In Sherry Scarpaci’s debut mystery, Lullaby, Vicky Langford is raising her 18-month-old son, Josh, alone after her policeman husband was murdered on the job. A former police officer herself, Vicky is using her current position as an investigative reporter to gather evidence against the crime boss she blames for her husband’s death. Someone is stalking and threatening Vicky, but she refuses to let that stop her investigation. When Josh is kidnapped, though, the intimidation becomes pure terror for his mother. The author, a former magazine and newspaper writer, is the mother of two grown sons and lives in the Chicago area.
You’ve said it took you many years to write Lullaby. What slowed you down?
Pretty much life and the fact that I had no outline for Lullaby, just an idea. I sat down and started writing with no clear cut vision of where I wanted the story to go. That was just one problem. Along the way I detoured into non-fiction. I ended up writing for a local newspaper for a year and then Woman’s World magazine for about six years. During that time I also had to work outside of the home because of a divorce. Working full time and writing for the magazine left no time to pursue any other writing. Then when the magazine writing dried up, I had to take a second job in order to take care of my family. Again, there was virtually no time to write, or so I thought.
Ironically that was when I finished the first draft of Lullaby. I’ve always been an early riser, so I’d get up at 4 a.m. and work on the novel until I had to leave for work. I had a lap top I took to work with me, and I’d write during my lunch break. After getting home at 9:30 – 10 p.m. from my second job, I’d write till around midnight, go to bed, get up at 4 and start all over again.
When I finished the manuscript, I sent it to Harlequin, who expressed a strong interest in it. I really thought I had it sold. Harlequin had it for months, only to reject me with a very nice letter telling me that I had a strong plot and wrote well, but the romantic theme wasn’t strong enough and they thought the subject matter wouldn’t “sit well” with their readership. Then began the rounds of revisions and the search for an agent. Lullaby would be out there for months at a time and along the way I’d get great rejection letters, sometimes a page or page-and-a-half, suggesting ways to improve my story. I always wrote thank you notes to those people and rewrote Lullaby again.
Then about four years ago I joined a second writer’s group, this one a critique group, and it made a huge difference. They made suggestions, caught mistakes and inconsistencies. I did two more revisions and submitted it to Five Star at a writer’s conference in February of 2006. Two months later they accepted it.
Was it difficult to maintain enthusiasm for the story and characters over a long period? Did you ever consider dropping it and starting something new?
I never thought about not finishing it. The problem was that when I’d send it out, I’d start another project, then get the rejection with suggestions and decide to rewrite Lullaby. That meant putting aside the other projects. I must admit I did get a little sick -- no, make that a lot sick -- of Lullaby after a while. By the time I got it back from Five Star for final revisions I had had enough. There were other characters bothering me, wanting a voice.
Did the characters and story change a lot over the years you worked on it?
My heroine, Vicky Langford, pretty much stayed the same, but the finished manuscript bears no resemblance to what I started out with. That story is still in the back of my mind and maybe I’ll tell that one some day.
The story in Lullaby is about the abduction of a young child. You have children yourself -- was this a hard topic for you to deal with? What made you want to write this particular story?
The idea for Lullaby came about because I had a friend who was babysitting for a young woman who was being stalked by her baby’s father. I was telling my brother about it one day, thinking it was a good story idea. We started playing “what if,” and Lullaby was born.
To a degree it was a hard story to work on because my own kids were young at the time I started it. It was more difficult though, to write stories for the magazine about sick children. (I wrote a lot of those.) By far the worst story, and the one that impacted me the most, was a story I did on parents of murdered children. That was absolutely heart wrenching, and I can still recall every detail. I was on the phone with those mothers for hours, them crying, me crying. It was awful. I felt like I was picking at wounds that were still fresh, but they were eager to talk about their children. They told me other people shied away from talking about what happened because it made them uncomfortable. Talking to me served as a kind of outlet, I think. I became more paranoid about my kids after that, though. I was always a bit over-protective and I got much, much worse.
Where did Vicky come from? Is she based on you or on anyone you know?
I didn’t base Vicky’s character on anyone in particular. I just wanted to craft a strong character. I love kick-ass women in movies and books, and I wanted Vicky to be the same. No damsel in distress here. No knights charging in on horses to save the day. I wanted Vicky to be the one to do that.
What aspect of the writing craft have you worked hardest to improve?
Editing, by far. In the beginning everything I wrote seemed so important. I had to learn to be brutal and get rid of things even if I liked them. Someone once told me to think of editing like packing a suitcase. Only so much will fit and you have to leave some stuff out. That concept helps me, but I still struggle with it.
Once you had the book in its final form, how long did it take you to find a publisher?
Once I had rewritten the book for the umpteenth time, not long. I think I finished the rewrites in October of 2005 and pitched to Five Star at the writer’s conference in February of 2006. My acceptance came in April of the same year. This was after a lot of years of searching for an agent and suffering through enough rejections that I can paper an 8 X 10 room.
Now that you’re published, you’ll have to speed up the writing. Have you completed a second book yet? If so, was it easier to write than the first? Do you think you can handle the book-a-year schedule that most mystery writers are on?
I’m working on a new book that will definitely be a series. It’s called Resurrection, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through the first draft. I’m really enjoying writing this one. I think because I’m working smarter this time around. I worked on an outline first, and that really helps me keep on track. Doesn’t mean I stick to it strictly, but I at least have a sense of direction that I didn’t have with Lullaby. And yes, I will have to speed up my writing. I’m 51. If it takes me as long to finish this new book as it did Lullaby, I’ll probably be published posthumously. I wouldn’t say this story is easier to write, but I have a stronger sense of the story and the characters this time. I’m not sure about the book-a-year thing. Life gets in the way of writing Resurrection just as it did when I was writing Lullaby. Writing a book a year is something I would like to work toward. That’s one of my writing goals.
Did anything about the publication process come as a surprise to you?
How long it takes to actually get the book into print, and how hard it would be to get it onto shelves in book stores. I didn’t realize I’d have to contact booksellers and ask them to please carry my book.
Do you have a day job? How do you fit in writing and promotion?
I’ve been with the same company, Linear Electric, for the last 13 years. They have been very supportive of my writing since the day I started. I’m very blessed. I fit in the writing and the promotion where I can. I still get up early, 4–4:15, and try to fit in writing before leaving for work. I try to write on weekends, but it’s difficult at times. I’m very busy. Promoting Lullaby eats into the little time I have to write. I’d be interested to hear how other writers do it when they work full time. I’m constantly nagged by guilt, knowing I should be writing more, but not sure how to fit it in anymore than I do.
How much promotion are you planning for Lullaby? Will you attend any mystery conferences?
I know for sure I’ll be at Love Is Murder in 2008, beyond that I’m not sure. I’m trying to line up as many book signings as possible and take advantage of opportunities like the one you offered me, to be interviewed. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have some very nice press. I pass out postcards everywhere, the bank, the doctor’s office. My mom is hawking my book, too. She carries my postcards with her and hands them out wherever she goes.
Who are your favorite mystery and suspense authors? Have you learned writing techniques from studying other writers’ novels?
I love Agatha Christie. Ten Little Indians is one of my favorite stories. I’m also a huge fan of Mary Higgins Clark, Patricia McDonald, and Janet Evanovich. I do try to learn from what I read. See how other authors use dialogue to move the story along, for example.
Where would you like to be as writer five years from now?
Knocking out that book a year would be great. I would love to be home writing full time. That’s a dream. Who knows, maybe it will happen. So five years from now I would like to have three to five published novels under my belt. Guess that means I’d better get busy.
Visit the author's web site at www.sherryscarpaci.com.