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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Interview with Lauren Carr, Mystery Writer and Playwright

Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. Living in Southern California I've been to the building where the stories were written and have probably seen all the Perry Mason re-runs. So I knew I would enjoy doing this interview. The first installment of her Joshua Thornton mysteries, A Small Case of Murder was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award. She is also an active member and director of the Association of Independent Authors. Now let's get on to the interview and see what moves her to write.

Tell me about your writing background prior to writing mystery novels. Your bio notes say you were an editor and you wrote mysteries for television and stage. Can you expound on that?
While I was working as an editor with the federal government, I checked a book about how to write a screenplay out of the library. Using the instructions in this book, I wrote a screenplay and sent it to a literary agent listed in the back of the book. This was the early 1990’s before Internet. Well, a couple of weeks later, I had an agent. Less than a month after that, my screenplay was at Universal Studios with an actor (who I will not name since he dumped me) and a producer who want to make my screenplay into a pilot for a television series.

I’m thinking, “This is easy.”

After I spent six weeks rewriting the script to move the setting to Boston, the actor dropped the project for a better offer elsewhere; and the project collapsed since he was the one who wanted to do it. My agent shopped the screenplay elsewhere and said everyone loved the script, but no one wanted to take a chance on an unknown. I dropped the agent when I began writing books because he didn’t handle novels.

What about your playwriting? Are you still involved in that?

This spring, I wrote a stage play entitled Mystery on Sugar Island, a hilarious comedy about a group of castaways whose island is invaded by pirates. When one of the pirates is killed, their skipper and his wife are accused of the murder. They have to find the real killer or be taken out to sea to be used as shark bait. My dinner theaters have a different ending every night. Someone who sees it the first night can’t ruin it for those who see it the last night. The play was a hit and sold two out of three nights.

My first play was called The Mystery of Pirate’s Cove, set at a seashore resort. This play came about when I received a phone call one night from a friend. She had received the script for a play that she was directing and hated it. So she asked if I could write a play for her. She had the actors, many of whom I knew. It needed to have a pirate theme and, “Oh, yeah, rehearsals start this Saturday.” The call was Tuesday night. I wrote the play and rehearsals started on time.

Next year, we will be performing a period piece, The Mysterious Disappearance of Uncle Eugene, set in a small town during the 1940’s.

Your bio also says you are a guest speaker? What topics do you normally cover?
I do speaking engagements for writing groups, book clubs, school classes, libraries, conferences and groups about writing and publishing. This fall I will be teaching two courses on Book Writing for our adult community education.

When did you write your first novel? How many drafts did it take?
I wrote A Small Case of Murder after giving up my writing career to be a stay-at-home mom. That lasted six months. Writers have to write the way singers have to sing. Even if a singer isn’t singing on stage, they’re singing in the shower.

It is the same way for a writer. I started writing A Small Case of Murder in 1999. After writing the rough draft I had let it sit for at least a year before picking it up and revising it, letting it rest for months between drafts. I went through several drafts before having it edited by the son of a friend of my mother. This was a mistake. I was trying to cut corners and used someone who had never edited a book before.

I have revised A Small Case of Murder to correct mistakes missed by the editor before re-releasing it this April.

Which of your books is traditionally published?
My second book, A Reunion to Die For, was picked up by a traditional publisher after A Small Case of Murder was named a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award. I was honored that it was released in hardback, but quickly discovered that it’s very hard to sell a $26 book when you’re an unknown.

My next book would have to come out in paperback. Yet, my traditional publisher had done away with their paperback division. They were willing to pick up It’s Murder, My Son, but I declined.

By the time I had found another traditional publisher who could publish It’s Murder, My Son in trade paperback, I was already looking at CreateSpace, which is an Amazon company. Since I had self-published my first book, A Small Case of Murder, with iUniverse, I had the experience of both self-publishing and traditional publishing. So I was fortunate enough to be able to compare my experiences when making my decision.

With A Small Case of Murder, I hired a publicist with money out of my own pocket, (not surprising because I was self-publishing) to send out review copies, set up book signings, arrange television and radio interviews; and design display materials, which I printed. I paid the fees and all of the expenses for conferences and begged and pleaded for bookstores to order my book.

What are some of the ways you promote your books?
With A Reunion to Die For (the traditionally published book), I sent out review copies, set up book signings, arranged television and radio interviews, and designed display materials, which I paid to have printed. I paid all the fees and all of the expenses for conferences and begged and pleaded for bookstores to order my book. The publisher had sent out a total of 40 books to reviewers and listed my title in their catalog. In marketing, I went several times over the advance they had paid me to go beyond that.

It was plain to see that I would end up with all the same responsibilities for making my book a success no matter which way I went. When I found myself asking what the traditional publisher would do for me, the answer was plain.

Is this when you moved to CreateSpace for your books?
CreateSpace ended up being the best choice for me because I have all the experience and resources to publish my own books. CreateSpace is a Do-It-Yourself publisher. With years of editing and interior layout design experience, I am able to lay out the interior of my books. I outsource the editing and cover design. Once I have everything ready, I simply upload the files to CreateSpace.

I was so pleased with them when I published It’s Murder, My Son, that I went back when I released Old Loves Die Hard, the second installment in the Mac Faraday Mysteries. I also used CreateSpace for the re-release of A Small Case of Murder and A Reunion to Die For.

Since I didn’t tie up my rights with a traditional publisher, I released the e-book versions of all of my books with DTP Kindle on the same day that the print versions were available.

I’ve spoken with several writers who self-publish now as a way to speed up the publishing process, but you then have to do the work of the publisher. How much time do you have to spend with the process of getting the book to print?
After my book is edited, I will do the interior layout design. Then I will send it to the proofreader and we go through it twice. She will go through it. I will go through it when I get it back from her, and then I send it back for her to go through it again. This whole process takes approximately two months.

Then I will upload the files to CreateSpace and order a proof. Next I will sit down with a red pen and read the proof cover to cover marking mistakes that need correcting. This process takes a few days. You don’t want to do it in pieces (a chapter here, and then the next chapter two days later) because you want to catch mistakes in continuity. Reading a book in hard copy is very different from reading it on a computer screen. I don’t know of any author who hasn’t found mistakes, sometimes big ones, in proofs.

After making the corrections, I will upload the new file and order another proof. With this proof, I will check to make sure that my corrections were made. If this proof is error free, then my new book is released.

Old Loves Die Hard took three months from the layout to its release. The combined cost of the editing, cover design, and $39 to CreateSpace for the expanded distribution, was approximately $500 to publish.

How did your previous career in writing help you in writing your mystery novels?
I have learned how to writing more tightly. As my husband says, “Write in bullets.” You can expand more in a book, but still, because people have such short attention spans, you can’t go on forever. It has taken years, but I have finally put it all together to see the fat that needs to be cut, and the gems to keep. That’s something that can only be learned with experience.

Is the dog in the Mac Faraday story modeled after your own dog? How did you decide to have the dog play a big part of the story? How does your life mirror in your stories?
Gnarly is based on Ziggy, my Australian shepherd, the dog I use in my publicity photo. Raised on a farm, I’ve had pets my whole life. But Ziggy is different. When disciplining him, something will work once, but don’t try it again, because he’ll figure out how to get around it the next time.

This dog got into trouble all the time. We had him analyzed by a dog trainer, who declared that Ziggy was so smart that he was easily bored. The way a child gets into trouble when he’s bored, Ziggy looks for trouble to get into.

I’ve slipped animals into every one of my books, but they have always been minor characters, until Ziggy came into my life. He has a distinct personality, just like Gnarly. He was too good not to incorporate into a book.

A canine genius, Gnarly is smarter than Ziggy, of course. But much of his personality is the same. I think if Gnarly was a human cop, he’d be a loose cannon.

Writers don’t live in a vacuum, so they’re always influenced by people and events in their lives. I only wish I was a retired cop that inherited $270 million dollars and an estate on Deep Creek Lake and passed my time solving murder mysteries.

That's it for today's interview. I hope it inspired you to write. Here's a picture of Lauren and Ziggy, her inspiration for Gnarly. If you would like to know more about her writing or purchase her books go to


  1. Interesting interview, Lauren. And I know what you mean about trying to sell books at $20.00 and higher.

  2. Chris, will you email me please? I tried to send you mail but I must not have your email right.