Welcome back to Awesome Authors! Today I’m excited to interview mystery author and fellow Sister-In-Crime, S.L. Smith. Here’s her bio:
A lifelong resident of Minnesota, S. L. Smith was born in St. Cloud, and moved to the Twin Cities after graduating from St. Catherine University in St. Paul. When writing mysteries, S. L. draws upon her degree in psychology, a career with vast amounts of law enforcement interaction, and her thrill for the investigative hunt. A voracious reader since childhood and a lover of mysteries, she uses her knowledge of Minnesota and human nature to create gripping stories.
S. L. is a member of the National Writers Union and Sisters in Crime (an organization that supports mystery writers).
D: Hi S.L.—it’s great to have you here! Tell us a little about yourself.
S: Hi DV. Thanks for the opportunity to meet your followers.
I’m a lifelong resident of Minnesota. Love it here, summer and winter! My family abandoned me. Everyone else moved to the east coast, from Maryland to Florida. I try not to take it personally, but …
Had a thirty-two year career in public safety. Much of it involved technical writing. After retiring, writing mysteries became my only full time job.
D: Your mysteries are set in Minnesota, an area with which I’m well-acquainted 🙂 . What inspired you to write in that genre and in that region of the US?
S: I’ve been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember, and mysteries are my favorite genre. Years ago, I wondered if I too could write them. Couldn’t resist that challenge. Had to give it a try. I began that endeavor in the late nineties. Threw out the first attempt, but didn’t let that discourage me. Came up with a new idea. It became my first published novel, Blinded by the Sight.
My mysteries are set in Minnesota, because I know Minnesota. Accuracy is important to me. Despite being a native Minnesotan, I research my settings. I travel to the various locations mentioned in the books, ensuring they are accurately portrayed. Have to tell a story about that. A friend told me she knew the exact house I referenced in my first book. Referring to the interior and exterior, she said I described it perfectly. The interesting thing is that I passed by the houses in the neighborhood, but didn’t go inside any of them. Hmm. Anyway, people say my novels have a Midwestern feel. That would be a problem if they were set in New York, Los Angeles, etc. 🙂
D: Describe your latest release. What was your favorite part about writing it?
S: Running Scared is my second mystery. It tells the story of Nick Rice, and of the fear that drove his actions. Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney, the protagonists from Blinded by the Sight, are back. Their investigation of a horrific crash on Wheelock Parkway in St. Paul leaves a lot of people running scared.
I love the writing itself, but the research is probably my favorite part. Here’s why. While writing Blinded by the Sight, I called the county medical examiner’s office, looking for answers to some procedural and wording questions. Well, I hit the jackpot! I hooked up with the lead investigator, and he’s a gem. Hence, I called him again with questions for Running Scared. While answering my questions, several times he said to verify a point with my law enforcement expert. I told him my law enforcement expert wasn’t from the St. Paul Police Department, and I was having trouble connecting with someone with inside knowledge. He contacted some of his buddies with the department. Told them a friend needed help. Voilà! I spent an hour on the phone with the head of homicide. Wow! It blew me away.
D: Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? How much research do you do when writing a novel?
S: I literally research everything! I spoke with the head of St. Paul Search and Rescue about the vehicles that would be dispatched to a crash, and what his personnel would do on scene. I spoke with not only the head of homicide in the St. Paul PD, but also repeatedly with a retired investigator from the department, thereby obtaining procedural information, protocols, etc. I checked the colors available for different makes and models of cars in the pertinent years. I also researched the vehicle that was stolen the most often. I called two high schools to obtain information on the handling of absences, dress code, what cops would do if they wanted to speak with a kid during the school day, etc., etc. I had to find out who wrote Yankee Doodle Dandy, and you have to read the book to find out why. 🙂 You name it, I researched it. I am intent on making my novels accurate.
D: Who is your favorite character and why?
S: The lead protagonist, Pete Culnane, is my favorite. I like the way he treats people, his professionalism and drive, and his sense of humor. He’s someone I’d like to know. Heck, I’d like to be married to him, if I could cope with his crazy schedule. 🙂
D: What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
S: It had to be to get someone with no connections to me to critique my books. Family and friends are wonderful, but they’re also influenced by our connections. It’s impossible for them to give objective assessments. I did, and it gave me the confidence to search for and find a publisher.
“…I’m driven to complete a project, once I begin it. With rare exceptions, I write from the time I get up until I go to bed.”
D: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
S: I’d tell them to sit down and write. Try to do it every day. Don’t let their insecurities slow them down. Don’t do any editing until they reach the end. There’s plenty of time for that later.
D: What’s your process? Do you write every day? Do you outline or write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants?
S: I’m driven to complete a project, once I begin it. With rare exceptions, I write from the time I get up, until I go to bed. I even write while eating. Belief in the importance of exercise means I take a break every night to work out on a Nordic Track cross-country ski machine. Since a different part of my brain is working at those times, plot problems are often resolved while I’m doing this. That provides motivation to fit in this disruption.
I definitely write by the seat-of-my-pants. Just the same, before I begin, I have to get to know my characters. To do this, I write a detailed description of each one. Then I sit down and start writing the novel. When my fingers come in contact with the keyboard, the story begins to flow. There’s some crazy connection between my brain and the keyboard, and I can’t seem to write without it.
D: What are you working on now?
S: The third Pete Culnane mystery, Murder on a Stick, is underway. The first draft and first revision are behind me. My goal is to complete this novel in time for a September, 2014 release.
D: What do you like to read?
S: I like everything that’s well written. I belong to a book club, and that helps me expand my reading beyond mysteries. In addition to mysteries, I loved Harry Potter, always anxiously await the next book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series, and am impatiently waiting to learn what happens with Christopher Snow (Dean Koontz).
D: Who are your favorite authors?
S: I’m a fan of John Sandford, William Kent Krueger, Mary Logue, Sue Grafton, Robert Crais, Dean Koontz, Diana Gabaldon and J.K. Rowling to name but a few. I think they all do a terrific job of creating characters I love and/or hate.
“…When my fingers come in contact with the keyboard, the story begins to flow. There’s some crazy connection between my brain and the keyboard, and I can’t seem to write without it.”
D: Love John Sandford. Another Minnesotan, of course🙂 What do you do when you’re not writing?
S: When not writing, I spend a lot of time reading, visiting family and friends or watching cop shows and the news on TV. These days, I’m also busy marketing Running Scared. That’s a stressful job for me. I’m much more comfortable talking to my computer than to bookstores.
D: Yeah, public speaking is the antithesis of what we writers do and can definitely be stressful. Now for my favorite question: If you could time travel (past or future) where would you go and why?
S: I’d go back to the mid-1800s in central Minnesota. For years, I worked on genealogy and family memoirs. I want to meet and get to know some of the people portrayed in the pages of the memoirs. I worked to show not only facts about them, but also their personalities. Lots of holes remain. I’d love to fill them.
D: What a fantastic idea! Thanks again for stopping by, S.L. I enjoyed the interview. Here’s the description and an excerpt of S.L.’s latest release, Running Scared:
Nick Rice knows someone is after him. He doesn’t know who, and he doesn’t know why. Efforts to determine either or both are unsuccessful. This morning, during his daily run, he concocts a sure-fire solution. For the first time in weeks, he relaxes.
St. Paul investigators Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney must determine if a horrific crash on Wheelock Parkway was accidental or deliberate. Their step-by-step investigation uncovers secrets that leave more than one person running scared.
For the eighth straight day, fear dictated Nick’s thoughts and actions.
All of this began with a sporadic feeling of being watched. As the days passed, these feelings increased. Intuitive by nature, Nick trusted his instincts.
…his irritation with this intrusion evolved into anger. Next came frustration over his inability to identify or even get a glimpse of his stalker. Anxiety followed.
Now he lived in fear.
… the longer this continued, the more desperate he became.
He told friends his sister was experiencing this problem and asked for their advice. He knew that had all the markings of going to the doctor and asking about a friend’s symptoms. Even so, he was unable to devise a better plan. He hoped his friends would buy his story. When one friend began pressing for the truth, Nick abandoned that ploy.
He considered discussing this with his wife. Heather knew something was bothering him. She broached the subject, but he insisted she’d imagined it.
She tended to be an alarmist. If he gave her any indication that he, she, or their three kids were in danger, she wouldn’t drop it. She’d go into overdrive, looking for a solution. She wouldn’t let up … She’d talk about it ad nauseam. Then two things would be driving Nick over the edge.
Nick’s conscience grabbed him by the throat and dragged him back to reality. He wasn’t being fair. Heather was a blessing. Their marriage had its problems, but he loved her and was committed to making it work. She brought out the best in him. She helped him in countless, unacknowledged ways.
Thanks to her, their family survived the year he was unemployed. He’d spent an average of sixty hours a week searching for a job on the Internet, networking, and knocking on doors. After some radical adjustments to their lifestyle, the money she made as a management consultant paid the bills and kept the family solvent.
She kept more than their finances afloat. She kept his ego from crashing and burning as he was passed over time and again. She created ways to demonstrate his value to her and the kids. At one low point, she had the kids competing to see who could devise the longest list of reasons he was the world’s best dad. No wonder he was crazy about her.
She’d talked him through his nervousness over accepting a job he feared might compromise his earning potential.
… She was right. Taking that job positioned him for the promotion that came within a year at Regisson Medical, an up-and-coming medical device company. Now, as a VP, he managed tech support.
Halfway through his daily run, Nick’s thoughts returned to his nemesis. Until his displeasure with the problem transitioned into fear, he’d concentrated almost as much on coping with the situation as reversing it.
It seemed imperative that he eliminate the problem. But how?
To find out more about S.L. Smith, visit her website and Facebook author page: