Thank you so much for sharing your book with me and agreeing to do a Q&A for my readers.
Thank you for having me!
Give us a quick summary of your book, Dorothy Claes and the Prison of Thenemi, the first book in your action thriller series?
Dorothy Claes and the Prison of Thenemi is a Paranormal Cozy Mystery. I like to think of it as “Sherlock Holmes meets Warehouse 13 – with cats!” It is a mystery series where each book explores a different country and the unique cat lore of that country. Since Prison of Thenemi is the first in the series, the book takes place in Paris, but the mystery is… much older.
Your main character, Dorothy Claes, is a mild mannered 65 year old who stumbles upon an amazing calling. What inspired you to create her?
Dorothy was inspired by stories I heard about my grandmothers growing up. On the outside, they are, as you say, mild mannered. Polite, pious, practical. The more I heard about them, the more I realized there’s so much more I can learn from these women than just how to make a chocolate chip cookie.
One was a widow with three children who raised them all on her own and didn’t marry again until she knew all three of her children were taken care of in life.
The other could shoot a row of soda can off a fence post across the yard then turn around the cite a scripture that would make you guilty for ever doubting she could.
They are strong. They are intelligent. I wish I had realized this much sooner in life. Oh, the things I could learn from them if I had more time!
Dorothy has a lot of heartache and sadness before she book begins. Was it difficult for you to write such a complicated character with a sad past?
My maternal grandmother lost many of her family very early in life – including her husband and father. I knew I wanted to make this a part of her story. So often we see deaths in books as changing people or being a driving force for revenge. We often forget that death is a natural part of life. And while it doesn’t make it easy, I think portraying a character who is coping with that death in a healthy way can be good for readers.
The secret organization of “elder spies” that Dorothy joins is fascinating. Can you tell us more about it?
If I tell you, you have to join – deal? 😉
The Silver Foxes, as they’re called, are an organization of older people. Think 50+.
In most books, anyone over 40 is generally seen as “the wise mentor” and usually described with features that force an image of vulnerability onto the reader. I wanted to change that. I know countless people who are over 50 who can run marathons or do martial arts. They are definitely NOT your typical blonde, Bond bombshell. And that was the key. These folks understand the subtle art of blending in, of small talk. They are wiser to the ways of the world, and that can be a huge advantage when trying to talk to people and get information.
Your series is published through a small press. Many of our readers are in the process of deciding if self-published, small press or traditional publishing are best for them. Can you share with us your decision to work with a small press and what the benefits have been for you?
White Whisker Publications is actually my own small press. I felt I had enough business experience from owning and managing other business that I could handle all the details that one would hand over to a large or small press – marketing, creating my publishing team (editors, betas, designers, etc), scheduling appearance, etc.
Self-Publishing is great for those who have a level head about business, but want instant gratification.
Working with a small press is kind of like being the middle child in your family. You aren’t as smart as your parents (company owners) or your older siblings (already established authors with the press). You have to work hard to stay relevant to your family (always working on the next big thing) so you don’t get lost in the seam of the family picture book. If you are advantagious enough to work with a small press, you can learn a lot from them about the business side of being an author, they can help push you to be a better writer, and maybe one day you’ll feel your ready to handle that on your own. If not, and you have a great relationship and success with that small press, then stick with them!
I think we all know that family isn’t always blood. Your small press family should be like that – your family.
How long did it take you to get this book published, from its initial conception to the release date?
When I get an idea for story, I will write it down, and then I let it marinate for a while. I will get flashes of scenes in my head, or a line of dialogue. This is when I ask myself Why, How, When, What, and I expand on that idea. When I find myself continuing to come back to the same ideas and once I feel like I have a basic beginning, middle, and end in mind, then I will sit down and write.
I let this book marinate with me for about 2 years. The outlining, writing, editing, reediting, triple editing, (you get the idea) and publishing took about 5 months.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in completing your book?
This was a genre I had never written in before, and I didn’t like the other books within the genre that I was finding. The characters were too cookie-cutter, too passive. I wanted a stronger heroine, like those I read about in my fantasy books. I wanted a story that was more than Murder on a Monday, if you will (not sure if that’s a real book, but you get the idea). I wanted depth, but I still had to stay true to the genre.
The key to writing good books is to give readers what they expect, but not necessarily in the way they expect it. There’s a reason we like certain tropes or certain genres. We’re familiar with the expectations they give to us. We feel safe and comfortable. The excitement comes when you present it in a way they lease expect.
So, if I told you I was going to make you a cherry dessert, what’s the first thing you think of? Probably a cherry pie, or a cherry tart, right? What if I told you it was a rum soaked cherry coated in marshmallow and dark chocolate? Sounds delicious, right? It’s still a cherry treat, but not what you expected.
When writing Dorothy Claes and the Prison of Thenemi, I had to find that balance between genre/reader expectation and what me as the writer wants.
What other books and authors inspire you?
I originally found my place in fantasy books. Tolkien, Rowling, Pierce. I also have a special place in my heart for Shakespeare. I enjoy browsing used book shops and antique stores looking for old books. One of my favorites is a book called The Dryad written in 1890.
It seems we’ve gotten to a point with writing where pushing out a great idea is more important than how we choose to tell that story. I think the prose and sentence structure of a story is just as important as the tale those words are putting into my mind. We’ve lost the sort of eloquence of word in lieu of appealing to the voracious, insatiable reader. We don’t want to make readers wait, so we harness an idea, throw a saddle on it, and hold on for dear life because as long as we stay on, we’ve won.
Words have power. Never forget that.
Your Dorothy Claes series is not your only series. Can you tell us about some of your other works?
Fantasy has always been where my heart lies. It’s the one place where you can make anything you want to happen.
My first book is a YA Epic Fantasy called Prophecy. It’s the first book in the Kingdoms of Chartile series. That’s KAR-Tyle. Hard C. Like Character.
It was inspired by the games my friends and I would play in the woods after school. It’s what I always wanted to happen – that I would be whisked away to a magical world, where I would be told I’m someone important. I wanted to explore the realism of what that would look like if that ever happened. Training for months on end and getting so bruised up in the process, you can barely roll out of your straw-stuffed bed to make it to the council meeting in time. You know, no one ever talks about things like chamber pots or what it feels like to kill someone. For the record, I am NOT speaking from personal experience on that one! Just, thought I’d clarify.
But I wanted to explore the emotional side of an epic journey, not just the adventures and the romance.
I’m working on my third round of edits to its sequel before I send it to my editor in November. If all goes according to schedule, Magic, the second book in the Kingdoms of Chartile series, should be published by Spring 2019.
How has your real life loves and passions affected your writing?
They say that 80% of the population says they have a book in them. But only about 20% actually write it, and even fewer follow through with publishing. Fewer still choose to make it a career. So, for the record, if you’ve even written a book, you’re way ahead of most of the people in the world (now, pat yourself on the back and give yourself a cookie).
Why do you think so few people follow through? I mean, it’s easy right? You sit around all day and just put words on a page. “So easy a caveman could do it.”
The truth it, being a writer is all about balance. Yes, this is my job – but it’s only one of my jobs. I am also a wife to a husband who suffers from depression. I foster orphan kittens with several rescue groups in my area, and they often require ‘round the clock care. I am an office manager for an IT consulting firm, and I am a feline behavior and nutrition consultant.
That’s a lot of hats. But we all wear a lot of hats. My hats are no bigger or smaller than anyone else’s.
Some days, when I have a little 3-week old kitten who’s crashing, and I’m doing everything in my power to keep it alive until morning when I can get in to a vet, I’m not getting any writing done. Other days, I’m really in the zone, and I talk to my husband about watching a movie with him tomorrow night instead of tonight.
The life of a writer is all about balance. Balance within out plot. Balance within our prose. Balance within our characters. And balance within out lives.
But the best part is that all of those hats help contribute to the creation of my stories.
All my experience with cats? You better believe that’s in The Silver Fox mysteries.
My guilty pleasure/obsession with government conspiracies and ancient artifacts? Yep, that’s in there too.
Even my knowledge and experience working in IT helps me to navigate this new error of indie publishing better than some.
So, while you’re balancing all your hats, don’t forget they are also your greatest assets.
Each of the books in your series takes place in a different country and introduces the reader to new cultures. Was this an important aspect you had in mind when you wrote your books?
Absolutely. I LOVE learning about different countries and cultures from around the world. I find Earth’s diversity in such a small space fascinating, and I want to learn as much as I can. Trouble is, at least right now, I don’t have the money to visit all those places. And I know most people out there are just like me – they have a passion to travel and learn, but no money for a plane ticket.
So, I started researching. I talked to people who had lived in these place, or experienced these things. I got on Google Maps and I spent HOURS just roaming the streets of these tiny towns, taking in as much detail as I could.
Couple that with my love of cats and history, and the series began to take shape in my mind. Each book was a unique mystery unto itself. And each mystery was linked to a different country. And every country has different myths and lore about cats. BOOM! The idea just blew up from there.
What is the first book that made you cry?
The first book I clearly remember crying over was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I hope I’m not giving away too many spoilers here.
I bought the book on opening night, and I stayed up all night reading it. When I got to the part where Sirius dies, it was 3AM, I was an exhausted teenager, and I just started crying. I went to my room and continued to cry. My mom came in and asked me what was wrong. I blubbered out, “S-sirius d-d-died!!!” I could practically hear her eye roll as she went back to bed.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I do my marketing in the mornings, and I write in the afternoons and evenings. So, if I forget to turn my FB notifications off, I’ll have bings and bongs going off all day.
This is why I try to keep my distractions to a minimum when writing.
No internet, phone on the other side of the room. I let myself listen to music, but that’s it. If you tell yourself you have to get X done by Y time, or you don’t get a reward, you would be surprised how productive you can be.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to publish their first novel?
First, you need to decide what your goal for writing is.
Are you looking to make a profit, or is this a love/hobby?
If you want to make a career from your writing, you need to understand the mechanics of the market, not just the mechanics of good writing. Know what a good cover is. Know what the different types of editors are and when to use them. Understand how to use ads, and how to network with other authors.
LEARN LEARN LEARN, all the time.
What is your favorite book to recommend to others?
You mean besides my own, right? 😉
For writers, I like to recommend The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester
For readers, I recommend the classics. There’s always a classic book out there for everyone. Whether it’s Austin, or Shakespear or Stoker. Find yourself a good old classic that you love. Learn WHY you love it, and then read books that are the opposite of what you love.