Tell us about Arm Chair Interviews. How you got started and what your vision is for the site.
Tell us about your latest project.
My debut novel A DEADLY HABIT will be released July 17, 2009 from Five Star (an imprint of Gale, part of Cengage Learning). I love mysteries and used my background as a probation officer for a large metropolitan area as the vehicle for solving a murder.
A Deadly Habit is about a young probation officer, Pen Santucci who is looking good for the murder of her estranged husband. The wisecracking, safecracking Pen lures an elderly priest and a young nun into committing felonies on her wild search for the truth. Hardly appropriate behavior for the dedicated officer. But while Pen believes in her job, she has little faith in the justice system. Unfortunately, Pen digs herself deeper into trouble and straight into a muddy grave, dragging her hunky attorney with her. If they ever get out of it alive, he plans to wring her neck himself. That is, if the thugs who are after the money she found don't get her first.
I am also coauthoring a YA/Middle Reader Fantasy series with Kathleen Baldwin (Kensington author of romantic comedies).
We love to hear about your journey to publication.
Because I didn't know how to write fiction, a friend who wrote Romance suggested I could learn a lot about writing if I tackled that genre (because of the fast rules and tight structure). The story, again, was interesting and I learned a lot (my query letter was a killer because the full manuscript was requested each time I submitted it) but I hadn't learned enough. Alas, this is a story that will stay under my bed gathering dust. And that's a good thing.
I didn't write for a long while (I have a lot of children, grandchildren and a career). Several years ago (about five) I had an idea (based on a bit of me) for a mystery. I wrote, had readers who helped me focus and kept me honest and I continued to write (taking some time off when a number of close family members died). When I'd rewritten the book about twenty times I decided to send out queries for agents. Nothing but rejections for about a year. I think I queried about 30 agents. Oh, I had requests for partials, full manuscripts, etc. but nothing stuck.
I must admit I was feeling pretty low. Hey, it was starting to feel like it might be easier to get a new husband than an agent. I would not give up! I decided to send the manuscript to some houses that didn't require an agent or knew me from my work reviewing books on my site www.armchairinterviews.com
I sent it to three different houses and was offered a contract by Five Star and had interest from the other two houses (I wanted to go with Five Star). An author friend, Emyl Jenkins (her newest book The Big Steal published by Algonquin is out in July also) told me I had to have an agent and don't sign anything until she talked to her agent.
I couldn't believe that someone was offering to act as a go between with her agent (frankly I've found authors don't do this much—at least it hasn't happened to me). Her agent said if I could write, she'd work with me. And she is now my agent. She took an orphan author and gave her a home and some feeling of security. I met her last fall while speaking at a writer's conference out east. What a dear and talented woman!
I was offered my contract with Five Star in late November of 2007, and signed the contract around February of 2008 (not much goes on in publishing between Thanksgiving and New Years) and was given a July 2009 pub date. Long time, huh? No wonder authors self-publish. Actually I'm at the age where I thought I could die before seeing it in print.
What is one weakness you have as a writer and what do you do to overcome it?
I am so busy with Armchair Interviews, my new puppy Sophie (she owns me), my family and friends that I often don't sit down and write. Then I go in bursts… Right now I'm having some fear of writing. That I won't be able to finish the next Penelope Santucci mystery, that it won't be any good.
What is one strength you have as a writer and to what do you attribute your success in this particular area?
I keep on, keeping on. I am stubborn. I surround myself with positive and supportive people. I have a husband and family who encourage me and my faith in God keeps me on track.
If you could go back to the young writer you were when you were just beginning, what advice would you give yourself?
I would have started writing seriously at an earlier age.
Don't stop! Have confidence in yourself (even if you don't, pretend you do). I have a fear of success and a fear of failure. The double whammy!
What’s one publicity tip you can share that you’ve gotten a good response with in promoting your work?
I used my name! I am somewhat known in the business due to Armchair Interviews and my previous television program, Book Talk, so I can use that to get into places I might not otherwise be able to crack. Also, I'm finding out that while I'll help anyone who asks, I have a problem asking for myself. I'm pushing myself to get over that.
What do you to improve as a writer?
I write and read all the time. I surround myself with writers and readers.
What are a few of your favorite books not written by you?
My favorite 2008 book was The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. It's not a book I would normally read, but I was hired by the author's publicist to interview him and silently finished the book on a flight from L.A. I was speechless. While there are some editorial issues, it's basically a smashing debut novel. See our review on Armchair Interviews.
World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler is speculative fiction (sort of modern day sci fi) about a future posited on Kunstler's signature idea: when the oil wells start to run dry, the world economy will collapse and society as we know it will cease. It's what happens. The focus is a small town (over one summer) in New York… Stunning.
The Help by Kathyrn Stockett (2009)
Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2009)
The Maggie Valley Series (YA/Middle Reader) by Kerry Madden is delightful. There are three books in the series; Gentle's Holler, Louisiana's Song and Jessie's Mountain. In a world of trashy (my opinion) YA novels, these are a breath of fresh air.
Anything by Susan Meissner or Liz Curtis Higgs
But my forever favorites are:
Nancy Drew (all of them). And the new Nancy Drew, Minnesota's own, Susan Runholt, author of The Mystery of the Third Lucretia
Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson
Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Anything by Miss Read (she writes about village life in England)
And so many more I couldn't begin to name them all. I LOVE books!
Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?
Oh, yes. Not about my novel writing, but about a contest I wrote the rules for (on Armchair Interviews). The prize was several Miss Read novels and sponsored by the publisher who was reissuing the books. The woman who won wrote that she had decided life wasn't worth living. Her son had recently died in a horrible accident and she was ill. She found our site, entered the contest and when she won, she said she'd wait on the "life" issue. She hunkered down when the books arrived and read them one after the other and they gave her hope and the desire to live. I literally fell on my knees and gave thanks when I read her letter. It was like a miracle that I was allowed to look in on. It was a humbling experience and I was so grateful.
Do you have a pet peeve to do with this business?
New authors are finding it increasingly difficult to break into the business. With the demise of the independent bookstores and the diminishing shelf space, we're being served up the best sellers whether we like them or not. Wonderful writers who are also great storytellers are not getting the publicity they deserve.
What’s your favorite part of being a writer/least?
Writing is my favorite part of being a writer. My least favorite part is the publicity. It takes away from my writing time and frankly, most writers have no idea how to promote themselves. And even if we knew how to promote our work, we would rather be writing. When you think about it, publishers print books and the authors promote them.
What has surprised you most about this industry?
The willingness of review sites, bloggers and others to help promote my book. What a blessing that has been. So many people are willing to step out and help.
Advice to aspiring authors?
Join a good writers/critique group, read books (dissect them to see how they are constructed) and then plop down in a chair and write.
I've always dreamed of being published and I am seeing that dream come true. I owe my love for writing and reading to my mother, Shirley Christensen. And I love her more than I can ever say and appreciate her gift of the written word.