Welcome to the six hundred and forty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with cosy mystery and paranormal / historical author Helen Osterman. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Helen. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Helen: My name is Helen Osterman. I live in Homer Glen, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, USA. I am a retired nurse and have five children and nine grandchildren. As a child I had a very vivid imagination and spent many hours ‘telling myself stories’. During my nursing career, I wrote for the professional journals and contributed article to a local newspaper. After taking two courses in creative writing, I decided to try my hand at a mystery novel. I was hooked. I joined a great writers group and, so far, have six published books with two more in the works.
Morgen: Wow. Congratulations. I can relate to being hooked, I started by attending an evening workshop class. I wrote a short story and here we are eight years later, still hooked on short stories. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Helen: I write a cozy mystery series. Don’t like blood and gore. But I did write two books in other genres. Notes in a Mirror is a paranormal / historical and Song of the Rails, a Love Story. This one is partly autobiographical.
Morgen: I think a lot of our writing is. It’s hard not to put some of ourselves in our writing… or some of our experiences certainly. You mentioned six books out, please tell us more about those. Do you write under a pseudonym?
Helen: The Emma Winberry cozy mystery series consists of four published books to date, with two more in the works. Titles: Emma Winberry and the Evil Eye, a Prequel, The Accidental Sleuth, The Stranger in the Opera House, The Elusive Relation. Incidentally, this last book is set in the village of Roydon outside of London. Since my youngest daughter lives in London, I spent three weeks with her researching the book.
I have another mystery series not yet published. And, the other two books I mentioned above.
I write under my own name: Helen Macie Osterman.
Morgen: Macie. What a wonderful name. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Helen: All my books are in eBook format. I put three of them on myself; had the electronic rights, but had to wait until one year after the hard cover edition came out. I paid for a new cover and the formatting, then uploaded them to Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
I read eBooks at night, when my eyes are tired. The advantage is that I can enlarge the print. But, I would rather hold a book in my hands.
Morgen: Most people would, even those of us who love eReaders. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Helen: The character of my mystery series, Emma Winberry, has been with me for many years. She has become my alter ego. She has a ‘sixth sense’ and talks to her Guardian Angel.
Morgen: A great choice. I’m not sure that they’ve worked together before. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Helen: I named all of my books and suggested designs for the covers. For Song of the Rails, I even took the photograph. Covers are extremely important. They often sell the book.
Morgen: They do. You mentioned two books “in the works”. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Helen: I am currently working on the sixth book in the Emma Winberry series. Then I will finish the third book in the other series I have in progress.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Helen: I try to write every day, if possible. I am a morning person so the early hours find me at my desk. I always write the first draft in long hand. I can’t create on a machine.
When I finish for the day, I leave a few words about the next scene or chapter so that I can pick up where I left off.
Morgen: I’m the opposite; I love to create on the screen then edit on paper. I’m a morning person too though. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Helen: I don’t outline. I begin with an idea and let the characters tell me where they want to go. I do write out the sequence of events, if I know them. Sometimes, they have to show themselves. I have a folder full of notes that I write when ideas come to me. If they fit, I include them. Otherwise I may use them elsewhere.
Morgen: I love it when the characters take over; they really feel ‘real’, don’t they. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Helen: The characters simply pop into my mind. Occasionally I loosely model them after people I know.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Helen: My first draft is rough. I write quickly and get the storyline down on paper. Then, as I put it into the computer, I edit and enlarge on the story. The next step is to print it out and let it sit for a month or so. Then I go back and edit again. Only then do I submit it to my writers group.
Morgen: It’s always very wise to let it stew. Editing too soon and we remember it too well to spot all the errors. We’re invariably too close to our work… which is where a writers group is great. Do you have to do much research?
Helen: When I need factual information, I do as much research as necessary. When I was in London, I called Scotland Yard, the Essex police department, and the fire department. They were very forthcoming with the information I needed.
Morgen: Were they? That’s encouraging. I know crime writers Stephen Booth (who judged one of my writing group’s short story competitions this year) and Peter James (who I’ve also met a couple of times) have close relationships with the police. It’s so important to get the details right. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Helen: I always write in the third person, multiple points of view. Only in Song of the Rails did I use first person. I have never tried second person. It just doesn’t sound right.
Morgen: Most people would agree with you. I love it but then I’m strange. 🙂 Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Helen: I do not write poetry. I wrote journal articles during my nursing career. I have written some short stories. I have a collection on eBooks titled, A Visit From the Blues Brothers and Other Short Stories.
Morgen: A great title. I write very little poetry. I’ve never been taught to write that form and I don’t read it so I don’t feel qualified (or inspired, if I’m honest). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Helen: I think every writer does. I have a drawer full. But, I never know when I may use some of the ideas or scenes from these older works. So, they sit, waiting.
Morgen: I have a few files like that. I do plan to revisit them though because I feel I have the experience now to whip them into shape. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Helen: Every writer has rejections. At first I was discouraged, but, eventually I got used to them and relished the acceptances that much more.
Morgen: Surprisingly I have had some authors who haven’t received any rejections, but usually because they’re written very little and had everything accepted or they don’t submit! Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Helen: I have tried for years to get an agent without success. Now I stick to small presses. I find they take a personal interest in their authors.
Morgen: I’ve found that too. It’s a route a lot of authors are taking. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Helen: Marketing is essential! Most publishers ask the author how she intends to market the book before they offer a contract. I speak at whatever venues will listen to me and belong to as many organizations as I can handle.
Morgen: Most of us have to. “I speak at whatever venues will listen to me” I love that! What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Helen: I love the creative aspect of watching a story come to life. It’s very exciting. I don’t relish the marketing aspect. It’s time consuming and exhausting. But I’m always delighted when someone comes up to me and says, “Aren’t you the writer I heard on the radio?”
Morgen: Oh, wow. I’ve only spoken at a couple of (local) events so far so I’ve not had yet but I can imagine how thrilling that must be. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Helen: Take creative writing courses. Know grammar and punctuation. Join a supportive writers group.
Morgen: Yes, yes, yes (as Meg Ryan said in ‘When Harry Met Sally’). 🙂 If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Helen: Agatha Christie, James Michener, Ernest Hemmingway. Since I love to cook, I would serve Lasagne, a green salad, a good red wine, and homemade biscotti for dessert.
Morgen: That would a great party. I’ve love to have Agatha and Ernest, for sure. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Helen: I belong to MWA, SIC, and The Authors Guild.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Helen: I love to garden. Have way too many houseplants to care for. I also love to cook. Make my own five-grain bread. I play the piano, but not as often as I would like. In between I visit with family and friends.
Morgen: I’m definitely my father’s daughter rather than mother’s; she’s very green fingered whereas plants don’t live long with me – I starve them or overwater… usually the former followed by the latter. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Helen: I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. Have found a few good leads there. Am in the process of starting a blog along with the other members of my writers group.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Helen: I think we have to be prepared for more books in electronic format. Although I believe there will always be a market for the printed page.
Morgen: So do I. I know of people who have loved the eBook so much that they’ve gone and bought the paper version just so they have it. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Thank you, Helen. It’s been great chatting with you today.
Helen Osterman lives in Homer Glen, a suburb of Chicago. She has five children and nine grandchildren.
She received a Bachelor of Nursing degree from Mercy Hospital-St. Xavier College and later earned a Master’s Degree from Northern Illinois University. Throughout her forty-five year nursing career, she wrote articles for both nursing and medical journals. She is the author of the Emma Winberry Mystery Series.
- The Accidental Sleuth, published in 2007 by Five Star Publishing.
- The Stranger in the Opera House, published in 2009 also by Five Star
- The Elusive Relation, published by Five Star, Sept, 2011.
- Notes in a Mirror, a paranormal/historical, also published in 2009 by Weaving Dreams Publishing.
- Song of the Rails, a love story, also by Weaving Dreams, came out in June, 2011.
- Emma Winberry and the Evil Eye, published Sept. 2012 by Weaving Dreams Publishing.
She is a member of American Association of University Women, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime and The Authors Guild.