Arm Chair Interview’s Andrea Sisco

Andrea Sisco has had an eclectic career as a probation officer, television host, flight attendant, book reviewer, and adoption activist. The charge that the character of Penelope Santucci is autobiographical is only partially true. It is true, however, that her husband consented to his murder, but only if it took place of the pages of a book. She has kept her promise. Andrea is the co-founder of www.armchairinterviews.com, a web site that reviews books and interviews authors. A Deadly Habit is her first mystery. She is currently coauthoring a Young Adult Fantasy series. Her website is http://www.andreasisco.com/

Tell us about Arm Chair Interviews. How you got started and what your vision is for the site.

Connie Anderson and I were former television hosts. We interviewed authors (new, emerging and the superstars). When I left television (I was living in AZ and MN and it was impossible to do the job) I missed the author’s and the books. Connie had the idea and we started Armchair Interviews over 4 years ago. We’ve been named for four years by Writer’s Digest as one of the best 101 web sites for writers. We’re pretty proud of that honor.
How does an author get reviewed on Arm Chair?
If an author wants a review they should go to www.armchairinterviews.com and click on the FAQ for submission requirements. We review 44 genres (and sub genres) and we also review POD and self published books.

Tell us about your latest project.

My debut novel A DEADLY HABIT will be released July 17, 2009 from Five Star (an imprint of Gale, part of Cengage Learning). I love mysteries and used my background as a probation officer for a large metropolitan area as the vehicle for solving a murder.

A Deadly Habit is about a young probation officer, Pen Santucci who is looking good for the murder of her estranged husband. The wisecracking, safecracking Pen lures an elderly priest and a young nun into committing felonies on her wild search for the truth. Hardly appropriate behavior for the dedicated officer. But while Pen believes in her job, she has little faith in the justice system. Unfortunately, Pen digs herself deeper into trouble and straight into a muddy grave, dragging her hunky attorney with her. If they ever get out of it alive, he plans to wring her neck himself. That is, if the thugs who are after the money she found don’t get her first.

I am also coauthoring a YA/Middle Reader Fantasy series with Kathleen Baldwin (Kensington author of romantic comedies).

We love to hear about your journey to publication.

I’ve always written, but I haven’t always written fiction. Many years ago I had an idea for what would be considered a Women’s fiction novel. It’s a good story, but I over wrote it and made all sorts of beginner mistakes. Unlike a lot of authors who keep those first books under the bed, I may dust it off, clean it up and have a go at it. But only because I feel it’s a good story and can be fixed.

Because I didn’t know how to write fiction, a friend who wrote Romance suggested I could learn a lot about writing if I tackled that genre (because of the fast rules and tight structure). The story, again, was interesting and I learned a lot (my query letter was a killer because the full manuscript was requested each time I submitted it) but I hadn’t learned enough. Alas, this is a story that will stay under my bed gathering dust. And that’s a good thing.

I didn’t write for a long while (I have a lot of children, grandchildren and a career). Several years ago (about five) I had an idea (based on a bit of me) for a mystery. I wrote, had readers who helped me focus and kept me honest and I continued to write (taking some time off when a number of close family members died). When I’d rewritten the book about twenty times I decided to send out queries for agents. Nothing but rejections for about a year. I think I queried about 30 agents. Oh, I had requests for partials, full manuscripts, etc. but nothing stuck.

I must admit I was feeling pretty low. Hey, it was starting to feel like it might be easier to get a new husband than an agent. I would not give up! I decided to send the manuscript to some houses that didn’t require an agent or knew me from my work reviewing books on my site www.armchairinterviews.com

I sent it to three different houses and was offered a contract by Five Star and had interest from the other two houses (I wanted to go with Five Star). An author friend, Emyl Jenkins (her newest book The Big Steal published by Algonquin is out in July also) told me I had to have an agent and don’t sign anything until she talked to her agent.

I couldn’t believe that someone was offering to act as a go between with her agent (frankly I’ve found authors don’t do this much—at least it hasn’t happened to me). Her agent said if I could write, she’d work with me. And she is now my agent. She took an orphan author and gave her a home and some feeling of security. I met her last fall while speaking at a writer’s conference out east. What a dear and talented woman!

I was offered my contract with Five Star in late November of 2007, and signed the contract around February of 2008 (not much goes on in publishing between Thanksgiving and New Years) and was given a July 2009 pub date. Long time, huh? No wonder authors self-publish. Actually I’m at the age where I thought I could die before seeing it in print.

What is one weakness you have as a writer and what do you do to overcome it?

I am so busy with Armchair Interviews, my new puppy Sophie (she owns me), my family and friends that I often don’t sit down and write. Then I go in bursts… Right now I’m having some fear of writing. That I won’t be able to finish the next Penelope Santucci mystery, that it won’t be any good.

What is one strength you have as a writer and to what do you attribute your success in this particular area?

I keep on, keeping on. I am stubborn. I surround myself with positive and supportive people. I have a husband and family who encourage me and my faith in God keeps me on track.

If you could go back to the young writer you were when you were just beginning, what advice would you give yourself?

I would have started writing seriously at an earlier age.

Don’t stop! Have confidence in yourself (even if you don’t, pretend you do). I have a fear of success and a fear of failure. The double whammy!

What’s one publicity tip you can share that you’ve gotten a good response with in promoting your work?

I used my name! I am somewhat known in the business due to Armchair Interviews and my previous television program, Book Talk, so I can use that to get into places I might not otherwise be able to crack. Also, I’m finding out that while I’ll help anyone who asks, I have a problem asking for myself. I’m pushing myself to get over that.

What do you to improve as a writer?

I write and read all the time. I surround myself with writers and readers.

What are a few of your favorite books not written by you?

My favorite 2008 book was The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. It’s not a book I would normally read, but I was hired by the author’s publicist to interview him and silently finished the book on a flight from L.A. I was speechless. While there are some editorial issues, it’s basically a smashing debut novel. See our review on Armchair Interviews.

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler is speculative fiction (sort of modern day sci fi) about a future posited on Kunstler’s signature idea: when the oil wells start to run dry, the world economy will collapse and society as we know it will cease. It’s what happens. The focus is a small town (over one summer) in New York… Stunning.

The Help by Kathyrn Stockett (2009)

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2009)

The Maggie Valley Series (YA/Middle Reader) by Kerry Madden is delightful. There are three books in the series; Gentle’s Holler, Louisiana’s Song and Jessie’s Mountain. In a world of trashy (my opinion) YA novels, these are a breath of fresh air.
Anything by Susan Meissner or Liz Curtis Higgs

But my forever favorites are:

Nancy Drew (all of them). And the new Nancy Drew, Minnesota’s own, Susan Runholt, author of The Mystery of the Third Lucretia
Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson
Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Anything by Miss Read (she writes about village life in England)

And so many more I couldn’t begin to name them all. I LOVE books!

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?

Oh, yes. Not about my novel writing, but about a contest I wrote the rules for (on Armchair Interviews). The prize was several Miss Read novels and sponsored by the publisher who was reissuing the books. The woman who won wrote that she had decided life wasn’t worth living. Her son had recently died in a horrible accident and she was ill. She found our site, entered the contest and when she won, she said she’d wait on the “life” issue. She hunkered down when the books arrived and read them one after the other and they gave her hope and the desire to live. I literally fell on my knees and gave thanks when I read her letter. It was like a miracle that I was allowed to look in on. It was a humbling experience and I was so grateful.

Do you have a pet peeve to do with this business?

New authors are finding it increasingly difficult to break into the business. With the demise of the independent bookstores and the diminishing shelf space, we’re being served up the best sellers whether we like them or not. Wonderful writers who are also great storytellers are not getting the publicity they deserve.

What’s your favorite part of being a writer/least?

Writing is my favorite part of being a writer. My least favorite part is the publicity. It takes away from my writing time and frankly, most writers have no idea how to promote themselves. And even if we knew how to promote our work, we would rather be writing. When you think about it, publishers print books and the authors promote them.

What has surprised you most about this industry?

The willingness of review sites, bloggers and others to help promote my book. What a blessing that has been. So many people are willing to step out and help.

Advice to aspiring authors?

Join a good writers/critique group, read books (dissect them to see how they are constructed) and then plop down in a chair and write.

Parting words?

I’ve always dreamed of being published and I am seeing that dream come true. I owe my love for writing and reading to my mother, Shirley Christensen. And I love her more than I can ever say and appreciate her gift of the written word.

Twitterless

by Mike Duran

I was recently asked, “Do you Tweet?” “No,” I replied. “But I’ve been known to crow.” Okay, bad joke.

Really, it’s a legitimate question being asked these days. What with Twitter becoming one of the fastest growing social platforms, more and more authors are using and advocating the free service. The line of reasoning goes like this:

Twitter provides up-to-the-second info on people and events you’re interested in, allows you to stay connected to a vast array of friends, followers and cultural icons, and assists you in building a platform for services, exchange of ideas, or product sales.

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, in a post entitled How Much Time Does Twittering Really Take? writes that Twitter “…offers an unparalleled opportunity for brand-building, social networking, and customer engagement.”

So why not Twitter?

As a marketing or PR tool, Twitter excels. Large groups of people can be alerted with news or updates in a matter of seconds. With the push of a virtual button the title of your book, teaser, giveaways, release date, and signing venues can be broadcast to friends and followers. You can connect with other authors, become fans of the biggest of dogs, and peek in on their daily escapades and personal thoughts. There’s no question that Twitter can serve a valuable purpose for the businessperson, author, or run-of-the-mill groupie.

However, in my experience the majority of tweets are utterly inane. Took dog 2 vet. Cleaned barf from bck seat. Feeling blah. Chugged Monst3r. Feeling better. Work sucks. Got caught tweeting. Now w/out work. The minutiae is never ending. Call me anti-social, but I just don’t care enough about anyone to need a 24/7 ticker of their daily life. Heck, why not just implant webcams in our foreheads, then we’ll never be without the smarmy details.

And is there a better way to inflate your importance than Twitter? Nowadays, building your brand means carefully cultivating a digital image. You can pick and choose your Profile photo (preferably one that doesn’t reveal your double-chin and receding hairline), and share info and interests that do nothing but make you look cooler than you really are. You needn’t reveal anything about your short-temper, snootiness, chemical addictions, or previous marriages. It’s the ultimate “sock puppet.” You can engineer tweets to subtly exaggerate your significance (Spotted Snoop Dawg in Rio. I didn’t have time to chat), convey class (sushi after the Getty overlooking Pacific before the Bowl), or simply congratulate yourself for some accomplishment (Sold article to High Times. Dude!). Talk about shameless self-promotion. Twitter is the ultimate House of Mirrors, where no one is as they appear.

Making friends is a stated objective of Twitter, and there is an unspoken esteem placed on people with lots of them. Of course, out of one thousand friends you might only know 75 of them. But in the Land of Twitter, that doesn’t really matter. You see, Twitter friends come in two kinds — The people you actually know and the people who are trying to up their follower count. The former is the kind you must learn to love, communicate with, and forgive. The latter is the kind you get promotional blurbs and sales pitches from. Don’t get me wrong: there are people I’ve never physically met who I find witty, informative, and interesting. But I’m mistaken if I think that “friending” any of them will make me either witty, informative, or interesting.

For a writer who is building a brand, Twitter can be a useful tool. However, there are many tools and many authors who have succeeded without ever tweeting. In fact, many of those who enthusiastically endorse Twitter are often ones who already have an existing following, several existing platforms, or an established business. So of course it’s easy for Agent X or Author Y to endorse Twitter — their name and product is already out there. Shaq is guaranteed a gazillion “friends” just by showing up. But using Twitter as a means of self-branding has a downside, primarily that of motivation. “Befriending” people (in the Twitter sense) can simply be a means to selling them something. Perhaps that’s the nature of the author /reader relationship. But it feels so… sneaky.

Okay, so I’m behind the times. But I’ve seen enough technological trends to know that most developments are not nearly as revolutionary as they seem in the present. (Case in point: My Palm E2, one of my most important writing tools, is now obsolete.) First there were blogs. Then MySpace. Then Facebook. Now Twitter. Devices and apps will come and go. Some will remain and morph. At some future point, Twitter will be replaced by (or re-incorporated into) another technological tool. And when that day comes, we will debate its upside and downside. Until then — and until I get more time, money, and discipline — I shall remain Twitterless.

(But, just in case you’re interested, it’s 9:00 P.M. Pacific Time, Wilco’s playing on my iPod, and I’m writing this in my jammies!)

Once Again

Marcia Laycock is a writer and speaker living in Central Alberta, Canada. Her devotionals have been widely published and her novel, One Smooth Stone won her the Best New Canadian Author Award in 2006.

There’s a song by Matt Redman that says –

“Once again I look upon the cross where You died.
I’m humbled by Your mercy and I’m broken inside.
Once again I thank You, once again I pour out my life.”

While in Israel we visited a heritage village. It was much like the heritage villages here in North America that portray past history in tableau, with real actors and working artifacts. This village was in Nazareth and was laid out to represent the town as it would have been in the time of Jesus.

The day we visited, it was raining – pouring rain, in fact. Most of the actors kept inside the small shelters, which didn’t really keep them dry because the roofs were made of thatch and far from water-proof.

We moved from one scene to the next – the potter’s, the weaver’s, the wine press, and finally the carpenter’s shop. It was here the fact that this was a representation of Jesus’ home hit me. I looked at the tools, the kind of rough wood he would have worked with, and Jesus became more real to me.

Perhaps that’s why one of the tableaus we saw next had such an impact. The figure at the centre was made of rough wood too, and was draped with a simple cloth. The lighting was subdued, flickering with small oil lamps, their tiny flames leaning toward the focal point of the display. The cross. The cross of Christ.

As the song says, once again I was struck by what Jesus suffered, what he endured for me. I was struck not just by the physical pain he was subjected to, but by the torture of having the sin of the world put upon His shoulders, the agony of knowing His Father was turning His face away.

And once again I became aware that there is nothing I can do to make it up to Him. No remorse, no penance, no acts of kindness, no great work of fiction or text of apologetics. Nothing I do can repay that debt. And once again that act of pure mercy stuns me.

The unconditional gift of love and forgiveness causes my heart to break. And that, I realize once again, is the only thing Jesus wants of me.

A heart broken wide enough for Him to enter in.

Author Interview ~ Heidi Thomas

Heidi Thomas grew up on a Montana ranch, and now lives in Washington state. She has a Journalism degree from the University of Montana and a two-year certificate in fiction writing from the University of Washington. Heidi has had numerous newspaper and magazine articles published, is a freelance editor for fiction and non-fiction manuscripts, and teaches community classes in memoir and fiction writing. Cowgirl Dreams, by Treble Heart, is her first novel.

Welcome to Novel Journey, how long did it take you to get published?

I started writing Cowgirl Dreams in 1999 and ten years later I found a publisher who believed in me and the book was published!

Do you think an author is born or made?

I think there’s a little of both. Some writers seem to have an innate sense of words, rhythm, and story. Others can learn, practice, and perfect the craft.

What is the first book you remember reading?

A pre-primer series, “Mac and Muff.”

What common qualities do you find in the personalities of published authors?

A persistent need to see their projects to fruition. That entails a tremendous amount of reading, studying, writing practice, feedback, re-writing and rewriting again and again. Persistence.

How do you know if you have a seemingly “stupid” book premise that is doomed to fail versus one that will fly high?

I don’t think there are any “stupid” premises. I would encourage anyone with an idea to pursue it. Just get it down on paper. It may end up not working as a book, but the experience of writing it gives you a foundation for pursuing the next idea.

What is the theme of your latest book?

The pursuit of a dream. My character is going after her dream of becoming a rodeo star, and having the book published is my dream coming true.

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

I’m not sure I’m there yet. There is always more to learn, and that’s what I love about writing. You never stop learning.

When do you know you’ve got the finished product and it’s your best effort?

When I get that it’s “there” feedback from a trusted reader or from a potential agent or publisher.

Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books?

I made a trip to Montana and wanted to find the ranch where my grandparents lived when they were first married. The only information I had was that its was “the old Davis Place under the rims” between Cut Bank and Sunburst. I knew it was a long shot, but then it’s a sparsely population area of Montana, so I thought maybe someone would remember. Sure enough, I stopped at a museum, where they directed me to someone who remembered someone else and I ended up visiting with a relative who knew exactly where it was. That was a special experience for me, to see the old house and the flat-rimmed hills that surrounded it.

How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?

It’s a novel that is based on my grandmother who rode steers in Montana rodeos during the 1920s. She was a strong, independent woman who was ahead of her time, knew what she wanted, and went after it. I think we all can identify with that kind of character.