Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Catherine Dilts

As promised yesterday, fellow Colorado mystery author Catherine Dilts 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, Catherine is running a contest for a free autographed ARC (advanced review copy) of her upcoming January release, Stone Cold Dead, the cover art for which appears above. Catherine 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, business at the Rock of Ages is as dead as the fossils cluttering the shop’s dusty shelves. When her brother abandons the family rock shop, recently widowed Morgan Iverson reluctantly becomes the manager. Her first day in charge, two pet donkeys escape. While rounding them up, Morgan discovers the body of a Goth teen. When a newspaper article hits the streets hinting that Morgan witnessed the murder, she becomes the victim of escalating threats that make it clear the killer thinks she holds a clue to the teen’s murder. Morgan knows her life won’t be worth a pile of fossilized dinosaur dung unless she can dig up the murderer.

Sounds like a fun and fascinating read to me! Below are Catherine's answers to my interview questions.

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

Boredom was my original inspiration. When I was a child, my family spent a portion of our summers visiting relatives in South Dakota. This was back in the dark ages, before cable TV, personal computers, and the Internet. On rainy days, when we couldn’t play in the lake or explore corn fields, my siblings and I would write plays and perform them for our indulgent aunts and uncles during their daily “happy hour.” We believed it was our talent that sent them into gales of laughter, but I suspect the alcohol didn’t hurt.

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

Typically, I have an initial flash of inspiration as I see a character in a situation, possibly uttering a line that defines his or her world view. In Stone Cold Dead, Del Addison says “You hear about it every winter… Some flatlander heads out unprepared. They don’t get found until a hiker sees their frozen body in a snowbank come springtime.” After they introduce themselves to me, they develop as the story progresses. Some characters are born in my imagination whole, while others fight to let me know, “I wouldn’t do that!”

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

I am definitely a Plotter. However, my carefully constructed outlines and timelines always change, sometimes dramatically. I have to have a road map, but I’m not opposed to veering off-road if it takes me where I need to go.

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?

Character, definitely. Jeffery Deaver spends months devising his convoluted plots, but what engages the reader, in my opinion, is his character Lincoln Rhyme. I believe I’ve had some unique experiences in my life, and met some genuine characters. I like to introduce readers to people they may not have met in real life. Oh, plot is essential in a mystery, but without engaging characters, who will care about who done it?

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

Letting go of my fears. Fear of offending someone. Fear of exposing myself emotionally. Killing that self-censoring editor inside my head that destroys every creative impulse. My inspiration is my family, who supported and encouraged my dream of being an author even when it seemed impossible.

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

Defending the planet by day, plotting murder by night. That’s my life in an organically grown nutshell. I have a day job as an environmental scientist, which sounds exciting, but actually involves mostly regulatory paperwork. I squeeze in fiction writing by getting up early and writing for 15, 30, or maybe 60 minutes before heading to work. When I get home, I might get another 2 or 3 hours in on a good day. I average 30 to 40 hours of straight fiction writing a month. It’s not enough, but it’s what I can manage for now.

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

Don’t. Not unless you have to. It’s an ego-busting business with little financial reward. Take up bowling instead. How do you know if you have to write? Quit for a week. You’ll know. If you are truly a writer, you’ll sacrifice leisure time, social events, sleep, and maybe a little sanity, to get words down, to tell a story just right. And you’ll love every frustrating, challenging, triumphant step of the journey.

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.

I have a morbid fear of forklifts.

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

I am writing book two in my Rock Shop Mystery series, and polishing a short story involving a forklift.

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

Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Beth! My novel Stone Cold Dead – A Rock Shop Mystery makes its debut in January, 2014. It is available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon, but if you like supporting independent bookstores, you can find it at the historic Denver Tattered Cover Book Store. I also have short stories appearing in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine from time to time, which now offers subscriptions for electronic readers like Nook and Kindle. And please visit me at my website!

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


Susan Oleksiw said...

Good interview, Catherine and Beth. I have the same discovery process for characters, and it always begins with a single line, sometimes something I overhear in a restaurant or waiting to cross the street.

Catherine Dilts said...

Hi Susan - it's funny what triggers the creative process. I wonder how often good fiction is based on a snippet of real life.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting read! Merry Christmas!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maria Melendez said...

Cathy: your advice--Don't!--is one of Rilke's cautions to a "young poet," as well. Your wit made me smile. I've had a hard time convincing students of what I consider the "part 2" of that caution: which is that if writing IS your inevitable calling, best to throw everything at it ASAP--because as painful and energy-intensive as the process may be, denying your calling is painful, energy-intensive, and results in zero books. Thanks for this interview, Beth and Cathy! ---Maria (from RMMWA)

Unknown said...

That sounds like a good read, Interesting interview.

Rayanne said...

Colorado and Donkeys...we were married in Colorado - and used to visit with the donkeys in Cripple Creek (before the casinos) every time we visited. Just reading your description makes me really want to visit the state again! Love Beth's books and I'm sure I'll love yours as well.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Cathy, what a great interview. Love your advice of "don't." But now you tell me. And all these months of driving to Denver for Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America, and I never knew you were an environmental scientist. Prepared to get grilled, girlfriend. You may not think your job is interesting, but I wager the carpool will disagree. I'm thrilled that after your diligence you've sold your novel-length fiction. You've been killin' it in your short story writing for years! Waving hi to Beth! Merry Christmas, you two!

Catherine Dilts said...

I thought I had the ability to respond to comments from my smart phone, but apparently either it or I am not smart enough.

Maria, you are right. And once you make your dreams happen, all that pain goes away – kind of like giving birth.

Anonymous and Kaye, thanks for your kind comments.

Rayanne, donkeys are amazing creatures, aren’t they? If you want to take a virtual trip to Colorado, check out the reality TV program The Prospectors on The Weather Channel about small-time Colorado gem hunters. I just learned today that Steve Brancato from the program discovered the largest aquamarine cache in history, which is on display at the Denver Museum of History and Science. Yes, that’s where I was today – doing research.

Donnell, I have the title of environmental scientist, but my job is mostly regulatory paperwork. Still, lots of fodder for fiction!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for all the lovely comments, folks! Keep them coming, because the contest runs through tomorrow night, when Catherine draws the name of a winner in her contest and announces it here. Check back to see if you won!

Shannon Baker said...

Love the interview. Cathy, I can drive a forklift, that ought to add to your nightmares! Your book sounds like it has lots of humor. I'm looking forward to reading it.

R.T. Lawton said...

Cathy, your first novel was great. I appreciated being able to read an advance copy of it. Now I'll be sure to find the 2nd one when it comes out on the stands.
Forklifts, huh? I used to drive one for Coleman Industries in Wichita while going to college. The scary part was when the lift was extended all the way to pick up a heavy load way up there.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks for interviewing Catherine, Beth. I especially identified with that fear of offending someone with a story. I worried about that so much with my first two.

Anonymous said...

Shannon, there's something about industrial strength equipment on wheels, equipped with forks like a couple of broadswords... I'm impressed you can drive one. They won't let me near them!
Catherine Dilts

Anonymous said...

Hi R. T. - yes, I am amazed at the loads they can lift, and up to second-story heights here. Seems like they'd tip over! Thanks for your comments on Stone Cold Dead. I'm working on book two in the series.
Catherine Dilts

Anonymous said...

Patricia, the first short story I sold, I was terrified of the reaction I'd get. Opening yourself emotionally as a writer is scary, but it's the only way to write anything "real."
Catherine Dilts

Anonymous said...

Good to meet a new author (to me). Love to read the ARC and all the best with Book 2. Judy

Anonymous said...

Hi Judy - it's always fun to "discover" a new author or series. There are so many great books that have been around for a while that I haven't gotten to yet!
Catherine Dilts

Catherine Dilts said...

Beth, thank you for inviting me to appear on your blog. The winner of the ARC is Judy.

Beth Groundwater said...

Contact me at beth07 AT, and I will give you Catherine's email address, so you can give her your mailing address. Congratulations!
- Beth

Gaynor said...

What a lovely interview. I always love to read interviews with fellow authors, specially on writing techniques. Gaynor Paynter author Working From Home as a Transcriptionist in South Africa.