Saturday, December 18, 2010

Interview of Marilyn Levinson!

This article appeared in the Long Island Romance Writers' newsletter recently and we're proud to present it here. It features Donna Coe-Vellerman interviewing our own Marilyn.

As you'll read below, Marilyn has been busy founding a new Sisters in Crime chapter!


Featuring Marilyn Levinson

By Donna Coe-Velleman

Donna Coe-Velleman - You wrote stories while in high school until an English teacher discouraged you. When you were pregnant with your second child you decided to take a writing course which you weren’t happy with. How did you go from that point to having AND DON’T BRING JEREMY published?

Marilyn Levinson - When my children were young, I took a few writing courses; I wrote poems and short stories. I took a writing course with Roberta Gellis, and we became very good friends. Roberta helped me write my first novel -- a romantic suspense whose premise came to me in a dream. Then I wrote a children's novel. Roberta thought I had a good voice for children's books, and so I wrote a third AND DON'T BRING JEREMY, based on a short story I'd written. I kept sending out my manuscripts, and an editor was very interested in JEREMY. At which time I contacted an agent for a second or third time, and she took me on. A different editor bought the book, and Holt published it.

Velleman - What was one of the hardest things you had to overcome during that period?

Levinson - I suppose the hardest thing was to keep writing despite rejections.

Velleman - After your first publication you went on to have four more juvenile and YA novels published. How did that make you feel?

Levinson - I was glad to sell each book, of course, but once I sold JEREMY and the book received its share of recognition, I had the mistaken idea that every manuscript I wrote would sell. This didn't happen.

Velleman – That must have been a real eye opener. How did you handle that? What did you do?

Levinson - I continued writing. What's the alternative? And I was also either teaching Spanish or subbing in local high schools and middle schools.

Velleman - Do you feel it's harder to break into the YA market or adult mystery?

Levinson - I think each is difficult. For many years, picture books flourished and YAs didn't do well. Now they're back, more popular than ever.

Velleman - Which do you prefer to write mysteries or juvenile/YA?

Levinson - I enjoy writing both. Maybe it's because I raised two sons that four of my juvenile/YA's are told from a boy's point of view. When I write an adult mystery, my sleuth is always a woman.

Velleman - You now write mystery cozies one of which finaled in the Malice Domestic. Does that mean you’re not writing YA anymore?

Levinson - I'll continue to write books for kids when an idea strikes.

Velleman - Can you tell us a little bit about Sisters in Crime and your new chapter?

Levinson - I've belonged to Sisters in Crime, a national organization for mystery writers, for nine or ten years, and to the Guppies -- the SinC online group of prepubbed and newly pubbed writers. It's so friendly and supportive, that when writers start to sell their books, they don't leave the Guppies. We have many subgroups, and some of my dearest friends are fellow Guppies whom I finally met face-to-face this past spring when I attended my first Malice Domestic convention.

I've always lamented the fact there's not a group for mystery writers here on Long Island.

I love my fellow LIRWs, but my concerns are murderers and alibis rather than sexual tension. At Malice, I spoke to a few Sisters who had started a chapter, and I received further help when I got home. I asked my friend, Bernardine Fagan if she would like to co-found a LI chapter, and felt great relief when she said yes. We got a list of names of Sisters in Crime members who live in the area, and started setting up meetings. I was delighted when Hank Phillippi Ryan, a fellow Guppy with several mystery awards to her name along with 26 Emmys for her TV investigative reporting, offered to come to Long Island to be our first speaker. She'll be talking at the Sachem Library in Holbook on December 4th at 2 pm. All are welcome.

Velleman – What’s next in your future?

Levinson - I plan to write more mysteries and novels for children.

Editor's note: Marilyn Levinson is a member of LIRW and Sisters in Crime. You can find out more about her and her work at: and

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On-Line Writing Courses

Peg, I've been writing novels for many years now, but I still take the
occasional on-line writing class. I recently took one on pacing with Mary
Buckham, which I found worthwhile. It reminded me how important it is to
include hooks in our novels -- to keep our readers reading. And it helped me
understand the scene-sequel principle, which I suppose I've been doing
unconsciously as I write along. Do you find writing courses of value?

I thoroughly enjoy taking online classes. I learn something new from each one . What I find invaluable are classes where participants share their work and the feedback from the instructors. Sometimes it's easier to understand a principle when it's applied to someone else's writing! I've taken a number of classes from Mary Buckham, and she's an excellent instructor.

There's so much to keep in mind when working on a manuscript -- the plot, the characters, the setting, the tension. Taking courses reminds us of the various elements we need to incorporate to write a satisfying story.

I also love the camraderie in an online writing class. Most of my family and friends in "real" life aren't writers. It's wonderful to be steeped in a mileu where you can talk writing as much as you want without fear of boring someone! It makes the whole creative process feel more vivid.

I agree. Besides writing classes, I love the camaraderie we writers enjoy via our online discussions. On my recent trip to Turkey I found myself telling my new friends about my close email writing friends.

I think it's critical, though, to make sure you're taking a quality class. There are certain sites that offer excellent classes, and you can also get opinions from other writers. I like to check the instructor's bio--I prefer it if they're published in fiction or if they have experience teaching creative writing at the college level.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Interview with Author Kaye George

Marilyn: Kaye, your blog partners are happy that you've sold your first mystery. Which house is publishing it, and what is your mystery about?

Kaye: Thank you, Marilyn. I'm over the moon! Mainly Murder Press is publishing CHOKE in May of 2011. Here's my proposed back cover (subject to change by the publisher, of course!):

Imogene Duckworthy, unwed mother and resident of
tiny Saltlick, Texas, longs to be a PI. When Uncle Huey
is found murdered, a half-frozen package of
mesquite-smoked sausage stuffed down his throat,
and her mother, Hortense, is taken in for the crime,
she gets her chance. Unclear on the exact duties of a PI,
Immy busts Mother out of jail with a fire in the bathroom
wastebasket. But, on the run from the law, along with
Immy’s toddler daughter, Nancy Drew Duckworthy,
now what?

I was surprised to find this on the back cover (well, not that surprised, since I put it there):
A riotous read!
~Charlaine Harris

Move 'em up, head 'em out, Immy! This western comic
mystery kept me up all night.
~Stephen King

Peg: Did you have an agent to sell your book, Kaye, or did you approach the publishers directly?

Kaye: I submitted to them myself. I wasn't finished with my plan for this project, which was to query all the agents on my list, then query small presses. But my plan was put on hold when MMP opened up to regions outside New England, then announced that they would be closed for submissions for 2011 on July 31st.

This gave me a deadline and, as I always say, I work well under deadline. I had nothing to lose, except the possible, but very uncertain, acquisition of an agent.

I sent the first three chapters, their standard submission, then was asked to submit the whole manuscript. I got it to them just before that July 31st deadline.

Peg: How did it feel when you found out you were going to be a published author?

Kaye: I've been trying to analyze that. When I've had my little triumphs in the past, like getting my first short story accepted, being nominated for an Agatha, I ran around screaming. But with this, my big triumph, the one I've been working toward for eight long years, I breathed a little sigh of relief. Maybe that's because I know what's in store for me next.

Peg: Okay, Kaye, what is in store for you next?

Kaye: A lot of hard work! Promotion, getting my name and book title out as much as possible, gathering places I can make connections, studying how to promote, deciding how much I can spend doing it. I'm not even counting my edits on galley proofs, which I don't have yet, but expect soon.

Marilyn: How do you plan to get the word out to all your future readers that you have a humorous mystery for them to read?

Kaye: Good question, and one I've been asking myself. I'm making a plan. Or rather, a lot of lists. I'm gathering a list of email addresses of people I think might be interested in buying the book. I plan on a one-time email to that whole list with purchase information, asking if they want a newsletter. I also have lists of bookstores and libraries, local book clubs, reviewers, other places I could promote. I'm going to try to put out an interview or a guest blog at least once a month until publication (9 months away). I have things lined up through October so far.

Besides this blog, I've been interviewed at Dry Bones ( on August 13th, and am scheduled in two slots, September 8th and 15th, at Writers Who Kill ( and an essay at Jenny Milchman's blog for her Made It Moment feature. (

I'm donating a basket at Left Coast Crime, 2011, which I was already planning on attending. This will be in March, before my book comes out, but I'll include a book for the high bidder on my basket and send it when it's published. (

I'll think what I can do at Malice Domestic because I'll possibly have books I can sell there, even though it's officially a little before my release date.

I've contacted one local book store for a signing and will be contacting others. And I'm trying to think what to do for a launch party.

For more details as they occur to me, you can peek in at my solo blog, Travels With Kaye.

KD: Would you recommend others to query small presses as well as agents? Or instead of agents?

Kaye: Where you query depends entirely on what you want for your project. If you're bound and determined to get yourself into a major publishing house and be on the shelves in all the big box stores, you have to get an agent. You'll easily sell many more copies with a big publisher, just because of their distribution and because of the visibility you'll have.

If you're bound and determined to get yourself published, and you're willing to do some promotional work, and it doesn't matter to you if you never become a NYTimes bestseller, then I'd recommend the small presses.

Some of the things to check for small press are distribution, publicity, royalty payments, and the rights they are asking for.

There are, also, lots of small presses and they are not all equal. Here, more so even than with agencies, I'd target a select few. If a small press seems attractive to you, I'd go to the expense of buying at least one of the books they've put out to check the editing and the quality of the product. I've done that with two publishers and decided I wouldn't want to be associated with the slipshod, sloppy editing I saw there. I bought three books from MMP, one awhile ago before I even considered querying them, and I liked the product--and the books.

Marilyn: It sounds like promoting this book will keep you busy for the next few months. We're looking forward to reading CHOKE, and hope you sell many, many copies.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Avery Aames Talks About Writing A Work-For-Hire

Avery Aames, author of the newly released Long Quiche Good-Bye from Berkley Prime Crime, is here today to answer some questions about writing a "work-for-hire."

I understand that your book is a work-for-hire. Can you explain what that means?

A publisher comes up with a hook for a series, creates a "bible" (which is an outline including the characters, the setting, and the theme of the series), and then hires an author to write the series (usually based upon an audition to do so).

How has this been easier/harder to write than something you created from scratch yourself?

I love writing for myself, but when I was provided with a bible that the publisher "approved," it made me feel "free." I could write without that little voice in my head telling me that whatever I wrote was garbage. {After enough rejections, that little voice was getting quite vocal!} As I wrote the first book, I was able to remind myself that the publisher wanted this story, and I was providing it with my personal stamp. Words flowed out of me, and I fell in love with the characters and setting. My research wasn't too tough, either.

How much guidance did you receive when it came to plot and characters?

As I said, there's a bible. The bible is about three pages long. This may differ, depending upon which editor came up with the idea. My bible consisted of a few paragraphs of setting and story, a few paragraphs per character that the editor wanted included, and a basic premise for the set-up, the murder, and who did it. I covered all of the bible in the first three chapters. From that point on, the story was all mine.

Does a work for hire differ from other Berkley book contracts when it comes to advances, royalties and print runs?

As far as I know, Berkley pays the same money for any debut novel. The royalties are standard and the print runs depend upon what Berkley thinks will sell at the time of publication. Is cheese hot at the time of publication? They'll print more. Are cupcakes hot? They'll print more. Who knows??!!

Has it been left up to you to plan the next book(s) in the series, or have those plots already been loosely determined?

I came up with the next two plots. I had to run them by the editor, and then I was asked to provide a very thorough outline. Other Berkley authors I know are allowed to write the next book and turn it in, but my editor likes to see an outline. The tweaks she's made have been minor. We communicate in shorthand, and I adore her.

You’ve chosen to use a pen name for the series—why? How did you choose your name?

Because Berkley came up with the hook for the series, they "own" the series. Therefore, they wanted a pseudonym for the author. In the event they elect to have another author, they can use the same name for her. I was able to choose the name. I chose the surname Aames because it is virtually the first in the alphabet, and from a marketing standpoint, that's a good thing. Aames shows up first in lists for libraries and booksellers. Avery Aames has a nice ring, don't you think?
Are you continuing to pursue publication of non-cozies under your own, or another name?

I am continuing to pursue publication of cozies or thrillers under my own name. In fact, my editor is currently reviewing another series idea. We'll see how that goes. For now, I'm thrilled to be writing about cheese. I've fallen in love with my protagonist, my setting, and my stories. And I adore my research. I'm very lucky. Say cheese!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Four Way

We're doing a four way this week. Each of the four of us will tell you a little about what we've been reading. And we'd love to hear what you're reading, too! Marilyn starts us out.

Marilyn: Now that the hot, lazy days of summer are upon us, I have the perfect excuse to read mysteries to my heart's content. I've read three, and each and every one is a masterpiece.

To begin, I enjoyed Elizabeth George's latest, THIS BODY OF DEATH and was happy that Thomas Linley has formed a new romantic relationship after his wife's tragic murder.

Despite the less than rave reviews and the multitude of similar names, I devoured Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST. The book ended on a satisfactory note.

Last but not least, is the book I finished last night: THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley. I first heard about this book at Malice, where it won an Agatha. Like the other two books I've mentioned, this is a novel as well as a mystery, and part of a series -- in this case, the first book in the series. Let me tell you, the sleuth, eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, is just as bold and inventiv in her own way, as Lisbeth Salender. Flavia's a budding chemist who creates poisons. In this debut book, she solves a thirty-year-old murder as well as a current murder her father's accused of having committed. I look forward to reading the next Flavia de Luce book.

Kaye: I loved THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE, which I read before Malice Domestic, in April or May.

Lately I've picked up a couple of non-fiction books that have me hooked. One is THE ZEN OF ZOMBIE: BETTER LIVING THROUGH THE UNDEAD by Scott Kenemore. It's a motivational book based on, well, zombie behavior. The best takeaway so far is a single-minded focus (like, for instance on braaaains). Easy to read an hilarious. I have yet to see if it motivates to do great things.

I'm also reading THANKS, BUT THIS ISN'T FOR US by agent Jessica Page Morrell. I've just run across the best succinct definition of horror, thriller, mainstream, mystery, and romance genres that I've seen. I'm at about the half-way point in this book.

I started ISTANBUL by a native of that city, Orhan Pamuk, and was at first fascinated. It's rather gloomy though, dwelling on the past glories versus the present decaying of the place. I don't know whether I'll finish it or not.

And then I just picked up two by my guilty-pleasure author, Ann Rule. The Barnes and Noble clerk sold me on them (THE I-5 KILLER and SMALL SACRIFICES) when she told me that the two subjects, the man who was the I-5 Killer, and the woman in the other book who shot her children, started corresponding when they were in nearby prisons in Oregon. I just finished the I-5 KILLER and shuddered through the whole thing.

I have Stephen Liskow's WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF DEATH and Avery Aames' THE LONG QUICHE GOODBYE lined up next.

Peg: I haven't been reading all that much this summer--I've mostly been writing and working and babysitting my 5 month old granddaughter! But I did get to read a few things.

I started the season with CAUGHT by Harlan Coben. Wonderful surprise ending that I absolutely did not see coming. It's a great "beach" read, that's for sure.

I followed that with ACCIDENTAL BEST SELLER, a women's fiction book by Wendy Wax. As a writer, it definitely interested me. There are four protagonists--all writers--and they come together to help one of their own who is suffering from writer's block due to the stresses of her life. I would definitely recommend it

Marilyn: I love Harlan Coben. Have several of his novels here in my office among my other 300 books I've yet to get read. Will I ever get to them all? The trouble is, I keep on ordering my favorite authors' latest books from the library. I'm looking forward to reading Tana French's newest mystery, FAITHFUL PLACE.

K D: I'm behind on everything, and just finished the second of the Dragon Tattoo series, The Girl Who Played With Fire. The first pages almost made me stop reading: I could not read The Collector, for example. But I kept reading, and ended by liking the book and liking Lisbeth better than I liked her in the first book. She is just as crusty and annoying in this book, but she cares about people, too.

Of course, liking the book didn't mean that I didn't like Nora Ephron's satire on it in the New Yorker, The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut. I hooted with laughter!

I enjoyed Louise Penney's The Brutal Telling. It's a pleasure to read a book with descriptions of art, snatches of poetry, loving descriptions of French-Canadian cooking, and a good story!

I read John Lawton's Second Violin, a recent thriller that my son suggested I read. It was good, but I am beginning to think that the Second World War is over, at least for me in my reading life.

Kaye: I might be in the strange and unusual (for me) position of having no Harlan Coben in my TBR mini-mountain. Mountains, rather. I probably should put THE GIRL WHO books there, too, at least the first, just to see what all the hype is about. That Nora Ephron piece could be better than the book.

Happy summer reading, everyone!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Freedom From...You Fill in the Blank

KAYE: I've been mulling over this blog entry from Dystel & Goderich agent, Michael Bourret.

In fact, I've already blogged on it once.

What I'm thinking about now is--deadlines. Here's a sample of the deadlines we pre-published writers (more on that later) strive to meet: We enter contests, we exchange chapters, full mss, we keep up with blogs and webpages, we hold down full and part-time jobs while doing that, we engage in email discussions, facebook, twitter, these last to make our presence known. And we generally answer emails.

KD: Well, there's a song, right? "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose"? Janis Joplin, the same troubled woman who wanted a Mercedes Benz.

Apparently, the stress of deadlines is...stressful. Okay. Fine. How about the stress of thinking nothing I do matters to anyone? That nobody is going to read it anyway? That other people will leave their grandkids beautiful embroidered whatchamacallits, and my own grandkids will have to deal with boxes of manuscripts under the bed? What about that?

KAYE: Add in the stress of not meeting those deadlines that I mentioned, too. For instance, you and I are VERY late in our ms swap and my ms is nowhere near done right now. I haven't had a chance to write on it since April!

Here's my typical, planned day Monday through Friday (not that they ever go as planned): emails for an hour starting at 8:00 or 9:00, daily pages for fifteen minutes, then get dressed and try for some exercise. The rest of the morning is for errands, hair appointments, doctors appointments, stuff like that. I work on my work in progress (WIP) for 3-4 hours in the afternoon. Break for Jeopardy! During the ads I critique hard copy for the two manuscript critique groups I belong to, or one of the two short story critique groups. After dinner I write for blogs, usually ending up posting on Facebook and Twitter between 11:00 and midnight or 1:00. Except every other Monday, when my cross-genre writers' group meets, a fifty-five mile drive. And Tuesdays, when Austin Mystery Writers meets, a seventy-mile drive. Fridays I send out ten queries, five for each project I'm seeking publication for at the moment. In spare moments I look over critiques I've received and implement changes I think I need, think about plotting a sequel to the one project I'm querying. The current WIP is a sequel to the other.

Weekends are for short stories and trying to catch up on what I didn't get done. I don't know when is the last time I took a day completely off.

But occasionally I have a day when I just can't do it. What's the use? I don't ever hear back from most of the agents who receive my meticulously crafted query letters. I've taken several courses in how to write them and I get each one critiqued. I tweak each letter for each agent, looking up their attachment requirements. Then I get a request for a partial, or a full, and I come up fighting my black moments.

KD: Well, of course we fight it. We fight the feeling it is all worthless by having writing buddies. We write blogs, enter contests, send out manuscripts and query letter, all that stuff. We build our own support groups, set our own deadlines, read someone else's manuscript in the
hopes they will read and be interested in ours. We rejoice at any sign of hope (she requested a partial!) and eat cyber or real chocolate when confronted with despair (So I got this form rejection on a full. Can't believe it.)

KAYE: I've gotten those form rejections, even a Dear Author once, on a request for a full. Those are bad days. I never seem to get that free feeling. Funny, ain't it?

KD: Look. Somebody wants their freedom? You know, you always HAVE
your freedom. Start another book under another name. Refuse to write
the sequel. It's all up to you.

What the published have, what I WANT and the published HAVE, is the
knowledge that somebody believes in them.

[[picture provided under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation]]

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Travels with A Mind to Murder

K D: I just returned from a week in France. I can't talk too much about it or I will give away my Other Identity (not that anyone cares) but I was traveling with a group, and it was mostly business.

Kaye: Too bad the business is a secret--I'd like to find one that gave me a week in France. I even have to pay my way to Paris, Texas. But we're glad you're back safely!

K D: My trip made me think about murder mysteries. Of course, everything makes me think about mysteries. Seeing the Eiffel Tower makes me think about the movie Lavender Hill Mob. That's just the kind of person I am.

Kate: So, were you thinking of writing murder mysteries, or of watching movies?

K D: Good question. I didn't spend my whole time thinking about old movies. I mostly thought about groups.

I was a member of a group business trip. There were six of us, and I had met only one of the people before I joined the trip. There's a certain kind of social anxiety in that sort of situation. These people, I don't know them, but I am going to hang out with them nearly 24/7 for a few days. Will they like me? Will they be okay with me? Will I offend someone? Will someone murder someone?

Kaye: Group dynamics are so interesting for a writer to study, aside from the individuals, if you had any interesting ones with you.

K D: Okay, the last question was farfetched. No murderers on this trip. But I wonder about the anxiety that underlies the statement. The anxiety of meeting a group of new people, and feeling you are "in their hands" to some extent. Can you think of a book that brings that feeling forward?

Kaye: I think most of the mysteries I read, even the hard-boiled, and thrillers (a few of those) serve me as entertainment. And, of course, studying my craft. It's non-fiction that gives me anxiety. Especially Ann Rule's true crime books. In fiction, everyone is made up and you can dismiss the really bad things that happen--that's only fiction. But in non-fiction, bad stuff really happens!

OK, back to touring and mysteries. When I was in Greece a few years ago and saw the size of the wooden cask in the place where the monks made wine, I couldn't help but picture a body stuffed inside. Did you come away with any ideas you might someday use?

K D: Not really. If anything, I thought about how small and well-maintained everything in Europe tends to be. We're super-sized in America (cars, hotel rooms, etc) so there are more places to stash a body. However, I did find out that they used to mine iron in Normandy: with mines that had shafts on land and then adits running out under the sea. They had the same kind of technology in Cornwall to mine copper. All this is in Victorian days, more or less.

There are still left-over structures from those days, and that might be something to use in a story.

Kaye: I'm always thinking of a way to write off the expenses. If I could just take a fabulous trip, then get published quickly enough.

K D: It's an interesting question: why do we think this way. Not about expenses, about murder. A group of people...will one be a murderer? Odd structures...a place to stuff a body? I don't think this is the natural way to think.

Kaye: Should we donate our brains to science so they can study them? It might be interesting for someone to see what writerly brains have in common. They can't have mine for a good long time, yet, though. I have to get my mysteries published first!

K D: Amen to that, Kaye! Here's to publication!