Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Three Authors, Three Questions June 2012

Our guests for June are mystery authors Laura Benedict and Elizabeth Spann Craig (aka Riley Adams) and dystopian sci fi/thriller author Warren Hammond.

Welcome to Three Authors, Three Questions.

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Laura Benedict’s latest novel is Devil’s Oven, an Appalachian Gothic tale, which is available both as an ebook  and in paperback.  Her first two books were the dark suspense novels Isabella Moon and Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts. She originated and edited the Surreal South Anthology of Short Fiction Series with her husband, Pinckney Benedict. Her work has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and numerous anthologies. She lives in the southernmost part of a midwestern state, surrounded by coyotes, bobcats, and many other less picturesque predators.

Get to know Laura and her work better at her website, or friend her on Twitter or Facebook.


1. Laura, how do you keep track of the traits and background information for your series protagonist and secondary characters?

I hadn’t read a lot of series mysteries or thrillers when I started writing, but when I became involved in the professional writing community, I quickly got hooked. Bliss House, the novel I’m working on now, is the first in a loosely connected series, and I have another, character-based series on the boards. My notes are hopelessly unorganized. I’ve been just plain lucky when it comes to character continuity. Now I have details for two novels scattered among several notebooks. Many of my friends swear by Scrivener. I plan to give it a try.

2. 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 became good friends with a foreign rights agent early in my career, and we always talked about my giving her a novel to sell. For years I only published short stories. After two practice novels, we agreed that number three was the one that should be published. (I had been writing for almost twenty years, and she had developed an impressive domestic client list.) She submitted the manuscript to publishers on a Thursday, and I had an offer for a two-book contract on the following Monday.

3. How do you find inspiration/motivation to keep writing even when the going gets tough?

First, I try to push through my frustration on the page. If I’m stuck, it means I’ve taken a wrong turn in a story or am afraid to face what needs to come next. Sometimes I’ll take the dogs for a walk or go to the garden and fill the bird feeders and pull weeds.

Most of my close friends are writers, and we’re always helping one another over the rough spots. We kvetch and kvell, whine, gossip, compare notes, give one another advice, and cheer each other on. We remind each other why we write. I don’t know what I would do without them! Also, lately, I’ve been re-reading selected pages of The War of Art daily. Resistance and entropy are powerful entities, and Steven Pressfield’s advice reminds me that I have to fight them every single day to get my real work done.

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Elizabeth Spann Craig (aka Riley Adams) writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently. Elizabeth’s most recent book, Quilt or Innocence, was released on June 5.

To learn more about Elizabeth and her mystery series, visit her blog at Mystery Writing is Murder. She can also be found on Twitter as @elizabethscraig and on Facebook as Elizabeth Spann Craig or Riley Adams.


1. Elizabeth, how do you keep track of the traits and background information for your series protagonist and secondary characters?

I'm lucky for the Memphis Barbeque and Southern Quilting mysteries that Penguin sends me style sheets for the series that cover character traits. Still, I find that I usually need more information than that to ensure continuity. I write a short cheat sheet for every book with non-story-specific information in it to help me write other books in the series. Also, if I have time, I'll reread the last book in the series…that can really help with keeping continuity with my characters’ voices.

2. 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?

Looking for an agent took forever--probably a total of four years. The last year and a half was a really focused effort to find representation. I must have gotten at least a hundred rejections, mostly emailed to me. That's when I decided to send my manuscript directly to the publishers. Less than a year later, I had a publisher.

Even going the slush-pile route, I ended up finding a publisher faster than an agent. In fact, I ended up with two publishers interested in the same manuscript…although, unfortunately, not simultaneously. I heard from Penguin several months after I’d signed a contract with Midnight Ink that I’d negotiated, myself. Although the book was off the market, it gave me the opportunity to talk with Penguin about a new series they were interested in developing. I sent out another round of queries to agents. Finally, I was able to get connected with representation.

3. How do you find inspiration/motivation to keep writing even when the going gets tough?

I keep inspired by reading other writers’ books and blogs. It always makes me feel like I'm not alone...like all writers go through rough patches. I also try to reconnect with the reason why I'm writing to begin with—because I love it. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that.

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Denver author Warren Hammond is known for his gritty, futuristic KOP series. By taking the best of classic detective noir, and reinventing it on a destitute colony world, Warren has created these uniquely dark tales of murder, corruption and redemption. His latest Juno Mozambe novel, KOP Killer, was released by Tor Books in June of 2012.

For more information about Warren and the Juno Mozambe series, visit his website.  He can also be found on Facebook  and Twitter.


1. Warren, how do you keep track of the traits and background information for your series protagonist and secondary characters?

I have all my original Word documents so anytime I need to look something up, I just do a word search on the character’s name or a word I remember from the scene in question. I know a lot of writers keep cheat sheets and character profiles handy, but I haven’t found it necessary. At least not yet. As the series gets longer I might have to change methods.

2. 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 was one of the rare lucky ones who got a call on my first time out. Although he wasn’t my agent at the time, he phoned after receiving my manuscript and kindly spent a half hour telling me what was wrong with the book, and what I needed to do to get it ready for sale. Deciding his suggestions were dead on, I rewrote for the next six months and sent it back. He did the rest by landing a two book deal with Tor Books. All in all, I was very fortunate to have such a smooth ride.

3. How do you find inspiration/motivation to keep writing even when the going gets tough?

The writing business can be cruel. Most never get published, and those of us lucky enough to get there find out real fast that getting published doesn’t guarantee getting published a second time. Even the most successful writers worry about getting dropped by their publishers. Simply put, we’re all emotional wrecks.

But you know what? All the angst and stress we feel is strongest when we’re not writing.

I write every day to keep the demons at bay. The craft is what makes me happy. My stories are my refuge. The best way to find your passion is to stay lost in your story.

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Mini-interviews were conducted and compiled by Pat Stoltey. Chiseled in Rock thanks Laura Benedict, Elizabeth Spann Craig, and Warren Hammond for graciously agreeing to participate in the Three Authors, Three Questions series.

6 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Elizabeth, it's good to know someone else went the publisher route with success. Don't know if I'll ever pursue an agent though.

Jemi Fraser said...

What interesting pathways! There really is no one route to publishing, is there? Very interesting! :)

lizy-expat-writer said...

I have wondered sometimes whether to approach a publisher direct, but most of their websites say you have to go through an agent. The trouble is I don't have a business head - that's why I need an agent! I will find one eventually - hope lives eternal in the human breast!

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - These are really interesting questions as always, and it's so helpful to me to learn from the answers. And it's great to see Elizabeth, one of my favourite author/bloggers, and "meet" Laura and Warren.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Alex--I'm not sure you really need an agent in this day and age. Going straight to the publisher seems to work out okay for many folks.

Lizy--Maybe send out queries to both agents *and* publishers...could save some time. And sometimes it's easier to find an agent when you have a contract in hand.

Margot--Thanks for coming by!

Carol Kilgore said...

I like reading the differences. I think it's finding what works for each of us.