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When did you decide to be a writer?

I guess I've always scribbled down stories. Insanity made me want to be a published writer. Life would be a lot easier if I'd just write for myself. I'm not sure what brain malfunction persuades people to want to be authors. Studies need to be done.


How did you start writing?

My first stories were crayon drawings before I could write words, so I guess I've been writing almost as long as I've been alive. I did comic strips when I was in early grade school and wrote two pieces I called novels in 5th or 6th grade. I wish I still had them, but I doubt they were more than a few pages. In one, a little girl snuck out of her flat in Chicago and ventured into the world, observing people. Not much in the way of plot. In the other, though, Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, escaped via an underground stream and joined a group of plesiosaurs in the Atlantic ocean. She hadn't realized that's what she was until she saw them. Maybe it was a coming of age story?


I wrote what I thought of as literary stories for years until I started writing mysteries, and now I'm hooked on that.


What genre do you write in?


Mostly mystery, but I have done a few short stories that could be called horror, or maybe urban fantasy. I enjoy doing those, but have been concentrating on mysteries mostly.

You write both short stories and novels. Which do you prefer?

Writing short stories is easier for me than writing novels, but--for some perverse reason--I persist in wanting to write novels.

What are your hobbies?

Music is my main one. I'm a classically-trained violinist who's played in community orchestras and string quartets for years. As a teen, I played in pit orchestras for local summer theater musical productions. I still love them!


The drawback of that is that I can't have music on while I'm writing. I listen for the parts too hard.


I love bird-watching and gardening. The fact that I'm not very good at either doesn't stop me one bit. I put out feeders and keep bird books by the window, but there are lots I can't seem to identify. I plant beautiful pots of flowers each spring and water and fertilize them. Sometimes they make it and sometimes they don’t.


Travel is another passion of mine and I'm good at that! Except I don't have enough money to go everywhere I'd like to. My idea of a good destination is someplace I haven't been before. I've covered much of the US and Europe, and would love to branch out into Asia, Africa, and South  America. Life's just too short.


What awards have you won?

The Austin Mystery Writers won the Silver Falchion at Killer Nashville in 2016 for MURDER ON WHEELS, our first short story anthology. It was presented by Ann Perry, no less! That was very exciting for all of us.

It’s a good thing that nominations count as awards! I’ve won Agatha Award Nominations for Best Short Story of 2009 for “Handbaskets, Drawers, and a Killer Cold," which was published in the first issue of Crooked magazine. Also an Agatha Award nomination for Best First Novel of 2011 for CHOKE, the first Imogene Duckworthy mystery and another Agatha Award nomination for Best Historical Mystery of 2013 for DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE (first in my People of the Wind Neanderthal series), published by Untreed Reads.

I was also fortunate enough to have all three of my Fat Cat novels make the Barnes & Noble Bestseller list.

EINE KLEINE MURDER, the first Cressa Carraway Musical Mystery, was a finalist for the Silver Falchion in 2013.

How many mystery series are you working on?

Four, but not all at once! There are two published in the Cressa Carraway and the People of the Wind series and three in the Imogene Duckworthy series. I have a third planned for each of the first two and am about 1/3 of the way done with a fourth in the Duckworthy series.

The Fat Cat mysteries (written as Janet Cantrell) are complete at three, but they are still selling almost everywhere. That was my only cozy series, but now I’m working on a new bunch of cozies. I have a three-book contract with Lyrical Press for the Vintage Sweets mysteries, due out in either late 2018 or early 2019.

Do you also review books?

I do, for "Suspense Magazine." I enjoy doing that and, since I review the books they choose to send me, this stretches my horizons to read things I wouldn’t probably think of picking out. I’m not free to review whatever I want to there, just the books they have been sent from publishers and pass on to me.

How do you come up with place names and character names for your fiction?

If I’m not using a real place name, which I do for some works, I usually have a real place in mind and rename it so I can switch some things around to suit my story.


I love naming characters! I collect names from all over. I get them from television and movies, newspaper articles, real people (where I’ll use the first or the last name, but never both together), and, believe it or not, I’ve found some doozies in my spam folder. I like unusual, memorable names and I’m often looking for humorous ones. On occasion, I’ve used a name that isn’t right for that character. I can tell that when the character isn’t coming alive on the page (or my computer screen). I rename until I get the right fit, then the character takes off.


What is your writing process?

What is your writing schedule?

When I'm doing a first draft, I can spend 3-4 hours on it a day. That's besides keeping up with my critique groups, working on short stories, and interacting online, which is where my real life is increasingly nowadays.


Once I was writing a bitterly cold winter scene. When I stood up from the computer, I wondered why it was so hot in the middle of such a terrible storm. I realized that, outside my story, it was summertime and the AC was running full time. What a surprise! My fingers and toes had been so cold.


I do what my late husband called “administrivia” in the morning when I’m not at my best, and write later in the day, usually mid to late afternoon.

Do you have any tips for other writers?

I heard once that the only difference between a published writer and an unpublished one is persistence. That has kept me going. It took me literally years, about ten, to learn how to craft a mystery and to get it sold. There's no short cut, except maybe for a few special people. Most of us have to do it the long, hard way. If you quit, you'll never know what might have happened in the next week or the next month. That might have been your break through. Don't quit! And keep trying to grow and improve as a writer. It never hurts to take a course on some aspect you have problems with.


Also, find other writers. I know a lot of writers don't like to interact with others, but it's a lonely occupation and no one else will understand you. Only another writer will know what joy it is to finish a first draft, or what dejection the one-hundredth rejection brings. The cyber world has made this so much more possible than it used to be, I'm sure.

The other important thing, that I think is almost too obvious to state, is that you must read. In order to write, you must read. A lot. And write. A lot. And not everything you write will be good. But you have to keep doing it if you're driven in that direction.

What have been the highlights for you of being a writer?

Besides winning awards and being picked to speak on panels at conferences (I love all that!) there was my very first proud moment, although it didn’t result in anything.

Years ago, I made phone contact with an agent who agreed to look at my manuscript. This was awhile ago. The agent was in Dallas, where I lived at the time. I thought I needed a local agent. I printed it out and drove to his office to deliver it. We chatted a bit and I had a very good feeling about everything. This was it! I was going to have an agent and be published! A few weeks later his secretary called me and said I could pick up my manuscript, that he wouldn't be representing me. I was dejected, but drove over and took the papers from her desk.


He'd put a post-it note on the top that said, "author will pick up." Author--he said "author!" I began to think of myself as an author. That was my very first "Made It" moment.

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