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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Ravens Eye is On: Kris Neri

When did you begin the process of writing your first book? How long did it take you? What did you find the most challenging?

Kris: Unlike many writers, I didn’t start with a novel. I wrote oodles of short stories first, and articles before that. One of my stories, “L.A. Justice,” featured Tracy Eaton, a mystery writer and her daffy, reality-challenged, movie star mother, Martha Collins (available in my story collection, THE ROSE IN THE SNOW). Readers of “L.A. Justice” kept telling me I should put those characters into a novel, and when the story won the Derringer Award, I figured they might be right. REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN, Tracy’s first book-length adventure, was my first novel. It took me about a year or so to write, while I continued to write stories. I was lucky with it, too. The first editor who read it acquired it, and that book went on to garner Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Award nominations. Readers also really took to that series.But I did face challenges in the writing. Coming from a short story background, I had a tendency to keep things too lean, as we typically do when writing short. I had to force myself to flesh out the descriptions and let the dialogue go on a bit longer than I would in a story, as well as dealing with lots more plot than I was used to. I felt too wordy, and I simply had to trust that those things would work. But writing that book helped me learn to write a novel. REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN has just come back into print with a new publisher, Cherokee McGhee Mystery, along with the second book in the series, DEM BONES’ REVENGE. That’s especially gratifying to me, since those were my first books.

Is there anyone, author or otherwise, in particular you draw inspiration from? If so, how has that influenced your writing?
Kris: Oh, too many to list. I’ve been a voracious reader from the time I was a little kid. I read everything, and I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve read, even when those books are in genres I don’t write in. Ultimately, the nature of story and the craft of putting words together are universal. I’ve learned something from every presenter I’ve ever seen at writing conferences, too. As writers, I think we’re always perfecting our work and finding our influences everywhere.

Do you know the ending to your book when you start writing? After it’s in print, do you ever wish it had a different ending?
Kris: I always know the ending. That might also be a function of my short story background, since the twist endings of short stories often comes to writers first. So I always know how a novel will end, too. What I don’t always know is what happens in the middle and how I’m going to get from the beginning to the end. But that discovery is a fun part of the journey. After it’s in print, I’ve never wished I’d written the ending differently, either. I write a fairly character-driven book, and I’m always convinced that the crime springs from the unique psychology and circumstances of one character.

It is becoming more difficult to become published. Tell us about the process it took for you to get your first book on bookstore shelves.
Kris: I was very fortunate with my first book. A friend told me about a small press, with a longtime track record in publishing nonfiction books, which was looking to move into mystery fiction. I sent my manuscript off and they bought that book, REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN, in less than two weeks. But since the publisher of that book was an unknown small press, I really had to work to get it into stores. Some turned me down, though most of them eventually carried it. Everyone in this work experiences some rejection, and I’m no exception. But I’ve been pretty fortunate, too. My latest acceptances, HGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE, my new woo-woo mystery, and, REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE, the next Tracy Eaton mystery, were both taken by the first publishers that read them.

While getting a book onto store shelves is a huge challenge, the work doesn’t end there. How do you go about publicizing your work and developing a fan base?
Kris: Promotional work is hard and costly for the writer, since publishers typically don’t carry much of the expense or effort. Authors constantly have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to promotion, as well. When something works for one author, others also try it. Pretty soon it becomes a cliché, and everyone needs to try something new to get readers’ attention. On the other hand, I really love meeting the people who come to my events, and discussing my books and writing in general with them. I’ve met such wonderful people that way. I believe books are sold one book at a time. So whether I’m speaking to a large group, or conversing online with whoever reads my remarks, I’m trying to forge a connection with each of those people.

Till now, you’ve been a mystery writer, what made you decide to leap into such a fantastical world as the one in High Crimes on the Magical Plane? What kind of experience was it to incorporate several different genres into one story?
Kris: I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that the people who come into our lives at particular times are the exact people we need, even if they aren’t necessarily the people we would have chosen to bring into our lives. I also like exploring the big metaphysical questions, such as why we’re here and if our lives are fated. HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE allowed me to explore all of those ideas, and many more. It features Samantha Brennan, a cheerful fake psychic and scam ancient deity, and Annabelle Haggerty, a genuine Celtic goddess who works as an F.B.I. agent and who hides her powers and what she is. With her eccentric wardrobe and questionable career choice, Samantha is a delightfully irresponsible sprite with great panache, while Annabelle, who denies her gifts and powers, and tries to live her life as an ordinary human working stiff, could use a little more style. Each of these women secretly wishes she had the other’s life. And each is the last person the other would choose to turn to for support, but somehow they have each been fated to watch the other’s back. They each bring qualities to the relationship that the other needs. Samantha needs to learn to be responsible and loyal, and Annabelle needs to learn to have more fun and take more pleasure in being a goddess. Their lives become further entwined when Annabelle’s ancestor, Angus, the Celtic god of Youth and Love and Laughter, falls hopelessly in love with Samantha. Writing a supernatural mystery was so great! I think crossing genres made it easier to write, not harder.

The most fun was deciding what creatures would inhabit this world within a world, and how I would hide them from the people within the real world. It ended up being a place where leprechauns spy in school yards, banshees patrol parks, gods work as lounge singers, and flowers are colored by flower fairies. And I’m sure lots of women fantasize about having a steamy love affair with a god, but I also had to make Samantha strong enough to stand up to Angus, especially when he was in the mood to hurl thunderbolts.

I love spending time with these characters, and I hope readers do as well. Charlaine Harris read HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE and said, “You’ll enjoy the unlikely twists and turns in this novel, and both characters are delightful.

What’s next for you after High Crimes on the Magical Plane? Is there a genre you are still longing to write?

Kris: The third Tracy Eaton mystery, REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE, will be out in Spring ’10. And I’m hard at work on my next Tracy Eaton mystery, REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, and my next Samantha Brennan and Annabelle Haggerty supernatural mystery, MAGICAL ALIENATION. That’s quite enough to keep me busy for now!

Thank you, Kris for a great interview.

High Crimes on the Magical Plane is due out October 2009 available from Red Coyote press.


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