Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Samantha M. Bailey

Samantha M. Bailey is the USA TODAY and #1 nationally bestselling author of Woman on the Edge, which has sold in eleven countries to date. Her psychological thriller debut received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was a PW Best Books Pick of the Week. It was also the December Fiction Book of the Month at Indigo Books and the Shopper’s Drug Mart January Book Lover’s Pick. She is also a journalist and freelance editor; her work has appeared in NOW Magazine, The Village Post, The Thrill Begins, and The Crime Hub, among other publications. Watch Out for Her is her second novel. Bailey lives in Toronto, where she can usually be found tapping away at her computer or curled up on her couch with a book.

My Q&A with the author:

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

My teenage self wouldn’t be surprised by what I write, but she would be shocked that after twenty years of rejections, on novel after novel, her dreams finally came true. I grew up surrounded by books, and I was always drawn to the tantalizing and twisted, in both my reading and writing. I was hooked on stories by Stephen King, Patricia Highsmith, Daphne Du Maurier, and so many others. I’ve always been fascinated by the psychology behind people’s darkest wants and needs.

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

I find it harder to write endings because there are so many ways a writer can wrap up a story and the world she’s created for her readers. And readers, myself included, want very different kinds of closure. For me, I want a satisfying ending, that might be both sad and happy for the different characters. I want to see justice served and some redemption, while also showing that people have shades of good and bad inside them. No one is perfect. To come to the end of the journey is challenging and beautiful at the same time. In Watch Out for Her, I wanted the ending that the characters themselves led me to, where they go from here. When my readers close the book, I want them to think and feel and to have enjoyed an escape. Choosing exactly what the ending will be is a very detailed thought process for me, and each draft goes through evolutions that might lead to a different place than I expected.

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

I both see parts of myself in my characters, and they are absolutely fictional and not me at all. Their past traumas and the current events spinning their lives out of control belong to them, and they drive the stories I’m telling. In Watch Out for Her, there are my own experiences with motherhood and all the worry and fear inherent in being a parent, but at the same time, unlike Sarah, I’ve never used nanny cams; I don’t watch my neighbors so intently. But I think all writers consciously or subconsciously weave certain parts of ourselves into our books. It’s inevitable when we crack our souls open to create our best work.

(4) What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

So many non-literary inspirations influence my writing. I love people watching, so anyone who crosses my path inspires me. Television and movies, as well, fuel inspiration. I watch a lot of true crime, and though I don’t directly use what I see on the screen, it takes my thoughts in the directions I might need as I draft and revise. And music is probably one of my greatest inspirations. I always listen to music every day before I begin writing, usually raw songs with hard drum-beats or pain-soaked ballads to help me access my characters’ mindsets.
Follow Samantha M. Bailey on Twitter and visit her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Amina Akhtar

Amina Akhtar is a former fashion writer and editor. Her satirical first novel, #FashionVictim, drew rave reviews and acclaim and was covered in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Martha Stewart Living, Entertainment Weekly, Fashionista, Book Riot, CrimeReads, and more. Akhtar’s new book Kismet takes on the world of wellness and all the crystals that go with it. This #OwnVoices novel is set in Sedona, Arizona, where nature is just as much a character as anyone else.

My Q&A with the author:

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

I think right away the title leads the reader to know this might be about a spiritual or personal quest, a moment of fate, which is essentially what Kismet means. And with Sedona as the backdrop, hopefully it lures them in.

What's in a name?

For me, the names of characters have to echo in my head. I need to hear them, they have to sound almost musical. Ronnie/Rania was in my head forever! So I’m pleased I found a place for her.

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

My teenage self would be very into me I think! Murder, talking ravens, a desi woman trying to find herself. I think she’d understand that a lot. Also, she’d be thrilled I wrote a novel!

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

The middle! I usually have a vague idea of what I want the ending to be in my books. But it’s the middle part where I have to lead up to the ending that can be tricky. Sometimes I want all these insane things to happen but if they aren’t leading up to the ending, they have to go.

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

Ronnie is very much me when I was 18 and moved to New York in the 90s. I was a fish out of water, trying to find myself and my people. I wanted her to have that same naivety.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Family and life for sure. I think a lot of immigrants can understand that feeling of not belonging that Ronnie has. She’s stuck between two worlds and hasn’t found her place in either. I related to that because it’s also part of my own journey.

Movie wise, the late 70s and early 80s horror movies I grew up on are a huge part of my process. There’s always a tinge of horror in what I write, and maybe it’ll become a large part of my work.

And Hitchcock, of course. The Birds! Though I love so many of his films, especially Rope and Vertigo.
Visit Amina Akhtar's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 5, 2022

Tyrell Johnson

Tyrell Johnson is a father, writer, and editor. His postapocalyptic novel The Wolves of Winter was an Indie Next pick and garnered praise from Entertainment Weekly, PopSugar, Vogue, and many others.

Johnson's new novel is The Lost Kings.

My Q&A with the author:

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

The book actually started as simply the name of the main character, Jeanie King, and had a few different iterations before we settled on The Lost Kings. I think the title, like a lot of good titles, works well because A.) it just sorta sounds cool, and B.) it raises immediate questions, which hopefully sends the reader to the text for answers.

What's in a name?

Names are really important. I tend to come up with character names pretty quickly, but that doesn’t mean I don’t put a lot of thought into the decision. A name has to convey a certain feel to it that works well for the character. To me, Jeanie King has a powerful quality to it that I liked, but also leaves room for some vulnerability.

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

These are good questions! My teenage self would think my new novels are pretty cool. He would, however, be wondering where all the dragons are.

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

Both! I think it might be exactly equal. I tinker with both obsessively. The beginning has a lot of pressure to not only entice the reader, but it has to set up the character and tone of the entire novel. A sloppy beginning can do so much damage to a story. On the flip side, the ending carries so much weight because it has the entirety of the novel on its shoulders—it’s the final note you leave ringing in your readers’ ears. So I’m gonna be lame and not pick either one to prioritize.

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

I see myself in all my characters. And they’ve told me they see themselves in me too.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Definitely movies/television. I love stories on any format. I’d just watched Fleabag before writing The Lost Kings, so I think a little bit of Phoebe Waller Bridge’s character seeped into Jeanie King in her dark humor and independence. Jeanie might be a bit darker though.
Visit Tyrell Johnson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Lost Kings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Leslie Karst

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst waited tables and sang in a new wave rock and roll band, before deciding she was ready for ‘real’ job and ending up at Stanford Law. It was during her career as a research and appellate attorney in Santa Cruz County that she discovered a passion for food and cooking, and she once more returned to school – this time to earn a degree in culinary arts. Now retired from the law, she spends her time cooking, singing alto in her local community chorus, gardening, cycling, and of course writing. Karst and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawaii.

Karst's new novel is The Fragrance of Death.

My Q&A with the author:

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

As I was plotting the first book in my Sally Solari culinary mystery series, it occurred to me that the experience of eating involves not simply the sense of taste, but all five of the human senses. The artful presentation of a dish and its shapes and colors; the heavenly aroma of a slow-roasted chicken; the crackle in your mouth as you bite into a freshly-baked baguette; and the sound of that crunch as you chew. These all combine to create the joyful experience of eating. So why not, I decided, incorporate each of the human senses into the books I was writing about food and cooking?

As a result, when I came up with the title for the first of my mysteries—Dying for a Taste—I unwittingly set myself quite the difficult task. For the rest of the series, the titles would all have to impart three very different ideas: a murder, a food theme, and one of the human senses. Oy.

This newest book in the series (which actually concerns the lack of a sense, as Sally wakes up on page one unable to smell a thing) was a persnickety title, because truly, who wants to think about “smell” and “death” at the same time? So I was pleased when I came up with The Fragrance of Death, as the word “fragrance” both conveys smell in a pleasant way, as well as invoking the idea of food and cooking.

What's in a name?

Back in the early 1980s, I sang and played guitar in a new wave rock n’ roll band called Enigma, and one of the songs I wrote for the band was called “Jet Black,” about a gal named Sally (inspired by Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”) and her shiny black guitar. Many years later, when casting about for what to call the fourth-generation Italian amateur sleuth in my murder mystery, I decided it would be fun to use the same name—partly because it meant I could have her named after her grandfather, Salvatore.

But then I needed to come up with a last name for the restaurant-owning family, whose fishermen ancestors arrived from Liguria in the late nineteenth century. Researching surnames from that area of northern coastal Italy, I spotted “Solari” amongst the list. I loved how it evoked the word “solo,” as in someone working on her own against the odds. (There’s a reason other fictional characters have been called Napoleon Solo and Han Solo.) And I was also pleased that the name would be a nod to a local treasure, Mary Solari, who’s been a generous patron of the arts in Santa Cruz over many years.

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 actually quite a bit of me in Sally. Most obviously, we both have a passion for food and cooking. In addition, we’re both recreational cyclists and share the love of dogs, opera and Elvis Costello, the Giants baseball team, and single-barrel bourbons. And like my protagonist, I too can be a bit snarky at times.

But Sally is far braver than I—perhaps even too risky. I’d never have the nerve to investigate an actual murder. (Then again, I’d make for a pretty uninteresting sleuth, as well.) And I’d never dream of running a real-life restaurant; the work is far too stressful and exhausting, and takes up too much of your life. But make-believe running one in my books is loads of fun!

One of the best perks of being a writer, however, is that you’re provided the opportunity to give your characters all sorts of traits and possessions you don’t have, but might wish you did: hence, Sally’s tall, lanky build, her Italian heritage, and her cool, creamy-yellow ’57 T-Bird convertible.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Focusing on a different human sense in each of the books has been good fun, as it’s allowed me to introduce into the series various of my passions in addition to food and cooking, including music (in book two, Sally joins a local chorus performing the glorious Mozart Requiem); and art (inspired by reading about the namesake of the restaurant she inherits, Gauguin, Sally takes up painting in book three).

In The Fragrance of Death, one of my primary inspirations was Santa Cruz, the beautiful coastal California town where the series is set, and the importance of agriculture to the community—in particular, the iconic artichoke. The action begins with the death of one of the contestants in the annual artichoke cook-off at the historic fisherman’s wharf, and continues as Sally investigates the owners of an artichoke farm up the coast from Santa Cruz. Artichokes have long been a favorite food of mine, so getting to make the noble thistle one of the focal points of this new book was a wonderful thing.
Visit Leslie Karst’s website.

Coffee with a Canine: Leslie Karst & Ziggy.

My Book, The Movie: The Fragrance of Death.

--Marshal Zeringue