Scribal Love Welcomes Elle Druskin!
Elle Druskin is the author of To Catch A Cop, a contemporary mystery-romance.
Her newest work is Outback Hero, a contemporary romance. Both are available from Red Rose Publishing, Amazon Kindle and Fictionwise.
Where are you from?
First of all, thanks for the opportunity to "speak" here. Your first question is deceptively simple with a complicated response. I am the original Jersey Girl, born and raised in the Garden State and I went to college in Boston. That sounds simple enough, but I have lived all of my adult life outside the US, in Australia and Israel. Yes, that does factor in my writing to some degree. I do come back to the US at least once a year if not more often and I still consider myself primarily an American.
What inspired you to write this book?
There is a great scene in Harry Potter in which Harry is trying to buy his first wand and generally creates havoc in the shop. After pretty much wrecking the place, the proprietor tells him, "The wand chooses the wizard." I think the book chose the author in this case. A story kept kicking around in my head, a lot of "what ifs." I let that percolate for a while because I had no intention of doing anything with it. In the end, I decided to try to write this story because it wouldn't go away.
I had no idea how to write a novel and I more or less approached it with the idea that since I didn't know and probably nobody would ever see it, well, it didn't matter. I wrote it, was pleased with myself for managing to do that much and put it away for a few years. In the meantime, I joined a few writers' groups because I realized that I didn't know anything about the craft of fiction writing. I knew a fair amount about non-fiction writing because I am an academic by profession and that means you have to keep generating research articles, etc. and I still believe any writing generally helps the process.
After a few years, I took out the manuscript, read it, and while I thought the plot was okay and the dialogue, there were flaws that could be fixed by a thorough revision. Okay, did that and then got up the nerve to ask a few critical readers to have a look and give me an honest opinion.
The first, who is a romance writer, said it was a romance, although a bit unorthodox. The second said she thought it was a cute mystery. Honestly, I never saw that. I did realize there was an element of mystery but I thought it was so transparent, that it was weak. Imagine my surprise when ALL the reviewers consistently said, "This is a great mystery.
I should have gotten it, because all the clues are there, but I didn't." The third one told me I had some elements of a thriller. In the end, I wasn't sure what I wrote but all three genuinely enjoyed it which was the most important thing. And honestly, there is no reason why a novel cannot be cross genre, but this one has consistently been cited as mystery first, romance second, thriller third. Go figure.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I don't know exactly what that means but if you are asking if I write an in-depth synopsis, create character sheets, etc. no, I don't. I might think about the general story and have an idea where it is going, particularly a mystery. I might have an idea how it ends. I may jot down some ideas as a quick general outline, but for the most part, I let the story unfold in my head and it may not play out in sequence. That's ok; because I let the characters tell me what is going on and I can put it together in the revisions. I see them and hear them very clearly and have a good idea how they respond to a number of situations. I don't battle with them to do what I want, heck, I don't even like some of the things they do, but it's their story, not mine and I have to let them get on with it.
In the final analysis, I am telling a story; a story that is playing out in my head, and trying to find the words to convey what I see and hear so clearly so that anyone can see and hear it along with me.
What is the name of your latest book? And how did you come up with the title?
My most recent book is Outback Hero, a contemporary romance set in Outback Australia. It is a tribute to the wonderful bush culture of that country and I was fortunate enough to meet some jackeroos, rodeo cowboys and clowns, and lots of other people that make that lifestyle their own which may have some parallels to any remote setting, but is, ultimately, very Aussie in so many ways.
Everywhere in the world we can find real heroes, although I do find hero is a word that is excessively and sometimes, inappropriately used. To me, a hero is someone who rises to the challenge, doesn't accept that a situation is inflexible, but can do something to change it. The hero might succeed or fail, but the hero makes that effort and that certainly happens in this book in a very Aussie way.
What is Outback Hero about?
Without giving too much away, the basic story is about a nurse who is fleeing a scandal in New York and Outback Australia is about as far as she can get. Our hero is temporarily stuck on his family's debt ridden station (ranch to Americans) and can't wait to get back to big city life in Sydney. Superficially, they are about as different as they can get, but underneath that surface, they both have to discover what really matters in life, to accept the things that they can't change, and to battle for the things that matter and they can change. Along that way, they just happen to find out that love can hit you when you least expect it.
What books have influenced your life most?
How much time have you got? I was an early reader and in my family, we were all encouraged to read and own books. As a child, I had an extensive library and adored many of the childhood classics, Alice in Wonderland, the Oz books, Anne of Green Gables, etc. and the Nancy Drew series. (I really loved Nancy!). I love the Harry Potter series. It may have been written for children, but it has found just as strong an audience with adults. I also loved many classic novels and novelists including, but not exclusively, Jane Austen, Steinbeck, Hemingway, F. S. Fitzgerald, J. D. Salinger, and so many others.
I love contemporary literature too. Among the authors I truly enjoy are Amy Tan, Diana Gabaldon, R. F. Delderfield, Larry McMurtry, Sharon Penman, Phillipa Gregory, James Michener, Sara Donati, Thomas Keneally, and so many others, that I can't list them. If I want a great laugh, I read Jennifer Crusie and Janet Evanovich. They never let me down. And I am a sucker for a good mystery so I avidly read M. C. Beaton, Lawrence Block, Faye Kellerman, Batya Gur, and I have recently discovered Dana Stabenow and Sue Henry and enjoying them immensely.
I also enjoy an Israeli author, Orna Shemor who is not available in English. I particularly like her detective heroine whose job is translating romance novels but she decides to sometimes change the story because she figures nobody will know anyway. I get a real kick out of that.
For a good thriller, I can count on Kathy Reichs and Matt Benyon Rees for a great story that will be unique, educational and entertaining.
While not a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, I have read Tolkien, and my son, who is a big fan of this genre, suggested several books to me which include Christopher Paolini's Brisinger series and Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books. I would never have read them if he had not recommended them but they were enjoyable and I can see why he likes them so much.
In non-fiction, I read biographies. Devoured them as a child, and I still enjoy them. I also like memoirs, political and historical books. I could go on a lot more about books and writers that I enjoy, but ultimately, all books influence us in some way. Maybe they encourage us to do more serious reading on the topic or setting or to visit those places. Maybe they help us re-think our values. As a writer, it always helps to read widely and I will elaborate on that a bit later.
Did you find the idea of having your work published for others to read intimidating? If yes, why? If no, why not?
Well, sure. You hope other people enjoy your work, share your humor, see your story unfold as a satisfying experience, but ultimately, you can't know how readers or reviewers are going to respond so it's always an intimidating and humbling experience.
I don't take any of it personally, it's about the work, not me and as long as criticism is constructive, then it's useful. I am grateful that the reviews for To Catch A Cop have been very good to excellent and that has been satisfying and rewarding because I kind of like these characters. I do know them very well, after all.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Hands down, I have to say Diana Gabaldon. I have been part of the Books and Writers' Forum on and off for years. It is a wonderful place for writers, aspiring writers, and readers to hang out online. Diana has been with them since inception which is well over 20 years ago, generally checks in daily, answers questions and is a tremendous supporter of aspiring writers. She always responds with polite, entertaining, articulate and concise answers. A nice freebie is that we often get to see some of her work in progress before publication which is great fun.
What books are you reading now?
On average, I read 4 books a week. I love my Kindle and read voraciously on it. I also listen to books and that is quite different to reading the words. It can help a writer to hear their words aloud. What seems great on paper might not sound right, particularly dialogue, but I'm digressing.
As of today, I am going back and forth between two books. One is academic and one is fiction. The academic book is Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women in the Holocaust which is a new book and certainly not light reading but an important topic.
For lighter reading, I have recently discovered Dana Stabenow. (No idea what took me so long to find her!) Her mystery novels take place in Alaska where she was born, raised and still lives, and many of her characters seem to have arisen from those life experiences. I find them entertaining, engaging, complex and continually evolving which I always enjoy in a series.
What are your current projects?
I always have something going on and I tend to write more than one thing at a time. I know some writers don't do that or can't do that but in academia, it is not unusual to work on several different pieces concurrently. Inevitably, I will get stuck, so rather than agonize, I move on to the next piece, whatever it is, work on that for a while, get stuck and on to the next one. By the time I get back to the first one, I've had a break and come back to it with a fresh mind. Sooo, what's on the backburner?
I have been working on a few things. The first and most important to me is the second To Catch book. Those characters wouldn't leave me alone; they kept talking, Lindy kept getting into trouble, and Fraser keeps trying to keep her from getting killed. And their relationship is evolving. That book is finished, I hope it will be published this year and I have done a fair amount of work on a third one. Sometimes, even I am astounded at the messes Lindy gets into, to be honest.
Second project. I wrote a novella length story quite a number of years ago and put it away. I still like the basis of the story and the characters but it needs a lot of revision and I am slowly getting there. This is a contemporary romance set in Scotland (I love that place, it's magic!) about a romance writer with a BIG PROBLEM and a hero where you least expect him to be. That's as much as I can say for now because it is still a work in progress and I do intend to get that finished this year.
Third project. I started what I hope will be a contemporary series set in New Jersey. (Here comes that Jersey childhood <g>). I had a ball writing this and I hope it finds a home. The first book is about a workaholic Manhattan executive who has lost her job and the only one she can get immediately is house sitting a movie's star home in Jersey. Our heroine loathes Jersey, by the way, but hey, she's desperate. The job involves a little more than watering plants and before you know it, a very cute vet is on speed dial and the whole town getting involved, taking bets on a lot of possibilities for the hero and heroine. Again, I don't want to say too much about this, but I laughed while I was writing it which usually bodes well.
Do you find that international audiences are different from your home or native country's audience?
Seeing as I have lived in a number of places, I can't really say. What matters is writing a good story with strong characters that engage the reader, creating a world that readers can envision, and hooking them with the right proportions of tension, plot, and what you hope appears to be effortless craft. A good story is a good story and any reader should be able to enjoy it irrespective of background. That's the bottom line.
Do you see writing as a career?
<G>. In what way? As a full time job? If you are making enough money to live on and can afford to write full time, and most writers are not, well, that's great. In some ways, that would be nice, but on the other hand, maybe it's not such a bad thing to have to try to balance a job, family, friends and writing. It's hard admittedly, and often, the writing gets shoved to the bottom of the agenda, but perhaps that struggle is good in some ways. For one thing, it means that you have limited time to write so you'd better get your head down and get to work instead of procrastinating. For another, possibly some of those ongoing experiences might be helpful in the fiction process. They don't have to be, but you never know where ideas may come from.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I don't think so. The story unfolds for me and I do my best to write it. I am sure there are elements that can always be improved, but as long as I have remained faithful to the characters and their story, then I have to be satisfied. And once something is done, it's done. That's it, unless it is a series like "To Catch." I do like series because it gives the characters a chance to evolve, mature, gain some wisdom and I appreciate that scope.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Probably in a few places. The first was at a relatively early age. I was one of those kids that loved creative writing assignments in primary school and I always did well in them. Don't know why, only that I did. I think I enjoyed telling a story. In high school, I was very fortunate to have a teacher who had been an outstanding journalist in her earlier life. She was an excellent writer, teacher and supporter and I think most of what I have learned about writing derived from those years of informal tutelage.
She read To Catch A Cop and said she really enjoyed it and that was very gratifying for me. Finally, as I said, I still have to produce reports and write scholarly papers as an academic. I also serve as a grant reviewer and journal reviewer for a number of scholarly journals. Reading someone else's work with a view towards examining strengths and weaknesses is always helpful.
It is often easy to see these elements in another piece of work and ultimately, I would hope that helps my own get stronger from the perspective of overall writing. I don't think you can or necessarily should try to change your basic style, or rather, voice. That is quite unique and most editors can spot that in the first paragraph of any work. They might have to read a bit further to confirm that hunch, but it should be there, front and center.
While the voice doesn't need to change for the most part, the craft of presentation, characterization, balance of narrative and dialogue, realistic dialogue, solid research (and I don't mean Internet research, but solid library reading) and all the other components that mesh together to create a novel, must also be there. A great voice is nothing without all the skills behind it.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Sure. It's always a challenge. A challenge to find the time to write. A challenge to work with an idea, or work through an idea until it has matured. A challenge to find the words that express the scene, the action, the essence of the characters, and situations. It's always going to be a challenge. If writing was easy, everybody would do it.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
You always learn something. I think To Catch A Cop taught me a number of things about plotting, dialogue and tension. Most of all, I learned not to give too much away too soon, but just the right amount for the reader to be hooked. That's hard and I often find myself revising current work with that in mind. Have I overplayed my hand? Told too much, too soon? I have to constantly remind myself to let the reader take that journey with the characters and let events unfold through their eyes at their pace.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I don't know that I am qualified to be giving advice to anyone, but since you asked, this is my two cents worth.
Rule One. Read. Don't stop. I assume that anyone who wants to write started out as a reader who enjoyed books, so why would you stop? There are plenty of reasons to read. First, because you enjoy it, but also, if you must come up with other reasons, reading helps a writer discover what works (and what doesn't). Why were you engaged from the first line of that book? What made you turn that page? How clearly was the setting created? Why did you like, love, or loathe the characters? Characters don't have to be likeable, at least, not all of them. For fun, you can toss around the story in your head and change it. What if this happened? All of that speculation is helpful to a writer.
Of course, you can't plagiarize, but if you are changing things around significantly, well, you might have a legitimate book evolve or certainly, food for thought which helps a writer in some way. Most of all, think about conflict and how early and well it was established because conflict is the basis of a novel. It can exist between individuals, which is usually the basis of romance novels, groups (insert war, political intrigue, etc.) or even be internal. (Hamlet, the great procrastinator who had endless debates with himself), but you'd better get it in your novel and the sooner, the better.
Rule Two. Research. This depends on the sort of book you want to write. A general rule, which can be broken, is that new writers should write about what they know, whatever it is. That might be sufficient and in fact, might always be part of the books you write (see Dana Stabenow for example). I deliberately set To Catch A Cop in the academic world because it is a world that I know from the inside. However, and here comes the however, at some point, it is necessary to do some research. In some cases, depending on the book you are burning to write, extensive research. Do you need to do all that before you start to write? Nope. You can fill in the blanks later or you can choose to start to read some general books on the topic before you start to write. Your choice.
Often, you don't need to read a full book to get the information you want and need. As an example, if you are writing a medieval mystery, you probably need to know what sorts of clothing people wore. (you might want to know about coins, weapons, homes, food, etc. --take your pick here). To learn about these things, you might read a full book about medieval clothes that is broken down by various years, location, gender, social class, age but if your book is specific to a certain time and place, you might need to read only a small portion of that book. Up to you. I get hooked into almost anything I start so chances are that I would read the whole book anyway.
A number of years ago, I was searching for information about medieval ladies' underwear, don't ask why, but couldn't find it anywhere. I ended up in a correspondence with an academic who specialized in medieval women and had a rollicking good time writing back and forth discussing lots of things.
Using the Internet as the only source of research is not acceptable. Sorry, but it isn't. It's a starting point, but in the end, you need access to a library. A good library, and that usually means a college/university library. Visiting the library might also result in finding a book that you didn't even know you needed because if you are like me, you can type in your search, but most of the time, I end up going to the shelves anyway and having a look through the titles. You never know what goodies you might find there and you won't get that sort of thing online.
A bonus to an academic library visit is that you might meet a grad student or academic who is an expert in the topic you are researching.
If that's the case, you hit the mother lode and they might be willing to provide information for you that will be extraordinarily helpful, so make sure you acknowledge that contribution in the final draft of your book.
Rule Three. Don't give up. Persistence pays. If writing was so darned easy, everyone would do it. Keep working, keep trying, keep an open mind and try to learn and improve. After all, you don't need a degree, license or any formal qualifications to be a writer, you just have to write.
Thanks Elle for Dropping by!
You can find her on the Web at: