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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Double Hitter!

Today we've got two interviews with two great suspense authors, so be sure and not only read what they have to say about their latest books, but leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of their books!

Before we jump into the interviews, congrats to Carolynn for winning of copy of Baker's Fatal Dozen! (You could be a winner next week, so leave a comment!)

Welcome, Ramona! Tell us about your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? In other words, tell us about. . .THE CALL

I had published nonfiction before, but getting The Call for my first Love Inspired Suspense left me screaming like a kid. I missed the first call – the editor left a message for me to call her. My fingers shook when I dialed so much I almost misdialed. When I hung up, I just screamed and jumped up and down. The champagne came later.

Tell us some of the background behind the ideas for your stories and about the story itself.

The idea for suspense stories set around a writer’s colony first occurred to me about 20 years ago, but I wasn’t mature enough as a writer to complete them. The first one, A MURDER AMONG FRIENDS, came out last year, and THE FACE OF DECEIT releases September 9th.

The idea for THE FACE OF DECEIT came after I visited a pottery studio and saw a plaque with the raised image of a face on it. I asked the pottery whose face it was, and she said, “No one in particular.” By the time I got home, I had the basic plot about a potter who witnessed a murder as a child, and as an adult, the face of the killer begins appearing in her art. That’s how my heroine’s “face vases” were born.

I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. Is there a character who you relate to and who made an input on your life?

In the beginning of THE FACE OF DECEIT, my hero, Mason, is quite lukewarm in his faith. Over the course of the novel, he has to face that part of himself and decide why and how he needs to change that. I found that part of his arc reminded me of all the times I’ve let criticism or rejection distract me from what I really need to do in my life as well as in my faith.

What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

To never give up. This year at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, we had a final panel of all the instructions…more than 40 of us. When we went down the line to state how long we wrote before being published, the answers ranged from 6 months to 20 years.

You never get too old to get The Call for the first time.

Great advise. Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

I would love to create an ongoing series heroine, like Sue Grafton or Margaret Maron. But I also want to keep writing romantic suspense because I love the idea of bringing two people together in the midst of a wild, suspenseful ride.

Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published?

To persevere, to network, and to trust yourself. About 25 years ago, I heard Harlan Ellison say that “Any writer who CAN be discouraged, SHOULD be.” His point was that if you are driven to write, no amount of rejection or criticism will deter you. You take what you can from the criticism, understand that rejections are never personal, and you keep working. And keep learning.

I have also learned the amazing value of networking with other writers, as well as agents and editors at conferences. If a new writer can’t travel, then online blogs and social sites are a great way to get to know others in the industry.

Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

There are literally hundreds of great books on craft, and a working writer should have at least one on characters and one on motivation and conflict. Charlotte Dillon’s website is awesome for craft articles and advice (www.charlottedillon.com/WritingRomance.html). But don’t forget to nourish the creative spirit as well with books such as Anne Lamott’s. Online, one site I love is McNair Wilson’s blog on creativity (http://www.teawithmcnair.typepad.com/).

I also recommend taking a screenwriting class or getting one of Syd Field’s books on screenwriting. Nothing breaks down the basics of building a good plotline like a script.

Thanks so much for joining us, Ramona!

Our next guest is Dana Mentink. Welcome Dana.

Briefly tell us about your journey to becoming a published author.

I was born with a pencil in my hand. Kidding! That would have been painful for my mother. I was one of those geeky writer types in high school but I didn’t embark on anything professionally until after my girls were born. Then I started writing like crazy. Fast forward through seven zillion rejections and Barbour bought my first book for their mystery line. I was given a contract to write suspense for Harlequin’s Steeple Hill in September last year. The first book (Killer Cargo) released in June and the second (Flashover) arrives in December, I think.

Congratulations! What has it been like crossing over from cozies to suspense?

Not as easy as you’d think. The pacing has been tricky to nail down. With mystery there is time for cogitation and humor. With suspense, it’s a frantic, action driven book that can’t slow down for a second. I have to wear a seatbelt when I write suspense.

Tell us some of the background behind the ideas for your stories and about the story itself.

I always write about what I’m interested in. Killer Cargo takes place on an animal sanctuary, primarily home to endangered frogs. I love frogs. I’ve collected little frog statues for years. Did you know frogs are an indicator species? That means they are the first to show signs of stress due to environmental pollutants and such. Very important. Kermit is one of my heroes, you know. As Kermit says, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.” That frog inspires me, I tell you.

Love the uniqueness. What are the differences you see that stand out the most between a cozy and a suspense.

With cozies, there is room for eccentricity and humor. As I said earlier, the pacing is different too. The focus of a mystery is solving the crime. The focus of suspense is surviving the crime, if that makes any sense.

Everywhere I go, I meet people who are writing suspense. Any advice in breaking into this competitive field?

As my agent says, write a good book. Read what’s out there and LISTEN TO CRITICISM. Believe me, I’ve had PLENTY of criticism from my editors and as much as I hate to admit it, they are usually right.

What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

God can use the tiniest little folks (like me!) to reach people with His message. Now that’s pretty awesome!

Amen. :-) Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

Donald Maass and his Writing the Breakout Novel really rocked my world. And, it goes without saying, the Bible because God wrote the only breakout book we’ll ever need! God bless and thanks for your time.

Thank you, ladies for joining us today!
You can learn more about both these writers and their other books by going to their websites.

Ramona Richards
Dana Mentink

Monday, August 18, 2008

Interview with Lisa Harris

First, congratulations to Ane who won a copies of In the Dead of Night and Bye, Bye, Bertie and Terri who won a copy of Murder on the Ol' Bunions (Terri please contact us here with your email address.

Beth: Welcome Lisa! Tell us about your writing journey.

Lisa: It’s been a long one, full of ups and downs, but I believe that anything worth something is going to take time and energy to achieve. That, for me, has been writing. Zip back eleven years ago when my oldest was first born. He slept a lot and gave me--for the first time--a chance to start writing. This was something I’d always wanted to do, but had never taken that first step.

At first I wrote non-fiction, fiction, devotional, children’s stories. . .you name it. . .and quickly realized that, I was spread too thin and needed to decide on one thing to write. By this time I was working full time at home, so something had to give. Fiction won out. I began learning everything I could about writing, attended some local writing conferences, and wrote. God connected me with some amazing mentors, I found a critique group, and met some editors.

This very connection with other writers has been something that has amazed me. So many are willing to help others along this journey, and through it I’ve made friends that will last a life time.

Beth: When do you feel like it all began to come together for you as a writer—was there a particular moment?

Lisa: Most days I’m still waiting. LOL I think that’s because I know I can always improve and deepen the depth of my stories. I don’t ever want to be satisfied or think that I’ve arrived. I want to keep learning and growing through this process.

Beth: Who has influenced you most as a writer and why?

Lisa: That’s tough, because there are so many people, from crit partners, to mentors, to conference speakers, to my mom, and I’m so thankful for each and every one of them.

Beth: Tell us about the writing process for you? Does it begin with a character, setting, or plot?

Lisa: Interesting that you should ask this, because even after eleven plus years of writing, I learned something very important about my own process this past week. I’m a very structured author who writes from a very detailed outline. I suppose this is because I’ve written a number of books for Barbour and they require chapter by chapter outlines. I love writing this way and feel very comfortable knowing what comes next, even though there are always some surprises along the way. So typically, my story begins with the plot.

What I’ve realized, though, is that I’m a seat of the pants writer when it comes to characters. I don’t like filling out piles of interview questions up front; I like to learn about them as I write. Not that I don’t know my characters--many times they’ve been wondering around in my head for years--so all the basics are there--but sometimes that isn’t enough. I was recently stuck on a chapter of a historical I’m writing and realized that while I “know” my heroine, something was missing with her character that was causing a huge lack of motivation for her behavior.

Now I’m a huge believer in motivation and if motivation for actions isn’t there, the character will run flat and this is exactly what had happened. Once I went back into her past and discovered exactly why she was behaving this way, it finally gave her the legitimate reason I needed for her behavior. So in the process of an hour or two of brainstorming, I discovered enough about my heroine to deepen her character and make the situation work, something I will continue to do throughout the writing of the book.

Beth: Tell us about your latest book.

Lisa: I’ve spent the past couple years writing a cozy mystery series for Barbour that has been so much fun. Pricilla Crumb is my quirky heroine, sixty five years old, and finding love again for the second time. Add the murder of her favorite baker, a few impulsive indiscretions, and you have Baker’s Fatal Dozen.

Beth: What inspired you to write this particulate story?

Lisa: In this series, I guess Pricilla actually came before the plot line. About two years before I even started writing the books, she appeared and wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d originally planned to have her in a cozy mystery set in South Africa, but changed the setting to Colorado for my publisher. Thus was born Pricilla and Max, her handsome and very sweet love interest who manages to put up with Pricilla and love her despite here somewhat unorthodox methods.

Beth: What is the message you hope to get across in this story?

Lisa: A spiritual theme for my books is always crucial, and I try and weave them into the characters lives as they grow and change. This book’s theme came from II Corinthians 4:7-8. It’s an important lesson to learn when life throws us for a loop as it did to the grieving widow.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Beth: What do you think is the hardest part of writing a mystery?

Lisa: For me it’s finding a balance between the red herrings thrown in and legitimate clues. In the end of the story you want the reader to say, “Of course! Why didn’t I see that?” instead of throwing the book across the room because the killer is Aunt Beulah’s’ third cousin twice removed who was mentioned once in passing on page seven. That won’t work.

Beth: What are problem areas you see in aspiring writers who want to write mystery or suspense? Advise?

Lisa: Read what you write so you can learn what works and what doesn’t work. There are tons of resources on line where you can learn about the basic ingredients in a mystery. And most importantly. . .WRITE!

Beth: What are your future writing plans?

Lisa: Funny you should ask because at the moment I’m writing a historical, finishing a proposal for another cozy series, and working on an international suspense. The common thread through all of these, though, is lots of mystery and suspense. So in whatever I do, as long as that’s included, I’ll love writing it.

Beth: What is the best advice you ever received?

Lisa: To put it briefly, if you want to write, write. Too many people talk about writing, but never finish a manuscript. The other day I was getting onto myself because other people I know write 2, 3, even 5 thousand words a day and I’m happy to write one thousand (fairly edited words) a day. Then I calculated that same five thousand words a week, for 50 weeks and it comes to 250K! That’s almost three full length novels or four shorter novels. It’s amazing how much a little work every day adds up, so never think you don’t have the time.

Beth: You can visit Lisa's website or blog for more information about her books. And for a chance to win more free copies of her books and other cool things like her yearly Taste of Africa giveaway, be sure and sign up for her newsletter.

Leave a comment below for the chance to win a copy of both Recipe for Murder and Baker's Fatal Dozen.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mystery or Suspense?

Check out the bestseller list and you’re bound to find a handful of mysteries included. Everything from cozies, to heavy suspense, to hard-boiled. Avid readers love to turn pages long into the night as they breathlessly anticipate the next spine-tingling twist of the plot.

As a writer, I love writing both cozies and romantic suspense. During the past few months, I’ve worked on two novels for two different publishers. The first one is a romantic suspense. The second, a cozy mystery. Add to that, I just finished an international suspense with a touch of romance. Writing these books side by side has forced me to take a close look at each genre, including the rhythm of the words, addition of humor, and tone of the story.

When you sit down to compose your first blockbuster mystery novel, one of the first problems you’re likely to face is exactly which genre to write. While the differences between a cozy and a suspense might tend to blur at times, there are definite distinctions. More than likely, you won’t find a bloody murder in a cozy, or a quirky amateur detective and her pet poodle in a romantic suspense. Yet there’s a lot of confusion shared by many as to what defines a cozy mystery, and what exactly is romantic suspense.

I’ve heard from a number of fellow authors whose cozy mysteries weren’t contracted because they were too romantic, didn’t have a cozy enough setting, or the story was too suspenseful. As an author, it’s important to understand the difference if you intend to submit what an editor wants, and with so many publishers interested in buying both cozies and romantic suspense, knowing these differences are crucial. So let’s look at some of these unique qualities that will help insure that your next proposal doesn’t end in the slush pile, but instead on the desk of an interested editor.

The Cozy Mystery: A cozy is normally classified as a whodunit mystery with a limited cast of characters in a closed setting. One of these characters, of course, is your amateur sleuth who unintentionally gets involved in solving the mystery. Instead of the fast paced suspense genre, a cozy is normally filled with humor and at least one or two eccentric characters.

There’s definitely something very distinctive about a cozy mystery. Think of your favorite series and what makes it work. What makes the setting and characters. . .well. . .cozy? Basically, a cozy mystery is a puzzle to be solved, with the answer hidden amongst pages of suspects and red herrings. The crime generally is a murder that takes place off-stage. Having the crime take place this way eliminates the need for the blood and gore that is often a part of a regular mystery.

And forget about your local sheriff. A cozy is solved by an amateur detective where the hero or heroine does the sleuthing, not a professional crime solver. One very important factor to remember here is that your hero needs to have a motive compelling him or her to solve the crime. Yes, being nosy helps, but they should also have something at stake, when ordinarily they would let the police handle the case.

In my second cozy from Heartsong Presents: Mysteries, Baker’s Fatal Dozen, Pricilla Crumb, a superb cook and articulate hostess, is motivated to start her own investigation into a murder because her close friend is a suspect for murder and asks Pricilla to help her clear her name. And Pricilla isn’t the kind of person to turn down a cry for help.

The setting is another important character in a cozy. Stories are often set in small communities, mysterious mansions, or wintry lodges. The goal? To limit the number of suspects to a certain amount of people, all of whom, of course, are suspects.

Lastly, how you set the tone of a cozy is equally important. In Baker’s Fatal Dozen, Pricilla is back again as a lovable busybody who’s always getting into trouble because of her impulsive tendencies. Add to that the obligatory feline, a few harebrained investigative methods, a handful of suspects, a stolen ATV (by Pricilla, no less), and a barroom brawl, and I found the start to my whodunit.

Think about your own story. Do you have an intriguing backdrop to set the mood? What about your cast of characters? Do they add dimension and depth? Give your hero a couple eccentric personality traits, throw in some humor and a dash of quirkiness, and you can bet you’ll have a winner!

Romantic Suspense: Unlike the cozy, where the hero has a puzzle to solve and red herrings to decipher, suspense involves danger. The pace is fast, mood darker, peril imminent, and it normally contains far less humor than your typical cozy. Every scene needs to propel the story forward, every chapter hook strong enough to compel your reader to turn the next page.

Forget chasing clues and interviewing suspects. There simply isn’t time. Not when there’s an antagonist out to get you, and when disarming the current threat is of vital importance. Think breathless. Heart pounding. Not only is it essential to give both your hero and heroine motivation for becoming involved in the situation, give them a time limit. A ticking bomb, with disastrous consequences if the goal isn’t reached in time, will insure the fast pace continues, and that the reader stays on the edge of his or her seat.

In my September release from Love Inspired Suspense, Final Deposit, my heroine, Lindsey, is running out of time. Her father’s been conned out of his life-savings by an internet scammer, and now is missing. As a security expert, Kyle knows how this common, internet fraud game is played out, and that financial loss, no matter how great, isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Kyle also has his own motives for getting involved. He still holds a deep-rooted vendetta against a woman whose fraudulent online relationship with Kyle’s brother ended with him taking his life.

Next, don’t forget the added layer of attraction in a romantic suspense. It’s important to balance the developing romance and the suspense with its constant plot twists. Keep the romantic tension high throughout the entire story, but don’t let the romance overshadow the suspense. Show what your characters are thinking about romantically. Have them explore why a romance would work, why it won’t work, and perhaps even why--with disaster looming around every corner--it’s not the time to be thinking about how they feel toward each other.

Finally, as you reach the climax of the story, place your hero and heroine into a situation so intense, so impossible, that there isn’t a way out. Or, at least, so it seems. In Final Deposit, I worked hard to raise the stakes high as high as possible. With over sixty-five thousand dollars missing, an unknown assailant in pursuit, a ransom note, and less than forty-eight to find her missing father, Lindsey is certain there isn’t a way out. When her father’s actions place her own life in jeopardy, the stakes rise even further.

Look at your own story now. How high are your stakes? Does every chapter end with a solid, page-turning hook? Have you included a ticking time bomb to up the stakes? Do your characters have adequate motivation for their actions? Have you placed your hero and heroine in a situation where the odds at getting them out alive seem impossible? Answer yes to each of these questions, and you will be well on your way to writing a manuscript worthy of an editor’s second look.

Happy writing!


BIO: Lisa Harris, the award-winning author of eleven novels and novellas, lives with her family in southern Africa where they work as church planting missionaries. They are currently residing in Brazil for six months while learning Portuguese before moving to Mozambique. When she’s not language studying, home schooling her kids, writing, and doing all the normal mom things, Lisa loves cooking exotic foods, reading, and traveling. For information on her books, plus an inside peek into her life in Africa, visit her blog at http://myblogintheheartofafrica.blogspot.com or her website at www.lisaharriswrites.com where you can check out her video trailer for Recipe for Murder.

For a chance to win a FREE copy of Recipe for Murder and a Taste of Brazil in newsletter, sign up at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LisaHarris/ today!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Two Interviews and even more book giveaways!

Congratulations to Angela who won a copy of one of Mary's books. For today, we're posting a double interview with Nancy Mehl and Sandra Moore. Be sure and read all the way to the end to find out how you can win copies of their books!

First of all, I'd like to welcome Nancy to KMIS.

What was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? In other words, tell us about. . .THE CALL

The thrill of selling your first book is something you never forget. I thought I’d arrived. I was an author and nothing could stop me. I was wrong. When that sale collapsed, I was devastated. I went from the mountain top to the valley in one fell swoop. I thought my writing career would never recover. But of course, I was wrong about that, too. I look back now and thank God that relationship didn’t go forward. I might still be churning out books through that same small publisher instead of having the chance to write for Barbour. My journey with them has been amazing, and I am very grateful for it.

By the time I got “the call” from my agent about the contract for Barbour’s new cozy mystery book club, I was in a place where I could appreciate it and realize what an amazing opportunity I’d been given. I really consider that moment “the call.” It has changed my life. (And yes, there was a lot of whooping, hollering, and happy dancing in the Mehl household when I got off the phone!)

Tell us some of the background behind the ideas for your stories and about the story itself.

My “Ivy Towers Mystery Series” was born from the creation of a town where I’d like to live. I’m a snow nut. Winter Break, Kansas is a place where “snow comes early and leaves late.” It snows more in Winter Break than anywhere else in the state. I added an old bookstore with a fireplace and a cat. Then I surrounded my protagonist with quirky but lovable characters – people I’d like to know. The story evolved from there.

Ivy Towers is a young woman who thinks she knows what she wants. She is busy creating her own identity. But a trip back to Winter Break, where she spent many happy moments in her childhood, challenges everything she believes. She learns that God really does have a plan for her life and it isn’t the one she has been struggling to mold herself into. I think there are many people who are doing the same thing. They are afraid to find out what God has for them, but the truth is, until they do, they will never find true happiness and fulfillment. God has given each of us gifts and callings. We are designed to fulfill them. When we do, we find our joy, our peace and our purpose.

Through this series, Ivy solves more than one murder, discovers true love, and most importantly, finds herself. And it all comes from surrendering to God’s plan. I used Jeremiah 29:11 as a scripture basis for this series. “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

In “Bye, Bye Bertie,” the second book in the series, Ivy finds an old treasure map. Her curiosity leads her to search for the treasure, but what she finds turns out to be much different than anything she could have ever anticipated. By the end of the book, Ivy’s life changes, as do the lives of several other people in Winter Break.

I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. Is there a character who you relate to and who made an impact on your life?

I think as writers we project something of ourselves into every character we create. When we flesh out a problem or dilemma through their lives, sometimes we’re really working on our own personal situations.

I think the one person who really touched me the most was a character who never actually appeared in any of my books. Bitty Flanagan was Ivy’s great aunt. She was a very special woman, and although she is killed before Ivy ever arrives in Winter Break, she still lives in the hearts and minds of those she loved. They remember her goodness, her compassion, her forgiveness, and her godliness. In fact, even after her death, her wisdom still speaks to people. And the good things she did are recounted more than once by people who knew her. I hope that someday when I’m gone, I will leave behind a legacy like that.

What is the number one thing you've learned from your writing journey?

To trust God. It’s His journey. I’m just along for the ride. It was after I put my writing career in His hands that it began to prosper.

Any future plans for your writing you'd like to share? Any specific dreams you'd like to accomplish in the area of writing?

Well, I’m very excited about an omnibus edition that Barbour will release in December. Titled “Cozy in Kansas,” it will contain the first three Ivy Towers mysteries. I’m also busy writing a new series about a woman who has a very unusual job. The “Curl Up and Dye Mysteries” will release into the Heartsong Presents: Mysteries! book club next year.

As far as specific dreams, as I said, it’s in God’s hands. I’d like to get some contracts for books outside of the book club, and I would like to write some suspense. I’ve also always wanted to write some Frank Peretti/Ted Dekker-styled novels, but so far, that hasn’t been the way things have gone. It’s important to me not to push myself down a path that isn’t mine. So, we’ll have to see what happens. I also would love to write a YA book that reveals the true spiritual battle taking place today for our young people’s hearts and minds. But again, that dream is in God’s hands. He may have someone else set aside to do that.

My biggest goal in life is to finish MY race, and to stand before God someday knowing that I did everything He’s called me to do.

Well said, Nancy. Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published, especially from someone who has just broken in?

Yes! First of all, learn your craft, learn your craft, learn your craft! Writing a book isn’t just throwing words on paper. Take workshops, classes, join a good critique group, and listen, listen, listen. Too many writers are running around thinking they know how to write. And unfortunately, there are some publishers out there who will publish authors who aren’t ready. If you jump too soon, you may never achieve your dream. Stay away from unprofessional publishers. I think one of the best things you can do is to find a great publisher, one that has good promotion and distribution and publishes what you want to write. Study their books. Find out what they’re looking for.

Too many times, I hear writers proclaim that they don’t care what publishers want – they are going to write whatever they feel like writing. 99.9% of the time, writers like this will never be published. Trust me, once you’re well known and established, publishers will be willing to take more of a chance with you. But when no one knows who you are, it’s best to offer your dream publisher something that fits their list.
The last and most important thing is this: If you really believe you’re called to write – then write. Never, never, never give up. If bad reviews or criticism come, learn from them and keep going. If you can’t take some of the “downs,” you’ll never experience the “ups.” I had every reason to give up – several times. But I decided I just wouldn’t – no matter what. I’m certainly glad I hung in there.

Any writer's resources you could recommend?

Sure. “Stein on Writing” and “How to Grow a Novel” by Sol Stein. Also, “Revision and Self-Editing” and “Plot and Structure” by James Scott Bell. In addition, “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Browne and King. And one book every writer should have: “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White.

One other thing: Buy books from writers you like. Study them. Look at how they handle dialogue, description, and narrative. Look at how they “show” scenes and emotions instead of “telling” them. Almost every time I do this, I learn something new.

Thanks for stopping by, Nancy! Be sure and check out her website as well as her cool site with lots of author interviews called Mainly Mystery.

And for a bonus, Nancy is giving away, not one, but two book for this weeks drawing, so be sure and leave a comment now for the chance to win copy of book one in her series, In the Dead of Winter, AND book two, Bye Bye Bertie.

Now for a second interview of the week, let's welcome Sandra Moore.

Sandra, what was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? In other words, tell us about. . .THE CALL

I wasn’t home! Seriously. Susan (Downs) left a message on my answering machine. Isn’t that a serious bummer? She did get hold of me later, of course, and when I heard the words from her “mouth” (hey, we were Instant Messaging) I went out on our back deck and gave such a loud victory holler that our neighbors came running thinking something terrible had happened.

Tell us some of the background behind the ideas for your stories and about the story itself.

I dabbled, mostly writing historical for the simple reason that I love to read them, and was quite content to remain in that genre, until. . . I heard two things. One, the agent to whom I’d submitted a proposal for a historical commented how much she enjoyed my spunky, mature women characters. Second, I heard Barbour was going to launch a line of cozy mysteries.

Now, I love mysteries. Hard core mysteries. But I also love to laugh. After a bit of debate I told myself, “Self, you can do this. Just marry a spunky mature woman with a man who is her direct opposite, and stir in a good dose of mystery.” Hardy and LaTisha Barnhart were born, but we’re not talking newborns here. You see, LaTisha has bunions, and Hardy’s missing quite a few teeth, but they’ve been married almost four decades and are madly in love with each other. And that element was especially important to me. To show a rock solid marriage of two people with two very different personalities who have learned give and take in their relationship.

Then I added in the mystery element and the suspects. And this is what I came up with:

When LaTisha discovers the body of her former employer, Marion Peters, her bunions tell her something is afoot. When she becomes a suspect, the ante is upped, and she is determined to clear her name and find the real culprit.
She’s burping Mark Hamm’s bad cooking to investigate his beef with Marion. . .getting her hair styled at a high falutin’ beauty parlor to see what has Regina Rogane in a snarl. . .playing self-appointed matchmaker between the police chief and a prime suspect. . .and thinkin’ Payton O’Mahney’s music store lease might be the reason he’s singing out of tune when discussion of Marion’s murder arises. LaTisha’s thinking she just might use the reward money to get her bunions surgically removed. But she’s got to catch the crook first.

What is your typical writing day like?

Not pretty. Oh, you mean what does the DAY look like. Right. Uh, I rise at 5:00 am and get to work immediately on e-mail, followed by hours upon hours of slaving away on my manuscript until finally turning in at midnight. How did that sound? Pretty good? Do you think Susan is reading this?


In that case. . .I don’t have a typical day. I do, however, have a set word count that I try to reach before quitting time each day. This way I can write either in snatches or long stretches, depending on my daughter’s homeschooling schedule, and still make my goal for the day--usually 2500 to 5000 words.

Any hints on helping other writer’s find time to write?

It’s a lost cause to FIND time, you really have to commit to MAKING time.

Name a couple authors who have influenced your life.

Mary Higgins Clark for her early mysteries and B.J. Hoff for her powerful historical. MHC taught me that tight writing is a matter of good word choice and knowing your character(s) intimately, while B.J. Hoff showed me how to pen a character people will fall in love with. (Writers beware: Never end a sentence with a preposition. They’re just not words you end sentences with.)

What’s your favorite part of writing a cozy mystery?

I have an absolute blast writing the scenes between Hardy and LaTisha. I just never know what zingers they’re going to launch at each other. But I always know how to bring them together in heart and soul.

Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

I’m working on a second cozy mystery series, as well as several manuscripts that are historical romances, so I’d like to contract these, but I’d also like to write a mainstream mystery. I even have an idea and working title, which is the first step for me.

To see news of my progress with these stories, readers can visit me at my website I update it frequently and almost always have a contest going.

Sounds like a fun read, doesn't it! If you want a chance to win a copy, leave a comment and we'll add you to the drawing.

Thanks, ladies! Keep up the great work with your writing.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Meet Mary Connealy

Candy: Welcome Mary! What makes you write suspense?

Mary: I write suspense into almost everything because that’s what I love to read.
Romance, Suspense, Comedy. I’ll take a book with any of those three but if they’re sassing each other and falling in love while they’re running for their life…then I’m really happy with a book. So that’s why I write it.

There is a strong suspense thread in my historical westerns, Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon but what I want to talk about today is the cozy mystery series I’m writing for Heartsong Presents Mysteries. It’s on my mind because it’s getting close, book #1 releases in November, Of Mice and Murder. And just this week I’m working on the galleys. Those are the final, all laid out pages of the book. Any changes that don’t get made now, stay in, so I’ve just finished with those and re-reading the book, after not seeing it for a while, was really fun. Lots of comedy, lots of suspense, lots of romance.

Candy: How do you create characters you love?

Mary: A lot of people say that for them, a book always starts with characters.
They’ve got a guy in mind or a heroine with an attitude and then they have to hunt up a story so they can deal with that character. It’s never like that for me. For me it always starts with story. I’ve got a story I want to tell and the characters come after that. Maybe because of that, creating characters is a kind of painful process for me. I love it, but it comes slow…and that’s mainly because I just start writing my story. The characters have to come along for the ride.

When I start writing the story, it takes me a while to really know the characters and I nearly always end up with an ah-ha moment when the guy especially finally fully becomes real to me. The guy, moreso than the girl for some reason, usually takes about the first hundred pages.

Then I need to go back and weave this guy into the book and have him react as he really is (now) and have other people react to HIM as he really is.
Like I said, I just finished doing galleys on my cozy mystery. Of Mice and Murder, the first of a three book series, is a different voice for me and God bless Barbour for letting me write in different genres. But I think the basic voice, the romantic comedy is still the same.

I just LOVE this hero who emerged from Of Mice and Murder. He's classic, tall dark handsome knight in shining armor, but inside he's this fat genius math geek who was five two and weighed 200 pounds in junior high and was bullied and his interior life is just chaotic.

He's always thinking things like, God make me cool. Please God make me smooth and suave and classy.

Then he just says something so stupid. And usually it's because he's just fraught with all these self doubts and daydreams that distract him from what's going on around him. I think it's a really fun, funny character.

And of course, everyone around him just sees Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome so they’re not getting any insecure vibes at all because it just doesn’t fit with their perception of him.

Giving a character flaws and doubts and weaknesses, especially when you're trying to make them act cool and making other people, like the love interest react to them like they're cool, can deepen characters.

Characters need these small flaws to be fully human, I think. Of course they need the deep, aching, broken hearted conflict that is so fundamental, but something lighter, brighter, silly even. Also in the cozy Of Mice and Murder, my heroine is terrified of mice. I make that a running joke through the whole book. And she thinks she's a complete idiot for being afraid but she can NOT control it and everybody knows and they tease her mercilessly, except for the hero, who is trapping her mice for her.

Candy: How is writing a cozy different than writing a western of a sweet romance?

Mary: I found writing the cozy mystery to be really complex. I thought it was about the hardest thing I’d ever done. The story and the characters were fun, I had a ball with them, but dropping clues and red herrings. Deciding ‘who done it’ and hinting about that, but also not giving it away, leaving false clues to lead the reader astray, but not cheating the reader either.

I had to go back several times and pick up threads I dropped and insert clues I’d failed to leave. Candice, you helped me so much. You caught so much. Thanks you for your invaluable input into the book. And thank you for keeping your patience with me while insisting I make sense.

I’m just now more focused on Calico Canyon which just came out in July so I’ll insert a little blurb here for it.

Schoolmarm Grace Calhoun has her work cut out for her with the Reeves boys—five malicious monsters of mayhem who are making her life miserable. Things couldn’t get any worse. . .or could they? When widower Daniel Reeves, happy in his all-male world, stops at the general store for supplies, he unwittingly totes home a wagonload of trouble. How did Grace—the one woman Daniel can’t stand—wind up unconscious and in his care? When, come daybreak, a wedding is forced upon these two unwilling participants, an avalanche isn’t the only danger facing them in Calico Canyon. How will these reluctant newlyweds ever survive to fall in love?

Plenty of suspense in Calico Canyon for suspense lovers, too.

You can find out more about my books at my website or my blog.

Thanks Mary, for joining us here at KMIS!

Leave a comment below for a chance to win one of Mary's books. You're choice! I'll draw a winner next Monday.