When Thin Blood took off like it did, I was probably more surprised than anyone. Sales exceeded all my expectations ten times over.
Our interview today is with one of my favorite mystery authors. A review of her book Brittle Shadows was my choice for the inaugural post on Books and Pals more than a year and a half ago.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
That’s a hard one. I could give the pat answer and say it was when I was in primary school and won a children's short story competition for a national magazine, but it’s more complicated than that. I also wanted to be a veterinarian, a doctor, a pathologist, and a lawyer. Instead, I ended up in accounting and business management.
To say you wanted to be a writer was like saying, I want to be a movie star, a pipe dream. It wasn’t until 2002 when ill health had me assessing my priorities that I decided to pursue that dream, much to the consternation of many friends, who saw it as dropping out of society. Who was I to think I could write novels for a living?
They were right, of course, I didn’t make a living from writing for the first eight years. And if it weren’t for the indie revolution, I still wouldn’t be. In reality, if it weren’t for ebooks, I would’ve had to throw in the towel by now.
Each of your books are mysteries set in Australia, where you live. How has the rest of the English-speaking world reacted to this? How do you think the Australian setting helps and hurts you with readers?
Overwhelmingly, the response has been positive. From the emails I receive, Americans and Brits are intrigued with life Down Under, with many saying they’d like to visit.
I write using Australian spellings, but because my primary market is the US, I change spellings for those words where pronunciation doesn’t change e.g. colour/color, neighbour/neighbour. However, I try to stay true to our Australianisms e.g. mum not mom, footpath not sidewalk, arse not ass.
Your first book, Thin Blood, was one indie book I was aware of having a prolonged ride at the top of the Amazon Bestseller list. Tell us about this book?
The story starts when stockbroker Craig Edmonds wakes with blood on his hands and no memory of the night before. His wife is missing, the only evidence she’d been there blood and hair in the boot/trunk of her car. Then there’s Craig’s affair with his wife’s sister…
Thin Blood’s theme is that blood is not always thicker (the title is a play on words). Like all my novels, Thin Blood is more about people, relationships, secrets, lies and truth, than the crime itself. It’s a fast, easy and, I hope, gripping read.
If I were to give it a classification rating it’d be MA15+. There is no overt violence or sex, but there is language some may consider offensive.
Did the success Thin Blood had catch you off guard or did you sense it was about to take off?
Off guard would be an understatement. When Thin Blood took off like it did, I was probably more surprised than anyone. Sales exceeded all my expectations ten times over. Was it the cover? The blurb? The book itself? I still have no idea what the catalyst was, but I firmly believe luck played a large part, being in the right place at the right time. That and a sprinkling of fairy dust.
One of the things I’ve noticed and the first thing your fellow authors mention when your name comes up is how well your books are plotted. They plots are more complex than many, yet in the end you manage to tie everything up neatly. For me, this raises the question as to how you approach writing your books. When you sit down to start hammering out the first draft how much do you know about the story? Do you do a detailed outline, fly by the seat of your pants, or something in between?
I used to think of myself as a pantser, but if I’m to be honest, I have most of the story plotted out before I start writing, even if only in my head. With mysteries, you have to know the crime, the culprit, and the motivation before you start – there’s no getting away from that.
I’ve used a different brainstorming method for plotting each book, sometimes a combination. First, there was the large whiteboard, which worked well when I was sitting in front of it every day. Then I dabbled with StoryLines (story development software that is now part of Writer's Café) that had its good points, but which I think would be better suited for screenwriting. Next came the large, unwieldy sketch pad. Not bad. Finally, the index cards – the physical ones I find great for getting your thoughts down and into some semblance of order; the virtual ones – Text Block Writer (freeware) – provides an electronic backup.
I also maintain spreadsheets for characters and settings, plus weather, sunrise and sunset times. After I finish each chapter, I update the timeline and chapter summary. It’s a good reference tool (can’t rely on my memory) and makes writing the synopsis at the end so much easier.
You mentioned hammering out a first draft. My writing method is more like Dean Koontz’s, who will rewrite a page until it's right before moving on, sometimes redoing a draft thirty or forty times. Except with me, it’s a chapter not a page. Though it is a slow process, it does mean that by the time I type “End,” there’s only one more pass required before I send it to the editor.
After Thin Blood, which came out in April of 2010, you released two additional books, Sleight Malice and Brittle Shadows that same year. First, tell us about these books.
Sleight Malice is a story I had running around in my head for some time, sparked by an unusual murder case (that’s as much as I can say for fear of spoiling the story) I read about in of all places, an old Reader’s Digest I found in a doctor’s waiting room.
One cold Melbourne winter's night a suburban bungalow goes up in flames. When a badly charred body is discovered in the remains, web designer Desley James is devastated. That’s until she learns the unidentified male body is not that of her friend and her husband...
Most of my books are set in Australia’s summer, but I decided to set this one in winter. From the comments I’ve received, many are surprised we actually have a winter. Okay, snow is a rarity except in the mountains, but it still gets bleeping cold.
Brittle Shadows also started life in a murder (or was it?) case, a high profile Australian one that has dragged on for years. Of course, I twisted and mangled the facts and characters beyond recognition, so the standard “all characters are fictitious” disclaimer still applies:
Two months after finding her fiancé's naked corpse hanging from a wardrobe rail in their apartment, Jemma’s Dalton’s sister takes her own life, leaving Jemma to probe the dark shadows of her sister’s life. But shadows, like bones, grow brittle with age.
Were these books something you had written previously or do you write that fast?
I wish. Alas, it usually takes me about twelve months to write a novel. Sometimes less, sometimes more. I’m so envious of those writers who can churn out multiple novels in that time.
You released one book, Fatal Liaison, in 2011. Tell us about this book.
First the blurb:
The lives of two strangers, Greg Jenkins and Megan Brighton, become inextricably entangled when they each sign up for a dinner dating agency. Greg's reason for joining has nothing to do with looking for love. His recently divorced sister Sam has disappeared and Greg is convinced that Dinner for Twelve, or at least one of its clients, may be responsible. Neither is Megan looking for love. Although single, she only joined at her best friend Brenda De Luca's insistence. When a client of the dating agency is murdered, suspicion falls on several of the members. Then Megan's friend Brenda disappears without trace, and Megan and Greg join forces. Will they find Sam and Brenda, or are they about to step into the same inescapable snare?
The original novel was Dinner for Twelve, which I wrote before Thin Blood. I’d actually consigned it to the bottom drawer, but prompted by a reader, I decided to revisit it. I probably spent as long rewriting it as it took to write, but I liked the story and felt I could do it more justice with the experience and skills I’d developed in writing four novels than I did back then.
While your first three books are self-published, Fatal Liaison shows the publisher as Patmay Press. Does this indicate a change in your direction or approach to publishing?
Yes and no. My mother died twenty-five years ago at the age of forty-six. Even though she’s not here to share my success, I know she would’ve been my biggest supporter and a proud mum. So when I started looking at publishing as a business and needed a name, it was only natural that I commemorate my mother at the same time. Her name was Pat(ricia) May.
What are your future writing plans?
Rinse and repeat. :) At this stage, the plan is to continue writing Australian mysteries for as long as readers want to read them.
My latest novel, Bitter Nothings, is out on submission and I am hopeful that it will picked up by a publishing house. I like to think you can have your cake and eat it, too. When it comes to indie publishing and trad publishing, does it have to be a case of either/or?
Thanks for having me, Al.
For More Vicki
For more, visit Vicki's website. You might also enjoy her blog Eucalypt Habitat, a photoblog about living in rural Australia.