Monday, June 25, 2012

Author Chat with Shelly Frome

We welcome author Shelly Frome to the Ludis today. Kirkus Reviews had this to say about Twilight of the Drifter, Author Shelly Frome churns out a laudable crime thriller. A novel with impeccable Southern flair as soothing and cool as the notes from the protagonist’s bluesharp.” So pour a cuppa and enjoy our chat. 

A bit about our guest: 
Shelly Frome is a member of Mystery Writers of America, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, a former professional actor, a writer of mysteries, books on theater and film, and articles on the performing arts appearing in a number of periodicals in the U.S. and the U.K.. He is also a film critic and frequent contributor to writers’ blogs. His fiction includes Tinseltown Riff, Lilac Moon, Sun Dance for Andy Horn and the trans-Atlantic cozy The Twinning Murders.  Among his works of non-fiction are the acclaimed The Actors Studio and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. His latest novel is Twilight of the Drifter, a  southern gothic crime-and-blues odyssey. He lives in Litchfield, Connecticut.

Tell us about your latest book Twilight of the Drifter.
 Twilight of the Drifter is a crime story with southern gothic overtones. It centers on thirty-something Josh Devlin, a failed journalist who, after a year of wandering, winds up in a Kentucky homeless shelter on a wintry December.  

Soon after the opening setup, the crosscurrents go into motion as Josh comes upon a runaway named Alice holed up in an abandoned boxcar. Taken with her plight and dejected over his own squandered life, he spirits her back to Memphis and his uncle’s Blues Hall CafĂ©.  From there he tries to get back on his feet while seeking a solution to Alice’s troubles. As the story unfolds, a Delta bluesman’s checkered past comes into play and, inevitably, Josh finds himself on a collision course with a backwoods tracker fixated on the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and the bluesman. By extension, Josh is also unwittingly up against the machinations of the governor-elect of Mississippi.

In a sense, this tale hinges on the vagaries of chance and human nature. At the same time, some underlying force seems to be seeking closure and long overdue redemption.

Was there a part of this story you found difficult to write?
The only thing that was difficult was allowing the story to unfold while, at the same time, incorporating all the threads. For instance, Roy, the backwoods tracker, often harkens back to the tactics of his Confederate ancestor and his own escapades during the Civil Rights days in Oxford, Mississippi while attempting to make sure that long hidden secrets never see the light of day. At the same time, Alice, the runaway, is suffering from temporary amnesia as she goes through her own story arc. And then there is AdaMae, Alice’s visionary aunt, who worries that Alice may be in league with the devil. As things progress, Josh becomes involved with LuAnn, a luncheonette manager who is also concerned about Alice’s plight when Alice takes off again. Not to mention the growing tension between Josh and Dewey the bluesman who becomes increasingly under the gun.  And on and on, it goes.  

What inspired the idea for Twilight of the Drifter?
It all started when a friend of ours invited us down to the hill country of Mississippi who’d inherited a backwoods cabin and was in the process of fixing it up. At one point, he suggested that he and I take an exploratory walk. Following a narrow overgrown path, soon we became entangled in briars, edged past some barbed wire as the terrain sloped down and eventually came across waterlogged limbs sticking out like menacing pitchforks. At that moment, I turned to him and said, “Bob, do you have any idea where we are?”

He gave me a half-wary half-mischievous look and said, “Shelly, I believe this here is Wolf Creek.”
 Then and there something began to percolate. That selfsame feeling there were buried secrets here that would never see the light of day.

What drew you to write in the genre crime/mystery novels?
 Perhaps the best way to explain it stems from something the renown actress Julie Harris once told me. “In one way or another, the given circumstances have to be a matter of life and death. Otherwise, why go to all the trouble?” Put another way, the journey has to be worth the candle. In the case of the Drifter, we’re talking about a mysterious calling to right a great wrong.

As a writer who is also a film buff, a movie critic, a professor of film as well as theater, and the author of a book on screenwriting, there’s another major factor. As the movie camera takes you anywhere and everywhere, so does the central character. And the places you go have a distinct character of their own affecting everything that happens. And that’s at least one reason that writing within the parameters of this genre results in passages my readers find so engrossing and vivid.    

Does your experience as an actor bringing characters to life help you to do the same with the characters in your novels?
  Absolutely. Every character who appears has a through-line and a stake in the action. Everyone is coming from somewhere, motivated and changes because of who they are and the ongoing give-and-take. It’s all a process of becoming. In a wonderful, mysterious way there can be no manipulation on my part because everything would stop until I backed off and allowed people to be true to themselves. In a sense, there’s always the question, Who am I? What do I want? What stands in my way? What now, given the way things are going, in view of what I need and what I’m capable of?

And, needless to say, I play every character.

What do you feel are the key elements for a good mystery?
I think there has to be a fascinating dilemma involving three-dimensional characters, intelligent protagonists and antagonists and a provocative setting. Some unfolding journey far beyond the puzzle solving musings of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot and the one-dimensional stock characters and stick figures they encounter.

What is your favorite crime/mystery television show or movie?
 I don’t have any favorites. But I’m sure the same guidelines apply to crime shows and movies I’m drawn to like the Inspector Morse series on BBC, old classic movies like The Maltese Falcon and recent films like The Talented Mr. Ripley and Michael Clayton.

What is your writing ritual?  Do you write daily, have a word count/page goal, have a certain time of day you write better than others or a certain place that helps you focus?
 In one way or another, I seem to be always writing. Once a noted playwright told me that every time he’d ask another noted playwright how his latest was going, the answer would always be, “It’s coming along. I’m still working on it.” Eventually the answer would be, “Ah, it’s finally finished. Now all I have to do is write it down.”  I simply follow the energy. Perhaps it’s polishing a scene and that usually takes place later in the day tapping away on the computer. Research consists of going places, interviewing people and/or experts in their field, looking things up, etc. But given the fact that I’m an incurable storyteller, a lot of daydreaming goes on morning, noon or night.  

Do you have any projects you’re working on?
 I've just started a new project based on a character who looks a lot like James Dean who unwittingly keeps getting in trouble and is now a person of interest in an untimely death.

What would you like to say to readers and fellow writers?
 There seems to be a flood nowadays of self-published e-books and print on demand. Writers and would-be writers who seem to think it’s all about cranking stuff out and then spending a great deal of energy on promotion tactics on the Internet. There is a huge difference when the work is the result of a slow simmering process, editorial oversight and more before the novel is ready to be distributed. In other words, there’s a question here: How much heart and soul, art and craft went into this final product? There’s a question here for both readers and fellow writers to ponder.

Where can we find Shelly Frome and Twilight of the Drifter?
 Amazon (paperback and Kindle)
Barnes and Noble (paperback and Nook)
@shellyFrome (Twitter)  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Author Chat with MS Spencer

Please join us in welcoming M.S. Spencer to the Ludis. She'll be chatting with us today about her recently released novel and thoughts about how romance writers are perceived. There might even be a secret or two that gets loose! So refill that glass of sweet tea and enjoy our chat. Don't forget to leave some comment love. 

Author M.S. Spencer

What inspired you to begin writing?
Like most writers, I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil in my chubby baby fingers. I wrote a full-length murder mystery, which opened to relatively rave preliminary reviews by an agent. Unfortunately, she decided agenting wasn’t for her and quit before we got any further. Then a few years ago I was laid up for six months, and one night had a vivid dream. That (and the enforced rest) inspired me to write my first novel, Lost in His Arms, published in 2009 (shameless plug: now in print through Amazon : 

Are you a fulltime author or do you have a ‘day job’? Does it ever play a role in your writing?
I write pretty much full-time. I have a part-time job as Executive Director of the Friends of the Torpedo Factory Art Center—giving me access to wonderfully eccentric artists and an office with a view of the Potomac and Old Town Alexandria waterfront.

According to your bio at Secret Cravings Publishing, you’ve lived in many places around the world. Do your experiences abroad affect your stories? How?
Of course. I try to include a visit to Paris (not always successfully) in almost every story. The only problem is I find my memories of some places are not clear enough to use without extensive further research to make the settings precise and accurate. Sometimes, (sigh) this means a repeat trip to some wonderful place.

You have a new novel on the shelves Artful Dodging: the Torpedo Factory Murders. Please tell us a bit about it.
My latest release takes place in Old Town Alexandria, an historic cobble stoned city on the Potomac River in Virginia.  It follows the adventures of several artists at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. An old munitions factory on the waterfront, The Center lay abandoned after World War II until the 1970s, when an intrepid band of local ladies convinced the city to lease it to them. Today it houses 82 studios, the Art League, the Friends of the Torpedo Factory, and an Archaeology center.

Released April 24, 2012 by Secret Cravings Publishing
65,000 words; ISBN 978-1-61885-250-2
Romantic Suspense/Murder Mystery; M/F; Heat rating: 2 flames

Waiting out the rain, Milo Everhart takes stock of her widowhood and the handsome man standing in the door to the bar.  Little does she know she will meet that man again and again under both passionate and terrifying circumstances.

Tristram Brody waits for his date, too conscious of the beautiful woman sitting by the door. Little does he know that she will hate him for trying to destroy her beloved art center, and even suspect him of murder. Nor that she will be drawn inevitably into his arms.

Little does either of them suspect they will be embroiled in not one, but two murders, in which the fate of the Torpedo Factory, an art center housed in an old munitions factory on the waterfront in Old Town Alexandria, will be decided.

What was the hardest part about this story to write?
Because the story mirrors real events (some of which I didn’t anticipate), the most difficult part was to disguise real characters and change the course of events to make sure it remained fiction.

Do you have a favorite scene, why is it your favorite? Please share it with us.
Oh definitely, the scene where she finds the body. Or maybe the scene with reporters acting like, well, reporters. Here’s a bit of that (there’s more but it would reveal too much plot):

The same anchor babe as before—only this time in a slinky knit dress and bright pink lipstick—announced in a voice bordering on hysteria that there were new developments in the Doyle antique robbery.

“Martin, can you tell us what the police said at the press conference today?”

Martin tore off his makeup bib to reveal sartorial resplendence unmatched by any other non-cable correspondent. “Actually, no, Rebecca.” He straightened his purple Versace tie and faced the camera with what he obviously thought was a compelling smile. “I’m standing here in front of the warehouse where the police located the first stash of stolen goods. Of course, they were removed yesterday, but I’m still here in hopes of more news.

Anything rather than schlep down to the police station where they held the news conference. For that, we go to my intern Jimmy. Jimmy?”

He didn’t really say that. Did he?

Jimmy, a bright-eyed, big-eared young college student, looked about to wet his pants.

“Rebecca! Rebecca! Can you hear me?” He tapped his earpiece, almost knocking the anchor babe off her perch and revealing way too much of a fairly decent pair of legs.

“Yes, Jimmy.” She shook her hair out and shot a surreptitious look at the mirror on her desk. “What can you tell us?”

What are three things not many people know about you?
Oh, let’s see…One thing: many of my heroines suffer from claustrophobia. That’s from me. Oh yeah, and at age 13, I met the Woolworth heiress, Barbara Hutton and had tea in her palace (complete with suit of armor and her portrait as a flapper) in Tangier, Morocco. Or this: my Masters thesis in Structural Anthropology dissected the Kebra Nagast, the Book of Kings, which is the national myth of Ethiopia. The Ethiopians believe that during the famous visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon they conceived a son, who became the first emperor of Ethiopia.

What do you feel are the key elements to writing romantic fiction?
In no particular order: 1) maintaining an accurate time line; 2)  providing depth to secondary characters as well as primary ones; and 3) adding setting and description that reinforces and undergirds the mood and plot of the story.

Silk or satin sheets?
Neither---they’re both too slippery! I borrowed some black silk sheets once and, while I enjoyed the part where I was awake, sleeping was difficult. And no jersey knit either! Nice 500-thread-count Egyptian cotton, that’s the ticket.

Do you feel romance writers have a stigma? (good or bad)
Interesting question. When people ask me what I write I usually grin and say “Chick lit.” If you give your answer a little fillip of titillation they respond positively. On the other hand, many people still think of romance as the formulaic old Harlequins—I try to explain that it covers many genres now. Romance is the counterpoint to so-called modern fiction. Heroes are heroes, not anti-heroes; the plots contain challenges to be overcome rather than retreated from; and the ending is always happy. Given that, who’d want to read some novel riddled with angst and ennui?

Do you have a new book in the works? Can you tell us about it?
I have 2 WIPs: (1) The Fish Tales: the Mote Marine Murders (working title)—set in Sarasota, Florida, we find our heroine Tessa Diamond dealing with romance, the Russian mafia, smuggling, and sea turtles, not necessarily in that order. (2) “Lapses of Memory: Love in the Air”--a romantic story of two people who meet every few years on an airplane as love (not to mention flight technology) grows.

What would you like to say to fellow readers and writers?
I would be really, really happy if you enjoy my books and recommend them to others.

You can find M.S. Spencer and her books here: 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Author Chat with Joan P Lane

Gladiator's Pen welcomes author Joan P Lane to the Ludis for an author chat today. She's here to tell us about her debut novel intrigue, The Tangled Web. Pull up a comfy chair and pour a cool glass of ice tea and let's get to know Joan P Lane. 

Joan P Lane, Author 

Tangled Web is your first novel, tell us about it.
The Tangled Web, speaks about a problem that’s endemic to Latin America and the Caribbean – drug trafficking on a major scale. Anyone familiar with the drug violence that has plagued that region in the past few decades will immediately recognize the ugly truths woven through what appears on the surface to be a light, entertaining read.

The accounts of the cocaine industry in the book were pulled from research and much of what I wrote is true. This is the revised edition that was just published. Interestingly, just weeks before the original edition was published, all hell broke loose in Jamaica over a U.S. State Department request for extradition of one of the world’s most dangerous drug kingpins.

As it turned out, the Jamaican government had ties to this man’s organization, touted as being one of the most violent drug gangs in the world, with tentacles stretching throughout North America and into Europe. The irony is I knew nothing of this when I wrote The Tangled Web and although I used Jamaica as the visual backdrop to the story, the island in the book was intended to be anonymous.

What inspired this story?
The truth is writing a novel was the very last thing on my mind. You could say I was muscled into it by an old boss who thought I had it in me. It was with great reservation that I opened up that new Word document that became The Tangled Web. And this story wasn’t my original idea.

 I’d thought the invasion of Grenada would make a good story, but Logan Armstrong, one of the two protagonists, would have none of that. Before I knew what was happening, he was flying into the island on his private jet in the dead of night, walking through the airport and getting into his chauffeur driven Range Rover. And that was the end of Grenada.

You are more than a fiction author, you have written for Florida Design Magazine and the Miami Herald. How has your journalistic experience played apart in your fictional writing?
Well, first of all, I wasn’t a journalist, though I did contribute the occasional piece to several leading South Florida publications. But, I’m a veteran writer and by that, I mean I’ve done the full spectrum of writing, from TV and radio commercials to billboards, articles, and even speeches.

I was a member of The Miami Herald’s marketing team for many years and, in that capacity, was as familiar with the newsroom as a journalist. How did my advertising and marketing experience play a part in my fictional writing? I suppose after you’ve written copy for a few billboards, you know how to pack a lot into few words. Plus, when you’re always on a tight deadline, you have to be extremely disciplined. There’s no such thing as writer’s block in that world – and egos don’t do too well either.

Are you a plotter or a panster? Why?
I’m a panster. Even if I have a loose plot, my characters end up telling the story. For example, in a chapter of the new book I’m writing, two of the characters are riding on horseback through a jungle. They’re talking and as the conversation continues, I discover one of them is not a nice person. In fact, he’s capable of some pretty bad things. He’s, in fact, capable of something so awful it can change the entire way the story unfolds.

Do you have a favorite resource or tool that you use when writing or researching?
I’m addicted to Google, though there are some things it doesn’t provide. Sometimes I have to go to books for information. But Google Earth is the best thing since sliced bread.

Is there a writer past or present that has influenced or encouraged you? How have they done so?
That’s a tough one because it forces me to ask how many authors have I read and thought, wow, I’d love to be able to write like that when I grow up? Colette is one. Her prose is exquisite and completely uninhibited. A contemporary who has influenced me a lot is Wilbur Smith.

But I’m very into poetry and I think, in a way, poetry influences my writing. Dylan Thomas is one of my favorite poets. I see his influence in these lines from The Tangled Web: “Almost with reverence they watched the blazing ball slip slowly below the horizon leaving behind a mere hint of indigo as a reminder it had been there. Now with no competition to outshine her brilliance, Venus took her rightful place in the early evening sky as the sea gradually submerged into darkness beneath her.”

What did you enjoy most about writing Tangled Web?
I enjoyed every minute of it. It was a lot of fun. But perhaps that was because I wasn’t taking it too seriously – at the time.

What did you find the most difficult part to write and why?
Love scenes, violence and the really suspenseful parts. All really stretch me as a writer, because they require a certain level of emotion that has to be fabricated.

This is your first novel, how does it feel to see your words in print and your name on the cover?
I didn’t feel any way in particular – just a sense of completion.

Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
I’m very excited to tell you what I’m working on now because I’m very excited about it. I’m a history buff, so it’s right up my alley. Seeing my characters may change the story line any time they choose, it’s a bit premature to go into details, but what I can say is it’s basically a paranormal historical romance set in the late 18th and early 19th century.

What would you like to say to fellow readers and authors?
To my fellow authors I’d like to say it’s an honor to be walking this road with you and I aspire to be like many of you one day. To readers - a work of fiction is a marriage between an author and a reader. We write the story that you will take on your own flight of fancy, creating images we may never dreamed of while we were writing. So in a sense, you are our partners in the creation of our books.

Where can we find  Joan P Lane and  The Tangled Web?

The Tangled Web: an international web of intrigue, murder and romance is available in Kindle.

Facebook: Author JPLane
Twitter:  jpLANEauthor
Blog: JP Writes

One Word/Sixty Seconds: Emptying is a website for getting the muse warmed up. Each day you get one word and sixty seconds in which to write what it inspires.This is my entry for today's One Word. What's yours? 

The detective sighs watching the water slosh out onto the grass from the pump. It's made a horrible racket for the neighbors all night. He walks over and peers over the edge of the pool. The murky water was still emptying, the body at the bottom yet to be revealed.