INTERVIEW WITH RITTER AMES:
By Pamela James
MM2: Ritter, give us the backstory on why you became an author?
RA: It’s probably a story you’ve heard many times, as a young girl everyone asked if I wanted to be a nurse or a teacher, but neither of those occupations appealed to me. I wanted to be a jockey and ride racehorses, but since my dad was 6’3” and my mom 5’7” I figured I was out of luck on that prospect. I loved to read from an early age, however, and self-taught myself to read and write in cursive before I got into kindergarten (then my third grade teacher had the Herculean job of re-teaching me how to write cursive correctly—LOL!). In fourth grade I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and completely identified with the character of Jo. That was also the first time I realized I could grow up and be a writer. Until that point, I’d honestly never thought about how books came to be—just assumed they were part of the magic of the library. That book was not only an escape into the wonderful world of the March family, but gave me a vocation to shoot for as well.
MM2: How many books have you written?
RA: On the fiction side of things, I’ve completed three books in my Organized Mysteries series, a traditional mystery series set in Vermont and featuring organization expert KateMcKenzie. In my Bodies of Art series, I’m currently completing the third book in that series which features art recovery expert Laurel Beacham, and is a fast-paced caper/light suspense set in Europe. The Bodies of Art Mysteries was recently contracted by Henery Press, and they will be reissuing the first two under their banner in Feb 2016, with the third coming out next summer. And finally, I have the first of a third series drafted, but not yet revised, as I try to meet my other deadlines in the meantime.
I’ll also be part of a Christmas anthology with a terrific group of bestselling mystery authors. The collection, Cozy Holiday Escapes, will be released November 1st, and will include a
MM2: Do you re-read some of your favorite books?
RA: Oh, yes. Especially when I get finished with a deadline and can give myself a couple of months for binge reading. Favorite series to reread are the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters (actually, anything by the late-great Ms. Peters), the Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson, the Harry Potter series, the Blackbird Sisters series by Nancy Martin, the Aunt Dimity series by Nancy Atherton, and the Thomas Linley series by Elizabeth George. That’s just a few, but I could give you many, many, many more.
MM2: Is there a piece of advice that you would like to share with other writers who want to write a series?
RA: Make sure you start a series bible as soon as you start writing the first book. I can’t begin to say how many times that one item has saved my sanity when writing—and definitely saved time I would have spent searching to find an eye color or the color of a kitchen or a secondary character’s last name in a previous book.
MM2: Take us thru a typical writing day?
RA: I’m up early. I recently lost my 19-year old wonder cat, but through all those years she conditioned me that getting up early is not just for Black Friday sales—it’s something one should do every day unless one wants a feline to walk over one’s head. So, I’m usually up by 5 a.m., and I drink a couple of cups of tea while I get the cobwebs out of my brain and start to think about work.
When the sun comes up I go for a quick walk. I get a lot of plot problems solved this way. If my yellow Lab is feeling active she tags along, but she’s not really a morning dog.
Then, I write until I have at least 3000 words. I usually have a stack of notes I’ve written as an epiphany struck, so I have a good idea each day what I need to be working on in which book. I write very messy outlines ahead of time to keep me on track for the Organized Mysteries, and I have a highly developed story arc created for the Bodies of Art Mysteries, so I make sure I hit the points I need to hit in the right book in the series.
About three p.m. I go outside and play with the dog. She’s been hanging out with the husband all day, clearing up brush (it seems like he’s always doing that or mowing), so she’s usually napping by that point. I wake her with a couple of slices of cheese, and we play fetch until we’re both sick of handling the slobbery ball—LOL!
I go back in and make note of everything I need to do for the next day, so I can just sit down and start working. If I don’t do this I find ways to procrastinate, and my writing schedule doesn’t have room for that.
About five I start dinner. I look to see what’s on television for the evening—if there’s something good, we watch, if not, I usually try to get a little more marketing done (I do marketing off and on all day, which is why I sometimes can’t even get my 3000 word goal written in a day). I also check for voice mails, as I don’t usually answer the phone as I work. This is a Mon. thru Fri. thing—I usually write a bit on the weekend days, but don’t work as much as through the week.
MM2: Where is your favorite place to write?
RA: I’m one of those weird people who can write anywhere. If I have my laptop, I prefer to write at a desk because I tend to get shoulder pain if the height isn’t correct. But I always have pads of paper in my purse/tote, and I can write whole chapters in minutes with just a few index cards if I’m really desperate and an idea hits. For day-to-day stuff, I write in the living room in the morning, because the porches keep the early sun from putting a glare on my screen, and after lunch I move into my office and work there until I have nothing else to say.
MM2: What would your protagonist tell us about you?
RA: I think either Kate or Laurel would say that I truly want the best for everyone—be the people real or fiction. I love having fun in life, and I want everyone to have a blast as well. Also, I think they would say that I read and write for escape, and that would be true, too. While I love my family and my hometown, there are days when I simply want to solve a nice little murder with Kate McKenzie, or globetrot all over Europe looking for art treasures with Laurel Beacham.
MM2: What would your minor characters tell us about you?
RA: That I’m generous about giving them good lines as well—I don’t let the main characters hog all the attention.
MM2: If you were going to win a trip. Where would you like it to be and why?
RA: If I could go anywhere, I would want to go to somewhere around Lake Como in Italy—probably Varenna, Italy.
MM2: As an author what has writing taught you?
RA: That I have to know my project(s) backwards and forwards, and be able to concisely tell what each book is about, because you only have seconds to hook a reader. Also, the more prework I’ve done before I start a book the fast and easier the draft goes. Finally, this is my career, and I’m the CEO, COO, marketing department, and creative professional—if I don’t do all of my jobs, my business cannot thrive. Because one final thing writing has taught me is that I really love seeing my name on the covers of new books, and that cannot happen if I don’t sit down and write.
MM2: A few fun and easy questions. What is your favorite meal?
RA: I love Japanese food, especially anything cooked teriyaki style. I don’t have a particular favorite meal, but I love all kinds of food when fresh ingredients are used.
MM2: Your favorite place to eat?
RA: Panera Bread—I know, they don’t serve Japanese, but they have so many things I love there, and I can easily meet friends there for a meal or break (since their food appeals to most people) and always leave with a refill of green tea and a great shortbread cookie.
MM2: Your favorite charity?
RA: We give to a lot of charities, but if I had to choose one I would say a homeless mission in our neighboring city. There are just so many people in crisis today, and this shelter has been around as long as I’ve been in this area, so it really understands what the community needs.
MM2: Favorite song, movies?
RA: I love anything by Michael Buble or James Taylor, most things by Van Morrison (especially Moondance) and Colbie Calliat, and bubblegum hits like “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies and “Mmm Bop” by Hanson. And Jimmy Buffet music makes me laugh and feel glad that there is humor in the world.
Favorite movies are pretty much escapes, too. I love Romancing the Stone, and all of the Oceans (11, 12, & 13) movies. My husband told me I had to quit quoting Dead Poets’ Society, but I still do it silently. I fell in love with 30s & 40s movies when I was young, so I still have to go back and watch old Rex Harrison movies like The Ghost & Mrs. Muir and Anna and the King--and I love everything Cary Grant has been in, especially His Girl Friday and Arsenic and Old Lace. I also love the Sherlock Holmes series starring Robert Downey Jr., and any James Bond movie—but particularly if Daniel Craig or Sean Connery stars. If you want to know my guilty pleasure movie, I have to watch American Werewolf in London every couple of years (yes, I just HAVE to!) And my most recent favorite was the newly released The Man from U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill.
MM2: Television series and other shows?
RA: I love really fast dialogue like Aaron Sorkin excels at with the shows he writes and creates. Makes me sit up and pay close attention to everything. I just finished watching The Newsroom on Amazon Prime, because we don’t have HBO so I missed it the first time, and loved the series for the same reason I never missed The West Wing. Current series I never miss are Castle, Grimm, Scorpion, Madam Secretary, New Tricks, Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, and NCIS. Oh, and I can’t wait for The Mysteries of Laura to return to see if they let her move in with the food truck guy, because they really, really should (please don’t let her feel sorry for the injured ex and take him back instead). I also watch a lot of BBC programing on my PBS station, and never miss any Masterpiece programs.
This may sound like a lot of television viewing, but I’ll add here that I rarely watch reruns. The exception to that rule is old Columbo movies and rebroadcasts of the BBC series Sherlock. I enjoy watching repeats of those, but not much else.
MM2: Do you have any hobbies?
RA: I think reading moved past the hobby stage decades ago, and it’s kind of become an occupation. I’m also pretty good with a camera as long as I don’t have to take pictures of myself. And I’m a badass at Sudoku and Scrabble. Oh, and no one will play any kind of trivia games with me because my brain happily absorbs trivia and pop culture facts like a sponge. In all of those pursuits, I love when I’m able to do them in the company of family and friends. There’s nothing better than sharing activities with people you love.
MM2: Today if there were three of you, what would you have the other two do and what would you do?
RA: I would do all the fun stuff, like writing and hanging out with fun people. I’d convince one of my other selves that she really loves doing all the marketing and business work I have to do as a writer—and I’m very persuasive, so I think that could happen. My third self would be the nurturer, who does the grocery shopping, cooks dinner, cleans the house, does laundry, and makes sure I pay my gas bill on time. I’m highly organized about paying all my other bills, but my natural gas has to be paid a few days earlier than my other utility bills, and I usually remember on the day it’s due—so I either drive 30 miles roundtrip to pay on time or mail it late and pay the penalty (I hate to pay penalties).
MM2: Tell us what you like about living where you live?
RA: Our place makes my husband happy, and keeping him busy and happy gives me more time to write. I’ve moved something like 15 times in my life—twice times with my husband—so early on I told him moving wasn’t something he should look forward to doing. Where we live now is covered with shade trees, has wildlife that comes right to the door—deer, raccoon, possums, neighbors’ cats and dogs, and I have a family of wrens that recently built a nest in the potted philodendron I have on my side porch. So there’s always something to see and sigh over when I need to take a break for any craziness in life.
MM2: Lastly, create your own writing quote?
RA: “I write mysteries because the genre is my favorite avenue of escape…and because I can kill people and not have to wear orange.”