Saturday, February 19, 2011

An Interview with Daphne Du Maurier Award winner Ann Charles

Today I'm welcoming 2010 Daphne Du Maurier Award winning author Ann Charles to Writing Horses. Ann's mystery, Nearly Departed in Deadwood, takes single mom Violet Parker on a murder-mystery solving adventure in Deadwood, South Dakota as she tries to hold on to her job, protect her two young children, not fall in love, and stay alive. Deadwood is not without its quirky characters -- and some are quirkier than others. Even sexy Doc has -- shall we say -- his unique side. Here's a little taste of what Violet is up against.

 “Do you mind stopping at that gas station up ahead?” Doc asked when we neared Main St. “I’m thirsty.”
I turned into the parking lot of Jackpot Gas-n-Go, coasting past a Toyota pickup fueling up at the pumps. My breath caught when I saw the “Wish You Were BEER” bumper sticker stuck on the tailgate.
Crap! Jeff Wymonds—the last person I wanted to see.
I parked in a spot near the corner of the building, putting as much distance between Jeff’s pickup and me as the lot allowed.
“Be right back.” Doc hopped out.
Through the passenger-side window, I watched him stride along the walkway to the front glass doors. He pushed inside, and when the door swung back, Jeff stepped out. My heart dropped to my toes.
I cranked my rearview mirror to the side so I could spy on Jeff as he crossed the lot and climbed into his pickup. He looked less Neanderthal-ish with his hair damp and combed back, but he still sported the stained white T-shirt and blue jeans, the same facial scruff. As he rolled toward me, I slunk way down in my seat, my fingers crossed that he didn’t recognize my Bronco.
I waited for the growl of his engine to disappear, but it didn’t. Instead it rumbled up next to me, idling just outside my door. I heard his door slam.
Oh, fuck! I hit the door lock button and then waited for his face to appear in the window next to me.
Twenty seconds later, I was still waiting.
I inched my way up in my seat, peeking out the window. Jeff was marching toward the Dumpster in the back corner of the lot, carrying a big black garbage bag. As he neared the Dumpster, he looked left then right and then over his shoulder. Then he lifted the Dumpster lid and tossed the bag inside. I saw a hint of something pink before the lid crashed down again.
Someone knocked on the passenger-side window. I yelped and jerked, hitting my knee on the underside of the dash.
Doc stood on the other side of the glass, staring down at me with a furrowed brow.
I unlocked the doors and sat up, straightening my dress, avoiding eye contact as he climbed in next to me and held out a bottle of water.
“Oh, thanks. Let me give you some money.”
He waved me off. “You feeling okay?” I could hear a hint of laughter in his tone.
“Yeah. Sure. I’m great.”
The slam of a pickup door to my left drew my attention out my window. I looked over and ran smack dab into Jeff’s gaze.
His eyes narrowed to a squint as he stared back.
My mouth went dry.
He pointed at me.
I locked the door again.
Jeff’s crazed grin reappeared.
Holy shit.

Nearly Departed In Deadwood won two prestigious Daphne du Maurier awards this year. One for mainstream mystery and the other for overall excellence. Tell us about your journey to this much sought-after award.

During my teen years, I spent my summers in Deadwood, South Dakota, exploring its streets, learning its notorious history, soaking up its sounds and smells. The story idea for Nearly Departed in Deadwood came to me one summer day while I was in Deadwood visiting my mom. I wanted to write something that incorporated Deadwood’s past and present—a mystery, along with a healthy dash of romance, and some paranormal, too. It took me a month to figure out enough details of the plot to get rolling, eight months to write and polish the story until it was suitable for professional eyes. My agent loved it out of the gate, and we hooked the attention of an editor at Mira (aka Harlequin) pretty quickly. But the manuscript didn’t make it through the acquisition process at Mira, and after that, the market got really tight for new authors. For the next several months, the rejections were the same: editors liked the story enough to read it through The End, but it continued to get rejected for marketing reasons. My level of frustration crested to new levels with each “Sorry, but no thanks.”

I began writing the second in the series in spite of the rejections, so sure in my gut that this book was going to be published. At this point, I entered the Daphne du Maurier (early 2010), looking for some helpful reader feedback from the judges, crossing my fingers that the story would be earn a finalist spot in the contest. You can imagine my shock when it not only landed a finalist position, but went on to win my division and the overall prize. I’d been so sure it wouldn’t win anything due to my quirky voice that I didn’t even bother with a Thank-You speech, something I regretted when accepting the award in front of 150 fellow authors and publishing professionals. I slept with my Daphne award for the first month, then moved it to the night stand for the next two. Now it graces the top of the piano, where I gaze at it fondly most evenings before kissing it goodnight. J   

You haven't stayed strictly inside the confines of one genre with this book. Was this intentional or did the story "ask" to be that way?

I like genres how I like my margaritas—blended. The last five books I’ve written have been mixed, because I’m lousy at sticking with one genre. I could have tried to write Nearly Departed in Deadwood as a straight mystery, but it wouldn’t be as rich and mayhem-filled as it is with the addition of romance and paranormal elements. To answer your question, the lack of just one genre is intentional. I wanted to make Violet Parker’s life messy. With this genre mix, I’ve succeeded in that goal.    

Why did you choose Deadwood, South Dakota for your setting?

Partly because I have been in love with Deadwood and its history since I was a kid, but also because I know it and the surrounding area pretty well. It was my home away from home while growing up, and I have been creating stories about it in my head since I roamed the brick streets and gravel back roads. I want to share with others what makes Deadwood so special, lure more people there to witness its pine-scented gulches and learn about its gold-laden history. I want to give something back to the town and its inhabitants for all they have given to me over the years. One of my favorite things many readers have told me after they have finished reading Nearly Departed in Deadwood has been how much they want to go visit Deadwood and see it for themselves.

What, in addition to the setting, inspired the story?

Besides the town of Deadwood, and its history, is my love of strong female protagonists. Plus, having kids opened my mind to the idea of having a heroine who had children of her own to take care of and keep safe. I have so much respect for single parents now that I’ve had children of my own. I’m fortunate to have a husband to help me raise our kids. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for a single parent to have to go it alone and keep his or her children safe, fed, and sheltered without the relief of someone there to lean on at times. My hat is off to all of the Violet Parkers (in the female and male form) of the world who are determined to provide for their families on their own and keep them protected from the boogey man.

As you mentioned, even a major award doesn't guarantee a publisher will offer you a contract. Tell us about your route to publication. How long did it take you to get an agent? What is your working relationship like with your agent? Is it common? What has your experience been with publishers and the current state of the publishing world? Is it an unusual one, or is it becoming more common?

I’ve been working on getting a book published for thirteen years now. Yes, thirteen long freaking years full of life’s messy adventures and a lot of fingers hitting the keys in between. Nearly Departed in Deadwood is my seventh novel I’ve written, so it took me some time to perfect my craft, figure out what works best with my voice, and create something I’m ready to put out there for the world to read. I signed on with my agent after writing book five. She liked my voice and asked me to write a sequel to that story, which I did, but she couldn’t find someone interested in buying it. We’ve stayed together ever since, and with this book, she came very close to selling it, but we were shot down in acquisitions.

Our working relationship is pretty laid back. I write the books and send them to her, she tells me if she wants anything tweaked before sending it off to editors. In between, we talk to each other about once or twice a month in order to touch base. I don’t want someone who is in constant contact, and in that way, she’s perfect for me. We hang out once or twice a year at conferences and have become friends as well as partners in this business of getting published. I don’t know if this is common or not, because I’ve only had her as an agent. I know many authors who are friends with their agents and work as a team, so I think this is pretty normal. I believe it is key to find someone you trust, someone who gives you whatever you need—whether it be plenty of space or routine weekly contact.

My experiences with publishers have been frustrating. I have had several editors who like my book and read the whole story (a rarity in this day and age because they don’t have the time to waste on many books they are going to buy), but most have come back with the same type of rejection—it isn’t “big” enough of a story, meaning they don’t feel it appeals to a wide enough audience, or they don’t think it will get through the marketing department’s narrow filter. At first, I was ready to chew glass over this attitude, but then I decided that the best thing I could do was to learn as much as I could about marketing and promotion and publicity. Then I could either convince them to buy the book with the help of a solid marketing plan or figure out another way to sell and market the book, skipping the traditional New York route.

I think this route I’m taking is becoming a beaten path. Many new authors are tired of hitting their head against the brick wall in New York. They’ve been learning all about selling their book for years and are no longer willing to have someone at a large publishing house determine if they get to be a published author or not. They are willing to take a chance, work their hind ends off, and head out on their own into the crazy world of publishing and promoting.  

You've taken control of your writing career and made the decision to proceed with publishing your book in e-format and then print format. What did it take for you to get to that decision?

I decided to chart a new course and take the e-book route after I won the Daphne du Maurier award this summer and still received no interest from a large publishing house. The message was clear, I wasn’t going to land a contract. However, another message was also clear after that win—readers liked my book. For years I’ve believed in testing out my stories on volunteers, getting their feedback on what they liked and didn’t. I did the same with Nearly Departed in Deadwood initially, but after I won the Daphne du Maurier, I sought out even more readers, testing the book, asking for feedback. The results came back and the book was a big hit. I decided to listen to the readers and send this book out into the world to see if it would fly on its own. It’s a big experiment, but how can over 50 test-readers be wrong? With the super positive results I’ve had so far, I have to try, because I refuse to shelve this book.

You are the co-founder of the very popular 1st Turning Point website. You have more information on author promotion there than I've seen anywhere else. It really is a treasure chest full of useful articles to help authors promote themselves and their work. What lead you to create this site?

The birth of 1st Turning Point came after spending almost two years learning all I could about marketing and promotion. I knew I needed to start a blog to help build name recognition, but I also knew most people wouldn’t care much about me and my life and my writing pursuits, so I wanted to come up with a blog that would offer some “What’s in it for me?” value to the reader. However, I didn’t think I could do what needed to be done on my own, so I approached my long-time critique partner and good friend, Jacquie Rogers, who I knew had a lot of wisdom to share about marketing and promotion. With just a little arm twisting, she agreed to create the website with me. We figured that I would write a post on Mondays, she’d write on Fridays, and we’d find someone to help fill in on Wednesdays. Five months after we agree to create this site, we opened our doors with over 20 volunteer columnists and four crew members. Three months later, Jacquie and I didn’t have to do any writing at all each month because we had so many authors willing to share what they know monthly with readers. Ever since then, we just keep growing and growing. It’s incredible, really, and I feel very fortunate to get to have so much information on marketing and promotion at my fingertips.  Jacquie and I couldn’t keep the site running without the help of our now 30+ columnists and 6 crew members. (And we’re always looking for more help, so if you’re interested in joining our crew, email me!) 

Your approach to marketing and promotion is creative, well organized, and highly tactical. It is also long-term. Can you explain a little about your overall approach to what is essentially "career-building"? Do you have any marketing philosophies that guide you?

I think of myself as an entrepreneur, not just an author. I am building an empire here. Not only do I have to act as a creator of the story and characters, I also have to be the QA department, marketing, sales, administration, and customer service. I often seek out help from friends and family for help in building this empire, but I am the head honcho in charge of success. If I don’t lead and push onward through thick and thin, I will not succeed. So, when I think about my career, I think about it as a whole business, not just the writing part. I am constantly learning about marketing and promotion, publicity, taxes, craft, and more. I am always on the lookout for people who may be able and willing to help me find success, and thinking about how I can repay them for their help and generosity. I write up daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. I have a career plan I update twice a year. I eat, drink, and sleep the writing business, coming close at times during the year to being on the receiving end of a family intervention due to my obsession with writing. I’m not in this for a little bit of income on the side, I’m in it to become a best seller. I know from studying the bestsellers that it’s going to take a lot of hard work and sacrifice to succeed, so I’m hunkered down and in it for the long run.

When it comes to marketing and my career, I have many inspiring quotes tacked to my wall that keep me motivated. Here are a few of my favorites:

If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.—Jonathan Winters
Don’t think “can’t.” Because if you think you can’t, then you won’t.—Unknown
Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.—John Wayne
There is nothing like Authorhood to keep a bitch humble.—Amber Scott, author (and my career coach)

Thank you, Ann! It's been a pleasure having you here, sharing your story. I'm sure you've been an inspiration to many. Your approach and dedication to the success of your career is a blueprint the rest of us would be wise to study and emulate. Nearly Departed in Deadwood is about the most fun I've had in a year! I have no doubt it will be a huge hit!

Thank you for having me here, Susan. I’m a huge fan of Death By A Dark Horse and can’t wait to read the second book in the series when it comes out. 

You can visit with Ann at 1st Turning Point, her blog Plot Mamas, And her website, Ann Charles. Get your copy of Nearly Departed In Deadwood at;



Barnes & Nobel


  1. Great post! I just might like this one. ; )
    Thanks, Susan, for posting it and I'm following you from the Crusade.

  2. Hi Zan, I love that name! Sounds like a heroine's name. Thanks for stopping by Susan's blog today and saying, "Hi." I'm a huge fan of Susan and her mysteries. I'm fortunate that she asked me to be on her blog.

    Take care,

  3. I loved that part of the book, Ann. Also loved hearing your expanded story about the agent and how your years of hard work PAID OFF! WOOOT!!

    I love the title DEATH BY A DARK HORSE... will have to check that out! :-)

  4. Nice to meet you! I'm a new follower from the crusade! :)

  5. What fun; both of you on one page! It takes one to know one (wonderful authors, of course).

  6. I agree on the WOOOT!! Thanks for reading and helping to cheer me on. Death by a Dark Horse is a lot of fun. Susan has a real winner with it!

    Ann C.

  7. Chantele--Nice to meet you, too. I'm speaking on my behalf, not Susan's, of course. I need to find out what this crusade is. It sounds fun!

    Jody, thank you for stopping by, Ms. Tsar!

    Ann C.

  8. What a great interview! Thanks for posting this Susan and for sharing so much, Ann. I rooting for you and that best seller's list.

  9. Thank you, Nanette. I really appreciate all rooting. Thank you for stopping by! Ann C.

  10. Good for you for persevering, Ann. I've got your story, but I had a few to read in front of it. I can hardly wait, though. :)

  11. Another Crusader checkin' in. :)
    Nice interview.

  12. Great interview! Great book, too! :)
    Thanks Susan and Ann!

  13. Laurie, thanks for getting the book! I look forward to seeing you around town someday soon.

    Tina, thanks for stopping by.

    Wendy, thanks for the kudos. You deserve some yourself.

    Ann C.

  14. I missed the party but I finally got here! Nearly Departed in Deadwood is going to catch on fire, especially when book 2 hits the market. It's that good. None of us who know you and your writing talent have any doubts whatsoever.


  15. What a great interview. I liked the snippet of what the book is about. Now I want to read it. I'm adding it to my TBR pile. Fellow crusader and new follower. It's nice to meet you.

  16. Thanks, Jacquie. You would know since you've been there with me from the start. :)

    Regina, it's nice to meet you and thanks for stopping by and adding it to your TBR pile!

    Ann C.

  17. Terrific interview, and the passage is intriguing!

  18. Thank you, William. Susan is a great interviewer!

    Ann C.

  19. Great interview! I'll have to check this one out, my list is getting so long!

    Fellow crusader, swinging by to say hi, and follow so I don't miss anything!
    The Survival Mama

  20. I love your tag, "Survival Mama." Thank you for stopping by and checking out Susan's interview. She asks great questions.

    Ann Charles