Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Three Authors, Three Questions: October 2012

Our guests for October are novelist Sandra Dallas, thriller author Jamie Freveletti, and mystery and children's author Chris Grabenstein.

Welcome to Three Authors, Three Questions.


Photo credit: Povy Kendal Atchison
500 19th Street
Golden, CO 80401

Award-winning author Sandra Dallas was dubbed “a quintessential American voice” by Jane Smiley, in Vogue Magazine. Sandra’s novels with their themes of loyalty, friendship, and human dignity have been translated into a dozen foreign languages and have been optioned for films. Both Prayers for Sale and True Sisters have been on the New York Times best-seller list.

A journalism graduate of the University of Denver, Sandra began her writing career as a reporter with Business Week. A staff member for twenty-five years (and the magazine’s first female bureau chief,) she covered the Rocky Mountain region, writing about everything from penny-stock scandals to hard-rock mining, western energy development to contemporary polygamy. Many of her experiences have been incorporated into her novels.

While a reporter, she began writing the first of ten nonfiction books. They include Sacred Paint, which won the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage Wrangler Award, and The Quilt That Walked to Golden, recipient of the Independent Publishers Assn. Benjamin Franklin Award.

Turning to fiction in 1990, Sandra has published twelve novels, including her latest, True Sisters and The Quilt Walk (a children’s book), Sandra is the recipient of the Women Writing the West Willa Award for New Mercies and The Bride’s House, the Audio Publishers Assn. Audie Award for Tallgrass, and the Western Writers of America Spur Award, for The Chili Queen and Tallgrass. In addition, she was finalist for the Mountain and Plains Booksellers Assn. Award, two-time finalist for the Colorado Book Award, and a six-time finalist for the Women Writing the West Willa Award.

The mother of two daughters—Dana is an attorney in New Orleans and Povy is a photographer in Golden, Colorado—Sandra lives in Denver with her husband, Bob.

Visit Sandra’s website and her blog for more information. She can also be found on Facebook.

1. Sandra, please describe the genre(s) in which you write. Was this an accidental or deliberate choice?

I don’t write in a genre. In fact, I fight not to be called a “quilt novelist,” a designation that didn’t exist when I began writing fiction, because my books are about loyalty, friendship and human dignity, not quilts. I love quilts, but they are only an element in about half of my books. My first mystery, Fallen Women, comes out a year from now, but I don’t really consider myself a mystery writer either. I’d like to think I’m a mainstream writer.

2. What techniques do you use to make your characters come alive for your readers?

I really don’t know. My writing is organic, I guess you’d say. Although I have a general idea of the story, I don’t outline and usually don’t know what’s going to happen until I sit down at the computer. Although all writers watch people and we get dialogue from listening in on conversations, I don’t have dossiers on characters before I begin. I get to know them as I write, and as they trust me, they tell me their secrets. I often have to go back and change things, because I missed their clues on the first go-around.

3. What are some of the unique and/or fun ways you promote and market your books?

Are you out of your mind? Like most writers, I don’t especially care for promotion and marketing. I long for the old days when promotion meant book signings and a few interviews. Today, I spend more time on it than I do writing—blogs, newsletters, Facebook, book groups, speeches, fan email—but it’s the writing that I really love. Of course, it’s rewarding to meet people who like your work, and when I do give a speech or meet with readers or have a signing, I always enjoy it. But if I’m at my computer, I’d rather be writing a book than a speech. Anymore, however, promotion is the name of the game. Publishers expect it, and so do readers. If you want to be successful, you have to promote.


Jamie Freveletti is the internationally bestselling and ITW and Barry award winning author of thrillers Running from the Devil, Running Dark and The Ninth Day, which was named as one of the “Best Thrillers of 2011” by Suspense Magazine and her books have been translated into three languages.

In addition to her own books, the Estate of Robert Ludlum asked her to write the next in his Covert One series. That book, called The Janus Reprisal, released on September 11th 2012. The fourth in her series, Dead Alseep will launch on October 30th, 2012. She lives in Chicago with her family.

To learn more about Jamie and her novels, visit her website.  She can also be found on Facebook  and Twitter.

1.  Jamie. please describe the genre(s) in which you write. Was this an accidental or deliberate choice?

I write thrillers and it was a very deliberate choice. I’ve always loved both mysteries and thrillers-figuring out the clues and the adrenaline surge from an action scene. To me they’re perfect entertainment!

2. What techniques do you use to make your characters come alive for your readers?

Internal thoughts and external actions are what make a character come alive for a reader. I think new writers spend a lot of time getting a character from point A to B and when they are done with that they're exhausted. They forget to add the layer that includes the character observing, thinking and putting their own perspective on what's happening. Adding that extra layer brings them alive.

Once I’ve laid down a first draft I go back and look for moments where I can show how the character reacts. I like to show what they are really thinking as opposed to what they tell the rest of the world. In The Janus Reprisal there’s a scene where Jon Smith has been shot and another character is getting ready to remove the bullet. She says to Smith:

“I can see the bullet easily. Are you ready?”

Not at all. “Yes,” he said.

Or this exchange, also in The Janus Reprisal between two terrorists. The first is Manhar:

“Will Dattar die too, then?

“No, he will not. He must live, of course, to pay our families.”

“And us?”

“In the kingdom of the everlasting life.”

Manhar wanted to shake him. The only kingdom he wanted to experience was in Pakistan, with multiple women and a large house with many rooms.

In the first draft Manhar simply brooded over the information, despite the fact that he wasn’t a jihadist, just a criminal in the killing business for the money and unwilling to die for a cause. On rewrite, I noticed the exchange and switched it up to show how Manhar really thought about jihad.

Every little bit helps define the character.

3. What are some of the unique and/or fun ways you promote and market your books?

During the launch of my first I created a book trailer and Sugoi running company helped promote it. That was a blast and I'm looking to get another trailer, but much shorter, done. I also created a "Where is Emma?" campaign where we tagged books and left them all over the country and had people find them and then photograph them, and place it on my Facebook page. Was fun to watch the books move around!


Chris Grabenstein is an award-winning author of books for children and adults, a playwright, screenwriter, and former advertising executive and improvisational comedian. Winner of both the Anthony and Agatha Awards, he is also a New York Times bestselling author currently collaborating with James Patterson on several books for young readers.

A former writer for Jim Henson's Muppets and past president of the New York Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, Grabenstein co-wrote the screenplay for the CBS-TV movie, The Christmas Gift, starring John Denver.

He lives in New York City with his wife, two cats, and a rescue dog named Fred, who starred in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on Broadway and inspired Chris' newest book Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers, a comic caper that will have readers snorting soda out their noses, proving once again that Grabenstein is a master at concocting irresistible stories for middle-grade readers.

You can learn more about Chris and his books at his website.  He can also be found on Facebook.
Of special note is the section on his website for kid’s books and information about arranging for school visits (including visits via Skype).

1. Chris, please describe the genre(s) in which you write. Was this an accidental or deliberate choice?

Wow -- I guess I'm all over the place, but, hopefully, everything I write is fast paced and fun. LIke my bookmarks say, if you grab a Grabenstein book, it'll grab you back. I have written mysteries, thrillers, ghost stories, paranormal, comic caper, action-adventure, and even sci-fi (co-authoring Daniel X Armageddon with James Patterson). I love to write what I like to read, which is always my advice to writers. I set out to create the kind of books that I used to devour on transcontinental flights. Page turners that make five hours fly faster than the jumbo jet!

2. What techniques do you use to make your characters come alive for your readers?

The two strongest techniques for making characters come alive, I think are 1) show don't tell and 2) get inside the character's head.

Show don't tell, of course, is a standard dictum in writing classes. But, for me, I like the way Robert McKee talks about character in his book Story. What characters do tells us more about who they are than all the descriptors in the world. Character is revealed through action. In fact, I am often pretty scant on physical descriptors for my characters because I want the reader to "become" the protagonist.

By getting into the character's head, I mean (in either first person or third person) getting close enough that we can "hear" a thought or an observation. It is this inner voice that often makes characters become truly alive

3. What are some of the unique and/or fun ways you promote and market your books?

The most fun I have promoting and marketing my books is visiting schools. I have an hour-long program that I do for schools (usually three assemblies a day) that is fun and interactive. The kids are usually laughing so hard, they don't realize they are learning about writing. I love visiting schools because I get to meet my 4th-8th grade readers, some of whom don't really like reading until they go home with one of my books.

 I also love getting e-mails from parents who tell me that their child hasn't read a book in years and couldn't put mine down. Also, going into schools helps me stay in touch with my "target audience" and learn what's important to them as I simultaneously soak up the details of their daily lives. I sometimes run contests where, if kids read x number of books, I enter their name in a raffle to be a character name in my next book. My next Random House title, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, has about seven characters in it that were named this way.


Mini-interviews were conducted via e-mail and compiled by Pat Stoltey. Chiseled in Rock thanks Sandra Dallas, Jamie Freveletti, and Chris Grabenstein for graciously agreeing to participate in the Three Authors, Three Questions series.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Interesting way the last author spurs kids to read.

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for these great interviews! I'm so glad you asked that question about marketing too. It's something authors need to think about and I like learning how successful authors do it.

Chris Grabenstein said...

Thanks for the questions. Great to read everybody's answers!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Alex, getting kids to read is worth the effort. I think Chris knows a few secrets.

Hi Margot. I'm like Sandra...and I always feel a little crazy asking the question :D

Chris, thank you for dropping by. It's fun seeing how different authors view the same questions.