Monday, November 7, 2011

Beatlemaniac Sally Carpenter

Tell us something about yourself that readers might be surprised to learn.

I have a black belt in tae kwon do and have won a number of trophies at several martial arts tournaments. At the tourneys awards were given for forms (katas) and sparring (fighting). I did better in sparring than forms. Most of the trophies are for second- and third-place, but I have six first-place wins.

How many books have you written?

One, The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper.

What books or authors have influenced you?

Richard Levinson and William Link. They wrote the best TV mysteries and created my favorite detective, Columbo. Two years ago I had the privilege of meeting Link at a book signing. He’s published a collection of short stories with the Columbo character. Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sherlock Holmes stories. The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew series. I think most mystery writers started there. I based my book on the Hardy Boys structure—fast pacing, cliffhanger chapter endings, attempts on the hero’s life—although my book has better dialogue and more character development.

What has been your most rewarding experience during the writing process?

Actually finishing the book. It’s a long haul from getting the idea to putting it down on paper. I think many new writers struggling to write a novel get discouraged, tired or bored part way through and never complete the book. I like when a scene finally pulls together. I do an extensive amount of revision and it’s a joy to finally see the gem emerge from the rough stone.    

Tell us about your latest release.

 My protagonist is Sandy Fairfax, former ‘70s teen idol and star of the hit TV show “Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth.” Now it’s 1993 and he’s a 38-year-old recovering alcoholic, forgotten and desperate for a comeback. When Sandy makes a guest appearance at a small Beatles fan convention in Evansville, Ind., a member of the Mercy Marvels tribute band is shot. When the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect, and Sandy fills in for the dead musician at a concert, the schoolboy shamus is back in action to find the killer.   

Is it available in print, ebook, and Kindle formats?

In print. My publisher has started releasing titles as e-books and I’m sure my book will be available electronically at some point

What are some of the problems you faced while plotting a series with ongoing characters?
I’m trying to avoid the problems of most series books through advance planning. I’ve sketched out the next ten or so books. I don’t have the details or necessarily the crime in mind, but I know the setting of each book and what happens in Sandy’s personal life. Sandy’s trying to reconnect with his estranged family, so there’s new emotional issues in each book. At some point he’ll remarry. This will be an intricate part of the book, not a tacked-on gimmick. His wife will assist him in his crime solving.

A series writer faces the challenge that the characters need to grow somewhat—or else they’re caricatures, not real humans—but not change so much that readers no longer like them.

How do you develop characters?

Sandy was developed through extensive research—attending concerts and reading autobiographies written by real teen idols, non-fiction books about rock bands and teen idol fanzines. I use some of the techniques from my acting classes in how an actor analyzes a script. Imagination is helpful, too. I generally don’t base characters on real people I know. For most writers, their base of family and friends is rather limited and I want to broaden my characters beyond my own social sphere. 

How do you choose your setting?

This was set by my character. He worked in Hollywood and still lives in Los Angeles in the house he bought with the royalties from his first album (although he may move to a new home later in the series). In each book he performs in a different venue and that will determine the story’s setting. In this book, he’s in the Midwest. It’s a “fish out of water” story in that Sandy is a different environment than he’s used to and working with people he doesn’t know. He’s stressed because he’s separated from his home and support base. That makes for some great tension. I placed the story in Evansville, Ind., because I grew up in the area and know it well. Also, it’s one of the last places my hero would go if he had a choice.

What are your protagonist’s strengths? Flaws?

He’s a teen idol, so physically, he’s cute and gorgeous. That’s a major strength! Seriously, he’s smart, perceptive, outgoing, helpful, friendly and charming. He has a great sence of humor. Sandy’s braver than he thinks he is and he’s concerned about justice. He’s a talented musician and a decent actor. He works well with other performers. As for flaws, sometimes he’s a “people pleaser” to a fault. His teen idol days were based on making the fans and the studio executives happy. Some of this carried over. He’ll either give in to others or be downright stubborn about doing what he wants. He’s a perfectionist about his art and gets annoyed during a performance or rehearsal when things don’t go right. He has an explosive temper. He’s crabby when he’s exhausted. Sometimes he’s tired of living up to his wholesome teen idol image. In his heyday Sandy was used to having managers take care of details for him, so he gets absent minded at times about what he need to do. He’s not good at handling money. Sandy got use to spending money freely and never learned how to control his spending after the cash stopped flowing in. Sandy has been arrested twice, once for a DUI and also for starting a bar fight. He still has a scar on his cheek.

How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

I believe in God and the ultimate triumph of good over evil, so the good guys always win in my books and the killer is brought to justice. I don’t want to read about graphic sex, violence or serial killers, so I don’t write it.

When I read, I want to escape and have fun. The world is a bad enough place as is and I try to brighten it up with an enjoyable book that puts a smile on a reader’s face.

We all know how important promoting our work has become. How do you get the word out both off and online?

I belong to Sisters in Crime (men can join too), an international support group for mystery writers. It’s a great place to start networking, both online and at chapter meetings. I’ve written guest spots on numerous blogs (like this one!). There are a number of online sites that publish book reviews. Some of these bloggers actively seek books to read or authors to promote. I’m also contacting the Beatles fan blogs. The good news is that the Internet provides a number of promotional outlets that are open to new writers. The bad news is that contacting all these sites takes a good deal of time and effort.
Also, with the fragmented nature of the web, blogs only reach anywhere from a dozen people to a few thousand. A writer must blog on numerous sites to reach even a handful of potential readers.

I plan to contact some syndicated radio shows about the Beatles. The libraries in my area love to host local writers for presentations. I have several events in the works. Librarians also love book donations.
I believe that in these economic times, and with the high price of hardcovers and closure of bookstores, more people are getting their reading material from libraries than stores. Readers who enjoy a library book may still purchase a copy or at least buy other books in the series. Also, bookstores mostly promote the bestsellers, whereas libraries give more attention to local authors.

Writers conferences are fun to attend, but are expensive and require a commitment of time and travel. I’m selective regarding the ones I attend.  Promotion nowadays consists of many steps and contacts; there’s no single place one can go for instant publicity.

Can you tell us about current or future projects?

I’m working on the next book in the Sandy Fairfax series, “The Sinister Sitcom Caper.” Most of the action takes place at a movie studio where Sandy’s a guest star on a TV show. When an actor drops dead at his feet, he begins sleuthing with the aid of a dwarf and an animal actor.
We also start meeting members of Sandy’s family. And he falls head over heels in love with a woman he meets—but will she give him a tumble?

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

 My book’s available from and my publisher, If you have questions about me or my book, contact me directly at

"The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper"
A Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol Mystery


Marja McGraw said...

What a good interview! And I can relate to so much of what you've said. Your reasons for writing the type of book you write are very familiar. The more I read about you, the more interested I am in reading the book.

Lesley Diehl said...

Wow! I think it's great you've plotted out the next ten books in your series, but I'm even more impressed that what you worked on was the settings and what was happening in your protagonist's life. I think that's really smart. Can I steal the idea from you?

jrlindermuth said...

I'm also impressed you were able to plot out 10 more books in the series. Many of us aren't even thinking series when we write the first book. Good stuff.

Susan Whitfield said...

Thanks for visiting, Marja, Lesley, and John.

Kat Hinkson said...

Loved the interview. I am learning more and more about writing. I started several outlines, very general for my second series, ghost story, and have two more ideas for the first series. By the way I'm enjoying 'Sandy' very much.

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

I enjoyed this interview. Last night, I started reading "The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper." Sally's descriptions of Evansville, Indiana make me feel as if I'm there. I'm eager to get back to Sandy Fairfax tonight to see what happens next.

Anonymous said...

Lesley: steal away! I "stole" the idea of the Beatles fan convention from Sharyn McCrumb's book "Bimbos of the Death Sun" that's set at a hotel hosting a science fiction convention. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
Sally Carpenter

Anonymous said...

Patricia: I grew up around Evansville, but I haven't been back there in years so I don't know how much it's changed. I was working off my memories of how it used to be. Thanks for the compliment!
Sally Carpenter

Sunny Frazier said...

Okay, I'm going to take credit for discovering Sally's book and helping it into publication at Oak Tree Press. I'm a Beatle lover (George!) and this book is appropriate as the Beatles seem to have younger fans these days.

Sally is a whiz at marketing and she's teaching me some tricks!

Augie said...

Sally, good seeing you here, I enjoyed the questions as well as the answers. Susan is really talented and well versed on her interviewees...once again good read angue

Anonymous said...

Sunny, My fave Beatle is George, too. Great minds think alike! I have all his solo albums on vinyl, including "Brainwashed," "Wonderwall" and "Electronic Music." Thanks for helping my book find a good home.
Sally Carpenter