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!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

THERESA SNYDER: Author Interview

Theresa Snyder, the #1 Amazon bestselling author of more 26 books, has been on quite an adventure the last few months! She's signed a 5-year deal with an L.A. production company to bring her popular series,THE FARLOFT CHRONICLES, to the screen. She also just landed a successful New York literary agent! Huge congratulations - and lots of questions! - are in order. I thought I'd better corner her before she gets to busy to answer them!

1) Tell us how you landed a film/TV deal with an independent production company?
This is a really fun story. I was told when I first started in social media to be responsive and receptive to any requests from friends and followers. I also did not want to be the author who was always shouting, “Buy My Book!” So, on occasion I post that cute picture of Puss-n-Boots from Shrek with his hat in his hand, giving the viewer the “Big Eyes,” and I ask, “Please Review My Book.” Hey, indie authors have to ask…Right?

Well, I posted that and a producer from an L.A.-based production company posted a tweet back and said, sure they would review my book. Which one did I want reviewed? I told them to pick one. I was open to whichever one they wanted to do. I was just thankful they would.
They chose “James & the Dragon.” They liked it so well that within a few days they posted a 5 Star review and asked if they could highlight the book on their website. I said sure. Free publicity is always a plus for an indie author.
Well, one thing led to another and soon they were contacting me in a DM and wanting to talk about doing a beta test for a Farloft film. If it worked out and we all liked it once it was finished, then we would draw up a contract for an industry standard split and try to sell it. I ended up signing a five-year agreement with them to work on that project. It is already proving to be an adventure and quite a roller coaster ride.

2) What are the most surprising things about signing an agreement with a production company for your work?
First off, that I even had the opportunity present itself. I have friends who say, ‘but you have worked so hard writing and marketing, you deserve it.’ There are tens of thousands of indie authors who work their tails off on their craft and don’t get this kind of chance. I was in the right place at the right time. What would have happened if I didn’t follow up on my tweets each day and missed that offer to review my book? What would have happened if I was shy and didn’t agree to talk to someone I didn’t know? What would have happened if I didn’t take the leap and sign the agreement in hopes that something might materialize out of it?
And the most exciting thing is the interest that is being generated for Farloft and his stories. We have some super people looking into the project. Farloft is creating a ground swell in Hollywood.
3) What's your best advice to new writers?
Don’t give up. At first the whole ‘marketing yourself’ seems so daunting. It is time consuming and we all want to write rather than market, but there were over 700,000 indie books published in 2015 and if you don’t market you are lost in the flood. Also, don’t pass up opportunities. You never know when doing that one interview, or that one blog post, or that one twitter response, will be the key to opening the gate for sales and the attention we all crave.
4) You're also involved in writing scripts for a potential TV series or film. What are the most difficult and most enjoyable aspects of translating your books into screenplays?
This is something that I am just starting to explore, and I don’t know that I will add this to my resume. It is still up in the air as to who will write the scripts.
However, I wanted to take a stab at writing the full-length movie script because I saw something that would have to be addressed in the movie version. You see, in “James & the Dragon,” the first volume in The Farloft Chronicles, there are only three characters and they are all male. In the second volume of The Chronicles I introduce three strong female characters and in book three yet another male and female character.
So, I knew if they made “James & the Dragon” as is, they would lose out on the female demographic aspect of the audience. Any good production company would not take on a project that would only address one part of a potential audience. I wanted to show how two of the female characters from the second book could be incorporated into the first film without disturbing the timeline of the full series.
As far as difficulty, I don’t have a program to format the scripts automatically, so remembering where to capitalize, and fade ins, and wipe outs, were a bear. I had to review and rereview the document to catch all of those.

As to the enjoyable part, I was pleased to find my books translate well to the screen. I love to write dialogue, so it was just a matter of transferring that and then if there was something that was inner voice for a character, trying to figure out how to voice that out loud for the audience. It was a challenge I enjoyed.
5) Tell us how you ended up getting a New York agent. Did you go through a traditional query process or handle things differently?
When I got involved with the producer, it just started getting more and more complicated. I had questions that I couldn’t find an answer to on the internet. So, I started shopping around for an agent to help me make the big decisions and to keep me from falling out of the car on this Hollywood roller coaster ride.
At first, I tried QueryTracker, which is a website for finding agents. It seemed like a good idea, but it moved kind of slow. I felt like I needed someone on hand in case they threw and contract at me and gave me just a few days t sign or miss out totally on the project.
Next, I thought to approach some of my author friends who were traditionally published to ask them if they could either ask their agent if they were interested in representing me or if they knew of someone who represented authors in book-to-film rights.
Several of my friends were very helpful, but we hit dead ends because of my books being middle-school fantasy and perhaps their agent only represented adult fiction or mystery writers or some other insurmountable hurdle.
However, eventually, a friend stepped up. He offered to contact his agent in NYC. She didn’t handle middle school, but her boss, the founder of the agency, Marisa Corvisiero, did (the agency link is below). She was impressed with my website and the breadth of my work. She was excited about the idea of doing book to film and even talked about perhaps being able to get The Farloft Chronicles traditionally published should the film come to fruition. She agreed to represent me, and it was really a load off my mind.
6) You're a very prolific author, in many different genres, from children's to supernatural to sci-fi. How do you manage to balance writing so many different books, in different genres?
I am usually working on several books at a time, but when I get down to the final draft after the beta readers have gone through it, then I focus on that book to do the final polish, get the cover just right, write the blurb, and format it for publication.
For instance, right now, I have the next Farloft Chronicle in 1st draft that I need to read through one more time before passing it on to the beta readers. I have three more in that series in my mind ready for being drafted.
I have a paranormal (Twin Cities Book) in 2nd draft being read by beta readers and another in my mind that will follow up for another trilogy in this series.
And I have two scifi books in 1st draft. One is the 3rd, and final, in my “In2Minds” trilogy with David Stevens as co-author, and the other is the start of a new series based on a character I have written about for years on my Serial Story Blog, the Star Trader, 3su.
7) What are your 3 best tips for promoting books?

1) Don’t overdo. Be subtle. Be clever. Have fun with your promotion of your books.

2) Use art other than just the cover. Graphics are the key. And keep them ever changing.

3) Secure interviews and guest blogs where possible and when someone is nice enough to do that for you, be sure to repay them by promoting that post over and over again on social media. Don’t just do it and walk away.
8)  In addition to being an author, you're also a busy freelance editor working on several projects at once. As an editor, what are your three top tips for writers to improve their writing


1) I think a solid, honest, group of loyal beta readers is a key component of producing a great book

2) I personally believe in reading a manuscript out loud. A lot of times you can catch stilted dialogue by doing this.

3) By all means do a spell and grammar check. I can’t tell you how may manuscripts I get that haven’t even been through a spell check. I have not used it myself, but I hear a program named Grammarly is quite good.

9) Any parting tips for new writers?  
Remember there were over 700,000 indie books published in 2015 (the most recent records available). First impressions never count more than in the Indie Publishing Industry. You want to put out the best product you can so that when someone picks up your book they read it and are hungry for another. You don’t want them so disappointed in the lack of proofreading that they will never look at another one of your books again. You will probably never get a chance to impress that reader again and if they post a poor review for your book then most likely it will turn other folks away from reading it. You can have an impressive cover and a great blurb, but if the content is lacking, predictable, poorly written, or not completely proofread, you are toast.
10) Tell us a bit about your Work(s) in Progress and any other news you want to share about your career.
 I have already told you about the works I have in progress. What I would like to do is share my journey with all your readers through this Hollywood maze of making a movie or series. I will be posting updates on my “Afterthoughts” blog and of course I will be posting to Social Media as well.
If your readers have not read any of my works, or if they just want to get a jump on The Farloft Chronicles before it comes to the Big or Little screen, they can download the 1st of each of my series for free. I give the first one away, because I know you can’t stop with just one. They are a bit like popcorn or potato chips. This also signs you up for my monthly newsletter with author updates of my writing world, freebies, contests, and cool swag.
            And of course, if anyone is interested in contacting me, following me on any of my social media sites, seeing what is new in my book worlds, or checking out my latest garden tour on YouTube (yes, I do take time to garden too), you can find all the links on my website.
Author Theresa Snyder
Big thanks to Theresa for taking time to let us know what she's up to! Here's her agent's website, FYI. (Please note they aren't taking queries over the holidays and are open again January 2, 2018.)

Thanks again to Theresa! More interviews with great authors - indie and traditional - to come! Also stay tuned for my new author coaching business! Sign up to the blog for updates!