Author Patricia Smiley ~ Interviewed

Patricia Smiley earned a BA in Sociology from the University of Washington in Seattle. She also holds an MBA from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Her debut novel FALSE PROFITS about amateur sleuth Tucker Sinclair received a starred review from Booklist and was a Book Sense recommendation. Her follow-up novel COVER YOUR ASSETS was a RomanticTimes Top Pick. Both novels were Los Angeles Times Bestsellers. SHORT CHANGE and COOL CACHE are the third and fourth in the series. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Two of the Deadliest, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George set for release on July 21, 2009.

Patty has taught writing at various conferences, including the Surrey International Writers Conference in British Columbia and the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference in Corte Madera, California. She is also a Reserve Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department, currently assigned as a burglary and theft detective. Police Chief William J. Bratton recently presented her with the Department’s 2008 Reserve Officer of the Year award. For more information, visit Patricia Smiley and Naked Authors, a blog Patty shares with Jacqueline Winspear, James O. Born, Paul Levine, Ridley Pearson, and James Grippando.

If you would like to purchase a signed copy of any of Patty’s books, please contact The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles at, or call (800) 821-9017.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

I’m excited about a standalone I’m working on, featuring a female LAPD homicide detective. The story is based on a cold case murder that occurred in Los Angeles several years ago. Luckily, we fiction writers can solve those difficult cases even when the police cannot. The tone is gritty, which is in stark contract to my Tucker Sinclair series. People who have read chapters call it “visceral” and “authentic.” My writing group compares it to the movie “Chinatown.” Aren’t friends grand!

We are all about journeys…unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

I’ve developed a comedy routine based on my path to publication. Let’s just say that everything that could go wrong did. FALSE PROFITS survived two agents, 3 editors, 9-11, and two and a half years of uncertainty after Mysterious Press purchased the manuscript until the novel hit bookstore shelves. The lowlight happened on the day the book was released. I left my launch party early to sit by the bed of a friend who died that night of cancer.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

I’ve never suffered from writer’s block because I don’t get hung up on writing beautiful prose on the first try. My first words aren’t always scintillating but my job is to get them on the page. I can fix them later.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

The most important thing I did was not to send my book to agents until it was as perfect as I could make it. Unless you are incredibly lucky, no agent will guide you through major edits on your manuscript. Before I was published I studied the business by reading books, attending conferences and listening to authors, editors, and publicists. I even wrote a business plan. I decided early on that it was my career and I alone was responsible for nurturing it, so I had no expectations that my publisher would do anything significant to promote my first book. As it turned out, they did more than I ever imagined, which made me appreciate the effort even more.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

Personal experiences. My second book COVER YOUR ASSETS is about the murder of Tucker’s college boyfriend, the love of her life who dumped her to marry her best friend in the world. Need I say more?

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

No, but I have a friend who called the Otis company to find out how she could sabotage an elevator. She thinks the FBI is still listening in on her telephone conversations.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

If you are dreaming about fame and fortune in the publishing biz, you will probably be disappointed. It has to be about the writing. A very successful author once told me, “It’s your job; stop waiting for it to be fun.” I hate to admit it, but that is good advice.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

Elizbeth George. I was fortunate to be a member of her writing group for nine years, during which time I learned volumes not only about writing but about the writing life. She is a gifted teacher and a wonderful human being.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn’t have to be one of your books or even published.)

I tend to be proud of all writing that’s finished writing. Working to a deadline is stressful for me, so I feel a sense of euphoria when I type “the end.” Writing for a blog is excellent for exercising your skills. I’m part of the Naked Authors blog with Jacqueline Winspear, Paul Levine, James O. Born, Ridley Pearson, and James Grippando. I’m constantly amazed with the quality essays these talented writers can put on the page in a short amount of time. I’m a slouch compared to them.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

No. People with pet peeves won’t go far in the publishing biz. My motto is “Above all, keep your sense of humor.”

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?

The people I’ve meet while traveling.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot.

I love writing on my laptop, propped up in bed. I’d send you a photograph but this is a “G” rated blog. Unfortunately, I don’t write in bed very often because it makes me feel like a slacker. I usually work at a desk in my office.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

The most difficult moment was after I finished my first book and realized I couldn’t hire a chimpanzee to pump out the next 75,000 words. I had to do it myself. Very scary. I conquered the fear by sitting down at my computer and typing, COVER YOUR ASSETS, “Chapter One.”

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

I have a snack just to make sure I have the strength to do it one more time.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

If you ask 10 writers this question, you will get 10 different answers and they are all correct. Here’s what I know when I start a book: (1) the protagonist, (2) the victim, (3) the killer, and (4) the motive. My publisher requires me to write a synopsis so I have to work out the plot, as well. However, nobody seems to care if things don’t turn out exactly as I’ve envisioned them. My editor doesn’t want me to forsake a good idea just because it wasn’t in my original outline.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

Peers in the mystery community for the most part are nurturing and kind. Several high-profile authors like T. Jefferson Parker blurbed my first book. Denise Hamilton blurbed SHORT CHANGE, my third book, Their support was a gift, for which I continue to be grateful. I also love hearing from fans and have developed friendships with many over the years through e-mail contact.

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you’d share with us?

Elizabeth George encouraged me to speak to every group that invited me. I’ve done that and consider it excellent advice. I recently spoke to a dog obedience club about my fourth Tucker novel, COOL CACHE. They asked me because I feature an unruly West Highland white terrier named Muldoon in my books. They were a great audience.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

To all readers from one grateful author, thanks to those of you who have taken a chance on my books and for writing to let me know that my words have made you smile or think or question the number of adverbs I use. To all aspiring writers, do not get discouraged. Albert Einstein once said: Many of life’s failures were people who didn’t realize how close they were to success when they gave up. Best to all.