Interview with Columbine Publishing Group, LLC

When did you first start writing?
Writing was something I always enjoyed in school but as far as serious writing with a career in mind, I didn't really start on that until I was in my thirties. I began with no knowledge of the process other than what I'd read in a how-to book on writing romances. I'm not sure what I was thinking....I really didn't read a lot of romances at that point, but I knew that I wanted to write.

I began with a family saga that ultimately ran over 500 pages long. I entered the first three chapters in a contest and took third place. That, I think, is what gave me the confidence to keep writing. I did a second book, another saga of nearly 400 pages (it would take me awhile to figure out that family sagas were about fifteen years out of date at that point!). Neither of those first two books were ever published, but that's okay. Looking back on the quality of my writing that that point---it's really a relief that they never made it to print. Anyhow, while those manuscripts were making the rounds of NY I turned to my first love in reading....mysteries.

I attended a lot of writers conferences in those days, meeting some of the big names in mystery like Tony Hillerman, Mary Higgins Clark and Sue Grafton. I began to see that writing is a learned craft that takes a lot of practice, not something that most people can dash off quickly and hope for publishing recognition.
Tell us a little about your path to publication.
I finished two mysteries and noticed that my rejection letters were getting more complimentary. I ran into the same things that so many writers today are saying. Editors would say, "I love the characters, but--" or "The writing is really good, but--" There were always too few slots and too many manuscripts under consideration at any given time.

After I'd been at the game for nearly ten years (I did a LOT of writing during this time, really practicing and honing my craft) I decided to take a big risk. These were the days of print-only publishing and a time when self-published was a dirty word. I made the leap and invested a lot of my savings and started my own publishing company. I guess you could say that I was indie when indie wasn't cool (to paraphrase the country song). Pretending it really wasn't me at the helm, I published a few of my own books in hardcover, picked up other authors, and built the press into a thriving little house, one that gained the approval of some fairly stodgy organizations (no names shall be mentioned) and we garnered good reviews in nearly all the prestige publications, such as Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal.

We got enough attention that about six years into the venture I got an offer and sold out to a larger company. Suddenly, I was being traditionally published---hardcover, paperback, book club deals, audio and movie rights. While I missed working with my authors, I was very appreciative of the additional time to write my own books.

A few more years went by, and then things began to slip. My editor and publicist moved on and no one seemed to be taking over their jobs. I had a manuscript ready to go but no indication of when I might see it published. It was deja vu all over again, except this time I had fans of my mystery series who were repeatedly asking me when my next book would be out. When a series of shakeups occurred at the publishing house I requested and received my rights back on my older titles. At last I owned my whole series and could do anything I wanted. This was 2009 and you can guess the rest of the story. Amazon initiated its Kindle Direct program . . . Smashwords came along. Suddenly, indie actually was cool!

I immediately republished all my backlist, along with the new manuscript-in-waiting. I started a second series, sales were picking up and now whenever a fan asked about my next book I had an answer for them. From ten books that were barely scratching out enough for lunch money, I've gone to twenty-two titles and am approaching sales of a million books total. Mostly, I'm making a decent living at what I love to do. Every time I get a letter from a fan, my gratitude meter pings---I feel very, very lucky.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Hearing from fans of my two mystery series and knowing that I'm making someone happy through my efforts. It means everything to me!
What are you working on next?
The next couple of months will be busy for me. The 15th title in my Charlie Parker series will be out this fall, in time for the holidays (the story is set at Christmas time, in Albuquerque). Meanwhile, this week I am starting the first draft of my 8th Samantha Sweet mystery. That one should be ready by January or February.

Outlines are already written for the next Charlie and the next Sam, and then I hope to find the time to start on a five-book series that I've had outlined for quite awhile. Once I start on those, I'd like to write the five books in fairly quick succession, since the plots will tie very closely together. We'll see how quickly I can get all this done!
Where do you get your ideas? And do you ever have writer's block?
Ah, this is a popular one! I find ideas everywhere---sometimes it's a chance comment by someone nearby (yes, I'll admit that I'm prone to eavesdropping in restaurants and airports); sometimes I hear a news story that I can't let go of; oftentimes I just play "what-if" and bounce ideas around until something resonates.

Writer's block? Not really. I'll occasionally find myself stumped for the resolution to a certain scene or a plot problem, but usually taking a brisk walk or getting a good night's sleep will clear the cobwebs and get me started again.

One thing I never do is to sit around waiting for inspiration. I am either writing, promoting or publishing almost every day of the year. Once I start a book, I stay at my desk until I've met my number-of-pages goal for the day, usually 5-6 hours a day, six days a week. That first draft may not be excellent writing, but it's a starting point that can always be reworked during the editing phase. Many professional writers gave me good advice over the years, and this was part of it.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
No problem there! In my two ongoing series, my characters have things to do and places to go. I have to be there to get it all written down!
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Despite everything I've said so far, I'm not a complete workaholic--- I really do have a great home life. My husband and I take a two-mile walk every morning and then often go out for breakfast and have long discussions where we solve all the world's problems. We travel (more locations for those stories!) and we have a cutie-pie dog that we adore. I also love painting, craft projects, cooking and baking, and getting together with friends.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Probably the same way everyone else does---I track new releases by my favorite authors, but I also do a lot of impulse buys and have found some new favorite authors that way. I subscribe to the Kindle Daily Deal and follow recommendations on Goodreads, Amazon and the other bookselling sites. I've also been known to pick up my Kindle or iPad in the middle of a TV or radio show and grab the book by the author who is being interviewed, if the subject interests me. My biggest problem is the old "so many books, so little time" . . . I have enough unread books (not to mention the favorites I'd like to go back and reread) to get me well into retirement!
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Assuming that we're talking about the first 'real' book, with chapters and no pictures . . . I don't remember the title or much about the plot, but I vividly remember that I was seven years old at the time and my immediate reaction was to beg my mother to take me back to the library so I could get another one. There has never been a time, for the rest of my life, that I haven't been reading a book. All this reading is surely a big factor in why I so much wanted to become a writer.
What do you read for pleasure?
While I'm plotting or writing the first draft of a mystery, I try to avoid reading other mysteries. I don't want to be influenced or inadvertently pick up someone's idea. During those times, I'll read literary fiction, historical fiction, suspense, thrillers, whatever is on the best-seller lists. Favorite authors are Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Steve Brewer, Diana Gabaldon ---there really are too many to name. In the non-fiction arena I'll read books on economics or investing, spirituality, how-to's on writing technique (yes, I believe we can always learn something!), psychology, legal advice. Again, too many to really get specific---I'm all over the board.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords is . . . incredible . . . when it comes to the amount of support they give authors. All the information is there and so well organized---and working with them gives any of us the unprecedented opportunity to get our work out to a huge number of readers. As I mentioned earlier, I've gone the traditional route and the hardcover-print version of self-publishing. Both can be difficult and frustrating (not to mention the three garages full of books I had on hand at one point, just to fulfill Ingram and Baker & Taylor orders!). E-book publishing is SO much better, and I can now devote my time to writing great stories and staying engaged with my readers!

My hat is off to Mark for coming up with the amazing software that enables all this, and if I thought I had my hands full dealing with eight authors, I can't imagine how you cope with all 60,000 of us now---huge kudos!!!
Published 2013-09-02.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.