Author Spotlight: Linda Berry

Today’s guest author is Linda Berry, whose new book, Pretty Corpse, was recently released. It’s getting fantastic reviews on Amazon and I’m honored to have Linda here today to talk about the book. The subject matter of the story is a little out of my comfort zone, but in Linda’s capable hands I think I’m going to enjoy it. I invite you to share your comments at the end of the post, but please note that Linda is very busy this week with promotion and other activities and may not be able to respond right away.

Tell us about Pretty Corpse.

The year is 1999. A serial rapist is targeting teen girls in San Francisco. While on patrol, Officer Lauren Starkley discovers one of the victims, and she’s shocked to find out the girl is a close friend of her daughter. The case instantly becomes intensely personal. Because she isn’t a detective, Lauren is restricted from investigating, but she does so nonetheless on her own time. Lauren has an uncanny ability to find obscure clues and link them together. Her relentless pursuit of the rapist draws her deeper into his world. He in turn, starts getting closer to Lauren and her daughter. Lauren needs to lure him out of hiding, fast, before her daughter becomes his next victim.

Your novels are filled with an interesting mix of characters. Tell us about that. 

My stories reflect the range of characters each of us knows in real life. We all have people we admire, people who threaten us or are just plain loony. I like to keep readers alert and surprised by creating several interrelated stories that and ebb and flow through the main story. We are all multi-dimensional, and have many stories happening simultaneously in our lives, and sometimes conflict erupts on many fronts. I like to get into those emotional tsunamis and explore a person’s breaking point, and how they deal with the challenge. Complex characters that are bitterly wounded or pathologically twisted are interesting to me. I like to contrast the most vile and repugnant aspects of human nature to the most heroic and noble, and throw some quirky characters in for good measure.

How did you research this police thriller?

To write authentically, I do extensive research. That doesn’t mean I let my fingers do the walking. I have to give a big thank you to the police officers at Mission Station in San Francisco in 2001, when I wrote this first draft. My research for Pretty Corpse came in the form of dozens of ride-alongs I did with various female patrol officers. I chose the night shift when the city was rife with criminal activity, and I got to see these courageous women in action. Several of my characters were inspired by the female cops I came to know, and also by the captain of the station, who gave generously of his time to help me authenticate my writing. Many of the side stories in Pretty Corpse are based on actual events relayed to me by police officers from Mission Station. 

Where do you write?

I write in a sunny office in my home overlooking a canal and peaceful wooded area. I live in Central Oregon, a resort town in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains.

You were an award-winning copywriter and art director for twenty-five years, and worked part of that time for the film industry. How did that experience shape your decision to become a novelist?

I had the privilege of collaborating with talented writers and some of the best editors in the business. I love books and have been an avid reader my entire life. I wrote novels as a passionate hobby. In fact, my three novels released this year by Winter Goose Publishing are the result of my efforts spanning a decade. Now that I’m retired, I write every day. It’s so much easier to produce good work when you can keep your train of thought moving forward, and are not constantly interrupted. 

What do you love most about your work?

I love the creative process itself—the challenge of developing and constructing plots that continually surprise the reader and hold them in a state of suspense. Writing is both a passion and a compulsion—a truly satisfying form of escape. My reward comes when a reader tells me they couldn’t put my book down and they talk about my characters as though they’re real people. Then I know I did my job well.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness comes to me in many forms. Appreciation of life itself is the foundation of happiness. I find this planet miraculous, from subatomic matter to the galaxies in space. I enjoy the beauty of ecosystems, how so many forms of life—plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, insects—the smallest creature to the largest, are dependent on each other for survival. My idea of perfect happiness is living on a healthy planet where people live together in peace and are trusted guardians of nature.

What is your greatest fear?

Being impoverished, homeless, or mentally or physically impaired and dependent on others. I did undergo some terrible threats to my health six years ago. I had a bout of debilitating pain for about 8 months, which diminished my ability to enjoy life. I’m now completely recovered, and feel I’ve been given a second chance at life. The experience sharpened my awareness of how fragile life is, how it can be taken away in an instant, and how one might be forced to languish in pain for a period of time. It heightened my appreciation for the quality of life I have now, for every precious moment I’m healthy and independent.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Lack of patience. Sometimes I get caught up in the everyday demands of life, and the illusion that I don’t have enough time to do everything I want to do.  I have to remind myself at times to live in the moment, address what is happening right in front of me, and listen to people, even when I feel I’m short on time. Giving another human being a few minutes of conversation can make a huge difference in that person’s life. Kindness goes a long way.

Who in your profession do you most admire?

I read everything, and admire countless writers, from journalists to screen writers to poets to authors. I especially love mysteries, and I read an average of two books a week. If the writing is solid, and the story is well-constructed, I’ll read it regardless of genre.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Disconnecting from the world. Getting out in nature with my husband and our dog in our motorhome. I love being on a lazy schedule and disconnecting from social media, where the only decision I have to make is when to eat and what hikes to take. I can write in uninterrupted peace for hours at a time, surrounded by nature, sometimes listening to the gentle patter of rain, watching water drip off leaves. I love going to national parks, off season. We went to Bryce and Zion and Arches and the Grand Canyon two years ago. Last year we went to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, and this year we may be going to Yosemite.

On what occasion would you lie?

I don’t tell big extravagant lies, but I do tell baby lies frequently, mostly when complimenting people. For example: “no, your ass doesn’t look big in those jeans” or “you look marvelous” when in actuality, you look hungover, and you have stains on your shirt.

What do you dislike most in your work?

When I hit a brick wall and I have to stop writing, sometimes for days, while I process my story and play out different scenarios in my head. I never force the creative process. What generally helps me break through the logjam is reading. I’ll bury my nose in a good book, and before long, ideas start percolating to the surface. I also have a muse, my nail goddess, who’s held captive doing my mani/pedi for 2 hours, and I bounce ideas off her. She has a creative mind and has been a wonderful contributor to my stories for years.

When and where were you happiest in your work?

This current period in my life is the happiest. Now that I’m retired, I have the luxury of writing every day. I wake up eager to get to work. I take my coffee up to my sunny office and dig in. I believe I’m at my most happiest when my husband and I are traveling and we’re parked in a beautiful wilderness area and the peace of the place seeps into my bones. I can write with no interruption.

If you could, what would you change about myself?

I would take twenty years of physical wear and tear off my body. Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, I would change nothing. If I had to lose twenty years of life experience to be in a younger body, I would say no. I’m more at peace with myself at this stage of life than I have ever been.

What is your greatest achievement in work?

Having three novels completed and coming out this year, 2017. It’s a wonderful sense of accomplishment to see the culmination of years of work and endless rewrites in a physical book. Hidden Part One and Pretty Corpse are out, and Hidden Part Two comes out in September. I’m expecting my fourth mystery, Quiet Scream, to be out in December or January.

What is your most marked characteristic?

My friendliness, and my sense of humor. I have always had a keen interest in people and I’m a good observer, passionately interested in humans and the world around me. I’m an optimist at heart, and I’ve been blessed with a jolly spirit. I enjoy socializing but the greater part of my waking life is spent in solitude, writing, reading, and doing projects.

What is your most inspirational location in your city?

I like to get out on the wilderness trails with friends and dogs. We have a beautiful river, the Deschutes, that meanders through town and its character changes every foot of the way. There are many meadows, sagebrush flats, waterfalls, and breathtaking views of the Cascade Range. The look of a wild river, the various sounds of water rushing, falling, cascading over boulders, is invigorating and soothing. Hiking clears my head of thoughts and worries and puts me in a state of peacefulness.

What is your best advice for beginning writers?

Write about something you love and then your passion will come out in your words. Write often, everyday, if possible. Read, read, read. I read one or two books a week, and I also watch movies and TV productions that tell good stories. I take notes. I have volumes of notes, and refer to them daily.

 

Watch Linda’s Youtube trailers:

Hidden: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-bNoFgaD9U&t=7s

Pretty Corpse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QHSvirTYdw&feature=youtu.be

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/linda.berry.94617 

Website: www.lindaberry.net

Twitter:@LindaBerry7272

Contact: lindaberrywriter@gmail.com

Best of luck with the new book, Linda!

Until next time,

Amy

Book Recommendation: No Comfort for the Lost

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This week I’m highlighting a book I’ve waited a long time to read.

No Comfort for the Lost by Nancy Herriman is a beautifully written, historically fascinating look at the underside of 1867 San Francisco. It is the captivating story of Celia Davies, an English-born nurse living in the city and caring for its most unwanted residents–in many cases, the Chinese women and girls forced to work as prostitutes in the seedier parts of town. The reader is introduced to San Francisco as it existed 150 years ago–expanding, dirty, bustling, beautiful.

Celia is the guardian of her half-Chinese cousin Barbara, whose father passed away leaving them a home and leaving Celia a bit of money she uses to run her free health clinic. Barbara, besides being a member of a hated ethnic group in San Francisco, has health problems which prevent her from moving quickly or deftly. She occasionally helps Celia with her patients, but is sometimes not able to help as she would like.

When a former Chinese prostitute, a friend of Celia and Barbara, is found murdered, Celia takes it upon herself to attempt to figure out the culprit because certain members of the San Francisco Police Department have shown reluctance to spend too much time on crimes involving Chinese victims. Luckily, Celia finds a sympathetic detective, Nicholas Greaves, who is interested in the plight of the victim and who, despite the warnings from his overbearing and very unpleasant boss, is willing to invest police time and resources to find the perpetrator. With a past which is only hinted at in the book, Greaves has a soft spot for underdogs and a personal need to do the right thing. And he has a soft spot for Celia, too, despite (or perhaps because of?) her stubborn pig-headedness, which can only be described as both endearing and maddening.

As the story progresses, we find that the list of suspects is growing and that the people Celia and Barbara know and trust are not always what they seem (it wouldn’t be a mystery otherwise, would it?). I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that I suspected almost everyone in the book before being completely surprised by the ending.

I loved the book. I loved the descriptions of old San Francisco, the antiquated medical methods described to treat injuries and illness, and the story of Li Sha’s murder and its aftermath. Not only that, but one of the scariest undercurrents running through the book is the bigotry experienced by Chinese immigrants during the 19th century. In many ways, the issue has echoed down the years and still exists today, even in presidential politics in the United States. I was struck while reading the book of the similarities between 1867 San Francisco and the present day worldwide.

Nancy Herriman has a way with language and uses it in a way that evokes an older time and is still immensely readable and enjoyable. The amount of research that must have gone into No Comfort for the Lost is obvious and breathtaking in its depth. But besides all that, there are the backstory mysteries–what happened to Nicholas Greaves’ sister? What happened to Celia’s husband, Patrick?

And the very best part? There’s another Celia Davies book on the way! It’s called No Pity for the Dead and it will be released in August, 2016. I will be in line to pre-order it!

Full disclosure: Nancy Herriman is a friend, but as you know from previous posts, if I hadn’t liked her book I simply wouldn’t have recommended it.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. If you’re interested in visiting Nancy Herriman online, her website is www.nancyherriman.com.

Who’s Your Muse?

Do you have a muse? Do you know what a muse is? I had heard the term bandied about, but never really understood it’s meaning.

So I looked it up.

The word “muse” comes from the nine mythological goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences. There was a goddess for lyre playing, epic poetry, comedy, history, and astronomy, among others.

So what is a muse in modern parlance? I guess you’d define it as the source of creative inspiration, and it’s usually a person.

I have always read about authors and songwriters and artists and their muses. For F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was his wife Zelda. For John Lennon, it was Yoko Ono. For Alfred Stieglitz, it was Georgia O’Keefe.

As I thought about muses throughout history and the artists and writers they inspired, I got thinking…who’s my muse?

And the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that I don’t have one. There is no one person who inspires my writing. And I consider this a good thing. I noticed while I was reading about historical muses that the relationships between them and their respective artists were often toxic and depressing. They frequently seemed unhappy and lost. And I don’t want to cause the people around me to feel any of those things.

I am inspired by places and by nature. I love to read about people and locales all around the world, and so I suppose it’s natural that I would choose to write about those same things. I want to inspire people to visit the places in my stories. My first book takes place in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York, and if I can get my readers to want to know more about the Thousand Islands, then I’m happy. My second book is set in South Carolina, near Charleston, and I hope I’m able to describe it well enough that readers will be able to share the experience of being there. My third book will be set in Hawaii. The islands are a feast for the senses, and I want to share that with the people who read the book.

I’d love to set a story in New York City (where I used to live) or in South Jersey (where I live now). I’d love to set a story in San Francisco (where I’ve visited) or England (where I’ve never been) or in Scotland (also, where I’ve never been). When I visit someplace new, I take lots of pictures and maybe even some notes about interesting things and people I see. I keep maps of the places I’ve been, because they can be helpful in setting a story.

I get inspired by people, too, but I could not refer to any of them as my muse. The inspiration these people provide is not creative, but motivational.

Do you have a muse? Or are you inspired by something else? I’d love to hear about it.

Until next week,

Amy