Monday, October 29, 2012

The Next Big Thing

One of the nicest things about writing novels for a living is the abundance of fine people who are your colleagues. Alyx Morgan, who was one of my blog partners at the Writers Who Kill blog, tagged me in this blog chain of novelist bloggers that features our work-in-progress.

What is the working title of your book?

Every Broken Trust is the final title of my next book. Every Broken Trust will be published by St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books May 7, 2013. It’s already available for pre-order.  It has a beautiful cover already, but I’m not allowed to publicize it yet because the publisher may decide to put a blurb on the cover before they use it.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I wanted to put my protagonist Skeet Bannion into a situation where she would fear losing the people she most loves and where she would learn some empathy for her own family members who disappointed her in her youth.

What genre does your book fall under?

Every Broken Trust is a mystery. I find the genre of crime fiction allows me great leeway to write about almost any topic or situation that I find intriguing.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m not going to be good at this because most of the actors I’ll think of are too old now to actually play these roles. I need to learn more about younger actors, I guess.

For Skeet Bannion, I would cast Angie Harmon or a younger Sandra Bullock. Joe Louzon, the Brewster, Missouri, chief of police who’s romantically interested in Skeet, would be a younger Val Kilmer, back when he was still fit. Sam Musco, Skeet’s ex-husband, would be Don Johnson in his Miami Vice days. Sam’s a Sonny Crockett-type who’s trying to change so he can win back Skeet. For Skeet’s best friend and mentor, Karen Wise, I’d cast the mature Phylicia Rashad. Brian, Skeet’s adoptive son, would be played by Austin Ward or Sterling Beaumon. A new character that just walked into this book is Terry Heldrich, cast as Johnny Depp.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Not knowing who she can trust any longer, Skeet struggles against the clock to solve a series of linked murders stretching into the past before she loses Brian forever and her best friend winds up in jail—or dead.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My wonderful agent is Ellen Geiger of the Francis Goldin Literary Agency. Every Broken Trust will be published by St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books on May 7, 2013.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I wrote the first draft of Every Broken Trust in four months and then spent six months revising and editing it before sending it on to my agent and editor.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I write complex, character-driven books as Julia Spencer-Fleming, William Kent Krueger, and Deborah Crombie do. My strong female protagonist has been compared by reviewers to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, and Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I already had my protagonist and the situation in which she was left at the end of Every Last Secret, my first novel in this series. A newspaper article about a new federal taskforce in Kansas City, a PBS special, and an essay about a social problem all combined to bring the book to life. I won’t describe any of them further because it might spoil the book for my readers.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Skeet’s Gran (who is based on my own beloved grandmother who died when I was thirteen) begins to play a slightly larger role in this book. I’ve been very tough on Skeet in this book because she needs to grow as a person.

I’ve passed this blog chain challenge on to my colleagues and fellow writers below. Please visit their blogs next week and see how they’ve answered these same questions and what’s their next big thing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Literary Mystery Novelists--Jeri Westerson

Jeri Westerson has published five Crispin Guest medieval noir novels. What is "medieval noir" you may well ask? In Westerson's books, "medieval noir" marries impeccable historical research, finely wrought characters, and intricate plotting with a fallen hero trying to survive with honor in the gritty streets of 14th century London's underbelly told with the sensibility of another Chandler or Hammett.

Disgraced knight, Crispin Guest, is one of the more complex and fascinating characters out there. Totally a creature of his medieval time period and culture, he is nonetheless kin to modern noir heroes such as Sam Spade, Chandler's man of honor with a contempt for pettiness. Westerson has been lauded for these books by reviewers and readers alike, with more than her share of starred reviews and major award nominations.

In Blood Lance, Crispin investigates the death of an armourer and winds up in a search for the Spear of Longinus in conjunction (or possibly competition) with his old friend Geoffrey Chaucer.Caught between rebellious factions in King Richard’s court, an old friend’s honor, and the true ownership of the spear, it all culminates in a deadly joust on London Bridge.

Jeri Westerson Bio

Raised in a household that not only embraced history, but medieval English history specifically, Jeri came by her interest in all things medieval honestly. She worked in a bevy of careers prior to setting her sights on becoming a novelist. Would-be actress, graphic artist, theology teacher, tasting host and tour guide for a winery, and newspaper reporter were among them.

Her critically acclaimed medieval noir series began with VEIL OF LIES, which garnered nominations from the Mystery Reader’s Journal Macavity Award for Best Historical Mystery and the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel, the first medieval mystery to be so honored. The next in the series, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, garnered more mystery award nominations. The third, THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, took yet more nominations from awards committees, including RT (Romantic Times) Reviewers’ Choice Award. Library Journal gave it a starred review while Publisher’s Weekly declared it “the best yet in the series!”

The fourth Crispin Guest mystery, TROUBLED BONES, was released in October 2011 and out of the gate received a nomination for the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award. It finaled for the Agatha, the Bruce Alexander Award, and the Macavity, giving it four nominations. Publisher’s Weekly said of the fifth in the series BLOOD LANCE; “Clever twists and convincing period detail make Westerson’s fifth 14th-century historical featuring disgraced knight Crispin Guest one of her best.” Kirkus Review said, “Guest’s fifth adventure again provides a lively tale of historical interest smoothly combined with a worthy mystery.”  The Richmond Times-Dispatch said, “Written with a keen knowledge of medieval history, ‘Blood Lance’ is another riveting tale of honor and heroism, grounded in period detail, a wealth of action and the continued development of her characters.” Jeri looks forward to the sixth, SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST in the fall of 2013.

Jeri also has short stories in several anthologies: “Noodle Girl” in SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN, edited by Tim Hallinan; “Universal Donor” in the November release of MURDER AND MAYHEM IN MUSKEGO anthology, edited by Jon Jordan; “Mesmer Maneuver” in 2013′s Operator #5 serial anthology NIGHT OF THE INSURGENTS edited by Gary Philips. She has done talks around the country about the Middle Ages, demonstrating her cache of medieval weaponry. She has been a featured guest on the radio talk show Writers on Writing with host Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, and a guest lecturer at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. She is vice president for the southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and is also vice president of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime, and co-chair for the California Crime Writer’s Conference for June 2013. She is also a member of Private Eye Writers of America and the Historical Novel Society. Jeri is married to a commercial photographer, has a screenwriter son, and herds two cats, a tortoise, and the occasional tarantula at her home in southern California.

Visit Jeri’s blog for articles on history and mystery as well as author interviews. Or see what Crispin has to say on his very own blog. She is also part of the group blog Poe’s Deadly Daughters and you can follow her on Twitter and see what Crispin is up to on his Facebook page.

For those new to your series, can you describe the Crispin Guest mysteries? What was your inspiration for this series?How would you describe Blood Lance to someone who has not read any of your previous novels?

When I decided to write a medieval mystery series, I got it in my head to devise a hardboiled detective in a medieval setting, more or less like a medieval Sam Spade, since, at the time, I was reading a lot of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe was styled as a “white knight,” a man who was led by his own code of honor. And I thought, why not a real knight under the same onus? So I took the tropes of the hardboiled detective—a lone wolf with a chip on his shoulder, hard-drinking, hard-talking, hard-fighting, and a sucker for a dame in trouble—and put him in the Middle Ages. I made him a knight with fighting training, a facility with languages, then took his title, lands, and wealth away so he’d have that chip on his shoulder with down and dirty backstory, and placed him on the mean streets of fourteenth century London where he has to eke out a living as a “Tracker,” a medieval PI, hired to find things.  Some of those things turn out to be a murderer. I think it works well in the shadowy realm of medieval London. And each book features a religious relic or venerated object, something everyone wants to get their hands on or can’t wait to get rid of. There’s a lot of action, adventure, puzzles and twists, and even a bit of romance from the occasional femme fatale.

In Blood Lance, Crispin is coming home from a long day of investigating with coins in his money pouch for once, and as he’s passing London Bridge, he sees a person hurtling down from its heights into the churning Thames below. Like the knight he is, he dives in to save him, but when he gets to the man, he is already dead. When he confronts the people living on the bridge (and it is a city within a city with shops and houses) they claim that the dead armorer committed suicide, even the man’s fiancĂ©. But Crispin knows murder when he sees it. And later, when Sir Thomas, an old friend of Crispin’s from his knightly days, comes calling on this armorer, Crispin discovers that the armorer was supposed to procure a special relic for the knight, a relic that would make him invincible in battle. But it’s missing. This relic is also wanted by another of Crispin’s old friends, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, and Crispin is unable to determine if Chaucer wants it to do good or ill. Now Crispin is caught between rebellious factions in King Richard II’s court, Spanish spies, an old friend’s honor, and the true ownership of the famed Spear of Longinus, culminating in a deadly joust on London Bridge.

Who were your literary influences growing up?Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?

Well, Geoffrey Chaucer for one. I grew up in a household that loved English history and so we had a child’s version of the Canterbury Tales (with some of the more juicier tales left out) and I loved it, along with all the other historical novels on our shelves. I read Anya Seton, Thomas B. Costain, Nora Lofts—all the greats, but I also became a Shakespeare groupie in high school as well as a Tolkien geek. Later, when I got caught up in mysteries, it was Dorothy Sayers, Ellis Peters, and Hammett, Chandler, and Dorothy Hughes.

What's your writing process? What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you keep to a set schedule? What are your writing habits?

I try to keep good writing habits, and with at least two series at once, you have to do that (I also write under the name Haley Walsh and pen a gay mystery series, the Skyler Foxe Mysteries.) I start around 7 am and do my blogging, emails, and Facebook. But by 9 it’s time to write. I outline every novel because I set myself a minimum of ten pages a day and I have no time to sit and stare at a blank page. I have to know where I’m going, even if I suddenly diverge from my original path in the outline. If I keep at it and don’t get diverted by Facebook or what’s on TCM that day, I write till about 3 pm. But sometimes I write a page or a few paragraphs and wander away. I read something or watch something on TV and then return to it. Sometimes my best writing comes at around 5 pm and goes on till 10. It’s when the Muse strikes, but I do try to keep to that ten page minimum. Theoretically, I would end up with a first draft in a month’s time, but it ends up being more like three months. Before I write a Crispin book, I have to take at least two to three months of researching and outlining first. 

What projects, literary or otherwise, are occupying you at the moment?

Crispin #6, The Shadow of the Alchemist, is in the can. Soon I’ll be outlining Crispin #7, The Silence of Stones (for which we have to find a publisher), but I’m also working on a Young Adult series with Crispin’s young apprentice, Jack Tucker. Crispin found Jack when he was eleven years old, an orphaned cutpurse on the streets of London. Jack took a shine to Crispin and just wouldn’t leave, so Crispin reluctantly took him in as a servant, but he so endeared himself to Crispin with his bravery and intelligence that Crispin soon taught the lad to read and write and is in the process of training him as the next “Tracker.” Jack’s tales will be the stuff that happens when he disappears from Crispin’s side, with a stronger paranormal element and feature a strictly Jack-oriented adventure.  

What inspired you to write your first novel and make it a historical novel? Had you always wanted to be a writer? Did you have a background as a medievalist?

I don’t have a history degree (my degree is in art) but I had that strong history interest growing up in my parents’ household, who were both English medieval history buffs. We had all sorts of books on the shelves from historical novels to history texts. But I never had any notion about being a writer. I first wanted to be an actress, but after some real world auditions in college, I decided the acting life was not for me. I turned to my other longtime interest, art, changed my major, and became a graphic artist for fifteen years in Los Angeles. In my childhood years, though, I always wrote stories for fun, and even wrote my first fantasy novel when I was sixteen (with the Jack Tucker tales, with their strong fantasy element, I’m really going back to my roots). For years after, I wrote novels for fun, novels no one else knew I wrote. It wasn’t until I semi-retired from graphic design to have a baby that I was forced to consider a new career (the entire graphics industry had turned to computers, and I had not!). So I thought of something I could do at home to raise my son and researched the publishing industry and thought, why not? How hard could it be? It turned out to be pretty hard. I wrote historical novels for ten years, never getting a break, until I switched from historical novel to medieval mystery. Then it all turned around.  

Do you belong to a critique group of other authors?Do you find it helpful? In what ways?

I do. I joined Sisters in Crime around 2002 when I switched to mysteries and found a whole world of help, networking, and information. I was mostly involved in the online group of Guppies (the Great UnPublished, or Gups, guppies) and found my critique group there. I simply put out the call for other historical mystery writers and we virtually met. We live all over the country, from northern California to Oklahoma. I’ve only met one of them face to face. We communicate strictly online. It’s most helpful to have other eyes, eyes that know how to construct a mystery, people who will tell you the truth about your work. My agent will do that, too, but beta readers can work with you to get the kinks outbefore I send it to my agent.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?How important is it for a young writer to be a reader? What would you recommend they read?

The best advice is to write a lot and to read a lot. Don’t just read in the genre you want to write in, but all sorts of things. Everything. You never know where inspiration will come from. I don’t know of any successful writer who isn’t a reader. And don’t give up. Keep trying to get that agent. Agents can get you all sorts of contracts. Where would I be without my foreign contracts?

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your writing career? What has been the hardest part about being a writer?

The hardest part is that you put so much of your time, talent, and sweat into writing a book and you get so little back in return. And what I mean by that is that authors can seldom make a living in their chosen career. Editors and agents don’t need a second job, but you might. It’s a crime that this is the truth of publishing, but there it is. I do write full time, but my husband supports us.

Also, I spend a great deal of time on promotion. Even if you are published by a big New York publisher as I am, you will do the majority of promotion. It’s a shame that one cannot just write,  but again, it’s the nature of the beast. And don’t rush to self-publish. I think you will be doing yourself a disservice. Perhaps there’s a reason you get rejections. Maybe your work isn’t quite up to snuff yet. Maybe you need to write something else. You lose a lot of opportunities—chances to get foreign sales, audio sales, and other contracts—by going it alone. Don’t be drawn in by the extremely small minority who make the papers and hit it big as self-published authors. Chances are that won’t be you. There are thousands more authors who make only a very few sales from their books as newbies.

Mostly, keep writing, keep reading, network with other authors by joining professional organizations like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and always, always, be professional. 

Now don’t forget to check my website for info on my books, book discussion guides, Crispin’s blog and a cool series book trailer.

For the Skyler Foxe Mysteries, go to