Thursday, October 20, 2011

Today's Colorado Author Guest: Terry Odell

As promised yesterday, fellow Colorado author Terry Odell is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Above is the cover photo for Finding Sarah, the first book in her Pine Hills Police series. Terry recently regained the rights to the books in this series and republished them as ebooks after updating them.

Here's a short blurb for the book. Being robbed at gunpoint wasn’t part of Sarah Tucker’s business plan. Neither was falling in love with the detective who arrived to solve the case. For police detective Randy Detweiler, a routine robbery investigation turns into the biggest challenge of his career when he falls in love with the victim and ends up having to save more than her business.

Below are Terry's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for Terry, 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?

Inspiration? I ran out of room on my walls for needlepoint. I'm not one of those who wrote her first book in crayon. I was a card-carrying AARP member before I started writing, and it was more of a whim. You can find the whole story on my website. Look for "How I Became a Write By Mistake" on my homepage.

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

I follow Deb Dixon's GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) method. I need to know what my characters want, why they want it, and what I can throw in their paths. For example, in FINDING SARAH, I created a cop who saw his job in black and white. I needed to know how far I could push him before he'd cross the line into shades of gray. In addition, because he became a cop because he wanted to help people, the heroine was a woman who wanted nothing more than to exert her independence, no matter what it took.

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

I'm a pantser, or perhaps, more accurately, a "plantser" because I do plan things out. Just not too far in advance. I use an "idea board" to brainstorm my plots, and a "tracking board" to keep me on the right path. I've got a description of my methods on my website—look for "Plotting for Non-Plotters."

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery or romantic suspense novel and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

I'm character driven. Also, most of my books are categorized as romantic suspense, not murder mysteries. I've managed to have 7 books published, most of which don't center around a murder. Hidden Fire, the sequel to Finding Sarah, is one of the few that might be considered a classic murder mystery. Realistically, homicides in small towns don't happen the way they did on Murder She Wrote, and there are plenty of other monkey wrenches to throw into the lives of my characters. I disagree that a "mystery" automatically assumes a murder, but that's a topic for another day.

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

Traditional publishers had very narrow ranges of what makes a viable book. Since I write what I want, and not necessarily what traditional publishers are looking for, getting someone to publish my books is the biggest challenge.

Although I consider my books to be 'Mysteries with Relationships", given the publishing definitions, they're called Romantic Suspense. However, I'm definitely a mystery lover, NOT a suspense lover. There's a basic difference in the two sub-genres, and it's a matter of preference, not right/wrong or good/bad. Plus in romantic suspense, you also have to resolve a hero/heroine relationship in one book, not across a series, the way you can in a mystery series. I did break the rules when I wrote a sequel to Finding Sarah. Hidden Fire actually follows the same hero and heroine in another mystery.

Now, the rapid changes in the world of publishing make it possible for someone like me to take the rights back to my earlier books and make them available to readers who enjoy reading books that stray from the narrower confines of traditional publishers. And, I can continue to write what I want, knowing there's a market for them.

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

Read. Write. Read. Read. Write, Write, and read some more. Writing should be as necessary as breathing. Barf it up first, fix it later. Get the words on the page. You can't fix a blank page.

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.

When I was at Ralph Waldo Emerson Jr. High, all 7th graders had to write an essay about the school's namesake. There was a prize (of which I was totally unaware) and I was summoned to the auditorium for the annual award ceremony to receive my five silver dollars. (Given that the award assembly was for graduating 9th graders, I was totally out of place.) However, that really didn't inspire me to become a writer. It was an essay, nothing more than one more homework assignment.

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

I've got a straight mystery with my editor, and I'm looking forward to publishing something outside of the romantic suspense world. I'm also writing another romantic suspense in my Pine Hills Police series—this one featuring new protagonists, but with many of the same characters from the first two books. I'm also considering putting together a few more short mystery stories featuring James T. Kirkland, a character who appears in a short story anthology, Deception, published by Highland Press. And of course, the boys from the covert side of Blackthorne, Inc. are always clamoring for their turn as heroes of another book.

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

You can find me at my website. I have a new quarterly newsletter, and I hope you'll sign up for my mailing list. I also have a blog, Terry's Place, and I hope you'll follow me there. Keep an eye on the Deals and Steals tab—you'll never know what you might find.

Thanks, Terry! Now, who has a comment or question for her?


Anonymous said...

Great interview Beth! I met Terry a year ago at ROMCON and she's the BEST! She's a wealth of information for new writers like me!

Terry Odell said...

Tom, thanks! And your forensics blog is a must-read for anyone writing anything remotely touching upon crime. If you haven't found Tom's forensics4fiction blog yet, you really need to get over there.

(No money was exchanged in the posting of these comments.)

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Deborah Sharp said...

Lots of good advice in here. The the thing that struck me, though, as someone who knows Terry, is she was a card-carrying AARP'er by the time she began writing. I've seen Terry, and she doesn't even look like she qualifies for AARP now!

Terry Odell said...

Deborah: thanks. I owe it to good genes and an excellent colorist.

And I think having all those pre-writing life experiences helped me in my writing.

(I repeat, no money was exchanged in the posting of these comments.)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Nice interview, Terry and Beth. I'm going to tweet this post because it's full of good advice for writers at all levels.

Terry Odell said...

Patricia, thanks for the tweet.

(And I repeat ... no money has changed hands)

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for the comments, folks! Keep them coming...

Wynter said...

Good interview. So your talent as a writer was always there, at least since junior high!
I know what you mean about traditional publishers' narrow guidelines. The books that don't fit are often great reads and sell well in indie publishing.

Terry Odell said...

Wynter, as I recall, I pretty much spit back everything the teacher had told us about good old Ralph Waldo. And I still remember her pointing out one of those ugly pronoun mistakes: "Ralph's father died when he was eight."

Thanks for stopping by.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Nice interview, Terry. We miss you in Florida!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Nancy - and although I miss my Florida friends, I can't say I miss Florida much. Loving the mountains and the lack of humidity.

jenny milchman said...

Read, read, read, is great advice. And I love the no more room for needlepoint on the walls! I hadn't realized you moved to CO--it was one of our favorite states on our trip cross country. Enjoy! Nice interview!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Jenny. We've been here about a year and a half, and love it! Thanks for stopping by.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Terry, for visiting, and thanks to all those who commented.