Lorna and Larry Collins grew up together in Alhambra, California. They have been married for fifty-seven years and have one daughter, Kimberly.
They worked together on the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka. Larry was a Project Engineer responsible for the Jurassic Park, JAWS, and WaterWorld attractions. Lorna was the Document Control Supervisor in the Osaka field office.
Their memoir of that experience, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, was a 2006 EPPIE finalist, and named one of Rebeccas Reads Best Nonfiction books of 2005.
Their mysteries, set in Hawaii, are Murder…They Wrote and Murder in Paradise.
Along with several friends, Lorna co-wrote the six sweet romance collections in the Aspen Grove Romance Anthologies series, set in Colorado. Directions of Love won the 2011 EPIC eBook Award as best anthology.
Her solo mystery/fantasy is a ‘beach read’ called Ghost Writer. She also wrote Jewel of the Missions: San Juan Capistrano and a children’s book, Lola, The Parrot Who Saved the Mission. Their joint venture is The Memory Keeper, a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano in the 1800s, told from the point-of-view of a Juaneño Indian.
Larry’s collection of short stories is entitled, Lakeview Park. His latest project is his sci-fi series, The McGregor Chronicles. He has finished nine books in the series.
Their latest collaboration is Dominic Drive, from an idea of Lorna’s late brother, Ronald Travis Lund. (Available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audio.)
Dominic Drive is the coming-of-age story of Charlie Williams, a young man who has a difficult childhood but who remains optimistic and hopeful, told through the eyes of another young man who becomes as close as a brother to him. Set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it captures life in a post-WWII community.
All their books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, their website (www.lornalarry.com), and other online book outlets. Follow Lorna’s blog at http://lornacollins-author.blogspot.com.
Do you write in more than one genre? We started writing a nonfiction memoir of our time spent working in Osaka on the Universal Studios Japan theme park, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park. We never expected to write and publish anything else. However, we attended a writing conference and got an idea for our first Mystery, Murder…They Wrote. This led to our second mystery, Murder in Paradise, and we have added several other genres since.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Since we write together, blending our voices into one seamless voice was initially a challenge. Also, Larry is a plotter, and Lorna is a “pantser.” (She writes by the seat of her pants.) Over the first few books, Larry learned to trust the characters, and Lorna became more disciplined. We sometimes disagree on plotlines, but we usually throw out both ideas and settle on another—better—one. After having written several books together, the process has become almost second nature.
What are you currently working on? After nearly three years of research, in 2014, we published The Memory Keeper, a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano, California, between 1820 and 1890. We talked about a sequel and started the research for it. However, we both were pulled into other projects, and this one languished. When Larry finished Book 9 of The McGregor Chronicles, he was ready to get back to it. Meanwhile, Lorna had written quite a few chapters, but she needed Larry’s voice in the story. They are finally finishing the sequel to be called Becoming the Jewel, to be published soon.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? After we wrote our first book, it was nominated for an EPPIE award from EPIC (The Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition). We attended their conference in 2006 and became members. There we met publishers, other authors, agents, and other industry professionals, from whom we learned a great deal. We did presentations and panels at over a dozen or more of their conferences, including one keynote address, and Lorna moderated the publishers’ panels. We remained members until the group disbanded several years ago.
Through members of EPIC, we joined PSWA (Public Service Writers Association). We have attended several of their conferences and learned a great deal about police procedures as well as how other safety professionals work. We have also made some great friends in the group.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters of the opposite sex? This is where writing together gives us a decided advantage. For the most part, Larry writes the male characters, and Lorna writes the female ones. With one exception: Larry writes most of the old ladies in our novels! For some reason, he started writing them in our first mystery, and he has continued ever since.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? Between 1861 and 1863, a plague (black pox or smallpox) killed 90% of the Indian population of San Juan Capistrano. When we were writing The Memory Keeper, we knew at least one of our characters would have to die. Larry was set to lose one, but Lorna argued with him. If 90% of the native population died, then their family would have to lose more of their members.
When we reread the completed chapters about the plague, Lorna sobbed. She does so every time she rereads the book. A few chapters later, we needed to lose another character. He was a particular favorite, so his loss felt very personal to both of us.
In these cases, their loss was already part of the plot. (Larry is a plotter, remember?) The storyline already included their losses, so the storyline continued as planned.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Because we write about the authentic history of San Juan Capistrano, California, and because history is so revered and protected here, we have to be 100% accurate. (History is like a second religion in town.) If we say a particular thing happened at a specific time, it did. Historical figures must be portrayed exactly as they were. So far, we have received no criticism about our historical accuracy, so we must have done a few things right. But in order to achieve this level of accuracy, we have to read a great many books and articles and interview many experts. About 95% of what we learn never makes it onto the pages of our books, but it is necessary for us to know it.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The first thing is to keep writing. Too many writers give up early. Second, join a critique group or take a college-level writing class. Third, when you think you are finished, find a few beta readers, who are NOT friends or family members, to read the complete work and give you feedback. This is where professional organizations can be of great help.
Once you get positive feedback, hire a professional editor. No one can properly edit their own work—including us.
Last, if you intend to self-publish, also invest in a professional cover artist. Since books are now purchased mostly online, the cover must stand out when seen as a thumbnail image. A professional can help you with an image that will sell your book.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourselves? Lorna is a well-respected professional editor. She had lots of experience in her former career in Document Control and carried it into her writing profession. She provides content and line editing as well as formatting for ebooks and print.
Larry is a professional cover artist with well over 100 published covers to his credit. He has designed nearly all of the covers for their books.
Dr. Eve Sprunt is a prolific writer and consultant on diversity and inclusion, as well as the transition from hydrocarbons to cleaner forms of energy. She is passionate about mentoring younger professionals, especially women struggling to combine parenting and professionalism and those facing cross-cultural challenges.
Her over 120 editorial columns addressed workforce issues, industry trends, and cross-cultural challenges. In addition to authoring 23 patents and 28 technical publications, she is the author of four books: A Guide for Dual-Career Couples (Praeger), Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story, A Guide to Career Resilience (Springer Nature) as co-author with Maria Angela Capello with whom she authored Mentoring and Sponsoring: Keys to Success (Springer Nature).
During her 35 years in the energy industry, Eve acquired extensive experience working for major oil companies on projects around the world. She was the 2006 President of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), the 2018 President of the American Geosciences Institute, and the founder of the Society of Core Analysts. She has received high honors from SPE, the Society of Women Engineers, and the Geological Society of America. Her bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from MIT, and she was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. (1977) from Stanford in Geophysics. She speaks and consults on women’s and energy issues and is an active member of the California Writers Club Tri-Valley Writers Branch.
A Guide to Career Resilience (with Maria Angela Capello), 2022
Mentoring and Sponsoring, Keys to Success (with Maria Angela Capello), 2020
Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story, 2019
A Guide for Dual-Career Couples, Rewriting the Rules, 2016
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes, self-help and memoir/biography
What brought you to writing? It runs in the family. My mother (Ruth Chew) wrote and illustrated 29 children’s fantasy chapter books. Mother’s first and best-selling book, The Wednesday Witch, sold over a million copies. My maternal grandfather was also a writer.
As a female scientist, when technical women were rare, documenting my work in writing (both within the company and in industry publications) improved my odds of getting credit for my work and enabled me to build my reputation.
I volunteered to serve as Senior Technical Editor of the Society of Petroleum Engineers for three years because the role included writing a monthly editorial column. I authored “edgy” articles on workforce issues. After my term ended, I continued writing bimonthly editorial columns for another seven years. I began writing books when I retired and was no longer subject to corporate censorship.
What are you currently working on? I am polishing a memoir/biography of my mother, Ruth Chew, who became a successful children’s book author/illustrator after I left home. Passionate Persistence is based on Mother’s 67 years of daily diaries and my memories. The Tri-Valley Writers critique groups and Lani Longshore (as a beta reader) have been tremendously helpful.
When the leader of my hiking group learned that I was receiving the 2022 Curtis-Hedberg Petroleum Career Achievement Award for outstanding contributions in the field of petroleum geology, she urged me to write a memoir about my career. I was astounded to be selected for that Geological Society of America’s award because my degrees are in geophysics, and I usually impersonated a petroleum engineer. However, my most significant technical contributions involved convincing the engineers that they had overlooked critical aspects of the geology.
How long did it take you to write your first book? The first book I wrote was the one I self-publishing in 2019, Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story. I found an agent for that manuscript, but in hindsight, I suspect she took me as a client because she was a fan of my mother’s children’s chapter books, which were out of print. Shortly after I signed agreements with the agent to represent both my work and my mother’s, an editor at Random House approached me about the republication of my mother’s books. The agent received a sizable commission on the agreement with Random House but never found a publisher for Dearest Audrey, despite representing it for several years.
That agent didn’t like my manuscript for A Guide for Dual-Career Couples but recommended that I go through the submission process for Praeger, which asked for an outline and sample chapters. Praeger accepted my proposal, and the agent spent months working on the contract, leaving me only about six weeks to get the manuscript completely revised if I wanted to have A Guide for Dual-Career Couples included in Praeger’s spring 2016 catalog. I realized that since I was working for myself, I could work 7-day weeks and long hours, and I met the deadline.
Eventually, I concluded the agent would never find a publisher for Dearest Audrey, so we agreed to dissolve our agreement. I hired a developmental editor through Reedsy, who guided me through the self-publication process. Dearest Audrey was published in 2019.
Self-help books like A Guide for Dual-Career Couples and my two books published by Springer, Mentoring, and Sponsoring, Keys to Success (2020) and A Guide to Career Resilience (2022), are accepted based on an outline and sample chapters. The writing and publication process can be very swift.
Passionate Persistence, The Life of Ruth Chew, which I hope will become my fifth book, may be a tough sell. I asked the developmental editor I used for Dearest Audrey to edit it and advise me on whether I should seek an agent or pursue self-publishing. After I left home, my mother was so focused on her successful career as an author my younger siblings ran wild. She wrote children’s chapter books, but her life was not a story for children.
About twice a week, I go hiking with a group of ladies. When the leader learned I was selected for the Geological Society of America’s lifetime achievement award, she said, “Who’s going to write your story? You need to do it.”
In A Guide to Career Resilience, my co-author and I share examples in which we successfully challenged the system. Both of us consider ourselves to be shy, but I don’t know anyone else who would. Our author at Springer objected to the concept that “forgiveness is easier than permission.” We included the concept and the examples but refrained from using the forbidden phrase. In our careers, my co-author and I leveraged that concept to surmount barriers.
My mother (the title character in Passionate Persistence) was an ambitious woman. She thought her older sister, Audrey (the heroine of Dearest Audrey), was afraid of her own shadow. Ironically, before writing Dearest Audrey, I accepted my mother’s assessment of Audrey despite ample evidence to the contrary – Audrey went on sabbatical to Pakistan in the mid-1950s, not knowing exactly where or what she would teach, and was traveling alone near the Khyber Pass when she met her true love.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? All the time. I always disguise their identity if I use them as a bad example.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I plan to write about my life experiences but will weave them into a self-help book because those are easier to market than memoirs.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Join a writing group.
How do our readers contact you? Please contact me at www.evesprunt.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Varadan is a former teacher who writes poetry, children’s fiction, and adult mysteries. She and her husband live in Sacramento, California. They love to travel and divide their time abroad between Braga, Portugal, and Galicia, Spain.
Varadan’s previous stories, flash fiction, and poems have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies. Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, a middle-grade mystery featuring Sherlock Holmes, was published in 2015 by MX Publishing. Her story, “Kidnapped,” was included in the 2016 Holmes-related story collection, Beyond Watson, by Belanger Books, and “What the Raven Knew” was included in 2019 in Sherlock Holmes, Adventures in the Realms of Edgar A Poe. In 2017 Belanger Books published her picture book, Dragonella, both in English and Spanish, followed in 2018 by a children’s story collection, Carnival of the Animals. Her chapbook, Saudade, Thirty Poems of Longing, was published in 2019 by Finishing Line Press.
Deadly Vintage, a cozy mystery for adults, released in November 2019, also published by Belanger Books, is set in Braga, Portugal, as is Deadly Verse, its sequel. At present, she is working on a third book in the series, Deadly Variation.
DEADLY VARIATION Carla spies an old friend who says he’s in Braga as a tourist. A street singer sings a song in two languages. A man pats the friend on the shoulder and disappears. Moments later, Carla’s friend is dead.
What brought you to writing? I’ve scribbled for as long as I can remember. My mother encouraged me when I was a child. (She was an unpublished writer.) However, writing full-time had to wait for retirement. I was an elementary/middle school teacher for over 20 years; before that, I worked in insurance (claims), and there were university classes. There wasn’t time to take writing seriously. As for what brought me to writing originally, I think you could say “reading.” There’s something about a well-written page that pricks the imagination.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Absolutely. I belong to two writing groups that operate as beta readers, as well as the organization Sisters In Crime and the local Sacramento chapter, Capitol Crimes. (The latter two get professional speakers and nationally known mystery authors who give invaluable information and advice. And my publishers have also interacted in ways that have turned fellow authors and myself into what feels like a group of colleagues working together, supporting each other. In differing ways, all of them have helped me grow as a writer.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I generally have one or two subplots going just to keep it realistic: i.e., in my mysteries, there’s a mystery to be solved, the main plot. But characters have ongoing peripheral lives; solving the mystery can’t happen in a vacuum. I try to make sure the subplot isn’t more interesting than the main plot (lol).
Do you base any of your characters on real people? No. I write fiction but have a very literal mind. If I tried to base a character on a real person, I would keep thinking, “but that didn’t happen . . .,” or “it didn’t happen that way . . .” The reality part would keep tripping up my story.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Panster. I’ve tried outlining. I outlined a whole book once and found I no longer wanted to write it. It was like the outlining had given me closure on the plot. I really do like, as I write, to find out what’s happening as it unfolds. Sometimes, once the story is underway, I’ll semi-outline what needs to happen in the next scene or two and usually have a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel idea of how the story ends. But sometimes, I don’t until the very last chapters.
What kind of research do you do? Suppose I’m doing something from another era. In that case, I look up everything I can think of that might have a bearing on the story: Novels or poetry written in the era (that my protagonist might read), novels about the era or subject, timetables, newspaper articles, weather reports. If set in another country, I look up restaurants and contact police departments (if a mystery is involved). You can overdo research and get lost, but if you sift out things that could become an “information dump” on the reader, all those remaining details can provide great texture that makes a setting believable.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Both. I use real towns, real restaurants, hotels, rivers, museums, whatever.
But if something bad happens, I make up the particular café or building where it happens – unless it’s some very public space like a plaza, say, or park, someplace where anything could happen without reflecting on an establishment.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Well, the conventional wisdom is to “write every day,” but sometimes you can’t. It’s still good advice, although “new writers” have usually been writing as often as they could all their lives. So, to that suggestion, I would add “read every day” and read everything, every genre, style, nonfiction, and fiction. Next: take a writing class or two. You don’t have to have an MFA, but a couple of classes or workshops will point you in a good direction, and good books on writing can be a great follow-up. What else? find a good writing group or set of “beta readers.” Shop around. A good writing group’s members should support your strengths while pointing out what doesn’t work for them as readers. (As in, “what I don’t quite understand is why . . ..”) And they catch a lot of errors, as well (typos, repeated words, omitted words, etc.) A good group is invaluable. And last but not least, don’t lose heart or give up. You write because you love it. Keep loving it. Keep writing.
How do our readers contact you?
Link to Trailer by Belanger Books https://vimeo.com/724543646?fbclid=IwAR0IL0xIFpUWW82LGkq1Aq0_aC7gFQ9MBAkpLRjLrvQcq34ehOnLcwoDgbw
Author page and list of books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Books-Elizabeth-Varadan/s?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3AElizabeth+Varadan
With the impending release of George’s latest novel, Robbers and Cops, I suggested he let me interview him for his blog. I happen to know that George is a talented writer and that he’s also very modest. Tooting his own horn is not in this man’s DNA, but I insisted. So here it is: an interview with the author, the man himself.
Now I get to turn the tables on Big George and interview him about his new book and a few other things. Michael A. Black
Okay, George, let’s start with an easy one: In which genre(s) do you write? I’ll try to make it complicated. I began Robbers and Cops as somewhat of a memoir but got bored with the protagonist, switched to a police procedural thriller, and then stopped for eight years to write The Mona Lisa Sisters as historical-literary-woman fiction.
I also write some, very little, poetry. And I love writing flash fiction.
Why did you choose those? I get pieces of stories in my mind that determine what I’ll write. Flash fiction’s inspiration is about telling a story, beginning to end, on one page. Poetry is either about writing or a social issue, such as the 1864 massacre of a peaceful Arapaho and Cheyenne village in “Sand Creek.”
Now tell us a bit about your writing process–Plotter or Pantser? Outlining and I don’t get along. I begin writing with an idea and create ten thousand or so words either at the beginning or at the end. Then, I ponder how I got there, how or where the journey began. I take lots of detours.
Have you ever tried doing it the other way? Yes—total failure.
What do you need for your writing sessions? I still write in cursive, and my handwriting is so bad I need a laptop. Add a flat service and comfortable straight-back chair, and I’m set. I can be at my desk, kitchen table, library, or coffee shop. Conversations don’t bother me, except at home.
Does anything ever hamper your writing? Artificial sounds, music, radio, or television.
It must be hard to screen all of those out. Do you have a special place where you like to write? Libraries, surrounded by books.
What do you love about writing? The hope of using written words to paint a picture another person can experience in such a way as to place themselves in the setting and scene.
Painting a picture… That’s very metaphorical. Your first book references a rather famous picture—The Mona Lisa. Care to tell us what that one’s about? I was attending an introductory workshop when the instructor randomly handed out pictures of scenes. We were given fifteen minutes to describe the setting. Instead, I wrote the end of the manuscript. Eight years later, I finished the journey.
What’s the most challenging aspect for you about writing? It’s when I’m searching for the right colors (words) to paint that perfect scene.
What do you find to be the hardest thing about being a writer? Sitting down and writing that first word. Or when I’ve finished the manuscript, I’m about 10,000 words short. I don’t want to add fluff.
That’s interesting. Most writers try to cut words from a manuscript. How do you determine the proper length? When I finish adding 10K new words, I’ve cut at least 5K and have to go back again.
What is the easiest thing, if anything, about being a writer? The ability to take on any project that allows me to avoid sitting down and writing that first word. My best escape from creating new material is to self-critique and edit my already-written work.
Is there something that you always put in your books? Last year I heard that some author always puts his name somewhere in his work. I took that as a challenge, and I’m hidden in Robbers and Cops. In New Liberty, the first in the Hector Miguel Navarro Trilogy, George Cramer gives advice to a young detective.
Things you never put in your books: Steamy sex. I tried it once, but my two daughters were horrified that I would write about sex—never again.
What are your favorite books (or genres)? Now that is a tricky question. I like Bernard Cornwell immensely. I was not a fan of his until I read a few of his works while studying for an MFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts. But that is strictly for fun. Among my favorites for content and impact, I would have to include Hard Times: For These Times by Charles Dickens in 1854; and The Stranger, the 1942 novella by Albert Camus.
Those would be considered classics by most people. Which current writers influenced you the most? Right up there is The Round House by Louise Erdrich and Perma Red by Debra Magpie Earling. These two indigenous authors are incredible.
Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena should be a must-read for every person living in these trying times.
As far as right now, I choose Black Pearl by Donnell Ann Bell. I can’t wait to get her autograph and talk writing.
Are there any books you won’t buy? Horror stories by Stephen King. I can’t handle horror. However, I have a paper and hardback copy of Stephen King On Writing because he is such a phenomenal author.
All right, we’ve dallied long enough. Your new book is Robbers and Cops. Tell us about that one. I’m leaving that to you with the blurb you graciously wrote.
A fascinating odyssey of complex characters—robbers and cops that spans five decades in its telling. Imagine if Elmore Leonard had written The Grapes of Wrath, tossed in a dash of The Naked and the Dead, and finished up morphing into a pure Joseph Wambaugh police procedural. ~Michael A. Black – Amazon Bestselling Author.
Robbers and Cops will be released on November 1, 2022, and is available for pre-order.
So would you say it’s a crime story or police procedural, or a sociological novel? Wow! I would have to say a thrilling sociological police procedural.
You’ve got an extensive background in police work and investigations. Has this helped you with your crime fiction? With Robbers and Cops, I wanted to build a story around two brothers. I met one of them when I helped a San Mateo detective take him into custody. My involvement in the incident was limited to hours, yet the story haunted me for decades. When I fell in love with writing, I used four decades of investigation experience to go from the ending back forty years in time and created the road that ended with my completed manuscript.
What is one of the most daring things you’ve done? Overcoming my fears while becoming a certified scuba diver without knowing how to swim so I could dive with my oldest son, a professional deep water diver—we never did.
That sounds like it would make a good story. Have you considered writing about your experience as a memoir or fictionalizing it into a novel? Never going to happen.
Who’s the most remarkable person you’ve ever met: My Dad.
You’ve got a lot of fans out there. Anything else you’d like to tell them? Please visit my blog and then come make a guest post about your work.
All right. Thanks for the opportunity to let me place the master blog interviewer on the spot.
How do your readers contact you or buy your books?
Buy Books: There is a buy link on my website.
Amazon – https://tinyurl.com/4xw228ft
Barnes and Nobel -: https://tinyurl.com/4t4h6x8y
Lisa writes novels, short stories, Victorian mysteries featuring authentic details, and scholarly work about the young H. G. Wells. When she’s not researching and writing, she can be found pontificating about online pedagogy, gardening in root-bound soil, or watching classic movies. She was born in England but has lived in California most of her life.
My thanks to George for asking me to talk about my writing practice and my books! I’ve chosen a few topics to address.
New! Murder at an Exhibition – A Victorian mystery about a photographer’s Murder and how his assistant Bridget and her friend Jo unravel the mystery.
Writing process challenges – The most challenging part of my writing process is that I keep interrupting myself to do research. Let’s say I am writing a scene where my character needs to get across town, and I decide she’ll catch an omnibus. I’ll actually stop and research omnibus routes in 1862 London, checking how often they run and where they pick up. As a historian, I find it’s unreasonably important for me to be accurate, and that means interrupting my writing to be sure.
I also interrupt myself for research just because I don’t know things. Once I even contacted an astronomer to find out which direction the moon would be coming up for a scene. Yes, I could just keep writing, make a note and get back to it later, but I get fascinated when I have a question! I love learning.
Character names – Don’t you just love it when a character’s name evokes something about them? Although I think Charles Dickens went over the top with this (Mr. Gradgrind in Hard Times comes to mind), I do like the idea that names should somehow reflect the personality of the character.
Detective Inspector Cuthbert Slaughter, for example, has a very old English name, and he’s a fairly stable and old-fashioned person. Cyril Price, an actor/manager at the Surrey Theatre, has a stage-actor name. Jo Harris, who illustrates for magazines, has a strong name because she’s an intelligent and assertive person. Tommy Jones is the exception: he has a deliberately ordinary name, but he’s not ordinary at all.
Character names are also part of historical accuracy. I want to know what names people really used in the 1860s. So I look through lists of names common in Victorian England, but I also get great names from directories. Sometimes I can find out the real names of people who, for example, had shops on a particular street, so even the publican or grocer might have an actual historical name.
I also base some of my characters on famous or semi-famous people. And sometimes this happens on accident—I’ll read in the Illustrated London News that a person I’ve never heard of designed a building, or I’ll see a daguerreotype of a woman whose expression is just priceless. If I know the names, I’ll find out more about them and build sub-plots around them. Or I’ll just have them pop into a scene—I did that with Mrs. Catherine Dickens in Murder at Old St. Thomas’s. I have a lot of fun doing historical “guest stars.”
And yes, Thomas Crapper really was a plumber and entrepreneur who sold bathroom fixtures.
Plotter or Panster? You’ve probably gotten the idea already that I like serendipity when writing, which makes me an inveterate “pantser.” I have tried plotting; I really have! But it feels like stopping in the middle of a movie and guessing what’s going to happen. I know a lot of authors say the characters take on a life of their own, and sometimes so does the action. I may have a vague idea of the beginning and the overall theme, but I don’t know what’s going to happen until I start writing.
Historical Research – While historical research comes naturally to me after decades as a trained historian, researching for a novel is different. I need breadth more than depth. Rather than finding out everything, there is to know about one topic and then reading articles where historians analyze the perspectives on that one topic. I have many things to research at once—clothing, manners, food, water systems, building materials, omnibuses. And because I’m a stickler for reality, if I cannot find or access something (like a train timetable), I will change the story or the action to create something supported by the sources.
So I’m one of those historical fiction writers where the emphasis is on the historical. I use the newspapers, magazines, art, books, and material culture of the time. Accessing online databases, library resources, and city directories—these are all just part of deepening the story. My goal is to write novels and short stories that could only have taken place during the mid-Victorian era in England. The past is not just a passive setting but rather a place where our commonalities can be seen across time.
Contact me at https://www.facebook.com/grousablebooks
Books and buy links: https://grousablebooks.com/books/
Before the Time Machine (literary fiction)
Murder at Old St. Thomas’s
H. G. Wells on Science Education (1886-1897)
Sisters in Crime (and Partners in Crime San Diego Chapter)
Historical Novel Society
H. G. Wells Society
Social media groups
Facebook: Historical Novel Society (and UK chapter), Historical Fiction Lovers Book Club, SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers, Instagram (@grousablebooks), TikTok (@grousablebooks), Goodreads.
Claire M. Johnson worked as a pastry chef in San Francisco Bay Area for a number of years. Ms. Johnson’s first novel, Beat Until Stiff, was set in the restaurant world and was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and was a Booksense pick. Her second book in this series, Roux Morgue, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. She has written two Jane Austen pastiches and has recently finished a first-person POV historical memoir of Pauline Pfeiffer (Ernest Hemingways’s second wife) and a mystery set in San Francisco in 1930. She is currently President of MWA NorCal.
In 1930 San Francisco, the Moore Detective Agency is two months away from closing its doors. When the wife of one of the most prestigious bankers knocks on their office door asking them to look for her wayward stepson, secretary Maggie Laurent takes the case. The aftermath of the stock market crash nine months earlier is now being realized in soup kitchens and bread lines. She needs this job to help support her widowed mother. Maggie soon finds herself up to her neck in murder, arson, and the lies and double lives of San Francisco’s wealthy elite. Will she be the next victim?
Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve written two mysteries, two Jane Austen pastiches, a standalone YA thriller, a first-person POV biography of Pauline Pfeiffer, and my latest book is a historical noir mystery set in 1930 San Francisco.
What brought you to writing? I moved to the suburbs! I found myself without a name, essentially. I was someone’s wife or mother. I felt my identity slipping away and was terrified that one day I’d walk up, look in the mirror, and there wouldn’t be anyone there. Writing is about as personal as it comes.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? For the first time in my life, I have a real office—no more laptop on the dining room table—with an old-fashioned oak desk that I got from UC surplus. I overlook my garden and am occasionally distracted by the antics of the squirrels chasing each other from tree to tree. Does this make me more productive? No, but it’s lovely to have all my books, my piano, and pictures of my family around me.
What are you currently working on? I’m working on the second in the series set in San Francisco in 1930, right after the stock market crash. In the first book, my heroine Maggie Laurent is the secretary to a detective. When a “dame’ does him wrong, he goes on a months-long bender, and she takes over a simple missing person’s case. Which, naturally, turns out to not be that simple.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Yes. I think that belonging to writers’ groups helps you establish a tribe that speaks the same language you do. You can share knowledge, frustrations, successes, and information on agents, what publishers will consider books without an agent, etc. Writing is a business, and I think that networking is critical. Plus, writers are a great group of people.
Who’s your favorite author? I have many favorite authors, but I would say that in this genre that John Le Carre is the master. The genius of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is that this book is 90% backstory, which is usually the death knell of any book. And yet… His book The Constant Gardener left me stunned for weeks.
How long did it take you to write your first book and get it published? Oh years. I was lucky that Poisoned Pen Press was just opening its doors, and they were open to writers without agents at that time. Unfortunately, it was difficult then, and twenty years later, it’s even more difficult.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I think you must have subplots because otherwise, it becomes too formulaic. Subplots are an excellent vehicle for exposing characters that enriches what happens in the main plot arc. I think this is a tricky road to walk because you don’t want to detract from your main storyline too much. Otherwise, it only serves as a distraction rather as an element that is complimentary. That is the key function of a subplot. It should compliment and enhance some aspect of the main plot line, whether it be an expansion of a character study or even the secret key to solving the puzzle of whodunit.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m basically a pantser. For me, part of the joy of writing a book is discovering who my characters are. Even though I’m writing this, I’m also acting as the first reader. What are they going to do next? What are they going to say? I’ve heard many writers say that at some point, the characters take over. I have experienced that as well. Your id is firing overtime, and you can’t type fast enough. Even if you don’t use much or any of the additional material, it gives you insight into their character. I’m a character-driven writer, so this is the cream in my coffee. I will say that I always know the ending. First, this tells me why I want to write a book. The “why” a story needs to be told. Second, it gives me a goal post to write to.
Otherwise, I can get distracted by the shiny. I also have a fair idea of what the middle is. Sometimes that gets delayed a bit, but I think if you have a firm grasp on the middle of a book, say around 40,000–45,000 words, then you can race toward that end with the knowledge that much of the book’s character arcs are developed enough that you can concentrate on the action in the last half of the book. Not that you abandon your character arcs because you need them to respond to the plot arcs, but it does give you the freedom to go hell-bent for leather in the last half of the book. I also have a firm beginning in mind, but beginnings are hard for me. I always end up rewriting any beginning to my books a minimum of six times. Grabbing the reader in the first fifteen pages is hard, which these days is a mandatory requirement. The days when you are allowed to mosey into the plot are over.
What kind of research do you do? For my Pauline Pfeiffer historical novel, I delved into the world of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the ex-pat world of Paris after World War I. I have more biographies on this period lining my bookshelf than any sane woman should admit to. Also, that period saw an explosion of photographic documentation of history with magazines such as Life.
I’ve just written my first historical mystery novel, which is set in 1930 San Francisco. I’m old enough to remember much of older San Francisco, so I wasn’t faced with trying to capture what San Francisco looked like before the Summer of Love, at which point everything changed. Newspapers are a great source for photographs. The SFGate archive is amazing.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I hope it’s published! I have three finished novels I’m currently shopping. I have self-published before, and while I don’t relish the amount of work that self-publishing entails, I think all these books are good reads and deserve an audience, so I never say never.
Links for Books:
Beat Until Stiff
Pen and Prejudice