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.