Besides being an accomplished author of suspense novels and thriller stories (mostly dealing with crime, with a sly mix of humor), Starr Reina is also an Executive Editor for Suspense Magazine. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Los Angeles Chapter and nationally. Starr has won three ‘Best Speaker’ awards as well as ‘Best Evaluator’ at the Voice Ambassadors chapter of Toastmasters. She was a co-chair and main coordinator for the West Coast Author Premiere, a weekend long event. She is represented by the Cliffhanger Literary Agency.
Reina has appeared in a blaze and made her mark on the literary world with her Ivanovich series. The first is In the Name of Revenge and the second, Deadly Decisions. A third in the series is being penned as you read this. Reina is also the author of the young adult novella Cruel Whispers and its sequel novel Cruel Past.
Despite Starr’s busy schedule, she was happy to grant me the following interview. Enjoy!
Weldon Burge (WB): What do you find the most challenging as Executive Editor for Suspense Magazine? The most rewarding?
Starr Reina (SR): The most challenging I would have to say is poorly edited stories before they're submitted to us. I don't mean the paltry punctuation errors, but blatant misspelled words, misappropriate usages, and terrible formatting. The most rewarding? Well, I'd have to say everything else. I'm able to read the reviews, interviews, articles and stories first! The #1 reward is being part of such a fabulous magazine with a great team.
WB: You not only cohosted Suspense Radio Live with John Raab, but you were interviewed. What did you learn from these experiences?
SR: Both experiences were a lot of fun. I was able to speak with some great authors. I learned many things from various persons, such as how they write (style), their marketing endeavors, and much more. During my interviews, I was able to share some of the same information and it was a good feeling. Not to mention how my training from being in Toastmasters really helped.
WB: Coffee or tea or hot cocoa?
SR: Anyone who knows me can answer this question. Coffee, most definitely—but I do enjoy the occasional hot tea (or iced) and hot cocoa in front of a roaring fire in the winter in Big Bear.
WB: In your novels, In the Name of Revenge and Deadly Decisions, the first two books in your Ivanovich series, we have Pavel Ivanovich, a Russian heavy, and Italian mobster Carlo Mancini. How did you research to develop these two characters?
Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog
The following was published in the June 2011 issue of Suspense Magazine. I enjoyed the interview. Thanks to Shannon Raab for the great questions!
Being best known for his gardening articles hasn't stopped Weldon Burge from trying all sorts of things, literary-wise. He does freelance writing for many nonfiction and fiction publications. His nonfiction has appeared in Organic Gardening, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Gardening How-To, Birds & Blooms, Flower & Garden, National Gardening, Delaware Today, Country Discoveries, Grit, Back Home, The Almanac for Farmers & City Folk, and other national magazines.
His fiction has been showcased in Suspense Magazine, Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Grim Graffitti, The Edge: Tales of Suspense, Alienskin, Glassfire Magazine, and Out & About (a Delaware magazine). His stories have also been adapted for podcast presentation by Drabblecast, and have been accepted for the anthologies Don't Tread on Me: Tales of Revenge and Retribution, Pellucid Lunacy: An Anthology of Psychological Horror, Ghosts and Demons, and Something at the Door: A Haunted Anthology. Weldon had several projects brewing, including a police procedural novel and an illustrated chidlren's book. He is also one of Suspense Magazine's book reviewers.
Currently, Weldon is a full-time editor for Independent School Management, which provides a wide range of products and services for private schools. He's been the editor of Ideas & Perspectives, the company's flagship publication, since 1993. He created, posted, and maintained ISM's initial Web site starting in 1995, and is still involved in its development and content. He is also highly involved in the production of the company's other publications.
This month, we showcase our own Weldon Burge. He is always ready to do whatever we ask, and we are so honored to bring him to the forefront in Suspense Magazine's Contributor's Corner for the month of June. Enjoy!
Suspense Magazine (S. Mag.): Fiction, nonfiction, blogging, full-time job, and a family. How do you juggle it all?
Weldon Burge (WB): I do most of my writing around 2 a.m. on Saturdays.
Just kidding—but not entirely. I write wherever and whenever I can find the time: during my lunch break at work, in the evenings after dinner, or even at 2 a.m. on Saturdays. I live a life of deadlines (I’m a full-time editor), and I learned long ago how to prioritize my time. Family comes first. Everything else shakes out from there. So, I set deadlines for myself, but often find that I certainly can’t find time for everything—and that’s when prioritizing comes into play. The projects I deem the most important are the ones that get done. I have an extensive, ever-growing to-do list.
S.MAG.: You’re active in your local writing group, what is the biggest personal benefit of that association?
WB: The writing life is a lonely one. I welcome any opportunity to collaborate with other dedicated writers, both for the camaraderie and for the learning experience—and those are the biggest personal benefits I get from the writing group. My group, the Written Remains Guild, has been instrumental in helping me gain focus on my work from other member perspectives, as I in turn help them by providing my thoughts on their work. The critique sessions are illuminating as well as fun.
Being with the group has also given me the opportunity to perform my first public reading of my own work, alongside four fellow members, at a public library. What I assumed would be a terrifying event was actually fun, and gave me a chance to talk with the audience members afterward. It was a rewarding event, one I look forward to doing again in the future.
S.MAG.: What’s left on your creative “bucket list”?
WB: Novels! I’ve written many short stories and have seen them published in anthologies. I love anthologies, by the way. And I write a lot of nonfiction, particularly gardening articles. But my dream is to publish as many suspense novels as possible before I kick that bucket. I’m currently writing a police procedural set in my home state of Delaware. It involves voodoo, drug running, and freaky violence. I’m having great fun writing it, and I hope it eventually becomes a series. Literary agents out there, please take note!
S.MAG.: What did you want to be when you “grew up”?
WB: A chemist, believe it or not … well, up until I actually took a chemistry class in high school. Ugh! When I was around 10 years old, I loved the idea of taking different chemicals and combining them to create a wholly different product. There’s something magical about that. When I began writing short fiction in high school, I found out that it was much like chemistry, taking raw and often disparate ideas and turning them into a story. Not much difference between good storytelling and alchemy, is there?
S.MAG.: If you could write a message to future aspiring authors and place it in a time capsule for them to read years from now, what would you write?
WB: START NOW!
My only regret is that I didn’t take my writing career more seriously earlier in my life. My advice to aspiring writers is simply don’t put things off. Just do it, whatever it takes. Pay your dues. Churn out writing and market it. Always keep your work on the market. You get a rejection, fix the manuscript if you must, and send it out again. I’ve always believed that the key to successful freelance writing (aside from talent, of course) is momentum and persistence. You just keep at it, evolve as a writer, and success will be your reward.
S. MAG.: Weldon Burge, always at the ready with great advice and an honest opinion of a book he's just read. What more can you ask for! Suspense Magazine is proud to have him on our team. Thanks, Weldon. Keep up the great work. If you'd like to see more of what this very talented man is all about, check out his Web site at www.weldonburge.com.
What if you were in your car, alone with your small child, and you came upon an emergency scene? Would you stop to help? What if, while you are trying to assist a victim of an accident or mugging, you leave your young child alone in the car, thinking he or she would be safe. What if, instead of help, the call to 911 brought a terrifying, sinister result? Who is the monster that, in the midst of the chaos and confusion of the scene, slips in and steals the innocent children leaving, behind no trace for authorities?
This is the premise of the new suspense novel, Cruelty to Innocents: The 911 Abductions, by CK Webb and DJ Weaver, a mother-daughter writing team. The book is the first in a trilogy. I managed to catch up with the two during their blog tour in promotion of the book, and they were happy to answer the following questions.
Weldon Burge (WB): What inspired you to write Cruelty to Innocents (aside from the obvious wealth and fame)?
CK Webb (CK): LOL!!! Isn't wealth & fame enough? Actually writing has always been a big part of who I am, but I lost sight of that fact for a great many years—took a few, big kicks in the pants to get me straightened out.
DJ Weaver (DJ): CK came to me, told me about this idea she had for a movie, and then gave me the spill. She asked if I wanted to help her write it as a book. Knowing that she is a one-finger pecker, I figured, if I didn't help, she would wear her index finder to a nub. So, I agreed.
WB: Talk about your writing process. Do you discuss a chapter at a time, and then assign one of you to write it? How does this work?
DJ: We sit down together and toss ideas around until we have a good outline.
CK: We always discuss a chapter before diving into it, where it is heading and exactly the outcome we would like to see. Then, I handwrite a few thousand words.
DJ: When she finishes a chapter, she dictates to me while I type. I add things along the way and 'flesh' out the story. We both review the draft until we have a chapter that suits us both.
A few years ago, at a writers conference at Wilmington College, I ran into Ed Dee, author of the great police procedurals 14 Peck Slip, Bronx Angel, Little Boy Blue, Nightbird, and The Con Man's Daughter. Ed mentioned that his short story, "Ernie K.'s Gelding," had just been published in the Akashic Books anthology, Bronx Noir. I went straight out and bought the book, loved Ed's story as well as the other stories, and then ordered three other Akashic anthologies. I haven't been disappointed yet!
If you’re not familiar with the award-winning noir anthology series published by Akashic, you’re missing something truly grand! Launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir, the series now has anthologies set in Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, D.C., Las Vegas, Phoenix, and many other U.S. locales, as well as cities and places around the globe, including Toronto, Paris, Mexico City, Havana, Dublin, Moscow, London, and many others. Each story is set in a distinct neighborhood or location within each respective city. It’s a spectacular publishing effort that is still expanding, with editions set in Cape Cod, Pittsburgh, and San Diego scheduled for publication this year.
The recently released anthology, Philadelphia Noir, is another fabulous addition to the series. Read More
J. Gregory Smith’s first novel, Final Price, won First Place in the Fiction Category in the 2010 Delaware Press Association's Communication contest, and was selected as a Quarterfinalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. First released as a self-published work, it is now under contract with AmazonEncore, a new publishing imprint from Amazon.com. Final Price was re-released in November 2010 and is now available at Amazon.com, bookstores nationwide, and in e-book formats.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Greg worked in public relations in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Wilmington, Delaware, where he now lives with his wife and son. In addition to ongoing marketing efforts for Final Price, Smith's young adult novel, Prince Dale and the Crystal Mountain, made the Quarter Finals in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.
I asked Greg to talk with us about his experiences during the creation, editing, and publication of Final Price, among other things. He kindly agreed to the following interview.
Weldon Burge (WB): What inspired you to write Final Price?
J. Gregory Smith (JGS): Following layoffs in the PR industry, I worked for nearly a year selling cars. The dealership and coworkers were nice enough but the nature of the industry puts salesmen and customers in an adversarial position. Anyone in sales can relate to the frustration of dealing with unreasonable customers.
I got the idea for this story during a 12-hour shift on a snowy day with no customers. What if, instead of venting about a lost sale in the break room, a salesman completely flipped out? What if he tracked down his most infuriating prospects? Shamus Ryan was born. The rest of the story built around him and his actions. For setting, I found right where I worked to be perfect. Wilmington, Delaware, is a city that feels more like a small town. Everyone seems to know everyone else, but people from every walk of life come through doors of a car showroom. For the killer, annoying victims come in all shapes, sizes, colors and religions. Because of that, it took longer to establish a recognizable pattern for the cops to follow.
WB: What was your biggest challenge when writing the novel?
Ok, here's the thing. I've never read my own work in public before. You'd think, after freelancing for 30+ years (yes, I know I'm dating myself), I would have taken the opportunity, at least once, to read a short story or excerpt from my writing. To be honest, I don't recall ever even being invited to do so.
On April 16, at 2:00 in the afternoon, I will be reading with my fellow Written Remains Writers Guild members in the Community Room of the New Castle Public Library here in Delaware. This is a wonderful opportunity, a learning experience at the very least.
Can you hear my knees knocking?
I'm a bit anxious about the reading. Like most writers, who are typically more like hermits than spotlight-stealers, I loathe public speaking. And how ironic that the story I intend to read is a flash piece titled "Performance Anxiety." Must be something karmic going on here!
The story was originally written for Drabblecast, a weekly audio fiction podcast; the production of the story was posted on the Drabblecast Web site back in 2008. Norm Sherman's reading of "Performance Anxiety" was spot-on excellent. I hope I can do the story justice when I read it.
So, I've been practicing using a handheld digital recorder. The story is flash fiction, right around 500 words. No sweat, right? I've rewritten parts of the story because I tended to stumble over some phrasing—for example, I changed "luxurious auburn hair" to "magnificent red hair." My friends will tell you that I tend to mumble, my brain racing ahead of my tongue. This usually results in a nasty entanglement of words tumbling from my mouth. Think "The King's Speech" with no sense of regality. So, I'm excising any stumbling blocks in the content of the story. I'll do anything to make it easier to read.
You may be wondering why this blog is called "Bullets and Butterflies." Simple, really. While my fiction tends to be on the dark side, primarily horror and suspense (bullets), I also write a good deal of nonfiction, particularly on the subject of gardening (butterflies). Although I focus more on fiction writing in this blog, I will often discuss garden writing as well.
I've enjoyed writing for Gardening How-To for many years now, and fully appreciate Amy Sitze and her editorial staff. My latest article, "Unusual Salad Greens," is in the current issue. "Fresh garden salad means much more than just lettuce or spinach these days. Why limit yourself, especially when less-familiar greens such as claytonia, orach, corn salad, and cress are so easy to grow in your home garden?" I also described other greens such as purslane, mustard greens, arugula, upland cress, watercress, endive, escarole, and a few others. The graphics staff at Gardening How-To provided excellent photos to illustrate the article content. Bravo!
When I write articles like this, my intent is to teach gardeners to experiment with different varieties, different techniques, and new strategies to improve their gardening experience. I especially love to teach folks how to grow crops they generally can't find at the local produce market.
Michael Bailey is the author of the nonlinear horror novel, Palindrome Hannah, which contains five interrelated tales as well as a secret sixth story that plays out backward through the other stories. The entire book is structurally a palindrome. The novel’s sequel, Phoenix Rose, is also experimental horror. Michael is also the author of the short story and poetry collection, Scales and Petals, and is working on his third novel, Psychotropic Dragon.
His first foray into editing is an anthology of psychological horror, Pellucid Lunacy, which was just recently released. The anthology is a collection of 20 bizarre stories, from authors with unique styles and imagination. All profits from the anthology are being given to charity—it truly is a labor of love!
I asked Michael to talk with us about his experiences during the creation, editing, and publication of Pellucid Lunacy, among other things. He kindly agreed to the following interview.
Weldon Burge (WB): Before we talk about Pellucid Lunacy, I want to ask you about your other books, specifically why you went the self-publishing route. Editorial and artistic control? Or more than that?
Michael Bailey (MB): Few publishers are interested in new authors. With experimental horror fiction, there are even fewer. Palindrome Hannah is a nonlinear meta-novel. When first sending it to publishers (agents wouldn’t touch it), I received a dozen personalized letters and enough form rejections to bind a book that would probably sell. They all said the same thing: dark, ambitious, risky. Publishers weren’t interested in artsy; they wanted cookie-cutter moneymakers. Experimental rarely sells. After polishing the novel for four years, I decided to put it out there myself to see what would happen. It sold close to 1500 copies by word of mouth and was a finalist for the 2006 Independent Publisher Awards—rave reviews, the works. It was then that I realized I would never submit to cookie-cutter and would forever push my love for nonlinearity, which of course spawned Phoenix Rose, an even stranger novel (listed for the 2010 National Best Book Awards), and my short story collection, Scales and Petals. I now have a new imprint I call Written Backwards. For me, it’s more than editorial control, although that has a lot to do with it. I simply want to publish what no one else will publish, fiction that disregards conventionality.
WB: What then possessed you to pull together, edit, and publish a horror anthology?
A common question writers are asked is, "So, where do your story ideas come from?" Stephen King, on his official Web site, answered the question in this way: "I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it's seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question 'What if?' 'What if' is always the key question."
I totally agree. Ideas come winging at me like missiles from anywhere and everywhere--overheard snippets of conversations, newspaper items, TV commercials, even graffiti on a city wall! There are so many ideas that I couldn't possibly write all the stories that occur to me. I have notes everywhere, jotted in moments of hot inspiration. Writer's block? What's that? The trick is just being open to whatever occurs to you, and then asking that magic question, What if?
If you know any writers, you’ve probably heard something like the following: “I started to write a scene in my novel, pretty much following my outline. But then one of the characters went into a totally different direction. Before long, the characters ending up writing the scene for me, in a way I never expected. And it’s better because of it!”
Non-writers scratch their heads at this. Is this some form of magic? Is there really a muse that usurps the writer’s brain and writes the story? Is this something like the cobbler’s elves?
I was just working on a chapter in my police procedural novel, tentatively titled Harvester of Sorrow. In the chapter, the body of a child is discovered in a remote area of a county park, and the murder may be related to similar murders in a nearby city. This brings up a case of jurisdiction (county vs. city police departments) that I hadn’t considered earlier, and this required that I create a new character, a detective from the county PD. The character was originally only a walk-on, but I quickly realized he was a more significant character, and he changed the chapter as I wrote it. He will appear in subsequent chapters.
The January 2011 issue of Writer’s Digest includes an interview with Harlan Coben, best-selling author of numerous thrillers such as Tell No One, Just One Look, Long Lost, Hold Tight, and Caught. During the interview, WD asked, “So do your characters ever surprise you—do they become real to you in that way?” He answered, “Oh, they surprise me all the time. … I don’t like it when people make it seem more magical. It’s not. It’s work. It can be wonderful, and it can be thrilling, but it’s not really magical.”
When I first read this, I honed in on Coben’s claim, “It’s work.” I know what he means. Characters may seem to take on lives of their own, but only after the writer has given great thought to those characters, has worked with them in the story, has fully developed them. Maybe, as a writer, you’ve learned something more about the character as a scene progresses, and the character moves into that new area as your broaden that character’s role in the story. Magic? I don’t think so. It comes from hard work, from the writer being intimate with the characters he/she has created.
Maybe, as the characters have matured in your mind, they no longer fit the outline you originally devised, simply because it forces them to act out of character. This may be a surprise, that a character may go through door B instead of door A as you originally envisioned. But, it’s really no surprise at all—you’re subliminal thoughts were headed in that direction as the character was being developed. No magic. Just hard work.
When characters take over a story, it’s almost always a good and desired turn of events. As a writer, go with the flow. Think of it as a reward for the work you’ve already put into your work-in-progress!