Alice Boatwright Interview: “I have loved mysteries ever since a librarian handed me a Happy Hollisters adventure”

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On Halloween weekend I catch up with mystery writer Alice Boatwright to learn more about her work and the extensive inspiration behind it.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards mystery novels?

I have always been drawn to clean prose with good, insight-provoking metaphors and wit, rather than jokes. Although I admire more complex and experimental styles (James Joyce, William H. Gass, and Mario Vargas Llosa come to mind), this is not “me.” I loved “the Russians” when I growing up, but I never aspired to be Dostoyevsky. Willa Cather would be nice. Other writers who influenced me early on were Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and I do think E.B. White’s Elements of Style is the only writing book that is essential. Master that, and you know everything. I am still working on it.

I have loved mysteries ever since a librarian handed me a Happy Hollisters adventure when I was about eight years old; and there is something irresistible about the idea of trying to write the kind of books you enjoy so much.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing professionally? 

My father was a musician and college professor, who began writing his first textbook when I was very young. I loved to go to sleep listening to the sound of his typewriter (an old Underwood that I still have). When this book was published, and he put the publisher’s special boxed edition on our mantel, I announced that he was not going to the only one in the family to publish a book. I began writing stories right away and studied writing all through college. I also have an MFA from Columbia.

Writing professionally turned out to mean something different than what I first imagined: a tenure-track teaching job and the bestseller list, of course. I have held a variety of jobs based on my writing skill, and I am very grateful for the amazing career I’ve had, which has taken me around the world. I have always written fiction too, but it is only recently that I have made an income from that.

Tell me about your books. How did you come to write them and what was the inspiration behind them?

My first book, Collateral Damage, had its origins in the thesis I wrote in graduate school. It slowly evolved into three linked novellas about the impact of the Vietnam War on those who fought, those who resisted, and the family and friends caught between them. I grew up during this era, and the conflicts at home and abroad, the brave decisions, and tragedies of this war influenced me profoundly. I wanted to write this book “no matter what” – but it took a long time and finding a publisher was not easy. Eventually it came out, won an award, and has now been released in a new edition in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the war.

I turned to writing mysteries during the time I was seeking a publisher for Collateral Damage. Vietnam remains a difficult subject that many publishers would not touch, and I thought I ought to try writing a book on a subject people enjoyed reading about – murder! I also knew it would be fun for me to write. My husband and I are both long-time Anglophiles, as well as avid readers of English mysteries, so we used to make up plots as we explored the countryside. One of my ideas was to write about an American married to an English vicar, and I still have the notes I scribbled down about this. A few years later, we moved to a village in Oxfordshire – and I had the time and experience to develop that idea into the first Ellie Kent mystery, Under An English Heaven (Cozy Cat Press, 2014). The second book in the series, What Child Is This?, came out in 2017; and the third will be out in the coming year.

I am delighted to say that the Ellie Kent books have proven to be very popular. Ellie’s experiences as an incomer and her outsider perspective as an American – as well as the opportunities for a certain amount of nosiness as the vicar’s wife – give her reasons to get involved in solving crimes. The books also give me the chance to write about England, which I love, and explore questions such as the meaning of home, the value of faith, and the challenges of blended families. Under An English Heaven won the 2016 Mystery and Mayhem Grand Prize and the first two books have both been Amazon bestsellers, reaching #1 in the traditional detective mystery category.

I have also always written short stories – another form I love. This year I had the pleasure of collaborating with an artist friend on Sea, Sky, Islands, a chapbook of three stories set in the beautiful San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington. She provided the cover painting and interior illustrations, so it is really a very pretty little book. I love today’s freedom to create any kind of book you want. It’s so different from the age of “no”, when agents and publishers had the final say about what you could offer to readers.

When choosing books to read, what style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

I like books that have strong believable characters and whose stories – regardless of genre – are grounded in the real challenges of life. I like to be inspired by the writer’s fresh and skilful use of language as the medium for creating a world and experiences that entertain, inspire, and move me. There are many writers I admire, so I will just name a few recent ones – Elizabeth Strout, Alice Munro, and Patrick Modiano. Amongst mystery writers, my go-to models are primarily from the Golden Age – Josephine Tey, Dorothy L. Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie – but I love Georges Simenon and P.D. James too.

As a successful woman writer, what do you think the literary industry can do to provide more support for women looking to succeed?

Support for women writers begins with support for the idea that women and their ideas and experiences are as important and as autonomous as those of men. This requires a global effort to reverse centuries of tradition, law, and practice. Progress is variable, depending on where you are in the world. Of 774 million illiterate adults worldwide, 2/3 are women. So, the bottom line is education needs to be available to every girl and woman: these are potential writers and readers.

The next level of success is achieved if you actually write. The obstacles here are mainly in your own head. If you have a pencil and paper, you can write whatever you want. Making the time, having the interest and confidence to keep at it and develop your skills, believing in yourself: these are all challenges faced by every writer.

For training, if you have access to a library, you can educate yourself in every way from reading a wide variety of books to researching the business of writing and publishing. There are also many other options for learning from self-run writing groups and small workshops to degree programs. Today in the US, some 50% of graduate arts degrees are awarded to women. When I went to graduate school, there were 2 women and 13 men in my workshop.

I’m not sure the “industry” sees itself as responsible for cultivating women’s voices, but women demanding to read books by women certainly make a difference. From what I have read, men still predominantly prefer books by men (or are predominantly interested in the topics men tend to write about).

Sisters in Crime is an organization that was founded more than 30 years ago to address the disparity between men and women in getting published and reviewed, as well as bias in other areas, such as award programs and size of advances. Its programs supporting the professional development of women crime writers are well-respected, and it has been successful in raising these issues and documenting progress.

One indicator of success for women mystery writers is that the percentage of women on the NY Times bestseller list has risen from 15% in 1950 to 44% in 2010. But there are undoubtedly many challenges facing women writers as in other fields. The possibility of self-publishing has created new opportunities, but making a living from writing fiction is probably as hard as making a living from acting or painting or playing the violin.

If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

To be honest, I can’t imagine collaborating with anyone. The joy of writing fiction comes from being free to do whatever I want. It’s my show. I would be interested in being a fly-on-the-wall to watch Georges Simenon produce a beautifully written mystery in a weekend. Of course, he had a wife. That makes a difference.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?  

My primary focus is on finishing the third Ellie Kent mystery, which will come out in 2020. I also fiddle around with my stories and make notes when other book ideas come along.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward coming up?

My Puget Sound chapter of Sisters in Crime is very prolific, so I have a stack of books I am looking forward to reading by authors such as Marty Wingate, Candace Robb, Ingrid Thoft, Curt Colbert, Waverly Fitzgerald, and Jeffrey D. Briggs. It’s very special to follow the progress of writers you know, because you know both the book and all that went into making it happen.

Do You Have Any Final Words Of Advice?

If you want to be a writer, keep writing, no matter what, and never give up on a story you want to tell until you get it right and get it out!

Huge thanks to Alice for answering my questions, it’s been a pleasure to hear your thoughts. You can learn more about Alice’s work HERE.

Alex Callister Interview: “Audio is a genre in its own right”

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Today I talk to Alex Callister, an industry expert on media, telecoms and internet stocks. By day, she visits high security web hosting sites, by night, she writes about a dystopian world where organised crime have harnessed the power of the internet and are taking over. Her award-winning books are the talk of the town, so naturally I was keen to find out more.

What is your background and what drew you towards writing thrillers?

I spend my day wondering and worrying about the latest internet developments. City analysts ask the question, ‘What if’ for a living.

What if you could murder someone easily and anonymously online? Would there be many takers? How would people respond? Would some cultures take to it more than others? What would it do to society? How would the government respond?

These were the questions I was turning over in my mind at the start of the Winter Dark process.

How did you get into writing? Did you always want to write?

I have always wanted to write Winter. She is my version of a Hollywood action hero – Bond, Bourne, John Wick, Vin Diesel, John McClane in Die Hard etc.

As a writer of both audiobooks and printed books, what skills do you need to create engaging content for these very different mediums?

You have to be really on your game with audio. Every word is going to be performed. You can’t have a single duff line. With print the eye glides over boring bits – audio there is nowhere to hide.

I have been really lucky to have an amazing narrator. I deliberately put in a range of nationalities because she is so good at accents. The twist at the end of Winter Rising came about because of her skill with different voices. I could see how the reveal would work really well.

Audio is a genre in its own right. It is like being told a story round the campfire. I am fascinated by what you can do with sentence length and rhythm. I hear what I am writing in my head: the rise and fall of it.

I had a great letter from a speech therapist in Florida who said she had been late for work every day for a week because she couldn’t stop listening in the staff car park. That’s the real challenge, to immerse the listener and make it hard for them to leave.

What features do you believe are vital to creating good thrillers and how do you incorporate these into your work?

These days commercial fiction can be quite formulaic. You need a hook, inciting event, reveal, surprise twist etc. When you are trying to get published you have to play by the rules. A good thriller actually makes your heart race while you are reading. That’s my goal. Not every scene obviously but most of them. Doesn’t have to be fear. There is plenty of erotic content in the Winter books.

Please tell me about the books you read. How do they influence your work?

Lee Child has the biggest influence on my actual writing style. No one can touch him for tightness of prose. Mick Herron, Ian Fleming, John Le Carré are my genre. John Fowles, Angela Carter. Lord of the Flies. Fight club. Mustn’t forget Fight club. What is the first rule of Fight club?

Where do you take your inspiration?

The movies. Winter Dark is FULL of one liners! I also love fairy stories like Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, Snow White and use a lot of fairy tale tropes – mirrors, pills, eyes, sweets etc..

Winter Rising is set in an old graveyard in South East London. The Guardsman has a particular gravestone where he likes to kill people. A real gravestone was the inspiration for this. The angel looks like it is weeping…

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Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

I work at night 10pm – 2am. Put the earphones in to get me in the mood. Each of my characters has a signature song. I just have to play it and I am right back with them. Winter’s is Bette Davis Eyes, the Dean Ray version. It has this line, ‘Pure as New York snow….’

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

How to choose?? The Marquis de Sade? I would love to write a Terry Pratchett. Winter is basically Granny Weatherwax fifty year younger

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Winter Rising, the sequel to Winter Dark, is out on 1 October. It features the Guardsman, a classic character from a gothic horror. It is interesting to reimagine this kind of killer in a technologically developed age and to see what opportunities that gives him.

Are there any new books or writers are you looking forward to in the future?

One of Winter’s early supporters, Robin Morgan Bentley, has his debut novel The Wreckage out in February which I am excited to see.

Anything you’d like to add?

You can find me on acallister.com Thank you for having me!

It’s been a pleasure talking to Alex! Winter Dark was the Audible Thriller of the year 2019 and is published by Bookouture Jan 2020. Her second book in the series, Winter Rising, is out on Audible today- keep a look out for it!

 

 

Janet Roger Interview: “What really got under my skin was Marlowe’s voice guiding me around the next street corner”

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As a fan myself, it’s great to hear from someone whose work was heavily influenced by Raymond Chandler. Therefore it is my great privilege to introduce Janet Roger, who spoke to me about her work and how the great creator of Philip Marlowe came to inspire it.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime and mystery fiction?

As a teenager I’d read all of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe stories – not so long after they were written as I’d like to think – and they knocked my socks off. He wrote about Los Angeles and its neon-lit boulevards, its sour, gritty downtown and gun toting cops (a novelty to this young European) and made them exotic. But what really got under my skin was Marlowe’s voice guiding me around the next street corner, and beyond it into a stale apartment block or a down and low bar. He invited me to look over his shoulder, let me into his highs and lows, talked me through them and then put me in the seat beside him to drive me home. It was heady stuff, up to the point where the story began to seem incidental to the city and its moods, its characters and their speech patterns. What really mattered was the time, the place and the people you might run into. I’d discovered a new kind of mystery writing and got hooked.

How did you get into writing crime fiction?

By the back door. I’d been fascinated by a discovery made in the City of London in the early Cold War, a true detective story in its own right, and wondered how to tell it. Now the fact is, in those years a radically new wave of crime fiction was hitting its stride. Meanwhile, Hollywood had embarked on a slew of dark, ground-breaking movies: think Double Indemnity, The Third Man, Gun Crazy or Out of the Past. In other words the story I was interested in had unfolded right at the heart of classic noir. So the way to tell it, and at the same time set it in period, seemed obvious. How to bring that off? How do you stay convincingly close to the conventions of a classic genre and still bring the modern reader along for the ride? Well, that gets into larger questions of how you choose to write your historical fiction. But it was absorbing, and great of fun to do. 

What features do you believe are vital to creating good crime fiction?

Read Shamus Dust and you’ll know I’m absolutely sold on Chandler’s landmark essay on crime fiction, The Simple Art of Murder. He wrote it for Atlantic Monthly in 1944, and I’m not the only one who thinks that – along with his collected letters – it’s the very best of his writing. Yes, you can include the Philip Marlowe novels in that! I won’t paraphrase the original. It argues his case to perfection and the essay is still in print, as a preface to his short stories. Spoiler warning: he’s not at all complimentary about the classic, murder-over-high-tea puzzler!

Please tell me about the books you read. How do they influence your work?

First thoughts are two very slim books that I’d have given my writing arm for. First is Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Forget the movie, it’s a travesty. The original story is lyric, sparkling, spare and unsentimental about its heroine, who goes her own way first and last, entirely her own woman. Such a shame that Hollywood didn’t serve Capote anywhere near as well as his childhood friend, Harper Lee, when To Kill a Mockingbird reached the screen only a year later.

My second even has a connection of sorts to Shamus Dust, where there’s actually a passing nod to Homer. (How does an ancient Greek epic poet possibly fit in a hardboiled detective story? Newman, the private-eye narrator, asks the same question!). Christopher Logue’s War Music is a narrative poem, not a translation but a reworking of some of the first books of Homer’s Iliad. The writing is fast paced, knife-edge precision, thrilling in its accounts of hacking, screeching hand-to-hand combat. Exquisite in its fixing of the heroes of the Trojan War, the landscapes they maul over and the skies they die beneath. You’ll read either one of these two in an afternoon, then want to reread it next afternoon.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

Absolutely no rituals! I have a mortal terror of routine in all things. It drives me completely nuts. Writing, like everything else, gets done wherever I happen to be, in the expectation I’ll be somewhere else tomorrow. There, got that off my chest! But you’ll gather I rely more on inspiration than method. Where does the inspiration come from? Probably from a lifetime of needing to get out of a soup I just landed in!

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Collaborating isn’t really for me (see above!) but it’s an interesting question. It occurs to me that there are artists I’d love to talk to about their way of seeing things, for example the early-twentieth century paintings of Edouard Vuillard. He’s hard to categorize, and if you’re not familiar do look him up. His oblique, fragmented take on his surroundings – often interiors – invites you to loiter over what’s going on there. Another painter would be Camille Corot (earlier than Vuillard) who has a magical way of overlaying real landscapes with the lyric haze of visual memory. The common thread is how to represent seeing and remembering. Better stop there before this becomes a visit to an art gallery.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m well on into a sequel to Shamus Dust called The Gumshoe’s Freestyle, set six months later in the City (of course), in the summer of ’48. Those immediate postwar years made interesting times. Freestyle ties up some loose ends, returns to some characters from the first story and develops with them. Actually, there’s a connection planted toward the close of Shamus Dust, though you do seriously have to know your Chandler to spot it. I liked the idea of some oblique, passing link between two cases that Newman and Marlowe will never know they once shared an interest in. That said, Freestyle stands on its own and takes our private eye to an entirely new case. It’s been interesting to decide which characters to go back to, how fleeting or important they need to be, and of course, how to introduce them to a reader who doesn’t already know them from the earlier story.

Are there any new books or writers are you looking forward to in the future?

Well, one that’s new to me is Jonathan Letham’s Motherless Brooklyn. It’s now arrived on the big screen thanks to the persistence of Edward Norton, who wrote the screenplay, directs and performs. The book was first published twenty years ago, so it’s time I caught up with another author who takes the private-eye genre and defies its expectations. The film, by the way, moves the setting back to the late 1950s. There’s something magnetic about the period, isn’t there?

It’s been great to hear from Janet; thank to her for taking the time to answer my questions! Her book Shamus Dust is out on the 28th October. You can find out more about her HERE

 

Daniella Bernett Interview: “People often ask me why I chose a journalist and a jewel thief as my protagonists”

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Apologies for the gap between posts, I’ve been away on a well-deserved trip back down to Dorset! Today I’m back with an exciting interview with writer Daniella Bernett, who discusses her thriller writing and how she keeps her readers on the edge of their seats.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and thriller writing?

Mysteries and suspense thrillers are terribly appealing, like a siren call to my soul. It seemed only natural that I when gathered up the courage to write my first novel, it would be a mystery (with a soupçon of romance to make things that much more interesting).

For me, mysteries have always been about the puzzle. I don’t need to know how much blood and guts have been spilled. I want to know why the crime was committed. The author dangles the answer before the reader’s eyes. The clues are like pearls that are strategically dropped here and there. It is the reader’s job to collect and arrange all of them so that they form a necklace. And voilà, the solution miraculously materializes. That’s what I wanted to do.

Specifically, talk me through your upcoming book When Blood Runs Cold. What do you think will draw readers towards it?

I’ve laced When Blood Runs Cold with layers of lies and betrayal. After all, whose interest isn’t piqued by a whisper of scandal and intrigue?

When Blood Runs Cold is about how one can never escape the past. Journalist Emmeline Kirby is reeling from the recent discovery that her parents were murdered while on assignment when she was five years old. She’s determined to find their killer. At the same time, she’s working on a story about the suspicious death of Russian national Pavel Melnikov, a man who tried to double cross Putin and Russian mafia boss Igor Bronowski. Her questions have garnered her a growing number of enemies. Along the way, two men are poisoned to prevent them from exposing these ugly machinations. If this wasn’t enough, Emmeline learns that everything she believed about her life has been a lie and she becomes a murder suspect.

Then there’s Gregory Longdon, her dashing fiancé and jewel thief-cum-insurance investigator, whose past has caught up with him in the form of ruthless entrepreneur Alastair Swanbeck. Swanbeck has ties to the underworld and Putin. He has been waiting years to exact his revenge for Gregory’s meddling in things that should have been left alone. And now, he has found his perfect tool: Emmeline.

To add a bit more tension, I’ve included a Sotheby’s auction of the Blue Angel, a flawless 12-carat blue diamond that men are willing to kill to possess.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

After I graduated from college with a B.S. in Journalism, in the four months it took me to find employment, I wrote a mystery novel. My first job was as a copywriter at the publisher Penguin USA. One day, I plucked up the courage to show my book to one of the editors. She actually read it. She told me that it was better than what she usually sees from debut authors. However, she said that I should think more in terms of a series. I tried revising the book and submitted it to several agents, who all rejected it. Thus, I chalked it up to a good exercise. But I didn’t forget the editor’s advice. The kernel of the idea for my Emmeline Kirby and Gregory Longdon series slowly started swirling around in the back of my mind, until one day when all pieces fell into place and Lead Me Into Danger, Book 1, came to life on the printed page.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

Inspiration is derived from all sorts of sources. It could be a newspaper article; a snippet of overheard conversation; a real-life crime, or a dream. I get a lot of ideas from the sights and sounds of a city or an area that has made a strong impression on me. You’re either going to laugh or you’re going to run very quickly in the opposite direction, but oftentimes I come across a place and think, “Wouldn’t this be the perfect setting to find a dead body?”

For me, setting is an important character all its own, one that helps to establish the tone and propels my stories. ’ve been an Anglophile since I was a little kid, so naturally my characters had to be British and London had to figure prominently in my books. I also adore Venice. That enchanted city’s history of intrigues was simply begging to be featured in Lead Me Into Danger, where Emmeline and Gregory become ensnared in a hunt for a Russian spy in the British Foreign Office.

In terms of Deadly Legacy, Book 2, what set the story in motion in my mind was the 2003 heist at the Antwerp Diamond Centre. A group of Italian thieves stole $100 million in diamonds, gold, and other jewellery. Only one man was caught. The diamonds were never found. This captivated my imagination. From Beyond The Grave, Book 3, focuses on Emmeline and Gregory’s rekindled relationship. His recent resurfacing has thrown her safe world into turmoil. Therefore, I wanted to take them outside of London, where they wouldn’t be distracted by daily routines. I selected Torquay along the English Riviera in Devon because I love the sea. Gently lapping tides, a rugged coastline, romantic sunsets, and murder. A Checkered Past, Book 4, is back in London and deals with a looted Nazi painting, an IRA collaborator and, alas, a murder or two. I am passionate about the issue of looted Nazi art, as everyone should be about injustice.

In term’s of writer’s block, what I usually do is scream. No, not really. In my head, yes; out loud, no. Seriously, I sit for a bit going over the last paragraph I wrote hoping for a new burst of energy. A strong cup of tea often stimulates my brain cells. But when the muse utterly fails me, I turn off my laptop and step away to allow the plot to steep in my mind overnight. This is usually the best medicine. The next day, I come back renewed and refreshed with a different perspective. And what do you know? The words begin to flow once again.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Agatha Christie. There are so many things I admire about the grande dame of mystery. She was truly a master at her craft. What I love the most is that Christie conceived such deliciously wicked and ingenious plots that appeal to the reader’s intellect. Jealousy, love, and greed are the primary motives for murder. Christie took these motives threw them into a pot, swirled them about, and in each book conjured up a new way to explore these emotions. Her stories endure to this day because of her astute insight into human nature and all its foibles.

I would like readers to be talking about my books long after I’m dead. I try to leave readers wanting more, like Christie did with such consummate skill. I hope I’m succeeding.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Old Sins Never Die, Book 6, will be released in fall 2020. I’m currently working on Book 7. As you can see, Emmeline and Gregory are always dragging me off on another adventure.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

My to-be-read list never dwindles, but off the top of my head these are some of the books I’m looking forward to: Summer Country by Lauren Willig; Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen; Northing Ventured by Jeffrey Archer; The Other Woman by Daniel Silva; Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini; Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

People often ask me why I chose a journalist and a jewel thief as my protagonists. A journalist is inherently curious about many subjects. His or her job is to ask questions to uncover the truth and ensure transparency. Naturally, a journalist would be intrigued by crime, especially murder. The determination to find answers and see that justice is served are all important.

Now, how does a jewel thief fit into the model of a sleuth? Aren’t lying and evading the law a thief’s modus operandi? Isn’t this in stark contrast to a journalist’s reverence for the truth and justice? Most definitely. That’s exactly the point. A portrait in contrasts. Who better than someone on the wrong side of the law to discern the twisted workings of a fellow criminal’s mind? A thief immediately recognizes things that the honest person would never even contemplate. In Gregory’s case, he has a certain code of honor. Murder is an offensive transgression, a line that should never be crossed. Thus, I have two diametrically opposed sleuths who are of one mind when it comes to the taking of a human life: the culprit must pay for the crime; otherwise chaos would reign in the world.

My website is http://www.daniellabernett.com/. You can follow me on Facebook and Goodreads.

Thanks to Daniella for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s been great.

Mark Atley Interview: “As far as writing, I’ve always wanted to tell stories”

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This week I spoke to Mark Atley about his writing and the inspiration behind his books.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard is the book that I am truly passionate about and it epitomises my writing style to me. That book was how I found Crime Fiction. Not mysteries. Not thrillers or suspense. Crime Fiction.

I re-read it every year, sometimes multiple times a year. It’s funny but I actually hated Get Shorty the first time I read it. I didn’t understand the book. Been writing for years. Started my novel writing with thrillers. Started there, because of Vince Flynn. Like me, he was dyslexic. Also, he had a dream and executed it. Then, I fell in love with Daniel Silva, and decided I can’t write a thriller like they do. So I decided to write smaller stories. I couldn’t do fantasy. Couldn’t get any of my Science Fiction to work. Figured, I know crime, because I grew up in a cop household—why not start there? For several years, I studied crime fiction, reading all the greats. Started with Raymond Chandler, and then progressed to current greats.

After college, I worked in sales but was told I’m too honest for it so I quit that job to be a cop. I figured there’s nothing wrong with jumping into research with both feet. Started in the county jail. That’s a great place to learn about crime and people. That year, I read a few of Leonard’s books, and didn’t connect to any of them. And then I did. They were good. I saw what he was trying to do, and it clicked. Behind Leonard came Ken Buren.

Then, in my writing, I made the transition to present tense and my mind opened.

 What is your career background and how did you get into writing novels?

Career wise, I’ve had a lot of “jobs”, but they weren’t really jobs. I went to school for journalism, because I wanted to write and do live-event production, like what you see on ESPN. I realized I’m too honest for journalism, but loved writing stories from the local crime blotter. I worked in live-event production for a decade producing small gigs around town. Best job in the world, because the production stuff taught me a lot about pacing and storytelling, while working the switchers and directing. After school, there weren’t any jobs in this area so I worked in sales for couple years and did okay. It wasn’t great. During all that, I waited tables and bartended. Except I’m not a great bartender, I can’t remember the drink recipes.

I don’t know what it is like for others growing up, but I wanted to do what my father did. He was a cop. He’s retired. I think he tried to get me to do something else. I don’t know if he wanted me in law enforcement. He’s always said if someone wants to be in law enforcement they need to go to school for something other than Criminal Justice, because everyone has a Criminal Justice Degree. He had several reasons why being different would be good. Journalism was a good choice for me, because gave me all the skills a good investigator needs to have.

As far as writing, I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I challenged myself to write and finish a couple novels. They sucked, but I finished them.

Please tell me about your books and what you think draws readers to enjoy them.

Recently, my novel The Olympian published. I want readers to enjoy it and I want them to be entertained.

The novel follows several people at a Mexican All-Inclusive Resort. It’s pure Crime Fiction. I call it an ensemble novel, because it’s told from multiple points-of-view. I wanted to write a novel based on Michael Phelps. I challenged myself to write a laconic good guy any Leonard fan would recognize and never be in his head. Both ideas turned into The Olympian.

Really, the novel’s setting could be anywhere; I just needed something I was familiar with. It’s not about the resort. It’s about the people. I hope that’s what draws readers.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I wrote a series character in a trilogy of mysteries that were in first-person. At one point, I had a contract with a publisher to have these novels published. But two things happened, one I can’t talk about due to NDA and I read Adrian Mckinty’s Sean Duffy series. I realized I sucked at writing in first person. I found it tedious and limiting, which made it very difficult to finish the novels. I felt exhausted. It wasn’t very fun. One thing I do to motivate myself to write is read author interviews. I read old interviews with Elmore Leonard. I realized writing should be fun. I wanted to read more stories like his, but didn’t feel like there was anyone out there doing that.

There are, but that’s how I felt. As such, I decided to write the stories I wanted to read, which included weird characters and strange situations. I like writing in scenes. Leonard said he would write from the best point-of-view for that scene. That worked for me.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I read everything. I love most of what I read. On Twitter, I like to write quick blurbs about what I liked in a book. Sometimes I put what didn’t work. I don’t mention books I didn’t like.

When I’m writing, I can’t read Elmore Leonard, Don Winslow, Lou Berny, William Boyle, Adrian McKinty and many others. I end up trying to sound like them. I wait and reward myself with reading them when I finish a novel.

When I’m writing, I do research, read whatever catches my fancy, and read Science Fiction. Because I’m a detective, I have to take a break from the crime fiction, and I have found a love for Star Trek novels. They are great to read before bed and some of them are master classes in character interactions. Think Spock, Kirk, and McCoy—doesn’t get any better than when they are bouncing off each other in a scene.

Check out James Blish’s Spock Must Die! As far as Trek lore, there are some issues, but as far as story. It really works.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

With regards to dead writers, I would select Hunter S. Thompson, George V. Higgins, Chester Himes, and Elmore Leonard. I think the reasons are pretty obvious at this point. Thompson would just be fun. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a must read, and really captures a scene. Himes would just be plain cool. And Leonard, well because he’s the master and it’d be good to have his approval.

When it comes to living writers I would go with Lou Berney, Attica Locke, Walter Mosely, William Boyle, and J. Todd Scott. Berny, because he’s an Oklahoman, too. Locke, because she’s great. It’d be fun to do a different point-of-view novel with her. Mosely, because who wouldn’t want to work at with a master. Boyle, because he’s writing stories I want to read. J. Todd Scott, because he’s just a great guy. He’s been very supportive. I’d love to work with him. Or have a beer.

In fact, I’ll just have a beer with any of them, or coffee.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

Right now, I am trying to find an agent. To be honest, I’m having a hard time finding someone that wants to work with me.

I have rewritten that series character in 3rd Person and hope to bring those characters to the world soon.

I finished two novels this last year: American Standard and Green County, and they are wonderful novels. I hope you get to read them soon. I’m trying to find representation for American Standard.

American Standard is a Crime Fiction ensemble novel, approximately 100,000 words, told in multiple viewpoints, about George Winslow, who steals money from a social media company that’s a front for a cartel, to make good on a gambling debt. The cartel hires Salvatore “Sal” Lambino (The Good Guy) to find George, because he’s the best at finding people. The FBI hires a hit-man, Maxwell—not Max, don’t call him that (The Bad Guy) to find George and quietly bring him in, because the FBI wants to run George against the cartel without tipping off the cartel. The cartel just wants George and everyone else involved dead, including the girl George falls in love with—Sal’s assistant, who has her own intentions—and the tough guy that’s in love with her. Current comparative titles to style and characters would be Lou Berney’s November Road or William Boyle’s A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself.

The other novel, Green County, is similar in structure and set in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s about what happens when an informant dies. The characters in this novel are based on several people I work with, which isn’t something I normally do, but really worked in this novel.

Check out Ink and Sword Magazine (on Twitter) December 2018 Crime Fiction issue to find two of my short stories, including one that stars Sal from American Standard.

As always, I’m working on the next novel and have several planned after that.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to going forward? 

I’m excited to read J. Todd Scott’s next novel. I’m really looking forward to the last Alex Segura Pete Fernandez novel.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’d love for people to buy my book. What author wouldn’t?

But what I would like is to hear from readers what worked and what didn’t for them. You can find me on Twitter. Let’s talk about books. Also, I’d love for readers to leave reviews for books they have read, including mine. Reviews matter.

Also, if you find yourself on twitter, watch my feed for authors you should be following. There’s some great advice and interactions happening there.

Lastly, listen to WriterTypes Podcast. Those guys are doing some great work.

It’s been great hearing from you thank you for answering my questions and giving us an insight into your work!

Keith Wright Interview: “I know that even in the heat of a drama sometimes humour can invade”

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Author Keith Wright talks to me about his work and the influences behind it this weekend!

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.

I think my writing style comes from reading an author called Ed McBain, who was a master of the crime novel in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. These were the first crime novels I had read, many of which were before my time. I read them retrospectively, when I was about 14 or 15 years old. They blew me away; I couldn’t get enough of them. They were gritty, fast paced and seemed to be honest.

The key elements of my writing style seem to be well-paced, gritty, painfully truthful and good use of epigrams. (I had to look it up too, when a reviewer mentioned it).

I guess my experience in the subject matter also fuels my style, as I like to think that I know how things evolve in that seedy world. I don’t have to guess. I know that even in the heat of a drama sometimes humour can invade. I know how criminals and cops tend to talk to each other, and it is not always the way it is portrayed in books and films. This gives me a confidence, I think, which may not be evident for others dealing with a genre that they have not experienced personally. I was listening to an eBook recently and an arms dealer was showing resistance to a proposal; he used the phrase ‘I should Coco.’ I’m not sure that would have been the phrase used by such a man. Books don’t have to be true, and there is an element of escapism, but for me at least, within that escapism we have to believe it, or we become self-aware of the fiction.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing?

I come from a working-class background. As a child we lived in a two bedroomed pre-fab, which had been built for the war as temporary accommodation until they were pulled down and we moved in 1970. My Mum and Dad were in one bedroom and five kids were in the other. I don’t mind disclosing that my Dad was a functioning alcoholic, he’s long since dead and he left home when I was 10. Maybe escaping some of his shenanigans in my mind helped grow a fertile imagination? I went to a comprehensive school and our ‘careers’ advice, consisted of being given a list of about thirty jobs, and we had to choose three.

I ticked: Postman / Journalist / Policeman. The fact I picked journalist perhaps indicates a love for the written word. My career teacher told me I had no chance of becoming a policeman. So, in 1979 I left school and joined the police force. Within a few years I was on CID working the area I was brought up in, and was eventually promoted to Detective Sergeant.

I had always thought about getting into writing and when I was about 26, I began to write a book as an experiment. I wrote a manuscript out longhand with a pen, and I realised that it was pretty good. I then hired (yes, hired) an electronic typewriter and typed it up. I sent it to various agents and was eventually accepted by a terrific old guy called Jeffrey Simmonds, whom I met and he was so insightful. He found me a publisher with Constable (now Little Brown) and the rest is history.

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What books do you read yourself and how do they influence your own work?

I don’t read as much as I should. I tend to read autobiographies, as I love people and their stories. Good crime fiction is a rare treat also. I like Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin, as well as the American author Ed Mcbain, of course. I have had dinner with all three, bizarrely over the years. It’s a strange world.

I don’t like to let others influence my work too much, and I am much too critical; too much description, bad speech patterns, nothing is happening etc. I’m sure other authors may well say similar things about my work. We don’t read books as readers; we read them as writers, if that makes sense.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

My inspiration for plots come from active thinking; what sort of plot is meaty enough to get into? I just invent it. Sometimes a life event could trigger a scene or a theme, but rarely an entire plot.

I have been both pantster and plotter with my novels, but I much prefer pantster. I need a general circumstance or a handful of story arcs and set off on the journey.

Usually particular scenes are influenced more from experience rather than the whole book itself. Even little episodes I will tap down in my phone to prompt me. An example of this happened recently, when I was visiting a relative who had just had a baby. The woman from the hospital catering arrived at her bedside.

‘Would you like a sandwich, my love?’

‘Yes please. What is there?’

‘Cheese, Ham or Tuna.’

‘Do you do cheese on brown?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘OK, well, can I have cheese then please, on brown, or if not, on white?’

‘So, you want a tuna sandwich.’

‘No, I don’t like Tuna.’

‘Okay, my love Ham it is.’

Now this sort of conversation is too bizarre to be made up. I think sometimes writers may miss opportunities by writing about, in this instance, a woman ordering a cheese sandwich, and it would be flat, yet these sorts of conversations are happening around us all the time, if we only happen to notice.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I would love to collaborate with Ed Mcbain, but as I have mentioned him a couple of times, I would also love to work with Charles Dickens. That Dickensian truthfulness, and despair wrapped around humour and characterisation. A man who clearly loves the themes he is writing about, and hypnotising all who read them.

What’s up next for your writing? Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I am in the process of re-writing my third book Addressed to Kill. Set at Christmas time. (Charles Dicken would be pleased), I have new characters and scenes I am adding as well as giving more depth to the existing characters and narrative. It gives me the opportunity to deal with things like anxiety, through my characters, and being set in the 1980’s it gives me the opportunity to address issues such as racism and sexism, so long as it flows naturally and does not become the main theme of the book, rather adding some thought provoking moments than preaching.

I am also preparing to put my first novel One Oblique One on to Audible and have taken the decision to narrate it myself. I am also doing promotional work on both One Oblique One and Trace and Eliminate, my two latest books, which are currently available on Amazon and Kindle and KU. I am doing some interviews on radio and magazines, as well as writing articles for magazines here in the UK and in the States.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Trace and Eliminate the second book in the Inspector Stark series has just been released, and as I have touched on – Addressed To Kill should be out in the next month or two.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

For my final comments I’d just like to discuss my books. Firstly, One Oblique One is about the Marriott family, who are discovered murdered in their own home. The daughter; 19 year old Faye, seems a good girl, but DI Stark and his team discover there is more to her than meets the eye. Tragedy strikes before they capture the true killer.

Next is Trace and Eliminate, about a young solicitor who lies on a mortuary slab having been brutally murdered. Within a short space of time there is another killing. It appears that a group of former college friends are embroiled in the multiple deaths. 6 of them are left. One is the killer, and one is the next to be killed. But who is who?

Finally, Addressed To Kill is my upcoming book about a disturbed sex attacker is tearing Christmas apart. His psychosis is so entrenched, that each crime appears to be getting more and more grotesque. Death being the only outcome. The killer is not caught before DI Starks own family become wrapped up in this maniac’s diseased mind, with tragic consequences.

Thanks very much to Keith for taking the time, it’s ben great. You can follow the author on Twitter @keithwwright. Visit his website for free short stories and samples of his books: keithwrightauthor.co.uk

Susan Sage Interview: “My favorite genre is probably Magic Realism.”

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Poet and Author Susan Sage provides me with an overview of her work and how it’s been influenced by a diverse range of writers.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.

My writing style has been greatly influenced by authors/poets I’ve enjoyed reading over many years. Due to my love of poetry, specifically contemporary, I’ve always enjoyed imagery – especially dreamlike imagery. My descriptions aren’t particularly lengthy, but they are often visual. Never was a big Hemingway fan, but I suppose I’ve been influenced by his writing style.

Authors like Zora Neale Hurston/Toni Morrison/William Faulkner are brilliant with voice, and have affected me most. I doubt whether you can see their influence in my writing, but I’m in awe of what incredible masters of the craft they all are. If you’re referring more to writing style in regards to genre, I don’t have a particular genre that I write in, though I especially enjoy character-driven writing, regardless of whether a novel’s a fantasy, mystery, or other. I’m currently working on a draft that I’m hoping is multi-genre. My favorite genre is probably Magic Realism.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I have an undergraduate degree in English from Wayne State University in Detroit and have taken several graduate English classes from the University of Michigan-Flint. I took several creative writing classes when I was an undergraduate. Also, I’ve been an active member of a writing group for several years. I’ve taught creative writing to all ages of students and have been an editor of a student creative writing magazine. While I write fiction and some poetry, I’ve always worked, too. Since I don’t spend most of my day writing, I’m certainly not as professional as many.

Tell me about your books. What do you believe draws your readers to your work?

I’ve published two books. My first book, Insominy, is a contemporary fantasy. It was self-published back in 2010. I was clueless about how to promote it, and to be fair, there weren’t as many online opportunities. Local promotion drew readers interested in fantasy. A Mentor and Her Muse, published by a traditional publisher, Open Books, has definitely sold more copies than my first. It’s classified as both psychological and women’s fiction, so I guess readers, particularly women, who are interested in psychological fiction, are drawn to it. Two of the three main characters are writers, so it has a literary bent, as well, so female authors might be the ones most drawn to it.

When choosing books to read, what style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

Interesting question because I think it’s true that we do write what we tend to enjoy reading! I’d have to say, I most enjoy psychological fiction and also some fantasy and science fiction. I’m interested in writing and reading novels that make social statements, as seen in the work of Margaret Atwood or George Orwell. There are too many present day novelists to list, though my among my favorites from the 19th Century include Tolstoy, Proust, and Dickens. I’m a fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez due to his use of Magic Realism. I keep meaning to re-read One Hundred Years of Solitude.

If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

It would have to be Margaret Atwood because of her superb imagination. Also, she seems like she’d be easy going and would have the right amount of humor to make a collaborative project possible.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m currently working on a draft of a novel, which is proving to be an interesting challenge, not only because it’s multi genre, but also because it’s main character is a guy – an older guy. I’ve never written from a male perspective before except in a few short stories. It’s tentatively entitled The Ringo Tales and it’s basically about a near End Times community coming together in search of Ringo, a lost golden retriever.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

Just recently, I began enjoying books by several authors I’m acquainted with on Twitter. Ones I high recommend include: Kevin Ansbro, Susan Rooke, C.A. Asbrey, Milana Marsenich, Iris Yang, and Mark Ozeroff. There are many others whose works I’m curious about but haven’t yet read. This group includes Gemma Lawrence, Ellie Douglas, Karl Holton, Millie Thom, and M. Ainihi. There are many others, as well!

Anything you’d like to add?

Thanks SO much for giving me this opportunity! I’m looking forward to reading your blog.

Huge thanks to Susan for answering my questions, it’s been a pleasure.