Author of the Month
Pamela Samuels Young [DECEMBER 2009]
Chosen by MyShelf.Com reviewer and Beneath the Covers Columnist Carol Ann Culbert Johnson


Author Pamela Samuels Young One of my favorite authors is Pamela Samuels-Young, who graciously granted me the interview below. She's a great author and an amazing woman who has always abided by the philosophy that you create the change you want to see. Fed up with never seeing women or people of color depicted as savvy, hot shot attorneys in the legal thrillers she read, she decided to create her own characters, fitting time to write in around the demands of a busy legal career. She's also a frequent speaker on the topics of discrimination law, writing and pursuing your passion.

Carol: What are your New Year's resolutions for your book goals in 2009?

Pamela: My first New Year's resolution is to take better care of myself. I'm still practicing law and squeezing in writing whenever I can (which means early mornings, late nights, weekends and vacations). In order to have the stamina to write, I need to exercise regularly and eat better. My second resolution is to finish a first draft of my next book, Attorney-Client Privilege, by the end of February 2010. I only have about 100 pages written so far, so that's really pushing it!

Carol: What can you tell us about yourself?

Pamela: I'm a lawyer, writer, wife, step-mother and more! I always like people to know that I grew up in Compton, California. When I mention my hometown, some people automatically assume that I dodged bullets on the way to school every day. But my upbringing was nothing like that. I had two strong, hard-working parents, who still live in Compton today. The foundation they laid—faith in God, hard work and education—is responsible for who I am and everything I have achieved. I am quite proud to be a product of Compton.

Carol: What is the name of your current book and give a synopsis of it?

Buying Time cover Pamela: My most recent release is Buying Time. In Buying Time, Attorney Waverly Sloan is a down-on-his-luck lawyer who lends a helping hand to terminally ill patients by helping them sell their insurance policies. Waverly gets a commission on every sale and the money is pouring in. But when Waverly's clients start dying sooner than they should, he is unwittingly drawn into a murder scheme with ties to Washington. A determined federal prosecutor is hot on his trail, but when her own life begins to unravel, she finds herself on the run with Waverly by her side.

Carol: What is your publishing journey? How did you get started in writing?

Pamela: When I finished law school, I developed a passion for reading legal thrillers. But I never saw women or people of color depicted as attorneys in any of the books I read. I would close the novels feeling satisfied with the story, but disappointed about the lack of diversity of the characters. One day, I decided that I would write the kind of characters that I wanted to see. In the process, I discovered my passion. At the time, I was an associate at O'Melveny & Myers, a large corporate law firm in Los Angeles. Despite the demands of my law practice, I somehow managed to get up at four in the morning to squeeze in a couple of hours of writing before work. I wrote all weekend, in hotels, in airports, whenever and wherever I could find the time. I never really had a true passion in my life until I discovered mystery writing. I'm currently practicing law as an in-house employment attorney for Toyota, yet I've still managed to publish a book a year for the last four years. Nothing short of passion made that possible.

Carol: Do you have an agent? If so, why and why not?

Murder on the Down Low cover Pamela: I do have an agent, but he was unable to sell my third novel, Murder on the Down Low, so I decided to self-publish it. I didn't bother allowing him to shop Buying Time after I finished it in April 2009 because even if the book got picked up, it would have been at least a year before the book made it to store shelves, which means I wouldn't have had a 2009 release. My goal is to continue building my fan base by producing a book a year. I would love to get picked up by a major publisher, but I'm not going to sit on the sidelines waiting for that to happen.

Carol: What are your views on the writers of today?

Pamela: I've heard other writers complain about the market being saturated with writers, but I say, the more the merrier. Different people like to read different things. I rarely walk out of a bookstore with just one book. So, in my opinion, there's room for everyone.

Carol: Who is your favorite author and why?

Pamela: There are way too many wonderful authors to pick just one. The book that had the greatest impact on me as a kid was Claude Brown's Manchild in the Promised Land. I can still remember stumbling across a copy of the book at my aunt's house when I was about twelve. It was the first book I can remember reading that had African-American characters and I was thrilled to be reading about people who looked like me. It was also a very gritty and graphic coming of age story. I promptly "borrowed" the book without asking for permission for fear that my aunt would think I was too young to be reading such a sexually graphic book. After that, I developed an insatiable appetite for African-American fiction. That led me to Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison and other truly great literary authors.

These days, I read more mysteries than anything else. Some of my favorite authors include Walter Mosley, Greg Iles, Sandra Brown, Tami Hoag, James Patterson, Valerie Wilson Wesley, and John Grisham. I love a good plot and I think all of these writers write very entertaining novels. I also enjoy women's fiction and I'll buy anything Terry McMillan decides to write.

Carol: How do you feel about writing?

Pamela: I LOVE IT! It's definitely my passion. I really enjoy creating characters and seeing them come to life. When I attend book club meetings and hear the members discuss my characters as if they were real people, it's absolutely thrilling!

Carol: Is writing a hobby or a full-time goal?

Pamela: While I don't write full time, I definitely wouldn't call it a hobby. I consider writing legal thrillers my second profession next to law.

Carol: What is your genre of writing? Explain.

Pamela: My genre is mystery. The sub-genre is legal thrillers.

Carol: What are your other published books?

Pamela: I've penned four legal thrillers: Every Reasonable Doubt (2006, BET Books), In Firm Pursuit cover In Firm Pursuit (2007, Harlequin), Murder on the Down Low (2008, Goldman House Publishing) and Buying Time (November 2009, Goldman House Publishing).

Carol: Who inspires you to write and why?

Pamela: I'm inspired to write by the desire to see more diversity in legal fiction.

Carol: What is the message in your books?

Pamela: It's always my goal to entertain and educate readers. For example, In Firm Pursuit deals with sexual harassment. In Murder on the Down Low, I wanted to educate people about HIV and AIDS. In Buying Time, I introduce readers to the viatical industry, something I knew nothing about until a few years ago. I'm always looking for something new and interesting to introduce to readers.

Carol: Do you write short stories and poems?

Pamela: I've never tried my hand at poetry but I've had one short story published. It's called "Setup" and it's featured in the 2006 Sisters in Crime anthology, Landmarked for Murder. I actually find writing short stories harder than writing a novel because you have to pack so much into such a small package. I hope to one day turn "Setup" into a novel.

Carol: What success has the publication of your book done for you?

Pamela: It's given me the motivation to keep writing despite rejection from the traditional publishing industry. When I get emails from readers telling me how much they enjoyed my books, it lessens the sting of the rejection and tells me I made the right decision to self-publish. Many successful writers faced years of rejection. I know it's simply part of the business, so I try not to take it personally.

Carol: Have you done a book signing? If so, was it successful?

Pamela: I do them all the time. Just visit my website and take a look at my packed tour schedule! I love meeting new people and I enjoy public speaking and encouraging others to pursue their passion. In my early days, there were some signings where only a couple of people showed up. That's no longer the case anymore, thank God!

Carol: What are your tools for marketing? Explain some of them, and why?

Pamela: Book clubs, book clubs, book clubs! I love connecting with readers and book clubs are the best way to do so. Book clubs are also a great source of word-of-mouth buzz. I've attended more than 100 book club meetings either in person, via speaker phone or via webcam. My goal for 2010 is to double that number. So all invitations are welcomed! To schedule me for a book club meeting or speaking engagement, visit my website at PamelaSamuelsYoung.com or email me at author@pamelasamuelsyoung.com.

Carol: What is your next book and give us a synopsis of it?

Pamela: The legal thriller I'm currently working on is another Vernetta Henderson mystery and will be the fourth book in the series. It's called Attorney-Client Privilege. Vernetta squares off against an unscrupulous female attorney in an explosive gender discrimination case that could bring down a corporation. The story line involving her best friend Special will make you laugh, cry and root for her until the very end. Assuming I can continue to keep all my balls in the air, Attorney-Client Privilege will be released in November 2010.

Carol: What voice do you write in and why?

Pamela: I write in first person and third person, sometimes both in the same book. I prefer first person because I think it's easier to connect with the character. But it's difficult to write because the character can't be everywhere.

Carol: What advice would you give to other writers?

Pamela: Don't let anyone deter you from pursuing your dream. Most successful authors experienced years of rejection. John Grisham, for instance, received 45 rejection letters and self-published A Time to Kill because people told him no one wanted to read about lawyers. How wrong they were! So if you think you have a marketable book, don't give up on your dream. Just make sure you diligently study the writing craft and that you have a good product.

My goal is to become a New York Times bestselling author and to eventually write full time. I recognize that few authors ever achieve that level of success. That fact doesn't stop me from dreaming big. I feel very strongly that there's a significant market for my legal thrillers and I'm confident that I'll eventually break out of the pack. Until that happens, I plan to continue publishing a book a year and watching my fan base grow. My best quality is my ability to get back up after a fall. The publishing industry may knock me down, but I'll keep getting back up again and again and again.

Carol: Do you have a website? If so, please showcase it to our readers?

Every Reasonable Doubt cover Pamela: Any writer who doesn't have a website is nuts! I recently found a great web designer who gave my website a whole new look. It has more of a mystery feel now. You can take a peek at PamelaSamuelsYoung.com.

Carol: What is your email address where readers can learn all about you and your books?

Pamela: You can email me via my website at PamelaSamuelsYoung.com or at author@pamelasamuelsyoung.com.

Carol: Do you belong to a book club?

Pamela: I was in a book club before I became a published writer. I loved discussing books once a month with other book lovers. Now that I'm published and trying to produce a book a year and practice law, I have no time left for anything else!

Carol: Have you attended any writing classes, or workshops? If so, explain.

Pamela: One of the most helpful classes I took was a one-day workshop at the UCLA Writers Program in Los Angeles. The instructor urged the class to outline a novel in their genre. That was a great idea. I outlined John Grisham's The Firm. Taking the book apart chapter by chapter helped me learn a great deal about story structure and how to keep readers turning the pages. I've also taken Robert McKee's "Story" seminars. I highly recommend them.

Carol: Do you have an editor? Why or why not?

Pamela: I have a copy editor, but not an editor who helps me with story development. Once I finish a solid draft, I send the manuscript to a focus group of about 50 people. My focus group is made up of family, friends, colleagues and at least one book club. They give me invaluable feedback. In my opinion, avid readers are the best editors.

Carol: How do you come up with your stories?

Pamela: I find them everywhere. My second novel, In Firm Pursuit, was based on a real-life case that I tried in federal court where a guy was accused of sexual harassment and sued the company for wrongful termination. The idea for Murder on the Down Low stemmed from an Oprah show featuring JL King, the author of On the Down Low. The idea for my newest book, Buying Time, came from a conversation with a guy at a party who happened to be a viatical broker who helps terminally ill people sell their insurance policies for upfront cash. By the time he finished telling me about the viatical industry, I knew there was a thriller in there somewhere.

Carol: Do you write them in long hand, on the computer, or does someone type them for you?

Pamela: I create my first draft on my laptop. Then I print it out and edit it long hand, then type the changes into the computer. I'll repeat that process again and again and again until I'm satisfied with the final project.

Carol: Who supports you in your writing and why?

Pamela: A host of family and friends and my wonderful husband, Rick. I hope they support me because they believe in my dream and enjoy my work.

Carol: What book are you reading now? Give the title, the author, and a synopsis.

Pamela: First, I have to say thank God for books on tape. I always have one on in the car, which is the only time I have to "read" these days because I use any free time I have to write. Right now, I'm listening to The Devil's Punchbowl by Greg Iles on my Kindle™. I think he's a fantastic writer and suspenseful storyteller. In his latest book, former prosecutor Penn Cage tries to trap some bad guys who killed his childhood friend just as he was about to expose their dog fighting and prostitution rings.

Carol: If you had three wishes, what would they be and why?

Pamela:

2009's Honorary List

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