Category: Interviews

Karen B. Kaplan dares you to read her book

Encountering the Edge_frontRabbi Karen B.Kaplan, former healthcare chaplain and author of Encountering The Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died, has kindly agreed to be the next victim, er, interviewee, in my chaplain series. I read her book, and I can certify that it’s minty fresh!

In 1992, Karen was ordained as one of the first 200 female rabbis worldwide, and she later became a hospice chaplain. Endorsed by a reporter for The Huffington Post, you can see stories and commentary about how people deal with death on her blog, offbeatcompassion.com.

Currently, her focus has shifted exclusively to writing. She teaches essay writing and grammar to speakers of English as a second language and heads The Angry Coffee Bean Writers’ Group. She’s currently working on a collection of compassionate science fiction short stories (no swords, no murderous robots).

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): You’re Jewish, but as a hospice chaplain you often provided pastoral care to non-Jews or adherents to different “flavors” of Judaism from your own. How do you think your own religious beliefs played into the way you approached your work?

Karen B. Kaplan (KBK): Ideally, chaplains aim to keep their own agendas, including religious ones, out of the way, so they can really listen carefully and take in what the patient is trying to express. Our job is to go where the patient goes, not have the patient follow us. In other words, a chaplain’s job is not so much to provide answers but to ask questions. So your question could become, “How do the religious or non-religious beliefs of a patient shape how you provide pastoral care to that patient? The answer is, if a patient is secular, we might discuss spiritual matters all humans face such as the meaning of life and how they want to be remembered. As for people of different faiths from my own, I simply listen to them express their beliefs and explore how those beliefs may be encouraging, strengthening, hindering or confusing them at that moment. I follow their lead; if they are distressed, I help them articulate their concerns.

Patients rarely know anything about my beliefs, unless they ask. And even then, I usually turn it around to ask about their own beliefs, which is what they really want to and need to talk about

MFM: Frankly, you’ve seen a lot of dying and death–your body count would put a mafia hitman to shame. What do you think happens when we die? Did your idea about the afterlife (or lack thereof) change in the course of your work?

KBK: You have a colorful way of putting things. I do answer these questions in detail in the book, so I don’t want my answer here to be a spoiler. However, I’ll give some hints: With a front row seat as it were between the edge of life and impending death, I have listened to many patients tell me their beliefs about the afterlife, everything from the traditional heaven/hell dichotomy to creative ideas of their own. I just hope that in my case, I don’t have to end up with my dysfunctional parents and that there will be an Option B for people like me.

MFM: I recently interviewed Stacy Sergent, who, like you, published a memoir about her work as a chaplain. I’m going to ask you the same question I asked her: If you could fictionalize your account, how would you change it? I’m guessing your fictionalized memoir would have at least one spaceship in it…

KBK: Funny you should ask. Fact is, I’m happy to report as I am not on hospice, the last chapter is fiction! In that chapter I imagine that at some nice ripe age in my nineties that I will be on hospice and thinking back on my life with the help of a chaplain. The reader will see a dialogue between me and that chaplain. You might think this is hokey or very risky to do, but like the rest of the book, it passed review after review with flying colors. One point of doing this exercise was to reveal how my own life story influenced me to take on such an admittedly peculiar career.

MFM: I liked your ending, too. In fact, I cried when “you” died. Still, I’m disappointed that you refuse to add vampires or spaceships to your memoir. If you’d like, I will spice it up for you–Fifty Shades of the Hospice, perhaps? No? Moving on then… Talking about death and dying can bring out strong reactions in people, so I’m wondering, did any of the reactions to your book (or the idea of you writing such a book) trouble you or upset you? Or were you able, to quote the great poet Taylor Swift, to shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake it (i.e. other people’s opinions) off?

KBK: No, no one’s strong reactions have upset me. I expected such reactions. Furthermore, as a chaplain visiting the sick the dying and the bereaved, I have had plenty of experience with strong emotions face to face, so anyone backing away from my book in horror is mild stuff in comparison. Besides, I have not heard too much negativity. I think people who dislike the subject keep that to themselves and solve the issue by not purchasing the book.

It is a bit amusing how close friends, even with their very own signed copies, have put off reading anything within besides my signed note to them. Shall I dare them?

The real Chaplain Jesus Lady: All of the drama, none of the angsty vampires

For the next few months, Minty Fresh Mysteries will be profiling some real-life chaplains who’ve written interesting and thought-provoking accounts of their work. I’m kicking things off with Stacy N. Sergent, whose incredible Chaplain Jesus Lady blog I discovered while researching the second book in my hospital chaplain mystery series, A Death in Duck.

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Chaplain Jesus Lady herself, Stacy Sergent

Stacy was born and raised in the mountains of Harlan, Kentucky. She completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, and a Master of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, as well as five units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Carolinas Medical Center and Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. Her experience varies from English teacher to French interpreter, children’s minister to return desk cashier at Lowe’s, all of it enriching in its own way. These days she is a gardener, a blogger, a crocheter, an occasional preacher, and a hospital chaplain at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston. She makes her home just across the bridge in Mount Pleasant with her wonderful dog, Hurley, who takes her for frequent walks on the beach.

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): As a young, female hospital chaplain, do you find that you defy people’s expectations of what a chaplain should be? Have there ever been times when you’ve been able to use that to your advantage?

Stacy Sergent (SS): Yes, I am sometimes a surprise to people. Just this week someone knocked on the door of our office and when I opened the door, he said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I was looking for the chaplain.” When I explained to him that I was the chaplain, I could tell he was completely caught off guard by this. He fumbled for words for a moment, then explained that he had previously met with one of our male chaplains for prayer. I offered to pray with him, but he declined and said he would come back later. That only happens occasionally. Usually once people get over the initial surprise, they open up to me and find that I’m able to meet their pastoral care needs, even if I’m not what they expected. There have been times when my presence as a young (and very short) woman has been disarming, usually with men expressing their grief in loud and angry ways. They expect me to be scared away, I think, but when they find that I don’t turn and run from their anger, their surprise is often enough to make a crack in the facade. It allows them to trust me with the sadness that is really behind their show of anger. And once they know that I can handle it, then the real grief work can begin.

MFM: I’ve heard it said that the role of a chaplain is to provide a “listening presence.” What does that mean to you? Do you ever want to stop being a listening presence and become, say, a “screaming, hollering banshee presence”?

SS: Being a listening presence is harder than it sounds, at least for me. It takes tremendous effort to stay in the moment with someone, not to let my mind wander, not to express disapproval or judgment, not to just think of what I need to say next. Active listening is tough and tiring. But it never fails to amaze me how much it means to someone to feel truly heard. So many times I’ve had a patient or family member say to me, “Thank you for everything you did for us. It meant so much.” And I find myself wondering what exactly I did — because I mostly remember being in the room with them and not saying anything. To anyone observing from the outside it would have looked very much like doing nothing. Yet being heard let them know they were not alone, and as a chaplain it’s my hope that by being there with them, even in silence, I bear witness to God’s presence with them, too. And yes, there are a few times when I’ve had to bite my tongue, when someone has literally made me want to scream, but I’ve always managed not to, so far.

MFM: You’ve written a wonderful memoir about your first few years of chaplaincy. I read it and loved it. But as a fiction writer, I want to know, if you could fictionalize your account, how would you change it? Would it become a black comedy? An erotic thriller? Would you change all the doctors into cowboys?

SS: First of all, thank you very much. I was beyond thrilled when I read your review of my book, since I am such a fan of your writing as well! This is a really interesting question. I never thought about what my story would be like as fiction. I suppose it could be wish fulfillment. I could, like your fictional heroine Lindsay Harding, eat lots of junk food and still be thin. And I could have romantic interludes in the elevator like the characters on Grey’s Anatomy. I can’t tell you how disappointing it is, after years of watching that show, that of all the thousands of times I’ve been on hospital elevators, never once have I had occasion to make out with a gorgeous doctor à la McDreamy or McSteamy. Of course, if I really wanted to sell books, I would need the hospital to be threatened by zombie hoards, only to be saved by the chaplain who is secretly an angsty vampire. All these missed opportunities . . . But I will say, I’m pretty happy with the story I did tell, and really touched with the messages I’ve been getting from people all over the place who say it resonated with them. I think so many of us experience times of questioning who we are and what God is up to (if anything) and what it all means. Exploring those questions honestly through my own life was an exhilarating writing experience, even without zombies or vampires or elevator makeout sessions. And people seem to enjoy reading it, so even better!

Nancy Lynn Jarvis, crazy cat ladies, and underground sex dungeons

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You’re all fair game to become characters in Nancy Lynn Jarvis’s real estate mystery series.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis finally acknowledged she’s having too much fun writing to ever sell another house and let her license lapse in May of 2013, after her twenty-fifth anniversary in real estate. She invites you to take a peek into the real estate world through the stories that form the backdrop of her Regan McHenry mysteriesIf you’re one of her clients, colleagues, or contractors, read carefully — you may find characters in her books that seem familiar. You may know the person who inspired them — who knows: maybe you inspired a character yourself.

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): Your Regan McHenry mysteries are known for having lots of plot twists and turns. Have you ever drafted an epic twist (à la The Sixth Sense or Planet of the Apes) only to realize that — amazing as it is — it’s just not going to work? 

Nancy Lynn Jarvis (NLJ): I’ve never had that experience, but I have had a character throw a plot twist at me. When I started writing Backyard Bones, I couldn’t decide which one of two characters was the murderer, but knew the choice could be put off until I was part way through writing the book. By the time I reached the deciding point, it was clear neither prime suspect was guilty; the villain was another character. No worries. I thought I’d just go back, do a little rewriting, and plant clues in the appropriate places. When I got to the revision points, the clues were already there. My character was in charge the whole time and laughing at me as much as at my protagonist for missing them.

MFM: Real-life events from your 25-year real estate career form the basis of your mysteries. With all that experience, have you done all the usual realtor things like walking in on naked homeowners, trying to sell a crazy cat lady house, or shoving dirty dishes in the trunk of your car before a viewing? Have you done anything even wackier than that, say, shoving a naked crazy cat lady in your trunk before a viewing? 

NLJ: Several of the wacky things I’ve encountered or friends in the business experienced have found their way into the books. The (very common) naked homeowner story made a great little bit in a book as did the crazy cat lady (mine was a crazy dog lady) who wore tinfoil hats to keep the space aliens from reading her mind. The most unusual wacky story may have been a friend’s experience of finding a dead seller during a showing. The realtor was upset and assumed the potential buyer, who left the bedroom where the body was while he called 911, was too, until he found her in the living room sitting in a yoga pose, communing with the dead seller to negotiate the purchase of his condo. I used that in “The Death Contingency.” FYI readers, all the murders in my books are made up; the real estate stories, no matter how implausible they may seem, are all true.

 MFM: Tell me about the absolute weirdest house you ever took clients to view. Did any elements of that experience find their way into your books? 

Buying Murder 200 x 300NLJ: Let’s see. The one that was so cold the evil in it was palpable? No, I ran out of it and never took clients to see it, although it was the model for The Murder House. The one with the working dungeon dug under the house? Maybe. My clients and I got out of there quickly once we noticed the massive lock on the dungeon door and heard noises upstairs indicating the owner had come home. I haven’t used that one…yet. Oh, I know! The one where the building inspector announced he found Jimmy Hoffa. There was an anomaly in the structure of the house that created a perfect hiding place for a body. The inspector was kidding about Hoffa, but the house and that space are in Buying Murder.

MFM: You’ve now published more than half a dozen books, so I’m sure you’ve learned a thing or two about what works and doesn’t work for getting the word out. What are your go-to marketing strategies? For example, I was thinking about buying ad space for my book series on Kim Kardashian’s buttFront-Cover-Small

NLJ: Back in the day, I had great success offering a free download of a series book. It’s counterintuitive to give a book away to increase sales, but it worked beyond my wildest dreams, which is saying a lot because I’m a writer and dream up all sorts of things. Recently I convinced 128 cozy mystery writers to submit recipes related to their books for a cookbook and asked them to include biographies and links for buying their books. Authors are now a promotional army mentioning the cookbook everywhere. Sales are good and we are all getting publicity from Cozy Food: 128 Cozy Mystery Writers Share Their Favorite Recipes. It doesn’t hurt that “Cozy Food” is full of witty stories, terrific and entertaining recipes, works equally well for recipes and for discovering new authors to read, and is garnering rave reviews.

Check out more cozy mystery author 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.