Welcome to the one hundred and thirteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with historical and suspense western novelist Carol Crigger. 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, Carol. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Carol: I’m a western girl who has never wanted to live anywhere else. I wouldn’t object to being a world traveler, of course, as long as I could always come home. I came to writing through the love of reading. So many wonderful writers made me see a wider world through their writing that it made me want to do the same.
Morgen: Many an author has recommended aspiring writers read as much as they can so you were clearly doing the right thing. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Carol: I write in several different genres, most predominately historical westerns, the latest series leaning toward suspense. They’re not exactly mysteries, but a crime always runs the plot. I’ve also written a time travel series and a standalone horse and sword fantasy. Fun stuff!
Morgen: It certainly sounds like it, and very popular genres. What have you had published to-date? Can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Carol: I have eleven novels in print at this time, with another contracted and a couple in the “can.” I can easily remember where I saw my first book shelved. It was at the local Hastings bookstore and I was pretty darn excited.
Morgen: I bet. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Carol: I know I should do more, but online I run a blog specifically for my western suspense series, I do guest blogs, I make my presence known online by participating in various forums, I’m on Twitter and Facebook, I write reviews of westerns, mysteries, and am just getting started writing a few for Science Fiction/Fantasy. I have a campaign planned for Goodreads, as I’ve heard this is an excellent place to make oneself known. I try to hit at least one farmer’s market per month, and do speaking engagements whenever I can find one. Mind you, I don’t find any of this easy or fast but it’s all a part of the game.
Morgen: It doesn’t sound like you’d have time to do more. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Carol: I have actually won or been finalists in a few competitions. Beginning in 2004, Liar’s Trail was an Eppie Award finalist. In 2007 a short story became a Spur Award finalist; in 2008 I won the Eppie Award for best historical/western; in 2009 I was a Spur Award finalist in the audio category, and in 2010 a short story was a Western Fictioneers finalist. Looking at that it seems impressive but I can’t actually see that any of those awards have helped sales. Maybe a little name recognition.
Morgen: Something for the CV certainly. There has been a lot of discussion recently about what an author needs to do to promote their book and what makes an impact and whilst authors do a variety of promotional work, it appears tricky knowing what works (although one author has done well with press releases). I think you just have to keep going, unless it’s clearly timewasting it can’t hurt. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Carol: So far, I’ve written under my own name. Why not? I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve written. I have an apocalyptic novel ready to go that I may use a pseudonym for just to see how it goes.
Morgen: You have a memorable name so absolutely, why not? 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Carol: No, I don’t have an agent. Whether they’re vital may depend on how you define success.
Morgen: 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Carol: My books are available as eBooks, and some are in audio, too. I’ve found most of my sales through the publishers are eBook and I hand sell the print copies. You bet I do read eBooks. I have a Kindle and it’s loaded!
Morgen: I love audiobooks, they let me multi-task. 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Carol: My first acceptance was for the time travel series in audio. The series is also available in print and electronic form. And having a story accepted is always a thrill. I’m sure it always will be.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Carol: I have one novel that’s never found a home. I still think it’s a good story but it just doesn’t seem to appeal to editors. I may do a total rewrite one of these days and go direct to Kindle with it.
Morgen: Good plan. That’s the great thing about eBooks. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Carol: I’m working on a contemporary mystery, which features a female wounded veteran as the lead character. Frankie McGill is home from the war in Afghanistan, has found an EMT job in her old home town, and almost immediately is faced with more violence and death as murders pop up. This is set in a fictional town in the wheat growing country of northern Idaho state.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Carol: I try to write every day, even if it’s no more than a paragraph. Three pages of useable output is fairly average for me but I have done five pages or so a few times. I’m a slow typist.
Morgen: 500 words a day is 118,250 words a year. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Carol: I have brain freeze sometimes, when I know what I want to say but it just doesn’t come out right. At those times, I write book reviews, blog posts, or articles. Hey, it’s still writing!
Morgen: It is. “It just doesn’t come out right” I’d say is what most first drafts would be. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Carol: I’m a seat of the pants type writer. I go into a story knowing the main characters and the central conflict, and go from there.
Morgen: The best way for a lot of authors I’d say. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Carol: The characters have to fit in the setting and the time they’re given. For westerns–well, any historical story–they need the mindset of the day. And they need to use the correct language, too. No one, before the 1960s or so, would’ve dreamed of call American Indians “native Americans.” Names also need to fit the era, and just as in the present day, certain names were popular then. Fantasy and science fiction are allowed more latitude, which is fun.
Morgen: It’s so lovely to hear your writing described as ‘fun’. That’s what it should be. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Carol: I belong to a writers critique group and they, collectively, are my first readers.
Morgen: They’re great, aren’t they? Every writer should have (a good) one. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Carol: My writing is more fully formed nowadays, but I still edit before anyone ever sees my work.
Morgen: Oh absolutely. I don’t think any writer is flawless. Sometimes our brains see what they think it should be, not what it is (though / thought etc). What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Carol: Hmm. I try to set some kind of goal. Complete a scene in my head. Sometimes writing consists of taking a walk and just thinking. I can get back home and not remember a thing I saw on the walk. Of course, that may just be early onset senility.
Morgen: I’d say not. I’m the same if I have no paper / pen on me; which I’m pleased to say rarely happens as I did once and I came up with a brilliant idea and don’t think I’ve thought of it again… not the same one anyway, but then I can’t remember what it is. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Carol: I like to make notes on paper, but my computer is where the actual writing occurs.
Morgen: Me too. What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
Carol: I never listen to music when I write. I find, however, that every one of my stories has a theme song. I can listen to the song before I begin writing and it immediately puts me into the story. Love it! Matchbox 20 and Rob Thomas, Counting Crows, Natalie Marchant, Pearl Jam, and several more deserve my thanks for revving up my creative juices. But once I sit down, off it goes.
Morgen: 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Carol: I’ve never tried second person and never finished anything written in second person. It’s unnatural, to my way of thinking.
Morgen: You’re not alone in that. I’m just odd; I love it. 🙂
Carol: I like writing in first person, but third person is okay too. My books are some of each–it totally depends on the book and how the story needs told.
Morgen: Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Carol: My China Bohannon series, all three books so far, have short prologues to set up the crime she has to figure out. I’ve heard people say they never read prologues, but I can’t imagine why not.
Morgen: I never used to (ditto blocks of description) but then I wrote one and it changed my opinion. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Carol: Most of my stuff has been published, but what hasn’t probably either needs to stay right where it is, in the dark, or else have a complete rewrite.
Morgen: Let’s hope just the latter. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Carol: I love starting a new book. My least favorite aspect is trying to sell the darn things.
Morgen: I reckon that most if not all the other interviewees will agree with you. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Carol: I’m constantly surprised by the number of people who want to write books. Most will probably never see their dream to fruition, but the idea is certainly there.
Morgen: They do say that everyone has a book inside them but I think it’s down to passion. Those who are passionate enough will just keep going. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Carol: Persevere, work at your craft, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
Morgen: Yes, practice. What do you like to read?
Carol: Everything, including recipes on the back of the flour bag. LOL.
Morgen: That’s a new one; I’ve had cereal boxes and…
Carol: Oh, you mean books. My TBR pile usually holds mysteries, science fiction and fantasy, historical / westerns. I just plain love a good book, no matter what the genre.
Morgen: Your reference to flour has reminded me of one of my favourite films; ‘Stranger than fiction’ – which I often mention to people and get a glazed look. If I had to chose one movie, it would be that. Look out for the point, about two-thirds of the way through when Will Ferrell is standing outside Maggie Gyllenhall’s bakery with a gift. It’s priceless. It’s also got Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman yet clearly didn’t do well at the cinema; even I missed it! Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Carol: Several agents have good websites for advice, the Bookends Literary Agency among them. There are tons more. Everyone seems to have a favorite list. When I began writing in a serious way, I read several books on writing. I no longer do, feeling my time is spent more profitably by sitting butt in chair and hammering away at my keyboard.
Morgen: I’d agree with that (says she who hasn’t written a word in over a week).
Carol: But a couple grammar books are never far away, along with a couple thesaurus, dictionaries, including one from the WWI era, The Chicago Manual of Style, and Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.
Morgen: Chicago… that leads me on nicely to my next question. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Carol: I’m in the United States and honestly, I can’t say whether this is a help, a hindrance or completely immaterial.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Carol: I am on several forums and networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. I’m not sure if the time spent pays off or not, but I love being in contact with other writers and readers.
Morgen: Absolutely – see earlier reference to press releases etc al… Where can we find out about you and your work?
Carol: My website is http://www.ckcrigger.com, blog connections and book information are included there. And I have a specific blog set up for China Bohannon, my 1890s bookkeeper turned sleuth, (http://twofeetbelow.blogspot.com) where I talk about her dog, her clothes, what she does for fun and other aspects of 1890s life in the west.
Morgen: Sounds like you know her well. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Carol: As long as people like to read, writing will never go out of style.
Morgen: Absolutely and I think with the addition of eBooks, people are reading now more than ever. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Carol: I’d mention the eBook revolution, but there’s already plenty of talk–and opinions–on that. Love my Kindle, by the way. And Thanks so much for allowing me to write this post.
Morgen: You’re so welcome. It was a pleasure having you take part.
I then invited Carol to include a sample of her writing and this is an extract from ‘Two Feet Below’:
Etter grunted. “On the other hand,” he said, “I wouldn’t have to waste the detective’s time, if you was to answer a question or two. Or let me take a gander at Howe’s appointments from yesterday.” His fingers, like big hairy caterpillars, inched across the desk towards the book.
I put on the innocent expression again, although warning bells were going off in my head. “I
couldn’t possibly do that, sir. I can’t betray my employer’s trust or our client’s privacy.”
Slick as a whistle, he reached over and slid the paper where I’d written his name out from under my fingers, and tucked it in an inner pocket of his suit coat. When his hand reappeared, it was holding a heavy leather wallet that bulged with money. He extracted a five-dollar bill.
“What do you make in a month?” Etter asked. “About twenty, twenty-five?”
Etter ran the bill through his fingers in a sensuous motion. “Five bucks. Like a week’s pay, girlie, just for answering one easy question.”
“Mr. Etter! That would be most improper of me.” I kept my gaze on the money as he waved it under my nose. I fancied the smell of dirt.
Born and raised in North Idaho on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, C.K. Crigger lives with her husband and three feisty little dogs in Spokane Valley, Washington. She is a member of Western Writers of America and reviews books and writes occasional articles for Roundup magazine. Imbued with an abiding love of western traditions and wide-open spaces, Ms. Crigger writes of free-spirited people who break from their standard roles. In her books, whether westerns, mysteries, or fantasy, the locales are real places. All of her books are set the Inland Northwest, the westerns with a historical background. Her short story, Aldy Neal’s Ghost, was a 2007 Spur finalist. Her western novel, Black Crossing, won the 2008 Eppie. Letter of the Law was a 2009 Spur finalist in the audio category.
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