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  Interview with Marta Stephens
by Terry W. Ervin II



Marta Stephens is a crime mystery/suspense author whose desire to journal her thoughts evolved into a life-changing passion in 2003 that has led to the birth of her Sam Harper Crime Mysteries and her debut novel, Silenced Cry (2007). Her second novel in the series, The Devil Can Wait Pearl will be released in 2008. Stephens also runs an authors’ group blog, Murder By 4.

Marta lives in central Indiana with her husband, daughter and son. She has a degree in Journalism/Public Relations from Ball State University, is a member of Sisters in Crime International, Sisters in Crime Speed City Indiana Chapter, and the Midwest Writer's Workshop. Silenced Cry, received honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Festival and was among the top ten in the mystery category of the 2007 Preditors & Editors Readers Poll.

For additional information on Marta Stephen’s works, links to her blogs, and how to contact her, visit her website at
www.martastephens-author.com

***

Marta, why did you select BeWrite Books as the place to submit your first novel? Has the fact that you reside in the United States and your publisher is based in the United Kingdom caused any difficulties and/or proven advantageous?

I first heard about BeWrite Books several years ago after they published a short story anthology that included the works of a friend of mine. Since then, I got to know several of their other authors through writers groups who were all very pleased with their association with BeWrite. I was familiar with the quality of BeWrite’s books and the professional manner in which they conduct business. Another plus was that I knew they had published several mysteries over the years and would be open to considering my genre – crime mysteries.

In response to doing business across international lines, my initial concern focused on the exchange between the BGP and the US dollar, but it’s worked out fine. The fact that we are an ocean apart doesn’t factor into the equation though, not in this day and age of computers, e-mail, and online shopping. BeWrite Books has years of publishing experience, an international reach and full-time professional editorial and technical staff in the UK as well as in Germany, France, Canada, USA, and Australia.

I feel very fortunate to be with such a great team of experienced editors and a publisher who believes in my work.

Marta, you have had one novel published and a second which is scheduled for release in the fall of 2008. Based on that experience and thinking about advice for fellow writers, what is one strategy or writing method you initially tried but discarded? On the other hand, what is one that you retained or developed along the way to completing your second novel?

1) I discovered early on that it’s okay to get inspiration from other authors’ works, but it’s not a good idea to make their style your own. It’s logical for a new writer who hasn’t yet found his or her voice to want to emulate their favorite author’s style, but readers are eager to discover a fresh voice. Unfortunately, voice isn’t something that can be taught; it must be developed over time and a lot of practice. I didn’t make a conscious effort to write hard boiled crime, but that’s the direction my writing followed. I’m comfortable with it and people seem to like it. So for me it’s been worth the effort. Voice is the way a writer handles his or her dialogue, pace and narrative and what will make them stand out among the throngs of other authors vying for attention. Developing a unique style is not easy and can’t be forced, but it will happen if the writer is willing to dedicate time to it.

2) For me, learning is a life-long process akin to a series of building blocks so I don’t know that there is one thing that helped me complete the second book, but rather a base of knowledge. My first novel was a string of "firsts." Like all new writers, I was learning the craft, trying to create believable characters, attempting to find my voice, sorting through "my" style of writing, while creating an interesting, complicated plot that would hold the reader's interest. The process was overwhelming. By the time I started on my second book, The Devil Can Wait, much of what I had learned was ingrained. I instinctively knew what I needed to do to make the story work and how my characters would act and react to the various situations they were placed in. I dedicate several hours a day to my writing which may include anything from studying technique, reading, research, or the act of writing. It all goes to improve the work. One thing I find helpful is to read through some of my reference books on self-editing, plot, POV, dialogue, etc., prior to starting a new book. It helps to refresh my memory and find that I always pick up on something I had forgotten. It also reassures me that I’m on the right track. Best of all, those pointers remain fresh in my mind as I write.

You've teamed up with three other authors in creating Murder By 4 (http://murderby4.blogspot.com). What inspired this venture and what is the blog's overall purpose or goal? What have you found to be necessary for such a collaborative effort to succeed?

Let me first introduce my killer Murder By 4 team members; Aaron Paul Lazar, author of the Legarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries,
www.legardemysteries.com , S. W. Vaughn, author of the thriller, Broken Angel, www.swvaughn.com , and Kim Smith, author of the Shannon Wallace Series, www.mkimsmith.com .

The four of us have been friends for a few years so when on a cold Saturday in February 2008, we received word that one of Vaughn’s books had been accepted by a publisher, we were thrilled and ready to help her promote her upcoming debut. Right around that same time, Kim Smith also announced that her debut, AVENGING ANGEL, had been accepted by a publisher.

Between Aaron’s experience with his five published books and the knowledge I picked up after the release of my debut, Silenced Cry, it’s safe to say that we definitely have a handle on how to promote our friends’ debut books. So after a very brief discussion—almost instinctively, we decided to pool our networking skills and formed the authors’ blog, Murder By 4. The desire to help promote two wonderfully talented authors as well as our own works was the inspiration behind Murder By 4, but self-promotion wasn’t our only goal.

Individually, we each have a pay forward attitude and so the desire to see other writers succeed became the thrust behind every article posted on Murder By 4. With an average of over 1,000 visitors per month, the success of this blog has been much more than any of us imagined. Think of it, within the first four months, thirty-two guest writers had been featured, nearly all the summer slots are full, and we’re now working to fill September and October slots. Each one of our guests helps to bring new readers to Murder By 4 and the beauty of this type of networking is that most first-time visitors return. In addition to individuals we have invited to blog, we’ve also been approached by virtual book tour companies and publishers with requests to feature their authors. Thus far, our guests have included authors (new and established), reviewers, publishers, TV and book editors, as well as marketing/promotion consultants.

In response to your question, “… what is necessary for such a collaborative effort to succeed?” Like minds and a willingness for each of the members to roll up their sleeves and do their part. Understand that the four of us have very supportive families but also demanding full-time jobs. We each belong to a host of other websites where we post on a regular basis too. We’re all working on at least one to two other books, critique a select number of manuscripts, and in the case of Aaron and I, we continue to market and promote our previously published books through signings and interviews, etc. Four days out the week, we each post an article in Murder By 4 and cross promote the site with other author groups. We also review submissions as a group and have open discussions on matters that will help improve the quality of the blog. One example was the day it became apparent we needed to establish submission guidelines in order to maintain the quality of the blog. It was a group decision and we each had a say on the document that has served us well.

In conclusion, administering a blog such as ours takes a considerable amount of time, work, and more than a bit of organization, but at the core, we’re writers and what better way to share our thoughts, experiences, and writing with our readers than through this wonderful blog?

Besides blogging, what other marketing strategy have you found to be successful, not only in getting word out but possibly translating into sales? Why do you think it has worked?

I’ve participated in the traditional author activities such as book signings, library talks, and attended conferences. I’ve also issued media releases and have used standard printed materials such as bookmarks and postcards to promote my books. The Internet, however, is the most powerful tool authors have at their fingertips and key to my success in terms of sales. Therefore, developing an Internet presence (I have six articles dedicated to this subject on my website www.martastephens-author.com) is a major component of my marketing strategy. For me it’s all about building relationships and expanding my network of contacts to include readers, other authors, and professionals in the publishing field such as librarians, reviewers, book promoters, Internet radio interview hosts, etc. Another important step I took toward making those vital connections was to join several author associations such as Sisters In Crime International, Speed City, Indiana Chapter of Sisters In Crime, and the Midwest Writers Workshop.

I think most people think of blogging as a leisure activity of chats or diary entries, but blogging can be so much more. For me it’s a way to allow others into my writing world by posting articles on writing, the process, and share my latest news. Not only are readers interested in knowing the person behind the story, but it has opened several doors for me that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. Blogging has also placed my name and the name of my book high on the search engines, which is a must. According to my publisher, sales records for Silenced Cry have been better than average so that alone is a testament that having an Internet presence can translate into sales.

Are there any final tidbits of advice for the Fiction Factor readers, or final thoughts you'd like to add?

Completing my first novel gave me a true sense of accomplishment. There’s nothing like getting a spark of an idea – no more than a three-second scene that flashes through your mind and then watch it grow into a complex storyline. I find that amazing, but the best part is the readers’ reactions to my work. I appreciate the glowing critical reviews, but the true reward for the months/years of work is when someone takes the time to buy one of my books, read it, and is moved enough to send me an e-mail or post a comment. Their reactions are priceless and I don’t think I’ll ever really get over the awe of it.

Terry, thank you so much for taking the time to interview me and for giving me the chance to share a bit about my work with Fiction Factor’s readers. It’s always a pleasure!

Copyright Terry W. Ervin II. All rights reserved.



Terry W. Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is a frequent contributor to Fiction Factor and his fiction has appeared a number of places, including The Sword Review, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and MindFlights.

When Terry isn’t writing or enjoying time with his family, he can be found in his basement raising turtles. To contact Terry or to learn more about his writing endeavors and recommended markets (among other things), visit his website at:
http://www.ervin-author.com


 



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