Thursday, May 13, 2010

My mystery author guest: Lila Dare

As promised yesterday, mystery author Lila Dare is visiting my blog today to answer interview questions. Above is a cover photo of Tressed to Kill, the first book in her Southern Beauty Shop Mystery series. St. Elizabeth, Georgia, offers charm, Southern hospitality, and, most recently, murder. Now, hairdresser Grace Terhune is ready to crack this case before things get snarled beyond repair . . .

Everyone at Violetta’s Salon has their scissors at the ready for the influx of St. Elizabeth’s high society ladies. Of all the snobs getting their hair done for the town meeting, the worst is Constance DuBois, a woman heartless enough to ruin people’s livelihoods on a whim. After a tinting accident leaves her hair orange-striped, Constance vows she’ll close down Violetta’s. Hours after the threat, Grace and her mom Violetta find Constance dead and some—including the police—believe the mother-daughter duo did her in. With the help of the women who work at Violetta’s, Grace sets out to clear their name and lands in trouble clear up to her perfectly shaped eyebrows.

See what Lila has to say in response to my questions below, and feel free to ask her additional questions in the comments.

Interview with Lila Dare:

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

I switch it up with different books and different characters. I start with an idea of the character and nail down the physical description quickly. Then, I use some of the lists/exercises in Nancy Kress’s book, Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint, to flesh out my main characters. This time, I’m also using an article from a recent Writer’s Digest about how characters perceive things. Interesting stuff. I keep an on-line file about the recurring characters in my books because I find that I forget basics like eye color and height from book to book.

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

I used to outline, but now I’m a seat-of-your-pantser. I find making it up as I go along allows me to be more creative, frees ideas that would get stifled if I was just writing to get from outline Point A to Point B. That said, I do go back during the revision process and plant clues and red herrings where appropriate. The down side to writing spontaneously is that sometimes you end up with chapters of material that don’t really fit by the end, so you have to be willing to axe them (always painful).

3. 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?

Okay, I’m going to wuss out and say “both.” Really, in a mystery especially, both plot and characterization must be strong. If the plot is weak, or obvious, or relies on coincidence or a deus ex machina for a solution, mystery readers will toss the book at the wall and curse your name. (Unless it’s a library book, in which case they’ll skip the tossing and go straight to the cursing.) Mystery readers are sophisticated; they want the plot to challenge them.

On the other hand, unless the characters are fully realized and interesting, no one cares about the outcome (true for almost any genre). This is especially true for series mysteries where readers will hang with a character for years over the course of many books. Think of how Elizabeth George’s Detective Linley and his friends and co-workers have changed over the years. Or Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and company. V.I. Warshawski. Dave Robicheaux. I could go on. It’s because these characters are real people to us, and the cases they solve complex and interesting, that we tune back in time and time again.

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

Different sorts of challenges pop up at different stages of a writing career. Before I had a contract, rejections were the biggest challenge. I have 80+ rejections (mostly from agents) in a file drawer and in my email. I used to skip down to the mailbox every day, hoping for a letter from an agent in response to my query. Too often, as we all know, they were rejections. Rejections of the whole manuscript brought tears and the desire to bury myself in a pint of Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream. Somehow, email rejections are easier. Maybe it’s because you don’t build up that anticipation walking down to the mailbox . . .

Now that I have contracts for several books, the challenge is balancing writing and promotion. (I wish I had something unusual and interesting to say here, like “My biggest challenge is choosing which movie rights offer to accept,” but I’m sticking with the truth.) I have two books coming out this year--Tressed to Kill from Berkley in May (writing as Lila Dare) and Swift Justice from St. Martin’s Minotaur in October (as Laura DiSilverio)--and promoting them at the same time I’m writing the next installments is cutting into my gym time . . . and my Dancing with the Stars time . . . and my lunching with friends and shopping with my mom time. I make sure the writing comes first.

I coped with the rejections by always striving to get better, by taking classes, reading craft books, and revising, revising, revising. I also took joy in the small successes—a rejection addressed with my name instead of “Worthless Author We Wouldn’t Represent If Hell Froze Over,” a line or two of praise or criticism. I cope with the current challenges by setting priorities and trying to let go of it all when I’m relaxing with my family. What inspires me is the writing itself and the gratitude I feel at being able to write for a living. (Okay, it would be a pretty meager living if I didn’t have my military retirement to fall back on.) Deadlines are pretty inspirational, too!

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

For some reason, it’s fascinating to read about other writers’ processes, isn’t it? I love to read about people who write from midnight to four, or who draft a book in three weeks by writing non-stop in a mountain cabin. My process is a bit more prosaic. A typical workday for me starts when I wake my daughters for school at 6:30. I check my emails and try to get business stuff out of the way while they dress and eat. Then I walk them to school, make a cup of tea when I get back, and sit my fanny down in front of the computer. I write 2,000 words a day when I’m drafting a book, which usually takes until about noon or one. Then I work out (okay, I lunch with friends occasionally) and come home to take care of promotional stuff like booking signings, writing blog posts, ordering bookmarks, and the like. I quit for the day when the girls get home from school.

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

Write what you love, what you’re passionate about, and worry about categorizing it later. Don’t try to write for the latest trend (be it zombies or bio warfare) because the trend will undoubtedly be over by the time you can get a book written and published. Treat your writing like a job: Set goals (number of words per day, pages per week, whatever works for you and your schedule), take classes and/or submit your work to a critique group, read widely, and reward yourself for the small successes along the way.

7. 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 appeared on Jeopardy! last year. I racked up $8,000, but that was only good enough for third place. (Only the champ gets to keep the money s/he makes.) You’ve got to be really fast on the buzzer!

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

Right now I’m drafting Die Buying, the first in my Mall Cop series due from Berkley in 2011 (summer). It’s a lot of fun—loads of humor—and features a woman protagonist, EJ Ferris, who used to be an Air Force cop but who took a sniper bullet through the knee in Afghanistan and was medically retired. When the series starts, she wants to be a “real” cop, but can’t pass the physicals because of her knee. So she thinks of the mall security work as a temporary thing. But then animal activists “liberate” all the reptiles at the Herpetology Hut and a body turns up in a display window . . .

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

Find me on the web at Laura DiSilverio or Lila Dare. You can find me on Facebook under both those names, too. I’m happy to talk to book clubs, library groups, or pretty much anyone else interested in writing (and my books in particular)!

Okay, readers, fire away! And if someone doesn't ask Lila/Laura about her Jeopardy! appearance, how she got on the show, what kinds of questions she had, etc., then I will.


Mason Canyon said...

No questions, just wanted to say enjoyed the interview and look forward to checking out Lila's book. Love a cozy mystery.

Thoughts in Progress

Unknown said...

You do a really lovely interview. I love the cover of her book. She has some really great advice for writers and that's cool that she's been on Jeopardy.


Lila Dare said...

Mason--Please let me know what you think after you've read TRESSED TO KILL. I hope you have as much fun writing it as I had reading it.

Clarissa--I love the cover, too! I'm so grateful to the artists at Berkley because covers are soooo important.

Lila Dare said...

Oops. Obviously I got writing and reading mixed up in my reply to Mason. No caffeine yet. There should be a law requiring people to have caffeine before using email or the internet.

Dru said...

Hi Lila!

you were on Jeopardy? How cool is that.

I just finished Tressed To Kill and I love, love, loved it.

It sounds like you have 3 series that you're working on. Is there a second book coming for Grace and her friends?

I've already put the other two books you mentioned in my book database.

I'm going to check out your Laura site to get more info on the Swift Justice book.

--Dru Ann

Lila Dare said...

Hi Dru--I'm thrilled that you enjoyed Tressed to Kill. The second in the series, Polished Off, comes out next Feb, I believe. The third one is written--A Deadly Shade--and should be out late in 2011. I'm in the process of updating my Laura DiSilverio website, but you can read the first chapter of Swift Justice there. Check out the cover on Amazon or B&N where they're taking pre-orders.

Janet said...

Happy coincidence - Tressed to Kill is at the top of my TBR. I should be starting it later today with great anticipation.

Lila Dare said...


Thanks for commenting. Like you, I "lurk" on blogs more often than I comment. Now that you've broken the ice, maybe you'll choose to join more discussions.

Beth Groundwater said...

Okay, Lila/Laura,
Time to spill the beans on your Jeopardy! stint. How did you get on the show, how did you prepare, what kinds of questions did you have to answer, etc.? Was preparing for your appearance like conducting research for a book or preparing for promotion appearances?

Patricia Stoltey said...

Excellent interview, ladies. I'm really looking forward to reading "Tressed to Kill."

Beth Groundwater said...

Comments from Facebook:

"Just picked this up at the library, cant wait to start it!"
- Tess

"What a character! And...hmmm... maybe I'll get my hair cut like hers. Looks easy to take care of."
- Jackie

Lila Dare said...

Ah, Jeopardy. To get on the show you take an on-line test that is offered once a year. If you score high enough (and they don't let you know what "high enough" is), you get invited for an audition. I went to LA for my audition. There, you take a written test of 50 questions (to make sure you weren't cheating during the on-line test, I guess) and if you score high enough on that, you play a mock game using the buzzer and chatting with an Alex Trebek stand-in.

I prepared by brushing up on my Shakespeare, presidents and capitals (because those are some of the most statistically likely categories), thereby ensuring I didn't get any of them. I had categories like "Vampires" and "Special Olympics." This was more than a year ago now (you tape the show about 3-4 months before it airs) and I truly don't remember what the rest of them were. Alex and the whole staff were simply lovely and we (my hubby and girls went with me) had a great time. Give it a try!

Lila Dare said...

Tess--Thanks for planning to read my book. It's hard to get through one's whole TBR pile, isn't it.

Jackie--Yep, it's easy to take care of. Give it a try.

Beth--Thanks for having me on your blog today. It was good fun.

E. B. Davis said...

Tressed to Kill seems like my kind of book, so I searched my library and sure enough, they have it. I'm second on the list to read it, which means that next summer, I'll buy the next one for my beach read. Keep them coming.
E. B. Davis

Linda R said...

I finished Tressed to Kill a few days ago, and found it absolutely delightful! The characters jumped off the page, and the plot had some wonderful twists and turns. Can't wait for the next in the series! Great job, Lila ~