23 July 2014 - LISA FERNOW - Guest Author


LISA FERNOW

- Guest Author -


G'day folks,

Welcome to an interview conducted with a very smart author who has never allowed the grass to grow beneath her feet  - Lisa Fernow. Who is she? Lisa holds a BA in English and Theatre from Cornell University and a certificate in commercial fiction writing from the University of Washington. As a former Time Warner and PepsiCo global marketing executive, Lisa bowled with Michael Jordan, got sweat on by Cindy Crawford, taught capitalism to Hungarians and helped launch Scooby Doo merchandise into 150 countries. 
Welcome, Lisa ...

1.    TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.

As a kid I loved mysteries – one of the very first things I remember reading with my father was the Sherlock Holmes series - and I always wanted to be a mystery writer when I grew up.  The first I ever wrote was three pages long and a masterpiece, at least I thought so!  Years passed and I went to business school and enjoyed a great career in global marketing, but the urge to write never went away. I finally decided I didn’t want to find myself on deathbed wishing I’d done something about this dream.

So I left corporate life, moved to Seattle, and started a consulting practice to give me time to write.  My goal was simply to write the mystery; if I got published, that would be gravy. I took writing classes at the University of Washington.  I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and Crime Bake conferences and took their master classes.  In 14 years I wrote at least as many drafts of Dead on Her Feet. I worked hard to find an agent and came very close on several occasions, but it never worked out.  I didn’t want to self-publish because I knew I wanted to collaborate with a team.  It seemed like my goal of getting published might never happen. 

Then in 2013 a friend introduced me to one of the co-founders of Booktrope, a Seattle start-up that is reinventing the publishing model. My friend thought I might help them with their marketing strategy, but when the co-founder and I got talking about books I mentioned I had written a mystery. She asked to see it, thought it was a good fit for Booktrope, and signed me up.

2.    WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?

I think I may have answered that question above. I’m very bad at following directions!




3.     WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?

My process would make Microsoft very, very happy and should frighten any normal writer. When I started writing Dead on Her Feet, I began with the murder and actually used Excel to map things out. The rows held dates and times. Each character had a column. That way I could keep track of who did/knew what, when.

Then once I had a starting outline I thought more about why each character might do the things I was plotting, which led me to think more deeply about who these people were — as I got to know them through their character profiles and back stories that often required me to change the plot. Like pitching a tent — you put a few stakes in the ground then gradually tighten the ropes until your tent is standing.

This sounds very cut and dried, but I also allowed plenty of room for my subconscious to work its magic. I believe very strongly in letting things ferment.

For my next book I think I will try storyboarding first. That more than anything helped me with overall story arc.

4.    WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?

To experience Eureka moments:  the flash of recognition when you catch a glimpse of your unconscious mind at work. When you tap into a deeper meaning you didn’t intend.

One of my favorite Eureka moments revealed itself towards the end of the writing process for Dead on Her Feet. One of my favourite characters, Professor Bobby Glass, is a new dancer with bad eyesight, no rhythm, and no confidence.  Contrast him with Eduardo Sanchez Jaury, an Argentine milonguero who has been dancing his entire life.  When it comes to tango they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. In the back of my mind I always hoped Bobby and Eduardo would become friends. 

As I started to build out their back-stories I decided that one of the professor’s hobbies, since he’s a geologist, would be to help track down and authenticate gems the Nazis stole from the Jews in WWII.  Don’t ask me where that idea came from.  Meanwhile I decided Eduardo needed a dark past, and made him a Montonero, a member of an Argentine leftist group that carried out bombings, kidnappings and assassinations against the government. As I continued to research their fictitious histories, I discovered that while the former Argentine President Juan Peron was in power he had protected the Nazis and turned on the Montoneros he’d once supported.  So Bobby and Eduardo, both hating Peron, had a reason to become great friends. 

Didn’t see that one coming.  But how cool.


5.    WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?

Sitting my butt down in the chair. 


6.    WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?

I had a global marketing / consumer insights career with PepsiCo, Time Warner, and Nordstrom.  Today I still run a consulting practice that focuses on innovation because that continues to be a passion of mine.



7.    WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?

I’m just starting out in my writing career so at this point I’d have to say writing my first book and seeing it published!  Let’s hope this is not also my last writing achievement.



8.    WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?

I’m working on the second book in my tango mystery series and scheming of ways to kill people and get away with it ;). And thinking about how to evolve the relationship between Antonia, my tango instructor heroine, and Morrow, her detective sparring partner, so that they can plausibly work a lot of cases together in different cities. 


9.    WHAT INSPIRES YOU?

When someone perseveres and is successful.  I just learned that Agatha Christie suffered over 500 rejections before her first mystery was published, and she’s the most successful mystery writer ever.  That is proof you should never give up.


10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?

I like to think of my books as classic mysteries following in the tradition of Ngaio Marsh or Elizabeth Peters. Both set their books in exotic worlds — Marsh used the theatre for many of her mysteries and Peters set hers in Egypt. But that isn't really a classification the industry uses today, and speaking as a natural rule-breaker I have to say I resist the idea of categorizing my book. That's the beauty of buying books online — your book can live on many virtual bookshelves.

The staff at Seattle Mystery Bookshop advises me that my books should be classified as cozies since they involve an amateur sleuth and a recurring theme — in this case tango. But I have to warn you that if Dead on Her Feet were a movie it would probably get an R rating. If you must press me to define my work, I would like to go on record and say I'm inventing a new sub-genre: sexy cozies!

11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?

Write something, however bad. Get and act on feedback from people you trust.  Don’t whine.  Don’t give up.  Enjoy the ride.  Help others.


12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?

I suffer from writer’s sloth.  Does that count?


13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?

Not really – my consulting practice requires me to be available when my clients need me so I write in between and around those projects.  In a perfect world I’d write every morning because I can draw from what I dreamt about the previous night. 



14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?

I like to write at home because it’s quiet and I can wear whatever I want. I have a desk but I often end up writing in dining room, which has a long oak rectory table that allows me to spread out my notes.  I also set up a big corkboard and post ideas on it, so I can see the big picture. For example, I storyboard the scenes. But I prefer to edit lying on the couch with my cat at my feet.
 


15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?

I used to think my greatest joy in writing was typing the words, THE END. 

But now that my first mystery has been published it is thrilling to hear from my readers.  It’s so fun to learn who they suspected and why; what they like and don’t like about the book; who and what they’d like to see in future books.  I have to admit I hadn’t anticipated what it would be like to have readers, and it is very satisfying.

I hope people will review Dead on Her Feet online and write to me at http://www.lisafernow.com.


16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?

That’s a hard question.  If I think about the mystery authors I continue to return to over the years, that list includes:  Ngaio Marsh, Nicholas Blake, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and Earl Derr Biggers.  Golden age mystery writers used different language and I love being transported back in time through the lenses of those who lived during that time.  I also enjoy a slow ramp-up to murder.  Today some people think if you don’t have a body in the first 30 pages you’ve disappointed the reader, but I think you lose the fun of wondering who is going to get killed.  There is a real seduction in these classic mysteries that I feel is largely lacking today.

Some of the modern day mystery and thriller writers I enjoy include:  Elizabeth Peters, Alan Furst, and Alan Bradley.  I just recently learned about a really fun writer, Kerry Greenwood, from Australia.  I discovered her Miss Fisher’s Mystery Mysteries television series on Netflix and sought out Greenwood’s books.  They are delightful.


17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?

I really tried hard to do justice to the tango community – which means getting the culture right, as well as all the technical details.  One of my Argentine friends who dances tango came up to me at a milonga (a tango dance) and said that when he read Dead on Her Feet he felt I had channelled one of our favorite tango masters.  I can’t imagine a higher compliment, and can only hope other readers experience a fraction of what he felt.


18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?

I got a comment on Amazon from an unhappy reader who gave the book one star and wrote, “Learning the etiquette, rules and language of the tango was the redeeming grace.  I found the book to be poorly written and juvenile.” I shared this review with members of my social network who promptly decided he must be someone who deliberately gives bad reviews to other writers to improve his own ratings.  That was nice of them to rise to my defence, but I think if you are going to believe the 5 star reviews you have to accept the 1 star reviews.

The absolute worst comment any writer can receive, in my opinion, is silence.


19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?

Certainly I have drawn from worlds and people I know. I dance tango socially, so I tried to bring as authentic an experience as I can to my book. That said, while many of the dramas in Dead on her Feet will resonate with my fellow dancers, I've never personally seen anyone attack anyone on the dance floor.  Although the night is young …

My father was a geologist and palaeontologist, and I drew from that world to help create Professor Bobby Glass. Similarly, I fashioned Detective Sam Morrow after some of the Marines in my life. While neither character was based directly on a real person, as I wrote I did discover various character traits from people I love working their way into the book. But if I were to reveal anything more my friends would kill me.


20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?

Aside from tango, I’m a big travel fiend and foodie.  I love witticisms, subversive thoughts, bold statements and brave proclamations.


21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?

Absolutely!  It’s impossible for me to be objective about my own work. You can’t tickle yourself.  I had a great editor in Cynthia White, and I got a lot of excellent feedback from my publisher, Katherine Sears, as well.  And, I, can’t, say, enough, about, my, copyeditor, Cathy Shaw, who, among other things, removed, many, unnecessary, commas.



22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.

It probably involves travel to some exotic location with my dearest friends, where we share great food, wine and conversation under a balmy night sky and nobody has to drive home or clean up.  And nothing we eat has any calories.


23. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?

Someone with great survival skills?  My brother is a cowboy and can fix anything.  Plus he has a great sense of humor and we could entertain ourselves while figuring out how to get back to civilization, such as it is.


24. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?

I’d want to talk to the people who control the top 1% of the global economy and ask them to do more to help society and the planet.  Other, more articulate people are already doing this, thank goodness, but it doesn’t hurt to reinforce the message.


25. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?

I’m starting the second book in the tango series now, and working to finish it this year.  Meanwhile, I’m taking care of my mother, who recently moved into assisted living in Seattle, and trying to think of ways to enrich her life. 


26. WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO HEAVEN?

I’m fairly certain I won’t be going to heaven, but if heaven exists, all books would be in the cloud, eternally available ;) 


27. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?

I’m afraid to say there is a little bit of me in each one of them, particularly when it comes to their faults. If I were to examine this question closely I’m afraid I’d become too self-conscious to write!  I’d rather let my slip show, metaphorically speaking. 


28. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?

It excites me rather than frustrates me, because my publisher, Booktrope, is reinventing the publishing model and I love being part of a disruptive sea change.  The traditional publishing industry has done little to evolve with the times, sadly.


29. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?

Yes, mainly because it seems so ridiculous to try to get published for as many years as I did, but I decided I was the biggest impediment to success - so I just kept going, one foot in front of the other, like a mule.  Woody Allen once said something like, “Just show up,” and I found that became my mantra.  He is absolutely right.




30. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?

So far I’ve only written one, and I’m very excited that it’s finally out in the world.


31.  HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.

Being able to write books I want to write and finding an enthusiastic audience for them.  Being able to grow as a writer. 


32. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?

I hope my readers experience the tango world, if only vicariously.  And I hope they feel they had a satisfying escape from their normal lives.  


33. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?

Covers are one of the most important selling points for any book, so a lot of thought goes into them!

Loretta Matson from Booktrope is my cover designer and I couldn't be more pleased with her work. We started out with a creative brief, where I defined the target audience for Dead on Her Feet and what type of books it should be compared to — I should mention that my marketing manager, Kate Burkett, was instrumental in helping to develop these parameters. Loretta talked about what she'd gotten from reading the book. I shared some examples of covers, good and bad. I also shared examples of tango art, authentic and not.

Loretta then came back with several very different options, and Kate and I told her what was working and not working for us, which helped us whittle down the number of cover concepts.

I then created a fake online bookseller page to see which covers worked as thumbnail images, since we were expecting most readers to find the book online. We decided on a short list of concepts to develop further.

Loretta then came back with iterations of each, and we settled on the best one. Then we refined shadows, typeface and other small details. We submitted our final recommendation to Katherine Sears, my Booktrope publisher, and she pointed out that my name was too hard to read and insisted we make it bolder. Can't believe I fought her on that one.



34. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?

To write mysteries, travel the world, and have long dinners with the people I love.


35.   WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?

It used to be that publishers gave their authors launch parties and maybe took out a print ad or two, and your book was launched without you having to do much of anything.  Or maybe that’s just urban legend.

My publisher, Booktrope, understands what works in today’s world, and one of the things they emphasize is the importance of cultivating relationships with readers.

With social media, this is now possible on a much larger scale than ever before, but it’s a big time investment and, as they say in tango, I am just learning to walk.  I am fortunate to have a really great marketing manager in Kate Burkett, who tracks trends and offers many thoughtful suggestions, but at the end of the day I’m the one who blogs, tweets, pins, posts, answers email, and goes to events because that’s how I will build relationships with my readers. What I do from day to day is a moving target, as what worked before won’t necessarily work in the future, so I try to be very clear about how I prioritize my efforts, and work hard to “experiment smart.”

It’s fun meeting my readers and getting to know them. This feels a lot more natural to me than trying to promote any given book or to think of myself as a brand, even though I was trained as a professional marketer.  Last time I checked, I was a person.


36.  ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?

No, but I think self-publishing is a very viable option for many writers, including those who are traditionally published but who want to take more creative control over their work. 


37. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.

Rule-breaker, loyal, impertinent, passionate, silly.


38. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?

Injustice, especially when it’s meted out to people I love.  On a more prosaic level, it annoys me greatly when things don’t work like they should, like my printer.  Say no more.

39. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?

J.J. Murphy’s A Friendly Game of Murder: An Algonquin Round Table Mystery.  He takes you back to the roaring 20’s in New York City, and uses Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and other real members of the Roundtable as characters.  He captures their voices perfectly and I loved it. 


40.  WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?

In my life?  How about, “I just bounced my last check to the travel agent.”



41.  WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?

Have to say, I’m the kind of person who not only sees the glass as half full but is likely to think, “Hey, there’s a glass!”  But if pressed, I’d like to have my metabolism back.  I’m working on that!


42.  ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?

Please visit me at www.lisafernow.com and say hi.





My website is:  www.lisafernow.com where you can find other photos, my blog, and special features.  Please feel free to lift any materials you find interesting.  And if you feel inclined to sign up for my email list, I'd love it.  As you'll see I'm just getting started!

Bio, book description and pictures for the press can be found here:  http://lisafernow.com/about/  On that page you'll also see an Incriminating Facts section which you are welcome to borrow from.  I'll post a couple of more personal photos below.

A "rap sheet" for the heroine of Dead on Her Feet:  http://lisafernow.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/rapsheet-ant.pdf

Video of me giving a reading:  http://lisafernow.com/rap-sheets-2/



Clancy's comment: Wow, that's some interview, eh? Go, Lisa! Love the five words you use to describe yourself. Sounds very familiar. The best of luck, Lisa. I have no doubts that your name will soon be up in lights.

I'm ...





  

Think about this!