NiFtY Author: Marilyn Meredith

Whoo-hoo! First NiFtY (Not Famous…Yet) Author Interview of 2011! Meet Marilyn Meredith, author of the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries and the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series.

BH: Tell us a little about your latest book, Invisible Path.

MM: The official blurb is: The only suspect in the murder of a popular Native American is another Indian with the unlikely name of Jesus Running Bear. Once again, because of her own Indian heritage, Deputy Tempe Crabtree helps with the investigation which also leads to the discovery of hidden militia group’s camp deep in the forest. Following the killer’s trail, puts Tempe and Jesus in jeopardy. Besides being a mystery it is also about many forms of prejudice.

BH:  You write  two mystery series – are both series current, and if so, is it ever a challenge to keep the characters straight as you’re writing?

MM: In the Tempe Crabtree series, most of the story is told in close third person though the eyes, thoughts and feeling of Tempe, though in Invisible Path, the first chapter is told through Jesus Running Bear’s point-of view.

In the Rocky Bluff P.D. crimes series, though the story focuses on one or two members of the RBPD, we learn what’s going on through many others.

A new book in the RBPD series comes out in the beginning of the year and a new book in the Tempe series always comes out in the fall.

The settings for both are quite different. Tempe lives and works in the mountains, Rocky Bluff is situated in a beach community in Southern California.

BH: Tempe Crabtree sounds like a fascinating personality. Where did you get the inspiration for her character?

MM: Tempe came from three women I met over a short period of time. The first was a resident deputy working the area where I live. I interviewed her for a personality piece for the newspaper. A female police officer I did a ride-along with was the second. She was a single mom and the only woman on that department. From about 3 a.m. until 6 a.m. she had no calls and she poured her heart out to me. The third was a beautiful Indian woman I spent a couple of hours with who had grown up on the nearby reservation. Together, these women became Tempe Crabtree.

BH: Which of your characters would you say is the most like you?

MM: Since I’m a great-grandmother and never been in law enforcement none are really like me. About the only personality traits of my main female characters I can claim is independence, loyalty and a certain amount of stubbornness.

BH: This might seem like a silly question, but I’m honestly curious: why are your Deputy Tempe books written under the name Marilyn Meredith, and your Rocky Bluff books written as F. M. Meredith?

MM: Of course Marilyn Meredith is my real name. When I first started writing the Rocky Bluff series which is often from a male point-of-view, I thought using my first initials might make male readers read the books more readily. However, the first publisher of the series put my photo on the back of the book and ruined the illusion. Since I began that way, I’ve just kept it up.

BH: Tell us about your path to publication.

MM:  It was a rocky path full of pit holes and blocked by boulders. My first book, an historical family saga, was rejected nearly thirty times before it was accepted. (Believe me, I rewrote it several times between rejections.) From there it was one thing after another. To make a long story shorter, I’ve dealt with a couple of crooked publishers, had two publishers die, one decided not to be in the business any longer, five different agents who were unable to sell my books, and finally I started looking for publishers on my own.

BH: That is a rocky path! Do you have a set writing schedule?

MM: I write in the morning, that’s when my brain works the best. I think about whatever I’m writing off and on during the day. I usually do editing and promoting in the afternoon and evenings.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

MM: I’ve had many over the years, but the one that I enjoyed the most was Stephen King’s On Writing.

BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

MM: Don’t ever give up. Go to writing conferences, read books on writing, join a critique group, and most of all write, write, write.

BH: Thank you, Marilyn, for answering our questions and giving us some insights into your writing life!

If you’d like more information on Marilyn Meredith and her books, you can visit her website here, and her blog here. Here’s a link for her latest book, Invisible Path.

NiFtY Author: Jeri Westerson

We’re taking a break from contemporary mysteries and moving back in time…far back in time. Try…the Middle Ages. Meet Jeri Westerson, author of the Crispin Guest medieval mystery series. In addition to writing great books, she’s not afraid to don a helmet and wield a sword (see photo below!).

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for the latest novel in your Crispin Guest series?

JW:  In THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, Jacob of Provencal is a Jewish physician at the king’s court, even though all Jews were expelled from England nearly a century before. Jacob wants Crispin to find stolen parchments that might be behind the recent gruesome murders of young boys, parchments that someone might have used to summon a demon which now stalks the streets and alleys of London.

BH: The Demon’s Parchment, due out October 12, is the third book in this series. When you wrote the first novel, did you plan to create a series mystery?

JW: Yes, it was always designed that way. I had never written a series before so when I completed the first one I just jumped right into the next book, first to see if I could write a series and second because I really liked my character.

BH: What are some of the joys of writing a series character?

JW: Writing series fiction is wonderful because you can really have a chance to explore your character fully, and in my case, to see him age. His story arc can go on a long time. At least for as long as the publisher wants to publish the books. I hope that will be a long time because I have quite an extensive timeline for Crispin. I think that it’s a good idea to have some idea how the series will conclude and then all the background story arcs can lead inevitably to that conclusion. I really don’t know of any series that should go on forever. The stories can get too trite, too clichéd. Best to conclude them in a timely fashion. That being said, I’ve got some thirteen more novels in mind before I’m done with Crispin.

BH: Crispin Guest sounds intriguing: flawed, enigmatic, sexy…Where did you get the idea for this character?

JW: I wanted to write a medieval detective story, not like a Brother Cadfael with an amateur sleuth, but something more along the line of a medieval Sam Spade, a tough guy who’s hired specifically to do the dirty work. I thought that this Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler kind of hard-boiled detective would translate well into the Middle Ages. No one else was doing it. As far as I could tell, authors were churning out the same old medieval mysteries they always had, and that was fine, but I wanted to write something a little different, with a little more action, a little more violence, and sex! They say you should write what you can’t find out there to read. The trope of the hard-boiled detective as a loner, someone who has a chip on their shoulder, who has run-ins with the cops is a familiar one. Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe was designed as a white knight with his own code of honor, and so I thought that a real knight—disgraced or otherwise—would work as well. Everything is kept true to the time period, including Crispin’s feelings about honor, faith, and other cultural necessities. (And actually, all the sex is off screen so no worries for all the fan boys and girls out there, and there are quite a few young male readers.)

BH: And who’s the hottie posing as Crispin on your website header? I have some single friends who may want to get in touch with him.

JW: Mmm. Yes, he’s got quite the following now. He’s the fellow on all the book covers. All I know is that he is a model named Wes and probably lives in Oregon. Before we changed the covers from the rather static VEIL OF LIES hardcover, my editor showed me Wes’ model sheet and I said oh yes. He’ll do. The paperback division didn’t like the hardcover VEIL cover image and so St. Martin’s went back to the drawing board to come up with something else, something different. Something like I wanted in the first place! Since my novels are very character driven, I thought it would be better and more interesting to have a figure on the cover in a moody London background and they certainly delivered. It makes it look very different from your average medieval mystery. I love my book covers now. I think they are very cinematic. Hollywood, take note!

BH: Do you plan to stick with Crispin for awhile, or do you have other project ideas (or both)?

JW: I certainly have a lot of Crispin’s story to tell, but currently I am working on a second medieval mystery series, one that’s a little more light-hearted than Crispin’s tales. If that one doesn’t work out I’ll have to think of another one. It’s a good idea to have a few series out there, something else for fans to sink their teeth into. But I fully intend to continue with the Crispin novels. Number four, called TROUBLED BONES, comes out Fall 2011.

BH: Is it hard to write from a male perspective? Do you have any tips for authors who wish to write from the perspective of the opposite sex?

JW: I don’t find it hard at all. In fact, in all the novels I have written (some twenty-two) I’ve only written from the female perspective three times. I don’t enjoy that. I enjoy getting into the male mindset, all that uniquely male thinking. I find that whole “band of brothers” thing fascinating. There is no female equivalent. I was a tomboy growing up and I think I’m still a bit of a tomboy. I always gravitate toward the groups of men at parties…unless they’re talking about sports. Can’t get into that at all.

The only advice I have to offer on writing the opposite sex is observation. I hate reading a female character who does guy things or a male character who does girl things. You shouldn’t be able to tell whether the author is male or female either. It shouldn’t matter if the characters are well written.

BH: Do you write full-time?

JW: I have had the luxury of writing full time only since June but that won’t last. When the money runs out you might see me at your local McDonald’s behind the counter. If you think you are getting into writing novels for the money you are sadly mistaken. Even writing for a big publisher does not guarantee a living wage, at least not at first. They say that it takes till the fifth book for the author to make a profit. I have to pay my own way to mystery fan conventions, book touring, and something as innocuous as getting bookmarks printed. All my advances go back into promotion. So I do a lot of traveling and a lot of public speaking. It’s all about sales. So buy, buy, buy! Fortunately for readers of all stripes, my books are available in a few formats: hardcover, paperback, and e-books. (The SERPENT IN THE THORNS paperback was released September 28.) And readers should check out my series book trailer on my website. It gives you a good idea of what the series is all about. Very moody. Talk about cinematic. And you get to hear Crispin speak!

BH: What is your writing schedule like?

JW:  I do my writing business in the morning, answering emails, going on Facebook, Twitter, blogging (I have two blogs; mine called www.Getting-Medieval.com. It’s like a magazine of articles on history and mystery, and Crispin’s blog at www.CrispinGuest.com. It’s his Facebook page, by the way, so look for his name, not mine.) I do a little writing and/or research in the late morning, some reading during the middle of the day, then do more writing late afternoon and into the evening. I’m also trying to write some short stories and a barrel of blog posts for my fall blog tour.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

JW: I have a home office chock full of books, books, and more books. My desk is, in fact, specially built just for me (by me and my husband. We are truly Renaissance people with many hands-on skills) with a ten foot long flat surface (covered in papers and notes) with shelves above and behind me with another ten foot long surface mirroring my desk. I have a lot of research books about knighthood, everyday life in the Middle Ages, medieval words, cookbooks, commerce, religion, forensics, people, roads, maps, clothing, woodlands…you name it, I’ve got it. I also have a lot of toys, a lot of knights in battle all over the shelves; some Harry Potter stuff like a Time Turner; a couple of fox pelts hanging on the shelf; some assorted snowmen (because I collect them); a bunch of old cameras (because my photographer husband collects them); some skulls (a sheep, a goat, a cat, a rabbit, a mouse—all collected from our yard or surrounding area when it used to be more rural); a dagger I like to play with while I write; a small figurine of Death; a rubber chicken; a Shakespeare bobble head; two framed posters (one of a Klee the other a Kandinsky); a rather dashing picture of my hubby; a candy dish, empty; a figurine of a Golem; my “Box of Death” which I cart around to my speaking engagements which includes a helm and a bunch of medieval weapons; a coffee cup warmer; computers and printers (of course); and a comfy swivel chair that has seen better days. And two cats who are really not supposed to be in there, but they worm their way in with big soppy eyes and soft furry faces and type in my novels and leave hair absolutely everywhere.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

JW: The last really great novel I read.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

JW: Don’t give up. That would be from my long-suffering husband.

BH: Any words of advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

JW: Learn the business. Don’t be an amateur, be a professional and learn your craft, research the industry before you start to ask questions. Then network with other authors. Keep on writing and reading. As you finish one novel, start writing the next. Don’t wait around for the first one to sell before you start another. The first one may never sell. Mine didn’t. Write the best darn books you can. Take the advice of professionals. Don’t dismiss it just because you don’t want to hear it. And don’t self publish just because you can’t place that one darling manuscript. Maybe there’s a reason for its being rejected over and over. Write the next book, and the next. Hone your craft.

Thank you, Jeri, for telling us about your books, sharing your insights about the writing life, and bringing us one step closer to Wes, your Crispin cover model.

For first chapters of Jeri’s novels, book discussion guides, and her fabulous series book trailer, go to her website at www.JeriWesterson.com.

Click the titles to view each book on Amazon.com:

The Demon’s Parchment (third in the series)

Serpent in the Thorns (second in the series)

Veil of Lies (first in the series)

NiFtY Author: Sunny Frazier

For today’s NiFtY Author I give you…drum roll…Sunny Frazier! Sunny has published two mysteries, Fools Rush In, and Where Angels Fear, as well as contributed to numerous anthologies. She’s also active in her publishing house, and works to help other authors promote their work. Keep on reading to learn more about this nifty author!

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for the first Christy Bristol book, Fools Rush In?

SF: Astrologer Christy Bristol is egged on by a former boyfriend to do a horoscope for a drug dealer and finds herself the one with a precarious future.

BH: Can you tell us a little about your path to publication? Did you go the traditional “agent” route, or did you use some other scheme?

SF: I won a spot as one of the seven authors chosen for the Seven By Seven anthology. The publisher liked my flash fiction so much that he offered me a contract for my book.

BH: Ah, that’s the kind of success story we unpublished authors salivate over. What are some of the challenges you faced by not working with an agent? Were there benefits as well?

SF: I only experienced the benefits. I got not only a lot of say with how my own books were published, but both my past publisher and my current publisher have looked to me for input on picking manuscripts for the publishing house. They also picked my brain for marketing ideas.

BH: Your publisher, Oak Tree Press, is an independent publisher. What are some of the benefits of working with an independent publisher?

SF: Trust and immediate access. We communicate constantly, by e-mail and phone. I am now acquisitions editor for the Dark Oak mystery line. I also introduced two new lines: Wild Oaks Westerns and Mystic Oak for paranormal novels.

BH: Are there any disadvantages to working with an independent publisher?

SF: It’s never easy to get books into brick and mortar book stores. However, many are closing and the reading public is ordering on Amazon. Also, e-readers are finally finding acceptance with Kindle and the I-Pad. Aggressive Internet marketing is leveling the playing field for authors with smaller houses.

Sunny standing with publisher Billie Johnson at a pitch session in Las Vegas

BH: I tried to write a mystery—once. It quickly turned into a (not very good) thriller/suspense novel because I couldn’t figure out how to give just enough information without making the killer’s identity obvious. Do you have any tips on this for aspiring mystery writers?

SF: I think the definition of “mystery” has blurred considerably. The “puzzle” type mysteries such as Agatha Christie wrote are not common these days. Instead of being plot driven, we are seeing more character-driven story arcs. I don’t write whodunits, I write whydunits. In fact, I tell you who the victim is and who the killer is on the first page—the “Colombo” formula. The reader keeps reading to see how my character Christy uses astrology to her advantage.

You should have stuck with your suspense novel.

BH: Oh, I did. Unfortunately the premise wasn’t a wowzer, so I’ve moved on, and I read other peoples’ mysteries now.

Every unpublished author thinks all her problems will be solved as soon as she gets her name in print…even though published writers tell us this isn’t true. Did you have any unfortunate wake-up calls?

SF: What I try to instill in writers is to start promoting as soon as you decide you want to write a book. Name recognition is very important. Getting people accustomed to your “voice” through blogging, learning about the industry by monitoring group sites, getting comfortable with promotion. People want to make it a chore and it’s more of a mindset. I work on promotion on Sundays. I have 35 sites I belong to, all are professional sites for writers, readers and publishers. They each give you your own page, so it’s like having 35 websites. I developed what I call “the posse” to teach people how to effectively promote. All I need is an e-mail and attentiveness to my nudges. It takes years off people’s careers, unless they want to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel.

BH: When you first wrote Fools Rush In, were you already planning a sequel?

SF:  I had six books in mind: titles, plots, characters.

BH: What was the most enjoyable part of writing the sequel, Where Angels Fear?

SF:  I didn’t realize that Fools Rush In was one of the hardest types of mysteries to write. My protagonist was stuck in a room for most of the book. In the sequel, Christy and her sidekick Lennie get to traipse all over the Central County uncovering clues to a sex club. There’s more humor as well. I had a hard time keeping a straight face while writing.

BH: Is a third book in the works?

SF:  Slowly but surely, A Snitch In Time is making its way on paper. I’m so busy speaking at conferences and conventions as well as reading query letters for Oak Tree Press that my own work suffers.

BH: Can you compare your series character, Christy Bristol, to anyone you know in real life?

SF: Uh—me. I worked as an office assistant with an undercover narc team for 17 years in the sheriff’s department and I’ve done astrology for nearly 40 years. Christy is much like I was in my earlier years.

BH: What is your writing schedule like?

SF:  My computer is on for 12 hours a day. I write in small clumps, fitting in the novel when I get tired of reading manuscripts and conducting business via e-mail. My eyes get so tired staring at the screen, sometimes I just hit the couch and close them. My brain keeps going over the story until I’m ready to tackle the keyboard.

Oh, and I don’t have kids, a husband or a job to interrupt me. Just a bunch of cats who give me space when I’m at the desk. If not, they have to go out in the yard and play.

BH: What does your writing workspace look like?

SF: It’s usually a mess with notes scattered all over. I have a rolodex, a Victorian calendar, and a pen carousel with a fake raven stuck in the center. For some reason I work well in chaos.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

SF: Self-Editing For Fiction Writers—How To Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King. I checked it out at the library and loved it so much I ordered a copy from Amazon.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

SF:  Early on I heard authors say “Enjoy the journey, not the destination.” That’s the truth. If writers fret too much about publication they will miss the whole point of writing. It’s all about the people you meet, the sharing of minds, the art of creating, giving your ideas to the world. Money is usually lousy, hours are bad, solitude wears on you and there are no health benefits. But still, it’s a wild ride.

BH: Any words on advice to unpublished writers for keeping the hope alive?

SF:  Small presses are worth taking a chance on. I always tell writers “You can’t promote what doesn’t exist.” Get that first book out there and get the machine rolling. Don’t think the first book you’ve written is the only one you have in you. Start another right away.

Sunny, thank you so much for the interview, and for sharing your books and insights. To our studio audience: don’t forget to check out the links below to learn more about Sunny, her books, and her publisher! Simply click on a description to reach the site.

Sunny’s website. This is where you can find The Murder Circle.

Oak Tree Authors are assigned blog dates. Meet us!

Order Oak Tree Titles, learn about our contests, get the latest info on what we’re doing in the publishing world.

NiFtY Author: Marja McGraw

This week’s NiFtY Author is none other than Marja McGraw, author of the Sandi Webster mystery series. Now she’s branching out into a new series, The Bogey Mysteries, which also promises to delight readers. Details on Marja’s books, as well as her thoughts on research, writing, and how pets enrich a story, can all be found below!

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for the latest novel in your Sandi Webster series?

MM:  Imagine you’re a young, female P.I., it’s late at night and you’re watching the motel room of an errant husband. Surveillance can be so boring, you think to yourself, until the angry wife shows up and blows your cover, and the husband comes after you. Now imagine that Humphrey Bogart, who’s been gone for many years, comes to your rescue. Huh?

BH: How many books have you published, and which is your favorite?

MM: I’ve published four books in the Sandi Webster series, one stand alone book, and the first book in a new series (The Bogey Mysteries) is due out before long.

Hmm. My favorite would probably be The Bogey Man, because not only was it fun to write, but I was able to research and use a lot of 1940’s slang. Chris Cross, whom Sandi refers to as the Bogey Man, really wants to emulate Bogart as he was in his private investigator roles in the movies. Also, the new series is a spinoff from this book, which is opening new doors for me.

BH: Tell us a little bit about Sandi. What makes her unique and engaging as a series character?

MM: Sandi is relatively young and a little naïve for a private investigator.  She tends to romanticize her job, which isn’t very realistic. She grew up watching the old P.I. movies, and she’s tried to model herself after the vintage gumshoes. Her partner, Pete, balances her attitude with his own ex-cop demeanor. She has an overbearing, menopausal mother who inadvertently teaches her about being tough. She’s constantly growing and changing as a character. She often feels she has to prove herself to people because of her naiveté, and she comes up with some fairly unique ideas in times of stress and danger.

BH: In a conversation with a friend recently, we discussed how some famous authors (unnamed for purposes of not slinging mud) have trouble keeping their series going for too long because eventually the hero’s development stalls. Do you have any tricks to share on avoiding that trap?

MM: What can I say? I’m mumble mumble years old, and I’ve never stopped changing and growing. Consequently, I try to fashion my characters to follow real life development. Circumstances change us on a constant basis. So I guess my trick would be to take a good look at real life and create circumstances in the stories in order that the characters may grow.

BH: Your novel A Well-Kept Family Secret departs from your other Sandi Webster books in that it involves a hundred-year-old case. While doing the research, did you come up with any new details that changed the shape of the novel?

MM: Nothing that actually changed the story, although the history for that era was quite interesting. I was able to include some of it in the story (in small doses), and I think that enhanced it. The people and their lifestyles were interesting around the turn of the century. This story involved the old Red Light District in Los Angeles, and I found some interesting papers and maps. For instance, there’s a tax map that shows Ladies’ Boarding Houses in Chinatown, and those were actually the brothels – so even maps helped.

In 1994 I read an article in the newspaper about the water district doing work on the parking lot at Union Station in downtown L.A. In the process they uncovered portions of the old Red Light District, including outhouses, which is where a lot of items were disposed of.  I contacted the archaeologist who handled the project, and he supplied me with invaluable information.

Why was I so interested in this period? Because my great-great-grandfather was one of two men who ran the real red light district. I grew up hearing stories about him, what he did, and about a buried treasure attributed to him and his brother.

BH: Do you have any other projects planned?

MM: As I mentioned, the first book in a new series will be out before long from Oak Tree Press. I’m pretty excited about it. Bogey Nights was a lot of fun to write. It’s probably a little more mature than the Sandi Webster series, because the characters are married and have a son, and I found a whole new type of humor in their lives. I’m working on the second book now, and the working title is Bogey’s Nightmare.

BH: I read one of your blog posts on how having pets in a story “enhances the storyline.” Could you elaborate on that?

MM: Absolutely. I’ve included canines in both of my series, so I’ll stick to dogs in my answer. A dog can play almost as big of a role as a human character if you’ll let it. They’re smart, funny and terribly loyal and protective. They’ll do anything in their power to keep their human happy, although they can be the cause of some angst, too. A dog can even be a possible victim or a hero, and they can provide comic relief. They can demonstrate hurt feelings, joy, sadness and grab your heart in the process. They can enhance the story without simply being filler.

I recall one of the lowest times in my life when I was sprawled out on the bed, crying my eyes out. My dog jumped up with her (gutted) teddy bear and laid it on my arm, and then snuggled up next to me until I’d cried it all out. Take note: the dog comforted me, while people kept their distance. I also recall another dog who became very frustrated with me because he thought someone was knocking at the door every time there was thunder during a storm. He couldn’t seem to figure out why I wouldn’t see who was there.

BH: What is your writing schedule like?

MM: I generally work for four to six hours in the morning, when I’m the freshest. I’ll work anywhere from five to seven days a week. Most of my stories take six to nine months to write. I write, let it sit and then go back and read it again, making changes where necessary. I have critique partners who read the stories two chapters at a time, and when they return the chapters, I rewrite again. When the story is done, I go back to the beginning and read it straight through, making more changes and edits.

In the meantime, I update my website every few months, and I try to keep my blog (located on my website) updated weekly, with a new one appearing on Sunday or Monday.

I critique for the same people who look at my work, review a book every once in a great while, and try to put together a marketing plan as best I can. Promote, promote, promote.

My writing schedule includes a lot more than just writing.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

MM: When we had our house built, I had them turn the third bedroom into an office. I have an oak roll top desk that fits nicely into what would have been the opening for a closet, and the closet shelf holds my paper and other supplies. Copies of the book covers adorn the wall by my desk along with a photo of Humphrey Bogart, and I have bulletin boards that I can jot quick notes on, so I won’t forget ideas as they come to me. For my birthday, my husband bought me a painting of a man wearing a suit and fedora, sitting at the bar in a lounge. The view is from the rear and you can just barely see the man’s jaw line. He has a martini in one hand and a cigar in the other, and it could most definitely be a picture of the Bogey Man sitting at the bar in the lounge part of the restaurant he and his wife own.

Other than that, my workspace is pretty much a mess.

BH: Sounds like my workspace. Oh, I’ll admit it. It sounds like my whole house. What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

MM: I can’t honestly say I have a favorite. I’ve read several, and I pick and choose what I need from each of them.

BH: What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

MM: Never give up and keep striving to make your writing cleaner with each read through. And grow a thick skin, because not everyone will like what you write. (Nah, really?) Always, always, remember your manners and treat people the same way you’d like to be treated. Lastly, and most importantly, don’t let family and friends fall by the wayside because you think you’re too busy for them.

BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

MM: If you honestly believe you’ve written a good book that people will enjoy reading, never give up. Read some of the stories behind successful authors, and you’ll see that some of them went through a lot of hoops to get where they are now.

The Sandi Webster series is published through Wings ePress, and I’ll always be thankful to them for giving me a chance.

Now let me tell you my success story. I’d submitted Bogey Nights to Oak Tree Press, and they liked it, but they wanted to meet me. They were attending a conference in Las Vegas and asked if I could be there. Ha! Like I would have missed that opportunity. They offered me a contract right there, on the spot, something they’d never done before. Sometimes good things happen when you least expect it.

BH: That’s the kind of story that keeps us unpublished authors type-type-typing away. Thank you, Marja, for stopping by and answering some questions for us!

I don’t know about all of my writer and reader friends, but for me, it’s inspiring and informative to hear responses like this from other authors. The success stories are great because they get me movin’ and hopin’, and the advice is always sound, coming from other professionals in the trenches…er, I mean field.

To learn more about Marja and her books, you can visit her website by clicking here.

Dying for a Date by Cindy Sample

In this post, literary agent Nathan Bransford urges (begs, actually) authors not to ask whether or not we like a book, but to answer this question: did the author accomplish what she or he set out to do with her or his book?

So. Did Cindy Sample succeed in creating a gripping, humorous, and romantic mystery? The short answer: yes. I laughed, I didn’t want to put the book down, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading it (even without an air conditioner. More on that later).

The long answer: there were two small problems. And I’m being extremely nitpicky here. My first issue was with the details, and this is a personal preference. In a few places, Sample provided details that I didn’t care to know. Remember I’m nitpicking here, so my example is this: the color of the daughter’s backpack. It really made me pause and ask myself: Is this relevant? Answer: Not really. But this happened maybe five or six times in the whole book, and some readers feast on those kinds of details, anyway. Nitpicking. Personal preference.

The second issue was I found it hard to believe the hottie detective (who I really liked, by the way), would put his career in jeopardy to pursue a romance with a murder suspect (i.e. the main character). However, Joe Morelli constantly does the same thing with Stephanie Plum, and Janet Evanovich’s readers don’t complain. And really, so much else is moving the plot along that I didn’t have time to worry about this until after I read the book.

More on what I liked: the main character. Laurel McKay is funny and real. I could identify with her and loved her voice, her sense of humor, and the hilarious antics she gets herself into. Sample is dead on when she describes Laurel as Stephanie Plum as a soccer mom. There’s a great scene involving a clown suit and that’s all I’ll say here.

The best thing about the book: I literally couldn’t stop reading. Even when our car’s air conditioner disintegrated in eastern Nevada at 3 p.m. on our way to Colorado and I was so bitchy and uncomfortable I would have tossed any entertainment aside in favor of napping – I read on. Great, gripping reads stand the test of a disintegrated AC.

I’m looking forward to the next book, Dying for a Dance, because I want to see more of the minor characters too: the poker-playing daughter (without her green backpack), the best friend, and some others. Oh, and especially Detective Hottie. I mean, Detective Hunter.

So, did Sample accomplish what she set out to do with Dying for a Date? Most definitely. And hey, guess what: I liked it, too.

Feel free to check out my interview with Cindy, if you haven’t already.

Update: Cindy alerted me to a total review faux-pas in how I hinted something about the ending. If you read an earlier version of this review, I apologize! And apologies to Cindy as well.