Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Interview with Denise Dietz, Senior Editor of Five Star Publications, Part II

To read Part I of this interview with Five Star Senior Editor Deni Dietz, scroll down to yesterday’s post and voila, there it is.

CIR:  Deni, what does Five Star expect from an author regarding book promotion? Website? Blog? Social media? Book signings? Conferences and conventions?

Deni:  Yes.

Seriously, once again I can only give you my opinion. Website, absolutely. Blog, optional. Social media, definitely—if you don’t spend your whole life there and you aren’t too blatant in your PR efforts. Book signings are iffy. Alana White, author of The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, has had incredibly successful signings while other authors have sat alone, a brave smile on their faces. Here’s one piece of advice: Never have a signing in Denver on a Sunday when the Broncos are playing football!

Personally, as an author I enhanced my reputation and increased my fan base by attending conferences (I give good panel), but when it comes to selling copies of your books, it’s not cost-effective unless you are up for an award. Several Five Star authors have been short-listed for the Agatha and the Left Coast Crime’s “Lefty” (including me), and my Mary Ellen Dennis historical, The Landlord’s Black-Eyed Daughter, was nominated for an RT Award. When I travel to a conference I wear dark T-shirts with white lettering. Two of my tees read: BEAT UP A COOKIE and FOOTPRINTS IN THE BUTTER. Just the lettering, not the book’s cover. I’ve never walked through an airport where someone didn’t ask me what my shirt meant, a great opportunity to hand out business cards and/or promo postcards.

May I add that I’ve attended RMFW’s Colorado Gold conferences as an author and an Associate Editor (when Tekno-Books was “packaging” Five Star Mysteries). I’ve picked up such diverse authors as Beth Groundwater, Mike Befeler, Pat Stoltey (thank you, Deni), and more recently, Liesa Malik (her debut novel) and Christine Jorgensen. I’ve always loved Chris’s “voice” and this time she’s written a suspense that literally knocked my socks off. I hope I get invited again, as Senior Editor, especially since I am now taking “pitches” for the Frontier Fiction line.

CIR:  As an editor, what plot and/or character do you never want to see again? What would you love to see in the next manuscript you read?

Deni:  I’m kind of burned out when it comes to “vampire/werewolf/zombie” books (unless they blow me away). I love history-mysteries. I don’t mind present tense if it’s “invisible.” That said, I’m not looking for a good book. I’m looking for a good voice. I can edit a book. I can’t edit a voice.

CIR:  Deni, you are an author as well as an editor. Do those roles sometimes conflict?

Deni:  To be perfectly honest, yes. But that’s because there are only so many hours in a day (and night), and as an author I have deadlines. Recently, I allowed myself 5 hours of sleep a night in order to write a 6,000-word story for a pet anthology. It’s called Annie and the Grateful Dead, told from a cat’s POV. The cat’s name is Grateful Dead, though he says, “If I could have named myself, I would have named me Elvis. My great-grandmother lived at Graceland and my mother, Blue Suede Shoes, told me all about Elvis before I was weaned.” Grateful is smart, but almost everything he’s learned has been from watching TV, so you could say he’s a pop-culture cat. By the way, all profits from the anthology will go to the SPCA.

CIR:  You’ve written series and standalones, under your own name and under the pseudonym Mary Ellen Dennis (including The Landlord’s Black-eyed Daughter which was inspired by the poem, The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes). Tell us about Fifty Cents for Your Soul and its relationship to your sister’s (Eileen Dietz) as-told-to memoir, Exorcising My Demons: An Actress’ Journey to The Exorcist and Beyond.

Deni:  Fifty Cents For Your Soul was inspired by events that occurred during the filming of The Exorcist. My favourite review (of all my books) said, "Frannie Rosen’s voice sounds something like a young Bette Midler if she'd been cast in an episode of Sex and the City directed by Tim Burton." Publishers Weekly said, “Ambitious Hollywood ingénue Frannie Rosen lands a part in a horror movie directed by the celebrated (and reviled) Victor Madison, but gets more than she bargained for in the demonic possession department when a violent and slutty real-life doppelganger takes over her body. The over-the-top, irreverent serving of horror and Hollywood noir in Fifty Cents for Your Soul is something of a departure for Dietz (Footprints in the Butter, etc.), but who can resist a book that opens with ‘The woman who straddled Victor Madison had hiccups?’ ” A third reviewer wrote: “Marilyn Monroe once said, ‘Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul,’ and mystery writer Denise Dietz takes that premise and runs with it, producing a swiftly paced and truly scary supernatural novel about Frannie Rosen, an ambitious young actress who finds her soul in jeopardy when she lands a major roll in a celebrated yet sinister director's horror movie."

My sister allowed me to use her Exorcist memories, if I killed off the director, so I did. Eileen played “Sarah” on General Hospital, and she let me use her mental notes for Soap Bubbles—a glitzy mystery about three women affiliated with a soap opera—if I killed off the director, so I did (I set fire to my fictitious TV studio). As a result of the studio fire, a Grand Jury trial transpired—fun to write, especially since I’m a huge fan of Paul Levine, David Rosenfelt and Jodi Picoult. When one of the actresses is blamed for the fire, thus the death of the director, the other two protagonists, both extremely pregnant, set out to find the killer. And in case you were wondering, the answer is yes—one of the sleuths has her baby during the book’s climax. Like the rest of my backlist, Soap Bubbles is now an ebook.

CIR:  Are you and Eileen planning any joint promotion events?

Deni:  I don’t know yet. When she’s not busy acting in movies, Eileen is a guest star at quite a few horror conventions, both in the US and Europe. I’d love to join her in England, Ireland or Germany. If that’s not possible … L.A., I guess.

CIR:  From your point of view as author and as professional editor, what’s the best advice you can give aspiring writers?

Deni:  My mantra has always been: “If you drop a dream, it breaks.” Also, stay true to yourself. What do I mean by that? Even though it’s tempting, don’t follow the herd. Don’t try to write a zombie historical mystery apocalyptical erotica with YA elements and call it “Seventy Shades of Gray.”

Eighteen years ago I wrote a story called The Last Great American Beauty Pageant about a TV reality show. People said, “What kind of show?” My crime fiction novel, Eye of Newt, stars a witch, and is filled with my trademark humor. “Witchcraft is too dark,” a St. Martin’s senior editor said dismissively, never realizing that in a few years we’d have Buffy, Sookie, Twilight and Harry Potter. When I first wrote Eye of Newt, the most egregious thing a witch did was twitch her nose.

Both the story and the book were eventually published and are now available at Kindle.

Next, aspiring authors should remember that the name of the game is emotions. If the sad bits don’t make you shed a tear, you’ve likely done it wrong. If the sexy bits don’t turn you on, they likely will fail to do it for your reader. You need believable characters in believable situations, with REAL emotions your readers can share.

Finally, try not to make your characters TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) by sending them into danger without, at the very least, a Rottweiler.

An aspiring writer needs the following “tools”:

1] Discipline
2] A loner’s temperament.
3] An unhealthy preference for the company of people who are imaginary or dead.

And please be careful about a character dropping his or her eyes. They could get stepped on.

CIR: Thanks so much for sharing with our readers, Deni.

Deni:  You are very welcome. I always enjoy answering your questions, Pat.

If you want to know more about Denise Dietz/Mary Ellen Dennis and her books, visit her website(s).  You’ll also find her on Facebook. This interview was conducted via e-mail by Pat Stoltey.


Margot Kinberg said...

This is a terrific interview with so many pieces of good advice for writers. It's very helpful in that sense. And it's nice to know that Deni is also a writer, so she understands the book business from that perspective too. Thanks to you, Pat and you, Deni for some important 'food for thought.' Oh, and I love that TSTL piece of advice :-)

Cindy Keen Reynders said...

A very informative interview! Thanks for sharing so much.

Alana White said...

Wow, what a wonderful interview! Love the cover of "Fifty Cents For Your Soul." (I sent my hero into harm's way not with a Rottweiller, but with a Mastiff:) Deni, you are a peach.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Deni,

I enjoyed the interview and your sense of humor. Lots of useful information here for writers as well.