Posts Tagged ‘Mystery Writers of America’

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:

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 REN is at

I like Internet radio because you can listen to it when you want. For more details, go to my Website at 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.

John Lutz is the author of more than forty novels and more than 200 short stories. He has written everything from horror and occult, to humor, thriller, mystery and suspense. His novel SWF Seeks Same was made into the movie Single White Female, starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh. His novel The Ex was made into the HBO original movie of the same title, which he co-wrote the screenplay for. John is a past president of both Mystery Writers of America and Private Eye Writers of America. He has won such awards as the MWA Edgar, the Trophee 813 Award, the PWA Life Achievement Award, the PWA Shamus, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer Lifetime Achievement Award.

I met John Lutz at a book signing for his novel Serial. He signed a copy of the book for me, which I have to admit, was one of my most exciting rock star moments! I’ve been reading his books for many years, so when I actually met him in person, I was a little nervous. As it happened, I found him to be intelligent, funny in a charmingly quirky way, and very pleasant to be around. I asked him to be a part of the author interviews on my blog because he is one of the novelists who have inspired me to write. He’s a great guy who has taught me much through his excellent novels and his willingness to answer questions about the craft. I am thrilled and honored to pass on some of his views on storytelling, his thoughts on the publishing industry, and a little bit of insight into his own writing process. So… here are my questions, and here are his answers! (For more information, check out John Lutz Online at:

Q: What year was your first book published, and what are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in publishing industry since then?

A) First short story in 1967. Thieves’ Honor, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. First novel in 1971. The Truth of the Matter, Pocketbooks.

I don’t think publishing changed much in fundamental ways until the advent of the e-book. Now it’s changing so fast, and in unpredictable ways, that it’s difficult to keep up with it. Scary, but truly interesting.

Q: When you first got published, what did you do to celebrate?

A) Exhaled. Had dinner with my wife.

Q: How many ‘No’s’ before you got a ‘Yes’?

A) “Many ‘No’s’.  Most writers of my time and ilk would say the same. Usually writers’ “first” novels weren’t first efforts. The e-book has made publishing easier, cheaper. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Q: As a writer, what has been your greatest disappointment?

A) There are a few things I’d sill like to see happen (like seeing one of my novels made into a play), but I don’t think in terms of disappointments. All in all, I feel that I’ve been extremely lucky.

Q: Your novel, SWF Seeks Same was made into a movie, Single White Female, starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh. How did that come about, and what was it like for you?

A) As with some other books that my agent thought had movie potential, the manuscript was sent to his west coast affiliate to shop around. And it found a home.  The rights were bought before the book was published. The entire movie thing was great fun. Yes, I did meet the cast. Watched filming in NYC. Attended premier in LA. Was presented with a screenplay signed by cast and crew. A very positive experience.

Q: Did you meet any of the actors?

A) Met them, watched them work, got to look over the director’s shoulder, tried not to trip over any of the cables. Actually seeing a book made into a movie strengthened my opinion that for best results the movie shouldn’t follow the book chapter and verse.

Q: In researching serial killers, what about them has surprised or intrigued you most?

A) The extent of the violence and physical damage in a stranger-on-stranger rape. And the fact that, according to FBI studies, once a serial killer takes a first step toward his intended victim, if there is no interruption, no matter what the intended victims does, there will be a confrontation. Most serial killers are kind of like guided missiles that have locked onto a target.

Q: What is one question you wish people would ask you, and how would you answer it?

A) “Are you going to write more books?” “Yes.”

Q: You’ve been featured in several of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines and in several anthologies edited by Alfred Hitchcock. Did you ever meet Alfred Hitchcock, and how did his editing style differ from other editors?

A) I never met Hitchcock. To my knowledge he never did any editing, but there was and is a distinct overarching “Hitchcock type” story, featuring suspense, dry humor, and surprising turns. When someone says “Hitchcockian” I think most people have a pretty good idea of what is meant.

Q: What do you think is the greatest misconception people have about you and your work?

A) I can’t be sure about that, because I don’t know what their misconceptions are. Many people do seem to think that writing fiction is easier than it is. You not only have to learn how to write. You have to learn to write. Like you have to learn how to dance before you learn to dance. Takes a lot of dancing.

Q: What do you think is the greatest misconception new and/or aspiring authors have about the industry?

A) That once their book is out there, it will automatically sell. To sell in large numbers books have to be actively sold, ideally through various kinds of advertising that reach large numbers of people. However, the rules are that there are no rules, and sometimes word of mouth can turn a book into a big seller. Or fortunate timing. And yes, now and then a book is so damned good it simply can’t be ignored. But most of those are heavily advertised as books that are so damned good they can’t be ignored. Having said all that, I am aware that I don’t really understand our rapidly changing industry. At this point, I don’t think anyone really understands, or can predict.

Q: In the course of your career, you’ve undoubtedly done an awful lot of book signings. Do you still enjoy them?

A) Sure. It’s nice to make contact with readers, see before you proof that they are actually out there and enjoy your work.

Q: Of the characters you’ve created, who was your favorite, and why?

A) Hard do say. Maybe Nudger, the star-crossed P.I. more suited to selling appliances, with a suicidal girlfriend, a fear of guns, an office above a doughnut shop, and a constant need for antacid tablets.

Q: Are there any of your books that you feel deserved more recognition?

A) Maybe BONEGRINDER, which got great reviews but remains largely unread. It’s kind of hard to fit into a category. Horror, maybe. Or maybe not. It’s recently been republished as an E-book.

Q: Since beginning your career, what invention has most impacted your life as a writer?

A) Has to be the electronic book, but I haven’t yet figured out how.

Q: As a writer myself, I cannot even imagine the days of writing, editing and revising on typewriters. What was it like having to use one for those purposes?

A) I like typewriters. When you’ve run several drafts through one, you have an intimate knowledge of the content, every letter. However, I like writing on computers more. It’s a lot easier in obvious ways, but it takes some tricky adaptation to make the most of it.

Q: Your novel, The Ex, was made into a HBO Original movie of the same title for which you co-wrote the screenplay. How does writing screenplays differ from writing novels, and how are they similar?

A) I think it seems easier to write a screenplay. Maybe it is easier to write a passable screenplay. But they are deceptively simple. To write a good screenplay, worthy of being translated to film or digitalization, is difficult. Lots of people can, and do, write screenplays, but there’s a reason why not a lot of  people write them successfully, and those people, with that rare ability make a lot of money.

Q: What do you consider the highlight of your writing career?

A) I suppose SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, when it was made into a hit movie. It was the number two movie in theaters, and number one in video sales. Would have been the #1 movie if it weren’t for UNFORGIVEN. Also it inspired a lot of women to get their hair cut and dyed in that hairdo that looked great on J,J, Leigh and B. Fonda. On the other hand, maybe I haven’t yet experienced the highlight of my career.

Q: If you could say one thing to a new writer, what would it be?

A) Write, write, write. Write some more.