Monday, August 18, 2014

Interview with Ray Daniel

A short time ago, I attended the book launch for Terminated, the debut novel by Ray Daniel. I read it and was so impressed, I figured everyone should know more about Ray and his work. So we asked him some questions, and here's what he had to say.

Q: So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A: In 2005, a company named Avant! plead no-contest to having stolen computer code from the industry leader, a company named Cadence. It turned out that Avant!’s main product was nothing but Cadence’s product repackaged.

That got me thinking that high tech could be a great backdrop for a mystery. My first image of the book, one that never made it in, was an opening scene where a drop of blood traveled along a computer’s case and dripped into a pool on the floor. I thought I’d tie that to stolen software. The image never made it into the book, but stolen software did.

Q: Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A: I start all my books with the tag line. If I can’t figure out the tag line then I know I’m not ready to write the book. For example the tag line for Tucker’s second book Corrupted Memory is “Tucker didn’t know he had a brother until the man was found murdered in front of Tucker’s house.”

Once I have the tag line I follow the three-act structure from movies. In fact, I want my stories to be like those movies that you can watch over and over even though you know the ending, such as The Matrix, Star Wars, Chinatown.

I use a structuring system called a “Beat Sheet” that I got from a fantastic book named Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. The system is simple and helps you figure out your story’s plot points. Once I have the beat sheet figured out I start writifng and make it up as I go from point to point.

Q: What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A: Marriage is hard.

Q: Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A: In this case the theme rises organically out of the story, that is, I didn’t have it in mind when I wrote the book. I think the primary effect of a book’s theme is to increase the reader’s enjoyment. Themes give a novel an overarching coherence that feels satisfying when you reach the end of the story.

I don’t enjoy novels where an author with an axe to grind wrote a novel as a way to grind it. Isaac Asimov told of his editor who said, “If you want to give the reader a message, write a telegram.” I agree with that.

Q: What makes a good book or engaging story?

A: A great novel has multiple story lines that start out loosely connected but then collide and tangle and twist until they squeeze all the options out of the story, forcing the hero into an impossible situation.

Q: Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A: I became a mystery writer because of Robert B. Parker. Today I tell people that I write “first-person, wise-cracking, Boston-based mysteries.” Before I was a writer I told people that I liked to read “first-person, wise-cracking, Boston-based mysteries” and what I was essentially saying was that I liked to read more work like the Spenser books.

I’m also influenced by popular music, not so much by any particular artist, but by the process of invoking strong feelings in the audience quickly. Our first job as artists is to make the audience feel emotions. Pop music does that well.

Q: Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A: I imagine my reader buying a copy of Terminated in Logan Airport, flying to California while reading it, and not realizing that six hours has passed. Creating an experience in which the reader gets lost in the story, drawn along by the emotions and curiosity that it evokes, is my most important job.
That said, I think novels serve a vital role in society by increasing the empathy we feel for each other’s situations in life. But that empathy has to be the byproduct of a great story; it cannot be the novel’s primary thrust.

Q: Any other goals you’ve set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A: In my perfect world I live a life of writing novels, attending conferences, and teaching the occasional writing class. I’ll either start living that life when I retire from engineering at a typical retirement age or when the books can replace my engineering income.

Q: Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A: I follow an approach I learned from the book The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray (1993 first edition). That book recommended writing a discovery draft to learn the story, a meditation draft to highlight the themes and cut extraneous material, and a final draft to clean up the language.

I use the Book Architecture Method outlined in Blueprint your Bestseller by Stuart Horowitz to go from the discovery draft to the meditation draft.

I always send the publisher the best possible manuscript. I get back very few notes.

Q: Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A: I have an excellent story editor who takes my final draft, helps me find plot holes, and fixes quirks in my language. She basically tightens the whole thing up. Then I have two readers who are amazing copy editors. They clean up missing words, punctuation errors, and the like.
The manuscript I send to Midnight Ink is as clean as possible.

Q: If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A: I would advise the person to write every single day. There is nothing more important to one’s writing than to put words on pages. I’ve written pretty much every morning since I started writing in 2002. I don’t think I got good at it until I’d written over 500,000 words.

Also, anyone who wants to write mysteries should join Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Writing is a tough path and it’s more fun when you follow it with friends.

Q: Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A: I absolutely see Terminated as a movie (Could someone get a copy of Terminated to Ben Affleck, please?) because it follows the screenwriter’s three act structure. I could also see a Tucker television series.

In both cases the biggest difference would be that we wouldn’t have Tucker’s unique voice describing Boston. Instead the movie makers would have to get the sense of the scenes across visually (I’m not a big fan of voice-overs in movies.)

Q: What’s the next step in your writing world?

A: I’m working on the fourth Tucker novel: Hacked. Its tag line is “A serial killer is killing hackers, including students that Tucker has been mentoring. Now Tucker is in the crosshairs.”
I’m still doing research but I’m already excited to tell that story.

Q: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A: Back in high school I was fired from a volunteer job at the Museum of Science because I was absolutely terrible at cleaning animal cages. It didn’t seem funny at the time, but it’s pretty funny now.

Q: Any other information you’d like to impart?

A: I will be talking about high tech crime and Terminated at Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday, September 3rd at 7PM. It’s going to be fun!



*****
Thank you, Ray, and best of luck with your new book series!


 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Haverhill Library Author Fair

Had a great day at the Haverhill, MA Library Author Fair today. Saw old friends, and some new ones, raised some books and money for the library, and had fun with a few nice people.
Thanks to Sarah Moser from the library for making this happen. And for the goodies!

And thanks to Chris Obert of Pear Tree Publishing, who came to support us. Chris has set up a series of author events in Haverhill, at the Buttonwoods Museum.
I'll be appearing there Friday, Sept. 5th, and Friday, Oct. 3rd.

 
 
And in the big room

 
Displaying the wares

 
Ursula's debut novel, Purple Trees

 
Rich Feitelberg braved traffic to attend

 
The gang, including Barbara Kent Lawrence, Myfanwy Collins, Rory O'Brien, Dale T. Phillips, Holly Robinson, Ursula Wong,Connie Johnson Hambley, and Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

 
And the lovely poster done by the library for promotion!
This is the signed one-

 
And this is the official one

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Haverhill Library Author Fair

Hello again. Just a note to let folks know of this Saturday's event- the Haverhill, MA Library Author Fair. On the 16th, we'll be there from 1-3, talking about writing, reading excerpts, and signing books.

Appearing with me are fellow authors Barbara Kent Lawrence, Myfanwy Collins, Rory O'Brien, Holly Robinson, Ursula Wong, Connie Johnson Hambley, and Kristin Bair O'Keeffe.

Come on down and meet some local authors!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ray Daniel Launches Terminated

I had the pleasure of attending the launch for Terminated, the debut novel of Ray Daniel.  It was held at the New England Mobile Bookfair, a great place we have here in Mass for bookbuyers.

First, Dave from the bookstore introduced Ray and his Special Guest Interviewer, noted investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan.


 
She gave him quite a grilling, on his writing methods, how he gets his ideas, his name, his secrets, everything. You can tell she's done this before. We knew him and his book by the time she was finished.
Great night, and I'm looking forward to a great read.

 
Huge crowd for a weeknight. Ray is a popular guy, active in the local chapters of both Sisters in Crime and the Mystery Writers of America.

 
Fellow mystery writers supporting their local guy. Pictured are Judy Copek, Connie Johnson Hambley, Hans Copek, and Vincent O'Neil. Connie has her own launch at this same place coming up in just a few weeks (Sept 20th), so she got to see how it's done!

 
Writers Steve Ulfelder, Dale T. Phillips, Connie again, and Ursula Wong

 
And then the signing of the books!


 
That's Ray's brother Tom (the taller one)

 
And Ray's supportive wife Karen with writer Mo Walsh

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Writing Talk With Hank Phillippi Ryan and Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

I had a chance to see these two literary lights, the well-known Hank Philippi Ryan and Tilia Klebenov Jacobs, both Sisters in Crime,  They were there to talk about their lives and careers, and writing- how they do it, from selecting titles to coming up with stories.
Here they are with recent books they wrote: Hank's The Wrong Girl and Tilia's Wrong Place, Wrong Time.

 
We were hosted by the Randall Public Library in Stow, MA. A big thank-you to the staff who made it all possible.

 
They decided to make it an informal chat than a lecture- more personal and more fun.

 
And afterward, they were able to meet with the crowd and sign books




 
And every successful writer needs a support crew- so their husbands were there, shown here bookending Ray Daniel, who also happens to have a book coming out, Terminated. That book launches at the New England Mobile Bookfair on Wed night, Aug 6th.

 
A great event, showing what a treat it is to meet the top mystery writers and find out more about how it all happens.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Interview With Connie Johnson Hambley

I met Connie Johnson Hambley at the Chelmsford Local Author Day, and was impressed with her grasp of book marketing- for someone just breaking into the biz, she was miles ahead of others.



Then I read her debut novel, The Charity, a taut thriller, and knew she was on a good path. So figured we'd find out more about her and her work. Asked her some writing-related questions.
Thank you, Connie for allowing us a peek into your world.

If you like what you read here, Connie and I will both be signing books, along with a number of other authors, at the New England Author Expo on 7/30, in Danversport, MA.

Q: So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

In every book, there are aspects of the author’s life and perspectives. As a child, my family was the target of an arsonist. (A recently fired employee, he tossed lit matches into the hayloft of my family’s dairy barn. It was a total and devastating loss for a farming family.) The seeds for my book were sown then. The themes of bad things happening to good people, that things are not always as they appear and that evil can hide behind a fa├žade of good germinated. My thriller tells the story of a young woman who uncovers the money behind a terrorist cell and those themes are developed to keep the reader engaged and guessing. I used my experiences in training and riding horses competitively to paint a colorful world for my characters to inhabit and my career in law and banking to create a story that unfolds bit by bit with zigs and zags.
The Charity was conceived as a single book, but as I wrote it I realized there is much more to the stories of a few of the characters. Also, my readers have totally connected to the main character, a young woman named Jessica Wyeth. As The Charity’s story concludes, it’s obvious there are more questions to be answered as the larger canvas of the world of terrorism and the businesses and people who support it emerges. The sequel, The Troubles, will be out late fall 2014 and will further explore these issues.

Q: Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

The story for The Charity came to me fully formed. From the moment the idea popped into my head, I became obsessed with working out the details of the story and fleshing out the characters. I knew exactly where the book was heading from the first word. As any writer will tell you, characters sometimes demand the creation of a world of their own, and some of the characters took me to unexpected places. I have to tip my hat to them, because they introduced me to facets and depths inside the story I needed to explore and doing so made me up my game. I found myself gasping at what they made me do! My characters did not want nice little two-dimensional personalities or be all “good” or all “bad.” They wanted complexity and nuance! I found myself doing a LOT of research to find out how suppressed memories work and what PTSD would look like to a layperson. All of that added the crackle and realism my readers love.
My experience with The Troubles is quite different. I find this experience to be more like pulling taffy–the more you pull the story and the characters apart, the tighter it all becomes.

Q: What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

Even though the themes I mentioned above are important, I believe the main theme is that “strength” is sometimes as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. So often in thrillers or mysteries a main character is somehow super human – he or she is larger than life. I find my readers love Jessica because she is so real, so simply human with her own weaknesses and yearnings. But – and this is a big one – she has a tremendous amount of grit. She does not give up!

Q: Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

I think the mark of a great book is when it stays with you even after you’ve finished it. My readers tell me that after reading The Charity, they look at something or hear a news item and question it...but they question it from a position of knowledge because they’ve learned a great deal about the inner workings of the business of terrorism. I also love the fact that my readers totally connect with Jessica. She becomes real to them. In fact, one reader told me she saw a ‘For Sale’ ad for furniture and took the number to give to a “friend” she knew needed some items. Afterward she realized that her gut reaction to help a “friend” was really to help Jessica!
Reading a book is asking someone to spend hours with you. I want my readers to feel it was time well spent.

Q: What makes a good book or engaging story?

The readers have to connect with it in some way. The story or the characters have to scratch an itch the reader may or may not know they had. A good book slowly corrupts the reader’s biases to fuel the emotional pull of the story and the story has to unfold slowly, allowing the reader to make connections and discoveries on their own. I definitely write to an intelligent reader who does not want to be spoon-fed a mystery. I respect my readers, and I think that helps them become more engaged. My book keeps the readers guessing because it’s not predictable. I get them thinking the book is going to go one way, then it slowly emerges into another direction. It’s rewarding to the reader to see a book unfold in unexpected ways.

Q: Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

I’m definitely compared to John Grisham for the legal thriller aspect of my stories, and Stieg Larsson for the expanding world of my characters and story line. I love the tight wire Jo Nesbo creates in his story pacing. I’m not a big Nora Roberts (J.D. Robb) reader, but I’ve been compared to her for the heat I put into important relationships. I paint strong pictures of settings, emotions and action as succinctly as possible. That’s my legal training at work. Colleen McCullough of The Thorn Birds I am not.
As I write The Troubles, I’m definitely in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo mode. The world my characters inhabit is bigger and more complex than it first seemed.

Q: Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

I think storytelling is ingrained in us as a way to convey information. Long traditions of sharing oral histories around a campfire have shaped how we like to learn. A nice, meaty read is wholly satisfying and goes beyond entertainment. A reader spends hours inside a book and can emerge changed from it. My goal is to write something that entertains as it changes the reader. Maybe the reader emerges from my stories knowing more about the legal process or maybe they emerge with a greater understanding of why a person may resort to a terrorist act. But they surface from being immersed in my world different from how they went in. How cool is that?

Q: Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

I’ve enjoyed a few careers – from being a lawyer to managing corporate cash flows at a major Boston bank to starting my own company to being a professor of finance to. . . well. . . you get the idea. I delve down into the content! I’ve written for Bloomberg BusinessWeek and other major national magazines as a journalist, but once I found fiction writing, I knew I found my home. It’s a great way to knit together my own personal narrative! Also, I wrote The Charity just for me. As more readers learned about it, they encouraged me to get it published and reach a larger audience. Now they’re pushing me for the sequel.

Q: Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

The Charity poured out of me and was a very different writing experience than The Troubles. Like in journalism, I inhale information and exhale a story. I believe in the cold-hearted rewrite. My work is just beginning after the first draft is done. I go back to my story like an assassin and hack off limbs and eviscerate bloated plot lines to make sure I’m weaving a tight tale. I can revise all day long and it takes discipline to stop.

Q: Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

I use beta readers and editors and I listen to what they have to say. I write the whole article or story out, revise it once, then I send it to beta readers. The beta readers are staggered. The first pass is for story interest and pacing. Then it goes to the finer points like character motivations and scene tone. After getting their feedback, I revise fully then send it to editors. It’s a lengthy process but ensures I write a tightly woven and captivating story.

Q: If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

I believe everyone has a story in them. I encourage people to write. Jot a few paragraphs. See if you can get the world that’s in your head on paper. If you can do that, then share it and see if the world you had in your head was able to be conjured in the world of your reader’s head via your words. I’m always open to helping a writer find that magic key. Also, to write good fiction, one must have a big imagination. Not everyone has built an imaginary world in their head that’s big enough to turn into a novel. More than just daydreaming, it requires wanting to return over and over to the characters and their world to follow your imagination and curiosity as it unfolds their stories.

Q: Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

I wish I had a nickel for every person telling me my book would be a great movie. So, if you know any movie producers, send them my way. I think audio books are a terrific medium, too.

Q: What's the next step in your writing world?

I’m always blogging and the sequel to The Charity, The Troubles, will (hopefully) be out late fall 2014. Once that’s out, I’ve already begun working on the history of my family’s barn fire. It turns out that’s a pretty faceted story and 2015 marks its fiftieth anniversary. One interesting aspect is that the Assistant District Attorney who worked on the case was a young upstart named G. Gordon Liddy. Yep, the Watergate guy and the staunch conservative radio talk show host. Turns out my mom and his wife were friends. Add to that the fact the arsonist was freed on a technicality even after he signed a confession. Oh yeah, there’s a story there.

Q: Any other information you'd like to impart?

Whether you’re a traditionally published author or an indie, social communications and outreach are key to finding and engaging readers. So, I’m out there! You can find me at:
My website: www.conniejohnsonhambley.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/thecharitythriller
Twitter: @conniehambley
Blog:  thecharitythriller.blogspot.com
Find me! Connect and, yes, I will respond!

www.conniejohnsonhambley.com

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Latest News- Story Sale, Audio, Big Public Event

Howdy- hope you're all enjoying the summer. It's been a busy one so far.

Big news in the story department- my tale "Automat" has been been accepted by the Level Best people for this year's Rogue Wave anthology. Level Best publishes THE big anthology for New England mystery/crime writers, so this is a huge step. It should be out in November, in time for Crime Bake.


You can see my Crime Bake ad (with the awesome image for the cover) for the next Zack Taylor mystery, A Certain Slant of Light, here.


And in audiobook news, I've posted the first three Zack Taylor mysteries up for bids for narration on ACX, which publishes the finished works on Audible.com

Here are my works that are available now on audio.
And I'm told the finishing touches are being done for Shadow of the Wendigo, so that should be out soon.

Mark your calendars for the huge New England Author Expo, coming to the Danversport Yacht Club on Wed, July 30th. I'll be there signing books with a few of my friends and fellow authors.