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Friday, July 12, 2024

Going Around Writer's Block: Author Interview with Susan Reiss

You’ve now published two book series. One deals with love that transcends time and the other is murder mysteries. Which genre is easier for you to write?

The St. Michaels Silver series is firmly in the mystery genre with a few historical tidbits tossed in for flavoring. These tidbits make the stories unique because they are set in a real place, a small town on the Maryland Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. This area where I now live full-time is rich in history and "quirky" characters (though the characters are based on real people, living or dead.) Discovering that silver and silversmiths played some key roles in the life of the county and the state made the writing process exciting.

The In Time series won the Bookfest Gold Medal for Best Historical Fiction Series in 2023. more historical fiction plus mystery (with a dash of romance). It began when I bought a massive antique desk, the kind with cubby holes and secret compartments. I started to wonder who had sat at the desk and wrote whom? about what? Then the name Daniel popped into my head. The next day, I visited a friend in her "new" house dating back to the early 1800s and told her about my musings. Next thing I knew, she produced a portrait dated 1840 of a young man. No one knew him. The painting was not signed. She declared it was Daniel. She sent me home with him to write the story. 

With my librarian's help, I pulled together some random historical facts and wrote the book. I thought it would be a standalone. "NO!" declared the readers. "We want the next book." That was when the historical research became vital. Of course, research takes time and effort. Then there was the creative time and effort to weave the story in the past, the story in the present, and the connections.

With that said, I think writing is not about which genre is easier. I think the author has to go where the story and characters lead...and most importantly, where the author's imagination blossoms.

How do you go about doing research for your time travel novels?

My first stop is the St. Michaels library and a chat with the knowledgeable librarians there. They have a solid understanding of the historical materials about this area in the collection. At one time, I had more than 50 books checked out! Fortunately, the Maryland library system has digitized many resources so I can take advantage of 100+ year old copies of publications like the Baltimore Sun. I have even done research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

How do you choose a time period? What’s one of the most unique facts you’ve discovered in doing your research?

The discovery of "Daniel's portrait" helped narrow down the time period along with the discovery of a political thread that continues to exist today. Though Maryland remained in the Union during the Civil War, the Eastern Shore with its plantations and slaves like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman in this county, the split among the residents was extreme. Even today, as you know Maryland is a blue state BUT the Eastern Shore has had a staunch Republican in the House for more than 20 years.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?

My editor from the beginning, Kristen Weber, gently educated me in the nuances of writing mysteries and taught me how to nurture my own creativity. Even though I had written for TV for many years, I still had to study and learn new things since I wanted to write books. And that was okay! Her gentle encouragement showed me I could be my worst enemy but why should I do that to myself? If I wanted to do something, study, practice, edit, edit, edit...and above all, be honest with myself. If it doesn't feel like the manuscript isn't ready, it's not. Make another cup of tea and dive in again to figure out why!

Marketing is the biggest key to making sales. What is the best marketing source you've used that has produced more sales rather than just clicks?

I have a marketing background and I know how unreliable advertising is. Trying to understand the metrics can make you crazy. That's why I don't advertise. Yes, it's important to test any marketing product and message you develop for your books and your brand, but doing what you should to produce a strong message that resonates can eat up your time and money. I like talking to readers. Getting out of the writing study is important, making presentations, appearing on panels, doing signings while talking to the people. I work hard to build my email list and then try to make the messages interesting and somewhat unique. I've found making connections with people brings them to the first book and read-through sells the rest of the books in the series.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?

How to tell my negative internal editor to Shut Up! Not every line in the first or second draft is brilliant, but I'm learning everyday how to make each line better! As long as I have that commitment, a good editor, and honest advance readers, I think I can be proud of my books.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?

It's about writer's block. Sometimes, life throws you so many curves, it is just hard to write. When it happened to me, I was stunned. Working in television for many years, it was not something I or my colleagues faced. When we had a deadline, the show had to be ready. There was no such thing as dead air, if you wanted to keep your job. When I began writing books and life was full of bumps I told a friend I couldn't work. He set up a lunch with Stewart Greene, creative director of the amazing advertising agency Wells, Rich & Greene. I had been in awe of this man for years. Sitting across the table from him, I felt so embarrassed when he said,"I understand you have writer's block." I quickly assured him I was working through it and committed to... He stopped me. "Why are you working through it? That takes a lot of energy. Just go around it and keep going. It will all work itself out."

I never had a problem again.

Give me a short synopsis of your latest book.

My most recent book, Devoted in Time, came out in April. Here's a little synopsis:

Emma once more delves into the mysteries of Waterwood Plantation’s past. A chilling discovery of a skull catapults TJ and Emma into a web of secrets surrounding the Man-in-the-Field, known as Gideon. Who was he? Why was he laid to rest in an unmarked grave more than a century ago? As Emma seeks answers, she uncovers a labyrinth of betrayal spanning from the Civil War era to the present day. She grapples with the shadows of the past that threaten the present, but as she inches closer to the truth, she realizes some secrets are best left buried—as they may hold the power to unravel lives.

Sounds intriguing! If you'd like to learn more about Susan's books, here's how to get started.

And here's a bonus for my readers, leave a comment on this post and we'll pick two readers who will receive their choice of  an eBook copy of Letters in Time or Tarnished Silver. So do that now. It can be as simple as I want to be in the giveaway. We'll chose a winner next Tuesday!

Friday, July 5, 2024

Getting Serious about Writing Mysteries: Author Interview with Sylvia (S.F) Baumgartner

You’ve now published several books, but what inspired you to write that first one? How long did it take you to write your first book that was published? How many rewrites did you do on it?
The story simmered in my head for a while. So, I wrote the first edition, The Secrets, published in 2019. It was almost like an experiment for me. So, I unpublished it and expanded the story, had it re-edited, re-titled, had a new cover done and republished it in 2023. It didn’t take me that long to write the novella. Probably a few months. And when I expanded it, it took a couple of weeks. The good thing is I didn’t have to do a lot of rewrites. The various editors who worked on the story thought the storyline didn’t make me change a lot of things.

How do you go about plotting your murder/suspense novels? Do you pick the victim or the perpetrator first? What do you think makes for a perfect suspense story?
I’m a flexible planner. I know the beginning and the end. The middle is where I “muddle” through. Well, I get a lot of inspiration from watching crime TV shows. So far, I’ve picked the victims first. I’d say lots of twists and turns make for a perfect suspense story. A lot of reviews agree that my stories have lots of surprises.

I love that you have a relationship chart on your website for your series. I see you have a mix of ethnic names for characters. How do you choose names for your characters? (For me I look up my favorite movies and mix up the first and last names of the cast and crew)

Thank you! They are totally random, except for a few. A friend was telling me a former employee of his moved to Orlando about a year ago. He was telling me about this family. It so happens that I already have Phil and Olivia in my books. So, I told him I’d name two other characters after the family’s daughter and mom. As for ethnic names, I’m familiar with Chinese family names. And like you, I pick out the Middle Eastern family name from a TV series and “borrow” a name from a former coworker.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
Every time I read a glowing review from a reader, I get encouraged. My biggest fear before I published was that no one liked my stories. Best of all when my family and friends believe they’re good.

Marketing is the biggest key to getting sales. What is the best marketing source you've used that has produces more sales rather than just clicks?
For free book offers, I’ve found paid promotions work well. For paid books, I think advertising is the best. I’m still new at this and I haven’t started advertising seriously.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?

I wish I had known how time-consuming it can be. When you take writing seriously, you can’t just write a draft and call it a day. There’s the self-edits, then a bit of edits after it’s gone through beta-read, then a couple more rounds of edits from professional editors.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
If anyone is serious about writing, I’d say, don’t give up. Find an editor who clicks with you. I had the misfortune of having an editor who didn’t see eye-to-eye with me on important matters. I’m glad I found my current editor. I’ve learned a lot from her.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
The plan is to release the next installment in late August or early September. We know who Grace’s biological mother is. The next installment will reveal her biological father. Her abduction and other storylines (a murder, the past coming to haunt someone) are all connected.

That's all for today's interview.
Hope you check out her current and upcoming books with the links below.

And here's a bonus for my readers, leave a comment on this post and we'll pick one reader who'll receive a copy of one of  Sylvia's eBooks. So do that now. It can be as simple as I want to be in the giveaway. We'll chose a winner next Saturday!