Sunday, June 1, 2014

In Case You Missed It: Kate Carlisle and Hannah Dennison at the Brea Library

Who: Kate Carlisle and Hannah Dennison
Where: Brea Library
When: Saturday, May 31, 2014

Please Note: The quotes are approximate.

* * *

I arrive fifteen minutes early, but there’s already a crowd filling the blue, green, and burgundy chairs. As I take my seat toward the back, I run into four or five members of my Brea Library Writer’s Group, including Kaleo, one of the founders.

The moderator kicks things off by introducing the guests, both authors of cozy mysteries.

Kate Carlisle is the author of the Bibliophile Mystery series, her latest one being The Book Stops Here. She has blond hair, clear glasses, a beige jacket, and a gold necklace. She also writes romance.

Hannah Dennison is the author of Murder at Honeychurch Hall, which is set in her native country of England.  She has brown hair, dark glasses, a white blazer, and pearls. 

The moderator gets the questions rolling, but almost immediately the audience jumps in. The library was not constructed with acoustics in mind. It’s hard to hear. I scribble down notes as best I can.  

* * *

Moderator: What made you decide to write mysteries?

Kate: I started reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, then went to James Bond and Sue Grafton. I never thought I could write a book. I thought I had to have all this education but it turned out I didn’t. It took a long time before I realized I was allowed to write.

Kate Carlisle
Hannah: For me, it was the realization that I’ve always been interested in justice. I like a mystery to have a satisfying ending—everything neatly tied up. As a kid, I loved the book where I could turn the pages and solve puzzles. I was not a natural storyteller, I was a natural liar. The truth is, I always thought my versions were much more interesting.

Audience: Where do you get your ideas?

Hannah: I read a lot of small local papers. That’s where the gems are. Everything has a story, even coming here today. So watch out!

Kate: When I first started writing, my stories didn’t have a hook. It took me a while to figure out what a hook was—so if anyone here is an aspiring author, have hope! For this series, my protagonist is a book binder. So the first thing I do is choose a book for her to work on.

Audience: Real books?
Kate: Real books. One time, my editor said, “Why don’t you use a cookbook?” Well, I couldn’t use just any cookbook. In the first place, it had to be really old.  I found one from the American Revolution. A woman came over from England, writing recipes as she went along with the soldiers. It was actually a cookbook, a journal, and a healing advisory. That book became the basis for A Cookbook Conspiracy.
Hannah Dennison

Audience: I talked to an author who she said she changed killer because her writing group guessed who it was. Do you ever do that?

Kate: I’ve had to change who the killer is because my editor likes the character and doesn’t want him to be the murderer. There’s this one character named Gabriel that my editor’s in love with.  Once I tried to hook up Gabriel with this nice girl. My editor said, “She’s not good enough for him.” Spoiler alert—they did not end up together.

Audience: I had no idea editors had so much power.

Hannah: My new series came from brainstorming with an editor in a bar for 20 minutes—and at the end of it, she gave me a contract!  It felt like a Hollywood pitch meeting.

Audience: Do you ever bring characters from first book into the others?
Hannah: In cozies—mysteries based on the Agatha Christie type of novel—the whole idea is to have a small setting, a community of people you get to know. You have to keep those characters going for the readers, weaving them in and out of the series. That’s why people read a series—these are characters you come back to see.

Kate: It’s great to tap into secondary characters. I like to pick one of the villagers and write a story around them. Of course, the first book hard to set up. You have to create a cast of characters without overwhelming your audience.

Audience: Do you expect people to read your books in order?

"The Book Stops Here" by Kate Carlisle
Kate: I don’t. Reading in the books in order gives you growth and character development—that’s fun—but the mystery is a self-contained story. And that’s kind of important to writers. How much do you explain to new readers who don’t know these characters?

Audience: What are some of the famous authors you read?

Hannah: Obviously Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, let’s see…

Kate: I just read this cozy—it was free on Amazon—it was all about a Maine clambake. It was so enjoyable. I don’t read a lot of cozies either. Sometimes I need to get away from my own genre.

Hannah: When I’m writing, I can’t read any fiction. Just nonfiction

Kate: I read romances.

Audience: What’s your writing schedule like?

Kate: I write every day. I used to get up at 5:30, write for 3 hours, and then go to work. But now that I’m writing full-time, I still get up at 5:30, but I spend that time doing business stuff—which is just a brain-sucking thing to do. Then I write for 6 hours a day. But Hannah still has a day job.
"Murder at Honeychurch Hall" by Hannah Dennison 

Hannah: I write very early in the morning. When I come to a deadline write, my writing is very eratic because it has to get done. It’s a struggle to fit in all the social, promotional stuff. I’m doing a blog tour, writing for 13 or 14 blogs. At the same time I’m finishing a fifth book.

Audience (Kaleo): Any advice for the aspiring writer?

Kate: Don’t give up.

Hannah: Follow your dreams.

Kate: Steven Spielberg told her that.

Hannah: Yes, I saw him on a plane. He said, “You’ve just got to take that leap of faith and follow your dreams.” When I started writing, I found that’s when the universe opens up. I recommend taking classes. Be wary of book writing groups—unless someone is published—it’s easy to get side-tracked and write the same thing over and over again.  Finish the manuscript, even if it’s crap.

Kate: And read. Don’t give up on the craft. Continuing education is important. Don’t think that just because you’ve got a book published you’re done learning. Being a writer is hard. There are so many other things you could be doing.

Hannah: It’s like having homework the rest of your life.

Kate: It’s the best revenge.

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