Tuesday, September 23, 2014
I See a Mystery in my Future: Author Interview with Amber Foxx on Her Psychic Detective Series
I read mysteries, and I have a minor psychic gift myself— dreaming the future. I gave my protagonist a different ability. She can see the past and the present, but not the future, and needs to hold an object related to the person whose information she seeks. It gives her limitations that add tension to a story. I met a woman many years ago who had that ability, and I never forgot her.
Was there a specific book that made you think –I could write a mystery?
What if I said the Nancy Drew books? Really. I wrote my first mystery when I was about eight or nine, and sent it to my grandfather, a retired English professor. He encouraged me to keep writing.
Do you have a favorite mystery author?
It’s a three-way tie: Nevada Barr, James D. Doss, and Tony Hillerman. Doss is my strongest influence because of the mystical elements in his books. I admire how Barr writes a series in a way that a reader can enter with any book and be fully immersed, neither lost for lack of background nor swamped in backstory. I’ve tried to model my series on that. The settings all three use, as well as characters and style, captivate me.
How long did it take for you to write the first book? Was it harder or easier to write your second book?
All my books take at least two years, sometimes three. The first one was harder because it had a larger cast of characters and more subplots. I had to keep track of it on a grid. The second was simpler structurally—more chamber music than symphony.
What were your writing credits before publishing these novels? I published a few academic articles on yoga teacher training and yoga therapy, had a short story on the NPR Three Minute Fiction web site, and I had a short story published in a magazine when I was twelve. All of them are under my other name, which I don’t publicize. I decided to take a pen name for privacy when I wrote my first novel.
Are you active in any writing critique groups?Yes. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, and am active in a critique group through that organization.
What type of research do you do for your books? Tell me about the process.My research approach varies from books on crystal healing to scholarly articles on shamanism and what academics call psi phenomena, distant nonlocal awareness, and nonlocal healing. I also do both in-person and on-line interviews with experts. For example, for accuracy on Dana’s Air Force service concerns for The Calling, I interviewed a former airman. I’ve visited psychics and energy healers as well as reading the literature on their work. I keep notes on everything I’m going to need to verify as I’m writing, whether it’s a major plot issue or a detail about a character’s job. I taught a course like the one Bernadette teaches in The Calling, and have held a fitness director job like Randi’s, so my professional training and experience was my research.
How much “artistic license” do you use in creating locations for your stories?
I created fictional towns in Northeastern North Carolina for The Calling, based on several small towns in the region. I didn’t want to use real ones because the towns don’t come off looking very good. I loved the place, but my protagonist doesn’t. In Shaman’s Blues, I used the real cities of Santa Fe and Truth or Consequences, but I invented the restaurants, mall, and art galleries, and changed the houses on Delgado Street in Santa Fe so that the book wouldn’t be set in anyone’s home. In Norfolk and Virginia Beach in The Calling, also I used the real cities and streets, but invented the college and the businesses involved. I even moved some large rocks in the Santa Fe River in Shaman's Blues for plot reasons.
Did you go through the normal process of pitching your book to agents and traditional publishers? What feedback did you get?I don’t know that’s “normal” anymore in the sense of being the norm. Based on my research into the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. indie, I chose to skip that. I already knew that I wanted to self-publish.
What made you decide to self-publish?
1. I used to work in a bookstore, and saw how hard it was for a new traditionally published author to break through. Good books without big publicity campaigns didn’t have much chance to get a footing. If they didn't take off fast enough in large enough numbers, they went into returns, and then remainders, and then out of print. I wanted to control the lifespan of my book, expecting that it could take time to be discovered.
2. I don’t conform to genre expectations. My mysteries have no murder and blend elements of other genres. My research made me think agents wouldn’t want to take the risk. I could spend years looking for an agent—or years building my own audience. I chose the latter.
3. Traditionally published authors are being asked to do a lot of their own marketing now. If I was going to do that, I might as well keep more of the royalties.
Did you review other indie publishers before deciding to go with CreateSpace?
I do most of my distribution through Draft2Digital, which includes publication in paperback through CreateSpace, as well as e-books on Kobo, B&N, Apple, and Inkterra. I upload my e-book to Amazon Kindle on my own. I looked into Smashwords, researched what was involved in dealing with each e-book retailer individually and doing paperback publication as separate step, and researched Draft2Digital’s reputation. I’m very satisfied. They have amazing customer service, and I spend less time managing accounts and more time writing.
How much time daily do you have for writing?
Anywhere from eight hours to one, depending on the day of the week and whether or not college is in session. I’m a professor, so I write a lot more in the summer.
How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
I start like improv theater—intuitive, spontaneous. I’m a former actor and I loved improvisation and creating characters and scenes on the spur of the moment. Then I do background “discovery” on characters after they arrive. Once I’ve done some creative flying by the seat of my pants, I look at what I’ve got, what’s worth keeping, and what I need cut or rearrange. Then I start to outline. I’d describe myself as a “panster” for the first draft and a plotter for revisions.
How much does social media play in your promotion of your books?
My preferred social media are the book-related sites—Goodreads and Booklikes. I review, discuss books and writing, and promote when it’s appropriate, but I make sure I don’t overdo it. I use Facebook and Twitter but not as much as these sites, and I write a blog, which is my strongest platform.
What suggestions do you have for enhancing a writer’s social media platform?
I’ll pass on the advice I’ve been given by other writers who’ve been around longer. Do what you enjoy and you’ll be effective. If you force yourself and feel artificial, it will show. For example, I’m a strong essayist but uninspired for the kind of short material that goes on FB and Twitter, so I put my emphasis on blogging, discussions and reviewing, rather than trying to be someone I’m not.
What type of publicity do you do to promote your book?
Blog interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways, Facebook and Twitter announcements when appropriate, and simply being present and involved on book discussion sites—not always marketing. Over-marketing can actually drive readers away. I give promotional paperbacks to people I think can be influential in talking about my work, and I have my bookmarks in places here people are reading or buying books. I have a list of other things I need to get around to, like Pinterest.
What has worked best for you in generating sales?
These are my top two:
My free short story, The Outlaw Women. Here’s the blurb:
Folk healer and seer Rhoda-Sue Outlaw Jackson knows her time on earth is running out when she hears the voice of her late husband telling her she has only but so many heartbeats left. She’s had a troubled relationship with her daughter, and has little hope of passing on her extraordinary gifts, either to this difficult daughter or to her granddaughter. With the final hour around the corner, she brings her family together for one more try. Can she leave the world at peace with them, as well as with her legacy?
This prequel to the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series introduces Mae at age ten, as seen through the eyes of her grandmother. I can easily measure the spike in sales since I released it.
The other is being a guest on the right blogs. I can see the effects when a blog reaches the target audience for my books.
What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?I haven’t run into any surprises, to be honest. I planned well. Sisters in Crime has been a great resource. I found my editor, cover artist, and proofreader through them. I found writers who know the craft who are my beta readers for second and third rounds of revisions, as well as my critique group who help me with the first round.
I knew going into this that selling isn’t my natural talent and that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as writing. I’ve had mostly good reviews, but having been an actor and choreographer, and a professor who gets student evaluations, I came into writing with plenty of experience that prepared me not to overreact to the inevitable bad ones every writer gets. I was mentally ready for all of it, and financially ready. I set up as a sole proprietor business, and had money saved to finance the start-up of the business.
What is the best advice you've been given about writing or that you've learned that you would like to pass along?
Join a professional organization for writers in your genre. (SinC, RWA, etc.) Don’t rely on social media alone for this kind of support and education, or on people you randomly find on the net. These other writers will be your mentors in every step of the process, whether you’re seeking an agent or going indie.
What other works do you have in the process?
The next book in the Mae Martin series, Snake Face, comes out in November. It’s in the final editing process now. I’ve finished the second draft of the fourth book, the first draft of the fifth book, and am up to chapter eight in the sixth book. I also have first drafts of a horror short story and a paranormal (non-mystery) novella that are outside my series, waiting for me to have time to work with them.
Are there any other points you’d like to cover?
I’d better not. I have given long enough answers to everything else!
That's all for today's interview. If you'd like to learn more about Amber and her books, here's some options to help you do that.
The Calling - Book one in the Mae Martin psychic mystery series
Shaman’s Blues - Book Two in the Mae Martin psychic mystery series
The Outlaw Women - free prequel to series