Friday, November 26, 2010

A Vist with Alan Orloff

Bestselling author John Gilstrap said of engineer/novelist Alan Orloff's debut novel, "Make room on your shelves for a fresh new voice in mystery writing. Diamonds for the Dead has it all: compelling plot, great characters, and the kind of tension that keeps you screwed into your seat for a one-sitting read."

Alan, how did your Diamonds for the Dead concept come about?

I wish I could point to a specific event as the impetus for this story, but, like most of my ideas, it just popped into my head. I will say that, out of the eight or nine manuscripts I’ve written, this one has the most “autobiographical” elements. When I was about ten or twelve, my father found out that we had a cousin in Russia who was being persecuted—in and out of jail for being an outspoken professor. So I incorporated some of that background into Diamonds.

Tell us about the book.

Talk to anyone in Reston, Virginia, and they’ll say Josh Handleman’s dad, “Honest Abe,” was a real mensch. But when Josh returns home to bury his estranged father, he gets the shock of his life: his thrifty dad was filthy rich. Oy!

Who was this man who donated millions to charity, invested in the dreams of Josh’s friends, and shared his home with a strange vodka-swilling Russian? Apparently, Abe collected diamonds too. But when Josh can’t find the gems, he begins to wonder if his dad’s death was truly an accident.

Hounded by grief and remorse, Josh resolves to find his dad’s diamond stash—which could be his inheritance and proof of his father’s love. What he doesn't realize is that this emotionally charged treasure hunt is taking him closer to his dad’s killer.

My next book, Killer Routine, is the first in a series, and it features Channing Hayes, a stand-up comic with a tragic past. It will be out in April 2011.

Not many engineers write mystery novels. When did you start writing and why mysteries?

I didn’t start writing fiction until about six years ago. I never liked my English classes in school and I certainly didn’t like writing papers (maybe that’s why I became an engineer). But I’ve always been a voracious reader and I guess my latent desire to write a book finally blossomed. As for writing mystery and suspense novels, those are the kinds of books I like to read so it seemed only natural to write them.

You were born in Washington D.C. and still live in the area. Have you ever written about politicians? If not, why?

Frankly, I read about politics every day in the newspaper (yes, I still read the daily paper), and I hear about them nightly on the news. Boring! Having said that, it figures that my [work in progress] (the sequel to Killer Routine) is about a politician.

You’ve had a varied career, including working on nuclear submarines. What else have you done besides writing?

You probably don’t have enough space on your blog for me to list all of my careers. Some of my “jobs” have included supervising assembly workers in a factory, consulting at a newspaper (on the business side), managing a group of product planners for a TV/radio ratings company, and helping to commercialize spin-off technology from the Star Wars program.

For whom do you write?

Interesting question. Mostly, I think I write for my readers. I want my stories to be entertaining page-turners, full of suspense with threads of humor. Is it a coincidence that those are the same kinds of books I like to read? No. So I guess I write for myself, too.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you and the part you enjoy most?

The hardest part of writing is finding enough time to flesh out all my ideas. If you’re talking more about craft, then I’d say I usually have a tougher time with description. The parts of writing I enjoy most are those rare times when I’m in a zone and the words come flowing out too fast for me to type. That’s a very cool feeling.

How do you schedule your writing?

I’m a stay-at-home dad (I have an incredibly supportive wife, in every sense of the word). When the kids are at school, I can usually hear myself think. Otherwise…not so much.

Advice for fledgling writers?

I’ve got a five-pronged strategy I’ll pass along. Take classes and workshops. Get yourself into a critique group. Network with other writers, at conferences and in professional organizations. Read, read, read. And, of course, write, write, write. If you want to get published, perseverance is key.

Thanks, Alan, for stopping by.

Alan's website:
His blog site:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Visit with Gerrie Ferris Finger

Gerrie Ferris Finger's debut novel, The End Game, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel competition. The retired journalist lives on the coast of Georgia with her husband, Alan, and their standard poodle, Bogey.

Gerrie, what, in your opinion, is the future of publishing? Are electronic editions going to edge out print copies or eliminate them altogether?

I wish I had a crystal ball, as does every author, reader, agent, editor and publisher. I do believe that print will be around for a long time, but hard covers will be published primarily for Big Name authors. These same Big Names will be published in every other form: ebook, audio, paperback and anything else lurking around the corner to provoke and delight an author, reader, agent, editor or publisher. Ebooks are surging in popularity, and I don't see that slowing down any time soon. What could put a bug in ebook sales is every Tom, Dick and Jane publishing his own poorly-edited book. Every writer needs a professional editor and some would-be writers don't see the rewards of paying $500 to $1,000 to get their project edited.

How did your novel, The End Game, come about?

I was a staff writer and editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A lot of foster children were going missing, many in the custody and control of the division of children and family services. Also, at the same time the Atlanta Police Department was raiding massage parlors and finding underage children working in the sex slave business. Thus the genesis of The End Game.

Tell us about your writing background.

I have written all my life, since the day at camp when I was five and the counselor asked me to write a letter home to mom and dad. I told them all about a little green snake that lived under the cabin. All made-up, of course. I majored in journalism in college, where I had to stick to the facts. Then, I retired to write fiction.

Did journalism contribute in any way to your award winning novel?

I have to believe it did. I learned to write clear, concise sentences without a lot of adverbs and adjectives. I write in different genres, so in some instances, adverbs and adjectives have their place, i.e., historicals. But in most mystery genres they lessen the tension.

You won last year's St. Martin's Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel competition, but The End Game is a bit outside the norm. With so many current mystery subgenres, how do you define a traditional mystery?

Think of Agatha Christie. In my opinion Agatha Christie is not necessarily a cozy writer as a lot of genre experts do. She dealt with very dark aspects of murder and mystery as did P. D. James. A true cozy will have an amateur sleuth, maybe one who owns a flower shop, or a book that has talking animals.

Traditional mysteries always have a satisfying ending; that's not to say a happy ending. I would say it's more hard-boiled than a cozy but not noir. Both cozy and traditional mysteries are whodunits. The violence and sex aspects are muted in both types. St. Martin's competition states that the protagonist can't be beaten up to any serious extent. My heroine is a runner which gives her the power to jump on and off trains and she's threatened with death, but we can be sure in this traditional novel, she's going to survive.

What's your writing schedule like and do you outline?

I have a lot of online promotion to do, so I usually get that out of the way early in the morning and write in the afternoon. If I try to write in the morning, which I do if I'm on a deadline, I find the phone and emails distract me. Less so in the afternoon. I don't outline, although I know where the story is going and how it's going to end. Otherwise, I'd create a mess. I know, I've done it.

How difficult is it to hire the right agent?

I wouldn't know since I've not "hired" the right agent. I had two very nice people who couldn't sell my books. I placed my ebooks with Desert Breeze by sending submissions to that publisher and was accepted, and I won the competition by entering the novel in a contest. Neither agent could sell The End Game to a New York publisher. I honestly don't know how hard they tried, but it didn't get to the right editor at St. Martin's. I probably could get another agent, but I have no interest now. I understand it's getting more difficult as publishers are offering fewer advances. An agent takes fifteen percent of the advance, which means the advance must meet their needs. Publishers are no longer "bringing along" writers at their houses. They want debut writers to sell like they've been around for ten years.

What advice would you offer aspiring mystery writers?

Love what you do because the road is long and hard and it's easy to get discouraged. Mystery is a crowded field. Be original and never give up.

Thank you, Gerrie.

Gerrie's website:

And her blogsite: