Author Interview: David Handler

3176GB6GKAL._UX250_David Handler’s writing career has taken him from journalist to writer for films and television to mystery novelist. This prolific author has produced several series of mystery novels, with different detectives in each. The first novel I happened to read was The Coal-Black Asphalt Tomb. It’s the tenth (and latest) in the Berger-Mitry series, which features a mismatched pair of detectives in a small coastal town in Connecticut. The eleventh book, The Lavender Lane Lothario, comes out in February. When David answered my questions, I was fascinated to learn how he develops his characters, and the number of tries it takes to get them right.

GC: You have one of the most unusual setups for a cozy mystery. Your two main characters are about as different as they could be: Desiree Mitry is a black policewoman and her life partner is Jewish New York City film critic, Mitch Berger. What makes the situation unusual, I think is the fact that they both live in a sweet little coastal town in Connecticut. How on earth did you come up with this mix?
DH: Strictly by accident, believe it or not. When I was writing the first book of the series, The Cold Blue Blood, my plan was that it would be about New York City film critic Mitch Berger and his landscape architect wife, Maisie, renting a cottage on Big Sister Island and finding their landlady’s estranged husband buried in the vegetable garden. The first 60 pages or so felt very blah to me so I set the project aside for several months, came back to it and decided to make Mitch a young widower who rents the cottage as a means of trying to heal himself after Maisie’s death. Right away, that gave it a lot more moral weight. When he finds the body a Major Crime Squad homicide investigator is sent to the scene. At first, I wrote him as a black male officer. The dialogue felt flat. So I tried making it a black female officer instead and, wham, sparks started flying and I suddenly realized I was writing a novel about an interracial romance.handler

GC: I like the town of Dorset, which seems like an amalgam of many little places in Connecticut (apart from its unusually high murder rate). Do you find it restricts your plot opportunities to be in one location?
DH: No, not at all, because what I’m mostly doing is studying people. If you study people then you never seem to run out of ideas. People are endlessly fascinating. My eleventh Berger-Mitry installment, “The Lavender Lane Lothario, will be coming out in February and I have many more ideas for stories to come.
GC: How do you ensure that your technical information is correct? Is it all on Google? And if so, is Google reliable?
DH: I began my career as a journalist so I’m always aiming to be as accurate as I can be. I’m grateful to friends in the profession who provide with me much of the technical detail that I use. Google can be a very valuable resource as well, but you have to be mindful of the reliability of the sites that you are choosing to use as sources. Some are less credible than others.
GC: Tell me honestly – are you a film buff like Mitch, or did you make him up out of thin air?
DH: I am totally Mitch, minus the excess blubber. Think Mitch, except sculpted, and you’ve got me. I spent my entire childhood watching old movies on late night TV and my college and young adult years haunting movie revival houses in Los Angeles and New York City. I began my career as New York cultural correspondent for the Scripps-Howard News Service, which meant I was their Broadway critic and book reviewer. I was also a syndicated television and film critic. In addition – and here’s where I depart a bit from Mitch — I actually wrote for television and films for 20 years before I gave it up to devote my time to being a full-time novelist.
I had been living in Old Lyme, which is the real life model for Dorset, for over ten years before I decided to take a crack at writing about it. I think it’s inevitable that if a writer lives in a place long enough he or she will end up wanting to write about it. That’s just how we’re wired. I had lived exclusively in big cities before I moved here, so this is foreign territory to me. In fact, I am still considered an outsider even though I’ve lived here for 30 years. That’s small town New England! Right now, I’m working on a new Stewart Hoag novel, my first in nearly 18 years. And it has been a genuine joy to write the first two Benji Golden novels, Runaway Man and Phantom Angel. I’d love to keep all three series going. That is certainly my hope.
You can connect with David via his website, Goodreads and Facebook

Author Interview: Nora Raleigh Baskin

280493I met Nora Raleigh Baskin at the Unicorn Writers’ Conference in August and was interested to find that she was a prolific writer of middle grade novels, who’s been writing since she was in 5th grade. I read YA novels from time to time, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from a middle grade one. So I read her latest book Ruby on the Outside, because it dealt with a topic I hadn’t seen covered anywhere else in children’s books. It’s about a girl whose mother is in prison for life, convicted of being an accessory to murder. There are many questions about truth and lies, friendship and family, as well as some spot-on characterizations of 11 year-old girls. Apart from being a page-turner, it offers the reader hope that he/she doesn’t have to stay ‘on the outside.’ After reading the book I had some questions for her.

GC: Ruby on the Outside is your 12th novel for middle graders. This is a relatively new genre in terms of marketing. Why did you choose to write for this age group?
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NRB: I’m not sure how new this genre is. I think the YA spin-off is the one that marketers have really jumped all over. Middle grade is what we used to just call Children’s books. It’s what most of us remember from school, Nancy Drew, E.L. Konigsburg, A Wrinkle in Time. In fact, as a writer I feel that these publisher/library imposed categories are very limiting but that’s a whole other topic of conversation. I write for all ages. I write for myself. I write the stories I needed to tell and when I told that story (my first book in 2001) in a 6th grader’s voice it worked best. And so that’s where I mostly stayed.

GC: Your books are often about outsiders. Is there some particular reason why you find these characters interesting?

NRB: I have a strong feeling that all writers, to one degree or another, at one time in their life, or still, feel like outsiders and so have become observers. Writers are viewers, watching and listening and analyzing the world as they see it, and as they want others to see it. For me, it began when I was three and a half and my mother committed suicide but the truth was kept from me for many years. This disconnect between what I had witnessed as a child and what I was being told created an “I-don’t-belong” sensibility. From a very early age I became a “truth-seeker” and that is what I do in my writing to this day.

GC: What’s the most fun thing about being a middle grade author?

NRB: Interesting question. Being a writer is a great profession but writing for children is an added responsibility, at least I believe so. I’m not sure if that qualifies as fun, but is it what makes being a middle grade author important. Just like middle school teachers, who can play very important roles in a child’s life (more so than any other age in many ways), I care about what I write and how it is going to be read by children. I feel deeply that I need to write stories that are realistic and do not offer false hope, but do offer hope. And that present characters of strength, acceptance, and resiliency.
GC: Do you get direct feedback from fans about your books? And do they comment on your amazing ability to capture a young person’s voice?

51Q7daYMuQLNRB: With the internet, Twitter, and FB I get more feedback than I’ve ever gotten. I’ve gotten requests from students doing book reports, complaints from parents about some minor (I mean, teeny tiny) bad word in my basketball book (Have you ever BEEN on a basketball court???) but mostly I get wonderful, validating, and affirming letters from students, teachers, and parents. In particular I hear from many people about my book, Anything But Typical which told the story of a 12 year-old autistic boy from the first person POV. Books move people, make them think, and feel, and care. There is nothing more meaningful than finding out that I’ve achieved that.

GC: What’s up next?

NRB: My next book is being published in August 2016 by Simon & Schuster. It’s titled: Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story, and tells the story of four children across the United States in the 24 hours before 9/11. It is not a depressing or scary story, but again, hopeful.
Other than writing, I’ve lately found myself drawn to teaching. I enjoy very much talking to writers about writing, and helping new writers figure out their creative paths. I have been teaching for years through Gotham Writers Workshops and various conferences around the country and I’ve decided to start offering my own workshops and manuscripts critiquing. I’ve made a new website just for this new teaching venture: LightOnWriting.com. I do hope people will find the site and take an interest. The first workshop,Trade Secrets: Writing for Children & Young Adults, is scheduled for Saturday, November 21, 2015, 10-4 in Norwalk, CT.

You can connect with Nora on Google +Twitter and Facebook.

Author Interview: Nancy Roman

nanacy romanNancy Roman is a debut author whose book, Just What I Always Wanted is garnering 5 star reviews on Amazon. I’d put it in the category of what some of my British friends call Hen-lit – like Chick-lit but for smarter (because they’ve been around longer) women.  It’s the story of a 50-year-old woman who decides she wants more out of life than her corporate job, and the results of her decision to quit work. One of these is that she ends up taking care of a very tough teenage girl, who changes all her plans. The book was an easy and satisfying read because I loved the characters. And the story didn’t end as I expected, which made it more fun. It’s not easy to write and publish a novel, especially while holding down a day job, so I wanted ask Nancy some questions about how she did it.

GC: This is your debut novel. Could you tell us something about how you came to write it?

NR: Several years ago, I wrote a short story, Aggie’s Genes, about an unwed mother in the 1960s. The story was told from the point of view of the child the young woman gave to her brother and sister-in-law to raise. While I was working on that story, the idea for my novel Just What I Always Wanted kept intervening. I knew I had something there. I started the outline as soon as I finished Aggie’s Genes.

GC: The story has several interesting and quirky characters. Which is your favorite?book cover final

NR: I’m partial to the narrator, Cynthia Breault. At fifty, she is determined to change her quiet, uneventful life. She’s smart and unsentimental and sees the humor in even the most dire situation. She’s the type of person I would want for a friend. (And I would want Carlos, the strange little dog, too.)

GC: If I traveled to your part of the world would I recognize any of the places you mention?

NR: You’d recognize Watertown, Connecticut, where Cynthia’s shop, Maya Maria, is located. There is even a store very much like Maya Maria. Cynthia’s house is modeled after a little house in Bristol I wanted to buy when I first got married. It was falling down, but it charmed me. The falling-down part did not charm my husband. It has been miraculously restored for Cynthia’s use.

GC: I know you have a very successful blog. How long have you had it?

NR: I’ve been writing my blog, Not Quite Old, for three years. I started it as soon as I finished the first draft of Just What I Always Wanted. Writing a novel is such a solitary pursuit – I love the immediate feedback and chat of a blog. You write a little something and right away, everyone is chiming in. So different from a novel, where you write for years and no one even sees it. Everyone just thinks you’re a recluse.

GC: Most authors these days have to do much of their own marketing. How important do you think your blog is when you’re marketing your book?

NR: My blog has been a fantastic resource for marketing my book. Over the last three years, I have made such good friends with many fellow bloggers and readers, and they have been amazingly supportive of my novel. And I post new material on my blog about twice a week, so that’s twice a week I can reach new readers with the link to my book.

GC: And how else are you promoting it?

NR: As a financial executive and a writer, my marketing skills are negligible. But my husband is a salesman (truly born that way) – and he’s helping me with ideas and marketing tools. And my friends are hosting book-signings and readings. I even have one enthusiastic friend who has started a chain letter – challenging five friends to read my book and post a review (a nice one, I hope), and send the challenge on to five more friends.

GC: Where can people find you online?
NR: I now have an Author’s Page on Goodreads and also on Facebook – thanks to you, Gabi, for pointing me in that direction. If your readers have suggestions and feedback, or if they want to talk about the writing process, I’d love to hear from them.

Love Connecticut? Enter a 250 word story

The Connecticut Office of Tourism is running a very egalitarian story contest. It’s egalitarian (I hope) because members of the public vote for their favorite story, rather than a panel of judges. This probably means that a story will be judged more on how it resonates with a reader than how well it’s written. Interesting.

The details of the contest make it simple, and free, to enter. The limit is 250 words, which ensures you can enter two or three pieces without much trouble. They’re asking for a photo or video to accompany the writing, but it needn’t have too much to do with the story, judging by the entries so far.  If you’ve been hesitating to submit your work, this is your chance to do so, and be guaranteed some exposure online. Even if only your family votes for you, you’ll still be on your way. Voting will begin on February 23, 2012 and end on May 25, 2012, so you’ve time to come up with something great.

Here are the basic details:

“What is Your Connecticut Story” Contest

  • Each Story must address the theme “Tell us where your passion lies.” We want to hear about the   Connecticut people, places and experiences you love most
  • Each Story must written in the English language and be 250 words or less.
  • Each entry must include an Essay and a Photo and/or Video.
  • Each entry must include first and last name, Zip code, and email address.

There will be one Grand Prize winner and three First Prize winners. The Grand Prize Winner will receive a $1,000 gift card.  There will be three First Prize packages:

1) Connecticut Arts Pack which includes: a) two tickets to the winner’s choice of the Palace Theatre, Waterbury 2012-2013 Season, b) two (2) tickets to the Stamford Center for the Arts, c) two tickets to a performance of Carousel at the Goodspeed Opera House, and d) two passes to the Connecticut Art Trail; worth about $350,

2) Uniquely Connecticut Gourmet Pack includes: a) $100 Stew Leonard’s gift certificate and a Stew’s Choice basket; worth roughly $250

3) Proud Connecticut Home Pack which includes a gift set of Stanley Black & Decker tools, worth $160.

The Grand Prize and First Prize winners will be notified on or about June 1, 2012.

I’ve abridged the rules to make them a bit more digestible, so please check the full rules etc here.

 

Murder 203 – a Connecticut Mystery Festival

Connecticut has a mysterious secret. It’s the fourth annual Mystery Festival hosted by the Easton Library. If you read or write mysteries you won’t want to miss this fun weekend where you can meet authors and find out how to hone your craft. Even if you write in a different genre, you might find the plot structuring techniques of mystery writers helpful.

This year’s festival is to be held on Saturday April 14th and Sunday April 15th at the Trumbull Marriott Hotel. The guest of honor will be best-selling author, Michael Palmer http://www.michaelpalmerbooks.com/ whose latest novel Oath of Office is to be published by St. Martin’s Press on February 14th.

The authors currently planning to attend include Cara Black http://www.carablack.com/ who writes the Aimee Leduc mysteries, thriller writer Andrew Gross http://www.andrewgrossbooks.com/ Cleo Coyle, http://www.coffeehousemystery.com/ author of the Coffeehouse Mysteries, Rosemary Harris http://www.rosemaryharris.com/index.html, Daniel Palmer http://www.danielpalmerbooks.com/ , Hilary Davidson http://www.hilarydavidson.com/Crime_Novels.html , and Edward Conlon, http://edwardconlon.com/ former cop and now crime writer.

All this for just $65 if you book before March 1. If you think you’d like to attend, you can find all the latest updates and the registration form at www.murder203.com.