Monday, June 21, 2010

Alice Duncan: Author and Editor

Interview with Alice Duncan, Author/Editor

by Jacqueline Seewald

Alice Duncan is a much published, award-winning author who also happens to edit romance and mystery novels for Tekno, the book packager for Five Star/Gale. I’ve personally had the pleasure of working with Alice who has edited all four of my Five Star novels.

Alice has a new book coming out from Five Star this month called HUNGRY SPIRITS. You can check it out on the Five Star site:

You can also find ordering information on Amazon:
as well as Barnes and Noble online and Borders Books.

Hi, Alice, thanks so much for joining us today at the Author Expressions blog. Congratulations on your excellent Booklist review of Hungry Spirits!

Question: Could you tell us a little bit about Daisy, the heroine of Hungry Spirits.

Answer: Actually, I think Daisy is my most favorite character (of those I've made up, I mean). She's a fake spiritualist in Pasadena, CA, in the early 1920s. She has to work because her husband, Billy, was severely wounded in the Great War. He was shot out of his foxhole in France and then gassed when he tried to crawl to safety. So he can't work, and he just hates that Daisy has to earn the income for them both. Daisy started her spiritualist career at the ripe old age of ten, when she was the only one in her family's Christmas gathering who claimed not to be afraid of a Ouija board her aunt Vi had been given by her employer, Mrs. Kincaid (who, by the way, later became Daisy's very best customer). Daisy tries not to take Billy's nasty comments to heart, but she can't help but feel a little hurt by them, even though she knows Billy's injuries are to blame for his attitude.

Question: Is Spirits a romantic series, a mystery series or a combination of both?

Answer: Although it's never been marketed as a mystery series, that's what it was supposed to be when it began. There's a mystery element in all the books. When I turned the first one in to my editor at Kensington, she and Kate Duffy talked about the books (which I'd proposed as a series), decided they loved the characters and the premise, but there wasn't enough mystery to them (which was probably right), asked me to take out the dead bodies, add a subsidiary romance since Daisy's already married, and they marketed them as romances. Big mistake. Kate even called to apologize to me, but by then the first two books had tanked. I was absolutely elated when Five Star picked up the third book in the series, HIGH SPIRITS. HUNGRY SPIRITS is book #4. Five Star will be publishing book #5 (GENTEEL SPIRITS) in August of 2011, and I'm writing the sixth (and probably final) book in the series right this minute.

Question: What inspired this series? How did it come about?

Answer: I honestly don't know. Daisy just came to me one day. She's got more of my personality than any of my other heroines, only with a supportive family and without my crippling neuroses.

Question: Can you tell us about some of your other published novels?

Answer: Oh, my goodness, there are dozens of them! They're all historicals, and they're all dated anywhere from the 1870s to the 1920s. I like to write about old stuff, since the modern age only confuses me. The first forty or so books I wrote were historical romances, some of which are better than others (I think my particular favorites are CHRISTMAS PIE, TEXAS LONESOME, my "Titanic" series, SECRET HEARTS (about a female dime novelist), HEAVEN'S PROMISE (which is set in a re-mapped Palmyra, Maine, where I also remade my grandmother's headstone so my characters can sit on it), and all my "Spirits" books. Oh, and the series I wrote set at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair (The World Columbian Expedition). I'm also quite fond of PECOS VALLEY DIAMOND and PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL. The first of those books (cozy mysteries set in New Mexico in 1923) I wrote as a favor to a friend who started a publishing house in Florida. Well, that business venture was totally wiped out by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. I'd already written PVR, so figured what the heck and sent it in to Five Star. When they bought it, I was thunderstruck! Or should that be thunderstricken? Well, I don't suppose it matters. I'm glad it's seeing the light of print, and only wish Five Star would re-publish the first book in the series, but they don't do stuff like that. A whole bunch of my backlist is available on Kindle, by the way, including the first three "Spirits" books and PECOS VALLEY DIAMOND. ONE BRIGHT MORNING, my very first book, is also close to my heart, although if I could get my hands on it now, fifteen years after it was published, I'd edit the heck out of it.

Question: What made you start writing?

Answer: I dunno. Being read to, I guess. All I know is that it's the only thing I ever wanted to do. When I was a kid, if somebody asked me what I wanted to "be" when I grew up, I'd invariably say, "an author." Now that I'm old, I think that question is totally stupid. I mean, what's any kid going to be when he or she grows up? An adult human being, is what. If I'd had a better-developed sense of humor when I was four or five, I might have said "an elephant" or something along those lines. Ah, well. Too late now.

Question: As an editor for Tekno Books, what advice would you offer to those who
have novels they would like to submit for consideration?

Answer: Learn your trade! The only tool you have to get your story across is the English language, and the better you can use it, the better off you'll be. It's also nice to have an interesting plot and characters, but what really turns me off is poor writing skills. Think of all the millions of people battering at the doors of publishers, begging to be let in. If you are a master or mistress of your language, and if you have an interesting story to go along with your skill, your chances of eventual publication are infinitely better than someone who knows neither grammar nor punctuation. Trust me on this. It's the truth.

Alice, thanks so much for being our guest today.

I should mention that many of Alice Duncan's novels are now available on Kindle.

Those of you who have comments, please know that they are very welcome. So feel free to join the conversation!


Anonymous said...

What a great interview with an incredibly talented author! And Alice, I'm in awe of your writer's imagination. I love the descriptions of your work, and I can't wait to start reading!

Kara Lynn Russell said...

Alice, what an amazing bibliography! I have Kindle on my computer, so I'll definitely be checking out your books there.

Unknown said...

This sounds like a terrific book -- I'll have to put it on my TBR list. I love that time period (my SLOANE HALL is set in 1929), and I hope this series has tremendous success.

dkchristi said...

Thanks also for the insights regarding the publishing industry. I also have Kindle on my computer; but I haven't yet started reading any of the books I have downloaded. I thoroughly enjoyed the interview. There's always something to learn, author of Ghost Orchid, a mystery of love, lies and redemption.

Alice Duncan said...

Thank you very much, Rebbie, Kara Lynn, Libby and DK! I appreciate your comments.

Trish said...

Alice, thanks for writing--and publishing! Your books all have charm in addition to fun characters in interesting situations. That 'charm' element is hard to find, so thanks for keeping us supplied. I'm glad to have more of Daisy and her family/friends, too. Thanks!

Pauline said...

I ordered a sample of one of the Titanic books for my kindle (which is *groaning* btw!) I need to quit reading blogs and read books. LOL!

A most interesting interview and thanks to you both!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Pauline,

I think you would appreciate Alice's sense of humor since you write such witty books yourself.

Everyone who has welcomed Alice so far, thank you for visiting and for your lovely comments.
All writers need encouragement. As readers and writers, we are a community of friends.

Patricia Stoltey said...

It's great to learn more about Alice. Thanks for the excellent interview.

Alice Duncan said...

Thank you, Trish!!!

I hope you enjoy the book, Pauline, if you ever give up reading blogs and go back to books :) My favorite is A PERFECT ROMANCE, probably because the heroine is so much fun.

Thanks, Patricia! I consider my life devastatingly boring, but what do I know?

We are absolutely a community of friends, Jacquie. It's a funny thing, but before I began publishing books, I didn't know another single author. Now everybody I know is an author!

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Alice: I loved reading this interview. Your homey/sassy/witty style comes through, so I know I'm going to enjoy Hungry Spirits. And can I say again how much I love the cover? That alone was enough to make me want to read the book.

Anonymous said...

Alice and Jacqueline, what a fun, fun interview. The book sounds fabulous, and Alice you are so correct about challenging writers to master their craft. It's a step we often want to hurry over, hoping some "editor" will correct everything for us, but alas - that's not the way of the publishing world. Thank you for the reminder.

Sharon K. Garner said...

How great to learn more about my very own Five Star editor, who teaches/points out with witty comments! You made it almost fun to be called on the carpet about my using 'it' a lot! Write (and Edit) on, Alice!
Sharon K. Garner

Caroline Clemmons said...

Alice, I'm looking forward to the release of HUNGRY SPIRITS. I love Daisy. Write faster! LOL We need more of her books.

Kara Lynn Russell said...

Drue, that's very true. I think my writing took a big step forward when I really became willing to revise and rewrite and revise some more. It's not good to depend on editors. That said, I'm fortunate to have a close friend who is a former editor. She looks over all my manuscripts and keeps me on my toes.

Unknown said...

Alice and Jacqueline, I really enjoyed this interview. I love the concept behind your protagonist, Alice. I look forward to reading the book.

Unknown said...

What a great and informative interview. I must confess to mastering my punctuation skills. I depend on my friendly editor to help me out.
The many, many novels you have written sound wonderful and I'll be looking forward to meeting Daisy.

Unknown said...

Alice, you continue to be an inspiration! I hope readers gobble up Hungry Spirits and clamor for the next serving.

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Joyce! Hungry Spirits has one of my all-time favorite covers. I hope the cover for Genteel Spirits, which is Daisy's next adventure will be kind of along those same lines, with a little insert of Daisy or something and stuff relating to the book (which will be the making of a silent picture) on the rest of the cover, only kind of subdued. If you know what I mean.

Alice Duncan said...

Drue, the only tool you have to write your books is the language. I know, I know. I'm a nag. But it's the truth! And boy, don't even get me started on tag lines.

Or pronouns! Right, Sharon???? The imprecise, incredibly uninformative word "it" drives me nuts. Mind you, that's not a long drive :)

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Caroline! I used to write faster, but it didn't do me any good. I still have books lying around here that have never been published and probably will never be published, 'cause nobody wants 'em. Poor little things.

Alice Duncan said...

Hmmm. Maybe I should start a book-rescue group for abandoned book projects. Heck, I rescue dachshunds, why not books? But no. I have too much to do already. Oh, well . . .

Kara, good for you! You really do have to pay attention to grammar, punctuation and word choice and usage. Of course, I'm old and cranky now, but in any book edited by me, all right will continue to be two words, for instance. None of this alright nonsense for me :)

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Christy! Believe it or not, Daisy's spiritual control, Rolly, was introduced to me by my daughter when she and her boyfriend bought an old Ouija board at a yard sale. And I don't even believe in that stuff!

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Molly! I hope you enjoy Hungry Spirits. The books about Daisy are lighthearted, but poor Daisy really has a multitude of burdens on her shoulders. I like to think she handles them with grace. In other words, not at all the way I handle my own problems, which is with hysteria and melancholia :)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Actually, Alice, I think you do handle your burdens with grace--and a sense of humor!

Elizabeth Delisi said...

Alice, I love Daisy. She's one of my favorite heroines by ANY author or in any series. Looking forward to her new story!


Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Jacquie. Lately, I've been reacting with anguish, but I try not to let it show :)

Thanks, Liz. And if you want to talk about people handling problems with grace, look at Liz!

Jenny Milchman said...

Thank you for posting that Truth. It is as heartening as the interview itself.

Alice Duncan said...

Well, I'm not sure what Truth you mean, Jenny, but if it's about learning the language, that's definitely a Truth. If it's about reacting to adversity, I've really been through it recently. If it weren't for a sense of humor, I'd probably have been committed. Well . . . no. That's not true. If I weren't here, who'd feed all the dogs?

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