Today we're meeting Arlene Kay, mystery writer and fellow Sister in Crime. Arlene has 3 books out in the Swann series.
A. GILT TRIP is the third novel in the Swann Series (aka the Boston Uncommons Series). Oddly enough the genesis of the book came from one of those annoying television commercials that one hears ad nauseum during the dinner hour.
After hearing pseudo-celebrities hawking gold as the only safe form of currency, and urging listeners to buy it (complete with a free safe) etc., I asked myself this question: how would I even know that the bullion I received was actually gold? Then it was off to the races.
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 already knew my protagonists, mystery writer Eja Kane, and her dazzling fiance Deming Swann, so my challenge was to develop other aspects of their characters and relationship. I have also been fascinated by martial arts since I was a kid watching the elegant Mrs. Peel in the Avengers. Like Eja, however, my spirit is willing but my uncoordinated self lags far behind. I wanted to integrate that element into the story and use it as a vehicle for bullion fraud, lust, and murder. It was fun contrasting the virtuous “Shaolin Way” with actual human frailty.
Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?
A. My novels tend to explore the same themes: love, loyalty, avarice and most importantly the tension between the Law and Justice. The log line for the Swann Series says it all: sultry, snarky murder. Emphasis on the snarky part.
Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?
A. Strong characters and clever plots elevate a story. I also love crisp dialogue that explicates the theme and humanizes the protagonists. Smart intriguing villains are a must and Nelson DeMille is a master of all this. I humbly prostrate myself at his literary feet.
As a reader, I insist on a logical mystery. After all, solving it is part of the fun.
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. Like most mystery writers I inhaled the classics: Sherlock, Poirot, Marple etc. The Brits are so elegant and economical in their use of language that I used them as benchmarks. My own writing was influenced by the late great Elizabeth Peters, Dorothy Sayres and the Thin Man duo (Nick and Nora) of Dashiel Hammet. Those authors really knew how to portray sleuthing duos. I also proudly confess to watching every episode of the television series Hart to Hart, and all 9 seasons of Murder She Wrote.
Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?
A. My novels include a whopping dose of humor. I enjoy exposing the absurdities of life and puncturing the inflated egos of my characters. Personally I consider a highly developed sense of humor to be a hallmark of great intelligence.
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 write quickly, revise the next day, and get on with it. No need to agonize or inflict pain on myself or others.That means producing 3 novels yearly with a word count around 75,000. Some writers enjoy making extensive outlines, using a network of beta-readers etc. That process wouldn’t work for me.
Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
A. Advice: Read in your genre—for your own pleasure and to learn which style attracts you.
Join a writing group—don’t rely on your relatives/friends or passers by. Critiques by knowledgeable peers are invaluable. Our writers group produced five published authors. That’s a pretty good record.
Be professional. Approach writing as your job as well as your joy. Stop using excuses and go for it.
Learn to give and accept informed criticism. Man—or woman—up and listen. You don’t have to accept every comment but you should at least process it.
Be brave. Submit your work to agents/publishers etc. and prepare for the inevitable rejection. Persistence and product will ultimately prevail. Don’t allow a fragile ego to derail your writing career.
Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
A. Although I am one of the earth’s most ungainly creatures, my middle name actually is GRACE. A macabre joke by my mother.
Thank you, Arlene, and here's where to get the book.