Welcome to the two hundred and eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with humorous mystery / romantic suspense novelist and ‘how to’ writer Morgan St James. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further.
Morgen: Hello Morgan (this is going to be fun). Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Morgan: I’ve had many professions in my life and never intended for one of them to be “author”. I was an interior designer for many years and when a prestigious design magazine approached me and my partner in the design studio about writing an article, we accepted. The realization that we weren’t actually writers became painfully obvious the night before the article was due to go to the editor. The photographers for the article shot some cool photos, but we had nothing. In desperation, after swigging a few glasses of wine, my partner and I cobbled together the facts of how we designed an elegant floor made of packing crates but we wrote it as a tongue-in-cheek noir mystery short story instead of a how-to article. The editor loved it and I was hooked. Many magazine articles and newspaper feature stories followed. My partner wasn’t interested in writing more articles. With the publication of my first novel “A Corpse in the Soup”, I became an author.
Morgen: What a wonderful title, and a wonderful journey. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Morgan: I usually write funny mysteries, either with my Silver Sisters co-author / sister Phyllice Bradner, or solo. The latest is Vanishing Act in Vegas. I also launched a romantic-suspense series under the pen name Arliss Adams which is much edgier and does contain sex and violence. My latest book is a return to my roots of “how-to” writing. Inspired by my examiner.com columns, Writers Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction, was released at the end of August 2011, and is the first in a planned series of Writers’ Tricks of the Trade books.
Morgen: You’ve listed some there but what have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Morgan: I have three Silver Sisters Mysteries, two Twist of Fate books, and one Writers’ Tricks of the Trade book in print so far. Add to that Women on the Edge (anthology available in Kindle and eBook only) and stories in multiple anthologies including two Chicken Soup for the Soul Books. This has all happened since 2006. The first book I saw on the shelf was Chicken Soup for the Shoppers Soul. My story, “Shopping for Dancing Shoes”, was the first story in the book. A Corpse in the Soup followed shortly after that.
Morgen: Have you ever seen a member of the public reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Morgan: I spotted a woman reading Seven Deadly Samovars at the Portland Oregon airport.
Morgen: Wow, I bet that was thrilling. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Morgan: Let’s not go there. I was in the marketing and promotion business for five years and find myself constantly marketing, even concocting new ideas in my dreams. I want a PR person for Christmas!
Morgen: I think we all do. Even some ‘household’ names I’ve spoken to have said they do their own marketing, it just seems to be part of the ‘job’. I love chatting to other authors and readers, and I’m sure we’d all like more time for our writing. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Morgan: I’ve been recognized in two Writers’ Digests Short Story contests, A Corpse in the Soup was named Best Mystery Audio Book by USA Book News, Devil’s Dance was nominated for an e-book award and several of my short stories have won awards. I’m not sure it spurs sales, but it does validate you as an author and looks good on your bio.
Morgen: It does, absolutely – it’s recognition by people within the industry, can’t be a bad thing. You mentioned earlier writing under a pseudonym, do you think it makes a difference?
Morgan: The Twist of Fate books are written as Arliss Adams. If I had it to do again, I would use my own name. I used the pseudonym on the advice of others because these books are so different than the funny mysteries I’m known for. Devil’s Dance and The Devil’s Due are about a woman who was kidnapped, sold into a brothel, raped and left for dead. It follows her ordeal, recovery and eventual retribution. The problem is I’ve had to build an entirely new platform and following, and lost readers who might have bought the books if they knew it was me writing them.
Morgen: They do now. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Morgan: I don’t have an agent. I was fortunate to be introduced to my present publisher through the referral of an author I know. The same goes for my audio publisher. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t try to get one, both before and after my first book was published. I definitely see the advantage of a good agent.
Morgen: They certainly, on the whole, earn their commission but it depends what suits an author. I like the control I get with eBooks. Are your books available in that format, and do you read eBooks?
Morgan: I haven’t gotten an eBook reader yet, although I’ve read some on my laptop and most recently on my Android phone. However, every one of my books is available as an eBook and Kindle.
Morgen: I’m pretty sure it’s the way most authors will go, alone or alongside print books. It’s opens up a new world for us. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Morgan: A Corpse in the Soup was the first novel accepted. My sister and I switched to a more marketing-oriented publisher when our contract was up. I was thrilled when the second publisher agreed to reissue the “Corpse” book and also accepted Seven Deadly Samovars. I always love holding my latest book, but these days my thrill comes from hearing from fans and how they reacted to a particular book.
Morgen: Not having print books myself, feedback is all I have and it’s wonderful… even the ‘constructive’ comments. 🙂 Have you had any rejections?
Morgan: You bet. Haven’t we all?
Morgen: Strangely, no. I have spoken with a select few who haven’t; either because they’d not submitted (that does help) or they’ve had everything accepted… as I said “a select few”. 🙂 How do you deal with the rejections you get?
Morgan: If several rejection letters say the same thing, pay heed. If publishers or agents make suggestions for improving your work you can’t get defensive. Analyze what they’ve taken the time to tell you. You’ve just gotten lucky. One agent suggested we use a manuscript consultant for that first book. We did, rewrote it and got published.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Morgan: I’m working on the next Silver Sisters Mystery, Diamonds in the Dumpster, plus a creative non-fiction, Confessions of a Cougar, and recently finished a yet unpublished novel, Big Trouble in Paradise. I’m rolling ideas around in my head for the next two books in the Writers’ Tricks of the Trade series.
Morgen: Wow, and I thought my head was full. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Morgan: Because I write four columns a week, yes, I write every day. I suspect I’ve written up to 7,000 words in a day counting columns and work on my novels.
Morgen: Ouch. I’ve just had a few of those for NaNoWriMo. What is your opinion of writer’s block?
Morgan: I’m lucky that from the time I began writing fiction in 1995 I’ve never had writer’s block. One suggestion I offered in a column and in my book is to use the “What If” exercise. Write a few sentences to set up a scenario and then ask yourself “What if?” Explore all of the directions things could go with different conditions for the same idea, and pretty soon you have a plot.
Morgen: You do (I do). A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Morgan: I don’t dread it because I’ve been told I’m extremely lucky in that I click into what I call automatic writing. In other words, I often write from the subconscious. If that fails, I look at the photo of my late mother. She lived until she was almost 97 and believed I could do everything.
Morgen: My goodness, but then I started writing thinking that Barbara Cartland was still writing in her 90s so I had plenty of time (I’m mid-40s) so I’m hoping for some longevity between now and then. 🙂 You mentioned that you write short stories, apart from the word count, what do you see as the differences between them and novels and why do you think they’re so difficult to get published?
Morgan: You have very little space to develop the story and characters and therefore are forced to write tight. It’s actually a benefit because that discipline translates to longer works and tight writing moves at a good pace. As to why they are difficult to publish, I haven’t a clue. I love to read short stories, but with my single author anthology, Women on the Edge, opted to self-publish.
Morgen: I’m more of a short story author than novelist (although I’ve written four novels) so that’s why I went the eBook route really. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Morgan: I give writers’ talks and workshops and will be developing a series of writing Webinars for an online site.
Morgen: I’ve been to a lot of in-person writing classes, conferences etc over the years but I should like into online opportunities. Not that I think I need any more tutoring particularly (although we’re all still learning aren’t we?) but it’s interesting to see what’s out there. Regarding your process of writing, do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Morgan: Computer, hands down. Back in the day, before email, my sister and I used to fax edits back and forth, cut and paste and have to retype everything. Now we just email and move stuff around.
Morgen: Isn’t that great? I love technology. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Morgan: I try to match the POV to what the story requires. I learned that from writing the Twist of Fate books. I’d never written in first person and it terrified me. However for the reader to connect to the protagonist and feel the full impact of what she felt, first person was the only choice. The other characters’ POVs in those two books are written in third person. Silver Sisters are written in third person.
Morgen: Apparently agents (and readers?) prefer third person but as you say, it depends on the story. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Morgan: The fact that I’ve managed to become so polished in a short time that I now give workshops and seminars on a variety of writing-related topics. People always comment that they love the fact that I present my information in easy-to-understand language.
Morgen: Perhaps because you were a beginner once? What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Morgan: Believe in yourself, learn everything you can, listen to advice that works and ignore what doesn’t work for you. Always present the best project you possibly can. Don’t rush it. Even if it is an email, make sure spelling and grammar are correct.
Morgen: Hear hear! Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Morgan: Will Rogers. It goes something like this: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you don’t keep moving.”
Morgen: So write 500 words a day. 🙂 In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Morgan: I’m in the United States. My work is available in many countries, but it is definitely more difficult to get the word out beyond the U.S., even with the internet.
Morgen: Maybe that will improve over time? Who knows? I think eBooks have got to be the biggest learning the curve the industry has at the moment and I, for one, am excited by it. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgan: Visit www.morganstjames-author, http://writerstricksofthetrade.blogspot.com, www.silversistersmysteries.com, and http://morgan-stjames.blogspot.com. Read or subscribe to the Las Vegas and Los Angeles editions of www.examiner.com. Just search my name on the main site and a vast array of articles will come up.
Morgen: Thank you very much Morgan. (great name by the way)
I then invited Morgan for an extract of her writing and this, she tells me, is from ‘Vanishing Act in Vegas’; as 80-year-old Flossie and her brother-in-law Sterling Silver (the Silver Sisters’ mother and uncle) drive their 1959 Cadillac to Las Vegas:
A mighty roar swelled behind them and hundreds of Harley motorcycles zipped past them on both sides. Sterling’s hands gripped the wheel as he rode along in the midst of the thundering bikes. “What the—?”
Flossie squinted at a logo on the back of one of the rider’s leather jackets. It had the face of an old man with flaming gray hair and lettering she could barely read. “Flamin’ Fogeys? Ever heard of that, Sterling? ”
Sterling took one hand off the wheel and slapped his forehead. “Flossie, I read about this in the Times on Sunday, but I never put two and two together. It’s a good thing we made a reservation in Laughlin. Matter of fact, it’s amazing that we got a room at all.”
Flossie shouted over the noise of motorcycle engines, “What are you talking about, Sterling?”
“Believe it or not, Flossie, we are about to meet the most famous over-sixty motorcycle gang in the United States at their annual Flamin’ Fogeys Festival. You wanted adventure, old girl? Well, with about fifty thousand bikers over sixty partying all through Laughlin, you’re gonna get it in spades.”
Flossie clapped her hands and gazed at the spectacle with shining eyes, “Oh, Sterling, this is so exciting. Maybe we can join their party.”
The hotel parking lot was crammed with every size and vintage of motorcycle, from big Harleys to little pink putt-putts. In fact, the entire town of Laughlin was wall-to-wall bikes.
A self-described workaholic, Morgan is an entertaining speaker, frequently appearing on authors’ panels and presenting writing workshops. She co-authors the award-winning Silver Sisters Mysteries series with her sister Phyllice Bradner, also writes as Arliss Adams, and her short stories have won awards. She writes the “Spotlight” and “Writers Tricks of the Trade” columns weekly in Los Angeles and Las Vegas editions of www.examiner.com. Most recently, in conjunction with her new book, Writers’ Tricks of the Trade, she launched the http://writerstricksofthetrade.blogspot.com blog and newsletter. Morgan belongs to several writers’ groups for both networking and critique.
Update August 2012: Since that time, a short story collection ‘The Mafia Funeral and Other Short Stories’ has been released and it contains several award winning stories. It spans several genres including true stories, mystery, romance and a tender story about a very old woman.
The paperback edition of my most recent funny crime caper, ‘Who’s Got The Money?’, co-authored with Meredith Holland was released by Oak Tree Press in late June. The Kindle and ePub editions should be out soon. This centers on a clever scheme to embezzle millions from the manufacturing division the federal prison system in the U.S.. In reality, manufacturing in federal prisons in the United States is an Eight Hundred Million Dollar A Year business, and Meredith and I were marketing representatives in that business for several years.
We’ve been inside federal prison factories and military warehouses, which gave us the idea for this fictional plot, and as stated by former undercover FBI Agent and NY Times Best Selling Author Joaquin “Jack” Garcia, the scary thing is that could have happened. Add three out-of-work former female executives who accept positions with the fictional prison department to the mix, then join them as they embark on a Charlie’s Angels-type undercover investigation fraught with backfires and it is the recipe for non-stop fun.
As if that wasn’t enough, in mid-September ‘Confessions Of A Cougar’ will be released in both paperback and digital editions. It’s a fun-filled, almost completely true story of two forty-two-year-old women becoming Cougars during a three-week trip to England and Holland, and their encounters with some luscious young men. Names have been changed for legal reasons, but I freely admit that I was one of those women.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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