Thursday, December 1, 2022

Ava Barry

Ava Barry was a script reader for Bold Films and Intrigue Entertainment, and an editorial assistant for Zoetrope: All-Story, Francis Ford Coppola’s literary magazine. She is the author of Windhall, also available from Pegasus Books. She lives in Australia.

Double Exposure is Barry's new novel.

My Q&A with the author:

What's in a name?

Los Angeles has enough interesting locations that I didn’t need to invent too many new ones, but one — Edendale Academy — was named after the original name of the Los Feliz/Echo Park area.

Marcus Loew’s name is a tribute to the man who founded the Loew’s Theatre chain in Los Angeles — as well as Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios!

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Definitely surprised! When I was younger I was baffled by mystery authors — how was it possible? I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of keeping a reader in suspense. Now, I realise that you write a mystery much like you write any other novel, but maybe in a slightly different order.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings have always been very difficult for me to write. It used to be such a problem that I would put off writing because I was convinced that you needed to start right at the beginning, but of course, that isn’t true. Now, when I’m starting a new project, I just start writing at whatever point feels natural, and try to wrangle that into the storyline later.

While I have a general idea of how a story is going to end, I like to catch myself by surprise, so I leave some of it open to change. I feel like in order to surprise a reader, you have to be able to surprise yourself, because so many modern readers have already seen everything.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There’s a tiny bit of me in each of my characters. That might sound a bit cheesy, but I think it’s impossible to write a fully-fleshed out character unless you can relate to at least some aspect of them.

I thought my correlations were subtle, but after my best friend read the book, she called me with a list of things that I had pulled from my real life, and she was right about every single one of them. Whoops!

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I have a long history of working in restaurants, and while the majority of my customers have been either pleasant or forgettable, you get some real nightmares — anyone who has worked hospitality or retail can probably relate. Without being too specific, there are a few former customers who have made their way into my books — not that these people have enough self-awareness to recognise their literary counterparts!
Visit Ava Barry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Ethan Chatagnier

Ethan Chatagnier is the author Singer Distance, a novel just out from Tin House Books, and of Warnings from the Future, a story collection from Acre Books in 2018. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of literary journals including the Kenyon Review Online, Georgia Review, New England Review, Story, Five Points, Michigan Quarterly Review, and the Cincinnati Review. His stories have won a Pushcart Prize and been listed as notable in the Best American Short Stories and the Million Writers Award.

Chatagnier is a graduate of Fresno State, where he won the Larry Levis Prize in Poetry, and of Emerson College, where he earned an MA in Publishing and Writing. He lives in Fresno, California with his family.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Singer Distance is a slightly mysterious and, hopefully, beguiling title. They’re both familiar words, but it’s hard to tell what they mean together. Is it talking about musicians? Is it talking about a person? Is singer the name of a kind of distance? I want readers’ curiosity to be piqued by it, and want readers who are up for the ride of finding out.

“Distance” or “Distant” was always going to be a part of the title. The crux of the book is an alien math proof that indicates human’s understand distance all wrong, and I use it as a way of exploring the emotional distances between characters. The narrator spends a lot of the novel pained by the distance of his fiancĂ©e, Crystal Singer, and overcoming that distance becomes his key quest.

What's in a name?

I started with the name Crystal for the genius mathematician and love interest of the book because I wanted her to have a bit of a hippie edge, an expansive and unpredictable emotional intelligence. Her last name, Singer, came later when I wanted to tie some themes in the novel to her love of music.

The narrator, Rick Hayworth, grew up on a farm and wants very much to be more salt-of-the-earth than he actually is, so I wanted a name with some simple strength to it, but also a nod to his attempted humility.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

Less surprised than my college self, I think. As a teenager I read mostly genre books. John Grisham, John Saul, Michael Crichton. Science fiction, detective books, thrillers. In college I found myself with more literary and realist ambitions. I’m happy to say I think I’ve worked my way around to a novel that includes and honors both, one that feels equal parts science fiction and literary.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are much easier. I don’t begin a project until I feel like some key elements have clicked into place in my mind, so by the time I sit down to write, I have some starting momentum. A good ending needs to fulfill the storylines already set in motion, but to surprise the reader at the same time. There are a lot more moving pieces and it’s much more challenging. But surprisingly, I tend to change beginnings more. Because the tune changes as you play it, when you get to the end you need to make sure the beginning is still in the same key.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My narrator, Rick, is a fair amount like me. My mom’s side of the family is in cattle ranching, but I grew up with only occasional exposures to it, and I ended up feeling a bit self-conscious about missing my connection to the land and that way of life. I’m not an insider there, and though Rick grows up with farm life, he’s a mathematician at heart. An academic longing to be something he sees as more authentic.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Finding the right writing music is important for me. I like to find an artist or song for each section that helps me capture the emotional tenor of it. For Singer Distance, there were a mix of songs but I listened to Max Richter more than anything else. The name of the Richter Site, in the book, is a nod to him. There’s also a really rich tradition of science fiction in movies. Growing up with everything from Stargate to 2001: A Space Odyssey did a lot to get me interested in the genre and its possibilities.
Visit Ethan Chatagnier's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Joyce St. Anthony

Joyce St. Anthony was a police secretary for ten years and more than once envisioned the demise of certain co-workers, but settled on writing as a way to keep herself out of jail. She is the author of the award winning Brewing Trouble mysteries set in Pittsburgh. A native Pittsburgher, she now lives in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania with her husband.

St. Anthony's new novel is Death on a Deadline, the second Homefront News mystery.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The team at Crooked Lane came up with the title. My agent and I gave them a few sample titles and they decided on Death on a Deadline. My main character, Irene, is an editor/reporter so the title fits the series. It doesn’t relay anything about the plot though.

What's in a name?

My protagonist is named Irene Ingram. To tell the truth, I’m not sure how I came up with her name. It just popped into my head. Since the book is set in 1942, I used some online resources to be sure any of my character’s names fit the era. If I really get stuck on a name I use an online random name generator and keep clicking until a name jumps out at me.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

That was so long ago! I was extremely shy when I was that age. If I had to give a speech or anything like that in school, I’d get physically ill and my mother would have to call me off for the day. I had a core group of friends but even with them, I rarely spoke. I spent most of my free time reading. My teenage self would be pleased that I was a writer and she’d be completely shocked that I was now able to actually get up in front of people and talk.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I’d have to say beginnings—or really middles. The first few pages go all right, then after that it’s a struggle. Endings are more fun to write. I get to pull everything together, the bad guy gets his comeuppance, and mostly everyone lives happily ever after.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I think all writers put a little bit of themselves into their characters. My protagonists are always much braver than I ever was. They’re definitely more outgoing. They’re sort of how I wish I had been.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Death on a Deadline is set during World War II. I’ve always been fascinated by that era, partly due to my mother. She and my dad met on a blind date in 1943 and were married two weeks later, and two weeks after that he was sent overseas. He died when I was two years old but my mother kept him alive by playing her Big Band records—Glenn Miller’s “String of Pearls” was her favorite song. I’ve wanted to write something set in the 1940s for a long time and I finally got my wish. My other non-literary inspiration is beer, but that’s a story for another day.
Visit Joyce St. Anthony's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 14, 2022

D.M. Rowell

Like her protagonist Mud, D.M. Rowell (Koyh Mi O Boy Dah) comes from a long line of Kiowa Storytellers. After a thirty-two-year career spinning stories for Silicon Valley startups and corporations with a few escapes creating award-winning independent documentaries, Rowell started a new chapter writing mysteries that share information about her Plains Indian tribe, the Kiowas.

Her new novel is Never Name the Dead.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I don’t think my book’s title, Never Name the Dead gives readers insight into the actual story, but for me it does mark it a Kiowa story. The title comes directly from text in the book. The protagonist, Mud discovers a body, when she tells her cousin Denny about the body, she stops abruptly before naming the man.

““… we will know who killed—.” I stopped before finishing the dead man’s name, remembering, we never name the dead.”

In the Kiowa culture, we do not say the name of the dead in fear of holding the spirit back from moving on. While the title wasn’t my first choice, I have come to like it. I think the title provides a hint of the Native American aspect in my mystery novel.

What's in a name?

I knew from the beginning that my Kiowa mixed-race protagonist would be named Mae and called Mud by family, friends and the Native community of her childhood. I chose the names specifically to honor my mom, Mae and her mother. I loved my grandmother’s nickname, Mud and knew it would be the perfect name for my main character. Mud/Mae is a strong, competent woman, just like her namesakes.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Teenage me would be beyond shock that I have a published novel. While I always dreamed of writing mysteries, it was in high school that a teacher shattered the dream for me. In an advanced writing class, a teacher strongly suggested I stick to nonfiction. She didn’t think I had the imagination or ability to create fiction. Unfortunately, I believed her.

I would love the teenage me to see we can live our dream.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Definitely harder to write beginnings. I’ve planned the first four Mud Sawpole mysteries to be brisk mysteries, each happening in less than twenty-four hours within a four-day period. The novels are fast paced, with Mud going from one adventure to the next before she finally solves a murder in each novel.

In my first drafts, I tend to crowd the first chapter with characters and happenings to get things moving. Fortunately, I have a wonderful editor that reminds me to slow down a bit in the beginning before letting the ride take off.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I do draw upon my experience as a curly-headed Kiowa grandchild running around summers in the backcountry of Oklahoma to build my character Mud. Though, I find that I take different elements from people I observe to create the perfect characters for my novel.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I was greatly influenced by my Kiowa grandfather, C. E. Rowell. He was the tribe’s historian, a traditional artist, and a master storyteller. His art and storytelling instilled a deep love and respect in me for my Kiowa heritage. Grandpa inspired me to be a storyteller and is the reason I blend insights about my Kiowa tribe’s history and traditions into each mystery.
Visit D. M. Rowell's website.

My Book, The Movie: Never Name the Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Emily J. Edwards

Emily Edwards earned her degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College and took the long road to becoming an author, working for over a decade as a wine and spirits journalist, radio producer, and creator of the podcast, F*ckbois of Literature. She currently resides in Connecticut with her husband, and several quadrupeds.

Edwards's new novel is Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think my favorite part about the titles of my first two books, but Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man in specific, is that they’re present-tense action titles. The title of the first book is also a bit of a spoiler, but the key essence of a mystery novel is that the mystery will be solved, so it’s not that spoiler-y. Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man is a given– but the core of any mystery novel is asking “How?” And even though there is absolutely no reason why it does this, it feels extremely old fashioned and of-the-time. I don’t think anyone is going to pick up this book and expect a modernly-set story. Something about the snappiness of the title lets you know that this is an historical mystery.

What's in a name?

If Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man was just called “Girl Friday Mysteries,” I don’t think you’d be as compelled to pick it up. You need to know who Viviana is and how she’s living with that absolute millstone of a name. You know everything about her– based on the name. I have a long-running joke about having an alter ego named Viv, a kind of little old lady who can hold a drink and a cigarette all in the same hand, wears too much leopard print, has four-pack-a-day smoker’s voice, and just is a bit of a mess. She’s my Viviana, only older. Viviana Valentine is just “too much,” and she doesn’t care one fig that she is!

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Teenage me was pretty depressed, and I think she would’ve been incredibly surprised that I finished writing 80,000 words! Kids have a tendency to quit on projects, because something that takes a year takes 1/13th the life of a thirteen year-old, you know? So I had a tendency to drop projects quite a bit and walk away. But once you get to be in your mid-30s, what is dedicating five years to getting a book off the ground? Literally nothing. Being in your 30s is the best.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I’m so steeped in film culture, after having gone to Emerson College and living so many years in Los Angeles, that I always have my “opening shot” in mind when starting a new book. I need my characters to be in action. The other part about mysteries is that the ending is where you tie up all your loose threads. Unfortunately, I’m a bit scatterbrained (I’m a pants-er not a plotter!) and endings are the place where you need to make sure nothing got left out. That’s the hardest part for me!

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Viv is so much more confident than I could ever be. I’m much more like Dottie, one of Viviana’s housemates, who is a quiet, bookish elementary school teacher. Dottie is how I would fit into the murder mystery– giving sage advice to the person going off on an adventure. And telling them to be careful!

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

The visuals of noir movies obviously play a huge role in the book, but also, jazz music. I’m not the world’s most voracious jazz cat, but I just love the aesthetic of it and what it meant, politically, in the post-War years. The year 1950 was much, much more tumultuous than most people think it was, and that chaos of bebop and mid-century jazz just feels so accurate, looking back!
Visit Emily J. Edwards's website.

My Book, The Movie: Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Roger A. Canaff

Roger A. Canaff is a former special victims prosecutor and author of crime thrillers including Bleed Through, second in the ADA Alex Greco series and the 2020 IBPA Benjamin Franklin silver award winner for Mystery and Thriller.

Canaff's newest novel is City Dark.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think City Dark takes the reader well into the story, or at least the literary backdrop, which is the 1977 blackout that struck New York City in July of 1977. The title itself comes from a series of communiques between leadership at ConEd (Consolidated Edison, the power company that serves NYC). The communiques described various markers as the crisis unfolded due to the strong storms in the area (individual power plants down, overload notifications, etc.). The last communique, at 9:37 p.m., was by some accounts “Consolidated Edison Power Down.” From that, I added a final, if obvious endnote: “City Dark.”

What's in a name?

Most of the names of the characters were chosen because they struck me as appropriate at the time of creation. But there is one exception: One of the principal antagonists in the story is a notorious physician, pedophile and genius. His name is Aaron Hathorne. Hathorne has completed a prison sentence for serial child sexual abuse and is now facing further confinement as a mentally ill sexual predator under New York’s “civil management” law. Joe DeSantos, the protagonist, is the Assistant Attorney General responsible for the case against Hathorne.

Aaron Hathorne was born into a wealthy family with the last name “Hawthorne.” But the character changes his name to “Hathorne” in a gesture designed to emulate the opposite of one made by the New England author Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter, 1850). Hawthorne the author added a “w” to his name to distance himself from his ancestors, in particular the infamous Judge John Hathorne who in part presided over the Salem Witch Trials. The evil character Aaron Hathorne purposely does the opposite and drops the “w” so to present as more sinister and provocative.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find endings harder to write, simply because it’s about tying together all the threads of the story theretofore. For detail-oriented readers in particular, all the clues left must play a part in the end reveal; all non-essential description or story material should be eliminated or made relevant; everything should be consistent and aim toward the conclusion. I can begin a complex story very easily, understanding that I will likely write material that won’t make the final cut. I usually start with threads, weaving them closer and closer together until I’m satisfied with the tightness and texture of the plot.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Without a doubt, I see myself in most of my characters. The adage “write what you know” is useful, especially when the author is younger and less experienced in life. My first book was a coming-of-age story written in first person and very autobiographical despite the fictional story. This made perfect sense as I started the book as an adolescent and polished it years later. Then as a career special victims prosecutor, my work informed my writing. Utilizing more of my professional experience, coupled with maturing and thus having more personal life experience, I was able to separate myself more and more from the characters I create. There are still aspects of myself and my personality in them—Joe DeSantos in City Dark is exactly my age, for instance, and a Staten Island native. But beyond that he is a very different person. It’s a challenge to draw a character significantly unlike oneself, and I enjoy it.
Visit Roger A. Canaff's website.

My Book, The Movie: City Dark.

The Page 69 Test: City Dark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Lisa Unger

Lisa Unger is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author. Her books are published in 26 languages, with millions of copies sold worldwide. In 2019, she received two Edgar Award nominations, an honor held by only a few writers including Agatha Christie. Her work has been named on "Best Book" lists from Today, People, GMA, EW, Amazon, IndieBound and many others. She has written for the NYT, WSJ, NPR, and Travel+Leisure. Netflix is currently making her 2020 book Confessions on the 7:45 into a series starring Jessica Alba. She lives in Florida with her family.

Unger's new novel is Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Titling a book may be more difficult than actually writing one. (Well, not really.) But I have loved titles that wound up on the cutting room floor in favor of something that I loved less but made more sense for the book. (The Stranger Inside was originally The Nightjar.) I have slapped a working title on a manuscript, thinking I’d have time to come up with something better, only to have an editor fall in love with it. (Beautiful Lies) Sometimes it’s collaborative, lots of emails back and forth until someone comes up with an idea that makes everyone go “Aha!” For example, Confessions on the 7:45 was originally Black Butterfly. After a lot of back-and-forth, it was my editor who came up with Confessions on the 7:45 – which may be one of my all-time favorites.

For Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six, all the credit goes to Margaret Marbury, VP of Editorial at Park Row. This one was a little painful. Originally, it was Blow Your House Down and I was weirdly attached to it, though you’d think I’d know better by now. But everybody – my editor, my agent, my husband, even my mother -- loved Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six. Everyone except for me! But over the years I have come to understand that the title of a book falls less in the area of the author and more in the area of the marketing department. So, I deferred to the judgement of people I trust, and it slowly started to grow on me. Now I can’t go a day without hearing what a fabulous title it is. And it really does capture the vibe of the book. So now I love it, too!

What's in a name?

A long time ago I stopped thinking of characters as people I create and started thinking of them as people that I meet. That’s not the whole truth of it, but it is how I experience the process. So, there’s no real choosing, or baby name books, or naming characters after this one or that. They just arrived as Eloise or Jones, Ian or Lana. Like anyone you would meet, right?

Over the years, I have agreed to auction off a character name in a book to benefit a charity. I struggled with this. It was difficult to have the name first and find someone in the novel who didn’t already have one. Another time, I agreed to name a cat in my book after the cat of a charitable person who’d donated some money to a worthy cause. I even struggled with that. And then when bad things happened to that cat (Don’t worry! It didn’t die! I know you can’t kill the cat!) I felt kind of bad. But, also, I found it a little funny. I no longer auction off character or cat names.

Once I had to change a character’s name for legal reasons. It was torture. And I never stopped thinking about the character by her original name.

All of this is to say that my work is deeply unconscious and internal. Things that might seem like choices, and are in some ways, don’t feel like choices to me. And trying to work in a way that is not organic – like inserting names where they don’t belong – destabilizes the creative process. Not that there’s anything stable about the creative process.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Wow. Very. First of all, my father told me that people didn’t write for a living, and I should, instead of making up stories all the time, focus some attention on what kind of a real job I could possibly get after college. So, I think she would have been shocked that I’ve gotten as far as I have with this writing thing. Also, I think she would have raised an eyebrow to find I was writing crime fiction. My teenage reader self was a literary omnivore, reading wildly across genre from Stephen King to Charlotte and Emily BrontĂ«, from Jane Austen to Robert Heinlein, to VC Andrews, to Truman Capote. Anything big and purple and gothic, doorways into another universe of time and place. I didn’t choose crime fiction. It chose me.

When I published my first novel in 2002, a reviewer wrote that she enjoyed the fact that I was a young writer and that my characters had a youthful sensibility. (I think it was a compliment?) I was thirty-something at the time, but I had started writing that novel, Angel Fire, when I was 19. This year, I turned 52. And I have had the rare opportunity to grow up on the page in front of my readers. Every book is very personal, the place where I grapple with my questions about life and people and what makes us all tick. There hasn’t been a year in my adult life where I wasn’t working on a novel. So maybe she’d be surprised by how much each novel has to say about my life at the time of its writing, and hopefully by how much better we are than when we started.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Everything in fiction is autobiographical and nothing is. Every character is an amalgamation of my thoughts, ideas, observations, people I know, things I’ve overheard, slivers of myself. There might be pieces of me in any of my characters. Some of them are total strangers. Some I fall in love with. Some, even though I have empathy for them or may be compelled by them, I don’t like very much at all. A few of them stay with me and turn up again and again in novels and short stories, their stories progressing a little each time.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Music is a big part of my process. If I’m stuck in my novel, a good long walk or a workout just listening to my various playlists usually does the trick. Travel; whole books have been inspired by places I have visited. Living an authentic life. Paying attention when people tell me their stories. Eavesdropping on conversations that don’t involve me. Film and television, of course. Any form of artistic expression can fuel inspiration. I am often very moved in museums, just immersing myself in the creative work of visual artists. Personal struggles, questions about life and people. The news. Podcasts. What doesn’t serve as inspiration, really? I can’t think of a single thing!
Visit Lisa Unger's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Susan Walter

Susan Walter was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After being given every opportunity to become a concert violinist but failing, she attended Harvard University. Walter hoped to be a newscaster, but the local TV station had different ideas and hired her to write and produce promos instead. Seeking sunshine and a change of scenery, she moved to Los Angeles to work in film and television production. Upon realizing writers were having all the fun, Walter transitioned to screenwriting, then directing. She made her directorial debut with the film All I Wish, starring Sharon Stone, which she also wrote, and her fiction debut with the bestseller Good as Dead.

Walter's new novel is Over Her Dead Body.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Oooh I love this question! But I can’t answer it fully because that would give too much away. If you have ever heard someone reply to a request or a command with “over my dead body!” you know that it means “never will I ever!” Louisa Lake George, the ageing casting director our actress-protagonist meets on her late night dog walk, is a multi-millionaire. She is also deathly ill, and has to get her affairs in order ASAP. Upon meeting Louisa, we learn she had a falling out with her children and wants to cut them out of her will. Her nephew warns that if she doesn’t do what’s customary (leave her fortune to her kids) the family will implode: “It will be like the Hunger Games, with everyone out for blood.” But she refuses. It’s an “over my dead body” moment – literally! There are other layers to this title, it comes to have a double, even triple meaning. But you have to read the book to find out!

What's in a name?

Character names just land in my lap. My protagonist is Ashley Brooks. A cheerful name for a cheerful gal from the Midwest. She’s in a love triangle with Jordan and Nathan, two names I like but chose me more than I chose them. When it came to naming Louisa, I let a more uncommon name seduce me; I like it because it evokes someone of a different generation (baby boomer). She goes by both her last names: maiden name Lake (which I stole from a friend), and George (random) because she’s a liberated woman who would not be content to use just one last name, certainly not the one that implies that the life she lived before marrying was irrelevant. As for her children’s names, I found Charlie and Winnie just right. Winnie’s given name is Winifred, and the character has quite a strong opinion about being named after the martyred patron saint of virgins; “I have reached the undeniable conclusion that my problems started at birth, upon being named Winifred.” Charlie is a Jr., named after his father, as sometimes (favorite) first born sons are.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self would be surprised by every aspect of this novel, most notably that I wrote any novel at all! I wasn’t a big reader of fiction in my teens. I was a violinist and listened to music… OK, and chased boys. I always thought I would write comedy or rom com, and I did for a while. The switch to suspense thrillers was not planned. I just woke up one day with an idea and decided to see if I could work it out. That story became my first novel, Good as Dead. It’s about a woman who loses her husband in a car crash, and is bribed to stay silent about what she knows about the driver. And even that one, which starts out as a character-driven drama, only became a thriller when I indulged its explosive ending. So yes, surprises all around!

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I’m a pantser, which means I don’t outline, but rather, as they say, fly by the seat of my pants. I describe my process as getting into a boat and paddling out to the middle of the ocean to wait for a storm then see where it takes me. It’s a terribly exciting process, emphasis on terrible. But if I write to an outline, the story feels forced, like I am connecting plot points instead of letting the characters get themselves into trouble. All that to say, endings are hard. Because I have to pull all the threads together in a way that surprises even myself. I love beginnings. I would start a hundred novels if I could sell them without finishing them! I love creating worlds and characters, and infusing them with textures and intricate backstories. It’s those textures and backstories that save me in the end, because there’s always something there to pay off, a detail I can use to make a character credible or push them where I need them to go. I did that with Ashley … her backstory becomes super important in the final twist (that I didn’t plan, but was right there for me to exploit).

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Both my books have characters who work in Hollywood, as I did for over twenty years. So I use not only details about “the business,” but also my love-hate feelings about it. Ashley, my protagonist in Over Her Dead Body, is a struggling actress, and she is ambitious and a bit of a dreamer. That’s totally me. She also is a bit boy crazy, as I once was. I have a screenwriter character in my first novel, Good as Dead, who offers a brutal take of what it’s like to work in Hollywood (hint: it’s hard and cruelly unfair). Writing that character was cathartic for me because he speaks what is in my soul. So yes, there’s a lot of me in many of my characters. And guess what, there’s other people in there, too. People I know, or who I’ve worked with, but whose identities will remain secret because some of them are bad.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My favorite movies of all time are the thrillers from the late 80’s and 90’s: Jagged Edge, Sliver, Fatal Attraction, A Simple Plan, Outrageous People, Spy Game, Indecent Proposal, Sneakers, any Tom Clancy novel turned into a movie. I want to write books that could be made into these kinds of character-driven suspense-thrillers. The Jason Bourne trilogy with Matt Damon is one of my all time favorites, I wish I could watch them all for the first time again… and maybe even create the next Jason Bourne!
Visit Susan Walter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 4, 2022

Serena Burdick

Serena Burdick graduated from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in California before moving to New York City to pursue a degree in English Literature at Brooklyn College. The author of Girl in the Afternoon, Find Me in Havana, and The Girls with No Names, Burdick lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.

Her new novel is The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

When I first wrote this book seventeen years ago, I titled it Evelyn. Since then, it’s gone through many title changes. At one point it was called An Educated Woman—the protagonist is a female writer trying to make it in alongside her famous writer husband, so this made sense—but in the end, The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey, was more layered. Evelyn’s journal goes missing in 1910. In 2006, her great, great granddaughter, Abby, while searching for the father she never knew, learns about this lost journal and begins searching for it. She also learns about a literary scandal that went down when Evelyn disappeared the day her husband’s final book was published. The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey is a book about a book, as well as a dual-timeline with Evelyn’s story told through her missing journal. Hence the multilayered title.

What's in a name?

My grandmother, Evelyn, died when I was ten years old. My mother did not give me a middle name when I was born so that I could choose my own when I was ready. On my grandmother’s deathbed, I told her I would take her name. The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey is my fourth book published, but the first book I ever wrote, which makes Evelyn the first character I ever created. I choose the name to honor my grandmother, but also because the book is about ancestry, unearthing who we are and where we come from. Using the name that is both mine, and my grandmother’s, felt symbolic.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teen would roll her eyes and say, “this is so like you!” I was reading Pride and Prejudice at thirteen years old. I devoured any books that took place in England in old manor houses. Possession and The French Lieutenant’s Woman were among my favorites. No surprises here.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I always know where to start, but I often have no idea how I will end a book. Originally, in keeping with a good Victorian novel, the ending of The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey was utterly tragic. Then I thought, I can’t do that? Life is messy, so I definitely don’t like a perfectly wrapped up ending, but I do like to leave my readers satisfied, and with at least a glimmer of hope.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I collect stories around me all the time. Beware if you’re hanging out with me, I am always tucking away things people say about their experiences, family, relationships, to use later in my writing. The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey was partly inspired by the fact that my sister and I have different fathers, and she never knew hers. The protagonist who goes in search of her father is very much based on this personal experience.
Visit Serena Burdick's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Girls with No Names.

The Page 69 Test: The Girls with No Names.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Sarah Darer Littman

Sarah Darer Littman is the critically acclaimed author of middle grade and young adult novels for young people, including Some Kind of Hate, Deepfake, Backlash (Winner of the Iowa Teen Book Award and the Grand Canyon Reader Award) and Confessions of a Closet Catholic, winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award. As well as writing novels, Littman teaches in the MFA program at Western CT State University, and with the Yale Writers’ Workshop. She is also an award-winning columnist. Littman lives in Connecticut, in a house that never seems to have enough bookshelves.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Quite a bit! Both the title, Some Kind of Hate, and the dark, ominous cover art serve to warn anyone that picks up the book that this will not be a light, easy read. That’s intentional - as are the content warning at the beginning of the book and the author’s note at the end. The novel is told from dual perspectives - Declan, a teen boy who becomes radicalized to right-wing extremism after an event that could destroy his future, and Jake, his friend and baseball teammate who happens to be Jewish.

What's in a name?

Jake’s surname is Lehrer, an homage to the mathematician, musician, and satirist Tom Lehrer, whose albums I listened to as a teen. I would love to be able to write satire with the same brilliant, biting wit that he employed. A future life goal...

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage self wouldn’t be at all surprised that I was inspired to write a novel about rising antisemitism, because like many Jewish teens with Holocaust trauma in the family, I was obsessed by trying to understand how it could have happened. I wanted to figure out what the warning signs were, and developed almost a hyperalertness for that danger.

Teen Sarah would be proud of me for facing our deepest fears and interviewing former Neo-Nazis for research. She wouldn’t have had the courage and confidence to do that.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Young people see this “woman of a certain age” and ask how I’m able to write so convincingly as a teenager. I tell them that while the technology and lingo change, the emotions are the same.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

The news. I’m an avid consumer of news, and try to ensure that I’m getting it from sources around the world so I can see how the same story is reported in different ways. Whenever there’s a breaking news event, I flip between channels to see how differently the story is being framed depending on the source - or if a particular source is making the choice not to cover it.

Two of my previous careers - working on Wall Street with a focus on the technology sector and newspaper columnist - have also had a major impact on my writing. My background as a financial analyst allows me to look at technology with a critical eye. As a columnist I’ve been on the receiving end of some of technology’s downsides (hate mail, threats etc.)

But I’m also fascinated by the intersection of teen life and technology, because I grew up without the internet and social media. That allowed me to make my teenage mistakes (and believe me, there were many) in relative privacy. What we hopefully learn from the mistakes we made as teens helps us become better adults. So what happens when the cost of making those mistakes becomes so high, due to social media and the fact that “the internet never forgets”?

I’m not a Luddite. I can see how technology makes our life easier in many ways. But I worry that teens today don’t have the same freedom from constant surveillance and connection that I had growing up, and think about what implications that has for their ability to problem solve, and most of all their mental health and resilience.
Visit Sarah Darer Littman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue