Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Cathi Stoler

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author Cathi Stoler is visiting my blog today, with answers to my interview questions. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, Cathi is running a contest for a free autographed copy of the second mystery in her Helen and Laurel New York Mystery series, Keeping Secrets. Cathi 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, Laurel Imperiole, a reporter for New York’s Women Now magazine, has just received a series of emails from Anne Ellsworth, a young woman in fear for her life. Anne has discovered that her fiancĂ© has several aliases and is terrified of what he will do if he finds out. Laurel, who empathizes with Anne, sees an opportunity to rescue her and write a story on hidden identities that will help her readers avoid similar predicaments. Helen McCorkendale, a private eye and close friend, agrees to investigate both Anne’s fiancĂ©, David, and Laurel’s banker boyfriend, Matt. Laurel had planned to use Matt as the good guy in the story—the one with nothing to hide—but Anne’s situation and Matt’s sudden strange behavior are making her paranoid. Soon Helen and Laurel find that they have stirred up a hornet’s nest buzzing with vengeful Mafiosi, greedy bankers, and dirty politicians. In desperation they turn to Aaron Gerrard, Laurel’s ex-boyfriend and head of New York’s Identity Theft Squad, for advice. Aaron, who has never forgiven Laurel for “betraying” him by concealing information important to one of his cases, reluctantly agrees to help. The women discover that everything is connected, and everyone has something to hide. Will the secrets Laurel and Helen disclose keep them alive or seal their fates?

Sounds like an exciting read to me! Below are Cathi's answers to my interview questions.

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

I’ve loved reading since I was a little girl, especially mystery and spy stories. Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys were among my favorites. Then when I was a little older, the James Bond books. Oh, that Ian Fleming! Since I wasn’t going to be a detective or a spy—most Bronx girls didn’t go that route—I turned my overactive imagination to advertising copywriting, which can be fiction of a different sort. Then, about six years ago, I finally decided to try writing a novel—a mystery of course—and wrote my first in the series, Telling Lies.

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

My main characters, Laurel Imperiole and Helen McCorkendale are in Telling Lies, Keeping Secrets and the upcoming The Hard Way. Creating them was a very visual process for me.

I like to picture how my characters will look, how they will speak and behave in various situations and how they interact with each other before I write it down. I’ve occasionally found myself walking down the street having conversations with them to work out their dialog, which probably makes me look like just another crazy New Yorker.

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

I pretty much write by the seat of my pants. I have an idea of where I want the story to go and head in that direction. As I’m working, situations might occur to me that I’d like to include and I write them down in a sort of outline format. Later, I’ll go back and make sure the scenes are arranged in a way that makes sense and that nothing important is missing from the story.

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?

This is a tricky question. There’s no doubt that both are important.  For me, I’d say it’s my characters. The way they behave helps inform the plot. I might come up with some bit of action for Helen, for example, such as working an undercover stakeout and observing something she didn’t expect, as she does in Keeping Secrets, which can lead to a new plot twist.

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

Finding the time to write is definitely my biggest challenge. I still have a full time job writing advertising web and catalog copy, so my novel and story writing has to be done in the evenings and on weekends. Add to that the time we writers need to spend promoting our books, writing blog posts, etc. and it’s really hard to fit it all in. But, I love what I do and seeing my work in print or online makes it all worthwhile.

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

As I mentioned, I have a full time job, so I try and write every night for a few hours and part of the weekend. It just doesn’t always work out that way, and some weeks I don’t write at all or just have very limited time.

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

Don’t give up! If you really want to write, keep at it. Write about things that make you happy. It’s hard to deal with rejection and not take it personally, but yours is the one opinion that matters. If you think you can do it, you will. Just don’t give up!

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 a child and my class had to sing in the choir at mass, I was told I was tone-deaf and that I should just ‘mouth’ the words. So, I was always self-conscious about singing. When I was in my thirties, I decided to take singing lessons with a friend who was singer and piano player. We discovered I was not tone deaf. I just really needed to listen to the music. It was great, and I had a wonderful time learning to sing.

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

We’re getting ready to release book three in the Laurel and Helen New York Mystery series, The Hard Way. It takes place in New York and Las Vegas, where Helen is helping an old friend investigate a mysterious murder at his new casino and resort. The story revolves around the International diamond business.

I’m also working on the first book a new series, Bar None, A Murder On The Rocks Mystery, which features Jude Dillane, a young woman who owns a bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She finds the body of a murdered man in her landlord’s apartment and helps him find the killer. 

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

I hope you’ll visit me at my website and check out Women of Mystery, where I blog. You can find Keeping Secrets on along with Telling Lies and my novella, Nick of Time. All are also available through booksellers everywhere.

Please let me know what you think of my work. I’d love to speak at your book club or reading group. Thanks for reading!

Thanks, Cathi! Now, who has a comment or question for Cathi Stoler? Good luck in the contest!


Anonymous said...

Truly sounds like an interesting read - thanks for wonderful opportunity!

E. B. Davis said...

I'm not really a New York City person, but your characters and plot sound like good reads. I admire anyone who works full time and has not one, but two series! You must be very busy and tired. What do you do for fun?

Cathi Stoler said...

Thank you for your comments.
I am very busy but I do make time for fun. I go to the gym, movies and the theater. And, I love to read.


Sandra de Helen said...

I'm eager to read your series, as I also have two women protagonists: Shirley Combs and Dr. Mary Watson. It sounds like we were influenced by some of the same books!

Michael Murphy said...

Loved the interview and will definitely check out the book.

Cathi Stoler said...

Sandra, I'll have to look for your books. Is dr. Mary Watson the spouse of John Watson?

Michael, Thanks so much.


Heidiwriter said...

Cathy, your books sound great. I like that you develop your character as well as the plot, and I love that you overcame criticism and learned to sing! That's wonderful!

Kaye Killgore said...

Great interview, It sounds like a very interesting read.

cathi stoler said...

Thanks, Heidi.
I'm sure you still wouldn't want to hear me sing.


Stephen L. Brayton said...

I've never known a female to like the Hardy Boys. And Bond is king, baby! I am sort of like you in that I have to go back and make sure scenes are in the right order and make sure nothing is missing. I do try to outline as much as I can. Cool interview!

Cathi Stoler said...

Thanks, Stephen.
I still love the James Bond movies and have been watching The Man Who Would Be Bond mini series. Fleming had quite the life.

Beth Groundwater said...

I'm posting the following for Susan Frank from Facebook:
"Left a comment but it may be out there in limbo somewhere. I have often wondered how your cover artwork gets chosen. Do you create it? Suggest it?"

cathi Stoler said...

I'm fortunate in that I've been able to suggest the art work for my covers and my publisher has pretty much followed what I've asked for.

Cathi Stoler said...

Michael Murphy,
Congratulations! You are the winner of a copy of Keeping Secrets. Let me know if you'd prefer an ebook or paperback.
You can email me your info at:

Cathi Stoler

Kaye Killgore said...

This sounds like a good series.

Kaye Killgore said...

Oops, I entered twice. Just count one please.