Sunday, November 30, 2008

Interview with author Marta Stephens

I'm thrilled to have you here today, Marta. “Silenced Cry” was a wonderful book, and I'm really looking forward to “The Devil Can Wait.”


1. When did you know you would write a sequel to “Silenced Cry?”

“Silenced Cry” was actually written as an afterthought to the three other Harper books I wrote. The first three, “Silenced Cry,” “The Devil Can Wait,” and “Grave Witness,” (working title) were originally written as novellas. I wrote “Silenced Cry” to complete the set and give the character of Sam Harper a proper introduction to readers.


2. How long did it take to write “The Devil Can Wait?”

“The Devil Can Wait” was originally written in 2004. It was actually the first book I wrote in the Harper series. I put it aside while I worked on the other books and it wasn’t until a few months before the release of “Silenced Cry” in April 2007, that I began to expand “The Devil Can Wait” into a novel. By then, however, my writing style had changed and the characters were fully developed. I decided to toss the original 45,000 words and start over keeping only the essence of the plot. This rewrite was completed in 83 three days, but work continued throughout the year until I submitted the manuscript to my publisher, BeWrite Books (UK), in December 2007.


3. Did it require a lot of research?


I spend a huge amount of time researching the information that I use in this series. In many ways it’s a study in human nature—how the criminal mind works and what mistakes will lead to his or her capture. I’ve researched everything from police procedures, investigation practices, forensics, and autopsies to Massachusetts law and weather patterns. Every detail, large and small, is critical and worth taking the time to get it right.


4. What do you feel is the most important question present in “The Devil Can Wait?”


“The Devil Can Wait” is a story about greed, power, and the consequences of allowing those things to rule these characters’ lives. If asked to put it into a question, I’d have to say: “Who or what controls your life?”


5. What makes your story appealing to other genres besides Mystery? Why?


Suspense. Although I hadn’t intended to create a branding, I think what makes my writing stand apart from the traditional mystery is the complexity of the plot and the number of characters who bring into each book their own set of circumstances that create the subplots. Sam Harper, described by one reader as “a thinking man’s detective” is confident, knowledgeable and always follows his instincts. But just when he (and the reader) thinks he’s found a solution, a new bit of information surfaces and confronts him with another set of problems.

One reviewer described my writing as: “It is part police procedural, part noir, touched around the periphery with the realistic ugliness of crime, and the complexity of human interaction.”

Another wrote this about the second book: “‘The Devil Can Wait’ interlaces a complex plot that grabs the reader and doesn't let go. This book will appeal to readers with varied interests as it has everything: tension, conflict, murder, mystery, romance and the ability to keep the reader turning the page.”


6. We're told to write about what we know. How were you able to overcome the stymie of successfully creating a male protagonist even though you're a woman?


I used to think that “write what you know” referred to the places I’ve been to and/or things I’ve studied—what I “knew.” But in reality, it encompasses so much of who we are; our likes/dislikes, experiences, fears, grief, joys, shame, etc. Gender aside, both men and women are capable of experiencing the same full range of emotions. That’s what I “know.” However, writing in a man’s voice was something I had to learn to do. I took those emotions and slipped into my character’s head to see what triggered emotions in him and how he would act/react. In the early years, I often asked my husband to read through my work, and invariably he’d say things like: “A guy wouldn’t say that.” Or “He wouldn’t do or say it that way.” Even though there was nothing wrong with what I had written, it wasn’t in a male voice and that made me realize I needed to do a study of it. Through my job in human resources, I’ve read through the results of numerous studies conducted to help identify the differences between the communication styles of men and women. What I’ve discovered that it’s not just what and how men say things, it’s how their minds work. Most aren’t interested in details, they want the straight-forward facts, etc. Unlike women, their facial expressions don’t reveal their thoughts either and that’s what I think makes Sam Harper an interesting fellow—the fact that the reader sees his actions as well as his inner dialogue.


7. What is the hardest part of writing novels?

Although each book created a unique challenge, the focus of the first book was to make it marketable and appealing to a publisher. Now my challenge is to make sure each subsequent book out-shines the one before.


8. Which is your favorite part of writing?


I enjoy every step of the process—even the edits. I especially like to work on the plot to see how original and complex I can make it. Creating quirky characters is great fun too.


9. Was the anticipation for “The Devil Can Wait's” release different this time around?


“Silenced Cry” received an honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book festival and ranked in a few other competitions which helped to validate my writing. Still, I knew very little about the publishing world when “Silenced Cry” was released in April 2007, and in spite of my public relations background, I knew even less about how to promote it. The obvious difference between the releases of the two books is that now I have a little more experience, a readership and following of the series, I have a base of reviewers who are familiar with my work who were willing to read “The Devil Can Wait,” and I have a track record. In the 20 months since the first release, I gained a better grasp of what works and what doesn’t with respect to marketing. My network of contacts has more than doubled and this time I knew what to expect and was better able to plan for it.


10. Marta, you've been around a long time, you've written a successful mystery, you've just released your second book, and you know you can't please everyone. Are you now immune to the worries over negative reactions, poor reviews or lack of support from family and friends?


I began writing fiction in 2003 so compared to most authors I’m fairly new on the scene. Initially, I didn’t know if anyone would be interested in my work or if it was marketable. No one was more surprised than I was to see “Silenced Cry” gain the modest success is did. That put pressure on me to make the second book in the Sam Harper series, “The Devil Can Wait,” better. Negative reviews or reactions sting, but I can’t control what a reviewer will say about my books—there are just too many variables that can affect someone’s opinion. As far as family and friends, I haven’t lost their support yet, and I’m very grateful for it. The most important group of people, however, are my readers. I’ll admit I’m more confident with my style of writing now than I was in the beginning, but I don’t stop worrying until readers get my books in their hands. After all, I write for them so it’s not a matter or worrying about negative reactions; it’s all about fulfilling the promise of a good read.


11. Now that your second book is out there in the world, is there anything you plan to do differently this time around as far as promoting goes?


I don’t necessarily plan to do anything different, just more of it. I’m doing more locally to promote my books through talks and signings, but my primary focus continues to be Internet promotions. There’s a 20-month span between books. In that time, I have created a wider network of contacts and attracted a readership that has helped to spread word of mouth. Last year I conducted my own virtual book tour which gave me some great exposure to new target audiences. This year, I plan to conduct a virtual book tour in December with the help of a virtual book tour company.


12. How do you keep interest alive for your books?


My website is the hub of my marketing and promotional efforts. It is where I showcase my writing and post readers’ reactions/reviews to my books. I keep my site up-to-date and have tried to make it attractive and easy to navigate. I draw readers to it through numerous articles I’ve written relative to the process of writing. I post on a regular basis in numerous other websites and author/reader forums.


13. Do you have any advice for those experienced writers who have yet to find a publisher?


Find someone whose work you admire, listen to their advice, but always remember to be true to yourself. Don’t be swayed by advice that leads you away from your unique writing voice/style and never settle for less than you dare to dream.

Thanking you for dropping by, Marta. Best of luck with “The Devil Can Wait.”


My pleasure, Joylene. Thanks so much for the opportunity to share a bit of my writing journey with your readers and congrats to you on your release of “Dead Witness!”


You can learn more about Marta and her work at:

http://murderby4.blogspot.com/
http://mstephens-musings.blogspot.com/
http://www.martastephens-author.com/

27 comments :

  1. nice interview. i'll look for Marta's book next time i'm in the bookstore. both of them sound perfect for me.

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  2. Hi Joylene. Thanks so much for the great interview questions!

    Robin, my books are available on all the online shops including Amazon, B&N, BAM, etc., and you can order it from any traditional bookstore by giving them the ISBN number. Thanks so much for your interest. :)

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  3. oh wow, thanks Marta. I'm close to a B&N.

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  4. I loved Silenced Cry. It was thought-provoking, and stayed with me for a long time. Sam's very appealing.

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  5. I'm looking forward to having my copy of Silenced Cry and The Devil Can Wait personally autographed.

    For your reading enjoyment and as a bit of a tease, here's an excerpt from Silenced Cry:

    "It was almost undetectable, the way Quinn's eyes grew slightly bigger when Harper asked the question. It wasn't much, but enough to tell Harper Quinn was trying to think of a way to weasel out of answering his questions."

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  6. OH!! Every Day Bloggers -- your comment is music to my ears! :( ) (big smile there) Ah, yes, Sam ... what can I say except that there's more of him in "The Devil Can Wait."

    Joylene, send me your copy of Silenced Cry and I'll sign it!! I also have copies of The Devil Can Wait here if you'd like one. ;)

    Okay, here's a section of the excerpt from TDCW.
    Chapter 1
    Chandler, MA

    "Fogerdy!"
    The old man cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled for his dog over the howl of the North Atlantic wind. The shepherd's muted bark came to him from the distance.
    At three in the morning, the stretch of beach between Williams Landing and pier twenty-eight was cloaked in impenetrable darkness. The wind raged with particular vengeance on the pre-dawn hours of November 12. It churned the waters of Chandler Bay and spewed a biting mist off the swells before the waves slammed onto the shore. Still, the cold snap that swept across the isolated section of beach was as expected as Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie.
    Moist sand sunk under the weight of the old man's steps. He staggered and leaned into the gusts to keep his balance. He aimed the flashlight beam deep into the night and yelled for his dog again. Tiny pellets of snow spat at an angle past the shaft of light before disappearing into the darkness.
    "There you are, you stinker."
    Ten yards ahead, the dog stood poised like a pointer barking incessantly at the incoming waves.
    "Crazy mutt."
    The dog lowered his head and eased toward the water's edge.
    "Fogerdy. Here, boy." He clapped his hands to get the pet's attention. "Get over here."
    The dog remained fixed; his hackles on end.
    "What's gotten into you?" he asked as he bent to leash him. "You're never this …" The man swept the light in the direction of whatever had caught the dog's attention. He squinted, leaned in for a closer look, and recoiled. Disgust hit as hard as the stench that rose from the decomposed body.

    *******************

    You'll find the full first chapter of TDCW here: http://www.martastephens-author.com/devil_can_wait_EXCERPT.htm

    The full first chapter of Silenced Cry is here:
    http://www.martastephens-author.com/chapter_1.html

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  7. I'm a big fan of Laurence Sanders, and just this moment, I realized SC reminds me of Sanders work. One of my all-time favourites was The First Deadly Sin.

    You have an unique voice, Marta, but it reminds me of Mr. Sanders. Sam is a thoughtful man; not the type that likes to get in your face.

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  8. Wow--these have been added to my need to buy list--they sound fabulous!! Thanks for the wonderful interview!

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  9. Thanks for stopping by, Joyce. Marta is definitely a writer to watch for.

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  10. Joylene, thanks for hosting Marta here. This was a fabulous interview!
    kim

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  11. I'm excited for Marta.

    Thanks for stopping by, Kim.

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  12. Hi Joyce and Kim. Thanks for stopping by!

    Joyce, if/when you read either book, I'll certainly look forward to reding your comments. I just updated my site with a few more reviews and interviews. One click on the book covers will get you there. Also, look under "Stephens Interrogated" for a link to a recent radio interview conducted by my co-Murder by 4, Kim Smith! Thanks ladies.

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  13. An interesting interview and an interesting sounding series, Marta. I'm not much of a mystery reader but your description of the series and it's cross-genre appeal could very well hook me.

    We have somewhat similar writing experiences, in that I had to write the prequel novel to place the underlying scenario circumstances in scene so readers could really 'get' the ways it departed from the conventional. Well, that's what it did for my editor. Add to that, we are both writing protagonists not of our own gender.

    Chris H.

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  14. That was a delightful interview, Joylene. Marta, your writing sounds terrific.

    Ernie

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  15. Excellent interview ladies. I'm in the process of reading "The Devil Can Wait" and I can't put the darn thing down. I was up until 3 this morning and had to get up at 6:30. UGH! But I was back reading it over the breakfast table.

    Be looking for my review of this novel at The Book Connection and The Book Rack (http://thebookrack.wordpress.com/) coming mid-December.

    Good luck with the tour Marta!

    Cheryl

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  16. Thanks for stopping by, Chris, Cheryl and Ernie. It was great hearing from you all.

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  17. Nice interview, Joylene and Marta. It's so good to see a "new" writer having success. Good luck with both books, Marta.
    -Judy

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  18. Wonderful interview of our "very own" Marta, Joylene. Nice job. And I also LOVE Laurence Sanders, especially Archie's series.

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  19. Thanks Judy & Aaron. Having a chance to interview Marta was a big treat for me.

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  20. Wow, I step away for a few hours and look at all the activity!

    Chris,I would love to hear that this series "hooked" you. My best story this year is that of a reviewer who wasn't sure she'd be able to read "The Devil Can Wait" because she didn't care for mysteries or crime. After writing a glowing review of TDCW, she sent me a check for "Silenced Cry." It just doesn't get better than that!

    Ernie and Judy, thank you for you kind words of encouragement. I realy appreciate it.

    Cheryl!! Okay, I'm smiling SO big my face hurts. How cool to know you've lost sleep over Sam Harper. He sends his love. ;) Thanks so much for stopping by. I can't wait to read your review!

    Aaron, one of my Murder By 4 pals. Thanks for the much needed encouragement and eagle eyes when I needed it most!

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  21. To heck with the Devil, he can wait -- bring on Sam Harper; a good cop in a good book!

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  22. oh my goodness---I JUST got to this email. I loved this interview and will be looking for both your books too. I love mysteries---good thing, that's what I write as well. Very good interview------

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  23. Daniel! How wonderful of you to stop by. Glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks Sam is ... well, a good man. ;)

    Hi Kathryn, thank you for your kind words. I'm so thrilled that we were able to add Joylene's interview to my December virtual book tour! Really glad you enjoyed it. Joylene did a great job with the questions.

    I'd like to invite you to please go to the events page on my website www.martastephens-author.com for a list of all my other December virtual book tour stops. You'll also find some recentl Blog Talk radio interviews in the section titled, "Stephens Interrogated."

    :)

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  24. Marta is a wonderful woman. She's on tour with us this month and she's having a blast. Thanks for hosting her...sorry I'm just now getting over here!

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  25. Thanks for stopping by, Daniel & Boomer. I agree, I think Marta's writing is awesome.

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  26. I have interviewed Marta on my BlogTalkRadio show, ALL THINGS THAT MATTER, and she is great. Wonderful writer, lots of research and lots of good writing.

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  27. I totally agree, PD. Thanks for stopping by.

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