Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Interview with Deb Sharp

M&M: Deb, tell us about your writing schedule.

I wish I could say, ''I'm rigorously disciplined and set my alarm for 5:15 AM each day to write without interruptions for 2 hours.'' Truth is, I have periods of complete slackerhood mixed with ones of frantic writing. I'm grateful for my newspaper background (20 years a reporter; mainly with USA Today) that lets me write quickly, when I need to.

M&M: Tell us about your series and where you got the idea for the series.

I started with Mama, who is the title character in my funny, set-in-Florida Mace Bauer Mystery series. I was doing an exercise always recommended for new writers, looking through the newspaper to see if something would unclog my creative juices (As a former, longtime news reporter, I was having trouble with the notion that I was now free to make things up without getting fired!) I turned a page, and there she was: an older gal, driving a turquoise convertible, mouth open in a full laugh. I immediately thought, ''That woman is 'Mama,' and I'm going to tell where her story goes.''It didn't take me long to realize that Mama, with her sherbet-colored pantsuits, four prior husbands, and outout-sizedrsonality, would need a straight woman foil. A little bit of Mama goes a long way, kind of like in real life. (Just kidding, Mama!) I decided she'd have three daughters (I'm one of three sibs . . . coincidence?), and that the best foil, the one she'd drive the most crazy, would be her sensible middle daughter, Mace (I'm a sensible middle daughter ... coincidence?)I wrote a short story, which became the first book, MAMA DOES TIME (Midnight Ink, Oct. 2008). Second book is up in July, MAMA RIDES SHOTGUN. The third, MAMA GETS HITCHED, will be published in 2010.As for the setting, I'm a Florida native, so I never imagined I'd set it anywhere else (Write what you know, right?) I put it in the rodeo-and-ranches slice of the state because it's an area that hasn't been written about very much, and I'm tired of everyone thinking that Florida is either sexy South Beach or Disney's Mickey Mouse.

M&M: How do you plan and plot your books?

I'm a crazy, anal-retentive outliner ... thirty pages for a three-hundred page book. Though I admire those seat-of-the-pants ''My muse must speak to me'' writers, I like to have an idea where I'm going before I start. I come up with the victim first, and go from there. Since the central characters recur, it's always great fun to ''meet'' the new people who will wander into the lives of Mama, Mace, and her sisters.

M&M: How long does it take you to write the book and how many times do you rewrite your books?

I've done three now, and each has taken between 8 months and a year. I know many people advise against rewriting as you go, but I do it. I'm always polishing, because in the newspaper biz, with daily deadlines, you only had so much time for a story, so you'd refine it as much as you could as you wrote. My first draft is in longhand (I know, I know ... dinosaur-woman). Putting it from my notebook to the the computer is the second draft, at which point I usually get feedback from my writers' group, and incorporate that into a third draft. After that, I'll probably do a fourth, hand that in, then take revisions and suggestions from my agent and the Midnight Ink editor, leading up to a fifth.

M&M: Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was it?

Joyce Sweeney, a fantastic poet and writer of young adult novels who leads my writers' group in Fort Lauderdale, told me I didn't have to spell things out in fiction like I did in newspapers, where you tell the readers what you're going to tell them; then you tell them; then you tell them what you just told them. ''Fiction readers are smart,'' Joyce said. "They like to figure things out.''

M&M: Tell us a little about your personal life and where you live?

I live in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with my NBC TV reporter husband, Kerry Sanders. We met in Fort Myers, Fla., on a story, in 1983. We've been married 20 years. No kids; no pets. Had a pair of goldfish once. Ended badly.

M&M: Do you have a favorite charity or cause?

I'm a huge supporter of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and was a classroom mentor for several years with the group in Ft. Lauderdale. After covering hurricanes for USA Today for so many years, I came to admire the Red Cross for their disaster relief efforts. I also lend my support to libraries and literacy programs.

M&M: Do you have a booksigning story to share?

No great signing stories, but I could talk about the time I wrestled Salman Rushdie for the last lemon-poppy seed muffin on the authors' free breakfast bar at the Miami Book Fair. When I figured out it was him, I quickly tried to redeem my rude self: ''Oh, no, Mr. Rushdie!'' I said, as I dropped the muffin back on the platter. "You take it, please!'' I realized later a little scuffle over a muffin probably wasn't a big deal for a guy who'd had an Iranian death fatwa declared against him.

M&M: Who are some of your favorite authors?

I like so many! Authors of light, funny mysteries are my favorites, and all the better if they have a Southern bent, like Carolyn Haines or the late Anne George. A few others I like are Elaine Viets, a fellow Fort Lauderdalean; Nancy Martin, who writes the funny Blackbird Sisters mysteries; and my good friend and fellow former reporter Bob Morris on the testosterone side.

M&M: What would you like to say to your readers?

I'd certainly like to say thanks. I am incredibly grateful -- and humbled -- to find that people are reading my fiction. It's icing (buttercream, with flowers!) on the cake when someone gets in touch to tell me they've had a good laugh with ''Mama.''

M&M: What is your favorite meal, place to vacation and dessert?

My husband and I are huge fans of ethnic foods, everthing from Thai and Indian to Ethiopian and Caribbean. But my favorite meal, as cliche as it sounds, is steak, baked potato, and a wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese vinaigrette. Since my hubby won't eat red meat, I don't get to eat it very often since I can usually only finish about three ounces of steak on my own.Travel: We've been very lucky to visit far-flung places including Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Easter Island. But one of my favorite spots, still, is little Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. Dessert? Man, that's a hard one. I love ANYTHING chocolate (milk, not dark), and like Mama in my books, I'm a freak for butterscotch pie. But I have to say, as a true-blue south Floridian, Key lime pie is probably my fave.

M&M: Leave us with some mysterious words of wisdom and your website addy.

Despite the fact I'm not Nature Girl, I saddled up and camped the week-long Florida Cracker Trail horseback ride as research for MAMA RIDES SHOTGUN. I learned something important out in the wild that has stayed with me since. Now, I'll share that wisdom with you: Never pee when your boots are downhill. My website: http://www.deborahsharp.com/


  1. Hey, Pamela and Terri! Y'all are the greatest. Thanks so much for a super interview and the nice layout you gave this post on Mayhem & Magic.

    (and, PS ... how do you gals find the time to do everything you do? Maybe you should write a book about THAT!)

  2. Hey Deb!

    So wonderful to meet you at Malice. And I can't wait to read all about Mama.

    AS a fellow reporter, I had wondered how it would be to just make things up. After all, for years we've both been ultra-concerned with making sure we were writing only what's absolutely true.

    Now--"true" is what we make it. How has that transition been for you?

    Congratulations on your wild success!

  3. Deb,
    I want to read your 'Mama Series" now more than ever and I hope some time this year you will come back and be a guess blogger for a day.

  4. LOL. I'm so sorry about your goldfish. It was a lovely interview and I've added you to my book shopping list.

  5. Thanks for that tip! It's good to know. :)


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