by Lorie Lewis Ham
& Terell Byrd
Lorie: When did you first begin writing?
Barbara: I’ve been writing music and short stories since I was a kid, but I started writing novels about 20 years ago. Like most authors, I wrote several manuscripts which can only be considered learning projects, and then finally began the Liz Hanlon series about 10 years ago.
Lorie: When did you first begin singing?
Barbara: Singing was different. I knew I wanted to be a singer when I was about five years old. And a piano player even before that. We had a baby grand that I used to crawl up to and pound on the keys. My mother finally found a teacher who would take me on as a student when I was in kindergarten. Not sure how much I actually learned at that age, but I thought I was in heaven when I could actually make musical sounds.
Lorie: How did you get the idea of combining the two in a mystery?
Barbara: While writing the first book in the Liz Hanlon series, High Notes Are Murder, I wanted to include not only a description of the songs Liz was creating and performing, but the actual lyrics. It was something I’d hoped would help the reader get a closer feel to Liz and performers in general. Then my editor looked up from the manuscript one day and said, “People are going to want to hear these songs.” So back to the piano I went to work my lyrics into songs I thought would complement the action in the story.
Lorie: Is this the second book?
Barbara: Yes, Harmonic Deception is the second book in the series. I wrote another in-between, but decided to put it aside for now and have the story progress the way it has now. Later, I’ll go back and dust that one off and work it into the story line.
Lorie: Tell us a little about the books & your main character and setting?
Barbara: Liz Hanlon is an extremely talented singer and songwriter who’s been in the LA music scene for ten years. With only a few exceptions, she’s been stuck in what she calls piano dumps most of the time. In High Notes Are Murder, she often renames Brogino’s Bar & Grille–one of the piano bars, calling it Brogino’s Smoke & Choke, Brogino’s Suds & Duds, even Brogino’s Beer & Barf. So Liz has a flippant sense of humor. Finally, her career begins to take off when she’s offered a spot in TV concerts to be broadcast nationwide. Of course, a few obstacles get in the way—a murder that leads to a twenty-five-year-old mob heist with clues that point back to Liz’s own family. High Notes ends as the shows are just beginning, and Liz has high hopes that her career will take off.
This latest book, Harmonic Deception, begins when Liz has finally been signed to a major record label. To kick off her first CD, the company has thrown her an elegant industry party at a well-known LA club. (Definitely not Brogino’s Bar & Grille!) Everybody in the industry will be there. She’s wild with excitement but heavy traffic almost makes her miss her downbeat. In the car, she and her drummer inch along crowded Melrose Blvd and Liz says, “Finally, a gig that matters and I can’t even get to my own party!” But once they arrive, the real trouble begins. Liz comes face to face with an embittered teenage killer she’s never met before. Later, Liz uncovers the truth behind the invasion robbery, and why this killer has targeted her. Here’s the story synopsis:
Harmonic Deception: Tonight’s performance could make Liz Hanlon’s music career. The night is magical until three teenage girls in outlandish disguises burst into the LA nightclub with assault weapons. Within minutes, two hundred patrons are stripped of their cell phones and valuables, one man is dead, and two others are wounded. Liz devises a code that calls for help and forces the robbers into an unplanned getaway, but the shooter’s belligerent remarks let Liz know this attack is person . . . and she is the target.
For days, her debut is on hold, her love life in a tailspin. She seeks help from an eccentric investigator and her brother, an attorney, but neither they nor the police detectives believe the crime was personal. Liz develops a perilous plan to draw the shooter out of hiding, but in a final showdown she comes face to face with one emotion that surprises her: her own inadvertent desire for revenge.
By morning, it’s over, or so it seems. But an unresolved issue from the past comes to light and it changes everything . . .
The “code” is the key in that first scene, and that’s where the name of the book came from. It’s literally a harmonic deception.
Lorie: Tell us a little about your singing career, where it’s been, where it’s at now and future goals?
Barbara: I started out in Boston. I graduated from Berklee College of Music, always intending to work as a singer even though Berklee prepares you for a full career in arranging, performing, writing, or teaching. My plan was to use that knowledge to write my own charts so I could sing with all sizes of bands. Not surprisingly, things didn’t work out that way.
I wasn’t a great piano player when I got there, but playing an instrument was a requirement, and one that I’m glad they insisted upon now. I’ve been able to work full time ever since because I can also double as the keyboard player. Sometimes it took the focus off my goal—singing—but considering the public’s changing musical interests and the shrinking budgets of subsequent years, downsizing the band was often necessary. Also I was able to do a lot of piano “singles,” just like Liz Hanlon, and while they might not be my intended goal, I was still able to make a living doing what I loved. So no complaints there.
Lorie: And your writing? Have you published other things besides the mystery novels?
Barbara: Before I began the series, I wrote for several newspapers and magazines. I also wrote two other novels, but once I started on this series I’ve pretty much stuck with it.
Lorie: What advice would you give someone interested in writing a mystery?
Barbara: Read, read, read. You must know what other writers are doing. Don’t just chose the books you think you’d like to read, or the authors with big reputations you’d like to emulate. Get a good cross-section of “how-to” from reading a broad selection of authors. Then, when you think your book is finished, accept the fact that it probably isn’t. “Finished” usually means you’ve written THE END on the last page and you’re tired of working on it. You should have had a professional editor (not someone who edits for newspapers or teaches writing at the local college. A real pro who edits manuscripts for first-rate publishers) working with you on the last few drafts. If you didn’t, contact one now and carefully consider the suggestions they make. Just resign yourself to the fact that more work is coming. No one likes to hear that their masterpiece has weak points, but if the editor spots them, so will the readers. And they absolutely will be there. It happens to everyone, even famous authors. That’s why they all have readers and editors. The idea is to put out not just another book, but the very best book possible.
Lorie: Where can your books be purchased?
Barbara: Both books are available in paperback and as eBooks at my: website. The eBook is available on the Kindle, and will soon be on the Nook at www.BN.com and at www.Smashwords.com. Paperbacks and her CD’s, are also available at www.ReverbNation.com.
Lorie: Can you tell us a little about how your books were published? And the pros and cons of self publishing?
Barbara: My first book, High Notes Are Murder, was originally published by a small music company for a very short time. Since I had a CD with it, it seemed like a good idea. And it was for awhile, but they couldn’t do much in the way of promotion, and over time I learned more about what I might be able to do to take better control. It wasn’t long before I joined so many other self-published authors. Then during this past year I’ve read dozens of articles about successful authors starting to self-publish, mostly in eBook format, and that really attracted me. So I spent about a year and a half working with a terrific editor, Mollie Gregory, to get Harmonic Deception into good publishable shape, and went straight for the self-published model.
Lorie: Do you have a set routine as to when you write?
Barbara: Being a musician, I’ve never had that kind of structured schedule, so while I like to write as soon as I get up, I’ve learned to grab every second I can, whenever I can.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not is there another way you keep track of your plot?
Barbara: For me, outlining is a must. As completely as possible. Then I change as I go.
Lorie: What do you find easier-writing or singing?
Barbara: Wow, there’s a question! Neither is easy. Both are enjoyable and satisfying. I think I like them both for different reasons, and both challenging for different reasons.
Lorie: How did you come up with your main character and is she a lot like you?
Barbara: I didn’t want a character that’s just like me. I came up with Liz because I knew the music world, but if anything, I’d say I’ve become more like her over time instead of the other way around. I’ve tried to make her very definite in her views and opinions. Maybe after enough time spent creating Liz Hanlon I’ve gotten that way myself.
Lorie: What kind of promotion do you find most effective?
Barbara:Wouldn’t we all like to know that! I think it’s a combination of being visible everywhere, continuing to blog and add to discussion groups, and doing live signings. And more of everything than there will ever be time to do.
Lorie: Have you sung at your book events? Do you think it helps you sell books?
Barbara:I have when it’s appropriate. Yes, I think it helps. That, and standing on my head…okay, maybe not standing on the head. But music helps. Everyone usually loves music.
Harmonic Deception By Barbara Reed
Review by Terell Byrd
I have always loved reruns of the old TV detective shows that took place around a night club: Hawaiian Eye, Peter Gunn or Surfside 6. There was always a band and a woman who performed everything from novelty tunes to heart-rending ballads. The music was secondary to the case that the stalwart male detectives solved, but it was always a high point in the show – a woman, wearing a silky dress, singing in the spotlight, giving a performance that everyone stopped and watched. No over-singing as a substitute for passion, no moaning or screaming, words that you could understand and emotions that could be felt in the soloist’s voice.
What a joy to find that those days of detection and song are not gone; they are very much alive in the novels of Barbara Reed. The difference is a marvelous twist, the main character, Liz Hanlon, is both vocalist and detective.
In this, the second of the Mystery and Music Series, the story begins just before a release party. Liz has just signed a three CD contract with Ardor Records. Tonight she will be heard nationally and all of the VIP’s in the Los Angeles music industry are in attendance. Just as the show is about to start, a group of disguised teenaged girls invade the room, brandishing automatic weapons and demanding everyone’s valuables. Before the robbery is over there will be one man dead and several others critically injured.
Liz knows that the incident was personal. She races against time to solve the puzzle of who could hate her so much. She was stalked by someone once; greeting cards with messages of love mixed with death threats had appeared regularly and then stopped. Is there a connection or are there two people who want to harm Liz and those she loves? She must find out the truth to save lives and to keep her career from ending on the first step to success.
This is a fascinating look into the “back bar” of the life of a nightclub. If you don’t know what back bar means (I didn’t) you will learn a lot about the hard work that goes into the performance of a concert in an intimate setting. If you are familiar with the entertainment industry, you will glimpse old friends and make new ones as you meet Liz, Sonnie the club owner, Police Detective Milleski and private detective Enos. I especially like Liz’s brother Carl. Carl, a lawyer, sounds very much like family and is a steady practical anchor in the artistic whirlwind of Liz’s life.
This series has real incidents woven into the fabric of the fiction. Barbara Reed has extensive personal experience in the music industry. She is a professional vocalist and songwriter. Each book has an accompanying CD with songs that are introduced in the course of the story. No more wishing at the end that you could hear the lyrics!
Grab your portable CD player, a lounge chair and the iced beverage of your choice. Adjust the light and prepare to spend an evening immersed in a mystery infused with song! Enjoy!
To enter to win a copy of Harmonic Deception, simply email KRL at email@example.com with the subject line “Harmonic”, or comment on this article. U.S. residents only please. A winner will be chosen July 9, 2011.
Terrell is a member of the Fresno Chapter of Sisters In Crime, a mystery readers and writers group. To learn more about them and their meetings check out their event page here on KRL.