Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Triss Stein

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author Triss Stein is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, Triss is running a contest for a free autographed copy of Brooklyn Bones and will choose the winner from among those who leave a comment!

The photo above is the cover for Triss's February 5th release, Brooklyn Bones, the first book in the new Erica Donato series about Brooklyn neighborhoods, Brooklyn history, family life, teenagers and crime. In other words, real life plus mystery. Triss thinks of it as “urban cozy” or “soft boiled.” In Brooklyn Bones, a crime of the past comes much too close to home when Erica Donato's teen-age daughter Chris finds a skeleton behind a wall in their crumbling Park Slope home. Erica - young widow, over-age history Ph.D candidate, mother of a teen, product of blue-collar Brooklyn - is drawn into the mystery when she learns this was an unknown teen-age girl, hidden there within living memory. She and her daughter are both touched and disturbed by the mysterious tragedy in their own home.

Sounds fascinating! Below are triss's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for her, 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?

Beth, these are great questions. I came up with some answers that surprised even me!
Thank you for inviting me and giving me that chance to visit with your readers.

Now, back to the question. Probably Jo March, everyone's favorite Little Woman, and I’m not the only woman writer who would say that. I started writing my first book in fourth grade. It was about a little girl in New Amsterdam. I have no explanation whatever for this, but how interesting and weird that it was about history and New York – just like Brooklyn Bones. 

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

It might be an exaggeration to call it a “process.” Mostly I wait to see who shows up, though I also scrawl a lot of random ideas in a notebook or on scrap paper to prime the pump. Hearing the narrator’s voice is the crucial beginning. For me, it always begins with someone telling a story. The next crucial part is the characters start talking to each other when I put them in a scene I need.  Eventually I get organized and make a list or even a spreadsheet to keep track of the details.

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

“Construct” would another exaggeration. I am definitely a seat of the pants writer; I find out what I think by writing it. I honestly don’t recommend this method–it is very inefficient and I do a lot of rewriting–but though I always swear the next one will be outlined, I usually lose interest as soon as I try. I begin with a situation, some characters, and usually I know where they will end up.  Everything else is a journey without a map. 

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 am a lot more interested in character than plot in my own reading, and it is the characters that keep me reading series. Naturally that is what interests me in my own writing, too. The pitfall–of course!–is that mysteries also need a plot. Those fun and interesting characters need to do things, and have things happen to them. Mystery plots are particularly challenging because there are always two. One is what seems to be happening in the present and the other is the underlying, real story. 

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

The challenge is a long story. Here is the short version: my first publisher dropped its mystery line right around the time I turned in the third book, which was the beginning of a year of many stresses in my life. I lost the energy, focus and even the desire to write. Had I retired, which was fine? Or given up, which probably was not? A wise person told me, “Don’t try figure it out. Write something.” I did, and discovered that I missed it. I dug out a book I had started years earlier, junked the terrible second version and rewrote the original one. More than a few times. Here it is now, Brooklyn Bones. 

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

Ideally, I head for the computer right after breakfast, and write until lunchtime. I struggle, though, with a contrary impulse to just get all those little chores out of the way first, thus clearing my mind for writing. The cyber age has proved many, many more of them, too. (This is otherwise known as procrastination.) By then it is time to break for lunch, and I have wasted my most creative time of the day.

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

Understand that knowing how to write a sentence does not make you a writer, any more than playing Chopsticks gets you to Carnegie Hall. As the old joke goes, it takes practice! Treat it like a job, keep learning, and glue yourself to the desk chair. 

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.

Since morning is my best creative time, I often write in pajamas. I go straight to the computer after breakfast.  Sometimes I wonder what the UPS driver thinks of seeing me in a bathrobe at every delivery. 

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

I have another Erica mystery in the second draft stage. (As I am a seat of the pants writer this is not as far along as I would like. There will be about two more drafts, I think.) It involves historic and beautiful Green-Wood Cemetery, the theft of a Tiffany window from a mausoleum (this really happened, thought not there – too weird not to write about), and a charming (I hope!) turn of the last century mystery.

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

Please visit my website. It has writing thoughts and news, a Fun Brooklyn Facts page, and contact information. I am on Facebook as Triss Stein for writing activities. I also belong to two group blogs, Poisoned Pen Authors on the 4th of the month and Women of Mystery, twice a month on varied dates. Come visit!

I am an experienced book panelist and currently co-chair the MWA/NY library program committee. I love to talk books and mysteries at book clubs, library programs or any time at all.

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


Triss said...

Good morning, Beth. It was fun to answer your question and I look forward to responding to comments.


Margaret Mendel said...

This was great advise. Very nicely done interview!!!

Michelle Fidler said...

An urban cozy sounds interesting. I like Little Women, too.

I once got a delivery from Fed Ex early in the morning and I probably had on a nightgown. That was when my ship came in. That's a joke because the package contained a large model of the Titanic.


Prentiss Garner said...

Sounds like a really good book!

Triss said...

That is a funny story!

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Awesome questions, Beth, and such intriguing answers, Triss! Congrats on the release of Brooklyn Bones. The premise of your novel is so interesting, and so is the next Erica mystery as it is evolving! Best wishes as you work on it. Enjoy this special time of your book launch, so well-deserved. So thrilled for you!
Thanks, Beth, for interviewing Triss.

Anita Page said...

Triss, we have a lot in common regarding the writing process, including the pajamas.

I loved the excerpt of Brooklyn Bones that I read at Criminal Element, and look forward to reading the rest.

Gloria Alden said...

Good interview. Your book sounds quite interesting, Trish. I love Liz Zelvin's books that take place in NYC.

As for writing in my pjs? No. As soon as I have my coffee and breakfast, I get dressed and head outside to do barn chores and then take a morning walk in the woods with my collie, Maggie. I don't start writing until I get back from that.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this piece - I felt like a real person came through the page - and that it all was very genuine! Triss is coming to visit us April 7 and I now look forward doubly to have her as my guest! Thelma Straw, in warmer Manhattan -

bestjlb said...

Great interview! I am looking forward to reading Brooklyn Bones!

Msmstry said...

Triss, I thoroughly enjoyed BROOKLYN BONES! It was a great read and I was rooting for the characters. I'll be telling the folks about it at my Molly on Mysteries program tomorrow.

Triss said...

Hi, Gloria

If I did all of that in the morning, I'd be so deep into chores I'd never get to writing. You sound admirably disciplined. Of course if a dog needs needs walking.
Thanks for writing, Triss

Triss said...

Thanks for the good words, Molly!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for all your comments, folks! Keep them coming today and tomorrow, and Triss will draw the name of the winner in her book contest tomorrow evening. Good luck to you all!

Malena said...

Really enjoyed this interview, Beth and Triss. There are soooo many new mysteries coming out daily, but this one sounds special.
Best of luck with the book.

Triss said...

Malena, thank you for the good wishes. I hope you have a chance to read and enjoy it.

Triss said...

Congratulations to Malena who won a copy of Brooklyn Bones in a drawing. Malena, if you would contact me with your address at:

I'll be happy to send you your copy.