Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Today's Mystery Author Guest: Patricia Smith Wood
As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author Patricia Smith Wood is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, Patricia is running a contest for a free autographed copy of her recent release, The Easter Egg Murder, the cover art for which appears above. Patricia will select the winner tomorrow evening from among those who leave a comment today or tomorrow and will announce the name in a comment on this post.
In the book, Harrie McKinsey and her best friend and business partner Ginger Vaughn discover that some secrets are best left buried when retired Senator Philip Lawrence hires their editing firm to assist him with a book about the famous unsolved 1950 murder of a cocktail waitress that led to the end of illegal casinos in New Mexico. When the Albuquerque newspaper announces that Senator Lawrence is writing the book, one person with a connection to the case is murdered and another narrowly escapes death. Despite the best efforts of Ginger’s husband and an FBI agent Harrie finds infuriatingly attractive, the energetic pair cannot resist trying to discover who is so anxious to destroy the book, the senator and his big secret. But will their proficiency and pluck be up to the challenge when they land in a dark house with a cold, calculating killer who has nothing else to lose?
Sounds like an entertaining read! Below are Patricia's answers to my interview questions.
1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?
I couldn’t wait to learn how to read. I read the comics in the newspapers (with a lot of help from the adults in my life) when I was five years old. By the time I started reading “real” books without pictures when I was eight, I was entranced with the stories and “where they came from.” My mother was an avid reader and encouraged me to become one. When I was nine, I wrote a play that my teacher decided could be performed for the class. That went over so well we were asked to do another performance for the entire school. I was hooked with the idea of creating a story from then on.
2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
I get to know my characters as they are coming to life on the page. I rarely know exactly what they will be like and what they will say until they tell me. That’s both exhilarating and terrifying. If I try too hard to “invent” dialogue, it usually has to be rewritten. It turns out the characters, when they come to life, almost always remind me of someone or some trait I’ve witnessed in a person I’ve known. Sometimes that person is me, and it can be unsettling.
3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
I’m definitely a “panster.” In fact the biggest obstacle to my actually getting started writing a book was thinking I HAD to outline. I tried it over and over, and I just froze up. Either that or I came away with pure dreck. When I went to a talk given by Tony Hillerman and heard him say he never outlined, I felt like going up and hugging the man.
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?
I feel strongly that a murder mystery is equally dependent on plot and characters. I also believe it’s important to have a couple of sub-plots going along to keep things moving. As the plot develops, my characters are set free to do their thing, and that’s when I have the most fun.
5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer, and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
For years I think the biggest challenge I had was feeling a lack of confidence. I had an inflated idea about how “real” writers always knew what they were doing and how to do it. It took joining some writers groups and actually getting to know writers to make me see they have the same insecurities I had, but they’d learned to deal with them and get on with the writing. That still keeps me going---knowing that it’s just as hard for them as it is for me.
6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
I don’t have a typical workday as this point. Maybe someday that will come, but right now, I write when I can. For many years I owned a business that took up much of my time. I got in the habit of writing when I got a block of time I could call my own. Even though I’m retired now, I still grab time when I can get it, and then I might write for five or six hours.
7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
The most important thing is to just keep writing. Figure out if it’s mystery, romance, thriller, or some other genre you like writing and keep doing it. Next, get into a good writers critique group. It’s preferable they understand your genre and can give you honest suggestions and encouragement. Find your own voice and perfect it. Don’t try to be some other writer.
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 am deeply influenced by a good television drama. I pick TV over movies for this because of the timing and sequencing they must attain. When I write, I do it in scenes that I’m watching in my head as it goes down on the paper. At the end of each scene (at least in a mystery) as they go to commercial, they leave you with a zinger of some sort. They want you to stick around and come back after the commercial. In a book, you strive to keep them going from one chapter to the next because you want them to feel they can’t wait to find out what that zinger was all about. And my favorite TV drama is NCIS.
9. What are you working on now, and what are your future writing plans?
I’m working on the second book in the series, Murder for Breakfast. I’m planning to keep this series going as long as I can think up interesting situations for Harrie and Ginger to get themselves into and out of.
10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?
The readers might like to know my book, The Easter Egg Murder, is loosely based on the real-life unsolved murder of Cricket Coogler in Las Cruces, NM in 1949. In my telling, the crime occurs in 1950 and the rest of the story takes place in the year 2000 when the murderer is finally revealed. To read more about it come by my website. And, visit my blog. There I talk about adventures in writing and anything else that strikes my fancy. I’m delighted to speak to groups who want to know about writing and mysteries.
Thanks, Patricia. Now, who has a comment or question for Patricia Smith Wood? Good luck in the contest!