NiFtY Author Holli Castillo

Our NiFtY Author today is Holli Castillo, a writer and attorney who is the author of the Crescent City Mystery series. Californians take note: this is NOT the Crescent City up by the Oregon border, as I’d originally thought. Crescent City is also a nickname for New Orleans. Maybe everyone knows this except for me…but now I know, too. So there. Let’s move past my geographical ignorance and meet Holli Castillo! Not only has she created a great main character for her series, but she also has an inspiring publishing story to tell.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for Jambalaya Justice, the second book in your Crescent City Mystery series?

HC:  Jambalaya Justice is the follow up to Gumbo Justice, and once again follows New Orleans female prosecutor Ryan Murphy, this time as she involves herself in the investigation of a murdered hooker, Cherry.  Ryan has her own reasons for wanting Cherry’s murderer caught, and pushes the NOPD detective assigned to the case to solve the case.  When Cherry’s murder links to the unsolved murders of several other hookers, Ryan’s pursuit of the killer’s identity puts her in danger, especially since she’s hiding her involvement from her recently acquired homicide detective boyfriend, Shep.  On top of her extracurricular activities, Ryan also has her Strike Force cases to juggle, including the prosecution of a mobster murderer, a nasty domestic violence case, and the armed robbery of Big Who’s strip club.  And then there’s the home invader who’s off of probation and might be after her.  Just another typical week at the office for Ryan Murphy.  Set against the backdrop of pre-Katrina New Orleans, Jambalaya Justice is the second in Crescent City Mystery Series, which eventually follows Ryan through Hurricane Katrina and into the strange new world of post-Katrina New Orleans.  Jambalaya Justice will be available by this summer, 2011.

BH: The main character, Ryan Murphy, has a voice that definitely grabs me from the first chapter of Gumbo Justice (here’s a link for Chapter One): She’s sarcastic, intelligent, and at the same time, a little vulnerable. How did you go about creating her?

HC:  The sarcasm was the easy part, as I’m pretty sarcastic myself.  The intelligence I think is more knowledge based—she knows a lot about the law and she is definitely one of those over achievers that drove me crazy in school, so that element of her personality was easy to incorporate. The most difficult thing was probably making her vulnerable.  I’m the type of person who will let you know when you’ve done something to annoy me, but you’ll rarely hear me say anything about emotional things.  People attribute it to my German genes.  In any event, that was the most difficult part for me, trying to make Ryan so opposite from me as far as revealing her emotions.  I wanted to make her likeable, despite her flaws, so I had to look for opportunities where Ryan could show her natural vulnerability without making it too soap opera-ish. I spent a lot of time editing that part of her, trying to strike the right combination.

BH: How does your work as an attorney influence your writing?

HC:  My writing is based upon what I know, which is criminal law.  My cases give me constant inspiration for storylines and characters.  The legal aspect of Ryan’s job is easiest to write, because I still deal with the law and criminal procedure on pretty much a daily basis.  I had other jobs before I was a lawyer, and those also helped me build a foundation for some of the scenes in my novel.  I was a child support collector, a theater stage manager, bartender, waitress, and I worked my way through undergrad at a Can-Can show on Bourbon Street, all interesting jobs to have in New Orleans.  All of my past job experience will eventually find a home in one of the Crescent City Mysteries.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

HC: Mine was a tortured path, and if nothing else it should give anyone about to give up hope that they may get published.  After I finished the novel, I queried agents.  I had bought books on how to write a query letter, worked on it until I thought it was perfect, and bought the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market for that year, did what I thought was sufficient research, and sent out the queries.

No big surprise, I received a bunch of rejections.  Some were form rejections, but other had little notes on them.  I didn’t take this a positive sign, which I should have.  Handwritten notations mean some human being actually read my work and thought enough to explain to me why his or her company couldn’t offer me representation.  After what I thought was enough rejections, I signed up for an online novel writing course at Writer’s Digest.  Miki Hayden was my online instructor, and she gave me the best advice I have ever received.  The first thing she said, when I submitted my query, was that my manuscript of 160,000 was too long, and that most agents looking at my query letter wouldn’t read past that number.  I didn’t know an acceptable length of a novel from an unknown author.   I calculated the page numbers according to famous writers’ books, like Grisham, John Sandford, Tami Hoag, etc.  Of all of the books I had bought about querying and writing, not one of them said aim for 80,000 words.

Miki Hayden also offered some substantive advice, a few key things that I think made a huge difference.  I then edited, cut, brought the manuscript down to 85,000 words, and then re-read my rejections.  I noticed some said things like serial killers were not for them, or had underlined the word serial killers.  Some said the material was too dark for the publishers they worked with.  That made me realize I hadn’t done enough research in determining which agents were the most appropriate to submit my work to.  I had one agent, a pretty famous one who writes books on finding an agent, comment that my dialogue wasn’t believable.  That kind of stung, but I took it constructively and weeded through my dialogue to make it the best I possibly could.

Before I queried again, I did a more targeted search, this time looking at publishers.  I felt like I was at a disadvantage, because I had already sent my work out to the agents I thought were most likely to represent me, but it was too late to revisit that.  Before I queried, I bought a book from the publishing houses I was going to query, to see what type of stuff they actually published.  I queried a few more agents as well, and had a hit off an agent who said she was really interested.  I sent her the manuscript and waited, and before I heard back from her, Katrina hit, we evacuated, and for the next months I was too busy dealing with this new world I lived in to worry about Gumbo Justice.  That agent finally wrote to me and said she was not taking any new clients because of health issues.  I considered self-publishing, but had already decided if I ever went that route I would have to hire an editor, because I didn’t want to put my work out there without a professional weeding through it.  I wasn’t quite ready for that, and not long after that a publisher contacted via email off of a query I had previously submitted, and asked to read the novel.  We subsequently signed a contract, and right as we were discussing the best time to release my novel, summer of 2008, I was in a head-on collision with a drunk driver and was in a wheelchair for seven months, full of hardware, having surgeries, and eventually had to learn to walk again.  The whole thing put the publication date back, but one day short of a year from the accident, Gumbo Jumbo was released.  If that doesn’t give someone out there hope, nothing will.

BH: Wow, that’s amazing. What does your workspace look like?

Rin and Deaf Kitty - Holli doesn't talk about them in the interview, but they're cute enough to warrant a photo slot!

HC:  My workspace is my laptop.  I can work from anywhere, wherever and whenever I feel like it.  At home, I work on the living room coffee table, a desk in my office, my bed, my kitchen table, or the bar.  All I need is my computer, and since my last laptop crashed during the 2010 Superbowl (when my hometown Saints won), it has a flash drive next to it all times, so I can save my work each and every time I work on it.  My brother in law is a computer guy for FEMA, and although he was able to save all my work, it put me behind schedule with Jambalaya Justice.

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

HC: I tend to focus more on grammar and punctuation type books such as Eats, Shoots and Leaves, but I do like The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman  and How Not to Write  A Novel by Mittelmark and Newman.  My favorite book on writing, though, is a screenplay writing book, Your Screenplay Sucks, 100 Ways to Make It Great by William Akers.

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

HC: When it’s not working out for you, whether in the writing stage or when trying to find an agent or publisher, take a big step back and remove yourself from the picture. Look at the problem objectively, analyze the situation like a doctor approaches a patient to diagnose an illness, and figure out what the problem is and how you can best solve it.  If I hadn’t decided to take the online writing course, I don’t think I would be published today.  Even just learning that my manuscript was almost twice as long as it should be made such an enormous difference.

BH: Thanks for sharing your insights into the writing life with us, Holli! Hearing about your trials getting published does give me hope! For more information on Holli Castillo and her books, please visit the links below:

Amazon website:

http://www.amazon.com/Gumbo-Justice-Holli-Castillo/dp/1892343517/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1297495870&sr=1-1

Holli’s website:

http://hollicastillo.com/

Gumbo Justice website:

http://gumbojustice.net/

Holli’s blog site:

http://www.gumbojustice.blogspot.com/

Holli’s publisher’s blog:

http://otpblog.blogspot.com/

NiFtY Author: Dorothy Bodoin

Today’s Free-for-All Friday brings us an interview with NiFtY Author Dorothy Bodoin. Dorothy has written numerous novels and is the author of the Foxglove Corner mystery series. Join me in learning more about Dorothy and her writing!

BH: Hi Dorothy! From what I read on your website, your Foxglove Corner mystery series is eleven books strong. Can you tell us a little about the series?

DB:  In the first book of the series, Darkness At Foxglove Corners, my heroine, Jennet Greenway, and her collie move to Foxglove Corners after a tornado damages her previous house.  She hopes to find country peace and quiet.  Instead she finds a mystery in the old yellow Victorian across the lane and romance with a handsome, enigmatic deputy sheriff named Crane Ferguson.

I never intended to write a series, but one idea led to another and another.  At present I find myself writing the twelfth book about Jennet Greenway and her collies.

BH: Which of the Foxglove Corner mysteries is your favorite?

DB:   It’s difficult to choose one, but The Collie Connection has a special place in my heart.  I wrote it after an accident threw my life into a tailspin.  During this time, I lost my beloved collie, Holly, who served as the model for Jennet’s Halley.  I didn’t think I’d be able to write that book because, according to my plan, Jennet was supposed to lose Halley just before her wedding, but I did; and it received my publisher’s Golden Wings award.

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

DB:  By now, I know my series characters better than I know my friends.  I know how they’re going to act and what they’re going to say, and I look forward to seeing them again.  I also have fun playing matchmaker.  When I bring one of my characters into my current book, it’s like greeting an old friend.

BH: Do you have any tips to share on how to keep a main character growing and learning throughout a series?

DB:  Each one of my books is set in a different season.  At this point, for example, I have three books that take place during Christmas.  My characters, like real people, change.  They get married, survive disappointing love affairs, and deal with life’s problems—Jennet’s encounters with unruly students, for example, and her conflict with Principal Grimsly.

My setting is also real.  I live about an hour’s drive from the fictional Foxglove Corners.  Places change, too.  People react to change.  Readers, I’m happy to say, often refer to Jennet and Crane as if they’re real people rather than characters in a book.  They’ve been known to react to the collies this way too.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

DB: When I was fifteen, I wrote a science-fiction novel on a portable typewriter.  I thought it was quite good and submitted it to all the big publishers I could find and collected several kind rejection letters.  It was a different publishing world then.  I didn’t sell my book, of course, but I learned an early lesson about perseverance.

A decade or so later, I wrote a western Gothic novel.  Once again, I thought it was good and tried to find a publisher.  There were different markets available to writers now.  The publishing world was changing.  Some editors were still kind, but no one wanted to publish my book.  From time to time I revised it and tried again.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had a lot to learn about writing.  My manuscript spent many years in a box on my closet shelf.

Finally—I won’t say how much later—I left my job teaching high school English and started writing full time.  Once again I had faith in my book, Darkness At Foxglove Corners.  This time, I was determined to be published.  I had my manuscript professionally critiqued not once but twice, and kept learning.  After twenty-eight submissions, I found a publisher for it.

Unfortunately, I still had a lesson to learn.  One acceptance doesn’t add up to success everlasting.  My publisher rejected my second book, Cry For The Fox.  I was disappointed but also by this time a professional.  I submitted it to other publishers and, while waiting for replies, wrote a third book, Winter’s Tale.  Wings ePress accepted Winter’s Tale and Cry For The Fox.  And I kept writing.

Finding Hilliard and Harris on the Sinc-ic website was a lucky break for me.  They published my stand-alone novels of romantic suspense, all of which have been selected by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery BookClub.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

DB:  I have two workspaces: two desks, one in the living room, one in a bedroom converted into a home office and library.  I do the majority of my planning and rough draft writing in the living room and fine tune my chapters on the computer.

In both rooms, I have oil paintings and prints, mostly of collies, and photographs all around me.  The dictionary and thesaurus are never far away.  Both spaces look neat in the pictures because I’m between chapters today.

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

DB:  Phyllis A. Whitney’s Guide To Fiction Writing is my all-time favorite.  I read an earlier version of her book with a different title when I was in my teens.  In those earlier years, I often returned to it for enlightenment and encouragement.  Every time I read it, I seemed to read her message between the lines: “You can do it!”

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

DB:  My advice is simple.  Keep writing and keep submitting and, in your leisure time, read the kinds of books you’d like to write.  I learned from writers like Velda Johnston and other favorites, and I’m still learning.

Find a group like Sisters in Crime and become as active as you can.  Find the right critique partner or critique group.  At one point, the Internet Chapter of Sisters in Crime had a wonderful Workshop.  I posted the entire draft of Winter’s Tale in the Workshop before submitting it to Wings.

Also, it’s important to write every day if possible, even during life’s bad times.  Even three or four pages will eventually turn into a book.

Write about something that’s important to you.  I’ve always loved collies and like to think of myself as the Albert Payson Terhune of the mystery world.  Moving ahead to promotion, I advertise in collie magazines and have met many wonderful people who first saw my name in The Cassette or Collie Expressions.

BH: If you want more of Dorothy (and oh, I bet you do!), check out the links below!

http://www.dorothybodoin.com is my website.  Here in my Photo Album you’ll find pictures of beautiful collies like the ones who romp through the pages of my books.

http://www.wings-press.com is the publisher of my Foxglove Corners series.

http://www.hilliardandharris.com is the publisher of my novels of romantic suspense.

http://www.amazon.com Here you’ll find my books; the Hilliard and Harris books are also in bookstores.

http://www.sistersincrime.org I recommend joining this organization, along with Sinc-ic, (the Internet Chapter) and the Guppies.  The last group is slanted toward the unpublished, but many of us remain members after we’re published.

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: Elaine Cantrell

Today’s NiFtY (Not Famous…Yet) Author is Elaine Cantrell, an award-winning romance novelist. Join us as we learn a little about her life and her writing.

BH: Tell us a little about your latest book, Return Engagement.

EC: I’d love to!  Return Engagement is the book I wanted to write for a long time before I actually sat down at the computer to do it.  I thought about my characters so long and so hard that I once called my husband Richard (the hero in Return Engagement) which he didn’t like too much.

The book is centered around the idea ‘what might have been.”  I think most people have looked back in their lives and wondered how things would be different if they had made different choices; I know I have.  Richard and Elizabeth met when he was seventeen and she was twenty two.  They fell in love, but Richard’s father the powerful senator Henry Lovinggood broke them up.  He didn’t think Elizabeth was good enough for Richard whom the senator plans to make the president one day.

Ten years after their breakup Richard and Elizabeth meet by accident on a California beach and find that their feelings for each other haven’t changed.  When they decide to rekindle their relationship, they find that Senator Lovinggood isn’t their only problem.  There are others who wish them deadly harm.

BH:  Ooh. Sounds good! You’ve published six books, am I right? Are they all romances? Which one is your favorite?

EC: Yes, they’re all romances, and my favorite one is always the one I’m working on at the moment.  If I had to pick just one I’d pick Return Engagement, mostly because I love that Richard so much.  I also like the book about Elizabeth Lane’s cousin Nikki.  That book The Best Selling Toy Of The Season is set at Christmas time and is available at http://www.midnightshowcase.com.

That’s an interesting thing too.  My husband couldn’t stand Richard, and I’ve gotten some reviews where the reviewer praised the book and called it a page turner, saying how filled with conflict and clever plot twists it was.  The reviewer then went on to say that she didn’t like the characters.  I guess I don’t understand that.  If she couldn’t put the book down because she had to know what happened next, why didn’t she like my characters?

Romantic Times Magazine liked the book just fine, though.  They gave the book a 4.5 which means it’s a keeper, and they said, “This touching story is beautifully written and explores the emotions involved when two people who love each other are influenced by outside forces and their own doubts.  Each character is fully developed, and the plot is filled with interesting twists.”

BH: You’re the first romance writer I’ve interviewed. What are some of the joys of writing romance? Are there any aspects of the genre that you don’t like?

EC: The joys are the same as for any other genre I think.  Authors get to create worlds of their own choosing, and things always turn out the way you think they should.  The negative part is that sometimes the characters are stereotypical and flat.  Hmm.  That’s probably why that reviewer didn’t like my characters.  I made them into real people who have warts and make mistakes.  They’re anything but stereotypical.

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

EC: I give most of my characters the personality traits I’d like to have myself, so none of them are necessarily like me.  The one I’m most like is Betsy McLaughlin my heroine in A New Leaf.  A New Leaf was the winner of the 2003 Timeless Love contest which thrilled my heart more than you can imagine.  Betsy’s an ordinary girl who makes some life-changing mistakes, but instead of whining about things she does the best she can with the hand she’s been dealt.  I’d like to think that describes me too.

BH: What other literary projects do you have in the works? Can you tell us about a work-in-progress?

EC: My work-in-progress is a sci fi/ fantasy novel which is untitled at the moment.  I’ve had to lay it aside for the moment because I’d doing edits for a new book that’s coming out in June of 2011.  The book is tentatively titled Jilted!, and it’ll be published by Lachesis Publishing.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

EC:  It all started when my son wrote a book.  I was so overwhelmed with pride!  I’d always wanted to write a book, but I didn’t think I could.  I decided to give it a try when he told me that he had always made up stories in his head to amuse himself, and he thought he might as well write them down.  Glory be!  I had always done that too.  I wrote that book in record time, but nobody liked it.  My husband didn’t want the hero to be crippled, and my friend said that my heroine who was a good girl wasn’t as interesting as a bad girl would be.

So, I started another book, A New Leaf.  At the last minute I submitted the book to a small publisher who sponsored the Timeless Love contest.  The prize was publication of your book.  To my great and utter surprise, I won the contest, and A New Leaf was published the following year.

BH: Sounds like a dream come true! What does your workspace look like?

EC: Right now I’m sitting in my living room and writing on my laptop because the computer in my study crashed and died.  My husband bought me a new computer for Christmas so we’re going to redo the study and put in a glass table that stretches from one end of the room to the other.  Then my husband and I will both put our computers on the desk and sit side by side.  We’ll cover the wall behind us in bookshelves and leave space for a TV.

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

EC: I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have one.  I could use the help as much as anyone, but there aren’t enough hours in the day as it is.  If I do read one, Stephen King has something out which my son says is very good.

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

EC: Don’t give up.  I think the major difference between published and unpublished authors is that the published authors didn’t give up.

BH: Thank you, Elaine, for answering my questions and sharing your thoughts and your books with us!

Want more of Elaine Cantrell? Visit her website here, and her blog here. Also, here’s her Facebook page, and a link to buy Return Engagement.

NiFtY Author: Timothy Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan is the other of sixteen published novels (eleven under his own name). His latest Poke Rafferty Bangkok thriller, The Queen of Patpong, was published in August, and his newest book, Crashed, is available for the Kindle (I’ve read the beginning, and didn’t want to put it down!). Timothy also maintains a website with an awesome “Finish Your Novel” page – several authors have published books after using the material. I really like the installment “What’s a Scene? (And What’s a Chapter?),” but there are other gems to be found there as well.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for Crashed?

TH: Junior Bender is a San Fernando burglar who moonlights as a private eye for crooks. In his first outing, CRASHED, Junior finds himself on the wrong side of his own already paper-thin moral code, being forced to prevent sabotage against a multi-million dollar porn film starring exactly the kind of person he’d normally want to protect. At the age of 23, Thistle Downing is broke and strung out – but between the ages of eight and fifteen, she was the biggest television star in the world. Now desperate, she’s facing the ultimate humiliation . . . and she’s so wasted she doesn’t even know that someone’s trying to kill her. And in between her and all that, there’s no one – except Junior.

BH:  Which book in the Poke Rafferty series would you encourage new fans to begin with? Should they start with the first book, or can they pick up somewhere in the middle?

TH: The first book, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, is the roughest in the series in terms of subject matter, but it’s probably the best place to start.  The thriller elements are self-contained from book to book, but the heart of the series is the ongoing story of the American travel writer Poke Rafferty and the little family he’s assembled in Bangkok with his wife, Rose, a farmer bar worker who now helps other women leave that life, and their adopted 9-year-old daughter, Miaow, who spend most of her childhood on the street. (She’s nine in NAIL and eleven in the fourth book, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG.)

BH: The Poke Rafferty series is your second series, is that right? How do you feel that your writing has changed throughout your career so far?

TH:  Well, I hope I’ve gotten better, but who knows?  One thing that strikes me is that back in the 1990s, when I was doing the Simeon Grist mysteries, I wrote a pretty male world.  I was not at all confident about writing women.  That changed in part because Miaow, Poke’s daughter in the Bangkok books, is for some reason the easiest character in the whole series – she comes to me as fast as I can write her.  After nine novels without a single scene between women when there wasn’t a man present, in THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, I wrote a 45,000-word section – practically a novella – about Rose’s road from being an unworldly village girl to the “queen” of the bars of Patpong.  It’s all women, and it’s the part of the book most reviewers (and all female reviewers) paid special attention to.  And women are vital characters in the new series, the Junior Bender books, too.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

TH: I wrote two really awful books that I showed to no one and then a third, SKIN DEEP, that introduced Simeon Grist.  I took it to a Hollywood agent and she sent it to a New York agent, and ten days later I had a three-book contract with William Morrow.  Not much drama there.  Then I wrote three more Simeons for a total of six, took about six years off to make money so I could write full-time, and then wrote the first of the four Pokes, which sold in an auction between two big houses.

What’s most interesting to me is the e-book revolution.  I’ve been very fortunate in my relationships with major publishers, but I’ve always had to write what they thought they could sell or what they thought readers wanted from me.  CRASHED is an edgy thriller with a laugh track, and two publishers said, in essence, “Nobody wants to read funny thrillers.”  But I wanted to WRITE funny thrillers, so I wrote two and a half Junior books and put CRASHED up for the Kindle, and it’s doing very well,  Seven reviews so far, and all five-stars, and they’re not people I know, AND there’s some serious TV interest.  The second Junior book, LITTLE ELVISES, will go online in about three months, and I’m writing the third.  I’m also writing the first Simeon Grist book in fifteen years – just because I want to.  This is a new world for writers.  (I’m also writing the fifth Poke.)

BH: The scope of the “Finish Your Novel” on your author site is simply amazing – it’s as if you made an entire book on the craft of writing available for free. What motivated you to create it?

TH: I needed a lot of help when I started trying to write, and I didn’t know where to go for it.  After the Simeon books came out, I decided to teach a college-level class on finishing.  Anybody can start a novel (or any other large-scale project) but most people don’t finish.  So I focused on what I knew about finishing, and along the way I had to talk about story and character and setting and writing habits and all of that.  A LOT of people who took the class over the years finished their books.  So when I did my site, I expanded the class notes into a series of relatively short interactive essays and put them up.  And I’m happy to say they’ve helped a lot of writers, including some who sell better than I do, to finish their first novel  Helen Simonson, who wrote MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND is one of them.  I love that book, and it knocks me out that I was to some degree helpful to her in finishing it.

BH: You mentioned that you aim for 1500 words a day. I remember when I was drafting my latest work-in-progress, shooting for 1200. It was tough. Do you always get your 1500? What is your writing schedule like?

TH:  Seven days a week, as many hours as it takes.  I shoot for 1500 but will quit at 1000 if they’re a good 1000.  But then I try to make it up later in the week.  I start every writing session by editing the last 3-4 days’ worth, so about half of those words get cut or rewritten before I finally move on.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

TH: In Asia, where I write the Poke Rafferty books, I work in coffee shops, mostly in Bangkok and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  I have apartments in both cities.  The Poke books are set in Bangkok, but Bangkok is very distracting, while Phnom Penh is much sleepier. So I tend to spend a couple of weeks in Bangkok, getting ideas and jotting down descriptions, and then I go to Phnom Penh for four or five months to draft the book.

In Los Angeles, I tend to work at home, on a big table because I’m disorganized.

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

TH:  Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. I think it’s very important that it was written by someone who actually writes novels (and good ones), as opposed to someone who writes books about writing novels.  It’s an indispensable book, and Lamott is great company.

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

TH: I’ve had several great pieces of advice, and I follow all of them.  First, write the book you would most like to read.  Second, create a shrine to your writing – not so much in space as in time; time that is set aside each day for writing and nothing else.  Third, write on tiptoe – the only way to get better is to try to do things you don’t know how to do. Fourth, remember that in the end, it’s only a book, not a bad chest x-ray or a truck barreling toward you on the wrong side of the street; in other words, the day’s failures are never fatal and might just lead you toward something more interesting.

Flaubert said, “Talent is a long patience.”  I love that line.

BH: Thank you, Tim, for sharing your books and your inspiration!

Link from Tim: www.timothyhallinan.com/blog I’m currently engaged in The Stupid 365 Project, which is a commitment to put up a blog of not less than 300 words every single day for a year.  It’s been very interesting so far – I’m just into the third month – and I have no idea whether I’ll be able to finish.