Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Interview with Anita Rodgers

     2019’s first Author of the Month is mystery writer Anita Rodgers. Anita lives in SoCal with a dog and cat and is juggling two mystery series.

15) Anita, I just bought and am enjoying Coffee & Crime, the first entry in the Scotti Fitzgerald mystery series. What made you name your female lead after F. Scott Fitzgerald and give her a sidekick named Zelda?

Just my little homage to Scott Fitzgerald. He’s always been a favorite of mine. While it’s true that Fitzgerald’s wife’s name was Zelda, I just happen to like that name and it’s one I use when I blog about adventures I’ve had with one of my besties – from whom I gleaned some of Zelda’s characteristics.

14) There’s an old chestnut in creative writing classes: “Write what you know.” While I don’t necessarily agree with that, there’s something to be said for authenticity. You’d worked in diners before and in the restaurant industry in general. What is it about that line of work that lends itself to a cozy mystery series?

I don’t know if there is anything particularly about the food industry that lends itself to cozies, but there is a lot of cut-throated-ness there. I knew waitresses that would practically kill for the best station in a house, or manipulate you so they could take your best tipping customers away from you. Also, waitresses are pretty sharp (contrary to what some may believe) and are very good at reading people – they have to be to make a living. Plus they are great multi-taskers and can handle many things at once. Good qualities I think, for a sleuth.

13) As for the other series, the Dead Dog trilogy, tell us a bit about your protagonist Lottie Stark. In an interview, you’d described her as being ”broken” and “flawed,” as all mystery protagonists should be. How is she broken and flawed and how does this challenge her?

Lottie is a bit of a tough character. She lost her mother when she was young and was raised by her cop father, who wasn’t exactly the touchy feely sensitive type. He, naturally, became her hero and so she did a lot to emulate him and followed him into law enforcement. At the pinnacle of her career in the FBI she was dismissed for ethical reasons and since then has felt somewhat branded. The best thing about Lottie is also the worst thing about her – she is passionate and so when she is on something, she is all in, even when she’s wrong. Her heart is in the right place but her foot is often in her mouth too. She can be a hardass but if she is on your side she’d rather die than desert you. Plus, she loves dogs and will hunt you down if you hurt one.

12) They say there are two kinds of stories- A stranger arriving in a strange town or a person going on a journey. Which is it for you?

Person on a journey. I think the best stories really are about people and the trials and tribulations they have to overcome to learn the lessons of their life. While some readers don’t like to know the personal business of the characters and just want to get on with the story – personally, I believe that their personal business is a large part of the story and what informs their choices as the story goes along. I want my readers to feel like they know my characters and can relate to them – as they would with a friend or colleague.

11) Scotti’s more of a cozy character and Lottie more hard-boiled. What, if anything, do these two characters have in common?

They’re both strong women but in different ways. They share some commonalities, such as the loss of their mothers at an early age. So each of them grew up in challenging situations which required them to toughen up and learn a bit of wiliness. And in their own separate ways each has a big heart and a soft spot for people and animals who have been victimized and hurt. While Scotti finds comfort in cooking and the joy of feeding people, Lottie finds comfort in her dogs and finding new families for them. But my main goal in developing each character was to make them real women, not men with breasts, as so many female main characters can seem like. Neither of them is bullet proof or infallible and neither stands up when she pees. They don’t want to be regarded as men but they do want respect for their work and to be treated fairly.

10) There are strict rules regarding cozies: No on-page violence, no sex, etc. But in hard-boiled crime fiction, it seems anything goes. By what rules, if any, do you abide? Is there anything you won’t write about?

I try not to hem myself in and never say never. If a situation contributes to the story and moves the story forward then I will use it. By the same token I generally don’t write graphic sex scenes or over the top violent scenes. To me, they take away the imagination of the reader by spelling everything out. A book, in my opinion, is a cooperative effort – what they writer writes and how the reader’s imagination is enticed and activated by the words. Most readers are experts at reading between the lines, I don’t feel as a writer I have to hit them over the head with things – or be Bugs Bunny holding up the big sign with the arrow that says, “Look here.” I do have a little bit of swearing and sex in the Scotti novels but it’s pretty light and nothing I’d call graphic that would make the reader blush or have to turn away from.

9) Describe your average writing day. Do you write exclusively on notebooks, laptops or both? On average, what’s your daily word output and do you set daily goals for yourself?

Not sure I have an average writing day. I write when and as I can. Some days that is all days, some days it’s for 15 minutes and some days I need a break and to just think about the story. Generally, in terms of output, I do around 1,500 words per hour – more if I’m on a roll. Though there have been many days when I get stuck on one scene and thank God if I manage to finish three paragraphs. I would love to write in notebooks but my handwriting is atrocious so stick with the computer.

8) What made you choose to write primarily crime fiction and what are for you the easiest and most difficult aspects of it?

I’ve always loved crime stories and I used to snag my dad’s Mickey Spillane novels so I could read them under the covers at night. Puzzles, mysteries, figuring things out is just something that naturally attracts me. I also have a strong sense of justice and hate to see people victimized.

The easiest aspect is the details – it’s just something I’ve never had trouble with, for some reason. I used to say my head is filled with useless information, but it never runs out of room.

The hardest aspect is not going cliché and tropey with the story. It’s very tempting sometimes to just go with the flow and write the expected scene in the expected way, but it is so boring to write and to read as well. Yes, there are definitely conventions and obligatory scenes in any genre, but I work hard to make them fresh and maybe not so predictable.

Also, just getting things right, the terms, the technical stuff – the research, which can send you down a rabbit hole for days if you aren’t careful. Sometimes I have to test things out myself too, which can be hilarious. Once I had my roommate duct tape my hands behind my back, while sitting on the floor, to see if I could get to a standing position that way. It took time, but I could. So, yeah, research…

7) Plotter or pantser?

Neither. A bit of a hybrid. Maybe I’m a plantster? I don’t do scene by scene outlines but I do keep copious notes, work a lot on character profiles and never start writing until I know how the story ends.

For me, the story always starts with a character. Often they just sort of pop into my head. If they keep popping into my head, I start thinking about them, who they are, what they do, their quirks and so on. From there I start to think about what kind of problems they have and what they’d have to do to solve them or at least accept them. I’ll write sample scenes. Mess around with them until something gels. Then maybe I’ll do a loose outline – inciting incident – middle complication – climax – maybe more like crib notes. Then I’m off to the races. Although the first draft is always terrible because all I’m trying to do is get the major movements down. The details come later, with the subsequent revisions and edits and beta readings.

6) While researching for the Dead Dog trilogy, did you get input from experts in law enforcement and forensic science or was it all done via documents and websites?

Most of my research is done via documents, text, websites. I belong to a few groups with legal, medical, and law enforcement experts that are very helpful and also in my past have worked for lawyers and doctors both – so have been around those worlds.

I also have read a fair amount of true crime, and crime, forensics textbooks. One I highly recommend is Lofland’s Police Procedure & Investigations.

5) What would you like to see change in the book business in general?

I’d just like to see writers, whether indie or traditionally published, get better treatment, higher royalties, better contracts, etc.

The book or writing business reminds me a lot of the entertainment business. There are lots of egos and temper flairs, lots of ‘scams to play the system’, and jockeying for position. Lots of people hawking ways to get to the top in 5 easy lessons and so on – but the truth is that writing is a career and if you hope to have a writing career then you have to be prepared for the long haul and to do the work. Sure, you could become an overnight success but the chances are you won’t.

I would like to see some of my fellow indies concentrate more on honing their craft than chasing ways of selling a lot of books. Promotion and marketing is necessary and it’s a challenge to find the method that works best for you but if you don’t love writing, then something’s wrong. I mean, how can a reader love what you write if you don’t love it? Just my opinion…

4) You’d also mentioned to me you had an agent when you wrote teleplays back in the day. Did you ever seek a literary agent when you made the transition to novels or are you happy being an unrepresented indie?

I wrote screenplays, yes, back in the day. I did have an agent, yes, for a while, but without any satisfaction. The experience wasn’t a good one, so I have to admit I wasn’t that crazy about trying again. Even though I did. I’m happy being an indie on my own. Not sure I’d ever seek an agent again – there are plenty of entertainment attorneys out there who can help you out though and I’d be more inclined toward that.

Though there might be a time in the future I could change my mind about it, anything is possible.

3) Before you became a novelist, what authors did you read most often and who among them were your biggest influences?

My reading tastes vary widely. I often will find a writer I like and read everything they have written and then move on to another writer. When I was very young I loved the family sagas like those written by Taylor Caldwell, also had a sci-fi phase and loved the pulps by the likes of Asimov and Heinlien. I went steady with Stephen King for quite a while and so on. Dean Koontz, Michael Connelly, Lee Childs, Patricia Cornwell are all favorites as well. In terms of influences…not sure, I’d probably say Sue Grafton. I still miss her.

2) What advice would you most readily impart to any novice embarking on a first crime novel?

I’d suggest they read a lot of true crime, if they don’t already. And real case files of the types of crimes they want to write about. Then read a lot of classic and current crime fiction to see what’s out there and what readers are liking and reading. And to do your homework. Research. There is no shortage of information thanks to the Internet and practically anything you want to know you can find and it all helps to make the story authentic.

1) What’s next for Anita Rodgers?

I’m currently working on a new Lottie Stark novel and a new Scotti Fitzgerald novel, as well as a couple of standalone mysteries. And probably some short stories as well. And somewhere in there, I’d like to move to Texas.

You can find out more about Anita and her work through these links:


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