Harold Michael Harvey, Author of “Paper Puzzle”

Welcome, Harold. Tell us about your book.

Paper Puzzle introduces dual protagonists, one white, Clay Moore managing editor of the town’s daily newspaper and Jimmy Royal editor of the local black weekly tabloid. Both men as cub reporters covered a gangland styled murder and were pulled off the story by their publishers before anyone was brought to justice.

As time passes the two men kept thoughts of it in the back region of their minds. Suddenly, Clay Moores’ life is interrupted when he discovers news clippings from the gangland styled murder in his bed each morning. When Clay’s security and career is threatened by a powerful federal judge he is forced to turn to the only other person who can help him solve the paper puzzle laying in his bed. He turns to Jimmy Royal and together the two reporters in the spirit of Woodard and Bernstein uncovers decades of injustice hidden neatly under the guise of the social mores of the times.

I’ve walked around with this story all my life, it is a relief to finally get it out so others can help me figure out the conundrum of growing up American.

Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was it?

Perhaps the best writing advice I ever received came from E. B. White in his introduction in, The elements of style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. In this introduction White, an English student in Professor Strunk’s class at Cornell in 1919, recalls Strunk’s lecture on brevity thusly: “… he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and, in a husky conspiratorial voice, said, ‘Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words! It was perhaps around 1968 when I read this book. I had informed my mom that I wanted to be a writer and she purchased me a copy of The Elements of Style. I’ve been trying to follow Strunk’s rule Seventeen and prune away needless words from my writing ever since.

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

In the style of Will Strunk, my advice to anyone who wishes to become a writer is: “Get the little book! Get the little book! Get the little book!” In its original form the little book, The Elements of Style, was a mere forty-three mimeographed pages which were self published by Professor Strunk. The edition I read was published in 1958 and included a chapter written by E. B. White titled, An Approach to Style and contained just ninety-two pages.

What writer influenced you the most?

Actually there are two writers who influenced me the most. First, I would have to say Ernest Hemingway taught me the practical application of that old adage to write about what you know. When one reads Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, one gets the impression that “Papa” had spent his share of time out at sea in a fishing boat. When he describes the angle of the sun beating down on the old man in the boat, one senses the sun had beamed upon Hemingway in such a manner before he wrote that passage. The second writer who has influenced me is James Baldwin. Baldwin through his wondering prose and extensive vocabulary taught me the writer could violate Standard English usage and still be grammatically correct. Such deviation, by the way, was approved by Strunk. The writings of Baldwin taught me that Strunk’s caveat could be successfully navigated. On this issue Strunk wrote in The Elements of Style: “It is an old observation, that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation…” Additionally, I’ve been influenced to a lesser extend by two other great writers of my time, Ralph Ellison and Norman Mailer. Ellison taught me how to create a musical symphony through my prose. Mailer taught me how to blend the skills of the journalist and the skills of the novelist. He also placed the notion in my head that some day I could do what he sought and failed to do, write the next great American novel.

How has your background influenced your writing?

This is an interesting question. Before publishing my first novel Paper Puzzle I had two different careers. First I worked as a journalist while in college and for about seven years after I graduated from college. Then I went to law school and practiced law in the State of Georgia for two decades. At Tuskegee University I studied political science and wrote a weekly column in The Campus Digest. While at Tuskegee I walked the hollowed grounds trod by two highly acclaimed writers who had been students at Tuskegee in the 1930s, Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray. Ellison went on to win the first National Book Award in 1953 for his novel Invisible Man. Also, I edited a magazine for the first Alabama Black Expo, served as the Political Editor for the Birmingham World newspaper and as the Managing Editor of The Macon Courier in Macon, Georgia. Following law school I was a trial lawyer representing claimants in personal injury disputes and criminal defendants ranging from traffic stops to capital murder. As a novelist, I write legal thrillers. Although Paper Puzzle is a legal thriller, it is told through the eyes of two newspaper journalists. Thus, I get to use the knowledge acquired in both former professions in crafting my entertaining art.

What’s been the most surprising thing about being a writer?

Ironically, the most surprising thing about being a writer is when I have expressed myself well someone will say to me: “that was well stated, but I expect that from you because you are a writer.” When I was a lawyer if I expressed myself well, I would get a look that implied my words were suspect because I was a lawyer. So I am enjoying people respecting my pronouncements based upon the basic meaning of an expression, without it being dissected through the prism of legal communication.

Do you think writing this book changed your life? How so?

Yes I do think writing this book has changed my life. After leaving the practice of law I had to redefine myself, reinvent me if you will. And writing has gotten me back to the original childhood dream of what I wanted to do in life. The joy of writing legal thrillers is a lot less stressful than fighting to keep the State of Georgia from killing my client with a lethal injection as deadly as those given to Michael Jackson by Dr. Conrad Murray.

What is your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

Ideally, I write between the hours of 2:00 A. M. and 7:00 A. M. I find that I am more creative at this time and I have fewer distractions, as the house is quiet and usually there is no noise coming in from outside. However, when I was working on Paper Puzzle I was interrupted one early morning by the coos of my neighbors’ tom cat and a female cat having a go of it in the tree in my yard. Yes, I have a goal to crank out 1,000 words a day. Typically, I will exceed this amount, but I never quit before reaching this goal.

How have you marketed and promoted your work?

I am essentially an internet marketer. I’ve made good use of the social network sites Gather, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, an email data base and my own website. I’ve given workshops at libraries, book stores and college campuses.

What advice would you give other novelists about book promotion?

I think the key thing for any novelist, no matter how big or small the publishing house you are working with is, you have to be committed to going out on the road where your fan base is. I find that you essentially have to show up in order to move your work. People may be reluctant to push the button online, even when they trust their internet shopping site, but they will come out to see you in person and buy your book. I would love to make lots of money while I am sleeping tonight, but that is not likely to happen. In the month of November alone, I have visited, or will visit Tuskegee Institute, Alabama; Columbus, Ohio; Macon, Georgia; Memphis, Tennessee and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. For a man my age that is a lot of travel, but it is necessary to show up and talk with people who are interested in my work. I am willing to visit any city, book club, library or school in the country at my own expense for an opportunity to present before my public.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I am busy working on the sequel to Paper Puzzle. The working title is White Whiskey. I hope to have it completed by next summer, if not before. It is coming along well. I don’t want to give too much away for those who have not read Paper Puzzle, but it will give you the back story and fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle.

Where can we find out more about you and your book?

Paper Puzzle can be purchased at http://www.paperpuzzle.net, http://www.amazon.com and http://www.amazon.com/kindle

Beth Groundwater, Author of “A Real Basket Case”

Welcome, Beth! It’s good to talk to you today. What is your book about?

A Real Basket Case is the first book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series. Originally released in hardcover and large-print in 2007 and a finalist for the 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award, it is being re-released by Midnight Ink in trade paperback and ebook this month, complete with a jazzy new cover.

In the book, feeling neglected by her workaholic husband, forty-something Claire joins an aerobics class. In a moment of weakness, she agrees to let charming aerobics instructor Enrique come to her house to give her a massage. She realizes she has made a deadly mistake when Enrique is shot and killed in her bedroom and her husband Roger is arrested for the murder. Determined to clear Roger’s name and save her marriage, Claire sets out to find the real killer, encountering drug dealers, jealous ex-girlfriends, and angry cops along the way.

Tell us a little about your main character.

Claire and her husband are empty nesters whose two children are grown, one working and one in college. They live in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In her late forties, Claire suffers hot flashes from periomenopause and has blond-dyed graying hair and blue eyes. She is somewhat overweight and out-of-shape, and thinks she’s dumpy-looking, which is why she joins an aerobics class. An art major in college, she runs a part-time gift basket business out of a basement workshop in her home. She is fiercely loyal to her family and friends, which often gets her into hot water, and her stubbornness can help power her through her fears.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

I start plotting my mystery novels with an idea about the victim and some interesting or unique way in which s/he was killed. For A Real Basket Case, I had a “What If?” inspiration: What if a man is killed in a married woman’s bedroom and her husband is found holding the gun that shot him, BUT he didn’t do it and the woman wasn’t having an affair with the victim? When I have the intriguing set-up–the “What-If” that gives me a puzzle to solve, a protagonist who I’ve gotten to know well enough that s/he starts talking to me in my dreams, and a whiz-bang black moment and climax, when those essential pieces fall in place, I know I’ve got a story worth telling and I start plotting.

How long did it take you to write your book?

It took me about a year to write A Real Basket Case, and that’s about how long most of my books have taken. Now, however, with two mystery series going, I’m having to scrunch that schedule down to about nine months per book.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it?

Since I live in Colorado Springs, I didn’t need to research the setting. To learn more about creating gift baskets, which is a hobby for me, I read how-to books and trade magazines for gift basket business owners. Also, I interviewed two women who owned a gift basket business and toured their warehouse/work area, so I could become more familiar with the “behind the scenes” aspects of the business. To learn about police procedure, I attended the 6-month El Paso County Sheriff’s Citizen’s Academy, and supplemented that with reading and Internet research. To learn about guns, I took a full-day class that included a half day on the firing range.

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

If you’ve heard of the distinction between “plotters” and “pantsers” (those who write by the seat of their pants), as a former software engineer, I’m squarely on the plotting side. I profile my characters and prepare a detailed scene outline before I start writing. For each scene, along with describing what the characters in the scene do, I describe what’s happening “off-camera” to other important characters (particularly the killer) not in the scene. I also list the date, day of the week, and time of day of each scene. As I write the book, I add the scene’s page numbers to the outline to help me find scenes later.

Each book has a directory of its own on my computer with files for the scene outline, character profiles, interviews with experts, research notes, the current manuscript, discarded bits that I don’t want to throw away yet, backups of older versions, the acknowledgements page, change requests from the editor, etc., etc. Then there’s the cardboard magazine file holder stuffed full of paper research materials.

What was the first story you remember writing?

The first stories I remember writing were those I wrote in fifth and sixth grade about a boy named Freddie who had wild adventures such as visiting an underground mole city after burrowing down in a giant screw-mobile. Freddie was a boy, because back in the sixties, I thought girls weren’t supposed to have adventures. I know better now! My two series protagonists, gift basket designer Claire Hanover and whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner, have all sorts of adventures.

What’s been the most surprising part of being a writer?

The amount of non-writing work involved! There’s the contracting process, research, promotion, networking and all of the other ancillary activities that are part of having a writing career, but that take precious time away from the writing itself.

What do you like to read?

I’m a very eclectic reader–all types of genres, except that I don’t like to be frightened to death or grossed out, so I stay away from horror and thrillers. I’m in a book club that meets monthly to discuss literary, mainstream, and women’s fiction and the occasional biography or memoir. I also read romance and science fiction occasionally. I read many mysteries, of course. Some of my favorite mystery authors are western and/or outdoor-oriented writers who I’ve gotten to know at conferences. Examples include William Kent Krueger, Kathy Brandt, C.J Box, Christine Goff, and Margaret Coel. I also enjoy light-hearted series such as those by Alexander McCall Smith, Donna Andrews, and Tim Cockey.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

1) Join a critique group and listen very closely to what other writers are telling you about your work. If you need to go back and study some aspect of the craft, do it. I spent a year focusing on my weak spot, character development, and now readers tell me that’s what they like best about my writing. 2) Set measurable goals, make out a weekly plan for how to meet those goals and report to someone weekly on your progress. 3) Remember that your words are not golden and that your critique partners and editors have the same goal you do—to improve your writing until it’s publishable. Be willing to change anything to make a story work. 4) Network, network, network! I met my first editor and both my first and second literary agents through networking with other writers. I continue to make contacts with librarians, booksellers, media personnel and others the same way.

How have you marketed and promoted your work?

I promote both in-person and on-line. I have a website, blog, and email newsletter and participate in about three dozen email loops. For social networks, I’m very active on Facebook and Goodreads and mildly active on a few others, though so far I’ve resisted joining Twitter. I usually conduct a book blog tour for each new release. Also, for each new release, I arrange quite a few signings and appearances, mostly in Colorado or as part of trips to mystery fan conventions or vacations. I try to attend two fan conventions a year, usually Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, and/or Bouchercon.

What are your current writing goals and how do you juggle the promotional aspects with the actual writing?

I’m currently writing the rough draft of the third book in my Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. It will take place on the Colorado River in Utah and be titled Cataract Canyon. After I finish that, hopefully, in January, I need to review and correct the galley proof for book two, Wicked Eddies, which will be released in May, 2012. Then I need to edit Cataract Canyon and turn it in in the spring. Then I change gears and edit my existing first draft of the third book in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, Basketful of Troubles, which is due in August, 2012. By the end of 2013, there will be three published books in each series.

Promotion is something that is ongoing, and which ramps up around the time of each release (every spring and fall for the next two years, at least). I try to focus on the writing and editing I need to get done each week first, then work on promotion later in the day or later in the week after I’ve finished the writing I need to do to meet my deadlines. I have to be very organized and give myself weekly goals to stay on track.

Where can people learn more about your books?

My website is: http://bethgroundwater.com/
My blog is: http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/
My Facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/beth.groundwater
My Goodreads page is: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/471598.Beth_Groundwater
(Please feel free to befriend me at either Goodreads or Facebook!)

My books are available in bookstores, libraries, and on-line retailer sites, so your blog readers should be able to find them wherever they are used to finding books to read. Thanks for having me on your blog, Pat!

Thank you, Beth! Best of luck with your books.