Enjoying life -just off a train from Portland - basking in our usual warm welcome from Seattle Mystery Bookstore. Multiple Berry cookies galore with Gina (our freind) kickin down with "Blackberry Lemon Sage " variations on a theme, and our friends at SMB showing us the love. Thanks guys, we always love coming in to sign and munch with you!
1. Setting: Side hill down to Pioneer Square in the oldest most historic part of Seattle: Red brick, and quarried stone, sea gulls pinwheeling over the waterfront, and ships coming and going carrying cargo.
2. Character: Character: the staff at this store Starting with J.B. and Adele are true afficianadoes in the bullfighting sense of the word I suppose. It's what makes going to a book shop so far superior to buying on line. Talking to someone who has read a book gives you a sense of whether you are going to like a book or not. You can read it in their face and their body language when they tell you about it with they say a book is, "Okay" or "Fine" you will know.
3. Plot: They treat you great here. Always. I've never had a bad experiance. But it is never what I expect, I always come out with something unexpected but it alwawy turns out good. Every time.
Seattle Mystery Books is a "Must See" when in Seattle. Not far from the Public Market and the Art Museum. Not far from the Sea Hawks. You have no excuse not to stop by.
Highly reccomended, for all Alaskans, all earthlings.
1. You've been successful in the e-book world. How hard was it to get published in the paper world?
I’ll carbon date myself by disclosing my first efforts to find a publisher involved snail-mailing hefty, phone book-sized manuscripts to the one publishing house in the country that produced lesbian fiction. We’re talking late 80s. Those early efforts came to naught, but I was given enough encouragement by friends to stick with it. I scored my first contract by winning a short story contest sponsored by a local publisher. When that house went out of business, I trudged through the slough of despond until I was rescued by Bold Strokes Books. Windigo Thrall is my eighth novel with Bold Strokes.
2. Have you ever thrown away a book that just wasn't working?
Never. But then I’m incapable of throwing away a book I’m reading, too. I’ve waded through some of the worst literary dreck ever published because I refuse to give up on a novel, any novel. If I discover I’m writing a bad story, I shake it hard and scream “Live, damn your eyes, live!” until it works.
3. Is it still exciting to publish a new book after all this time?
Not really. Mostly I use the author’s copies of my new novels as doorstops. I might read one in the shower occasionally, or use it to clean up after my dog in the yard. Of course it’s exciting to publish a new book after all this time! The elaborate altar containing copies of all my books has pride of place in my house. It’s illuminated only by lava lamp, it’s that sacred.
4. Do you write down ideas for books or do you just make it up as you go?
I’ve been consistent in structuring each of my books. I always start out knowing how I want to begin the story, and how I want it to end. And I never have a high holy hell’s notion how to get from one to the other. Luckily I’ve had the same excellent beta readers and editors at Bold Strokes for years, and they manage to keep me focused and inspired.
5. Will you be writing more in the Grady and Elena series? Which ties into 6. Will we get to see more of the PNW ladies?
I loved working with these characters in my earlier stories, and it was a kick to bring them all together in Windigo Thrall. I feel a sense of completion with these women now that wasn’t there before the last book. Grady and Elena, and Becca and Jo have been well launched, and I’m reasonably sure their love will be binding and their lives happy. I’ve learned never to say never when it comes to sequels, but for now I’m ready to channel some new voices.
7. If you could have written any single work -- novel, screenplay, stage play, poem, history, biography -- that you most admire, what would it be?
The Bible. Leviticus wouldn’t make the cut. Sorry, didn’t mean to type that out loud. Oddly enough, my head keeps coming back to Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. It reminds me of a great time in my life, the years I spent in children’s theater. Silverstein was irreverent, but he portrayed kids and their world with an astute and humane eye. I’d love to be responsible for bringing a gift like that to young readers.
8. Have you considered writing suspense work without the supernatural element?
Do I have to? I’m afraid I might secretly suck at suspense without a supernatural element. Or romance, sans ghosts. Or speculative fiction. Etc. I love ghost stories and myths, and I would probably insert other-worldly plotlines in every genre or sub-genre I attempted. I think I’ve settled on paranormal romance as my comfortable home turf. All the stories I write are romances too, so I’m calling my personal imprint Aww/Boo.
9. Have you considered writing under a pseudonym?
Having one or more pseudonyms sounds like so much fun, I regret that I barely write fast enough to use one nym. I admire authors so prolific they use a different name for every genre they write in, but I type at the speed of sludge. And I’ve always been lucky enough not to need a pseudonym for protection—to reside in a city that doesn’t force queer writers to disguise their identities.
10. Is there one thing you've wanted to have been asked about your writing, but no one has?
I’d love to drop the microphone and just have a conversation with you about how we can make lesbian fiction more accessible and welcoming to women of color. While there are wonderful authors out there representing different races and ethnicities, we haven’t made enough inroads in terms of diversity to ensure all our readers see their lives reflected honestly in our books. Our main characters (mine included) skew toward white, young, able-bodied, cis-gendered women, and our community holds a great deal more variety and nuance. How can we let more diverse voices speak out, those of both writers and readers? Discuss.
--> How many rejection slips did you get before your first novel was published?
I lost count. If you include screenplays, short stories, and novels, it's in the hundreds. If you include just novels, it's only a dozen or so.
--> Have you ever thrown away a book that you just couldn't make work?
I threw away my very first draft of The Baker Street Letters, because I'd written it in the wrong voice, and with the wrong plot line, and--well, just about everything. I never showed that draft to any publisher, and I didn't keep anything from it. I started from scratch, wrote a new first draft that had some elements worth keeping, and then another revision after that, and then another.
--> Is it still exciting to publish a new book even after all this time?
It's always a thrill. A nervous thrill, because while I always get into a writing mode where I think the current book is the best one of all, I always then start worrying that maybe nobody will get it at all.
--> Do you get ideas for new books all the time and you keep them written down, or does one come to mind when you need one?
I almost never write an idea down for later use. The few times I have, I've always lost the cocktail napkin or the back of whatever used envelope I wrote the note on. I keep ideas in my head, and I let them develop and connect with other things.
--> Do you have entire the story arc mapped out when you began this series?
Partly. I knew at the start that the relationship between Reggie Heath and Laura Rankin would evolve in major ways over the course of the first four novels, and that has happened, very naturally. I constructed the plot lines of each individual book to fit that evolution.
--> Do you know how a book/series is going to end when you begin it?
This is my first series, and no, I don't know how I'm going to end it. I have a couple of ideas in mind for a major transition that might take place at book six or seven, but I haven't decided yet. As to individual books--yes, I always know, or at least think I know. I don't begin writing until I know the beginning, at least one major plot point, and the ending. Or at least one possible ending. I'm not above changing my mind, and I have done.
--> Would you consider writing a screenplay for your books if asked?
The series began as a screenplay, which I shopped about in Hollywood in the early 1980s (yes, that long ago). When I published The Baker Street Letters in 2009, a production company finally got interested and bought an option--and then renewed it--and then renewed it again, while they hired someone else to write the screenplay. I didn't object, because that first novel was a little more introspective than the others, and I thought it would be a challenge to bring it to the screen (and it was). But the three novels since are much more cinematic, and it would be great fun to adapt them into a feature and sequel.
--> Have you considered writing something that is non-Sherlockian?
Yes. I may find time to do that between books five and six.
--> Is there any surprise you've got planned in upcoming books that you're willing to leak?
Yes, there's a surprise. Or two. No, I won't leak them, because I reserve the right to change my mind.
--> If you could change anything about your writing career, what would it be?
I suppose I would have spent less time pushing scripts in Los Angeles in the 80s. Hollywood is a hard nut to crack, and you can come tantalizingly close without actually making a living at it. My advice to any writer is to write the novel (or the stage play) first, and turn to the screen only when the opportunity presents itself.
--> If you could have written any single work – novel, screenplay, stage play, poem, history, biography – that you most admire and adore, what would it be?
I know I should name something Sherlockian. Or at least a mystery. Or something that I studied in my college lit courses. But I really wish I had written The Princess Bride (both the book and the movie). Of mystery novels, my favorite of all time is The Thin Man.
--> Is there anything you’ve always wanted to be asked about your writing but no one ever has?
I keep expecting someone to ask who the characters are based on, especially the Laura Rankin character, who, in my mind anyway, is really the center of attention in the first four novels. Even in the first novel, which I wrote entirely from Reggie's point of view, when Laura was not on screen, Reggie was thinking about her. I give Laura all the best lines. But since no one ever asks who she is based on, I guess that spares me the risk of naming any names.
1. Are you still excited about writing the Otherworld sisters' stories?
I still love writing Otherworld, though it’s more complicated than it used to be. I’ve often joked that OW is my “Pern”…but it’s true, really. The world just keeps expanding in my mind, and apparently, my writing. ~laughs~ I have many ideas I’d like to implement in the future and I can see quite a ways ahead in each sister’s path/destiny. If my readers keep buying the books, I’m happy to keep writing them.
2. Do you see the sisters being heavily involved in the Otherworld war?
They’re on the outskirts. It affects them, it hits them in the gut, but they can’t be over there fighting when they have to stay here to watch out for what Shadow Wing is pulling next. They’re very torn, because they love their homeworld, but they also realize that sometimes, you have to go where you’re most needed and best able to help. And right now, that’s Earthside.
3. How do you come up with all the unique names in this series?
Most of my characters name themselves, so um…the names are just there. Some are based on the origins of certain words. And others, I go for the ‘feel’ of the name—the sound of it and how I think it would sound for…say…the Svartan race, or the Elfin race.
4. You have an enormous cast of characters. Is it hard to remember who everyone is and where they are?
I keep notes on that—for some scenes, I’ll make a list of who is there. ~grins~ I’ve been caught more than once by my editor including someone who wasn’t around, or I’ll sometimes realize I left someone in the middle of a fight doing nothing. Luckily, I manage to fix these mistakes before they hit print!
5. How important is music to your writing?
Very. Each book has a playlist, and each series seems to have a theme song. Each major character has certain songs that I associate with them. I don’t always listen to music while I write, but a good share of the time, yes, I do.
6. You're ending the Indigo Court series. Will you miss the people you've created there?
Yes, but it’s time to close the doors on it. The Indigo Court Series was always designed to be a closed story arc. I knew there would be either five or six books, and it happened to be five. While I love that world dearly and feel it’s some of my best writing so far, it was harder to write—much like following bread crumbs through a forest. But I love the sparkling frozen world Cicely lives in, and yes, I will miss it.
7. Might we see an Indigo Court/Otherworld crossover?
No, that really can’t happen. The worlds are different—they aren’t in the same altaverse.
8. With your new, parallel Otherworld series, will the sisters make guest appearances?
You may just see them from time to time. ~winks~ And you get a glimpse of Shimmer in Autumn Whispers and mentions of them in Crimson Veil. You’ll certainly see old standbys like The Supe Urban Café (and Marion), and the Supe Community Action Council and maybe the Seattle Vampire Nexus (and possibly Erin) in the Fly by Night Series. The FBN Series takes place in Seattle in the same time frame as the Otherworld Series, so the world will be familiar. You will definitely see more dragons and vampires, considering the two main characters are from those races.
9. Will you have a single protagonist in the new series, a la Cecily, or an ensemble, like the sisters?
While the main character will be Shimmer, a dragon shifter exiled Earthside, and the books will be from her POV, Alex—her boss (a vampire who’s more like Crocodile Dundee than he is Dracula)—will be prominent and they are basically paired up in a lot of the cases. Their crew of friends will be a little more off the wall than the sisters’ crew. The Fly By Night series will be more oriented toward standalone books within the overall series. Alex and Shimmer aren’t really aware of the demonic war that’s going on, and their focus is quite different. Although I think Shimmer’s love life, or attempts at one, will be a lot of fun for the readers to follow along. The heat level will be about the same as Otherworld, so don’t expect a change in that in this series (yes explicit sex and violence).
10. Do you miss writing non-fiction?
No, I don’t. I never set out to write nonfiction, and while I’m proud of what I wrote in that venue, it wasn’t my original goal. Someday I might like to write a book on writing, but what writer doesn’t want to do that?
It felt a little surreal to walk into Seattle Mystery Bookshop this morning and see a table stacked with my first book, Murder Strikes a Pose. I felt downright giddy sitting in their huge leather chair. I’ve attended other writers’ book signings; I’ve seen similar tables; but I never, ever thought I’d be sitting on the author’s side of the desk. In fact, three years ago I would have told you that I didn’t have the stamina, patience, or passion to write a short story, much less a book. The authors I loved had more talent in their left pinky toes than I possessed in my entire five-foot-two-inch body.
I can only blame a grueling workout, my temperamental German shepherd, Tasha, and a writer named Susan Conant for my transformation.
The key ingredients of my mysteries were already percolating inside of me, I just didn’t know it. I love dogs—especially German shepherds—so much that my husband calls me the “creepy puppy lady.” I’ve read cozy mysteries since long before I knew that there was a genre by that name. And my lifework is teaching yoga.
One day, while trying to distract myself at the gym, I read a passage in Susan Conant’s Black Ribbon that made me burst into laughter. I jumped off the exercise bike, ran home, got online, and tried to learn more about my new favorite author. I surfed my way to a site about cozy mysteries.
That’s all it took.
I began to wonder, what would happen if a yoga teacher with a huge, crazy dog got mixed up in murder?
Feisty Seattle yoga teacher Kate Davidson popped into my head a few days later. She insisted that I tell the story of how she found the love of her life—a German shepherd named Bella—while solving the murder of her homeless friend, George. Kate is one stubborn woman. She refused to leave, no matter how much I begged her to.
The first draft poured out of my fingers in three weeks, though the subsequent thirty-odd drafts took significantly longer. Before I even typed “the end,” Kate had gone and found another body, so I wrote that story too.I’m now on book three. I have a feeling that Kate, Bella, and their quirky counterparts will be telling me stories for many years to come.
At least I hope so. What other excuse will I have to sit in that comfy leather chair?
You’re on the whirlwind book tour. Self-promotion at its most shameless: Good Morning America, New York, DC, LA, radio interviews, book signings. Kind of glamorous, kind of exhausting. You get asked the same questions over and over again, you reformat the same answers. You tell yourself that this is what it takes to sell books, and you remind yourself that you are lucky to have the attention. There are plenty of new authors out there that would kill for this publicity. And the truth is—you enjoy the spotlight. It’s fun. And flattering.
Then you walk into the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, and all of a sudden you remember why you wrote the book in the first place. Because you had a fun story to tell, and you wanted people to read it. SMB is what writing a thriller is all about: a huge selection of mysteries and thrillers, a staff that’s read practically everything that’s ever been written in the genre, and readers who care.
You sit back in the big brown leather chair, bottle of water at your side, your book laid out in front of you…and you meet your audience. Up close and personal. You find out why they came into the store in the first place. What kind of read are they looking for, which covers attract their attention, what part of the pitch for your novel excites them. Or bores them. You’re at the point of sale moment: when the buyer makes that fateful decision to spend their money on your book…or not.
They scan the cover, peruse the blurbs, the author bio, check out your picture. Some of them pull out their wallets. “Looks fun.” “I’ll give it to my husband as a late Christmas present.” Others don’t. “I’ll wait for paperback.” “I’ll get it at the library.”
It’s an amazing learning experience. You’re not talking about your book to some faceless radio audience. Your audience is three feet away, your book in their hands. And then it comes clear to you: it’s not about how many books you sell. It’s about each individual reader’s experience of the story you wrote. The fun they have, what they learn from it, how it touches them. That’s what matters. That’s why you do what you do.
1. How many rejection slips did you get before your first novel was published?
Rejection slips? Not that many, precisely because most people simply didn't bother to respond at all. I learned fairly quickly that if I heard nothing in a couple of weeks, I was probably rejected. A slip would have been a badge of honor because at least someone took the time to reject me, but for the most part I apparently wasn't worth officially rejecting.
2. Have you ever thrown away a book that you just couldn't make work?
No. Well, not completely thrown away. I've certainly changed the plot and direction wildly from what I first envisioned, usually because of two competing interests, forcing me to choose one over the other. One thing I've found, though, is that nothing is ever completely thrown away. Nine times out of ten, I'll end up using it somewhere else.
3. Is it still exciting to publish a new book even after all this time?
Ha! Seriously? I still take pictures when I'm grocery shopping and see my book in the rack, amazed that it's there. Yes, it's definitely exciting. I hope that feeling never, ever leaves.
4. Do you get ideas for new books all the time and you keep them written down, or does one come to mind when you need one?
I get ideas all the time, but I rarely write them down. My wife says I'm Walter Mitty, constantly coming up with stories - usually to get out of trouble - and that's pretty much how I write. I see something that sparks an idea and I'll toy with it over and over. Sooner or later, all of those little stories end up as scenes in a book.
5. Do you have entire story arcs mapped out when you begin a trilogy or a series of related books?
No. I write a series but I don't have an overarching arc in my head. What I want the characters to do is grow naturally, like real life, based on the stories I'm creating. In other words, the story will drive how the character will grow, but each book is a standalone. I will say that the series does form an arc, completely on its own. I'd like to take credit for some genuis thinking, but it just happened.
6. Do you know how a book/series is going to end when you begin it?
Yes. Well, in a perfect world, yes. For me, it sure makes it easier. Some writers let the book just take them where it will, but that would drive me insane. I knew the last sentence for Enemy of Mine before I knew the first, and had the ending for The Widow's Strike mapped out in my head before I even had an antagonist. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. I didn't know how The Polaris Protocol would end, and it gave me fits, because the ending radiates out, reverberating throughout the book.
7. Would life be easier if you published under just one name?
Are you suggesting I should start publishing under a different name? What's wrong with my single name?
8. Do you have to enter a different mind-set to write different stories for different names/characters?
Yes, definitely. I strive to make all characters three dimensional, and to do that I definitely have to be in a different mind-set. A female Chechen terrorist has a different world-view from Jennifer Cahill, and in order to get that world view out, I have to be in a different frame of mind. Conversely, it would be very easy to write a Middle Eastern terrorist as some ridiculous parody of what Americans believe he or she would act like, but I'd prefer more nuance, and that requires a different mindset.
9. Is there any kind of book you would like to write but haven't?
Not yet. If I ever had that problem, I'd simply write it.
10. If you could change anything about your writing career, what would it be?
Nothing. I have been blessed to be allowed to write for a living, and very few get this opportunity.
11. What’s the most interesting question you’ve ever been asked about your writings, and what was your answer?
I was laying face-down, butt naked from the waist down, four minutes out from beginning a colonoscopy, when my doctor put One Rough Man in my face and said, "Would you sign this?"
I told him, "After we're done..."
I figured he needed the incentive.
12. If you could have written any single work – novel, screenplay, stage play, poem, history, biography – that you most admire and adore, what would it be?
Honestly, I'd be afraid to pick one. I write in my style and would never pre-suppose I could write someone else's book. I like other writers precisely because they're not me.
13. Anything you’ve always wanted to be asked about your writing but no one ever has?
1. Where did you get the idea for writing Nightingale’s Nest?
When I first started writing for children, I wrote what I assumed were picture books: short, moody, quiet almost-poems that came from my deepest childhood memories. Even when I figured out they didn’t work as picture books, I couldn’t stop thinking about one or two of them in particular. Turns out, they were the seeds of my next two novels! I took the first one, called “The Treasure Nest,” wrapped it around one of my favorite, strange fairy tales (“The Nightingale” by Hans Christian Andersen), and it grew into Nightingale’s Nest.
2. Was writing Nightingale’s Nest easier or harder that Sinister Sweetness?
Both! Nightingale’s Nest seemed more organic – like I was uncovering a story that already existed, rather than creating something from scratch. I wrote it fairly quickly, and was more pleased with the first draft of it than I usually am! I had to change a lot more while revising Sinister Sweetness – although that one was great fun to write. Witches, candy all day long, a happy ending – what’s not to love?
The writing of Nightingale’s Nest was far more emotionally difficult to say the least. As I wrote, I felt more and more that the characters on the page were in a way – this may sound strange – my own children. I loved them. I still wonder what Little John and Gayle are up to these days…
3. Do you have a favorite character from your books?
Not yet! I may someday look back on my body of work and think “I liked that character best,” but right now I am in the thick of it. If I didn’t become utterly fascinated with each character (the good and the bad), then I don’t think I could spend the time needed to write and revise their stories for years and years.
4. Are you planning a sequel to Sinister Sweetness? (Please?!..)
Oh, thank you! It’s very gratifying to know a reader wants more of my stories, but right now, there are no sequel plans in the works.
If my publisher decides to ask for one, I DO have some ideas… but they are very dark and twisted and not quite ready to write. Anyway, I am having such a good time playing with other fairy tales and magical realism, it would be a while before I could get back to the world of Splendid Academy… and it might have to be a prequel, anyway. (I don’t want to give away the ending, but, um, there are a lot of characters no longer around by the end of SINISTER SWEETNESS. Who would the new main characters and villains be? Feel free to write me with your ideas!)
5. What project are you currently working on?
My third book, which should come out in early 2015! It’s got a working title of WISH GIRL, and it’s magical realism again, but more pronounced than NIGHTINGALE’S NEST. It’s about an introverted boy who moves to the countryside, near a valley that seems utterly magical. He meets a smart, bossy girl who may or may not make wishes come true…and also may need him to help her stay alive.
I’m still revising, so I don’t want to say too much, but I think readers who liked my first two books will like this one, too. It’s full of magic and danger and a pinch of tragedy, too.
6. I see you bake when you are stressed, what is your favorite thing the bake during these times?
Cookies! I’ve made my favorite four or five types of cookies so many times, I don’t even need the recipes anymore. I think the familiar act of baking cookies, and the immediate joy of sampling one or two (or twelve) helps make the stressful days less so.
7. What was your favorite childhood book as a kid?
I’d have to go with Pippi Longstocking. I slept upside down in my bed for a long time after I discovered these books – and spent the rest of my time daydreaming about breadfruit and tropical islands. I wanted to be Pippi, to be strong and unafraid to speak my mind, and to have a treasure chest full of gold coins I could hide for my friends to find. Oh, and a monkey.
8. What is your favorite book to read to your boys now as an adult? And is it the same as their favorite?
I adore this lovely picture book called Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, about the imaginary, magical worlds children invent and populate, and how memories of those places stay with us until we are very old. It always makes me cry, and the boys have to help me read those last few pages out loud, but I love it more than anything.
My youngest loves Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants, and my teenager still has a soft spot for The Velveteen Rabbit. (Maybe he likes watching his mom cry? That book is ridiculously hard to get through!)
9. What is your guilty pleasure reading?
I feel no guilt about reading – and I fiercely believe no one should! The thought that some genres or books are more worthy than others, and that the stories you may like are somehow shameful, is the sort of thing that turns reluctant readers away from books forever.
I proudly read tons of children’s books - from picture books to YA. I devour anything by Charlaine Harris, adore Neil Gaiman, immediately race out for the newest Robin McKinley… and I’ve been known to buy steamy romances in supermarket checkout lines, if they looked funny or had well-written first pages.
Here, let me step off my soapbox now…
10. Any final words?
Nitwit? Blubber? Oddment? Tweak!
(Sorry, I couldn’t help quoting Dumbledore.)
How about… Thank you! I love sharing my stories with you and your readers, and I feel incredibly lucky to have the chance to give some small insights into the writing process. I hope your 2014 is filled with amazing books and ideas, too.