Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Death in Texas interview

Texas-based L&L Dreamspell published A Death in Texas , an anthology of stories about...well, death in Texas. I hope you enjoy my interview with five of the authors who contributed murder and mayhem to this book: Pauline Baird Jones, Loretta Wheeler, Diana Driver, Laura Elvebak, and Shirley Wetzel.

Welcome, ladies. First, congratulations to all of you who have work published in this anthology.

Pauline, please introduce yourself and give us a short synopsis of your story.

I'm Pauline Baird Jones, the award-winning author of nine novels of science fiction romance, action-adventure, suspense, romantic suspense and comedy-mystery, three non-fiction handbooks for writers.

In  "Men in Jeans", Richard Daniels thinks life can't get any stranger working at Area 51 until he is assigned to find out where a Houston area SF writer gets the ideas for her books. Should be an easy assignment--if it weren't for the dead guy in her back yard and the non-business related ideas she's giving him.

I'm intrigued, Pauline.

Loretta, welcome, and tell us a little bit about you.

Hi, Susan. Thank you for having me here today. It’s always been a pleasure to visit here, and doubly nice to find myself being interviewed.

I'm Loretta Wheeler and I currently live in a suburb just outside of Houston, Texas along with my Australian husband and our cat, Lil’ Dickens. When I married John, I moved to Australia for seven years and now have come almost full circle, living within 10 miles of where I lived before. As someone said to me when I returned, I went halfway around the world to wind up in the same spot. My furniture has traveled to more places than some people:)

I write thrillers, and most have paranormal overtones in them. "Dark Pleasures", which is my short story in the A Death in Texas anthology, is a more typical thriller, dealing with a psychopath, a criminal psychologist, a detective, and last but definitely not least, a dog. The dog (Hob) begins as a metaphor but quickly emerges as something more. Much more. Hob fills a very strong niche’ in the story as it develops, and it’s one I think the reader will not only find intriguing, but also extremely unusual. This particular short story was written as a prequel for the novel that will follow.

Diana, it's nice to have you join us. Please tell us about yourself and your story.

Diana Driver:  I’m originally from Cheyenne, Wyoming, but have lived most of my life in Texas.

"Die Mahnung" (The Warning) is a murder mystery, set in a small Texas town. “Jake was the law in this small, sparsely populated Texas county and he decided which laws people obeyed - and which laws he didn't give a hot damn about. When residents began dying, Jake's wife, Jesse, wondered if Jake thought it was okay to get away with...murder.”


Laura Elvebak is the author of LESS DEAD (2008) and LOST WITNESS (2009), (L&L Dreamspell), both awarded five star reviews on Amazon, which features Niki Alexander, an ex-cop turned teen counselor. Her published short stories are "Searching for Rachel" featured in A DEATH IN TEXAS, and “Dying For Chocolate” in the award winning A BOX OF TEXAS CHOCOLATES. Several of her screenplays were written for-hire and optioned. Originally from Los Angeles, Laura now lives in Houston, Texas. Laura is a former chapter president of Mystery Writers of America, is serving a third term as Southwest Chapter’s Treasurer and is the continuing editor of The Sleuth Sayer, the chapter’s newsletter. She is a member of Sisters-In-Crime and The Final Twist Writers.

Welcome, Laura. Please give us a short synopsis of your story.

Okay. Thanks. “Searching for Rachel” is about the disappearance of Rachel  and how it changed her younger sister Tracy's life forever. Now after two years, Tracy has no one. After her father walked out on the family, her mother gave up. Now alone and scared, Tracy is out on the street searching for the runaway Rachel, certain that if she finds her, her father would come home.

Sounds great.

Shirley, how about a few details about yourself?

Shirley Wetzel:  I've been writing since I was first able to hold a pencil, and reading before that. My first "published" book was an autobiography, written when I was in the third grade. It was a pretty short book. I'm a native Texan, born in Comanche in the first wave of Baby Boomers. My dad was in the Navy, so we lived all over the country, finally settling down back in Texas. I have a B.A. from Texas Tech University, an M.A. in Anthropology from Rice University, and an M.S. in Library Science from the University of North Texas. I've been a librarian at Rice University for 28 years. Here's the synopsis for "Feels Like Home" , from A Death in Texas:

Normally, Judy West looked forward to leaving the big city of Houston to return to her roots in Comanche, Texas and visit with her many kinfolks. This trip was different, however. We were gathering in the lovingly restored home of my paternal grandparents to discuss a family tragedy. Cousin Sam, one of the best and brightest of us, had returned from Vietnam a troubled, unhappy man, got involved in the drug trade, and was murdered by his cohorts in crime. They burned down the meth lab, and along with it the ancient log homestead of our Harman ancestors. We all grieved for Sam, for his family, and for our lost history. By the end of the weekend, we had more to grieve about, as unpleasant family skeletons came out of the closet.

Wow! You have my attention, Shirley.
Do you guys write any other genres?

Jones:  The short answer is yes. I tend to wander through generes and liberally mix them together.

Wheeler:  I’ve written one romantic short story titled "The Pan Man". It won an honorable mention on the Long and Short Review and is in their archive section now. I wanted to see if I could write a YA with a happy ever after ending, and was quite delighted when it placed. I’ve also written a children’s story, but it hasn’t found a home as of this time. Its title is "A Butterbean Named A”.

Driver:  My novel, Ninth Lord of the Night is a contemporary and a mix of fantasy & magical realism. The companion book, The Maya, People of the Maize is a non-fiction guidebook about the classic Maya civilization. "Valentine’s Day" is a romantic short story and is included in the anthology, A Box of Texas Chocolates. My next release, The Amber Rune, is a fantasy, based on Norwegian myths and legends.

Elvebak: Mainly mystery suspense, although I have published self help articles for Single Again Magazine in California. Also two of the screenplays I wrote for hire revolved around the 1900 Galveston Storm and another one was a children’s comedy.

Wetzel:  I write historical articles, academic papers, a few poems, and personal essays. I also do book reviews for the mystery website

What books came along at just the right time to influence your reading/writing?

Jones: Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. It’s a wonderful book for the new author not sure he/she has what it takes to be a writer. Playwriting: The Structure of Action by Sam Smiley. I learned SO much about creating characters from this book.

Wheeler: I was one of those avid readers, and moved through several genres, but I was always more drawn to thrillers. I read Poe at a young age, and everything Phyllis A. Whitney wrote, moving rapidly on to Stephen King’s work, along with Dean Koontz and Anne Rice. Stephen King’s The Stand was one of the most profound for me. I enjoyed the way he took something very dark and taught life lessons within it. I also like the idea that he always pushes the envelope. It opens more envelopes for us as new writers.
Driver: Not books so much as information over the internet about the WWII P.O.W. camps located in Texas that held prisoners of Rommel’s elite corps.

Elvebak:  Jonathan Kellerman writes about Dr. Alex Delaware, a child psychologist, who helps the police solves crimes that involve children with severe psychological problems. He probably influenced me the most in writing about Niki Alexander.
James Lee Burke influenced me in a different way in that I loved his characters and his descriptions, as did Robert B. Parker. In some ways, their styles were so different, Parker’s being very spare and Burke painting such vivid pictures with words. Both had a very concise idea of justice.

Wetzel:  That's a very hard question. I was influenced by the Nancy Drew books, and others of that type, before I was twelve. Then I discovered Agatha Christie, and went on from there. Because I have a degree in archeology, Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series certainly influenced my writing. I found Stephen King's book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, inspirational and filled with practical information

What makes a good story?

Jones:  Good storytelling. LOL! Okay, let’s see, you need to pull the reader into the story, keep them in the story, entertain and surprise them, and then deliver on the ending.

Wheeler:  I think that varies from person to person. That’s why the bookstores are full. For me, it’s mainly the tension, but I also like it if the story can incorporate a life lesson, or the acceptance of something outside what’s considered a normal concept.

Driver:  Good stories are created by skilled writers who know how to use story elements to their full advantage. A good writer knows how to pace a plot, how to develop a character, set a scene, create dialogue, and use description to its maximum advantage.
The above being said, reading likes and dislikes vary widely. A good story is only considered good if the reader enjoys reading the genre in which the story is written.

Elvebak: Memorable characters who have to conquer seemingly insurmountable problems.

Wetzel:  First of all, an interesting, believable protagonist and a good supporting cast of characters. Setting is important to me, with details that allow me to visualize exactly what the characters are seeing, feeling, even smelling. I'm a Virgo, and a librarian and historian, so I want those details to be correct. A reader at all familiar with a particular place or profession can tell when the writer has been lazy or sloppy with the research. Oh, and a coherent plot is nice too.

Is there a different writing process for short stories than there is for novels?

Jones: Write shorter. That is obvious., but not that easy for me. I tend to write long, complicated plots.

Wheeler:  Well, I know it takes a lot less time for a short story! I refer to it as icing. It’s a treat. More like instant gratification. I do a light outline of the short story, sit down, and let it take over. For a novel, I begin with the outline, then do character sheets, and of course, quite a bit more research. But as with the short story, for me, the story takes over, and I travel down some paths I hadn’t planned.

Driver:  The only difference between creating a short story and a novel is the length; both long and short fiction have a beginning, middle, and end, but in a piece of short fiction there’s no room for intricate and detailed subplots.

Elvebak:  I have to discipline myself to write short, work with one plot instead of using subplots. I actually found it easier than I expected. The problem was tearing myself away from writing the novel and interrupting the flow to write something completely different. It usually was a blessing in the end, showing that I needed that break and to come back to the novel with fresh eyes.

Wetzel:  I find short stories to be more difficult to write than novels because so much must be said in such a limited number of words. Then again, they are easier to finish. I have several finished short stories, and one novel that has been languishing unfinished for some time.

How do you discipline yourself when writing?

Jones:  I use a reward system. If I get xx number of words written, or solve xx problems, then I get to read xx book or xx movie or I can go eat xx.

Wheeler:  Oh streuth! (As they say in Australia). That’s the equivalent of OMG. I do have a hard time with the discipline. The best way for me to achieve my goal is for someone to set a deadline for me, or set it myself. I seem to need that.

Driver:  I stay off the Internet.

I need to discipline myself that way too.

Elvebak:  When the writing is going well, I get completely lost in it. Time means nothing. It melts away. I procrastinate sometimes before I start writing. I’ll finish reading all my email, read blogs, play Freecell, but once I start, I don’t want to stop, and I hate being interrupted. But that’s another discipline.

Wetzel:  This is my biggest problem. I try to follow the adage to "put butt in chair and write," but I'm not too good at that. In 1996 I wrote in my diary "My muse is like the Texas weather: long spells of drought and despair followed by days of wild, uncontrolled outpourings from the skies." Having a deadline is the main thing that makes me sit down and get to work.

Have you participated in  any other anthologies? If so, which ones?

Jones:  Short stories were painful for me at first, but became my lifeline during a family crisis. When I lacked time to write long, short kept me going. I am in the following anthologies: Dead and Breakfast, A Box of Texas Chocolates, Ghostly Dreamspell, The Mystery of the Green Mist, and Romance of My Dreams I (two stories).

Wheeler:  Yes, I have a story entitled "Siren’s Call" in the Erotic Dreamspell anthology, due to release in the winter of 2010.

Driver:  I have another mystery short story, "The End of the Tour", in the Dead and Breakfast anthology and a sweet romance, "Valentine’s Day", as I said earlier, is in A Box of Texas Chocolates. Both anthologies are published by L&L Dreamspell.

Elvebak:  I have a short story in A Box of Texas Chocolates entitled “Dying For Chocolate”. It's also a L&L Dreamspell anthology.

Wetzel:  A personal essay I wrote about the unusual love story of my aunt and uncle, titled "Two Dollar Wife," was published in A Cup of Comfort for Weddings: Something Old, Something New, in 2005. . I have a historical, creative-non-fiction ghost story called "Sarah Hornsby's Dream" coming out in the next Final Twist anthology, Twisted Tales of Texas Landmarks, being published by L&L Dreamspell this year.

When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?

Jones:  I’m pretty passionate about not liking themes, probably a hangover from school. Despite my best efforts, I can see themes creeping into my writing. Perhaps because of when I was born (a long time ago) and the tumults of my informative years (women’s emancipation) I find myself writing a lot of about identity and women’s roles, but I try not to be too serious about it.

Wheeler:  Thinking outside the box. In some of my writing, I strive to incorporate some of my belief system. In "Dark Pleasures", the reader sees animals and telepathy in a very different light.
In "The Image", my current work in progress for an e-book, I touch lightly on quantum physics, and how our thoughts are more powerful than we could ever have imagined.

Driver:  There were two themes in Ninth Lord of the Night that I was passionate about. The first, and most important, was that the reader understands the importance of preserving written history. The second theme, and one that occurs again and again in my writing, is that you have to be true to yourself and not live your life according to false principles and predetermined ideas.

Elvebak:  Homeless children and how they got there and how they survive. I’ve used that theme in my Niki Alexander books. I seek answers as to what drives a person to deviant behavior; the psychology of madness or evil; family dynamics and dysfunction.

Wetzel:  Family, relationships, justice, and the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity

Francis Bacon once said, "Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable." Where are you when you have your most inspiring moments and how do you react to them?

Jones:  I get inspired in many places, but I probably feel most inspired when I am in the mountains. I grew up surrounded by them and miss them where I live now, so it’s always great when I can get home and reconnect. Mountains give you perspective and that’s always good. I am more grounded when I leave them behind.

Wheeler:  I have them anywhere, at any time. I was recently working on a short story for a competition, and got the opening sentence while waiting in line at the Nutcracker.

Whitfield:  Okay, I have to jump in here and snicker, Loretta. You apparently get inspiration in much the same wacky way I do. Love it!

Wheeler:  Fortunately for me it was a short sentence and I was able to wait to write it down. I normally keep writing material around me when at home, but I can tell I’m going to have to start dragging notepads around with me from now on.

Driver:  My best thoughts and ideas come when I’m doing something mundane like housework or just before I drift off to sleep. During those times my mind drifts into the scene I’m working on and I can visualize all the details.

Elvebak:  Usually about 3:00 or 4:30 in the morning. Then I can’t get back to sleep. I’ll be inspired by a dream or a solution to a problem that’s just occurred to me upon waking. I’ll mull over it until I’m wide awake and I’ll either write it down or it will cook in my head until it’s ready to spill over on the page.

Wetzel:  Inspiring moments may come to me anytime and anywhere. They often come to me as I'm drifting off to sleep, in my dreams, and when I'm on the edge of waking up. For these, I have a pen and paper on the table next to my bed. I carry a notepad, and listen to conversations going on around me, at the grocery store, on the shuttle bus, waiting for a doctor's appointment … Many of those conversations these days are one-way, because so many people are on their cell phones, and I have to fill in the other side of the conversation. Once in a great while, something said in a television program or movie strikes me, and books by my favorite authors often have inspiring content.

Do you have any other writing projects underway?

Jones:  In addition to promoting my latest release Girl Gone Nova, and looking forward to the release of my Steampunk/science fiction romance novella, Tangled in Time in 12/2010, I am writing a new novel in my Project Universe/Garradian Galaxy series. Each book can be read stand alone, but they are more fun, IMHO, if you read them all.

Wheeler:  Yes, as mentioned earlier, I’m currently working on The Image, which is novella size and releasing as an e-book. I will return to The Midnight Dance/The Devereaux Chronicles once I’ve completed The Image. The Midnight Dance helped me achieve my PRO position in the RWA when the Marsal Lyon Agency requested a look at the manuscript after reviewing my pitch and query letter. Following that, I will revisit "Dark Pleasures" to complete the story I began in A Death in Texas.

Driver:  Right now I’m writing a fantasy, The Amber Rune. This involves researching runology, occult magic, the Nordic pantheon, and reading ancient Nordic manuscripts.

Elvebak:  I am working on a stand-alone that takes place in the sixties in Philadelphia and revolves around the demimonde world of bar girls and go go dancers. I’m also working on another short story for the next Final Twist Anthology. I had also started on the third Niki Alexander mystery.

Wetzel:  I have a few mystery short stories finished and waiting to be polished, and a mystery novel long a work in progress. My father died recently, at the age of 89, and for the last few years I recorded his stories about growing up, about family members long gone, and about his service in the Navy in WWII. My mother is 89, and I'm now gathering her stories and memories. I've been scanning old family photos, some of them over one hundred years old, and turning them into albums to share with my other relatives. Along the way, in organizing the photos chronologically and in family groups, I realized I've been "writing" our family history. That project is demanding to be done now, while my Mother and other elderly sources are still here to identify people in the photos that I don't know.

Where can readers learn more about you?


Wheeler:  I have two websites for each of the names I write under, and I am on Facebook, listed as Loretta Wheeler. On MySpace I can be found under Southern Nuances. Both of my websites are currently in the process of being updated.

Driver: My website is

Elvebak: My website: and my blog, which I need to attend to more,

Wetzel:   On my blog,, and on the L&L Dreamspell and the Final Twist websites.
Thank you ladies, for joining together for this interview. Bloggers, for more information about A Death in Texas and other Dreamspell publications, go to


Betty Gordon said...

Another great interview, Susan and ladies. Even though I know all the authors, I found their responses fresh and insightful.
I particularly enjoyed Shirley Wetzel's comment re discipline:
"My muse is like the Texas weather..."

Betty Gordon

Pauline B Jones said...

thanks for the interview, Susan! It was fun and I learned a lot, too. :-)

Christie Craig said...

Great interview!! The stories sound wonderful. I'm waving to several of the girls. And Loretta, I want to become your furniture. I love to travel.


Anonymous said...

Great interview, ladies! Sounds like I'll be adding more books to my summer reading list. :) Love the Australian sayings, Loretta!

Dorlana said...

Great interview! Congrats on the anthology - sounds like my kind of book.

MaryLynn said...

Thanks for the great interview with the writers! My favorite is Loretta Wheeler and it was an opportunity to get to know the author better! I feel she will be in great demand as more of her writings are published! The literary world has so much to gain with her work! Keep those stories coming!!!!

Loretta said...

Thanks so much for the interview Susan:)
I've decided after reading Shirley's comment about her muse, mine may have crossed paths with hers, that's why I have so much trouble holding to a deadline!:)
Christie, you'll have assigned seating in my next crate! (Hoping like all get out, having to crate again doesn't happen)...
Melissa, I'll make you a list of those Aussie sayings and pass them to you at the next meeting:)
Dorlana...I've got an extra copy on my shelf;) Want me to bring it?
And Mary Lynn...lordy woman, from your mouth to God's ears! Bless you gal!:)

Laura Elvebak said...

Thanks, Susan. This was a lot of fun and getting to know the other writers a little more was great.


J D Webb said...

Wonderful interview. Each answer provided food for thought. I have this on my TBR stack. Hurrying to finish the book I'm reading to get into it.

Sheila Deeth said...

What great interviews. Fascinating and fun. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Wow what a great interview.
I loved particularly what Loretta had to say, as I have a similar kind of history. Married to an Englishman and living in rainy, wind-swept Yorkshire, I can understand how Loretta felt in Oz land. You feel like you belong and you don't at the same time.
Best of luck to everyone with their writing.
One more thing if I may, as for that title, Death In Texas I have to say that is a great sounding title.
As interviews go, this was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative one! Bravo, ladies!

Anonymous said...

I've read Ms. Wheeler and she deserves much more press than she's getting! Here's hoping all y'all (yeah, yeah... I'm a Southern Gal, too!) get all the fame you can handle - as well as the money and recognition that comes with it.

J. Dahl

The Belle in Blue said...

I'm liking these anthology interviews more and more! It's really great getting multiple perspectives on the questions, and it's always interesting to see how the authors are alike in some ways and completely different in others. I'm sure the stories are as well, which makes me want to read them even more!