Friday, February 24, 2017

Interview with Sarah Wisseman

Florence, Italy (the setting of my next mystery)

Tell us a little about your background
I grew up in a house filled with mystery books with parents who loved to read. I often forgot to do my chores because I had my head in a book, and the love of reading lasted long after the flashlight-under-the-covers stage. History came alive for me when I went on an archaeological excavation in Israel after my freshman year in college. That experience changed my life. I returned to Israel for my junior year, and then earned a doctorate in archaeology. My work career at the University of Illinois was spent in museums and laboratories, studying ancient pottery, metalwork, and mummies. Now I write mysteries about archaeology, art forgery, and the illegal antiquities market.

Tell us a bit about your two series. Are your characters’ careers based on your real life experience?
Archaeologist and museum curator Lisa Donahue is the heroine of the first four mysteries. She’s a lot like me, but a bit younger, and has unusual complications in her life—such as two marriages, step children, and a tendency to run into dead bodies at her museum job. Flora Garibaldi, my current heroine, is only in her twenties. Flora is a half-Italian professional paintings conservator (I have no Italian heritage, and I volunteered in a conservation lab for two years).

How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
I have a character file on my computer and add information to it about each person before and during the writing process. I write down family background, personality quirks, dark secrets, and motives for each person.

How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
I outline, again in a separate computer file, and then allow myself to change my mind as things come to while I’m writing. I modify the outline as I grow the chapters. Sometimes my characters talk to me on my long walks, or plot twists come out of nowhere when I’m doing something else. I’ve learning to respect the “percolating” process, realizing a part of my mind is still working even when I’m not writing. Once I even changed who the villain was 2/3 of the way through the novel because it resulted in a better story.

Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
Character, by a short lead. I have to like the characters, even the villain, enough to keep reading any book. The plot has to be compelling enough to engage the mind, but characters must come across as real people with strengths and flaws and fascinating pasts that help explain the present.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
I still teach part-time, and I have other interests besides writing, especially painting. Sometimes the two interests feed each other; when I get stuck in writing, painting releases another kind of creativity. My biggest challenge is making my story long enough for a traditional mystery novel—I am crippled by years of writing dense (short) academic articles.

Do you have a “How I got my agent” story you want to share?
I’ve never had an agent (not for lack of trying!)

What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I am drafting my third Flora Garibaldi novel, The Botticelli Caper, a mystery centered around art forgery and the Uffizi Gallery’s long renovation project. I suspect I will write more short stories and novellas in the future.

What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
About ten hours per week. I’m always working on something, even if it’s just a blog

If you could take only three books with you for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?
I’d never let myself be caught without a real library! A Complete Works of Shakespeare, a fat world mythology, and a comprehensive poetry anthology.

What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Keep writing, even if it’s just a blog or a journal, because that keeps your writing and thinking muscles exercised. Try different forms: non-fiction, fiction, poetry…

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Camping illegally on Masada (Israel) when I was 18.

What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
Why do I write? Answer: to create the kind of books I like to read.

 Where can we learn more about you and your books?

Friday, February 17, 2017

What flavor or genre do you prefer?

We're going to try on different flavors today. Do you always get chocolate or do you get strawberry or vanilla sometimes? Sometimes you're in the mood for one and not the other. The point is to branch out and try new things, in what you eat, in movies, music, and the books you read - or write, as the case may be.

What genre do you read? Women's fiction, mystery, romance, historical, thrillers, suspense, science fiction and the occasional non-fiction (biographies or self-help). There's a lot more genre's out there, like crime, horror, fantasy, western, graphic novel, Christian fiction, paranormal - etc. and I've read a few of those, too.

What genre do you write? Women's fiction, mystery, romance, historical, thriller's and suspense. I dabble with children's stories but haven't published any.

Why does it matter? I've always been told to write in the genre I read because that is where my interest obviously lies. I haven't tried writing in all of the genre's I read, but have tried my hand at most of them. My two published novels are in women's fiction. My latest manuscript is a young adult/new adult romantic suspense.  When I look for a new book to read the genre helps narrow the list, so I ask, "What do I want to read right now?"

Why not write in more than one genre? Why not, indeed. Since my reading interests are varied so are the stories I write. But there is nothing that says we can't pick one genre and stick with it. As we grow in our craft it might behoove us to concentrate on one genre for some time before branching out. 

Why not read in more than one genre? I think most people gravitate to some genres more than others and read multiple types or combinations; like paranormal romance, sci-fi fantasy, historical romantic mystery, etc. I'm not a huge fan of horror (my imagination is too vivid) but I have read a few of Stephen King's novels and enjoyed them.

If I write in multiple genres should I use pseudonyms? Some authors do, like Nora Roberts/JD Robb; Stephen King/Richard Bachman. Other authors capitalize on their names in whatever genre they write; James Patterson for example, his name is all over the place. I have a writer buddy that writes children's, romance and erotica and in each one she uses a different nome de plume. Writers, you decide what is best for you. Personally, I don't have any experience here - YET! Readers, don't be afraid to try an author whose name you don't recognize.

Are you willing to read books in genre's you don't usually read? I hope so. For me, the answer is a resounding YES. In our book club, the younger members tend to lean towards dark fiction, but not all. Another one is a steadfast romance reader and another usually picks non-fiction. It's difficult to find a book that everyone will enjoy, so we pick two and have the option to choose. Most of the members who are branching out from their normal genre are enjoying the adventure. The ones that don't will probably find another group that reads the genre they prefer. Our local independent bookstore has a book club for just about every type of book. The point is to try new things because you never know when you might find a new favorite!

Friday, February 10, 2017

February Thoughts by Jacqueline Seewald

Valentine’s Day remains a favorite holiday for me. In fact, the entire month of February makes me smile. One reason is because it’s the shortest winter month; another reason is because we are getting more daylight again. A third reason is that my older son Andrew was born in February and married in February.

Andrew and his wife Anna were married on Valentine’s Day. It was a joyful wedding, loving and romantic. No big fancy affair, just the bride and groom, my husband and myself, the bride’s best friend, and a judge happy to officiate, followed by a wedding breakfast at a local hotel. Afterwards the bride and groom had to take a long drive so that my son could represent in court a couple accused of white collar crime.

Andy and Anna are still happily married and now have a lovely little daughter to help them celebrate their anniversary. This love story is one of many worldwide celebrated on the most romantic day of the year.

Love stories have always been an important part of history and literature. Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. Cleopatra and Julius Caesar (Cleopatra did get around). As Shakespeare said, “she was a woman of infinite variety.” Then there is the story of Napoleon and Josephine, another passionate love affair. In the Bible, we also find some of the world’s greatest and unforgettable love stories. What can be more romantic than the story of Ruth or Solomon and the Queen of Sheba? And there is the story of Esther which is celebrated on Purim.

A lot of the world’s most famous, classical love stories, of course, did not end happily: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Helen of Troy and Paris, Lancelot, Arthur and Guinevere (a legendary triangle). These are tragedies.

Some of the literary characters I consider unforgettable are those of the Bronte sisters: Healthcliff and Catherine, the tormented lovers in Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester of Charlotte’s famous novel. Both romances are in the Gothic tradition. My tribute to that tradition, although one with a happier end is DARK MOON RISING.

Thomas Hardy wrote a number of tragic love stories. For something lighter, I prefer Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy are memorable characters. I’ve read and reread that novel numerous times.

Love quite literally makes the world go round. My favorite Valentine’s Day gift is a new romance novel. Candy makes me fat. Flowers wilt and die too soon. But a great romance can be read and reread and enjoyed.

 If you’re of a mind to read some romance to celebrate Valentine’s Day and enjoy romantic short stories, consider my collection BEYOND THE BO TREE, a book that combines romance, mystery, fantasy and the paranormal. The first story in the collection is a free read:

For teenage girls and their mothers to share, THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER is a clean read romance available in print and all e-book formats.

STACY’S SONG, another YA romance/coming-of-age novel, is also available from Clean Reads Press on Amazon:

For readers who enjoy adult romance and paranormal thrillers, check out my novel DARK MOON RISING available in print and all ebook formats:

Also available through the publisher Luminosity:

My most recent published novel is a romantic mystery
THE INHERITANCE from Intrigue Publishing:

Also available from:

For a free short story perfect for Valentine’s Day, check out 
“A St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” originally published in GUMSHOE REVIEW:

Can you think of any romances you would recommend to fellow readers and writers?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Point of View by Susan Oleksiw

One of the first things a writer has to settle when beginning a story is the point of view, but figuring this out is not always easy. The choices may seem limitless but each story calls for one specific point of view, and finding that can be difficult. I think of this process as figuring out who tells the story. Whose story is this? I test different POVs among those available—close or distant third person, multiple POVs, including both first and third, and first person. Charles Dickens is the most obvious example for using the omniscient POV. At present most mysteries follow one main character, the protagonist/sleuth, with occasional scenes from other characters.

In the Mellingham series I follow Chief of Police Joe Silva with some scenes given from the perspective of other characters, limited to about five. In the first three books I enjoyed writing from several different points of view, exploring different characters and the way they saw the murder and its consequences.

In the seventh book, Come About for Murder, I follow only Joe and one other character. Part of the impetus behind this book was to explore Joe’s deepening role as a stepparent. I wanted the reader to know more about him as a man as well as his manner of solving crimes. In this story Joe teaches his stepson, Philip, how to sail, which turns out to be extremely important to the boy’s survival.

In the Anita Ray series I began with a close first person. In Under the Eye of Kali, I rejected the idea of writing Anita in first person largely because I wanted the freedom to explore views that Anita might not have reason to consider. In the first two books, we follow only Anita Ray’s exploits. By the third and fourth books I knew I wanted to explore related aspects of the mystery, so I introduced a secondary protagonist and gave her a limited number of scenes, about five. In When Krishna Calls, the second protagonist serves to heighten the tension while Anita tries to rescue her.

 Even though I make a specific choice for each book, I enjoy reading a variety of POVs in other novels, and I especially enjoy watching how other writers handle the issue. Anyone who has taken a writing class will recall at least one discussion on the importance of sticking to the chosen point of view. The writer is expected to pick a POV and stick to it, with no deviation or lapses allowed. But not everyone agrees with his, nor has it always been the rule.

One of the writers who challenge this rule is Flannery O’Connor. In several of her stories she drifts into the story in search, it always seems to me, for the character whose story it is. In “Good Country People,” the narrative begins in a kitchen with one character, moves to the perspective of a mother and then drifts into the mind of the woman who turns out to be the main character. Hulga, who has a PhD and a wooden leg, has recently returned home, somewhat bitter and alienated from the world she must now live in. We stay in her perspective for the rest of the story.

In A Fine Summer’s Day, Charles Todd opens with four scenes each from the perspective of a different character, before switching to the POV of the protagonist, Inspector Ian Rutledge. In G. M. Malliet’s The Haunted Season, the author has six shifts in POV in a single scene, in a fourteen-page chapter. Another writer might separate several of these into separate scenes, but the reader has no trouble following the narrative; the change in POV is clear.

None of these writers comes close to Tolstoy’s achievement in Anna Karenina, in which he changes the POV five times in one short scene, ending up with the POV of the dog.

To find the books in the Mellingham series and the Anita Ray series, go here.