Friday, March 21, 2014

Niki Danforth, Stunner: A Ronnie Lake Mystery

AUTHOR: Niki Danforth
BOOK TITLE: Stunner: A Ronnie Lake Mystery
GENRE: Suspenseful Mystery
PUBLISHER: Pancora Press


Please tell us about yourself. I’m a retired television field director and producer, who worked freelance in New York City back in the day when freelance was a more viable way to earn a living than it is today. Basically, I’m a baby boomer embarking on the next chapter of life as a novelist.

Please tell us your latest news. My days are mostly hard at work on the next Ronnie Lake book which will be a more traditional mystery than “Stunner”. As I’ve delved further and further into the plot, I love the surprises that pop up as I write, making the creative process more fun and satisfying.

Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time? I’m trying to be a full-time writer. I do best early in the morning (typically around 5am), while the day is quiet and the rest of the house is asleep. Half my time is split between, first, writing, and then, second, research and reading to gather more background information that will play into the plot and characters.

When and why did you begin writing? I had always wanted to give writing a try, and the opportunity arose some years back to write a tween girls mystery with a colleague and friend. We finished it and then put it aside. We’ve recently come back to that novel, are reframing and rewriting and hope to publish it this year.

What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing? Walk my dogs, a beagle and a black lab, or curl up with one or the other in my favorite chair reading. Watch “The Good Wife” on CBS and “The Americans” on FX. Have friends over for supper!

Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you get through it? There are mornings when I sit down at my computer, and I’m not sure where I’m going with the next scene, not sure at all what to write. I stare at the screen and drink my coffee. Sometimes, a piece of the scene will flash across my mind, and it could be in the middle or toward the end of that section. I will grab that moment and begin writing. If that doesn’t happen, I might go to another section of the book and write a scene that I know will appear later in the story. (Halfway through Stunner, I wrote the Epilogue.) If I’m really desperate, I’ll proofread a section I wrote the day before and edit. Sometimes that gets the ball rolling, and I’m able to then work on new material.

Did you learn anything from writing your book, and what was it? This is my first novel, and I’ve come quickly to learn that one of my best tools is to read the manuscript out loud. It blows my mind how much I catch that needs rewriting, editing and/or cutting just by hearing it out loud.

What are your current projects? I’m working with a wonderful narrator/producer to turn “Stunner” into an audio book that we hope will be available by April on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.
What do you plan for the future?

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.?
Facebook -
Twitter - @NikiDanforth

What genre do you write in and why? Suspenseful mystery. I love listening to audiobooks in that genre while driving my car.

Tell us about the current book you’re promoting. Ronnie Lake is a 50-something, divorced empty-nester, who was downsized out of her corporate career. She’s trying to figure out the next chapter in her life, when her niece comes to her in a panic that her recently widowed father (Ronnie’s brother) may want to marry again. It’s not only that his intended is a much younger woman, but that strange events have been happening ever since they arrived. Her niece suggests that her aunt hire a private investigator, but Ronnie decides to see what she can find out first. After all, how hard can it be? Bottom line—this is this is a story about betrayal and family loyalty.

What gave you the idea for this particular book? It seems to be a universal story that many families experience concern for a daughter, son, sibling, or parent planning to marry and whether or not his or her intended will be good for the loved one. (In fact, I’ve heard many variations of that story from friends and acquaintances.) And what if the intended is a truly mysterious person, someone who may have a questionable past? I took it from there and started writing.

Do you outline before you write?  If not, what’s your initial process? I do some outlining before I start, but it’s loose. I create a more detailed outline as I proceed, in order to keep track of plot, characters, continuity, and threads of character development or motivation.  Then if I want to go back and shift something happening with a specific character, I can more easily pinpoint the places in the manuscript I need to revisit. That document also helps me with the overall pacing and “architecture” of the book.

How long does it take to write a book, and what is your process? “Stunner” took two years to write, because every stage of creating that novel was a first for me. I hope that Book 2 will take a year, since I am not starting with a blank slate this time, and the process is also now more familiar.

What book are you currently reading?
I just finished reading “Booked to Die”, the first of the Cliff Janeway series, by John Dunning.  

What do you like or not like about it?  It’s fast-paced, sophisticated and very edge-of-your-seat. I loved stepping into the world of book collecting, which I know nothing about, and meeting its many eccentric characters wonderfully portrayed in this novel. Dunning’s series lead, Detective Cliff Janeway is fabulous—a noirish cop with a solid moral compass, even if his detective techniques are at times unorthodox.

Describe your writing space. Upstairs in what used to be the unfinished attic. My husband and I decided years ago to turn it into an office that we now share. By accident, it worked out that I got the one dormer window in this space, and it has a terrific view outside. It’s peaceful, and I feel grateful that this is where I write.


Frank and Juliana walk down the stairs. Well, Frank walks. Juliana sweeps down, even though she stays right in step with Frank the entire way.

To be fair, if I were coming down our splendid stairway to meet a bunch of people for the first time, I would sweep down, too. I remember making the same show-stopping entry (or so I thought) on a regular basis in my teens at special family parties.

The stairs curve along the wall from the second floor of our high-ceilinged octagonal foyer and then descend gracefully to the ground floor. It’s a staircase that calls for a big entrance, and I must say, Juliana is certainly worthy of such a grand introduction.

This lovely, tall creature is in her late-thirties with long, dark, perfect hair, just as Laura described. A flowy summer dress in vivid 1960s Pucci aqua colors does nothing to hide her amazing figure.

Even though some of my girlfriends proclaim fifty-five is the new thirty-five, and, OK, I look good in my simple Jackie-O- style shift, bejeweled sandals, and a pair of drop earrings, what I do miss about really being thirty-five is that it didn’t require as much work to get myself together. I was also able to cheat much more on exercise, diet, and even sleep.

I bet Juliana rolls out of bed every morning pretty much the way she looks right now. She certainly didn’t need four hours of prep for this party, as Laura had complained.

Something about her features is vaguely familiar to me—the high cheekbones, full lips, and inscrutable cat-like eyes. Is she simply an Angelina Jolie-type with a similar staggering beauty, or is my feeling of faint recognition something else?

Frank steps forward, and his lanky six-foot-two frame folds me into a familiar big-brother embrace. “I’m happy to see you, Sis, and happy to be home.”

I pull back, look up into his handsome, weathered face and smile. “We’ve missed you, Frank.” I affectionately mess his salt- and-pepper hair, an old habit from when we were little.

My brother, always so confident, seems a bit awkward now, like a schoolboy in the presence of a goddess. “Ronnie, you’re the only one who hasn’t met Jules yet.” He quickly corrects himself. “I mean Juliana. Uh, I’m the only one who calls her Jules.” OK. I try for a nonreactive expression.

Frank guides me to her. “Ronnie, this is Juliana Wentworth.” He looks at her as though she’s the only one in the room. Oh, boy, he’s a goner. “Juliana, this is my sister, Ronnie Lake.”

As we shake hands and smile, her sphinxlike eyes look straight into mine, and I see a momentary flicker of... what? A flash of something like repulsion and then maybe a question—or is the perception only my imagination? Her eyes are unreadable, even though her smile is responsive in a normal, polite way.

Before she and I can say much of anything except hello, guests begin to arrive. Pretty soon we’re all caught up in the friendly chit-chat of our small cocktail party.


Daughter of a Cold War covert intelligence officer, Niki Danforth has the "thriller/adventure" gene in her DNA. After a career as a successful TV/video producer and director in New York, this empty-nester is picking up her first love of mystery books and recreating herself as an author in the genre. Danforth lives in the New Jersey countryside with her husband and two drama-queen dogs.

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