CHAT WITH MARGOT KINBERG

-2Margot Kinberg is the author of the Joel Williams mystery novels and a university educator. She blogs daily at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

Time to chat with Margot!

I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?

I do indeed. In a Word: Murder, a charity anthology I had the honor of editing, has just been released. It’s a great collection of short stories, all having to do with crime in the world of writing, editing, publishing, reviewing and blogging.

The proceeds from the book will go in aid of Princess Alice Hospice in memory of Maxine Clarke. Maxine was a true friend to the world of crime fiction. Her loss last year was a blow to us all and this project is a way to remember her.

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What else have you written?

I’m also the author of the Joel Williams mystery novels. So far, Publish or Perish and B-Very Flat have been published. I’ve got the third in the series under review by a publisher now, and the fourth in my computer being revised.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

I most enjoy figuring out how the plot will move along and how the characters will interact. That’s where the creative part of writing comes in. Even when I have to go back and revise to make it a better story, figuring out the plot and character elements lets me use my imagination and my sense of logic at the same time.

The least enjoyable part about writing is the physical exhaustion. Writers only have a finite amount of energy for creating and writing. I wish I had bigger “battery” sometimes.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

One piece of advice I have is to keep writing. Writing is a passion, but it is also a craft. You hone your skills and get better as you do it more. So write every day, even if it’s only a sentence or two.

I’d also say it’s important to read. And then read some more. And then keep reading. Find out what other authors are doing and learn from it. You can’t find that out if you don’t read.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I’ve actually had some great experiences with social media. I’ve met some wonderful people (like yourself), made good friends and learned a lot. And that’s the best part of social media for me. I also like the way it expands horizons. For instance, I’m in an online book club that wouldn’t be possible without social media.

To be pragmatic, social media is also a very effective way to market oneself. It’s free or inexpensive, doesn’t have to be hard to use, and it reaches lots of people.

But social media is best seen (I think) as a good servant but a bad master. It’s time-consuming and distracting unless you have a lot of self-discipline.

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

I like to finish drafts of my work before I let others read it. I’d rather go through a draft myself and try to make it organized and clear and (at least sort of) proofread before I ask anyone to put in the time to read and comment.

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life? 

I’ve written since I was a child. It started innocently enough with school essays and stories. My first one was when I was about eleven years old Then it moved on to more serious things like some short stories and some (forgettable!!!) poems. After that, there was no hope for me. I honestly couldn’t imagine myself not writing.  I know it sounds cliché but writing is part of me.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?

I’m definitely an early bird writer. I love the peace and quiet of the early morning and that’s when I can focus best. And coffee is an absolute requirement (black, no sugar). Not that a glass of wine in the evening goes amiss… 😉

Have you ever started out to write one book and ended up with something completely different?

That actually happened to me with my fourth Joel Williams novel. I’d written the first several chapters and then had a terrible hard drive failure. My novel couldn’t be saved, so I had to start over. And I ended up with a different (and I’d like to think better) novel. It wasn’t fun, but the end result was a good one I think.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

I wish I were better at painting and drawing. I can use photo editing and graphics software well enough for my own needs, but I would love to be able to express things in hand-made paintings and drawings. I have an immense amount of respect for artists.

What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?

Honestly, I’ve had several valuable classes. I was lucky not to have very many “waste-of-my-time” courses. One that I remember really being helpful was a computer programming class I had at university. Now that was a long time ago, so of course everything has changed technologically. But I learned really important things about how computers work and what they actually do. And that has made things a lot easier for me now that computers are such a big part of my daily life. It’s like understanding how different ingredients work before you follow a recipe.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

Hmmmm…. I’m afraid I’ll probably sound preachy here, but I’ll try not to. One thing I think would help a lot is if we tried to see everyone (other drivers, cashiers, waitstaff and clients, you get the idea) as humans – as real people just like us. Keeping that in mind would probably mean we’d treat each other more kindly and with more respect. There’s too much rudeness, hatred and tearing others down in the world.

Along with that, I think we can all make the world better by remembering who’s going to have stewardship of it when we’re gone. Children learn the “rules of life” from the adults they interact with, and they watch us closely. I think we can make a big difference by raising our children and grandchildren with love, by teaching them both overtly and by example how to treat others, and by respecting and supporting them so that they can make the most of their talents. And you don’t have to be a (grand)parent to do that.

I also think the world would be a better place if we were a little more respectful of it. And we can do that without taking a lot of time or spending a lot of money. Just small things like recycling, using trash bins instead of the sidewalk, taking public transportation and donating clothes and furniture instead of throwing them away can make a big difference.

CONNECT WITH MARGOT

Website

Twitter

In a Word: Murder (Amazon)

Goodreads

Princess Alice Hospice

Email: margotkinberg@gmail.com

 

CHAT WITH CHRISTINA JAMES

ChristinaJames

Christina James was born in Spalding, Lincolnshire (UK) and sets her novels in the evocative Fenland countryside of South Lincolnshire. She has worked as a bookseller, researcher and teacher.  She has a lifelong fascination with crime fiction and its history. She is a well-established non-fiction writer, under a separate name.

Time to chat with Christina!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is Almost Love; like its predecessor, In the Family, it is set in and around Spalding, a market town in Lincolnshire, England. An elderly and very eminent female archaeologist disappears, leaving nothing to suggest what has happened to her except a grisly smear of blood on the wall of her hall, which turns out not to be hers. Much to his annoyance, DI Yates is assigned to the case, even though he suspects that there is a drugs ring operating in Spalding and he would much prefer to work on catching the drugs traffickers instead. However, it becomes evident that the two cases are linked. The pivotal connection is Alex Tarrant, secretary of the Spalding Archaeological Society, who inadvertently becomes involved in both crimes by embarking upon an ill-judged love affair with a colleague.

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I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?

My publisher has just been contacted by a television company asking whether it is possible to take out options on both the DI Yates books.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, it is the second in the DI Yates series. I’m now working on the third title.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Undoubtedly remembering the attributes you’ve given your characters: their likes and dislikes, quirks and foibles. Readers spot it straight away if you contradict yourself!

What else have you written?

In the Family was my first DI Yates novel. I’ve also written a business handbook and several industry reports. I’m a frequent contributor to newsletters , magazines and journals and I try to write for my blog as often as possible – if not daily, then at least several times a week.

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What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

I enjoy all of it, but perhaps writing the opening chapter of a new book is best of all. It gives a feeling of great adventure, of entering uncharted territory.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I don’t write scenes in order: I tend to write clusters of chapters about the same set of characters – i.e., those that feature in the main plot – followed by clusters of chapters about characters mainly in the sub-plot. But I consider this to be a bad habit. For a crime writer, particularly, this approach can sometimes cause errors in plot development, so I have to check the sequence of events in my books very carefully when I’ve completed the first draft. I’m trying to cultivate what I consider the better practice of writing in order.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

I think that it’s difficult to begin work on a crime novel before you have a pretty clear idea of the plot, including the ending, though you may tweak it during the course of writing. The titles of both the DI Yates novels came to me quite early on, but not before I’d started writing.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I wouldn’t say that I edit ‘excessively’, but I’m a firm believer in revision as an essential part of the writing process. I revise each chapter immediately after I’ve written it, then groups of chapters every hundred pages or so. Finally, I revise the whole first draft from beginning to end after it is completed.

After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?

I think that I’m quite a harsh self-critic. As someone who’s worked in the book industry for many years, I have a lot of experience of spotting ‘good’ and ‘bad’ books. However, I very much value the opinion of others. Both my editor and my publisher are kind enough to offer me advice, which I often take, and I’m always grateful for the reviews that I receive from readers. I take these into account when working on the next book.

How important is the choosing of character names to you?

I think characters’ names in novels, and also the names of places, are very important indeed.  I think carefully about naming my characters and usually like the names that I have given them, though, bizarrely I sometimes get the name slightly wrong when I am writing – I might change Lyle to Kyle, for example. I’ve met other writers who also make this mistake – apparently it’s quite common. I did once change a character’s name after the book was in proof, but because it was too similar to the name of a real person – the character wasn’t based on that person, but I didn’t want to risk causing offence. In In the Family, I used three names that are very similar – Doris, Dorothy and Doreen. Some readers said that they found this confusing, so I shall take care not to do it again.

Have you ever wished that you could bring a character to life? If so, which one and why?

I’d like to meet Peter Prance (from In the Family). He is outrageously camp and I think would be a very entertaining dinner companion. And I’d like Alex Tarrant, from Almost Love, as a friend.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Revise, revise, revise. Be sure that the MS that you send to publishers is as good as you can make it: check like a hawk for inconsistencies. Get all the verbs in the right tense: if you’re unsure, ask someone reliable to check for you. Write regularly – if you can’t manage daily, at least several times a week. Have faith in yourself as a writer. Most writers, even well-known ones, receive rejections, so don’t give up.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I’ve written several ‘literary’ novels. I’ve tried to get only one of these published. I sent it to Liz Calder, an editor well-known in the UK, who told me that I could write, but that my work was not commercial enough. I myself also thought that my plot construction could be stronger. I thought that if I moved to crime writing, I might be able to address both of these issues.I asked my publisher, whom I knew because we’d both worked in a user group together, to mentor me while I was writing In the Family. He agreed to do this, but it was not a foregone conclusion that he would like the book. Fortunately, he did like it, and made me an offer for it.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I very much enjoy writing the blog, and it gives me a thrill when people post comments on it, opening dialogue. I like connecting with other writers and readers through Twitter and Facebook and appreciate the feeling of community that this gives; real conversational engagement is worth a lot – the lively banter is as enjoyable as when meeting people in the flesh. I’ve also received some good tips and some very generous reviews… and had a lot of fun! It saddens me when writers are unkind to each other, or display obvious signs of jealousy. I don’t think that there is any place for unpleasant comment in social media. If I don’t like a writer’s work, or feel offended by a comment on social media, my policy is not to comment. I love to use the social media to celebrate the great work of others and to share the tweets and posts that have real quality.

What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?

I read so many books that this is a tough question! What unites all the books that I like, whether fiction or non-fiction, is the quality of the writing. In crime fiction, I particularly value good plot construction, realistic characterization and skilful psychological portrayal. I dislike plots that stretch credibility and clichéd protagonists (especially the stereotypical detective, the jaded middle-aged semi-alcoholic man with a string of broken relationships behind him and nothing to look forward to except his obsession with his work).

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

I carried out quite a lot of research for Almost Love. I now have quite an extensive collection of local history books about South Lincolnshire, and consulted these. I also checked (using libraries and the Internet) that the archaeological details in the book were accurate. I read about the archaeological digs that took place in Scotland before the Second World War, and about Norway’s part in the war. I checked that it would have been possible for a ‘Northern Rosetta’ stone to have been discovered, even though, to my knowledge, such a stone does not exist; and I established that it would have been possible for an eminent archaeologist to have travelled from Scotland to Norway on a troopship.

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

I don’t usually let anyone see my work until the first draft is completed. Although I value the opinion of others, particularly that of my husband and my publisher, I’m wary about letting them see my work too early – I feel as if showing people the writing when it is still work-in-progress saps its energy, somehow. That sounds a bit superstitious, I know!

If you were to write a non-fiction book, what might it be about?

I’d like to write a historical biography.

What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?

Appearing at events in bookshops and libraries has undoubtedly been the most effective way of promoting Almost Love, along with maintaining the blog, which has a page dedicated to the DI Yates books, but I rarely use the blog posts to promote my books. I simply try to write posts that I hope people will want to read. I really don’t see the point of repetitive plugs of your own books on Twitter, though it’s fair enough to draw attention to particular events, highlights or successes related to them. I do my best to be inventive in the way I tweet, whether about my own books or those of others. Promotion should be engaging and fun… for both the author and the people who read it!

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

I think all feedback should be respected and learnt from, not brooded upon.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must-haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?

I like to write early in the morning when I can. I drink coffee in the mornings, tea in the afternoons. I never eat when I’m writing, or drink wine – I think the effect of the latter might be disastrous! Wine is for unwinding when the day’s writing is done. I prefer to work in a silent room (though I have on occasion been quite productive on trains).

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

I think cover design is very important indeed. Fortunately, Chris Hamilton-Emery, my publisher, is a trained artist and a very distinguished cover designer.

Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?

I think that e-book sales will level off. Even readers who buy e-books will continue to buy print books as well.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

I like bread, especially if it’s home-made; I do make ours regularly – it’s wholemeal. Although I’m not a vegetarian, I’m not big on meat. I dislike anything that’s made with offal.

What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?

Honesty, loyalty and genuine concern for others.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

I’d like to be much better at Maths than I am.

What’s your favorite film of all time?

That’s hard, because they do tend to date, but I love those that are beautifully filmed and The English Patient is one such, as well as being quite faithful to the book.

Favorite book?

I re-read lots of books, but the one I come back to again and again is Jane Austen’s Emma.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Walking our English Pointer dog in beautiful countryside.

CONNECT WITH CHRISTINA

Blog

Twitter

Facebook

Email: christina.james.writer@gmail.com

CHAT WITH MICHAEL RADCLIFFE

MichaelRadcliffe

An avid reader of science fiction and fantasy all his life, Michael Radcliffe published his first book The Guardian’s Apprentice in 2010. He lives in rural Kentucky with his family and their six feline companions. His writing is supervised by Idris, a temperamental dragon sculpture that sits in a place of honor next to his computer.

Time to chat with Michael!

What is your latest book?

My current work in process is tentatively titled Touch of Darkness, and takes place after the events in Rise of the Shadow. I had actually intended to end the Beyond the Veil series with the third book, but one of the main characters kept hanging about in my imagination. When I mentioned this to my friend and fellow writer, Maria Savva, she encouraged me to write the story. She also enlisted the aid of my dragon, Idris, which was decidedly not fair!

Without giving too much away, Touch of Darkness explores the story of a main character from Rise of the Shadow. At the end of Shadow, this character is on the run, having murdered two innocent people while possessed by an evil spirit. In Darkness, he struggles with the realization of what he did, and he will face a choice of redemption or temptation.

What else have you written?

Oddly enough, I thought I would only ever write one book, but the story kept evolving and the characters just won’t leave me alone!

To date I have written three books:

The Guardian’s Apprentice

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Bloodstone – The Guardian’s Curse

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Rise of the Shadow

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And seven short stories:

Tears for Hesh

Forsaken

Scale of a Dragon

Inner Daemon

Legend of the Pumpkin King

Frostbite – The Dragon that Saved Christmas

The Amaranthine Flask

All of them except for Legend of the Pumpkin King are set in the same world and contribute to the overall series. I like to use short stories as a way to further develop the background of characters from the novels. I must admit, I enjoy writing short stories as I like the challenge of developing and telling a complete story in just one or two thousand words.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

I absolutely love the world-building aspect of fantasy, where you can create a completely new setting populated with everything your imagination can conjure up. I also enjoy developing the backgrounds of my characters. For example, after writing The Guardian’s Apprentice, I went back and wrote the short story, Forsaken, which tells the story of Nisha, one of the supporting characters. Forsaken gives the reader insight about how she became the person she was in TGA, and it let me explore her character.

There are actually two things I strongly dislike about writing. The first and most frightful is writing a synopsis or a query letter. I hate, hate, HATE writing either one of those dreadful things. I would much rather face down a dragon than be forced to write a synopsis or a query letter. The second thing I dislike is editing, simply because it NEVER ends! Even today, I can go back and read my first book, which I published in 2010, and I will invariably find a typo that I missed, or a section I would word differently.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I will confess to being an oddball on this question. In Bloodstone – The Guardian’s Curse, I actually wrote the last two chapters first, then went back and wrote the rest. In book three, Rise of the Shadow, I wrote about five chapters, skipped ahead and wrote two middle chapters, then filled in the gaps and wrote the end. In contrast, with The Guardian’s Apprentice I wrote the story straight through, from beginning to end. I think my process depends largely on how the story is flowing in my mind – sometimes I’ll have a sudden insight and think “Oh, this would be the perfect way to end…” so I will write that particular scene or chapter while it is fresh.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

Both. I edit as I write, and will often stop and re-read several chapters to make sure the story flows properly. Once I am finished, I read, re-read, and re-re-read, editing each time. With my last two books, I also sought beta-readers, which I found to be incredibly helpful.

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

Names, in my opinion, are almost as important as the plot. Sometimes I struggle with names, sometimes they just come to me in a flash of inspiration (sadly, struggling is much more common than those rare flashes…). I will also admit to keeping a file of names and words I have come across that I consider to be odd or just plain cool – that file has come in very handy when trying to name a character. I think the toughest time was in my first book, The Guardian’s Apprentice, when I renamed one of the characters three times before I found the right one.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Write. Write a LOT. The more you write, the better you will become. I would also strongly urge a new writer to join a critique group such as critters.org. This allows you to interact with others, critiquing their work and having yours critiqued in return. You also need to keep an open mind about criticism. Use criticism, no matter how hard it may be to hear, to make your work better. Also, before you publish something, make certain it is polished and as error-free as possible! No matter how much you hated Freshman English in college, grammar counts, and nothing turns a reader off quicker than poor grammar.

Finally, join a writers group such as BestsellerBound.com where you can network and share experiences with other writers.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I have used Facebook and Twitter since 2010, and I am also on Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Klout. I am particularly fond of Twitter, as it keeps me connected to my Indie friends. Social media has been a wonderful tool for authors to connect with readers and other authors, and I shudder to think where we would be without it. Social media has allowed me to connect with so many wonderful people. Ironically some of my best friends are those I have never actually met in person!

That being said, I have frequently found myself sucked into a time warp thanks to social media. I will log into Facebook or Twitter, glance at the clock, and an hour has vanished – one that could have otherwise been spent writing! (for the record, I am NOT addicted to CandyCrush – I can stop any time I want…)

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

I am very fortunate in that my sister is a writer as well. She writes paranormal romances under the pen name Maeve Greyson, and we have on occasion each sought the opinion of the other, even though we inhabit different genres.

I especially like to seek the opinions of other writers if I am exploring new territory. For example in my current work in process, Touch of Darkness, a critical part of the story is the romance that blossoms between the two main characters. While there has been a little bit of romance in previous stories, it has never been so central to the theme. I was very concerned about setting the right tone, so I asked my friend, Maria Savva, if she would mind reading a sample. She was kind enough to read the first few chapters and give me her opinion, which reassured me I was on the right track. That type of feedback is invaluable when writing, in my opinion.

Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?

Sadly, they have complete control. When I am writing, I can almost hear the characters and their dialogue in my head (yes, I know I just admitted to hearing voices…). So far in each book I have written, the story has taken a twist, when the characters did something I did not expect. I certainly never thought I would write a fourth book, but one of the characters kept rattling about in my imagination and simply would not leave me alone until I told his story!

What music soothes your soul?

The music of Enya always helps me relax. Especially when I am writing, her music helps transport me to another world. I also enjoy listening to classical music while I write, preferably Vivaldi, Mozart, or Beethoven.

If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?

As I spend the majority of my time at work reading banking regulations, conducting audits, and answering legal questions, I prefer to watch comedies – to drag me back from the depths of seriousness. My favorites include Mike & Molly and The Big Bang Theory. I will confess however, I do love a good mystery. I particularly enjoy Midsomer Murders and Agatha Christie’s Poirot performed by British actor David Suchet.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Sipping coffee on a Saturday morning, while sitting in the porch swing with my wife. A very close second is sitting in front of a warm fire in December, when everything is decorated for Christmas.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

Live simply, love deeply, and laugh often.

CONNECT WITH MICHAEL


Website

The Guardian’s Apprentice

Twitter

Pinterest

Goodreads

 

CHAT WITH ROBBIE COX

RobbieCoxRobbie Cox is the author of Reaping the Harvest as well as the blog The Mess That Is Me. His blog is all about family and the quirks of going through this journey called Life. Residing in the sunny state of Florida, he can usually be found on his back porch with a cigar and a glass of scotch, surrounded by great friends and his family.

Time to chat with Robbie!

What is your latest book?

Reaping the Harvest was published last year. It’s an urban fantasy where an unwilling hero is entrusted with a sword and tossed into a battle between the Way and the Void. He is teamed up with a 2 1.2 foot ellyll and a 300-pound coshey in order to stop the demon, Vargas, from getting the best of unsuspecting humans.

The next book to come out is A Confused Life: the Mess on Steroids, which will be out in the next month. It’s a collection of essays along the theme of those found on the blog. Some have actually appeared on the blog, but have been expanded upon.

ReapingTheHarvest

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

All the time. I remember one storyline I was working on and as one character was heading off to find a wizard to assist their cause, he stumbled upon a body in the middle of the road. I had never intended for him to find anything of the kind and as I was typing I was totally baffled as to who it was and what to do next. It caused some major reworking of the future storyline over the next couple of days. I like to be surprised by the characters, because it keeps me on my toes and makes the book more alive. If they can surprise me, they will be able to surprise the reader.

ConfusedLife

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I prefer to write everything in order. I rarely have an outline, preferring to just allow the story to flow as it comes. I have an idea of where I want to go and a few scenes I want to include along the way, but for the most part, I allow the characters to tell their story.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I prefer to get the entire story down first, then edit like crazy. In the novel I am working on now, Losing Faith, the story changed toward the end, which caused some major editing of the beginning. If I had done my edits along the way, I would have wasted quite a bit of ink as it still would have needed to be changed. To me, the first draft is the creative part. The second draft is the real work.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

Social media has its ups and downs; its good points and its bad. I have met several fantastic people through networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, which I never would have met before and made some great friendships. I have learned quite a bit about my craft and platform building by the people I have come across. Mt least-favorite part of social media would be how it has turned into a rolling billboard for the most part. I understand tweeting your links and products, but that seems to be all it is now. I prefer the communication with the people I meet. Tweet your books, by all means, but also stop and make a connection.

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

I was born to be a storyteller, I think, and that transformed into a writer. It could have very well gone the way of musician or artist, but telling the story is the main thing. I used to create elaborate storylines with my action figures when I was a child long before I thought of writing it out. From there I drew the worse cartoons ever to act out my tales of heroics and then by ninth grade it was a way to tune out my teachers. Now, it’s the first thing I do when an idea starts to form. I simply start writing it out as I see it in my head.

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

Don’t take it personally, which I know is hard because it’s like they are saying nasty things about our children. When someone criticizes my writing, I try to read their words without emotion, looking for those nuggets that might help me make the next piece of work better. Someone once said, we can learn things even from our enemies, and the same is true with negative reviews. People see things differently, so not everyone is going to agree with the negative or the positive. The idea is to take what you see and grow from it without allowing it to make you bitter.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?

I’m both. What I am not is an afternoon writer. At that time, I am only ready for a nap. I love writing with classical music playing in the background and I almost always have coffee or whisky close at hand and sometimes a cigar.

Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?

I like to think I start out in control. I have an idea of where I want the story to go, but once they get on paper they tend to take over the story. That is when they have the control and I’m not sure I ever get it back.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?

To just do it. Write. I hemmed and hawed so much and wasted so many years because of my fear or the myriad of excuses that I came up with for not writing that if I had just sat down and put pen to paper, I would be well ahead of the game by now. The only way you become a writer is by writing. Don’t listen to the naysayers, even when that person is you.

Have you ever played a practical joke on a friend? Ever had one played on you?

I used to work for a pizza delivery company and we were playing jokes on each other all of the time. I even did a blog post about it on the Mess a few months ago entitled the Practical Joke Goes On. We keep playing them, because we don’t want to be the last person it was played on. We want to laugh at someone else the way everyone laughed at us. It kept us from going crazy, I think. We do it within the family, as well, and our closest friends. You have to have a sense of humor to make it through life and sometimes those practical jokes remind you to laugh, even at yourself.

What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?

Honesty and loyalty, which I suppose you could sum up as trust. Furthermore, they need the ability to laugh and relax. I want someone who will stand by me as I stand by them. We have a close-knit group of friends who believe in living life and allowing the drama to remain in my stories. We support each other in their dreams and keep a positive outlook no matter what. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are going to encourage you to be the best person you can be and not discourage you as you press forward.

Care to brag about your family?

I could always brag about my family. We are a unique bunch, the girls and I and all of our kids. We have the greatest group of children, each successful and strong in their life pursuits and character. Two are at college, one is doing awesome in his career and teaching at a college, one is married and active in his church, another is about to begin school while working here in town, and the 8 year-old is active enough to keep me in shape and on my toes. The girls are all leaders in their workplaces and careers and have done a great job at keeping me from looking like a fool on paper as they fill the role of editors-in-residence. We have been blessed with an abundance of love that seems to surround all who come around us. We take trips together and enjoy being around each other. My family is my Heaven on Earth and I wouldn’t be able to accomplish half of what I have without them.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

I never feel guilty about my pleasures. I think I’ve earned them. However, some of the things I enjoy that others may rail about would be my enjoyment of cigars and scotch. I also love a strong cup of coffee. Oh, and Reese’s Cups. Those are my absolute favorite and I cannot settle for just the two in a pack. I need more. Lots more.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

First would be to allow people to live the way they want to live, whether you believe in it or not. As long as they aren’t doing anything to hurt you, why would it matter how they choose to love or live? Second, everyone needs to do their part. This goes back to my answer about lazy people. We can all do something and we should each do what we can. And finally, see the heart of people and not the exterior. See beyond race, culture and gender; beyond sexual orientation and lifestyle, to the genuine nature of each individual and judge them by that. Sounds like I’m running for Miss America, huh? I just think if people focused on their own lives instead of other people’s, the world would be a much happier place.

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