Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Visit with Elizabeth Spann Craig

Elizabeth Spann Edwards writes two diverse mystery series, her Myrtle Clover novels and  cullinary mysteries set in Memphis, written as Riley Adams for Berkley.

How did your latest novel, Delicious, Suspicious, come about? Also Lulu, your Memphis barbeque-restaurant-owning, grandmother-sleuth?

I think, like so many things in life, I was at the right place at the right time. Berkley Prime Crime was interested in acquiring Pretty is as Pretty Dies (I’d queried them with the manuscript), but it got buried in a slush pile and instead was published by Midnight Ink. But Berkley was interested in having me write a different book—a culinary mystery set in Memphis, a city they thought would provide a rich setting for a mystery. I set to work right away writing the book. Lulu is an amalgam of all the strong, southern women who helped raise me. I love her humor and common sense.

You’ve written under your own name for your Myrtle Clover novels but this new series is billed as Riley Adams. Why the pseudonym?

As a writer with another series with a competing publisher, Berkley asked me to write under a pseudonym.

You’re a writer with young children at home. Why have you decided to write about senior amateur sleuths?

As a reader, I’ve always been drawn to older sleuths and love the wisdom they bring to the table when they investigate a crime. Miss Marple was one of my all-time favorites. My grandmother, who was strong and smart and funny was also a tremendous inspiration for me. Currently, I’m working on writing the third Memphis barbeque book and also working on a separate project…and yes, it does involve an elderly sleuth!

How did you go about acquiring an agent?

It wasn’t easy! I researched agents for weeks—checking their preferences and client list against my manuscript to see if it was a match. I was rejected...probably fifty-sixty times over the course of a couple of years. Some agents were queried more than once, for different projects. I actually ended up with a publisher before I acquired an agent and negotiated my own contract. Fortunately, I found my agent, Ellen Pepus, before hazarding my negotiating abilities (more like inabilities) with a second publisher.

What’s your writing schedule like and do you outline your novels?

My writing schedule is nuts. There’s actually no schedule at all—just a daily goal. As long as I make my goal, I fit my writing in where I can—in the carpool line at the elementary school, late at night, early in the morning, while taking my kids to the skate rink…wherever. I prefer not to outline my novels, but sometimes editors like to see a full synopsis. And I aim to please! But if left to my own devices, I make up my mysteries as I go along.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you and the aspect that brings you the greatest pleasure?Do family members serve as consultants and first readers?And does anyone else in your family write professionally?

My mother is my first reader and my father will read for me, too, time permitting. My mother is an avid reader and my father is an English professor. It helps! My father and grandmother have always written—articles, newsletters, etc, but weren’t novelists.

Tell us briefly about your writing background.

Starting out, I worked as an intern at a magazine in London when I was studying abroad there. After graduation, I married and moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and wrote articles (and did whatever else they needed…help selling ads or laying out copy) for an art magazine there.

Advice to fledgling writers?

 My advice would be to figure out what you want, in terms of your writing. Are you happy just writing for yourself? Could you be happy just sharing your work with a small group of people? Once I figured out my direction and what my intent was for my writing, I was a lot more determined and treated it more seriously.

Thanks, Elizabeth.


Clarissa Draper said...

That's some great advice for new writers and I know about having to fit in writing wherever I can. I applaud her and her determination.


Alan Orloff said...

Nice interview! Elizabeth, I can't wait for your third series! Pretty soon, we'll have to call you Elizabeth Patterson.

Jean Henry Mead said...

It's good to have you with us, Elizabeth. I also write senior sleuth mysteries and look forward to reading yours. :)

Susan Whitfield said...

Even though Elizabeth is not a senior herself, she does a great job of writing about senior sleuths. Great interview, ladies.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Thanks so much for hosting me on Mysterious Writers, Jean!

Clarissa--I bet you do know about squeezing in writing time! Kudos to you for making it work.

Alan--If only! :)

Jean--There's something really fun about a senior sleuth mystery, isn't there?

Susan--Oh, I'm rapidly getting there! :) Thanks for coming by!

Helen Ginger said...

Now that I've known Elizabeth for a while, it's clear she's dedicated to her writing. It's amazing that she writes multiple series and is raising a family. A lot of writers have had to do that, but Elizabeth also has a wonderfully informative blog, as well!

Lesa said...

Continued good luck, Elizabeth, along with all of that hard work you put in. I've enjoyed both of your series about senior sleuths. And, I appreciate the humor in both series. Looking forward t the next book!

Lesa -

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Helen--Thanks so much! I really appreciate that. Writing is so important to me...I think that's where the dedication comes in. It's always a crazy juggling act--family, house, writing, but it's so rewarding.

Lesa--Thanks for coming by! I do love a book with humor. :) MC Beaton is one of my favorite authors--I love her combination of rural setting (especially in her Hamish series) with character-driven humor. Christie did it so seamlessly--I used to just crack up with her humor in the Poirot books...particularly the times when Poirot got his feathers ruffled. It's why I thought I'd take a stab at it, myself.

Jan Morrison said...

wonderful - always something new to find out about you! Yay!
Jan Morrison

Mason Canyon said...

Elizabeth, enjoyed your interview. Your 'elderly' sleuths do have a lot of charm and spunk. I think that's one thing that makes them so enjoyable. Looking forward to the next adventures of Lulu and Myrtle, as well as finding out about your third sleuth.

Thoughts in Progress

Sue Curran said...

Great ideas, Elizabeth. Don't you just love B'ham. I was born and raised there. I am looking forward to beginning your culinary series. BBQ is second only to biscuits and gravy as my all-time favorite food. Like you, I don't take the time to outline. I just let the characters lead me through the story.

Laura Marcella said...

It's amazing how much you can get done even during ten-minute intervals. Good for you, Elizabeth, for snatching time whenever you've got it!

Karen Walker said...

This is such an inspiring interview. Thanks to both of you. Elizabeth, I had no idea you'd experienced rejection so much at first. I gave up when I didn't find an agent. I didn't know there were some publishers you could approach without an agent. So glad you persisted. You are so talented.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I always wondered why you wrote under two names.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Jan--Thanks! And thanks for coming by. :)

Mason--Thanks so much! I hope you'll enjoy the next ones. :)

Sue--I did love Birmingham! Beautiful city. I like your idea of character Sherpas that lead us through the story!

Laura--It's true--you really can get a lot done in 10 minutes, especially if you know in advance what you're going to be working on that day.

Karen--Thanks! Yes, I have a huge drawer of rejections. I actually even submitted things in college, so the rejections go back a long way.

I would *definitely* recommend submitting to small/regional/or mid-sized publishers if you don't have an agent. Check out the publisher with and make sure they're people you need to be working with. That approach worked out really well for me before I was agented.

Diane--I just aim to please my editors! :)

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I thought Lulu was a wonderful character and I’m already looking forward to her next adventure.

Anonymous said...

Its always fun to read about how writers find agents. I need to begin the search again. Best wishes for Delicious and Suspicious.

Stephen Tremp

Other Lisa said...

Elizabeth--love your advice for aspiring authors. I think it's exactly right.