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Beyond the Books: Interview with Crime Mystery Author Marta Stephens

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Marta Stephens is represented by the interviewer's Pump Up Your Book Promotion, a public relations agency specializing in online book promotion. 

Marta Stephens is a native of Argentina who has made Indiana her home since the age of four. This mild-manner lady turned to crime with the publication of the first in her Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, Silenced Cry (2007), which went on to receive honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Festival and top ten in the 2007 Preditors & Editors Reader Poll. The second book in the Harper series, The Devil Can Wait, will be released by BeWrite Books (UK) on November 3, 2008.

Stephens holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism/Public Relations from Ball State University (IN) where she is employed in human resources. She is a member of Sisters in Crime International, Sisters in Crime Speed City Indiana Chapter, and the Midwest Writer's Workshop.

Stephens believes learning is a life-long adventure. Aside from her writing, she is trained in graphic and web design. She co-designed the award-winning book cover of her debut novel, Silenced Cry with friend Scott Parkison (IN), created the book trailer, and designed/administers her website, her personal blog, her personal blog, and the authors’ blog MurderBy4.  

Thank you for this interview, Marta.  Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Indiana has been my home for nearly 50 years. My husband and I have a daughter and son who attend the same university where I am employed. I returned to school to complete my own college degree after many years and graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism/Public Relations from Ball State University. During the day, I work in human resources at the university primarily as an event planner and often get involved in the development, marketing, and promotion of special projects. In many ways, writing has been a major part of my life, but discovering a desire to write fiction was as expected as a landslide. I never saw it coming. One of my passions is history and it was while reading about a World War II event six years ago that the idea for a suspense novel sparked. I haven’t stopped since.

At what point in your life did you make up your mind you were going to become a published author?

I don’t remember making a conscious decision to become a published author. When I began to write it was as if a floodgate of story ideas was forced open and I wrote out of  pure enjoyment. I think the desire to become a published author was in the back of my mind, but I never imagined it until the day Silenced Cry was accepted by BeWrite Books.

Was there anyone in your life that you can give credit to helping pave the way?

I can’t credit just one person, there have been so many whom I met along the way and were gracious and generous enough with their time and talent to help me achieve my writing goal. There’s a little bit of each of them in all my books.

Can you tell us a little about your latest book?

The Devil Can Wait is the second book in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series. The city of Chandler, Massachusetts is plunged into terror when the bodies of three local teenagers wash ashore. While Harper hunts down the guilty, a sinister plot emerges overseas. From the Vatican to the jungles of South America, a cursed black pearl ring, the demonic prophecy it represents, and the men who pursue its powers find their unfortunate way onto Harper's turf.

Enthralled by the ring's story and a front-page spread, newspaper reporter Jennifer Blake agrees to pick up the ring at a local pawnshop for her former college professor. When she does, unforeseen events shoot Blake to the top of Harper's prime suspect list. Soon, the seemingly unrelated cases converge and the heat is on for Harper to expose the truth behind a Vatican secret and stop the self-righteous man who does the unthinkable in the name of God.

What was the inspiration behind your book?  Why did you feel a need to write it?

The story behind the story is true. It involved a quarrel and a cursed black pearl ring that nearly killed the object of a jilted young man’s affection. Filled with resentment, he begged her to take the ring as a parting gesture. Within days of accepting his gift, the young woman fell victim to a number of life-threatening accidents that came in quick succession. She survived each incident, but evil remained a constant threat to her life. It was only after she destroyed the black pearl ring that all appeared to return to normal.

Such was the spark behind The Devil Can Wait; fiction with a taste of the unexplained. I was an impressionable eight-year-old, unable to distinguish fact from fiction, yet that event seared itself into my mind.

I was always intrigued by this event and the challenge to turn it into a suspense novel was just too irresistible to ignore.

What kind of research did you have to conduct to write your book?

I spend a huge amount of time researching the information that I use in this series. In many ways it’s a study in human nature — how the criminal mind works and what mistakes will lead to his or her capture. I’ve researched everything from police procedures, investigation practices, forensics, and autopsies to Massachusetts’ law and weather patterns. Every detail, large and small, is critical and worth taking the time to get it right.

Why did you choose your particular genre?

I think the mystery/suspense genre chose me. The first book I remember sinking my teeth into was a set of short ghost stories I read in third grade. Although my writing has been described as police procedural that leans toward noir, I grew up loving the cosies of Agatha Christie and the suspense of Alfred Hitchcock. I love following the clues and finding the guilty so when I decided to write fiction, genre was never in question. 

Where do you get ideas to write your books?

Ideas come from everyday events and encounters. It’s what we do with those ideas that make the story. The key is to ask, “What if..?”

How do you deal with rejection?

I had a short story rejected once by a well-known mystery magazine. It was deflating to say the least. But since then, I’ve been extremely blessed never to have had a manuscript rejected. On the other hand, I always have my work critiqued. Criticism, even when it’s constructive, can sometimes feels like a rejection. I try to look beyond the criticism for the lesson. There have been times when I didn’t necessarily agree with a suggested change, but the notion sparked an idea that led me to consider a different and far more interesting direction.

Do you ever get writer’s block and what do you do when that happens?

Writer’s block happens from time to time and when it does, I find the best remedy is to walk away from the project, chapter, or scene. Later, when my mind is refreshed, things fall in to place.

How long did it take your book to be published from the time you submitted and was accepted to the time it was finally released?

I waited nearly a year between the time I submitted the synopsis for my first book, Silenced Cry, and the day I received the “please send” from my publisher. But once I submitted the manuscript, it only took eight months before the novel was released in April 2007.

The Devil Can Wait took eleven months from submission to release. Every book is different and any number of things (on both sides of the table) can happen to affect the eventual release date.

Can you tell us a little about the publisher who published your book?  How have they been to work with?

BeWrite Books was founded in 2002 and is based in the UK.  What the information on their website doesn’t mention is the editor-in-chief has 40 plus years as a journalist and author; an individual who knows what it’s like for an unknown writer to get his or her foot in the door. The desire to encourage and nurture new talent was the initial thrust behind BeWrite. That principle remains in place today. Although it is a small independent press, it has an international reach, a global author pool, and full-time professional editorial and technical staff in Germany, France, Canada, USA, and Australia.

From an author’s perspective, my publisher orchestrates an efficient operation with a sharp eye on quality.  When I submitted Silenced Cry to them in the fall of 2006, I knew little if anything about the publishing business. My publisher was readily available to respond to my many questions with a professional confidence that always put me at ease. We continue to communicate nearly on a daily basis.

BeWrite publishes twelve books per year. It has an editorial staff, contracts with graphics artists, secures a variety of promotional opportunities for their authors including reviews and interviews. In addition to my journalism/pr background, I also have experience in graphic design so when it comes time to consider cover designs I am particularly appreciative of my publisher’s willingness to listen to my ideas, her flexibility in the matter, and her respect of my opinion. On a personal note, I consider my association with BeWrite Books as a partnership in which we both work extremely hard to secure a win/win situation. Best of all, her word is gold, a rare thing these days. I feel extremely fortunate BeWrite has accepted my series and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this bit of information about BeWrite Books with your readers.

Do you blog?  If so, what can you tell my readers about the advantages of blogging as a useful tool in book promotion?

I prefer to think of blogging as networking with peers and potential readers. Unfortunately, it takes more than writing an exceptional book, posting it on a personal website, and doing a few local events to get it in the hands of a substantial number of readers. Although those activities are essential elements of book promotion, they are not enough. Blogging on various sites that reach thousands of people around the world who share an interest in reading is the key to keeping an author’s book in front of the reading public beyond the standard 8-week shelf life. 

In addition to the two blogs I administer; my personal blog, Prose & Musings, and the group blog, MurderBy4, I belong to more than 20 author groups and social sites. I may not visit all of them daily, but I do post to at least 6-8 sites several times a day. At least once a week I post an article on 3-4 sites as well. Add to this the hundreds of e-mails I respond to every day, and my network, or the number of people I’m in contact with is several thousand strong.

Therefore, blogging is the lifeline between authors and readers. The two reasons to blog are:

1) Demographics/life styles: Today’s college freshman was born in the early 1990s, has never known a day without a computer, is wireless, and text messaging is his or her e-mail. Is it any wonder that most of today’s readers, especially the 20-40-year olds, shop online? The Internet has changed the way we research, shop, and learn. The drawback is that the attention span of the average person surfing the Internet is 60 seconds. For this reason it is important to participate consistently at several sites and repeat the message on each.

2) Marketing dollars: Only a small percentage of published authors are with large publishing houses with deep pockets and an even smaller percentage of those authors get the marketing dollars. In the U. S. alone, over 180,000 books are printed annually. That’s stiff competition for new as well as established authors. So if an author doesn’t have the financial backing to market and promote a book, the most effective route is to blog directly to readers.

Do you have a website?  Do you manage it yourself or do you have someone run it for you?

Yes, I developed my website in March of 2007, and maintain it myself.

How do you deal with a bad review?

Bad reviews sting, but like with anything else, there are many variables that could have affected the reviewer’s opinion.

What’s next for you?

There are several more books in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery Series. I hope to complete the next two by 2010. I’m also tossing around a few ideas for other novels as well as developing a few short stories for a mystery anthology.

Thank you for this interview, Marta!  Do you have any final words you’d like to share with my readers?

I want to thank you and your readers for the opportunity to share my journey with you and to encourage aspiring authors to walk the extra mile, challenge themselves, and never stop learning.

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About Dorothy Thompson

  • http://www.mkimsmith.com Kim Smith

    Seems like each interview I read that is done with Marta (the divine Ms. M as I like to refer to her :) I learn something new. Thanks for this one.

  • http://www.martastephens-author.com Marta Stephens

    Hi Kim, thanks so much for stopping by!

    “M” ;)

  • http://www.legardemysteries.com Aaron Lazar

    Marta, wonderful interview with plenty of your generous insight for those just starting out. Thanks for doing this, and good luck with the rest of your tour for The Devil Can Wait!

  • http://www.martastephens-author.com Marta Stephens

    Hi Aaron, thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the read. :)

  • http://afstewartblog.blogspot.com/ A. F. Stewart

    A great interview with a very talented writer.

  • http://fictionforyou.com Marilyn Meredith

    Great interview! I learned lots more about you and it was fascinating. Good luck on your virtual book tour.

  • http://www.martastephens-author.com Marta Stephens

    Hi A. F. and Merilyn. The funny thing is, I too learn from these interviews. Some questions really make you stop and think of the what, how and why of things. :)