Friday, April 22, 2011

Interview with author Heather Haven

Today, my guest is MuseItUp author, Heather Haven. Heather is the author of the delightful mystery series featuring P.I. Lee Alvarez. 

Please tell us about yourself?
I was born in Sarasota, Florida, during the winter break of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. I’m not saying the year, but slightly after they invented dirt. My mother was a featured performer and my father was an elephant trainer. Really, truly. After high school, I attended the University of Miami in Florida and studied Drama, with a minor in suntan. Only kidding. I did major in Drama, studying acting, playwriting and directing. It was a great experience. I encourage all writers to study acting. The first thing you learn to do as an actor is to not be afraid to make an ass of yourself. This is something you can carry over into your writing, big time.  Originally, I thought I wanted a career as an actor, but I don’t like the traveling the life calls for. Actors and musicians are on the road most of the time. Being on the road, mostly in small towns, means only knowing the cast and crew of a production for months at a time. It’s like being on 27/7 call. It got old fast. I started writing when I realized I could send people to Bangkok, Rome, or Worchester, Mass., while I got to stay at home. A big bonus. While I like to think I write funny, I take the writing of it very seriously. For the past ten years, I’ve studied creative writing at the Stanford University Creative Writing Program and privately with Ellen Sussman, a great teacher and fine writer in her own right. I’m pretty lucky, aside from washing an occasional dish and cleaning out my cats’ litter pans, I get to write all day. It’s heaven.

Tell us your latest news?
My latest book of the Alvarez Murder Mystery Series, A Wedding to Die For, is being released April 22nd. I am beyond delighted.

When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing since I can remember. As a kid, I would write lyrics to songs that didn’t have any. I made up stories about interesting people I saw on the street. Why do I write? Because I have to. For me, a day without writing is like a day without sunshine. I don’t even care if anybody reads it, although that does make it better. I write for me.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I considered myself a writer when I knew I was driven to do it no matter what. It didn’t have anything to do with the first paycheck I received for doing it. If you tie writing in to monetary gain, you are in deep trouble. No matter how good you are, the chances of making a living as a writer are almost non-existent. Although when in New York City, I did make a moderate living for a time writing ad copy and comedy acts. The minute I left to write my own work, I hardly made a dime. It would have been nice, but losing thirty pounds would be nice, too.

What inspired you to write your first book?
Like the song from the Broadway musical, “A Chorus Line,” I Can Do That (humming commences here), I thought I could do that. But it was a lot tougher than it looked and took a lot of trial and error. The first book, Murder is a Family Business took nearly four years to write and I might be shaving off a year, just because I can’t face it.  What really motivated me to start the Alvarez Murder Mystery Series was being tired of reading mystery novels about youngish, female protagonists not getting along with anybody, being loners, never learning from their mistakes, never shaving their legs, and mainly being somber and miserable. I wanted to write about a young, attractive woman who made her share of mistakes but had an actual learning curve, with a strong, familial support system while she was doing it. Although, sometimes she wishes they would take a hike.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes, I like to believe my books have depth or layers underneath the laughter. There are two important things to me:

One - Being an outsider can suck. Being different can stink. Not being accepted by others can be the pits. And nearly every one of us feels that way at one time or another. On the other hand, trying to fit into a pat formula or trying to conform to what others think you should be, probably will doom you. Or give you major ulcers. We all walk a fine line between who we are and what people expect of us. And a lot of times, it’s a tough call. But as Polonius says,
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Two -  Family, friends and love are pretty much everything. And if you can find a great outfit that makes you look ten-pounds thinner then you’ve got it all, Toots. 

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?  (Has anyone ever realized it?)
I base my books and characters on everybody and everything I read, observe, learn and do. Most writers do that. You’re never safe from a writer. Anyone can appear in any story at any time. Does my mother-in-law know aspects of her personality live inside Lila Hamilton Alvarez? No, and keep it to yourself, please.

What are your current projects?
Oi! I have one finished book needing final edits, two waiting to be started, two half-done 3-act plays, and six short stories in various stages of decay, waiting in the wings. When I finish the third book of the Alvarez Murder Mystery series, Death Runs in the Family, I will tackle them.  Can’t wait.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not one thing. I love the second book, A Wedding to Die For. It was fun to write, and I stand by it. Or behind it. Or in front of it. Take your pick.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Keeping it interesting! Keeping it real! Keeping it funny! And that’s a lot of extra work, being funny. Remember, I have to write everything twice. First, a mystery with a plausible storyline and true-to-life characters. Then I have to go back and add the humorous situations, lines, or jokes, if me muse didn’t make them magically appear in the first place. And she is usually out getting her hair done or off golfing, rarely dallying with me. I love writing comedy, but it is often more than double the work. Sometimes I’ll work on a gag for hours, only to throw it out because it just doesn’t fly or is too forced. A good joke or punch line has to have perfect set ups and timing, but read easy, fun, and polished. Writing comedy is serious business.

Do you ever have problems with writers block?  If so how do you get through it?
Never had writers block in my life. If I don’t feel like writing on one project, I move on to the next. I think it’s important to have several projects going on at one time. Also, when I started writing way back in the Punic Wars, I had to show up at a desk and write 8-hours a day, whether I felt like it or not. It was great training.

What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?
Wait a minute! That happened once! The spring of 1979. I’d just met the man who would soon become my husband. Ah! Young love. There’s nothing like it. Now I eat, drink, and think writing, unless I’m making dinner or playing with my cats.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I love so many, I daren’t say. However, the two who have most influenced me are P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie. Mr. Wodehouse is the most hilarious writer I’ve ever read. I read my first book of his at the tender age of 17 and never looked back. He is wildly funny in that British upper class but whacko sort of way. As for Miss Christie, what can one say? She was and is the supreme mystery writer. I still read her work and am surprised how much of it from decades ago ring fresh and new. I like to think my writing is a combo of those two. But I like to think a lot of things, like I’m still young and gorgeous. I’m not their equal but I can continue to try.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Keeping it topical and funny. Also the research. A Wedding To Die For deals with Mesoamerican art, among other things. You learn a lot when you write a book.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write! You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. Don’t hesitate. Don’t make excuses. Even if you only write a paragraph, even if it’s only 15-minutes a day, WRITE.         Soon, sitting down and doing it will become a habit, using whatever time you can find of a day. Carry a small notepad, so you can write down ideas. Be proud of what you do. We are in a noble profession. Just think of it! We trod the same path as Shakespeare, O’Henry, Balzac, Jane Austin, James Joyce, and Soupy Sales. Yes, he, too, wrote a book once.

Any special appearances or events coming up that you want to mention?
I will be doing a Pump Up Your Book Blog Tour in May. It’s costing me some buckos, so keep an eye out for it.

Who is your publisher and how did you connect with them?
I found Museitup Publishing quite by accident. I loved the name and submitted Murder is a Family Business to them more on a whim than anything else. Or desperation, maybe.  I was tired of it sitting in a drawer eating its head off, as Isaac Isimov would say. The Alvarez Series had been with my former agent – lovely lady -- for three years doing nothing, so she went her way, I went mine, and I sent the series off to MuseItUp. I have loved every aspect of the partnership. It has a lot of creative, great people associated with it.

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc. - please share your public links.

A Wedding To Die For

“Allied Arts is renting us the restaurant for the reception, including the outside patios,
from five-thirty to eleven-thirty p.m. Do you think ten cases of champagne, plus five cases
each of Chardonnay and a Napa cab are enough?”
“That sounds more than sufficient. What else?”
I started counting off items on my fingers. “Bridal shower, next week. Richard is in
charge of the bachelor party. The tuxes are ordered. The gowns arrive this afternoon, and I
have two seamstresses set up for the fittings. I haven’t seen a picture or rendering of the
designs yet, but I’ll bet they’re incredible. Mr. McFadden designed them himself,
something he hasn’t done for years. He said he chose a ‘theme,’ which reminds me, I’ll
have to get samples of the fabric to the florist. Don’t you own one or two of Warren
McFadden’s dresses?”
“No. I find him a little avant-garde, Liana,” Mom said.
“I think they call it cutting-edge now, Mom,” I corrected.
“If you say so.” She smiled and changed the subject. “Did you find a photographer?”
“Yes, finally. I thought I was going to have to buy a camera and take pictures,
“Who is it?”
“Did you know the reason the wedding got canceled that was supposed to take place at
Mem Chu was because the bride came out of the closet and is now living in San Francisco
with her lover, Charlene?”
“Get to the point, dear.”
“I thought you might be interested in hearing the lead-in.”
“Oh. Well, anyway, this guy was supposed to be their photographer, so he was
available. I’ve seen his portfolio. He’s good.”
“That sounds fine,” Lila said, somewhat mollified. “What about the rehearsal dinner?
Didn’t John offer to take care of that part of the festivities?”
“Originally, but he had to bow out due to a heavy work schedule.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Yes,” I said and nothing more. My latest love had been pulling back big-time on a lot
of things, but I didn’t want to admit it or deal with it yet.
“However, Carlos took over and got us a private room at the new Japanese steakhouse for after we go through our paces.”
I looked at the tattered list again with all the checkmarks indicating completion and would have done cartwheels around the room if I hadn’t been so tired.
 “Mom, I think I’ve done it. After I order the flowers and take care of the fittings, I’m
done,” I said with pride. “This wedding is completely done and Good-to-Go.”
Five hours later, I stood in front of a mirror, enveloped in what felt like eighty yards of
a chartreuse moir√© taffeta laughingly called “Whipped Lime.” Between the starched
crinoline underskirt, ruffled hem of the overskirt, and tufted bodice, all in a hideous
yellow-green, I looked like a New Year’s Eve float depicting baby poo.
I ripped open the other boxes to find matching gowns in different odious colors
sporting the names of “Pineapple Fizz,” “Mango Madness,” “Orange Frappe,” and
“Passion Fruit Frazzle.” Mr. McFadden had created a theme, all right. Jamba Juice Rejects.
And in moiré taffeta. When Mom called his work avant-garde, she was being kind.
The phone rang, but I was afraid to move. On top of how I looked, any movement
sounded like leaves trapped in a wind tunnel. No wonder no one wore taffeta anymore, I
thought. Noise pollution. One of the seamstresses answered the phone and slapped it into
my frozen hand.
“Hello?” I said.
“Lee, it’s me. We need your help,” Mira said. Her voice sounded frantic and as if
she’d been crying.
“Mira? Are you all right?”
“No, I’m not,” she sobbed. “Carlos is being arrested for murder.”
“What?” I said, sinking straight to the floor, buried in a mound of taffeta. “Carlos is
being arrested for murder?”
“Yes, they say he murdered the thief who broke into our apartment last night. They’re
taking him away,” she wailed.
“Wait a minute. What thief? What murder? Mira, what’s going on?”
She tried to tell me, but between the hysteria, coughing, and wheezing, I couldn’t understand her.
“Never mind,” I interrupted. “Hold tight. I’ll be right there.”
I struggled to my feet and thought, with the groom arrested for murder maybe this Good-to-Go wedding just Got Up and Went.


  1. Great interview and candid answers. I like your snappy writing style, Heather. Good work

  2. Viviane, thanks for stopping by. I love Heather's writing and highly recommend both this book and her previous, Murder is a Family Affair.

  3. I enjoyed your interview! Heather you're an interesting lady! I wish I could say that I've never had writers blog! Good for you.

    Lawna Mackie

  4. Lawna, thanks for commenting. Always nice to hear from someone new.

  5. shortly after they invented dirt. love that line.

  6. Well, this was fun! Penny, you always encourage me to write my best and say it all! Thanks for letting me spend some time with you.

  7. Larion, thanks for stopping by.
    Heather, my pleasure, as always. Looking forward to seeing the next installment :-)

  8. Heather--this is the most entertaining interview I have ever read. Love your breezy fun style. I am still trying to decide if you are pulling our collective legs with your parents' careers...Gotta crack open your FIRST book on my Kindle, then on to the second. Really looking forward to reading it. Best wishes!!

  9. J.Q., thanks for checking out Heather's interview. I her writing style!