Interview with Lindsey Davis + #DebBallGiveaway of THE THIRD NERO

Today on the Debutante Ball, I’m excited to welcome Lindsey Davis, the author of over thirty novels. Her latest, THE THIRD NERO, is out on St. Martin’s Press. I have been a huge Lindsey Davis fan for many years, long before I embarked upon my own foray into the world of ancient Rome. Some of…
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INSPIRATION STEW || The Helluva Year That Inspired My First Novel

Here I am, your Friday girl, and in all honesty, after reading my fellow debs’ posts this week, I felt an acute case of stage fright, because, for one thing, aren’t they awesome? And for another thing, I couldn’t think of the inspiration for KILMOON. So here’s a question, what do my first trip to…
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The Debutante Ball Welcomes Mystery Author Shannon Baker!

Today the Debutante Ball welcomes Shannon Baker, author of TAINTED MOUNTAIN, Nora Abbott Mysteries #1 (Midnight Ink, March 2013) – (and check at the end of the interview for a chance to WIN THE BOOK!)

13C Shannon Baker Shannon Baker is lover of mountains, plains, oceans and rivers and can often be found traipsing around the great outdoors.  Tainted Mountain, the first in her Nora Abbott Mystery Series, is set in Flagstaff, AZ, where she lived for several years and worked for The Grand Canyon Trust, a hotbed of environmentalists who, usually, don’t resort to murder. Shannon now makes her home in Boulder, CO.

TAINTED MOUNTAIN (Midnight Ink), the first book in the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, is a fast-paced mix of eco-terrorists, native spirituality, and murder. A young ski area owner in Flagstaff, AZ is determined to use man-made snow, an energy tycoon has his own reasons for promoting it, enviros and tribes may use any means to stop it. But the spirits of the mountain just might have the last say.

Please tell us about a book that made an impact on you.

When I was about 28 or 29, I read “And Ladies of the Club” by Helen Hooven Santmyer. This is a sweeping saga that opens with two young women graduating from high school at the end of the Civil War and ends after the Depression. When I read that book I thought how much I’d like to write something like that someday. I learned Santmyer was 88 when she published that book, her only best seller. I decided if I wanted to have some writing success before I developed osteoporosis, I’d better start working at it. I’ll never write an epic like Santmyer did, but it was her book that inspired me to set goals and start working toward publication. Good thing, too. It took me so long to get to this point I’m not sure I had a lot of years to spare.

Who is one of your favorite (fictional or non-fictional) characters?

I love Scarlett O’Hara. My mother gave me Harlequin Romances and Phyllis A. Whitney novels when I was young. There’s nothing wrong with these books, but the girls and women in them were all so much nicer and kinder and nobler than I would ever be. They were willing to sacrifice anything for the people they loved. They made me feel so inadequate.

Scarlett might be the first fierce woman I ever read about. She’s not someone I’d want to go to happy hour with or spend an afternoon with at the spa. I wouldn’t trust her. But what an interesting character. So strong. So sure of herself. So smart and diabolical. Her sisters could whine that she stole Sue Ellen’s man, but without Scarlett, they wouldn’t have survived reconstruction. Scarlett was misguided but she wasn’t heartless. She really did save Mellie and her baby, and my guess is, she would have done it even if Ashley weren’t involved. Scarlett, of course, was her own worst enemy. The hero AND villain. God, I love her!

And now, I must go read Gone with the Wind again.

What did you find most difficult about writing a mystery novel? 13C Tainted Mountain

I am the world’s worst plotter. I can get a great idea for a situation and characters and then I get down to details and it all goes wonky. I stomp around the house, I go for long runs. I sit in the bath and I cajole, plead, demand by lazy-assed brain to give me something better. It fights me. It sticks out its tongue and hides behind the bushes.

I play games with myself. I write character journals in first person. I have a story board and detailed Excel spreadsheets. I have tried using six different colored highlighters. The Hero’s Journey, The Artist’s Way, Story Engineering, Techniques of the Selling Writer, Writing the Breakout Novel, Between the Lines… just some of the books I turn to for inspiration.

I spiral into despair. This book is an irreparable piece of junk and I might as well take up cross-stitch or Olympic drinking. Maybe both.

There is no reason I put myself through this kind of torture. I can’t explain what motivates me to do it over and over. But there it is. It ain’t pretty.

Tell us a secret about your book — something people might not know from reading it.

Aside from being inspired by the actual conflict over man-made snow on sacred peaks, what really inspired me to start Tainted Mountain was reading a book called The Hopi Survival Kit by Thomas Mailis. Mailis is a white preacher who presumes to speak for the traditional Hopi elders. The book was written in 1997. It’s pretty typical end of the world stuff. We’re doomed because of our wicked ways. But he goes a little further to explain that Hopi consider themselves responsible for keeping the entire world in balance. The book is a warning from the elders to shape up.

There is much in the book about prophesies, many of which have come true. Mailis describes some of the ancient culture of the Hopi and gives guidelines on how to live simply. It’s a fascinating book, though I didn’t buy all the dire warnings and mythology and figured the Hopi would be pretty put-out with some outsider speaking for them. Yet, it had lots of fuel for the what-if of a novel.

As I did more research and met some Hopis, I developed a deep respect for their culture and I decided not to use all the bizarre stuff from the Survival Kit book. I didn’t want the Hopi to come off as ridiculous. When I had an elderly Hopi man read my manuscript in its final form to make sure I hadn’t done anything disrespectful, I mentioned the Survival Kit book to him and said that of course, I wouldn’t pay much attention to that silly book.

He gave me a mysterious little smile and tilted his head as if to it might not be as ridiculous as I thought.

Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.

I love animal voice-overs on You Tube. My favorite is the Ultimate Dog Tease. There’s that one with the British accent. Gets me every time. And the cats playing Pat-a-Cake, oh my god. What about the one, not a voice-over, but the guy showing a frog a video game with bugs on his cell phone. Never not cracks me up.  There’s an NFL bad lip syncing that makes me laugh so hard I cry. “I want cake. I want cake NOW!” I just saw goats whose bleats sound like people. When I feel stressed and need a break, I go to the animal videos. Every time. I mean, Honey Badger, come on. That’s funny.

Two other “things” that always make me laugh. My daughter. She knows my humor so well and can send me into laughing fits. And my husband, who is my husband because every day he makes me laugh. No one else thinks we’re that entertaining, but at least we crack each other up.


You can learn more about Shannon – and Nora Abbott, and TAINTED MOUNTAIN, at Shannon’s website, and you can buy the book from Midnight Ink, at any online retailer, or at your local chain or independent bookstore.

Shannon has generously offered to give away a copy of TAINTED MOUNTAIN to one lucky commenter! (U.S. shipping addresses only) For a chance to win, leave a comment telling us what makes you laugh or what you like about mystery novels!


Deb Susan Revised This Blog Post … and Her Title

I love revisions, and couldn’t wait to write about the revision process – how many drafts I write, and how my novels change from start to finish. But when I looked at it seriously, I realized that topic called for a lot of explanation, and Emperor Maximus Angryfish disapproves of lengthy blog posts:

13B Max

Back to the drawing board.

I thought I’d write about how I revise – first drafts on an Alphasmart Neo, revisions on my laptop, all of it next to the biggest distraction on the planet aquarium that keeps me in my chair.

That would also let me post seahorse photos, because every blog needs MORE SEAHORSE.

13B Ghillie best

Or maybe not.

In the end, I opted to blog about the hardest edit of all: revising my title.

Originally, my novel was titled SHINOBI.

Shinobi is the Japanese word for ninja. (Take a minute, think that over.) “Ninja” is actually based on a Chinese pronunciation of the characters which the Japanese pronounce a different way. Since the novel introduces my ninja detective, Hiro Hattori, and follows his very first “case,” it just made sense to title the thing SHINOBI.

A couple of weeks after signing my contract, my editor sent me an email asking for “alternative title ideas.” Alternative titles??? Uh-uh. No way. Not happening. It took me MONTHS to title that thing SHINOBI, and in my mind no other title would do.

But I didn’t tell her that.

I fretted to myself for a while and put on my thinking cap. My agent and my writing group helped me brainstorm. The process wasn’t fun. Cherry blossom imagery features heavily in the book, so for a while I considered SAKURA – the Japanese word for cherry tree. Unfortunately, that suffered from the exact same deficits as SHINOBI – a one-word foreign title readers wouldn’t understand.

Then I considered CAT’S CLAW – which made sense, because the novel mentions a ninja weapon known as neko-te, which translates to English as either “Cat’s claw” (or , more precisely,”claws of the cat”). It didn’t occur to me to turn the words around, but when one of my critique partners suggested changing it to CLAWS OF THE CAT the title – and naming scheme for my series – fell into place. Claws of the Cat Cover (50)

My editor kept Shinobi for the series. Book 1 became CLAWS OF THE CAT.

Months down the line, I’m glad we made the swap – and happier still that I didn’t dig my heels in and object to the change of name. I like this title better than the first one. It fits the novel better in many ways (you’ll have to read it to find them all).

The process also taught me valuable lessons about attachment, compromise, and the joy of discovering it’s OK not to get everything right the first time. As with all good revisions, the changes made the title – and the novel – even better.

And that’s something even Emperor Max can approve of.

Have you ever had to change your title? Would you be willing to do it if asked?