Sharon St. George, Author of the Aimee Machado Mystery Series

XG8D1047 300 dpi for print, book, etc gaussian blurI’m currently working on Spine Damage, book four in the Aimee Machado Mystery series. In it, the characters make a visit to the Azores, the Atlantic archipelago where my paternal grandparents were from.

My advice to writers is to understand what is involved in becoming a published writer. Take the courses, study the craft, attend the workshops, join critique groups, do the networking, learn all there is to know about the publishing industry, and then rewrite and rewrite and rewrite again. If you love everything about the process and have the desire and commitment to see it through, the drive to learn everything you need to know to perfect your craft, and the courage to send it out into the world, chances are you’ll succeed.

due_for_discardAs a beginner, my writing process involved polishing one sentence, one paragraph, or one page until I felt it was the best it could be. I pondered sentence structure, then concrete detail, (not just a door, but a weather-beaten door with peeling red paint). Did I describe a smell? A sound? That method eventually produced a page to be proud of, but the word count moved at the speed of a glacier. My current process for writing mysteries begins with a crime and a victim. Then I need suspects, five or so, whose lives are intertwined and who all have means, motive, and opportunity. I form a rough outline and let it unfold as a first draft, knowing that once the story is there, I’ll go back to add those enriching details that make the revision process so rewarding.

checked_outThe inspiration for my mysteries comes from living life, getting an education, and working in interesting jobs. I’ve ended up knowing a little bit about a lot of things, and wanting to know more about most of them—including medicine and hospitals, general aviation, martial arts, theatre and dance, and, of course, llamas.

As a former librarian, I love research of all kinds. I use librarians, and I find the Internet a great resource if used with discernment. Best is speaking directly to an expert. For Checked Out, a trick rider described the back drag for me as the most dangerous trick in the business. A professional pilot told me corporate jets can cost up to 80 million dollars, and a doctor told me that deer ticks can carry two diseases, Lyme and babesiosis, which in combination are almost always fatal in patients who’ve had their spleen removed.

breach-of-ethicsWhen promoting my books, time management becomes crucial, particularly when writing a series. Writing is the fun part, but promoting is what puts books in the public eye. The key is to find what is most effective. I suspect social media captures the most attention, so I’m trying to fit as much online promotion time as possible into my schedule.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned since I started publishing is to become an expert time manager, and at the same time, to enjoy the ride, stay positive, and have fun.

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Meet Shirley Kennedy, author of The Last of Lady Lansdown and Heartbreak Trail

AuthorpicgifWhat are your latest projects?

I am currently writing a three-book “Women of the West” series for Kensington Lyrical Press. All three books are set in the days of the California Gold Rush. Wagon Train Cinderella and Wagon Train Sisters are the first two. In the third, which I’m working on now, my heroine travels to California via ship from Boston to Panama, then sixty miles across the treacherous Isthmus of Panama. The thick rainforest full of Anacondas, crocodiles, scorpions and other icky creatures gives me lots to write about.

Is there any advice you can give other authors?

My advice to beginning writers is: Don’t start out by ignoring established genres and writing the “book of your heart.” Conduct your writing career as you would a business. Begin by studying the different genres; decide which one you’d like to write in, then read, read, read all the books in that genre you can get your hands on. Only when you’re sure you know what the publishers want and don’t want should you plot your story and type “Chapter 1.” After that, stick to your genre until you’re an established writer. When your readers clamor for anything you write, that’s the time to return to that book of your heart.

lansdown_medalWhat is your writing process?

I use a computer and MS Word. Since lately I’ve been writing to a deadline, I use a simple formula to calculate my daily word count. If I have a 75,000-word book to write in six months, that’s approximately 180 days minus maybe 30 days for Sundays, holidays, etc. 75,000 ÷ 150 gives me a reasonable 500 words per day that I make myself write even when the juices aren’t flowing. On a good day I exceed my goal, so that gives me time at the end for tweaking and polishing.

How do you get your inspiration?

It’s all in the books I use for research. Once, when I was doing my research for the Last of lady Lansdown, I came across a book that described the network of canals that existed during the Regency period. That information inspired me to make Douglas, my hero, a renowned canal engineer. Many of the incidents I use in my books are based on fact. In Heartbreak Trail, an Indian steals a hoopskirt from a wagon and wears it while strutting around the evening campfire. That really happened and is described in one of the priceless and inspiring diaries written by those brave women who crossed the prairies in a covered wagon.

heartbreak_trailHow do you do your research? Do you pretty much stick to the Internet or consult experts or librarians?

Books are my main resource, and I spend a lot of time browsing through my library’s on-line catalog. Of course, the Internet is also a wonderful source, especially for information you just can’t find in a book. I once had a Regency heroine who was a bird watcher. So what kinds of birds would she see if she was strolling through the woods near York, England, in 1815? That’s not information I’d likely find in a book, so I searched online and found the York Ornithological Society. What luck! A very nice man sent me all the information I needed and even some pictures.

Have your reading tastes changed since you became an author?

Not really, but I’ve done so much editing of my own books that I often find myself mentally editing whatever book I’m reading. This is not a good habit, and I’m trying to break it.

Are there any bestselling authors you hope to emulate?

I most admire Herman Wouk, who wrote The Winds of War, War and Remembrance, The Caine Mutiny (which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) and many more. I will never find better characterization, more interesting plots, more beautiful prose than what this man writes. Not only that, but he’s nearly 101 years old and still writing!

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started publishing?

Since I started writing in the 1990s, there have been so many drastic changes in the publishing industry that many valuable lessons I learned are obsolete by now. However, there’s one valuable lesson I learned that remains as significant as ever: It’s the characters that count! You can have the cleverest, trickiest plot in the world, but if you don’t make the reader care about your characters, your book won’t sell.

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Catching Up with Kathie Deviny, author of the Grace Church Mysteries

Photo by Paul Hannah

Photo by Paul Hannah

Tell us about the second of your Grace Church Mysteries.

Death in the Old Rectory is set about six months after the events of the first novel, Death in the Memorial Garden. It begins in October and ends the next March. The first novel’s events lasted only one week. I decided to extend the time frame for the second so that I could include more of the big events that the church celebrates. Death in the Old Rectory includes a St. Francis Day Animal Blessing, Christmas, Ash Wednesday and Easter.

memorial_gardenMost of the characters from the first novel are present in the second: Father Robert, Molly Fergusen, now his fiancée, Bishop Anthony Adams, Deacon Mary and her husband Joe, Detective (formerly Officer) Joyce, and Officer Raymond Chen. Also making a return appearance are the formerly homeless Lester, who now works for the church, church members Stacy Chase and Lucy Lawrence, Henry the crotchety sexton, and of course, Daniel the organist. I’ve added some new characters: church member and thrift shop manager Adele Evans, Terry Buffett, the Food Bank Director, Arlis Bell, his assistant, Mae, the church’s oldest member and volunteer at the thrift shop, and Ed Grafton, a member of the food bank board. Sadly, church member and thrift shop volunteer Nick Monte does not live to celebrate St. Francis Day.

death_rectoryThe action in this novel centers around the rectory located next door to Seattle’s Grace Church, which has been converted into a thrift shop and food bank office. As with the first novel, business interests threaten to destroy one of the city’s meeting places for the haves and have-nots, the churched and the unchurched.

What have you been up to since your first novel was published in 2012?

My husband and I have settled into our retirement home near Santa Barbara. We come back to the Northwest twice a year to visit family and friends, and that’s when I research the settings and community goings-on around the fictional Grace Church.

There’s a lively writer’s community in the Santa Barbara area. I just attended a conference in Ventura and belong to a weekly writer’s group. I also volunteer at our local elementary school and feed my thrift shop habit by volunteering at “Destined for Grace,” which supports a school in Haiti. We’re active at All Saints by the Sea Episcopal Church and love to drive “over the hill” to tour the Santa Ynez wine country.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I don’t think it’s necessary to complete a formal creative writing program, but you need to learn the basics such as plotting, character development, point of view, etc. Most communities offer adult education courses and writer’s conferences. I found that I needed to attend the classes and workshops for about five years before I’d assimilated the content.

I would say that then you need to demonstrate your knowledge in your writing. Present your work to a writer’s group, conference workshops and professional editors for this type of feedback. Then accept the feedback, revise your work and go back for more feedback.

What’s your writing process?

I usually start with notes in my journal and after a while a question presents itself. In Death in the Old Rectory the question was, “Who would stoop so low to steal from a food bank?” As it turned out, the answer was only a minor plot point, but it got me going.

After that, I start writing on the laptop, beginning with the first scene. I don’t plot the whole manuscript ahead of time, but try to keep track of names and time frames in my journal. I tend to do basic editing as I go. After I have the first draft, I go back and write a revised version, from beginning to end. I should do two full revisions, but with this novel I made some major changes suggested by my editor, and also made a change at the end suggested by a writing group member. I write in spurts, not every day, usually in the morning and late afternoon. I’m not a hungry writer, because I have the privilege of a government pension check, but I’m thinking about the novel all the time, especially when I can’t get to sleep.

What are your sources of inspiration?

I’m inspired by what I observe, what I read and the conversations I hear. As an example, a few years ago, when I was living in Seattle, I saw a woman walking down the street near our church pulling a suitcase on rollers. At first I thought she was going to catch a bus or train, or maybe taking her files to work. When I looked more closely at her clothes, hair, and gait, I realized she was probably homeless, and carrying her possessions in the most comfortable way. Then I realized that rolling suitcases were a popular item at the thrift shop where I volunteered. This inspired an essay I wrote for our church.

How do you research?

I use the internet, conduct interviews, and also ask for a formal site tour on occasion. I toured a Seattle food bank for the latest mystery. If I come across a question while writing, I’ll call or email a contact I’ve previously made. In the first novel, I needed a suggestion for a hymn that would calm down the congregation during the climactic scene from Death in the Memorial Garden. My church musician friend Martin offered #333 from the 1982 Hymnal, beginning “Now the Silence now the Peace.” I also ask my writing group members for help. This proved useful when I was writing the murder scene in the current novel. One of our members was working on an international thriller which included big doses of violence and mayhem. This member also declined to answer most questions about his past. I decided I could trust his advice on the subject.

Have your reading tastes changed since you became an author?

I’ve been reading more non-fiction in recent years, especially essay collections dealing with spiritual life and social concerns. I’ve also been reading more cozy-style mysteries, partly to keep an eye on the competition but also because I love their focus on community and human foibles. I’ve also been reading on Kindle more, and cozies fit that format well.

Do you have any insights into book marketing?

In a word, no. I’ve faithfully been reading up on the subject and attending workshops, so I’ve got a handle on what seems to work. This is an area where not being a hungry author is a disadvantage. I’d much rather be touring the wine country than tending my Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads pages. But you know, social media can be very captivating, if you give it sufficient time and effort. So I’m trying hard. I just learned today that one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, doesn’t have a website. She puts everything on Facebook and Twitter. Of course she has a publisher and speaker agency (with their own websites) who are more than willing to accommodate her by posting on Facebook, because she’s a very successful author.

Which authors would you want to emulate?

I very much admire the mystery writers Louise Penny (she’s created the quintessential cozy community in Three Pines, located somewhere in Canada, and one of her recurring characters is a psychologist); MC Beaton, a straight talking writer of Scottish Cozies; and Martha Grimes, a gifted commentator on country life, city life and animal life. I’ve also devoured the mysteries of PD James and Ruth Rendell, to immerse myself in their literary gifts, which I don’t possess.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started publishing?

I’ve learned that being published comes with obligations: to your publisher, your readers, and the others who helped along the way. I know it’s common for authors to resent the time they spend away from writing. For most of us, reaching out to readers and promoting book sales don’t come easily. I thought that writing would be a great retirement job, but found out that I now have a new career that takes time, care and feeding.

Any fun, interesting stories from the time after your first book was published?

When Death in the Memorial Garden was published, I signed up for a sponsored blog tour. For those not in the know, a blog tour replaces the expensive nationwide bookstore tour which only the big publishers can afford. My tour “host” chose bloggers and reviewers who specialized in cozy mysteries and mysteries with a religious theme. I was concerned, because most reviewers of religious fiction are on the conservative side, and my mystery focused on an Episcopal Church, which welcomes anyone who can crawl through the door, including members of the LTBQ community. Much to my surprise, the novel received a good review from a blogger who appreciated the lack of bad language and sex scenes, and then said, “I didn’t even mind the gay character.”

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Meet Marie Romero Cash, Author of the Jemimah Hodge Mysteries

Marie_Romero_cashWhat are your latest projects?

I lead a double life. As a practicing artist (woodcarver/painter) and writer, for most of the summer and fall, I’ve walked a tightrope between the two. Do I have a favorite? Sure, the one I’m involved with at any particular moment!

Is there any advice you can give other authors?

Allow yourself to grow through your writing. Expand, experiment, excel. Give yourself permission to go for the gold by moving out of your safety zone, the formula you’ve gotten comfortable using.

Book 4, Released 1/1/2016

Book 4, Released 1/1/2016

What is your writing process?

My writing process is muse-directed. If the muse isn’t present, I do something else. I don’t force the writing because that reflects on the page. I would much rather spend time producing quality work than amassing pages and pages of paragraphs that probably won’t make the cut. That also applies to my art.

How do you get your inspiration?

Reading, people-watching.

How do you do your research? Do you pretty much stick to the Internet or consult experts or librarians?


Book 1

The internet is great, but it can be filled with inaccuracies. I prefer books, but rarely in libraries. I spend a lot of time on research before I begin to write. I’m a book freak. Owning a book  is much better than borrowing, so my personal library is fairly good-sized. I sometimes rely on other people’s knowledge and I’m not shy about asking them to share. I recently gutted a manuscript on the Pueblo Revolt because on my hundredth read I came to the conclusion that it was completely one-sided. I discovered from the time I did the original research, a dozen more books had been written on the subject, so I added them to my library and read them all.

What was the most interesting factoid you’ve learned as an author?

Book 2

Book 2

Pay attention. Don’t  just write it because you think it. In my first mystery, the last chapter indicated that the character could see the ocean and the beach as she landed. An alert reader emailed me to say that the country I had chosen is inland and miles from the ocean.

Have your reading tastes changed since you became an author?

For a long time all I read was mysteries, hundreds of them. Then Michael McGarrity stopped writing mysteries and took three years off to write a trilogy on the West. I couldn’t put the first two books down and hated for them to end. That’s what I hope readers will say about my books someday.


Book 3

Are there any bestselling authors you hope to emulate?

Not at the moment. I’m cultivating my own “inner author”.

What promotional tool has worked best for you?

Facebook only works if you have hundreds of friends and are “public.” I like Twitter and am planning to learn Instagram (but first I need an iPhone!)

Which promotional tools have been the least effective? 

Contacting book stores by phone to carry your book. You  need to do this in person, and have copies of your book available.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started publishing?

Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your readers; and, there’s always someone out there who knows a little more on a subject than you do.

Do you have any fun stories to share from author events or interactions with fans?

My last event at Collected Works in Santa Fe was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I chose a good friend of mine to moderate, someone who is funny and witty. We had the audience rolling in the aisles because of our interaction. Someone later asked if we had rehearsed, but it was all ad-libbed.

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Meet Colleen J. Shogan, Author of Stabbing in the Senate

author photo squareIs there any advice you can give other authors?

I once read an interview in which Jim Lehrer from the PBS Newshour explained how he had time to write novels. His answer always stuck with me. “Butt in seat.” There’s no substitution for simply sitting down and finding the time to write. Also, publishing a novel is like running a marathon. The first twenty miles are the easy part. Writing a story is the initial part of the race. The real difficulty is making edits, making the book marketable, navigating the publishing industry, and promoting the product.

How do you get your inspiration? How do you do your research?

I write my books with Washington, D.C. as the backdrop. I keep my eyes and ears open every day. It’s amazing how ideas can pop into your mind if you remain observant. It’s best to write about something you know and love. I really enjoy politics and everything that makes D.C. tick. There’s never a dearth of fascinating stories and people surrounding me.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started publishing?

There are so many talented writers out there, it’s almost overwhelming. I feel quite honored to have a contract to write the Washington Whodunit series. There’s no room for the thin-skinned in today’s publishing world. If you can’t take criticism or a negative review, then find another passion. The internet and social media connect authors and readers in amazing ways, but they also allow consumers to express their true opinions with a few clicks on a keyboard. There is a certain degree of bravery and confidence that’s required.

Why did you write a mystery novel? Aren’t you a political scientist?

That’s a good question. I came up with the plot of Stabbing in the Senate one day when I was taking a walk in my suburban D.C. neighborhood. A few weeks later, I started writing and never looked back. Fiction is a great release for me. In my day job at the Library of Congress, carefully documented research is the name of the game. In fiction, creativity is rewarded, and the sky is the limit. Novelists have ultimate control over what happens in their books. That’s never the case in real political life. There’s something liberating about telling stories and writing the endings you want to take place.

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