Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A chat with Avery Aames, Krista Davis, and Elizabeth Zelvin

Solitary scribblers? Not so much
Avery Aames

Krista Davis

Liz Zelvin

Mystery writers Elizabeth Zelvin, Krista Davis, and Avery Aames met online ten years ago in the Guppies chapter (at the time, a haven for the Great UnPublished) of Sisters in Crime and have been friends ever since. Liz’s first published work, “Death Will Clean Your Closet” (2007), and two subsequent stories were Agatha Award nominees for Best Short Story. Krista’s first novel, The Diva Runs Out of Thyme (2008), was nominated for the Agatha for Best First Novel. Avery’s first novel, The Long Quiche Goodbye (2009), won the Agatha in the same category. This year, Krista had two Agatha nominations, for Best Novel and Best Short Story, while Avery was nominated for Best Short Story under her real name, Daryl Wood Gerber. Liz, Krista, and Avery all have new books in 2012.

How important is contact with other writers to your craft and your success as published writers?

Liz:  Essential! I’ve been writing my whole life, and in retrospect, I can see that the reason it took me so long to get my first novel published is that for almost fifty years I tried to do it alone. I learned almost everything I know about both the craft and the business of mystery writing in Guppies, and the rest in Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. I would have given up many times—“quit five minutes before the miracle”—if not for the support of fellow writers like Krista and Avery.

Krista: Publishing is a field unlike any other.  Joining the Guppies was a turning point for me because I finally found instant answers to simple questions.  You wouldn’t think something like the correct font would be important, but it is.  Before the Guppies were online, I recall browsing in a Borders in search of a book about the proper format for a manuscript.  

We’ve come a long way since those days, but contact with other writers is still vital to me.  Writing is very solitary, but email has changed that.  In an instant, I’m at the cyber water cooler, catching up on news or discussing an issue.  Since mystery writers often have somewhat bizarre conversations like – so how fast does foxglove kill someone? – it’s doubly important to be able to connect with people who think that’s, well, normal!

There are also frustrations that only other writers understand.  Rejections come with the territory.  In the beginning, most writers toil away receiving rejection after rejection but not much in the way of positive reinforcement.  Not only is it reassuring to know that you’re not the only one, but family and friends outside of the business start to doubt your abilities, while writing friends know that it’s perfectly normal.

Avery:  I need to chat a couple of times a week with my Internet buddies who are writers. They understand the business. They understand the angst that writers go through when writing chapters, creating characters, running into roadblocks, and the snags and woes of publishing. My published authors buddies also understand the PR requirements that sneak in and attack our ability to focus on the writing.

Krista:  I have learned so much from other writers. Avery and I have been in a critique group with Janet Bolin for ten years.  We do less critiquing these days, but I still appreciate their input and opinions.  I know that Liz and Avery are just an email away if I need some advice, or even if I just need to whine a little bit!

What’s the difference between networking and friendship? Which matters more?

Avery:  Networking is when you converse with authors that have information about the business. They can put you in contact with agents, publishers, tell you about conferences, give you heads up about PR people, scams, and good and bad websites. Friends are the authors who truly understand the angst that writers go through and will listen (via the Internet or in person) and give advice as to how to cope with these issues. They might offer suggestions or solutions. They might brainstorm. But most importantly they care. Truly care.

Krista: Both have their place.  It’s wonderful to have friends, but like any other business, networking opens doors.  I get a lot of information about the publishing business through networking contacts and some of those contacts lead to new friendships! 

The days of the lonely writer are long gone, especially since social media has become such a major part of our lives.  In addition to talking about writing, we’re exchanging a lot of information about marketing.  Facebook, Twitter, blogging – what will be next?  It’s hard to keep up with everything. 

The publishing business has gone through some whopping changes and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  Networking is more important than ever, just to keep up with the business.

Liz:  I believe the most effective way to network is to act as if each contact is a potential friend. That means I do everything I can to make every relationship a two-way street. My first question to myself all along is “What can I give?” rather than “What can I get?” Networking is an extended and cumulative process. With a potential reader whom I meet online, say, on DorothyL, I might have an extended email discussion about a book we both love. I might encourage an aspiring writer to join Sisters in Crime and MWA and offer to answer any questions they have about how to get the most out of membership in these organizations. I’ve met some of the successful authors I admire most by asking if I could interview them for Poe’s Deadly Daughters (a certain amount of work for me and a promo opp for them). A year or two down the line, the pre-existing relationship might give me the courage to ask such an author for a blurb for my book. But that kind of reward is a bonus, not an agenda. It all adds up, and in the meantime, I’ve made a lot of delightful friends who love mysteries as much as I do. And when I attend conferences and conventions, instead of feeling shy and lonely, I give and get a lot of hugs.

What impact has your friendship with each other had?

Avery:  I have known Krista and Liz for many years because of the Guppies. I think that without them (and numerous others) and their encouragement to keep at it (when all aspects of the business were screaming at me to quit) I would not have continued to persevere. I hope that I have been just as good a cheerleader for them. I try to remain positive in all situations. I try to remain calm. I’m better at remaining calm to meet my friends' challenges than to meet my own. LOL

Liz:  Avery, you’ve been a great cheerleader. Both of you, Avery and Krista, are outstanding exemplars of positive attitude.

I met both Krista and Avery in my early days in Guppies, and we all had our first novels published within a year or two or each other, so we’re all in the same cohort of writing peers. That makes these relationships very special. If you read between the lines of the Acknowledgments pages of various authors’ books, you’ll find these cohorts for different generations of writers. Krista and Avery are to me as Nancy Pickard is to Carolyn Hart and Sara Paretsky to Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller. They’ve also become trusted friends. I first met Krista in an otherwise disastrous (for me) critique group and Avery in a little support group we called Agent Hunt. We’ve shared a lot of triumphs and disappointments. They’re both on my short list of fellow writers I can always be completely candid with, and that’s very precious to me. I hope our friendship will continue regardless of what happens in our mystery writing careers.

Krista:  It has definitely saved me from pulling out my own hair.  Thank goodness they’re around (in a cyber kind of way) when things go wrong.  They have both acted as my confidantes, which every writer needs!  I can honestly say that if Liz hadn’t invited me along one day, I never would have been privy to one of the most brutally honest and enlightening conversations between writers that I have ever heard. 

Liz:  I remember that conversation, but I’m not telling. I can’t stress enough that both established and aspiring authors need to have peers they can be candid with. I tried to do it alone for half a century, and it didn’t work.

What does each of you admire most about the other two, as writers and as people?

Krista:  I have to say that Avery and Liz are women with whom I would have been friends no matter how we met.  The fact that we’re in the same business is just a nice bonus.  They’re both wonderful, warm women and terrific writers, too.  I can trust them to be honest.  If something stinks, they’ll say so, but in a very nice way. They’re both goal-oriented and had to persevere to get where they are.  I think you’ll find that trait in a lot of authors.  Sometimes it’s hard not to give up.

Liz:  Krista is very calm and unflappable when there’s some kind of hoopla going on in the mystery world or one of the groups we’re all in. She’s great at acquiring information about publishing, which is always in a state of flux these days. Avery is always bubbling with enthusiasm, and she’s demonstrated an inspiring amount of persistence and adaptability in the quest for publication.

Krista: I only wish I had Avery’s self-discipline and energy.  Seriously, she accomplishes more on one day than I manage in a week.

Liz: Both Krista and Avery are marvelous critique partners who have helped me turn a first draft into a publishable work. In fact, both of them are models of perseverance and also incredibly generous to fellow writers, including the not yet published, and to their readers.

Avery:  I love Liz’s passion for dark material. She digs in deeply to issues and doesn’t shy away from them. I love her ability to write wonderful prose and beautiful short stories, too. She was the first I knew of to make a trailer for her book. Cleverly she used her husband to play the part of the dead body.

Liz:  That’s funny, because I think my work is hilarious. I don’t think the novels and stories about recovering alcoholics are dark at all, because I see recovery as a passage from hell into the light, like Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso.


Krista:  Liz has amazing insights into human nature.  We were walking along the street one day and she said something so profound that it stopped me in my tracks! 

Liz:  It had to do with how you can’t get other people to change, which is a commonplace of my life as a therapist. Even as a shrink, all I can do is try to help my clients identify parts of themselves that trouble them or aren’t working for them and empower them to change from within.

How would you rate online relationships with other writers vs face to face contact? Or is it apples and oranges?

Avery:  It is definitely apples and oranges. I can keep in contact with my online writer friends daily, in a short sentence or two in an email. We can stay in touch, answer a question, send out a tweet of support.  The face to face meetings can last longer and be much more fruitful for brainstorming and talking about deeper publishing issues. Both are so worthwhile. I think that’s why conferences work. Often we meet our online buddies in person and the friendships deepen at those times.

Liz:  I think they’re equally important, because each way of connecting has its strengths. I live in New York City. Krista lives in Western Virginia, while Avery has moved twice since we met and currently lives in Southern California.

Krista:  It’s probably easier for writers in New York or LA to find other people who write in the same genre.  That’s really not an option for me.  If  I lived in a place where Sisters In Crime or Mystery Writers of America had regular meetings, I would love to participate.  I always look forward to catching up with Liz and Avery at writing conventions.  Even though we’re in touch online, it’s nice to sit back with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and talk.

Liz:  It’s funny, but I was going to say just the opposite. We became close friends more quickly than, say, friends I see monthly at meetings of the New York chapters of MWA and Sisters in Crime, because on the Guppies e-list, we could communicate daily. One to one, the Internet lends itself to the exchange of manuscript critiques or publishing tips. Since we all express ourselves well in written words, we can even lend each other a virtual shoulder to cry on when we hit a creative or professional obstacle. On the other hand, when we see each other f2f at Malice or Bouchercon, a certain amount of squealing and hugging goes on, and I treasure that.

Tell us about your latest work and upcoming projects.

Liz:  Death Will Extend Your Vacation is just out. It’s the third novel in my series about recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends, Barbara the world-class codependent and Jimmy the computer genius. In this one, they take shares in a lethal clean and sober group house in the Hamptons. I think it’s a lot of fun. I also have a novella-length paranormal whodunit, “Shifting Is for the Goyim,” up on Untreed Reads (available in all e-formats and with various e-booksellers) and a story about art theft at the Metropolitan Museum coming out soon in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The other just-out project I’m immensely proud of is Outrageous Older Woman, my album of original songs (available as CD and mp3 download on cdbaby.com and my music site at lizzelvin.com). It’s a bargain at $10, and I hope all my reader and writer friends will take a chance on it. :)

Avery:  My latest book is Clobbered by Camembert, the third in A Cheese Shop Mystery series. It launched February 7, 2012 and has done very well. I have been contracted to write five in the series, so far, and all five have been turned in to the publisher. Currently, I am working on a new cozy mystery series, which will be published under my real name, Daryl Wood Gerber. It is also for Berkley and will debut the summer of 2013.

Krista:  The sixth book in the Domestic Diva Mystery series,  The Diva Digs Up the Dirt, will be released on June 5th.  My previous book, The Diva Haunts the House, crawled up to number twenty-seven on the New York Times bestseller list, surprising everyone – especially me!

Avery, me, Liz and Krista at the Agatha Awards Banquet, Malice Domestic - May 2012


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

And a good evening to you, ladies! How nice to have the three of you here together. Not nearly as much fun as getting to see you all at Malice, but almost. Thanks for being a part of Meanderings and Muses.


Peg Brantley said...

I feel as if I've just been to a very good party with very good friends.

Well done, ladies. All of it.

Krista said...

Thank you so much for inviting us, Kaye. One of the best things about Malice is getting together with friends. But there's never enough time to sit down and talk with everyone!

Aww, thanks, Peg. That's so nice of you to say! May I pour you a glass of wine?


Peg Brantley said...

Uh-huh. A nice zin if you have it.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Thanks for inviting us, Kaye. It really is like this on the rare occasions we can get together, with me in New York, Avery in California, and Krista in Western Virginia. It was just like this, only the hugs weren't virtual, on Sunday morning at Malice at the Starbucks in the hotel lobby.

Edith Maxwell said...

What a fabulous long interview with three fabulous writers. Those Guppies - I wouldn't be approaching publication of my first mystery without them.

I'll have a glass of wine with you all (virtually) tonight!

Anonymous said...

Kaye, thank you for bringing this to us - three wonderful people and excellent writers - show how much the human touch means to fellow writers. There is not substitute for human sharing and genuine warmth! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Kaye George said...

These are three remarkable people!

I have to agree with Liz, that my online writing buddies are some of my closest friends. I do have two f2f groups that I treasure, but everyone else in my life is, well, not a writer.

What a lovely idea for a blog post, Kaye! (I'm SO glad I got to meet you at Malice this year!)

Lucy Burdette said...

So glad to be counted as friends with all of you ladies! I couldn't do it alone either--even the troughs are bearable with buddies...

Cynthia said...

What a wonderful and inspiring conversation! Thanks for sharing this. And congrats to you all for your writing (and friendship) successes.

Daryl Wood Gerber a.k.a. Avery Aames said...

Thank you, Kaye, for having the three of us on your blog. We do adore each other and are so lucky to have found a group like the Guppies that gave us such strength and built our confidence in a challenging yet creative field!

Hugs to all. And to all our new friends as well. Lucy, Cynthia, Peg, Edith, and yet another Kaye. :)

Daryl aka Avery


Gigi Pandian said...

This interview made me smile over coffee this morning. I joined the Guppies 5 years ago, and couldn't agree more. Some of my closest friends are writers I "met" through the Guppies. I was clueless about so many aspects of writing and the business of writing five years ago, but I now have such wonderful friends and mentors (Avery, I'm honored to call you both!). I don't think I would have stuck with it with writing without them.

GBPool said...

What a great interview. It was like being at a conference and hearing friends chat about their interests. Since they are mine, too, it was doubly interesting. And Avery, you are a whirlwind. I read about Elizabeth on another blog, and now have Krista to add to my reading list. And your mutual point about friends and networking was spot on. Thanks for taking the time to chat.

Gloria Alden said...

I loved this interview with three of my favorite Guppies. When I joined the Guppies six years ago, it opened up the world of writing for me. Up until then I was struggling along sending out query after query and getting one rejection after another and felt so alone. The Guppies have been a wonderful supportive group, an some of the most supportive were Liz, Krista and Avery. I love their books, too, and your CD, Liz.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Thanks, everyone--and a special shout out to Gloria for mentioning my CD, OUTRAGEOUS OLDER WOMAN. If you're in New York this Saturday night, I'm performing! I can't say emphatically enough that trying to do it alone doesn't work. My first ride in a Zip Car was with Gigi in the little red one she rented for the sole purpose of coming from San Francisco to Berkeley to take me to one of Janet Rudolph's Mystery Readers International At-Homes. Gloria, whom I met at Malice, was one of my first actual fans--someone I hadn't known who read my work and told me she loved it. I remember Kaye and Lucy, as well as Krista and Avery, when ALL of them had different names. Lucy, who was immensely helpful (as Roberta) when I got my very first agent offer, was a well established author when she joined Guppies. We always need each other, and it's sooo much more fun to be in it all together.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Oops, I just reread what I said about new work, and "Shifting Is for the Goyim" won't be up on Untreed Reads until June. And the story in Ellery Queen won't be out till sometime in 2013, although they accepted it a full year ago. You see why writers need friends who understand?

Daryl Wood Gerber a.k.a. Avery Aames said...

Ah, Gigi, knowing you has made my heart smile, too! You are such a sweet friend and gifted author and terrific soul!



Daryl Wood Gerber a.k.a. Avery Aames said...

GP and Gloria, again, what can I say? The guppies are a strong force of support for all of us, whether published or not published. We need friends (even through the Internet; even though we may never meet in person) that help support us while we follow this path called "author."

Love to all.


Krista said...

It's lovely to hear from so many friends, and to make some new ones, too. The Guppies are such a remarkable group for aspiring writers. It's wonderful to hear that they continue to provide hope, encouragement, and support.

Peg, I'm pouring that zin now. Anyone else?

~ Krista

jenny milchman said...

Great picture! How nice to hear all your voices together, and learn that you came together right at the start.

Leslie Karst said...

Just want you to know that I've been procrastinating joining the Guppies since the beginning of the year, but this post prompted me to get off my tail fin and finally do it. Thanks!