My guest today is Stephanie Jaye Evans. Stephanie is a fifth generation Texan. She attended
’s Master of Liberal Studies Program and
wrote a mystery as her capstone project. That mystery, Faithful Unto Death, won
the 2010 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers.
Berkley Prime Crime will have it in stores on June fifth. She is currently at
work on the second novel in her Sugar Land Mystery series, Safe From Harm.
Stephanie lives in Rice University with her longsuffering husband, Richard
Box, and two badly-behaved pugs, Tommy and Mr. Wiggles. Sugar Land, Texas
Anne – Welcome, Stephanie. It’s a pleasure to have you drop by to chat about writing. Tell us about your book.
Stephanie - Faithful Unto Death, is the first in my Sugar Land Mystery Series. A minister finds himself caught up in a murder investigation when he discovers that Jo, his fourteen-year-old daughter, is involved with the chief suspect. It’s set in a master-planned community in
. I love the whole concept of setting a
murder mystery in a master-planned community--as if neighborhood restrictions
can keep out the darkness. And I’m more interested in good people who do bad
things than I am in completely evil people. Even my murderer is well-meaning. Sugar Land, Texas
Anne – Human nature is fascinating, isn’t it! Would you share an excerpt with us?
Stephanie – Of course!
It didn’t catch my attention that the back gate wasn’t latched; I’m not always as careful as
I should be, considering the gate opens onto the levee. I did notice that the door that opened of the back of the garage was open. I’m careful to keep that door shut and locked because you can get into the house from the garage. You can, a stranger can, and four-footed guests can, too. So I keep the door shut and usually locked.
When I put my hand on the doorknob, there was a dry crust of mud on it.
Imagine here a long, creaking twenty-five seconds as my body stops cold and my brain ratchets into gear.
Now, only Annie Laurie and I do any work in the garden that’s going to get your hands muddy, and we clean up after ourselves, so I didn’t think it was likely we had left mud on the doorknob. And the mud wasn’t around the knob, the way it would be if a muddy hand had grasped the knob; the mud was on top of the knob, the way it would be, I thought as I stepped back for a better look, if someone had, say, opened the door and swung it wide--put a foot on the knob in order to get a boost up to the top of the door, hung on the gutter to keep balance--and then hoisted themselves onto the roof of my one-story garage.
My eyes traveled up and I saw, sure enough, a trail of muddy footprints, red clay against the black composition roof.
Those footprints went straight to Jo’s bedroom window. Jo’s window opens onto the conveniently low, one-story garage roof. That garage sits in a yard that backs up to the levee. And that levee, again conveniently, is intersected by
Elkins Road. My eyes took all that in in two blinks.
All I saw then was red.
Anne – Thank you...only now I want, no, I NEED to know what happens next! How many rejections did you acquire along the way to publication? What kept you going?
Stephanie - To give you an accurate figure on the rejections, I’d have to count them up and that would be depressing. I’d have to go have a glass of wine and it’s way too early in the day for that. I sent Faithful Unto Death out to at least seventy-five agents. Two or three asked for the full manuscript, said encouraging things, but rejected me anyway. Here’s the thing. None of those rejections matter. Only the acceptance did. After Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management signed me, I put those rejections away forever.
What kept me going was that I knew I’d written a good book. I’d written the kind of book I like to read. It’s tender and funny and scary and sad and redemptive. I love my characters. I even like my murderer. These are very real people to me--they’re the kind of people who live in my neighborhood, and that means the murderer, too. I keep expecting to see them when I’m grocery shopping or walking my pugs in the greenbelt.
Anne - What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Stephanie - I’ve had to get disciplined about sitting my fanny down in front of my lap top and putting fingers to the keyboard. When I do that, the writing comes. Then the problem is that I write too much--I give too much detail, tell too many side stories that aren’t critical to the plot. I write much the way I talk. That means my agent, the fabulous Janet Reid, and my editor, the gorgeous Shannon Jamieson Vazquez of Berkley Prime Crime, get very strict about trimming. I’ll say, “Oh, but it’s good stuff!” and they’ll say, “Oh, but it doesn’t belong in this book.”
Anne - Describe your home office as appears right now. Is this a good or bad thing?!
Stephanie - There’s a corner desk in my bedroom. Two file drawers, two brass Stiffel lamps--drawers of stationary, pens, rubber bands, a framed composition of adjectives that my beautiful daughter-in-law made me, a tri-fold frame of my three absolutely perfect sons when they were six, four and two and I was still allowed to pick out their clothes, stacks of novels, reference and research books. I have a framed cork board with pictures of family and friends and my wonderful, handsome husband, Richard--also pinned up letters from professors and Richard, my Mystery Writers of America pin, my graduation tassel and a scripture, Micah 6:8. Behind my chair are two large denim cushions and on the cushions are two plump, softly-snoring pugs. How could it get any better?
Anne – What a cozy place to settle in with your muse. Outside of writing, what accomplishment are you most proud?
Stephanie - Very nearly every school night through their senior years, I read to my sons. We started with the Margaret Wise Brown books and proceeded all the way to McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove--a terrific read-aloud book. Those were precious times. And my boys all have enviable vocabularies.
Anne - Any words of advice for struggling, unpublished writers?
Stephanie - Yes, indeed. First, I’ll speak as a writer. Never give up. Keep trying. Depressed over a rejection? You are allowed one hour. Max. Tell a friend about it and then get back to work. I have met sooooo many successful, published writers who worked for years, ten or fifteen, before getting their books published. That’s my advice as a writer. My advice as a reader is, pour your passion into your book, all your love. Write what you love, don’t try to guess what I’m going to buy at my favorite independent bookstore (Murder By the Book in
). Because when you are genuinely excited
about your book, I can feel that--it makes me love the book. And it makes me
tell my friends to go out and buy it. Houston
Anne – Wonderful advice, and for what it’s worth, from the moment I decided to write a book to the day my first book was released was 15 years. So, yes, it can be a long haul. J
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on writing, Stephanie, and an excerpt from Faithful Unto Death. It’s been such fun, and please give Tommy and Mr. Wiggles a yummy doggie treat for me!
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