Friday, February 14, 2014

Interview with Nancy Tesler

Nancy Tesler has written a string of successful mysteries in her “Other Deadly Things” series, but has recently turned to a standalone that’s a bit different. Here, I ask her about the change:

Q. Nancy, can you tell us first about the Other Deadly Things mysteries and the character, Carrie Carlin? Her character seems to be modeled somewhat on yourself: How much of Carrie is you and how much is fictional?

A. The “Other Deadly Things” series is the lemonade I made when life handed me a bunch of lemons and I’m enjoying every drop. The series is pure fiction but the idea for the series came about as a result of my own divorce. My amateur sleuth Carrie is a forty-year- old- suburban mother of two pre-teeners and the “proxy” mom of four animals whose husband of eighteen years has run off with a sexy twenty-eight-year-old wicked witch. Carrie is desperately trying not to fall apart especially for the sake of her children and to build her practice as a biofeedback (stress-reduction) therapist. In Book 1, “Pink Balloons and Other Deadly Things,” just when Carrie thinks her life couldn’t possible get any worse, she is accused of whacking the bimbo. Well, I’m a mother, I’ve been divorced under circumstances not dissimilar to Carrie’s, I’ve been a biofeedback professional, and like Carrie, I’ve had homicidal thoughts about Sirens and their songs. But there the similarity between Carrie and me ends. Carrie is gutsy and occasionally she’s a little reckless. She often gets herself (well, I put her) into situations where even a cop would fear to tread without backup, whereas I’m squeamish. When I was five, I ran screaming from the theater when the witch in “Snow White” poisoned the apple and to this day I avoid scary horror films. I do, however, have a vivid imagination.

Q. You’ve gained quite a following with that series, but now you’ve turned to a romantic suspense novel. Why did you decide to switch in the middle of a successful series?

A. When your protagonist is an amateur sleuth, not a law enforcement professional, it sometimes becomes difficult to have her keep falling over dead bodies and continue to maintain some degree of realism. Her profession does bring her in contact with people from all walks of life which I had originally thought would provide me with endless material but the character herself, took over. By the end of “Slippery Slopes” Carrie has grown. She’s begun to question her motives in continually endangering her own life. She begins to wonder what it is about her that makes her flirt with danger. She has children for whom she is responsible and she has found a man she loves who wants to marry her but who is ready to leave her because of this flaw in her character. When Carrie agrees to marry her cop lover, it seemed a good place to end the series, but it put me in the mood to write a romance. Because I am essentially a mystery writer, it had to be a romantic suspense with the mystery an essential part of the plot.

Some years back I’d been doing research on cults for a TV spec script. When the network cancelled that show, all the research I’d done became useless until the plot for “Ablaze” began to form in my mind. My protagonist in “Ablaze” is Samantha Barron, a victim/advocate working in the prosecutor’s office. Her world is turned upside down when a man with whom she had once been in love shows up at her office. She is forced to work with him to save a young witness to a murder, from the machinations of a malignant cult. Attorney and crisis team leader, Doug Ruark had thrown Samantha off his elite crisis response team for defying his orders and running into a burning building to save a dog. This is a love story about two people who are deeply attracted to each other but whose inability to work through past experience, keeps them apart. In the end, of course, love triumphs. This is, after all, a romance.

Q. What was most difficult about writing this standalone novel?

A. Unquestionably, writing the love scenes. I did not want to write erotic scenes that were gratuitous, sex for sex sake. I wanted them to be real and to grow out of the relationship between the two people. I wanted the moment to be a turning point, to enhance the relationship. To me, if an author is going to have a graphic love scene in a book, it has to be sensitively and realistically written. I’ve read romance novels where those scenes seem written only to titillate which, as a reader, totally turns me off. I worked the hardest on those scenes, editing and reediting over and over.

Q. Will you return now to the Other Deadly Things mysteries, or will you write more standalone books – or both?

A. I am working on Book 1 of a new amateur sleuth. I have been asked by several of my wonderful readers to write a sixth Carrie but for the above-mentioned reasons, I haven’t done it. Occasionally, because I’ve lived with these characters for so long, an idea will surface and I’m tempted. One day perhaps, I’ll choose one of the other characters from the book and base a series on him or her.

Q. You started out with a traditional publisher, but now you self-publish. Why did you make that move and which do you prefer?

A. When the Bertelsmann conglomerate bought Dell and many other houses, quite a few of us newer mid-list authors who were not yet bringing in the big bucks had our contracts dropped. Amazon came along and saved our careers. As the whole world knows by now, self-publishing has really taken off. When I was originally published by Dell, self-publishing was looked down upon by nearly everyone in the industry. Today many indie authors are reaching a larger readership and making more money by going the indie route than if they stay with a traditional publisher. I have mixed feelings. If I were to be offered a traditional contract with a major house for “Ablaze,” I would probably take it for the advantage the exposure to editorial reviewers that would give me, but I would try to hold on to my e-Book rights. And I would want to hold on to my great cover artist as well.

“Ablaze” is available as an eBook; a print book will be available soon.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Protagonist: William Bellman
Setting: England, 19th century
Rating: 2.5

As an 11-year-old boy, William Bellman, out with a group of friends, tries out his new catapault. Against all odds, the rock he slings hits and kills a black rook. Years pass, and William Bellman seems to be a success in all areas of his life: business as well as personal, marrying a woman he loves and raising children. But then a mysterious stranger continues showing up at family funerals. When Bellman's most immediate family is touched by a plague, Bellman makes (in his mind, at least) a pact with this stranger.

This is where the story falls apart. While beautifully written (Setterfield is nothing less than a poet), the plot is very thin and the character of Bellman, on which the story hinges, is not really plumbed. Black rooks, of course, haunt Bellman's life, but in a not-very-scary way.

If you loved Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, a deliciously gothic tale, you may very well be disappointed in this follow-up book. If you haven't read a Setterfield book yet, then I recommend The Thirteenth Tale. You can skip Bellman & Black.