Category Archives: Guest Blog
My guest today is author Sandi Wallace whose novel, Tell Me Why, makes its debut at the Book Expo Australia in Sydney on Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st August courtesy of Clan Destine Press and Sisters in Crime Australia.
Sandi, congratulations on your first book being published. Is this the first one you have written and how did you get picked up by Clan Destine Press?
Thanks, Sandy! It is a real thrill. And yes, this is the first book I’ve written, although it doesn’t much resemble its early drafts. I worked on the same book for a number of years, developing my style, honing my skills, while practicing with shorter works and building confidence. I don’t undervalue or begrudge this time at all. It was my writer’s apprenticeship and particularly important as Tell Me Why is the first book in a series, so my style and characters needed to be well developed before the first book went to press. When it came time to send my manuscript out into the marketplace, I approached Clan Destine Press, a small genre publisher who I was aware of through my membership with Sisters in Crime Australia. It took me a couple of revised submissions but to my great delight, Clan Destine Press offered me a publishing deal last November and the first book in my Rural Crime Files series Tell Me Why has now been released!
What made you decide to write this book?
I knew I wanted to write a crime series and Daylesford seemed the perfect setting. It’s one of my favourite places, perhaps second only to the Dandenong Ranges where I live with my hubby. Daylesford’s a pretty country town, popular with tourists, arty types and same-sex couples. I liked the way that romantic perception juxtaposed with a moody crime story. The inbuilt conflict of a town balancing permanent residents with regular influxes of tourists also appealed. Then I decided I wanted it to be contemporary, reflecting our times, our world, even though it’s fiction.
So I had setting worked out. Then Georgie Harvey, the independent Melbourne writer and her search for missing farmer, Susan Pentecoste, came to me as the main character and story line for Tell Me Why. In my second draft, John Franklin emerged. He is a slightly old-school cop stationed at Daylesford and also a single dad. It fascinated me to position city-girl Georgie in his territory (which is way outside her comfort zone), but with her in the driver’s seat in the search for Susan. Meanwhile, Franklin is working another case – poison-pen letters targeting single mothers – which is a step-up from Daylesford’s usual soft crime.
I angled the book as mainly a Why-Dunnit because many crime readers – including me – are enthralled by why crimes happen, the repercussions and outcomes. Through this book, I had fun exploring human relationships, how far we’d go, and what we’d risk, to find the truth.
Have you always wanted to write crime?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been addicted to crime fiction in film and print. And it seems that, for equally as long, I’ve wanted to be a crime writer. Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of a row of books with my name on the spine – a crime fiction series written by me, with some standalone books, too. I hope this is the start of that dream coming true!
Do you see your writing branching out into different genres or sub-genres?
Tell Me Why combines thriller, suspense, police procedural, adventure, mystery and a touch of romance, so I have already branched into different sub-genres. My vision for the series is a revolving cast of characters and locations, although Daylesford and the characters from there will continue to be integral. This rotating platform allows each book to be unique, giving me artistic licence with sub-genres. I wouldn’t rule out writing a standalone book in a different genre but think my roots will always be entrenched in crime.
Who is your favourite author, and why?
Tricky question! I can’t limit it to one because there are so many wonderful authors whose works or work ethics have resonated with me for different reasons and at different times. These are across a variety of genres, literary fiction, classics, contemporary and historical stories. But nowadays, I tend to devour contemporary crime – albeit across its many sub-genres. Some of the recent reads I’ve thoroughly enjoyed include books by Michael Robotham, Jaye Ford, Katherine Howell, Honey Brown, Ian Rankin, Camilla Läckberg, Alex Hammond, Karen M Davis, B Michael Radburn, Bronwyn Parry…the list goes on! And I can’t wait to read your new release, Grievous Harm, Sandy, when it comes out in October.
Any advice for aspiring authors that might help them on the road to publication?
One of my characters in Tell Me Why says: ‘If it means that much to you, do it.’ And that’s what it all boils down to. Write because you want to write; you can’t imagine your life without creating. Know that the process will sometimes be slow and torturous, there will be speed humps (which may seem like mountains) and you will doubt yourself – numerous times. Successes in short story contests, other writing wins or exposure may boost the chances for your novel, so give them a go. Practice, persevere, seek constructive feedback and work with other writers or a mentor. Enjoy every step of the journey, every small win and keep believing. Good luck!
Thanks, Sandi, and best wishes for Tell Me Why.
Tell Me Why will be available for sale and signing at the Clan Destine Press/Sisters in Crime stand at Book Expo Australia. Sandi will also be sitting on two crime panels over the weekend: the Thriller vs Crime Smackdown on Saturday at 11.30am and Crime Panel Did the Butler Really Do It? on Sunday at 3.45pm.
Australian author Maggie Christensen joins me today.
Congratulations on the release of Band of Gold, Maggie. Was there something in particular that inspired you to write this story?
Thanks, Sandy. A number of years ago I heard a story of someone who placed his wedding ring on the table on Christmas morning. It stuck in my mind and when I started wondering what might happen afterwards. Anna and Marcus appeared and Anna’s story began to take shape.
What did you find were the advantages and disadvantages of writing in first person and present tense?
It wasn’t really a choice. Anna’s voice came to me as soon as I began to write. I think the advantage was that it was easy to see the story though her eyes, and I didn’t have to worry about changing POV. As I was writing, I really stepped into Anna’s shoes, and the present tense made it more immediate. I guess the disadvantage was that everything was from Anna’s perspective, so there was no opportunity to see events form anyone else’s point of view. I have to say that, although I don’t normally write first person present tense, I really enjoyed it.
What did you like most about writing Band of Gold?
I enjoyed my characters. The story flowed well for me, and I think I fell a little bit in love with Marcus. I particularly enjoyed using familiar settings. Manly Beach was the first beach I visited in Australia when I lived for several years in Sydney, and I now live close to beautiful Peregian Beach.
Do you find your readers come from all age groups, or, because your books deal with mature-aged heroines, your readers tend to be in that age group?
When I began writing about women in their prime (I love this phrase), I thought I was targeting older readers – baby boomers. However I’m finding that my readers do come from all age groups. I guess women experience marriage and career crises at all ages, so the situations my protagonists find themselves in are easy to relate to.
Do you think there is an advantage to having background knowledge of two locations, i.e., Australia and Oregon in the US, and how helpful has this been in writing The Sand Dollar?
Definitely! I would never have contemplated Oregon as a setting if I hadn’t spent time there, and I don’t expect I’d be writing about Australia if I didn’t live here. I find that when I write, it’s as if I’m actually in the setting. For example, my current work, The Dreamcatcher, is set in Oregon, and I spend my days there when I’m writing.
What do you envisage writing in the future?
I’m presently writing what will most likely be book 3 in my Oregon Coast series. It picks up Ellen from The Sand Dollar and tells her story. Book 2 stalled part way through so I plan to go back to that one, which tells the story of Rosa, also from The Sand Dollar, and set in the Sunshine Coast in Australia.
Also, although I wrote Band of Gold as a stand-alone book, Anna’s sister Jan has started telling me her story too, so that book is also in the cards. Plus a few more ideas which are still in their infancy.
I intend to keep writing books with mature protagonists, as these are the ones I can relate best to.
That’s great, Maggie. I know what it’s like to have characters start to tell you their story. I’m sure a lot of people think writers are a bit cracked when we say we hear voices in our head, but our characters become like real people to us, don’t they.
Band of Gold deals with the tricky topic of new romance after a failed marriage.
Anna Hollis is a forty-seven year old schoolteacher living in Sydney. She juggles her busy life with a daughter in the throes of first love, and increasingly demanding aging parents.
Anna’s world collapses when her husband of twenty-five years leaves her on Christmas morning. She makes it through the family festivities, explaining his absence with a flimsy excuse, but later breaks down on a Sydney beach where a stranger comes to her aid.
Marcus King has returned to Australia from the USA, leaving behind a broken marriage and a young son; through their mutual hurt and loneliness, a fragile friendship is formed when he takes up the position of Headmaster at Anna’s school.
Written in first person, present tense the author slips the reader into Anna’s shoes as she struggles to leave the past behind and learns to trust again. Can Marcus be a part of her future?
‘I don’t want to be married anymore.’
The band of gold, symbol of our twenty-five years of marriage lies on the table between us. I am stupefied, unable to speak. Tears prick my eyes as my first coffee of the day grows cold beside me. The sun is shining brightly through the kitchen window. The turkey is sitting on the kitchen bench waiting to be cooked. My parents, daughter, brother and sister, along with her husband and children are due to arrive in five hours’ time. The house is redolent with the scent of pine needles and Christmas pudding. It’s Christmas morning and my world has collapsed.
‘What do you mean?’ I finally utter, thinking this must be Sean’s idea of a bad joke. My mouth goes dry. My head begins to spin. The bottom has dropped out of my world. I look over at the man I have loved for over twenty-five years, his bushy greying blonde hair, his ruddy cleanshaven cheeks. He looks no different from any other morning. He’s wearing the bright yellow tee shirt we bought on our holiday in Bali last year. His steely blue eyes meet mine. This isn’t happening.
‘I can’t do this anymore, Anna.’ His waving arms take in the kitchen including me, ‘All this; family, house, job. I need to get away.’ He pushes his chair back from the table and strides out of the kitchen. I sit there in a daze, my mind going round in circles. Is it too late to call off Christmas lunch? How can I even think of such a thing? Does Sean mean he’s going to leave right now? How will I explain his absence? God, this is really going to be the Christmas from Hell.
Look for Band of Gold at:
Barnes &Noble: http://bit.ly/1sZmp2
The Book Depository: http://bit.ly/1nbUiHf
Thank you, Maggie, for being such a lovely guest. I look forward to seeing The Sand Dollar and The Dreamcatcher available in the near future.
Brisbane writer Ian Walkley is one of the new generation of self-published novelists, with his debut novel, No Remorse, recently launched on Amazon and Smashwords. The non-stop action thriller, set in Europe and the Middle East, follows a former Army Special Operations commander on a personal mission to rescue a friend’s kidnapped daughter, only to discover a much bigger threat than he could possibly imagine.
With author JJ Cooper, who penned The Interrogator and Deadly Trust, describing No Remorse as “An edgy thriller that gets straight into the action and doesn’t let up, a plausible plot with a strong and engaging protagonist—intelligent thriller writing”, Ian looks set to establish himself as a thriller writer to watch out for.
Ian, your main character, Lee McCloud, is described as “a loose cannon” by his superior in the secret organisation which he is forced to join. Why do they believe this?
McCloud is a Delta Force special ops guy, trained for the toughest missions, deniable, highly intelligent, used to making quick decisions under extreme pressure. You can bet the bosses worry about whether someone like that can be controlled. Especially after McCloud leads a personal mission, unsanctioned, to rescue two kidnapped girls, which goes terribly wrong.
You have obviously done a lot of research to make sure all your scenes read as truly authentic. How much research did you do, and how did you go about this?
Writers are incredibly varied in how much research they do. Lee Child claims to do no research at all, whereas Gayle Lynds does heaps. I enjoy the research side, so I tend to do lots. I want the guns to be the right type, and to understand how they feel, so I go out and shoot a sniper rifle. I travelled extensively in the Middle East to understand the environment and culture. It was a wonderful experience. I found it difficult to gain the cooperation of Australian military. The US is more open to dealing with authors than in Australia. Two CIA agents even came to Thrillerfest in New York last year so we could ask them questions. The US sees it as good public relations. Australia is a little behind in this regard. Although I could easily find out on the Internet what weapons our soldiers use, the Army’s PR department declined to provide assistance, even though I am a member of the Media Alliance. I know they treat traditional journalists better, so maybe it’s a “first time author” thing. I hope it will be easier to approach people now I’m published.
In No Remorse, you have created memorable characters, including some villains like Sheik Khalid Yubani. Did you have anyone in mind when you wrote this character?
Not really. I was very conscious that there are many wealthy people who own luxury megayachts, so I was very careful checking to ensure the surname I used was not one I could find on the internet. Khalid is a very common Saudi name. There have been billionaire arms dealers with luxury yachts, whose names I’d prefer not to mention. And a dead British publisher with a yacht was reputed to be an Israeli agent. There is also a figure (now dead) associated with a defunct international bank who was alleged to have laundered funds for the CIA. So there are lots of real life personalities we writers can borrow from, but it is important that we generate fictional characters with their own unique personalities, having no resemblance to anyone living or dead (hopefully that will pass legal scrutiny).
Without giving any plot away, can you give us some background on Tally, the woman Lee McCloud has to work with?
Tally is a genius computer specialist with an eidetic memory. McCloud has a past problem with women, and feels that Tally belongs in an office, not out in the field where it’s dangerous. Tally also has a haunted past, which sets up for some good conflict, and some fun in the relationship. Remember the Moonlighting TV series, the movies Mr & Mrs Smith, and Romancing the Stone? They were my inspiration for this relationship. In the end there’s so much action happening I’m not sure I got as much into this as I could have. But I wanted to keep the plot real, and not manipulate the characters just for the fun of it. I also wanted Tally to be a strong woman, not necessarily a straightforward, stereotype. So she has her own unique traits and point of view that make her as much a protagonist as McCloud.
Ian, why did you choose to write a thriller, and especially one that has a main character with a military background? Have you served in the military?
Sadly, I haven’t served. Age 18, I applied and was recommended for the Air Force Academy but unfortunately the medical checks picked up a slight hearing loss I didn’t even know I had. I had my heart set on being a pilot, and no plan B. In some ways, writing novels is my plan B.
As a kid, I was quite an advanced reader for my age, and I loved Wilbur Smith, Alistair MacLean and Robert Ludlum. In my business career, I travelled a great deal, and frequently would buy a novel at the airport bookstore while waiting for the flight. I always dreamed about writing a “Wild Justice” or “Bourne Identity” type novel. These are global thrillers with exotic locations, international conspiracies, big stakes, larger than life characters, weapons and sex. James Bond/Jason Bourne loners against the powerful bad guys. These days it’s a Jack Reacher. My character Lee McCloud is one of these guys, with his own peculiar quirks and weaknesses. I hope the readers like him.
What made you decide to go the self-publishing route with No Remorse?
I had interest from UK and German publishers, but I submitted my manuscript too early in Australia and the US and was rejected by agents and publishers. Once I had worked with a professional editor I was ready to publish, but with the turbulence in the publishing industry I felt that resubmitting the manuscript would take another year and wasn’t prepared to wait. These days self-publishing is a realistic option. Many existing authors are self-pubbing their backlists as ebooks. Barry Eisler just did a deal to self-publish his latest novel, The Detachment, through Amazon Kindle, rejecting a $500,000 advance from St Martins Press to take the higher royalties offered by Amazon.
The other favourable factor is the ebook phenomenon. There are more than seventy million readers in the US alone who own iPads and Kindles or the next generation of tablets that can hold hundreds of books. E-books are cheaper for book lovers, and better for the environment. The maths stacks up. Like it or not, the future is e-books. Traditional bookstores are examining ways of selling e-books now—for them it is about survival.
What is your next challenge?
Testing the willingness by book reviewers in the traditional media to review self-published books. I think if a self-published author surrounds him or herself with professionals to edit, design the cover and promote the book, then these days it should be possible to gain the attention of book reviewers. I’m looking at ways to help other writers self-publish. And having the book available for sale is great motivation for me to complete my second novel, Bait, a crime thriller set in Brisbane, which will be released in April 2012.
Thank you for sharing with us, Ian, and best wishes for a very successful career as a thriller writer.