Larry Yoke Interview: “Most of what I write comes directly from the land of my imagination”

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The Dorset Book Detective, through sheer laziness, has always been a proponent of creating ‘socially distanced’ interviews. I email the questions over and receive the answers back.

Now, this technique is en vogue, but I want everyone to know that I pioneered it!

To show you how well it works, I’ve got another great interview for you here today, this time from Poet and Author Larry Yoke, who answers my questions with his own unique brand of panache.

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

Not sure of my style as yet, perhaps I never will actually succumb to a certain one. I like to vary my writing genres and methods. When we think we’ve done it all, we’re DONE! I do read other authors better than me to glean from the best out there so I keep learning, growing, honing my skills, and S T R E T C H I N G as a writer. This process has no “ending”.

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

I started writing poetry by writing a poem for a little lady when I was nine. I felt it, wrote it and she loved it! I still use that “feeling” measuring device today in my poetry, short stories and multi genre books. If I feel the story is good, real, enjoyable and interesting, I sit down to write it out. I am a creature with emotional passion and use it to my advantage. The poetry lent well to writing lyrics put to music, and then came along short stories I shared with family and friends, then put some of those stories into a sequential series and out came my first book Second Chances.

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

I take any inspiration directly to my keyboard. I jot down ideas, paragraphs and once in a blue moon I’ll attempt to create an outline. Most of what I write comes directly from the land of my imagination. I may find something of interest in the news or a story I heard at a party and my imagination takes over. I simply cannot help myself and MUST write it down or it’ll haunt me until I do release it onto the page!

What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

I love historical fiction. The genre gives detail of historical facts, people places and a certain time, but still has a touch of artistic freedom to enhance the story line or characters.

My favourite authors in this genre are Hemmingway and Wilbur Smith. Hemmingway taught us so much about writing drama, mood setting, and creating deep character studies. Wilbur Smith is a master at storytelling mixing actual accounts and people with fictional attributes. He is a worldwide award-winning author who is widely read and extremely successful.

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

I think that collaborating with Shakespeare would be the ideal writer to join our writing techniques. He intermixed drama with humour to create his fabulous characters and audacious storyline’s that inform and entertain while making us all laugh.

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

I have two projects coming up I’m really excited about. The first one is a book of poetry titled Word Paintings showcasing half of my original works and half belonging to Charlotte Louise Nystrom. She’s quite the poetess and I am honoured to be collaborating with her. Out later in 2020.

The second project is a crime drama titled Insentient featuring my favourite female detective Gloria Ramos. One very unusual thing about this book will be its cover. The cover is an exact copy of a famous painting from International Abstract artist Sheeba Khan that’s hanging in the National Museum of Art in South Korean. We’re friends and she lent it to me to use. In fact her husband is the one who designed and put the cover together.

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

I have several books on my TBR list—so much to read, so little time! I’ve started on my first novella titled Music Across the Waters. I had a short story, same title, picked up and featured by a magazine called Me First Magazine who publish only stories told in the first person point of view and decided to expand it to a dramatic characterization and suspenseful novella.

Anything you’d like to add?

I often coach new writers since I’ve been around the block and have unfortunately, learned the hard way. This is my favourite bit of advice: Writing and editing can be a daunting task. Patience is everything when writing. If you love what you do, the time and effort are secondary. Keep writing! Love the race to the finish line then celebrate the victory! You’ve accomplished more than most people do in a lifetime!

Thanks for answering my questions, it’s been great hearing from you! You can find out more about Larry here.

 

 

 

Keeley Webb Interview: “A lot of my ideas have come from dreams”

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Today I speak to suspense writer Keeley Webb about her work and how she came to create such gripping narratives.

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

I’ve always had a fascination with criminal psychology. I watch a lot of crime documentaries and tend to be drawn to thriller novels. I wanted to write about things I’d be interested in reading myself.

What is your background and how did you become a published author? 

My background is varied. I’ve had some interesting jobs and worked with some real characters! From selling adjustable beds and chairs at 17-years-old, to assessing eligibility for WWII medals to the next of kin of deceased soldiers; whilst working for the MOD. I also used to sell boiler and cooker spares at a plumber’s merchants.

I gave up work at 26 years old to have a family. I’m now lucky enough to be Mum to two lovely children, and a crazy Staffordshire bull terrier.

In 2017, after seven months in hospital following a stroke my maternal grandmother passed away. During this time, I’d used writing as an outlet for my grief. At the same time, a close friend published her first book and encouraged me to have a go.

My first book, Death Made Me, although hard to put in just one genre, was published in June 2017 under paranormal suspense.

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

A lot of my ideas have come from dreams, and of course real life inspires characters, an overheard conversation or something on the television can spark a train of thought.

I write when the mood takes me, I could never work to a schedule and force myself to write. I usually have a vague idea and then the story flows as I start to type. If I’m struggling with it, I close the laptop and walk away. Or, I start on another book!

 

It was during a break from writing the sequel to Death Made Me that Whispers in the Wine Cellar was born.

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

Oh, so many amazing authors to choose from, but I think for me it would be Karin Slaughter. Her books are amazing, and I’m a real fan. I’m nowhere near her league though so, I can’t see it ever happening.

What do you like to read yourself and how does this shape your own writing?

I’m always drawn to crime stories first, but if a blurb catches my attention, I’ll read it. I think the more I read the more it makes me want to write, regardless of content. Every time I read a book the magic of someone else’s imagination, and ability to take me into another world with their words is inspiring.

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

I’m still working on the sequel to Death Made Me. I have a lot of readers waiting on that. I can only apologise for my brain; it’s easily distracted and there’s at least another 3-5 novels cooking away in there. I’m hoping to finish the sequel this year and at least one other book.

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

I’m not waiting on anything. I have a very packed kindle library of amazing books just waiting to be read.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just to say that authors love reviews. If you love a book please leave a review, tweet about it, let people know. It’s the best way to thank the author. With so many good books out there it’s hard to be seen at times. And I’d like to thank you for your time and effort. Great questions, thanks so much.

Thanks to Keeley for answering my questions, it’s been great!

Michael Kelso Interview: “When writing my crime fiction novel I took a lot of inspiration from my Corrections Officer career”

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This week’s interview is with former Corrections Officer turned crime and horror writer Michael Kelso. He didn’t send me a picture, so I typed his name into Google and this is what came up. Pretty sure it’s him!  

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

I was a Corrections Officer at a local prison for 20 years. I started writing during the time I worked there. Being in that type of environment definitely shaped the tone of many of my works.

How do you capitalise on being named after a character in That 70s Show, and if you don’t then why not?

I can’t say that I capitalize on it, but I don’t shy away from it either. It’s the name I was born with. The fact that a fictional character shares my name doesn’t change my writing for the most part. I did add a line in one of my stories to poke fun at my namesake. The fact that I write crime fiction and horror most of the time make it difficult to capitalize on that character.

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

I’m self-taught; or, at least, I determined to learn how to write on my own. I read many books on the subject, the most helpful being, Write great fiction: dialogue by Gloria Kempton. I also learned a lot from some amazing writing mentors on Fanstory.com. The time I was on that site formed me into the author I am today. Unfortunately, two of my mentors passed away last year. Crime fiction came from the story as it developed.

Talk me through One on One. How has the book been received by readers so far and why?

It started out as a 3,000-word short story. When I first wrote it, I focused on the more brutal parts of the story. It was fully intended to be a horror story about a fictional prison. Once the story was complete I realized that there was much more that I could do with it. I took scenes and extended them. I added characters.

As the story grew I knew it could no longer classify it as horror. The longer it got the more I realized it was turning into a crime story with less focus on the brutality and more focus on the main character and how easy it is to step from the role of hero to that of villain. So far I’ve heard nothing but good things from readers. Many of them are asking for more, which I take as a sign of approval.

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

When writing my crime fiction novel I took a lot of inspiration from my Corrections Officer career: the background, the duties of an officer, dealing with the inmates on a general level. The criminal part of the story was entirely my imagination. I have been asked numerous times if any part of that story was true and the answer is no. None of the events in One on One happened at the prison I worked at.

I don’t really have any rituals. Perhaps if I did I’d have more books written by now. I do like to listen to music when I write. Metallica is my main band if I’m writing horror. Creed if I’m writing something of a more general or spiritual nature.

What style of writing do you enjoy reading yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

My main reading has changed over the years. I love Lord of the Rings, lots of Star Wars books, especially the Heir to the Empire series. Frankenstein is my favorite book hands down. It has such an amazing depth to it that lots of people miss because they equate with the movie but the book is so much better than that.

My favorite writers are Tolkien, Timothy Zahn, Mary Shelly, Mike Battaglia, Stephen King (when he’s not writing long winded garbage like It), Poe and Lovecraft for their short stories along with Ray Bradbury.

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

Mary Shelly, because Frankenstein was such a masterpiece. She created modern horror with her first book. One of the most poignant moments was when the creature, looking only for acceptance, revealed himself to the cottagers only to be cast out. It was then that he became the monster Victor feared him to be.

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

I just released a collection of short horror stories based in a bed and breakfast called Mr. Smiley (think along the lines of the cryptkeeper type character). I have another collection of short horror in my Fragments of Fear series that I hope to release by next month. I also have my first YA novel in second draft. It’s about the darker side of football seen from the eyes of a 12-year-old boy. After all that, I have my next three sequels to One on One in the works.

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

I know a lot of people say that to write you need to read, but lately I really don’t have the time with all of my writing in the works. There’s nothing I’m looking forward to like I did when the Harry Potter series came out and I went to the store at midnight to get the latest offering. However, I will find time for the latest Timothy Zahn Star Wars book. Thrawn is my favorite character since Darth Vader.

Thank you to Michael for answering my questions, you can read more about him and his work HERE.

 

 

June Trop Interview: “I thought writing a good mystery would be the greatest challenge”

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This week I speak to June Trop about her Miriam bat Isaac Series, especially her fifth and latest book, The Deadliest Thief. She gives me a guided tour of her work and shares an exclusive piece written in the style of her protagonist.

Please talk me through your background and how you got into writing.

A transplant from New Jersey, I’ve lived in New Paltz, New York in the mid-Hudson Valley for more than thirty years. I began my professional life as a science teacher in New Jersey and moved to New Paltz when I married Paul R. Zuckerman. I taught biology at the local high school before earning a doctorate in science education from Columbia University Teachers College. Then I served as a professor of science teacher education at the State University of New York before retiring to write professionally in 2007.

When taking a course on the historical development of concepts in chemistry, I encountered Maria Hebrea, the first-century alchemist who, living in Alexandria, became the legendary founder of Western alchemy and held her place for 1500 years as the most celebrated woman of the Western World. Years later I would model my protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, on her.

How about your protagonist, can you tell me something about her?

Actually, Miriam is right here and will tell you about herself as long as you swear by Alethia to keep her work a secret:

Times are dangerous here in Roman Alexandria. I am an alchemist, and while the goal of our league is to perfect human life—to heal, extend, and rejuvenate it—we also focus on base metals like copper and iron, to perfect them as well into gold. But that’s where we can get into trouble, big trouble. The emperor is afraid that by synthesizing gold, we will undermine his currency and overthrow the empire. And so, the practice of alchemy, even the possession of an alchemical document, is punishable by the summum supplicium, the most extreme punishment. Like the vilest of criminals, any suspect is summarily crucified, left to hang outside the city gates to serve as an appalling warning to others. And so, when an alchemical document was stolen from my home, I began to practice sleuthing. Now don’t forget: You must swear to keep my alchemical work a secret.

I live in the Jewish Quarter of Alexandria, on the coast and farthest from the main necropolis. So, we inhale the scent of the sea instead of the stench of the embalming workshops. If it’s exceptionally hot or I’m carrying valuables, my bearers take me in a sedan chair to the agora, our central marketplace. Otherwise I walk to the heart of our city, this cloaca of gossip, our venue for seeing and being seen, for hearing and being heard. Approaching the plaza, I feel its vigor filter into my arteries as haranguing hawkers and hucksters, orators and priests, soothsayers and astrologers, tricksters and swindlers, magicians and conjurers, snake charmers and peddlers, wizards and sorcerers promise me a miracle for a price.

But I used to have another reason for going to the agora, and that was to see Judah. I can still dream my way to that first encounter with him, that unexpected ache when I walked into his shop. He raised his lids to look at me and then squared his shoulders with a slow, deep, almost guttural intake of breath and an even slower exhale. That sensation of his nearness, close enough for our air to mingle and for his hand to brush against mine, would ignite my private fantasies.

Tell me about your latest book.

So far, I have written five books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series, all with three-word titles beginning with “The Deadliest…”.

In my latest book, The Deadliest Thief (Black Opal Books, 2019), the only surviving accomplice in a jewel heist vows to kill Miriam and her occasional deputy, the itinerant potbellied dwarf, Nathaniel ben Ruben. At the same time, a kidnapper seizes Miriam’s closest friend, Phoebe, and threatens to butcher her piece by piece. Miriam suspects the events are connected, but can she find her friend before it’s too late?

When Did You Discover Your Love Of Mysteries?

I became addicted to mysteries when, as an eight-year-old girl, I borrowed my first Nancy Drew mystery from a classmate.  Of course, I wanted to be Nancy Drew or at least be a detective just like her. Search as I might though I could find no secret passages, whispering walls, or unclaimed treasures. The only thing I could do was read more mysteries. When I’d read all the Nancy Drews, I graduated to Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Fortunately, with our ever-expanding genre, I’ve never run out of great mysteries to read.

So, What Was It That Made You Decide To Write Your Own Mysteries?

Aside from my own love of mysteries, I thought writing a good mystery would be the greatest challenge. Readers should have access to all the clues to solve the puzzle but, at the same time, be unable to do so. And then, the solution must satisfy. That is, readers should see that the author was fair. And finally, justice should triumph. The writing doesn’t get more challenging than that!

How Did You Turn That Idea Into A Book?

One source for plot ideas is the stories I’ve read or heard about but with a “what if” twist that would suit my characters and setting. Of course, that’s just the beginning of a plot idea. I keep a journal of them. Most of the storylines reach a dead end, but some come alive.

When I’ve fixed on a plot, I make a list of all the scenes to get from the beginning to the end and record the conflict that must occur in each scene to move the story forward. Then I create a subplot or two and insert those scenes where I want to leave the reader hanging for a while. This framework is what I use to flesh out each chapter. And, as a new idea emerges along the way, I insert that idea into the relevant scene or string of scenes.

Of course, that gets you only the first draft. But you really can’t know, really know your story until you’ve finished that first draft. Then the editing begins.

What Are Your Favorite Mystery Books To Read?

I have three: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, and A Long Line of Dead Men by Lawrence Block. I love Doyle’s stories for their atmosphere; Christie’s for their twists; and Block’s for his character Matthew Scudder, the noir streets of New York, and his dialogue. Block makes the written word sound like the spoken word. To me, these three mysteries are like chocolate ice cream. I never get tired of them.

Why Will Readers Enjoy The Deadliest Thief?

My books have won various awards, which include praise for their riveting suspense, their authentic portrayal of life in Roman Alexandria, and for bringing the reader right there. The Deadliest Thief in particular is a puzzle filled with action, a startling twist, and an array of distinctive characters that support Miriam in her pursuit of justice against the thrust of time. Although fifth in the series, The Deadliest Thief, like all the others, stands alone. You can enjoy any of them at any time. So, let Miriam take you into the underbelly of her splendid city to help solve her most baffling case yet.

Do You Have Any Advice For Other Writers?

These precepts guide me. I hope they can bring encouragement to others.

  1. Avoid comparing yourself to other writers. You have your own distinct voice and stories to tell.
  2. Accept your failures and learn from them. In fact, if you’re not getting rejected some of the time, then you’re not taking the chances you need to improve your craft.
  3. Be grateful you have this opportunity to express yourself.

Do You Have Anything To Add?

I welcome visits and comments.

Readers can learn more about The Deadliest Thief and the other books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series and watch the book trailers for each story on my website. I also post a weekly blog about life in Roman Alexandria on Facebook. My books are available in bookstores and online platforms. Readers can easily find them on Amazon. Most of the book trailers are on Youtube here.

Thanks for your time June, it’s been great hearing your thoughts!

Kim Booth Interview: “I think police procedures can be quite complex”

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Another awesome interview with a true crime writer today as I speak to Kim Booth, who wrote about an intriguing fraud case in his book A Cruel Deception. Read on to find out more about his book and how his former career as a policeman has influenced his writing.

How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards
true crime?

I would describe my writing style “as it comes” really with true crime I write it as it is. You cannot really “Sex up” true crime as the facts of the offence are already established. I was drawn to true crime as having spent a career investigating numerous offences of different types I have always been interested as to why the offender commits the offence and how they were caught. I have been involved in the investigation of about 29 murders from domestic murders to contract killings, kidnaps and extortions a couple of serial killers with a bit of corruption thrown in.

In one instance I was present on surveillance when three contact killers arrived and shot our surveillance suspect in the head not knowing that he was under surveillance (the story is subject of a future book). I have specialised in offences of fraud over the years and have investigated just about every type of fraud going including a £350 million “Ponzi” scheme during which I travelled and conducted enquiries into foreign jurisdictions in Japan New Zealand The Bahamas U.S of America and Canada working with the local enforcement agencies.

My first true crime book is A Cruel Deception, which is the true story of a fraud I investigated. The family involved were financially ruined by the offender and it lasted 6 years until I came along. The victims an elderly couple were so embarrassed at being conned that they asked me to write a book about their experience also to act as a warning to others. I had to promise I would write the book but had to agree that it would be published after they had both passed on, which I did and that’s how it came about. In my opinion fraud is the crime where the effect it has on the victims is all too often underestimated as the repercussions can last for years afterwards. It is also so severely under resourced by the police and is in fact getting more and more common.

Tell me about how your background in the police? How do you draw on your experiences in law enforcement in your writing?

I have “survived” a 35-year career within the police and mainly in investigative roles. The roles have included general CID for a number of years, Detective Sergeant in the drugs squad, Head of Special Branch and Detective Inspector in charge of the Fraud Squad now Economic Crime Unit. I was previously on the regional Crime Squad (now National Crime Agency specialising in “cropping” (Rural surveillance). I have also been in charge as D/I of the Hi Tech crime Unit investigating all offences of internet crime involving frauds and paedophile offences on-line.

In an investigative role in the police you encounter so many different scenarios and offences committed that some do have a lasting effect and help to develop an enquiring mind, which does help in investigations. It really doesn’t surprise me anymore how devious and cruel people can be to each other.

As well as writing, you also advise other writers on police procedure, can you tell me a little about this side of your work? Have you worked with anyone exciting you can talk about with me?

I was approached a number of years ago by an author I met at a lecture on crime writing and he asked me if I could read his WIP and check it with regards to the accuracy of the police procedurals. I have been doing it ever since for a small number of authors. It’s not a paid situation but I do enjoy helping fellow authors with their books and reading their stories.

I think police procedures can be quite complex and it is important for them to be absolutely correct, as there will always be somebody who will be critical or find fault. I only advise authors who make contact but I have two or three regulars, one being Nick Louth of the Body Found series. I’m only too pleased to be of help.

What do you read yourself and how does this influence your books?

I mainly read true crime, terrorism and books on crime such as Robert Whiting Tokyo Underworld (having spent two months there following the fraud money) books on drugs dealers and investigation anything true crime orientated. Obviously I also read the crime fiction books author send me to check out procedural issues. I have found on occasions that the truth can actually be stranger than fiction. If I wrote some of my experiences down people wouldn’t believe them!

What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me?

Having fulfilled my promise to write A Cruel Deception I have been challenged light-heartedly to write a crime thriller, which I have nearly completed. It also contains details of some M.Os of actual cases that I have been involved with which will serve for a good purpose to keep the reader thinking!   After that I have two more true crime books to write outlining certain murders I have investigated, one being a serial killer and a drugs investigation that resulted in a murder and a contract killing. I think that’s enough for now!

In your work as an advisor to other writers, do you have any big projects coming up you’re happy to discuss?

No really big projects, but I have been contacted by a film company that has shown an interest in A Cruel Deception, let’s see where that goes!

Anything you would like to add.

Corny as it seems I joined the police to help people and solve things. After having dealings with a fraudster I encountered whilst working in the hotel industry, I was interviewed by the CID. I thought, “I could do that”

I have taken great pleasure in investigating serious offences and putting people where they belong but I must add that it has not been hassle free over the years- but it has been worth it!

Thanks for the invite. I shall keep plodding on as they say!

A big thank you to Kim for taking the time to answer my questions!

Nate Hendley Interview: “The best way to keep the reader interested is to tell a compelling story”

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As a lover of true crime novels I was honoured to interview Nate Hendley, a Toronto-based journalist and author who has written several books, primarily in the true-crime genre. Here’s what he has to say about his work and the books he loves to read.

How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards crime writing?

My style largely stems from the fact I work as journalist. I like to state the facts and tell a story while avoiding too much moralizing. I describe the actions of people in detail but don’t attempt to explain what they were thinking at a given time, unless I have direct knowledge of their thoughts, derived from interviews, reports or personal correspondence. I like to write in a direct, lean fashion that avoids too many flashy words unnecessary explanations.

I was drawn to crime writing almost by accident; ever since I was very young, I always wanted to write a book. I did write a few (unpublished) books in the fiction genre (primarily action type stories). In the early 2000s, an opportunity came up to write books for a Canadian publisher. The publisher was looking for short, punchy “pop history” books (that is, non-academic books about historic events or people). I pitched them a book about Edwin Boyd, a notorious Toronto robber from the 1950s. They liked the pitch, I wrote the book and they proceeded to suggest other topics to me, primarily in the crime genre. I accepted and became the publisher’s “go-to” person when it came to crime writing.

I like the crime genre because it’s extremely broad: you can discuss history, social issues, politics, personalities, cultural events and psychology all in one book. For example, I wrote a book about bandit duo Bonnie and Clyde that delved into the socioeconomic conditions they operated in (that is, the Great Depression of the 1930s) and how they actually had better guns and faster cars than most police departments at the time.

Tell me about how your background in journalism. How does this influence your writing?

My background in journalism has been extremely helpful to me as an author. When you’re a journalist, you learn the importance of deadlines, word count, interview techniques, research techniques and self-discipline. Journalists don’t have the luxury of “waiting for muse to strike” (unless they’re looking to lose their job). They have to be prepared to write a story any time, any place under just about any circumstances. All these attributes help in getting books done.

What aspect of your books do you feel attracts your readers and makes your work so hard to put down?

Storytelling. Keeping the reader interested. The best way to keep the reader interested is to tell a compelling story, usually based around people rather than an issue. Nothing will draw a reader in than a good story. Nothing will turn a reader off faster than a dry, dull recitation of facts or pompous opinionating.

Where do you find the inspiration for your work? Are there any specific exercises or tricks you use to get your creative juices flowing?

As a journalist you learn quickly how to sit down and write, even when you’re not in the mood. That said, there are certain helpful tricks that can kick-start creativity. I call one of these techniques, “Trick Yourself to Write”. Tell yourself, “I’m not going to do any real writing on my book today. I’m just going to put down some information/data in point form.” Write down your info/data—in rough form. Then, start “fleshing the points out”—adding details, transforming data/info into proper sentences. Then turn these proper sentences into paragraphs. Keep going. You will often end up writing several complete pages—even though your actual goal was much more modest.

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

Truman Capote ,author of the classic true-crime book, In Cold Blood, would be an interesting person to collaborate with. He never took notes (he claimed he had a photographic memory) and he had a weird, squeaky voice and theatrical mannerism. Yet, he did a brilliant job covering the murder of family in rural Kansas in the 1950s (the subject of In Cold Blood). Capote was accompanied by his friend, Harper Lee, the future author of the classic anti-racism novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, during his Kansas travels. It would have been fascinating to watch the two of them in action, interviewing locals and gathering facts about a horrendous crime.

What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me?

I am playing around with some ideas for future books. Most of these ideas are based on historic crimes that occurred in Toronto. I live in Toronto so I figure I might as well cover my hometown. And it’s a lot easier to research a Toronto crime when you live in Toronto (as opposed to say, a crime that happened in the Baltics).

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

Anything by Jeff Guinn (click here to see his books on Amazon). Amazing writer who books about Jim Jones (the cult-leader who oversaw the mass suicide of his followers at Jonestown in South America) and Charles Manson. Guinn did a huge amount of research for these works and did a great job demystifying both Jones and Manson (who have achieved cartoon-like “super villain” status among many crime writers).

I also love Erik Larson (click here to see his books on Amazon). I’ve read two of his books, Devil in the White City (which tells two separate stories, about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and H.H. Holmes, one of America’s first serial killers who was murdering people in Chicago) and Dead Wake (about the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania, an ocean liner, by a German submarine, an action that brought America into the First World War).

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for hosting this blog. Writers hugely appreciate people who promote writing. Not enough people do.

Thanks to Nate for answering my questions! For more information about his books and background, please visit his website at www.natehendley.com or click here to check out his books on Amazon.

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.