I was born in East Liverpool, Ohio, because Chester, West Virginia, the small town where I was raised, didn’t have a hospital. Chester is in the most northern tip of West Virginia. It’s such a small town that if you go a mile in any direction, you end up in another state: Pennsylvania or Ohio.
Writers are born. It is not a profession, it is who you are. You can tell a writer by asking them a simple question like, “Why were you late to work this morning?” A normal person will tell you, “I slept in.” Not a writer. A writer will tell you, “I was having this weird dream. It was a dark and stormy night …” Then she will go on with developing the characters in her dream, the feel of the blankets against her skin, the scent of her cat’s breath when it jumped up onto the bed.
I was doing that from the time I could talk—before I learned penmanship or how to read. What wasn’t fact in my stories, I made up. I had imaginary friends who were fully developed characters. Then, when I did learn how to read, I would rewrite the books in my head. The Bobbsey Twins was my first introduction to mysteries. Only in my version of their books, the case of the missing seashell turned into a kidnapping story.
Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author?
|Review of Kill & Run|
coming Oct. 9th
The class roared with laughter and she never spoke to me again. But hey, the teacher gave her an “A,” the only “A” she ever got in that class! It’s those small triumphs that kept me going.
I spent over ten years as an editor and layout designer for the federal government while getting my four year degree in English and literature from George Mason University. Meanwhile, I dreamed of being a mystery novelist.
I gave up my whole writing career when I had my son seventeen years ago. Fired my literary agent. I was going to be a stay-at-home mom—devoting myself to my son. That lasted six months. Then, I was back at the computer working on A Small Case of Murder, which was my first murder mystery. It went on to be named a finalist for the Independent Publishers Book Award in the mystery category. A Small Case of Murder was self-published. Due to that book’s success, my second book, A Reunion to Die For was picked up by a traditional publisher. It was released in a $26 hardback. I learned real fast that it is hard to sell a $26 hardback when you’re an unknown.
So, I knew I had to change publishers with my third book. While my publisher was willing to take It’s Murder, My Son, they did not have a paperback division. But I was getting rejection after rejection from other publishers because A Reunion to Die For was not selling very well because it was so expensive.
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Writers block hit me hard between drafts of It’s Murder, My Son. After a year of staring at my laptop, I walked away. A month later, I was back at the laptop working on It’s Murder, My Son.
During that month away, I had an ah-huh moment. I had over twenty years of experience in layout and design. Since none of the other publishers I had worked with did anything in marketing, I basically taught myself how to do it. I had worked as an editor with the federal government, so I knew how to do that—though I do believe you are your own worst editor. Anything else, I could contract out. All of the technology and the Internet made it all available at my fingertips. I could really publish It’s Murder, My Son on my own.
Within a month after I made that decision, I had two offers from traditional publishers and I turned them down and never looked back. Never had writers block again, either. It’s Murder, My Son became my most successful book, with each new release surpassing it.
Inspiration comes from anywhere, anyone, and everything. The idea for It’s Murder, My Son came from an old episode of Unsolved Mysteries in which they had a story about a murder victim who had claimed she was being stalked but no one believed her.
The inspiration for Kill and Run was a twist on the serial killer books. Those books always have the detective looking for the common denominator of the various victims. I thought, “What if all of the victims came together to be killed in a mass murder?” Several victims, from various walks of life, who don’t appear to know each other. What brought them together to be murdered?
My characters come from a wide variety of places. Rarely, but sometimes celebrities or people in the news. The very germ of Jessica Faraday is a young Elizabeth Taylor. Notice her violet eyes? However, her personality is nothing like Liz’s.
I work on my characters for a very long time before I use them. In my mind, I will think about them, coming up with life stories, likes and dislikes, worldviews—until they come to life. Once they come to life for me, then I will use them. Very often, characters are inspired by people who I have met or know. But the character is not based on only one person. I will often combine traits and characteristics to make a Frankenstein-type of character.
Murphy’s nasty nasty boss, Hillary Koch, is a Frankenstein character. I realized that Murphy’s life was just too perfect. He needed a nemesis—someone to make him not want to get up in the morning. Who better than the boss from hell. I took bits and parts of every nasty rotten boss I have ever had—prejudicial, unethical, foul-mouthed, lazy, jealous, and devious—to create Hillary Koch, who Murphy calls “Crotch.”
As for my book titles—sometimes, they just come to me. Kill and Run came to me right away. It is a twist on hit and run, which was what everyone thought the death of Officer Nick Gates, Cameron’s late husband, was. But no, it was murder. So, Kill and Run popped right into my head.
Other times, titles are harder, in which case I turn to a couple of friends who can usually come up with something. Shades of Murder was suggested by my cover designer, Todd Aune. When I come up with a book title I will do a search of the title on Amazon. I don’t want a common book title that, when searched, brings up dozens of books by the same title. The original title for the third Mac Faraday Mystery was Color of Murder, because it involved the murder of an artist. However, when I did a search, I found that every year it seems a new murder mystery is released called Color of Murder. I didn’t want that. Todd was already working on the cover so I emailed him, “Stop the presses!” When I explained the situation, he suggested Shades of Murder.
What do you find the most challenging as an author? What about this profession gives you the most joy?
Proofreading. I send my books through two editing rounds with two different editors, plus I edit them myself. Then, after layout, I sent them through two different proofreaders. By that point, I’ve been through the book so many times that I am incapable of seeing any errors. Studies have proven that the brain actually does correct the errors in our minds so that we are incapable of noticing them. The only way to see them is to keep pulling yourself out of the book and look at the words on the page, which is extremely difficult to do. So, I keep sending my books to other people to do that for me. Still, I feel compelled to do it myself as well.
On the other side of the coin, I am happiest when I am lost in my imaginary world—bringing my characters and the plotline together. I love to actually be sitting at my laptop, my fingers on the keyboard, putting the words to the digital page. That’s when it all comes to life for me.
Kill and Run offers a great mix of intrigue, suspense, romance, danger and humor. Do you try to balance these elements or do they develop naturally as you write? What research was required on technical elements - guns, vehicles, government buildings and agencies?
Everything seems to naturally balance itself out in my books: the intrigue, suspense, romance, and humor. I think I’m incapable of writing something without humor. That’s just me. I have come to believe the balance is based on my own preferences. When I started writing mysteries, way back with A Small Case of Murder, I wrote what I love to read—and I didn’t write what I don’t like to read. If I don’t like it, I don’t write it.
For example, in the book I am writing now, Cancelled Vows, the eleventh Mac Faraday Mystery, I have a romantic subplot developing. When that came about, I had to sit back—I mean quit writing to think about how this romantic subplot was going to affect my readers. It was in danger of taking away from mystery, which, as a reader, I could see would agitate them because they would want to get back to the mystery. The romance was overtaking the mystery—which is why my readers buy my books. So, I had to make adjustments to the plot in order to put the book back in balance. I believe the result will be more intriguing.
I have a variety of sources—including real living people in the various agencies and the Internet is a big source for my research. For the Thorny Rose Mysteries, I reached back into my memory of when I was a federal employee, which directly set the tone. The office politics that Murphy encounters, including the betrayal by a co-worker, actually happened to me when I worked for the federal government. The motto, “Watch your back and cover your butt,” is real as well.
This book is also the first installment in the new Thorny Rose Mysteries. What can we expect in upcoming books? Will future books in this series continue to follow the escapades of newlyweds Murphy Thornton and Jessica Faraday?
Oh, yeah! Jessica Faraday and Murphy Thornton are the Thorny Rose detectives! Therefore, the Thorny Rose Mysteries will focus on them. Their next appearance will be in the next Lovers in Crime mystery which will be released early next year. In this mystery, Murphy’s identical twin brother J.J. is suspected of murder and missing. So Murphy rushes to help Joshua and Cameron search for J.J. while clearing his name.
In future books, Jessica Faraday will start attending Georgetown University to pursue her doctorate in psychiatry. She has already portrayed a talent for reading people, which is going to be quite useful to Murphy and the Phantoms. However, don’t look for the Thorny Rose Mysteries to center around totally military cases. Remember, Jessica is a licensed private eye. That opens the door for civilian cases in and around the DC area.
Do you find time to relax and read books by other authors? What genres? Do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
My literary diet had been exclusively mystery. I wish I did have time to read more books, but my schedule doesn’t allow a lot of time for reading other books. So, I have put leading our church book club on my list, which has widened my reading list. This month I read a fabulous book called Hiding in the Light by Rifqa Bary, a true story. There was no mystery to it, but I loved it and highly recommend it, especially to young people.
Never give up. There were times when I was tempted to give up. As a matter of fact, I did give up after a year of writers block. But … I am a writer.
Second piece of advice: write for yourself. Writer’s block comes from trying to write the next best-selling novel based on what is hot right now, trying to write what will get you a literary agent, and what publishers are looking for. When you writer for yourself, then you will truly love what you do and success will follow.
Third piece of advice—treat your writing like a job! Those authors who are successful, who are getting reviews, who are getting a fan base treat their writing like a job, doing what they need to do even when it is not fun—blogging, social media, putting together a website, doing blog tours. If they have a job that pays the bills, they’ll set hours to “work” (I call it work to keep it in perspective—this is not play—this is work!) during the alternate times.
It will be slow going at first, but it will happen. Don’t think of your writing career as a sprint, where you take off and reach success quickly. It is a marathon, where you start out slowly, and then build up momentum and reach your goals eventually—in the long run.
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