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!

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


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"! :)


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

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    

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.
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.


Purchase Links


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 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Friday the 13th, Full Moons, and Honeymoons

Well, it's Friday the 13th, and we have a full moon shining down on Chicago. 

So far it's been an ordinary day, no freaky accidents, no weird happenings, just another normal Friday in June.

Okay, maybe not a totally ordinary day if you're a soccer fan. You have to admit, it's just a little bit freaky when the Netherlands, ranked 15th in the FIFA World Cup standings, beats the number one ranked team, Spain, by a score of 5 to 1. It wasn't just a win, it was a massacre, which only accentuates the unexpectedness of such an accomplishment.

Some people claim that a full moon brings out bizarre behavior in people. When full moons fall on a Friday the 13th, the behavior is said to be even odder and often influenced, or accompanied, by the curse of bad luck. In short, if staying healthy is your main goal, you wouldn't want a black cat to cross your path as you walked under a ladder on a full moon Friday the 13th. Study after study has debunked these theories, but the myths persist in many cultures around the globe. 

Putting all myths aside, what's interesting to me is that this particular full moon is what's known as a "honey" moon. Honey moons happen in June around the summer solstice when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and the moon is low in the sky and nearest to the horizon. Dust and pollution in the atmosphere interfere with the length of the light waves, causing the normally whitish moon to look more honey-yellow in color. Something similar happens in the fall, but then we call those large orange-colored orbs "harvest'' moons. 

Andrew Fazekas, who writes for National Geographic, says that June's honey-colored moons may be responsible for our use of the term "honeymoon" because so many wedding ceremonies were traditionally celebrated during that month. He quotes astronomer Bob Berman as saying, "That phrase dates back nearly half a millennium, to 1552, but one thing has changed: Weddings have shifted and are now most often held in August or September. The idea back then was that a marriage is like the phases of the moon."

Tonight's honey moon has special meaning for me. My youngest daughter is marrying in August, and tomorrow, June 14th, we'll be celebrating her wedding shower. It seems appropriate that a honey moon should decorate the night sky on an evening when she's contemplating her own honeymoon.

And if that sounds to you like the words of a hopeless romantic, you just might be right. :)