I’ve never met Elaine Viets in person, but I have, on at least one occasion, missed her by a matter of minutes, and… I have one of her pens. I didn’t mean to steal her pen, honest. She left it on a desk at a bookstore where she visited to sign some books, I ended up using it for something or another, and as is the fate of all pens I happen upon, it ended up in my pocket. So, Elaine Viets, if you’re reading this now… I am sorry. I stole your pen. (I kinda hope you don’t need it back, because I’m pretty proud of my Elaine Viets Pen…)

Elaine Viets is the author of the Dead-End Job series, the Francesca Vierling series, and the Josie Marcus series, as well as several short stories and other novels. She is an active member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime organizations.  In 2004 she was nominated for three Agatha Awards, and the next year, she won two Best Short Story Awards.

I wanted to ask Elaine to do an interview because, first, I have heard wonderful things about her, and second, I am a personal fan of her work. She was as kind to me as everyone said she would be, and I am glad to have been able to get some insight into her writing life. For more information on Elaine Viets, visit her website at: http://www.elaineviets.com/

Q: When did you start writing?

A: In high school. I wrote a really bad column for the St. Thomas Aquinas school newspaper. I started writing mysteries in 1997. I currently have two series: The Dead-End Job mysteries, set in South Florida, where I live now, and the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper Novels, set in my hometown of St. Louis.

Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

A: No. In grade school I was going to be an artist, until I realized I couldn’t draw. The nuns at St. Thomas Aquinas in Florissant steered me into journalism, and I am forever grateful to them. The newspaper business was good training to be a writer: It taught me dialogue, research and how to make deadlines.

Q: What makes you smile?

A: Classic Warner Bros. cartoons and funny movies like Will Ferrell’s “Blades of Glory” and John C. Reilly’s “Walk Hard.”

Q: Is there anything about the publishing industry that you especially respect?

A: There’s a lot I respect, especially the team work it takes to produce a mystery. I’m lucky to work for a good house, NAL, a division of Penguin. My editor, Sandy Harding, does a tough but thorough job of editing my books. She’s good at pointing out plot holes and inconsistencies and telling me which characters need to be developed. Sandy wants the plot lines tied together and all major characters have to have some role in the mystery — they aren’t allowed to stand around and look cute. Usually I sulk for a bit when I get her criticisms, then make most of the suggested changes. Since I started working with Sandy I’ve received the best reviews of my career.

Q: What do you think is the most troubling thing about the publishing industry?

A: The uncertainty. E-books have changed the game. It’s getting harder now to predict a book’s print run, because publishers are not sure how many books will be hardcovers and how many e-books. We’re still waiting to see how many libraries will adopt e-readers and what kinds of agreements publishers have for e-book loans.

Q: What are some of the best marketing strategies for new authors?

A: Have a Website that’s easy to navigate. Join authors’ organizations. For mystery writers, those include the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Go to the major conferences for your genre. In my case that’s Malice Domestic, Sleuthfest and sometimes Bouchercon. Know your local booksellers, chain and independent, and support them. My career was greatly helped by the booksellers who recommended my mysteries.

Q: How has your writing changed since you first began?

A: It’s gotten darker.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I just finished reading the copy-edited version of my new Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper novel, “Murder Is a Piece of Cake.” It will be published in November 2012. Now I’m writing my new Dead-End Job Mystery, “Board Stiff.” It’s a real beach book — it takes place in a South Florida beach town. The competition for beach concessions is murder — literally, in my novel. I’m taking stand up paddleboarding lessons for part of my research.

Q: Which of your books was the most fun to write?

A: “Final Sail,” my latest Dead-End Job mystery. I loved writing about the Upstairs-Downstairs world of the yacht owners and yacht crew. Plus, yacht chef Victoria Allman fixed me some very good meals. For research, of course.

Q: Do you have a favorite character?

A: Helen Hawthorne. She’s my alter ego when it comes to working those lousy jobs. We have similar attitudes toward work.

Q: What is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you since becoming an author?

A: One woman sent me an email saying she’d kill me if I hurt Phil, a private eye in the Dead-End Job series. Helen was thinking about marrying him, but this reader knew a male character was especially vulnerable near his wedding. Writers often kill off a spouse just before or after the wedding to keep a series going for two or three more books. Phil is now Helen’s husband in the Dead-End Job mysteries and she is also a private eye. I think this woman reader was kidding when she threatened me, but I made sure nothing happened to Phil, just in case.

Q: What would you say to your “number one” fan?

A: Thanks for reading me.

Q: Do you do other work besides write?

A: Yes, I host a half-hour Internet talk show on Radio Ear Network called the “Dead-End Jobs Show.” I interview people with interesting and off-beat jobs. The show streams three times a week in 148 countries, or you can listen to the show at http://www.mixcloud.com/tag/elaine-viets/. REN is at radioearnetwork.com

I like Internet radio because you can listen to it when you want. For more details, go to my Website at elaineviets.com and click on Radio.

Q: What is the number one question you get asked? And are you just plain tired of answering it?

A: They ask, “Is ‘Final Sail’ the last book in the Dead-End Job series?”

No. I’m working on the twelfth book now, “Board Stiff.”

Q: Do you think personality plays as large a part in marketing one’s self as the quality of the material written?

A: Yes, and I think you should choose marketing options that suit your personality. I enjoy public speaking, so I give lots of talks. If you’re not good at speaking, think about using the Internet to promote yourself.

Q: You divide your time between St. Louis, Missouri and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Which of these cities do you find more inspiring?

A: They’re both inspiring in different ways. South Florida is unpredictable and wacky and I like writing about life there. St. Louis is a quiet, Midwestern city. It has its weird moments, but the society is more structured than South Florida.

Q: Do you believe in Muses, and do you have one of your own?

A: I study my credit card bills for inspiration.

Seriously, if I’m having trouble with a book, I know I’ve been too isolated. I have lunch in a restaurant and listen to conversations. That’s what helped spark “Final Sail,” which is set aboard a luxury yacht. I overheard two woman at lunch in Seasons 52 and one was complaining about how her yacht only had once staircase and she didn’t like running into the staff on it. You can imagine how sorry I felt for her.

I also meet with writer friends, like Kris Montee, (one-half of the writing team, PJ Parrish) for whine and wine sessions. I always come back energized and ready to write after those.

Q: Have you ever had writer’s block, and if so, how did you combat it?

A: Writer’s block is a luxury. I had a bad case once when I couldn’t start the third book in my first mystery series. My agent told me not to write for a month. I didn’t write for a full week, but then I started thinking of ways to start the book and a week later I was writing full-tilt. I guess child psychology works on me.

Q: What do you think your greatest strengths as a writer are?

A: Creating believable characters and walking the line between humor and parody.

Q: What do you consider your greatest weakness and how do you combat it?

A: I’m easily distracted by the Internet. I’ll get online, determined to post on Facebook, Tweet and then go  straight to work. An hour later, I’m listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” live or watching funny pet videos on YouTube.

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Comments
  1. elaineviets says:

    Can you steal from a pen thief? Pens have a habit of sticking to my fingers, too. Glad this one went to someone who’s giving it a good home.

  2. Thanks for the many sacrifices you make for your readers, Elaine . . . and if you need a friend for revisiting the yacht, I’ll be there for you!

  3. Linda L. Bennett says:

    I have my computer home now, it had a great vacation with my daughter Michelle. HAHAHAHAHAHA! Another fabulous interview. 🙂

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