Lisette has generously offered me space to guest blog about my latest book, Stranger at Sunset, so before anything else, I want to thank her for hosting me.
I’m very happy to be here because I’ve known Lisette for some time and have recently started to delve into her work. I have enormous respect for her as an author as she writes in multiple genres—from YA to literary fiction to romantic comedy.
I’ve always maintained that any writer with a talent for words can create a story. A genre is merely made up of ideas dropped into a funnel. If enough elements fall out of it under a specific category, that’s how the book will ultimately be labeled. There are no hard rules, and many novels stagger multiple genres.
As an author, I don’t have any great attachment to whether my book is labeled a mystery or thriller or suspense. Labels give readers an idea of what to expect and they help marketers promote books. I started as a writer of erotica, and then took a hard turn to pen Stranger at Sunset, a psychological mystery/thriller. It helped that I had written flash fiction and short stories in multiple genres previously. It’s been a challenge but not impossible to gain acceptance into a new genre.
As a reader, you might be asking: What is a psychological mystery/thriller? And what can you expect from Stranger at Sunset?
In brief, it is not a traditional mystery because although there is a crime, you will not know who the victim or perpetrator is from the start. It’s not a “whodunit?” There is no detective.
The story stimulates mood with a focus on moral conflict. I use unreliable narrators to drive the psychological tension in unpredictable ways. What I’m exploring are the characters’ motives and how they view the world, which is different from how you and I may see it. Multiple characters are revealed via changes in point of view and scenes that involve each separately.
The “psychological mystery” part reveals a battle of wits between the characters, and more importantly, a struggle within individual minds. The themes of identity and raison d’être are important.
The “thriller” part defines how the reader rides along with the protagonist, Dr. Kate Hampton, experiencing things as they happen to her. You will be just as surprised as she is when the “monster” jumps out of the closet.
Suspense is essential, and it builds between characters in a place where you would not normally have conflict—a tropical resort in sunny Jamaica. It’s the antithesis of where you would expect to find human foibles such as intolerance, inhibitions, and insecurities.
And of course, there is always the element of a twist ending, just because I love twist endings. 😀
I hope this synopsis gives you an idea of what Stranger at Sunset offers. I would love to answer any questions or discuss thoughts about genre barriers or writing a psychological mystery/thriller, so please don’t hesitate to comment.
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Thank you, Lisette, for giving me this opportunity to share with your readers. I really appreciate all you do to connect authors to an audience.
My pleasure, Eden. As you know, I’ve read Stranger At Sunset and just loved it. You write beautifully and your characters were wonderfully complex and intriguing. I’m very much looking forward to the next in the series.
For readers who may have missed your interview at my writers’ chateau in December, 2012, it can be read here.
Samantha Stroh Bailey is a mom, author, journalist and professional writer/editor with her business, Perfect Pen Communications. She was a Kobo Writing Life writer-in-residence at BEA 2013 and is the co-founder of “Book Buzz,” a promotional author event held in New York City and soon, Toronto. She has a Master of Education that looks great on her wall (okay, in a box in her basement), and when not writing, she can be found curled up on her couch reading until the wee hours. Finding Lucas is her first novel.
Time to chat with Sam!
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
This is an excellent question! My characters always surprise me, and there are times I want to reel them in, but they refuse. When I begin a story, I have to pound away at the computer until I have a big chunk of it written. I can’t stop myself because the characters take over and insist that I continue until they’re ready for a break. I find that it’s my imperfect characters who have the loudest voices in my head, and though I am shocked by what they come up with, I am only the conduit for their lives. Crazy, I know.
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’m a professional editor as well as an author so it is very hard for me not to edit as I write. But I force myself not to. I write and write until a big part is done, and then I go back and edit. The problem with that, as opposed to very well-organized writers who edit as they go, is that I then have to edit extensively many times. But, my fingers need to tap away at that keyboard for a good while before I can fix anything that’s wrong. And even though I’m an editor, I always have another editor look at my work. It’s amazing what we miss!
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?
Choosing names is very important to me. I need to envision the character before I choose a name and then I scour baby name sites on the Internet. I also tend to choose names I love that I didn’t end up naming my own children.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?
Ooh, yes! Those are some of my favorite to write. I despised Derek in Finding Lucas for his pretention, egotism and lack of emotion. It is so much fun taking attributes I don’t personally like and creating a character I love to hate. His mother, Jeanette, and Jamie’s co-worker, Eva, were also incredibly exciting antagonists to write. The drama and tension unlikeable characters stir up makes my heart pound as I type.
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
Until I published Finding Lucas, I rarely used social media. I didn’t even have a Facebook page. I was scared to make comments that might sound stupid or interact with people I didn’t know. But, when I started using Twitter, I found an incredibly supportive group of authors, bloggers and readers, some who have become very close friends, and I realized that social media can be used for good. Through Facebook, I discovered The Chick Lit Goddesses, an amazing group who make my writing days less lonely and angst-filled. I remember the first time I reached out to an author on Twitter. I had just finished reading Just Friends with Benefits by Meredith Schorr, and I loved it. I was so nervous, but I had to tell her how good her book was. Now, Meredith and I are incredibly close! And without Twitter, I wouldn’t have met you or known about your fantastic books.
So, that’s my favorite part. My least favorite is how much time it takes, and it’s a steep curve to learn how to divide my time between my writing/editing business, novels and social media. It’s easy to get sucked in because it’s fun, and I feel guilty when I don’t respond quickly.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
I love books with imperfect characters who grow as the novel progresses. I love books that make me tear through the pages to get to the next part and make me sad when it’s over. I love books that make me think and keep me up late at night. What do I like least about the books I read? That I need to take on more clients to pay for all of them. I read a few books a week, and it’s a pricey habit.
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?
Once I’ve finished a few drafts, I rely on an invaluable group of beta readers. I know they’ll be honest with me, they have eagle eyes and all have very different ways of beta reading. I don’t know what I’d do without them. I think beta readers always worry that they’re going to hurt the author they’re reading for. And yes, it would be great if my beta readers said, “Oh, this is perfect! You’re done!” But, I need their constructive criticism, and I welcome it. They all make me a better writer.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I’ve been writing, as I say, ever since I could pick up a pen. I had a wild imagination as a kid (I still do!), and I was constantly creating stories with characters who were nicer than some of the mean kids at school. When I was ten, I submitted my first manuscript. It was rejected, but it didn’t stop me. I have always, always wanted to be a writer and the day I published Finding Lucas, even though I was a journalist by then, was one of the best days of my life.
What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?
I would love to write romantic suspense. I’ve started reading a few and I’m editing one for a client right now. I think it is incredibly difficult to write any kind of suspense because there are so many threads to keep track of and so much research to do, but it is a challenge I long to take. One day!
Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?
Definitely not boats because the minute those suckers start rocking, I start hurling over the side. If I make it in time. I love trains because of the scenery and the sound of the train hurtling along the tracks. I love planes because I can get so far, but I can’t stand the whole airport process. No matter how early I leave for the airport, I’m always that person yelling, “Hold the plane!”
If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would you like to have? And why.
Math. I want to be good at math. And directions. I want to be able to calculate a tip in seconds and know exactly where I’m going when I leave my house.
What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?
I have the most wonderful, supportive and beautiful friends. I don’t do drama or high maintenance. With kids and my own business and my writing, I’m not left with a lot of time to go out. My friends live very similar lives and we place very few expectations on each other. We just want love, kindness and laughter.
If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?
I love TV. It’s such a guilty pleasure. I love Castle, Elementary, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory and reality TV, like the Bachelor, America’s Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars, anything really that draws me in. I especially love programs that showcase people living their dreams because I know what it feels like to do that. The only good thing about summer ending is the new TV season!