Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Three Authors, Three Questions: August 2012

Our guests for August are urban fantasy novelist Jeanne C. Stein, mystery/thriller/mainstream author Michael Murphy, and sci fi author Nathan Lowell.

Welcome to Three Authors, Three Questions.


Jeanne C. Stein is the national bestselling author of the Urban Fantasy series, The Anna Strong Vampire Chronicles. Her character, Anna Strong, received a RT Reviewers Choice Award for Best Urban Fantasy Protagonist in 2008 and was nominated again for the 2011 book, Crossroads. She was named RMFW Writer of the Year for 2008 and nominated again in 2012.

Jeanne also has numerous short story credits, including the novella, Blood Debt, from the New York Times bestselling anthology, Hexed (2011). Her series has been picked up in three foreign countries and her short stories published in collections here in the US and the UK. The eighth in the Anna Strong series, Haunted, debuts August 28th.

You can find her on Facebook, Twitter (sporadically), and on the blog she shares with Mario Acevedo: The Biting Edge. Her website address is: http://www.jeannestein.com/

1.  Jeanne, please tell us about the first novel you ever wrote (what was it about, what inspired you to write it, how long did it take, and did it get published?).

My first novels were all mysteries, usually with a female cop or ex-cop as protagonist and set in southern California. I still have them kicking around somewhere (on those computer print-outs with the holes on the side) and I have used bits and pieces from them in other books, but they are all unpublished. I started writing in the '70s, after joining a mystery reading club sponsored by a wonderful book store in San Diego, Grounds for Murder. Through that club I met emerging mystery authors like Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, Carolyn Hart, Charlaine Harris and Sarah Paretsky. All influenced me to try my hand at writing. Later I joined Sisters in Crime, one of the founding members in fact, and my first critique group.

It took moving to Denver, though, and attending an RMFW conference to introduce me to the influences that would lead to my finally being published—a critique group of serious, professional writers—and we’ve been together ever since.

2.  What techniques do you use to bring your novel’s setting alive, whether that setting is real or fictional?

My series is set in San Diego and I try to make it as familiar and recognizable to those who live there as I can. I can take you on a walk in Mission Beach and show you Anna’s cottage. We could have breakfast at Mission Café and lunch at Luigi’s. In fact, a fan of mine actually put together a walking tour of some of the locations in the book. It was the greatest compliment I could have been paid.

3.  Where do you write and what is your writing schedule like?

I try to write every day, 2000 words or more. Now that I have a new series starting and a couple of other projects in the works, it’s more important than ever that I keep a schedule. I normally start the day at 5 or so with email and whatever promotional obligations I have to finish (like this piece—it’s 5:30 am and I’m on my second cup of coffee). Then I hit the computer in earnest and work until lunchtime. The rest of the day is spent finishing my word count, then exercising, running errands…the minutiae of life.


Michael Murphy has spent most of his life in Arizona. He lives with his wife of forty years, his four dogs, a feral cat and four urban chickens.

He’s working on his ninth novel, a mystery set in the 1930s called The Yankee Club. His return to Woodstock love story, Goodbye Emily, will be released in January 2013.

You can find more information about Michael and his books at his website and blog.  He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

1.  Michael, please tell us about the first novel you ever wrote (what was it about, what inspired you to write it, how long did it take, and did it get published?).

My first novel, Class of ’68, takes place during the most formative year of my life, 1968. The year is one of the tragic years of the twentieth century—of course the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and student unrest on campus. All of these are in the novel, yet my first novel is also a touching coming-of-age story. Once I told that story that I had to tell, I moved on to writing the kind of novels I enjoy reading, mystery and suspense, although my upcoming novel, Goodbye Emily, revisits the sixties with a look back at Woodstock.

2.  What techniques do you use to bring your novel’s setting alive, whether that setting is real or fictional?

If at all possible, I try to visit locations I plan to write about. My second novel, Try and Catch the Wind, is the first in a four-book series, originally set here in Arizona. In 2000 I attended a work-related seminar in upstate New York. It was October, the farms were lush and green, barns were often painted red and everywhere pumpkins seemed to be set near front doors, even though it was weeks until Halloween. I recall little about the seminar, but the imagery was so vivid that on the plane back to Phoenix, my novel became set in upstate New York.

Setting can be so important in enhancing a novel’s theme and characterization. In Try and Catch the Wind, my main character is a retired NYPD homicide detective trying to adjust to small town life. He’s oblivious to the beauty around him, until he gets to know the people. The setting was one of the principal reasons I was able to make the novel into a series.

I also teach novel writing workshops and talk about setting to those in attendance. A tip I provide deals with improving the manuscript by changing the setting. I encourage them to reflect on how their novel would be if the setting went back fifty or a hundred years in the past, or even if it was set in a rural environment instead of urban. Setting is truly important and often overlooked by inexperienced novelists.

3.  Where do you write and what is your writing schedule like?

I’ve spent most of my writing time glued to my computer, but during the past year, technology has freed me. With a wireless keyboard, I take my tablet to my gazebo, the pool, Starbucks, the lake. Anywhere now. It’s truly liberating and more portable and as functional as a laptop computer.

I don’t have a schedule. My “writing”, the truly creative part, occurs while tapping into my subconscious while on the treadmill, or driving. “Yikes.” I know it’s not the best thing, focusing on writing while I’m driving, but the point is one needs to reach into one’s subconscious. That’s where my characters develop, conflicts arise and plot grows. Once the idea or scene has nurtured sufficiently, I’m ready to boot up the computer. The rest is just mechanics.


Nathan Lowell started his “golden age of science fiction” when he was ten in 1962. He rapidly exhausted all the sci-fi titles at his school library. To feed his reading obsession, an aunt who was a voracious reader dropped off a paper grocery bag full of Ace Doubles every month.

Nathan’s inspiration comes from all the greats: Asimov, Bujold, Cherryh … through Lackey, Modesitt, Moon … all the way through Weber, Willis, and Zelazny. He always had a desire to write fiction and when he started listening to books on podcasts, he knew he had found a medium to tell the stories bottled up inside. His most recent release is Double Share, Vol. 4 of the Solar Clipper Trader Tales.

For more information about Nathan and his novels, visit his website and blog.  You may also keep up with his posts on Facebook and Twitter.

1.  Nathan, please tell us about the first novel you ever wrote (what was it about, what inspired you to write it, how long did it take, and did it get published?).

The first novel I completed was Quarter Share in 2007. I was tired of the "blow something up every fifteen pages and save the universe every fifty" story. I wanted to see if I could tell a compelling story without having blood in the scuppers and ichor on the bulkheads. It took about three weeks from first word to final draft. I published it in audio starting in February 2007, and it saw its first print/ebook publication in 2010.

2.  What techniques do you use to bring your novel’s setting alive, whether that setting is real or fictional?

For me, a setting isn't real unless a character experiences it. Descriptions are just words but when a character smells something ugly, or tastes something delicious (or vice versa), that vicarious experience helps the reader understand the setting better than seeing what amounts to a photo painted with words.

3.  Where do you write and what is your writing schedule like?

I write at a stand up desk built onto an operational treadmill in a windowless room in my basement. I write from 9am to noon, seven days a week, with occasional days off. I sometimes use the treadmill while I'm writing and have no trouble typing and walking at the same time.

I used to be a binge writer. I would only write a few days a year but would write 10,000 words a day for a couple weeks in a row. My last novel, Owner's Share, took about a month of those binge days and came in at 225,000 words in first draft. I cut it down to 195k in revision. My editor isn't pleased with the size.

Since becoming a full time author, I've discovered that I need to be a bit more methodical in my production so this daily schedule is something new. I've been at it since early June and am very pleased with the results.


Mini-interviews were conducted via e-mail and compiled by Pat Stoltey. Chiseled in Rock thanks Nathan Lowell, Michael Murphy, and Jeanne C. Stein for graciously agreeing to participate in the Three Authors, Three Questions series.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks as always for these interviews! Thanks to Nathan, Michael and Jeanne too. I think I've learned the most from the question of how you folks add life to your scenes. If the author doesn't feel a scene sparking, the reader won't. I appreciate that you shared your advice/experiences.

Amanda Rose Adams said...

I really enjoy the third question in particular. I love to hear about when, where, how, and when writers write.

Michael Murphy said...

Thanks for having me, Pat. Love your blog.

Nathan Lowell said...

Thanks for having me on as guest and thanks to all the great folks who've left comments.

I'm honored to be selected :)

Gary Raham said...

Pat and authors:
Thanks for insights into alternate universes of writing. It's always interesting to see how those words find their way to paper!

Name: Luana Krause said...

Thank, Pat. These interviews are inspiring. I'm going to check out their websites find out more. I agree with Michael about being inspired by a setting. My stories and films are often inspired by a scene or a setting...then the story comes later. I also get ideas when I'm out walking and doing other things. You never know when a great idea or element for your story will pop into your head.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks to Jeanne, Michael, and Nathan for sharing their thoughts with us today. And thanks to our readers, especially those are kind enough to leave comments.

Dean K Miller said...

More wonderful insights from great authors.

Thanks again Pat and CIR

j. a. kazimer said...

Did Jeanne really just say that she wakes up at 5AM? No wonder why she's so successful. Great answers from everybody. Thanks!

Jeanne Stein said...

Yes, Julie, I really get up at 5--sometimes even earlier!!! :-)
Thanks to CIR for hosting us!
And looking forward to COGold in a couple of weeks!!