Interview with Marta Stephens, author of Silenced Cry ~ A Sam Harper Crime Mystery ~ Be Write Books
Conducted by Lucille P. Robinson (Reviewer at Alternative-read.com).
LPR: Ms. Stephens, tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
MS: I was born in Buenos Aires Argentina. My parents, four older siblings and I moved to the States when I was four. The American Midwest is where my family and I call home.
I returned to complete my college degree in journalism/public relations as a non-traditional student in 1993. I graduated in 2001 at the age of 47 while employed full-time in HR at our local university as the Work Life Coordinator. I began writing fiction in 2003 while in the process of researching information about an event in WWII. It sparked my first novel—a spy murder mystery. That was it; the writing bug bit hard and hasn’t let go. The experience quickly evolved into a life-changing passion that has led to the birth of my Sam Harper Crime Mysteries and my debut novel, Silenced Cry. I am currently working on the second book in the series. The spy murder mystery is still in its first draft but I do look forward to finishing it one of these day.
I am a member of Sisters in Crime, and the Midwest Writer’s Workshop.
LPR: If a reader wanted to read these short stories and flash fiction where could they be found?
MS: They were published by Bewrite Books when they hosted an authors’ forum. That forum is no longer in existence. I’ve thought about those and other stories that I never quite polished. Perhaps some day I’ll do something with them, but for the time being, they are unavailable.
LPR: How would you describe your book Silenced Cry?
MS: Silenced Cry is more than a detective murder mystery. It’s really the story of a young man, Homicide Detective Sam Harper and the people and events that change his life. It’s a story about betrayal, suspicions, and many surprises. In the end, Harper emerges as the tough, seasoned officer hardboiled mysteries are made of.
LPR: I felt particularly drawn to Sam Harper right from the beginning. Tell us how you came to create Sam.
MS: The character of Sam Harper evolved over the course of three years. I knew from the very beginning that he was not going to be the perfect man or detective. He couldn’t be if I wanted him to be believable. I wanted the reader to relate to him when he feels cheated and betrayed; when his pride gets hurt and he wants revenge in the worse way. What sets him apart, however, and what I hope the reader will find irresistible about this character is that in spite of his flaws, he is a man of integrity and learns from his mistakes.
The creation of Silenced Cry and its diverse set of characters go back to a fall afternoon in 2004 when I began to write The Black Pearl, what will now be the second book in the Sam Harper Crime Mysteries series. I wrote The Black Pearl and (at the time) books two and three but needed a fourth story to complete the series. However, instead of moving forward in time, I decided to show the beginning. I felt there was much more to the Sam Harper character than catching criminals. With this first book, I wanted the reader to understand who Homicide Detective Sam Harper is and what drives him. Harper has his share of flaws. He doesn’t always get it right, the evidence doesn’t always fall neatly into place, and doors don’t always open to reveal the answer. His oath as a law enforcement officer means a great deal to him and it is his belief in the justice system (in spite of its flaws) that keeps him on the right side of the law.
LPR: Some have voiced complaints about the number of characters you put in Silenced Cry and how the characters have confused these readers. However, I have not been confused and I praise your ability to juggle so many characters at once. Would you explain to our readers why you chose to work with so many characters and how you were able to make each one stand out in his/her own right?
MS: Silenced Cry cannot be told without each of the 26 characters. If you read the reviews from both professional reviewers and the average reader reactions (all are listed on my website, www.martastephens-author.com) you will note a common thread. Each praises the complexity of this novel, how every subplot, twist and turn comes neatly together for a surprise ending, and the difficulty they had in putting it down. More importantly, nearly all reviews and comments mention the second book. There is no fat in this story meaning that each character is critical to the plot of this mystery—without them, the story wouldn’t make sense.
LPR: Ms. Stephens, your knowledge of police procedures, crime scene handling and especially the interrogation room tactics have really impressed me. Did you have to research for this information and, if so, how did you go about it?
MS: I do a huge amount of research. There have been times when I’ve research an item for days trying to find the correct term or the exact procedure that would only be used in one sentence in the book. In addition to my research, I have also consulted with police detectives and pathology lab technicians on numerous occasions.
I’ve research everything from weather patterns, to police issue weapons and poisons to Massachusetts law and phone parts. One of the funniest comments I received from two critiquers were about the interrogation scenes in my book. They were certain I must have sat in on several interrogations. I think all it takes is an observant eye and a way of translating what you see into writing. My greatest fear is to have a professional (police officer, forensic scientists, medical examiner, etc.) read the book and toss it down because it wasn’t believable. If you’re interested, I do have a reader comment from a police detective on my website that proves research is essential to making it believable.
LPR: Do you follow a particular schedule for writing?
MS: I try to spend at least 3-4 hours every night. Certainly more on weekends.
LPR: Do you speed write a first draft and then spend your time editing it or do you outline first?
MS: I outline the story line and write back stories for each of the main characters. I find it helps me understand the characters and their motives better.
LPR: Have you any favorite writing tips you can share with beginning writers?
MS: Network. It is the absolute key. Join at least one or two author forums and/or critique groups that focus on the development of the craft. Be consistent. Set up a scheduled time to write/research. If you are serious about becoming published, the book won’t write itself. Work it and don’t be afraid to cut a chapter or two of your favorite writing. That’s the real test, when you put the quality of the novel first.
LPR: I know you gave a general answer to this question earlier, but can you be more specific, please? What authors would you say are your literary heroes and which novels have inspired your writing of the Sam Harper Crime Mysteries?
MS: I’m not sure that there is another Sam Harper nor do I have any literary heroes. I’ve enjoyed Harlen Coben, Patricia Cornwell, and John Grisham to name a few. But I think I have been just as influenced by some classic movies. I received several comments that my work is reminiscent of Bogart’s Sam Spade. Spade, by the way, isn’t Harper’s name sake, but I can’t deny having been influenced by Alfred Hitchcock and other mystery greats.
LPR: Do you ever face writers’ block?
MS: Yes, I’ve had my share of writing blocks, especially when I have a particularly difficult scene to develop. When that happens, I walk away from it. Once I quit trying to write, the words flow.
LPR: Do you ever use story prompts?
MS: I’ve never used prompts to write my series because I always have a story line in mind before I type the first sentence. I generally begin by visualizing the opening scene–the tough part for me is where to start the story. (i.e.: Should the opening line show the character walking toward the building, walking through the door, or inside the building?) That’s not the best example but it’s a matter of timing. Which opening will have the greater punch.
LPR: Would you mind suggesting three story ‘prompts’ for your readers?
MS: Lucille, I’m only good for one. Here it is: Ellen combed a hand through her shoulder-length hair and gave the tiny living room a final sweep with her eyes. Everything was back in its place. She glanced at her watch. Eleven p.m. If she left now, she’d be two states away before anyone would notice the stains on the bedroom rug.
LPR: Not only a good prompt, but could actually begin a story. Thank you. Ms. Stephens, where can we buy Silenced Cry?
MS: There is a list of some (not all) online and traditional book stores that carry Silenced Cry on my website. Most independent book stores will be able to order the book for their customers. Silenced Cry is also available at all the Amazons, and online at the Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million websites.
LPR: Finally, Ms. Stephens, would you consider donating a copy of Silenced Cry for a contest?
MS: My pleasure.
LPR: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you and a most enjoyable interview. Good luck with all your future endeavours. Please keep us informed as each book appears on the market. I want every one of them.
MS: Thank you Lucille. It’s been fun.
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