Monday, April 19, 2010

A Conversation with Carolyn Hart


A bestselling author with more than three million books sold, Carolyn Hart is best known for her Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins (Henrie O) series. Her most recent series features red-haired ghost Bailey Ruth Raeburn of Adelaide, Oklahoma, who returns to earth to save a young boy from greedy relatives when his wealthy grandmother dies during the Christmas holiday.

Carolyn is giving away copies of her latest novel, Merry, Merry Ghost, to two lucky blog visitors who leave comments here.

Carolyn, when did your Death on Demand mystery series originate?

In 1985, I attended a meeting of the southwest chapter of MWA in Houston and visited Murder by the Book. I had never been to a mystery bookstore and I was enchanted. I had just started a new mystery set in a bookstore. I immediately decided to have a mystery bookstore named Death on Demand.

Tell us about Dare to Die.

Dare to Die is the 19th title in the Death on Demand series which is set on an idyllic South Carolina sea island. My protagonists are Annie Darling, who owns the Death on Demand mystery bookstore, and her husband Max Darling, who runs Confidential Commissions, a small business devoted to helping people solve problems. Annie and Max’s move into a refurbished antebellum home is on hold after water damage and they are staying at Nightingale Courts, the resort cabins managed by Ingrid Webb, Annie’s clerk, and Ingrid’s husband Duane. Annie and Max agree to take care of the Courts when Ingrid and Duane are called away by a family emergency. As they are leaving, Duane asks Annie to keep an eye on the young woman who checked in yesterday. "She came in the rain. Alone. On a bicycle." Annie befriends the young woman. When she is murdered, Annie and Max are plunged into fear and danger.

How much of your series is autobiographical?

Henrietta O’Dwyer Collins, a retired newspaper reporter, is the protagonist of the Henrie O series. Henrie O is taller, thinner, smarter, and braver than I but she reflects the author’s attitudes.
I’m intrigued with your impetuous red-haired ghost Bailey Ruth Raeburn of Adelaide, Oklahoma. How did the series come about?


I loved the Topper books and films when I was growing up. I see ghosts as reflections of the person who lived. I always wanted to write about a fun-loving, energetic, impetuous ghost returning to earth to help someone in trouble and Bailey Ruth answered the call.

You’ve received an amazing number of awards including the Malice Domestic Lifetime Achievement Award. Has the recognition resulted in increased book sales and reader awareness of your work?


I hope that the awards, which I very much appreciate, help to attract readers. It’s hard to know whether such awards increase sales but any mention of a book or books is helpful to an author.

What's your writing schedule like and do you aim for a certain amount of words each day, no matter how long it takes?

I try to write five pages a day (approx. 1,500 words) when working on a book. Some days I meet that goal. Some days I don’t. When I am stuck, I take a long walk and usually something will occur to me.

Tell us about your writing background.

I worked on school newspapers and majored in journalism at the University of Oklahoma. When we started a family, I didn’t return to reporting but decided to try fiction. I wrote juvenile fiction, then YA, and in the 1970s began writing adult suspense and mystery.

How much research do you conduct before you begin a novel and do you always visit the locale?

The novel dictates the amount of research. I wrote several early novels, preceding the Death on Demand books, which had World War II backgrounds and required extensive research. I’ve visited the locales of all the books written since Death on Demand. Once I set a book partly in the Philippines which I have never visited and a woman who grew up there asked me how many years I’d spent in the islands and I knew my library research had been successful.
What lies ahead for your well-known character Henrie O? How did her character come about?

My original ambition was to be a foreign correspondent. Henrie O enjoyed the career I didn’t have. One of the joys of writing fiction is living out lives that appeal to you. I am currently committed to write one Death on Demand and one ghost book each year so Henrie O is currently "resting," as they say in Hollywood.

Advice for novice writers?

Care passionately about what you write. If you care, somewhere an editor will care.

Thank you, Carolyn, for taking part in the series.

Carolyn's website: www.CarolynHart.com

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Elmore Leonard Interview


“Dutch” Leonard’s overnight success began in 1951, when he flipped a mental coin to decide between writing crime novels and westerns. “Westerns won because I liked western movies a lot,” he said, “and because there was a wonderful market for western short stories. You could aim at the Saturday Evening Post or Colliers, and if you missed there, try Argosy, Blue Book, and on down to the lesser paying pulp magazines, the most prestigious being Dime Western and Zane Grey. Right behind them were Ten-Story Western and Fifteen Western Tales.”

Eighty-two-year old Leonard has always been an avowed reader. “A bookworm, yes,” he said, “beginning with The Bobbsey Twins and The Book House volumes of abridged classics that included everything from Beowulf to Treasure Island. In the fifth grade I read most of All Quiet on the Western Front, serialized in the Detroit Times, and I wrote a World War I play that was staged in the classroom, my first piece of writing.”

His first nine years were spent south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the youngest of two children. He lived in Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Memphis before moving to Detroit in 1934, during the World Series. Raised a Catholic, he graduated from Detroit High School and the University of Detroit, both Jesuit institutions where he majored in English and philosophy.

A baseball player during high school, he acquired his nickname “Dutch” from teammates, who borrowed it from the Washington Senators knuckleball pitcher. The second Dutch Leonard served in the Navy during World War II with a Seabee unit in the South Pacific. Four years later, he acquired a bride and a new job with an advertising agency.

Leonard lusted for full-time writing, and remembers a letter from his agent in 1951, which attempted to discourage him from quitting his advertising copywriting job to freelance. He had concentrated on truck advertising for Chevrolet and, by that time, had a tank full of writing catchy ads. Getting out of bed at five o’clock, he wrote two pages of fiction before going to work “with the rule that I couldn’t put the water on for coffee until I’d started writing. I’ve been a disciplined writer ever since.”

While working for the ad agency, he supplemented his early morning writing by placing a pad of paper in his desk drawer. With the drawer partially open, he wrote fiction on the job. His first two short stories were rejected, so he decided to spend more time and effort on research. Although he had never set foot west of the Mississippi, he concentrated on the Southwest, Apaches, the cavalry and cowboys, while subscribing to Arizona Highways magazine to learn all he could about the arid terrain. His first sale the previous year was a novelette titled, “Trial of the Apache,” which sold to Argosy for their December issue. His next story, “Tizwin,” earned him a rejection letter from Argosy and a sale to Ten Story Western, which eventually appeared in print in 1952 under the title, “Red Hell Hits Canyon Diablo.”

Thirty of his short stories sold during the 1950s, four of them to Argosy and the Saturday Evening Post, while the majority appeared in Dime Western and Zane Grey. Leonard sold everything he wrote with the exception of his first two short stories and several with contemporary settings. By the end of the fifties, television had taken over. “The pulps faded away and the book advances didn’t compare to what was once offered. It took nearly two years to sell Hombre, for an advance of $1,250.” Multiple printings followed, with the book listed among the twenty-five all-time best westerns. Hombre more than made up for its meager beginning, along with a film version starring Paul Newman, which earned the writer a modest $10,000.

Gunsight was his last western novel, written at the request of Marc Jaffe in 1979 for Bantam Books. Leonard then flipped his genre coin and found that crime can pay quite well. Stick and LaBrava made him an overnight success, nicely padding his wallet along with the 1985 film version of Stick, starring Burt Reynolds, a production he prefers to ignore. The writer’s innate humor is deadpan, he said, not slapstick.

Glitz sparkled for eighteen weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, ensuring him top billing on the literary marquee, but although the film rights were optioned by Lorimar, production stalled for more than two years.

His sudden popularity cut deeply into his writing time. “It’s nice to get fan mail,” he said, “a few letters a week, and being recognized on the street, but the interviews are wearing me out. I’m asked questions about writing, and about my purpose in the way I write that I’ve never thought of before. And I have to take time to think on the spot and come up with an answer. I’m learning quite a bit about what I do from recent interviews, and getting a few answers.

Interviewers ask Leonard for advice for budding writers. He usually responds with: “The worst thing a novice can do is to try to sound like a writer. I guess the first thing you have to learn is how not to overwrite.” His advice is simply to write. “Don’t talk about it, do it. Read constantly, study the authors you like, pick one and imitate him, the way a painter learns fine art by copying the masters. I studied Hemingway, as several thousand other writers have done. I feel that I learned to write westerns by reading and rereading For Whom the Bells Toll.”

A portrait of Hemingway hangs on the wall of his office, reminding him that he studied the revered novelist’s work for “construction, for what you leave out as well as what you put in. But I was not influenced by his attitude, thank God. My attitude is much less serious. I see absurdities in serious situations, influenced in this regard by Vonnegut, Richard Bissel, and Mark Harris, and this shows in my writing. It’s your attitude that determines your sound, not style.”

Leonard wrote for many years in longhand on specially-ordered yellow sheets, rewriting and revising until he was ready to type his final draft.

“I’ll do a few pages this way and then put it in my Olympia manual office-model typewriter,” he said. “I hate to change ribbons, but have no interest in electronic advances. How the words are eventually reproduced is not my concern. I revise as I type, aiming for five or six clean pages a day. Then I continue to go back and revise and the pages begin to pile up. Sometimes I’ll go back and add a scene or shift scenes around, but most of the revising has to do with simplifying, cutting out excess words, trimming to make it lean or to adjust the rhythm of the prose.”

(The entire interview can be read at my website at JeanHenryMead.com. Click on the interview button. The interview was excerpted from my book, Maverick Writers).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Conversation with J. A. Jance


Bestselling novelist J.A. Jance has two recently released novels, Fire and Ice from HarperCollins and Trial by Fire by Simon and Schuster. She's pictured with her dogs, Aggie (with the white face) and Daph, named for Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier.

Judy, when did you first know you wanted to become a mystery writer?

I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was in second grade. I didn't specifically want to be a "mystery writer" but because I always read mysteries it was a natural fit.

Tell us about Fire and Ice and Trial by Fire.

Fire and Ice is the second pairing of my two detectives, Joanna Brady in Arizona and J. P. Beaumont in Seattle. They are working seemingly separate cases but, by the end of the book, they find the two are definitely connected. Beau's parts of the story are told in his first person voice. Joanna's parts are told in the third person.

Trial by Fire, Ali number 5, has her working as a newly appointed Media Relations Officer for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department. When eco-terrorists burn down a supposedly unoccupied house, Ali is part of the investigation that first must identify the victim before locating the killer.

How did your J.P. Beaumont, Joanna Brady and Ali Reynolds series come into being?

Until Proven Guilty, the first Beaumont book was published in 1985. When I wrote it, I thought I was writing a one-time book. I was new to Seattle, but the character was a Seattle native. I had to do a lot of research to make that work, and writing in from a male first person point of view was challenging. After writing nine Beaumonts in a row, I was growing tired of the character.

My editor suggested I come up with some other character so I could alternate. When I wrote the first Joanna Brady, Desert Heat, I knew I was writing a series but I used my experiences of being a single parent, of living in the Arizona desert, and of working in a non-traditional job to create her character. Ali Reynolds grew out of seeing a longtime Tucson female newscaster pushed out of her job due to age factors.

What in your background prepared you to write grisly crime and horror novels?

I have the dubious honor of having spent sixty days of my life in the early seventies being stalked by a serial killer, someone who is still in prison as I write this. During that time I wore a loaded weapon, and I was fully prepared to use it. I used some of what I learned from that investigation to create the background for Hour of the Hunter, Kiss of the Bees, and Day of the Dead.

Where do you do your best writing, in Seattle or Tucson, and why?


I write in both places. It remains to be seen which writing is best. And I don't have to BE in Arizona to WRITE about Arizona. It was in trying to turn the landscape around Bisbee into words when I finally realized why with the red shale hills and the limestone cliffs that Bisbee High School's color are red and gray.

Who are your favorite authors and which one most influenced your own writing?


I started out reading Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene. But I read John D. McDonald and Mickey Spillane. Those were the people who showed me it was possible to write a series of books for adults.

What’s your writing schedule like and do you aim for a certain amount of words each day?

Since I'm on a two book a year schedule, I write every day. I don't have a set number of words. I'm also a wife, mother and grandmother. I like having a life.

What are the basic ingredients for a bestselling novel? How long did it take you to reach the list?

I don't know the basic ingredients. I guess I'd say characters and plots. As for when did I make the list? Fifteen or twenty books ago probably, but making the lists is entirely arbitrary and based on decisions that are made far away from the author's effort. I don't think the books I wrote before making "the list" were of any lesser quality than the ones that have.

When did you begin donating a percentage of your bookstore earnings to charities, and which ones?

Very early on. I don't remember exactly. I've been involved with the YWCA, the Humane Society, the Relay for Life, ALS research.

Advice to fledgling writers.

When I bought my first computer--1983--the guy who installed my word processing program fixed it so every time I booted up the computer, these were the words that flashed across the screen: A writer is someone who has written TODAY! Those were words I clung to when I was a "pre-published" writer and that still resonate with me today. Today I AM a writer. I'm working on Chapter 5 of the next Ali book.

J. A.'s website is www.jajance.com. She also has a blog there as well as at www.Seattlepi.com in the City Brights section.