Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Katherine Prairie - Guest Author

Fellow Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime member Katherine Prairie, a geologist and IT specialist, stepped away from the international petroleum industry to follow her passion for writing. Her first thriller THIRST has just been released.

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)?

Makes me feel like a kid in a candy store! I love to travel, so I’d be up for almost anything, but I’d head back to Antarctica. As a geologist, I’m absolutely fascinated by the mountains and ice, and who can resist a penguin?

I’d invite mountaineer Peter Hillary who attempted to trek to the South Pole and back – his book, In the Ghost Country is a haunting story of survival. I’d also invite international correspondent Christiane Amanpour for her knowledge of global affairs because nowhere else on earth do we have a continent managed solely by a committee of 52 countries. And finally, I’d invite geologist Robin Bell who’s researching a hidden mountain range in East Antarctica – an intriguing real life polar mystery. We’d stay onboard a ship, so we could sail the Ross Sea and head ashore whenever we see something interesting, and then spend long evenings chatting over wine. I’m sure I’d come back with some great story ideas!

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I’m somewhere between the two. I use mind-mapping software to roughly lay out my plot ideas and then I start writing. My characters often take me in a different direction than planned or suggest a sub-plot or two, and sometimes I find what I had planned doesn’t work. I incorporate these changes into my mind map as I go and that can reveal more new ideas and plot twists. Still, I find it helpful to work from this quasi-outline because it holds my story on-track and gives me direction for the next chapter.

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’m always adding between the first and final drafts. I write in layers, setting down my general story in the first draft and then making several passes to add more character, plot and sensory details. By the time I have a final draft, my story may have swelled by 30,000 words or more.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I used to feel that I had to finish every book I started, but not any longer – I just don’t have the same reading time that I once did, and there are just too many books on my to-read list! But still, I like to give an author at least 100 pages to hook me.

If the story doesn’t fire up my imagination or intrigue me, then no matter how much the characters might be likeable, I find myself not caring whether they live/die or solve the crime. But I also need characters that are fully developed. They don’t need to be complex, they just need to feel like something other than cardboard cutouts.

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Michael Crichton because he wove scientific fact into thrilling stories that were something other than science-fiction, which is exactly what I wanted to do.

Terry Brooks for his masterful ability to keep you on the edge of your seat with a story told from different character perspectives.

Daniel Silva for his intensely satisfying stories and interesting characters – I can’t wait to find out what happens to Gabriel Allon next!

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris. It’s a crime novel set in Saudi Arabia that features a female medical examiner. Her interactions with male/female law enforcement colleagues, suspects and victims, provide an intriguing look at life in the Middle-East. And it’s a page-turner too!

Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

I do read my reviews because I’d like every reader who picks up my book to finish it, and that means I have to be prepared to listen to feedback. But I also don’t let a single review influence me because no book will ever satisfy every reader.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

Thirst took root in a “what-if” question I asked myself about a fifty-year-old treaty between the U.S. and Canada that governs management of the Columbia River, an important water resource shared by the two countries. When I learned that the treaty, which soon expires, includes three dams built in Canada for the benefit of the U.S., and I discovered the fascinating history of the Slocan Valley, home to those dams, the seeds of a story took hold. After that, I just let my imagination guide me.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

Give your reader a central character they care about and trust, and do it early. It’s a reminder that readers need a reason to keep reading.

To find more information about me and my writing, visit www.katherineprairie.com or join me on Facebook www.facebook.com/katherineprairie or Twitter www.twitter.com/authorprairie

Here’s a blurb for Thirst:

Explosive violence rocks Canada’s Slocan Valley after the shooting deaths of three teenagers in a bombing attempt at the Keenleyside Dam. A joint U.S.-Canada military force locks down the Valley to protect Columbia River dams critical to both countries but martial law incites more violence.

Geologist Alex Graham refuses to let politics stand in her way. She evades military patrols to slip into a restricted zone to hunt for silver, but her plans are derailed by an intentionally set fire that almost takes her life.

Someone wants her out of the Slocan Valley.

When Alex discovers a gunshot victim in an abandoned mine, she fears she could be next. But she’s never been one to wait for trouble to come to her and she tracks a suspicious man seen once too often in the lonely mountains.

All eyes are on the dams, but the true threat lies elsewhere.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Time to Lighten Up on U.S. Stocks?

As those of you who follow my financial blogs know, I am a believer that the largest component of long-term investing results is one’s asset allocation. To maintain a proper allocation, one must periodically rebalance portfolios.

Since the beginning of the year, the S&P 500 has risen about 3.9%, which does not seem like a huge change. However, the year started off with a sizeable correction, so from its low this year, the S&P 500 is up over 14%.

And since it’s low in 2009, the S&P 500 is up over 200%, demonstrating why bailing on stocks when all seems gloomiest is exactly the wrong approach. And, I would argue, so is going all in on stocks as the markets continue to appear rosy. (That would be now.) Rebalancing forces one to sell off relative winners to buy relative losers.

If you haven’t rebalanced in a few months, it might be a good time to determine if your portfolio needs attention.

Only rarely do I change the allocation percentages of my various investment categories. Now, however, is one of those times. My sense is that U.S. stock markets are overpriced. As noted, The S&P 500 has already risen over 200% in the last seven years. That’s past. What matters is the future, and current price has everything to do with collective future expectations.

My expectations are a bit gloomy:

The bull market is already seven years old, but still propped up by expansive fiscal and monetary policy. The Fed still keeps interest rates artificially low. The U.S. Federal government stills pumps money into the economy. Its projected deficit for the year is $500 billion. Continually applied, these types of polices lead to bubbles.

Interest rates are much more likely to rise than decline (a negative to both stocks and bonds), unless a recession occurs.

Commodity prices have fallen substantially, temporarily boosting profits (consider airlines, for example). The five-year decline is likely to reverse.

The dollar has risen substantially over the last five years compared to major currencies (Euro and Yen by 30+%). This means U.S. based exports are more expensive and foreign earnings for U.S. companies have less value.

Much of the U.S. unemployment slack has been erased. This means corporations will have to pay more for talent they need. At the same time, much of the increased profit margin they have wrung out of labor costs by converting full-time positions into part-time and on call employees, outsourcing, and eliminating defined benefit pension plans and the like has already been fully reflected in earnings.

When (not if) the next recession occurs, the Fed will have fewer resources to counteract the liquidity crises that will surely occur because it has kept interest rates artificially low. Similarly, with the U.S. debt at record levels, Congress will be unlikely to approve appropriate economic relief measures.

Thus, the next recession will likely last longer and be deeper than would be the case if the U.S. economy were not starting from a position where expansionary measures are constantly in effect.
All of which says to me that U.S. stocks are riskier than usual in my portfolio. Recall that I am older and retired, which means I have fewer years to recover from any bear market and (worse) I do not have the ability to purchase more investments through savings from future earnings.

So my situation is different from yours, as may be my analysis of what to expect. But I figured I’d share my thinking and maybe learn something from everyone’s reactions.


~ Jim

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Second Edition - Chance for a do-over

This past Wednesday, all the rights to Bad Policy officially reverted from my publisher to me and the second edition went live using my publishing company, Wolf's Echo Press. I’ve already discussed the self-imposed angst I generated by reediting and reformatting the book. Today I want to talk about one of the things independent authors often say they most cherish, the ability to choose how to price and promote their books.

The print decisions were fairly easy to make because I’ve had practice when I developed the print edition of my Kindle Scout winner, Ant Farm. I use CreateSpace to prepare the print edition for sale on Amazon and IngramSpark for all other distribution. The reason for the two versions is the difference in royalties CreateSpace pays for Amazon and all others.

Here’s how royalty works at CreateSpace for Bad Policy:

The list price is $14.95, of which they take 40% off the top if the book is sold on Amazon or 60% if sold in “Expanded Distribution” (any Amazon competitor, whether online or bricks and mortar). That leaves $8.97 (Amazon) or $5.98 (Other). From that, CreateSpace deducts both a fixed charge per book ($0.85 for books with 110-828 pages) and a variable charge of $0.012/page (for Bad Policy this comes out to $3.19) for total per unit deductions of $4.04. My payment (combining my roles of publisher and author) is what remains, $4.93 if the book sells on Amazon and $1.94 elsewhere.

As an aside, note that even if we assume there is no profit for CreateSpace in the $4.04 fixed costs of producing a book, they and Amazon still make $5.98 (before shipping costs) per book sold on Amazon, compared to the publisher’s and author’s combined take of $4.93!

At IngramSpark, the royalty calculations are a bit different because the publisher determines the wholesale discount. I set mine at 40%. My thinking is that bookstores will be ordering this book because of customer request, not to stock their shelves. Therefore, the standard discount makes sense. Starting with the same $14.95 with 40% wholesale discount, leaves $8.97. Ingram has a higher charge to print the book ($4.84), leaving $4.13 for the publisher and author.

That’s eighty cents lower than what CreateSpace pays for Amazon sales (so I use CreateSpace for that sales channel), but a whopping $2.19 higher than CreateSpace when it comes to any other sales channel. Another reason for using IngramSpark for bookstore sales is I have had bookstore owners tell me they will not carry or order a book published by CreateSpace because it is owned by Amazon, who they see as an unfair competitor.

Figuring out what to do with print was the easy part. How to price the ebook and where to sell it required (and will require in the future) considerable thought.

The original ebook price for Bad Policy was $5.95. Cabin Fever’s ebook still has a $5.95 price tag. Kindle Press priced Ant Farm at $3.49. Amazon, gorilla of the ebook market with a roughly 70% share in the U.S., pays royalties at a 70% rate for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, provided the books comply with a few rules that are easy to follow. Prices outside that range qualify for a 35% royalty.

I like 70% better than 35%—about twice as much.

I did a scientific survey of 1 person (my life partner, Jan). She said to price it at $4.00. The marketer in me changed that to $3.99 and that is its price.

We now arrive at the decision point over which much ink has been spilled: go exclusive with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or sell across multiple platforms. There are excellent arguments for both sides. I looked at my past sales for guidance. Amazon has sold over 80% of the ebooks for Bad Policy and Cabin Fever even though the publisher made sure the books are available everywhere.

The KDP exclusivity period runs for ninety days, when it can be renewed for the next ninety days or not. The biggest advantage for going exclusive with Amazon is to have the book available in Kindle Unlimited (KU) and the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL).

Thirty percent of Ant Farm ebook sales have come through the KU and KOLL programs. Yes, if a book is not available on KU and KOLL, some people will buy the books, but those folks have already had three years to purchase Bad Policy. Consequently, I decided to start Bad Policy’s rebirth by going exclusive and trumpeting to KU participants that for them the book was now free. Of course, they have to read the book before I see any royalties!

I’ll do the experiment for ninety days, evaluate it, and then decide what to do for the next ninety days. That’s life in the independent author lane. Oh, and here's the link to Amazon if you're interested in in the Seamus McCree novels.

~ Jim

This blog originally appeared on the Writers Who Kill Blog 4/17/16.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Guest Author - Debra H. Goldstein

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

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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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Lexi Revellian - Guest Author

Please welcome Lexi Revellian, a fellow Kindle Scout winner, as today’s guest author. She says: I’m a London jeweller/silversmith who also writes feel good page-turners. The latest is my Kindle Scout winner, The Trouble with Time, (Time Rats Book 1). (Ed. Note: I didn’t Americanize the English spellings.)

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

Ideally, I’d like silence to write in. I have a fantasy of a house with a walled garden in the middle of a forest, where I and the blank page wrestle alone. In fact, I write in my jewellery workshop in London, so the background noise is traffic, and occasionally my neighbours. I find music distracting, although I often have tracks I associate with the current novel.

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

My fellow Kindle Scout winner, Janette Rallison’s The Girl Who Heard Demons. The heroine is cursed/blessed with the ability to hear demons. Being a good person, she feels compelled to help people when the demons have revealed their problems, and this has earned her a reputation for being weird. At her new school, she is determined to lie low and not interfere again. But then she meets Levi, an attractive fellow student, whose life is in danger . . . A page-turner with humour, wit and romance.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I decide on the initial situation and hero/heroine, and have an idea of what the end will be (this may change). I make masses of notes about the characters and what may happen, then start writing, making it up as I go along, following the characters. The story often turns out quite differently from what I expected. This is a scary way to write a book. I envy Dickens who planned out every chapter in advance.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I used to. When I was nineteen I plodded through the whole of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a dreadful novel I would turn shuddering away from now. I’ve got less tolerant. Unforgivable flaws include: characters who do something no real person ever would, just because the plot requires it; a dislikeable protagonist who is supposed to be sympathetic; lack of humour.

What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

I like semi colons an awful lot more than most copyeditors do. They don’t like brackets, either, preferring dashes. There are fashions in punctuation, like everything else; but as long as punctuation is efficiently informing the reader, it’s doing its job.

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 write concisely. I tweak as I go, not leaving a chapter until I’m happy with it, adding in thoughts, settings, weather, occasionally whole scenes, moving phrases and sentences around. By the time I reach the end, the book is pretty much ready to publish.

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

Do I have to settle for one? I hate the use of ‘they’ and ‘their’ to refer to a single person, especially when the sex of the person is known. “Every schoolgirl has THEIR own locker” – no, no! “Every schoolgirl has HER own locker”. Also nerve-racked with a ‘w’, because the expression derives from the torture rack. And muddle-headed political correctness that calls actresses actors, and female craftsmen craftswomen. What’s going on there?

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Jane Austen: she’s the best. You’d recognize one of her characters if you met him in real life. And she’s witty.

Mary Renault: I read my first of her books, The Bull from the Sea, when I was twelve, and was entranced. I’m a fan. Her novels are riveting, entertaining, and brilliantly written. I picked up my semi colons from her.

Dick Francis: his early novels are great page turners. Like many of his readers, I’ve stayed up till the small hours to finish them. That’s a fantastic quality in a book, which I try to emulate. I intended my novel, Remix, to be like a Dick Francis without the horses. It has rocking horses instead.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

Most writing ‘rules’ can be broken. There is only one real writing rule – Never Bore The Reader.

Here’s a bit of a blurb for The Trouble with Time (Time Rats Book 1)

It’s 2045. Jace Carnady works for the Time Police, dedicated to the prevention of timecrime. Life is good; he loves his girlfriend and enjoys his work. But when the team get wind of a rogue time machine and fail to find it, Jace suspects one of his colleagues, and his life begins to unravel . . . In 2015, Floss Dryden is snatched from her own time and taken to the future – but will this really prevent the extinction of humanity?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

P.A. De Voe - Guest Author

P.A. De Voe is an anthropologist, an Asian specialist, and an incorrigible magpie for collecting seemingly irrelevant information. I first met her in the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Her short stories and YA adventure/mystery trilogy are set in ancient China.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

Nowadays, I write in a quiet environment. Even music distracts me. I trained myself a long time ago to work with noise all around me. However, today I have the luxury of quiet, and I find it to be my preferred “background noise.”

What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?

For non-fiction, I am currently reading Society and the Supernatural in Song China by Edward L. Davis, University of Hawai’i Press. This is definitely an excellent book that I’m very happy to have found. It deals with a time period (960 to 1269) earlier than my own fictional pieces, but certainly helps to lay the foundation for some of my characters and some of the societal tensions which are still apparent in the Ming Dynasty.

For fiction, I recently finished The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison, St. Martin’s Minotaur. This is a mystery set in contemporary Tibet. Pattison writes with a strong sense of place and complex characters embroiled in complicated and difficult situations. The novel’s characters are ethnically diverse (Tibetan, Han Chinese, and American) and I can safely say that the setting can also be counted as a character—although its ethnicity may be in doubt.J I count Pattison as one of my new favorite mystery authors.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I am definitely a structured writer. I tried to write a short story using the pantser approach, because I do believe a more organic approach can add a refreshing sense of serendipity to a story. However, it took me forever to write the short story and I was definitely not a happy camper. We have to go with who we are. I like to lay out my story line in some detail. That allows me to begin each day knowing where I’m going. I never feel like structure is a cement jacket on my creative process. On the contrary, once I know where I’m going, I feel more at ease with playing around with the story’s elements and characters.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I used to at least try to finish every novel I started reading. I no longer do that because I know there’s only so much time for each of us and—as much as possible—I’m only going to spend time on books I enjoy reading. Probably, the first thing that will make me put a book down is boredom. The second thing would have to be that I don’t like the characters: they don’t ring true for one reason or another. Plot never stops me because I don’t know if I have a serious problem with it until I’ve read the entire book.

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 usually add words. After writing a detailed outline of a novel, I write the first draft with an eye to plot, putting in [note: xxx] where I want to go back in future drafts to elaborate on a scene or character or to check on a fact or other historic detail. That said, I don’t really like long books. I’d rather read several short or medium sized novels, even if by the same author and in the same series. Therefore, that’s what I write, as well.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

Whether for a novel or a short story, I usually begin with a theme, which I would most like to marry with a mystery. For example, with my crime short stories with Judge Lu, I specifically want to highlight the multifaceted and intricate job of a magistrate in ancient China as well as various points of traditional law. With this orientation, it is easy to come up with new story lines.

For my new series, however, it’s the characters that inspired me: an itinerant scholar and a young woman doctor in the early Ming Dynasty. The genesis for this series was a desire for my protagonists—and I wanted both a male and a female—to have more freedom of movement in order to solve mysteries, while still being true to their culture and history.

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

Using me as subject, as in: “Me and Tom went to the hospital.” I’ve started hearing it so often, however, and by so many different people, that I’ve begun to keep track of it. I’m starting to think that this may be one of those language shifts that sneaks up on us and becomes an acceptable form of speech before we know it.

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

My current three fiction authors would be:

Charles Dickens for his ability to tap into his readers’ emotions through character development.
Agatha Christie for her apparently simple, but deliciously devious plots and her willingness as an author to be unsentimental about even her most sympathetic characters.
Anne Perry for her use of tension in her stories as she weaves together characters and plot in historically and culturally diverse settings.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

I would like to suggest three things:

First, do the best you can in your writing, be as honest and as accurate as possible.

Second, don’t be lazy and use stereotypes, your audience will know. Besides, it’s boring. They’ve all read the stereotypes before. When you create real people, your mystery becomes less predictable and more exciting.

Third, we all make mistakes, don’t let that stop you. Just correct what you can and move forward. It’s the best any of us can do.

To get a free From Judge Lu’s Ming Dynasty Case Files short story and to find out more about P.A. De Voe’s YA trilogy (Hidden, Warned, and Trapped), as well as other ancient China crime stories, go to padevoe.com.

Here’s a short blurb for Trapped, A Mei-hua Adventure by P.A. De Voe

Trapped, the last novel in P.A. De Voe’s YA trilogy, is set in 1380 China. In Trapped ancient China comes to life as Mei-hua, a young woman who must hide from her father’s enemies, struggles to unravel a ball of secrets and deceit.

The Dragon Boat Festival marks a time of festivities and merrymaking. In the midst of these celebrations, however, lurks a menace more serious than any Mei-hua has encountered thus far.

In her determination to discover the person behind the attempts to destroy her father, a district judge, Mei-hua searches through the streets and shops of Hangzhou City at the height of the Dragon Boat Festival. However, once in the streets crowded with revelers, she also becomes more vulnerable and easy prey. In matching wits with her enemies, Mei-hua finds her creativity and strength are tested as never before.