Saturday, March 31, 2012

Stacy Juba and the Friday the 13th eBook Giveaway

Although Stacy Juba specializes in writing adult novels, she has also authored books for children and young adults – she pursues whatever story ideas won’t leave her alone. Stacy’s titles include the mystery novels Twenty-Five Years Ago Today and Sink or Swim, the mystery short story Laundry Day, the children’s picture books The Flag Keeper and the Teddy Bear Town Children’s E-Book Bundle (Three Complete Picture Books), and the young adult novels Face-Off and Dark Before Dawn. She is a former journalist with more than a dozen writing awards to her credit and is currently working on a contemporary fiction/romantic comedy novel, as well as a new mystery novel. Many of her titles have appeared as #1 on various Amazon Kindle Top 100 lists.

Stacy, how and why did you come up with the Friday the 13th free book extravaganza with 13 authors?

My mystery novel Sink or Swim is entered in the Kindle Select program, which means that I've given Amazon a 90-day exclusive for the e-book edition in return for 5 free promotion days designed to boost its visibility on Amazon. I used up my first 3 days, and had great success, with many sales in the U.S. and the United Kingdom - its best performance ever. I had two days remaining before I put it back with other retailers, and I didn't know if I could exceed or match the previous success as many e-book sites had already featured the book. I had already chosen April 13 as a free day, to tie-in with a couple other promotions that I had happening at that time, and I suddenly realized that was Friday the 13th. I thought that would be a good hook for a bunch of mystery authors to get together and host a free Kindle day. I knew it had to be 13 books and 13 authors. I spread the word on some author loops that I was looking for Kindle Select mystery authors to team up with, and had a great response.
How does it work?
On Friday, April 13, we'll have 13 books free in the Kindle store. All books on the list are guaranteed to be free that day only. We've been working aggressively to get the word out. The authors have a publishing history that includes Dutton, William Morrow, Dell, Avon, MIRA Books, St. Martin's Minotaur, and Mainly Murder Press, to name a few. Among the accomplishments of the listed authors are New York Times bestselling, Amazon bestselling, Edgar-nominated, Agatha-nominated, winner of the St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Novel, finalist in the Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine National Short Story Contest, and recipients of the Premier Book Awards Mystery/Thriller of the Year Award, to name just a few accomplishments. So the whole event is quite exciting and Kindle readers will have an opportunity to grab 13 quality books at no cost. Some, like Sink or Swim, will be free for the last time. Readers are invited to save this link to their favorites on their Internet browser, and then visit it on April 13 and go down the list to download the books:
What drives you to write?
I get very, very grumpy if I don't write. I'm in a much better mood if I make time to write, or do something creative. I'm a very driven person, so usually I can force myself to get up early in the morning and put in some time on the keyboard. Writing fiction is fun for me, and it's an escape, almost meditative. I really enjoy immersing myself in a fictional world. It makes time seem to pass much faster. I look at the clock, and can't believe how much time has passed. I've done a lot of article writing also over the years, but I don't enjoy that kind of writing as much as fiction.
What keeps you going when you hit a brick wall, with no solution in sight?
I outline extensively, so I usually work out most of the problems before I start. If I don't have the answer to something that I'll have to deal with later in the story, I'll write the earlier parts, and in the meantime, do some brainstorming with my husband or my critique partners.
Why mysteries? Tell us briefly about your latest?
I grew up reading Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden, so mysteries was a natural fit, though I am also branching out into romantic comedy and chick lit. I'm sure I'll write more mystery novels for adults, as I like weaving clues into the story and trying to surprise the reader, but not every book I write will be a mystery. My latest adult mystery novel is Sink or Swim, about Cassidy Novak, a personal trainer who attracts a stalker after appearing on a reality TV show and returning to her normal life working in a health club. My newest book, Dark Before Dawn, is a young adult paranormal mystery/thriller about a teenage girl taking secret psychic classes from the town fortuneteller which may be tied to some mysterious accidents.
When did you decide to write children's and YA novels?
I started writing my two YA books, Face-Off and Dark Before Dawn, when I was a young adult myself and related to that age group more than adults. I was 16 when I originally wrote Face-Off. (I recently re-issued a new edition as it was long out of-print.) I started Dark Before Dawn when I was in my early twenties, and it went in and out of my drawer for years, and underwent lots of rewrites. I had enjoyed reading authors like Christopher Pike, R.L. Stine, and Lois Duncan when I was a teenager, and was inspired by them. As for my children's picture books, I was inspired to write those when I became a mother and was reading a lot of those books aloud. I got the idea for my first children's book, The Flag Keeper, after watching my husband raise the flag every morning and bring it in at night. My picture books were illustrated by my father and were initially done as a family project.
Tell us about your writing background.
I've been writing stories since third grade and had my first mystery "series" in fifth grade. A local newspaper did a story on me when I was about 11, as I won a local book review contest for my review of a Nancy Drew book. I wrote my first novel, Face-Off, when I was 16 years old, in high school study halls, and it was originally published when I was 18 after I entered it in a contest. After college, I worked as a newspaper reporter for several years and later in public relations and marketing, and wrote books on the side. Now I'm mainly focusing on writing and promoting my fiction books, which include the adult mystery/romantic suspense novels Twenty-Five Years Ago Today and Sink or Swim; the YA titles Dark Before Dawn and Face-Off; and the children's books The Flag Keeper and The Teddy Bear Town Children's E-Book Bundle.
Advice for novice writers.
I'd recommend taking creative writing classes, either on-line or in-person, finding critique partners or a writing group, and either taking a few marketing classes or reading a lot of marketing books. Besides writing as much as you can, learn how to rewrite and edit. Also, all writers should know that e-books are outselling print books and be aware of the independent publishing opportunities available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retail outlets like Smashwords.
Your social networking links?
Anything you'd like to add?
Please visit my web site,, for more information on my books. And if you enjoy children's and YA books, or have some kids in your life, then please save the date for Give Your Child a Free Kindle Book (or 15 of Them!) Day on April 19, 2012. This is very similar to the Friday the 13th free Kindle book day, except on April 19, all of the books are picture books, middle grade novels and young adult novels from established and award-winning authors. You can check this list on April 19 and all of the books will be free: Also, visit my blog post about the event on that day and you'll be able to follow the link to download a free Agatha-winning bonus book from Nancy Means Wright, which can be downloaded on the Belgrave House web site in the email format of your choice.
A list of the free books which will be available:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Mystery Writers

When I began writing back in the dark ages (before computers), the only creative writing instructions available were from the Famous Writers School, which was beyond my limited budget at the time. Fledgling writers had to suffer through enough rejection slips to wallpaper an entire room and many gave up in frustration. I nearly did until I was hired as a news reporter, which taught me brevity, a useful tool for novelists.
Then, after my first novel was published,  following five nonfiction books, I decided to share what I’d learned with other writers. One way was to interview bestselling, award-winning and other mid-list authors for my blog sites. My first mystery writer interview book was published by Poisoned Pen Press in 2010, titled Mysterious Writers. It did so well that I was encouraged to put together another book so that all those informative interviews wouldn’t disappear into cyber space.

The Mystery Writers is finally available and features Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, J. A. Jance, James Scott Bell (former Writer’s Digest fiction columnist) and Julie Garwood, among other bestselling, award-winning and mid-list novelists. Their articles of writing advice not only entertain and inform, some will literally shock you. They're also generic and excellent for any genre, whether for novice or veteran writers.

A number of them have been written from as far away as South Africa, Thailand, Brazil, England and Canada. They write private eye and crime novels, police procedurals, historicals, noir, suspense, thrillers, amateur sleuths, cozies, humorous novels, contemporary western as well as traditional mysteries. Something for nearly every reader (and writer).

There are also a number of independently published authors such as Tim Hallinan, who turned down publishing contracts to publish his own e-books, which are now earning thousands of dollars each month. Many authors are currently following in his keystrokes now that the stigma of self-publishing seems to have lifted.

I’ve proud of this collection, although I’m only the editor, and I hope you’ll take a look at the print edition, which was just released  by Medallion Books and is currently available at: in print and Kindle, where you can read a sample of the execllent advice.  It will also be available on Nook.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Scottish YA author Gillian Phillip

Gillian Philip lives and writes in the Scottish Highlands. The Aberdeen native began her writing career while living in Barbados and her YA mystery/thrillers have been written for Hothouse Fiction, a UK book packager.

Gillian, I love your web site quote: “Taking dictation from people who don’t exist.” It sounds as though you give your characters free rein. How much do you know about a book before you begin writing?

Sometimes I know very little for certain, but I have a stew of ideas simmering away, and they won’t be pinned down to the page till they’re nicely cooked (this metaphor is losing its way). I like to have my main characters in place – and named with exactly the right names – even if I don’t know very much about them, or the secrets they’re keeping. So long as they have the right names, I know they’ll talk to me eventually.

And I absolutely have to have a title I like. I’m usually happy to change it eventually, but the story itself needs a name, just like the characters. I can’t relate to a file called ‘Working Title’ or ‘Book’. It’s like calling the dog ‘Dog’.

Why did living in Barbados for twelve years make you decide to write professionally? And what were you writing at that time?

We moved out to Barbados for my husband’s work, so there was no work permit for me. I went to the gym a lot, and went to the beach bar a lot more... and eventually I realised there was no excuse not to give my writing (or my liver) a chance. After all, I could hardly say I was pushed for time. So I wrote a short story, and sent it off to the People’s Friend, a UK story magazine. I was gobsmacked, and thrilled, when they accepted it. I wrote some more, and eventually they accepted another, and then more. I started writing for other magazines too, My Weekly and Woman’s Weekly.

I was happy to be selling stuff but I wasn’t all that happy writing short stories; I wanted to stay with my characters for a whole book. So I tried writing romance, and failed – it’s incredibly hard to get right – but it was all good practice, and it really gave me the novel bug. When we came back to Scotland in 2001, and I was buying children’s books for my new twins, I discovered modern Young Adult novels. And wham bam, I realised what really I wanted to write.

Tell us about your first YA mystery novel, Bad Faith, which sounds pretty street savvy.

Bad Faith is the story of Cassandra, who lives in a society run by the dictatorial One Church and its violent militias. She’s a privileged girl – her father is a cleric – but she has a dangerously subversive boyfriend, who’s an infidel. It all goes wrong for the pair of them when they discover the corpse of an important bishop, and – for reasons that seem perfectly sensible at the time – decide to hide it.

Meanwhile Cass is finding that her family has terrible secrets: some of them relating to the dead bishop, and some to a serial killer who once terrorised the country. Bad Faith is part murder mystery, part love story, and part political thriller. It was great fun to write – for half the book I was wondering myself whodunnit.

Your latest book, Crossing the Line, is due out this month. Tell us about your protagonist and the setting. And how important is humor?

Like Bad Faith, Crossing the Line is set in an unspecified Scottish town (though I confess that Aberdeen – where I grew up – had a big influence). Nick Geddes is a former bully and thug who’s trying to turn his life round, but it’s complicated. His old gang was responsible for the death of his sister Allie’s boyfriend. Now he not only has to look after the unstable Allie, and deal with his sometimes monstrous family - he’s also in love with the unattainable Orla Mahon, the dead boy’s sister.

I threw an awful lot at Nick, so it’s just as well he turned out to have a sense of humour. I do think the darker the story, the funnier it can be – it’s a matter of balance. I’m happy that Crossing the Line has been called ‘gruesome’ – but also ‘funny and touching’.

Working for a successful book packaging house must be an interesting job. What exactly does your job entail?

Hothouse Fiction is the book packaging company that created the Darkside books, about a parallel London where the children of Jack the Ripper live. The creative guys at Hothouse brainstorm concepts, come up with stories and great characters, and then put the ideas out to various writers, who tender for the books by writing sample chapters.

I’ve been contracted to write a series called Darke Academy. Hothouse gives me an outline and the characters, I write a draft, and then we work on the editing together. For me it’s a really different way of working, and I enjoy it.

With seven-year-old twins, when do you find time to write? What’s your schedule like?

I try to write in the mornings and, if I’m lucky, into the afternoon – even after the kids have come home from school, I’m a bit naughty about letting them sit in front of the Xbox or the television while I finish a chapter. If things are going really well, or I’m up against a deadline, I’ll work in the evenings. I try to keep weekends for family, but I tend to sneak back to the laptop... I confess, though, the writing quite often gets pushed aside for the joys of Facebook. That’s a temptation I really need to resist!

Which mystery subgenres are most popular in Scotland? And how do Agatha Christie’s amateur sleuth novels fare in today’s market?

There still seems to be a big demand for the gritty, ‘tartan noir’ side of crime fiction. I think Val McDermid and Ian Rankin will always be popular. Stuart MacBride is very dark, and he’s huge at the moment. But Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books are popular too, and they are very gentle in subject matter. There’s always room for both, I reckon. Agatha Christie is much more an English writer, of course, but I can’t imagine she will ever fall out of favour. She was featured in a recent episode of "Doctor Who", a wonderful and clever and wildly popular sci-fi series, so I hope that brought her yet another new generation of readers.

Which authors most influenced your own writing and why?

To an extent it depends on what I’m writing. Ruth Rendell is one of my favourite authors in any genre, and when I’m writing about crime I think I’ve been influenced by her non-Wexford novels in subject matter and viewpoint. I’m crazy about Malorie Blackman, a fabulous YA author who can do politics that make you cry. But I write fantasy too, and where that’s concerned, I’m influenced by everything from Alan Garner to the Marvel Comics and graphic novels of my teenage years. I was a huge fan of the X-Men, and I adored Wolverine even before he was Hugh Jackman in black leather (I adore him even more now that he is Hugh Jackman...)

Tell us about the Darke Academy Series that you’re currently writing.

The Hothouse series Darke Academy is about ancient spirits living in the bodies of modern teenagers. The students come from all over the world, and the Academy moves to a different exotic city every term – mostly because things tend to go horribly wrong for pupils who aren’t in on the secret. I’ve had a lot of fun locating adventures in Paris, New York, and (next time) in Istanbul. My heroine Cassie is a girl from a care home who thinks her life is changing when she wins a scholarship to the prestigious school – but she doesn’t realise, of course, just how big the ‘changes’ are going to be.

Thank you, Gillian. You can visit Gilian's website:
She also contributes to a children’s authors’ blog:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mysterious Dogs

Cats are usually associated with mystery novels, but dogs find their way into mine: from Bert, a retired police dog in Diary of Murder to Miranda, an Australian Shepherd, who chews furniture in my first children’s novel, Mystery of Spider Mountain.
I’ve always had at least one canine in residence since Brenda, a small bulldog I shared with four younger brothers.The list grew to include a large variety of mixed breeds, one of them named Brillo because the lovable terrier resembled a scrubbing pad with legs. He once jumped with muddy feet into a car full of white-habited nuns, but that’s another (embarrassing) story.

Then there was Prince, a small mixed breed, who learned to dig under our backyard wooden fence to roam the neighborhood. In a matter of months there were a number of puppies in our area that closely resembled him. When I had him neutered, Prince literally disowned me for months.

For a while, we raised Shetland Sheep dogs. The Sheltie is a beautiful, hyper breed which resembles miniature collies, which I’ve always longed to own. We then adopted C.J., whose kennel name was Countess Juanita de Sangria because she came from New Mexico’s Sangria Mountain area. A buff-colored cocker spaniel, she contracted cancer at the age of 12, and we drove her to the Colorado State Veterinary Teaching Hospital every five weeks for chemotherapy. She did quite well for 18 months until we lost her. And as all pet owners know, it was heartbreaking.

We then adopted Mariah, an Australian Shepherd, who served as the model for Miranda, the Hamilton Kids’ furniture chewing dog in Spider Mountain, although Mariah only chewed the legs on our dining room furniture. Mariah has an almost human quality about her. She’s the only dog I've ever known who can out-stare me. Most canines will look away after five or six seconds, but Mariah can hold her stare for a full minute without blinking. It makes me wonder whether she’s an incarnated ancestor.

Dogs have distinct personalities and quirks of their own, which can be successfully incorporated into novels. Although Bert, my retired German Shepherd police dog, appears in the second novel of my Logan & Cafferty mystery suspense series, he’s only mentioned in Murder on the Interstate because my two feisty 60-year-old  women sleuths were visiting a friend with six cats. That could have caused considerable conflict but might have detracted from the book's theme of homegrown terrorism.Then again, it may have added to it.

I plan to bail Bert out of the kennel in my fourth (WIP) mystery novel, Murder on Gray Wolf Mountain.

Monday, March 5, 2012

My interview with Craig Johnson

An hour-long television show based on Craig Johnson’s Western contemporary series, featuring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, has been given the green light by the A&E network. 

Craig, have you always been a writer?

Nope, my father says I just come from a long line of bullslingers and I’m the first one to be smart enough to write them down… Honestly, I came from a family of readers and I think it’s a short step from there to writing books. I built my ranch myself and finally settled into the life with the thought that I’d always wanted to write a novel. I guess what basically happened was that I ran out of excuses.

When and where did you make your first sale?

Viking/Penguin picked up the first in my Walt Longmire series six years ago, and it’s been off to the races since then. Kathryn Court, the president of Penguin USA shoved a copy of The Cold Dish (a novel I considered to be a stand-alone) across the lunch table in New York and said, “We’d like some more of these…” Do you believe I argued with her? Thank goodness she won. My agent asked me who I wanted to be with and I thought of all those Steinbeck books I’d read as a child (and still do) and chose Viking/Penguin. It’s been pretty wonderful working with a literary press that gives me a lot of leeway. My last two contracts stated that the books had to be mysteries and have Walt in them… That’s a lot of freedom.

What made you decide to settle in Wyoming to write your first book?
I grew up in the Midwest, but my grandparents lived in Kansas and New Mexico, so I wasn’t completely unaware of the American West. When I was eighteen I loaded up an old Army pack, a thousand bucks and lit out for the territories. I think Louis L’Amour would’ve approved. Anyway, in my journeys I was working for a rancher up in Montana and delivered some horses down to Wyoming where I inevitably built my ranch near Ucross.

Your western cntemporay mysteries and articles have received quite a few awards. Which means the most to you?

Getting pulled over by a highway patrolman between Basin and Otto in the Red Desert and being told, “I read you books, Mr. Johnson…” He let me off, so I guess he liked them. I get a lot of emails from law enforcement telling me that they think I get it right, and that means a lot to me.

You latest book tour encompassed quite a few towns and events. Do you enjoy meeting readers and talking about your books, or do you prefer to stay at home on the ranch and promote your work via the Internet? And which methods of promoting your books have been the most effective?

Oh, I like living on the ranch and writing or else I wouldn’t have chosen this as a livelihood. I like meeting people and talking about the books though. They say that print ads, commercials, Internet and all that sells books, but I still think the old hand sale buzz of somebody saying, “Hey, have you read..?” Still works the best. Maybe it’s because the nearest town to my ranch has a population of 25, but I genuinely like people and enjoy talking to them about my books. I also think that the book sellers are the best friends an author can have. I do events in every one-horse book store on the High Plains because those people are important not only in the sense of sales, but their ability to tell me where I got it wrong and where I got it right. It’s an occupational hazard in living in a state with only a half-million occupants, that folks recognize characters in the books.

What do you enjoy most about writing and what chaps your hide?

As stated above, I really enjoy the isolation of writing. Heck, in any right-minded country they’d lock me away for sitting in a room by myself and typing about my imaginary friends. Dislikes..? Oh, people who I meet that proudly proclaim, “I don’t read.” That just worries me… Somehow I bet they find time to sit in front of a television for four hours a night. I think reading is a good habit for your mind, it keeps you alert and engaged unlike a lot of other activities.

What’s life like on your ranch near Ucross, Wyoming, and what’s your writing schedule like?

Well, I have a ranch so I get things sorted out at daybreak, make a big pot of coffee, and sit down to write. Sometimes I break for lunch, sometimes I don’t. I came to this wonderful life in my mid-forties, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them find out I shouldn’t be doing it. I attempt to only work six days a week, but I eventually end up in my writing loft with ideas that can’t wait, or trying to fix up mistakes I’ve made.

Tell us about your protagonist, Walt Longmire? And how much of him is autobiographical?

More than I’d be willing to admit. Walt’s probably who I’d like to be in about ten years, but I’m off to an incredibly slow start. In my experiences with law enforcement, I tried to put together my version of an ideal sheriff. Not that Walt’s perfect by any means, but the kind of guy I’d want pulling his cruiser in behind me; kind, patient, tenacious, intelligent and with a sense of humor. He’s no Captain Marvel, but he’s very good at his job. I think the humor is important, anybody that’s ever done the job knows how important a sense of humor is in getting you through the day.

Advice for fledgling western mystery writers?

Keep it real, do your research, and be honest to the place you love. Don’t have your protagonist running around on a cruise ship. One of the things I try to do is pull the seminal information for my novels from local newspapers, which keeps the books grounded in the social and cultural problems my neighbors and I face. I could just come up with wild plots, but I think that’s a disservice to the modern mystery reader, they tend to be looking for something more than just a ‘who dunnit’. There’s so much out there that needs addressing, I don’t think you have to go off looking very far away. That’s the advice I’d give.

Thanks, Craig.

Craig's website:

© 2010 Jean Henry-Mead