You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?
First of all, we’re at Red Lobster, because I love it and no one else in the family does.
Secondly, for my first guest I would have an actual Neanderthal. This would involve not only raising from the dead, but time travel. But if we can do one, we should be able to handle the other. I’m not sure he would sit with us very well, never having seen a table—or a chair—and he surely wouldn’t know what the utensils were for, but I’d try to help him—or her. Either a male or female would be fine.
My second guest would be Mozart because I’d like to bask in his genius for an hour or so. I’d like to tell him I’ve played his stuff and like it. He’d probably also like to know that his music has had such tremendous staying power. (I considered Bach, but he’s too close to being a god. I’m not sure I could talk to him.) I guess I would need an interpreter.
Thirdly, I’d ask Agatha Christie and would try to clear up the mystery about her disappearance. I’m not satisfied with any of the theories.
If I could have two interpreters, my fourth companion would be Dostoyevsky. He’s one of the reasons I fell in love with literature and I’d like to tell him that. I’d also like to see what kind of a person he was. If I can’t have the second interpreter, then Charles Dickens, since he’s the other reason I became a writer. I seem to love the guys that write long, involved sentences, where you lose track of what the subject was by the time you come to the verb. I can lose myself in their prose. That’s what I love about it.
[Blog owner's note -- Janet is one of three kinds of people: those who can count and those who can't. With her four guests, she'll be serving dinner instead of joining them at the table for four. I am assuming these days the interpreters will be cell phones with appropriate apps.]
Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?
For my mysteries, I mostly have to be at my desk in my home office, on my computer. That’s where all my reference works are. The spreadsheets that help me keep track of my characters and plots are on that machine, too. Sometimes, when I know I’ll be away and I feel I should be working while I’m not home, I’ll put my files on my laptop or a flashstick and take them with me, but that’s not the most productive for me.
When I write short stories, I’m much more casual. I’ve written them on my AlphaSmart in airports. Sometimes I get an idea for a new one and either jot the main points down on whatever paper happens to be in my purse, or call home and leave myself a message.
Sometimes I write music and, when I get a musical idea, calling the answering machine and recording myself singing it (badly) is the best way not to lose the idea. Second best, making 5 parallel lines and scribbling notes onto them.
What makes a great short story?
If the writer is O. Henry or Mark Twain, that’s the best way to get a great short story. Failing that, and since they aren’t writing any new ones, I try for an arc, bringing the story in a circle. I also like a plot twist at the end. And really like a double twist.
Any time after noon. I can’t write worth a darn in the morning. The routine I try to follow has me doing what my husband calls administrivia in the morning: going through emails, sending out notices or promotion, doing my daily pages, and any other networking that pops up. After lunch, if I don’t have errands to run or appointments to keep, I try to settle down, but sometimes don’t start writing for another hour or two. It’s best if I take a walk right after I finish writing, but that doesn’t always happen.
I need caffeine until about 5 pm. If I have any after that, I’ll be up until 2 or 3. I usually turn in around 1 am and get up at 7:30 or 8. If I get less than 6 hours of sleep, I’m not much good.
What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?
Family is one of my favorites. The family connections are strong in all my books and the Fat Cat series is no exception, if you define family loosely. Charity “Chase” Oliver, an only child, lost her parents years ago and was raised by a very close family friend, Anna Larson. She thinks of Anna as part mother and part grandmother. They are also business partners, which can cause friction, but there’s enough love to smooth out the rough patches.
What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?
Since I’m writing several series, four to be exact, I need to keep track of my characters and settings. Cressa Carraway, in Eine Kleine Murder (which I wrote as Kaye George) drives a Honda. Chase drives a Ford Fusion. I’m very grateful that my editor caught me giving Chase a Honda recently.
I keep a spreadsheet with those details on it. That’s the only way I can keep everything straight. I must remember to consult it often!
What motivates you to write?
Deadlines are my biggest motivator. I usually know exactly how many days and how many words I have left. This helps because I know the minimum I need to write every day. I do try to exceed that so I’ll have breathing room between finishing the project and turning it in. I’m nervous when I haven’t had anyone read over my stuff before I hand it to the publisher. Writing a book every 9 months for Berkley Prime Crime is tight, though. I didn’t have time for beta readers for the second book; hence the Ford/Honda mixup. I’m sure my readers would have caught that!
What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?
Daryl Wood Gerber said not to give up five minutes before you succeed. She was ready to quit writing mysteries and, just before she threw in the towel, got a publishing contract. (Or maybe that was when she got her agent—at any rate, she achieved success in the nick of time.) I’ve also been encouraged by reading the numbers of rejections that now-famous writers have received.
I stole the Magic Number Theory from someone so long ago that I can’t remember who it was. It goes like this: Everyone has a Magic Number. If yours is 15, you will get an acceptance for publication after 15 rejections. If your number is 465, your 466th query will get you into the publication door. My own number was much closer to that second one, so I hung on for 10 years of rejections, feeling that each one got me closer to my Magic Number.
The Fat Cat Spread Out
A booth at the Bunyan County Harvest Fair seems like the perfect opportunity for Charity “Chase” Oliver and Anna Larson to promote their Bar None bakery business. Unfortunately, plus-sized pussycat Quincy has plans for their delicious dessert bars other than selling them to customers. After tearing through their inventory, Quincy goes roaming the fairgrounds in search of more delights.
But what he finds is murder.
My alter ego, Kaye George, has contact info at