Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.
Tell us a bit about you – where you’ve been, how you got here, where you’re going.
One interviewer reported that my writing journey has had as many twists and turns as my crime stories. In a way, she was right. I’d love to say that writing has been a life-long dream, but to be honest, my first love was art—oil painting, which I continue to work on when time permits.
I am the author of two published crime mysteries, but it wasn’t that long ago that I began to “play around” with fiction writing.
I have a background in journalism/public relations, but I’d never taken a creative writing course so that first attempt was an exciting, learning experience for me. The first novel I wrote, not part of the Harper series, is still on the shelf in its first draft. I hope to dust it off one of these days. But work on that piece set me on a path that has led me here.
I developed the Harper Crime mysteries in 2004. My debut novel, “Silenced Cry” was published by BeWrite Books (UK) in 2007 and went on to receive honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Festival. It was followed by the release of “The Devil Can Wait” on November 8, 2008. In addition to my writing, I administer the collective authors’ blog, Murder By 4 and have written several articles on book marketing and promotions.
I love every aspect of writing so I know I’ll continue to write and network with others as long as I’m able, that is the only certainty. Where it will lead is another is anyone’s guess, but I’m ready!
Tell us about The Devil Can Wait and how it went from idea to published book.
“The Devil Can Wait” is a complex, fast-paced suspense novel about a killer’s pursuit of power, superstitions, beliefs, and the consequences of greed. The book begins with our hero, homicide detective, Sam Harper working to find a serial killer. The city of Chandler, Massachusetts is plunged into terror when the bodies of three local teenagers wash ashore.
While Harper hunts down the guilty, a sinister plot emerges overseas. From the Vatican to the jungles of South America, a cursed black pearl ring, the demonic prophecy it represents, and the men who pursue its powers find their unfortunate way onto Harper’s turf. A newspaper reporter, Jennifer Blake, inadvertently becomes involved in the case and when she does, unforeseen events shoot her to the top of Harper’s prime suspect list.
Soon, the seemingly unrelated cases converge and the heat is on for him to expose the truth behind a Vatican secret and stop the self-righteous man who does the unthinkable in the name of God.
The story behind the story is true. It involved a quarrel and a cursed black pearl ring that nearly killed the object of a jilted young man’s affection. Filled with resentment, he begged her to take the ring as a parting gesture. Within days of accepting his gift, the young woman fell victim to a number of life-threatening accidents that came in quick succession. She survived each incident, but evil remained a constant threat to her life. It was only after she destroyed the black pearl ring that all appeared to return to normal.
Such was the spark behind “The Devil Can Wait”; fiction with a taste of the unexplained. I was an impressionable eight-year-old, unable to distinguish fact from fiction, yet that event seared itself into my mind. I was always intrigued by this event and the challenge to turn it into a suspense novel was just too irresistible to ignore.
What is the one thing you like the most and the one thing you dislike the most about Sam Harper?
When I created Sam Harper, I was determined to turn him into a 3-D character, flaws and all. His best feature is his full range of emotions. What I like most about him is his compassion for the suspects other officers quickly dismiss as guilty without digging deeper into the truth. Possibly his greatest fault is his sinister attitude toward the unknown. But it’s his suspicions that leads him to prod further for evidence which is what makes him a good cop.
Why Chandler, Massachusetts? How did you come about to choosing your setting?
Chandler is a fictitious city that I envision to be similar in size to Boston. I’ve always been attracted to the East Coast so I never considered any other location for this series.
What would you say is the most difficult thing about being a writer?
Balancing my time is the most difficult, but important thing I do these days. The task of marketing and promoting the first two books in the Harper series is just as important as finding time to work on the third book. I’m a list maker. Whether the list is on paper or in my head I tend to compartmentalize tasks into blocks of time; work, networking, grocery shopping, laundry, gardening, writing, marketing, etc. I always have more to do than I can possibly get done in one day.
My solution has been to break up my time into manageable blocks from large to small such as, what needs to get done today or this week, by the end of the day, this hour. Unfortunately, my best organized plans get tossed aside when tight deadlines are thrown into the mix. Anything is doable when I put my mind to it, but time management is a very delicate balancing act. My greatest fear is to overlook a deadline so logically, some things are sacrificed, for me it’s been television.
If you could pick any author to collaborate with, who would it be?
Stephen King. Even though our genres are completely different, I thoroughly enjoy creating deranged or unbalanced characters like Travis Stoebe who appears in my recent novel, “The Devil Can Wait.” King is one of my favorite contemporaries and it would be great fun to tap into his genius.
Do you have any interesting writing habits/quirks?
I start with the crime and work backwards. First I need to understand the criminal’s motive and the best way I’ve found to do this is to write brief back stories on each new character who will have a significant roll in the plot. Every character has a story to tell and these stories develop into the subplots that twist, turn, and complicate Sam Harper’s cases.
Once I have some of these preliminary steps organized, I begin to write. It’s only after the first draft is completed that I take a closer look at the chapters to make sure my timelines remain accurate.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given/learned in your life as a writer?
In the U. S. alone, over 180,000 books are published per year. Unfortunately, with the saturation of self-published works pouring into the industry at several books per hour (yet self-published books may only sell in the single, or at best, double digits), it’s difficult to determine exactly how many of these 180,000 books are published by publishing houses. At any rate, the best guess estimate is that only 8% to 12% of traditionally published books will have notable sales.
Why are these figures important to know? Because the challenge every writer—new or established is faced with is to beat the odds and the only way to ensure sales is to first focus on the writing. The writing has to be tight and crisp. The book must have a unique plot, dynamic characters, and the appropriate pace for the genre.
The best lesson I’ve learned is to not rush the work and make sure the manuscript is critiqued by several pairs of trusted eyes before it’s ever sent to my editor. The second lesson has been in the area of book promotion. No one knows the book and characters better than the author so who better to promote it?
When you’re not writing, what are you doing?
Sadly, approximately 13% of my day is dedicated to writing, research, promotions or other writing-related tasks. I spend the remaining hours at my full-time job, with my family, and doing the “normal life” things.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers here?
Find someone whose work you admire, listen to their advice, but always remember to be true to yourself. Don’t be swayed by advice that leads you away from your unique writing voice/style.
Thank you very much for coming by this blog. I wish you great successes with The Devil Can Wait.
My pleasure! I appreciate the opportunity to visit with you and your readers.
Stephens believes learning is a life-long adventure. Aside from her writing, she is trained in graphic and web design. She co-designed the award-winning book cover of her debut novel, SILENCED CRY with friend Scott Parkison (IN), created the book trailer, and designed/administers her website, www.martastephens-author.com, her personal blog, http://mstephens-musings.blogspot.com, and the authors’ blog, MURDER BY 4 http://murderby4.blogspot.com.