Author of the Month
I first met Carolyn Rose and Mike Nettleton at a writersí mixer they facilitated at Cover-to-Cover Books, a Vancouver, Washington book shop. The two have authored several books: his, hers, and theirs. To have more time for promoting their books, as well as for teaching and writing, Carolyn and Mike no longer coordinate the group. But they visit often, and keep us laughing with their friendly banter. Mutual respect and affection is evident in their writing partnership.
Their newest cozy mystery, The Big Grabow$ki, is the first of the Devilís Harbor Mystery series. It is published by Krill Press, a Pacific Northwest publisher. When unscrupulous land developer Vince Grabowskiís dead body washes up amid the sea lions, dozens of cheated investors are potential suspects. The series is set in Devilís Harbor, Oregon, a fictitious small town populated with outrageous, audacious, and hilarious citizens guaranteed to hold your interest. I spoke to Carolyn and Mike about The Big Grabow$ki, and their collaborative writing process.
Sandra: Iíve been writing fiction since I was a child, but it took me a long time to get published. I wrote several mainstream and "literary" (I was the only one who thought they were literary!) novels that no editor wanted before I finally discovered mystery and suspense. I didnít grow up reading Nancy Drew, and I didnít read Agatha Christie until I was almost 30. The writer who really turned me on to mystery and suspense was Ruth Rendell (The Lake of Darkness was my introduction to her work). Then I started reading P.D. James. Then Thomas H. Cook. There was no going back. The Heat of the Moon, my first attempt at mystery/suspense, became my first published book.
Deb: I just finished reading Broken Places and loved the characters. The story talked about the poverty and the mountain setting in southwestern Virginia... How did the setting help to shape the characters? Tell us about developing the characters.
Sandra: Rachel Goddard came to the mountains after her life in suburban Washington, DC fell apart. The people surrounding her in Mason County, my fictional Virginia setting, are poles apart from anyone sheís ever known before, and at times she wonders if she will ever fit in. She has secrets she doesnít want to share with anyone, and she moved to Mason County with the idea that this would be a place to hide from the past—only to learn that the past willl follow her wherever she goes.
Tom Bridger grew up in Mason County, the son of a mixed-race Melungeon man and a white woman, and because of his dark skin he has felt the sting of bias now and then. When he went to work for the Richmond Police Department on the far side of the state, he thought he had escaped the narrow-mindedness of his small home community. Then his parents, brother, and sister-in-law died in an auto acccident—with Tom at the wheel—and he returned home for good, taking his fatherís job as chief deputy in the Sheriffís Department, so he could be near his young nephew. He knows the county, knows the people, but he also has an outsiderís perspective and, like Rachel, he is sometimes frustrated and angered by this insular community.
Deb: Did you have to do much research on police procedure and veterinarian practices for Broken Places?
Sandra: I always try to get my facts straight. A veterinarian friend has helped with details about the practice of vet medicine. I never hesitate to seek advice from experts in law enforcement and criminal law. Fortunately, many experts are readily available through websites and blogs and mystery listservs, and they are always generous with their help. However, I try not to load down my stories with either veterinary medicine details or law enforcement routine. Readers want a fast-moving novel, not a textbook.
Deb: Do you plot and outline before starting your story? What is your writing routine?
Sandra: I do a rudimentary outline so Iíll know what direction Iím headed in, but the story always changes during the writing. I see possibilities I overlooked in the planning stage. Characters suddenly change in unexpected ways. I try to get everything down in a very rough first draft (not fit for human consumption). Then I feel a little less frantic, because I have a nice big lump of story to work with, something I can knead into a coherent plot. I hate writing the first draft, love writing the second.
As for a routine, I try to get started every morning after breakfast. I will inevitably get sidetracked by e-mail, a demanding cat, or some other distraction, but I do manage to write most mornings and early afternoons.
Sandra: Some women readers told me they were upset when they realized that Luke Campbell from The Heat of the Moon wasnít in Disturbing the Dead—then they fell in love in Tom. Tom wants to marry Rachel, and she loves him and yearns for a stable life and a real home, but that canít happen unless she can share all her secrets with him. They might have some rough times ahead. And Luke isnít necessarily out of Rachelís life forever.
Deb: You belong to a number of writers organizations. Could you tell us about the advantages of membership in these organizations?
Sandra: Sisters in Crime is dear to my heart, and I am proud to be a member of the organizationís national board. I canít say enough good things about the support and friendship and professional guidance SinC offers its members. In addition to being a member of the Chesapeake Chapter, Iíve been a part of the Guppies, an online chapter for aspiring writers, for years. A lot of Guppies are published now, but we stay in the group to help others—and because so many of our close friends are there. I also belong to Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers, organizations with different slants but equal dedication to helping their members achieve their professional goals. Being part of organizations like these make writing a less lonely pursuit, and they are invaluable sources of information and professional guidance.
Deb: All three of your books were published by Poisoned Pen Press. Tell us about connecting with them, and what you like and dislike about this publisher.
Sandra: Editors at big publishing houses have never wanted to take a chance on my books—not commercial enough, they say. The Heat of the Moon was rejected by 20 New York publishers who felt it would never find an audience. A friend of mine, Judy Clemens, suggested that I submit it to the small press, Poisoned Pen, she had signed with. I didnít think they would take it because it certainly isnít a typical mystery, but Barbara Peters read it, loved it, and published it without changing a single word. It went on to win the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Barbara and her husband, Robert Rosenwald, have been honored for their work at Poisoned Pen Press so many times that they must have a room in their home stuffed full of awards and citations. Like other small press owners, Barbara and Rob donít aspire to publish blockbusters. They want to publish good books that will find a devoted audience, and they have succeeded splendidly. They treat their writers very well, and I think we all realize how lucky we are to be PPP authors.
Sandra: The UK rights to The Heat of the Moon were sold to a British publisher. It was published in Japan (with a gorgeous cover!) by Random House Kodansha, which I believe is Japanís largest publishing company. I certainly hope more foreign sales will follow.
Deb: Which of your books is your favorite, and why?
Sandra: I think The Heat of the Moon will always be my favorite because it brought Rachel into my life and because I felt such a deep connection to the characters. I wrote it more quickly than Iíve ever written anything—the story simply poured out. Iíd love to have that experience again.
Deb: And how about favorite moments in any of your books?
Sandra: Anytime I feel Iíve captured an emotion or action perfectly will be a favorite moment. I like those moments when even I, while Iím writing, hold my breath in anticipation of what will come next—for example, when Rachel walks down the stairs to confront her mother near the end of The Heat of the Moon. Some of the characters in Broken Places popped up out of nowhere—Cam and Meredith Taylorís next door neighbor was one of those—and I love it when that happens.
Deb: Do you belong to any critique groups? Would you recommend this to folks that are trying to break into the writing field?
Sandra: Iíve been in several critique groups over the years and found all of them valuable to varying degrees. Right now I have one terrific critique partner who really gets what Iím trying to do. My husband also reads and comments on everything I write. I think every aspiring writer should try a critique group—or several, until the fit feels right. You have to be sure youíre in sync with other members of the group, that youíre not all there just to slice each otherís work (and hopes) to pieces. If the members are compatible, a critique group can help enormously.
Deb: What are you working on now?
Sandra: Iím writing another Rachel and Tom book but donít want to say too much about it just yet.
Deb: What other thoughts would you like to share with your fans at MyShelf.com?
Sandra: I love to hear from readers. Thatís the very best part of being a published writer at long last—hearing froom people who have actually read my writing. I hope theyíll let me know what they think of Broken Places. If anyoneís book group chooses to discuss one of my books, Iíll be happy to answer any questions they have by e-mail or telephone (editor's note: there is contact information on Ms. Parshall's website, linked to below).
Deb: Thank you so much Sandra. I'm waiting impatiently for the next Rachel and Tom adventure.
Review: Read reviews on Myshelf of
2010's Honorary List