Interviewed by Sandra Parshall
Sara Rosett is the author of the Mom Zone mysteries featuring Air Force wife and professional organizer Ellie Avery, whose life mirrors the author’s in many respects. Since marrying an Air Force pilot, Sara has regularly packed up her family for moves to California, Texas (where she grew up), Washington state, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Maryland, and Virginia, where she lives now. Although she admits to being less organized than her heroine, she has found time to write four series novels – Moving Is Murder, Staying Home Is a Killer, Getting Away Is Deadly, and the upcoming Magnolias, Moonlight and Murder (April from Kensington).
Sara’s nonfiction writing has been published in Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul, Simple Pleasures of Friendship, Simple Pleasures of the Kitchen, Romantic Times, Mystery Scene, Mystery Readers Journal, The Writer, and Georgia Magazine. For more information, visit www.sararosett.com and www.thedeadlydivas.com.
Q. Tell us about your current book, Getting Away is Deadly.
A. Air Force wife and professional organizer Ellie Avery goes to Washington, D.C., expecting some r&r while her pilot husband attends classes—but it’s Ellie who gets a deadly lesson when the getaway turns out to be murder.
Q. Would you categorize the Mom Zone books as cozies? Does the term bother you, or do you find it useful for targeting an audience?
A. Some people categorize the books as cozy and the designation doesn’t bother me. For me, when you say a “cozy book” it brings to mind a book that makes you want to curl up in an overstuffed chair with a cup of tea on a cold day. Who wouldn’t want that? On the other hand, if the word “cozy” is used as a derogatory term with sneer firmly in place, well, that’s different. Many readers who I talk with aren’t familiar with the term cozy. I describe my books as “whodunits” in the tradition of Agatha Christie.
Q. What was the inspiration for Getting Away Is Deadly?
A. I accompanied my husband, who is military pilot, when he went to Washington, D.C. for two training classes and those trips inspired the book. I didn’t witness a fatal accident in a Metro station, but I couldn’t help thinking what dangerous places they were. And then I made the typical mystery writer leap—what if someone fell into the path of an incoming train? It would be a great place for a murder since there aren’t any guardrails to prevent someone from falling into a train’s path. I also saw the tourist sights and included some in Getting Away is Deadly, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum.
Q. You’ve moved around a lot because of your husband’s military career. Does the frequent change of scene disrupt your writing – does it take you a while to settle in and get back to writing – or does it energize and inspire you?
A. Oh, it disrupts my routine all right! It takes about a month or two to get ready for the move, make the actual move, and then get everything unpacked again, so my word count does suffer. The upside is every place we live gives me new material and new ideas for books, so once we get through the actual transition it’s great.
Q. Are you as organized as Ellie is?
A. I wish! One look in my closet or kitchen cabinets and you’d know I’m nowhere near Ellie’s level of organization. I do a lot of research for the organizing aspect of the books. I’ve interviewed professional organizers and keep up with organizing and storage trends. Ellie is super organized and I had a lot of fun writing the book that will be out in April (Magnolias, Moonlight, and Murder) when Ellie’s home and family life prevent her from being as organized as she’d like.
Q. Do you get plot and character ideas from the places you live and the people you meet there, or do you steer away from using anything (or anyone) drawn from real life? If you use a real place, do you wait until after you leave to write about it?
A. Except for Getting Away is Deadly, which is set in Washington D.C., the rest of the locations, including military bases, are fictionalized. I didn’t want to write about a real military base and then have it closed down when the book came out. Base closures happen every few years and I didn’t want readers pulled out of the story, if they happened to be familiar with real military bases. The first two books in the series are set in eastern Washington state and anyone who’s lived in the area will recognize Spokane and Fairchild AFB. The next book takes place in middle Georgia. The plot ideas are hard to pin down, but several ideas have come from news stories. I’m a voracious newspaper reader and always find something interesting in the local paper. I don’t write about people I know. Sometimes I’ll start with a characteristic or personality from someone I know, but once I begin writing the character morphs and changes into something new.
Q. When did you start writing with the goal of publication? Was selling the first book easier than you expected, or harder?
A. I’ve always written. Even as I kid I wrote stories and wanted to be a published author. I didn’t seriously attempt to write a novel until nine years ago. I did quite a bit of research on the publishing industry while I was writing, so I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy journey. It took me two years to write the first book (Moving is Murder) and another year to find an agent, then it took her awhile to sell it. By the time the book actually came out it had been about five years.
Q. What do you know about publishing now that you wish someone had told you before you sold your first book?
A. Promote the book, but don’t kill yourself. I’ve realized that I can only do so much to make the books and the series a success. I’ve seen other authors do everything right—aggressively and effectively promote their books, have their books sell well, and they still get dropped by their publisher. My philosophy now is: do what I can for promotion and then get back to writing.
Q. Do you work with a critique group or individual friends who give you feedback on your manuscripts, or do you go it alone? Have you been able to find writing friends in all the places you’ve lived?
A. I usually go it alone. I tried to find writing friends, but the frequent moves have made it difficult.
Q. What is your writing routine? How do you fit it in when you’re also working at a job outside the home?
A. Finding time is always a challenge. I used to write in the afternoon when my kids were napping. Now that they’re in school, I write in the morning. I’m not currently working outside the home, but I did last year and it was extremely difficult. My hat is off to the people who are able to do it!
Q. What is your writing process like? Do you outline before you write? If so, do you follow the outline faithfully, or do your characters do things you didn’t expect and change the direction of the story?
A. I start with an idea and map it out on a large piece of butcher paper, making a graphic organizer with my ideas for the different plot lines. I’m not an outliner—I can’t put things down in a list, but I can scribble all over the paper and draw lines and arrows. I transfer the thoughts to index cards, with each card representing a scene. I usually have a pretty good idea where the first third of the book is going when I start to write. I have to get into the draft and as I write, certain details for the middle and end of the book begin to come together. I write through to the end and then revise.
Q. What do you believe are your greatest strengths as a writer? What aspects of craft are you still trying to master?
A. I think I’ve finally figured out how to plot. Several reviewers have commented on the intricate plots, which is a good thing, I think! I’m still learning how to craft arcs that carry from book to book. I’m fascinated with television shows and how they carry an underlying story throughout a season or from season to season.
Q. Do you ever have writer’s block? How do you get through it?
A. There have been times when I was stuck, but I kept plowing on and eventually got something that I could revise. For me, the trick is to keep going and not critique the first draft as I write. It took me years to learn to keep going and revise later.
Q. What writers have inspired you and taught you by example? Whose books are must-reads for you?
A. Oh, I’m sure I’ll leave someone out, but here goes…Writers who inspired me: Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, Sue Grafton, and Carolyn Hart.
Current must reads: Carolyn Hart, Margaret Maron, Veronica Heley, Diana Killian, Denise Swanson, Heather Webber, Rett Macpherson, Sarah Stewart Taylor, and many more, but I’ll stop there. That’s a taste of my favorites.
Q. What’s in the future for you? Will you continue writing the Mom Zone series indefinitely, or would you like to move on to something new?
A. I love writing about Ellie and as long as Kensington is interested in the books, I’ll keep writing them. Since the stories revolve around a family and families are always changing and growing I’m sure I’ll be able to find more stories to tell. I have other ideas and if I can, I’ll work on those as well, but right now one book a year with the promotion that goes along with it is all I can handle.
Q. In parting, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
A. Read as much as you can in the genre you want to be published in and go to writer’s conferences. I found several in my local area when I began writing. I entered samples of my book in their contests and got feedback from published authors, which was really helpful to me. Don’t give up. You have to be persistent and patient.