Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Conversation with Suzanne Adair

Award-winning novelist Suzanne Adair is a Florida native who lives in a two hundred-year-old city at the edge of the North Carolina Piedmont, named for an English explorer who was beheaded. Her suspense and thrillers transport readers to the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, hiking, and spending time with her family. A Hostage to Heritage, her next Michael Stoddard American Revolution thriller, will be released late April 2013.

Suzanne, when did you become interested in the Revolutionary War and when did you decide to base your thriller novels in that period?

I’ve been interested in the Revolutionary War since I grew up in Florida. Often I heard the mistaken notions of tourists and residents that Florida’s history started with railroad barons Flagler and Plant in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. St. Augustine, Florida, founded by the Spaniards decades before Jamestown, Virginia, is the oldest European settlement in the United States. During the Revolutionary War, St. Augustine was a major base for the British.

In 1999, while I was visiting St. Simons Island, Georgia, conducting research for a manuscript in a contemporary paranormal mystery series (unpublished), I toured the ruins of Ft. Frederica, built in the 1730s to help Britain keep the Spaniards in Florida out of Britain’s colonies. Redcoats in Georgia? I remembered then that Georgia was the thirteenth colony. So why were all the stories about the Revolutionary War set in the Northern theater? Why hadn’t someone written an adventure to show the importance of the Southern theater? By four months later, I’d abandoned the contemporary paranormal manuscript and begun writing Paper Woman: A Mystery of the American Revolution.

Paper Woman was just the beginning. It turns out that I have many stories of adventure and suspense to tell about the Southern theater. My fifth book set during the Revolutionary War will be released at the end of April. Here’s a short description of A Hostage to Heritage: A Michael Stoddard American Revolution Thriller:

A boy kidnapped for ransom. And a madman who didn't bargain on Michael Stoddard's tenacity.

Spring 1781. The American Revolution enters its seventh grueling year. In Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat investigator Lieutenant Michael Stoddard expects to round up two miscreants before Lord Cornwallis's army arrives for supplies. But his quarries' trail crosses with that of a criminal who has abducted a high-profile English heir. Michael's efforts to track down the boy plunge him into a twilight of terror from radical insurrectionists, whiskey smugglers, and snarled secrets out of his own past in Yorkshire

 Did you base your current novel on your home area's history?

Raleigh, North Carolina came into existence right after the Revolutionary War. Thus 18th-century Raleigh isn’t an inspiration for any novels in this series. However Raleigh contains several houses that date from the Revolutionary period. More importantly, a number of colonial-era municipalities and battle sites in North Carolina are within an easy day’s travel from Raleigh. To name a few: Wilmington, New Bern, Hillsborough, and the battle sites at Moore’s Creek Bridge, Guilford Courthouse, House in the Horseshoe, and Alamance.

A Hostage to Heritage takes place in Wilmington and the surrounding area and references the battles at Moore’s Creek Bridge and Guilford Courthouse. Regulated for Murder, my fourth book and the first in the Michael Stoddard series, is set in Wilmington and Hillsborough and references the Battle of Alamance. Camp Follower, third book in my “Mysteries of the American Revolution” trilogy, opens in Wilmington.

While researching for Camp Follower, I learned that the British successfully occupied Wilmington for almost all of 1781, stymieing the Continental Army’s movements in the Southern theater and effectively prolonging the war an entire year. This fact hasn’t been covered in most Americans’ history classes. (We receive the selective history of the “winners.”) The events of 1781 associated with the Eighty-Second Regiment in North Carolina are a rich source of plot ideas for any writer of historical crime fiction: battles, intrigues, desertions, double-crosses, desperate strategies, and so forth. Thus I decided to bring the year 1781 in North Carolina to life in the Michael Stoddard thrillers.

Briefly tell us about your characters? Are they based on actual historical people?

My criminal investigator, Michael Stoddard, is entirely fictitious, his characterization built in part from my study of records of comparable British and Continental officers of the time. Most of my characters are similarly fictitious. However Michael’s commanding officer, Major James Henry Craig, is my fictionalization of the real Major Craig who commanded the Eighty-Second Regiment. In the series, readers will also see fictionalizations of real historical characters such as Lord Cornwallis and William Hooper, one of North Carolina’s signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Tell us about your writing history.

I started writing in second grade and produced an amazing amount of drivel well into my mid-twenties. By my mid-thirties, I’d completed six manuscript-length works. I found an agent for my science fiction series, almost landed a contract at Warner, and decided to switch to contemporary paranormal mystery because the target audience was bigger. I found an agent for that, too, and had several more close calls. The huge paranormal wave hadn’t hit quite yet.

In 1999, I dropped the contemporary stuff and began writing historical mystery. Paper Woman and its successors found two agents who were unable to sell the books to New York because editors in the big houses either didn’t believe there was a Southern theater to the Revolutionary War, or they thought that no one would find such a story interesting. On my own, I found a professional editor who helped me tighten the manuscripts. In 2005, without the help of an agent, I met my (traditional) publisher, a regional press based in North Carolina with about a dozen other authors in-house. I hired a literary attorney to help me negotiate the contract. Paper Woman was released in 2006, followed by the other books in the trilogy. A few years later, the press folded.

Readers had waited patiently for my fourth book. Using my editor’s skills and the cover design and layout of professionals, I released Regulated for Murder in 2011. Up next, the second book in that series, A Hostage to Heritage. And late this year, I hope to publish the first book of my science fiction series, the series that was almost picked up by Warner back in the mid-1990s.

Which social media site do you prefer to promote your books? And why?

Quarterly electronic newsletter:

Readership for my blog appears to be history fans who enjoy historical fiction and non-fiction of all eras. I’ve found that when I post about my writing process or books on my blog, it doesn’t generate nearly as much interest as when I write about historical facts, incidents, and research or allow guest authors of historical fiction and non-fiction to have the floor. So that revelation gave birth to my popular blog feature, “Relevant History.”

I publish a quarterly online newsletter called Suzanne Adair News. I talk about my publishing news, then I give the floor to my Relevant History author friends and let them announce their news. In every issue, at least one author has posted a book giveaway or book discount. The people who enjoy Relevant History on my blog subscribe to the newsletter.

My Facebook author page is quite the opposite. When I post about my publishing news, I get hundreds of views and a bunch of comments and “Likes.” When I post about other authors, the views plummet. Who’da thunk?

Most of my posts on Twitter are not about my books or me. They’re about other authors or Tweeps, or they’re about some interesting news I’ve heard. I don’t automatically follow everyone who follows me. There must first be some synergies present.

The variety of these responses across the forms of social media shows why it’s important for authors to diversify their social media. Each platform reaches a different audience.

How, when and where do you conduct your historical research?

I’m always researching something in history, even when I’m not actively writing on a manuscript. I could be tracking down a copy of a letter written by a patriot leader’s wife, or listening to a subject-matter expert speak at a local museum, or photographing a historical battleground.

For the Michael Stoddard series, my baseline resource is Dr. Gregory De Van Massey’s Masters degree thesis written in 1987, “The British Expedition to Wilmington, North Carolina, January–November 1781.” This thesis provides me with a timeline of most of the events affecting the Eighty-Second Regiment in North Carolina during 1781. I’ve chosen a select few as Michael’s external conflicts in the books of the series. Associated with each external conflict, I build Michael’s internal conflict, matched to where his character should be for the series arc.

Revolutionary War history isn’t the only history I study. Research has shown me the way history repeats itself. It’s fascinating and chilling that we don’t learn from our errors. We make the same mistakes over and over. As a consequence, humanity drags the same set of problems with it through the ages. Issues like the ongoing dilemma of child soldiers wind up in my books.

Which writer, past or present, would you enjoy spending time with? Why?

Enheduanna, priestess of the Sumerian moon god, Nanna. She’s currently humanity’s earliest identified writer, and she created hymns to the daughter of the moon—the goddess Inanna—in Mesopotamia c. 2300 BCE. I’m separated from Enheduanna by more than 4000 years. I’d love to hear about her world. No doubt she’d be fascinated and, perhaps, somewhat appalled by ours.

Advice for fledgling historical writers?

Read constantly about your chosen time period, fiction and non-fiction. Look for letters and journals. Befriend a historian or history professor. Join and participate in online discussion groups for history buffs. Finds ways to get hands-on experience with the clothing, daily tasks, weapons, and transportation of your time period.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Conversation with Bill Hopkins

Retired judge, Bill Hopkins began his legal career in 1971. He served as a private attorney, prosecuting attorney, an administrative law judge, and a trial court judge, all in Missouri.

His poems, short stories, and non-fiction have appeared in many different publications and he's had several short plays produced. A book of collected poetry, Moving Into Forever, is available on Amazon. Bill is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dramatists Guild, Horror Writers Association, Missouri Writers Guild, and Sisters In Crime. He's also a photographer who has sold work in the U. S., Canada, and Europe. He and his wife, Sharon (a mortgage banker who is also a published writer), live in Marble Hill, Missouri, with their dogs and cat. Besides writing, Bill and Sharon are involved in collecting and restoring Camaros. Courting Murder is his first mystery novel.

Bill, did you consider writing mysteries before you retired from the bench?
I had written and published several mystery and paranormal short stories before I left the bench. They were so much fun that I decided to write a mystery novel. I did. It was really, really bad. I wrote a second one. It was really bad. I wrote a third one and Southeast Missouri University Press published it! 
Tell us about your debut novel, Courting Mysteries.
When Judge Rosswell Carew makes the gruesome discovery of two corpses on a riverbank in the Missouri Ozarks, he’s plunged into a storm of deadly secrets that threaten both him and his fiancĂ©e, Tina Parkmore. Unsatisfied with the way the authorities are conducting the investigation, Rosswell, who’s always nurtured a secret desire to be a detective, teams up with an ex-con, Ollie Groton, to solve the case before the killer can murder again. Rosswell uncovers a maze of crimes so tangled that he must fight his way to a solution or die trying.
 Are you planning a series or a series of standalone novels?
I'm writing a series of Judge Rosswell Carew mysteries. The second one, River Mourn, will be out in August of 2013. The third one, Bloody Earth, will be out in 2014.
Tell us about your legal background.
I've been in private practice, a prosecutor for five years, an administrative law judge (utility law) for five years, and a trial court judge for 20 years. Now, I work at least an hour a day at my day job as a lawyer, except on Fridays when I don't work. And sometimes on Mondays and Tuesdays, I take off all day. If I'm not working at my day job, I'm writing. 
You’re a member of a number of writers’ organizations. Have you found them helpful to your current career? If so, in what ways?
All of the organizations I belong to provide that overworked word: networking. I've found out I learn more at a conference from talking to people between sessions. Writers are always happy to talk and I take advantage of that by collaring people who can give me ideas.

How have you promoted your book?
Social media (Twitter, FaceBook, and LinkedIn) and personal appearances at libraries, bookstores, and craft fairs. (It's amazing how many books a writer can sell at a craft fair. I've done my briskest trade at those events.) 
What type of photographs have you sold domestically as well as abroad?
The most popular photograph I ever took was of a row of refurbished tractors. Horses and cars are popular also. I've sold copies of my photos in Canada, Mexico, and France.

Do you plan to collaborate with your wife Sharon at some future date?
We already do a lot of collaboration. She's my best editor and critic. She writes faster and reads more than I do, so if I write something that she doesn't understand, I select it and press the delete key. We have talked about writing a collaborative novel, but the plans aren't complete.
Advice for fledgling authors?
(1) Use all five senses (plus emotional state of the main character in the scene) and the source of light in every scene. (Stephen King's 11/23/63 is not only a great story; it's also a textbook of good writing examples.)
(2) Every scene must have a conflict (i.e., one party wants something and another party opposes it) and a clear winner.
(3) Avoid adverbs; use adjectives sparingly.
(4) Know what you're writing about. (If I read one more "reading of the will" scene, I will become ill.) Google. It's free. Use it.
(5) As Elmore Leonard advised, leave out the boring parts. If your scene (or sentence or word) doesn't further your story, delete it.
(6) Backstory: Is it necessary? If so, dribble it out, don't give us an information dump.
(7) Read what you write. Do you write vampire stories? Then start with the master and read forward. If you don't know who the master is, then stop writing vampire stories.
(8) Learn the rules and then break them if you're a great writer.

Thank you for taking part in the series.
You can learn more about Bill Hopkins at his publisher's page:
Author's website:
Author's FaceBook page:
Author's Page on Amazon:
Amazon order page:
LinkedIn: Bill Hopkins and Twitter: @JudgeHopkins