NiFtY Author Stephen Brayton

Stephen Brayton is the author of mystery novels Night Shadows and Beta. He also rocks the taekwondo scene.

BH: Stephen, thanks for visiting us today! What’s your one-paragraph pitch for your latest book, Beta?

SB: There’s this time traveling guy who flits around the universe in a British police call box. Usually he has a beautiful companion…wait, that’s the premise of one of my favorite TV shows. Let me try again.

Private Investigator Mallory Petersen, a fourth degree black belt with her own taekwondo school in Des Moines, Iowa, splits her time between teaching martial arts and her often inane cases. When she accepts a case to find Cheryl McGee’s kidnapped eight year old daughter, Mallory is pulled into the dark underworld of child pornography. The trail soon leads to the Quad Cities, where Mallory partners with an officer from the Special Case Squad. Mallory discovers that there’s more to the girl’s disappearance than her client let on. Adult readers will find grave issues tempered by humorous scenes.

BH: I notice one of your previous books, Night Shadows, is only available in eBook form, and I have some writer friends currently exploring publishing their manuscripts as eBooks. Can you tell us what influenced your decision to publish Night Shadows as an eBook?

SB: What influenced me? Two huge guys in black suits who slammed me against the wall, wrenched my arms behind my back, and told in calm but raspy voice that if I didn’t do as they asked, then bad things were going to happen to my collection of Batman comic books. Well, what else was I supposed to do?

Actually both books are eBooks. When I contracted with Echelon Press, they mentioned all new authors start with eBook format.

BH: You’re involved in Taekwondo – you’ve even got your own academy (click here to visit that site). How does your martial arts experience relate to your writing…or do you try to keep the two separate?

SB: Do you want to know about my experience getting knocked out at a tournament or the time I took on five guys one night outside a local bar? Oops, sorry I was dreaming there for a second. Actually I did get knocked out once, but I don’t think I suffered too many after effects. I’m sorry, what was the question? My favorite ice cream?

In Beta, I have Mallory Petersen use a lot of the skills I’ve practiced over the years. The challenge was to come up with different techniques she can use so the reader isn’t always getting the same front kick or punch. So I had to devise various scenarios where she can show off.

BH: What are you currently working on? Can you share any details?

SB: Does working on my tan count? You probably don’t care about the details. Oh, you mean writing projects.

I’ve started on a few different stories. I’m stalled in the sequel to Night Shadows trying to determine the direction of the story. The next Petersen story is finished so I’m gathering ideas for the third book. I’m also working on a thriller with a woman who uses Army Ranger skills to survive in the woods after being attacked by four men. I’ve also started (and don’t let it be passed around too much else my reputation will be totally shot. Lol) a romance. I’m hoping to collaborate with another author on this one.

BH: Which of your characters do you think is the most like you, and why?

SB: Mallory. Yes, she’s a woman, better looking, and way more talented, but she has a cool sense of humor, is intelligent, caring, and dedicated to her jobs.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

SB: Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, I do very little writing at home. I usually wait until I go to work. Since I work the graveyard shift, I rarely see anybody and I have a lot of free hours. So I’ll sit behind the desk or out in the lobby with either a notepad or the laptop. It’s quiet except when I turn on the classical music station and I’m usually not distracted by too much activity.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

SB: Any Dr. Seuss book. Especially Green Eggs and Ham. Awesome book.

Seriously, I tap into Todd Stone’s Novelist Boot Camp. It’s helped tremendously when I go through the editing phase.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

SB:  “Take a hike, loser, you bother me.” Oh, wait, that was what the last girl said when I asked her to dinner.  Then she proceeded to…well, we won’t get into that right now.

I think my Dad has helped me a lot. He encouraged me to keep up the writing. Also, when I’ve needed assistance, he’s told me I can pay him back “When I’m a rich and famous author.” Words like those that have kept me persevering.

BH: Stephen, thanks for visiting today! Everyone else, for more information on Stephen and his books, check out his website here, and his blog here. You can buy Night Shadows by going here. He’s also on Facebook and Twitter.

Note for weekend commenters: I’m out of town until Sunday evening, and won’t be able to moderate comments until then. This means if you’re a first-time commenter, your comment won’t show up until Sunday or Monday. Thanks for your patience!

The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

The set-up: Socially-awkward Evie likes to stretch the truth as far as it will go. And then just a little bit more. Her childhood friend, Elizabeth, is found dead in the woods, and Evie’s stories start getting her in trouble.

Main character’s goals: I think Evie just wants a friend. The goal is simple, and she never actually says it, but that seems to be what drives a lot of her stories (read: LIES). Even when friendship isn’t a direct or predictable outcome to a lie, she often lies to make people feel better, so she has this desire to please, which stems from her loneliness.

My reaction: Evie’s observations and her voice are just amazing. She’s funny, and self-deprecating. As a teenager, I would’ve been scared of her, because she has this ability to find the nitty gritty flaws in everyone. As a mother, I want to give her a hug and tell her she is loved. Sappy, I know, but that’s what I got, people.

Of interest to writers: Who the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is the antagonist? This is one of those books where I really can’t find a single agent who is really all that terrible, although we do have some messed up people populating these pages (amen, alliteration). Is the antagonist Elizabeth’s killer, or is it Evie’s own issues with telling the truth, or is it her loneliness…or none of the above?

Bottom line: Read it, enjoy it, and think about it long after you’ve finished. Evie’s a character who stays with you.

To visit Katie Williams’s website, click here.

NEW FEATUREBecause my brain is constantly working (fine, spazzing out, whatever) and making new connections, this Reminds me ofnote might seem totally random. It will usually be a book, but you never know. I might write “Reminds me of” something that will have you wondering “what?” and that is fine with me. Feel free to ask why if you’re curious…or better yet, make a guess.

Reminds me of: Brave New Girl by Louisa Luna.


NiFtY Author: Mike Orenduff

Joining us today is NiFtY (Not Famous…Yet) author Mike Orenduff, creator of the Pot Thief mystery series. His first book, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, won the Epic eBook Award for 2010, and The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy is up for the award this year…we’ll know soon if it wins!

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for the latest novel in your Pot Thief mystery series, The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier?

MO:  Against his better judgment, Hubie agrees to design, throw, and fire chargers for a soon-to-open Austrian restaurant in Santa Fe. The $20,000 fee probably had something to do with his decision. But when one of the workers winds up dead in the back of Hubie’s old Bronco, he wants to take his edelweiss design home and not come back. His entry into the high stakes game of upscale dining turns even more dangerous when the coroner discovers that the poison that killed the cook was one of Hubie’s glazing compounds.

BH: When you wrote the first novel, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, did you plan to create a series mystery?

MO: Yes. Mystery readers love series. I know because I’m a fan myself, and there is nothing worse than finding a mystery you love then discovering there are no more books from that author to read.

BH: I agree! Do you have a “series bible,” or some sort of record of facts so that you can keep details straight among (and within) the different novels?

MO: I do, and it comes in handy. I had Hubie twenty pounds heavier in Escoffier than he was in Pythagoras until I looked in the “bible” and saw my mistake. If I hadn’t caught it, maybe I could have just claimed he gained weight?

BH: Hubert Schuze is a thief, but he is also the protagonist, so you want the reader to like him and maybe even identify with him. How did you go about making him into a sympathetic character?

MO:  I try to make his rationalizations of what he does interesting and funny. And I show the good side of his character in other ways. Except for comic books, protagonists have flaws.

BH: Can you tell us about your path to your first publishing contract?

MO:  Long and winding, but then that is probably true of most writers. I tried querying those publishers who were accepting queries. I also queried agents, which are about as difficult to get as publishers. I finally found an agent who was excited about my work and signed on. Then she suggested I enter contests to get my name out there. I won the Dark Oak contest with The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras. The prize was a publication contract. I hope the judges who selected my work are pleased that the book has since won the “Eppie” for the best eBook Mystery of the Year and the New Mexico Book of the Year.

BH: What does your workspace look like? Do you collect antique pots?

MO: If I posted a picture of my workspace, my wife might file for divorce. It is a mess on one wall of the kitchen, and I am under orders to relocate. Except for those on the New York Times Best Seller List, writers don’t make enough money to collect antique pots.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

MO: I have never read a book on writing. I have nothing against them, and I imagine there are some that people find helpful. I prefer to observe the craft rather than read about it.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

MO: My dissertation advisor, Dr. Harold Lee, told me not to fret about the opening of a book because you’ll never get started if you keep trying to make the start perfect. “Just start writing,” he said, “and keep writing until you finish the last chapter. Then go back to the first chapter and throw it out.” And that’s exactly what I do.

BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

MO: If you have a passion for writing, that should be enough to keep you going. And if you keep going, you keep alive the possibility of that break we all dream about.

BH: Thank you, Mike, for sharing your insights into your writing and your books with us today, and best of luck with the EPIC Award! For more about Mike Orenduff, you can visit his website by clicking here!

NiFtY Author Holli Castillo

Our NiFtY Author today is Holli Castillo, a writer and attorney who is the author of the Crescent City Mystery series. Californians take note: this is NOT the Crescent City up by the Oregon border, as I’d originally thought. Crescent City is also a nickname for New Orleans. Maybe everyone knows this except for me…but now I know, too. So there. Let’s move past my geographical ignorance and meet Holli Castillo! Not only has she created a great main character for her series, but she also has an inspiring publishing story to tell.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for Jambalaya Justice, the second book in your Crescent City Mystery series?

HC:  Jambalaya Justice is the follow up to Gumbo Justice, and once again follows New Orleans female prosecutor Ryan Murphy, this time as she involves herself in the investigation of a murdered hooker, Cherry.  Ryan has her own reasons for wanting Cherry’s murderer caught, and pushes the NOPD detective assigned to the case to solve the case.  When Cherry’s murder links to the unsolved murders of several other hookers, Ryan’s pursuit of the killer’s identity puts her in danger, especially since she’s hiding her involvement from her recently acquired homicide detective boyfriend, Shep.  On top of her extracurricular activities, Ryan also has her Strike Force cases to juggle, including the prosecution of a mobster murderer, a nasty domestic violence case, and the armed robbery of Big Who’s strip club.  And then there’s the home invader who’s off of probation and might be after her.  Just another typical week at the office for Ryan Murphy.  Set against the backdrop of pre-Katrina New Orleans, Jambalaya Justice is the second in Crescent City Mystery Series, which eventually follows Ryan through Hurricane Katrina and into the strange new world of post-Katrina New Orleans.  Jambalaya Justice will be available by this summer, 2011.

BH: The main character, Ryan Murphy, has a voice that definitely grabs me from the first chapter of Gumbo Justice (here’s a link for Chapter One): She’s sarcastic, intelligent, and at the same time, a little vulnerable. How did you go about creating her?

HC:  The sarcasm was the easy part, as I’m pretty sarcastic myself.  The intelligence I think is more knowledge based—she knows a lot about the law and she is definitely one of those over achievers that drove me crazy in school, so that element of her personality was easy to incorporate. The most difficult thing was probably making her vulnerable.  I’m the type of person who will let you know when you’ve done something to annoy me, but you’ll rarely hear me say anything about emotional things.  People attribute it to my German genes.  In any event, that was the most difficult part for me, trying to make Ryan so opposite from me as far as revealing her emotions.  I wanted to make her likeable, despite her flaws, so I had to look for opportunities where Ryan could show her natural vulnerability without making it too soap opera-ish. I spent a lot of time editing that part of her, trying to strike the right combination.

BH: How does your work as an attorney influence your writing?

HC:  My writing is based upon what I know, which is criminal law.  My cases give me constant inspiration for storylines and characters.  The legal aspect of Ryan’s job is easiest to write, because I still deal with the law and criminal procedure on pretty much a daily basis.  I had other jobs before I was a lawyer, and those also helped me build a foundation for some of the scenes in my novel.  I was a child support collector, a theater stage manager, bartender, waitress, and I worked my way through undergrad at a Can-Can show on Bourbon Street, all interesting jobs to have in New Orleans.  All of my past job experience will eventually find a home in one of the Crescent City Mysteries.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

HC: Mine was a tortured path, and if nothing else it should give anyone about to give up hope that they may get published.  After I finished the novel, I queried agents.  I had bought books on how to write a query letter, worked on it until I thought it was perfect, and bought the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market for that year, did what I thought was sufficient research, and sent out the queries.

No big surprise, I received a bunch of rejections.  Some were form rejections, but other had little notes on them.  I didn’t take this a positive sign, which I should have.  Handwritten notations mean some human being actually read my work and thought enough to explain to me why his or her company couldn’t offer me representation.  After what I thought was enough rejections, I signed up for an online novel writing course at Writer’s Digest.  Miki Hayden was my online instructor, and she gave me the best advice I have ever received.  The first thing she said, when I submitted my query, was that my manuscript of 160,000 was too long, and that most agents looking at my query letter wouldn’t read past that number.  I didn’t know an acceptable length of a novel from an unknown author.   I calculated the page numbers according to famous writers’ books, like Grisham, John Sandford, Tami Hoag, etc.  Of all of the books I had bought about querying and writing, not one of them said aim for 80,000 words.

Miki Hayden also offered some substantive advice, a few key things that I think made a huge difference.  I then edited, cut, brought the manuscript down to 85,000 words, and then re-read my rejections.  I noticed some said things like serial killers were not for them, or had underlined the word serial killers.  Some said the material was too dark for the publishers they worked with.  That made me realize I hadn’t done enough research in determining which agents were the most appropriate to submit my work to.  I had one agent, a pretty famous one who writes books on finding an agent, comment that my dialogue wasn’t believable.  That kind of stung, but I took it constructively and weeded through my dialogue to make it the best I possibly could.

Before I queried again, I did a more targeted search, this time looking at publishers.  I felt like I was at a disadvantage, because I had already sent my work out to the agents I thought were most likely to represent me, but it was too late to revisit that.  Before I queried, I bought a book from the publishing houses I was going to query, to see what type of stuff they actually published.  I queried a few more agents as well, and had a hit off an agent who said she was really interested.  I sent her the manuscript and waited, and before I heard back from her, Katrina hit, we evacuated, and for the next months I was too busy dealing with this new world I lived in to worry about Gumbo Justice.  That agent finally wrote to me and said she was not taking any new clients because of health issues.  I considered self-publishing, but had already decided if I ever went that route I would have to hire an editor, because I didn’t want to put my work out there without a professional weeding through it.  I wasn’t quite ready for that, and not long after that a publisher contacted via email off of a query I had previously submitted, and asked to read the novel.  We subsequently signed a contract, and right as we were discussing the best time to release my novel, summer of 2008, I was in a head-on collision with a drunk driver and was in a wheelchair for seven months, full of hardware, having surgeries, and eventually had to learn to walk again.  The whole thing put the publication date back, but one day short of a year from the accident, Gumbo Jumbo was released.  If that doesn’t give someone out there hope, nothing will.

BH: Wow, that’s amazing. What does your workspace look like?

Rin and Deaf Kitty - Holli doesn't talk about them in the interview, but they're cute enough to warrant a photo slot!

HC:  My workspace is my laptop.  I can work from anywhere, wherever and whenever I feel like it.  At home, I work on the living room coffee table, a desk in my office, my bed, my kitchen table, or the bar.  All I need is my computer, and since my last laptop crashed during the 2010 Superbowl (when my hometown Saints won), it has a flash drive next to it all times, so I can save my work each and every time I work on it.  My brother in law is a computer guy for FEMA, and although he was able to save all my work, it put me behind schedule with Jambalaya Justice.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

HC: I tend to focus more on grammar and punctuation type books such as Eats, Shoots and Leaves, but I do like The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman  and How Not to Write  A Novel by Mittelmark and Newman.  My favorite book on writing, though, is a screenplay writing book, Your Screenplay Sucks, 100 Ways to Make It Great by William Akers.

BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

HC: When it’s not working out for you, whether in the writing stage or when trying to find an agent or publisher, take a big step back and remove yourself from the picture. Look at the problem objectively, analyze the situation like a doctor approaches a patient to diagnose an illness, and figure out what the problem is and how you can best solve it.  If I hadn’t decided to take the online writing course, I don’t think I would be published today.  Even just learning that my manuscript was almost twice as long as it should be made such an enormous difference.

BH: Thanks for sharing your insights into the writing life with us, Holli! Hearing about your trials getting published does give me hope! For more information on Holli Castillo and her books, please visit the links below:

Amazon website:

http://www.amazon.com/Gumbo-Justice-Holli-Castillo/dp/1892343517/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1297495870&sr=1-1

Holli’s website:

http://hollicastillo.com/

Gumbo Justice website:

http://gumbojustice.net/

Holli’s blog site:

http://www.gumbojustice.blogspot.com/

Holli’s publisher’s blog:

http://otpblog.blogspot.com/

NiFtY Author: Dorothy Bodoin

Today’s Free-for-All Friday brings us an interview with NiFtY Author Dorothy Bodoin. Dorothy has written numerous novels and is the author of the Foxglove Corner mystery series. Join me in learning more about Dorothy and her writing!

BH: Hi Dorothy! From what I read on your website, your Foxglove Corner mystery series is eleven books strong. Can you tell us a little about the series?

DB:  In the first book of the series, Darkness At Foxglove Corners, my heroine, Jennet Greenway, and her collie move to Foxglove Corners after a tornado damages her previous house.  She hopes to find country peace and quiet.  Instead she finds a mystery in the old yellow Victorian across the lane and romance with a handsome, enigmatic deputy sheriff named Crane Ferguson.

I never intended to write a series, but one idea led to another and another.  At present I find myself writing the twelfth book about Jennet Greenway and her collies.

BH: Which of the Foxglove Corner mysteries is your favorite?

DB:   It’s difficult to choose one, but The Collie Connection has a special place in my heart.  I wrote it after an accident threw my life into a tailspin.  During this time, I lost my beloved collie, Holly, who served as the model for Jennet’s Halley.  I didn’t think I’d be able to write that book because, according to my plan, Jennet was supposed to lose Halley just before her wedding, but I did; and it received my publisher’s Golden Wings award.

BH: What are some of the joys of writing a series character?

DB:  By now, I know my series characters better than I know my friends.  I know how they’re going to act and what they’re going to say, and I look forward to seeing them again.  I also have fun playing matchmaker.  When I bring one of my characters into my current book, it’s like greeting an old friend.

BH: Do you have any tips to share on how to keep a main character growing and learning throughout a series?

DB:  Each one of my books is set in a different season.  At this point, for example, I have three books that take place during Christmas.  My characters, like real people, change.  They get married, survive disappointing love affairs, and deal with life’s problems—Jennet’s encounters with unruly students, for example, and her conflict with Principal Grimsly.

My setting is also real.  I live about an hour’s drive from the fictional Foxglove Corners.  Places change, too.  People react to change.  Readers, I’m happy to say, often refer to Jennet and Crane as if they’re real people rather than characters in a book.  They’ve been known to react to the collies this way too.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

DB: When I was fifteen, I wrote a science-fiction novel on a portable typewriter.  I thought it was quite good and submitted it to all the big publishers I could find and collected several kind rejection letters.  It was a different publishing world then.  I didn’t sell my book, of course, but I learned an early lesson about perseverance.

A decade or so later, I wrote a western Gothic novel.  Once again, I thought it was good and tried to find a publisher.  There were different markets available to writers now.  The publishing world was changing.  Some editors were still kind, but no one wanted to publish my book.  From time to time I revised it and tried again.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had a lot to learn about writing.  My manuscript spent many years in a box on my closet shelf.

Finally—I won’t say how much later—I left my job teaching high school English and started writing full time.  Once again I had faith in my book, Darkness At Foxglove Corners.  This time, I was determined to be published.  I had my manuscript professionally critiqued not once but twice, and kept learning.  After twenty-eight submissions, I found a publisher for it.

Unfortunately, I still had a lesson to learn.  One acceptance doesn’t add up to success everlasting.  My publisher rejected my second book, Cry For The Fox.  I was disappointed but also by this time a professional.  I submitted it to other publishers and, while waiting for replies, wrote a third book, Winter’s Tale.  Wings ePress accepted Winter’s Tale and Cry For The Fox.  And I kept writing.

Finding Hilliard and Harris on the Sinc-ic website was a lucky break for me.  They published my stand-alone novels of romantic suspense, all of which have been selected by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery BookClub.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

DB:  I have two workspaces: two desks, one in the living room, one in a bedroom converted into a home office and library.  I do the majority of my planning and rough draft writing in the living room and fine tune my chapters on the computer.

In both rooms, I have oil paintings and prints, mostly of collies, and photographs all around me.  The dictionary and thesaurus are never far away.  Both spaces look neat in the pictures because I’m between chapters today.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

DB:  Phyllis A. Whitney’s Guide To Fiction Writing is my all-time favorite.  I read an earlier version of her book with a different title when I was in my teens.  In those earlier years, I often returned to it for enlightenment and encouragement.  Every time I read it, I seemed to read her message between the lines: “You can do it!”

BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

DB:  My advice is simple.  Keep writing and keep submitting and, in your leisure time, read the kinds of books you’d like to write.  I learned from writers like Velda Johnston and other favorites, and I’m still learning.

Find a group like Sisters in Crime and become as active as you can.  Find the right critique partner or critique group.  At one point, the Internet Chapter of Sisters in Crime had a wonderful Workshop.  I posted the entire draft of Winter’s Tale in the Workshop before submitting it to Wings.

Also, it’s important to write every day if possible, even during life’s bad times.  Even three or four pages will eventually turn into a book.

Write about something that’s important to you.  I’ve always loved collies and like to think of myself as the Albert Payson Terhune of the mystery world.  Moving ahead to promotion, I advertise in collie magazines and have met many wonderful people who first saw my name in The Cassette or Collie Expressions.

BH: If you want more of Dorothy (and oh, I bet you do!), check out the links below!

http://www.dorothybodoin.com is my website.  Here in my Photo Album you’ll find pictures of beautiful collies like the ones who romp through the pages of my books.

http://www.wings-press.com is the publisher of my Foxglove Corners series.

http://www.hilliardandharris.com is the publisher of my novels of romantic suspense.

http://www.amazon.com Here you’ll find my books; the Hilliard and Harris books are also in bookstores.

http://www.sistersincrime.org I recommend joining this organization, along with Sinc-ic, (the Internet Chapter) and the Guppies.  The last group is slanted toward the unpublished, but many of us remain members after we’re published.

NiFtY Author: Marilyn Meredith

Whoo-hoo! First NiFtY (Not Famous…Yet) Author Interview of 2011! Meet Marilyn Meredith, author of the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries and the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series.

BH: Tell us a little about your latest book, Invisible Path.

MM: The official blurb is: The only suspect in the murder of a popular Native American is another Indian with the unlikely name of Jesus Running Bear. Once again, because of her own Indian heritage, Deputy Tempe Crabtree helps with the investigation which also leads to the discovery of hidden militia group’s camp deep in the forest. Following the killer’s trail, puts Tempe and Jesus in jeopardy. Besides being a mystery it is also about many forms of prejudice.

BH:  You write  two mystery series – are both series current, and if so, is it ever a challenge to keep the characters straight as you’re writing?

MM: In the Tempe Crabtree series, most of the story is told in close third person though the eyes, thoughts and feeling of Tempe, though in Invisible Path, the first chapter is told through Jesus Running Bear’s point-of view.

In the Rocky Bluff P.D. crimes series, though the story focuses on one or two members of the RBPD, we learn what’s going on through many others.

A new book in the RBPD series comes out in the beginning of the year and a new book in the Tempe series always comes out in the fall.

The settings for both are quite different. Tempe lives and works in the mountains, Rocky Bluff is situated in a beach community in Southern California.

BH: Tempe Crabtree sounds like a fascinating personality. Where did you get the inspiration for her character?

MM: Tempe came from three women I met over a short period of time. The first was a resident deputy working the area where I live. I interviewed her for a personality piece for the newspaper. A female police officer I did a ride-along with was the second. She was a single mom and the only woman on that department. From about 3 a.m. until 6 a.m. she had no calls and she poured her heart out to me. The third was a beautiful Indian woman I spent a couple of hours with who had grown up on the nearby reservation. Together, these women became Tempe Crabtree.

BH: Which of your characters would you say is the most like you?

MM: Since I’m a great-grandmother and never been in law enforcement none are really like me. About the only personality traits of my main female characters I can claim is independence, loyalty and a certain amount of stubbornness.

BH: This might seem like a silly question, but I’m honestly curious: why are your Deputy Tempe books written under the name Marilyn Meredith, and your Rocky Bluff books written as F. M. Meredith?

MM: Of course Marilyn Meredith is my real name. When I first started writing the Rocky Bluff series which is often from a male point-of-view, I thought using my first initials might make male readers read the books more readily. However, the first publisher of the series put my photo on the back of the book and ruined the illusion. Since I began that way, I’ve just kept it up.

BH: Tell us about your path to publication.

MM:  It was a rocky path full of pit holes and blocked by boulders. My first book, an historical family saga, was rejected nearly thirty times before it was accepted. (Believe me, I rewrote it several times between rejections.) From there it was one thing after another. To make a long story shorter, I’ve dealt with a couple of crooked publishers, had two publishers die, one decided not to be in the business any longer, five different agents who were unable to sell my books, and finally I started looking for publishers on my own.

BH: That is a rocky path! Do you have a set writing schedule?

MM: I write in the morning, that’s when my brain works the best. I think about whatever I’m writing off and on during the day. I usually do editing and promoting in the afternoon and evenings.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

MM: I’ve had many over the years, but the one that I enjoyed the most was Stephen King’s On Writing.

BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

MM: Don’t ever give up. Go to writing conferences, read books on writing, join a critique group, and most of all write, write, write.

BH: Thank you, Marilyn, for answering our questions and giving us some insights into your writing life!

If you’d like more information on Marilyn Meredith and her books, you can visit her website here, and her blog here. Here’s a link for her latest book, Invisible Path.

NiFtY Author: Jeri Westerson

We’re taking a break from contemporary mysteries and moving back in time…far back in time. Try…the Middle Ages. Meet Jeri Westerson, author of the Crispin Guest medieval mystery series. In addition to writing great books, she’s not afraid to don a helmet and wield a sword (see photo below!).

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for the latest novel in your Crispin Guest series?

JW:  In THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, Jacob of Provencal is a Jewish physician at the king’s court, even though all Jews were expelled from England nearly a century before. Jacob wants Crispin to find stolen parchments that might be behind the recent gruesome murders of young boys, parchments that someone might have used to summon a demon which now stalks the streets and alleys of London.

BH: The Demon’s Parchment, due out October 12, is the third book in this series. When you wrote the first novel, did you plan to create a series mystery?

JW: Yes, it was always designed that way. I had never written a series before so when I completed the first one I just jumped right into the next book, first to see if I could write a series and second because I really liked my character.

BH: What are some of the joys of writing a series character?

JW: Writing series fiction is wonderful because you can really have a chance to explore your character fully, and in my case, to see him age. His story arc can go on a long time. At least for as long as the publisher wants to publish the books. I hope that will be a long time because I have quite an extensive timeline for Crispin. I think that it’s a good idea to have some idea how the series will conclude and then all the background story arcs can lead inevitably to that conclusion. I really don’t know of any series that should go on forever. The stories can get too trite, too clichéd. Best to conclude them in a timely fashion. That being said, I’ve got some thirteen more novels in mind before I’m done with Crispin.

BH: Crispin Guest sounds intriguing: flawed, enigmatic, sexy…Where did you get the idea for this character?

JW: I wanted to write a medieval detective story, not like a Brother Cadfael with an amateur sleuth, but something more along the line of a medieval Sam Spade, a tough guy who’s hired specifically to do the dirty work. I thought that this Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler kind of hard-boiled detective would translate well into the Middle Ages. No one else was doing it. As far as I could tell, authors were churning out the same old medieval mysteries they always had, and that was fine, but I wanted to write something a little different, with a little more action, a little more violence, and sex! They say you should write what you can’t find out there to read. The trope of the hard-boiled detective as a loner, someone who has a chip on their shoulder, who has run-ins with the cops is a familiar one. Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe was designed as a white knight with his own code of honor, and so I thought that a real knight—disgraced or otherwise—would work as well. Everything is kept true to the time period, including Crispin’s feelings about honor, faith, and other cultural necessities. (And actually, all the sex is off screen so no worries for all the fan boys and girls out there, and there are quite a few young male readers.)

BH: And who’s the hottie posing as Crispin on your website header? I have some single friends who may want to get in touch with him.

JW: Mmm. Yes, he’s got quite the following now. He’s the fellow on all the book covers. All I know is that he is a model named Wes and probably lives in Oregon. Before we changed the covers from the rather static VEIL OF LIES hardcover, my editor showed me Wes’ model sheet and I said oh yes. He’ll do. The paperback division didn’t like the hardcover VEIL cover image and so St. Martin’s went back to the drawing board to come up with something else, something different. Something like I wanted in the first place! Since my novels are very character driven, I thought it would be better and more interesting to have a figure on the cover in a moody London background and they certainly delivered. It makes it look very different from your average medieval mystery. I love my book covers now. I think they are very cinematic. Hollywood, take note!

BH: Do you plan to stick with Crispin for awhile, or do you have other project ideas (or both)?

JW: I certainly have a lot of Crispin’s story to tell, but currently I am working on a second medieval mystery series, one that’s a little more light-hearted than Crispin’s tales. If that one doesn’t work out I’ll have to think of another one. It’s a good idea to have a few series out there, something else for fans to sink their teeth into. But I fully intend to continue with the Crispin novels. Number four, called TROUBLED BONES, comes out Fall 2011.

BH: Is it hard to write from a male perspective? Do you have any tips for authors who wish to write from the perspective of the opposite sex?

JW: I don’t find it hard at all. In fact, in all the novels I have written (some twenty-two) I’ve only written from the female perspective three times. I don’t enjoy that. I enjoy getting into the male mindset, all that uniquely male thinking. I find that whole “band of brothers” thing fascinating. There is no female equivalent. I was a tomboy growing up and I think I’m still a bit of a tomboy. I always gravitate toward the groups of men at parties…unless they’re talking about sports. Can’t get into that at all.

The only advice I have to offer on writing the opposite sex is observation. I hate reading a female character who does guy things or a male character who does girl things. You shouldn’t be able to tell whether the author is male or female either. It shouldn’t matter if the characters are well written.

BH: Do you write full-time?

JW: I have had the luxury of writing full time only since June but that won’t last. When the money runs out you might see me at your local McDonald’s behind the counter. If you think you are getting into writing novels for the money you are sadly mistaken. Even writing for a big publisher does not guarantee a living wage, at least not at first. They say that it takes till the fifth book for the author to make a profit. I have to pay my own way to mystery fan conventions, book touring, and something as innocuous as getting bookmarks printed. All my advances go back into promotion. So I do a lot of traveling and a lot of public speaking. It’s all about sales. So buy, buy, buy! Fortunately for readers of all stripes, my books are available in a few formats: hardcover, paperback, and e-books. (The SERPENT IN THE THORNS paperback was released September 28.) And readers should check out my series book trailer on my website. It gives you a good idea of what the series is all about. Very moody. Talk about cinematic. And you get to hear Crispin speak!

BH: What is your writing schedule like?

JW:  I do my writing business in the morning, answering emails, going on Facebook, Twitter, blogging (I have two blogs; mine called www.Getting-Medieval.com. It’s like a magazine of articles on history and mystery, and Crispin’s blog at www.CrispinGuest.com. It’s his Facebook page, by the way, so look for his name, not mine.) I do a little writing and/or research in the late morning, some reading during the middle of the day, then do more writing late afternoon and into the evening. I’m also trying to write some short stories and a barrel of blog posts for my fall blog tour.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

JW: I have a home office chock full of books, books, and more books. My desk is, in fact, specially built just for me (by me and my husband. We are truly Renaissance people with many hands-on skills) with a ten foot long flat surface (covered in papers and notes) with shelves above and behind me with another ten foot long surface mirroring my desk. I have a lot of research books about knighthood, everyday life in the Middle Ages, medieval words, cookbooks, commerce, religion, forensics, people, roads, maps, clothing, woodlands…you name it, I’ve got it. I also have a lot of toys, a lot of knights in battle all over the shelves; some Harry Potter stuff like a Time Turner; a couple of fox pelts hanging on the shelf; some assorted snowmen (because I collect them); a bunch of old cameras (because my photographer husband collects them); some skulls (a sheep, a goat, a cat, a rabbit, a mouse—all collected from our yard or surrounding area when it used to be more rural); a dagger I like to play with while I write; a small figurine of Death; a rubber chicken; a Shakespeare bobble head; two framed posters (one of a Klee the other a Kandinsky); a rather dashing picture of my hubby; a candy dish, empty; a figurine of a Golem; my “Box of Death” which I cart around to my speaking engagements which includes a helm and a bunch of medieval weapons; a coffee cup warmer; computers and printers (of course); and a comfy swivel chair that has seen better days. And two cats who are really not supposed to be in there, but they worm their way in with big soppy eyes and soft furry faces and type in my novels and leave hair absolutely everywhere.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

JW: The last really great novel I read.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

JW: Don’t give up. That would be from my long-suffering husband.

BH: Any words of advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

JW: Learn the business. Don’t be an amateur, be a professional and learn your craft, research the industry before you start to ask questions. Then network with other authors. Keep on writing and reading. As you finish one novel, start writing the next. Don’t wait around for the first one to sell before you start another. The first one may never sell. Mine didn’t. Write the best darn books you can. Take the advice of professionals. Don’t dismiss it just because you don’t want to hear it. And don’t self publish just because you can’t place that one darling manuscript. Maybe there’s a reason for its being rejected over and over. Write the next book, and the next. Hone your craft.

Thank you, Jeri, for telling us about your books, sharing your insights about the writing life, and bringing us one step closer to Wes, your Crispin cover model.

For first chapters of Jeri’s novels, book discussion guides, and her fabulous series book trailer, go to her website at www.JeriWesterson.com.

Click the titles to view each book on Amazon.com:

The Demon’s Parchment (third in the series)

Serpent in the Thorns (second in the series)

Veil of Lies (first in the series)