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Interview With Reedley Mystery Author Terri Lynn Main & Book Review

IN THE March 12 ISSUE

FROM THE 2011 Articles,
andBooks & Tales,
andContributors,
andEvery Other Book,
andLorie Lewis Ham,
andMarilyn Meredith,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andReedley News
SECTIONS

by Lorie Lewis Ham
& Marilyn Meredith

Lorie Lewis Ham interviews Reedley mystery author Terri Lynn Main, and Marilyn Meredith reviews her first book, The Dark Side of the Moon.

Lorie: When does your book come out?

Terri: It was released February 1 by Muse It Up Publishing. This is my first novel. I had a book of writing prompts published a couple of years ago.

Lorie: What is the title of your book? Genre? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Terri: The book is called Dark Side of the Moon. It is a cozy mystery set in a lunar colony at the end of the 21st Century. The story revolves around Carolyn Masters, a history professor and former FBI profiler, who takes a position at Armstrong University on the moon. She is hoping for a quiet small town life after years of the hustle and bustle of big city life. However, she isn’t on the moon long before a colleague and lunar independence activist is murdered. Murder is unheard of on the moon, so the security counselors call in Carolyn and Mike Cheravik, former Dallas police detective and currently professor of criminology, to investigate. Together they must find the murderer, thwart a terrorist attack against Earth, defeat their own past demons, and just maybe find love in the second act of life.

Lorie: How long have you been writing? What first inspired you to write?

Terri: Well, I wrote an essay in third grade that was published in the school newsletter about the sun. I think I got the bug then. I wrote a couple of chapters of a novel in sixth grade about a time traveler from the 20th century and one from the 22nd century meeting in the house of their grandson/grandfather in the 21st century.

In college I took journalism courses and for forty years have written nonfiction professionally, with occasional excursions into short fiction, poetry and drama. I honestly can’t remember when I wasn’t writing.

Lorie: Have you always written mysteries? If not what else have you written?

Terri: I’m primarily a nonfiction writer. How-to-do-its, interview pieces, general information, you name it. I even wrote an article once for an agriculture magazine called “Versatile Vegetable Oils.” I have two short stories coming out in April and July as “stand alone” e-publications which are science fiction. I must say, I have a special affinity for the cozy mystery, but love to blend it with my interest in science fiction.

Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book? Is your book set locally?

Terri: It’s not exactly set locally. It’s set on the moon. However, Armstrong City is really a small town built in an underground dome. I have to say that there are bits and pieces of many places I have lived in that setting. There’s the park in the center of town with a bandstand very much like the one in Reedley. The university is very much modeled after University of Oregon and Humboldt State University in Arcata, Ca. I have bits and pieces of my hometown of Eureka in parts of the book.
 
The main character is a 50-something college professor who is looking for a change of pace after the death of her mother whom she has taken care of for some time. No big stretch there. I wrote the first draft shortly after my mother passed away. Of course, I have no FBI training and my knowledge of history is gathered by copious reading and not through any degree, but I know the academic world very well. My belief is that every character carries a bit of the author inside them. It may be a part of ourselves we would prefer to ignore. It may be a part of us that scares us or makes us ashamed. The author takes that bit of self and wraps imagination around it, places the character in a location and sets it free to interact with the other characters and situations in the story. Writing done well is a journey of self-discovery.

Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?

Terri: Someone once said, “If you want to send a message call Western Union.” Of course, that was back in the days of telegrams, but the point is solid. I tell a story. As I tell that story there may be some larger truths emerge from the nature of the story. Likewise, they may not emerge, but I know if I started with some “message” my story would probably be unreadable. I tell a story, if others find a message in the story, that’s great. If not, that’s fine as well.

Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?

Terri: Schedule? What’s that? Seriously, I have a weird schedule driven mostly by my “day job” as an instructor at Reedley College. I write a great deal as part of that job. My fiction writing tends to be something that I fit in whenever I can.
 
I have learned the secret of the 15-minute write. I sit down with a timer and write or edit for fifteen minutes then stop. Rough draft speed typing I can do about 400 words in fifteen minutes. If I use voice recognition, I can push it closer to 600. So, if I get three or four of those a day, I’m actually doing quite well. A lot of beginning writers say they don’t have the time to write meaning they can’t sit down for an hour or two at a time sipping coffee, chewing the eraser off a pencil and let the muse strike them with some inspiration.
My advice, fifteen minutes of actual writing (minus the coffee, erasure chewing and muse meditation) is more productive than an hour of writing ritualistically.

Lorie: I may have to give that a try. 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?

Terri: There are so many different methods of plotting out there. I’ve tried them all. However, what works best for me is my own approach. First, let me explain what I think a story is all about. Story happens when a character faces a problem. How the character solves that problem is your story. Now, this means you have to start with characters. Why? Because no two people will solve the same problem in the same way. Plot cannot be separated from character. The choice is your characters make creates the plot.

So I start with getting to know my characters. This means making lists of everything from their philosophy of life to what kind of car they drive. I can only begin to work out my plot after I know how each character will react in each situation.

Once I know my characters and I have set forth my premise, I lay down, close my eyes, and visualize the story unfolding. I see what each of my characters are doing at each stage of the story. Now, this isn’t terribly detailed. This is a general overview of what is happening. It’s kind of like fast forwarding through a movie. You don’t catch the details, but you get a gist of what the movie is all about.

Then I write down certain “landmarks” on this journey that my characters take. These are the places I have to hit.

Next, I begin to write. I write very fast. I don’t stop to correct spelling, punctuation, grammar, check to see if I have the names right, or anything else. I try to get through this first draft in a month. I don’t even worry about writing in order. If I feel like writing a chapter near the end of the book right after I write the first chapter, I do it.

During this time I am essentially following my characters around. I feel more like a recorder than an author at this point. I let my characters do what they want to do. One of the wonderful things about taking this approach is that you’re constantly surprised by the story. As you are writing, it just seems natural for character to react in a certain way, even if you didn’t plan for them to react in that way. In Dark Side of the Moon, my characters knew they were falling in love before I did.

This rough draft, then, becomes my primary plotting document. Now, I do not claim that this will work for everybody. Everyone is wired differently, and what works for one person might not work for another. I suggest every writer tries a variety of approaches until they find the one that works best for them.

Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?

Terri: That would be late night definitely. It’s not unusual for me to be up until two or 3 a.m. or later. I am definitely a night owl.

Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published?

Terri: For Dark Side of the Moon, not really. I happened to see an announcement on a writer’s e-mail discussion list that MuseItUp publishing was looking for submissions. I read their guidelines and the novel seem to fit. So, I went through the submission process and a couple of weeks later was signing a contract. Now, I don’t want to indicate that’s how things always happen. One time I had a magazine article rejected 14 times before it sold. So, I consider myself very fortunate with the ease of this sale.

Lorie: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Terri: Well, back in the 80s I was doing a lot of freelance magazine writing. I had interviewed a shyness counselor at the University of Oregon. She gave me some great information about how to overcome shyness. So, I wrote up query letters and sent them off to a bunch of magazines. The idea was rejected by 14 magazines before I got one that accepted the idea. Since that time, I wrote four more articles related to shyness based largely on that interview. Now, if I had given up after the first three or four rejections, I would never have sold those five articles, which total more than $1000 in sales.

Lorie: What kind of promotion are you finding most effective so far?

Terri: I’m still sort of starting the whole promotion routine. However, I have been pre-promoting the book for about six months. I have been talking it up on various mystery and science fiction discussion lists, I have a Facebook page, I’ve done a bunch of interviews for various blogs. I suspect that it will come largely from the reviews that I receive on the various blogs.

Since the book is available online, and not likely to be available at your local bookstore for about a year, we have to depend on active promotion. I can’t just assume somebody’s going to be browsing the book shelves at Barnes & Noble and see my book. I’m not sure that it’s ever been the best promotional approach, but today it is definitely not going to work.

I’m going to be doing a virtual book tour this summer. A virtual book tour is where I “visit” several blogs providing them with interviews, review copies of the book, excerpts from the book, all sorts of things that hopefully their readers will enjoy.

I also have a website where people can read an excerpt from the book, some short stories based on the characters from the book, look at a map of the moon with the places in the book marked on it, and get some of the back story from the book.

Lorie: I know you now live in Reedley, have you always?

Terri: No, I was born and raised in Eureka California. I moved to the Valley in 1990 to take a job at Reedley College. Back then, it was called Kings River Community College. Initially, I lived in Fresno, but about 15 years ago I moved to Reedley. I love Reedley. I grew up in a small town, and I like small town life. I’ll be retiring in about five years and I have no plans to move. In fact, I’m thinking about buying cemetery plots in the Reedley Cemetery. I guess that makes me a permanent resident.

Lorie: School and work background?

Terri: I not only teach at the community college, but I’m a product of the community college system. I got my AA in English from College of the Redwoods, Eureka, California. Then, I got bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication from Humboldt State University, Arcata, California. I also have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in English, and close to a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Then, in 1993, I received a Masters degree in counseling psychology from National University, Fresno, California.

I’ve always wanted to teach. In fact, I have taught often without getting paid. However, right out of college there were very few teaching jobs. So back in the 70s, I spent a lot of time bouncing around the media. I worked at a couple of radio stations and a newspaper. I did a good deal of freelance magazine writing and advertising copywriting. Then, I found my way back into teaching by offering a course in magazine writing at College of the Redwoods. Later, that evolved into me teaching speech and creative writing courses at the college and working part-time in the public information office.

Then, in 1990, I saw a flyer about a Position at Reedley College; I applied, got the job, and have been there ever since. Currently, I am teaching communication courses online and advising the school online publication.

Lorie: Future writing goals?

Terri: Right now, I am editing the second book in the Dark Side of the Moon Series. I have three more books in various stages of development in that series. I am also editing another cozy mystery set in a central California small town community college. Wonder how I came up with that setting?

Lorie: Hmm I wonder lol. Writing heroes?

Terri: That’s hard to say. There are many that I have learned from over the years. CS Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Lillian Jackson Braun, Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke. I think I have been informed by every author I have ever read.

Lorie: What do you read when you have the time?

Terri: I read science fiction, cozy mysteries, some sword and sorcery fantasy. I also read books of history and science. I read a lot of vintage science fiction. That would be science fiction from the 30s and 40s and some from the 1890s.

Lorie: Do you have any favorite TV shows or movies you take the time to watch?

Terri: I don’t watch very many movies anymore. Mostly I like the old movies. I like the old musicals. I also like the old B horror films of the 50s and 60s. I especially like the old Hammer films of the 1960s.

On TV, I like Law and Order and CSI, all of the franchises. I also like some of the SyFy channel originals like Eureka and Being Human. Other than that, I tend to watch a lot of the old reruns like Star Trek, Touched by an Angel, Colombo, Hercule Poirot, Midsommer Murders, and Sherlock Holmes.

Lorie: Family?

Terri: My mom and dad passed away seven years ago. My sister and her family live down here. My brother-in-law is my own personal handyman and chef. He makes these great soups and Mexican dinners, which I freeze. My sister likes to clean, so I let her. She is a tax consultant with H&R Block Associates so she is also my default accountant.

I never married and don’t have any children. I have three cats, however. Okay, so that makes me a cultural stereotype – old maid schoolteacher with cats. Hey, someone has to carry on the tradition.

Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Terri: Yes, study your craft and practice your craft. The two go together. You will never learn to write reading books about writing. You have to write. However, if you ignore the books, and if you ignore the experience of others more successful than you, then you just make it harder on yourself. Studying and writing together create success.

Lorie: Since your book is an e-book, do you have a favorite e-book reader?

Terri: Well, the e-book reader I have, I bought one $89 from Kmart. It is called The Book. However, I plan to upgrade to a Color Nook later this year. Kindle is a good reader however, you’re pretty much stuck with only being able to read books only in Amazon format. However, most books are available at all of the formats now. It depends greatly on how you read and where you read. If you read outdoors a lot, the color readers, like mine, don’t do as well as say a Sony reader or a Kindle. However, if you like nice graphics, or want to read many of the magazines that are now available, the color readers are better.

However, if you want to try out e-reading without buying any reader, you can download the software for your laptop or download free apps for your smart phones.

Lorie: Where can people purchase your books?

Terri: They can purchase it at most online e-book sellers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or from the MuseItUp Publishing Bookstore.

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.

Dark Side of the Moon, by Terri Lynn Main
Review by Marilyn Meredith

Dark Side of the Moon is an intriguing combination of science fiction, mystery, romance and a touch of both Christianity and politics.

I’m not a particular fan of science fiction, but Main has done a spectacular job of creating space travel and life on the moon.

The heroine, 55 year old Carolyn Masters, a former FBI profiler, has moved to the moon to teach history at Armstrong College. Before she is completely settled in her new home and job she must join Michael Cheravik, a former Dallas homicide detective, in the investigation of a the murder of Juan McAlister, a fellow professor. McAlister was heavily involved in a planned political revolt seeking the independence of the moon colony.

This was fun read partly because of all the descriptions of space travel and life on the moon, all written to sound like fact. All of the dialogue sounds natural and is easy to understand—something that I’ve found lacking in other sci-fi novels.

Highly recommended for anyone who loves science fiction—and a well-written story with an intriguing and unusual plot.

Marilyn Meredith is a Springville, CA mystery author and an ongoing contributor to our Local Literary section. Be sure to visit her website; fictionforyou.com

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Terri Main
Twitter: @terrimain
March 12, 2011 at 2:51pm

Thank you for such a nice write up. You asked some wonderful questions.

Reply

2 Kristin
Twitter: @dotcomer
March 13, 2011 at 1:44pm

Excellent interview–and thanks for the advice about the 15-minute rule, Terri.

Reply

3 Lorie Ham
Twitter: @mysteryrat
March 13, 2011 at 6:26pm

Thanks Terri for sharing with us, and glad you enjoyed it Kristin. Keep checking back for more!
Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher

Reply

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