Sunday, February 18, 2018

J.A. SCHNEIDER: Author Interview

J.A. (Joyce) Schneider is a real leader in the independent author community. With ten great thrillers to her name, 117,000+ followers on Twitter, and a legion of fans (including yours truly!), Schneider’s books regularly rack up hundreds of five-star reviews. She’s worked for Newsweek, has had titles published by Simon & Schuster, and broke into the indy scene in 2012, when it was still relatively new. Since then, she hasn’t looked back.

Embryo was her first series, medical thrillers that often explore the murky line between reproductive technology and modern ethics. The books are convincing windows into what goes on behind the glass doors of big hospitals, full of fascinating medical details that inform and entertain. (Schneider’s husband is a doctor, so it gives the plots lots of authentic detail.)

Her Det. Kerri Blasco series follows two New York investigators on cases that are always contemporary, crisply written and tightly plotted. Her latest, SHOELESS CHILD, is about a little boy who witnesses a terrible shooting that leaves one woman dead and his mother wounded. The story ricochets between tender scenes and terrifying ones, catapulting from a thrilling opening (Schneider’s first scenes are killer!), through imaginative twists, to a climax that both surprises and gratifies.

All her books teem with authentic characters and dialogue, too. I’ve been a fan of Det. Kerri Blasco ever since I met her in the first book, FEAR DREAMS. She’s always tough, cool and likable. But Kerri has a soft side too, and it's wonderful to watch that part of her evolve in SHOELESS CHILD. Incidentally, Schneider’s main characters are often romantically involved with their professional counterparts, so there’s a perfect dash of romance, too.

I really admire how she balances it all. I’ve wanted to interview Joyce for a while now. She was gracious enough to be the first author to respond to my W5W interview technique. (The Who, What, When, Where and Why’s of the #writerslife.) From plotting to promo, here’s a peek into how this outstanding author works.

Who are your biggest influences as a writer, and why?
Late Writer: Ira Levin, absolutely (Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives, others) I re-read him often, am still astonished at how he conveys so much with so few words. In The Boys From Brazil, Liebermann, the Nazi hunter, waits frantically in a post-war German prison, about to meet a female former Auschwitz guard. He’s beside himself with emotion, thinking of lost loved ones, imaging what the woman being brought to him will look like. A monster? A snarling beast? He waits; the woman’s lawyer brings her; the door opens…and in droops “a small, bent woman in a shabby uniform, with a disappointed mouth.”

“A disappointed mouth!” Three words summarize a whole life as it ends, takes stock of itself. We see that small, gray, bent woman much better than if Levin had described her in more detail. Three words … Wow.

Contemporary Writer: I also read James Patterson, his best stuff. I love his pace, fast action; also his ability to say much with few words.

What are your top three writing tips for creating great characters?
Spend some time thinking about them.
Then start writing – just start pressing keys.
Watch your  characters start to come to life and surprise you. When hopefully this works, the feeling is like Gepetto amazed to see Pinocchio take off.

What are your top three tips for plotting great stories?
Wish I knew! I don’t outline; at most I have a rough outline which will change totally before it’s done. I like to be surprised as the story finds its way through the sticky morass of characters and plot threads…that’s when I try to figure out what I’m really trying to say. It’s an unconscious thing. Ideas come as I write, and practically every paragraph’s a surprise to me. I do wish I could outline and plot ahead, but I can’t. I just let the story eventually, after umpteen drafts, take me where it wants to go.

What are your top three book promo tips?
BookBub, there is only BookBub. Every time they’ve accepted a promo of mine (not often, wouldn’t that be nice?) the result has been astonishing and has lasted for sometimes two or three weeks; also has lifted my other books on the same “BookBub tide.”

Second and third might be Amazon Marketing ads and Facebook ads. I’ve just started exploring those two, so I can’t report concrete results.

Of the many “mini BookBub” sites, eReaderCafe seems to have become very successful, with big author names daily in their emails. Other smaller sites might bring results lasting one or two days, but on the whole they are weak.
Even a BookBub ad drops you back after a while, and the best way to grow is just write the next book. Have patience; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The chance of best sellerdom via publishing one or two titles – you have a better chance of roping a unicorn. Rarely, you’ll hear about some “debut best seller,” but on the whole, success = inventory.

Also important are one’s friends on Facebook. I’ve been fortunate that, over the years, relationships with some Facebook friends have become warm and very supportive. These friends buy my books, write reviews, and then clamor for the next one. That’s a good thing, right?

When did you know you wanted to be a novelist? Tell us a bit about that time in your life.
“Writer” and “novelist” still seem like such pretentious words. I’d never walk into a party & introduce myself as, “I’m a writer.” Don’t know why that is, how odd of me. But I always loved stories and wrote: poems, adventures, ghost stories to entertain other kids around campfires.

Then, while working at Newsweek…well, everyone was doing it – writing - hoping to create that great bestseller so they could quit working at Newsweek. Older, successful former staffers would come back and say, “Why are you still here?” Ha! So the idea blossomed over time.

SHOELESS CHILD is Book 4 in your fantastic psychological thriller series featuring Det. Kerri Blasco. Where did you get the idea for the latest book?
The idea came when I read about an attack in NYC, the borough of Queens, where a shooter stormed into the apartment of two women and their small children. There were pictures of a police officer carrying out a crying little boy, it was so awful, and I thought: what if that cop hadn’t been there right away? What if that child had to run out alone into the night? A dark city street, more danger even after the trauma of seeing his mother shot! The story grew from there. But I started with just that image of the running child, nothing more.

Why do you think you write? Why are you so motivated to create stories and characters?
I really love to tell stories. Create that magic carpet that transports readers from the mundane into the extraordinary. I also like to show ordinary people struggle through terrible odds and come out okay. Stories like that reassure. And entertain. And lift us out of ourselves. What else besides a great movie or book can do that? And books you can read in bed, under the covers, any time with a flashlight. Books are magic!

I love that! Books are magic! Absolutely true! Big thanks to Joyce for taking part in the W5W interview! Subscribe to the blog for more insight into this crazy thing called the #writerslife! And for more info about J.A. Schneider and her books, check out the links below! Thanks for stopping by! 

Amazon author page: J.A. Schneider
Traditional releases: Joyce Anne Schneider

Friday, January 5, 2018

KERENSA JENNINGS: Author Interview

Kerensa Jennings is that rare breed of author:  a literary thriller writer. Her first novel, SEAS OF SNOW, published by Unbound last year, became an instant bestseller and continues to garner great attention, with 130+ reviews on Amazon internationally, most of them 5 stars. Several big book bloggers have also rated it one of their top books of the year! I'm reading it now and I think it's brilliant, combining envious - even poetic - writing talent with a keen sense of plotting, pace and character. 

Kerensa is also a supportive presence online, regularly posting beautiful images and inspiring quotes about life and creativity. I had lots of questions about her writing process – and how much her life has changed since become a bestselling author ...

You have a busy, successful career outside of SEAS OF SNOW, running The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award from Buckingham Palace. You've been voted one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech, worked as a journalist, producer, executive coach and a professor. How (on earth!) do you organize your day to find time to write?

Aha! The million dollar question…  Well, in truth, I write at least a little bit each and every day. Always have, ever since I could write. Short poems, brief aperçus, narrative pieces and flights of fancy. Nearly always short form.
I wrote SEAS OF SNOW in all my holidays between 2009-2013 when I was the BBC’s Head of Strategic Delivery. In 2014 I polished the submission edit; then in 2015 got the book deal. In 2016 I worked on the development edit, the copywriter edit; the structural edit, the formatting edit (breathe!) then two rounds of proof reading…
I am not the sort of writer who sets themselves specific targets on word count or chapters. I write from the heart and can only really work on something as intensive and dedicated as a novel when I am in the right frame of mind. Combining novel writing with having a break from work is something I like very much. It suits me. In truth, I have always had day jobs which are far too all-consuming and time-demanding to allow me the luxury of long-form writing in a normal working week. That’s why for someone like me – who has been writing all their life - it took me such a long time to get my first novel out!
Of course I have a secret dream of being a full-time writer but so far no benefactor has swept into my life to magic away the need for a salary….
You didn’t have an agent for SEAS OF SNOW, but you do have a great publisher behind you. Tell us a bit about how it happened.
The story of getting my own book deal was a confluence of serendipity. I was on a panel speaking at a digital conference alongside one of the founders of Unbound, the ground-breaking publishers which is known as a bit of a digital disruptor. They select books for publication and give authors a platform to try to inspire people about the book they want to write. If enough readers back the idea, the book gets born. Simple as that. I told him, somewhat shyly, that I had written a novel. He told me how to submit to Unbound… and so I did. Much to my amazement, it ended up being selected for publication!
Fast forward and we ran a crowdsourcing campaign over the Summer of 2015, and I was told at that point in Unbound’s history (they had been publishing books for five years by then), mine was the second fastest fiction title to reach its target! The way it works is Unbound set a budget target which covers cost of the publication and initial distribution of the book. Once the target is met, the whole project is de-risked for everyone. And you get your lovely shiny book on bookshelves all around the world!
What was the biggest surprise about ‘getting published?’ 
Oh gosh, I think the fact it has inspired such an incredible response. At the time of writing, there are 122 reviews on UK Amazon, of which 90% (109) are five stars. And there are so far 10 reviews on US Amazon, with 100% being five stars! It’s more than I had begun to dare dream.
And being able to hold a thing that was once in my head – for real, in my hand. It was the proudest moment of my life, getting published. A fairy tale come true.

SEAS OF SNOW is a darkly emotional novel about a young girl who suffers terrible abuse at the hands of a predator. Authors often have trouble recovering from days of working on difficult passages. Did you find that?
I’m afraid you are right, it is a very darkly emotional novel. There are passages which not only broke me to write them, but I find if I re-read them, they make me cry. I was on the tube (the underground train) on the way to work recently preparing for an interview about the book and read one passage in particular… moments later I had tears streaming down my cheeks. I had to hastily damp them away!
Because the story was inspired by a real life crime, and my knowledge of the evidence of that crime, the actual writing took a lot out of me. Of course I transposed my story to another time and place; and SEAS OF SNOW was just ‘inspired by’ the case, not ‘based on’. But anyone familiar with the case will recognise the predatory nature of the antagonist.
I wrote SEAS OF SNOW partly as a means of catharsis… I always tend to write to process my own responses to things. But in this story, I wanted so much that anyone who had ever been a victim to feel they had ‘permission’ to feel it was not their fault. That might be a victim of the abuse itself, or indeed a victim in the sense of feeling helpless but aware of something horrific unfolding. Little Gracie agonises over whether somehow she is being punished for something; and her best friend Billy tortures himself over what he could and should be doing. Gracie’s mother colludes… not through choice but through pressures of social mores and sheer terror of what worse might be to come. I have had a lot of correspondence from people who have suffered abuse, saying the story really resonated with them, and thanking me for writing it. That is the most humbling and amazing response I could possibly hope for. If it has helped even one person a little bit… I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to do that.
You’re a journalist and a poet and both skills comes across so well in SEAS OF SNOW. How did the two different skills influence your writing of the novel?
Thank you so much! Writing is my lifeblood… it flows in me and through me. I’ve been writing poems and short stories ever since I could hold a pencil. It’s something I just feel compelled to do – it’s how I process my feelings and make sense of the world. Analogies and word formations and constellations of phrases simply poke themselves into being and I find myself transmuting them from somewhere inside to somewhere tangible, on paper or on a screen.
So the poetry bit is just something that happens organically and needs to spill out. When I was writing SEAS OF SNOW, it felt entirely natural to simply write as ‘me’ – and that meant letting myself write freely in a way that many have since described as ‘literary’ or ‘poetic’. I did not do this self-consciously, although I admit I love language – the way it sounds, the way you can put it together, the way you can create soundscapes through your writing.
The journalism bit comes from my training and long career in the media. I started working professionally in national television back in the early nineties, having previously done local journalism both on the radio and on a local newspaper while at school and then University. I learned my craft from some of the best writers on TV. When you write for television, you have to be mindful that someone is going to be reading your words out loud. So the trick is to keep your sentences brief and concise, avoid subordinate clauses, and pitch the vocabulary at an accessible - but not patronising - level. A rule I always tried to follow when writing for some of the most famous presenters in British TV is the ‘nine-year-old’ rule. Imagine whoever is presenting will be speaking to a very smart nine-year-old in the audience. Super clever, so able to follow relatively complex concepts without being dumbed down. But would struggle if you packed your script with jargon or anachronistic vocabulary – anything off-putting or in accessible. 
The job of journalism is to seek the truth, to hold people accountable for their actions, to expose what is wrong and work on the principle of transparency.
SEAS OF SNOW is inspired by a real-life crime investigation I worked on. I led the BBC News coverage of a famous case where a school caretaker murdered two beautiful little ten–year-old girls from his school. I worked closely with the police on that case and got to see all the evidence – including some very traumatising video footage. I then had to sit behind the perpetrator day after day in court during the trial. I found it emotionally eviscerating. Writing SEAS of SNOW in large part acted as a process of catharsis for me. I wanted to find out more about the mind and motives of a psychopath and explore whether evil is born or made.
Bringing a journalistic eye for detail and a literary eye for language is a strange combination I suppose, but something that is intrinsic to my writerly life.

Kerensa has been writing since "she could hold a pencil!"

What are your best promotional tips? 
I still consider myself to be a complete amateur at this book promotion stuff. The things that have worked best for me is being authentic in all my interactions on social media. Twitter is the vehicle I like the best. For book people – be they readers, authors, bloggers, other reviewers, agents, publishers and so on… it’s a friendly, empowering space where generally people are delighted by each other’s success and love helping shine a light on each other. I feel if everything I do is done with integrity, then that is the best I can do. My Twitter handle is @zinca – I try to do a mixture of sharing things I think are interesting or useful that I believe others will enjoy or benefit from. I also do a bit of sharing things about my own bookish world; and I like discovering lovely inspiring quotes which I hope will lift people. I quite like the creativity of finding meaningful quotes then searching out images that complement them. I also like to try to be a good friend, supporter and advocate of fellow authors and the amazing circle of book bloggers that are out there.
I also like Instagram – it’s simple and easy. My handle there is @seasofsnow – and again I mix it up a bit. Sometimes stuff to do with my book – like the time recently SEAS OF SNOW was in the BBC Children in Need Authors Auction to raise money for a wonderful cause. I could hardly believe it but there was a bit of a bidding war for my book (!) and it raised the fifth highest bid in more than 200 signed books… I was stunned it raised more than books by Ian Rankin and Mark Haddon among others! Other times I post a beautiful photograph of something I have seen or been to. Recently I posted a photograph of the Tate Modern in London on the day I went to the Modigliani exhibition; I also posted some highlight photos from a recent trip to Mykonos in Greece; and one of an album launch I was lucky enough to attend by the singer songwriter Simon Higdon – I hoped people who follow me might get the chance to catch his music on Spotify because I love it!

I so far have not been able to get to grips with Facebook. I find it rather corporate and unwieldy. I don’t like having to manage both a personal profile and a ‘book page’ profile… I find their notification system pretty idiosyncratic and I am not a fan of the interface. So I am afraid I would be a bit rubbish helping anyone to understand or use Facebook for promotional purposes. I did pay a few times to run ads on Facebook, but I did not discern that the ads made any difference whatsoever so felt it a bit of a waste of money. So I stopped. By contrast, I know for a fact loads of people have discovered me and bought my book because of Twitter.
Additionally, I’ve done a number of radio interviews… which I think have been helpful raising profile; and I have taken part in a number of press and other media interviews. One of my favourite experiences was being selected to be on the famous Backlisted Podcast – this was quite an honour as it’s all about classic writers. But they spotlight one modern writer per episode. I was the lucky author one time! I also loved being interviewed for the Book Club programme – a half hour slot presented by Penny Smith on Talk Radio. Half an hour to witter on about my book! Such a pleasure! You can listen to it here if you like by cutting and pasting the following link into your browser:
Lastly, I’ve taken part in a number of book panel discussions in book shops and at book clubs. You are only meeting a small group of people at a time at these events, but they tend to be highly engaged and really keen to read the book.
What’s the biggest change in your life since becoming a bestselling novelist?
In practical terms, nothing very much. I still have the same job, live in the same house, have the same friends and more or less the same life. I shan’t be off to my garret writing all day any time soon, much as I wish I could!
However, before my book came out I had less than 400 Twitter followers, I now have just over 7,000! That’s purely down to the work I have put in to help people discover the book. It takes time and energy, which is sometimes difficult to find…
The aspect of my life I find hardest since the book came out is a direct consequence of the latter point… finding time and energy to read as much as I used to. I think it is a requirement of a writer to read, read, read…. so I have found it a struggle to balance how much time to give promoting my work to actually giving myself the brain nourishment to make good progress myself in my own literary career.
The nicest thing is being asked for my autograph and being asked to be on panels and give talks at book shops or at book clubs. I love doing them.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new authors? 
1.      First…. read, read, read… then read some more, then some more, then some more…. I believe by studying and critiquing literature, working out what makes stories compelling, and what makes the writing good; analysing structure and plot and character and denouement… all these things are what gave me the tools I needed to write a novel myself.
I had also been fed up of reading so many disappointing endings that just tailed away… which gave me my impetus to try to write an ending that would make readers feel glad they had invested in getting that far. So reading and analysing what you think doesn’t work is every bit as useful, I think, as reading great works.
2.      In addition to reading…. try to write a little every day… just keep up that metronome beat of always writing…
3.      Write for you and be true to yourself.
4.      If you are writing for fame, glory or riches… it might be worth finding another route for those things as they happen to very few writers.
5.      And very importantly… Don’t give up…
6.      Oh… and read!

I know you've been on deadline for your second novel. Tell us a bit about the story and when it's expected to be released.
My second novel is also inspired by a real world crime case I worked on during my journalism career. The novel is called EDGE OF RAIN and it asks how far can you push a person before they break… The trial I worked on was the Sara Thornton case – she had killed her husband, and was accused of murder. However, in the end, she was found guilty of manslaughter (not murder) because the evidence proved she had suffered years and years of abuse – in legal terms called ‘provocation’. This meant although she murdered him in cold blood, it was emotionally an event provoked in the moment because of all that had gone before. Fascinating stuff….
And in terms of when… watch this space!

Thank you so much, Kerensa! We wish you much luck with the new book and your many endeavors! By the way, the paperback for SEAS OF SNOW will be available April 5, 2018 – and the hard cover and e-book are in stock now!
Stay tuned for more interviews, promo tips and writing advice from great authors! Follow the blog by email or join me on Twitter @SLMcInnis!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

MJ LaBEFF: Author Interview

I'm excited for author MJ LaBeff! Her third thriller, LAST FALL’S HUNTED, was just released by Muse It Up Publishing. I’ve already had a peek at it and the opening is absolutely riveting - and so creepy! A great follow-up to book one, LAST SUMMER’S EVIL. MJ is a self-proclaimed ‘girl next door with a dark side’ and her writing bears that out. She has a unique way of combining supernatural ideas, convincing crimes, great descriptions and contemporary characters, into plots that just keep twisting and turning. I’ve been so curious about her writing methods, I had lots of questions for her, including how she plots her stories, her best promo tips, and when she knew she’d found the voice of The Last Cold Case Series. Plus I also loved learning how the concept of ‘enneagrams’ help her create characters and how she avoids the dreaded 'sagging middle' in her books. 
Tell us a bit about the first novel you ever wrote. How old were you and what was it about?
I attempted to write a mystery novel when I was 30. My computer crashed. The hard drive was destroyed. I gave up. I didn’t know anything about the craft of writing so I didn’t have the tools to develop a plot outline or techniques for creating characters. All I had was the desire to write which grew out of my love for books and reading.  When I look back at that first writing experience I have to laugh. I wasn’t even smart enough to back up my hard drive! Now, I keep copious notes, multiple thumb drives, sometimes even email the manuscript to myself, and of course I take time to develop a plot and characters. Aside from electronic record keeping, I actually prefer to write the plot and characters on paper and by the time I finish a novel, the file is an array of various sticky notes and note paper in different sizes, since I keep pens and paper in every room of my house and at my office.

Several years later, I decided to write again. KISS ME GOOD-BYE is a romance novel with a bit of mystery.  When her ex-fiancĂ© returns, a journalist confronts him revealing the consequences of his infidelity, as she struggles with how to tell her new love about his rival’s return. My intention was to craft a story like a Lifetime movie.
The desire to write again had hit me hard. Life really is about timing. At the time, I had the fortune of meeting NYT Bestselling romance author, Vicki Lewis Thompson. She was very kind and gracious when I expressed my interest in writing. Something I’d said must have been right because she gave me her email and offered to help me set up my manuscript (I’m careful not to use the word format here) she was willing to give me tips on how to set my margins, indents, and line spacing for the manuscript. She also encouraged me to join Romance Writers of America and to attend the Desert Dreams Conference in 2008. Ahhh, New Year’s resolutions, I had committed to a lofty one.

On January 1st, 2007 I started writing again. Vicki had told me she finished her first novel in nine months so I set that as my goal too. At some point, she had offered to read a few chapters or so. I honestly don’t remember if she read the full. What I do recall is her email that said, “You write beautifully.” Wow! I had hope. I knew I had a long way to go, a lot to learn, but her kind words fueled me to work harder and write better.  KISS ME GOOD-BYE will never see the light of publishing day. I don’t fancy myself a romance novelist.  No matter how much effort I put into writing that book, I call it the manuscript I cut my teeth on. I did attempt another romance, titled SETTLING THE SCORE, by now Vicki had become a mentor to me, and we both thought I might find success at Harlequin. Apparently, the editors at a couple different lines don’t fancy me a romance author either! No problem, I was also writing a paranormal thriller, HAUNTING LYRIC. Once you’re bitten by the writing bug the infection is fatal.

Your thriller novels, MIND GAMES and LAST SUMMER’S EVIL, are always fast paced and engaging. I’m sure LAST FALL’S HUNTED will have the same great flow. How do you plot your books to keep them moving?
Most of my stories are born from the kernel of a dream. Something about a certain dream will stick with me, probably because it jolts me from sleep with a racing heart. I’ll reach for pen and paper in the dark and start to scribble. Something about particular dreams haunt me. I also dream in color. Sometimes I’m in the dream; it’s like watching “me” in a movie but it feels very real. A dream figment is like gum stuck to the bottom of my shoe. The more I think about it, I’ll eventually have the beginning, middle and end of my next book.  I’m not a big plotter. I find that when I plot too much, it’s a waste. Secondary characters come along as I write. Any time I’ve attempted to fully plot a story, I find myself “writing” not “plotting.”
Books need big middles. We’ve all heard of the “sagging middle” so as long as I’ve got a decent middle (something big is revealed, or a big plot twist) I’m ready to write. Being a thriller writer, my goal is to have justice served at the end, but I’ll share a secret - in one of the books in my Last Cold Case Series some of the “bad guys” get away. Kinda. Let’s face it, that’s real life.
I keep track of details on notebook paper and keep it in the book’s file. The story is always with me and somehow I always know where it’s going. Significant reveals that play an important role later, I jot down as I go. I’m a fan of dropping bits of information and hope it keeps a reader reading and wondering why? Where’s this going? I think it works because as I’ve gone through the editing process on LAST SUMMER'S EVIL and LAST FALL'S HUNTED, my publisher will write comments asking me questions as to relevance to the story and then she’ll write “ignore my comment” as I read further. That always makes me smile. It’s like leaving a breadcrumb trail. I keep track of the crumbs in the notebook.

Besides a terrifying plot, the story moves forward because of the characters. I spend a lot of time developing character enneagrams and establishing a character’s goals, motivations and internal/external conflicts. It’s important to really know your character's back story. I have to give a big shout to author, Laurie Schnebly Campbell. I’ve taken several of her workshops and one of my faves is: Creating Your Hero’s Fatal Flaw. I do this for all of my characters using Laurie’s “The Enneagram Personality Types” wheel.
There’s a lot of writing before writing the book!
Do you remember when you first came up with the idea for The Last Cold Case Series?
I started writing LAST SUMMER'S EVIL in 2013. Honestly, I can’t remember the exact catalyst for the book. It seems like I had a rush of ideas converging at once. The change of seasons and moon phases had piqued my interest. I thought about how different seasons and full moons can change a person’s mood. I researched the summer solstice and celebrations associated with it. The Summer Time Slayer was born before homicide detective, Rachel Hood and FBI agent, Nick Draven.  I remember coming up with the idea for a serial killer who strikes every summer, killing one woman and abducting another, and then reliving the crimes by sewing a rag doll made from the previous victim’s clothes that is left with the next victim. The victim being someone watched, stalked, chosen by the killer.
I had written character enneagrams for my male and female law enforcement hero and heroine but changed things a couple of times before settling on a homicide detective and FBI Agent. This book was the most challenging of the series and it definitely prepared me for writing the next three. My publisher even recognized it. By the time we edited LAST FALL'S HUNTED book 2, she had commented on how “clean” the manuscript was. I can feel the pulse of that book and the others.

LAST FALL'S HUNTED was born because I took a personal family illness and turned it upside down. My aunt Mary Ann had kidney disease. She died when I was only 13. I remember her being on dialysis and very sick. She passed away in her forties. I started asking my mom and her sister questions about her illness. Had everyone in our family been tested, did she ever have a transplant (she did, I think twice and it wasn’t a good match either time). I’ve got a crazy imagination so I started to think what if... a mom determined to find a kidney for her daughter gave birth over and over hoping to find the perfect match. Ha-ha! Here’s plot and backstory. No more spoilers.

LAST WINTER'S TAKEN, book 3 probably came about because of that line of thinking in book 2. What lengths will one woman go to, if she couldn’t have children? What kinds of things would she resort to?

LAST SPRING'S STRANGER, book 4 came about because I love strange myths and mysteries about towns. I also wanted to tie in a surprise from the homicide detective’s past and the catalyst for her psychic empathy. While I was writing the novel, I had targeted a particular character as the killer and about halfway or so I discovered it was someone else and a delicious twist was born. I’m still excited about it!

Do you have ‘favorite’ characters and why?
Often I fall in love with secondary characters. I think it’s because I spend less time with them. Plus they’re the people that add the twists and turns to my thrillers. I love pointing fingers at different characters. It’s fun to take a seemingly normal and ordinary person and then surprise a reader with something shady about him/her.

When did you know you’d ‘found’ the voice of this series?
When I started writing the second book, LAST FALL'S HUNTED. I adore book one, it was a lofty thriller to write, a lot of dead bodies and missing women to keep track of and a suspicious cast of characters. It really gave me confidence when I started book 2. By then, I felt like I could hear Rachel’s voice and her cadence and Nick’s too.

It took me years to find my writer’s voice. If I were to tell you a story or even read a page from my book, I can almost guarantee I’m going to be animated and a bit humorous. I just don’t write comedy or light. Something happens at the keyboard. I write dark and twisted tales. People who know me, have met me, or even are my friends on social media alone often comment what a contrast I am compared to what I write. I love it when readers tell me, “You scare me.” I think that’s my job as a thriller writer. I hope my stories keep people guessing and on the edge of their seats.  

How does the sequel, LAST FALL’S HUNTED relate to the original book, LAST SUMMER’S EVIL?
Each book in the series has homicide detective, Rachel Hood and FBI agent, Nick Draven working a new case. The new case always ties back into an old cold case. So they’re always solving multiple crimes dealing with the new case and finding clues that lead to a prior cold case. Many of the same characters are in all of the books as far as Hood’s and Draven’s families, law enforcement professionals, maybe a secondary character or two, but each book can be read alone. The only change readers will notice in each book is the developing romance between Rachel and Nick, and although I worked really hard not to create any spoilers there’s going to be some information that relates back to the previous story(s). Just like the days of our lives, these characters lives continue to go on so those storylines move forward in each book.
How did you choose your publisher, Muse It Up Publishing?
I researched the authors at the house and then read some of their books. I was impressed. It felt like a family from what I was seeing on social media too. I’m delighted they welcomed me. I’d been searching for an agent for years. By the time I was halfway through writing book 4 of the Last Cold Case Series, I was out of patience. I thought I’d have better luck looking at publishers who didn’t require agented material. I did.

What are you three top promotional tips?
Choose at least one social media platform you like engaging with. I love Twitter. I like the brevity of 140 characters and although it’s increased, I try to keep it simple. I think Twitter forces a person to create a good message and call to action. That’s important. I remember working in advertising and creating 5 – 7 word calls to action.
Engage with people. If someone asks a question try your best to respond. If someone likes something you tweet/post thank them. Comment on posts/tweets you like.  It’s all about the Golden Rule, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”
Remember, this isn’t all about you. It’s about sharing other people’s work too - art, music, books, poetry, and charity. Nurture each other. I love the hashtag #SharingIsCaring
What’s your best advice to young writers?
Same advice NYT Bestselling author Vicki Lewis Thomas gave me, “Just write.” I’ll add, “You can always edit later.” Also, save yourself some time by joining a good writing group, I highly recommend Romance Writers of America (even if you’re not writing romance, this group is amazing) and Sisters In Crime. I’ll also suggest finding a kind but honest critique partner.

Anyone who follows you knows you’re a great dog lover. You’re working on another novel as well – about a dog! Can you tell us a bit about it and how you came up with the idea?
This story was born out of tragedy. My dog of twelve years, Buddy became very ill and I had to have the vet come to our home to euthanize him. The morning of the dreadful day, I woke up knowing only a few hours of my time with him remained. This story hit me out of nowhere. I fired up my laptop and started to write. I can still see Buddy’s sad eyes gazing over at me. I shut down the computer, thinking you’re not writing while your dog is still here with you. Later that day, my dog Sammy and I went for a walk and flashes of chapter headings for the book filled my mind’s eye. It really was a surreal experience. I’d never had it before. The book is titled BUDDY: THIS DOG'S LIFE. It’s completed and with my second beta reader. I think anyone who has ever loved a pet will enjoy the story of his hardscrabble life to forever home.
I’ll share how the book opens here.
There is no greater joy than opening your heart and home to a dog. A dog’s unconditional love and support never waivers in spite of your humanness. Your dog will be the first to greet you at the door and last to kiss you goodnight. This book is dedicated in memory of my beloved dog, Buddy. The best writing and editing partner I’ve ever had and the greatest source of inspiration I’ll ever know.  
~ MJ LaBeff
Beautiful! Looking forward to reading that one! I’m so grateful to MJ for sharing her process! As always, she's so generous with her time. To learn more about her books, her life, and her great charity work, check out:

Instagram: @mjlabeff

I have lots more great interviews coming up with other writers. Plus some pretty exciting news I'd like to share, too! Follow the blog and I'll keep you posted!