Today, we’re talking to Erika Chase, aka Linda Wiken, who is basking in the success of her recently published first novel, A Killer Read, An Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery, published by Berkley Prime Crime.
Erika, where do you live and why do you choose to live there?
I live in Ottawa and I love it! It’s the perfect sized city – lots of green space, two rivers, wonderful variety of restaurants and shopping, even night life if I could stay awake that late! It’s also a very friendly city with lots of museums, art galleries, cultural events and choirs! I think I’ll stay!
Was there a moment that changed everything when you knew you were a writer?
Don’t laugh, but it was grade 8 English. True! I kept getting top marks on essays and short stories; my English teacher, Mr. Ross, was a real go-getter and encouraging, so I tried my hand at writing a novel. Didn’t finish it, thank goodness. But the main character was a young girl, about my age, living on a horse ranch. My fantasy at that time.
What is your most memorable experience in a library or bookstore?
My first customer at my very first signing just happened to be from White Rock, B.C. This started off a long conversation about that beautiful spot (I was born and raised not far from there) and when I said I’d be in White Rock in about three weeks, we said we’d keep an eye open for each other, have fish and chips on the beach by the boardwalk. Small world!
Describe a typical day in your life when you are working on a book, that is writing, re-writing, editing, proofing.
The only thing typical about my days is the act of writing. I’ve found it’s best to get all the email, Internet and blog matters dealt with right away so I won’t get ambushed later on. It’s also a good way to wake up the writing brain.
In a previous working life, I used to wake up really early and write before my son got up for school. Then I started walking during that time period and writing at night. Now, I find I write best early afternoon…and then just keep on going until I want to stop. Or have to.
Describe your writing process. How do you get from concept to finished manuscript?
I started writing a synopsis when I began writing this book series. It was a requirement from the publisher. Before that point, I’d just write by the seat of my pants.
But I prefer this method. It gives me a clear direction and, although I often take a different route, I eventually get to the destination I’d originally planned. I find it’s a good way to get past any roadblocks, commonly called writer’s block, and I feel I already know what to expect when I start writing. It’s the surprises that keep cropping up, that keep the process fresh.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what type/artist/songs?
While I’m writing the Southern cosies, I like to listen to music that transports me there. The soundtrack from The Big Easy is a favourite; songs like Sweet Home Alabama will also do. I can listen to the same music over and over – it becomes background and doesn’t grow stale. For my other writing, it’s always classical music, usually baroque and instrumental. Soothes the wandering thought processes.
Share a memorable experience you had with a reader.
A Facebook friend started posting messages before my book came out as to how much she was looking forward to reading it; then that she had purchased it; then that she had read it and loved it. In addition, she’s eagerly awaiting the second book, Read & Buried, which is due in Nov., 2012. Yay, friends!
What’s the nicest thing a critic or reader has said about your work?
“I absolutely adore cozy mysteries and when it is a well written tale, I melt like marshmallows on a Scottsdale, Arizona dashboard. Kudos to Erika Chase who had succeeded in turning me into a sticky mess with every page turned. A Killer Read is another top-notch reading experience from Berkley Prime Crime. Good catch, Berkley, for scooping up this talented lass.” From Seattlepi.com
Which mystery author, living or dead, has influenced your writing the most?
For the cosies, it’s Carolyn Hart. I was hooked on her Murder on Demand series when it first came out in the mid-1980s and stayed with it for many years. I loved the setting of a mystery bookstore and the wonderful town she’d created. The mysteries were always very well-plotted, too.
Do you think writers are born or made?
It’s a combination of the two. That interest has to be there but then it takes a lot of coddling, cajoling, and just plain hard work to be a writer.
What is the most rewarding part of being an author?
The feeling of accomplishment! I love the process of writing and re-writing a book. But when you send it in to the editor, a completed masterpiece, it’s the best feeling ever.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Don’t give up. Keep sending your material out – to editors, to agents, to contests! Cultivate a critiquing group or a small number of people to read your writing and more importantly, who you trust will give you honest feedback. Always try to refine your writing skills. And most of all, hang out in bars at mystery conferences or at least be friends with someone who has a dynamite agent.
Make your pitch! Describe what happens in your latest book in two sentences.
At the first meeting of the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society, a stranger does a gate crash and is later found dead. It’s up to Lizzie Turner and the book club members to find the killer.
What challenges did you face writing this book?
Where to start! No, that wasn’t a challenge. I just mean, there were so many. This was a ‘work for hire’ – the editor at Berkley Prime Crime already had the idea and it was up to me to write the story, or three of them actually. Therefore, I had to embrace the characters – and their names – that she’d chosen. That was the most difficult part, trying to make them mine. Especially since they had names. I love choosing names and often build a character from that name. This was a new process for me. Other challenges – having a thirty-year-old heroine. Okay, I’d been there at one point, so not insurmountable. Also, she was a reading specialist about which I knew nothing. Fortunately, it helps to have relatives. Setting it in a Southern U.S. town was also interesting.
What sets this book apart from your previous work?
Considering that previous novels I’ve written were never published, that’s what sets this one apart. I can definitely see their failings at this stage of my writing. As mentioned, the synopsis kept me on track so this one is actually coherent and structured.
My other published works are short stories. A totally different writing process. Obviously, the length is the main difference, therefore with short stories, every word has to count.
The “or” questions
Cup of coffee or glass of wine? Cup of espresso
Twitter or Facebook? Facebook
Library or bookstore? Bookstore
Print or ebook? Print
Setting or character? Character
Book or movie? Book
If you could choose anywhere in the world to write your next book, where would it be and why?
Sicily. I toured there a couple of summers ago with my choir and absolutely fell in love with the countryside, the ocean shores, and the people and culture. I even fantasized about owning a small villa (only in my dreams!) there.
What can you tell us about your next book?
The Ashton Corners Book Club gang is back and there’s a dead author on Lizzie Turner’s living room floor in READ & BURIED, due November, 2012 from Berkley Prime Crime.
If you’d like to meet Erika Chase, she’ll be in conversation with two other notable Canadian crime writers, Vicki Delany and Lynwood Barclay at 9 a.m., Saturday, June 2, at Bloody Words, a mystery conference for writers and readers, Toronto. And be sure to visit the Erika Chase website.
About Erika Chase
Erika writes the Ashton Corners Book Club mysteries for Penguin/Berkley Prime Crime. In a parallel life Erika Chase is also known as Linda Wiken. A former mystery bookstore owner (Prime Crime Books in Ottawa, ON, Canada), Linda is also a short story writer. She is a member of those dangerous dames, The Ladies’ Killing Circle.
Her short stories have appeared in the seven Ladies’ Killing Circle anthologies (three of which she co-edited), and in the magazines Mysterious Intent and Over My Dead Body. She has been short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Award, Best Short Story, from Crime Writers of Canada.
Before life in the world of mystery, she worked as an advertising copywriter, radio producer, journalist and community education worker. Besides writing and reading mysteries, her other passion is choral singing and she is a member of two choirs.