Friday, March 21, 2014

Interview with Author/Editor Alice Duncan by Jacqueline Seewald

Alice Duncan is a much published, award-winning author who also happens to edit  mystery novels for Five Star/Gale/Cengage. I’ve personally had the pleasure of working with Alice who edited five of my Five Star/Gale novels.

Alice has a new mystery published by Five Star/Gale this month entitled SPIRITS REVIVED. You can check it out in the book catalog on the Five Star site.
For my review of this novel, go to: or

Alice, thanks so much for joining us today at the Author Expressions blog.   Congratulations on the excellent reviews of SPIRITS REVIVED.

Thanks, Jacquie! I appreciate you inviting me.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine of SPIRITS REVIVED?

Daisy Gumm Majesty, heroine of SPIRITS REVIVED, is my very favorite character of those who’ve shown up in my brain during the past twenty or so years I’ve been writing. She began her career as a phony spiritualist when her Aunt Vi was given an old Ouija board in Daisy’s tenth year. She had such success with her family that she branched out, and by the time the first book in the series, STRONG SPIRITS, was published she was the primary support of her family.

Her husband, Billy Majesty, died a little more than a year before SPIRITS REVIVED starts, and Daisy, who’s been through an ordeal of grief and guilt, is finally coming to terms with his loss. Daisy (I think) is actually me, only without the crippling neuroses and with a supportive family. In SPIRITS REVIVED, for the first time ever, Daisy actually conjures a real, live (or dead) ghost in one of her séances. This both shocks and scares her. Then she has to figure out who killed the poor boy without letting on to anyone how she discovered he’d been murdered and hadn’t committed suicide.

Question:   I know that this novel is part of a mystery series because I’ve read and very much enjoyed the previous novels. Could you tell readers about the series? How did it originate?  What inspired the series?

Let me see . . . For one thing, I was born and grew up in the Pasadena/Altadena area, and have always loved it. Even now, when it’s overcrowded and smoggy, Pasadena and Altadena are lovely. I’ve used a lot of my own life in the Daisy books. In fact, I’ve used many, many names and locations. For instance, Daisy and her family live in a house I used to own (only my house was on Michigan Avenue and not Marengo). And I grew up in Mrs. Bissel’s house! It’s still there, on the corner of Altadena Drive (used to be Foothill Boulevard) and Maiden Lane. I also took my kids to Dr. Benjamin when they were little, and took my very first dachshund to the Pasanita Obedience Club in Brookside Park, where he did very well. Miyaki’s Restaurant, where Daisy and her family dine in SPIRITS REVIVED, was a real Japanese Restaurant, only it was called Miyako’s. Mijare’s Mexican Restaurant, which opened in 1920, is still going strong and still serving fabulous Mexican food. I used my late son-in-law’s name in the book, too. Keiji and my daughter Anni were married for years before his untimely demise.

As for the series itself, from the start I wanted it to be an historical cozy mystery series. My publisher at the time (Kensington) decided they wanted me to take out the dead bodies, add a subsidiary romance (because Daisy’s already married) and then marketed them as romances, which they weren’t. Of course, by that time they weren’t mysteries, either. They tanked. The late, great Kate Duffy actually called me to apologize for mis-marketing them, but by that time it was too late, and I had to write more historical romances. I didn’t want to, but there you go. In fact, I was downright depressed when I wrote my first post-Daisy book, A PERFECT STRANGER. I hated writing that book and have only recently overcome my loathing of the book itself.

I was overjoyed when Five Star picked up the series under their women’s fiction line. Then that line closed. I managed to squeeze the sixth book, ANCIENT SPIRITS, in as a romantic suspense novel, but from now on they’re mysteries. Whew! Daisy’s had as rough a life as I’ve had.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels? I know there are quite a few and that many are now available as both audio and e-books.

Oh, my goodness. There are, literally, dozens of them. I’ve written historical romances under my name (Alice Duncan), Emma Craig, Rachel Wilson and Anne Robins. I also wrote a couple of westerns in the “Trailsman” series under the pseudonym Jon Sharpe, but the less said about them, the better. My very first book, ONE BRIGHT MORNING, came about because I used to get migraine headaches. They were terrible. I got to wondering what a young widow woman with a baby and a ghastly migraine would do if she lived in the 1880s in New Mexico Territory, and a gunshot stranger showed up at her door. My second book, TEXAS LONESOME, contains dachshunds. I attract dachshunds kind of like a magnet attracts steel shavings. I think it’s a curse. Daisy Majesty gave her husband a dachshund named Spike, and Mercy Allcutt (in another series) has an apricot toy poodle named Buttercup. I love dogs J Anyhow, I’ve had something over fifty books published under a whole bunch of names, and nobody’s ever heard of any of them. Well, that might be a bit of an understatement, but not by much.

Anyhow, all my out-of-print backlist, and some of my in-print books, and a short story, which is part of my Pecos Valley series (another cozy mystery series set in the twenties, only this one in New Mexico in 1923) are available on Kindle and Smashwords. You can read all about them here: . My Daisy books have recently undergone a facelift and are being published as e-books and trade paperbacks by ePW. You can read all about them here:

Question:   Did you always want to be a writer? What made you start writing?

Yes. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. From the time I could listen to stories, I knew I wanted to write them. Life got in the way (as it has a habit of doing), and I didn’t begin writing books until the nineteen-nineties. I tell you, life was *hard*. Sometimes I hear people say (generally disparagingly about people who say they want to write but don’t have time) that “writers write.” That may well be true, but writers also have to live, rear children, and earn livings.

Question:  As an editor for Five Star, how do you suggest writers contact your company?

Here’s the web site for Five Star, which will show you what kinds of books they like:

Question: What advice would you offer to those who have novels they would like to submit for consideration?

The publishing world today is fantastically different from what it was when I first published. Nowadays, authors have an abundance of ways to get their books published and don’t have to depend on five or six big name in New York City. Having said that, however, an aspiring author has to be careful his or her work is worth publishing. You need to LEARN YOUR CRAFT before you publish anything (or you’ll look like an idiot). I’ve seen a whole bunch of self-published garbage lately. I’ve also seen a lot of well-written, well-edited books being put out. But you really, really, REALLY need to get a handle on the language, which is the tool of your trade, before you tackle writing and publishing a book. Please.

Alice, thanks so much for being our guest today. I love your unique, original style of writing and clever sense of humor.

Thanks, Jacquie! I appreciate the opportunity.

Those of you who have comments, please know that they are very welcome. So feel free to join the conversation. Don’t be shy. Go ask Alice!


Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Jackie and Alice: Daisy just looks like so much fun (and a little like my mother!) that I'm going to have to read that book. Thanks for posting this great interview Jackie.
Joyce Moore

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks, Joyce, for dropping by. Alice does a wonderful job with research on this novel. You feel like you're actually living in the Roaring Twenties.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Daisy sounds like a great character, and the stories sound like a lot of fun. They're now on my TBR list. Lost of good advice here too.

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

Alice, I smiled when I read "life got in the way." Like you, I've always wanted to be a writer and I always wrote but job, family and other obligations kept me from pursuing my dream of being published. When my full time position was eliminated a few years ago, I got down to the business of making my dream come true. So often in life, what we think is a tragedy turns out to be a blessing!

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Jacquie and everyone. Yes, Patricia (that's my first name, by the way, but by the time I got to kindergarten, everyone else had already claimed all the variations of Patricia, so they decided to call me Alice, which is my middle name. Probably ruined my life). Wait a minute. That's not what I started out to say. Oh, yeah, good for you for not giving up! I was at a point in my life in which I figured my dream was dead, but when my body began falling apart and could no longer dance, I started writing. You're so right that sometimes what we think is a tragedy ultimately turns into a blessing!

Janis Patterson said...

A lovely interview! Alice edited my 5Star mystery EXERCISE IS MURDER, and I love her, but never knew so much about her. Thanks both of you for sharing.

Janis Susan

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Janis!

Jan Christensen said...

Great interview, Jacqueline and Alice. I love reading about how other writers started out. Persistence sure is the key, isn't it? And your advice to writers is spot on, Alice.

Bonnie Tharp said...

Nice interview. Alice was the editor for my first book, Feisty Family Values. It's fun to learn more about your career. Thanks Jacquie & Alice.

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Jan and Bonnie! It's been up and down. To say the least :-)

Unknown said...

All I can say is the Daisy and Mercy books are among my very favorites and I look forward to reading each and every one of them. Alice, herself, is a kind and humorous person. I enjoy communicating with her as much as I do her books! Thanks for the interview.

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Sue! You're always so nice to me.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Alice! I've been moving, but I'm starting to have computer time again. Anyway, I nearly missed your delightful interview.

I was quite moved by your publication journey, and I'm impressed both by the quantity/quality of your output and by your perseverance. It's so easy to get discouraged in publishing when those doors shut.

I think it's lovely that you are a weiner-dog magnet. (I would've said dachshund but I'm not sure of the spelling... wouldn't want to embarrass myself in front of an editor!).

Anyway, well done, all the way around!

Clare2e said...

It's always great to hear from prolific authors about the ups and downs and mishaps of writing over many years, both for their series and publishing in general. I have a real soft spot for hucksters, especially if they turn out to be real, and after living in Pasadena for a few years, a soft spot for your setting, too, Alice!

B.K. Stevens said...

Thanks for a great interview, Alice and Jacquie. Alice, I'm amazed by your persistence. SPIRITS REVIVED sound like the perfect title for a book that brings Daisy back to the cozy mystery series you originally envisioned for her.

Barbara Graham said...

Hi Alice, You already know I adore you! I knew you have lots of published books but it is a truly impressive number. How do you have the time to write and edit and pamper those pooches?
Have fun!

Barbara Graham

Joan Reeves said...

Jacquie and Alice, a great interview. Alice I was surprised to read that Billy finally succumbed. I always thought it was a very smart choice to make him a gas victim from WWI. I'm looking forward to reading the new Daisy book.

jrlindermuth said...

Enjoyed this interview with a prolific writer, which illustrates the need of persistence. Daisy sounds like a woman worth meeting.

Susan Coryell said...

Thanks for a great interview, Jacquie. Alice sounds like a kindred spirit and I love the way she describes some of her struggles and (gasp) failures! I admire her attitude.
Susan Coryell

Nancy Means Wright said...

Truly a fascinating interview, Alice and Jacqui. Especially interesting to hear from both fictional and editorial points of view. I can sympathize with Alice's books changing genres despite the author. This happened to me once when Ace Books published my feminist novel as a romance. With a highly embarrassing erotic cover! One never knows.

Alana White said...

I enjoyed the interview...and, Alice, you are a fabulous editor, too!

Alice Duncan said...

Thank you very much, everyone. Publishing is a real adventure, all right. And not always a pleasurable one. In fact, I just finished writing another Daisy book, and the thought of starting another novel almost makes me queasy. I try to be gentle while editing because I know how HARD it is to write novels!

Mary Fremont Schoenecker said...

Jacquie and Alice, Illness has prevented me from responding regularly to our Author Expressions blogs, but this one will not escape without a word of praise. You two are the best and I really enjoyed the interview.

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Mary! I truly appreciate Jacquie's blog opportunity! Sorry you've been ill. Get better soon!

Catherine Dilts said...

I've read two of your Mercy books and enjoyed them very much. Thank you, Alice, for sharing your journey!

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