Life is an extravaganza! Figuring out how to hang tough and make the most of the wild ride is the challenge. On my way to Oahu to join the rock musician and high school drop-out I had married in Tijuana, I was nabbed as a runaway. Eventually the police let me go, but the rock band broke up. Our next stop: Disney World, where we trained to be chefs. More education landed us in academia at The Ohio State University. For decades I researched, wrote, and spoke about a number of gloriously nerdy topics. Retired now, I’m still married to the same sweet guy and live with him near Palm Springs, California. The Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery series is set here in the Sonoran Desert, a spectacular place to ponder life’s mysteries while relishing the delights of the desert resort cities.
What inspires you to write?
Writing is a way of trying to make sense out of the world. It allows me to take a lot of different points of view and tell the reader, stories about life’s mysteries. Of course, I’m telling myself the stories, too, as I consider and take a stab at sorting out all the big and little things that challenge and inspire us all, day in and day out. I like to find the ‘blue skies’ moments in even the darker aspects of life. Creating characters who tackle murder and mayhem in witty, resourceful ways, who place friendship, fortitude and determination at the center of a ‘give it your all’ effort to get to the bottom of things is an exercise in hope.
Tell us about your writing process.
Write hot and edit cool, is a longstanding bit of advice I find useful. I wrote for decades as an academic: Nonfiction, dry and stilted, ‘just the facts, ma’am’ material on gloriously nerdy topics. I’d like to say that decades of writing made me a cool, disciplined writer. Not so. Except for memos and correspondence, I never mastered the art of writing even when I don’t feel like it. I like to be inspired and I am given to binge writing rather than steadily producing two pages a day—more hare than tortoise.
That being said, I try to take full advantage of those binges, separate creator and critic. There will be plenty of time later to unleash the beast: to critique and edit. When I start my book I already have a general story line in mind. The murder is clear and much of the mayhem is there, like a sequence of snap shots. Then I let the story unfold in the context of the binge-writing. That momentum creates the flow of words that turns the snapshots into a movie. I use spreadsheets and timelines to keep tabs on the characters, settings, and events as they unfold. For me, the bottom line, is stay in the flow as long as possible and write, write, write. My goal these days is to get a so-called ‘vomit draft’ written fast then, work it over and over and over. I wish I could tell you who coined the lovely term, vomit draft, btw, but I cannot with any sort of reliability. Ok, write hot, edit cold.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I like character-driven story-telling, but plot matters, too. Not just whodunit, but how and why? When I get bogged down, I let the characters tell the story. I use dialogue to have one character tell another character what happened, where and when, what they think and how they feel about it. I care about my characters and hope the reader will too.
What advice would you give other writers?
Write, write, write…edit, edit, edit. But not at the same time or you’ll never get anything done. Write loose, edit tight. Learning to shut the critic up long enough to get words down on a page is vital. Unleashing the critic is important, too, so you don’t fall in love with every word you write.
Read, read, read. Not just in your own genre, but read all sorts of things. There are good books and blogs out there that can really help you improve your writing, book production, and marketing. Reading about the book biz should be on the list as well as fiction—classics and new authors, too.
Research and organize. Even when you make stuff up, like I do, there are plenty of facts you use to add detail and realism to your characters and plot. You want to check them out—could your character really have used Facebook in high school? Was that actually a snippet from a Bruce Springsteen song your character is quoting? I use timelines and spreadsheets to keep it all organized. The timing and sequencing of key events in the story are set out in a timeline. Key details about characters are stored in a spreadsheet. This is important to me since I’m writing a series with recurring characters. I go back and add things as they are revealed about characters later on.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I was a professor for years and published in traditional academic outlets because that was expected of you in university circles. As a fiction writer there are many more options. For me self-publishing through Create Space and Kindle Direct were the easy and affordable ways to make my books available both print and electronic formats. The advantage that authors have with a traditional publisher is access to brick and mortar stores, like Barnes & Noble. Given that they may go under soon it’s not clear how much of an advantage that provides. Some publishers are also able to get your books into libraries, but libraries are struggling too, and losing shelf-space as they try to lower costs. A traditional publisher will handle much of the marketing & promotion that a self-published author has to do alone, but they charge for that so an author pays one way or another!
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
The traditional publishing industry has been a troubled one for a long time. Even with all of the consolidations and reorganizations that have gone on it’s not clear which publishers actually have a future. What that future may look like if they lose the edge that comes from being able to place there books in brick and mortar makes the future of publishing murkier. The trend is a rapid move from print to electronic formats for books so that suggests the big purveyors of electronic books, Amazon and iBookstore, Kobo, B & N, will have an edge on the sales side of things. So, authors want to have an affiliation with one or more of those outlets.
What genres do you write?
Mystery, womens fiction
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print
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