Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Conversation with British Novelist Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards is a Liverpool attorney (soliticitor) who writes English crime novels. He's a member of the Murder Squad and is chairman of the nominations sub-committee for the most prestigious crime novel award, the CWA Diamond Dagger. He's also the archivist for the Crime Writers Association.

Martin will be featured in the forthcoming book, The Mystery Writers, along with Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block and many others.

Martin, what does membership in the Murder Squad entail?

It’s a group of six Northern crime writers, set up by Margaret Murphy. Members include Ann Cleeves and Cath Staincliffe, who have both had their books televised in recent years. We do events either jointly, in duos, or singly, all around the UK. We’ve produced an anthology, ingeniously entitled Murder Squad, and a CD sampler of our work. We have a website, www.murdersquad.co.uk I’m proud to be part of such a super gang.

How do crime novels in the UK differ from those written in the US?

Difficult to generalise, I think. We have plenty in common,, and I am certainly delighted with feedback on my books from the US. Americans like Deborah Crombie write very good crime novels set in the UK. Lee Child is a Brit who sets his bestsellers in the States. I suppose that there are fewer good private eye novels in the UK, and perhaps not quite as many serial killers – though we are catching up!

What was it like growing up in Knutsford, Cheshire, England, and did you write as a child?

I was born in Knutsford, famous as Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (a Victorian era novelist and short story writer], though in fact I grew up a few miles away in Northwich. I still live close by. It’s a terrifically attractive market town, packed with history and there’s plenty of culture too. I’ve featured the town briefly in one novel, and more extensively in a short story featuring Mrs. Gaskell. I did write as a child. I think my first detective story was written when I was about 10, heavily influenced by the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films.

Are you still practicing law in Liverpool and how has your legal background influenced your novels?

Yep, I still have the day job. My first series, featuring Harry Devlin, also a lawyer, was set in Liverpool, a truly unique and fascinating city which everyone should visit! The most recent book, Waterloo Sunset, is a personal favourite. My legal background also influenced a stand alone novel of psychological suspense, Take My Breath Away, but it is less relevant to the Lake District Mysteries, although sad to say, a lawyer does meet a very unpleasant fate in The Serpent Pool.

You’re involved in a number of crime writer organizations. Tell us about them.

I was elected to the Detection Club a couple of years ago, which was gratifying, because of its fantastic history and the fact that almost all the members except me are superstars of the genre.

I’ve been a member of the Crime Writers’ Association for over twenty years, and I edit their annual anthology. I’m also chair of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger nominations committee. It was via the Northern Chapter of the CWA that the members of Murder Squad first met. It’s a very good social organisation.

You have an interesting, informative blog site titled, “Do You Write Under Your Own Name?” How did the name come about and has blogging helped sales of your books?

Glad you like the blog! When people – such as clients – meet me and learn that I write books, they often ask if I write under my own name. A polite way of saying they have never heard of my novels! I’m sure blogging has been good for my profile. Since it started I have won a Dagger and been elected to the Detection Club, but I’m not sure it’s cause and effect...

Tell us about your series and your latest novel?
My main current series is the Lake District Mysteries. The first book in the series, The Coffin Trail, was shortlisted for the Theakston’s prize for best crime novel of 2006. The series features cold case cop DCI Hannah Scarlett and the historian Daniel Kind. The developing relationship between them is a key element in the series, and so are the landscape, history and literature of the Lakes. The fourth and latest book in the series is The Serpent Pool, which draws on Thomas De Quincey’s years in the Lakes and above all on his fascination with murder as a fine art, has received terrific reviews since publication earlier this year.

What’s the most important ingredient in a crime novel?

Tricky question, but I’m tempted to say the key ingredient is making the reader want to keep turning the pages.

What’s your writing schedule like?

Overloaded! Because I work full time, I tend to write whenever I can snatch a few minutes in the evening and at weekends.

Advice to fledgling crime writers?

Keep at it, and don’t be disheartened too much by rejection.

Thanks, Martin. You can visit Martin Edwards at his website:
http://www.martinedwardsbooks.com/ and his blog blogsite: www.doyouwriteunderyourownname.blogspot.com/

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dog enthusiast, Sue Owens Wright has dedicated her writing career to canines. Her hundreds of articles about dogs have won some awards and she's written three mystery novels featuring a basset hound sleuth and his writer owner.

Sue, as a fellow dog lover, I like your book titles: Howling Bloody MurderSirius About Murder, and Embarking on Murder. When and why did you decide to write about dogs?

I’ve had dogs my entire life and had the aptitude and desire to write from a very young age, but I didn’t start writing about dogs until my first basset hound, Butterscotch, died in 1987. Writing about her helped me to heal from her loss. Poems and stories poured out of me, and some were published in pet magazines. From then on I figured I’d do best to write about what I loved most in the world, my dogs.

Tell us about your writing background?

I majored in English in college and took some creative writing courses, but I didn’t write seriously for publication until many years later. In 1986, I attended my first writer’s conference, a weeklong summer camp in the mountains for aspiring writers. That lit a fire in me. I knew for the first time in my life what I really wanted to do with the rest of it. For the next few years, I wrote tirelessly, submitted my work to publishers, and collected a fat folder of rejection slips, just like every beginning writer does. I had some successes, too, which kept me going.

Then I decided to enter a “Murder You Write” contest in Family Circle magazine. As a child I’d once tried to write a mystery similar to the Judy Bolton mysteries I loved reading, so I gave mystery writing another shot. I didn’t win the contest, but I went on to complete my first mystery novel, Howling Bloody Murder, which eventually sold to a publisher. That was the happiest day of my life. When I found out I’d sold my first book, I was howling for joy, along with my two basset hounds, Bubba Gump and Daisy.

That first book sale happened not long after I attended a writing course abroad in 1998. It was a summer study program through Florida International University with acclaimed novelist John Dufresne at Trinity College and University Galway in Ireland and University College London in England. Besides being the best vacation of my life in lively, literary Dublin, I learned the finer points of fiction writing from a master of the craft. I’ve attended other writer’s conferences, but none can compare to that one.

I've read your first book, Howling Bloody Murder, and like your protagonist, Beanie, and her dog, Cruiser. How did you come up with those characters and to what extent are they autobiographical?

Thank you. A lot of people seem to like my characters, especially the hound dog. They came about through that “Murder You Write” contest I mentioned. In a way, I did win the contest because it gave me Beanie and Cruiser, the characters in my dog lover’s mystery series. Some people assume both are dogs, but Elsie MacBean or “Beanie” is the human sleuth, and Cruiser is her canine crime-busting sidekick. I think there’s probably a lot of me to be found in Beanie. I have drawn from my own life experiences for her character, especially where dogs are concerned. We definitely share that passion. She’s a writer, too, although she’s Native American (Washoe tribe) and a vegetarian and has a grown daughter, Nona.

I created Cruiser before I adopted my male basset, Bubba Gump, but he has since inspired much of Cruiser’s character in my books. What happens to Cruiser in the second book was mined from an experience with one of my other bassets, Dolly. Through Cruiser I was able to rewrite a happier ending to a sad chapter in my own life. That’s pretty powerful stuff and part of what keeps me writing.

You've earned special recognition from the Humane Society for your articles about animal welfare. What are the main problems concerning animals today?

The current economy is causing people to surrender their pets in record numbers at already overcrowded shelters, either because they can’t afford to pay for their animal’s care or have to leave their homes to live in apartments that don’t accept pets. I can’t think of anything worse than losing your home unless it’s having to lose your best friend, too. Unfortunately, some owners don’t even bother trying to place their pets in another home. They simply discard them like old furniture and sometimes leave them behind to starve. Budget cuts are causing shelters to have to cut back on their services, and many are filled to capacity. There are fewer adopters and donations to help support shelters and rescue organizations, and we know what that means for homeless animals.

There are so many other reasons why pets end up at shelters. Littering is one big reason. People fail to spay or neuter their dogs and cats before they can reproduce and by so doing increase the unwanted pet population. Buying dogs from backyard breeders or pet shops fuels the cruel puppy mill industry and ultimately creates more homeless pets. The problem is that people don’t bother to research what breed of dog is best for their personality and lifestyle and too often succumb to Fido fads. Can you guess which kind of dog is currently most common in shelters, besides pit bulls? Beverly Hills Chihuahuas. Owners are dumping them in droves, either because they grew tired of their novelty purse puppies or simply didn’t understand the characteristics of the breed. Next will come all the Marleys, I suppose.
Bottom line, pet problems are always people problems.

You've also written hundreds of articles for a number of dog magazines. What's your main focus?

I’ve written everything from breed profiles for Dog Fancy to the plight of stray dogs in Greece to how to host a Basset Hound Picnic, which I used to do years ago in my neighborhood. I write an award-winning monthly newspaper column called "Pets & Their People", which provides me a forum for writing about important issues pertaining to companion animals. I also contribute to the "Healthy Pet" column for the AKC Gazette. The article I most enjoyed writing was “Waddling in Dwight,” the one I wrote about attending the Illinois Basset Waddle. It is posted on my Web site.

Tell us about the Illinois Basset Waddle.

In 2002, I was invited to be a guest speaker at one of the largest canine events in the country, which is held in the little town of Dwight, Illinois, about an hour away from Chicago. The Basset Waddle is an annual event hosted by Guardian Angel Basset Rescue, which has rescued and re-homed thousands of abandoned and abused basset hounds. There were over 1,000 basset hounds and their adoring humans in attendance, and I was staying at the nearby Days Inn Hotel, which kindly housed the hounds during the event. I knew I was in for a wacky weekend when I heard bassets howling down the hallways and even rode in the elevator with a basset pack.

Saturday was the Basset Bash, a fun day of food, raffles, silent auctions, and various basset contests: longest ears, lowest ground clearance, best treat catch, etc. On Sunday was the Waddle through the town, and it’s a sight you really have to see to appreciate. Leading the parade of costumed hounds was a float bearing the Waddle King and Queen, the most deserving rescue dogs that were crowned the night before. The Waddle King that year was Sonny, whose former owner wired his mouth shut with barbed wire to keep him from howling. The scars left on Sonny’s muzzle from that horrendous abuse looked like tears. It’s enough to make you cry.

Your nonfiction books include What’s Your Dog’s IQ?, 150 Activities for Bored Dogs, and People’s Guide to Pets. How can you determine your dog's IQ?

Besides doing the fun tests with your own dog in What’s Your Dog’s IQ?, a dog’s intelligence is the best determined by its breed. For instance, the Border collie is generally considered to be the most intelligent breed. Basset hounds rank nearly at the bottom of the scale. Because of their notorious stubborn streak, which I prefer to think of as tenacity and unflappable focus (not bad traits for writers, either), bassets are not as trainable as terriers or poodles, which also rank high in intelligence. To be fair, though, a dog’s IQ should be rated according to what he was bred to do. Some dogs are not as easily trained as others, but that doesn’t mean they are dumb. You can’t expect a scent hound to do what a collie was bred to do. Bassets don’t herd sheep, but they are doggone good at tracking rabbits (and treats), and in Cruiser’s case, criminals.

You've won some awards for your canine writings. Which one is your favorite and why?

My favorite award has to be the first Maxwell I ever won in 2003 for the article published in Mystery Scene magazine about the Illinois Basset Waddle. To date, that is still my most unforgettable experience on the book promotion trail. I was so thrilled to be awarded the beautiful Maxwell medallion from among so many exceptional entrants in the writing competition. It’s the first award I ever won, and I won it for something I love doing; therefore, it’s very special to me.

What's your favorite way of promoting your books?

Any time I have the opportunity to talk with fellow dog lovers and especially basset fanciers is my favorite way to promote my books. That has included book signings at other doggy events besides the Waddle, such as Dogtoberfests, our local SPCA Doggy Dash and at pet stores. The best part is being around all the dogs. I’ve judged canine costume contests and also judged contests at the Waddle. Another way I like to promote my books is through donations of autographed copies to various fundraisers. Even if I can’t attend every Waddle, Droolapalooza and Slobberfest, donations of my books and also the pastel artwork I enjoy painting of dogs, help raise money for homeless pets. If donating my books and art to these and other welfare organizations helps improve the life of any animal, then I have succeeded far beyond my wildest dreams.

Sue's web and blog sites:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Conversation with Carolyn Hart

A bestselling author with more than three million books sold, Carolyn Hart is best known for her Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins (Henrie O) series. Her new mystery/thriller, Dead by Midnight, features recurring characters in the Death on Demand series, Annie and Max Darling. And her latest series featrues a red-haired ghost who returns to earth to help solve mysteries.

Carolyn, when did your Death on Demand mystery series originate?

In 1985, I attended a meeting of the southwest chapter of MWA in Houston and visited Murder by the Book. I had never been to a mystery bookstore and I was enchanted. I had just started a new mystery set in a bookstore. I immediately decided to have a mystery bookstore named Death on Demand.

How much of your series is autobiographical?

Henrietta O’Dwyer Collins, a retired newspaper reporter, is the protagonist of the Henrie O series. Henrie O is taller, thinner, smarter, and braver than I but she reflects the author’s attitudes.

I’m intrigued with your impetuous red-haired ghost Bailey Ruth Raeburn of Adelaide, Oklahoma. How did the series come about?

I loved the Topper books and films when I was growing up. I see ghosts as reflections of the person who lived. I always wanted to write about a fun-loving, energetic, impetuous ghost returning to earth to help someone in trouble and Bailey Ruth answered the call.

You’ve received an amazing number of awards including the Malice Domestic Lifetime Achievement Award. Has the recognition resulted in increased book sales and reader awareness of your work?

I hope that the awards, which I very much appreciate, help to attract readers. It’s hard to know whether such awards increase sales but any mention of a book or books is helpful to an author.

What's your writing schedule like and do you aim for a certain amount of words each day, no matter how long it takes?

I try to write five pages a day (approx. 1,500 words) when working on a book. Some days I meet that goal. Some days I don’t. When I am stuck, I take a long walk and usually something will occur to me.

Tell us about your writing background.

I worked on school newspapers and majored in journalism at the University of Oklahoma. When we started a family, I didn’t return to reporting but decided to try fiction. I wrote juvenile fiction, then YA, and in the 1970s began writing adult suspense and mystery.

How much research do you conduct before you begin a novel and do you always visit the locale?

The novel dictates the amount of research. I wrote several early novels, preceding the Death on Demand books, which had World War II backgrounds and required extensive research. I’ve visited the locales of all the books written since Death on Demand. Once I set a book partly in the Philippines which I have never visited and a woman who grew up there asked me how many years I’d spent in the islands and I knew my library research had been successful.

What lies ahead for your well-known character Henrie O? How did her character come about?

My original ambition was to be a foreign correspondent. Henrie O enjoyed the career I didn’t have. One of the joys of writing fiction is living out lives that appeal to you. I am currently committed to write one Death on Demand and one ghost book each year so Henrie O is currently "resting," as they say in Hollywood.

Advice for novice writers?

Care passionately about what you write. If you care, somewhere an editor will care.

Thank you, Carolyn.

Carolyn's website: www.CarolynHart.com