An interview with Scott Craven

Scott Craven (1)Scott Craven is a member of the storytelling team, writing about Arizonans who have compelling tales to share. He’s been a Valley journalist for 28 years, starting as a police reporter at the (long departed) Phoenix Gazette. Over those years he’s also covered courts, local communities, travel and pop culture. His weekly column Ask the Pet Editor, which runs in Sunday Living, has addressed dozens of reader-submitted problems, most of them having to do with various house-training issues. At night he goes home to his Main and Accessory dog, Sandy (7-year-old Australian kelpie mix), who greets him enthusiastically because it’s dinner time.

PJ: How long have you been writing?

SC: When haven’t I been writing? My mom kept one of my earliest work, a historical piece from first grade in which I credit the Pilgrims with inventing Thanksgiving, a finding that remains controversial to this day. As far as when writing started to matter to me, it was as a sophomore in high school when I enrolled in Journalism 101 and discovered how much I loved seeing my name in print. I mean how much I love writing. I’ve been a reporter ever since, save for those few awkward years when I was an editor.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

SC: It occurred on a brisk fall day in 1979 in Colorado Springs when I woke up to my very first professional byline. The night before, in the 65th hour of my official 39-hour week (and just one hour short of earning health benefits), I’d filed a report on a high school football game. And the next morning, like magic, there it was in print. As I stared at it, I thought of the other 35,000-plus Colorado Sprints Suns that carried my name in the exact same place. I’d made it. Or so I thought. I was 21 years old with all the stupidity that comes with youth. But still, that was the first time I felt successful as a writer. It’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

SC: The writing life has been at least 40 hours a week, at least 48 weeks a year, and changes with each story I do. That’s the beauty of reporting, which allows you to talk to interesting people and tell their stories in compelling ways. But the author’s writing life is just as I perceived it – sitting in front of your home computer, staring at a blank page, and knowing you’ve got to start. Now. OK, now. Wait, what’s going on with Twitter? OK, now. I haven’t checked breaking news for five minutes, let’s see what’s happening in the world. OK, now. And so forth. In the midst of all the procrastinating, a book was written. How did that happen?

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

SC: How much I expected to make when I started writing Dead Jed – zero. Financial expectations met since then – one. I’m lucky to have a fulltime job that pays enough to keep up with the bills and put a little aside, so Dead Jed has never been about the money. Even as well as the book turned out, and how people have reacted to it, I do not expect to make much money on it. Certainly not enough to quit my day job. The book is not out yet so time will tell, but if I earn enough to take a trip to, say, Las Vegas (I live in the Phoenix area), I’ll be happy. And if the book really takes off, maybe I can even afford checking a bag.

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

SC: Yes, the focus has definitely changed. As I worked in Dead Jed, I told only a few close friends what I was doing. I also kept it largely a secret when I found an agent, then a publisher, and finally a publishing date. But when the book landed on Amazon, I couldn’t shut up about it. I’ve shifted from “Gotta finish another chapter today” to “Love the way you cut my hair, hey, did I tell you about this book I wrote?” It’s all about the marketing.

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

SC: This is my first time, and a lot longer than I thought. When it happened it was still a shock. I queried dozens of agents in batches of 20, and found one within three months. Two years passed before a publisher agreed to take a shot with Dead Jed, and the email telling me about the deal was still surprising. Not just that Dead Jed would see the light of the publishing day, but that there would me a second book, maybe even a third if things went well. More than a year has passed since then and at the time of this writing, Dead Jed is still a month away from its publication date. It’s all about patience.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

SC: I would have written Dead Jed when I was 25. But it would have been tedious, unfunny and a serious blow to English as a whole. So no, I would not have done anything differently. Well, there was that one unfortunate night when I wish I’d caught my sleepwalking son before he used my closet as a bathroom, but as far as the book, I would not do anything differently.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

SC: My job keeps me busy writing, making it difficult to do a lot of writing on the side. So at this point, Dead Jed is pretty much my only project, and thus weekends provide plenty of time to give adequate attention to all needed areas. I’m not like those authors I see on Twitter, telling everyone 140 characters at a time how busy they are morning to night, writing and editing and writing some more. I dedicate ample time to the craft, but I can break away for some quality Xbox time as well. Otherwise I’d get to a point where I was dreading to write. Some might call it laziness. I call it a vital balance.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

SC: Exciting? I’ve won a few journalism awards over the years, even in national competitions. But those don’t stick with me as much as the rewarding stories I’ve done. Like the families who adopted quadruplets that had been abused, changing lives for the better. Or the husband and father in late stages of ALS who refused to give up, using his eyes and a specially designed computer to write inspirational notes to his daughters. Or the elderly man who left his apartment each day at 3 p.m., its living room filled with photos and artifacts of his 60-year marriage, to walk to the Alzheimer’s ward and visit a wife who no longer recognized him. Those are the things I cherish as a writer.

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

SC: In my reckless youth, I wrote a lengthy story about a judge who had fallen under much criticism for her views on domestic violence. And I got her first name wrong. It bothers me to this day.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

SC: Earlier this year I was lucky enough to attend BookExpo America in New York to represent Dead Jed (still six months from publication when BEA started). The two most memorable things occurred in those two days. The good was when I signed in and slipped an “Author” badge over my head. The following day when I sat at a small table signing not my book, as every other author there, but a postcard emblazoned on one side with the Dead Jed cover, and on the other side was another author’s book. Fortunately, several very kind (and very skilled) fellow authors circulated through the crowd, pointing them toward the table. I probably signed 20 or cards in 30 minutes, but in an atmosphere charged with incredible literary talent, I felt rather sheepish.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

SC: As far as I know, I’ve written the only book about a 13-year-old zombie who doesn’t spend most of his undead time crashing through boarded-up windows in an effort to satisfy an appetite for human flesh, particularly brains. There are other works that take a different look at the genre, but Dead Jed turns it on its rather decayed head. More importantly, no zombie was hurt in the writing of Dead Jed. Yes, limbs were lost and reattached, but that doesn’t really hurt the undead (warning: zombie on closed course, do not attempt).

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

SC: Hang in there. It will happen. Until then, do what I’ve done. Obsessively Google your name and the book’s title every 15 minutes to see if anyone is talking about it. When the list pops up again and every entry ends with Google telling you “You’ve visited this site numerous time,” try Twitter. Then Facebook. Goodreads. Go on ask.fm to see if anyone wants to hear about your book. They won’t, but you will have knocked down another few minutes of obsessing.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

SC: The best tool for promoting Dead Jed is the same for any work, whether it’s a book or a movie or work of art. Make it interesting, compelling and damn good. I think Dead Jed meets those criteria, but if others disagree, then I will happily appear, or host a Skype chat, or wash your car if I have to. The only thing I won’t do is constantly use Twitter as a marketing device. The overuse of Twitter as a promotional tool is quickly approaching my No. 1 Pet Peeve of all time – people who snap their gum. No, the gum-snapping is pretty safe at No. 1.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

SC: Finding outlets and, once found, not exploiting them. Otherwise, I’m pretty comfortable doing anything I need to do. I did mention washing your car, right?

PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?

SC: Here’s a shout-out to Changing Hands in Tempe. It’s a great store to browse and hosts some of the most talented authors in the country. It also hosts lesser-known writers who have written entertaining books, but I enjoy it most for the staff’s recommendations, allowing people to discover hidden talent. And just when you thought the book-buying business could not get any better, Changing Hands is soon to open another outlet featuring beer. Beer!

PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

SC: Wow, let’s see, have to think on that one. OK, as of December 3, it goes like this:

“Dead Jed: Adventures of a Middle School Zombie.”Dead Jed cover

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

Not only would Jed give an arm and a leg to fit in at middle school, he actually can. That’s just one of the (dis)advantages of being the school’s only zombie. Jed’s pallor and his ability to hold his breath for, oh, ever, make him a target for the school bully who thinks school is no place for the undead. But even after he disarms Jed, literally, the zombie pulls himself together with some duct tape and staples, refusing to give up.

Where can we buy it?

It is available for pre-order on Amazon, bn.com, and other websites where fine middle-grade titles are sold.

PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

SC: Promise not to tell anyone, but many of the things that happen to Jed are autobiographical. Not losing limbs, of course, but several of the humiliating things that bring Jed down also happened to me in seventh grade. True story.

Whether you’re inclined to like zombies or not, you seriously do not want to miss this one! Pick up a copy today!

Review: The Trade by Colby Marshall

thetradeThe Trade

Colby Marshall

ISBN: 978-0-9888777-3-3Colby Marshall

Stairway Press

Kindle; 415 pgs.

Release date: 6/11/13; $7.95

Reviewer’s name: Gina Metz

McKenzie McClendon is a journalist with The Herald.  After breaking a huge story the previous year of an assassination plot, McKenzie is fighting to stay at the top and prove that she has more than one story in her.

New York City is being plagued by a murderer dubbed The Cradle Robber since he is slicing up pregnant women and leaving them to die once he has removed their babies.  The Cradle Robber is the story McKenzie is currently chasing.

Jonas Cleary is McKenzie’s high school sweetheart.  Jonas contacts McKenzie as he believes his wife was one of The Cradle Robber’s first victims.  The police think Jonas is just grasping at straws since his wife was not pregnant at the time of her death.  However she had their infant son with her when she was murdered and his body was never recovered.  Jonas believes that his son was sold on the black market.  Thus begins Jonas and McKenzie’s investigation into the murders and the possibility that the babies are being sold.

The Trade is a fast paced thriller that the reader will not want to put down.  This is Colby Marshall’s second book in her McKenzie McClendon series.  I will be purchasing the first book, Chain of Command, and look forward to other additions to this series.

An interview with Sue Owens Wright

Sue Owens Wright Photo by Aniko Kiezel

Sue Owens Wright
Photo by Aniko Kiezel

Sue Owens Wright was one of my first clients ever and I’m honored to still be working with her today. I hope you all enjoy what she has to say and know that if you haven’t yet met Beanie and Cruiser, you’ll really be glad you did!

PJ: How long have you been writing?

Sue: I started writing poetry when I was in my teens and was first published then. I didn’t start writing fiction until the 1990s.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer? 

Sue: There have been several points. When I received my first book advance, earned some decent royalty checks, won two Maxwell Awards, and when I began being interviewed and written about.

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

Sue: I could never have predicted the many surprises and blessings that have come my way from following my heart and writing what I’m passionate about… dogs and basset hounds, in particular.

 

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations? 

Sue: Not yet, but I’m closer than when I first started out. I think most beginning writers have unrealistic expectations about income, thinking they’ll be instantly rich. Some fortunate writers do hit pay dirt right off, but it finally boils down to whether you love writing or not, and I do.

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed? 

Sue: I focus on writing the next book.

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

Sue: A couple of years and 18 rejections, which isn’t so bad when you consider all the famous authors who received many more rejections before their first publication.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

Sue: I’d have held out longer for a series contract from one of the big dogs of publishing when I was searching for someone to publish my first mystery. I got too antsy to sign a contract, but hey, at least I got published.

 

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

Sue: I need a few more heads for the hats I wear, and balancing it all can be challenging. It’s easy to get caught up in the promotion part and not spend enough time writing, but I balance my time pretty well. I do a little promotion each day and then get down to the writing and polishing what I’ve already written, though on some days promotion takes up more time than I intend. I probably don’t submit as much new work as I should. When I do, I don’t waste time fretting about what I’ve sent out. It’s done and gone. I let it go and move on to the next writing project. Of course, I’d rather be devoting all my time to writing books, but if no one knows about them they won’t get read, and writers want to be read.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer? 

Sue: Winning two Maxwell Awards and being nominated a total of 10 times for this prestigious award by the Dog Writers Association of America for the best writing on the subject of dogs.

 

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer? 

Sue: Missing a chance at landing a contract with a big NY publisher.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work? 

Sue and Bubba Gummp

Sue and Bubba Gummp

Sue: When I was invited to be a guest speaker at the Illinois Basset Waddle, where I witnessed the spectacle of 1,000 hounds waddling through the small town of Dwight. I later wrote about the event, which garnered me my first Maxwell Award.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others? 

Sue: I think it’s my passion for basset hounds and my knowledge and understanding of these endearing drool-slingers I’ve lived with for almost 40 years. I never knew there were so many devoted basset lovers worldwide until I wrote these books. People are just crazy about those dogs. My Lake Tahoe setting is also intriguing to readers.   

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet? 

Sue: Never give up!  Learn your craft and constantly improve your skills. Keep writing and then submit only your best work. It’s persistence that eventually separates the published from the unpublished. Be like a basset hound. It requires the dogged determination of a scent hound to keep following that trail to publication, but you’ll be rewarded in the end.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work? 

Sue: I’ve found the Internet and Facebook very effective. Whenever I write an article or a pet column or do an interview, it reaches a worldwide audience instantly. I have readers from just about everywhere you can name. I’m so thankful to be a writer living in the Internet Age.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

Sue: TV interviews. I sometimes tend to freeze when in front of the camera. I think I must look like a deer in the headlights, but it always seems worse at the time than when you look back at the footage. It’s hardly a blip on the screen. Now if they could only find a way to make you look younger and skinnier on camera.

PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?

Sue: Face in a Book, which is located in El Dorado Hills, CA.

 

PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

BracedForMurderFrontHowling Bloody Murder

Sirius About Murder

Embarking on Murder

Braced for Murder

 

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

Beanie encounters calamity in one way or another when she volunteers to foster a homeless basset hound from Lakeside Animal Shelter. After she discovers a reviled shelter manager was euthanized, Cruiser, and his naughty new sidekick, Calamity, pair up to track the killer and save Beanie from a cruel death at the dog pound. 

Where can we buy it?

Five Star/Cengage Publishers, bookstores, and online booksellers. Braced for Murder will also be available on Kindle.

What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work? 

The first book I ever wrote was a paranormal romance set in England. I was inspired to write it after touring southern England and Cornwall in the early 90s and stayed at a fantastic Tudor estate that was supposedly haunted. I recently revised it and am seeking a publisher for the book.

It always helps to have a good publicist to get the word out and to book events for authors. PJ Nunn and her team at BreakThrough Promotions have been there for me from the beginning, opening doors that I probably could never have opened for myself.

An interview with Tess Collins

Tess Collins LCC 2004I first met Tess Collins more years ago than I’m going to say and I’m delighted that she’s got a new book coming out next month! If you’re not familiar with Tess and her work, I hope you’ll take time to read this and that you’ll hurry to buy Notown when it hits the market!

PJ: How long have you been writing?

TC: I was recently looking through a baby book that my mother kept of my first few years and one of the most frequently quoted phrases that I used was “let’s pretend”. She said I would make elaborate stories for me and my brother where I was the princess and a monster was after us, then I’d make a magic circle for our protection.  So how long have I been a writer—well, at least since then.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

TC: Not sure writers ever feel successful. It’s always a “oh God, what am I going to do next.”

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

TC: If I were to look at the person I was when I started pursuing publishing, then I would say, I expected to have a life which was focused on writing that became more of a life writing when I can, promoting as much as I can.  But it is what it is.

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

TC: (loud, hysterical laughter)

PJ: =) Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

TC: I suppose at one point I had to choose between writing to the market and writing the stories I wanted to tell. If I chose one, I’d likely be publishing a book a year and making loads of money, but art won out.

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

TC: I spent about ten years in writing classes learning craft.  Had one book that I sent out a gazillion times that no agent wanted, so wrote another which got an agent within a few months and sold a few weeks later to a major NYC publisher. Goes to show that it is a crap shoot.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

TC: I’ve lots track of time so often that I don’t even know how to answer that question. I’ve tried making schedules—I’ll write this day; promote that day. It never works. It’s all a mishmash of doing multi-tasking and hoping everything gets done.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

TC: It hasn’t happened yet, but in my mind, I play it over and over as: the time I met John Irving.

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

TC: That I haven’t met John Irving yet.

PJ: Ok, John – it’s time! What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

TC: The best was having two kids buy my book for their mother and that I’d gone to high school with their mom.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

TC: I think you can only write the best book you know how to write.

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

TC: Don’t give up.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

TC: I’m a very introverted person, so being in public takes a lot out of me. I have to float in a blacked out floatation tank after a particular people filled day.

Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

TC: The Law of RevengeNotownCover

The Law of the Dead

The Law of Betrayal

How Theater Managers Manage (non-fiction)

Helen of Troy

Notown

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

TC: A day in the life of a woman who decides to kill her second husband.

Where can we buy it?

TC: Amazon, Barnes and Noble; most online booksellers

PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

TC: I’m a closet MMA fan.

Thanks Tess! All right you guys, let’s get to shopping and reading, enjoy!

There was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron

There was an Old WomanThere Was an Old Woman

by Hallie Ephron

ISBN: 978-0-06-211760-1

A William Morrow April 2013 release

304 pages

Reviewed by Carl Brookins

I could hardly put it down. Creepy, tension filled, elegantly crafted, filled with emotional turmoil and characters that seem to rise from the pages and sit beside you while you read. Not a mystery in the usual sense, not a novel of slam-bang adventure with bodies dropping on every other page. This elegantly crafted novel demonstrates a mastery of story-telling, of how to feed tidbits of information to the reader in a way that not only keeps one glued to the book, but step-by-step raises gut-wrenching questions of life and death and reality.

Somehow, Ephron has plumbed the dark recesses of the mind of an elderly woman named Mina Yetner. Independent still at ninety-one, and living in a small New York City neighborhood on the edge of a salt marsh, she’s sound of mind if physically frail and she’s determined to live out her life as she has always done, to the very end. Mina is a wonderful fresh character and readers shouldn’t be surprised if her voice comes, unbidden to mind while they turn the pages.

In this time of aging baby boomers, of rising concerns about privacy, rampant mortgage offers, retail development, and uncertain government, here is a universal crime novel that should be read by just about everybody on the planet.

An interview with Anita Page

Anita Page is an author who’s new to me, but I like what I see. I hope you will too!

PJ: How long have you been writing?

Anita: I’ve been writing short stories for many years and also worked in journalism. I only began writing crime fiction, and to seriously think about writing a novel, after I retired from teaching five or six years ago.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

Anita: I don’t know that I see success as a place where you can put down roots. It’s more a fleeting moment. When the writing goes well, I feel successful. And then there are the days it doesn’t. It’s gratifying to have your work published, but you still have to sit down at the computer each day and face the terrifying task of writing fiction.

PJ: So true! Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

Anita: Years ago, out of college, writing was just you and your typewriter and your Wite-Out. I wasn’t prepared for how connected the writing life can be now. Largely this is because of the Internet, but also because of the supportive nature of the mystery writing community. I’m very grateful for the friends I’ve made through Sisters in Crime, including my blogmates at Women of Mystery, MWA, and online groups like the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

Anita: My focus right now is the WIP. I’m usually at the computer by five-thirty a.m. I shoot for four or five hours, though sometimes the gears get squeaky sooner.

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

Anita: After I pitched my first book-length manuscript to a very nice agent at Crime Bake, she said, gently, that most first books don’t get published. I thought: Well, she hasn’t read mine. This is to give you an idea of how clueless I was. That first book never sold, and with good reason. I went on to write Damned If You Don’t, and then spent close to a year trying to find an agent. Eventually I decided to submit to a small publisher. I sent the manuscript to L&L Dreamspell because they’d published an anthology in which I had a short story. They accepted the manuscript fairly quickly. It was about a year from acceptance to publication.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

Anita: The agent search, which was almost as much fun as root canal, had been going on for months when a good friend was picked up by a top agent who got him a multi-book contract with a major publisher. Part of the deal was that he had to hand in a manuscript a year. At around the same time, another friend was dropped by her publisher because her books hadn’t sold enough copies.

These events made me question whether I wanted the kind of pressure that’s guaranteed if you sign with one of the Big Six. At that point I stopped querying agents and sent the manuscript to L&L.

Does that mean I’d turn down an offer on the new book for a six-figure contract from a major publisher—some of whom are now pressuring writers for two books a year? I think I know the answer to that, but of course the hypothetical is not the same as being there. I do know that I’m happy with the choice I made.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

Anita: Here are my personal rules for hanging onto my sanity. Put the writing first; develop a tolerance for weeds and dust; no Internet, including email, before three p.m. Do I follow these rules religiously? Take a guess.

PJ: (smile). What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

Anita: The following are in the running: the email from Lisa Smith at L&L Dreamspell offering me a contract for Damned If You Don’t; winning a Derringer award in 2010 for my short story “‘Twas the Night;” the day I finished the final draft of DIYD and realized I’d actually written a book. My big fear when I was working on the manuscript was that I’d be hit by a bus before I finished.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

Anita: Not too long ago I did a library reading in the Catskill Mountain town where we lived for nine years, and which inspired Laurel Pond, the town where Damned If You Don’t is set. That evening felt like a homecoming, especially when old friends turned up. I’d used the library as a setting in the book—my protagonist Hannah Fox teaches a summer school class there—so in addition to feeling that I’d connected with my past, I also had the sense (spooky music here) that I’d stepped into Hannah’s life.

PJ: That’s great! With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

Anita: If you’ll forgive the BSP, here’s a quote from the Gumshoe Review:

“Page’s characters come alive with the everyday concerns, fears, and challenges of real people, the sort of challenges that most of us deal with on a regular basis. The situations and scenes that Page draws are believable and down-to-earth, sometimes gut-wrenchingly familiar. From Hannah’s involvement at a help center for battered and at-risk women, to the shady, graft-ridden politics of small town America, it all rings true.”

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

Anita: I’ve learned to write—and continue to learn—by reading good writers. Early on, when I was struggling to bring the characters to life without getting bogged down in detail, I began re-reading Donna Leon. I’d read her books the first time for pleasure, but this time I was reading for the bones—i.e., trying to figure out how she did it. I remember being struck by the deft way she handled a scene in which Brunetti meets a friend at a café. To paraphrase advice an agent once gave me: She didn’t give the reader directions on how to eat a meal.

Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

Damned If You Don’t (L&L Dreamspell) is my debut crime novel.

I’ve had short stories published in the following anthologies:

Murder New York Style (L&L Dreamspell)

The Prosecution Rests (Little, Brown)

The Gift of Murder (Wolfmont Press)

Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices (L&L Dreamspell)

I’ve had short stories published in a number of webzines, including Beat to a Pulpand Mysterical-e. There are links to some of the stories at anitapagewriter.blogspot.com.

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title.

Damned If You Don’t (L&L Dreamspell), set in the Catskill Mountains, features community activist Hannah Fox, a daughter of sixties radicals, who, together with the intrepid Women of Action, battles a fraudulent eminent domain scheme that threatens a friend’s land. When the scheme ends in murder, and her friend becomes a suspect, Hannah is drawn into the police investigation—and into a relationship with the lead investigator that complicates her already shaky marriage. As she probes the victim’s past, Hannah comes to suspect the murder was a heroic act, even when it’s clear she may be the killer’s next victim.

Where can we buy it?

The book is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s also available at the Bohemian Book Bin in Lake Katrine, NY and Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe in Warwick, NY.

PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

Anita: The victim in my first (unpublished) book was loosely inspired by someone I know casually and don’t see very often. One day I was in the supermarket and saw him walking toward me. I swear my jaw dropped. My first thought: But he’s supposed to be dead! So that’s my dark secret—the line between book world and the real world sometimes gets blurred.

Thanks so much Anita for sharing with us. Readers, Damned if you Don’t is on my TBR pile. Want to add it to yours?

An interview with Elizabeth Zelvin

Elizabeth Zelvin is an incredibly versatile woman and a talented author who consistently utilizes her personal skills and professional knowledge in her writing. Listen and learn:

 

PJ: How long have you been writing?

 

Liz: I’ve been writing my whole life. I first said, “I want to be a writer” when I was seven, and I didn’t even have a Plan B until I was almost forty, when I got a master’s degree in social work and became a psychotherapist. Today, I do both.

 

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

Liz: Although I’d published three books (two poetry, one professional) and a lot of professional material, articles and book chapters, I didn’t feel I’d fully succeeded as a writer until my first novel came out. Success as an author is something else again. That’s a matter of business rather than craft.

 

PJ: That’s an important distinction! Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

Liz: The writing life is different from what I expected when my first mystery, Death Will Get You Sober, came out five years ago. As a young woman, I visualized social success and validation rather than the task of writing, but if someone had asked me, I would have said it would be a solitary task. I spend a lot of time at my computer, alone in my apartment, but I’m constantly connected to the community of mystery writers and the larger community of mystery lovers, thanks to the Internet. And since I’m lucky enough to live in New York City, I go to all the parties—book launches, Edgars Week, monthly meetings of MWA and Sisters in Crime—as well as mystery conventions. The support and guidance of other writers has been crucial to the development of my craft as well as the business of getting and staying published.

 

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

Liz: May I ROFL (roll on the floor laughing)? The experience that’s best helped me deal with the reality of what most fiction writers earn is my thirty years as a published poet. Nobody expects to make any money whatsoever writing poetry, so the expectations are realistic from the start.

 

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

Liz: The entire publishing industry, the definition of “getting published,” and the very nature of reading have changed in the few years since my first novel, Death Will Get You Sober, appeared. My first publisher, one of the biggies, dropped me a week before my second book came out because my advance sales weren’t bigger than the first book’s—at the precise moment the economy crashed. I took a year to lick my wounds—and in that year, getting dropped by one’s publisher became the norm, even for successful authors with devoted followings. The e-book market exploded, small presses started to get a lot more respect, and self-publishing became an option that didn’t necessarily put a writer beyond the pale forever. One effect of all that is that I am more conscious about asking myself, “What do I want? What am I willing to do? What part of this process do I like? What do I do best?” My answers to all these questions may change, but they’re very personal. I may not make the same decisions as any of my writer friends about my career direction.

  

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

Liz: From age seven, thirty years to the first book of poetry, fifty-seven years to the first novel.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

Liz: I would network with other writers a helluva lot sooner, and I would revise my first manuscript a lot more before starting to query agents.

 

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

Liz: My list includes, in addition to all that, the other “hats” I wear—as a psychotherapist currently working online and a singer-songwriter with an album that’s just been released, so I’m promoting both the new mystery, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, and my CD, Outrageous Older Woman. My way of allotting my time is completely intuitive. I sit down at the typewriter every morning and start tackling whatever seems most pressing. When I’m working on a first draft or have had a brainstorm about a new short story or even a blog post, that gets my morning energy, if possible. But if I have a scheduled session with a client, the writing may have to wait.

 

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

Liz: Maybe this is not objectively the most exciting event, but the thing I got the most excited about was the call from the person who became my agent at the time I had to negotiate the contract for my first novel. He was not my first agent, I’d already received the offer from the publisher, and I have a different agent now. The story is far too complicated to go into. But I was in the shower coloring my hair when the phone rang, and when I heard the agent starting to leave a message, I absolutely had to take the call. Thank goodness no one Skyped yet back then. We talked for half an hour, and please don’t ask what my hair looked like by the end of the conversation.

 

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

Liz: I’ve already mentioned it: getting dropped by my prestigious publisher a week before my second book came out. It meant I had to revise my expectation of writing a lengthy series. The third book, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, has just come out with another publisher. But in the interim, my whole vision of my mystery writing career had to change. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly different.

 

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

Liz: One very touching moment took place at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ. PJ Nunn, of all people, had arranged for me to appear on “Good Morning, Arizona” that morning to promote Death Will Get You Sober. I’d spent my four minutes talking about how passionately I feel about the transformational power of recovery from alcoholism, particularly through AA, as personified by Bruce, my recovering alcoholic protagonist. When I got to the bookstore that evening, only a couple of people had shown up. It was one of those moments when my long experience of poetry readings came in handy. But the chairs had been placed in a circle, and Barbara Peters wanted me to give my talk anyway, so I went into my spiel for the two customers, Barbara, and a couple of her staff members. I was just winding up when the door of the store opened and a guy came in. The clerk at the desk waved him in our direction—we were way down at the far end of the store—and he walked toward us. When he got there, he looked at us sitting around in a circle, nodded as if he found it reassuring, sat down in a vacant seat, and said, “Hi, I’m Bob, and I’m an alcoholic.” He felt right at home, and I that made me very happy. He bought the book, too.

 

PJ: Wow, that’s a great story! I hadn’t heard that before. You just never know who’s watching, do you? With more books being released each  month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

Liz: I hope this doesn’t sound presumptuous, but I think that my voice, my characters, my dialogue, and my themes are all distinctive. I’ve had my share of crummy reviews like everybody else. But when a reader or reviewer says, “Her characters leap off the page,” “Her dialogue sparkles,” “She has the ability to make readers laugh and cry, sometimes in the same sentence,” or “I was profoundly moved by the struggle of the recovering addict,” I feel tremendously validated. They’re getting out of it not only what I put into it, but what made me want to tell the story in the first place.

 

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

Liz: Don’t do it alone. Join Sisters in Crime, especially the Guppies chapter, and Mystery Writers of America. Don’t start querying until you’re comfortable with critique and revision. Don’t rush the process—including, these days, deciding whether you want to try to get an agent and go the traditional route or e-publish your book yourself. Remember that  in today’s market, distribution and promotion are as important and craft. But don’t forget what made you want to write fiction. If it was for the money, you’re in the wrong business!

 

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

Liz: I was born to schmooze. My tools are my fast-talking mouth, my virtual mouth, ie my fast-typing fingers on the keyboard, and the empathy that made me choose to be a psychotherapist and serves me well both in creating believable characters and networking the way we have to do to promote our books.

 

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

Liz: I confess I’m not on Twitter. You could say it’s the ultimate schmoozing tool, but a limit of 140 characters suggests relationships that are too superficial for me. Hey, I do psychotherapy online. I like to go deep. The other reason is that my brain can only take in so much new technology. I love my iPhone and my GPS. I coexist with my computer and Facebook. So far, Twitter is simply one too many for me.

 

Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

Novels (series):

Death Will Get You Sober

Death Will Help You Leave Him

Death Will Extend Your Vacation

 

Short stories (series):

“Death Will Clean Your Closet” (Agatha nominee)

“Death Will Tie Your Kangaroo Down”

“Death Will Trim Your Tree” (Agatha nominee)

“Death Will Tank Your Fish” (Derringer nominee)

Short stories (other):

“The Green Cross” (Agatha nominee)

“Navidad”

“The Silkie”

“Dress to Die”

“Choices”

“The Saxon Hoard”

“The Emperor’s Hoard”

 

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

Death Will Extend Your Vacation is the third mystery in the series that started with Death Will Get You Sober. Recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends, Barbara the world-class codependent and Jimmy the computer genius, take shares in a clean and sober group house in the Hamptons. Their first day at the beach, they find the body of one of their housemates, a beautiful investigative reporter who was passionate about environmental issues and other people’s boyfriends.

 

Where can we buy it?

Death Will Extend Your Vacationis available at online bookstores or can be ordered from your local mystery or independent bookstore if it doesn’t stock books from Five Star.

 

PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

Liz: If you’re old enough to remember Jack Benny, he had a comedy routine where there’s a hold-up, and the robber says, “Your money or your life!” There’s a long, long pause, and then Jack Benny says, “I’m thinking.” If it makes a good story, I’ve probably already told it. If I haven’t told anybody yet, it’s probably something I should keep to myself.

Liz, you’re delightful! Keep doing what you’re doing and writing what you’re writing. Folks, I know I say it a lot, but here’s an author who’s worth reading. She’ll take you to new and interesting places. Go buy her books! Till next time…

Interview with Chris Grabenstein

Chris, as I’m sure you know, is an extraordinary author, writing the fun and fabulous Ceepak series, the latest of which is Fun House, released May 1, 2012. But there are a lot of other things about Chris you may or may not know. Such as did you know he used to do improvisational comedy in New York with Bruce Willis? Or that he was once hired by James Patterson to write advertising copy? He’s obviously a very versatile writer, but he’s also an extremely nice guy. Here’s what he has to share with us today:

PJ: How long have you been writing?

Chris: Since the second grade!   But, I have made my living as a writer since 1984.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

Chris: I’ll let you know when I get there!

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

Chris: I think so.  At least the actual “writing” part.   I started writing skits and plays in high school and college — while also writing for the student newspapers (a daily in college).   I learned early on to enjoy the hovering over the keys and making up a story in my mind.   I still get a kick out of it every day.  As far as the other parts of the author business — I love meeting readers, going to schools, talking with other writers.

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

Chris: Well, the average income for a member of the Author’s Guild of America is $8,000 a year.  So, yes, my income has lived up to those expectations!

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

Chris: Yes.  Now the focus is on selling enough books to STAY published.  The days of publishing houses nurturing careers, being patient, growing an author, etc. seem to be over.  Those sales numbers follow you and you may not get the next deal because you’re not doing well at Barnes and Noble.

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

Chris: It was four years from when I first started writing books until one was actually published.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

Chris: I might’ve tried writing for a younger audience earlier because I’m having so much fun doing it now.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

Chris:I think my most important job is writing a good book.  So, that’s what I do first.   Then, after I have done my writing for the day,

Doing strenuous research on CEEPAK #7 down the shore in Beach Haven, NJ. Hint 'O Lime Tostitos are superb.

I might do one or two “business” things — like penning a guest blog, organizing a school visit, working on bookmarks, etc.  As far as submitting and waiting, that’s my agent’s job.  I’m fortunate enough to have 3-4 books being published per year so I stay busy.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

Chris: Having my play CURIOSITY CAT published by Samuel French!  Because all through high school and college I was a big drama club/theatre guy.  I think I acted in close to 100 shows.  All of them were published by Samuel French.  So, when I saw my play in that familiar format, that was the coolest thing ever.   The other exciting thing is winning awards.  The heart does race at those banquets…

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

Chris: Some of the nasty reactions one of my adult mysteries received  from right wingers who sounded like they wanted to draw and quarter me.  It’s a book, people.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

Chris: I was visiting a school and the kids asked me about what it was like to work with Jim Henson, which I did many years ago.  After the presentation, a young girl, probably 10, came up and introduced herself.  Mr. Henson was her grandfather.  And she had never met him.   That really touched me.  And then the girl and I chatted for a while and I let her know what a great man her grandfather was.

PJ: With more books being released each  month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

Chris: Fast paced fun reads.

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

Chris: You have to enjoy the actual process of writing.   Even if you never get published.  Otherwise, you will go mad.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

Chris: School visits.   I meet 2-300 kids.   Sell about 75 books.   And then they all want to purchase the rest of the books in the series.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

Chris: Deciding what works.   In the adult book world, I’m not sure what, if anything I as an author can do.   Unless the publishing house is behind a book, it will never become a best seller.

At the ROLLING THUNDER launch in Otto Penzler's way cool Mysterious Bookshop!

PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?

Chris: I love ’em all!    Here in New York City, both Partners and Crime and Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop have been very, very good to me!

PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

Chris: The John Ceepak/Jersey Shore Mysteries

TILT A WHIRL

MAD MOUSE

WHACK A MOLE

HELL HOLE

MIND SCRAMBLER

ROLLING THUNDER

FUN HOUSE

The Christopher Miller Holiday Thrillers

SLAY RIDE

HELL FOR THE HOLIDAYS

The Haunted Mystery Series

THE CROSSROADS

THE HANGING HILL

THE SMOKY CORRIDOR

THE BLACK HEART CRYPT

The Riley Mack Series

RILEY MACK AND THE OTHER KNOWN TROUBLEMAKERS

RILEY MACK STIRS UP MORE TROUBLE (2013)

ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY (2013)

THE EXPLORERS’ GATE (e-book exclusive)

With the cast and crew at the world premiere of CURIOSITY CAT at the Children's Theatre of Knoxville.

Short Story Collections

DEATH’S EXCELLENT VACATION

Plays

CURIOSITY CAT

PJ: Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

Chris: Seventh-grade mastermind Riley Mack and his best buds always come to the rescue when family or friends are in trouble, even if it takes some high-octane subterfuge and fifty pounds of dog food. Kids ages 8-12 will root for Riley and his “Gnat Pack”: tech-savvy Jake, dramatic Brianna, big-guy Mongo, and brainy Jamal. They’ll hiss for the bad guys, too—the bully Gavin Brown; his father, Fairview’s crooked police chief; his conniving grandmother, who runs a filthy puppy mill; and Fairview’s gambling-addicted bank manager, who tries to frame Riley’s mom. Throw in one stolen goldendoodle, two bumbling bank robbers, and plenty of duct tape, and the action never flags.

PJ: Where can we buy it?

Chris: Wherever books are sold!   If you need links

PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

Chris: Make sure you have a dog to take you on long walks so you can dream up what you’re going to write next.  And rescue that dog from an animal shelter!

See? I told you he was something. I hope you rush out and buy his books! What other questions might you want to ask?