My world straddles both mystery and romance, my two favorite genres. Since many romance writers are in Anaheim at RWA National this week, I invited three fabulous mystery writers to join us. Let me introduce AVERY AAMES (aka Daryl Wood Gerber), HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN and ROCHELLE STAAB!
Romance University wants to know all about…
* The first book that made an impression on you
Avery/Daryl - Nancy Drew’s entire collection. I wasn’t a reader, but I got sick with the mumps and had to stay home from school. My mother gave me her collection of 37 books and said, “Try one.” I finished all 37 in that week. I couldn’t put them down. I’ve been a mystery reader ever since.
Hank - Oh, that’s difficult. I remember A HOLE IS TO DIG quite well, but that’s not what you mean, right? There was a series by Edward Eager beginning with HALF MAGIC that I adored in the 50’s—about four kids who have nothing to do in the summer—and then find magic. KNIGHT’S CASTLE, THE THYME GARDEN—they are wonderful and I still give them to every kid I meet.
Nancy Drew, of course. I was a nerdy geeky kid, so she was like my only friend. Ah..I do remember BLACK BEAUTY—I used to read books, one after the other, as fast as my pre-teen brain could devour them. But at the end of BLACK BEAUTY—I had to just sit there for a while. Thinking about it. I remember that moment to this day. It was sort of—that there was more to a book than the story. Then I got into Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie and the rest is…today.
Rochelle – Like Avery and most female writers I’ve met, I became a fast and young fan of the Nancy Drew series. Oh sure, I pawed through ROOTIE KAZOOTIE DETECTIVE with sticky fingers when I was four or so—my first mystery. But once I read my first Nancy Drew, I inhaled the entire collection, then reread the series through my preteens. Okay, I confess: I read Nancy through my teens too. And as an adult when I get nostalgic. All right, so I might even collect some of the 1930s versions. I was an impressionable kid from a middle class family in the midwest, and the spunky teenager who feared no one became my role model. I wanted to be Nancy, dress like her, become a sleuth, and drive a roadster. Mystery lurked around every corner. She inspired me.
* Your first story, or the first time you knew you wanted to be a writer
Avery/Daryl - Honestly, I wrote my first “Nancy Drew” when I was eleven, but then I had a 7th grade teacher who said (about an English paper that I wrote) that I stunk as a writer, so I shouldn’t consider that avenue for my future. I put writing aside for a very, very, very long time. After college, I turned to acting. I adore acting and I made a living, but I wanted better parts, so I started writing screenplays that I could “star” in.
Okay, realistically, I thought maybe Julia Roberts would star in them. LOL. I focused on romantic comedies, but then, when I started writing some of the mysteries and thrillers that coursed through my mind, I realized I could write those as books, and I tried my hand. The seed was planted early when I wrote a Nancy Drew, but that darned teacher…
Hank - Impossible. I’ve been a radio reporter, on the staff of Rolling Stone Magazine, and worked as TV reporter for the last 30 plus years. So I’ve been writing and every day for more than three decades! (Yikes.) Telling big juicy stories is my whole life.
* Your first writer’s group and/or critique partner(s)
Avery/Daryl - I am so grateful that I turned to Sisters in Crime and ultimately the Guppies (the SinC online group). I found the most wonderful group of writers who were supportive, thoughtful, creative human beings, Hank being one of them. I will forever be thankful for Krista Davis and Janet Bolin, both excellent, published writers, and still my critique partners.
Hank - Nope, none. When it comes to fiction, I’m a lone writer.
Rochelle – The marvelous Lynn Sheene and I met at our very first UCLA Writers’ Program class—Novel I, in 2007. I still remember the paragraph Lynn read in class, a prologue for her wonderful novel THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS. I liked her paragraph, she liked mine, and we connected. Lynn and I wrote our first novels together, swapping pages/chapters weekly, and virtually holding hands through the process of completing our novels, getting agents, then selling. We’re still critique partners and I treasure her wisdom and friendship.
* Your first conference
Avery/Daryl - When my husband, son, and I moved to Charlotte, NC for my husband’s career, I didn’t know where to turn for help. I learned about Sisters in Crime. One of the gals that led our local chapter told me about a writer’s conference in Georgia. It was daunting, but I learned a ton. Then I moved to Connecticut and went to Crimebake and to Malice Domestic. Both wonderful conferences, filled with giving authors. Crimebake is steered toward writers. Malice is for fans.
Hank - Oh, what a fun memory! It was the New England RWA convention. Back in..2005? Maybe? They keynote speaker was the brilliant Lisa Gardner, and I still think about the wonderful things she said about perseverance, and passion, and luck and asking the universe. I also remember Annette Blair’s speech—she threw glitter on us all, and for some reason I burst into tears. I still have the glitter that landed on me.
Rochelle – 2008 RWA in San Francisco. Writing instructors and fellow classmates harped for months about the necessity of attending conferences for networking. Sure. But which ones? Clueless, I recalled a RWA Nationals segment that ran on CBS Sunday Morning years prior. The event appeared so organized, so big, so important. I bought a ticket to San Francisco and met scores of friendly and generous writers in the perfume-scented lobby. At RWA/SF I attended my first Nora Roberts Chat (and haven’t missed one since.) I hope to see some of you at RWA Nationals this year in Anaheim. I’ll be on a panel Friday at 2pm, “Sell A Series You’re Passionate About,” with Linda O. Johnston, Sheila Roberts, Patricia Thayer, and Paige Wheeler. If you’re there, please stop to say “hi.”
* Your first writing epiphany
Avery/Daryl - That writing does not come easily; it takes work. Lots and lots of work. And another pair of eyes (or two or three). But that it’s fun. And I wouldn’t want to be anything else at this point in my life. I love telling stories.
Hank - In PRIME TIME, my first book. I realized, halfway through, I had chosen the wrong bad guy.
I thought—wait, MY brain is telling me that I’ve done something wrong? Where did that idea come from? Know what I mean? It made me understand that our minds are working all the time, and know a lot more than we realize…and that something magical is going on if we just take the time to listen. (I mean—talk about a surprise ending—I surprise myself!)
Rochelle – I plotted WHO DO, VOODOO? then began to write, positive I knew the killer. A third of the way in, the characters took over. I had the wrong killer: not that character, THAT one. In the third act, whoa, wrong again. The killer is THAT character. My epiphany? Don’t interfere when the story evolves and characters take over. A bit of magic appears.
* Your first piece of helpful writing and/or career advice
Avery/Daryl - Write in one point of view for an entire book to learn the craft of writing. Take classes. Get in a critique group. Get the CHICAGO ELEMENTS OF STYLE. Read books by editors like Chris Roerden and Hallie Ephron.
Hank - Marianne Mancusi (Hi, Mari! Xoxo) showed me a quote one day that said “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” I think about that every day.
Rochelle - “Quit whining and write the book.”~ Nora Roberts.
* Your first mentor
Avery/Daryl - The Guppies and my critique group were really my first mentors. I can’t say I have had a mentor, otherwise. My parents told me never to give up. In every aspect of my life, I have always persevered.
Hank - Oh, funny. It might be my junior-in-high-school English teacher, Mr. Thornburg, who taught me to love Shakespeare and analytical thinking. In TV, there was also news photographer named Walt. In my first TV job, in 1975, had NO IDEA what I was dong! I whent home every night for two weeks and cried. But Walt literally told me: stand here, ask this, do that. And soon, I learned. He later married my sister. Introducing them was the least I could do in gratitude, right?
Rochelle - Lesley Kagen. Quite a story too. Lesley and I attended high school together then lost touch. We each moved from coast to coast and worked in the entertainment business, but never crossed paths. A chance call from a mutual friend (“You must buy and read Lesley’s book”) led to my email to Lesley, a phone chat, and the re-creation of an amazing new/old friendship. She became an invaluable ally throughout my query and submission stage and offered more wisdom, writing tips, hand-holding, and professional courtesy than I could ever repay. Two gals from the north side of Milwaukee and Holy Angels Academy—what are the odds we would both end up as authors? We did.
* Writing/plotting/struggling with your first book
Avery/Daryl - My first book was a very personal story. It will sit in my drawer because I no longer want and need to tell that story, but through that process, I learned that fictionalizing the truth is not so easy. I rewrote that manuscript with the help of an editor who truly helped me understand voice, point of view, plotting, page turning. Now, I would still like to see my first screenplay made into a movie, so I would rewrite that in a second. Isn’t that funny? I adore romantic comedies. Good ones. Classic ones.
Hank - SO funny! I had no idea,. The depth to which I had no idea is probably the only reason I continued. I loved my plot, so much, and I’d just go to my study and write write write. I loved it. “Oh, I’m a natural,” I’d say to myself. SO two things: after 50 pages, my husband, who was reading it every night, called me into the room. He said—“Honey, is something going to happen soon?” And I didn’t know enough to number the pages, so after I typed “The End” I took my disk to Kinko’s to get a printed copy. It was 723 pages long.
* Your first rejection
Avery/Daryl - I’ve had too many to count. I don’t think I can remember the first one. As an actress, I received so many rejections that rejection became an “ordinary” thing. No only meant no that time, not forever. That was a very important lesson.
Hank - HA. I tried to write a book YEARS ago, a mystery about a golf pro. It was a bad idea, since I’ve never played golf, but I didn’t know enough to know that yet. I wrote 6 chapters, and figured that was plenty to send to agents. I sent it to two. The first one wrote back: This is a terrific plot! But you’re not a very good writer. The second one wrote back “You are SUCH a good writer! But this plot stinks.” “(I’m paraphrasing. But not much.) I was so flummoxed, I tossed the book and didn’t start writing again until ten years later.
Rochelle - Actually, a lovely experience. I hit “send” on my first-ever cold query to an agent and received her request for a partial in fifteen minutes! I was so excited and thrilled that after I sent her the partial and received her rejection three days later, I didn’t care. I was still riding high from her initial response. Response! I credit fellow writers for prepping me for rejection. I view querying like dating: not every person on the planet will be right for me.
* Your first sale
Avery/Daryl - I will forever be grateful to Jacky Sachs who championed me to Berkley Prime Crime for the work-for-hire A CHEESE SHOP MYSTERY series. Jacky liked my writing, but she could not sell the book I had submitted to her. When I got the contract for Cheese Shop, after so many years of rejection…I did receive lots of rejections and I was ready to give up…I couldn’t believe it. I whooped with glee. I’m still whooping. I’ve been very blessed.
Hank - Let me just say this. It was in 2007. Right? Five years ago. On my refrigerator door, is STILL posted the now-yellowing piece of paper where I wrote down the message from my agent: “AnnLeslie Tuttle wants it!” She’s an acquisitions editor for Harlequin. And that was a life-changing moment! (Hi AnnLeslie! Thank you! Xoxo)
* Your first award nomination (or win)
Avery/Daryl - I won the Agatha Award for best first novel for THE LONG QUICHE GOODBYE. I can still feel the tingle. I didn’t think I had a chance. I am more than grateful for all those who voted. The other authors nominated with me had written very strong books. Alan Orloff, Laura Alden (Janet Koch), Sasscer Hill, and Amanda Flower. Lovely writers. All deserved to win. To be at a banquet and share the evening with so many of my friends, including my critique partners, my editor, blog buddies, and all the Guppies was fabulous!
Hank - Oh, another voice mail message. It said: “This is Louise Leftwich from Malice Domestic…” Tears came to my eyes as I listened. I said to my husband—either something’s wrong with my conference registration, or PRIME TIME has been nominated for an Agatha.” It was! And it won!
Rochelle – The 2010 Golden Heart nomination for Best Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure. I entered with no hope or expectation of making the finals. Nomination announcement morning I cruised the stationery aisle at CVS for new pens. My phone rang. Texas phone number. Don’t know a soul in Texas. “Hello?” “Miss Staab, this is…finalist…Golden Heart…congratulations…” I’d relay the whole conversation but I have no idea what she said. After I heard “Golden Heart finalist”, the tears, jumping, and arm waving began. The stock boy in the aisle backed away, cautious. I ran to my car so I could scream for joy. I’ll never forget the moment, or my journey with the Unsinkable 2010 class of finalists. Ever.
* Your most exciting book-related experience
Avery/Daryl - Hands down, holding the book in my hands. The cover was cool, but holding the entire book, flipping through the pages…wow, wow, wow!
Hank - OH, I can’t choose. SO many wonderful things. But right now, at least, the incredible incredible INCREDIBLE over-the-moon wonderful response to my newest thriller THE OTHER WOMAN.” (Coming September 4 in hardcover from FORGE.) Such fantastic reviews! I am a mass of crossed fingers.
Rochelle – Absolutely, definitely holding WHO DO, VOODOO? in my hands. The day I began writing I created a “Reserved for Hollywood Hoodoo” (the original title) sign and made a space on my bookshelf. The day I received the beautiful, bound book in the mail, I took a copy upstairs and slid it into the slot waiting for three years.
* Your first reality check after being published (or after selling your first book)
Avery/Daryl - Like an actor, you’re only as good as your next movie…same goes for an author. You’re only as good as your next book, unless, of course, you are Harper Lee! Then one is enough. So, in keeping with that reality check, I continue to strive to write the very best book I can, in whatever genre I am attempting.
I just turned in the first in my next series, THE COOKBOOK NOOK MYSTERIES, which will be published under my real name, Daryl Wood Gerber, and debut July 2013. I devoted the same kind of energy and focus to that book as I have for A CHEESE SHOP MYSTERY series.
Now, while I have a few months to breathe between contracted books, I’m polishing a thriller. I adore thrillers. The style is so much different than the cozy style. Second reality check…I can’t write everything I want unless I’m James Patterson and have a team of authors who work for me. Um, I don’t. C’est la vie.
Hank - People who say: “Oh, I didn’t know you wrote mysteries.” I think..you didn’t? Sigh.
Oh, wait. Here’s another one. My first books were bought by Harlequin Next. Wonderful! Then Harlequin closed Next. Terrible! Then Harlequin moved me and my first series to MIRA and re-issued them all with new covers and promotion. Fabulous! But I did learn an extremely valuable life-lesson from that: even when a bad thing happens, something wonderful will happen later.
Rochelle – WHO DO, VOODOO? was sold in a three book deal. The Mind For Murder Mystery series was born. The reality check? A deadline for book two. Gulp. But I wrote BRUJA BROUHAHA and lived. Every tool I learned for the first novel served me well, and I developed more tools. BRUJA BROUHAHA will be out on August 7. I’m excited all over again—another slot waiting on my bookshelf, more firsts to experience, more challenges to tackle.
* Anything else?
Avery/Daryl - Thank you so much for these questions, Becke. They brought back fabulous memories and made me think, yet again, how lucky I am and blessed to be in such fabulous company of very talented authors. I love telling stories. I know they do, too.
Rochelle - Becke, thank you so much for inviting me to Romance U. It’s an honor to be here with Hank and Avery, two of my favorite writers. I had a blast!
Click here and scroll down to “A Can’t-Miss-It Drawing!” for a chance to win a Kindle, Nook or a $100 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice! http://hankphillippiryan.com/newsletter-7-12.html
To Avery/Daryl, Hank and Rochelle - It seems like no time at all since we hatched this idea over the Sisters in Crime breakfast at Malice Domestic. I’m itching to talk to you about your responses, but I’ll save it for the comments. Thank you!!
What were some of the important First Impressions in your writing career?
On Friday, Weapons Expert Adam Firestone returns – this time as a regular RU contributor!
AVERY AAMES/DARYL WOOD GERBER
Daryl Wood Gerber is the author of The Cookbook Nook Mysteries, featuring an avid reader, admitted foodie, and owner of a cookbook store in picturesque coastal California. The series will debut in 2013. In addition, under the pen name Avery Aames, Daryl writes the Agatha Award winning, nationally bestselling A Cheese Shop Mystery series, the 4th book TO BRIE OR NOT TO BRIE will debut in February 2013.
Prior to her career as a novelist, Daryl wrote screenplays and created the format for the popular TV sitcom Out of this World. A fun tidbit for mystery buffs, Daryl was also an actress and co-starred on “Murder, She Wrote”, as well as other TV shows. Daryl is originally from the Bay Area and graduated from Stanford University. She loves to cook, read, golf, swim, and garden. She also likes adventure and has been known to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. She has been happily married for over twenty-five years, and Daryl and her husband have a grown son who has flown the coop.
Daryl Wood Gerber a.k.a. Avery Aames
A CHEESE SHOP MYSTERY SERIES
THE COOKBOOK NOOK MYSTERIES
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN
Hank Phillippi Ryan is the investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. A television journalist since 1975, she has won 27 Emmys and ten Edward R. Murrow awards for her work. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. A best-selling author of four mystery novels, Ryan has won the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards for her crime fiction. Her newest thriller, THE OTHER WOMAN, is coming in hardcover from Forge in 2012. She’s on the national board of directors of Mystery Writers of America (and an instructor at MWA-U) and will be president of national Sisters in Crime in 2013.
Rochelle Staab, a former award-winning Top 40 radio programmer and Warner Bros. Records advertising and marketing executive, blended her fascination with the supernatural and her love for mystery in her Mind for Murder Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Her second novel, BRUJA BROUHAHA will be released on August 7.
Check out Rochelle’s BRUJA BROUHAHA board on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/rochellestaab/bruja-brouhaha-sites/
Contact Rochelle at: http://rochellestaab.com/
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for July 23 to July 27
- Debut Author Series: Rochelle Staab, Author of Who Do, Voodoo?
- The Scoop: Using TV Techniques to Write the Killer Novel