1. Tell us about your current novel or project.
I’m juggling several projects right now, in different genres.
My PJ Gray series of suspense books has been given new exposure as e-books and audio books. These are the foundation of my writing career, and I’m pleased that they’re selling well in their new formats. PJ Gray is a psychologist who works for the St. Louis Police Department developing virtual reality crime recreations. A bit ahead of their time when they were first published, the PJ Gray books now have police technology in the real world beginning to catch up with their concepts. Detective Leo Schultz is PJ’s partner. I published a short story, “Calamity,” extrapolating Schultz into a P.I. career. It was enjoyable to write and made the first cut for a Thriller Award, until I had to pull the story out of competition. I was a board member of International Thriller Writers at the time, and board members can’t win anything. Drat. The first line of the story was, “My Goodwill couch had never cradled such a luscious ass in its long and tacky history.” What fun! It was the first time I’d written in first person, and I found out I liked it and don’t know why I avoided it for years. I’m planning a story collection for P.I. Schultz, bringing one of my first series characters into his own spotlight.
Honor’s Journey, historical fiction for middle grade students, has just been self-published under the pen name of DB Ayers, which I’m using for children’s and YA books. It has a literary tone, unlike my other writing that is so commercial it might as well have dollar signs instead of page numbers. It has an interesting background in that I brainstormed the book with fifth grade classes when I was invited into schools to speak on “What an Author Does.” I couldn’t talk about my published books, since they are all R-rated, so I came up with the idea of taking the kids through a brainstorming session for a novel on their own reading level. The result of all those sessions was such a good story I couldn’t resist writing it. I already know my target audience goes for it, too. How often does that opportunity come along for a writer?
I have a proposal for a Young Adult science fiction trilogy, Aftermath, with my agent, who has submitted it to major houses. Three Hollywood production companies are reviewing it, too, which produces a heady feeling but nothing solid to talk about. It’s a treat while it lasts, though.
2. Can you give us a sense of what you’re working on now?
I’m just getting started on the fourth book in my Mortal Path series (written as Dakota Banks), a story about a woman who sold her soul to an ancient demon three hundred years ago and now is working to earn it back. It’s paranormal without any of the usual vampires, werewolves, witches, etc., and is based on Sumerian mythology brought forward to the present. After the first three books, the publisher wanted to switch to e-book only (a lot of paranormal series were following that path), and I said no thanks. Why did I need a publisher involved to do that? I could do it myself for higher royalties. So I put it aside for a while to work on the other projects above, and something I hadn’t expected happened. I started getting email asking when the next book was coming out. A lot of email, enough to swell my head. I have a synopsis for the book, Bloodletting, and the cover art finished, something I very much enjoy doing.
3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
I’m sure every writer has a something different to talk about here. For me, without a doubt, it’s the freedom to create and explore other worlds while sitting at my desk. With science fiction or paranormal, the need for world creation is more obvious, but even in crime novels, each book has a world slice: a piece of our world closely examined, its inhabitants fully in tune with it (or not), its morals, and the ways and degrees to which its laws are bent. When story, characters, and world meld perfectly, it’s magic. That’s the greatest pleasure—those quiet, magic moments that light up a novel like a string of Christmas lights.
4. The greatest displeasure?
The business aspect of a writing career is uncertain and intrusive. I’d like to be left alone to write and not have to worry about contracts, promotion, and Twitter. It would be good if a monthly salary would fall on me, hard and regularly, as it did when I worked as a corporate manager. Then again, there were a lot of strings attached to that.
5. Advice to the publishing world?
To publishers: Get real about e-book royalties. Big houses usually pay 25%; writers can easily get 70% through self-publishing. Either increase royalties or offer value-added services, like meaningful promotion.
To writers: You’re going to need a strong love of writing to keep you going in this field. You will leave your blood, sweat, coffee, and tears on the pages. If you don’t, what you write won’t be worth reading.
6. Are there any forgotten writers you’d like to see in print again?
I’m going to transform this question into “any under-recognized writers I’d like to see become popular?” Glad you asked! Jo Hiestand (http://www.johiestand.com) writes wonderful English mysteries. She has two series going. The team of Detective-Sergeant Brenna Taylor and her boss, Detective-Chief Inspector Geoffrey Graham solve mysteries when British customs run amuck in small villages; ex-police detective Michael McLaren investigates cold cases on his own. Her writing is lyrical, filled with descriptions of the natural world woven into the stories, has plenty of twists and turns, and does it right as far as British police procedures go. These are traditional mysteries with a touch of gore, not cozies. Jo has fifteen novels and a non-fiction book about British customs published. Her work deserves a far wider audience. If you or someone you know enjoys British police procedurals, give Jo’s books a try. Yes, she’s a friend of mine.
7. Tell us about selling your first novel.
I didn’t sell my first novel at the time I wrote it. I wrote my first novel, Burning Rose, to enter into a contest. Having a deadline was a great motivator, and the $10,000 prize would look good in my bank account. I was convinced I was going to win the prize, and when I didn’t, I sulked and figured I wasn’t meant to be a writer. Six months went by, and of course I was no closer to being a published author. The solution? I decided I needed an agent. I wrote ten query letters to agents, got three requests for the full manuscript, and had an agent within a month. Again, elation. Then time passed and Burning Rose didn’t sell. It had been written by the seat of my pants, and I have found out since then that doesn’t work for me. I had only written short stories prior to attempting my first novel, and short stories I could handle without a lot of planning. Not so for a novel-length project.
With Burning Rose in my rear-view mirror, I started planning a crime series, developing the characters and the world-slice in which they operated. Then I wrote Gray Matter, the first book in the PJ Gray series, in one page, then expanded it to ten pages. I had a synopsis, a guide for my writing. Not that I stuck to it completely, but I had a beginning, and end, and some great stuff for the middle. I didn’t feel confined by the synopsis. There was plenty of room for creativity in the process of turning ten pages into a four-hundred-page manuscript. I had a technique that worked for me. Three weeks after turning in the manuscript to my agent, I had a two-book contract to start the series.
I came back a while later and took a look at the Burning Rose manuscript. Couldn’t believe I wrote that crap! It was a good thing it didn’t get published. I rewrote it and it was published as my fifth novel.