It’s great to have you back in the Library, John, can you tell us a little about yourself for anyone not familiar with your books?
Hi Pam, thanks for having me. I live in southern New Jersey in the U.S., very close to the city of Philadelphia. I’ve been writing professionally for about six years, and Sinner, Saint, or Serpent is my seventh novel.
What motivates you to write?
I think the motivation for me is learning about the imaginary world I’m creating, which takes quite a bit of research. I love to learn.
Do you ever have writers block? If so, how do you overcome it?
For me, rather than writer’s block, it’s getting stuck on a scene or character that isn’t turning out the way I want. I usually move on to something else, maybe research another aspect of the book or a completely different book, or go for a walk. The distraction normally brings the solution.
How do you go about researching the history behind your books?
Once I determine a period to write about, I choose the location. I think the location, if described well enough, is really a character, often as important as the protagonist. Then I devise the plot. I have dozens swirling around in my head, and need only to find the one that interests me – and potential readers – the most. I often round out the characters last, and I usually find that they turn out far different in the end than I had envisioned in the beginning.
I research everything from clothing to hairstyles to food to military maneuvers. I read books about the time period, books written during the time period, and I research websites. The BBC website for WWI and WWII, for example, is a wealth of information, including personal stories.
I continue to research until the book is completed. The first draft is just that – a bit of a mess with notes to myself for future enhancements. But each revision shapes the story, the research bringing both the scenes and characters to life.
With so many different ideas, how many will make it into future books?
I have about twenty different ideas at any one time, many of which will become books. I don’t discard any of them, but if I start on a topic and lose interest in the research, I usually pick something else and move the abandoned idea lower on the list. I have a file for different topics, plots, titles, false starts and various interests that I go through when starting a book. Sometimes I choose one, combine it with another or change the time period, and that gives me a fresh perspective and the motivation to finish it.
Once you have a solid idea, how long does it take you do get to the final product?
It usually takes me 9 months to complete the draft that I send to my agent (which is after 5 or 6 revisions). The draft is then sent to fact-checkers and advanced readers, after which I reconcile any comments – either make changes or explain why changes are not required. That typically takes a month or two. The book is then sent to the publisher, who takes anywhere from 6- 15 months to issue it. There are different editing processes during that publishing timeline, as well as cover design.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
Yes – I have two suggestions. First, try to write every day once you start a book– even if it’s fifteen or twenty minutes, or just scribbling ideas about a character in a notebook. I think the routine and consistency are important. Second, don’t let family and friends discourage you with negative comments. I’m sure they mean well, but some people will not take you seriously until you show them a publishing contract. Write for yourself first, the public second.
Which genre do you write in and what draws you to it?
I like to cross genres, using thrillers, historical fiction, and mysteries, primarily. I think having a multi-genre plot is much more interesting, with unlimited possibilities for subplots and secondary characters that are often as exciting as the protagonist.
If you could travel back in time, what era would you go to? What draws you to this particular time?
I would definitely choose late-Victorian through the early part of the twentieth century. I’m drawn to the British Empire, upon which the sun never set, the twilight of Victorian England, the dawn of a new century, the utter destruction of WWI, and the roaring ‘20’s.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
When I’m doing the initial research for the book, and I’ve determined in what time period it’ll take place, I search on the internet for the most popular baby names in the country and year that the book takes place. For example, Sinner, Saint or Serpent takes place in New Orleans in 1926. I researched the most popular male names, female names and surnames in the U.S at that time. I fill the left-hand side of a notebook with female names I like, the centre with male names, the right with surnames. Then, I match them up.
Please tell us about your latest published work.
My seventh novel, Sinner, Saint or Serpent, has just been issued. It’s a historical murder mystery set in New Orleans in 1926. Justice Harper and Remy Morel are two reporters investigating the murder of August Chevalier, a ruthless businessman with dozens of enemies. Police identify three suspects, prominent women in New Orleans society: a sinner – Blaze Barbeau, accused of having an affair with the deceased, a saint – the charitable Lucinda Boyd, whose family business was stolen by Chevalier, and a serpent – Belladonna Dede, the local voodoo queen.
Harper has an impeccable reputation, while his assistant Remy Morel is a sassy newcomer with more mouth than she can control. They unravel the mystery, battling anonymous threats and increasing danger the closer they come to cornering the culprit. The clues lead them to more suspects: Mimi Menard – Chevalier’s housekeeper, Nicky the Knife – a lunatic gangster, Serenity Dupree – a sultry jazz singer and Harper’s lover, and even Remy Morel – her family wronged by a ruthless Chevalier.
My goal was to keep the reader constantly confused by the killer’s identity, and totally fooled when the identity is revealed. Hopefully I accomplished that.
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Thanks so much, Pam, for the opportunity to chat.