by Lorie Lewis Ham
& Terell Byrd
This week we are pleased to have the chance to interview Cindy Sample, one of the many mystery authors attending Left Coast Crime this year at the end of March. We also have a review of her latest book Dying For A Dance & are giving away a copy of the book. Check the end of this article for information on entering to win. So enjoy this first post in our series On The Road to Left Coast Crime 2012!
Lorie: How long have you been writing?
Cindy: My first manuscript was written when I was eight. I took my third grade spelling words and turned them into a sixteen-page novella called Cindy Parker and the Haunted Mansion. I started young and finished late. My first published mystery was released right before my 60th birthday.
Lorie: When did your first novel come out?
Cindy:Dying For A Date, a humorous romantic mystery set in the gold country of El Dorado County was released in June 2010. The sequel, Dying For A Dance was just released in October 2011.
Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your series? Tell me a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Cindy:I wanted to write a series about a single mom, someone who was juggling a career, kids, and dating. Unfortunately, for 39-year-old Laurel McKay, my protagonist, she also has to deal with some dead dates in Dying For A Date. In Dying For A Dance, she’s forced to learn a choreographed foxtrot routine for her best friend’s wedding. After tripping her instructor, crashing into a pair of dancers and breaking the heel of her new ballroom shoes, she decides dancing can be dangerous. When she stumbles over the body of a dancer, she realizes it can also be deadly.
I chose to set my books in El Dorado County because no one else had set a series in that area. I think the gold country is a wonderful venue with beautiful apple orchards, wineries and quaint historical towns. There are scenes ranging from Placerville up to Lake Tahoe.
Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Cindy:My primary purpose is to entertain and provide laugh-out-loud moments. We can all use a good laugh. I also make sure that in each book Laurel is not only dealing with dead bodies, but also grappling with a personal issue. She achieves some personal growth by the end of each book. One of my favorite mystery authors, Pat Canterbury, told me she laughed so hard reading Dying For A Dance that her cheeks hurt. That’s my goal!
Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Cindy:I am very social by nature and I’ve discovered that between writing, editing and promoting, a published author works up to 14 hours per day. I’m evidently a binge writer because I will block out an entire week for writing. No distractions allowed including phone calls (except from my kids). When I’m on a roll, I write from the moment I get out of bed until midnight.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Cindy:For my first two books, I’ve known before I started, who the killer was, who the dead bodies would be, and why the deed was done. I’ve enjoyed the excitement of being a pantser, which means writing by the seat of my pants. It’s a magical experience when the characters take off on their own, creating new subplots. When I’m finished, I outline each chapter to ensure that each scene moves the mystery forward and that there are sufficient clues as well as red herrings. My third book, Dying For A Daiquiri, moves the action to Kona, Hawaii. There are so many opportunities for my protagonist to get into trouble that I might do a brief outline this time.
Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Cindy:Any time of day works for me. If it’s a designated writing day, I write.
Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Cindy:When I finished Dying For A Date, I was clueless and submitted queries to a few literary agents. They loved the title and concept and asked for the full manuscript. Unfortunately, it was rejected because although my voice and humor were strong, my writing was horrible. Four years later, I sent out one query to an agent whom a friend recommended and she loved it. That was followed by several offers from different presses.
Lorie: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Cindy:I’ll do almost anything to sell books so I agreed to perform at a Showcase event at the ballroom dance studio where I take lessons. I performed a cha cha/hustle number proving that you’re never too old to wear pink fringe. And I sold lots of books.
Lorie: Future writing goals?
Cindy:I have so many future titles, Dying For A Dive, Dying For A Duchess, Dying For A Dragon. I could travel the world looking for material. I would like to continue with this series since my fans keep telling me to hurry up and finish Dying For A Daquiri. I’m also working on a women’s novel called The Tango Lesson. We’ll keep the plot a mystery for now.
Lorie: Writing heroes?
Cindy:Two of my writing heroes are local best selling romance authors – Brenda Novak and Allison Brennan. They each have five kids and still publish three bestselling books a year. They are amazing!
Lorie: What kind of research do you do?
Cindy:Although my books are not police procedurals, I still want to ensure that they are procedurally correct. I met with the head of homicide in El Dorado County and we went over a lot of details. Some of my friends in the mystery community include former medical examiners and homicide detectives so they are always available for any questions, like quick acting poisons. For Dying For A Dance, I envisioned Laurel chasing after a killer during a ballroom dance competition, so of course I had to compete myself. I also talked to medical professionals to find out if you could kill someone with a shoe heel. You can!
Lorie: What do you read?
Cindy:I read mysteries by many authors. Some of my favorites include Michael Connolly, Harlan Coben, Janet Evanovich, Deborah Crombie, Reginald Hill and a host of others. I also enjoy best sellers such as The Help.
Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?
Cindy:I’ve taken some web based writing classes and they frequently refer to particular TV series because of their well-crafted writing and plotting. That means I can watch shows like The Mentalist and Castle and call it research. I’m a sucker for a well-written romantic comedy aimed at the over 40 set and a DWTS addict.
Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Cindy:You’ve all heard about the three P’s which I’ve modified to represent passion, patience and persistence. Unless you have passion for your writing, you probably won’t have the other characteristics. Just remember you are never too old to follow that dream. Learn your craft and learn it well. I’ve met many potential authors who are afraid to type anything on a blank screen. I say just do it. The best part about writing is that you can edit every single word. I doubt if any of my original words ended up in the final 73,000 word publication.
Lorie: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Cindy:E-books are a way to reach a broader audience. Hard cover books are a large expense for most people’s budget. With the reasonable prices of e-books, people are willing to take a chance on new authors. When Dying For A Date was released in the summer of 2010, my sales of print books to e-books was about 8 to 1. Now it’s the reverse. I’m thrilled that I have fans in Fresno, but it’s exciting to receive fan mail from Scotland and Italy.
Lorie: Do you read e-books yourself?
Cindy:I have a Kindle and it’s filled with books by authors I’ve wanted to try. I still prefer paperbacks because I love looking at books and adding them to my library collection. That large font of the Kindle is quite appealing though.
Lorie: Anything you would like to add?
Cindy:I’m co-chairing the 22nd annual Left Coast Crime Convention, which will be held in Sacramento at the Sheraton Grand for the first time. We’re thrilled to have 200 plus mystery authors and another 200 plus fans attend this wonderful event. There will be 3 days of author panels, a writing workshop, evening reception, awards banquet, silent and live auctions, and author breakfasts. It will be held on March 29 – April 1 and if you have the time, you won’t want to miss it. Check out www.leftcoastcrime.org/2012
Lorie: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Cindy: I have a fun website since I’m selling humor. I post on FB but usually try to make it entertaining for my friends and fans. I don’t tweet that often but if I run across a great blog or post, I’ll re-tweet it to share with others who might find it helpful.
Lorie: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
Cindy:I don’t really look at it as competition. Every author is unique in what they create and produce. I write a very funny (per the reviewers) mystery with some PG 13 romance and a protagonist surrounded by characters that people have come to love. Plus it takes place in Hangtown, California. That’s definitely unique.
The remark I receive the most from my fans is “write faster.” It doesn’t get any better than that!
Dying For A Dance by Cindy Sample
Review by Terell Byrd
“I didn’t think my night could get any worse. But when I stumbled on a dead man with my broken shoe heel stuffed in his mouth, I realized it definitely could.” Page 7
The book opens with Laurel McKay trying to learn the foxtrot for a friend’s wedding. She has progressed from constantly stepping on her own feet to tripping her dance instructor. When she slips on the glossy floor and glides directly into a nearby twirling couple she discovers a broken heel on her almost new dance shoes. She changes to street shoes to finish the lesson and discovers her new dance shoes missing when she leaves. She finds the broken heel (as described above) as she exits the studio and enters the current mystery.
At the age of thirty-nine Laurel has discovered a talent for sleuthing as well as an unfortunate knack for stumbling over dead bodies. She leads the quick-step life of a working single mother. She works as a bank loan underwriter balancing numbers as well as a mercurial boss, a mother who is perfect but lovingly critical, a teenager who disapproves of her mother being caught up in another homicide investigation and a son who needs homemade deer antlers for a school presentation. The center of her balance is a strong sense of humor.
Will the gorgeous homicide detective she met on the last case come back for another date? Will Laurel save her bank (and herself) from scandal and ruin? Will she be able to make felt deer antlers for her son in time? Read the book and find out!
I would really like to have Laurel McKay for a best friend. She sounds like someone with a real life, family and friends. She struggles with money issues, getting the kids to school on time and a new man in her mother’s life. Through everything Laurel retains an ability to laugh at herself and the trials of life that I greatly admire. I have rarely been more cheered up by spending time with a book. Dying For A Dance is the perfect antidote to a bout of the winter blues.
To enter to win a copy of Dying For A Dance, simply email KRL at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Dying”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 21, 2012. U.S. residents only.
Check out KRL’s review of Cindy’s first book, Dying For A Date.
If you love mysteries, why not check out Left Coast Crime: Mystery Conference in Sacramento, March 29-April 1, 2012. Registration is only $225 & day passes can be purchased for $75 for Friday and Saturday panel sessions. Registration information can be found at the conventionwebsite, or by sending an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.