MLC: Do you remember the first mystery you ever read? If so, what was it, and what pulled you into it?
AUTHOR: Nancy Drew. That series was definitely my first connection with the mystery genre. I was pretty young (single digit age) when I picked out the first Nancy Drew book on a trip downtown with my mother, and I didn’t think about the fact they were “mysteries” or different in genre from other books I read. They were just stories of girls doing clever and strong things and I loved that. (The Nancy series was born in the same era I was.)
MLC: When did you first decide you wanted to write a mystery, and what led you to that decision?
AUTHOR: I didn’t begin writing professionally until my husband and I bought “retirement” land in the Arkansas Ozarks. All I love about this area fed essays and magazine features and news reporting that I did for a number of years. My first published book, the non-fiction DEAR EARTH: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow, was made up of many of those essays and articles arranged in a sequential story fashion. It was really a journal about coming home to the Ozarks. After it was published in 1995 I wanted to do more book writing, and thought “I love reading mysteries, I wonder if I could write one?” Turned out I could, I did, and my first two mysteries, A VALLEY TO DIE FOR and MUSIC TO DIE FOR, sold to St Kitts Mystery Press in 2001.
MLC: Do you write in any other genres? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: Not currently. As you can see, I did a lot of non-fiction writing before Carrie McCrite and Henry King took over my writing life (I even sold a poem which was published here and in Germany) but I haven’t done much else since, unless you consider articles about my writing and blogs.
MLC: Which comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
AUTHOR: Now that I’m writing a series the major characters are already in place, so I would have to say they come first. My plots rise out of the setting (all real ones) that I have chosen for each story, using both history--which isn’t fiction--and present-day fictitious events in an actual setting.
MLC: When you are all wrapped up in the story, do you feel like you could solve the crime, or maybe even solve all the world’s mysteries?
AUTHOR: I can solve the crimes I create. The world’s mysteries? No, not at all. Don’t we all wish we could.
MLC: Do you write every day, or what kind of a schedule do you have? Do you write fulltime, or do you have a “day job”?
AUTHOR: Writing is my full-time job now. I do write every day, but not always on the current novel. I am asked to give a lot of talks and teach classes, so I do spend time writing and editing those. I also contribute to several lists and do correspondence by e-mail.
MLC: Other than your writing, what do you enjoy doing? What is the most important thing to you in your day-to-day life?
AUTHOR: Of course I enjoy living at Spring Hollow, the Ozarks land my husband and I fell in love with in 1978. I enjoy walking through the woods and sitting at the edge of our valley on my “Thinking Bench.” (See DEAR EARTH.) My husband and I are active in our church and volunteer there. But most all my other “enjoyments” today are either reading or writing related. I admit that, as I create my Carrie and Henry stories, I want to bring out a message of human struggle, growth, and victory that I consider important issues for all of us. Accomplishing that is important to me. It helps me learn and grow, too.
I love gardening and used to grow most of our vegetables here, but had to give that up after the first mystery novel came out. The time devoted to writing and promotion just didn’t allow extensive gardening. I still do create a butterfly/hummingbird flower garden each year.
MLC: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Do you try to emulate them in your own writing?
AUTHOR: Favorites are Mary Stewart plus Dorothy L Sayers and several of the other “dead British ladies.” Current-day favorites are Margaret Maron, Patricia Sprinkle, and Alexander McCall Smith, to name just a few. And no, I don’t think I emulate them. I have to be “me” even though that may not be main stream popular.
MLC: In your present book, is this part of a series, or is it a standalone book?
AUTHOR: Part of the series. Carrie and Henry still have several issues to resolve in their lives, as do other characters.
MLC: If you are doing a series, do you see an end to it sometime, or do you plan to go on for several years with it?
AUTHOR: I want to continue as long as I can, and as long as I feel the series is still “fresh” and is sharing something of value.
MLC: Do your characters ever drive you a bit crazy by going off in their own direction? If so, how do you rein them in, or do you just let them run off on their own?
AUTHOR: Carrie and Henry haven’t really done that, though they do change and grow in interesting and unexpected ways. But villains . . . gosh. I can’t seem to control them. They do get ideas on their own and in a couple of my novels the villain didn’t turn out to be the person I had created for that role!
MLC: Do you pattern your sleuths after yourself or someone you know? If so, do you let that person know they were your “pattern”?
AUTHOR: : No conscious pattern though several people have said certain things about Carrie remind them of me. That’s fine…she and I can grow and learn together.
MLC: How long did it take you to get published? How many rejections did you have to suffer through first? Were you ever tempted to give up? What do you think made the difference when it was accepted?
AUTHOR: Oh gosh! I sold DEAR EARTH by myself and probably had 25 or so rejections before it sold to Brett Books, Inc. in New York. With the mystery series, I began with an agent and had at least 25 more rejections through her when we parted company (amicably). I queried on my own after that but hadn’t many rejections when an editor at Brett Books (they only published non-fiction) sent me a very nice article about St Kitts Press that she’d read in the Mystery Writers’ of America newsletter. I queried and within two months had a contract. It helps to have friends--because in the case of the mystery series, that’s what made the difference.
MLC: Do you ever attend any conferences? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: I think conferences are important for networking, learning, and getting an author’s name before the public. The problem of course is the expense and time required. One has to balance that increasingly these days. I have been to the biggies . . . Left Coast Crime, Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, but really enjoy mid-sized and smaller, like Mayhem in the Midlands in Omaha, the most. Because of a heavy appearance/speaking schedule in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and surrounding states this year, I only scheduled three mystery conferences for 2008 Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu in Alabama, Hardboiled Heroes and Cozy Cats in Dallas, and The Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave in Manhattan, Kansas. The other conferences for 2008 are all in Arkansas.
MLC: Do you have to promote your own work, or does your publisher do that for you?
AUTHOR: Both of us do a pretty good job of that. St Kitts sends review copies to all major reviewers, creates web connections, designs and prints flyers, does quite a bit of mail-out and e-mail promotion. They designed a lovely ad featuring A RIVER TO DIE FOR in Romantic Times Book reviews. Much more.
MLC: If you have to do marketing, what methods have worked the best for you?
AUTHOR: : I like Internet contacts and think that helps. I know the Web site and blog help. But, because of the nature of my series and my own location, extensive personal promotion in Arkansas has worked tremendously well for me. I let people who matter know what I am doing and send them reviews and magazine and newspaper features about me. That generally leads to more promotion opportunities and good book sales. Another boon has turned out to be setting books at tourist destinations in Arkansas. Most are not conventional book-sales venues, but they sure do sell a lot of my books!
MLC: Do you have any idea how your book is selling?
AUTHOR: I get a monthly report from St Kitts so yes, I do know.
MLC: What has been the best review you have gotten, and why?
AUTHOR: This will sound awful, but I’ve been fortunate to have so many terrific reviews that picking one would be very difficult. My favorites are those who “get it,” and don’t simply recap the plot but show they felt the under-the-story message of human strengths, weaknesses, and triumphs. I guess my favorite reviews have come, not from the professionals, but from readers on DorothyL like Kaye Barley and Randy Rawls.
MLC: Have you won any awards, either as an author or for your books? Please tell us about them.
AUTHOR: My non-fiction book, DEAR EARTH has won “first” awards in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, including the Arkansas Governor’s Award for Best Writing About the State. My mystery series has earned (among other things) Macavity and David G. Sasher nominations, Oklahoma Writers’ Federation honors, and several in-Arkansas awards.
MLC: Is there any one certain thing that a reader has written to you that made you just want to jump up and shout “Yes!!!!”?
AUTHOR: As with reviews, when anyone mentions something Carrie McCrite or Henry King says, did, or learned, that meant a lot to them I definitely feel that “YES!” It means so much to me, and I feel a kinship with the writer.
MLC: What is your next project, and when will it be out?
AUTHOR: I am working on book number six in the Carrie and Henry series and I have no idea when it will be out. Extensive promotion work for A RIVER TO DIE FOR delayed its start somewhat, and it’s a story that’s going to require extensive research into Civil War times in Arkansas, since that’s the history I have chosen this time. I have no deadline since I will be changing publishers.
MLC: If you could write anything at all, ignoring what editors and publishers say they want, what would it be?
AUTHOR: I hate to sound self-satisfied, but I’d be writing exactly what I am now. I have such FUN with these book people. As a child I had an imaginary playmate, and perhaps my novel characters are the adult extension of that.
MLC: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring mystery authors?
AUTHOR: Be sure you can write well and correctly in your chosen language. Learn your trade, read “how-to” books and magazines, make friends in your field and in the media--interact with other mystery authors and support them. Attend conventions, conferences, and talks when you can, look at mystery novels in bookstores, read as many as you can, join a critique group and vet your work there. Edit, edit, edit. Research agents and publishers and what they offer. AND, NEVER GIVE UP!
MLC: Do you have any teasers for your readers and fans about the next book?
AUTHOR: Nope, not yet.
MLC: If a genie suddenly appeared and said they would grant you just one wish for your books, what would you wish for?
AUTHOR: Gosh, do you have to ask? To work compatibly with a publisher and create happy readers.
MMLC: Please give us your website url and your email address where people can contact you.
MLC: Thank you so much for giving us a little glimpse into your books and your life. We look forward to a lot more books from you.
AUTHOR: ME TOO! And thank you.