Mere words cannot describe the excitement I feel today in bringing accomplished mystery author, teacher, artist, and bookseller Kris Neri into the Alcove today. I met Mrs. Neri through the Cozy Mystery writing group we belong to, and she graciously took time out of her busy schedule to visit with us for a spell.
Now on top of that I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Neri last week while my husband and I celebrated our 5th anniversary in Arizona. (I love you honey) We parked outside of the WELL RED COYOTE bookstore for several minutes. My husband Will then turned to me, “You’re nervous aren’t you?” I could only nod. I had butterflies doing somersaults in my belly. My excitement was surely palpable inside the hot rental car.
“Do you want me to go in with you?” he asked. Again I could only nod and smile with the goofiest grin glued on my face. (Yes it is the same goofy grin you see in the picture below. ) We had driven 2 hours from Scottsdale, AZ, to Sedona for this very reason. There was no way I was going to let nerves keep me from meeting Kris Neri in person. Let me just say all my nerves were for naught. After wandering around aimlessly in her bookstore for several minutes we approached the counter. Ms. Neri knew exactly who I was when I said, “Hi, I’m Lexi”! I can honestly say meeting this wonderful woman was one of the highlights of my trip.
I have included a brief bio below from Ms. Neri’s website because her accomplishments are too numerous to list. For more information please visit her website www.KrisNeri.com
1. When did you first begin writing?
I think I’ve always written. Before I could read, my mother gave me picture books, and I made up stories to go along with the illustrations. I could go through the same book a dozen times and tell a dozen different stories. So, I’ve always written. I don’t think it occurred to me that I could do it professionally, though, until my husband asked me to write a humorous “as told to” piece on his life as a middle-of-the-pack middle-aged tri-athlete. After TRIATHLON magazine published the piece and paid me, I was hooked. I wrote magazine pieces for years, quite successfully. But eventually, mysteries, which I loved to read, lured me into writing them, first as short stories, and then, novels.
2. Who are you inspirations?
I admire all the female writers who broke the glass ceiling in mysteries, back in the days when it didn’t seem to occur to publishers that women readers might want to read books by women writers. If I name anyone, I’m sure to forget too many. But I admire all of those early Sisters in Crime members who paved the way for the rest of us.
3. What are your writing habits? Do you write a certain amount of pages per day? Do you write at a certain time of day?
My work in my bookstore determines my writing schedule. Since I usually work there in the afternoons, that leaves mornings and evenings for my own work. I keep a pad next to my keyboard on which I list the date and the number of words I’ve written on that day. If the word counts seem to be going down too much, unless there’s a very good reason, I know I have to be more diligent. But I don’t actually use a quota. I’m a pretty compulsive person, and I can count on that to keep me on target.
4. Are you a pantster or a plotter? Do you sit down at the computer and let your story lead you where it wants to go or do you outline every twist and plot point?
I’m somewhere in between. I consider myself a loose planner. I always work out the backstory between the villain and the victim, so I understand the roots of the crime. I also know how a book will end, and some of the high points in between, but there’s a lot that comes to me along the way. I could never write a complete outline. It would feel as if I’d already written the book, and I know I’d lose the sense of excitement that I experience now as events come to me. But I wouldn’t be comfortable just winging it, either. I firmly believe there are as many ways to write a novel as there are people writing them. Writers need to figure out what works for them.
5. Who are your favorite authors and what are you reading now?
I have way too many favorites to list. I’ve always been a somewhat eclectic reader, but now that I’m a bookseller, I read everything, and lots of it. My last two general or literary fiction readers have been CUTTING FOR STONE and THE 19TH WIFE, both of which I enjoyed. In mystery, I’ve been on a Thomas Cook kick lately, having just polished off his latest book, THE FATE OF KATHERINE CARR and the ARC for his next book, THE LAST TALK WITH LOLA FAYE. My next read will be a memoir, THINGS I’VE BEEN SILENT ABOUT by Azar Nafisi. I’ve also been re-reading some old Phyllis Whitney suspense novels. I also want to read THE GIRL SHE USED TO BE soon, and the new Steig Larsson novel, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, will be out very shortly, as of this writing, and I can’t wait to finish that trilogy.
6. What are your goals as a writer?
While I certainly have goals, I also see the truth in that John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” So much in this work is dependent on the choices others make. For instance, I didn’t know that I’d have two series accepted by two different publishers, nor that they would bring new books out only five months apart. It’s meant a lot more promotional work and making more appearances than I expected during this time. And it’s meant I’ve written less. One of my goals is always to seize the opportunities that come my way, and to follow them wherever they take me, even if that plays havoc with other goals.
7. What advice would you give other aspiring writers?
Publishing isn’t for the fainthearted today. There has probably never been a tougher time in the history of the book business. So, I’d advise new writers to perfect their craft as much as they can before submitting today. You only get one shot to impress a decision-maker. I also recommend reading, and that’s not just because I’m a bookseller. The best way to learn to write is to read everything. You absorb so much without even trying. In my classes, I can tell which students read and which do not from the quality their assignments. And because publishing is such a tough business today, I’d advise new writers to find themselves some kind of support system. Joining Sisters in Crime, or some other organization, or finding a good, supportive critique group, can really help them keep going. Families and friends are wonderful, but they don’t really appreciate everything a writer goes through.
8. As a writing instructor for the prestigious UCLA extension school, what do you think are the biggest mistakes beginning writers make?
I’m always so gratified and amazed by the high quality of the students I see in my classes. Right from the start, I always see good work being done. But some of the more common mistakes I see are POV breaks, that is, head hopping. For some new writers, really grasping the concept of POV is hard, especially if they typically read lots of literary fiction in written omniscient voice. Another mistake I see is putting too much backstory on the page, and especially at the start of the book. The histories that characters share can be used to intrigue readers and lure them through the book. But too many newer writers believe they have to share all that history before the story can begin. Not only do readers find that boring, the backstory shared by the victim and the villain is the root of the mystery. If they share too much of that history, they’ve blown the book.
9. Your books have received much recognition including the recent Lefty Award nomination from the Left Coast Crime 2010 for “HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE”, what is your secret to success? Do you teach these strategies to your pupils?
Oh, I wish I had a secret! My recent Lefty Award nomination came as a delightful surprise to me. I do teach my writing and novel planning strategies to my students. I do some things differently from most other writers. Yet I also encourage my students to adapt my approaches, as well as those of other instructors, and make them their own. In some ways, I’m highly organized; in other ways, I’m more intuitive, and I bring both approaches to my own writing, and to my teaching.
10. Did you submit your books and stories for these awards, or were you “discovered”? How often do you enter your writings into contests?
The award nominations my books have garnered have all come from reader suggestions, and that’s been gratifying. It’s always wonderful to be singled out for special recognition. But lots of wonderful books have never attracted award interest. It’s great to be singled out for award interest, but to me the writing is what it’s all about. I used to enter more contests than I do today. I’ve won and placed in a number of them, and I find them fun, but time doesn’t allow me to pursue as many today. Wins and special mentions in contests can look good in a new writer’s bio, though.
11. In the writing community there is a much debate regarding traditional versus self publishing. What is your opinion?
For the most part, I’m not in favor of self-publishing. To do it well, a writer needs not only to be a dynamite writer and produce a terrific book, he also needs to learn about the book business from the publication standpoint, and to become an outstanding publisher as well. Some people have done it well, but most people who do self-publish don’t achieve that level of excellence. In niche nonfiction, it can be a good choice. It’s much harder in fiction, though. If a writer genuinely wants to publish other writers, and will submit his own and his other writers to editing, while learning all he can about the business side of things, and design good covers and bring good production values to the project, it can work. But it’s not the easiest route to take. For someone who simply prints his book, and then questions how he’ll market it, it’s a guarantee that he’ll end up with a garage full of books.
12. Your book store is called the Well Red Coyote, and your book publisher is Red Coyote Press , is there a connection between the two?
Our bookstore, The Well Red Coyote, isn’t associated with Red Coyote Press, one of my publishers. Both firms simply like red coyotes! Red Coyote Press is owned by two Phoenix-area women, Susan Budavari and Suzanne Flaig. When we first opened our store, Red Coyote Press contacted us to chat about the similarity of our names, and they asked if we’d host an event for their recently-published anthology. We did, and a nice relationship formed. Since then our store has hosted a couple more events for their books. And after I submitted the manuscript for HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE to them, I was thrilled that they wanted to publish it.
12. Beside writing great books, running Well Red Coyote, “the best book store in Sedona Arizona”, and teaching what do you do for fun?
After all that, there’s not much time for anything else! I do like hiking – I’m fairly outdoorsy. I especially enjoy exploring new parts of my adopted state of Arizona. And I have a secret addiction to some shows on HGTV.
13. How do you promote your books?
I don’t think I do anything too differently from any other author. We all do appearances and keep an Internet presence going. I do like to speak to lots of writing groups, and present writing workshops when possible, rather than merely talking about myself and my books. I do love talking to other writers.
14. Where can someone purchase your books?
Everywhere, I hope! Signed copies are always available through my store: http://www.wellredcoyote2.com/default.cfm
15. Do you belong to any writing associations? Do you believe it’s important to belong to one?
I belong to quite a few, including Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the American Crime Writers League, as well as Romance Writers of America, Arizona Authors and the Society of Southwestern Authors. Unfortunately, time doesn’t permit me to be as active in any of them as I’d like. But for new writers, joining writing associations can be invaluable. You learn so much about the business from other writers, and it also provides a support system that will help you get through the tough times.
16. Please tell our readers about your latest books, “HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE” and “REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES SAKE”.
HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE, the first book in a new series, features fake psychic, Samantha Brennan, and genuine Celtic goddess/FBI agent, Annabelle Haggerty. When Samantha happens onto the kidnapping of movie star Molly Claire, she rushes to the FBI to appear to predict it, thinking that will bring her some publicity. There she meets Annabelle Haggerty, who is her polar opposite. Samantha is glad she’s nothing like Annabelle, whom she considers a workaholic drone. But suddenly Samantha starts getting visions, for the first time in her life, and they begin to drive the FBI’s case. Then she discovers the visions aren’t hers, but Annabelle’s. Annabelle is everything she has claimed to be, and so much more. She’s a genuine Celtic goddess. Finding themselves working together is tough, since each woman lives the life the other secret covets. But though they find themselves up against some serious bad guys, the goddess and the fake make a better team than either would imagine.
REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE is the third book in my Tracy Eaton series, featuring detective wannabe and the offspring of eccentric Hollywood stars, Tracy Eaton. Tracy’s stodgy husband Drew pops his boorish boss, Ian Dragger, in the nose. Too bad the next time they see Ian, he’s floating face down in the Eaton pool, and Drew has been royally framed for the crime. If that weren’t bad enough, Tracy’s mother, over-the-top movie star Martha Collins, decides to become her daughter’s sidekick. And Drew’s rigid-with-dignity mother, Charlotte, deals herself into the game. And when the mothers get together, the fireworks go off. Obstacles mount higher still when Drew’s ex-flame Cee Cee signs on his attorney, and it’s not clear whether she wants him back, or if she merely wants revenge. With the police and the media dogging her every step, it’s going to take all of Tracy’s unconventional crime-fighting techniques to save Drew’s life.
17. What are you working on now?
I’m writing books in both series. In my magical series, the next book will be MAGICAL ALIENATION, and it will deal with domestic terrorism, with a magical bent. And in my Tracy Eaton series, the next book will be REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, which will take place in various real and made-up places along Route 66. It’ll be a fun, road romp mystery.
AUTHOR KRIS NERI
Kris Neri’s latest title is REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE, the third book in her Agatha, Anthony, Macavity Award-nominated Tracy Eaton mystery series, featuring mystery writer, detective wannabe and the offspring of eccentric Hollywood stars, Tracy Eaton. Also recently published was the first book in a new paranormal mystery series, HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE, a Lefty Award nominee for Best Humorous Mystery, featuring fake psychic Samantha Brennan and genuine Celtic goddess/FBI agent Annabelle Haggerty. Kris has also published NEVER SAY DIE, a standalone thriller, and A ROSE IN THE SNOW, a short story collection. She has published some sixty short stories, and is a two-time Derringer Award winner and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee for her short fiction. Kris teaches writing online for the Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School. Two of her former students have also produced a mystery writing DVD with her, WRITING KILLER MYSTERIES WITH KRIS NERI, which is based on her UCLA course. And with her husband, she owns The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, Arizona.