September 27, 2016

Denise Weeks - Cozy Mystery Author Spotlight and Interview

I am going to be hosting a number of cozy mystery authors on my blog for the next two months. If you have not had the pleasure of enjoying a cozy mystery I encourage you to do so. The cozy mystery industry as a whole is in danger of being lost as the publishers are ending a number of series. Please note that not all series I will be sharing are in danger. There are many that will be continuting on as normal. I just wanted to do my part to make everyone aware of this genre as a whole. 

Today I will be showcasing Denise Weeks

About the author:
As Denise Weeks, I write the edgy Jacquidon Carroll mystery series headed by the award-winning NICE WORK and the Ariadne French paranormal mysteries that begin with MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS, as well as standalone techie ghost stories like LOVE IS THE BRIDGE. As Shalanna Collins, I write YA fantasy and contemporary fantasy, including APRIL, MAYBE JUNE, the 2010 Golden Rose grand prize winner, now out from Muse Harbor Press. I have worked as a software engineer, pianist/by-ear piano teacher, and secondary school math tutor. Like most homegrown Texas humorists, I'm not funny . . . at least not intentionally. Married to an outstandingly tolerant software engineer, I live in a northern suburb of Dallas, Texas, with him and our yappy Pomeranian.

My favorite foods are curried yak, chocolate, and French fries. I know (but am not telling) a plethora of alchemical and occult secrets. I have been identified as a Person of Interest by all the right people. (Okay, kidding--I don't really eat yak.) I am at work on yet another novel.

Where to follow this author:

When did your love of writing begin?
At age six, when I had chicken pox and missed the second week of first grade. My dad had brought home several books for me to keep me occupied. He explained these tomes had not fallen from the sky like the Bible and the CRC Math Tables, but were written by mortal men and women. At that moment I determined I would figure out how to tell my stories, the ones my stuffed animals and dolls and I acted out during the lonely-only-child days before the Internet and cable teevee. It didn't hurt that writers at the time were considered public intellectuals and got lots of respect . . . unlike now. LOL!

Books are important. My father believed that, my teachers (throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and most of the 1980s) believed that. They are worthy of your time and most of them have something to teach you. Whether a story is "slow-moving" or "gets right to the shooting," it's usually something that will feed your soul. That's why I am spending my life writing them.

How did you choose this genre to write about?
I write YA fantasy/contemporary fantasy and adventure as Shalanna Collins, and mystery/suspense/mainstream as Denise Weeks. Fantasy came to me early because I had read C. S. Lewis young, and then Tolkien, and then all the greats. One day I "saw" Dulcinea Brown standing in her father's apothecary messing around with her flute and discovering a new kind of magic, and that set me off on telling her story. The Genius Girls contemporary fantasy occurred to me when I heard two girls talking about a special book they'd inherited. I write mystery/suspense because I like series books and I feel that a mystery appeals to and will engage more different kinds of readers. The techie ghost story and the chick lit, well, they chose me. Most of my books choose me.

Do you have a scheduled writing time, place and/or routine?
I wish I did. I'm a night owl, so mostly I do my best work at night, but it's tough. There's always something the family needs or that I've gotten myself committed to do, and that takes me away from writing. Promotion takes up so much of a writer's time nowadays, too. Normally I write on my computer, but sometimes I scribble in a spiral notebook that I carry or even make notes in whatever Kindle file I happen to have open. I'm sure that people who are more organized feel I could never get anything accomplished, but somehow I do.

What do you do to get over writer's block?
I don't believe that it exists. I think it's just procrastination much of the time. Sometimes it's a paralyzing fear of success or a lack of confidence in your ability to do the work. For whatever reason, I have always been supremely confident in the quality of my work, even while I was still in the juvenilia phase (LOL), and if I am unable to get rolling on a story, I turn to another project. If worse comes to worst, I blog or go on Facebook, where I'll find something that I want to comment on, and that will usually inspire me and start the flow of words on some project or another. If you can't progress on your current project, start another. Inspiration is everywhere.

What was it like to get your first publishing contract?

When I won the Oak Tree Press First Mystery Novel contest and signed to publish NICE WORK, I was exhiliarated. However, I wasn't as overwhelmed as I'd always thought I would be. I had been at this stuff for almost twenty years (on and off, usually with a full-time job and school and a family to steal my time away), and I'd had three agents and several contracts that fell through. (Two because the publishers dumped the line the book had been written for, one because I was asked to make extensive changes that ruined the book and they agreed that their changes had ruined it, a few for various and sundry reasons.) So this wasn't the first time I had been at the top of the rollercoaster waiting for the wild ride and then was taken abruptly off by the rescue squad of cancellation. But ask me about the first time I saw a reader pick up DULCINEA at a book fair, buy it, and sit down at a nearby table with a latte and the book and START READING IT. That was a REAL thrill and a trip of its own. THAT is why I devote my life to writing. THAT is why I feel it's my calling.

How has the publishing/writing world changed since you first started writing?

A complete 180-degree change. I started writing when I could first hold a crayon, and I used to regularly send my juvenilia to the New Yorker and Redbook (both prestigious short story/poetry markets in the sixties--the New Yorker still is the pinnacle.) I would get back these lovely quarter-page rejections from people who must have known I was an eight-year-old and later twelve-year-old. They would scribble something encouraging and they'd tell you to submit again, and they'd remember you when you did. At that time, any sort of non-NYC publishing house was considered a "Vanity Press" and the WORST sort of sin. Anyone who went with a Dreaded Vanity Press or, worse, self-published, was immediately the target of spittle and forever scorned. It was said that you might never be able to place any work with NYC after you had self-published. Everyone was at the mercy of the gatekeepers, agents and editors, who lived behind a tall brick wall and we threw our submissions to them without knowing whether they'd hit the mark. You would wait at least six months and usually a year before you got back a form rejection. And because they asked that you only submit to one publisher at a time, it took forever for any book to make the rounds. It was out of date by the time the third or fourth editor agreed to look at it. Editors and agents thought they would rule the roost forever.

Now it's completely wide open. It started with bloggers, who said they would have bully pulpits and the hell with editors. Then Amazon began their ebook publishing program and a hardcopy program, and gradually that became anointed. These days you can write your book and never have someone decree that it must be changed ("We have a book coming out now set in Ft. Worth, so you have to move yours from Texas to Montana, and the main character's name must be changed from Charlotte to Mallory, and she can't be a veterinarian--make her a spy," and so forth). You can have it developmentally edited and copy edited and decide for yourself which changes are for the better. You can then format and publish it yourself through any number of outlets, including Amazon, and it'll be available for anyone around the world to read about and buy. It's actually a miracle! If my dad were alive to see this, he'd be completely gobsmacked. On the other hand, now the market is flooded, readers have no guide telling them which books are quality and which are Mary Sue mess-ups, and publicity is a bear. A black bear. One with cubs she thinks YOU have disturbed!

You write about strong female characters. Are they modeled after anyone?
Every woman in my family is headstrong, opinionated, and a Queen Bee. Much of the time a character may be inspired by someone I know and love. Mim in MIRANDA'S RIGHTS (due out as a Christmas release this year) is modeled on my mother and grandmother. April's parents in APRIL, MAYBE JUNE are modeled on several sets of parents I knew while I was still a schoolchild. Dulcinea's dad is somewhat like the dad of my best friend in high school and somewhat like my dad, too. Most of my characters are composites, though, and there's only a general way in which they "take after" a real person or set of people.

When you are not writing, what do you like to do?
I play piano like Elise in THE DARKNESS AT THE CENTER (coming this fall), although I'm not a concert artist like she is, just an advanced player and lover of the instrument. I'm still an inveterate reader, and I have beta readers who read my work . . . so, in return, I read theirs and do the same sort of suggesting and critiquing that they do for me. I garden in the summer and cook in the winter. My husband and I love to travel, and we take our Pomeranian, who is a perfect dog and a wonderful traveler. (He sleeps in the car once he figures out we're on a road trip, and never complains when Hubby won't stop for a tinkle break for hours and hours.) Sometimes we go geocaching. I used to belly dance, but now that I have creaky knees, I go out to clubs where my friends are dancing--on occasion.

Do you have any advice for beginning authors?
If you can find some other creative outlet, do! (LOL) Dorothy Parker once said, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” It's not an easy life. You'll spend lots of time frustrated because you can't get the word out about your book, because your friends who always promised to review any book you published suddenly can't even type one sentence about it, because books that really stink make the big time while yours are forlorn and ignored.

But if you want to write, write the books YOU want to read, the ones you can't find enough of. Then you'll be writing for a particular audience and the book will be a book of your heart instead of another in the pile of copycats. It will find its audience. If you can be satisfied with that, do the best work you can, be sure it doesn't have copyediting errors or howlers, and send it out into the world.

Do you have a favorite author or book you would like to recommend to your readers?
I love the classics and believe everyone should read the old guard in the genre they want to write. Poe for horror writers, Tolkien and Lewis for fantasy, and so forth. Writers should also read the new and popular books in their genre--Twilight and Harry Potter, for example. You don't want to write "like" these people, as the most important thing you have going for you is your individual voice. Everyone should read Shakespeare, IMHO, even if it is only one of the plays and a few of the sonnets. Read as widely as you can. Don't follow trends. I always recommend my books LOVE IS THE BRIDGE by Denise Weeks (a techie ghost story romantic suspense) and APRIL, MAYBE JUNE by Shalanna Collins (the aforementioned Genius Girls fantasy adventure.) If I don't recommend them, who will? LOL!

Please tell us five random things about yourself

1. I was in the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee two years in a row as an elementary school student, and really should have gone on to win National, but got tripped up on some very mundane words.

2. I was one of eight finalists in the 2008 Scotch Brand Most Gifted Wrapper contest, a gift-wrapping talent contest, and got to go to Rockefeller Center for the final round. We wrapped a three-tiered appetizer dish and a baby grand piano (!)

3. I was a National Merit Scholar before it was stylish to be one. That's the only reason I went to a good college.

4. I'm an (amateur) actress and have played such diverse characters as Aunt Abby Brewster in "Arsenic and Old Lace," Grandma Tzeitel in "Fiddler on the Roof," Elwood's sister Veta in "Harvey," and Mrs. Soames in "Our Town." Note that none of these are glamour-girl ingenue roles. . . .

5. I love dark rides like the old "Spelunkers' Cave" at Six Flags (I mourn it constantly) and "It's a Small World" at Disneyland. I'm not into thrill rides, just the theme rides that are disappearing so quickly from every park.

What did I learn about this author:
Her love of books began at a young age. She does not believe in writer's block. In her spare time she likes to play the piano. Not only did she do well in spelling bees but she was in a gift-wrapping contest and made it to the final round. What did you learn about her or find interesting. 

Stay tuned for the next author. 


  1. Enjoyed getting to know more of your background, Denise. Wishing you success with your writing.

  2. You have an interesting and busy life, Denise. Next time we get the group together for lunch, let's find a place with a piano so you can play for us.