Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Straight from the Mouth of Harley Mazuk, Author of 'White with Fish, Red with Murder'

Harley Mazuk’s first novel is White with Fish, Red with Murder. His first private eye story, “The Tall Blonde with the Hot Boiler,” resulted in his first sale, to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (Jan. 2011.) EQMM has subsequently published three more of his stories, and he has sold longer fiction to Dead Guns Press and Dark Passages.
Harley was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned a B.A. in English Literature from Hiram College, and studied at Elphinstone College, Bombay U. He worked in the music business in New York, then joined the Federal Government, for a 29-year run, first in IT, later as a writer and editor in corporate communications.
Now retired, Harley’s passions are his family, writing, reading, running, peace, Italian cars, and California wine. He lives with his wife, Anastasia, in Maryland, where they have raised two children.

Thanks for letting us interrogate you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

I walked over to a Walter Mosley book signing once on my lunch break in downtown Washington, D.C. There was a line around the store and out the door, and the line was mostly women, young women. I saw all those nice gals, and Mosley sitting a desk in his fedora signing his name, and I thought, “That’s for me.”

Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be?  I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?

Well, I don’t have a line of women at my door. Yet. But I have hopes. The perks? There’s no dress code. I set my own hours. Nobody minds if I have a glass (or two) of wine at lunch. The commute is easy. I don’t have to take an annual employee satisfaction survey, nor sit through a performance review. They’re the sorts of perks you get if you’re self-employed or work from home. The demands are minimal, but I’m retired with a pension. If I had to write and publish for a living, the demands on my time, and I think the stress, would be much greater.

Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?

Basically traditional. When I finished the first book, I had to learn how to sell a manuscript. I researched agents, which is not as much fun as writing, and when my first 30 or 35 choices declined, I did a mass e-mailing and found an agent through that. She called me on an evening when she’d had to evacuate her Manhattan office due to Hurricane Sandy, so I believed her when she said she was enthusiastic about the book. Unfortunately, she didn’t find a publisher who shared her enthusiasm, and the manuscript came back to me. I queried publishers who accept un-agented submissions and soon had an offer. Things work out for the best perhaps. You know, I wanted to go to Dartmouth, but my guidance counselor said I might not fit in with an Ivy League crowd. I think he was right. I was happy at my little old Ohio college. Similarly, it would have been swell if my agent had landed me a deal with Alfred A. Knopf or Scribner’s, but I’m very happy with Driven Press. They’re a comfortable fit for me.

Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?

For real? You’d probably have to ask them. But I think they’re happy that it keeps me off the streets, keeps me out of trouble.

This is for pet lovers.  If you don’t own a pet, skip this question, but do your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word?

I have two cats. I feed them twice a day. Sometimes I keep them waiting, but it’s unintentional. I plunge into my story world when I’m writing, and it might take a while for me to get the message.  

This is for plant lovers.  If you don’t own a plant, skip this question, but if you do, are they actually still alive?

I grew five healthy female cannabis indica plants. They are no longer with me, but that was the plan all along. I have a spathe that my wife gave me in 1989. It’s alive, but it must thrive on neglect.

In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?
I usually just ignore the phone. They don’t leave messages, so I doubt if I’m missing anything. I’m the principal chef here at the Black Lizard Lounge, so when my family needs dinner, I stop for the day. And as to the boss, there is none. Yay!

What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?

I still remember a Skype call I had with my principal editor, a young Australian woman. She was trying to get a point straight about the relationship between my private eye (Frank), and his secretary (Vera) in the book. Did Frank love Vera? Could he? Was he just using her? Or was it more of a friendship? “Well,” I said, “I wrote two sex scenes between Frank and Vera that I cut out of the final manuscript. I could put one back in. Perhaps it would help clarify what the relationship’s all about.”
“OK,” said the ed. “But you don’t have to put the whole scene back in. Just pick it up from the end, after they come.” 
I’m still wondering if that’s typical editor jargon.

How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?

I enjoy Facebook a great deal. It lets me have an author page https://www.facebook.com/HarleyMazukAuthor/, and I try to keep my writing-oriented posts separate from jokes, political rants, and interactions with friends. I didn’t grow up on social media, so I’m less enthused about Twitter (where I’m @fswiver), and LinkedIn, and I’m not too clear about what I could or should be doing with Pinterest. But I dabble. Google+ appeals to me, but I don’t yet have the camaraderie there that I find on Facebook. I’ve been engaging more on Goodreads lately—reviewing books by other mystery writers.

Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you?

Well, I’m on a blog tour. You insanely wonderful book junkies are going to make the sales happen for me, right? This is all new for me—first book, and it’s just coming out, so I can’t tell you much yet about what works.

What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?

Hah! Old vine zinfandel. The fruit from these 100-year-old vines makes a wonderful, concentrated red wine. Of course, too much Zin and I’d fall off the roof.  

Okay, too much sugar for you today!  Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in.  Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, even back in high school. But life happened. I took a steady job instead, ended up with a great wife (about whom I should go up on the rooftops and scream) and raised two kids. Finally, I have time to write, and being a published author, and having a novel out, that’s like my life’s dream. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 






Monday, February 27, 2017

Name: Barb Caffrey

Book Title: CHANGING FACES

Bio: Barb Caffrey is the author of CHANGING FACES and the Elfy duology (AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE), and her short stories have been featured in GIFTS OF DARKOVER, STARS OF DARKOVER, FIRST CONTACT CAFÉ, HOW BEER SAVED THE WORLD, and BEDLAM'S EDGE (with late husband Michael B. Caffrey). She's also a clarinetist with a Master's degree in Music performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a Bachelor's in Music from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.


Questionnaire:

Thanks for letting us interrogate you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

BC: Thanks for having me!

BC: As for wanting to be a writer…hm. My gut answer is that early on in my life, I realized I had stories to tell. (As in, I was ten years old. And the story I wanted to tell was about the first female ball girl at Milwaukee County Stadium. No, they didn't have ball girls then—which is why I wanted to write about it.) I felt compelled to write and to create, as it helped me make sense of the world around me.

Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be?  I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?

BC: I'm not sure what your image of a writer is, mind, but I'll tell you what my experiences have been if that helps.

BC: I started writing in earnest in my late twenties, and for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Ranger News. I wrote opinions, feature stories, book and music reviews, you name it. And I enjoyed it.

BC: Because of this, I went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and inquired about writing for their student newspaper also, the Daily Nebraskan. I think they were a bit bemused; here's this thirty-year-old collegiate Master's student in Music, of all things, wanting to write for them. But eventually I won over the managing editor, and started writing opinions for them. After a while, I also wrote music reviews, stories about upcoming musical acts…the folks in the Music department called this my "second career," and said I helped get the word out better than anyone else had in quite some time.

BC: Then, of course, a different managing editor came in, with different priorities. My writing went on the back burner again for a few years, but I didn't forget about it.

BC: As for fiction writing, I'd done some of that off and on since early childhood (as I'd said before). But once I was through with the majority of my Master's program, I started writing fiction again. Most of the stories were dreck, but a few had sparks of…something. So I kept going, kept trying, and kept working on it. Because writing, like any creative pursuit, is a demanding mistress if you're going to do it well—and I definitely hope to do it well.

BC: As for the perks, I have met some of my favorite writers, either online or in person, and had in-depth conversations with them. (That is a truly remarkable thing that I never expected to happen.)

Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?

BC: I am a hybrid writer, in that I have some of my work self-published and some of it published through a small press, Twilight Times Books. I looked around, hard, for a publisher, and was fortunate to find Twilight Times Books in 2012; they are reliable, reputable, and honest, and I appreciate what Lida Quillen brings to the table as a publisher.

BC: But you're probably asking, "So, Barb. Why, if you admire Lida Quillen so much, did you self-publish the rest of your work?" It's simple, really…I'm also trying to keep my late husband Michael B. Caffrey's work alive, and that means I have to finish up what he started. Many of the pieces I've self-published are co-written, and aren't the same as they would've been had he lived—but at least they still exist this way. And that makes me feel better.

Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?

BC: Well, when my husband was alive, he appreciated the process of writing and editing. (He was gifted at both.) But since his passing twelve years ago—just after our first story was written and sold to the BEDLAM'S EDGE anthology—I haven't had that type of encouragement or understanding around me.

BC: But you asked what the rest of my family thinks of writing, publishing, etc. Mostly they are bemused by it, with the exception of my niece, who is also a writer…she thinks what I'm doing is wonderful. As for the rest of the family, they think it's a lot of work for a tiny reward, and quite frankly don't understand it very much.

This is for pet lovers.  If you don’t own a pet, skip this question, but do your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word?

BC: That's a tough one! (Laughs.) My dogs mostly do get their food on time, but it's because about an hour before they're usually fed, they come and put their heads on my lap, and give me the big, huge, puppy-dog eyes. I usually am working away, and I tell them, "It's too early!" But they keep coming back, and keep nagging me, so they do tend to get fed on time.

This is for plant lovers.  If you don’t own a plant, skip this question, but if you do, are they actually still alive?

BC: I've been nurturing one plant now for several years; it was planted in remembrance of my deceased Cocker spaniel, Blackie. I try to water it every couple of days, and tell it that Blackie would be pleased…I'm sure that plant is quite bemused with me, too! (Yes, I'm weird.)

In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?

BC: I got annoyed when anything took me out of the creative process, to be honest. It takes me a while to be fully immersed in the worlds I create, and anything that gets in the way of that feels like a full-on assault of the creative process. But after my initial annoyance, I usually apologize, because it's not the fault of whoever interrupted that I've picked this career (or it picked me, rather).

What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?

BC: I don't know if this qualifies, but the day after my husband died, I received a rejection letter for ELFY (which hadn't yet been split into the Elfy duology and was still one book). The agent said she thought it was an interesting and well-written book, but she didn't think she could do it justice. I found that timing incredibly strange.

How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?

BC: I am on Facebook and Twitter. I think Twitter definitely helps; I've made many friends via Twitter, and I appreciate them all. But Facebook is hit-or-miss for an author, and sometimes it can be a "time suck." On the flip side, Facebook does make it much easier for me to talk with friends and editorial clients, and I appreciate that no end.

Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you?

BC: I've tried a number of things with regards to promotion. The ones that tend to do the best, I've found, are either the low-cost promotions or when you're dealing with a person who knows what she's doing.

BC: Mostly, it's keep the wheel to the grindstone. I can't make sales happen, and shouting at the world doesn't do much except give me a bad case of laryngitis. So I'll concentrate on what I can control, which is writing, polishing, and editing…and allow the sales to fend for themselves. (Except for the first few days after a book has been released, that is; on those days, I check my author rankings every few hours. Is that silly? Of course it is. But I haven't been able to break myself of the habit just yet…)

What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?

BC: I wish the public schools cared more about reading and story-telling. Right now, they're concerned more with getting kids through a rigid set of exams, and this whole Common Core stuff scares me witless as it seems to take all the creativity out of education. I worry very much that kids with a spark of creativity in them are getting muzzled by contemporary education, even though I think individual teachers try hard to keep that spark alive.

BC: I have a second pet peeve, too, if you don't mind. And it's going to seem out of left field, so please bear with me.

BC: I worry a great deal also about the prevalence of texting, these days. People are always online, in one fashion or another, and kids in particular start texting very early. As I deal with carpal tunnel syndrome every day (I am considered high-functioning, and haven't yet had to have surgery; I have had many rounds of occupational therapy to keep my hands functional), I worry that these kids are setting themselves up for hand and wrist and thumb problems down the road. They have no idea what they're going to have to deal with in twenty or thirty years, and that worries me because most people are not very forgiving when it comes to long-term health issues—not even their own.

BC: What I'd like is if people put down their phones, laptops, or other electronic devices for a couple hours a day. Engage in conversations, read a non-electronic book, watch something educational (no, Keeping up with the Kardashians doesn't count), go walk outside in nature and revel in the world…try to experience your first five senses before you dive back into the Microsoft Cloud. I think taking a few hours away from electronic pursuits not only will make you a better-rounded person, but it also may well ease your stress—and it certainly will help your hands down the road, too.

Okay, too much sugar for you today!  Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in.  Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?

BC: Ooh, I love chamomile tea! Thank you! (Sips tea, and ponders the question.)

BC: I think that all in all, I'm glad I am who I am. I've had some rough times; the death of my husband clearly marked me. But being with him was incredibly beneficial, and I'd not trade those times with him for anything—even knowing the pain I was going to be in afterward.

BC: The most important thing in life, I've found, is in how you get past the pain in order to be your most authentic, creative self. In writing CHANGING FACES, I found catharsis…but more importantly, I found healing.


BC: And that, I feel, is worth any price.