Today's interview is with Liz Lipperman who writes under two names. As Liz, she writes cozy mysteries. As Lizbeth she writes gritty, suspense thrillers. Read on to learn how she got started and made writing her career.
When my kids were teenagers, I decided to go back to college and took a creative writing class as an elective. On the final exam, the professor wrote, “You should consider a career in fiction writing.” It started me thinking and I picked up a pen and gave it a shot. I joined my local romance writers’ group and learned a lot about the craft of writing. I was still actively working as a nurse, so it was slow going, plus I had no idea what I was doing.
About fifteen years later, I got serious and finished a manuscript. That book was titled SHATTERED DREAMS, and after many rejections from romance editors and agents who said no romance novel could be set in Colombia, I finally got the call from an agent who loved the story. Unfortunately, she couldn't sell it, either, for the same reasons. Guess the guns and explosions put a damper on the romance part!! That book, titled just SHATTERED and now billed as a romantic thriller, is self published and remains my favorite book.
Your bio states you thought you were a romance writer but pesky villains kept popping up. Did you ever publish a mainstream romance novel?
All my books have suspense and killings. It wasn't until, my agent took a sabbatical and I was passed on to the owner of the agency that I realized I was a mystery author, although all my books have a touch of romance in them.
My new agent took one look at my stuff and declared that I was not a romance writer. She could have knocked me over with a feather, but because I trusted her, I wrote MORTAL DECEPTION, my first attempt at “suspense.” And yes, after I discovered I was a mystery author, I threw out the first 125 pages of SHATTERED and started the story with a kidnapping instead of the romance. Those first 125 pages, with different character names and back stories, was published as a short story last year by Amazon StoryFront. So, I can now say I kinda am a romance author!!
I always have read mystery/suspense and loved humor in books. Some of my readers think I write a little like Evanovich (I wish!) although I would never in my wildest dreams compare myself to her. She’s like the Nora Roberts of mystery.
Are you active in any writing critique groups?
I have a long-time critique partner who writes very similar to the way I do. She and I exchange every chapter for edits. After I edit a final manuscript (which doesn’t take long since I edit as I go) I send it out to two trusted writer friends who beta read it. Then it goes to my agent and on to the publishers. I do belong to a very unique group called the Plotting Princesses. We have a retreat three times a year to get help plotting books and to catch up on the marketing strategies out there. In between, someone will call an occasional lunch/plotting session to iron out any problems with their story.
What inspired you to create a family of sisters as sleuths rather than a single female lead?
A Dead Sister Talking Series was inspired by my own siblings. I have four sisters, one of whom died way too young. Her name was Theresa (we called her Tessie) and although my trash-talking ghost is Tessa, she’s nothing like my sister. Theresa married her High School sweetheart, had four wonderful kids, and was a great wife and mother. How boring would that have been?? The relationship between the other four sisters is spot on, though, as my sisters remain my best friends. They tell everyone that the books are about them. My younger sister has gone so far as to complain that I make her too dull, so I had to spice her up in the latest book.
How long did it take for you to write your first book that was published? How long does it take for you to write a book today?
That first book took over 15 years. Today, with deadlines, I can write two books a year when I don’t mess around.
Your books are published by traditional publishers, which now don’t take unagented authors. Tell me about the process of getting an agent.
I went to a lot of conferences and pitched to romance agents/editors. You know how that turned out! Also, I am one of those people who need valium when I pitch, so most of my submissions were via snail mail. About 6 years after I got serious about writing, I got the call. There are no words to describe how I felt hearing someone say they loved my “ugly” baby.
My first sale to Berkley was after my agent had submitted the first Dead Sister Talking mystery to her. She said she loved the book but would have to ruin it by making it into a cozy. She asked if I could write a cozy series for her, specifically a foodie. I said, “Absolutely. What’s a cozy?” After researching it, I almost turned down the offer because all of the ones out there were about gourmet food and fancy wine, both of which I hate.
Then I decided to write about a sports nut (like me) who ends up as the culinary reporter in a small town newspaper. I wrote three chapters and a synopsis and got a three book deal for the Clueless Cook Series. Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy with the contract they offered for the fourth book of the series and decided to self-publish it. I would tell any unagented authors to go to the conferences and try to buddy up to an agent—the best place is in the bar—and just strike up a conversation. Almost always, he/she will ask what you write. It’s the best way to do a casual pitch. Research the specific person you are targeting and know if they represent what you write. That’s the biggest gripe my agent has.
I am a plotter and have the book mostly plotted before I even write a word. The idea behind MORTAL DECEPTION came from a true story about a child who was saved by the cord blood of a sibling from a genetically perfected embryo. Of course, I had to add spicy details!! For other projects, I have researched all kinds of things like poisons, ricin, Al Qaeda, etc. I’m positive I am on a Homeland Security list somewhere.
Since you write full time, what is your daily writing schedule? Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
I am very undisciplined and usually wait until my deadline looms. Then I go into panic mode and am pretty sure I need a twelve-step program for crisis junkies. I do character profile sheets on all the major characters. Although I know things like what kind of car they drive, what kind of perfume they wear, etc, most of this stuff never gets in the book. It’s just a way for me to really get to know them.
I love you play on words titles for your Clueless Cook series. Are playful titles more acceptable with cozy mysteries?
I think playful titles are more prevalent with cozies, which usually have a nice dose of humor. My first cozy title, DUCKS IN A ROW, was quickly changed in a marketing meeting at Berkley to LIVER LET DIE. After I realized I could have fun with it, I started coming up with a catchy title,
then plotting a story around it. Berkley loves my titles.
I wish there was some magic formula. Honestly, I think the best way to keep readers and get new ones is to write the next book better than the previous one. Social media is good, but it can really be a time suck. I love Facebook but rarely use Twitter. I have a FB street team closed page for all those who are willing to help me promote when I have a new release and give me reviews when they are so inclined. I do all my release parties with giveaways there. Other than that, I simply announce on my personal FB page.
What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?
How very hard it is. To all the new writers out there, enjoy your first book because once you get deadlines, it’s a job!
What inspires you the most in writing your novels?
I love when the readers email me to tell me something they loved about the story or to ask about one of the recipes in the back.
What’s been the most frustrating?
What frustrates me is the fact that writers have to spend so much time promoting and marketing. This should be writing time.
What is the best advice you've been given about writing or that you've learned that you would like to pass along?
From the awesome Nora Roberts—Keep writing. Unlike a blank page, even crap can be turned into something brilliant.
Just released a Cleuless Cook/now titled Jordan McAllister Mystery novella titled SMOTHERED, COVERED & DEAD. A second Jordan McAllister mystery novella titled PEACHES AND CREAMED will come out early next year and be paired with the first novella in a print book.The third Dead Sister Talking/now titled Garcia Girls Mysteries, titled MISSION TO KILL, releases in September.
I have a Romantic Suspense series almost ready to go called SWEEPERS. The first book in that series, SWEEPERS: DIE ONCE MORE will be finished this month along with a prequel short SWEEPERS; A KISS TO DIE FOR. Then I have one last Garcia Girls mystery with a release date in September, 2016. And if that isn’t enough, I have a new cozy series that will debut next year.
As you can tell, Liz is one busy writer. If you'd like more details on her books and maybe buy one or more, you can do so by visiting her website at www.lizlipperman.com