Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Interview with debut mystery novelist Dorothy St. James

Please welcome debut mystery novelist Dorothy St. James to Reviews and Interviews today where she'll talk about her first mystery release from Berkley Prime Crime, Flowerbed of State – Book 1 in the White House Gardener Mystery series.

As way of introduction, here's a short bio about Dorothy
Mystery author Dorothy St. James was born in New York but raised in South Carolina. She makes her home on an artsy island community in South Carolina with her husband, papillon dog and fluffy cat. Though writing has always been a passion for her, she pursued an undergraduate degree in Wildlife Biology and a graduate degree in Public Administration and Urban Planning. She put her educational experience to use, having worked in all branches and all levels of government including local, regional, state, and federal. She even spent time during college working for a non-profit environmental watchdog organization.

Switching from government service and community planning to fiction writing wasn't as big of a change as some might think. Her government work was all about the stories of the people and the places where they live. As an urban planner, Dorothy loved telling the stories of the people she met. And from that, her desire to tell the tales that were so alive in her heart grew until she couldn’t ignore it any longer. In 2001, she took a leap of faith and pursued her dream of writing fiction full-time.

Dorothy, please tell us about your new book release.
Flowerbed of State is the first book in the cozy White House Gardener Mystery series. Margaret Bradley, the First Lady, discovers Casey Calhoun’s talent for organic gardening during a campaign visit to Charleston, South Carolina. A year later, she invites Casey to come work for the White House and develop an organic gardening plan for the White House lawn and gardens.

Casey, thrilled for the opportunity, is out pulling weeds early one morning in Lafayette Square, when someone hits her over the head, knocking her out. When she recovers—and after with a Secret Service agent—she discovers the body of a treasury employee in a nearby trashcan.

As she works to recover her memories of the attack, Casey finds herself thrust into the hazardous world of politics and love.

What inspired you to write this book?
I’d love to take credit for the series idea, but alas, I was invited to write this series by an editor with Tekno Books. I created Casey Calhoun, the free-spirited Southern gardener to take the lead and wrote the three-book proposal that Tekno Books sold to Berkley Prime Crime.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m currently working on the second book in the White House Gardener Mystery series, with the working title, The Scarlet Pepper. I imagine that the title will change and have been making lists of alternatives. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

In book two, Casey returns with the vow to leave the sleuthing to the professionals and to concentrate on the First Lady’s vegetable garden. All of her good intentions evaporate; however, when a hard-nosed reporter turns up dead in a nearby garden and the evidence lead the police straight to Casey.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think I must have been born a writer. Some of my earliest memories are of creating books for my older sisters to read. Making up stories gave me such pleasure, but I never had the confidence to pursue it until several years after college. I woke up one day and said that I needed to follow my dream now when I was still young enough to afford to make foolish mistakes. So I saved up every penny I had, tightened my finances, and quit my job to write full-time.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
When I say I write full-time, I should always add an asterisk. *I’m working full-time on my books, but am easily distracted by the Internet and waste far too much time on “research.” Yes, let’s say “research.”

My writing day starts out at the computer answering emails, following up on any promotional tasks that I need to do, and updating my Facebook page and Twitter. By the time I’m done with that, it’s lunchtime. After lunch, I get writing. I work on my work-in-progress until about five or six. Break for dinner. After dinner, I either write a bit more or read. I try to write five pages a day, six days a week. I’m not a fast writer. A lot of my time is spent going back and reworking previous chapters. I like to have a solid foundation to stand on when I write. By the time I reach the end of my work-in-progress, it’s pretty close to the polished version I’ll give to my editor.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Interesting writing quirk? Lisa, you’re really making me think here. I don’t know if this is quirky, but it might be irritating to most writers—I have to know my story before I start. I outline, outline, and outline some more. I fill in charts. I interview my characters. I think about motivations and create detailed backgrounds for almost every character that shows up on the page.

That’s not to say things won’t change along the way. It does! Suddenly, something surprising will pop out of a character’s mouth or a character will take a wrong turn in a scene. Everything gets thrown off track. I might spend the rest of the book trying to wrestle that darn runaway train back into submission. Sometimes I make it back to the original plot. Sometimes I don’t.

But before I can commit to writing a book, I need to do all that upfront work, filling up a notebook and creating a map I know how to follow. I’m in awe (and more than a little jealous) of writers who have the confidence to jump in and write, trusting their muse to take them where they need to go.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
First and foremost: a fiction writer. If not that, I wanted to work with animals. I’m happy to report that I chased after both dreams. My undergraduate degree is in Wildlife Biology. While in college, I was lucky to intern with the International Primate Protection League and work with their rescued gibbons.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Thank you, Lisa for inviting me to visit with you on your blog. I’ll be around to answer any questions about my writing or gardening or anything else that your readers want to chat about. Note of warning though, once you get me started talking about my little papillon, Iona, I might go on and on and...

You get the point.

You can also find my hanging around on my Facebook page or my Twitter account. I also will be visiting several blogs this month and holding a bunch of contests, giving away Presidential goodies. To stay in the know of upcoming events, sign up for my newsletter.

Thanks for all the great insight, Dorothy. Congrats on the first novel, and best wishes for much writing success.


Dorothy St. James said...

Thank you for inviting me to hang out with you today at your blog. I'm going to be in and out this afternoon. I volunteered to be a foster mom to two adorable pups from the local shelter for the next month or so. I'm picking them up today. Color me a tad bit nervous!

If anyone has any questions about my writing, my crazy process, or my life in general --like why I'd volunteer to foster puppies when I'm working under a deadline?-- I'll do my *best* to explain it. :-)


PS--I'm currently running a contest over at my website. The top prize is a $50 gift certificate and some nifty White House collectibles.

Lisa Haselton said...

Glad to have you here today, Dorothy. Kudos to volunteer with puppies. I couldn't do it!

Going to check out your contest. :)