Interview with WinR Jackie Houchin

Most people know Jackie Houchin as that lady who shows up with pen, paper and camera and churns out articles that make the rest of us look good, whether she’s covering an author event or a play. She has her own blog at Jackie Houchin’s News & Reviews and writes regularly for Sisters in Crime and local newspapers. Her book reviews can be see in magazines such as CrimeSpree and Mystery Scene.

Welcome, Jackie!

You’re a photojournalist, a children’s book writer, a book reviewer and a theater critic. What’s your favorite type of writing and why?

I really, really enjoyed writing the serialized stories for my three granddaughters (a different one for each of them). It was fun making up the characters, plotting the story lines, and seeing the girls eagerly awaiting the next installments. Sometimes I drew simple illustrations to make them more fun. When I wrote the two “Kinko-published” children’s books for them, I also included simple line drawings in each chapter. However, my “Drawing Muse” isn’t always so cooperative!
The reviews and articles I write for my “News & Reviews” website and the various local newspapers and newsletters are ways to use my “teaching gift” if you want to call it that. (Yes, I’ve always been sort of bossy and “know it all.” Ha-ha) I enjoy meeting all the interesting people I interview. I use photography instead of drawing in this genre.
I also love seeing theatre plays (for free!) and reading books before they’re published. But lately this writing angle is becoming stressful for me. Call it writer’s block, but I seem to approach each new review with trepidation, even dread! Help!
How does someone with so much to do plan her writing time?
Funny you should ask! For one who enjoys everything organized and in order (some would call me OCD – ha-ha!), I don’t plan my writing time well. Usually it’s a looming deadline that gets me in the chair in front of the computer, frantically pounding the keys, while guzzling an entire pot of coffee.
Of course I have to be responsible about dates & times for the events I cover and the people I interview (these are faithfully marked on my calendar), but the actual writing is usually a last minute scramble. (Does it show?)
As a book reviewer, what mistakes do you find repeated, and what brings joy to your work?
Mistakes in the BOOKS, or MY mistakes? In books, I often see typos, of course. They are less evident with big-name authors and publishers. Occasionally I’ve seen name changes mid book, and even sex changes. (Yikes, I didn’t mean it THAT way!)
As for MY reviews, sometimes when they are printed – and I cringe here – I see a typo I’ve forgotten to correct, or two words remaining where I changed one and forgot to take out the other. Gulp!
The joy comes from seeing my work in print, and in the feedback I sometimes get from authors (or actors in the case of theatre reviews).
What’s your favorite type of book to read?
Absolutely my favorite reads are mysteries – strongly plotted ones without too much grit, grizzle or gore. I also enjoy “adult” women’s fiction (not chick lit) and historic novels. I will listen to audio books on history and biography, IF the author gives his information in “story” form. And, surprisingly, lately I’ve enjoyed a few Westerns. Go figure!
Christian fiction is a huge and growing market. Have you thought about writing either fiction or non-fiction for that market?
I’m a Christian, and ALL my writing is influence by that. My children’s stories always have a moral to them (be it vague or bold), and often use Bible passages, proverbs, or parables as a foundation. (Don’t worry! They aren’t “preachy.”)
I try to keep all my writing clean, and as positive as possible. (Even the newspaper events I cover.) I also won’t review books or plays that are offensive to me (sacrilegious, sexually explicit, or with overt violence or language). And, while I’m no academic, I did write curriculum for a 10-year Bible study I taught.
Are there any fiction projects in the works for you?
Fiction…. hmm. Do I dare share my secret?
I have a women’s fiction novel started and languishing in my files. It’s an ambitious work (or so I’ve been told) and tracks the stories of three sisters, each in a potentially life or lifestyle-threatening dilemma. I’ve been told I should tell each story separately, like Nora Lofts does in her trilogy books. But these women’s lives and problems are inexorably entwined, as are the eventual solutions, each dependent on what the other does.
So will “Sister Secrets” ever see the light of day and be at least “e” or self-published?
Your guess is as good as mine!
Thank you, Jackie.
Just a note: I’ve read Jackie’s books and they are some of the most entertaining, well-written children’s fiction I’ve ever read. Please get them published!!!

Interview with Author Marilyn Meredith

We at WinR are pleased to welcome back author Marilyn Meredith!

When she last visited, Marilyn shared great information about the writing craft. This time she is generous enough to share some marketing tips as well as a peek into her recent release, “Lingering Spirit”.

Welcome, Marilyn!

Marilyn, you have your finger in so many pies! You have the Rocky Bluff PD series, the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, Christian horror novels, and your stand alone paranormal romance, “Lingering Spirit”, just became available.

Is it possible to market so many different series and genres at events? What is your approach?

I don’t always market all my books at every event. The Apple Festival in Springville where I live, a two-day event, I take copies of all my books and do very well. I never know which books will sell.

Recently I was invited to a Jane Austen Festival and I only took copies of my Tempe books and the two latest books in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series. I felt a bit like a fish out of water, but did surprisingly well.

The Springville Library invited me to bring my books to their celebration of 100 years of the Tulare County Library and I knew there would not be many people there, so I just took my Tempe books which are set in a place like Springville. I still managed to sell four books in a very short period of time. When I do an event over on the coast, I take more of my Rocky Bluff P.D. series since it is set on the coast.

You attend conferences, book fairs, craft fairs, and other events. Where do you have the most success selling your books?

I love conferences and conventions but I’m not a big name writer so don’t sell a lot of books, but if I can get on a panel or give a presentation, I do pretty well. Book and craft fairs work pretty well for me. Craft fairs are fun because there usually aren’t many authors and so being a “real” author is a novelty to people who don’t go to bookstores and book events. This year I’ve been to Celebration of the Whales and I’m going to be at the Fourth of July Celebration at Channel Islands Harbor. Because my Rocky Bluff P.D. books were inspired by the Oxnard P.D. they sell well there. I’m also going to the Central Coast Art and Book Festival in San Luis Obispo, which is also a good venue. I go to much smaller fairs too, heading to one at the Lompoc library in August. I’m pretty much “up” for any event like that.

I mentioned in your into that you have your finger in a lot of pies! You’re latest book is an example of that.

“Lingering Spirit” is a departure from your usual writings in that it includes a paranormal element. Could you tell us about the story and the characters?

“Lingering Spirit” came about because of a tragic event that happened in our family. Though the idea developed from a real and very sad event, the story is fiction. It’s about the death of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty, leaving his young wife a widow and his two daughters fatherless. His spirit remains around for quite some time. Did that part really happen? Not as I wrote it, but there is an inkling of truth in the supernatural part.

This book began as an e-book. I parted company with the publisher and the book was unavailable. The publisher of my Rocky Bluff P.D. books asked if I had older books I’d like her to put on Kindle and I gave her “Lingering Spirit”. She loved it and it’s been available on Kindle for awhile. At the beginning of this year she asked me if I’d like to have “Lingering Spirit” as a trade paperback. Of course I said yes, and she put it on fast-track so it would be available this month.

Many of your books are available both in paper editions and as e-books. You tried e-books before they were such a hot topic. What are the pros and cons of publishing electronically over publishing in print?

I was e-pubbed before there were any e-reading devices. Didn’t work so well back then. Once the e-readers started coming on the market things changed and they keep on changing. Nearly all of my books have been published in electronic format as well as in paper. The two publishers I’m working with now always do both types of publishing.

The e-publishers know what they are doing as far as e-publishing is concerned, where the New York publishers are making all sorts of mistakes—but are slowly catching on. Most e-publishers accept queries and manuscript submission as attachments and the whole submission process is much faster and more personal. The finished product is done in a far shorter time than with a New York publisher. Most e-publishers do not give advances, but the royalties are usually a bigger percentage for either kind of book than the New York publishers give.

What are you working on next?

I have a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Invisible Path, coming out this fall. I have another that I’m finishing up the editing on now. My next Rocky Bluff P.D., Angel Lost, is ready for the first part of 2011. I’m starting another Rocky Bluff P.D. now, and have written four chapters so far. Been hard with all the promotion I’ve been doing for all my books and because I’m the program chair for the Public Safety Writers Conference, which has kept me busy too. I must confess though, I love it. I’m doing exactly what I dreamed about doing when I was younger.

Thank you, Marilyn!

Interview with Author Michael J. Manno

Mike Manno practices law in West Des Moines, Iowa. He also teaches law and political science at Upper Iowa University. An amateur ventriloquist, he has done numerous school shows and has also appeared twice at the Iowa State Fair. For nine seasons he raced Formula Vees with SCCA. Mike is the author of “Murder Most Holy”, and his new book, End of the Line, featuring former star prosecutor, Parker Noble, will be out this spring.

Welcome Mike!

Practicing attorney, race car driver, ventriloquist. What led you to add mystery writing to your resume?

Actually, I was a writer first. I always enjoyed writing and my mother tells me that even as a kid my favorite school classes were those where I had to write. My undergraduate major was journalism and I spent the better part of my first four years out of college news writing and editing. And, of course, practicing law means spending a lot of time drafting and editing legal briefs and documents.

Were there any websites or books you found especially helpful?

Yes, probably too many to list here. There is a series of books that I do recommend to budding mystery writers: The Howdunit Series by Writers Digest Books. They cover all the things you need to know to write accurately about crime, such as poisons, motives, police practices, autopsies, etc.

I realize that writers have to take some license to create a good story, but I think you should try to be as factual as you can. Avid mystery readers will be able to pick apart a writer who is writing about something he doesn’t know. I think this series will help writers keep on track. I also recommend my friend Todd Stone’s Novelist’s Boot Camp, also from Writers Digest Books, and Robert McKee’s Story.

There are also plenty of web sites out there that are writer friendly. Joe (J. A.) Konrath has a particularly good site for writers. My friend Jerry Hooton also has a great site and offers a free monthly newsletter. Jerry has given advice to many “big name” writers, such as Michael Connelly.

You also might try your favorite author’s web site. Many have great links and very valuable information for writers.

You certainly jumped into the genre with a bang—the murder of a nun! Please tell us how you came up with your first Parker Noble story.

Actually, I came up with the motive first, then created the characters around it. I don’t want to say anything more or I might give something away. The murder of a nun, however, probably came from so many years in a parochial school! No, not really. I did enjoy the nuns, but like most kids, I have a fonder memory of them than I had opinion back then.

I can’t help wondering: Did being Catholic influence your writing or your story line? (And were you waiting for the wrath of the local convent over your choice of victim?)

No, being Catholic doesn’t have an obvious influence on my writing, but it does have some subtle influences. I am Catholic, and as every writer has heard, write about what you know. So if I need a religious influence or story line I go back to my roots. I also try to write books that parents would not mind letting their teen-aged kids read, so I don’t have a lot of profanity, sex or violence in the book. Those things can all be hinted at without being too graphic.

In the first book, you paired Parker with Detective Sergeant Jerome (Stan) Stankowski, making a delightful duo who play well off each other. What does each character bring to the story?

I think they bring a great tension into the story; Parker is an attorney and thinks like one while Stan is a cop and thinks like a cop. Putting them together where people mistakenly believe that Parker is in charge sets Stan up for a lot of frustration – especially when Parker seems to come up with the solution for the crime. It’s also a challenge telling the story first person through Stan when Parker is the main character.

Will the two remain together in your series?

Yes, definitely! Both will continue, as will Buffy Coyle, the news reporter who doesn’t know what she wants more: Stan or a scoop.

You were a recent presenter at the Catholic Writers Conference*. Tell us what it’s like to prepare a class on mystery writing and what it’s like to give this class online versus the way you usually teach–in person. Any difficulties? Is it a surprisingly easy format to use?

I teach college law and political science in a regular college classroom. Obviously you can connect better with students in person and the classroom discussions are easier to follow.

On-line is more difficult as a teacher since you can’t see the students so you don’t know if you are connecting with them. You can do that in a classroom and if you see the students are not picking up on something you can change focus and approach the issue from another direction.

Classroom discussions are a bit better in person, too, since on-line there is a lag time from when a student types a comment or question and when it appears on the screen and often there is more than one at a time. However, that having been said, the on-line conferences are still a great way to pick up valuable information without the added expense of travel and lodging that you would incur in a traditional conference. And, once you get use to the on-line format it is surprisingly easy to use.

What’s the one piece of advice that you hope the attendees took away with them about writing a mystery?

Actually, three things: One is to outline your story so you know where you are going. I think that is very important when writing in any genre.

The second is to make sure your facts are correct. I’ve seen (actually read) writers who get some important facts – especially the legal ones – wrong.

Finally, lay out all the clues for your reader – they need not be obvious, but the reader will feel cheated if at the end of the book the clue that tripped up the culprit was hidden from them.

In your class (which was excellent!) you stressed the importance of outlining a mystery. Do you outline every detail or do you lay out a general path for your characters to follow?

I lay out a general path. I liken outlining to a road map. You decide where you want to go and find it on your map then sketch a route to your destination. You know where you are going to end up, but you are free to take any interesting side trips that might appeal to you on the way.

It’s the same way with my writing. I know where I’m going to end up, but along the writing “trip” I might find an interesting side trip (sub plot) to follow. You might call this “flexible certainty,” and I think it is important when writing a mystery since you will always be looking for ways to hide clues and red herrings.

“End of the Line” was just released. Was the second mystery more difficult or easier to write than the first book?
A bit easier, mainly because the characters had already been developed in my first book, Murder Most Holy. The hardest part is to keep the relationship between the characters fresh. Their relationship is like a kaleidoscope that has to give a slightly different view each time it is turned.
What can we look forward to next from you?
I’m working on the third book in the series, which is about a college dean who is shot to death at his desk during spring break. I also am working on a non-mystery about a little girl who sees a vision in a church yard.
Thank you!

You can find some tips for writers along with links on Mike’s blog, and visit his web page for upcoming events and the release date of end of the line. You can order “Murder Most Holy” and “End of the Line” from the usual online booksellers such as Amazon. We recommend you support your local independant bookstores. Find them here.
* You do not have to be Catholic to take advantage of the fabulous AND free Catholic Writers Conference Online. More info to follow when the next conference is set up.
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