I met today’s guest, Michele Drier, in the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime where she preceeded me as president. She says: Like many journalists I had ideas for novels years ago at the San Jose Mercury-News. Crawl forward mmmmph years and I published my first novel in 2011. Since then, I’ve written and published twelve novels and have at least five more in a holding pattern, waiting to land.
What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?
There is not background noise when I write—other than an occasional pitiful meow from my cat when he finds his food bowl empty.
In fact, his bowl is never empty, but I write in silence because I’m engrossed in my characters, the setting and the scenes. He’s a pretty independent cat and spends most of his day outside but when he wanders into my office and meows, I usually jump out of my skin. One of these days I worry I’m going to have a heart attack at the sudden noise.
What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?
I don’t know if it’s the most excellent, but I had a slight accident and spend a couple of weeks mostly flat. I gave myself permission to read, and went through several John Sandford books I’d had piling up.
I’m a fan of Sandford—probably because he comes from a journalism background as a Pulitizer-prize winner who worked at The Miami Herald and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He has an easy style that’s very approachable and a great sense of setting.
Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?
I’ve always said I’m a pantser, although I also always know the ending of the book. I don’t always know who the murderer/villain/criminal is though.
I start a book with “Chapter One” and continue writing until it’s finished, some 65,000 to 70,00 words later. Much of that comes from years as a journalist and editor at daily newspapers. When you write a newspaper story, you need to have a structure in your mind. In fact, I used to teach my novice reporters to write their lede (newspaper term for the opening sentence and spelled that way to differentiate it from “lead”, which is what type was made from) before they went out on their interview. This way, they had a framework for asking questions and a way to begin the interview. It was easier to change or rewrite the beginning that to not have an idea what the story was about.
Being a pantser gives me the freedom to wander down secondary or small roads. And sometimes I meet interesting characters who demand to be included.
When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?
My mother told me that you should always finish things you start. A few years ago, I decided I was old enough that this didn’t mean every book.
I’ll stop reading a book because of bad writing, bad grammar, formula writing, overused trite words, lack of plotting or pacing, undeveloped characters or gratuitous violence on the page. I’ve given up on most thrillers because I’m tired of reading about sociopaths who kidnap, torture, sexually abuse and kill women.
What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?
Possibly my use of the AP Stylebook. I don’t use gender identification for some words (“blond” is a gender-neutral identifier) and the non-use of an Oxford comma. Also, despite Lourdes Venard’s primer…I probably—mix up – en, em spaces…and ellipses …I grew up reading Herb Caen’s three dot…journalism
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?
I tend to write a first draft that doesn’t get rewritten much. Some plot holes filled, a bit more description, clearer metaphors. If my critique groups, beta readers or an editor think I need clarification, I’ll add words or sentences, but generally I cut words in the final draft. No matter how hard I try, a lone “that” insists in plopping itself in.
How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?
My most recent Amy Hobbes mystery developed because of California’s consistent water woes. I live near the Delta, where the San Joaquin and Sacramento rives meet and flow into San Francisco Bay. Gov. Jerry Brown has a proposal to dig massive tunnels under the Delta to ship Sacramento River water south, bypassing the Delta, the marshlands and possibly interrupting the Pacific flyway, one of the largest bird migration paths. Delta residents are incensed; many are farmers who’ve lived on and farmed the reclaimed land for better than 150 years. Is this proposal enough to drive someone to kill?
And I’ve begun my next book, a stand-alone sci-fi psychological thriller about being able to buy more memory for one’s brain. It popped up when I sat and couldn’t remember a word and said, “Lord, I wish I could buy more RAM like I can for my computer.”
What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?
Oh, let me count the ways! The biggest and most consistent one is using “that” for “who.” “Who” is for people, “that” is for objects. My stomach is churning by the end of the nightly news.
Turning nouns into verbs; e.g. being “tasked” to do something, “exiting” the room, “fisting” someone’s hair. These comes from the use of jargon (copspeak, educatorspeak, bureaucrat speak).
Homonyms. Wrong verb tenses (the past tense of “sink” is “sank” not “sunk”), probably more. I discover I’ve turned into a language curmudgeon.
What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?
I’ll choose to share Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing:
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
To learn more about Michele Drier and her books, please go to www.micheledrier.com
Or her Amazon author page http://www.amazon.com/Michele-Drier/e/B005D2YC8G/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
Or visit her fb fan page at www.facebook.com/AuthorMicheleDrier
Or email her at email@example.com
Here’s a quick blurb for Delta for Death:
California is in the middle of a catastrophic drought and water managers are scrambling to find ways to conserve the resource. The Governor has proposed a plan to dig massive tunnels under the Delta, a sprawling tract of islands, sloughs, farms, marinas, resorts and historic small towns. The project will ship Sacramento River water south, to the thirsty corporate farms and cities of Central and Southern California, not a popular idea in Northern California.
When two bodies turn up at a state corporation yard in the tiny Delta hamlet of Freeland, Amy Hobbes and her police reporter, Clarice, are determined to find out if water is an issue worth killing for.