Welcome to the ninetieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with mystery author Gerrie Ferris Finger. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Gerrie. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Gerrie: It seems like I’ve always written. I loved writing my parents from camps. Other children would groan when the counselor said, “Before we nap, let’s take ten minutes to send a letter to our parents.” I had my pencil ready. From a young age, I knew that, “Dear Mom and Dad. I am fine. How are you?” was uninteresting. I’d begin with “There’s a black snake that lives under our cabin. She had babies and they look like black worms with white shells sticking to their heads.” Or some such. A high school English teacher told me I’d be a writer one day, that I had talent and “style”. I didn’t know what style was, but I liked what she said. I went on to become a journalist, writing hard news, features, a news column, a few magazine pieces. Like all journalists I began a few novels, but never finished them. I found I couldn’t write a novel without a regimen. I retired and started on the novel journey.
Morgen: Cute dog. You’re so lucky, it took me 38 years to realise I wanted to be a writer and the last couple of years (I’m 44 next week) thinking about little else. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Gerrie: I’ve spent eight years writing mysteries, suspense, thrillers and romantic suspense novels. And one paranormal, which was released in June. Writing THE GHOST SHIP was an act of “I must write this story.” I don’t know that I’ll write another paranormal, but I don’t know. It won’t be vampires, I can guarantee that. Well, unless I change my mind…
Morgen: I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure. Sorry, an old joke. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Gerrie: LOOK AWAY FROM EVIL, WHEN SERPENTS DIE, HONORED DAUGHTERS and WAGON DOGS are a romantic suspense series called The Laura Kate O’Connell Plantation Series. THE END GAME was published in 2010; the second in that series will be published in 2012. THE GHOST SHIP was published in June 2011. I first saw LOOK AWAY FROM EVIL at Barnes & Noble in Atlanta.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Gerrie: Quite a lot, more than I wish I had to, but publishers these days … well you know the story there. I had a publicist at one time, but since I’ve gone to online promotion, I don’t need her services.
Morgen: I think a lot of agents are getting worried and publishers face a dilemma of how they fit in. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Gerrie: THE END GAME won the St. Martin’s Minotaur/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel in 2009. It was published by St. Martin’s in 2010. They certainly help. That gold star on the cover draws people in books stores and telling potential readers you’re an award winner heightens your brand.
Morgen: Yay! Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Gerrie: I used to. I don’t any more. Depends on who you hook up with. My first agent had an “in” with fantasy and sci-fi houses. Why she agreed to rep me is a mystery. I liked her enough to let her try to sell THE END GAME, to no avail. My second agent went out of business.
Morgen: See earlier ‘worried’ comment. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Gerrie: All my books are available as ebooks. I use Kindle for PC, but otherwise I’m not a fan of ebooks, but I know I’ll eventually get one.
Morgen: I have one and take it with me when I go away but haven’t used it much. When I do I think it’s great but at home I have lots of books so would rather read those. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Gerrie: It’s always a thrill when someone accepts your work. It’s payment for all the work and doubt that goes into creating something.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Gerrie: Lots. Never give up, never give in. I was a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I should say hardened reporter. You get used to editors changing your work and hearing criticism goes with your career. Sometimes your stories don’t make it into the paper.
Morgen: But they’re there to send elsewhere or convert to fiction? What are you working on at the moment / next?
Gerrie: Finishing touches on the first in a new series about a woman photographer who gets in all kinds of trouble. She’s different than my other heroines. She doesn’t carry a gun or know tae-kwan-do. She’s shoots with a camera.
Morgen: My father was a photographer, sound like my kind of story. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Gerrie: Most every day, unless on vacation or sick.
Morgen: I’m very lucky as I’m rarely ill (running a dog and house on your own sees to that) but don’t have many holidays either (weeks off from the day job are usually spent at home… in front of the computer). What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Gerrie: I really don’t and that goes back to my reporter days. No such thing as writer’s block if you want to keep your job.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Gerrie: I’m a run-with-it writer.
Morgen: I generally am too. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Gerrie: My characters usually name themselves. I often start out with a name, but they change it for themselves. Characters are devious like that.
Morgen: Isn’t it great? Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Gerrie: My husband. My biggest critique.
Morgen: My mum is which is why she gets selected pieces (fortunately I have a great editor). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Gerrie: I write fast to get the scenes out of my head. I love re-writing. I’ve learned the trick of jumping ahead then coming back to scenes.
Morgen: What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Gerrie: I play golf and garden, go to the seashore and I write scenes in my head as I do other things. I wake up with scenes playing out and I have a pen next to my bed to prompt me, otherwise I’d forget the marvellous drama that took place.
Morgen: Me too – and a mobile phone with dictation facility. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Gerrie: Computer, except I make a lot of notes, even on the golf course. I’ve also learned to speak quietly into a recorder.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Gerrie: I use both. I don’t like second person.
Morgen: I’ve found a lot of people don’t. I love it but it’s a proven fact that I have a dark side and second person loves dark (or the other way round). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Gerrie: Maybe some should, but with ebook original publishing, maybe not.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Gerrie: Shhhh, Promotion, name branding.
Morgen: If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Gerrie: How little money is in it and how much I don’t care.
Morgen: About the little money presumably. Me too although if I could give up the (part-time) job I would in an instant. (If my boss is reading this, I do enjoy my job but you know I love writing more ) What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Gerrie: Learn the mechanics of writing; learn to show not tell; spare the adverbs; don’t overwrite – all those things that agents and editors tell you. Most of all, find your voice. If you have a good one, I can fix the rest (putting on my editorial hat. I was one at the newspaper, too).
Morgen: Very handy. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Gerrie: The United States, but I’ve sold to most English-speaking countries.
Morgen: Oh well done. Most interviewees have said there are few barriers thanks to the internet. Are you on any forums or networking sites?
Gerrie: Yes, all the usual ones: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Kindle Boards, DorothyL, Murder Must Advertise, and on and on.
Morgen: Ah yes, I’ve bumped into you on some of those. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: And what do you think the future holds for a writer?
Gerrie: It’s always been hard to get published. Today it’s harder to get accepted by the Big Six in New York, but there are some wonderful independent houses that publish in print and ebook, and, of course, the writer can join the ebook original market and be his or her own publisher.
Morgen: I can… er, yes we can. Thank you Gerrie – it’s been lovely chatting with you. I then invited Gerrie to include a piece of her writing:
This Atlantic Ocean wasn’t like the calm waters off St. Simons Island where she’d scattered Boyd’s ashes. “Stop picking the scab, Annie,” she said aloud. But isn’t that why you came to this desolate place – to pick the scab until you’re damned tired of picking the scab?
Watching gray and white seagulls cavort, a smaller brown mixing into their fun, she clutched the long cape tight to her body and made her way through the sea oats down to the wet sand. Looking over the water where roiling clouds met the bloated sea, she couldn’t make out a true horizon, and when a wind gust threatened to rip the velvet cloche from her head, she reached up and yanked it to her eyebrows. As tempting as it was, she refused to retreat to the inn and fret in a room until the weather turned.
Trekking north, she looked up. What the heck? A tall striped lighthouse appeared to be sitting on the sea. I’m seeing things. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was miles from here, in Buxton. She’d passed it coming down.
Gerrie Ferris Finger is a retired journalist and author of six published novels and two non-fiction work. She lives on the coast of Georgia in the United States with her husband, Alan, and standard poodle, Bogey.
Update 2012: The Last Temptation, the second in the Moriah Dru / Richard Lake thriller series will be released in hard cover on July 18. The first in the series is The End Game.
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