Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! I LOVE cozy mysteries. I love the cleverness of cozy mysteries and the settings and all the fun characters – especially when those characters are four-legged. I’m thrilled to have mystery author Neil Plakcy as my guest today — and he’s giving away an ebook copy of his Golden Retriever themed book In Dog We Trust. Read on to see how you can enter to win!
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I have been writing since I was a teenager, and was finally published after getting my MFA in creative writing. My most popular series is the golden retriever mysteries, inspired by my late golden, Samwise, who was my faithful companion. Writing about him is a way to keep him alive in my mind, even though he has two successors in the house now, Brody and Griffin, who also inspire me with their antics.
Tell us about your current release: When I first moved to Miami over 30 years ago, people called it God’s Waiting Room. Elderly people in folding chairs sat by the beach, playing canasta, watching the waves, and waiting for death. Since all my titles are puns on phrases that use dog in place of God in common phrases (In Dog We Trust, Dog Willing, Dog Knows, etc.) I wanted to use this title to explore what would happen if someone used an elderly man’s Alzheimer’s to conceal that his death was actually murder. It’s a crime with a limited suspect pool, taking place in a small town-— perfect for a cozy mystery.
With all those characters in your head screaming to get out how do you write fast enough to get it all down? A real challenge! For me, the key is to get into the zone—where I get caught up with what I’m writing and immersed in that fictional world, so I can shut out the other characters. Of course, when I stop writing and take the dogs out for a walk… that opens up for them again!
What’s the first major news headline that you can remember and what do you remember? I remember coming home from elementary school in 1963 and seeing my mother and our housekeeper crying on the front porch, and learning that JFK had been assassinated. And we watched the moon shot in summer school, and a newspaper reporter was there, and I was quoted in the paper as saying, “The astronaut’s name is Neil and that’s my name, too!”
How did you determine whether to self-publish or seek a traditional publisher? I had written a couple of mystery novels which were traditionally published, and then I got this idea to write a cozy mystery about a guy starting over in his hometown after a couple of tough breaks. It’s a standard formula for amateur sleuth books, but I realized when I began to shop it around that almost all the commercially published books like it were about women, not men. The agents and editors I spoke with wanted me to switch to a female protagonist but I felt strongly that readers wouldn’t care about the protagonist’s gender as long as there was a good story. Amazon began the Kindle program around then, and I took the plunge. I’m very glad I did!
What advice do you have for aspiring writers? My advice is two-pronged. Read, and write. I have always been a reader, and I think reading from a young age helped me developed a sense of language, of how to put words together into sentences. Then in graduate school I learned to read like a writer. Take a book you want to emulate, and start analyzing it. How many chapters? How many words per chapter? How much time passes? How many characters are introduced? And so on. Then use those numbers as a guideline when you sit down to write. Don’t worry if your first draft isn’t as great as the books you’ve read—the real work comes in the revising. To me, writing is like a muscle—the more you use it, the stronger it grows.
What is your inspiration for writing? Since I write a series of mysteries about a guy who solves murders with the help of his golden retriever, my inspirations are always either underfoot, on the bed next to me, or on the other end of a leash. I watch what they do—how they cuddle, how they sniff, how they pull—and those ideas end up on the page.
Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever had a great writing idea? In 2011, I was on a commuter train heading from the St. Louis airport into the city, to attend a mystery fan convention called Bouchercon, and out of the blue, one of my characters began talking to me. (In my head, of course!) I was standing against a wall, balancing my luggage, and I kept pleading with the character to shut up until I could get somewhere and start writing!
Who were some of your favorite authors as a child? I began reading mysteries with Freddy the Pig, and I loved all those kids’ books that were about creatures living together in forests—from The Wind in the Willows to Watership Down. Winnie the Pooh, the Miss Pickerell books, Charlotte’s Web, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Stuart Little, and then the Narnia books.
At what age did you know you wanted to write? I’ve heard stories of people who were writing stories in childhood (which is what I’d expect). But I’ve heard of others who randomly started much later in life, and that is so interesting to me! I was apparently writing stories even as a small child—I got hold of a newspaper archive log in and searched for my name, and found a story I wrote at about age seven! But I didn’t seriously start writing until I was a teenager. I studied creative writing in college and then later in life got an MFA, and that’s when my career as an author really gained momentum.
How hard is it to come up with names for your characters? What are some of the sources you use? I used to use baby name books, particularly ones that were multicultural, so I could get unique names, or ones that reflected the culture I was writing about. Now I troll through online obituaries, mixing and matching first and last names. That has the benefit of being real names appropriate to the place and the era, but I don’t bring any personal connections to the names.
Find Neil online:
Neil is giving away an ebook of his latest book In Dog We Trust! Here’s how you can enter to win: