Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Interview with Author, Elizabeth C. Main

Today's guest is Elizabeth C. Main, who writes for both adults and children and enjoys a cozy mystery.

Elizabeth C. Main

Very brief synopsis:  Eccentric Central Oregon mystery book club members find solving crimes more exciting than reading about them. For the second time in a year, Jane Serrano, level-headed bookstore clerk, needs all her skills to keep her group in line while catching a killer. 

1)     Tell me a little about your book. NO REST FOR THE WICKED is the second in the cozy Jane Serrano Mystery series, following MURDER OF THE MONTH (Five Star HC, 2005; Lava River Press TPB, 2011).  Jane is a widowed 43-year-old bookstore clerk in a Central Oregon town. Her life had been turned upside down the year before when she and her dysfunctional book club accidentally became involved in solving a local murder. Unmasking the killer gave Jane national publicity as the “Bookstore Heroine,” but it also gave the other club members a taste for adventure. As NO REST FOR THE WICKED opens, Jane would like to return to anonymity, working in a little indie bookstore and getting to know Nick, a local attorney. When a con man is murdered and one of their very own book club members becomes the prime suspect, the group is off and running . . . in every direction. Once again, Jane has to step in to find the real murderer.  

2)     What gave you the idea for this particular story?
Working in a bookstore gave me plenty of chances to encounter wonderful and eccentric people. I put bits and pieces together to create a motley assortment of personalities. Then I threw them together and dreamed up a plot to give them something to do. After spending years developing the characters in  MURDER OF THE MONTH, I knew and liked them a lot, so I wanted to hang out with them some more and find out how their lives were progressing. From there it was a short hop to concoct a problem that “we” could all work on together. (I don’t claim that writers are entirely sane.)

3) Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?
I’m definitely a part-time writer.  If I didn’t have such an active family life (complete with husband, children, and grandchildren) and community commitments, I’d devote more time to writing, but I’ve found that I can be consumed by writing. I don’t want to lose those other parts of my life.  For example, I took a six-week writing course on poetry and essays this past winter, and I could hardly think of anything but my exciting assignments while I was working on them.  It gave me fascinating new material to explore, but I’d hate to be that driven all the time. Returning to the real world . . . at least for a while . . .  felt like a vacation after that class.   I write most effectively in the mornings.  Then I mull things over during the rest of the day and return the following morning with new or revised ideas.  However, when I go into hyper-writing mode, such as during that class, I can’t think of anything else until I’m done. That’s unsustainable for very long.

4) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I always loved to write, but I didn’t realize for a good many years that being a writer was a viable career option. My college major was English, and I took creative writing classes whenever they were offered. My early writing consisted primarily of doggerel presented to my family on Valentine’s Day and birthdays. These “poems” were designed to elicit groans, which they did (and still do).   I once wrote this ditty for my sister:

When it comes to birthdays, we’re alike as like can be,
Birthdays are made bearable
by poems that are terrible,
On that fact we can most certainly agree!

Thank goodness I moved on to write more seriously, except on birthdays and Valentine’s Day, of course. When my short stories and essays found publishing success, I gained the confidence to expose my writing to others.
5) What do you hope readers will take from your writing?
Above all, I want my readers to enjoy themselves. I like to blend story and humor. Mysteries are fun because readers can scare themselves silly without risking life and limb. They can then emerge from the experience feeling that they had a hand in dealing out justice. For example, elder fraud is a strong part of the plot of NO REST FOR THE WICKED, and certainly everyone wants to see the predators targeting vulnerable people to get caught. By the end of my books, I want readers to view the world as a pretty good place.

6) Which genres do you write, which do you prefer, and why?
 I’ve published romance, a YA novel, mysteries, short stories, and essays. My favorite is mysteries.
7) What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it?
Putting down on paper the first draft of anything is excruciating. The story that sounded so exciting in my head splats onto the page with a horrid thump and just lies there. I then remind myself that I have to start somewhere, clamber over the rubble, and get on with revisions. 

8) Is there anything in your story based upon a real life event? If so, tell me about it.
The general atmosphere and clientele of a small independent bookstore came straight out of my background working at the Book Barn in Bend, Oregon.  Book lovers all, we offered knowledgeable, personalized service and a friendly meeting place—just what an indie bookstore should be--but we couldn’t match the prices of big box stores or online giants. 

9) How much is your protagonist like you? How different?
My protagonist, Jane Serrano, is a highly idealized version of me.  She has my general set of values and interest in books, but I presented her as “slightly” younger.  I also made her much more courageous than I ever thought of being. I’d just curl up and wail if confronted by a killer.  

10) What kind of research did you do for this type of story?
Bookstore work and caring for aging parents and in-laws.  And reading mysteries.

11) Do writing violent or highly sexual scenes bother you? Why or why not?
Yes, to both. In real life and fiction, the motivations of people interest me more than car chases or torrid love scenes. Cozy mysteries are a good fit for my preferences. I enjoy letting a reader’s imagination build the tension.   

12) What about your book makes it special?
The characters. I know these people.  They are funny, touching, scared, and bold . . . a mess, just like people I know in real life.

13) What is your marketing plan?
This is a joke, right?  I couldn’t even sell Girl Scout cookies when I was young.  However, the marketing of books has changed since my last book came out in 2005. I have had to wade, cringing, into the murky depths of marketing. When I was working at the Book Barn, I had a local base of operations for my first three books (which were all published between 1998 and 2005). Now I scramble to find stores willing to sponsor author events.  The whole online world of blogging, Facebook, Twitter, websites, etc., wasn’t even on my radar screen until the sale of NO REST FOR THE WICKED, my fourth book,  In today’s book world, all those Internet-based facets of marketing seem vital, as does my active presence on  the web-based bookstores. I’ve been working hard to learn new techniques. I now have a website, do guest blogs and TV appearances, and have a presence on Kindle, Nook, Facebook, and print-on-demand, in addition to working with my traditional publisher, Five Star, and participating in old-fashioned live author events.

14) Where can people learn more about you and your work?
My website: (Contains information, samples and musings on writing.)
My e-mail address:  (I’m addicted.)
I’ve scheduled a number of appearances this fall in Central Oregon, Portland, Seattle, Kirkland, and Tacoma. They are all listed on my website. If you’d like to be notified of time and place, please send me an e-mail or a Facebook friend request.  I’d love to hear from you. I also enjoy talking to book clubs, either in person or on the phone, though I’ve never found one quite as bizarre as my fictional Murder of the Month Book Club.

15) Any tips for new writers hoping to write in the genre of your book?
The writing community is a generous one, and people are always willing to help each other. Go to conferences and classes, join a writing group, talk to other authors, read a lot, and write something that means something to you.  Mystery is my genre of choice and there are thousands of mysteries out there, so it’s a tough market to crack.  However, if you can come up with a concept that hasn’t been done, and write about it well, there is always room for one more book. 

Thanks again, Penny, for giving me this chance to talk about writing, most definitely one of my favorite subjects.  Liz


  1. Interesting. I have read Murdur of the Month and your humor comes through. Is that true for your latest book?

  2. Anonymous, thanks for commenting. It's always good to hear from someone who has read the featured author.

  3. What's amazing is we're so different, yet all writers have so much in common. Lovely interview, ladies.

  4. The answer is a mixture. There are some particularly unlikely episodes in this book--how could there be anything else with Minnie involved in a casino caper? Not to mention Wendell the one-eyed dog at a wedding--but the overall tone is possibly a bit more serious than that of Murder of the Month. Hmm. Now you've made a mystery for me to figure out. Who are you? Liz

  5. How could Minnie go to a casino or Wendell the one-eyed dog to a wedding without some humor resulting? So, yes, humor is featured in No Rest for the Wicked, but it also contains more of an undercurrent of seriousness than did Murder of the Month. Hmm. Now you have me wondering just who you are. Another mystery to solve. Liz

  6. I really enjoyed reading this interview. I appreciate those of you who write the books we love to read. It sounds like a long and interesting journey!

  7. You're right, Joylene. I marvel whenever I'm around writers at the wide variety of personalities that are drawn to this same activity, or perhaps I should call it a compulsion. No two come at the experience from the same place. Liz

  8. You sound as though you're not interesting in writing, Karen. Have you never felt that urge at all? I can't imagine not wanting to write, but if you haven't felt the need to do so, at least we writers are glad that you like to read. Liz

  9. Liz is so smart and such a great writer...OK, she's a friend, but I stand by my comments. Loved the interview.

  10. Karen, Joylene, and Sally, thanks for stopping by to comment. Always good to hear from my featured author's friends.

  11. Sally, it's always fun to read anything you write. How can I possibly complain about this post?

    Penny, I appreciate the chance you gave me to put my ideas about writing down in a structured format. My writing persona seems so natural to me that I enjoyed being pushed to consider how it came to be. Liz

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  13. Liz, it was fun having you as a guest and getting to know you as a person. We will meet in person one of these days!

  14. Glad I finally found this. Had checked twice - too early I guess. I love the way you lay it all out there in your answers, Liz. Will likely miss your reading at Dudley's, but will pick up the book soon when I return to Bend. Getting the word out is a big challenge, but it looks like you are on the way.

  15. Thanks again, Penny. Yes, I hope we will meet in person sometime this fall. We know we have a lot in common. Liz

  16. Elouise, thank you for your persistence. Always good to hear from someone who's familiar with the author's work.

  17. As a fellow writer, I appreciate the care that Liz takes in figuring every plot detail and carefully using just the right word for each circumstance. She's earned her credentials.

  18. What a nice surprise to find your post, Elouise. For your information, Penny, Elouise and I go way, way back, but we rarely see each other these days. Good thing I've written a new book or I might not have heard from her until next Christmas. Liz

  19. SB, what kind words; thank you for posting. Liz, I'm glad an old friend found you here on my blog.

  20. Kind words, indeed, from a fellow writer. Judging from the careful wording of your own post, SB, I suspect that you don't simply dash off your work either. You make me curious about whether you write fiction or non-fiction. Liz

  21. So sorry I missed this till now! NO REST FOR THE WICKED was actually one of the first cozies I read, and I was utterly charmed by the warmth and collegiality of the town you created--even as it was home to mayhem! Nice getting to hear more of the story behind your story here.

  22. Jenny, it's never too late to comment and I'm pleased you found the interview. Thanks for stopping by.

  23. I've lived in small towns for many years, leaving me with a great respect for the cozy feelings such places engender. It's fun to write about them. Thanks for your observations, Jenny.