Wednesday, August 07, 2013
Today's Mystery/Thriller Author Guest: L. A. Starks
As promised yesterday, fellow mystery/thriller author L. A. Starks is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, L. A. is running a contest for a free autographed copy of the first book in her Lynn Dayton series, 13 Days: The Pythagoras Conspiracy, the cover art for which appears above. L. A. 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, energy executive Lynn Dayton thinks her challenge is fixing the troubled Houston refinery her company just bought. But she discovers she must save it, and hundreds of people in nearby Ship Channel plants, from havoc and deaths directed by a French saboteur. Simultaneously, she fights off threats to her own life. As Lynn deals with chemical leaks, disloyal employees, a new season of hurricanes, and mounting casualties, corrupted idealist Robert Guillard plans to manipulate her through her vulnerable sister. But Robert underestimates his prey.
Sounds like an exciting read! Below are L. A.'s answers to my interview questions.
1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?
Reading inspired me to start writing. Until I graduated from college I weighed the possibility of creative or free-lance writing. However, with the need to make a living, I decided on finance and engineering. Those sound like opposites of fiction writing but they have in common with it the discipline of precision. And, engineering is a traditional career for both women and men in the Southwest, where I grew up.
Later I started writing non-fiction articles on energy and investing. About ten years ago, I was finally ready to write a full-length fiction manuscript. When I got to 60,000 words, I thought, “I’ve almost written a book.” Au contraire. How little I knew.
2. What tools and processes do you use to get to know your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
I research names and cultural identities. For key characters, I construct biographies—life events and motivations that make them who they are. I tend to write in a lot of characters, so describing them memorably in just a few words is a constant challenge.
3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or write “by the seat of your pants?”
I wrote my first book the same way movies are shot—scenes out of sequence—as they occurred to me. While this helped me finish, I had a huge editing job to remove tangents and make the plot cohesive. For the second book, I outlined. Of course characters don’t always behave the way one plans. I am outlining the third book but it’s unlikely the finished book will exactly follow the initial outline.
4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a thriller and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?
While I am tempted to equivocate, a thriller without a plot might be literary fiction but it is not a thriller. Plot truly comes first. As a reader, I like well-drawn characters, global themes, and conflicts that tell us about people and culture. (One of my favorite non-fiction examples is Ghetto at the Center of the World, about Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong.) I write what I like to read.
5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
My second book is dedicated to the memory of my younger sister, who died from virulent, hard-to-detect breast cancer that metastasized. I stopped writing for about two years to spend time with her. After her death, it was difficult to resume writing. I pushed through completion precisely because I’d promised myself this was her book. In the first book in the series, 13 Days: The Pythagoras Conspiracy, there was one character my sister felt deserved a different fate. Naturally, I took that into account when I wrote Strike Price.
6. What else do you do?
My background is in the energy business, and I continue to write, teach, and consult on energy economics and investing via my Starks Energy Economics website.
7. What advice do you have to offer for an aspiring author?
First, read. Second, write your book. Third, find critique partners, then rewrite your book as many times as you can stand. (Indeed, I want to highlight suspense novels by my critique partners—The Grave on Peckerwood Hill by Gary Vineyard and Patriot’s Blood by Richard Holcroft.) After peer editing, get a professional edit and/or be responsive to your publisher’s editor’s comments. Fourth, listen when Beth talks about Goodreads.
8. Do you have advice for authors about marketing?
All authors are faced with doing more marketing than ever before. Whether via one’s publisher or by free-lance, I recommend working with a publicist, even if on a limited budget. A good publicist has a reach and a set of skills that most of us, as authors, have not had the opportunity to develop while we’ve been writing books and handling our day jobs.
9. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet.
Because of an unexpected tragedy, the original publisher of Strike Price, a 200-author company called L and L Dreamspell, was forced to close a few weeks ago. Dreamspell was rigorously selective, yet author-friendly. I am talking to another company about publishing new e-book editions of both 13 Days: The Pythagoras Conspiracy and Strike Price, the first and second books in the Lynn Dayton series, and I am following up on new print editions of Strike Price. The first edition includes use of authentic Cherokee syllabary.
Dreamspell’s circumstances were incredibly unfortunate. Linda Houle’s and Lisa Smith’s company published over three hundred excellent books, an enduring legacy.
10. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I am working on new releases of my current books as described above and on the third Lynn Dayton thriller, title to be revealed later. My future plans are to continue writing and marketing the series. On the nonfiction side, I will be writing at Starks Energy Economics about, well, energy economics.
11. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?
Please look me up also on Goodreads. I invite you to look at the print edition of my first book, 13 Days: The Pythagoras Conspiracy, my giveaway, available from independent bookstores like Brace Books and other Indiebound stores, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Hastings, Books A Million, etc. Also, please visit my website. I talk to book clubs in person in the Southwest or when traveling, with current events ranging from Oklahoma to Texas to California.
Thanks, L. A.! Now, who has a comment or question for L.A. Starks? Good luck in the contest!