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Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Giveaway: The Fleet Street Murders & Sandi Ault Interview

Book Giveaway: The Fleet Street Murders

Yes, another book giveaway.  The publisher has generously agreed to provide two copies of The Fleet Street Murders by Charles Finch.  Wahoo!!  This book giveaway contest will be a little different from the prior so read carefully.

First, you must be a member of this blog (following this blog with Google Friend Connect.)  If you aren't already a member, please join now. 

Next, all entries are to be emailed to me at (mysterysuspense1 at gmail dot com).  In your email you need to tell me the name you are using in Google Friend Connect so I can verify your membership in the blog.

Here are the questions that you will be answering to get your entries into the drawing.  For each correct answer you will have an entry.  All the answers can be found on my blog, but you will have to go through my blog to find them.  This is like a treasure hunt.

Questions to anwer to contest entry:

1.  In "My Mystery Family Tree" post, who did I list as my favorite aunt of my mystery heritage?

2.  Who was the first author to be interviewed (by me, not a reprint interview) on this blog?

3.  What is the post topic every first Monday of the month for the last three months?

4.  What was the book I reviewed that featured a FBI agent as the main character?

5. What was the book I reviewed that was written by the daughter of a U.S. President?

Collect your answers to these 5 questions and email them to me along with what name you are following me as in Google Friend Connect.  This contest closes Friday Feb 26 at midnight and winners will be announced next Monday.

Now onto the next author interview.  Sandi Ault the author of Wild Penance (my first ever book giveaway), has provided this great interview.  I think you will find the interview very interesting.  Don't miss the part about her pets!  I'll give you a hint - that is a wolf in the photo with her.

Author Interview: Sandi Ault

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?

This is a great question. I find an outline too rigid for my creative storyteller. Instead, I do a treatment, much the same as a screenwriter does for the development of a film screenplay. It might be a good time to tell you that I believe there are two things that a mystery author should know before she ever begins a book: exactly how the murder or crime is committed, and how the book is going to end, at least generally. If you don’t know that, I think you risk wandering around in the plotline and not having the capability to plant succinct clues and thread them through the story. So I always know where I’m going before I begin and who the murderer is and how the murder was committed. Then, I began to craft scenes based on my vision for the story, and to sort of list those scenes with a little detail in the treatment, chapter by chapter. I don’t think a novel-length mystery can be done in three acts. More like seven.

I loved Jamaica Wild for her originality as well as the other characters, what is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character tell you about him/herself as you write?

Again, this is a wonderful question! I came up with the idea for Jamaica from a writing exercise I gave to a class I was teaching in Kansas City years ago. I asked my students (who were having a lot of trouble coming up with realistic but colorful characters) to envision what they might really like to be if they could have five lives. While they were working in class, I thought about that for myself. I came up with:

- Cowgirl (because I’ve always been one, since I was a child)

- Monk (because I am a spiritual seeker and need a lot of quiet time/alone time)

- Artist/writer (again, an element of my personal journey)

- Naturalist, nature lover, animal companion (SO me)

- Chef (ultimately, I dropped this in Jamaica’s character because it just didn’t work with the rest of her persona)

My characters wander around in my little cabin with me and in my head. Often, Momma Anna will get me up at night and want me to put her in a scene or she has something she wants to tell Jamaica. Likewise with Tecolote, who is based upon a real bruja I met. They start talking, I listen, and then I race for the computer to get it all down. Often I get ideas from my characters when they enter in my dreams. Can you tell I don’t get a lot of sleep?

How do you find time for writing, what works for you - and do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write??

Another great query! If this sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not, but rather I am being honest here: it is very difficult to find time to write when you have a book-a-year contract with a major publisher and they tour you and expect you to speak, promote, attend events, and more throughout the year. My tours have lasted as long as three months, and there are conferences, workshops, speaking events, library events, book fairs and festivals and other personal appearances in addition to the tour that are a necessary part of life as a prominent author.

I am also an avid researcher and I need to spend at least a few weeks in the field (meaning, on the location of the book) for each mystery I write. I ride along with rangers, the FBI, agents, and so on. I go to the ruins, hike into the back country, climb into canyons and rappel into cliff ruins, raft down whitewater rivers to see petroglyphs. I go to the moradas and churches, attend rituals and ceremonies, question the locals and spend time in the locale. For WILD SORROW, I camped in a remote wilderness area observing mountain lions in the wild. I study wolves in their natural habitat as much as I can. This involves a lot of time in the field. And I also read and research avidly. I research as if I were writing non-fiction so that my stories can be as credible as possible. I have a good research assistant but I do all the preliminary research and then she fact checks for me or she does initial sourcing and then I follow up in detail. So, it takes me months before I begin writing to prepare for writing. All this in-between all the touring and promoting.

When I do begin to write, I call myself a “binge writer.” I try to set aside uninterrupted time and don’t come up for air. I hardly sleep, rarely leave my cabin in the mountains, don’t answer the phone or email, don’t get out of my jammies unless I have to, and I enter the world of my story and stay there. My husband and I built a little room for my work. We call it the Sky Chapel because it has sky windows that look up into the pines and at the sky above (these windows open, too!). The Sky Chapel also has a long view of the mountains opposite me. It’s my sanctuary. The vaulted ceilings result in high walls that are filled with some of my favorite art and photos of people I love and sculptured images of wildlife. It’s a pretty swell space. My desk and work table, my printer stand and my file cabinet are all made from aspen logs. My husband custom built bookshelves that line one corner and one long wall. It’s a very small room, but it’s perfect, and all the windows and the sky windows make it feel open and right out in the wild. Elk and bear often go by my windows. Hard to beat that for a writing environment.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

Well, I kind of answered that above before I saw this question! As I said, I have had a book-a-year contract with Penguin, so it means I have to finish a book every year. And I have become a binge writer as a result, holing up for a few months after I’ve done all my field and reading and interview research to produce and edit the manuscript. I have been late on my deadlines several times, but my editor hardly has to touch my manuscript (in fact, she has done no edits to the last two), so she has allowed me the extra time knowing I will polish the book to near-perfection if I’m given enough time to do so.

I work out every day. Other than that, when I’m writing, I don’t do anything else. My staff calls my writing time “black ops” because I don’t let anyone or anything intrude, I’m undercover. I’m gone. Into the story.

Tell us about Los Penitentes - it was a great element to the mystery. How did you come across this group and did you recognize the story value right away?

I learned about Los Penitentes while visiting Northern New Mexico when I still lived and worked in the Kansas City area. I was just as intrigued by them as Jamaica is in WILD PENANCE. And yes, I knew right away that I wanted to write about them. And the whole idea of a crucifixion murder… I mean, it gave me a chill! I thought it would be a great idea for a mystery. Los Penitentes are, themselves, quite mysterious.

I particularly enjoy how you vividly brought New Mexico to life. Setting seems as important as the characters in your mysteries, any tips on conveying a sense of place well?

Yes, the WILD, the enchanted, still unspoiled West is a precious treasure to me. As is the culture of the Native Puebloans and the medieval-based Hispanic culture of Northern New Mexico, (and the Utes of Southern Colorado, who were also featured in WILD INFERNO). I feel like we live on a knife-edge where the West, the Wild, and Native America is still alive but vanishing fast. In ten years, who knows what our rabid demand for resources and development will do to these precious resources? I am hurrying as fast as I can to portray the living West while it is still there.

In creating a Resource Protection Agent who lives and works in the wild, and whose main companion is a wolf, (and sometimes a horse as well), it became a real challenge as a writer for me to move the plot along without relying on dialogue and interaction with other characters as heavily as one might—say—in an urban mystery or a more populous setting. I had to bring the wild to life, to make the landscape a character so that Jamaica could interact with it in order to make things “happen” in the plot. While I cannot recommend this to anyone else (it makes life VERY difficult for a writer; it would be so much easier to change it up with dialogue and more human interaction), I do believe it has made me a much better writer. I get so much feedback about how “filmic” my writing is, that readers tell me all the time that they feel like they see the scenes unfolding as if they were at a movie. That’s pretty nice.

Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft to dissect and learn from?

Yes. Read James Lee Burke. Anything by him. My personal favorite of his is DIXIE CITY JAM, but I love most anything he writes. He is my favorite author. Also, I adore the work of Kaye Gibbons and Sue Monk Kidd’s THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES. For dialogue, you can’t beat Elmore Leonard. I particularly love his westerns. And if you don’t have trouble sleeping at night, early Stephen King is tremendous schooling for plot. He’s a master. If you want to become a better writer, I cannot recommend these authors enough.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I’m not sure. I once wrote a blog called “You might be an author on the Dead Line if….” that was like a top ten list of funny things about my writing process. Your readers can access this on the WILD Blog page at my main website, Below are a handful of examples from that particular blog that qualify as interesting writing quirks:

- Everyone you know is afraid to call you before noon.

- You talk to yourself because you are your only companion. You answer yourself, too.

- You haven't seen fresh food of any kind in weeks. In lieu of milk, you open an old can of coconut milk you found in the back of a cupboard so you can put some in your coffee and over your raisin bran. You decide you can make it like that another week.

- Also, the once-plentiful supply of canned goods you kept in the pantry for snowstorms and power outages have dwindled down to a jar of pickles and some green chili jelly, and you figure you can have those with crackers for a day or so rather then drive up the mountain to the store and lose writing time.

- Your wolf tends to gain weight during the home stretch because you hike him less and less. You tend to lose weight because there is no food in the house. And the wolf's kibble is starting to look appealing as a potential crunchy snack while you're working.

- Your thesaurus and dictionary are showing serious thumb-wear.

- The only time you see your family is during your tour events in the cities where they live.

How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?

I have a Cinderella story. I’ll go right to WILD INDIGO, my first published book. In those days, agents didn’t do as much by email and didn’t like attachments. I looked at my favorite authors and authors who wrote in the western mystery fiction genre as well and tried to find out which agents represented them. I also looked at track records for agents—how many sales they were doing and for how much. I did extensive research, came up with a list of 31 agents I liked, sent them each a query letter (I’m killer at query letters) and got 30 requests for the manuscript. I sent the manuscript to all 30 (that was a big tab at Kinko’s and the post office that day, let me tell you), and I got thirty offers for representation. So I set up interviews by phone, and I got to choose my agent from those interviews. When we sent the manuscript for WILD INDIGO out to publishers, we had so many of them interested that the book went to auction and sold to the highest bidder after a day of bidding. That is just unheard of. It felt like that kind of divine affirmation that I was on the right path.

Tell us about your wolf Tiwa and cat Buckskin, how did they come to adopt you? I am fascinated by the idea of Tiwa living with you.

The first wolf we adopted was Mountain, who passed beyond the ridge as I was finishing WILD INDIGO, but lives on as a major character in the WILD Mystery Series. Your readers can see photos of Mountain and read all about how we adopted him on my website, When Mountain left this life, we learned of a male wolf pup who was in danger of being put down because he’d been born out of season to a bitch who was not the alpha female in the pack. This puts the pup in danger, as a wolf pack knows it cannot support more than one litter of pups per year and out of season, at that. So, we adopted Tiwa and he came to live with us then. We were already all set up for having a wolf, so it seemed like the natural thing to do. Mountain was an alpha personality and so he was every bit the rascal that he is in the WILD Mystery Series. But Tiwa is a beta personality and much more gentle. He is a Canadian timber wolf.

Buckskin was also in danger of being put down when I learned about him. He was getting into trouble in a residential neighborhood and had recently been bitten by a snake. He was in pretty bad shape. I flew to southern Missouri and brought him home on a plane. The two boys are best friends. They often sleep together.

You seem to have a love of wild and remote places, what brought you to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado? (I am a native of Colorado and love it here myself - howdy mountain neighbor!)

Howdy right back atcha! We were living in Taos, New Mexico. I was teaching at UNM Taos and my husband was working for a local contractor building all the big commercial work in Taos County. One day, he came home and said, “That’s the last big project they’re going to do in Taos County for a while. They don’t have enough tax revenue base or enough water rights to expand any more for a long time.” And so, we moved to the mountains of Colorado, and he began working for a Boulder/Denver contractor. Since then, he has moved on to a multi-national firm and he and his team build projects all over the US (he builds really big things like levees and military bases). We love living here in the mountains of Colorado. And we are only a half-day drive from our beloved Tiwa family in Northern New Mexico, so we can visit them often.

I’d love to encourage your readers to visit our very rich and visually diverse website,, as well as our micro-site On our main website, folks can link to me on Facebook, listen to streaming feeds of radio interviews with me (on the events page), watch short films of my wolf playing with an elk and of wolves in the wild, see some of our great shots of bears, eagles and wolves from our research expeditions, get a listing of and/or register for tour events, and read more about all four books in the WILD Mystery Series.

I have loved all your questions! Best wishes to you and your readers, and thanks so much for this delightful interview.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Thank you Sandi for such a great interview ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Readers, what was the thing you found most interesting in the interview?  Tough question since there are some fascinating details revealed.  How about her first book deal?

Until Thursday and our next book review I wish you many mysterious moments.
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Harvee said...

Special request: I have old eyes, so find it very hard to read your blog posts because of the very dark background. this means I won't be able to search your blog for the answers to enter the giveaway! Sob :(

A.F. Heart said...

Let me see if I can't make the font a size bigger. That will hopefully help. Thank you for letting me know.

I won't be able to change the font size until this evening though. But hang in there.

AF Heart

A.F. Heart said...

I hope the changes I made to the font size and type will help you out. I am so sorry you put up with the inconvenience as long as you did.

AF Heart

A.F. Heart said...

Everybody is way too quiet this week.

I am finally seeing some book giveaway entries in my email. Give it a try, for every correct answer you get an entry in the contest drawing - so you don't have to figure out all 5 even. And the blog hasn't been up and running very long so there isn't that much to wade through. me!

A.F Heart

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