MLC: Do you remember the first mystery you ever read? If so, what was it, and what pulled you into it?
AUTHOR: I don’t remember the very first, but I can remember getting into Dorothy Sayers in the 70’s when PBS was airing the Lord Peter Wimsey series. That started me on British mysteries and after that Sue Grafton.
MLC: When did you first decide you wanted to write a mystery, and what led you to that decision?
AUTHOR: I read a one paragraph item in The New York Times about a mummified body that had been found in Connecticut. I did some research and decided to write my own version of what had happened.
MLC: Do you write in any other genres? If so, which ones?
MLC: Which comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
AUTHOR: In book one it was definitely the plot. Since that turned out to be the first in a series, I spent more time in book two developing the recurring characters, but I have a feeling it will go back and forth in subsequent books.
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: Well, I don’t know about all the world’s mysteries! But I do feel as if I am solving the crime as I write the books. I don’t know everything that’s going to happen when I sit down to write the first chapter so I’m discovering things just the way I hope the reader is. In book one, I discovered that someone I thought was the killer, really wasn’t!
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: I don’t write prose every day, but I do something every day – outline, back story, biographical sketches or promotion. I like to get up early 5 or 6, work out, and then sit at the computer. When I write the story, I write in pencil, on a legal pad, one chapter at a time. Then I put it on the computer, rewriting as I go along. I’m also a little superstitious and like to use Faber-Castell 5B pencils, because a good friend gave me a bouquet of them when I first told him I was writing a book.
I don’t have another day job. I’m in awe of people who can do this and still hold down a full-time job.
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, my husband is the most important in my life. We enjoy a lot of things together...travelling, hiking, kayaking, and working on projects like Habitat for Humanity and the Chalula Library Project. With the help of some very generous friends, my husband and I have built a community library in central Tanzania which is just about to celebrate its first anniversary. On my own, I enjoy gardening and baking – but only desserts - nothing of any real nutritional value!
MLC: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Do you try to emulate them in your own writing?
AUTHOR: I don’t try to emulate anyone – I’m not even sure that I could. I enjoy reading Carl Hiaasen, Sue Grafton, Lisa Scottoline, Louise Penny, Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Julia Spencer Fleming and Lee Child. But every week I discover someone new. I told myself that I’d read a book by every author I met this year and I am so far behind!
MLC: In your present book, is this part of a series, or is it a standalone book?
AUTHOR: The book that I just delivered, The Big Dirt Nap is the second in the Dirty Business Mystery series.
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: There will be at least two more in the series. After that who knows?
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: As I mentioned, one of them, in Pushing Up Daisies told me he/she wasn’t the killer. They do reveal themselves the more time you spend with them. But I don’t let them run off. Everything in the book has to serve the story.
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 one is directly modeled on anyone I know – including myself. But I’d say that lots of people have contributed characteristics or mannerisms…from the person in line ahead of me in the supermarket to someone I might have seen in a restaurant. Airports are great places for people watching! I have used parts of people’s names but not for victims. And friend’s whose names I haven’t used want to know why not!
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: It took me about 18 months to write the book, about a year to find an agent, and about a year to get a book contract. With a little time off in between. I got around 3-4 official rejections, a handful of people simply ignored me, but I never thought of giving up. Agents are people, too. I thought it was just a matter of finding one who would want to spend at least the next year of his or her life with my character. I rewrote the first chapter a lot!
MLC: Do you ever attend any conferences? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: I LOVE conferences. My husband says I’ll go to the opening of an envelope. They’re fun! And you get to meet great people…readers, booksellers, other writers, librarians. In the last twelve months I’ve been to New England Crimebake, Midwinter ALA, Love is Murder, Left Coast Crime, Sleuthfest, Malice Domestic, Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu, Festival of Mystery, and the Virginia Festival of the Book. I also lectured at The Philadelphia Flower Show and CT Garden and Flower Expo and went to The Big E which is an amazing five state fair held in Springfield MA every year. I’m looking forward to my first Bouchercon in Baltimore next month.
MLC: Do you have to promote your own work, or does your publisher do that for you?
AUTHOR: Both. St. Martins Minotaur has been extremely supportive of the series, but most new authors will agree that you’re your own best sales rep.
MLC: If you have to do marketing, what methods have worked the best for you?
AUTHOR: I’ve done some outreach to the gardening community, and I’ve tried to meet as many independent booksellers and librarians as I can. I think they’re critical to the success of any new writer.
MLC: Do you have any idea how your book is selling?
AUTHOR: Well – she says modestly – I think it’s done pretty well. It went into a second printing the first month that it was out, and I’ve just been offered a new contract to deliver two more titles, bringing the number up to four in the series.
MLC: What has been the best review you have gotten, and why?
AUTHOR: Oh gosh, I’m tempted to say the last one. I’m grateful to everyone who’s taken the time to read my book and to write a review. Some of my faves have been the person who thought I really handled the immigration issue well. Another emailed me to ask who Paula, my main character, was going to settle down with! Last week someone told me she really liked the fact that I had a strong female character who had her own business and could take care of herself without being rescued by a man. So it’s been all over, and they’re all gratifying.
MLC: Have you won any awards, either as an author or for your books? Please tell us about them.
AUTHOR: Not yet, but I do have my fingers crossed. (My blog sister Hank Phillippi Ryan won a well-deserved Agatha for her terrific first novel, Prime Time, and I confess I was just the tiniest bit jealous!)
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: Amy Alessio, a librarian in the Chicago area read Daisies and remarked on how funny she thought the book was. Not that many people have mentioned that – I’m glad Amy saw the humor in the book.
MLC: What is your next project, and when will it be out?
AUTHOR: The Big Dirt Nap is scheduled for release on February 17, 2009, just about the same time that Pushing Up Daisies comes out in paperback..
MLC: If you could write anything at all, ignoring what editors and publishers say they want, what would it be?
AUTHOR: I’m already doing it!
MLC: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring mystery authors?
AUTHOR: Just get that first draft done, without worrying about getting an agent or getting published. All that fun stuff will come later.
MLC: Do you have any teasers for your readers and fans about the next book?
AUTHOR: Well, readers seemed to like the dynamic between Paula, her friend Lucy and the Babe, the still-hot cougar who owns the local diner. Big Dirt Nap revolves around the three of them and what one good friend will do for another.
MLC: If a genie suddenly appeared and said they would grant you just one wish for your books, what would you wish for?
AUTHOR: That you all still keep reading and enjoying them!
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: Thank you, Dawn!