Thursday, August 12, 2010

My mystery author guest: Deborah Coonts

I'm pleased to welcome Deborah Coonts, author of Wanna Get Lucky?, to my blog today to answer my interview questions and ones asked by my blog readers. Above is the cover photo for the first book in her Lucky O'Toole series, which was released May 11th.

Deborah Coonts, of Las Vegas, comes barreling onto the book scene with this sinfully delicious tale of Lucky O’Toole, ‘Chief Problem Solver’ for The Strip’s newest, most over-the-top, mega-casino, The Babylon. With her hotel bursting with porn stars in town for their annual awards show, the pocket-protector crowd attending the year’s largest electronics show, and a convention of swingers hell-bent on having a good time, Lucky has her hands full. When a young woman takes a header out of the Babylon’s helicopter, disrupting the Pirate Show at Treasure Island, her night spirals further out of control. With a murder to solve, guests and their antics to manage, a brothel-owning mother with a sharp tongue to corral, a straight-shooting boss who suddenly starts acting weird, Lucky’s skills are put to the test. And then there’s her best friend, Teddy, Vegas’ foremost female impersonator, pressing Lucky to take their relationship to the next level…leave it to Lucky to attract a guy who looks better in her clothes than she does.

Wanna Get Lucky? is a valentine, a love letter, to the magical city of Las Vegas—a city that welcomes all the square pegs that can’t fit into the round holes elsewhere. Come enjoy an insider’s view, naughty and hilarious, of the country’s most fantastical, intriguing city, Las Vegas.

Now doesn't that sound like a fun read? See what Deborah Coonts has to say in response to my questions below, and feel free to ask her additional questions in comments.

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

Writing…wow. Well, I honestly can’t remember a time when stories weren’t a safe haven for me. My childhood was…interesting…as many are. I found solace and comfort in the escape offered by stories. Each night, under the cover of darkness (and under the covers in a vain attempt to hide that I was not actually sleeping) I would fire up my trusty flashlight, and delve into foreign worlds. These worlds often involved horses and, as I grew older, mysterious men. Writing came later. And I still can’t remember what prompted me to go from a consumer to a purveyor. One incident though, is imprinted and almost ruined my future storytelling. I was asked to write a Christmas poem in the seventh grade. Then, I had to read my poem in front of the entire school body, faculty, administration, and parents. I almost died on the spot. How I ever picked up the thread of another story, I’ll never know. Some form of mental illness, I would guess. I do talk to imaginary friends, you know. And they talk back. Yes, in most medical communities, I would be considered an annuity. I’m okay with that.

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

Like stray puppies, my characters tend to find me. And it’s not so much that I get to know them, as they tell me what they will or won’t do. When asked how she wrote her stories, P.D. James once remarked something to the effect that she simply entered the room with her characters and wrote down what they said. That’s the world I live in. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for my future therapist), I spend my day playing with imaginary friends. Their world becomes real for me. They become real. I see them; hear them. They are extensions of me, my experiences (No, I have not dated a female impersonator…but I do wonder what it might be like to have a man fluent in Jimmy Choo. Don’t you?). They grapple with problems I have had—many that I still don’t know the answers to. It’s cathartic and fun at the same time. So much so that often I don’t want to come back from playing in the world I’ve created.

As an example of how my characters become real (and very pushy, I might add) in my third Lucky book, So Damned Lucky, I have a French chef who is very…French. I envisioned him as a bit of a cliché, sort of Gordon Ramsay with a sexy accent and a great ass. He didn’t take to that at all—well, I think he liked the great ass part, but he held up the entire third story until I figured out who he really was. He was right—but I resented my story being held for ransom. But, that’s sorta how it goes in my life. Not only am I not running the show, I am being held hostage by it.

3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I’m a seat-of-the-pants girl, all the way. Since my stories are told in the first person, Lucky, the POV character, has to be on-scene, all the time. This is both good and bad. As the writer, I simply follow Lucky around and report what she does. As a plotter, things are a bit more complex. It’s hard to develop suspense or to plant clues, etc., when you have only one POV. I can’t switch to the bad guys for a while so the reader knows what they are doing. But Lucky usually finds a way.

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

That depends on what kind of story you want to tell. While I love the cleverly plotted mystery, I’m more of a relationship girl. And, while I try to keep the mystery interesting, I’m more interested in the stories of the characters—the why they do what they do stuff.

Ken Follett recently said that we as writers can give the readers only two things that other entertainment media cannot: we can teach them about something, or we can give them multi-faceted, complex, richly drawn characters. That second part—that’s me. I’ve always been a people person, and I am very shallow when it comes to entertainment. I want pretty people who fall in love, sing and dance, and live happily ever after. A laugh or two…or more…is essential. And, finding a dead body or two along the way does spice things up a bit.

5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

Self-doubt would be the biggest challenge I face as a writer. When is your story “good?” What makes it “good?” And, I can tell you, by the hundredth time you’ve been through the thing, the jokes have long ago ceased being funny, any snap, crackle or pop is long gone, and the whole thing is treacle—if it doesn’t make you puke. So how do you keep believing? Beats the heck outta me. I get through each day because I have wonderful critiquers who own my soul and who I would trust with my first-born. When they assure me, I believe them. But every time I sit down to write, I wonder…can I still do it? I’ve been told that never goes away. That’s why I’m sure writing is just a less threatening way to say “self-flagellation.”

6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

Wake-up. Caffeine. Work out. Wander toward the computer. Do laundry. Think about story. Riddled with guilt, turn on the computer. Take a shower. Get something to eat. Try to remember what I wrote yesterday. Call a friend for sympathy. Call another friend. Pay bills. Remember the car might need an oil change. Check it out. Sad to say, not yet due—did it yesterday. Check FaceBook. Post a few tidbits. Respond to posts. Get sucked in by story on the sex life of earthworms. Search internet for related articles. Can’t understand why Lindsay Lohan keeps popping up. Create file just in case. Check email. Delete query from editor. Hungry again. Need social interaction. Need solace—the pain of writing is so underappreciated. Join friends for happy hour. Come home later than anticipated. Read what some one else wrote. Turn off computer. Sleep.

Seriously, I wake-up, get fully caffeinated, work out, than come home and write. I strive for at least 1500 words a day—that’s harder at the beginning or a story. After about five hours, I can stand no more—I shower and go forage. Then I spend the rest of the day on editing, marketing, and doing mundane things that non-writers do like go to the grocery store and cleaners. Every now and then I fit another person into the mix. Ah, the glamorous life of a writer….

7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Perseverance is the name of the game. Park your butt in the chair and write. When you have something worthy of sending out, send it out. Take rejection as part of the process. Keep knocking on doors—eventually one will open. Go to Writer’s Conferences, not necessarily to learn how to write (you need the basics, but the rest is up to you) but to network. My agent is a woman I met fifteen years ago at the Southwest Writer’s Workshop. Through the years, I kept in touch and, eventually, she changed my life.

8. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

My favorite movie is The Sound of Music. I know, totally hokey, but I wanted to marry Christopher Plummer—of course I was nine at the time, but I wasn’t going to let that stand in the way of true love. I guess I’ve always been a happy ending girl. And I do so love those characters with a bit of backbone and courage.

I also laugh at really bad jokes….okay, at almost any jokes. Without a good belly-laugh at least once a day life isn’t worth living.

And I’ve never understood a world where something so good is called a Ding-Dong.

9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

My publisher bought three of the Lucky books, which, amazingly enough, are completed, turned-in, and accepted. I hate having nothing to do—idle hands and all of that—so I’m working on the fourth Lucky, and noodling on a totally different kind of series. I’m also learning French…that chef I spoke about above, he’s soooo demanding. Did you know there is a book titled, What French Women Know? Me neither. And boy, do they KNOW….

10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

Please visit my website to learn more about me and the books. I’ll be on the Morning show on Fox 21 this Friday the 13th—I’m tempting fate, I know. Then I’ll be signing books at Borders on Briargate on Saturday the 14th at 2 p.m. and at Barnes and Noble by Citadel Mall on Sunday the 15th at 12:30 p.m. Then I’ll be giving a workshop on "Finding Your Own Unique Voice" for Pikes Peak Writers (but its open to anyone) on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts.

I will speak to any group as long as they are interested in my book and understand the phrase “Will work for chocolate.”

There you go, folks. Fire away!


Andrea said...

Great review!

N. R. Williams said...

Sounds like a good read. I so understand about those characters who demand attention. My villain decided one day that I needed to know more. After I wrote the entire chapter I found it disgusting and deleted it. I don't think he ever forgave me.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Msmstry said...

Deborah, I enjoyed meeting Lucky and the Vegas gang. It got me in the mood for our upcoming trip to Tunica, Mississippi! In fact, I recommended it as summer reading in "Meritorious Mysteries."

jenny milchman said...

Reading different authors' processes is so interesting. I think this is excellent advice all around--from accruing words to persevering no matter what. I'd like to hear how your agent went from contact to dream maker!

PS: I loved Christopher Plummer as the Captain, too :)

debcoonts said...

Well, all my comments got eaten by Google...bummer. There were only a couple, I've been driving from Vegas to Colorado Springs and you know how testy the cops get when you text and drive:) thanks for the nice comments. It truly has been a lucky year for me. To answer how my agent went from a contact to a dreamweaver--it was simple a case of the right person in the right place, etc. After two agent rejections--one I should share with the world--I sent the manuscript to my now agent hoping for some reassurance. She sold it in twelve hours. THAT's my kind of reassurance!

Cindy Sample said...

What a fun interview. I love Vegas and your new series sounds terrific and full of wacky characters. Can't wait to check it out.

debcoonts said... quintessentially American. People often ask me what it's like to live there. I tell them it's a lot like Southern California...without the ocean...and with the reality that the cute gal in the hip little tennis outfit who shops at the neighborhood grocery could actually be a guy. But, hey, it keeps life interesting when you run into Rita Rudner at the hair salon...or Carrottop in the meat section... Talk about heaven for a storyteller!

Anonymous said...

I have to read your three books, they sound delicious!

J.M. Breslin

Susan M. Boyer said...

Great interview, Beth! Deborah, sounds like a fun read!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone! I hope my bog readers who live in Colorado Springs will come to one of Deborah's events when she's in town. You'll love meeting her.

Deborah will be checking in a few times today (Friday), so if you read this post a day late and have something to say or ask, please leave a comment!

Beth Groundwater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.