Sunday, April 18, 2021

Jennifer Adam

Jennifer Adam started writing stories when her grandmother showed her how to make books out of construction paper and staples. After living on both coasts, she ended up marrying a farmer and settling down in the middle of the country. A lake covered in swans makes up for being landlocked, though, and she enjoys taking a kayak out whenever she can. She rides a formerly wild mustang and enjoys hanging out at the barn. When she's not on the water or in the saddle, she's probably hiking through trees or hiding in a library. She is a voracious consumer of books, collects fountain pens and colored inks, and adores classical music and ballet.

The Last Windwitch is Adam's debut novel.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Quite a bit, actually. The original title was Three Feathers to reflect the symbolic significance of feathers in the story, but when the book sold my agent remarked that they would likely want to change it. My editor pointed out that young readers like to know what to expect when choosing a book and the title is often the first key to unlocking their curiosity. She (and the marketing team) were afraid that my original title didn't give enough clues about what was inside. They sent me a list of suggestions, but while I agreed that a new title should hint at the magic and conflict within the book, none of the alternatives quite fit for me. We bounced ideas back and forth for a couple of months as we worked on edits, and then one morning The Last Windwitch just flew into my mind. Luckily everyone else loved it, too, and here we are!

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

Well, my teenage self might be quite surprised I actually succeeded in getting one published, to be honest. But she would not be surprised at all by the story itself. This is a book I wrote for myself and it reflects the things I've always loved: magic, horses, bravery, loyalty, friendship, wild forests and rich worldbuilding, our connection to the natural world and climate, and the toxic danger of the abuse of power. I wanted to write my own original fairytale built on all the layers of myth and folklore I loved as a girl. This is definitely a book younger me would have treasured.

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

I find it harder to write endings because my stories are complex and full of tiny threads that have to be woven together in a smooth, satisfying way. The closer I come to the end, the more I struggle to keep things from tangling up or fraying. I find that while the actual events of the end don't change, the way I translate them to the page can be quite different from one draft to another as I work out the best way to describe the emotional beats. However, I tend to change the beginnings more - to my own surprise! It's easy for me to throw myself into a story so the beginning always flows quickly, but as I get farther into a draft I often discover that I've actually started in the wrong spot so I have to go back and adjust the entrance point. The book I'm currently working on has had four different beginnings!

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

Every character I write contains a piece of myself. Some of those characters are more closely connected to me and my own worldview, of course, but they all hold some aspect: a hope, a fear, an experience. I suppose you could say the wicked queen in The Last Windwitch is a world apart from me because she represents the values I reject, but that's still a link to my own personal philosophy.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My writing is heavily inspired and influenced by the natural world and the animals I encounter. I live on a farm so the cycle of seasons is an integral part of my family's daily life. Weather is not a topic for small talk here - it's our livelihood. This is why it's a major theme in my story. I have also adopted and gentled five wild mustangs from the western rangelands. These wild horses are so sensitive to their environment, so reactive and aware of every change in their surroundings, they became the basis of the stormhorses in my book. Brida's pony, Burdock, is also directly based on personality traits of my horses. My love of the woods, of birds and wildlife, is woven through the entire world of my story. And I often take myself for long walks around our lake and through our forest when I'm stuck in a plot hole or trying to work my way through a knot - something about water, woods, and a wide sky always opens my mind!
Visit Jennifer Adam's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 16, 2021

Ilona Bannister

Ilona Bannister grew up on Staten Island and lived in New York City until she married a Brit and moved to London. A dual qualified U.S. attorney and UK solicitor, Bannister practiced immigration law in the UK before taking a career break to raise her two young sons and unexpectedly found herself writing fiction. When I Ran Away is her first novel.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think When I Ran Away lets the reader know exactly where they're headed when they pick it up and it brings the reader directly into Gigi's mindset at the verge of her breakdown. But hopefully they find that the twists and turns Gigi takes on her journey toward accepting her new self as a woman and mother surprising. I think they'll find her choice of destination interesting as well. I think many readers will relate to the things she's running away from and that many people fantasize about doing the same thing at one point or another, especially after lockdown.

What's in a name?

Gigi's full name before she marries Harry is Eugenia Stanislawski. She readily takes Harry's surname, Harrison, when they marry. It's a nod to my own Ukrainian maiden name, Ilona Lewyckyj, and a life spent with a name many people struggle to pronounce or remember. My husband didn't use my name for our first three dates until he could be sure how to say it! Gigi's father, Jaroslaw Stanislawski, who goes by Jerry, is named for my late uncle, not because he bears any resemblance, just because it's a nice way to remember him.

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

She would be shocked. First, she'd be amazed that she became a writer at all since that was never in her life plan. And I think she'd be slightly worried by the content, so we'd have to have a little chat before she read it, and I might tell her to hold off on reading it until she was a little older.

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

I think when you set out to write, you either already know your beginning or your ending. But through the editing process, that can change. My first start to this novel is now chapter seven, so, I've learned that you may have to sacrifice what you imagine your ending or beginning to be in order to give the whole story a better package.

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

I'm very connected to my characters, not necessarily by personality, but by the emotions they deal with and the feelings they convey to the reader. While I write fiction, I draw on reality for the emotional lives of my characters to make them authentic for the reader and to create characters that readers hopefully relate to.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

People-watching is my go-to inspiration. I have always been a keen observer of people, perhaps from many years of riding the subway in New York City or the tube in London, but people - how they dress, speak, their accents, how they interact, the objects they carry, the way they move - are fascinating to me.
Follow Ilona Bannister on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Karla Holloway

Karla FC Holloway is James B. Duke Emerita Professor of English, African-American Studies, and Professor of Law at Duke University. As a professor, her classrooms and scholarship focused on literature, law, and bioethics; but in 2017 she turned her full attention to writing fiction. Her debut literary fiction is A Death in Harlem, a mystery set in the moment of the Harlem Renaissance.

Holloway's new book, Gone Missing in Harlem, is a novel about memory, mothering and resilience that bridges the Harlem Renaissance and the Great Depression. Weldon Thomas, NYC's first colored policeman, returns to solve the mystery of a Harlem baby whose disappearance fails to engage the same energies and interest as the contemporaneous Lindbergh kidnapping.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I’m a title person. I had a review once that was totally correct but that still embarrasses me. It was my first book and the reviewer wrote that my title was better than the book (The Character of the Word). Ouch! So I was quite conscious in coming to a space where the two at least matched in quality. For a while (for my non fiction writing) I was taken by alliteration (Moorings and Metaphors, Codes of Conduct) – possibly why some say (not incorrectly) that I write for sound before I invest in sense. I do pay close attention to the sounds, rhythms, and tones of language. But fiction was a decided shift for me, and these titles (A Death in Harlem and Gone Missing in Harlem) became about the place that sustains the story – thus, my “in Harlem” repetition. Knowing the place (and era) was a gift because the “who, what, when, and how” remain open to each novel and the story has to find its way to and then blossom in this space. I love that freedom, and it’s an assurance for the reader that ‘Yes, it is indeed one of those books,’ and, at the same time, it gives me permission to wander into the intricacies of wherever the place takes me. (Currently, I’m intrigued by a ‘what?’ – “A Haunting in Harlem”).

What's in a name?

I love choosing “old-school” names for my characters, and since I’m pretty old-school myself, many come from my own friends and family. However, the newest novel has a loving but struggling mother named DeLilah, whose name I chose because the sound of it seemed to fit her (plus I could shorten it to “Lilah”). I totally forgot the Biblical reference and given my character’s character, I’m hoping readers won’t notice, (although, I suspect they will). I almost wish now I’d written a disclaimer: “there is no association between this character and her Biblical counterpart.” Then again, it might become a discussion point and maybe I’ve misread my character!

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

She’d be shocked, not easily convinced it was me doing it, and insist on reading it before she claimed it. I was a discerning and cautious teenager – eager to be a “credit to the race.” I think she’d take to leaving these books in unsuspecting spots and sticking around to watch readers’ responses.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Totally, the Turner Classic Movie station and any film between 1920 and 1944. Were there automobiles? Automobiles + horse and carriages contemporaneously? How did the fabric move on women’s bodies? What was on their dresser tables? What’s in the backgrounds? I’m devoted to details of a scene and if you look past the foregrounded action to the background of a scene on TCM, it gives you a sense of place like none other.
Visit Karla FC Holloway's website.

Q&A with Karla FC Holloway.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Elissa Grossell Dickey

Elissa Grossell Dickey is a mother, writer, and multiple sclerosis warrior who believes in the power of strong coffee and captivating stories.

Her debut novel is The Speed of Light.

My Q&A with Dickey:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The book’s title, The Speed of Light, is perfect for the story in numerous ways. It refers to the fact that my main character and her love interest are both Star Wars fans, and they watch the movies throughout their relationship. It also refers to the fact that snowflakes falling against a windshield can make it look like you’re flying at light speed. Most of all, it refers to the fact that life can—and does—change quickly, for better or worse, be it a getting devastating diagnosis, meeting a handsome stranger, or enduring a chilling act of violence at work. You never know what life will throw at you, and The Speed of Light shows how one woman navigates this.

What's in a name?

I chose my main character’s name, Simone, basically just because I liked it! But while she’s not named after anyone in particular, I do think the name fits her character, as to me the name invokes a quiet strength.

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

I think beginnings are harder, and thus, I tweaked my beginning a lot more. You need to pull the reader into the story at just the right time, giving them enough context that they care about the character, while also making it lively enough that they aren’t bored. For Simone’s story, I ended up starting with her getting her annual MRI, since it’s a unique enough experience to hopefully be interesting to readers, while also providing background as to what she’s dealing with.

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

Simone’s journey and her experiences as she goes through her MS diagnosis and comes to terms with her illness are based on my own, so in that way it’s a very personal story to me.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

The book was very much inspired by my own MS diagnosis. Writing this story and my main character’s journey coming to terms with her diagnosis was very therapeutic for me; in a way, I wrote the story I needed when I was first diagnosed. The fact that it debuted on March 1, the first day of MS Awareness Month, made it all the more special.
Visit Elissa Grossell Dickey's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Speed of Light.

The Page 69 Test: The Speed of Light.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Dan Stout

Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes noir with a twist of magic and a disco chaser. Stout's stories have appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post and Nature. He is the author of The Carter Archives, a series of noir fantasy novels from DAW Books.

The new title in The Carter Archives is Titan Song.

My Q&A with Stout:

What's in a name?

I love this question. There is so much in a name, and my thoughts about character names changes with what stage the manuscript is in.

First, there’s the process of finding a name that works during the drafting process. This is really for me, in the very early stages. I spend a great deal of time trying on different options before settling on character names. Names have a “feel” to them, and I can be working with a character for a while, trying to find their voice, and then I change their name and immediately they start taking on a different persona.

But I also have to make sure that readers will recognize and remember the names. You can have great characters, but if they’re named Stan, Steve, and Steph, most readers will struggle to keep them separate.

On top of all that, Titan Song is a blend of fantasy and noir mystery. To pull off that combo, I need to deliver a mix of elements from both genres. I can use names to underscore each of those core genres, such as by mixing common 21st Century names with unusual variations or period names to emphasize the otherworldliness of the setting.

Finally, sometimes names are just fun! In Titanshade, all the male members of a specific species have names that begin with A. That’s a bit of worldbuilding that started as me poking fun at myself for giving characters' names that were too similar.

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

I’m pretty sure my teenage self would give me the highest of fives!

When I was a teenager, I saw a book with cover art that clearly was blending noir and high fantasy. I wasn’t able to buy it at the time, but that idea always stuck with me. I think that teenaged Dan would be proud to know that a few decades down the line, he’d be writing his own take on that concept.

Honestly, finding the joy in writing has a lot to do with finding the overlap in who I am now and who I was at different points, whether I was 15, 25, or 35. All those versions of me wouldn’t agree on much, but the things that we do agree on? Those are deeply held beliefs, and I think the passion comes through in my writing.

(At the same time, if my teenage self saw my modern author photo, he’d be a lot more appreciative of that full head of hair he's got…)

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

The honest answer is that it depends. I’ve written three books, and for two of them, the beginnings flowed out effortlessly, while for the other it was pretty painful going. I’m still early enough in my career that I’m learning what makes the difference between those two states, and how to use that knowledge to make my life a little easier.

On the other hand, endings are always fun. I like to know the ending of the story before I get too far into the book, so that I can set the trajectory of all the various moving parts. Also, I write sequentially, so by the time I get to the end, it’s been a long, difficult process, and writing those final scenes is a moment of great catharsis.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Oh, man! Everything influences me. I’m a sponge, soaking up details and holding them against each other, looking for conflicts and contradictions, the kind of thing that creates inherent tension in a character and on the page. The news is definitely an influence, but not just the headlines – I love science news and sports.

Film noir is definitely an influence on Titan Song, as well as my writing in general. Individual books are greatly influenced by music, and I often hang a photo or painting over my desk that encapsulates the emotion I’m striving for in a book or specific scene.

My spouse is a theatre person, and we spend hours watching television, film, and stage plays, then unpacking the storytelling craft to see what we thought did or didn’t work.

I keep a bookshelf filled with my journals and scrapbooks, and everything I find of interest gets pasted in on their pages. Whenever I need a jolt of inspiration I know that I can always riffle through those pages and find something that will inspire me.

And honestly, those are just the first things that spring to mind. I've drawn on everything from hikes in the park to old Soviet propaganda posters for inspiration, and hopefully I'll be able to keep drawing on the things around me for more books in the years to come.
Visit Dan Stout's website.

My Book, The Movie: Titanshade.

The Page 69 Test: Titanshade.

The Page 69 Test: Titan's Day.

My Book, The Movie: Titan's Day.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 9, 2021

Donis Casey

Donis Casey is the author of the Alafair Tucker Mysteries, an award-winning series featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s. Her first mystery, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, was named an Oklahoma Centennial Book. She is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur.

Casey's new novel is Valentino Will Die, the sequel to The Wrong Girl.

My Q&A with the author:

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

I usually suffer trying to come up with the perfect title. Only one time did I leave the title to the publisher, and I was not happy with what they chose. So for Valentino Will Die, I did it myself, and the reader can pretty much glean exactly what the story is about from the title. Most of my titles are taken from something one of the characters says, and Valentino Will Die is no exception. In fact it's Rudolph Valentino himself who utters the fateful line to our heroine, movie star Bianca LaBelle, one evening beside her swimming pool. She prods Rudy to tell her what has been bothering him for several weeks, and he replies he has been receiving threatening notes that say “Valentino will die.” I thought about having the notes say “Valentino must die,” but “must die” titles have been done to death, as it were. Instead, let's be decisive and say he “will die”.
What's in a name?

My protagonist was born Blanche Tucker, the eighth of ten children growing up on a horse farm in Oklahoma during the 1910s. She's originally named after a great-aunt of mine, whom I knew. Great Aunt Blanche was a beauty who ran away with a ne'er-do-well and ended up alone and in trouble. She was a lovely but troubled person, so I decided to give her a happy ending. Blanche became a silent movie star in the 1920s and changed her name to Bianca, oh so exotic and glamorous. Her mentor, another famous actress called Alma Bolding (also named after one of my aunts who deserved some glitz in her life) suggested Bianca change Tucker to LaBelle, after the Keats poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” “the beautiful lady without mercy,” after Bianca smacked a killer in the head with a tire iron.
Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

When I write the first draft of a novel, I don't worry about the beginning at all. I just write. After the draft is done, that's when I worry. I search through the early part of the manuscript to find where the story actually starts, an intriguing event or episode that will pose the problem and catch the reader's interest. It's usually there somewhere. When I find it, I move it to the beginning and rearrange the story to suit. When I started Valentino Will Die, I thought I knew how it would end, but I was only half right. The characters always decide to change the trajectory of the plot as it unfolds. I really work on the endings of all my books, and I certainly did so with Valentino. I love a twist, so if I can work in a logical twist at the end, I'll do it every time – and does Valentino have a twist!. I want my endings to be satisfying and memorable for the reader. The end is what makes the reader want to pick up your next book.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My family history, to begin with. Since I spun off a long, family-inspired series* into the Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse novels, set in 1920s Hollywood, my inspiration comes much more from digging into my own neuroses, especially memories of how I felt about things when I was as young and full of vinegar as my protagonist, Bianca LaBelle. I have come up with some fabulous story ideas from newspapers. When one writes historical mysteries, its fascinating to read contemporary reports of historical events. With the benefit of time, we might now know what actually happened, but it's usually not at all what they thought they knew while events were unfolding.

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

My teenaged reader self probably would identify, if she read the book at all, that is. My teenaged writer self would be surprised, all right. She already thought of herself as a deep thinker and an author who would only write existential novels full of angst. Fifty years and a lot of real life existential angst later, I want to write about likable people who eat good food, wear great clothes, and do the best they can.

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

Though her life and experiences are completely unlike my own, I see my young self very much in Bianca LaBelle's personality. She appears to the world as confident and outgoing but she's been badly burned, so she is wary of others, is drawn to misfits, and something of a loner. I also see a lot of my grown-up self in the villain K.D. Dix, a small, dimpled, elderly woman with a sweet face who runs a many-tentacled crime syndicate. She has to be in charge so no one can get to her. Dix had a tough youth. She dealt with it by becoming a stone cold killer. I write murder mysteries.

*FYI, the earlier series was the ten book Alafair Tucker Mysteries set in 1910s Oklahoma. Bianca is one of Alafair's children.
Visit Donis Casey's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hell with the Lid Blown Off.

My Book, The Movie: Hell With the Lid Blown Off.

The Page 69 Test: All Men Fear Me.

My Book, The Movie: All Men Fear Me.

The Page 69 Test: The Wrong Girl.

My Book, The Movie: Valentino Will Die.

The Page 69 Test: Valentino Will Die.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Clay McLeod Chapman

Clay McLeod Chapman writes novels, comic books, and children’s books, as well as for film and TV. He is the author of the horror novels The Remaking and Whisper Down the Lane.

My Q&A with the author:

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

Quite a lot, I think... Whisper Down the Lane, or Telephone, is a game of rumors. A group of children sit in a circle. One child whispers a sentence -- I like to eat Lucky Charms in my pajamas -- into their neighbor's ear, then that child whispers the sentence into their neighbor's ear, going around the circle until the whispered statement returns to its originator. But when it goes around the circle, the phrase tends to mutate. Words are forgotten and replaced. Even the original intent behind the sentence alters itself. When it comes full circle and the originator gets to hear the sentence returned to them, they say it out loud (usually to laughter): Eyes do harm to unlucky lamas.

My novel, Whisper Down the Lane, is about the adult version of this childhood game... The rumors that spread and pervert themselves from one neighbor to the next. How something relatively harmless that someone says can take on a life of its own and become dangerous. How lives can be destroyed by lies.

What's in a name?

I was a bit cheeky with my character names... I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this, but if you look at the names of a lot of supporting characters in the book, you'll find my reading list on full display. I wanted to pay my respects to the masterworks that influenced my novel. Consider them satanic panic Easter eggs.

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

If anything, I think he'd be relieved to see that he was still writing as an adult... and grateful that he was getting published. As far as surprises go, I'd personally be curious if my teenage self would be aware of how his writing style has -- hopefully -- evolved over the years. Would he still hear his voice in my writing? It's an interesting question. The DNA was there, all those years ago, for sure, but it's definitely evolved and refined itself since then.

Starting back in high school, I became completely enamored with first person narrative. That root is still there, plunging into my writing and growing over the subsequent decades. Now -- finally! -- it's starting to bear wondrous fruit.

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

Well, the ending certainly changed the most for Whisper Down the Lane. Chapters were rearranged up until the very end of the editing process, as well as adjusting how much was said vs. how much we cut in order to leave certain mysteries unsolved. The conversation between my editor and myself always revolved around how much do we want to trust our narrator. Does Richard, our protagonist -- or perhaps antagonist -- even know the truth? How much is he hiding the truth from himself? This meant a lot of dial adjusting. And trimming. Lots of trimming. Less is more, but until you've written it all down on the page, you just won't know what needs to be taken away. I tend to overwrite, which I find is better for those first drafts, because then you just compress and cut.

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

For most of my work, I'd say no... but with Whisper Down the Lane in particular, I'd say yes. Maybe even for the first time. For better or for worse, I 'cast' myself in the dual roles of both protagonists from the novel: five year old Sean and thirty year old Richard. Since the book times place in both the 80s and 2013, which conveniently follows my own personal timeline as a human being, so I essentially got to write about my own childhood and then my own adult life. It's completely fictionalized, though. This isn't autobiography. I took the tone and terrors of the times -- being a kid and then a parent -- and got to explore them both.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

For this book, it was the early films of Roman Polanski. I think we should all do a movie night of Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant. Who's with me?
Visit Clay McLeod Chapman's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Remaking.

The Page 69 Test: The Remaking.

My Book, The Movie: Whisper Down the Lane.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 5, 2021

Adam Mitzner

Adam Mitzner is the acclaimed Amazon Charts bestselling author of Dead Certain, Never Goodbye, and The Best Friend in the Broden Legal series as well as the stand-alone thrillers A Matter of Will, A Conflict of Interest, A Case of Redemption, Losing Faith, and The Girl from Home. A practicing attorney in a Manhattan law firm, he and his family live in New York City.

Mitzner's new novel is The Perfect Marriage.

My Q&A with the author:

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

Titles are very tricky business. I’ve written 9 novels, and I’m at about 50% whether my title ends up being the title when the book is published. I had the title before I began writing for exactly two of the books.

The Perfect Marriage was one of those two. Before I wrote the first line I knew that the book was going to be about this couple that were very happy together, but that the title would suggest otherwise because no marriage is actually perfect. So it worked well on both levels – before starting the book, the reader knows that the titular couple at least think they’re blissfully happy, but the reader also knows that there’s more to it than that.

What's in a name?

I like to give the main characters names that evoke some feeling in the reader. In The Perfect Marriage, the main characters are named James and Jessica Sommers. To me, Sommers – like summer – is a carefree happy time. And I liked that their first names shared a common first letter, which gave them that cute couple vibe. One of the characters is named Hayley, and she’s a force of nature, like hail. Wayne is a weaker character, and no offense to Wayne’s, but I chose the name because it’s slightly old-fashioned and also because it’s Batman’s alter ego’s name – his weaker part. And Owen is what we might have named my daughters had they been boys.

Minor characters I name after my friends and family, often to their chagrin.

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

This is a funny one for me because I would say that my younger self would be shocked because I do not recall ever having any interest in being a writer until I was in my forties. However, since I’ve published, I’ve heard from friends from my teenage years who remember that I always had such an interest. So, I’m not sure who to believe.

On substance, however, I think the themes I explore in my novels are the ones that intrigued me even as a teenager. What’s the “right” thing to do? What price do we pay for pursuing our passions? What will we do for the people we love? Can good people do bad things?

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

Like the famous Mad Men line, I am like Don Draper in that I prefer the beginnings of things. Writing the beginnings are more fun because it’s like meeting people for the first time. You get to know them slowly, imagining things about them that may or may not be true, fantasizing a little bit about who they truly are. At the end, all those mysteries have been revealed.

I do not know the ending when I start writing, which requires that I go back to the beginning once the ending is finished to make sure that the characters are true to themselves throughout the book. Another reason that I edit the beginning more is simply because I am constantly editing as I write, as opposed to
doing a first draft completely and then beginning to edit. So the beginning is around longer and therefore subject to more edits.

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 school of thought that you are all the people in your dreams. I think the same is true of writing. Which is my way of saying that all of the characters are me, in some form or another. The way I am, the way I’d like to be, the way I think others see me. Sometimes the characters are based on people I know, but even then they’re really how I think those people see the world. Obviously, I have no idea whether that’s right or not, so in that way I still think even those characters are more like me than the people I’m actually basing them on.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My family, first and foremost, because the issues in my books usually revolve around family dynamics. The Perfect Marriage hews closer to my life in some regards than most of my books, as my wife and I are both previously divorced and have children from our prior marriages. And I think my marriage is perfect, of course. But all of my books are at their core about personal morality and the ties that bind people, and to find that place I am most influenced by my own relationships.

I’m also very influenced by television, especially the type of limited series you see on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. I watch them with an eye toward the visual cues as well as the story telling techniques. Over the past few years I’ve noticed that I’m often able to guess the endings, which I think is because I know what I’d do if I were writing the show.
Visit Adam Mitzner's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Perfect Marriage.

The Page 69 Test: The Perfect Marriage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Paula Munier

Paula Munier is the USA Today bestselling author of the Mercy and Elvis mysteries. A Borrowing of Bones, the first in the series, was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and named the Dogwise Book of the Year. Blind Search was inspired by the real-life rescue of a little boy with autism who got lost in the woods.

Munier credits the hero dogs of Mission K9 Rescue, her own rescue dogs Bear, Bliss, and Blondie—a Malinois mix as loyal and smart as Elvis—and a lifelong passion for crime fiction as her series’ major influences.

She’s also written three popular books on writing: Plot Perfect, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings, and Writing with Quiet Hands, as well as Fixing Freddie and Happier Every Day.

Munier lives in New Hampshire with her family, the dogs, and a torbie tabby named Ursula.

Her new Mercy and Elvis mystery is The Hiding Place. My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

When I was writing Blind Search, the publisher didn’t like the working title (which was so bad I’ve forgotten it). So I came up with a list of 100 titles I could live with. The publisher liked Blind Search, and the editorial director liked The Hiding Place. So my editor told me, “This novel will be called Blind Search, but your next novel will be called The Hiding Place.” So I began plotting the story knowing it would be called The Hiding Place, but without knowing why. I had to write the book to find out. In retrospect, it seems inevitable, but it didn’t seem that way when I started.

What's in a name?

Mercy Carr is my heroine. I wanted to use a virtue name, as there’s a long tradition of virtue names in New England where the series is set. I chose Mercy because it’s pretty and it reminded me of one of my favorite songs, "Mercy Now" by Mary Gauthier. Carr is a family name of one of our New England forebears. So it all fit.

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

Since I went to high school in New Orleans—every teenager’s party dream town—and had never set foot in New England, I’m sure my wilder, younger self would wonder how the heck I ended up here in the snowy woods. And why.

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

I really can’t begin until I have an image in my mind. That image usually becomes the beginning. In A Borrowing of Bones, it’s the image of a woman and a dog home from Afghanistan marching off their grief in the Green Mountains of Vermont. In Blind Search, it’s the image of a little boy with autism lost in the woods. In The Hiding Place, it’s the image of a dying man asking Mercy to solve the cold case that has always haunted him. So I rarely change the opening, because I have this image in mind. The endings are a lot more fluid, because the ending I have in mind when I begin the novel—if I have one in mind—may not be satisfying enough.

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 there’s a bit of the writer in every story’s characters. That said, for me, writing fiction is less about autobiography and more about roads not taken. Most of my characters are composites drawn from real life, research, and my imagination.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

The more stories you write, the more material you use up. So you end up priming the pump with everything and the kitchen sink. That’s half the fun, weaving all these disparate elements—your dogs, your garden, TV interviews with law enforcement, murders that make the headlines, what you saw on your last hike in the mountains, that dessert you had in Alsace, and more—into a story that makes sense. It’s a form of alchemy—and if you’re lucky, you get gold.
Visit Paula Munier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Paula Munier & Bear.

My Book, The Movie: The Hiding Place.

The Page 69 Test: The Hiding Place.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Tasha Alexander

Tasha Alexander is the author of the New York Times bestselling Lady Emily mystery series. The daughter of two philosophy professors, she studied English Literature and Medieval History at the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, live on a ranch in southeastern Wyoming.

Alexander's new novel, the 15th Lady Emily mystery, is The Dark Heart of Florence.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Titles have long been the most frustrating part of writing for me. Of my sixteen novels, only two have my original titles. At this point, I expect my publisher will want them changed. For example, I wanted Uneasy Lies the Crown to be called The Death of Kings, which was deemed (among other things) too masculine. The title of my current book, The Dark Heart of Florence, captures the flavor of the story well enough, I suppose. The working title was The Ninth Circle, taken from Dante’s Divine Comedy, which, perhaps, offers more insight into the book. The ninth circle of hell punishes treachery with a frozen lake. The worse the offense, the deeper the guilty party is frozen in it. Just how deeply the villain in Dark Heart should be placed isn’t cut and dry, at least not if you consider their motivation and principles.

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

My teenage self would be delighted that I’m writing, although she’d probably have hoped I was far, far hipper than I am. In high school, I would have assumed that I’d be writing about—and living in—New York, even though for nearly all of my life I was far more interested in historicals than contemporary fiction.

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

Beginnings are definitely trickier for me, mainly because I can’t be precisely sure how they should read until I’ve finished writing the entire book. This might be different if I could construct a decent outline, but my brain just won’t work like that. Instead, I figure out the story as I go, relying more on instinct than organization. Once I’ve got a complete manuscript, I circle back to the start and revise, finally able to flush out the first chapter.

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

Well, sadly, no one has irrevocably settled an enormous fortune on me, but times have changed since the late Victorian/early Edwardian days. Emily, my protagonist, is like me in some superficial ways. We both like classical antiquities, travel, and studying languages, but our worlds are entirely different. I find it satisfying to write about something removed from my own life. It broadens my horizons and keeps me interested.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Travel has informed every book I’ve written. It’s the source of endless ideas. Every new place helps me better understand people from all kinds of backgrounds. There are many ways in which we're all alike, but at the same time, it’s critical to recognize that we don’t all have similar lives. Cultural mores, opportunities, and daily experiences make an enormous impact on individuals. They can also keep us from recognizing the ways in which we are the same. Traveling with an eye toward learning about new cultures makes it possible to write more fully realized characters.
Visit Tasha Alexander's website.

--Marshal Zeringue