It’s been awhile since we visited with author and book editor Cindy Davis, so we decided to see what’s going on in her world – a lot, it turns out, including a new book series. Here’s our latest conversation:
Writers-Editors Network: What are you doing these days in your editorial business?
Cindy Davis: I am still freelance editing as my full-time day job. Though writing is my first love, I only find time to write on Sundays these days. I’ve recently moved to Florida, which put a damper on everything. Thank goodness for my wonderful, patient clients. (BTW, if I ever mention moving again, someone please shoot me.)
Writers-Editors Network: Would you describe for us your new series?
Cindy Davis: Smith & Westen are two mismatched insurance investigators who’re called in when everyone else has failed. (Phoebe don’t call me by my first name or else Smith loves snakes, heavy metal music, and hates underwear. Westen Hughes bakes cookies and drives a Prius.) Their ‘boss’ is three-times-divorced Kendra Jean Valentine, who will do anything to forward her career, including sending spies to report the progress of S&W’s investigations so she can grab the notoriety. While trying to keep peace between them, Sergeant Charlene “Charlie” Bartowski suffers a misogynistic captain who keeps squashing her promotion to lieutenant.
Writers-Editors Network: You describe this series as Chick Lit. What does a book need to be or have in order to be in this category?
Cindy Davis: Even though my publisher placed them in their mystery category, I considered them chick lit — definition: “literature that appeals mainly to women.” Since I have four main characters, all women, it seemed logical. Why four women? I love the dynamics that exist between such diverse personalities. I love the humor in their interactions, the emotion in their shared troubles. To set off the four females, I added a male — a handsome, sexy bodyguard who’s always coming to their rescue.
Cindy Davis: I wanted to do something a bit different, that didn’t involve murder. I watched an episode of the British murder series Rosemary & Thyme (horticulturists who end up solving murders where they’re working) and loved the interactions between the two women. I wanted my characters to have money rather than be struggling like so many amateur sleuths. (In book one, Smith & Westen receive their 10% commission on a $100 million painting they locate.) I wanted severely opposing personalities. And I wanted humor (the opening to On the Hook: Kendra Jean Valentine’s eyes were burning and her back was aching. Not to mention she was about to have a pee-gasm.).
Writers-Editors Network: What are the challenges in writing a series as opposed to several stand-alone novels?
Cindy Davis: My biggest challenges in both series are keeping things fresh, and in Smith & Westen, writing the humor. I have to work hard at the humor.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you prefer writing a series or venturing into new territory and characters with a new project?
Cindy Davis: I love series because you can get into the complexities of reappearing character relationships. You can bring the setting alive — make the reader feel as if they’re really there. If I get stuck on finding something fresh for the series, I break things up with a stand-alone. For example, Lethal Dose of Love is set in upstate New York near Lake Ontario. The villain is charming, handsome, and devious, a great combination to stimulate a murder.
Writers-Editors Network: Why do you write mysteries? Are they easier than other genres?
Cindy Davis: I cut my teeth on the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, then graduated to Agatha Christie. It’s in my blood. They’re definitely not easier to write because of the timelines and details, but I love the challenge of stymying the reader.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you have any standard methods for developing characters or a mystery plot?
Cindy Davis: Nothing standard. Some, like Rest in Pieces, come from the simple mention of words. I heard someone on CSI say ‘rest in pieces’ and, intrigued, fashioned a plot involving jigsaw puzzle pieces being sent to the victims. The plot for Lethal Dose of Love came to me while on vacation and entering the small town of Sackets Harbor, NY, where the story is set. The only ‘rule’ I have about characters is I want their qualities and foibles to play off each other.
Advice from Cindy Davis …
Writers-Editors Network: What would you advise a writer do who wants to try writing a chick lit series?
Cindy Davis: Basically, research the genre. Attend conferences. Have an idea what you’d like to accomplish with your story(s). For me, I wanted to not only solve a mystery, but also explore the relationships between four diverse women.
Writers-Editors Network: How does one get published in this genre — outside publishers? self-publishing? e-book?
Cindy Davis: All of the above. I had a publisher for two of the Smith & Westen series, which was great because their marketing got the books noticed in places other than where I promoted. The third book, they rejected because they didn’t like that I had a third point of view (the bodyguard) added at the end. I thought his perspective on how the ladies had handled the story provided great contrast, but the publisher didn’t agree. So I self-published the book, which gives me a whole other way to promote the series, so it’s a win-win. Whichever an author chooses, I seriously recommend a professional edit. I read a lot of mysteries and though typo-free, some are overloaded with adverbs, pronouns, or just plain confusion.
Writers-Editors Network: You provide editing services for other writers – how does this fit in with your own book writing – in regards to both mindset and time management?
Cindy Davis: I love editing. I love showing authors how to “fix” problems in their writing. Many clients come to me after self-publishing and realizing the book needed editing. The problem they have after that is they may have already developed a “reputation.”
I give workshops on self-editing at conferences. I teach two classes at writerscollege.com: one on mystery writing and one on self-editing. Personally, all this keeps me in mind of the “rules of writing,” which helps my own writing maintain clarity.
On the negative side, time-wise my writing has taken a backseat. I have a rule that Sunday is for my own writing.
Writers-Editors Network: Can you share what you are working on now and through the rest of the year?
Cindy Davis: Three things. The sixth in the Angie Deacon series set near Lake Winnipesaukee, NH — Happily Never After is about a trigamist (think bigamist plus one). The fourth in the Smith & Westen series, as yet untitled. And (insert drum roll) I’ve just recently returned from Italy where I researched the setting for — believe it or not — a romantic suspense culminating in Rome. I’m currently outlining that story now. Tentative title: What happens in Rome …