Thursday, June 16, 2016
An Interview with Sally Berneathy
MM: Sally tell us how many books you have written? Give us the backstory on your writing career?
I have published 24 books. We won’t talk about how many I’ve written. Those first couple will forever be a secret between my trash can and me.
I began writing fiction in the third grade. We had to do book reports every six weeks. I hated those book reports! We had to take a living, breathing book and tear it down to bare bones then analyze the skeleton. So I decided to write my own story. The teacher loved it and said anyone who wanted could write a story instead of a book report. I was hooked!
As I wended my way through college (18-1/2 years of night school, over 200 credit hours, lots of diversions into various fields), I could usually convince a teacher to let me do a piece of fiction instead of a boring analytical report or research paper.
I made my first attempt at writing a book in 1988. That’s one of the ones we don’t talk about. But I found a local writing group, Mid-America Romance Writers, and got involved in a critique group…and learned that writing a book is a lot different from writing short fiction!
I sold my first book in 1991, a romantic comedy, to Meteor Kismet. They published my book and went out of business.
I sold my second book in 1992, a romantic suspense, to Silhouette Shadows. They published my book and shut down the line.
I sold three romantic suspense novels to Robinson Publishing in England. Yeah, they published my books and went out of business.
I sold a paranormal romance to Berkley’s Haunting Hearts. They published my book and shut down the line.
But I sold 8 books to Silhouette Romance and 1 to Harlequin Intrigue, and they’re still in business!
I left the world of writing in 2001 and went to work as a computer programmer for a decade.
When I returned to writing in 2011, I decided to write mysteries instead of romance. Writers are admonished to write about what we know, and after three divorces, it became quite clear I don’t know squat about romance! But I do know a lot about chocolate and I’ve fantasized a lot about murder. So the Death by Chocolate series was born.
I wrote that first book and decided to try the new phenomenon of self-publishing. I knew as much about self-publishing as I knew about romance. So the first book sat there selling a few copies but doing nothing spectacular.
I decided perhaps I should try a different premise for a series. I was sitting at my desk, trying to come up with an idea for that series, when my phone rang. My ex. After nine years he was still harassing me. I felt he was never going to leave me alone. And he was never going to die. And if he did die, he’d come back and haunt me. And The Ex Who Wouldn’t Die series was born.
I have now written 5 books in the Death by Chocolate series and four in The Ex Who Wouldn’t Die series. I am happy to report that readers have found them and seem to like them, and in May when I moved in with the boyfriend, the ex stopped stalking me!
I have always been an avid reader and a story teller. The idea of creating one of those books that transported me to another world and held my attention for hours was both intimidating and alluring. Now that I’ve done it a few times, it’s still intimidating and alluring. I’m always a bit astonished when I finish a book and realize it actually is a book and not just a bunch of my ramblings.
MM: What is your writing schedule? Where do you write best and if it's your office do you have a picture we can see?
7:00 ish – Get up.
7:00 to 7:30 ish – Check email.
7:30 ish – Yoga workout
8:00 ish – Free weight or elliptical workout
9:00 ish Shower
9:30 ish Breakfast
10:00 ish Get to work
Now that I’m living with the boyfriend, I stop writing (sometimes I just stop trying to write) around 6:00 for dinner. Even when I lived alone, I had to stop around that time. If I write too late, I can’t sleep. The characters and plot spin round and round in my brain. I have to turn them off and read or watch TV or do something to disconnect until the next day.
I do have an office. In my former house my office was in a sunroom on the second floor up among the trees. It was amazing. In the winter I froze since the sunroom was built over a storage room. But it didn’t matter. I would rather freeze in that sunroom than be comfortable somewhere else in the house. When the boyfriend and I decided to get a place together, my office was a primary concern! The place we chose has a large formal living room with one wall of windows. That’s my office. It’s only one wall and I miss the sunroom, but I sit facing the windows, so it works. The good part is that I have a wall to put some of my bookcases. I’ll take a picture of that wall.
MM: They say it takes a village to write a book. Who is in your village?
And they are so right, though “village” may not be the right term. “Country” may be closer. I belong to two local writing groups and a couple of national groups, and I belong to a critique group which meets every week. This group is the most important part of my writing. Nothing goes into one of my books that hasn’t been critiqued by my critique buddies. They keep me straight, point out when something isn’t working, when it is, when a character is out of character….hundreds of things. Then I have a couple of readers who will read the first draft and give me feedback. Then I turn the book over to my free lance editor. She was my first mentor when I joined MARA back in 1988, and she is amazing. We’ve remained friends through the years, and her editorial comments on my books are invaluable.
The writing groups provide articles and workshops on improving my craft, and I can always use those. Even though I’m no longer writing romance, the national RWA conference is a must for me. I go, attend workshops, get copies of all the workshops, and play them in my car and when I’m doing my yoga workout.
MM: Tell us how you plot your cozy mysteries? What comes first setting, character, background, plot?
I’m a “pantser” writer. I start with one element (which may be any of the above) then let the others develop around it. I try to have a vague notion of the crime and the murderer when I start writing, but most of the plot and characters evolve on a day to day basis.
MM: If you were going to have a dinner party what authors would you invite. Now here is where we suspend disbelief the author can be dead or alive. Who would you invite? What would the menu be and what would you ask the other authors?
The menu would be pizza, chocolate chip cookies, Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake, chocolate chip pecan pie, a couple of varieties of chocolate cake, and Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream. That’s easy. As for the authors………
George R.R. Martin
James Joyce (but only if he promised to bring the brownies; that man was on something really strange!)
Arthur C. Clarke
The list could go on and on and on. I have read so many wonderful books through the years. I’ll have to be sure I have enough chocolate for everybody.
As for what I’d ask them, I’d simply ask that they talk and let me listen.
MM: Do you have pets and if so tell us about them?
I have not had a pet since 2012 when my cat Leo died. My dog Cricket died in 2011. You don’t even want to let me get started on pet stories! I have had the most awesome pets in the world. And that’s why I don’t have a pet now. It hurts too much to lose them. I said I wasn’t going to have another animal in 1994 after losing one dog in 1993 and the second in 1994. But then a large white cat wandered into the back yard. I petted him and told him to go home. He looked up at me with big blue eyes then turned and ran inside the door I’d left open. I followed him and found him sitting on the sofa, looking quite comfortable and at home. A couple of months later I got him a Yorkie, Cricket, to raise. They were best buddies. King Henry in my Chocolate books is Leo. Every time I write one of those books, he lives for me again.
MM: What life lesson has writing taught you?
The value of helping others. I’ve had a lot of careers, but writing is the only one where everybody helps everybody else. We share craft knowledge, we offer critiques, we share publicity opportunities, we share the availability of friends’ books with our readers. Writers are the best.
MM: Here are some fun questions. Where would you like to vacation that you haven't already visited? Tell us why you like living where you live and be our tour guide, what is there to see and visit? What shows/movies do you like to binge watch?
I hope to visit Europe one day and see England, France, Ireland…all those countries with castles and centuries of heritage.
I like living in the Kansas City area because my boyfriend and my friends are here.
Love Rizzoli & Isles, the older episodes of Castle (not thrilled with this season), Person of Interest, the Blacklist, the Sopranos, Downton Abbey, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy.
MM: What is your favorite way to de-stress?
Reading a book, of course. As far as my favorite way to distress…thinking about the ex!
MM: Will you be attending Malice Domestic this year?
No. I try to limit myself to 3 conferences a year and I’ve already committed to Bouchercon, RWA and Writers’ Police Academy. I wish I could go to all of them! I always learn so much and have a great time doing it!
MM: Is there a humorous story you can share with us that happened at a book signing or conference?
My best friend and critique partner, Madonna, and I attend most conferences together. A couple of years ago we were flying from KC to San Antonio for the RWA conference. We had a short layover in Dallas and were to arrive in San Antonio around 5:00. Our flights, both departing and connecting, were delayed, cancelled, full, and a total mess. Long story short, we got to San Antonio around 9:00, and our luggage was due to arrive around 10:30. We took a taxi to the hotel so we could check in. Our driver was wonderful. She was a reader, and we talked books. She agreed to pick us up at the hotel and take us to the airport to get our luggage. When we got there, she parked and took us to the right area to collect our bags. They were delayed, and she waited with us, no extra charge. Said she didn’t have a lot of fares at that hour. Of course we gave her a huge tip. Things were great until about ten minutes before we got back to our hotel. I have two kinds of business cards…one with just my website url and one with my address and phone number. The latter is for friends, agents, editors. And this woman had become my friend! So I gave her my card and told her to stay in touch, to send me an email. She said she couldn’t use email, couldn’t get on the Internet. Okay, some people don’t. But then she went on to explain that the government had her blocked from the Internet because they considered her a dangerous person. They send people to get in her cab and check on her regularly. She’s tried to sue them but no lawyer will take her case because they’re afraid of the government. But she has a plan to get them. Fortunately, that plan was a secret she didn’t want to share! Now that we’ve ridden in her taxi, we would probably be on the list, and don’t be surprised if the government comes after us. And it went on until we reached the hotel.
We stood on the curb and watched her drive away. Madonna turned to me and said, “The conference hasn’t even started and you’ve just given your card to a crazy person. Maybe you should let me have custody of those cards for the rest of the conference.”
Fortunately, apparently the lady was right about not getting on the Internet! And apparently the government has her phone shut down too! I haven’t heard from her!!!
MM: Is there someone that you would like to give a huge thank you to who has been one of your favorite supporters or a loyal mentor?
There are so many. Talk about that village….
I’d have to give a list….a long list.
MM: Lastly, tell us what is in store for readers in 2016 and please add anything I have missed asking you today.
I will soon have the 4th Ex book available, The Ex Who Saw a Ghost, and will then begin work on the 6th Chocolate book. I hope I give my readers fun and entertainment in 2016!
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