Category: Interviews

Cindy Blackburn is gonna get your book club wasted on champagne.

Perky, peppy, and prolific, cozy mystery author Cindy Blackburn is living the dream! She spends her days sitting around in her pajamas, thinking up unlikely plot twists and ironing out the quirks and kinks of lovable characters. When she’s not typing on her laptop or feeding her fat cat Betty, Cindy enjoys taking long walks with her cute hubby John. A native Vermonter who hates snow, Cindy divides her time between the South Carolina and Vermont. In this #TeamFluff interview, Cindy shares her love of atrocious poetry, her advice for using social media wisely, and her strategy for getting your book club trashed on champagne.

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): In addition to writing the Cue Ball Mystery series, you publish a regular series of what you describe as terrible poetry on your

Tabby cat in the corner pocket

blog. How did your love affair with silly poems begin? I’m assuming a silly poet bought you a drink, and then one thing led to another…

Cindy Blackburn (CB): Ha! Nope, can’t say that I know any other silly poets. And I imagine silly poets can’t afford to buy drinks for others? I started writing poetry when I decided to blog once a week. Seemed to me, plenty of authors were blogging about “the writing process” and other really serious stuff. So I decided to do something light, funny, and sometimes (okay, often) awful. Nearly three years later and I’m still composing groan-inducing ditties for an update every Sunday. I’m also still waiting for someone to buy me a drink while I recite. Hmm…

MFM: One of your characters is a frenetic, hilariously hyperactive literary agent. Has your own publishing journey been populated with any eccentric nutballs?

CB: Absolutely! I just love, love, love writers. We’re an eccentric and quirky bunch. I met most of my favorite author-friends through Sisters in Crime and the Romance Writers of America—both terrific organizations. I don’t have an agent, but if I did, I’d look for one as fun as Geez Louise Urko. BTW, Louise thinks your questions are fantastical!

MFM: You’ve got a huge Twitter presence. In fact, you and I “met” through Twitter. I have to admit that I secretly hate it. If you appreciate a well-constructed sentence, and, you know, basic grammar, it can make you want to sit in a dimly-lit corner and weep. What are your tips for other authors trying to use Twitter to connect with fans and other writers? I’m specifically wondering how you keep from coming across like an illiterate 14-year-old.

CB: One of my mottos in writing and in life: Leave them wanting more, not less. I love Twitter, since it forces us to get to the gist of it—whatever “it” is. To me, that means good writing, not bad. I also love connecting with thousands of people from all over the world and every walk of life. My tips for other writers? Tweet several times a day, follow new people every day, use the notifications button to see who’s paying attention to you and pay attention to them, re-tweet often and generously. Have fun with it—here I am, doing this terrific interview because we connected on Twitter. Nice! Come follow me @cbmysteries.

MFM: By the way, R.P. Dahlke shared some other tips in an earlier #TeamFluff interview.

MFM: I wholeheartedly approve of the excessive amounts of champagne your characters consume. Has anyone ever made a drinking game out of reading your books? For every glass of champagne drunk in the book, one has to be drunk in real life.

CB: Not that I know of, but I think I’ll steal this idea and use it as an ice-breaker the next time I speak at a book club. And, of course, I’ll try this out when I finally come across that silly poet who’s looking to buy me a drink.

MFM: Your books are available as audiobooks. What was it like to transform your written words into spoken words? Any surprises?

CB: I am SO glad I didn’t have to narrate my books. Caroline Miller (a true professional with a terrific voice) did a great job as “the voice of Jessie.” The surprise was when she put the emphasis on different words and phrases than what I had heard in my head, and when HER interpretation sounded better than what I had thought I meant! Caroline kept track, and there were over 70 different characters (one being a parrot) that she narrated for the 4 Cue Ball Mysteries. Impressive!

Zany, quirky and full of goats.

For readers who enjoy light, funny, cozy reads, the Cue Ball Mysteries are: Playing With Poison, Double Shot, Three Odd Balls, and Four Play. Jessie and Wilson wanted a vacation after Four Play, so I gave them a break and have just released the first book in a brand new series. Unbelievable is the first Cassie Baxter Mystery. And, never fear, Jessie’s vacation didn’t last long. Right now I’m starting her and Wilson on their fifth adventure, Five Spot. They should have that murder solved sometime in mid 2015.

Thanks tons for hosting me on your blog today, Mindy. I enjoyed the visit.

MFM: Thanks, Cindy! Y’all head over to Cindy’s website to learn more: www.cbmysteries.com 

R.P. Dahlke dishes out advice for crafting the perfect author tweet and finding your (fictional) Mr. Right

R.P. Dahlke is the author of the bestselling Dead Red light-hearted cozy mystery series, which features model-turned-pilot Lalla Baines. Dahlke will be at BoucherCon, Long Beach, CA in November 13-16, where she’ll be giving away 40 printed copies of her marketing handbook for authors, Jump Start Your Book Promotions, to attendees of her talk on e-book promotion.

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): It’s something of a cliche for a cozy mystery heroine to have relationship problems (love triangles, misunderstandings, going for the wrong type). But your serially-divorced protagonist, Lalla Bains, takes “bad with men” to a new level. Do you believe that becoming a good partner is sometimes a matter of finding the right person (and in Lalla’s case, is her Mr. Right definitely Caleb Stone)? Or do you see more romantic upheavals ahead for Lalla?

IMG_0295.1R.P. Dahlke (RPD): Lalla is a woman who, for all the obvious reasons, doesn’t trust her own judgment when it comes to men, and yet, Caleb Stone proves to her over and over again that he’s not only trustworthy, but he can see beyond her skittish behavior. I hope I’ve answered that question with #4 in the Dead Red Mystery series, A Dead Red Alibi, in which Lalla, feeling she’s been left at the altar, bolts for Arizona with her dad in tow.  Caleb, being the man he is, follows, only to get carjacked and left in the desert. It’s alternately funny, sad, and impressive. I mean, how many men do you know who’d do what he does for the woman he loves? I have a reader who says, “Caleb Stone should be bronzed!” Yep. I think so, too.

MFM: You have an impressive social media presence. I see way too many authors (on Twitter especially) whose whole social media strategy is just to cram their book down everyone’s throats, i.e. @jerkauthor tweets: EVERYBODY BUY MY MIND-BLOWINGLY AWESOMETASTIC BOOK RIGHT NOW!!!. And I’m silently thinking: #annoyingauthor #nobodylikesyou. What’s the key to engaging with your (potential) readers on social media without being @jerkauthor?

RPD: Thanks for saying so! Since I interact with authors on a daily basis with DIRT CHEAP MYSTERY READS, my newsletter for mystery lovers, I get an opportunity to see what NOT to do, as well as be cheerleader for all those terrific Indie authors who need the help in promoting. Tweets should be about the book, and I personally insert clips of dialogue or plot points to get the reader’s attention. Then, too, having a free or discounted book is always a good attention getter.

MFM: Speaking of social media, I’ve talked to other authors who describe what a time sink it can be to market your books yourself. Between blogging and tweeting and in-person promos for my books, marketing, for me, has been like having a second, really demanding child. How do you avoid the trap of spending so much time marketing that you forget to write?

RPD: When I wrote my first book, twenty years ago, there was no way to market it other than to get it into a bookstore and then buy a print ad that cost up to $2,000!   There has never been a better time to be an author than right now! Social media along with some very good marketing sites have really leveled the field when it comes to opportunities to promote. Today, an author can promote for free or pay as little as $10.00 to a promo site.

kindleWhen I started selling on Amazon in 2011, I thought that all I had to do was put up a good book with a nice looking cover and sales would happen. And they did–for awhile. But with the glut of new books coming on line every month, authors have to be smart about promoting. I went from spending 10-20% of my sales income (2012-2013) to spending 25% of my income (2014) promoting my own books. Has it paid off? Yes, it has!

I’m also in a “love-fest” with Amazon, simply because Amazon has done the most for promoting Indie authors. For instance, if an author is selling well, Amazon rewards that author with promotion. Indie authors are given the opportunity to give their books away, do short term discounts, and now, with Kindle Unlimited, they have another terrific way to make money.

And yet, I still recommend that authors advertise.  I know I do every single month. I have written a short, concise kindle book on this subject. Jump Start Your Book Promotions is only 99 cents on Amazon/Kindle, and I update it every 5-6 months with new ideas for getting sales and reviews.

MFM: The southwestern setting seems to be encoded in the DNA of your Dead Red Mystery series. I just can’t image Lalla Bains in, say, Peoria, Illinois, and yet in your most recent book, you moved Lalla and her gang from California to Arizona. How important is the setting to you? 

RPD: I believe in writing about what I know. It’s safer that way!

I was raised in the central valley of California, and ran my dad’s crop dusting business for a couple of years, so that was where I set my first three dead red books. But after my son died in a work related airplane accident in 2005, I knew that after my third book, A Dead Red Oleander, that I would have to start a new series. Then something interesting happened.  After going over all the reviews for these books, I realized that what readers liked the most about the Dead Red series, was not the flying, or crop dusting, but the mysteries, and most importantly, the dynamics of Lalla and her family.  So, with A Dead Red Alibi (and coming in 2015-A Dead Red Miracle) I’ve moved Lalla and the gang to Wishbone, Arizona–close to where I and my boxedsetcover2 SMALLhusband now reside after spending four years sailing in Mexico.

Links for R.P. Dahlke:

“I owe my writing career to my dogs,” and other secrets of publishing success. Interview with C.A. Newsome.

C. A. (Carol Ann) Newsome writes the Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries, a series of funny, romantic suspense/mystery novels which are inspired by and centered around her mornings at the Mount Airy Dog Park with her trio of rescue dogs. She is also an artist with an M.F.A. from the University of Cincinnati, and you’ll see portraits of some of her favorite four-footed friends on the covers of her books. Her other interests include astrology, raw food, and all forms of psychic phenomena. She likes to sing to her dogs. The dogs are the only ones who like to listen.

 

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): There’s an old showbiz adage, “Never work with children or animals,” and yet you’ve chosen to base much of your writing career on dogs, namely your Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries. Any regrets? I suppose the clean up and care of imaginary dogs is probably easier

C.A. Newsome (CAN): I owe my writing career (and more) to my dogs and my dog park friends, so no regrets. The nice thing about writing about animals is that they never complain about the way you portray them in books. When I was an artist, I always painted from real life or photographs. I’m like that in my writing as well. My plots are extrapolations inspired by the people, places, and dogs I encounter in daily life.

Another bonus, I think it’s easier to gain a foothold in the market if you publish in a niche category. There just aren’t that many dog mysteries out there, so dog lovers are more likely to take a chance on an indie author.

It’s a double-edged sword, though. My current concern is not getting ghetto-ised as a “dog author.” There’s a lot in the books to appeal to people beyond the furred ones.

MFM: My own second novel, A Death in Duck, features a Doberman. I tried to make him as realistically “dog like” as possible, because I have a serious aversion to anthropomorphic pets solving crimes (although I do make an exception for Scooby Doo, obviously). Where do you stand on this divisive, hot button issue–the cozy mystery equivalent of the Israel-Palestine conflict?

CAN: I loved Spencer Quinn’s Dog On It Mysteries, but I have no desire to write the internal life of a dog. Not that I don’t think animals are smart enough. My experiences with animal communicators has convinced me that dogs are more aware than we give them credit for. But they use their brains to attend to doggie priorities. They sniff out dog treats and dead animals, not murderers.

My fictional dogs act like real dogs. They eat dirt. They steal remotes. They shed. They eat your pizza when you aren’t looking.

MFM: Several of your reviews use words like “easy read” and “light mystery” to describe your books. How do you feel about your books being described that way? Author Julie Anne Lindsey suggested that those of us who write funny cozies should band together under the hashtag #TeamFluff

CAN: Call me light, call me easy, Just don’t call me silly.

I want my books to be easy to read. I want people to forget they’re reading and get lost in my stories. That, to me, is the sign of good writing. And I think we need to take what we do seriously. What we do has proven therapeutic value. We give people a break from their daily grind. We help them shift their mood and their attitude. We make them laugh at the foibles of life. We leave them refreshed and in a positive frame of mind.

MFM: You made the decision to “permafree” the first book in your series, A Shot in the Bark on Amazon, which means that even though it’s been downloaded eleventy gajillion times (exact total as of today), you get zero dollars in royalties from it. How did you decide that the permafree risk was worth taking?

CAN: I’m blessed in my online writer friends. We share our experiences across all phases of our work, from writer’s block to marketing. I was able to see pre and post perma-free sales of other book series, so I didn’t feel like I was taking a risk. Perma-free for first in a series works as one part of a marketing strategy, IF the book is engaging enough to make readers want more.

One of my author associates is Russell Blake (who co-authored the latest Clive Cussler). He’s very open about everything he does to create his success. His blog is http://russellblake.com It’s a great resource for indies.

MFM: I’ve read a lot of blogs with writing advice, including my own(!), but your blog advice for writers is genuinely one of my favorites. I’ll just pick out a couple stellar quotes:

“Most people can knock out 500 words in the time they waste watching a Star Trek rerun.”

“Somebody had to invent Jane Austen with Zombies.”

“While Barbie might be a paleontologist one day and Supergirl the next, your characters may not.”

One thing I think you’re missing, though, is the importance of getting honest feedback from talented writers and/or insightful readers. Now that the Holy Grail of becoming a published author is more attainable than ever before, getting somebody other than your mom to read your stuff is essential for knowing if your stuff is awesome or if it sucks like a medieval leech doctor. Unless your mom is my mom, and then you’ll get PLENTY of “constructive criticism” and “feedback” on everything you endeavor to do. Hmm… I realize that this has become more of a therapy session for me than a question for you, so, I’ll just prompt you in the style of Mike Myers’s Linda Richman character from SNL: The importance of honest feedback for newbie writers. Discuss…

CAN: Thank you for the lovely compliment! I didn’t mention feedback in that particular post because I wrote it for someone who was scribbling and aspiring, but not at the point where feedback would be beneficial. If  you dig further into my archives, you’ll find How to be a Better Beta Reader: http://canewsome.com/2013/10/05/how-to-be-a-better-beta-reader/

I absolutely believe in getting feedback for two reasons. 1) If you plan to publish, you are developing a product as much as you are expressing yourself, and you damn well better have an idea how people are responding to your stuff. 2) Reading a book is usually a one time experience. You cannot experience your own book the way a first time reader does unless you ditch your manuscript and run across it ten years later. Which I don’t advise.

However, for feedback to be useful, you must first be grounded in your own vision.

I learned in art school that when another artist critiques your work, they are  most likely going to tell you how they would do it. So we would have some hot-shot visiting artist come in, and they would tell me what they liked about my work and thought I should do, and it would be the exact opposite of what another hot-shot artist told me the week before. If you don’t want your work to wind up looking like a copy of your favorite teacher, you need to start by pleasing yourself.

You don’t look at your significant other and ask, “Is this how I like my hamburger?” You just know that it tastes good to you and hopefully you don’t care what anyone else thinks about the sardines and marshmallows you put on it.

When I taught drawing, one of my mantras was “Being an artist means having an opinion.” You have to be able to tap into your gut when you look at your work and decide what you want and how you want it.

So I’d get a talented kid who was looking to me to tell them whether something was good, or if they were going about it the right way, and I’d say, “What do you think?” And since they were used to doing what their teacher said and earning gold stars, that would drive them crazy. But the arts are the one place where you can do exactly what your teacher says and end up with an epic fail.

You also need to get feedback from people who like the sort of thing you’re writing. One of my first betas loves John Grisham, and kept suggesting his books to me. I finally picked one up and discovered that the bits she loved, bored me to death. We are both relieved that she no longer reads for me.

Right now, I’m preparing to send my fourth novel, Sneak Thief, out to more than a dozen beta readers solicited through my mailing list. In this installment of Lia and Peter’s story, Lia meets a new BFF, Desiree, who is being stalked by an anonymous admirer. When Desiree turns up dead, Lia is convinced the detectives assigned to the case are on the wrong track and starts snooping. Sneak Thief refers to Desiree’s beagle, Julia, who creates havoc with her larceny.