Lorraine Bartlett / Lorna Barrett / L.L. Bartlett Interview
Thank you so much, Ms.Bartlett, for allowing me to interview you online. As a New York Times best-selling author, I am sure there are many Cozy Mystery readers who are interested in learning a little bit about you. (I know I am!)
Most of the Cozy Mystery readers on my site know that, as Lorraine Bartlett you write the Victoria Square Mystery Series, as Lorna Barrett you write the Booktown Mystery Series, and as L.L. Bartlett you write the Jeff Resnick Mystery Series. All three of them are very popular series, and are often recommended in our monthly Cozy Mystery recommendation lists.
–What did you do before you became an author?
I held a number of jobs, mostly clerical, but my last day job was as a glorified data entry clerk. I actually loved the work, but hated the work environment, which was decidedly unfriendly. I worked with some really great people, and all of us were treated shabbily by our management. It was a relief when I was finally let go (after surviving four downsizings). Once I was out of there, I decided to make writing my full-time job. I wish I had been let go a lot sooner.
–Why did you decide to write mysteries, rather than another type of book?
My mother read mysteries, so she was a big influence, and some of my favorite TV shows were cop-oriented. At the heart of most stories, there’s a quest to solve some kind of problem, mystery, even if it’s just trying to figure out how people operate.
–Who are your favorite authors?
I reread a lot of my old favorites by Barbara Michaels, Dick Francis. I admire the work of so many of my fellow authors like Leann Sweeney, Ellery Adams/J.B. Stanley, P.B. Ryan. I belong to a great blog of cozy authors called The Cozy Chicks, and they’re all terrific writers, too.
–What do you enjoy doing – other than writing mysteries?
My new hobby is creating graphics for my books, and those of my friends. I taught myself the basics of Photoshop (and we’re talking REAL BASIC), and it’s fun to come up with different ways to promote our work. I like to garden, too. I’m into roses and vegetables.
–Where do you find all that imagination/ingenuity (to say nothing of time!) to write three such successful series?
I gave up watching TV.
–What is your typical day like?
Get up (usually wayyyyy too early), check my email, play on Facebook and Google+, make a graphic or two and generally waste time until lunch. After lunch I write for a while, do my exercise, and then write some more. In the evenings I’ll often work on my mailing lists and catch up with bookmark requests, etc. It’s pretty boring, I guess.
–When you are writing one of your books, where do you write?
Oddly enough, I no longer seem to be able to work in my office on my PC. In the summer, I like to take my laptop out in my enclosed porch and look over the yard and write. In the winter, I write in my living room which overlooks the yard. I like to be able to look out the window when I get stuck.
–When you start a new mystery, do you plot it out in its entirety or do you let the plot advance as you write it?
I usually only have a vague idea of where a book is going to go and let the characters take over. Sometimes it means a lot of rewriting, but I’m always amazed at the little bombs that are planted early in the story and go off later. Small things that don’t seem to have any significance later blossom into large plot points. I love when that happens.
–Do you have a general plan for how each of your series will progress or do you only plan for one book at a time?
I do, but they don’t always work out the way I planned. Sometimes I listen to the characters and other times I take my queues from readers. They let me know when they don’t like something.
–When you have a general idea for a mystery, how do you decide which of your series will get it? What I mean is, how do you decide whether the general mystery you have in mind will be one that Tricia, Katie, or Jeff will get to solve?
I had planned for an airplane to crash on Victoria Square, but the series didn’t sell as early as I had hoped, and so I moved the crash to Booktown. I think it worked out better that way, but so far that’s the only idea I’ve moved from one set of characters to another.
–This question sort of goes with the last one, but I wonder if you come up with a murder mystery first, and then decide which series to use that murder mystery in, or do you determine which series you’re going to write next, and then come up with a murder mystery to fit that series?
I usually start out with a situation. For instance, in Book Clubbed, my latest Booktown mystery, I had Tricia impatiently waiting for her sister. They were supposed to go look at a preview of an estate sale. I had no idea the Chamber of Commerce receptionist was going to be killed by the end of that chapter. It was just a mundane part of life that blew up in their faces. Likewise, in The Walled Flower, I knew Katie was going to welcome her new neighbors who’d bought the mansion she’d been eyeing to open a B&B. They were renovating it for the same reason. I had no idea Katie was going to swing a sledgehammer and find a skeleton in one of the walls until she actually did it. I like to be surprised by my characters.
–Does the crime or the solution come first? Do you get an idea for how a crime is committed and then work it into a story and come up with the solution that way? Or does the solution and reason for the crime come first?
I never know who the killer is when I start. I just start writing and have my sleuths investigate and stuff just kind of happens.
–What is your research procedure in writing your mysteries?
I write until I need a fact checked and then go to the internet. My friend Leann Sweeny is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. If she doesn’t know something, she knows where to find it. My husband is the same way.
–How do you come up with the characters’ names?
Baby books and the phone book. Lots of times I open to a page and poke a finger at type. Sometimes it takes a few tries before I get a name that works. Sometimes I name my characters after people. I needed a character name for my latest manuscript and asked my friend Janet Koch if I could use her name. She was thrilled. Pixie Poe is the pseudonym of one of my Facebook friends. (Great name, isn’t it?)
–How do you deal with the passage of time in a series?
I pretty much write in “real time.” In six books of the Jeff Resnick series, only two years has gone by. In Booktown, though nine books, only five years has passed.
–Which character(s) do you enjoy writing the most?
My favorite characters are Jeff Resnick and his brother Richard Alpert, and Angelica Miles. I could write Angelica for the rest of my life and never get bored. Unfortunately, she plays second fiddle to her sister. <g>
–Which of your three series would you suggest a new-to-you reader should start reading first?
I suggest they read them all! Many of my readers enjoy stories from all different genres and/or subgenres.
–Have you ever felt that one of your sleuths has a mind of her/his own?
All of them do.
–Would you change your mind about the characters in one of your series if you could? In other words, would you make one of your series a little different?
I don’t think so. My editor at Berkley Prime Crime lets me do whatever I want. Sometimes he’s been dubious of how something will work out, but he gives me the freedom to explore the themes I want to play with. I’m very grateful for that, because many of my fellow authors have editors who want to change their books to a ridiculous degree. I feel very lucky to have Tom Colgan as my editor.
–Are your characters based on real people or are they solely products of your imagination?
I’ll often steal one trait from a real person, but then build a character around it.
–Do you ever get writer’s block, and if so, what do you do to shake it?
I don’t get blocked, but sometimes I just don’t feel like writing and will find all kinds of other things to do to avoid it.
–Do you get input from friends and/or family when you are writing your mysteries?
–How long does it take you to write one of your mysteries?
It depends. I cleared my schedule last summer and wrote Dark Waters in two months. Booktown #9 took me about nine months. For some reason, it just didn’t want to be written. That said, I’m very happy with the results, so maybe I needed that time, whereas Dark Waters just fell out of my fingers.
–Once you turn a manuscript in to your publisher, what types of revisions take place and how much time elapses before the novel is published?
I usually don’t make any revisions to the book once it’s turned in. Sometimes I make changes at copy edit time, if I’ve missed some dumb item (like screw up the timeline), but usually what I turn in is what readers get. It’s usually 12-18 months from the time I turn in a manuscript until the time it’s published. I’m also an indie author, and I love the fact that I finished Dark Waters in September and three weeks later it was available to my readers.
–Do you have any input in your book covers’ designs? Both your Victoria Square Mystery Series and your Booktown Mystery Series are absolutely the perfect covers for Cozy Mysteries! I love them!
Not as much as I would like. I’ve given up hoping my input for covers will be accepted. That’s what I like about being an indie author, I can art direct my own covers. I’m very proud of the cover for Tales of Telenia: Journey. I told the cover artist exactly what I wanted … I could see it in my head, and after a few tweaks, he was able to deliver it. It’s absolutely perfect.
–Whatever possessed you to write the Tales of Telenia series (which you call adventure-fantasy) when it’s so different from your mysteries, and will there be more books in the series?
I had a blast writing Amanda Shelton’s adventures in Telenia, and I would love to write more of them, but the truth is my readers have not embraced the series and I’m trying to figure out what to do next. I have the next book planned, and have even written ahead with a second trilogy, but they’re sitting on my hard drive while I wait for readers to discover the first two books. The problem is they’re not really fantasy, in the same way Star Trek isn’t really science fiction. They’re a hybrid and it’s been tough trying to find an appreciative audience for them.
–Do you have a favorite place or activity that inspires you to write?
I like to write when I travel. Thanks to Sea Bands, I no longer get motion sickness when traveling in a car, so I can read or write on long trips. A while back, I took three cruises within a year, and spent the entire time writing. I never have written so much in such a short span of time. Days spent at sea are perfect for writing.
–I am sure you love writing mysteries, but if you weren’t doing that, what do you think you would enjoy doing?
I’m just thankful I don’t have to get up and go to work anymore. I was a vendor in an antiques arcade for 12 years, and I enjoyed it, but I could never make a living at it. I’m happy writing.
–Do you have pets, and if so, what types and how many?
I currently have three cats. Two of them are pretty old and frail. We’re not sure what we’ll do when we lose them (except mourn). We’d like to do more traveling, but we don’t like to leave them home with a cat sitter for too long.
Thank you so much, Ms. Barrett (or should I say Ms. Bartlett!), for participating in this interview.
Here is the link to the Lorraine Bartlett page on the Cozy Mystery site.