Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Guest Interview with Mystery Author Marilyn Meredith

Today my guest is mystery writer and good friend, Marilyn Meredith. We met at a writers’ conference several years ago and have since become good friends. We also discovered we share the same birthday! (Maybe that’s why we are so compatible!) So I’m delighted to welcome Marilyn today.

And I’m delighted to be here. Lorna and I have a lot in common besides our birthdays.

We know each other pretty well, but I never asked where you grew up.

I was born in Glendale but lived my whole growing up years in Eagle Rock which is located between Glendale and Pasadena. During my childhood we actually had lots of vacant lots and a hill behind us with no houses. (A freeway is there now.) Streetcars were plentiful and as a kid and teen I utilized that transportation a lot to go downtown to the main library, shopping, and sometimes, making transfers, all the way to the beach.

I’m a bit younger, but I remember the old ‘red cars’. They brought them back at Disney’s California Adventure. And we took them to my grandmother’s once or twice. 

What kind of childhood did you have? Were there siblings?

I had a great childhood. That was back in the day where we could do whatever we wanted as long as we were back home by 5. (That’s when my dad got home and we had dinner.) Mom never had a clue where I was all the rest of the time. Of course we walked to school and back. Junior High we walked sometimes and sometimes took the bus part way. I suspect it was about four miles each way. High School was a long walk, a bus, transfer to the streetcar and another long walk. There was another way, up over the hill behind out house but that really wasn’t safe—but we did do it once in a while.

My sister was five years younger than me and looked like Margaret O’Brien, the child star. It was during the war and I told everyone that she was a princess from Europe who had been sent here for her safety. The one who believed the story the longest was my sister and she truly thought our parents ended up adopting her. See, I was a big story teller back then too.

My dad always thought I could do anything, and I think that probably affected me more than anything. I’ve always felt like I could do anything I set out to do.

You sound like a great storyteller, indeed! When did you first realize you could write? Did you always enjoy it?

I started creating stories before I could write—drawing pictures that told a story. I always wrote stories while I was growing up. I wrote plays for the neighborhood kids to perform during the long summers. I knew I was a good writer and when I grew up I always volunteered for writing jobs like the PTA newsletter as an adult. I also wrote plays for my Camp Fire Girls to star in. Because I had five children and a husband who was often gone (he was a career Seabee) I didn’t have much spare time for writing, though I always had a book to read. I attempted writing books without much success until most of my kids were grown.

What other jobs have you done during your life? Did they influence your writing?

Babysitter from the time I was 10 (crazy people leaving a kid with their babies), did inventory for a big department store, worked at filing for the phone company, telephone operator including information off and on for years, 10 years as a teacher in a pre-school for developmentally disabled kids, 3 years as a day care center teacher, twenty plus years as an owner and administrator of a licensed care home for six developmentally disabled women.

Everything influences my writing. All the people I’ve met along the way, of course, are a part of characters I’ve created. Experiences I’ve had help me to create experiences for my characters and to know how they feel when things happen to them.

What was your first book? Was it published? Is it still in print?

My first full length book I wrote I sent out to a publisher, it was rejected and I gave up and threw the whole thing away. (Dumb.) The first full length book I wrote that was accepted was called Trail to Glory. It was a family saga based on my own family’s genealogy. I wrote and rewrote it many times. It was rejected nearly 30 times before it was accepted by a New York publisher. No, it’s not still in print. I hope to redo it for Kindle one of these days.

You should! I’d enjoy reading it. 

Many of us (yours truly included) have a stash of unfinished or simply older manuscripts sitting around. Do you? 

I used to, but no longer. I got rid of them—recycled the paper and they are no longer on my computer.

I keep hoping to get back to at least one of mine.

As you know, I love your Tempe Crabtree series. How did you come up with her, or did she come to you and demand to be written? (My characters frequently do this.)

Tempe evolved from three women I met after I moved to the foothill community where I live now. The first was a female police officer I did a ride-along with who literally poured her heart out to me about being the only woman on that department. The second was the resident deputy of our area who I interviewed for a newspaper article. She told me a lot about her experience as a female in a male dominated job—plus what kind of things she was called upon to do. The third was a Native American woman I met at an event where we had a lot of time to talk. I based Tempe’s looks on her.

How did you come up with her name? It’s unusual and memorable without being weird—and that’s the trick
Tempe Crabtree was my great-grandmother’s name. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to meet her, but she grew up and lived in the area where I live now. I loved the name and it fit the character I created.

Wow! What a great gift! You didn’t even have to go looking for the name.

Tempe lives in a locale similar to your own. Does that make it easier to write about the place?

Bear Creek has a strong resemblance to Springville. The big difference is I moved Bear Creek into the mountains a 1000 feet mainly to have better trees. Springville has the Tule River running through it; the town of Bear Creek is named after the river running through it. Springville has an Inn like Bear Creek and some of the same restaurants and stores. I don’t use the actual places because unfortunately, businesses have a hard time making it here. I can see Bear Creek in my head and though it’s similar there are some big differences.

I know that your son-in-law was in law enforcement. Did that spark your interest in that profession, or were you interested before?

When we lived in Oxnard we had a lot of neighbors who were police officers. We partied with them and the wives and I became friends. This gave me a lot of insight into how the job affected the families and vice versa. I didn’t become interested in writing about law enforcement until my son-in-law became a police officer and stopped at our house every morning for coffee and told me his tales about what he did on his shift. I also went on my first ride-along with him.

Which came first, the Rocky Bluff series or the Tempe Crabtree one?

The Rocky Bluff P.D. series came first, though it wasn’t long before I was writing one and then the other.

You told me that the same son-in-law was the inspiration for your EPIC eBook Award winner, Lingering Sprit. Do you ever draw inspiration from other family members or friends?

I’ve never written another book that was inspired by something that actually happened in our family. I have been inspired by many true events. And I must confess, I put a lot of people I know or have met into my books, fortunately they never recognize themselves.

Speaking of family, we couldn’t leave out your darling husband, Hap. Does he ever inspire your characters? 

Hubby has never been an inspiration for a character, however many of his attributes show up in Hutch. Though Pastor Hutch, Tempe’s husband, is not based on my husband, many of Hutch’s beliefs and convictions are a lot like my hubby’s. 

Before you leave, tell us a little about your new Tempe Crabtree mystery, Raging Water.

Deputy Tempe Crabtree’s investigation of the murder of two close friends is complicated when relentless rain turns Bear Creek into a raging river. Homes are inundated and a mud slide blocks the only road out of Bear Creek stranding many—including the murderer.
Can’t wait to read it!

Thank you for stopping by today. We look forward to seeing you in person soon.

Thank you for this opportunity. I’m looking forward to spending time with the both of you in the near future also.
Contest: The person who leaves comments on the most blogs will have his/her name used for a character in my next book—can choose if you want it in a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery or a Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel.
Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Raging Water from Mundania Press. Writing as F. M. Meredith, her latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel us No Bells, the forth from Oak Tree Press. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and follow her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/
I know there are some people who like to read a series in order, but let me reassure you that every book is complete. Though the characters grow through each book, the crime is always solved. Here is the order of the books for anyone who wants to know: Deadly Trail, Deadly Omen, Unequally Yoked, Intervention, Wing Beat, Calling the Dead, Judgment Fire, Kindred Spirits, Dispel the Mist, Invisible Path, Bears With Us, Raging Water.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Theme Park Junkies

Okay, we are self-confessed theme park junkies. We were two of the many kids who grew up watching the TV show Disneyland, an unabashed infomercial for Walt Disney’s new amusement park being built in Anaheim, CA.
We were both children at the time, but we each went to the park (the term ‘theme park’ was yet to come) during its first year of operation.

My grandmother took my mother, brother, and me in August, 1955, one month after opening, for my birthday. None of us knew exactly what to expect, but Ron and I had been well-primed. The place more than lived up to our expectations. Since I was already in love with fairy tales, the magic captured me immediately.

Larry went first on his brother’s birthday the following March and again on his own birthday in April. He loved it as much as I. We discovered our mutual addiction when we were dating, and in fact, attended the very first New Year’s Eve Party at the park.

We continued to go through the years, and I can’t ever recall having anything but a great time.

That’s probably why when Larry was offered a job helping to build the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka, Japan, he jumped at the chance. Well, being able to work on Jurassic Park, JAWS and WaterWorld didn’t hurt! The extra bonus was a job for me in Document Control once we arrived in Japan.

During our time there, we made good friends and really got to know the ins and outs of theme park construction. That knowledge merely increased our love for that form of escapist entertainment. We even wrote a book about it: 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park.

After we returned to California, our daughter, Kim, began working at Disneyland, so we bought annual passes. We’ve had them nearly every year since.

We recently celebrated our forty-seventh anniversary. Where did we go? To Disney, of course. Although this time we chose Disney’s California Adventure since we hadn’t ridden on two of the new rides in Cars Land. And, once again, we had a ball.

How about you? Do you like theme parks, too?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why I Need an Editor

As many of you may know, I edit for a couple of publishers as well as on contract and for friends. I’m pretty tough, and I do both content and line editing. So why do I need an editor? (And why does every other writer?)
1.   I’m too close to the material. I know what it’s supposed to say, and therefore I read it that way. I learned this lesson the hard way with our first book, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park. After three complete rewrites plus a complete edit by the publisher, I thought we’d gotten all the bugs out. My then-boss read the book and mentioned she’d found an error. (She’s one of the best proofreaders I know.) I asked what it was, and sure enough, it was right there. A letter had been left out of a word, and all of us missed it.

2.   Even with an editor, mistakes creep in. (I attribute the errors to the Menehune, by the way.) However, fewer mistakes appear when a professional goes through the manuscript after I’ve taken a few whacks at it.

3.    We run all our work through our critique group.They catch the small errors and make suggestions for improvement. However, in doing the corrections for the critiques, that pesky delete button sometimes gets carried away, and words that should have been left in get deleted. Or the opposite can happen. Words that should have been deleted just won’t leave.

4.   I tend to overuse certain words, like three times in the same paragraph when there are perfectly good synonyms. Our critique group usually catches those, but not always. My editor does, however.

5.   It’s easy to leave out quotation marks and to either add or omit other punctuation. When I do a professional edit, the last pass is usually to check to make sure that all sentences end with punctuation and that all quotes are in pairs. I don’t always see these in my own work because I’m usually more concerned about content.

6.   When you develop a good relationship with an editor who enjoys your writing and who understands your style of storytelling, the mutual trust level increases. Whenever a particular editor makes a comment, I pay attention. She understands me well enough to know when I haven’t made an important point clear enough, and she isn’t afraid to point out where I haven’t answered a question or completed a story arc adequately. She also makes notes of the things she likes in the story. That affirmation really helps me know when I’m on the right track.

7.   I always know the backstory for my books, but I’m afraid of interjecting ‘reader feeder.’ So I sometimes need to be told that the reader may need the additional information. When editing Larry’s book, Lakeview Park, I had to remind him several times about including enough detail to explain a character’s motivation.

8.   Even editors can make grammar errors when they put on their writing hats. I depend on my editor to point out when I’ve done that. Split infinitives and confusing pronoun references are probably the biggest issues. I know better, but sometimes in the rewriting, those kinds of things can occur.

9.   A good editor can be your best asset in producing a great book, On the other hand, a poor edit can make the difference between an enjoyable story and one that is difficult to read, and therefore not a pleasure.
So, why do I need an editor? Because, for my own books, I’m the writer. That’s my primary job. And I leave the final edit up to my editor. I’ve been blessed with terrific people who’ve worked with me to produce books I can be proud of. I did encounter one editor who made up some rules of her own (not per Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk and White's Elements of Style) and then insisted on changing the manuscript to conform. I protested to the publisher, but the book went out as edited.

That’s why I always tell those authors with whom I’m working that the manuscript ultimately belongs to them, not to me. I merely make suggestions, and they are free to accept or reject them.
I requested a different editor for the next book and the let the publisher know the reasons I didn’t feel the other one was a good match. We now have a wonderful editor whom I request whenever I submit.

If you do find an editor you like, you are truly blessed. And if you haven’t yet, keep looking until you find one.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Renewing the Contract

On September 4, Larry and I will renew our contract for the forty-seventh time. We decided quite a few years ago to treat our marriage as renewable annually on our anniversary. Why? Because we never want to become complacent about our relationship.

In reality, both parties to a contract, including marriage, could opt out at any time. We just recognize the reality and recommit each year for another.

Larry and I have known each other practically forever. We went to the same grammar school and high school. We had the same friends and lived in the same neighborhood. No one seemed particularly surprised when we decided to get married, even though we were both very young.

Our parents were good friends, and they were happy for us. In fact, I’ve always said if there had been arranged marriages, we’d still have married each other—and we don’t know how they pulled it off!

Having lost my own father at such a young age (he was thirty-seven), I learned early never to take anything or anyone for granted. One day, without warning, they could be gone. So we thought it made sense to remind ourselves of how special our marriage was on a regular basis.

We never part without a kiss and the words “I love you.” We don’t go to sleep at night without the same. And we mean it.

In 1978, while on a couples’ retreat, we were challenged to rewrite our marriage vows. We were married at a time when the service was read from a little booklet. Few changes were allowed, although, as you might guess, we removed the word ‘obey’ from my vow. The pastor suggested it.

This is the new vow we wrote on November 5, 1978, and we still like it.

We consciously choose:
To share today, the problems and joys
To delight in our uniqueness and similarities
To listen for the feelings behind the words
To look for the gift of humor in times of stress
To respond with love
To risk vulnerability in the security of acceptance
To rejoice in the spaces in our togetherness

We reread this every couple of years, and, so far, still choose to renew the contract. We’re at forty-seven years and counting. In Larry’s family, fifty years or more is the norm. And we intend to keep the tradition going.