Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Today's Mystery Author Guest: Ellen Byerrum
As promised yesterday, fellow Colorado mystery author Ellen Byerrum is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, Ellen is running a contest for a free autographed copy of Veiled Revenge and will choose the winner from among those who leave a comment!
The photo above is the cover for Ellen's February 5th release, Veiled Revenge, the ninth book in her Crime of Fashion mystery series. A haunted Russian shawl is featured in the book: a dark family legend come to life—and stalking the living? Washington fashion reporter Lacey Smithsonian has always believed clothes can indeed be magical, but she’s never thought they could carry a curse. Until now. Lacey’s stylist and friend, Stella, is finally getting married (with a lot of luck, and a little help from her friends). Lacey's fellow bridesmaid (and psychic fortune-teller) Marie Largesse arrives at Stella's bridesmaids' bachelorette bash wearing a stunning Russian shawl. A shawl, Marie warns, that can either bless or curse the wearer. When a party crasher mocks the shawl and is found dead the next morning, Stella and her guests fear the ancient curse of the Killer Shawl has been unleashed. Cars crash, guns blaze, and puzzles dwell within puzzles. Lacey will need all her famous “Extra-Fashionary Perception” to stop a shadowy villain, one who vows that nobody at this wedding will live happily ever after.
Extra Fashionary Perception! I love it! This looks like such a fun read. Below are Ellen's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for her, and if you have a question of your own for her, ask it!
1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?
It seems I always wanted to be a writer and was always a voracious reader. I studied journalism in college, but I also started writing plays in my senior year. Plays were much more fun than journalism exercises but certainly not profitable. Still I have had several produced and published under my pen name Eliot Byerrum. (A Christmas Cactus and Gumshoe Rendezvous are available from Samuel French, Inc.) Getting to the point of writing novels took a while. I always knew I wanted to write them, but I felt I needed some seasoning and experience before I produced a book. The first one, Killer Hair, was published in 2003.
Why Lacey Smithsonian and crimes of fashion? I remember distinctly why I came up with Lacey. There were so many books that featured female sleuths who were rough and tough and smart and always got their man (or woman). But they only wore jeans and t-shirts pulled out from under the bed, and there was always a point where they explained how fashion just frightened them. Oooh, scary. It drove me crazy, and so I wanted a great female sleuth who could also dress herself without apology. However, my choice is a mixed blessing and it can be challenging to write about clothes and style in every book. Some readers reject them out of hand with the explanation, “I never read about fashion,” or something to that effect. Nevertheless, the clothes we wear tell stories about us, and that’s the way I use them in the books. They aren’t about Fashion with a capital F.
2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
Oh dear. I know there are writers who create character bibles and outline their entire lives, they know who doesn’t like spinach, but I am not one of them. However, I have my own quirks. I can’t write a character without a name. The name always gives me a picture of the person I want to describe. A name can suggest a nationality or a geographic area. It can be harsh or soft. Boring or evocative. In one of my plays, I decided Jericho Starland was better than Craig Golden. Once I changed the character’s name, a whole new back story and way of speech were suggested.
From my playwriting experience, I try very hard to give all the major players their own voice, so they can’t be confused with another character. I really want to be able to hear them and see them through what they say and what they do. Oh yes, and how they dress.
3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
My publisher requires an outline for my books, so I must submit one as part of the process. Sometimes they are helpful, but there is always the danger of expending too much energy on the outline and being exhausted by the time I write the book, and losing interest. Outlining definitely requires a balance when I write them. When I write, I love the moments when something occurs to me out of the blue, which is perfect for the book and leads me into completely different story territory and makes it deeper and richer. I can’t foresee that in an outline.
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?
Characters inform the plot and manipulate the plot, so I’m a character writer. Hopefully the plot and characters are so entwined that you could hardly pull them apart. But plot mechanics without a motivated character pulling the strings are simply drudgery for me. Then it simply becomes moving your people around on a chessboard.
I’d like to say you can’t have plot without character and character without plot, but that’s not true. I’ve read heavily plotted works with paper thin characters and character studies where nothing at all happens, which some might call literature. But I’m not highbrow enough to enjoy that. In my book, something has to happen.
5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
With all the distractions of marketing and publicity and the Internet, I find focusing on the writing is difficult, and finding the quietude for writing remains a constant challenge. I envy writers in the past who never had to check their e-mail and Facebook updates, who weren’t distracted by television. (Of course they didn’t have spell check or a cut-and-paste function on a computer.) Studies suggest we have lost our ability to concentrate. . .and um, what was I saying? Motivation? Heaven only knows. I just keep going in spite of what might be sensible.
6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
I wish there was a typical workday, but there really isn’t. However, when I was working a full-time job, I would head toward a bookstore, coffee shop, or library where I would write, by hand, for an hour or two. Then I’d be able to key it in and revise later. Now, in the beginning stages of a project, I still head to the coffee shop or library (where have all the bookstores gone?) to write. I couldn’t say how many hours a week I write. It can vary from a couple hours a day to eight or ten when I’m under deadline. And of course, rewriting and editing are part of the equation. There are days that I am only editing and inserting corrections and complaining how hard it all is. In any day, I generally need some kind of physical activity, mostly walking, to keep the ideas coming.
7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
I’m not exactly the best go-to person for the aspiring author. Writing takes a lot of work, dedication, pigheadedness, and Butt Glue. There are no shortcuts, really, although some people think you’ll succeed if you only know the right people. All you need is to do is to be connected and bingo, bango, you’re a bestseller! Maybe it works for some people, but not for me. A friend once commented on my published books: “Look at all you’ve done and you don’t even know anyone.” And I didn’t go to Yale either. So take heart, you don’t have to know anyone or go to Yale necessarily. It might help, it might not. You have to follow the beat of your own drummer and ignore what all your personal critics say.
Just so you know, I have personally discouraged a number of people who wanted to write. Not by anything I said, oddly enough. By example. At least three coworkers in the reporting business told me that after watching me juggle the job, the writing, the varied marketing duties, and show up every day an exhausted wretch, they decided writing a book was not for them. It was too hard: not the writing, but all the rest of it. So I hope that works in my favor when I stand at the Pearly Gates.
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.
When I was in college, I worked at J.C. Penney in the Housewares Department. When the department was expanded to include cake decorating supplies, we all had to take a Wilton Cake Decorating Course. Not only do I have a degree in journalism from a university that has scuttled and downgraded the program, I have a cake decorating diploma! I can make a frosting rose on a pastry nail. I forgot everything else. It was a long time ago.
9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
My next Lacey Smithsonian Crime of Fashion is being outlined right now. I have a title I love, but don’t want to divulge just yet. And I am bound and determined to finish a thriller I started a few years ago. I hope to have it finished in a couple of months.
Also, I recently published a middle grade/YA mystery novella, The Children Didn’t See Anything. It is available on Amazon, but will eventually be available for the Nook and other platforms.
10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?
If you want more information about me or my books, please check out my website. I am also on Facebook and Twitter and Live Journal and Goodreads.
Thanks, Ellen! Now, who has a comment or question for her? Good luck in the contest!