political issues, issues of crime and punishment, and the story of the human race–which is the ongoing story of migration–all of which are rich territory for fiction.
DLS: Tell us about your latest novel.
JM: The new book is 7 SYKOS, a collaboration with Marsheila Rockwell. It’s kind of a science fiction/horror/thriller hybrid. Basically, a meteor has brought a spaceborne virus into the Phoenix metropolitan area, which has the effect of turning those infected into raging lunatics hungry for brains. It’s incredibly virulent and there’s no known cure or vaccine. In order to keep it from spreading throughout the nation (or the world), the military has fenced off the Valley of the Sun, and nobody is allowed in or out. But everyone knows that’s only a temporary solution, so if something more permanent can’t be figured out soon, the Valley’s going to be nuked out of existence. Trouble is, the only way to come up with a fix is to get enough of the meteor to study, and nobody can get to it. But it turns out that the unique brain structure of psychopaths makes them immune to the virus. So they can go into the quarantine zone, to look for pieces of the meteor. And all they have to do is agree to perform an essentially altruistic act, learn how to play well together, and survive the onslaught of thousands of Infecteds who want to eat their brains. Nothing to it, right…?
DLS: Sounds amazing! Thanks for the wonderful and informative interview!
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.
When I was about eight years old, my dad put me on the back of his white Yamaha 50cc motorcycle for a ride. We ended up in a field by the shopping center and he asked if I wanted to ride by myself.
Are you kidding me?
He helped me get a leg up and balanced the bike for me. A quick tutorial on the controls, and I was off. Well, off for about fifty feet when I hit a rut in the dirt and promptly fell over, spraining my arm. When we got home, mom wasn’t too happy and that was the end of my motorcycle training.
Later, my older brother by eight years came home with a big, blue bike. It was so shiny and I loved how the paint sparkled in the sun. He’d take me for rides and I’d laugh the entire time; it felt so good to go fast. Then he wrecked it on a busy street and broke his leg. Determined to keep us alive, my mom declared no more motorcycles or riding while we lived with her. She even said no to flying lessons, which seemed a whole lot safer (to me, anyway). That was the seventies, if you’re counting.
In the eighties, I got married, had a couple of great sons, divorced, and forgot about going fast. Until I met Ivan.
By now it was 2011 and here was a guy with a couple of motorcycles who’d been riding most of his life. That’s when I remembered the feeling of going fast. The little girl inside me was excited by the prospect of learning to ride. The fifty-something-year-old woman was feeling iffy about the whole thing, but game to give it a go. I am nothing, if not willing to try most anything at least once.
So, in 2012, I learned to ride.
Four years later, I’ve discovered a lot about myself while motorcycling. For starters, I know everyone in a car wants to kill me. Now, I’m not pessimistic by nature, but people in cars just don’t see motorcycles, so YOU have to always be aware of THEM. Second, I worry too much (see previous point). And, riding is a lot like yoga. I’m always practicing to do something better or with more awareness than the last time I was out.
One of the unexpected perks of riding is how it’s changed the way I see the world. The colors around me are much more vibrant when I’m on a bike. I can’t escape the ‘scents’ of the road, be it a flat skunk, trailer of pigs, or someone cooking on a grill. Everything is more immediate, in the moment. It’s these things, and others, which I believe have made me a better writer, particularly with sensory detail.
I’ve also learned to take risks and I’ve watched that translate over into my stories as well. I’ve never written contemporary mystery, but when tempted with the opportunity, immediately jumped on it. Stepping out of comfort zones is how we grow. I believe strong women are the most interesting ones, so those are who I write about, be it a ninth century healer, a Victorian time traveler, or an ex-Detroit detective returning to her small home town to take over as police captain. My goal is always to inspire others to take chances and live their dreams.
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!