My guest today is Morgan St. James, one of the Silver Sisters. Morgan, tell us about yourself.
After many years as an interior designer working with model homes, offices, restaurants and occasionally some celebrities’ homes, I discovered writing. Now I co-author the comical Silver Sisters Mysteries series with my real-life sister Phyllice Bradner. Our series began with the award-winning A Corpse in the Soup. Then Seven Deadly Samovars was released in September 2009. Vanishing Act in Vegas is currently in work. My short stories are in multiple anthologies, including two Chicken Soup for the Soul books and four Amazon Shorts.
Two new novels, Devil’s Dance and The Devil’s Due, written under the pen name Arliss Adams, are scheduled for early to mid 2010 publication, along with three short stories in anthologies. I am active in many writers groups: Sisters in Crime/LA, Henderson Writers Group, Las Vegas Writers Group, Public Safety Writers Association, and am a founding member and Vice President of Sisters in Crime/Southern Nevada. I edit “On The Prowl”, the Sisters in Crime/SNV newsletter, and write columns for www.examiner.com and www.perpetualprose.com . As if that wasn’t enough, I am a frequent speaker and panel member.
Morgan, when did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
When I was a partner in an interior design firm, a prestigious design magazine named Designer’s West, asked my partner and I to write an article for them. We said “yes” and then realized that we weren’t writers. Well, Mom always said I could do anything I put my mind to, and this was no exception—but I did have my doubts. The deadline was rapidly approaching, and we had nothing. This was to be an article about creating a unique wood floor. Around midnight the day before the article was due, tired and slightly giddy, we put together a spoof with all of the information. It was written like a noir mystery and the editor loved it. My partner didn’t continue to write but I did, and wrote many published magazine articles on different subjects after that.
When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?
Like many writers of magazine articles, I dreamed of writing a book someday. I actually started what eventually became Devil’s Dance and The Devil’s Due almost fourteen years ago. It was rewritten so many times it would make your head spin, and my characters have had so many different names, I’ve actually forgotten some of them. In the meantime, Phyllice and I hooked up and created the Silver Sisters and I wrote several short stories. But as I learned more and more about my craft, I’d keep taking whatever the latest manuscript was for Devil’s Dance and The Devil’s Due out of mothballs so to speak, and rework it yet one more time. It took fourteen years, but this year they will become reality. The paperback, e-book and Kindle will be published by L&L Dreamspell, and the audio books by Books in Motion.
The message here is twofold. Don’t be resistant to listening to helpful advice and critiques, and believe in yourself.
Briefly tell us about your latest book. Series or stand-alone?
The latest book is Seven Deadly Samovars which was released in September 2009 by L&L Dreamspell. It is a comical Silver Sisters crime caper involving seven antique Russian samovars (fancy tea dispensers) that conceal a secret worth killing for. Silver Sisters is a series.
Also, Devil’s Dance and The Devil’s Due will be released either together or one soon after the other within the next few months. As Paul Harvey used to say, The Devil’s Due is the rest of the story.
How do you develop characters? Setting?
That actually varies, depending upon the project, but several things are quite consistent in concept. For Silver Sisters we draw heavily upon our own personalities and some of the quirky family members and friends we grew up with. The characters in Devil’s Dance and The Devil’s Due are composites of people I knew in many different stages of my life. In all cases, I strive for rounded characters, each with their own voice, rather than the cardboard characters we sometimes encounter.
As for settings, I try to draw from businesses or cities I know something about first hand unless it is a minor reference in the book. For Silver Sisters we basically place them in Juneau, Alaska, the Los Angeles area, or now in our third, Las Vegas. They do have the ability to go to other places such as Seattle in Seven Deadly Samovars. I have traveled a great deal both nationally and internationally, so I have personally visited many cities and countries. Phyllice lived in Alaska for over thirty years, and I split my time between the LA area and Las Vegas.
Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?
I love working with Flossie Silver, the Silver Sister twins’ eighty year old mother. She and her brother-in-law are former vaudeville magicians, and Flossie is so much fun. She’s feisty, always ready for adventure, loves to dress in disguises and always manages to get Uncle Sterling, the voice of wisdom, to go along with her goofy plans. I also love the friendly bantering between Goldie Silver, an over the hill flower child from Alaska who owns an antique store, and her manipulative twin Godiva Olivia DuBois, a wealthy widow from Beverly Hills who writes the advice column “Ask G.O.D.” Of course, why wouldn’t I? Those two characters are based upon Phyllice and myself.
Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
I don’t outline per se, but I work with detailed timelines to make sure the events take place in the right sequence. I’ve also developed what I call chapter sheets for more complex projects. There is a sheet for each chapter that contains the chapter number, whose POV, location and date or time of events in the chapter, pertinent points to cover, and any special passages or thoughts I want to incorporate in that chapter. These have proved to be very helpful and can assist in solving some of the difficult challenges when a scene is in development.
Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?
I always used to write exclusively in third person and actually was intimidated by first person. After all the rewrites of the romantic/suspense novels Devil’s Dance and The Devil’s Due—in a moment of clarity I realized the only way to write the story of Jen Connor and involve the reader was to attempt first person. So I rewrote it once again, and then a few more times, with Jen’s POV in first person and the other main characters in third person. I’ve since written short stories in first person, like “Trust No One” which will be in the anthology Mystery of the Green Mist, to be published soon by L&L Dreamspell.
How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
In living Technicolor! Every situation or location in my books or stories is inspired by something that really happened or a place I’ve been. Phyllice and I grew up in a zany family, so we have lots of built-in material. One project I’m working on with another writing partner was inspired by a job we held for four years. After we both left, we were reminiscing and realized that we had the makings of Nine to Five meets The First Wive’s Club. The first two chapters became the basis for a short story entitled “Anything But Paradise” that will be in the anthology Dreamspell Revenge. The rest is still in work with the working title “Welcome to Paradise.”.
Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve even had.
This is the last paragraph of a review of Seven Deadly Samovars by Sid Weaver of www.mainlymysteries.com. Sid reviewed A Corpse in the Soup and gave it an eight on his Weaver Scale, so imagine our delight when Samovars got a nine!
"Seven Deadly Samovars is the best Silver Sisters mystery yet and that is saying something. Morgan and Phyllis manage to incorporate just the right mix of tension and humor to keep it lively and interesting page after page. If you like the warm, friendly amateur detective mystery then this is one you should get and read right away. Don’t miss it!! I give this one a 9 of 10 on the Weaver meter."
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?