Writing three series at once?! How does she do it! An interview with Peg Herring, Author of the Loser Mysteries
I’m joined today by Peg Herring, author of the Simon & Elizabeth Historical Mysteries, the Dead Detective Paranormal Mysteries, as well as the Loser Mysteries, our focus for this interview.
I met Peg at Malice Domestic a few weeks ago when we did a panel together. When I heard about her protagonist Loser, a homeless woman who solves mysteries and speaks only thirty words a day, I had to learn more.
From the official blurb:
Loser returns to the hills where she was raised in search of peace, but even in lovely West Virginia, trouble manages to find her. One of her fellow foster children returns to the little town of Beulah, and the secrets she carries with her will lead Loser into a tangle of deception.
Nadine hasn’t got much to say about why she’s back in Beulah, and her son Eddie might be just a little too good to be true. Still, Loser’s willing to help them - at least until Nadine pulls a disappearing act.
Each time Loser learns the answer to a question, another one arises. Why did Nadine run from a comfortable life and a successful husband? Is Eddie a good kid or an opportunistic manipulator? What happened in the town of Romulus that was worth killing for? And most important: Can Loser protect the innocent and at the same time preserve her own life, the life she’s only recently begun to want?
Hi Peg! Thanks for joining me today! Can you tell us more about Loser?
PH: Loser is in her mid-twenties and quite dysfunctional. She can’t sleep inside; she counts how many words she speaks per day (under 30 is a must), and she doesn’t interact with people unless she absolutely has to. In the first book, Killing Silence, readers learned how she came to be so damaged. In the second book, Killing Memories, we see her start the long healing process.
What inspired your Loser Mysteries, and Killing Memories in particular?
PH: I spent several months in Richmond when a family member needed my help. She lived in one of the lovely row houses in the Fan, and I loved walking around the area every afternoon, gawping at the mansions, the statues, and the cobblestone alleys. However, there were homeless people, too, and the thought of someone so desperate living so close to such wealth made an impression on me.
How did you go about doing research for your Loser mysteries? I assume it was a little different than how you researched your historical and paranormal series!
PH: Definitely! Historical research (as you well know) means a lot of poring over books and websites to achieve historical accuracy.
I did most of the research for the Loser Mysteries before I knew I’d be writing the series. Wandering through the Fan was restful for me during a stressful period of my life, but I was soaking up details the whole time.
The actual writing means a lot of Internet time, because I live in Michigan, and I can’t just trot off to Richmond to confirm a detail that’s fuzzy in my mind. We’re lucky that so much is available on-line. For example, I located a picture of the DMV to help with Killing Mysteries, and lately I researched the Richmond police force for the third book, Killing Despair on the department’s website.
You’ve written three different series now (a feat I’m extremely impressed by). Was your experience with Loser similar or different from the other series? Do you switch between series, or are the other series finished?
PH: The idea for a story comes easily: it just floats into my head. I usually begin with a character, and the story builds naturally around him or her.
I focus on one book at a time when I’m writing, but I do switch among the series, because they’re all current. Edits for a book in one series might interrupt the writing of another, because they come when the editor sends them.
It’s a little rough sometimes to get started again when I start the next book. For example, I just finished one of the historicals, in which Simon is a contented tradesman of the Tudor era, a man who’s comfortable with himself. It took some thought to get myself back into Loser’s head and to put myself on the streets of Richmond with a woman who is definitely not comfortable with herself.
What is your favorite part of writing?
PH: My favorite thing is that day when the writing goes well, when everything falls into place and makes sense. I sometimes go away from home to remove the distractions of laundry and lawn care, but if I get in the zone at home, I can be productive there, too.
PH: My least favorite part of this job is keeping up with the technology, mostly because I’m not that interested. Way back when, I learned MySpace. Then I added Facebook and learned to get around there. Then Goodreads and a host of other reader sites. When Twitter came along, I established a presence there, though it’s pretty minimal. People rave about how other sites help their sales, but I’m reluctant. In the first place, I don’t have any more time, and in the second, I don’t enjoy being lost on Pinterest!
What has surprised you most about the writing/publishing process?
PH: I think everyone’s surprised by the same sad facts: You don’t get rich. You don’t get famous. You don’t just write the book and then relax. (Wait, what? I'm not going to be famous? --SC)
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
PH: I always start with one word: persist! Everything necessary for writing success requires persistence. You have to keep writing to improve your craft. You have to keep asking someone to look at what you’ve done. And you have to keep reminding the world that your work is out there, ready to be enjoyed.
What are you currently working on? What's next?
PH: The third Simon & Elizabeth Mystery, The Lady Flirts with Death, has a June 5th release date from Five Star Publishing. I got my author copies a few days ago, which is always an exciting time.
My other publisher, LL-Publications, has the next in the paranormal Dead Detective series, Dead for the Show, somewhere in the copy-editing phase. No release date yet.
As I said above, I’m at work on the third Loser Mystery, Killing Despair, and I just hit the place where it feels like it’s coming together, so it shouldn’t take more than a dozen years now!
Thanks for inviting me, Susanna. I enjoyed meeting you at Malice, and though I’ve only started A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, I already like the characters! (Aw, shucks, thanks! -SC)
Thanks again for stopping by! I hope you can come back again to talk about your historical novels, which are terrific!
Because I think in metaphors, this Syrian water wheel perfectly explains my absence from my blog. Since A Murder at Rosamund's Gate released a month ago (has it been that long already?!), I've barely done any writing. I've been so busy with my day job (faculty development), my night job (teaching), my all-the-time job (family), not too mention all the fun book-related events I've been doing, that I've been neglecting my super-late-at-night job (writing).
And I miss writing.
For me, writing is just fun. The problem-solving, the research, the dreamy imaginings, the discovery of character and motives, the joy of putting down the perfect word at the perfect moment...It's all a process I truly enjoy.
Yet, I'm conscious of being like the Syrian water wheel above. Immobile. Fixed. Dessicated. (Temporarily, I hope!).
Normally, as each of my little cups bearing water gets emptied, it will soon swish down through the water to be replenished. Right now, I think I've emptied one too many cups. As the noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi might say, my flow of creativity has been halted. (Check out his Ted Talk on the secret of happiness and connecting with your creative self.)
But I'm excited. In a few weeks, the academic year will have ended, I'll have turned in grades, wrapped up the programs I run, completed some work travel, and then I'll have time to write--and perhaps more importantly--the flow will return, and I'll get that water wheel turning again.
But I'm curious...do you have a metaphor or mental image for how you think about writing, (or anything else that you particularly enjoy?)
Cindy Silberblatt, Fan Guest of Honor
I just came back from my first "Malice Domestic." Held in Bethesda, this annual mystery convention focuses on traditional mysteries.
Some highlights for me:
1. This morning, I had the fun of being interviewed for two minutes by Cindy Silverblatt, the Fan Guest of Honor. Using the parlance of the convention, she was a hoot! Amazingly enough, she engaged 26 debut authors with ease...and even stayed on task (although the author Barb Goffman's expert use of the stopwatch no doubt helped rein in the writers.). My new friend, Lynn Raimondo, author of the much acclaimed Dante's Wood, was also a part of this stellar group.
I can't wait to check out these awesome books!
2. Later, I was lucky enough to be on my first writing panel: "The Invisible Woman: Sleuths Who Hide in Plain Sight."
Moderated by the highly skilled James Lincoln Warren, I was accompanied by Susan Froetschel, Peg Herring, and Daniel Stashower, who each shared how they envisioned the "invisible" woman at the heart of their narrative.
(Daniel focused on the first [real] female detective in the Pinkerton Detective agency; Susan told the story of a much silenced Afghan woman, while Peg spoke from the perspective of a homeless person. I really can't wait to read all of these stories, and I'm hoping they will allow me to interview them on my blog.)
3. And the last highlight?
Well, it was meeting one of my literary idols, Charles Todd, or at least the female half of the famed mother-son writing team. I can only dream of collaborating with one of my own children as she and her son have done in writing their terrific books.
I had Caroline sign a book for my mother, and as she did, I mumbled something about how reading her stories helped inspire to find my way in historical fiction. I'm sure I made no sense, but she was very gracious and asked for my card.
(Inside, I was dancing around, thinking 'Maybe she will read my book!!!' but of course I was totally nonchalant. Well not really.)
But of course, some lessons were learned by yours truly:
One day, if I remember, I'll post a longer entry about what I've learned from attending these mystery conferences. For now, I'll just say:
Maybe I'll see you at Malice Domestic next year!
Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.