Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery (April 2016) and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. She also writes short stories and non-fiction.
What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?
For me, the background noise when I write can best be defined as “It depends.”. Hard rock, heavy metal and rap agitate me, but songs with strong lyrics relax me to the point that my writing flows. My first book, Maze in Blue, was written to the musical scores from 1776, They’re Playing Our Song and one number from Wicked.
Neither those songs nor soft rock from the 60’s and 70’s worked consistently for my newest book, Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery. For the most part I wrote and edited that book to the sound of silence. I thought the same would be true for my present work in progress, but the words only flowed when I played the soundtrack from Frozen.
Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?
I write based upon hearing a sentence or phrase in my head. If the impetus for the piece is something that works into the piece’s first paragraph, I just write, letting the characters guide me. When the idea that spurs the story is its conclusion, I outline the entire plot and write the beginning, middle and end in accordance with the outline.
You have an all-expense-paid long weekend to spend with three guests. The Starship Enterprise has agreed to beam you to the place of your choosing, so travel time is not a consideration. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you staying (and why)?
My guests and I will be taking over the White House for our long weekend. Because I will be the only member of the group who hasn’t stayed there before, I have been assigned the Lincoln Room. John and Abigail plan to use their old rooms. They are excited about seeing how the house has changed. As you know, John Adams was the first president to move into the White House. I can’t wait to spend the weekend with them because of their intellect, their respect and consideration of each other’s opinions and their willingness to take positions that weren’t always popular. Of course, I’m also prejudiced because of Abigail’s admonishment that John “Remember the ladies.”
Although they would be enough to spend the weekend with, I think it will be very interesting to see how Abigail and Eleanor Roosevelt interact during our stay. They both are well-read, have a history of reacting to public need, and played significant roles in shaping U.S. policies. We’re expecting to have a nice weekend, but I’ve already decided that if John gets a little antsy, I’ll let him leave after dinner on Friday and substitute Hilary Clinton as the third guest. Can you imagine those three ladies together? I’ll definitely be the fly on the wall.
Name three not-well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.
Not in any particular order:
Linda Rodriguez – Linda is both a poet and a novelist. Before writing mysteries, she had two books of poetry published and two poems read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Her first mystery, Every Last Secret, won the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was a Barnes & Noble Mystery Pick, was featured by Las Comadres National Latino Book Club, and was a finalist for the International Latino Book Award. Her writing is tight, her characters diverse.
Terry Shames – Terry was a finalist one year and won the big award at Killer Nashville another year. Her plots are intricately thought out, but her characters are relaxed. I find her main protagonist to be world weary and human, but compelling. It takes a real talent to balance a character that well.
James M. Jackson – How can I not pick my host? He writes a series that creatively depicts financial issues, a character, Seamus McCree, who is flawed but human, and an interesting father/son dynamic. Not to tell a lie, Jim’s first book sat on my TBR shelf for a few months, but once I started it, I didn’t put it down. Now, when a new one comes out, I read it the day it comes.
Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?
I read reviews of my books because I learn from them. Although most of the reviews I received for Maze in Blue were positive, there were a few that contained negative comments. One felt that even though it was so well plotted that she didn’t figure it out, the language and the read wasn’t complex enough for her (duh, it was meant to be a beach read not War and Peace).
One felt I had gotten the setting wrong because a road I mentioned didn’t run the way I said it did. (He was right in 2012 and even at the end of the year the book was set in because the road through campus was rerouted to accommodate the building of the dental school, but it was accurate for the dates I referenced. Even though I was tempted to post a reply, I didn’t.) Another reader wrote a great response citing my accuracy and how the book brought back memories of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan when she lived there -- she gave the book five stars.
The third negative review was my favorite. It praised certain things about the book but felt there was a place that had too much of an information dump. The reviewer was right. Consequently, I’ve been cognizant of avoiding info dumps in the stories and books I’ve written since then.
When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?
There always is a net gain between my first draft and my final draft. The first draft contains the characters, plot, and setting, but I flesh them out when I revise. For example, characters may gain quirks or specific physical attributes and I definitely add more to their inner thoughts. At the same time, I subtract words to tighten the flow of the story, but the upshot always is a longer manuscript.
How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?
After my first book, Maze in Blue was published, I was a panelist at Murder on the Menu, a fundraiser for the local library, in Wetumpka, Alabama. I hadn’t been to Wetumpka, but I fell in love with the town and as I drove around, I realized it was the perfect setting, albeit modified a bit, for a small town mystery. As part of the fundraising aspect of Murder on the Menu, participating authors are asked if a naming opportunity in their next work can be auctioned. I agreed.
After I left the conference, having not only enjoyed it, but still being thrilled because it was the first time someone bid to have me include a name in one of my books, a sentence came into my head using the name. From that sentence, Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery was born. Once I had the premise for the book, I realized the young protagonist needed assistance that would showcase and balance her actions, so I reached back to the pink-haired Mah jongg ladies who appeared in my first published short story, Legal Magic. At that point, I was off and running.
What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?
Easy answer – being an inconsistent dinosaur who occasionally puts an extra space between words or at the end of a sentence and who still prefers to use an extra comma in a list or semi-colon where appropriate.
What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?
Understand that your words are not sacred. Revision, while often resulting in added words, means that portions that were wonderful when written need to end up in the "maybe another time" pile. Be willing to edit.
For more information about my writings and me, check out my website at www.DebraHGoldstein.com and/or catch me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor or Twitter @DebraHGoldstein
Here’s a short blurb for Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery
Carrie Martin’s balancing of her corporate law job and visiting her father at the Sunshine Village retirement home is upset when her mother returns twenty-six years after abandoning her family. Her mother leaves her with a sealed envelope and the confession she once considered killing Carrie’s father. Before Carrie opens the envelope, she finds her mother murdered and the woman who helped raise her seriously injured.
Instructed to leave the sleuthing to the police, Carrie and the Sunshine Mah jongg players’s attempts to unravel Wahoo, Alabama’s past secrets put Carrie in danger and at odds with her former lover—the detective assigned to her mother’s case. In this fast paced mystery, she learns truth and integrity aren’t always what she was taught to believe.
You can find this book at Amazon.
You can find this book at Amazon.