Follow my Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour March 15 – 25 for reviews, spotlights, author interviews, guest posts and giveaways to celebrate the release of STAR TANGLED MURDER, #18 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. I will be updating this site with permalinks so stop by here or my Appearances tab for the latest.
Today we have guest author Mary Cunningham discussing “Write What You Know” and sharing her experiences.
I’d written all my life, but until the ripe old age of fifty, I’d never ventured beyond family memoirs and very bad poetry. Then five crazy broads got together and formed WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty. All of us had reached that magic milestone, or were about to, and weren’t all that thrilled with the ramifications. Hormones, hot flashes, hair loss, and weight gain were just a few of the complaints.
We decided we could continue to bitch or become proactive bitches and write a book that not only made light of our fate, but honored our love of dogs, too. We embarked on the WOOF adventure including contributions, Hormones and Harmonies, Are We Barking up the Wrong Tree, The Hair of the Dog, and Old Dog/New Tricks. Really, if we’re going to gain weight, lose hair, and feel like we’re sitting in a pre-bake oven half the night, why not learn to laugh at it?
From there, I moved on to middle-grade fantasy. Huh? Not a natural transition? When you have a recurring dream about a friend’s attic that served as your clubhouse on rainy days when jumping rope or playing softball outside was impossible, you have to write about it. Write? Er…right? Cynthia’s Attic, all five books featuring best friends, ancestors, family stories, and time travel, sprang to life.
Using the “Write what you know” advice, I used old family pictures in this series to describe my characters and the setting for the 1914 stories, a small town in Southern Indiana; my hometown.
Another middle-grade series, The Adventures of Max & Maddie, is also in the works. Again with the time travel! Can you tell H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine was one of my favorite books as a kid? Max and best friend, Maddie, delve more into history instead of magic.
I’m not sure what made me jump into a totally different genre, except I’m so glad I did! Andi Anna Jones Mysteries is an adult series about an inept travel agent whose real talent is amateur sleuthing. Again, using the “Write what you know” advice, I was that inept travel agent in North Miami Beach. (Won’t mention the agency in case there are pending lawsuits against me.) Seriously, I was awful! Just as I’d hoped, the first book, Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder, has given me some sense of redemption and has also exorcised a few ghosts.
Writing can be so satisfying and cathartic, and while I got an unusually late start, I plan to write as long as my fingers will cooperate. Reading gives us the opportunity to escape into our own little worlds, and as authors, we can write books and stories that offer readers a much-needed escape into other worlds, countries, cultures, and minds.
Margaritas, Mayhem, & Murder: An Andi Anna Jones Mystery (# 1), was released Nov. 30, 2017. If you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it, we’ll all be winners!
Author Mary Cunningham grew up on the northern side of the Ohio River in Corydon, Indiana. Her first memories are of her dad’s original bedtime stories that no doubt inspired her imagination and love of a well-spun “yarn”.
Childhood experiences, and a recurring dream about a mysterious attic, inspired characters Cynthia and Augusta Lee, for her award-winning middle-grade series, Cynthia’s Attic. The setting is her childhood home in Southern Indiana. Family stories and ancestors comprise the storylines. There are currently five books in this series.
Through a horrifying stint as a travel agent and a more rewarding experience teaching travel and tourism, the character, Andi Anna Jones, travel agent/amateur sleuth, inspired her latest adult mystery series. Mary is currently writing Book #2 of the series, along with another middle-grade series, The Adventures of Max and Maddie, a historical time-travel. The author is also trying her hand at writing a bio for a former UConn and WNBA basketball player, former army brat, who started a scholarship foundation to assist the children of deployed military veterans. Mary is a member of The Georgia Reading Association and the Carrollton Writers Guild.
When she gives her fingers a break from the keyboard, she enjoys golf, swimming and exploring the mountains of West Georgia, where she makes her home with her husband and adopted, four-legged, fur-daughter, Lucy.
Let’s welcome Christa Nardi, author of the Cold Creek cozy mystery series.
Why did you choose to write in the mystery genre?
As a reader, I’ve always loved mysteries. I am a big fan of cozy mysteries in particular, although I do like romantic suspense as well.
Tell us about your story and the setting.
The Cold Creek series is set in a fictitious small town in Virginia, centered around a private four-year college. For Murder in the Theater, the murder takes place in a nearby small town, Altavista, at a community theater. The victim is the Director of the holiday production of “A Christmas Carol” and his personality is reminiscent of Scrooge. There are many possible characters with motive, but Sheridan (protagonist) has vested interests in proving the accused innocent.
What are the traits of your main character?
Sheridan Hendley (protagonist) is a smart, independent female character; she is educated, middle-aged, and divorced. She’s a professor and a psychologist – she looks at problems very analytically. In the first book of the series, she is told to help the detective assigned to the murder of her colleague. Her natural curiosity, and her ability to draw connections between people set the stage for her amateur sleuthing.
Did you do any special research for this book?
Yes, I did. I investigated Virginia Hate Crime laws, the mechanics of a blow out, and distance/time information. I also researched the history of community theaters. Probably the most interesting was the information on hate crimes and finding out that the laws (what constitutes a hate crime) varies by state.
What do you like best about a writing career? The least?
I enjoy coming up with ideas and having the freedom to put those ideas together however I please, change them around, and see what comes out. I can write in my pajamas or all dressed up. In many ways I find writing relaxing and exciting. The downside? The times when the story’s not quite coming together.
Are you a plotter or pantser?
More pantser than plotter. I start off with a basic idea of the plot, write some scenes that go with my initial idea, and go from there. When I get stuck or something doesn’t seem to work, I backtrack and create a plot line from what I have – sometimes throwing out parts or rewriting – to figure out the next steps. The fun part is that when I start writing, I know who gets killed, I have an idea of the motive, but I haven’t decided who did the deed yet.
Do you set a daily schedule or wing it?
I work full-time so my writing schedule varies. I have established specific times when I can write for about 2-3 hours without interruption over the weekend, but otherwise I wing it. On the positive side, when I’ve put down the work for a while, it forces me to start reading from the beginning again. Sometimes that provides momentum and direction (or re-direction) for the story.
What do you plan to write next?
I plan to work on Book 5 of this series starting this fall. I only have a vague idea right now where that one will go. I am working on a new series right now, also mystery, but young adult. We’ll see how that works out.
Do you have any special interests outside of writing?
Reading? I read constantly – usually mystery or romance. I also enjoy dance and theater, though I am not talented in either. I love to travel, most recently to Barcelona.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Write, write, and write. There are many author groups locally or regionally with workshops and most are very supportive. Be prepared to throw out whole parts and start over. Get lots of feedback. Then write some more.
Murder in the Theater
The drama program has never been so dramatic.
It’d be the season to be jolly if only someone hadn’t set the stage for murder. When a student is arrested for the crime, Professor Sheridan Hendley is cast in the role of amateur sleuth. Tensions run high, friendships are strained, and the college administration is beginning to panic. As the plot thickens Sheridan is yet again drawn deeper into danger. Will she find the truth before the final curtain call?
Cold Creek Series Book 4, Murder in the Theater by Christa Nardi, is another great cozy mystery.
Christa Nardi is and always has been an avid reader. Her favorite authors have shifted from Carolyn Keene and Earl Stanley Gardner to more contemporary mystery/crime authors over time, but mystery/crime along with romance are her preferred choices for leisure reading.
Christa also has been a long time writer from poetry and short stories to the Cold Creek series, Christa has joined many other reader/writers in writing one genre she enjoys reading – the cozy mystery. Christa Nardi is a pen name for a real life professor/psychologist from the Northeast.
Back in 2000, when I wrote Hair Raiser, I was interviewed about the story. I’m repeating it here so you can see some of the thoughts I had at the time.
First tell us anything you want us to know about Hair Raiser.
Here’s the story blurb: When hairstylist Marla Shore volunteers for a fund-raiser benefitting a coastal preservation society, she gets more than she’s bargained for when someone attempts to sabotage the gala event. Participating chefs are dropping off the roster like hot rollers, and Marla is the only one who can tease the truth from them. Too late to stop a murder, she must salvage the grand affair before she’s moussed into oblivion.
Research involved mangrove habitats, biomedical waste disposal, and funeral Pre-Need Plans. In particular, I enjoyed dining out at restaurants in Fort Lauderdale and in Nassau so I could describe the menus in detail. Touring Bonnet House in Fort Lauderdale provided the inspiration for Cousin Cynthia’s estate in the story. An interview with a funeral director, an exhibition of Samoan fire knives, and a visit to a biomedical waste disposal facility rounded out my inquiries. I always like to learn something new when writing a book, and I hope my readers find these topics as interesting as I did.
How did you decide to choose a beautician as the protagonist?
I wish I had Marla’s skills to style my own hair! Seriously, I find the backdrop of a beauty salon is perfect for a mystery series. Being a skilled stylist is a profession I admire. You have to be a good listener since people talk to their hairdressers. Clients gossip while getting their hair done; suspects and informants exchange information while Marla cuts and colors their hair; and she encounters customers all around town. Her caring nature fosters confidences that aid her in numerous investigations. And think of those sharp instruments in a salon—scissors, metal hair picks, and razors.
What drew you to locating the story in South Florida?
I live in South Florida, and I want to share the appreciation I have for our tropical environment. I love the seagrapes, palms trees, and mangroves; the sunny beaches and diverse cultural mix. Instead of the usual gritty Florida stories, I want to showcase our attractions in a positive manner. Locals as well as visitors enjoy reading about sites familiar to them.
Tell us about protagonist Marla’s sense of curiosity. What was the inspiration for this?
Anyone investigating murders needs a nosy disposition. Marla is naturally curious, but her sense of responsibility for sniffing out murderers comes from her background. When she was nineteen, a toddler in her care drowned in a swimming pool. As a result, Marla feels responsible for her clients and strives to prove her self-worth. When Cousin Cynthia asks her to investigate a lawyer’s death in Hair Raiser, Marla feels obliged to accept. Earning Cynthia’s respect is important to her, and so is digging out the truth. Marla’s experience comes from my own background as a nurse. In a continuing education class on near-drowning, I saw a film where a child’s body was pulled from a backyard pool. Drowning is the number one cause of death for children ages 4 and under in South Florida, so it’s an important issue here. Marla has learned to overcome her past mistakes and turn them into a force for good.
Does your living in Florida have anything to do with protagonist Marla’s desire to preserve natural resources?
Yes, I love living in the semi-tropics and believe we should do everything we can to preserve our planet’s natural resources.
Where do you see the series going?
Murder by Manicure is the next book in the series. Marla’s relationship with Dalton Vail will continue to evolve. Hint: I like happy endings.
What are you working on next?
I’ve started Body Wave, #4 in the Bad Hair Day series.
How would you describe your writing style?
Quick reading with lots of dialogue and fast-paced action.
NOTE: Hair Raiser(Bad Hair Day Mystery #2) was originally published by Kensington Publishing Corp. This Author’s Edition has been revised and reformatted with added bonus material.
Disclaimer: This article is based on my notes. Any errors are my interpretation alone.
Christine is a broadcast news reporter/anchor at WLRN, a National Public Radio station. Erik is the Founder and President of Life Improvement Media Group, a marketing and media company. He broke ground in Podcasting and Internet Radio. In the four years since launching, LIMG has built a loyal audience with millions of unique listeners per year. http://lifeimprovementmedia.com/. Moderator was Miriam Auerbach.
Christine claims her type of broadcast radio “is not going anywhere.” Eric does Internet-based radio. He says his shows are uplifting and positive with a focus on health-related topics. He can obtain demographics and notes seniors these days are more technically proficient while children are ten years ahead in terms of tech knowledge than earlier eras. Unlike broadcast radio, you don’t have to watch your language on the Internet as FCC rules don’t apply. There’s less structure but also less cost for Internet radio. Podcasts are popular. You can put them up for free on iTunes and this will attract customer reviews. A good podcast runs for a half hour to one hour average. A livecast is streaming radio. Use keywords during Podcasts. Blog Talk is free by Google.
Christine looks for sense of place stories. “What is your story?” It’s not about your book, but about who you are as a person and as an author. What are you passionate about? How do you stand out from the crowd?
“Be brazen” to contact a show via email. Give them a bold phrase out of your book. Catch their interest up front. Email and then call to follow up. Tweet, call, email. “Persistence pays.” In the subject line of your email, put Interview Request or Mystery Writer Requesting Interview. Use formal last names in your introductory letter.
Once you have an engagement, send the interviewer your print promotional materials. You must have a Web presence. Both speakers emphasized the need for a website and for authors to be active on social media.
Tips on Appearances
Do not ask for a list of questions from your interviewer ahead of time. However, do send a bio to your host.
Figure out a way to break the ice with the interviewer when you arrive.
Do not pitch your book when answering questions.
Prepare an excerpt to read. You can ask your readers to select one. They might choose something totally different that you would as the author. An excerpt should be one or two paragraphs as you have very limited time on air. Make it a dramatic scene and be expressive.
Prepare four to eight talking points about your book.
Know your Internet URLs by heart.
Do not wear jangly jewelry to the interview.
If calling in the interview, use a landline if possible or try Skype.
In a commercial break, you can suggest topics that come to mind during your interview.
Finally, Christine reminds us that “Your interviewer is your partner” and is there to help you shine.
So have you done live radio or blog interviews? What tips do you have to offer?
NOTE: Today is the Last Day for early registration at SleuthFest 2015. See post below.
I’m participating in the Sisters in Crime blog hop. Bloggers do not have to be members of Sisters in Crime, and there is no schedule to follow except to post in September. If you want to join in, visit: http://www.sistersincrime.org/BlogHop
So now to my Questions:
If someone said “Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” how would you respond?
For me, the opposite is true. I read almost exclusively female mystery authors. Why? I like to identify with the heroine in a story, and so I prefer a female amateur sleuth. These stories are most often written by women but not always. I also prefer limited third person viewpoint in a whodunit so I’m in the sleuth’s head the whole way. This applies to a traditional mystery, not suspense or thrillers, where multiple viewpoints are common. Generally, I read cozies in the mystery genre. If I were reading a thriller, the writer’s gender wouldn’t matter.
What’s the best part of the writing process for you? What’s the most challenging?
The best part is when I’m midway through a story, and it just starts to flow. That’s when I feel as though I’m channeling the story. It’s in my head, and I just have to write it down. Beginnings are the hardest part because I don’t know the characters well enough yet.
What books are on your night stand right now?
Often I’ll read several books at once, picking up the one I’m in the mood for at the time. So now I have three different genre books on my night stand:
Severed Souls by Terry Goodkind is the latest installment in his popular epic fantasy series.
The Raven’s Wish by Susan King is a historical romance I pulled off my shelves.
Naughty in Nice by Rhys Bowen is a historical mystery in her Royal Spyness series.
As per the blop hop instructions, I am tagging author Terry Odell at http://terryodell.com/terrysplace/. Terry writes mysteries and romantic suspense and always posts useful information on her blog. She shares her notes from conferences and offers instructional writing articles along with recipes, interviews and other fun stuff. I always learn something from her posts.
If you Tweet, please use #SinC-up or #SinCBlogHop and include @SINCnational