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Monday, June 21, 2010

Author Interview - Lorna Barrett

Welcome the bestselling author Lorna Barrett to Mysteries and My Musings .  Lorna Barrett is the nom de plume of author Lorraine Bartlett.  Lorraine's other alter ego, L.L. Bartlett, writes psychological suspense and the Jeff Resnick mystery series.  She's done it all, from drilling holes for NASA to typing scripts in Hollywood, and lives a life of crime in western New York.

I am so tickled that Lorraine graciously gave an interview to our little slice of the blogosphere!  You can read the review I did on her latest book in her Booktown Mystery Series, Bookplate Special, HERE.  Please give a huge welcome to Lorraine!!

- Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

Actually, I start each book with the opening scene and let the story develop around it. Often I’ll know something very basic about the plot. For instance; in Bookplate Special I knew I wanted to write about food pantries but I had no idea how I was going to introduce the subject or that the whole food aspect of the book would be so great.

- 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?

I have a vague idea of what the book is going to be about, because my publisher requires a synopsis, but I rarely stick to it, and so far have had no complaints. I try to make sure that everyone in the story has something to do, or if they don’t, that I am setting them up for something in a future book in the series. (I find that a lot of fun.)

- I enjoy Tricia and her supporting cast, what is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?

Occasionally I find a picture that helps me develop the characters. I found a picture of a woman in a decorating magazine that was definitely how I pictured Angelica. When I blogged about it, some of my readers came back with very unflattering remarks about her. (Saying, for one, that the woman in the picture was TOO OLD to be Angelica. But to me, this picture WAS Angelica in the flesh (so to speak). It just goes to show that everyone interprets the characters differently. And they do reveal themselves to me as I write. I seldom know too much about them before I start.

- 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?

I have to actually carve out time to work. For years, I found it best to write in the morning. Now I find afternoons are better because I can get my promotion and networking done in the morning, plus answer emails, etc.

I don’t seem to be able o write in my “office” anymore. There are too many distractions. I get a lot of my writing done on my laptop on the dining room table. Sometimes, when I’m really stuck, I’ll go sit in my car with a legal pad and a pen. I often find I get my best ideas that way.

I cannot stand working in dead silence. In fact, my life is set to music. I turn on my stereo with new age the minute I get up in the morning, and I even go to sleep listening to a rain/music CD. I find the sound of rain on the roof to be very soothing. (I’m listening to one of those “rain” CDs as I type this.)

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

As I mentioned, I like to write in the afternoons, and generally do it between 1-5 p.m. (But if the muse is really on fire, I’ll continue to write until I hit a roadblock.) I like having at least nine months to write a book. I need to read my contracts a bit closer, because for the last year or so I’ve had to write two a year, which can sometimes be difficult—especially as there are other things going on in my life.

- What in your background prepared you to write mystery novels?

Absolutely nothing. I didn’t decide I wanted to write until I was about 19, and I don’t have an English degree. I wasn’t sure I wanted to write professionally, and dabbled at it for a lot of years. Then in the early 1990s my husband encouraged me to start thinking about writing professionally. It took me 11 years to see my first “traditionally published” novel in print.

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

I am not a big believer in how-to-write books, although I did love Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird. The best piece of writing advice I ever got from a how-to book was by Natalie Goldberg who essentially said that the best way to learn how to write is to sit down in front of your keyboard (or with pen in hand) and just do it.

- What are you currently reading?

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingels Wilder. I either read non-fiction or children’s books while I’m writing one of my own books. I definitely avoid cozy novels a good part of the year, which means I have a read-a-thon of my friends’ books when I’m in between writing my own books. About the only exceptions are when my publisher asks me to read a manuscript for a blurb. That’s fun—especially if I’m doing it for a friend. I loved Hannah Reed’s Buzz off and Avery Aames’s The Long Quiche Goodbye—which were lovely diversions.

- What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t think I have one.

- Do you participate in a critique group (or have you in the past?) What are the pros and cons of critique groups?

I used to rely on a critique group before I was published. The best place for unpublished mystery authors to find help learning about the craft and the publishing business is the Guppies Chapter of Sisters in Crime. ( A good critique group can be invaluable. A bad critique group can set you back years. I’ve had wonderful critique partners who genuinely wanted me to succeed, and other’s who tried to sabotage me. I think online groups can be more effective than face-to-face groups, which often degenerate into just social gatherings. Online critiquing keeps you focused on the work at hand.

Now I rely on first readers and other published authors to critique my work, and only with completed drafts. I no longer find chapter-by-chapter input to be of much use.

- I understand you have another book due to be released August 3rd, please tell us a little about it.

Chapter & Hearse is the 4th book in the bestselling Booktown Mystery series. (I also write the Jeff Resnick Mysteries as L.L. Bartlett, and the Victoria Square Mysteries (which will debut in Feb. 2011) as Lorraine Bartlett.) It was a difficult book to write, because my father was very ill and ultimately died during that time period. But I was glad to escape into Tricia’s world for a couple of hours every day. Stoneham may have it’s problems, but there’s also a lot of love and friendship there, too.

Here’s a description of the book:

Tricia’s sister, Angelica, considers herself to be the next celebrity chef. To celebrate her first cookbook, Angelica hosts a launch party, but sadly the only guest is an oversized cutout of herself. Worse than the lack of fans is a nearby gas explosion that injures her boyfriend, Bob Kelly, the head of the Chamber of Commerce.

Tricia’s never been a fan of Bob, but when she reads that Bob is being tight-lipped about the “accident” and how it killed the owner of the town’s history bookstore, it’s time to take action. As the incriminating details emerge, Tricia gets wrapped up in a murder that proves to be as spine-tingling as the books that line her shelves…

Lorna Barrett writes the New York Times Best selling, and Agatha nominated Booktown Mystery series. You can find her website at and her blog at

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Thank you Lorraine/Lorna for such a great interview.

So readers, I loved what she is currently reading and how her life is set to music.  Any thoughts, what did you find interesting in the interview?

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for having me!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Lorraine! I cannot picture you writing in your car! You continue to amaze me...and you are such an inspiration!

Terrific interview, you two.


J.H. Moncrieff said...

Hi there,

Great interview! I really appreciated the insight into the value of critique groups. I've had similar negative experiences with the in-person variety (although they can be great for making new writer friends). I've also been considering membership to Sisters in Crime, so it's great to hear from someone who thinks it's worth it.


Dru said...

Great interview and I love all your books and look forward to reading your new series.

Anonymous said...

I can actually see you sitting with a pad of paper and pen/pencil writing ideas and forming storylines. It feels very "Jeff Resnick" to me.

Wonderful Interview.
Love, Jeannie

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