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Archive for April 26th, 2019

VickiSF15HeadshotVictoria Landis is a professional writer, editor, and artist. A 16-year member, and former board member, of Mystery Writers of America, she Co-Chaired the SleuthFest Writers Conference from 2015-2018.

She’s taught at SleuthFest, the Authors Academy at Murder on the Beach, and the Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University.

Visit her at www.VictoriaLandis.com

Found out more: https://amzn.to/2HWMs5R

INTERVIEW:

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Jordan. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?

A: Jordan is the story of a young woman from Boca Raton, Florida, who disappears for three years, then surfaces with the ability to heal people by simply touching them. As you can imagine, in today’s viral social media world, word gets out too fast, and an entire world of sick people—whoever can manage it—make their way to South Florida, in hopes of being cured. Is isn’t long before things get out of hand and chaos erupts.

As a little kid, I wanted to do two things. Fly and heal people by touch. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried to concentrate, neither of those ambitions came to fruition. A few years ago, the healing thing came to mind again—not sure what sparked it—and I wondered what would happen if? In today’s viral social media world? Wow.

Q: What do you think makes a good thriller? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: Jordan is a bit of a hybrid. Part pure thriller and part magical realism. You need to believe that Jordan can heal people in order to go along with the rest of the story. I think there are two absolute basics. Thrillers are fast-paced. The stakes are high, whether for an individual, a community, or the world. They are not the place for flowery narrative.

JordanFrontCoverFeb12019Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: I’m not a plotter or a pantser. I semi-plot out my stories. I know how I want it to begin, end, and usually something important in the middle. I keep a list of actions and scenes I want to include, but I’m not sure where they’ll wind up. The main thing is to make sure there is no ‘muddle in the middle.’

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: I have two protagonists. Jordan Crissman and Petra Simmons. I did a page on both of them before starting and decided I wanted to tell the entire story through Petra’s eyes, much like Nick, Daisy’s cousin, in The Great Gatsby. There’s only Petra’s POV. Jordan returned home apparently stripped of any sense of street smarts, and she needs Petra for that. Petra is wary of publicity and reporters because of the way they hounded her after the death of her child-actress mother. She hates being in the spotlight. She’s a bit jaded and weary at the young age of twenty-nine.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: Huh. I don’t want to give away too much here, as it’s not clear who that person is until the end. I’ll say there are several people who are interested in controlling a miracle. I like making all my characters human, though, with good and bad traits. What helps is giving them a background story, too, even if it never makes it into the book. Understanding what makes them tick and what they want is the key to making them realistic. Then just put yourself into their heads, and you’ll very quickly figure out how to write them.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: Get rid of extra, unnecessary words whenever you can, such as: that, had, had been, was, then, just, still, even, etc. The overall effect of them is they slow everything down.

Describe enough to enable a picture in the reader’s head, but don’t overdo it. We don’t need to know what every character is wearing in every scene. We don’t need to know how the woman’s hair is arranged every day, unless it’s key to the plot.

In the action scenes, keep the sentences short—staccato. Use as few dialogue tags as you can get away with.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: I know Boca Raton very well, as I lived there for nineteen years. So that helped, of course. I mention the basics when entering a place for the first time in a book. The overall layout, what style the architecture is, whether it’s pristine or a dump, that sort of thing. It also helps set the mood and adds to character building. A choice detail can paint an entire picture in the reader’s mind, so choose that detail wisely. The fictional multi-national conglomerate-owning Teigh brothers are important in Jordan, as is their fabulous estate. I had the characters visit it once and described the basic layout then. When they visited again, it was easy to add details. (Just for fun, there is a map of the estate on the Jordan page of my website.) You can also tuck in a detail or two in the narrative that accompanies a character’s dialogue.

Here’s an example from Jordan:

  “I was lucky enough to get an end unit,” Petra said while inserting her key. “Lots of windows.”

     “It’s beautiful.” The woman wandered around the combined living and dining space, stopping at the wide bay window facing the plaza and its fountain.

That is the first description of Petra’s apartment, where they spend a lot of time. Later, the choice details are added as needed.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: I knew Jordan’s from the get-go. The theme is how humankind really hasn’t changed for thousands of years. I don’t always know in advance. My first novel, Blinke It Away, evolved as I wrote it, and the theme became the plight of the native Hawaiians and how they were shafted when the United States acquired the islands.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: No. Editing is essential to making a story sing and stand out more. Otherwise you might have incoherent ‘brain droppings’ (credit to George Carlin there.) The craft and the art, once you learn to self-edit as you go, become one.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: The ability to know what is or is not an interesting story before you start. The ability to listen to and seriously consider the feedback you ask for. And the ability to write in a way that makes the reader not want to put the book down.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. Thoughts?

A: If you’re studying a subject you love, then you don’t mind homework, right? If you think of your writing/research as drudgery homework, then why on earth are you doing it? Go do something you find engaging and interesting, for heaven’s sake.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: Writers’ conferences with serious workshops are fantastic. IMHO, SleuthFest is the best for that. Spoiler alert—I did Co-Chair that one for four years. But it’s a small niche conference, meant for writers, not readers or fans. One attendee stopped me in the hall one year and told me he’d learned more about writing at SleuthFest than he had at an invitational course at Oxford.

Writing advice books by Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Hallie Ephron, David Morrell, & Carolyn Wheat.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: I’ve learned that our egos are our worst enemy. Learn to put it aside. Stop being defensive and listen to those you ask for advice. Caveat: Take your time to learn just who you should ask for advice. This is not a fast business. It’s slow. Take your time. Do it right. You’ll thank yourself later.

Thank you so much for having me here!

 

 

 

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