Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Three Authors, Three Questions: March 2012

Our guests for March are mystery writers Cara Black and Jess Lourey, and thriller writer from the UK, Matt Hilton. Welcome to Three Authors, Three Questions.

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Cara Black frequents a Paris little known outside the beaten tourist track--a Paris she discovers on research trips and interviews with French police, private detectives and café owners. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, a bookseller, and their teenage son. Her nationally bestselling and award nominated Aimée Leduc Investigation series has been translated into several languages.

Murder at the Lanterne Rouge, released March 6th, holds a special feeling for Cara as Aimée returns to the Marais. She discovers intrigue in the oldest and smallest Chinatown in Paris. One of the book's inspirations came from a French domestic intelligence agent's comment, 'No one dies in Chinatown'!

To learn more about Cara and her mystery series, visit her website. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook. And if you want to take a look at Cara’s very busy appearance schedule, check out the events page on her website.


1. Cara, when you began submitting queries to agents or editors for your first published novel, what was the process like, and how long did it take to find your publisher?

After three and a half years of writing and working on Murder on the Marais, my first book, I did some homework and found SOHO press who published a well known foreign mystery crime line. They accepted unagented submissions so I queried them and they asked for 40 pages. After that they asked for the whole ms. It took maybe two or three months before I heard from them again and then they offered to buy it. I sold the book myself but an agent was interested in me after that and I signed with her.

2. What techniques do you use to make your characters come alive as you write?

Sensory details, sensory details, sensory details! So much comes out on the page about the character and the place if we have her feel and react to what she's experiencing. Using the five senses helps evoke not only a mood, a feeling and ambiance but brings the reader to this place, this time. Because my stories take place in Paris, I need to bring the reader there; to a cobbled street, on those winding narrow stairways, inhale the butter smell from the afternoon baking at the boulangerie, an April rain shower and mist hovering on the Seine, the feel of centuries old age pitted stone, the sharp click of high heels...I could keep going but I think it's important to try for a sensory detail on every page.

3. How creative are you in other areas of your life, especially your hobbies?

I love taking photos. Photos of anything - a rusted filigreed drain pipe in Paris, a cluster of red leaves, my dog after a bath, the way the light hits a slanting rooftop. I love black and white photos too and play around with sepia tones to suggest age. I've photo documented Hank Phillipi Ryan's shoe changing ritual at several ALA conferences ie from Louboutin heels to flat UGGS and variations on her changing from stilettos to shoes I usually wear. :)

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Matt Hilton quit his career as a police officer with Cumbria Constabulary to pursue his love of writing tight, cinematic American-style thrillers. He is the author of the high-octane Joe Hunter thriller series, including his most recent novel linked to amazon.uk, No Going Back, published in February 2012 by Hodder and Stoughton. His first book, Dead Men’s Dust, was shortlisted for the International Thriller Writers’ Debut Book of 2009 award.

Matt is a high-ranking martial artist and has been a detective and private security specialist, all of which lend an authenticity to the action scenes in his books.

The paperback edition of Judgment and Wrath (William Morrow and Company) will be available in the US this fall.

Matt’s website can be found at www.matthiltonbooks.com. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. I should also mention Joe Hunter has his own Facebook page.


1. Matt, when you began submitting queries to agents or editors for your first published novel, what was the process like, and how long did it take to find your publisher?

Very briefly, I researched agents and picked the agent I wanted, due to his recent successes placing authors with publishers. I wrote to him with what amounted to a business plan for an on-going series character fit for the commercial market, and I think this is what secured my representation. We exchanged emails, and I did a rewrite of my first book under his guidance, and when it was ready he took it to his contacts, and the book went to auction with 5 major publishing houses. It was about six months from first contact with the agent, until I got my publishing deal, but it seemed much shorter at the time. Of course, this was not the first agent or publisher I approached, and had been submitting with no success for the previous twenty years.

2. What techniques do you use to make your characters come alive as you write?

Primarily I use dialogue to help my characters jump off the page. My books are generally action-packed, slightly violent and deal with scary or nasty scenarios: I therefore leaven the darkness with humour so that it's not all doom and gloom.

3. How creative are you in other areas of your life, especially your hobbies?

I'm creative in many ways, though I don't tend to get to spend time with my other hobbies now that I write full-time. I paint in oils and acrylics, as well as sketch, for relaxation. I'm also "slightly" musical, in that I enjoy singing on occasion, and have recently purchased an upright double bass that I'm learning to play. When I was younger I loved making models from clay, and one of my earliest aspirations was to be a stop motion animator in the movies.

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Jess Lourey is the author of the humorous Murder-by-Month mysteries set in Battle Lake, Minnesota, and featuring amateur sleuth, Mira James.

Jess has been teaching writing and sociology at the college level since 1998. When not raising her wonderful kids, teaching, or writing, you can find her gardening, traveling, and navigating the niceties and meanities of small-town life. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and The Loft, and serves on the national board of Mystery Writers of America.

October Fest, her sixth book, was just nominated for a Lefty, the national award for best humorous mystery. In a starred review, Booklist says of November Hunt, her seventh, "It's not easy to make people laugh while they're on the edge of their seats, but Lourey pulls it off!" To find out more, please visit her website at www.jesslourey.com. She can also be found on Facebook.


1. Jess, when you began submitting queries to agents or editors for your first published novel, what was the process like, and how long did it take to find your publisher?

I grew up on a lonely farm, one mile from the nearest neighbor, eleven miles from the nearest town. So the world knew I existed, I used to order stuff from the back of comic books--fake dog poop, joy buzzers, snap gum. Then, when the mailman dropped off what I had ordered, I felt validated: "someone knows I'm out here!" I used the same theory to get through the rejection process of finding an agent. Over the course of a year, I sent out over 400 query letters, in batches of 100. With each "no thanks," I told myself, "at least I got mail." Eventually, I also got an agent.

2. What techniques do you use to make your characters come alive as you write?

I have a character bible where I "keep" my characters. They each have a single page describing their physical characteristics, their quirks, their life obstacles. Some of them even have a photo glued in there, someone famous or striking who physically reminds me of the character. Then, for that added touch, I write down what real person inspired my character, usually someone I know well. When I write that character, I hold that person in the front of my mind.


3. How creative are you in other areas of your life, especially your hobbies?

Who’s got time for hobbies? Seriously. I'm lucky when I can squeeze a shower in.

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Mini-interviews were conducted and compiled by Pat Stoltey. Chiseled in Rock thanks Cara Black, Matt Hilton, and Jess Lourey for graciously agreeing to participate in the Three Authors, Three Questions series.

8 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for some great interviews! It's so nice to get a perspective on how other authors think. And what I especially like is that each have different perspectives on making characters come alive, dealing with the query process and so on. A rich resource here for which thanks.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Two found agents and one found a publisher - interesting! And Jess's ordering habits so the world knew she existed was funny.

Shannon Baker said...

Jess, you might be the only person who sent out more query letters than I did! Cara, I was at the Simon Wood panel you moderated in Tucson. Nice job trying to keep the participation of panelists even. ;) Matt, nice to "meet" you. Thanks, Pat. Another great post.

Jess Lourey said...

Shannon, does that make me the winner of the losers? :) Cheers to sticktuitiveness!

Jess Lourey said...

Shannon, does that make me the winner of the losers? :) Cheers to sticktuitiveness!

Author said...

Hi, Pat, thanks for the opportunity of telling my story - albeit in a very concise manner. Some people say I was an overnight success, but I remind them it took me more than twenty years of submitting to get there. I think my tally of rejections is probably close to yours, Jess. It was my seventh novel that finally caught me the deal. But I look back on all those rejections now with a sense that the agents and publishers were probably right in that I wasn't yet ready (or my writing wasn't) and don't regret them now. If anything the continuous no's only made me more determined that 'one day' I'd get a yes.

Shannon, nice to 'meet' you too. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Ah, I'm laughing and laughing!
Yes, Cara and I have a love of shoes..and years ago she saw me changing from high--heeled red Louboutins to scruffy black UGGS, and caught it on camera. Now at library conventions and mystery conventions..there's always a shot of me going from 3" to flat..
SO funny, huh? But it shows you how observant Cara is...and why she's so good at all those sensory details!

What a great trio of authors, Pat! Hey, Jess! See you soon.. xoxo and nice to meet you, Matt!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I love doing this series!!!