Authors 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.
Mike: When we first wrote TBG, I think the process, beginning to end, was five to six months. My problem is forcing myself to plop the hind end into the seat for consistent periods of time. I have a lot of other interests, and itís easy to let myself drift into them instead of writing.
Carolyn: We didnít have a firm grasp of all the plot points in the middle, so we had to regroup occasionally. The manuscript was with an agent for a while, but was ultimately returned to us. It sat on a shelf until 2009, when I revised it again. Once Ken Lewis said he wanted it for Krill, it was only a few months to publication.
Deb: How do you stay motivated throughout the long process from idea to publication to promotion?
Mike: This can be tough. But if Iíve really gotten into the flow of a book, and developed affection for the characters and wonder what theyíll do next, it makes it easier. Marketing and promotion are even tougher, because honestly, youíd rather be writing or doing anything else than the hard work of promoting yourself.
Carolyn: I jump into another project. I always have books in various stages. Iím patient, and Iíve never expected things would happen overnight.
Deb: Collaborative writing presents unique challenges; how was your collaborative experience? Any hints for success?
Mike: We had some profound differences in the method of writing, and our work ethic: she has one; mine is shaky. My idea of collaborative writing came from the old Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob Petrie sat at the typewriter while his co-writers Sally and Buddy would circle the room, throwing out zingers and plot ideas for sketches. I wanted to be Sally and Buddy, while Carolyn would be Dick. So not happening. We had to work out a lot of issues before we could collaborate successfully. Hints for success? Try to get your ego out of the way. Youíve got to be objective about whatís working and what isnít. If it doesnít contribute to advancing the story, or illuminating a character, you need to lose it. (Actually, keep it somewhere; it may come in handy later.)
Carolyn: When you look at the changes someone wants to make in your work, you generally have a strong visceral reaction born of the desire to protect your territory. Donít act on that. Put the comments aside for a week and look at them again. Donít act then. Wait another week, and you might be rational. Tell yourself that itís a joint project. Readers wonít know or care who wrote what, so you can park your ego.
Deb: The humor, sassiness, and seriousness of TBG are well balanced. How hard was it to achieve that?
Mike: Since Carolyn and I both love to make people laugh, I think we started out with that in mind. But if you develop characters and give them real emotions and reactions to their world, I think the rest of it evolves.
Carolyn: I worked in TV news for many years and we often used dark humor to deal with the horrifying nature of the stories we aired. And I think that a lot of humor comes from exaggeration—and Mikeís always accusing me of that.
Deb: The characters in your book are distinctly drawn yet oddly familiar to those of us from small towns—I loved them—especially Maybelline and Old Air Biscuit! How much of you two authors finds its way into your characters?
Mike: I think our characters more often evolve from our observations of other people. They are amalgams of folks weíve known or dealt with in some way. That being said, I think thereís a lot of Carolyn in Molly. And there may be more than a little of me in Jeff.
Carolyn: We love to sit in restaurants and speculate about the backgrounds of people around us, or imagine what happened just before some scene we witnessed while waiting in line. I only wish I were Mollyís age again, and had her looks!
Deb: At what point did you or your publisher decide on a series of Devilís Harbor Mysteries? Did you pitch it originally as a series? How many more are planned?
Carolyn: Back when we had an agent, we started work on a sequel because we felt there were more stories to tell in this little town. The sequel, Sometimes a Great Commotion, will be out in the summer of 2010 and involves a protest over logging the town trust land, and the discovery of a divine image in a grilled crab cake. Mike is hard at work plotting book three, which will bring some kind of a reality show to town.
Deb: Iíve seen the trailer for your book. It certainly captured the fun. What makes a book trailer effective?
Mike:Well, itís succinct and faithful to the mood of the story. The book is quirky and sometimes over the top, so we wanted the video to reflect that, to let readers know what to expect. We started with a very simple script, written by Carolyn. Then she made the mistake of letting me and my friend, aspiring cinematographer Steve Skipwith, have it. We toyed with the images and the wording of the voice-over for several months until we got a product we liked, and more importantly, that didnít make Carolyn grind her teeth. We want to avoid that. It scares the dog. (See trailer link below.)
Deb: What goals for your book do you have in 2010?
Mike: Theyíre very modest. Iíd like to have our video go viral and be viewed by several million people. That would lead to sales in the hundreds of thousands, and an option for a major motion picture. On the other hand, Iíd be content with selling a few thousand books and generating a lot of smiles and chuckles.
Deb: Whoís going to play Molly and Jeff in the movie?
Mike: I see Amy Adams as Molly, and Michael C. Hall (of Dexter) as Jeff. Henri would be John Lithgow.
Carolyn: I agree with Amy Adams, but I see Matthew McConaughey or John Cusack as Jeff, and Dan Ackroyd as Henri.
Deb: Anything youíd like to add that I havenít asked?
Carolyn: We write primarily because we get involved with our characters and enjoy spending time with them. Often, when Iím in the middle of water aerobics or walking the dog, I hear new characters inside my head clamoring to tell their stories. Lest that last statement makes you worry about my mental health and stability, if I hear them telling me to rob a bank, or invest my savings in Florida swampland, Iíll stop listening!
Deb: Thank you Carolyn and Mike for sharing your experiences with MyShelf.com!
Carolyn Rose & Mike Nettleton
Read the review on Myshelf by Deb Kincaid of
The Big Grabow$ki
1st in the Devil's Harbor Mystery series
by Carolyn Rose & Mike Nettleton
2010's Honorary List