Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interviewing Ellen Mansoor Collier

Today I'm pleased to be interviewing Ellen Mansoor Collier as she tours with Great Escapes Book Tours. Ellen is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer and editor whose articles and essays have been published in a variety of national magazines. Several of her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World. During college summers, she worked as a reporter for a Houston community newspaper and as a cocktail waitress, both jobs providing background experience for her Jazz Age mysteries. A flapper at heart, she’s worked as a magazine editor/writer, and in advertising and public relations (plus endured a hectic semester as a substitute teacher). She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism and served on UTmost, the college magazine and as president of WICI (Women in Communications). FLAPPERS, FLASKS AND FOUL PLAY is her first novel, published in 2012, followed by the sequel, BATHING BEAUTIES, BOOZE AND BULLETS, released in May 2013. She lives in Houston with her husband and Chow mutts, and visits Galveston whenever possible.


SYNOPSIS: During Prohibition, Galveston Island was called the “Free State of Galveston” due to its lax laws and laissez-faire attitude toward gambling, gals and bootlegging. Young society reporter Jasmine (Jazz) Cross longs to cover hard news, but she’s stuck between two clashing cultures: the world of gossip and glamour vs. gangsters and gamblers.
After Downtown Gang leader Johnny Jack Nounes is released from jail, all hell breaks loose: Prohibition Agent James Burton’s life is threatened and he must go into hiding for his own safety. But when he’s framed for murder, he and Jazz work together to prove his innocence. Johnny Jack blames her half-brother Sammy Cook, owner of the Oasis speakeasy, for his arrest and forces him to work overtime in a variety of dangerous mob jobs as punishment.

When a bookie is murdered, Jazz looks for clues linking the two murders and delves deeper into the underworld of gambling: poker games, slot machines and horse-racing. Meanwhile, Jazz tries to keep both Burton and her brother safe, and alive, while they face off against each other, as well as a common enemy. A soft-boiled mystery inspired by actual events.
MW: Welcome to Cicero's Children, Ellen, and congratulations on the release of GOLD-DIGGERS, GAMBLERS AND GUNS, the third book in your Jazz Age mystery series. We all know that attractive book covers can influence readers’ decisions to sample the work of an author previously unknown to them. I personally love your Art Deco covers. They’re extremely attractive while also being highly suggestive of the era in which you set your stories. Did you design the covers yourself, or hire someone to do them? If you hired someone, please tell us a little about the process of conveying your ideas for the cover to the artist. And please tell us about the switch from the original cover of your first book to the cover now in use.
EMC: Thanks for the nice compliment! I’ve always admired George Barbier’s artwork and I was delighted to find two illustrations that fit the novels’ storyline, the FLAPPERS and GOLD DIGGERS covers. The BATHING BEAUTIES cover is by an unknown Deco artist, but they are all 1920s period art and, luckily, in the public domain.  I picked out the fonts for the last two books and my brother, Jeff J. Mansoor, who’s a graphic artist, combined all the elements for me. For FLAPPERS, he found a photograph of a body by a bar that’s perfect—if you look closely, you can see a dead man in the “O.” Some people think I also drew my cover art—I only wish I was that talented!

I found the period photograph of Jasmine and wanted to use it for my print version of FLAPPERS—the old black and white photo was so perfect with her fancy dress, typewriter, candlestick phone and bobbed hair.   When I first saw it, I immediately thought, “That’s Jasmine!”  Also I searched for vintage postcards of Galveston that Jeff incorporated for the background. Sadly, most of those buildings are no longer standing, but I tried to use as many existing landmarks as possible in my novels.

MW: Your heroine, Jasmine (“Jazz”) Cross, is an ambitious 21-year-old society reporter for the Galveston Gazette. The 19th Amendment granting the vote to women was only ratified in 1920. How did that fact influence your portrayal of Jazz as a woman fighting hard to be taken seriously by her male counterparts at the newspaper?

EMC: The 1920s was such a liberating, exciting time for women after they gained the right to vote. I’m drawn to that period since it was a time when women really became “emancipated,” and rebelled against society’s old-fashioned rules and restrictions. Still, I wanted to portray Jazz as a feisty, ambitious flapper—not a spoiled, rich heiress, society dame or gun moll—struggling to make her way in an era filled with temptation, chauvinism and decadence.

In my novels, Jazz aspires to follow in the footsteps of her idol, Nellie Bly, who was a fearless female reporter, remarkable for her time. I can relate to Jazz’s character in many ways, especially when I first started working in journalism jobs in my early 20s. Sadly, women still face many of the same prejudices and uphill battles in the workplace today.

MW: Family loyalty ranks high in your portrayal of the relationship between Jazz and her half-brother Sammy Cook. Why did you decide to make them half siblings, and how different are they in their goals and values?


EMC: I wanted to show the contrast between Jazz’s respectable yet sheltered upbringing and Sammy’s hardscrabble and less fortunate background as her father’s illegitimate son, partly to explain why he owned a speakeasy. Like today, a lot of poor immigrants, orphans and the disenfranchised are often attracted to crime and illegal activities because they don’t have the same opportunities as the privileged middle and upper classes. Jazz is fascinated by and in awe of her big brother, who keeps mum about his mysterious past.  As a society reporter, Jazz is well aware of the double standards and hypocrisy prevalent in high society yet still wants to guard her reputation and keep her job.

MW: During Prohibition, real life Galveston mobsters “Johnny” Jack Nounes and George Musey ran the Downtown Gang, while Salvatore “Big Sam” Maceo and his brother Rosario “Papa Rose” Maceo were associated with the Beach Gang. You feature both gangs and their leaders in your series, with Nounes playing a prime role in GOLD-DIGGERS, GAMBLERS AND GUNS.  How true to the real “Johnny” Jack Nounes is your fictional Nounes character? What about your fictional Maceo brothers?

EMC: I’ve reads bits and pieces about Johnny Jack Nounes, but little was known of his personality and shenanigans other than he was a flamboyant, reckless con man. In GOLD DIGGERS, I mentioned that he once partnered with Al Capone’s right-hand henchman, Frank Nitti, to showcase his criminal background. So I played up that fact, creating a larger-than-life persona for the brazen gang leader.
The Maceo brothers are legends in Galveston, with two distinct personalities: Sam was the smooth, debonair “PR man” while Rose provided the muscle for the Beach Gang, and actually tried to keep the peace in Galveston. Their relatives are still active in the area so I have to be careful not to offend or incriminate anyone.

MW: Of the two gangs – Nounes’s and Maceo’s – which was the more vicious in real life when it came to rubbing out the competition? Considering that your books are designated as soft boiled historical mysteries, how do you deal with the grittier side of gang warfare in your writing?

EMC: I believe both gangs could be dangerous and deadly when necessary but ultimately they wanted to make money, not start gang wars. Fact is, a lot of these gangland crimes were covered up or unresolved in Galveston so it was hard to point fingers at anyone and God help the people who tried to blame any of these powerful mobsters. Many politicians and bigwigs actually protected the gangs (especially the Maceos) to some extent because their clubs and casinos brought tourists and business to the Island.
 
I personally don’t like reading about violence or murder in gory detail, so I tend to keep my mysteries more on the cozy side, though they’re not traditional cozies (though Golliwog, a stray cat, plays a small part).

I live in a big city where there’s a lot of murder and crime and don’t need to be constantly reminded of the sordid side of life. I like the puzzle aspect and setting of mysteries, not the blood and guts.  When I read or watch TV late at night, I want to relax, not be scared to death!  

MW: Prohibition Agent James Burton is an interesting character. How did you research his background?

EMC: I tried to make him a bit like Elliot Ness in that he’s sincere and determined to do his job, but Burton is also street-smart and realistic. Not only is he outnumbered by a corrupt police force, he knows that he’s largely a figurehead in Galveston. Yet he still wants to make a difference in stopping or at least slowing down the flow of alcohol, especially home-brewed hooch, for both personal and professional reasons.

MW: Who are your favorite secondary characters in your series and why?

EMC: Amanda, Sammy and Nathan are fun to write since there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye. I like writing about characters who surprise and entertain you. Nathan often cracks corny jokes and Amanda is an over-the-top drama queen,  and I enjoy showing their personalities via dialogue and slang.

MW: How has your background in non-fiction writing and editing helped you as a fiction writer?

EMC: As a journalist, I actually enjoy doing research since you never know what fun fact you might dig up. I prefer reality-based stories because I feel like I’m learning something new while I’m reading and researching. My background helps me to keep digging until I find the information I need. Still, the freedom of fiction is that you can imply or fabricate events and characters as needed to describe the essence of the story.

MW: What’s the greatest challenge you’ve encountered when it comes to writing historically correct mysteries?

EMC: I hate not being able to verify facts or rumors or being able to ask someone a question about a person or an incident, especially a sensitive subject like real-life gangsters and crimes. Since many gangland killings and crimes were kept hush-hush, I’ve invented my own plots and characters, some inspired by newspaper articles and past events, such as the Bathing Beauty Revue that became the Miss Universe pageant.

At first, I used to go overboard doing research, like a typical journalist: At the Rosenberg library, I pored over endless copies of The Galveston Daily News, reading old stories and looking for headlines to fit each chapter.

I pulled out original lay-outs of trolley car lines to make sure the trolley stops and routes were accurate. Sadly, many of the landmarks mentioned in my novels are gone so I spent hours looking for old photographs, including ones of mob-owned speakeasies like the Turf Club and the Hollywood Dinner Club. Finally, after much time and frustration, I realized that readers mainly want a sense of the time and place—they don’t need a blow-by-blow description or blueprint of actual places or events.

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Ellen is giving away copies of her books through Rafflecopter. For a chance to win a book, go to, http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/02887767/
 If you'd like to learn more about Ellen and her books, please visit her at: http://www.flapperfinds.com/
To win a copy of Ellen's book, visit http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/02887767/
Follow Ellen on tour: 
July 24 – Community Bookstop – Review
July 25 – Lori’s READING CORNER – Guest Post  
July 26 – off
July 27 – Omnimystery News – Interview
July 28 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – Spotlight
July 29 – Book-n-Kisses – Guest Post

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The 2014 High School Exit Exam

Take a deep breath, everyone. That's right, in and out, in and out, slowly, ever so slowly. You're perfectly relaxed now, right? Good, because it's time to tackle this year's High School Exit Exam. 

You only need 4 correct answers to pass. So sharpen your pencils, put on your thinking caps, and give it a try.

Here we go!


1) How long did the Hundred Years' War last?


2) Which country makes Panama hats?


3) From which animal do we get cat gut?


4) In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution?


5) What is a camel's hair brush made of?


6) The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal?


7) What was King George VI's first name?


8) What color is a purple finch?


9) Where are Chinese gooseberries grown?


10) What is the color of the black box in a commercial airplane?


Remember, you only need 4 correct answers to pass!!!!!!

Check your answers below ...      


ANSWERS TO THE QUIZ


1) How long did the Hundred Years War last? 116 years
2) Which country makes Panama hats? Ecuador
3) From which animal do we get cat gut? Sheep and Horses
4) In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution? November
5) What is a camel's hair brush made of? Squirrel fur
6) The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal? Dogs
7) What was King George VI's first name? Albert
8) What color is a purple finch? Crimson
9) Where are Chinese gooseberries grown? New Zealand
10)What is the color of the black box in a commercial airplane? Orange (of course!)

What do you mean, you failed???

(Me, too! And if you try to tell me you passed, you LIED!)

We both should have done our homework! Pass this on to some brilliant friends, so they can feel useless, too!:)

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Monday, July 7, 2014

EM Kaplan Talks Murder

I ran into EM Kaplan this past June at Printers Row Lit Fest here in Chicago. We were signing books in the same booth, and we got to talking about her latest mystery, The Bride Wore Dead. She told me a story about a murder that happened in her home state, and how that death inspired the plot for her book. I asked her to repeat the tale here on Cicero's Children. Here it is.

The Bride Wore Dead, A Josie Tucker Mystery

To paint a picture of where I got the idea for my first Josie Tucker mystery, The Bride Wore Dead, let me take you to where I grew up in southern Arizona--where the better part of my mystery takes place. Now keep in mind, the Sonoran Desert is a scrub-brush kind of desert, versus the sand-dune, pyramid type, like the Sahara. If you imagine gnarled mesquite trees and saguaro cactus, John Wayne, and la migra (border patrol) you get a good sense of it. 

When we first meet Josie Tucker, she's a bridesmaid at a stuffy, uppercrust Boston wedding, but as soon as she sets foot back on Arizona soil, we can sense she's back on her home turf. She's a desert rat, which means she knows how to survive under adverse conditions, and also how to make due with what she's given. There's a reason why extremists and vigilantes thrive out in the desert--the terrain and the isolation breeds them. The rules for justice and morality differ in the desert.

When I was in grad school in Tucson, I heard a story about a friend of a friend--I'll avoid names to protect the no-so-innocent here, although I'm pretty sure karma has taken care of a few loose ends already. But the story goes that one night, as this friend was sleeping, a man broke into the house. Supposedly, it was a man from another city who had been sent to kill the friend, either for revenge for stealing a woman or money--the usual motivators. The friend jumped out of bed and managed to overpower and disarm the hired killer.

What happened next is not for the morally upstanding. Because at this point, the friend forced the hired killer out into the desert where he made him dig his own shallow grave. The friend then shot the hired killer with his own gun and buried him. When it was done, the friend returned home and went back to bed. 

This hearsay story became the kernel of The Bride Wore Dead. Whether it really happened or not, it stuck with me and germinated until it became a full-fledged mystery. But don't worry, I haven't spoiled it for you. I've just given you the flavor, the undercurrent of violence and lawlessness of Josie Tucker's world. Yet, despite it all, she manages to joke and to maintain her snarky sense of humor. And that quirkiness in the face of a horrific situation is who Josie Tucker is at heart.



and

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Interviewing Author Sally Carpenter


Today I'm interviewing Sally Carpenter, author of THE BAFFLED BEATLEMANIAC CAPER, as she tours with Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours.


Synopsis of The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper:
In the 1970s, teen idol Sandy Fairfax recorded 10 gold records and starred in the hit TV show Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth. Now he’s a 38-year-old recovering alcoholic with dead bodies getting in the way of his comeback! An easy gig as the guest celebrity at a Midwest Beatles fan convention turns deadly when a member of the tribute band is murdered. When the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect, the boy sleuth is back in action to interpret the “Beatle-ly” clues and find the killer.


M.W. Welcome to Cicero’s Children, Sally. In reading your biography, I noticed that Star Collector, a play you wrote while working toward your Master’s degree in Theater, featured similar characters to those you later portrayed in The Baffled Beatlemania Caper. Can you tell us how your play influenced your writing of the book? Did the song Star Collector, which was recorded by Davy Jones and The Monkees in 1967 and spoke to the phenomenon of teen idol groupies, also influence your writing?

S.C. Hi, and thanks for hosting me today. In my college playwrighting class, the students had to write a one-act play. I wrote a two-person play with a burnt-out aging teen idol named Bobby Beat and an older avid fan who sneaks into his hotel room to meet him. The play was performed on campus and people loved it. The script was a finalist in a regional college playwright contest, one of six plays chosen from entries submitted from colleges in three or four states, quite an honor. The six plays all received a staged reading at the regional conference. My play didn’t win but one of the adjudicators said, “I see a bigger story for these characters.” So I tried writing a mainstream novel with the characters and a longer play, but nothing clicked until I put them into a mystery. Of course I know the song “Star Collector”, but I don’t think it influenced me. But the Monkees TV show definitely inspired the creation of my protagonist, Sandy Fairfax.

M.W. You appeared to nail the quirky nature of fandom in your descriptions both of the people running the Beatles’ convention and those who attended it. Have you ever attended a convention like the one portrayed in your book? Ever helped organize one?

S.C. I’ve never organized a Beatles convention, but I’ve attended three, Beatlefest (now called The Fest for Beatles Fans) in Chicago twice, and one in Pasadena called Liverpool Days. I used those events as a blueprint of the type of activities that my Beatles convention would have. At Liverpool Days, one of the special guests was Micky Dolenz, who talked about his friendship with the Beatles. That’s where I got the idea of putting my character at a Beatles fest. And as I describe in my book, the avid female fans (including me) stood right in front of the stage to hear Micky. I also took photos.

M.W. I noticed that you used titles of Beatles’ songs as chapter headings. You also referenced Beatles’ song lyrics and film lines, using them as clues in the book.  Was it difficult tying specific Beatles references to the chapters and clues? Did you spend a lot of time researching lyrics and film lines to find the perfect ones for your book?

S.C. Not difficult at all. For years I’ve had a collection of Beatles records, the movies, and some biographies. I already knew the songs, the movies, and Beatles history; it was just a matter of reviewing them (who says research can’t be fun?). The various pieces fell in place easily. Once I heard one particular song (spoiler alert!), I knew I had my story. I was surprised how easily I found the chapter headings. The headers were mostly for my benefit (and amusement) so I could keep track of the action in each chapter. BTW, in my current WIP, the third Sandy Fairfax book, most of the chapter titles are Elvis song titles!

M.W. You wrote the book using the first person point of view, the “I” for that POV being Sandy Fairfax. How do you think writing it this way helped to make Sandy more realistic and appealing as the main character?

S.C. I started writing the book in third person. That presented a difficulty right off. “Sandy” is the character’s stage name, so do I refer to him throughout the book as “Sandy” or his given name? Also, the story was just plodding along and not working. In my research I read autobiographies by several real teen idols. The books were fun to read and the idol’s personality jumped right off the page. Then I got the idea of writing as if Sandy was dictating his autobiography. As soon as I shifted into first person, the story opened up and came alive and the character just rolled off the pen (I hand write first drafts).

M.W. Super fan Bunny McAllister is another interesting character. Like Sandy, she changes over the course of the book, losing some of her preconceived notions of how stars should behave and beginning to see Sandy as a real person instead of as an older version of her teenage idol. Did you base Bunny on someone you knew, or on multiple fans you’ve met?

S.C. Some years ago I was a bit like Bunny. She’s just the prototype of the super fan. The character of Valleri, the aggressive, jealous fan, is based on a Monkees fan I met (Valleri is not her real name). Also, I was at a music festival once where I met some Bobby Sherman fans (I like him too). They were quite intense and serious about their affection. The Monkees fans were more fun and relaxed. Just my observations.

M.W. Sandy is quick with the witty retorts. For example, at one point he observes, “I had enough dead ends in this mystery to open my own subdivision.” Is Sandy just innately clever with words, or are his smart aleck remarks part of the personal defense system he’s developed as a down-on-his-luck alcoholic?

S.C. You’re quite perceptive! No, I didn’t consciously write Sandy as having a defense system. I’m not a recovering alcoholic, although I’ve had friends who were. I have a similar type of humor and wit as Sandy (what does that say about me?). I’ve been around guys so much that I can zip off those snappy one-liners. Plus I think the dry wit gives a nice edge to Sandy’s personality. It makes him stand out from other cozy characters. I wanted humor in the book, and I like how Sandy, when surrounded by chaos and nutty characters, can still find some humor in the situation.

M.W. Last but not least, who’s your favorite Beatle and why?

S.C. George. I love his solo music. It’s “comfort music” that I listen to when I need a pick-me-up or just want to relax. I liked his spiritual nature and also his affection for Monty Python. 

Those were some of the most interesting interview questions I've ever answered! Just one more thing -- my fave fictional detectives are Sherlock Holmes and Lt. Columbo. Hope I can stop by again for another chat about Sandy.

M.W. It was good talking with you, Sally. Good luck with your writing!


BIO:
Sally Carpenter is a native Hoosier now living in Moorpark, Calif. She holds a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school, her plays “Star Collector” and “Common Ground” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award, and “Star Collector” was produced in New York City.Carpenter, who also holds a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do, has worked as an actress, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for Paramount Pictures. She’s now employed at a community newspaper.

“The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” was a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel. “The Sinister Sitcom Caper,” the second in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series, is published by Cozy Cat Press. The third book, “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper,” is due in 2015.Sally is a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and “mom” to two black cats.

Purchase Links 
Amazon      B&N

Tour Participants
June17 – Shelley’s Book Case – Review, Giveaway
June 18 – Mommasez… – Review, Guest Post
June 19 – Back Porchervations – Review
June 20 – Kelly P’s Blog – Interview
June 21 – Carole’s Book Corner – Review
June 22 – Cozy Up With Kathy – Guest Post
June 23 – readalot blog – Review
June 24 – Christa Reads and Writes – Review
June 25 – deal sharing aunt – Interview, Giveaway
June 26 – Brooke Blogs – Guest Post
June 27 – Michele Lynn Seigfried’s Blog – Spotlight
June 28 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – Review
June 29 – Cicero’s Children - Interview
June 30 – Socrates’ Book Reviews – Review


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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Editing Tips -- Which vs That

I do a lot of editing for other writers. One of the most common mistakes I see in manuscripts is the use of the word which in place of the word that in sentences

Look at this sentence:
I went to the store which sells CDs at half price.

It should read:
I went to the store that sells CDs at half price.

If we remove the information starting with which or that, we're left with I went to the store. All we know now is that I went to a store. What we don't know is, what kind of store? A food store? A drug store? No! It's the one that sells CDs at half price. 

Sells CDs at half price is vital information that's needed to understand the total meaning of the sentence. Information that is vital to a sentence -- that can't be left out without changing the meaning of the sentence -- is called a "restrictive element". It "restricts", or "limits" the sentence to one specific meaning. 

The word that is used to indicate a restrictive element.

A "non-restrictive element" is non-vital information that can be left off without changing the meaning of the sentence. The word which is used to indicate a non-restrictive element. 

Here's how we could change the above sentence to show a non-restrictive element.

I went to the store, which sells CDs at half price, to buy the latest Shania Twain CD.

The phrase which sells CDs at half price is not vital to the sentence. It doesn't change the meaning of the sentence if left out, so we call it a non-restrictive element. In short, we can understand that I went to the store to buy the latest Shania Twain CD without being told that the store sells CDs at half price.

In short, the word that is used with restrictive -- or vital -- elements. A comma does not precede that when used with restrictive elements. The word which is used with non-restrictive -- or non-vital -- elements. A comma does precede -- and often follows -- the word which when used with non-restrictive elements.

Hope this editing tip helps you. Good luck with your "whiches" and "thats"! :)

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Interviewing Author Amy Saunders

Today I'm pleased to interview Amy Saunders, author of DRIVE BYE, as she tours with Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours. Amy is a mystery lover with a soft spot for humor and romance -- and the ocean. She lives in Massachusetts and loves to bake and watch movies. She's the author of one mystery series and three standalone mysteries.


Cozy Mystery
File Size: 1321 KB
Print Length: 174 pages
ASIN: B00J47HT0O

Belinda’s recent blunders have come back to bite her – and Bennett – in the monster cupcake. But they’re not the only ones with problems.

A car crash uncovers the body of an unlikely murder victim. But the more they learn about her, the more the answer to her death seems to lie in issues that reach far beyond Portside.

As the truth comes out, and Belinda's personal life teeters on the breaking point, she takes life by the maraschinoe cherries and finds help in some very unexpected places.

For a chance to win an e-copy of DRIVE BYE and a $25 Amazon gift card, click on
http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/02887764/    

And now, on to my interview of Amy.  


M.W.: Amy, your series is set in Portside, Massachusetts, a resort town bordering the Atlantic Ocean. According to your bio, you live in Massachusetts. Does Portside resemble your hometown, or are you a big city gal who simply loves writing about seaside towns and the kinds of people who live and visit there?

A.S.: Well, I do live in a small town, but it's in central Massachusetts, about an hour or so from the water. And my heart is definitely on the coast. Growing up, my family spent almost every weekend on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, and now I like to hang out around Newport, RI, which is where I draw my inspiration for Portside. It's such a lively place, even in winter, that I knew it was the perfect location for my characters.
M.W
Your main character, Belinda Kittridge, has a twin brother named Kyle. Why did you decide to make Belinda a twin?

A.S.: I wish I could say I took a lot of time thinking this one through, but I didn't. Belinda came into my head as a package deal with her twin brother. As the idea grew, Kyle grew with it. I had a couple friends growing up who were fraternal twins, and it kind of fascinated me. It's a unique way to grow up.

M.W.: In your first series book, CLIFFHANGER, you have a character with the unusual name of Stellan Mayhew. How do you choose names for your characters, and why did you choose the name Stellan for that particular character?

A.S.: I have this giant baby naming book called The Best Baby Names Treasury. They have these handy-dandy lists at the beginning of the book that are easy to sift through, so I often start there for new characters. I also love the BabyCenter site's name section because you can enter a name and get sibling name ideas, which is useful for finding names that coordinate. Plus, I have lists of names in all my notebooks, so I flip through those sometimes.

I think I first heard the name Stellan because of the actor, Stellan Skarsgard (from Thor). I just thought it was the coolest name and kept it on file. When I was working on Cliffhanger, Mayhew just looked like a Stellan in my mind so I used it and it stuck. 

M.W.: Are any of your characters based on actual people you know, or are any of them composites of several real people?

A.S.: None of my characters are directly based on any specific person, though I definitely take elements of people I know and put them in my characters. Victoria and her husband are good examples. As a couple they share similarities to my sister and her husband.

M.W.: How much research do you do for your stories? Do you Google for information? Seek advice from cops, lawyers, private investigators, medical people, etc.? Would you give us an example of how research helped you when writing a story?

A.S.: There are always a lot of technical things to look up, even if I don't use all of it in the book. For instance, several years ago I wrote a story where a body had been dumped in water, so I researched how (and when) a body would float to the surface. Then there are details to do with the setting and sometimes people's jobs. I do most of this research online.

Research can be very useful for getting ideas. Sometimes you're thinking one way, but research leads you to something else entirely. That's what happened in Drive-Bye. I was researching obstruction of justice charges and came across some interesting news articles covering a busted theft ring. That led to a new thread in the story. Plus, in that same research session, I got some ideas that I filed away to use another time. 


M.W.: As far as the writing process goes, do you outline your stories first, or are you a "by-the-seat-of-your-pants" writer? Do you know the ending of your story before you start writing, or do you just have a general idea of whodunnit and how it was done, and then write until you've figured out the best way to wrap up the tale?

A.S.: I started out as the ultimate pantser. But it led to a lot of frustration when it came time to revise (and complete meltdowns to be honest), so I've slowly learned to tamper my impulsiveness and impatience and think the story (and characters) through first.

Mysteries are complicated. You have suspects and evidence and motivations and alibis to keep track of, not to mention the personal storylines. And winging it proved to be a frustrating (and disorganized) way of handling things. I want to follow through even with the tiniest threads in the story, and that was too difficult writing without a clear direction.

I'm actually experimenting right now with something I came across called the "Snowflake method." It's a more organic approach than traditional outlining methods, which is really what pantsing is all about. You're still using the act of writing to an extent to get the answers, but it takes a few hours of work to realize an idea or character isn't working, as opposed to weeks of time and material that is now useless. 

M.W.: Do you revise as you go -- chapter by chapter -- or do you complete the novel and then start revising?

A.S.: I like to draft all the way through and then revise. I write better when I don't edit along the way. 

M.W.: All of your novels can be found in ebook format, but only the first book in your series is available in print format. Do you have plans to publish your other books in print format?

A.S.: I do feel bad about the one, random print edition. I didn't end up continuing with the print because of lack of demand for it. But if that changes, I will definitely put the others in print!

M.W.: Do you belong to any writers' groups or associations? If so, how have they helped you as a writer?

A.S.: I don't currently, though it may be something I consider in the future. 


Learn more about Amy and her books at the following links.

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Amy's blog tour continues at:

June 21 – readalot blog 
June 23 – Back Porchervations 
June 24 – Shelley’s Book Case 
June 26 – Chloe Gets A Clue 
June 25 – Community Bookstop 
June 27 – deal sharing aunt
June 28 – LibriAmoriMiei 
June 29 – Omnimystery News