Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book? Is it part of a series?
My latest novel, co-authored with Karetta Hubbard, is SATAN’S CHAMBER, a spy thriller set in Sudan, Africa, and the environs of Washington, DC, which turns the macho clichés inside out. Junior CIA case officer Tory Pierce lands the assignment she covets: Khartoum—the city where her father, a veteran operative, disappeared five years before. From the minute she arrives in-country, nothing is what it seems. The one-eyed Kendacke, descendant of the first female black pharaohs, is a fugitive in her own land. Bart Wilkins, the buff but bumbling supply officer at the Embassy, keeps turning up one step ahead. The super-rich Adam Marshall has information, but it comes with strings attached. Whom can she trust as she begins to uncover the pieces of a horrific plan?
Did you try the traditional route to publishing, i.e. querying agents/publishers?
I’m one of the many “mid-list” authors who were dumped by mainstream publishing—in my case, after my first novel (MY LIFE WITH DARWIN, Houghton Mifflin), a work of literary fiction, didn’t turn out to be a blockbuster. A collection of my stories, THROWING KNIVES, won the Sandstone Prize and was published by Ohio State University Press. When I cut loose and wrote a spy thriller for fun, traditional publishing was floundering (as it is today), and our queries to agents and one publishing house didn’t go anywhere. That’s when Karetta and I decided to launch our independent press, Fuze Publishing, to bring out the book. (We’ve since published nine other titles.) It’s been a steep learning curve—book production, bookkeeping (!), publicity, etc.—but it’s been really liberating, and creativity-affirming, to take charge of our own fate.
Are you currently under a traditional publishing contract for future books or do you have manuscripts that you will self-publish?
We’re currently in the second draft phase of the sequel to SATAN’S CHAMBER—another spy thriller centered on Tory Pierce. The title is HOTEL LIMBO, and of course, Fuze will publish it. It is set in Ukraine, as well as Washington, DC, against a backdrop of human trafficking.
Do you belong to a critique group? Have they helped improve your writing?
I love critique groups when they are the setting for honest and cogent feedback. Some writers may just want encouragement, but I want to hear what isn’t working as well as what is. A writer doesn’t always have to act on the response of other readers, but it’s important to know how your writing is landing on another sensibility. We are, after all, writing for an audience, not simply for ourselves.
When I lived in Washington, DC, I actually belonged to two terrific groups. I haven’t succeeded in forming an equivalent since moving to Ashland, OR, but I do facilitate a writers’ group for former workshop students that meets monthly. Writing groups also provide a safe, sympathetic place to moan and groan about the challenges of writing—the struggle to get your work out there, the inevitability of rejections—how to survive and surmount them, and carry on.
Do you outline your story or just go where your muse takes you?
Both. In assembling what I call the “zero draft,” I like to follow the “what if’s” and allow the characters to develop backstories, quirks, objectives, not to mention specific bodies and gestures! The result will be a too-long narrative that goes off on tangents and may include scenes I wanted to write, but upon later analysis prove unnecessary. That’s when it’s time to think about structure, and in a spy novel, forward momentum. I begin to look for the main character’s arc and to identify important turning points in her development, then orient the narrative around them. Too-long is good as a starting point, as long as you recognize the value of cutting away narrative flab and getting down to the live tissue.
Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
After twenty years of teaching literature, composition, and creative writing, I figured I’d better be able to edit my own work. Meanwhile, the dynamics of collaboration meant that there were always two brains processing every narrative choice—making sure that characters were consistent, action was plausible, and writing that didn’t develop characters or action was left on the cutting room floor.
Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
SATAN’S CHAMBER is on sale on the Fuze website, www.fuzepublishing.com, at a bargain price compared to Amazon. It’s also available from Barnes and Noble and on all the ebook sites.
What kinds of marketing [twitter, facebook, blog, forums] are you involved with for promoting your book(s)?
We publish a spectacular e-newsletter at Fuze, which comes out every week and offers an absolute banquet of information and inspiration for writers and readers! A typical issue includes an article about the ever-explosive publishing scene, a writing prompt (along with responses readers have sent in to previous prompts), a literary nugget, something funny (one of our writers is also a prize-winning cartoonist), and then information about the latest doings of our wonderful authors.
Fuze Publishing also offers a blog link from our website, and maintains both a Facebook page and Twitter account. We welcome friends!!
Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
Well, it is definitely a juggle—that’s a good word. I also serve as the chief editor of Fuze Publishing, so I have to factor that work in as well. It becomes crucial for me to protect whole days for the writing. Marketing, editing, and other Fuze maintenance work is easier to take care of in shorter blocks of time. I work weekends.
Besides writing, do you have any other passions?
The theatre—I’m a produced playwright, and living in the same town as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I write a monthly theatre column for our regional NPR magazine. I often see the OSF productions multiple times.
What’s next for you?
Finish HOTEL LIMBO. I’ve also made a start on a YA fantasy novel about twins.