Author Interview- Gina Conroy

I’m so excited to interview one of Novel Rocket’s own team members! Gina, this is your debut book. Tell us about it.

Buried Deception is my novella in the Cherry Blossom Capers collection and is about a Mount Vernon archaeology intern and widow Samantha Steele who wants to make a good impression at her orientation, but her babysitter gets sick and she’s forced to take her rambunctious children to work. There she has a run in with security guard and ex-cop Nick Porter who’s haunted by his past. Through several mishaps, a forgery is discovered, and it’s up to Samantha and Nick to set aside their stubbornness, and rely on each other to catch the thief… or the results could be deadly. 

Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment to spark this story?
I can’t remember the specific “what if” moment, but back in 2005 I was homeschooling and took my children on an east coast tour hitting all the historical spots. Mount Vernon was one of them and as I was walking through the mansion, especially George Washington’s office, I kept thinking about the antiques and if they were real or replicas. Later, when I wanted to try writing a mystery I kept coming back to Mount Vernon. We were also studying Egypt and archaeology at the time, so I thought it would be fun to explore the “What if someone discovered that an artifact at the Mount Vernon mansion was a fake?” The characters, story, and plot just grew from there.
Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?
It’s hard to remember since I started this novella back in 2006…Hopefully I left all the strange and funny things for my novella!
Do you ever bang your head against the wall from writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?
I had reverse writer’s block, if that’s even what you’d call it! When this novella didn’t sell the first time, I added 36,000 words and pitched it to some other houses. It didn’t sell. Then my anthology partners wanted to submit to Barbour again, I was reluctant. If it sold, that would mean cutting it down and the story had evolved since the originally novella. But I agreed and a week after we submitted, we had a contract. So instead of banging my head against the wall to ADD words, I was banging my head hoping to figure out how to CUT words. After many months of editing and cutting and editing and cutting some more, I finally did it! And I’ve been told it’s a fast paced page turner. And it better be because there was no room for fluff! LOL!
Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?
The only visuals I use are in my mind. I see the scene and write what I see. Oh, I tried making charts and plotting and spent hours looking for my characters on website, but for me, it was just a waste of time. I have to write in a void. No music playing. Just the hum of the overhead fan. Then I tune into the pictures in my brain and let the scene play out before me.
Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
Writing is the most difficult part of writing for me. I get distracted by life and social media. I also believe the lie that I need a huge chunk of time to get into my story world. If I could discipline myself to write a little bit every day, I might write faster. But I’m still a mom carting around four kids to different activities, and I have other hobbies of my own I’m pursuing. I actually prefer to write in big weekend chunks, though I know there will come a time when I’ll have to write every day. I’m sure another contract could help me over come this procrastination problem!
What’s your strength in writing (characterization, setting as character, description, etc)?
I like to think characterization and voice are my strengths. I’m not crazy about reading setting or descriptions, so my writing is usually lacking in those areas until I go back and add them in later. Yet, in the case of this novella, I had to slim down in every area. It was tough deciding how much description and characterization was enough. But I like to think part of the fun for the reader is filling in the blanks and allowing the character to come to life in their mind. In my opinion, too much description inhibits this.
Did this book give you any problems? If not, how did you avoid them?
When you’re writing a mystery, there’s always problems of the facts and clues not adding up. Several times I started to confuse myself with the mental puzzle I was creating and since some of my evidence used math, it took me several times to think it through to make sure it added up. There was police and archaeology procedure I needed to get just right, and I had to take into account that this was a contemporary story located in an actual place people visit. Last time I went to Mount Vernon The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center wasn’t built, but after talking with an archaeologist on site, I realized I needed to add the building into my story.
Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?
My primary writing space is in my office on my red couch or at my desk. But when I need a change of scenery I write at a coffee shop, sometimes the public library in one of those study rooms when I need to shut out the entire world. Several times a year I hide away in a roach motel and try to crank out 10,000 words. In fact, I can write more in one of those weekends than in an entire month!
Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?
Yes and yes. Sometimes the words flow…other times it is like pulling a stubborn hair from my brow! But the best thing I’ve learned over the years is NOT to edit while I’m writing. This is so hard for me and probably why after seven years I only have three finished manuscripts and a bunch of half completed ones. It’s because I always had to edit before I moved on. Now I’m learning to move on before I edit. One trick I use to satisfy my internal editor is to strike out the crummy drivel I’ve written, the stuff I KNOW I need to change or completely remove later. By striking through the words I trick my brain into thinking I’m on track with my word count and I’m moving forward while my editor is happy that I’ve recognized the garbage I’ve just written.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
I remember Randy Ingermanson saying that it was okay to write bad. Then my agent, Chip MacGregor, solidified this for me by saying “You can’t fix nothing.” Those two pieces of advice have really helped me let go of the perfection mentality of editing while I write. And it’s helped me write faster.
How do you balance your writing time with family and any other work you do?
I have an entire blog and six years of my life devoted to trying to figure this out. I’ve interviewed over a hundred writing moms and dads and the one thing I’ve learned about balancing writing with family is that it looks different for everyone. For me, the amount of writing I do goes in seasons. There was a time in the beginning my priorities were skewed. I put writing before everything else and I got out of balance to the point that I had to lay down my writing for a season. After seven years of struggling to find balance, I’ve finally found freedom in the seasons of life. I don’t sweat not writing when I can’t, and I try to focus on what’s in front of me. Of course, it’s still a struggle, but I try to keep things in perspective. There will be a time when my kids will be grown, and I will have the time to write. For now, I’m embracing this season of life and the time I have with my kids.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Don’t ever give up on your dream. It’s not an easy road, but I believe if you learn and grow, and never give up, you’ll be one step closer to where you’re supposed to be.

Cherry Blossom Capers Summary:

Four townhouse neighbors encounter romance and mystery near our nation’s capital. In State Secrets, White House assistant chef Tara Whitley and FBI agent Jack Courtland stop a plot to sabotage a State dinner—and find love still hidden in their hearts. In Dying for Love, attorneys and opponents Ciara Turner and Daniel Evans uncover love while searching for justice. In Buried Deception, archaeologist Samantha Steele and security guard Nick Porter dig up love while uncovering a forged artifact.  In Coffee, Tea and Danger, amateur sleuths Susan Holland and Vince Martinelli find love while investigating a string of mysterious accidents.

Gina Conroy is the founder of Writer…Interrupted  where she mentors busy writers and tries to keep things in perspective, knowing God’s timing is perfect, even if she doesn’t agree with it! She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, and her first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, released from Barbour Publishing in January 2012. Gina loves to connect with readers, and when she isn’t writing, teaching, or driving kids around, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Disappearing Women ~ Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen left a successful practice as an internist to raise her children and concentrate on her writing. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first novel of medical suspense, the New York Times bestseller Harvest. She is also the author of the bestsellers Life Support, Bloodstream, Gravity, and The Surgeon. Tess lives with her family in Maine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Paul D’Innocenzo) –as appeared on Murderati on August 23, 2011

Now that I’m in my fifties, I’m noticing more and more what generations of women have complained about: that right around this age, we start to disappear in the eyes of the world. As we grow gray we become invisible, dismissed and ignored. No wonder there’s a spike in suicides as women pass the frightening threshold of fifty. Invisibility happens to us all, whether we were once fashion models, prom queens, or hot actresses. (With the possible exception of Betty White.) When we lose the dewy glow of reproductive fitness, suddenly society thinks we are no longer worth the attention.

 Yet men in their fifties still get plenty of attention, both in real life and in the movies. Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sean Connery, were alll playing sexy action heroes in their fifties. Silver-haired men, at their peak of political or financial power, are considered hot catches and Hollywood producers don’t bat an eye at the thought of casting a 50-year-old film hero with a 30-year-old heroine. But a celluloid romance between a young man and an older woman? Well, that’s got to be an outrageous comedy, right? A story that no one would really believe, like Harold and Maude. Because while fiftyish men can be sexy as hell, a fiftyish woman is just, well, somebody’s boring mother.

Life is so unfair.

It’s unfair in crime fiction as well, where you don’t find many sexy, kickass heroines in their fifties. Which strikes me as surprising, considering how many authors are women in their fifties. You’ll find plenty of fictional heroines in their twenties, thirties, and forties. But then women vanish as heroines until they suddenly pop back into view on the far end of the age spectrum as sharp-eyed, inquisitive Miss Marples in their seventies. And these older heroines are often objects of amusement or even ridicule, the troublesome old biddies who solve mysteries only because they can’t mind their own business.

I try to remember any older heroines in the books I’ve been reading. The only recent one who comes to mind is the narrator in Alice LaPlante’s TURN OF MIND (a terrific novel by the way). Alas, although that heroine is tough, smart, and determined, she also has Alzheimer’s disease. Not exactly the sexy heroine I’m looking for.

I confess, I too have been guilty of ignoring the fifty-year-old heroine. Part of it was my desire to meet the demands of the fiction market. People want to read about sexy heroines, don’t they? And if I want to sell film rights, wouldn’t a younger heroine be more attractive to Hollywood? Years ago, I wrote a book that featured a number of senior citizens (LIFE SUPPORT), and one of the discouraging comments I got from my then-Hollywood agent was a dubious: “Gee, there are an awful lot of old people in this story, aren’t there?”

When I started my writing career, it made sense for me to focus on young heroines, because I could identify with them. As I got older, so did my heroines. They matured into their thirties and then their forties, just as I did. But suddenly I hit fifty, and my heroines didn’t cross that line with me. They stayed frozen at forty-something, the oldest age that I believed the marketplace would still accept them as romantic heroines. I certainly know that women can be sexy at all ages; I just didn’t have any faith that readers would think so. Or that they’d accept a 50+ woman as an action hero.

Then, a few years ago, I came across an article about martial arts master Bow Sim Mark. Now in her seventies, Master Mark is credited with bringing Chinese martial arts to Boston, where she still teaches at the studio she founded. How cool, I thought. Here’s an older woman who really can kick ass. And swing a sword. And even take down a Navy Seal. If a woman like this exists in real life, why couldn’t I put her in a novel?

So I did. In THE SILENT GIRL, the character of Iris Fang is a 55-year-old martial arts master who not only swings swords and takes down bad guys, she’s also sexy. So sexy, in fact, that Detective Barry Frost, who’s two decades younger, develops a wild crush on her. Unlikely, you say?

No more unlikely than a real 70-year-old female martial arts master. Or a 98-year-old woman who just earned her tenth-degree black belt in judo.

As I scan popular fiction and film, I find that on the rare occasions when an older woman does play action hero, it’s a real crowd pleaser. In the movie RED, about retired CIA agents called back to action, the scene everyone seems to love best is Helen Mirren grabbing a gun and shooting up the place. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two, the audience whooped in delight when staid Professor McGonagall went wand to wand in a fierce duel with Snape, and when mad mama Molly Weasley finished off evil Bellatrix LeStrange. Call it hot flash fury; these women are forces to be reckoned with. They may be silver-haired but they’re also capable, powerful, and ready to fight.

We all know such women exist in real life. Now it’s time we start seeing more of them in fiction.

Dancing with Donald Maass and How a Dream Encouraged Me to Write

Dreams are funny things. Sometimes they’re an expression of the day’s events, other times they connect to the subconscious, ranging from normal to bizarre. There’s no doubt there’s a whole phenomenon gathered around dream interpretations, so when I had a dream that Donald Maass was my drama coach dancing with me ballroom style as I sang “Popular,” I had to laugh and take a closer look!

As far as dreams go, it started out pretty normal. Random craziness with an obscure goal as I traveled somewhere. Sounds like most dreams, right? But when I finally arrived at my destination, I was surprised to find I was in a Donald Maass acting workshop. Yes, acting! While he talked and demonstrated some dance moves, I tried to imitate them, but I was barefoot and everyone else wore shoes. So I put mine on. A pair of black pumps I owned in real life used for my ballroom dance lessons, but they hurt my feet, so I took them off.

Then we were asked to sit in chairs in a semi circle around the dance floor. As Don placed everyone in their seat, I tried on a few pair of shoes I was carrying with me and settled on a funky pair of red flat boots with lace up ties. When he got to me, I was the last one and instead of placing me in a chair he took my hand and spoke to me. How I wish I could remember that conversation, but in essence he told me I was going to dance a scene with him and that it might not be in my comfort zone, but he wanted me to be open minded and try it.

At first, I was reluctant, but agreed. Then we started to dance, ballroom style, first cautiously as I timidly sang “Popular” from the Wicked musical. My steps were small and unsure, my voice muffled as I sang with “cotton in my ears.” Then he whispered, “Follow me and take big steps.” And we glided across the floor as I belted out the song, “I’m gonna be Popular.” Dancing felt effortless as my partner carried me, and I sang my guts out. While dancing, I didn’t worry about what I looked like or how I sounded (because I had no clue with cotton in my ears.) I just trusted my partner and knew by the smile on his face that I was going to be popular.

When the song ended and I poked a baby alligator peeking up from a drain in the floor (after all, this WAS a dream,) I heard the roar of the applause coming through my cotton-plugged ears, and I knew I was popular. Then I took my seat, not in the semicircle, but in the audience.

Was this dream a sign that one day I’d be ballroom dancing with Donald Maass? I highly doubt it! Each part of the dream could be explained away by recent real life events that week like taking ballroom dance lessons, driving my kids to play practice, watching “Dancing with the Stars” and even the “Drop Dead Diva” episode where Jane is in one of her fun dream sequences, dancing with a popular male vocal Chip and Daleish group and her old, frumpy boyfriend shows up for a dance. I’m not saying Donald Maass is the frumpy boyfriend, but I had been immersed in his book, Fire in Fiction, all weekend.

What about signing “Popular?” Easy. My daughter and I had been cranking up the Wicked sound track that week and we did sing it, but we also sang half of the songs on the cd. So why THAT song? That’s when I decided to take a closer look at my dream. And that’s when all the random pieces of the dream came together to confront my conscious dreams, goals, and fears!

When I started reading Fire in Fiction, I was inspired to work on my WIP again which scared me on a couple of levels. It was based on the real life story of my grandmother, and I was writing in a new genre, Women’s fiction. Honestly, I didn’t want this story to be another practice WIP on my way to publication. I wanted this to be my breakout novel! So Donald Maass as my dancing/acting/writing coach made sense. Trying on different shoes until I found a pair I was comfortable in was obviously encouragement to be myself in my writing and not conform to what others thought I should be wearing…or writing. Even poking the alligator in the drain could be interpreted without a dream dictionary. I needed to “poke” my fears and insecurities that seem to rise up from nowhere, no matter how small.

As for the song, “Popular?” No dream interpreter needed either. I want this WIP to be popular and sell!! And if I dig a little deeper and am honest with myself, I want to be a popular author, though my definition of popular has changed and matured over the years.

Dreams are funny things. At first glance, they could be explained away by real life activities, but if you dig deeper than the obvious, they can speak truth to your soul and encourage you in your writing.

What did my dream speak to me? I need to turn on the music/story inside my soul, sing/write my heart out the way I see it, and take giant, scary steps toward publication.

How about YOU? Has a dream ever spoken truth concerning your road to publication?

Gina Conroy, a.k.a. “the other Gina,” is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket. She’s the founder of Writer…Interrupted and is still learning how to balance a career with raising a family. She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, and her first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, released from Barbour Publishing in January 2012.

Meet Bonnie Calhoun ~ the writing world’s busiest author

As the Owner/Director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance Bonnie has helped use the 220+ blogs of the Alliance to promote many titles on the Christian bestseller list. She owns and publishes the Christian Fiction Online magazine, which is devoted to readers and writers of Christian fiction. She is the Northeast Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). At ACFW she was named the ‘Mentor of the Year’ for 2011, and she is the current President of (CAN) Christian Authors Network. Bonnie is also the Appointment Coordinator for both the Colorado Christian Writers Conference and the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference. In her spare time she is an avid social media junkie, and teaches Facebook, Twitter, Blogging and HTML as recreational occupations.
Bonnie, you’ve been at this gig for a long time. While writing, you started a successful blog tour company and the best online Christian magazine out there. How do you do it all?
Well…to tell you the truth, sleep is really over-rated *snort-giggle* I think it’s because if my hands aren’t busy being productive, they are busy being destructive (getting me in all sorts of trouble…for which I’ve learned over the years…run very fast.)
Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind? (Be as specific as possible)
Oh…so you want me to relive the puking and falling down thing all over again? Okay…start from the beginning. This is all a God journey. Seriously! I really had no plan. I decided I wanted to become an author after reading the Left Behind series…that’s a whole other story. But I started writing, joined a few Christian writing loops, and went to my first conference. The following year, I went back to the conference and met my agent Terry Burns at dinner…I had an appointment with a totally different agent. Then for my first publishing contract, it came about after I made a totally random remark to an acq. Editor at Abingdon. From actively writing for publication to first contract was two years.
Now finding out was another story…I yelled, screamed, hyperventilated…fell down, got up and puked…and then repeated the process numerous times. *shaking head* not a prety sight…nope! Not a pretty sight!
Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment to spark the story of Cooking the Books, your debut novel?
Nope…a lot of that is autobiographical 
Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?
Uhmmm…strange or funny. Well truthfully just the fact that the Lord let’s me wake up in the morning is extremely funny to me. But with this book…no. Now there was a manuscript I was working on that was a disaster book…not disaster as in bad writing, but disaster as in volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, tsunamis…and every time I wrote a scene, a disaster would happen in real life. I figured if I didn’t stick that puppy in a drawer, there’d be no United States left to read it!
Do you ever bang your head against the wall from writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?
Huh? Whatcha sayin’? Oh, yea…hi! No I never bang my head against the wall. The bump has now become a newer improved part of me with an elegantly raised and calloused surface. I refuse to call it part of my head, so no…I never bang my head against the wall.
Actually my “writers block” is never for a whole book because I’ve already got the plot playing in my head. It’s usually just a block on a particular scene…so I skip that scene and go on and write one that is percolating in the bump on the front of my cranium.
Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?
Nope…not at all. I’m a mental writer…er, uh…that didn’t come out right…well it did, but that’s another story too. The story is playing in my head like a movie. I write in scenes like a script writer, so I don’t really need visuals. Usually my characters gel in what they’re going to look like AS I write, so I may actually be all done writing before I pick out the people representation images.
Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
That’s a short answer…dragging the story out long enough to fill a full sized book. Since I think like a script writer, I write in short succinct scenes, and need to fill it in with all the visuals and “mentals” that people need as readers.
What’s your strength in writing (characterization, setting as character, description, etc)?
My strength is in being able to write a great bloody and suspenseful scene J
Did this book give you any problems? If not, how did you avoid them?
Yes…but they’re not avoidable problems…for example…language. My street
thug characters wouldn’t have been very believable saying “Auh geepers creepers.”
So I had to use my ability as a writer to convey their “attitude” without inappropriate language.
Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?
Ack! No pictures please! My jammies are not for public…or private consumption! I do a lot of my writing in my store. I’m a seamstress and clothing designer by day, and I’ve sewed for 50 years (literally) so I don’t need to think to sew. I think of a scene and when the front end of it starts dropping out of my RAM (random access mind) then I stop sewing and write until the scene is all down. Now at home, is when I do editing because I have to sit and stare at pages and contemplate.
Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?
Six of one, half dozen of the other J Some days I’m a wiz…some days I am wiz…Cheese Wiz that is…speaking of cheese…I love taking breaks when words don’t want to come and I write emails to my crit groups about how much I’m not writing. And I have had days when, if I had the ability to count Facebook words, I’d have written a whole novel!
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
“Just sit your butt in the seat and write!”
How do you balance your writing time with family and any other work you do?
I haven’t figured that part out yet. It just seems to work on its own.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Ahhh…parting is such sweet sorrow…uh, oh…I guess not those kind of words.
Yes…parting words…if you want to be a writer, then just keep writing. If you want to be published, learn the craft, write a great book, and pray.
Cooking the Books
After her mother dies from a heart attack, Sloane Templeton goes from Cyber Crimes Unit to bookstore owner before she can blink. She also “inherits” a half-batty store manager; a strange bunch of little old people from the neighborhood who meet at the store once a week, but never read books, called the Granny Oakleys Book Club; and Aunt Verline, who fancies herself an Iron Chef when in reality you need a cast iron stomach to partake of her culinary disasters. And with a group like this you should never ask, “What else can go wrong?”

A lot! Sloane begins to receive cyber threats. While Sloane uses her computer forensic skills to uncover the source of the threats, it is discovered someone is out to kill her. Can her life get more crazy?