Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Interview with Ritter Ames

Interview with Ritter Ames

How many books have you published?
By the end of June 2017 I’ll have 7 mystery titles, four in the Bodies of Art Mystery series and three in the Organized Mysteries series. Those are all full novels.

In addition to those, I’ve also self-published two multi-author anthologies that included two different Organized short stories that ran about 40 pages, and a Bodies of Art short story that ran about 20 pages. Finally, I contributed another Organized Mysteries short story to a third anthology coordinated by another author. All of those short-term anthologies are off-sale right now, but the Halloween anthology will be available again starting the end of August or early September.

Under what names do you publish?
I just publish under the one name. Marketing is so much work, and already takes time away from my writing, so I stick with one name to try to maximize my efforts.

My series are so different, however, that I did initially think about using another name for the cozy series. But I’ve watched authors do that, then post about how they’re writing the new series under the new penname (more marketing work), so I just kept it simple on the name side and made sure my series were branded distinctly so readers could easily tell the difference.

What is a day in the life of an author like? Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening, etc?
I really love writing at night. And if I start writing late I can find myself writing until dawn without even realizing it. But I had a cat for 20 years (she passed away two years ago) who always woke me when she was ready to get up every day—about 4:30. So, I’m just now finally getting my stride back really strong on night writing, and I love it.

Still, I continue to write as soon as I get up each day, and I try to not stop until 11 a.m. I’ll go online then, if I haven’t already done so, and check Facebook pages and email. Then I’ll eat and maybe do some research, stopping about 2 p.m. to run any errands for the day, then spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening on marketing.

During a release week, and the weeks leading up to one, however, the schedule changes. I have to start doing prep and promo work about three months ahead of a release date, and I spend a couple of hours extra each day, tweeting, promoting the series and preorder, and setting up ads for whichever book will run on sale during the release date. Paid ads fill up fast, and I start my list earlier and earlier all the time.

As far as daily writing goals go, my personal mandate is that I must write no less than 1000 words in a day, but I have written up to 11,000 in a day, and I usually average at least 3000. That’s not to say all of those words are keepers. I have absolutely no problem “killing my darlings,” which is a term authors use to talk about words, scenes and chapters they love, but know aren’t really best for the novel. If it doesn’t work, I rewrite, and have rewritten half a book or more if I get a better idea that I know will work well for the novel. For example, I wrote three-and-a-half different openers for Abstract Aliases. Finally knowing the last was the keeper. But I never throw anything out, and I turned two of the original openers into seasonal short stories—one ended up in a Christmas anthology, and I gave the Halloween short story away to my newsletter subscribers last fall.

Do you plot the entire book first, then write or plot as you go?
I have all the important parts laid out for each book, but there’s a lot of flexibility. For example, for each series I always know what crime will occur in each story, who will be the villain, and different series information that needs to come out in this manuscript that may not be part of the crime, but is important to give for the series.

However, I actually work each series completely different.

The Bodies of Art Mystery series is highly structured to keep the series on track. Whereas, for the Organized Mysteries, whether I’m writing a novel or a long short story, I sit down and write a really messy, stream-of-consciousness type of outline and work from there. I try to blend in a lot of the characters’ families’ information and idiosyncrasies, too, and note things I added in previous stories that I need to remember to include in the newer ones. Like kids’ personality traits in the Organized Mysteries, or if someone had to get glasses, or someone’s health is at risk. That kind of human interest stuff.

Mostly, though, I try to leave things open so the characters can take off and surprise me by things I hadn’t considered before. I love the surprises as much as my readers seem to. 

How do you promote your books?
Like most authors, I really hate marketing myself, but it truly becomes the majority of my day. So, I try to do it in ways I can get to know my fans as much as possible. For instance, I have a street team that I’ve purposely kept small so I know the readers individually as much as possible—and, again, this street team is one composed of fans of each of my series. Some like one series, but not necessarily both, whereas others like everything I write. It would make more marketing sense to have separate groups, but that would leave me with less time to write—so I keep it simple again.

 I also have an FB Author Page where I post things I find interesting, like settings I have used or want to research and visit, news about art recoveries and heists, fun parenting things with kids or pets, things like that. I give updates about my books there, but I don’t do a lot of promoting with “buy my book” stuff.

Also, five other authors and I, who write globetrotting mysteries, just set up a new Passport Ready Writers—Readers group on FB. Again, we’re hoping to get to better know the readers who like the kind of books we write. We talk about places we’ve lived or visited or researched for books, the mystery angles we work in our titles, and we open it up for the other members to respond with their own insights, experiences, and questions. Again, we’re trying to use communication instead of promos to build rapport with fans.

Beyond that, I have a blog I usually use more like a bulletin board to let fans know about stuff I’ve found that interests me or ties to my titles. I also have a newsletter I send out several times a year—no more than once a month, but it probably averages about every six weeks. I only send it out when there’s something I think my readers want to hear.

Those are all kind of the day to day things. Beyond that, if I have a book on sale I use paid ads, like ENT, Robin Reads, Bargain Booksy, FKB&T, that sort of thing.

And, of course, I always do interviewers when nice people ask me. Thanks again for asking me here today, Christine 

Who is your favorite author?
Oh, wow, so many out there! If I had to choose just one, I would probably say the late Elizabeth Peters. I have a copy of every book she ever wrote—under all her pseudonyms, too, but my favorites are the series mysteries she wrote under the Peters name.

As far as live authors go, I love the Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson, and I was a rabid fan of the television show The Catch that was developed from an idea she proposed to the networks. I love seeing the evolution of authors in media today.

Beyond those two, I have a very long and eclectic list of favorite authors that include Douglas Adams (especially the Dirk Gently series), Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May series, also author friends like Sara Rosett and Gigi Pandian, and anything by Lee Child or Frederick Forsythe or Dick Francis…the list goes on and on and on. 

There is so much going on in the Bodies of Art books, how do you keep characters, plots, etc. straight from book to book?
I have oodles of notes. Seriously, this series evolved slowly over an idea I played around with for
probably a decade. I had so many openings and “first half” attempts for the first book, I don’t even want to try to count. Then, I used the idea I had for the Laurel character to enter a flash fiction contest and won first prize, which was $100 and a signed copy of a Lee Child novel. But the best part about winning is that having to write in that highly compressed manner meant the story really helped cement Laurel’s character in my mind. That winning entry was expanded a little and used as the opening scene in Counterfeit Conspiracies.

But it wasn’t like I just took off and started writing then. While I had my new opener, before I really committed to writing Counterfeit Conspiracies, months were spent developing a detailed series arc for the stories. Besides having complicated characters with complicated histories, I had an overall heist concept that needed several books to get the entire plot situation out without rushing anything. In all, I saw a five-book arc as being necessary to get this phase done, and lucky for me, Henery Press agreed and signed for the first five books, then last month signed me for five more.

Each book is written as a standalone, so readers don’t have to read the previous titles. But my goal has always been to reward the readers who do read each title, so they gain from knowing all the nuances. It’s like the way I see a good television series—I can read a synopsis and start with a middle episode and know what’s going on, but I gain a lot more if I go back and binge watch the early episodes and let the characters and plot come out layer by layer.

As far as day to day work goes, I use a bunch of index cards, and pull files of info I’ve used in the past and need to revisit, or research on new settings or art criteria I need to weave into that day’s work. And I revisit my original Bodies of Art series plan a lot. There are things that have been moved to earlier books than I’d originally planned, because I or my publisher felt readers needed to know the information earlier. However, since the books are written from Laurel Beacham’s point of view, the reader can’t know anything she doesn’t know herself. So, if it’s important to keep the info from Laurel, the readers have to wait, too. On the other hand, Laurel is very vocal about sharing all information she does know, which I hope readers see as a means of my playing fair with them at all times.

I do have a lot of surprises in my books—more in the Bodies of Art Mysteries, but even to a lesser degree in the Organized Mysteries. Not just “whodunit.” Also, I truly enjoy writing “the next book” and finding out what the characters have been up to since the last time I was with them. I hope that enthusiasm is something my readers can feel as well.


Jeanie Jackson said...

All that prep work gives us characters we really care about. I love the "in between" stuff that brings in the life of the characters beyond the primary plot of each book. I may be those parts that takes a book from "I loved it" to "I can't wait for the next one."

Maria G. Swan said...

Great Interview, and a great author. The interviewer isn't half bad either. Seriously, very enjoyable. Mille grazie

Ritter Ames said...

What nice things to hear. Thanks you both so much!