Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Jeri Westerson Interview
Jeri how did you begin your writing career?--
When I decided to become a novelist (after a long career as a graphic artist) it didn't turn out as easy as I thought it would be to get published, even though I had researched the business. In those days, I was writing historical fiction but couldn’t publish my many novels. During that time, I wanted some sort of proof that my writing was worth paying for, so I began writing articles I wanted to write and sent them to magazines, and editors bought them! Fun stuff like about wine, medieval beer, monks. And then I pitched myself to local newspapers and worked as a stringer. Journalism helped me hone my skills and cut to the chase in the rest of my writing. During this time and in the throes of my many rejections and into my second agent, it was suggested to me to switch to medieval mysteries as mysteries were a bigger market. So, I sat myself down, had a nice long chat, and decided to try writing a mystery. Crispin Guest, ex-knight turned PI, was born.
Tell us about what you write and how long it takes you to write a book?—
I write a medieval mystery series in a subgenre I invented that I call “Medieval Noir,” a little darker and grittier than your average medieval mystery with its monk or nun protagonist. It’s hardboiled detective fiction set in the Middle Ages, like a medieval Sam Spade. My detective, Crispin Guest, is an ex-knight turned detective on the mean streets of fourteenth century London. After he lost his wealth and his title, he reinvents himself as the Tracker, solving crimes for a fee. It’s the only thing that satisfies his intense need for justice and his chivalric code.
When writing these, I take a month to three months to do some solid research and then another six to write the book with its various drafts. So it’s a nine month process, just like a baby.
How much research goes into your books?—
Plenty. I already have about ten years worth of research in my pocket about various aspects of the Middle Ages, but there is always something that needs additional research. For instance, in my second in the series, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, I needed to research archery. And there’s always a real person I need to do a little extra research on. All of it adds more plot ideas to the mix. You never know what you will find that will give you that little twist. Footnotes add quite a few little details to the stories.
If you were going to mentor another writer what is the first thing you would tell them?—
Don’t give up. Sometimes it takes a while. But it might mean finally putting to bed one manuscript to start writing another. Don’t be afraid to move on. I think this is the mistake that many writers make when they go directly to self-publishing. I’m a believer in the gatekeeper system of big and small publishers. There’s a lot of drek out there because these writers didn’t take the time to hone their skills or pay their dues. And if there are 700,000 self-published books out there how is anyone ever going to find yours?
What part of the book is easiest for you to write?—
The beginning and sometimes the end. It’s all that stuff in the middle that’s a problem.
What would you like to say to your readers?—
Thank you! Thank you for loving Crispin!
Tell us about your latest book?—
SERPENT IN THE THORNS is Crispin's second adventure. A simple-minded tavern girl stirs up trouble for Crispin when a body is found in her room, killed by an arrow. Making matters worse, the murdered man was one of three couriers from France, transporting a religious relic with grave diplomatic implications. Now, as time runs out, Crispin must unravel the conspiracy behind the murder to save not only his king, but himself as well.
It’s a bit of thriller. It’s what I call my “ticking sundial” story.
What future writing plans do you have?—
There’s a third Crispin Guest novel, THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, coming out this October, and a fourth coming out next fall, TROUBLED BONES. I hope to be writing many more Crispin Guest novels, but in the meantime I’m working on a new medieval mystery series.
Do you go to conferences and which ones do you attend or take part in and how does it help to attend conferences?—
I don’t attend conferences anymore. I define a “conference” as a gathering of writers who attend seminars on how to write or market themselves. What I do attend are mystery fan conventions, like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime. For the kind of books I write, these are the best two for me to spend my promotional dollars on. Being on a panel helps new readers get to know you and your books. These are people very much into mysteries and they want to find new authors. So it’s a good showcase. I also do a lot of library presentations and literary luncheons. Again, these are folks, a captive audience, who like books and want to find new authors. I keep my presentations informative and funny and I always bring with me my “Box of Death,” my collection of medieval weaponry. Making a good impression with a crowd is an excellent way to build word of mouth.
Okay for a fun question or two: Jeri what is your favorite meal, dessert, movie and the places you like to travel?—
Favorite meal has to be lobster with melted butter. There is just no reason to do anything else to a lobster other than drown it in melted butter. Favorite dessert has to be chocolate cake, because cake is a good excuse to eat frosting. Favorite movie is a little tougher. There are so many I like. But I suppose if I had to whittle it down to three, it would have to be Casablanca, the all time best movie ever made, The Adventures of Robin Hood with the sexy Errol Flynn, and The Court Jester with Danny Kaye because it’s the funniest medieval movie ever.
As for traveling, my husband and I have camped either at Mammoth in the mountains (in the fall) or at the beach at Cambria (we have an old Terry Trailer with all the comforts of home and none of the distractions [no TV]). Either of those places are beautiful and relaxing. But I would love to go back to England again. Lovely old churches, castles, and charming wooded countryside.
One of the best things about having to do promotion and book tours are the new places I get to go, including those in southern California where I live. I’ve seen new places I’ve never been that are a lot of fun. I also loved Indiana, Wiscosin, and Alaska. I guess I just like traveling.
What are your summer plans?—
I am currently without day job so my plans are to write like mad and try to sell some short stories and get my outline prepared so I can start writing that new medieval mystery series. No rest for the weary.
I won't ask you about favorite authors but I will ask you to tell us some of your favorite books?
Much easier. HOUSE ON THE STRAND by Daphne DuMaurier, the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers, the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett, FARWELL, MY LOVELY by Raymond Chandler, RIDE THE PINK HORSE Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes, THE SEVILLE COMMUNION by Arturo Perez-Reverte, THE CANTERBURY TALES by Geoffrey Chaucer, and the Shakespeare plays by…Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. J
Are there any writing books that have helped you with penning your books?--
Carolyn Wheat’s HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION got me started. But to focus on my first mystery, I literally dissected THE MALTESE FALCON —what sort of characters were in it, the highs and lows, the tension, the resolution. And I’ve been rewriting it ever since. J
Explain to us your writing process from plotting to completion?--
There’s a lot of staring into space and thinking. At least that’s what I tell my husband. And then I get a little spiral bound notebook and start keeping notes. Bits of research, dialog that pop up, ideas of plotting. Once a cohesive idea starts to form—and with the Crispin novels it usually starts with a relic and building a story around it while taking into account the current history and politics of Crispin's time—I start to outline. I never used to outline but I find, as the years toll on, that I really do need to firm up where the heck I’ll be going with the plot, knowing that it could all be tossed if a better idea comes along. Which invariably it does. I continue to use the spiral bound notebook as a writing diary for that particular novel. I play little games like asking myself “What’s supposed to happen next?” or “That isn’t enough motivation for that” and generally talk myself into ideas and new twists. Each novel has its own notebook..—Blog: www.Getting-Medieval.com and website where excerpts of all three novels can be read, including discussion guides for book clubs and my series book trailer are at www.JeriWesterson.com. And finally, Crispin has his own blog at www.CrispinGuest.com.
Last but certainly not least leave us with a quote by either your character or you.
Crispin: “I believe…in belief.”
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