Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Terry Ambrose

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author Terry Ambrose is visiting my blog today. To read his bio and see his photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

The photo above is the cover for his September 23rd release, Photo Finish, the first book in his Trouble in Paradise mystery series. Wilson McKenna’s newest tenant is hot, gives great hugs, and just saw a dead body being thrown from a plane. McKenna’s not one to get involved in other people’s problems, especially those of a woman half his age, but before he knows it, he’s volunteered to track down the plane and its owner. In no time, McKenna has uncovered an island drug ring, pissed off a sociopath, and set himself up as the victim in a beautiful woman’s con that could cost him his life.
Trouble? Oh, yeah. McKenna’s found it. If only trouble didn’t have such great legs.

Below are Terry's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for him, and if you have a question of your own for him, ask it!

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

I loved writing as a kid, but then lost sight of it for many years. At work, I was always the guy who wrote the marketing and training materials, but it wasn't until I was under a lot of stress in my early 40s that I started writing fiction. After working on a truly terrible novel for a few months, I realized how much I'd missed that creative process. At that point, I decided to get serious about writing fiction.

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

Typically, most of my characters begin with a problem. For instance, the protagonist in Photo Finish came into being while we were on Kauai. The locals say that people come to the islands to escape from their past. So, I started thinking about a guy who'd done that, but was mentally trapped by his past mistakes. What would it take for him to escape? How would he find his way back to happiness? From there, it was a matter of falling back to what I'd learned about how people are wired and how they respond to stress.

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

When I was a younger, I was in love with the “Foundation” series by Isaac Asimov. The premise of the series is that the future can be predicted based on the past, but only on a mass scale. In fact, that's the way I see a novel. I can predict where the overall work will go in an outline, but the detailed plan I begin with is going to be prone to errors and deviations and be flat out wrong, at times. In the manuscript I'm currently working on, I introduced a new character, a twelve-year-old girl, as a throwaway. The next thing I knew, my co-protagonist had a whole new set of problems in her life and the girl was in for the long haul.

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?

For me, character is most important. If I don't care about the characters, I won't become as involved in the story. I also learned long ago that systems are totally predictable and will always do what you tell them to do.  People, however, are unpredictable and, to me, most important because they can take a plot in any direction.

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

My biggest challenge, as it is for anyone who is busy, is time. Between running my own business, writing three columns for, and having a novel in progress, I'm constantly swamped. But, when I see writers like Hank Phillippi Ryan, who balances a career as an award-winning journalist and novelist, I'm reminded that this whole juggling act can be done. I'm also recharged when a new idea or scene develops particularly well. That's when I know I'm doing the right thing and want to keep going.

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

My typical workday starts around 5:30 a.m. And it's not unusual for me to still be going until about 6 p.m. However, I'll get breaks in between and may take a few hours off to swim or run errands We also run our own business, so many of those hours I'd love to spend writing get spent elsewhere...clients, projects, etc. Lately, however, I've started turning off the outside world for the first few hours of the day so I can focus on writing and I'm getting so much more done. The funny thing is, until I answered this question, I thought my writing time was far less time than it is. On average, I'd say I log about 25 hours of actual writing per week.

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

It seems that we've lost sight of a critical factor in publishing and that factor is the quality of our work. To me, writing is all about the entertainment. If I'm bombarded by errors in a novel, I forget about being entertained. Some readers don't care if there are errors in a novel. And, based on some of the work I've seen, some writers don't care. Personally, I want to be remembered as a good writer, not someone who churned out a bunch of mediocre stuff. My advice is that aspiring writers should always ask themselves, how do I want to be remembered? The answer to that question might affect how many edits they do, how many early readers they use, and whether they turn out a polished gem or just another rock for the pile.

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.

I'll go with the TV show. My favorite is, without a doubt, Castle. In my opinion, the writers on that show are top notch and casting Nathan Fillion as Castle was one of those magical decision points that ranks up there with choosing Tom Selleck to play Magnum.

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

I'm currently finishing up a sequel to my suspense novel, License to Lie, which will be published by Oak Tree Press in December 2012. The sequel is the second in the “He Said, She Said” series and makes both protagonists realize that sometimes, we'll do anything to escape the pressure around us.

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

I regularly post information on my website about current scams and cons and how to avoid becoming a victim. I try to keep my Facebook author page fun as well as informative and hope readers will stop by. I also do giveaways, so don't be a stranger on Facebook. I'm leading a discussion on the ClubNook forum in November about Photo Finish and would love to do the same for other book clubs and forum groups. I can be contacted through my website or messaged through Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks, Terry! Now, who has a comment or question for him? 


susan furlong-bolliger said...

Interesting interview, Terry! I agree that writing is a great way to cope with stress.

Castle? I'll have to check that out--I've been looking for another good series ever since The Closer ended.

Terry Ambrose said...

Hi Susan, whereas "The Closer" was serious (but took a LOT of liberties) Castle is just plain fun (and takes a LOT of liberties with police work). Thanks for your comment!

Terry Ambrose said...

My Facebook author page is at suspense.writer

Terry Shames said...

Enjoyed this interview very much. The questions were incisive and the answers free-ranging. I rarely read to the end of interviews (time!) but this one kept me going. Look forward to reading the new book!

Terry Odell said...

Hawaii, Asimov, characters. That's my kind of writer!
Terry's Place

Terry Ambrose said...

OMG, THREE Terry's? All with the same name spelling? What did our mothers do, call each other way back when and decide to play a little future-shock joke on their soon-to-be-born babies?

Anyway, Terry S., thanks for reading to the end. I hear you about interviews! And Terry O., the fact that you like Hawaii, Asimov, and characters really does have me concerned about that future-shock joke! :D

And, for the next couple of days, I'll be running a giveaway for an ARC of License to Lie. Visit my Facebook page at suspense.writer, give it a like, then hop on over to my website at to enter.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, folks, and Terry, thanks so much for visiting!

Kathleen Kaska said...

Glad you started writing again, Terry. I didn't start until my 40s, but the time was not write until then. I agree with you about character being more important than plot. At least for me, it is. Good luck with your series. Thanks, Beth, for interviewing Terry. Great questions!

James R. (Jim) Callan said...

Nice interview, Terry. A lot of us didn't start writing until in our 40's - or for some of us, the 50's. But that's okay. We live long enough to get in a good collection of books after that time. Castle? Let's face it, he doesn't have much competition on TV today. So, I guess I'll go along with you on that.
Thanks for sharing with us.