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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Interview with Ann Charles - Part 4

As promised, here's the blurb and excerpt for Nearly Departed in Deadwood!

Little girls are vanishing from Deadwood, South Dakota. Afraid her daughter might be next, single mom, Violet Parker, is desperate to find the monster behind the abductions.

With her savings dwindling and just three weeks left to sell her first house or lose her Realtor job, Violet is ecstatic when a handsome jeweler hires her to sell his century-old, Victorian masterpiece … until she sees the dilapidated dwelling. Now, if she could just convince her only buyer to stop rejecting vintage homes as if they’re haunted.

Short on time and long on worry, she refuses to give up her dream of a fresh start in Deadwood. But with a malicious coworker trying to get her fired, a secret admirer sending her creepy messages, and a sexy stranger hiding skeletons in his closet, Violet could end up as one of Deadwood’s dearly departed.

Two hours and two houses later, we bounced along a steep hillside street in Deadwood’s northern Forest Hill neighborhood. My knuckles were white as I clenched the steering wheel, but not due to the steep dropoff on my left.

There was definitely something odd about Doc. Something that made my sweat cold in spite of the hot gusts swirling through the gulch this afternoon. I’d been analyzing it since we toured the first house and I’d caught him sniffing in an upstairs closet. Not sniffing coke or Elmer’s glue, just sniffing.

I’d kept my mouth shut. After all, I had been standing alone in an empty house with a man whose forearms alone looked muscled enough to snap my neck like it was dried spaghetti.

He sniffed every room, every corner, every nook and cranny, everywhere. He was like some human version of a bloodhound. I’d half-expected him to turn around and sniff me at some point.

After inhaling his way through the house, he’d declared that he would pass on the place. When I pressed, he shrugged and just said, “Too big.”

A thorough sniffing of the second house inspired a “too small” from him.

Now, as I parked the Bronco in front of the last house I’d opted to show him today, I could tell by the vertical wrinkles lining his forehead that he was already thinking up another enlightening two-word reason why he didn’t like this home.

“How old is this one?” he asked while tailing me up the sidewalk to the front door.

I checked the listing paperwork. “Early 1900s.” I punched in the code to unlock the lockbox and pulled out the key, expecting him to tell me to forget it, but he didn’t. I held the door for him to enter.

“You first,” he said and waited for me to lead.

This was the third time he’d insisted I enter a house before him. I couldn’t figure out if he was being a gentleman or if this was another of his strange tics.

I stepped inside a well-lit foyer, lined with hardwood flooring. Stained-glass windows in the interior walls shed pink and blue-tinged light into a wide hall from rooms to the left and right. Arched thresholds to adjoining rooms added to the open feel, and a staircase anchored the opposite end.

I beat him to the first sniff. Pine-sol and Lemon Pledge filled the air.

Doc inhaled and grunted.

I couldn’t tell if it was a good grunt or bad grunt, being that I was rusty on my Caveman vernacular.

He tapped one of the stained-glass windows. “I like this.”

I coughed in surprise.

We sniffed our way through a carpeted living room with sage-colored walls to the kitchen. Stainless steel appliances, glass-paned cabinets, and can lighting gave a modern but cozy feel to the room. Whoever had had this place before put some money into it.

While the dining room was small, French doors leading to a well-manicured backyard encased by a split-rail fence gave a false impression of more space.

The downstairs bathroom had a polished granite sink top, a black toilet, a heated stone floor, and a mosaic of the sun tiled into the shower wall.

I paused at the base of the stairs. “You want to continue?”

“Sure.” He smiled for the first time since we’d left his office. The transformation made me do a double-take.

There were three rooms upstairs—an office, a small bathroom with a shower instead of a tub, and a master bedroom. I stood inside the doorway of the latter, waiting for Doc to finish his inhalation of the bathroom.

I heard him come up behind me. “This is just perfect, don’t you think?” I asked. A coined phrase I learned in a one-day seminar about using positive voice inflections to acquire a sale.

In actuality, the house was an ideal bachelor pad. Doc could even set up a computer at home and skip the three-mile commute to the office if he wanted.

“The toilet has a new shut-off valve,” he said.

To which I couldn’t think of a single response, so I just nodded.

He sniffed. “Do you smell that?”

I smelled something flowery, probably carpet freshener—a nice touch by the real estate agent. I’d have to remember that. “Smells like gardenias.”

Doc gasped, coughed, and then wheezed.

I turned toward him. His face had a pale, blanched tone that made his dark brown eyes seem larger. “Are you okay?”

He leaned over, nearly retching now, his neck tendons showing.

I grabbed his shoulder, not sure if I should smack him on the back or poke a hole in his windpipe with a pen. “What is it? Are you allergic to gardenias?”

His whole body began to shudder. He broke free of my grasp and raced out of the room. I heard him clomp down the stairs, then the front door banged shut. Through the window, I watched him lean against my Bronco and wipe at his mouth.

What the hell?

It took a couple of minutes for my adrenaline to stop shooting through my limbs with fire-hose intensity. I swabbed the sweat from my forehead and headed downstairs, locking up behind me.

I climbed into my Bronco and started the engine, waiting for the air conditioning to kick in before looking at Doc. His skin had returned to its normal olive color, his eyes no longer watering, his breathing quiet and rhythmic.

“I take it you’re going to pass on that one, too?”

“I think I want to come back again.”

My mouth fell open. I couldn’t help it. “You do?”

“Another day, though.”

My mouth still gaped. “What happened up there?”

“I don’t like gardenias.”

“You need to seek medical help for that.”

For more info on Ann Charles and her books visit:
her websites:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Interview with Ann Charles - Part 3

Welcome back readers! Today's installment offers a glimpse into Ann's writing. We hope you enjoy it!

MLM: Why Mystery/Suspense/Crime/Thriller? What was the draw for you?

ANN: It’s the dead bodies. I tried for years to write straight romance, no mystery, no thrill or suspense, just romance plots, and I sucked at it. I couldn’t think of enough reasons to keep the hero and heroine apart, and that problem showed through on the page. Then I threw in a dead body and suddenly everything just clicked into place. I had conflict, I had tension, I had excitement and fear. All of these emotions heightened the romance in the story, and I was finally able to write romance scenes and dialogue that sparked. So, in the end, when I stand up on stage to win my “big” award some day, I’ll start it with, “I’d like to thank all of the dead bodies...”

MLM: All of us are influenced and impacted by TV, movies, books and/or authors at different times in our lives. Who, what and which TV, movies, books and/or authors influenced you? When in your life did you discover them and why were they so influential for you? (Don’t be afraid to give us more than one of each kind!)

ANN: I grew up sneaking reads of Stephen King novels and Harlequin Presents books—so, horror, romance, and sex have been on my mind since I tried on my first training bra. I’ve always been a big movie nut, too. Tremors, Jaws, The Mummy, The Big Country, The Big Sleep, The Thing (the newer version with Kurt Russell), Twister, and Bull Durham are some of my favorites. I watch these movies repeatedly, analyzing the scene and dialogue structure.

For example, when I’m working on a romantic scene with a lot of witty dialogue, I dig out Bull Durham or The Big Sleep and watch for what makes the scenes with the hero and heroine sizzle. Is it that the looks they exchange say one thing while their mouths are saying something else? Is it the words themselves, which have hidden meanings due to a previous scene? Is it the way they don’t touch each other when it’s so clear to the audience that they wish they could?

As to why they were so influential for me, I guess it’s because they are fun, and I seek out things that make me smile or laugh or cringe in fear. I’m not one for dramas, serious movies, or sad tales. I want to escape the daily barrage of negative news and events that always seem to be on the television or in the papers. I want to focus on the things in life that make it wonderful, which to me are love, sex, fear, and excitement.

MLM: Of all of these influences, is there any one TV, movie, book and/or author in particular that you try to emulate in your writing? Which ones and why?

ANN: Sure! Someday I’d love to be able to make readers cringe and gnaw on their knuckles as well as Stephen King and Jaws. I’d like to make readers fall in love with and sigh over my characters like how I adore Humphrey Bogart, Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, and Brendan Frazier. As you can tell, it’s hard for me to pick just one or two of any one format. Stephen King is just one of the authors I study these days. I read Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz yearly because it was a story that really taught me how to incorporate setting with story, and a refresher is always good. I also analyze Rachel Gibson’s romances because her heroes knock my socks off and I want mine to do the same to readers. There are so many excellent authors and movies out there that it is hard for me to choose just one.

MLM: If you could describe your writing with a word or phrase, what would it be? Please look beyond words like mysterious, suspenseful, creative, unique etc., and delve into the core of your writing to tell us what word or phrase you want readers to take with them when they've finished reading your story.

ANN: “Quirky”

As in: “Ann Charles’ books are a delicious mix of quirkiness!” :)

MLM: In Part 2 we discussed stress and the holidays. While stress may not always be conducive to writing, do you find that the holidays disrupt your writing schedule? If so, how? How tough is it to get yourself back in writing mode? What does it take to get you back on track?

ANN: Usually, holidays make it hard to focus and I tend to not get as much promotion and marketing and writing done during that time, but this year was different because I had a book release coming in January for which I needed to build buzz. There was no rest for the wicked. Santa didn’t even bother with the coal this year because he knew I’d be too busy to notice.

Right now, I’m working on clearing my plate enough to get busy writing the third book in the Deadwood series. I’m doing a lot of listening to songs that remind me of the book and characters and watching movies that inspire my creativity. It’s a definite shift in gears from the promo and marketing mindset, but the urge to write is building momentum and will hit me full on very soon, I can feel it.

MLM: Also in Part 2 we asked you about where you’d put the hot tub and why. Does this show through in your writing? If so, give some examples how, please!

ANN: I said I’d put the hot tub inside in front of a big screen television so I could watch some of my favorite movies while lounging in it. I think this shows in my writing, because I don’t take myself too seriously on the page. My main goal is to entertain readers and take them away to a place where bad things happen to Violet Parker rather than to them. The fun is watching how she reacts and keeps going in spite of all of the crap blowing up around her.

MLM: Who decides what the characters/creatures you write about, you or your muse? What kind of influence do you have over your story, or is the muse always the one deciding who done it, where they done it and with what?

ANN: I have a little say in the beginning. I make a high level plot outline of what “could” happen, then I hand everything over to my muse and let her take over. She often leads me in directions I didn’t expect to go, and this whole process drives my husband a little crazy. He thinks I should plan everything out in detail well in advance and I just can’t. I trust my muse will come up with much better ideas than I could. Due to this loosey-goosey process, I consider myself a seat-of-my-pants (aka “pantser”) author. I’m often happily surprised by what comes out as the story progresses. In that way, I’m entertaining myself with the story as it rolls out, and I hope that transfers over to my readers.

MLM: Of all the stories you’ve written please tell us:
a.) Which character did you have the most fun creating and why? What about this character makes it stand out above all the others? 

ANN: That’s tough. I am fond of several characters. I’d have to say that so far Harvey in this Deadwood series has been the most fun. I didn’t even have any plans for his character until I came up with the first line of the book, “The first time I came to Deadwood, I got shot in the ass.” At that point, I saw Violet Parker standing there with a double-barrel shotgun pointed at her nose and I had no idea who was holding the gun. From that Old Man Harvey, the gun holder, was born. He turned out to be Violet’s partner in the series and is a huge hit with my readers. Go figure. I laugh every time I write a scene with him in it.

b.) If you had the opportunity to meet just one of your characters in real life, who would it be and why?

ANN: Wow! You ask tough questions. The female in me wants to meet my heroes—Doc Nyce in the Deadwood series, or Mac Garner in my Arizona series—for obvious reasons. J But overall, I’d like to meet Violet, because her voice resonates so strong inside my head. I’d like to sit across from her and try to figure out exactly what traits we share.

c.) Which of your characters would you never want to meet under any circumstance and why?

ANN: That would have to be Ray Underhill from the Deadwood series. Why? Because I’d probably end up in jail for beating him up with a stapler. :)

d.)If you could choose to visit one setting/world you’ve created which one is it, where is it and why this destination over all the others? What makes it stand out over all the others?

ANN: I’d want to visit Jackrabbit Junction, Arizona (fictional town in the Arizona mystery series) because I have been to Deadwood multiple times and know it well, but I don’t know the sites and sounds of my Arizona town nearly as well. I want to smell the desert after a rainstorm, feel the heat of the springtime sunshine on the top of my head, see the purple mountains in the distance. And I’d want to see Ruby’s General Store at The Dancing Winnebago RV Park, because it’s stocked with food and drinks that I love.

MLM: Thanks for joining us again this week and for giving us another great interview!
Be sure to return next week for an excerpt to Nearly Departed in Deadwood!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Interview with Ann Charles - Part 2

Welcome back readers! This installment features questions to help you get to know a little bit more about her writing. Enjoy!

MLM: As this is January and the start of a brand new year, we have to ask: Do you have any holiday memories from 2010 that you would like to share with us? (Memories can be nice and sweet, naughty, or just plain goofy!)

ANN: Four words for you: Dutch Baby & Yorkshire Pudding!

On Christmas, my husband made Yorkshire Pudding and I stuffed my gut and cheeks full of it. My sister-in-law and I fought over the last bits of it like a pair of hyenas. It wasn’t pretty, but Yorkshire Pudding makes rotten leftovers, so you have to gobble it up while it’s fresh from the oven.

[For those of you who don't know, Yorkshire Pudding (according to Wikipedia) consists of flour, salt, eggs, and milk. All ingredients are mixed together to make an unsweetened batter. Traditionally, the batter is baked under meat as it roasts to catch the drippings or baked separately with a small amount of meat drippings.]

Then, on New Year’s Day, my lovely mother-in-law made a Dutch Baby for breakfast. That blew all thoughts of starting my remove-the-jiggle-when-I-walk diet on January 1st. I squeezed lemon juice on it and dusted it with powdered sugar, and then started chowing. Lucky for me, my sister-in-law wasn’t there to fight me for rights to it, and the rest of the family was distracted by the quiche my MIL made, so I snatched the pan and hid in the pantry while I scarfed it all down. Had I choked on the Dutch Baby and keeled over there alone in the pantry, I’d have died a happy woman.

[For those of you who don't know, A Dutch Baby Pancake is (according to Wikipedia) also called a German Pancake or a Bismarck. This too is made from flour, eggs, and milk. However, this dish is mainly flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. In some instances, sugar is added. Baked in a metal pan, this dish usually falls soon after taking it out of the oven. Traditionally served with butter, fresh-squeezed lemon and powdered sugar.]

MLM: Many people make resolutions to change something about their lives.
a.)Do you make resolutions each year? Why or why not?

ANN: I have had a standing “lose weight” resolution every single year since 8th grade. I should be a walking toothpick by now, but while my brain makes the resolution, my stomach refuses to go along with the plan. It grows hungry, breaks into the control booth, and takes over the show. My hands are mere pawns in this game of dominance.

b.)Do you take your resolutions seriously, or do you find you’re just going through the motions because you feel obligated to make a resolution each year but have no expectation to succeed?

ANN: I have good intentions every year, but food just tastes too dang good.

c.)What kind of resolutions do you make?

ANN: I actually make career “goals” every Dec/Jan. I even have this super-geeky goal worksheet I created that employs an acronym I stole from my day job’s yearly review process. Periodically, throughout the year, I consult my goals’ list and see how I’m doing. At the end of the year, I tally my accomplishments and reward myself with some of my favorite treats—Frozen Coke Slurpees and Toffee Nut Lattes. I’m all about celebrating accomplishments.

d.)How successful are you at achieving your resolutions? Do you ever find yourself making the same one, year after year?

ANN: Besides the weight loss baloney, I probably accomplish 70 percent of the goals I have listed. However, that worksheet doesn’t include all of the additional achievements I have throughout the year (for opportunities I hadn’t known would come my way when I set the year’s goals). I also keep monthly, weekly, and daily goal lists. Yes, I need to attend Goal Setters Anonymous. My husband shakes his head at all of the pieces of paper covered with goal lists that flutter around the house.

e.)What resolutions, if any, you’ve made turned out to be extremely difficult or utterly impossible? What made those resolutions so challenging?

ANN: I used to have the goal, “Get The Call from an editor/publisher,” years ago. Then I realized that this is totally out of my control and, therefore, frustrating as hell when it didn’t happen year after year. So, I started making my goals more tangible.

f.)Any successes? Which ones and why do you believe you were able to succeed in the light of other less successful attempts?

ANN: Yes, I got published. I succeeded because I made it happen. I realized about 5 years ago that I was the one in charge of building this Ann Charles empire, not my agent, not an editor, and certainly not a publishing company (since I kept NOT getting The Call). That epiphany spurred me into action. I started actively building my platform higher and higher, and haven’t looked down since.

MLM: The buzz all over Tweetland and Facebook is how stressful many of us tend to find the holiday season (Thanksgiving through the New Year). This year they’ve seemed to be even more so with everything that’s been going on in the US and abroad. Stress isn’t usually conducive to writing, so we need to shed that stress, clear our minds so the words will follow. How do you plan on recharging your soul? Any relaxation tips you’d like to share?

ANN: I recharge with my favorite movies. I love old movies with Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck, and John Wayne, such as The Big Sleep, The Big Country, and North to Alaska. Sinking into one of those is a real treat. But I also love more recent movies like Tremors, The Mummy, The Thing, Aliens, and Twister. Anything with a nice dose of comedy and fun dialogue gets my brain cranking out creative ideas and makes me want to hit the keyboard. No dramas allowed, though. I have enough drama in real life.

MLM: One of the greatest things about the Internet is that we can connect with writers of all kinds from all over the globe so we want to know:
a.)What area of the country/world are you from?

ANN: I currently live just north of Seattle, Washington, in a town my mother keeps telling people is named “Brothel” (it’s really named Bothell). I just love meeting her friends and hearing her say, “This is my daughter. She lives in Brothel.” I get a lot of raised brows from her cohorts.

b.)What are the average temperatures of your area?

ANN: 40s, cloudy, and lots of rain in the winter; 70s, cloudy, and a little less rain in the summer.

c.)What type of clothing would most residents be wearing today?

ANN: Fleece, rain gear, and a latte mug/cup.

d.)What tips do you have for people to “survive” the weather where you are?

ANN: First and foremost, if you get depressed by gray sky and long periods of rain every day all day, the Pacific Northwest is not for you. Personally, I love the rain and dark days. My coworkers have decided I am a vampire and do their best to block out the light coming in from the surrounding windows on my behalf—they rock! However, I have no delusions about me being a blood-sucker. I know the truth—I’m a cockroach. Where’s the sugar?

MLM: Say you’re at a cabin in the mountains, it’s not exactly warm out and you had the option of where you wanted your hot tub to be. Would you have the hot tub inside or outside the cabin? Why? What is it that you like specifically about it being inside or outside the best?

ANN: That hot tub would be inside of the cabin placed right in front of the big, BIG screen T.V. and cranked so loud I could hear Humphrey Bogart say, “Somebody’s always giving me guns,” while the tub jets were running.

I’m not into extremes on the weather front. This is one of the reasons I love the Pacific Northwest. I don’t want to shiver uncontrollably or sweat buckets. For that reason, I’ll keep the hot tub inside in front of the T.V. and fill it will bubbles so my two kids, Beaker and Chicken Noodle (nicknames), want to play in there with me.

MLM: If you could go anywhere in the world for the holiday season, where would you choose to go? Why this destination over others? What’s its connection to you?

ANN: I’d fly home and drive my family utterly crazy for a full week. It’s not a glamorous trip, but I miss my family a lot during the holidays. When the week was up, I’d fly to Australia (first class, of course) to visit some wonderful writing buddies I know who live there and spend New Year’s trying to perfect my Aussie accent in between filling my gullet with Tim Tams.
[a chocolate coated cookie with a creamy center]

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Interview with Ann Charles - Part 1

MLM: Please tell our readers about how your path in life led you to become a writer, what influenced your decision to become a writer and at what time in your life you were influenced.

ANN: I grew up wanting to ride camels and dig up treasures in an Egyptian desert, not write books. I read heavily back then, bouncing back and forth between Stephen King’s spellbinding tales and Harlequin’s romances. But did I daydream about penning my own books to share with the world? Nope. Then, during my senior year in high school, I wrote two chapters of a romance novel for an assignment, and the seed was planted.

About seven years after that, I read a romance that was so lousy I couldn’t finish it and decided to write a romance novel that I wanted to read. I wrote that first romance in longhand, a story about an elementary teacher and a retired hockey player, and sent it off to Harlequin in London. The Brits were kind to me. They politely rejected it and told me to keep trying. God save the Queen!

My second romance, Jungle Fever, starred a female archaeologist and a photographer named Wayne. I hooked up with a critique group at that time. They read the book and hated the hero so much that a decade later I’m still not allowed to name any characters Wayne. Ouch!

Determined to figure out this story-writing business, I started my third romance and named it Identity Crisis. Half way through the book, the story lived up to its name and my romance morphed into an action/adventure. What the heck?
Something important happened with that book. I realized that I sucked at writing stories that had romance as the main plot.

With that knowledge under my belt, I picked up my second book again, modified the title to Bungle in the Jungle, changed the plot completely, and wrote a story filled with mystery, adventure, suspense, and a little less romance...and no characters with the name of Wayne! In that book, I discovered my voice and figured out my style. And with that book, I managed to final in the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Golden Heart contest. I was on to something.

So, four books down, and I was starting to get the hang of this writing stuff. For my fifth book, I plotted a story filled with some crazy adventures in the Arizona desert and called it Dance of the Winnebagos. Five chapters into this book, I read Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas and a halogen bulb flickered on in my brain. I suddenly knew how to interject more of my personality and sense of humor onto the page—in the dialogue and narrative. It was amazingly eye opening, and I still read Odd Thomas every year or so for a refresher.

Dance of the Winnebagos won a finalist slot in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest and hooked an agent, who promptly informed me that I needed to write a sequel to the book. Thus came the birth of book six, Jackrabbit Junction Jitters. But neither book won an editor’s attention. They were both a little long and full of mystery, romance, and suspense—a genre mix that wasn’t common at that time.

So, back to the drawing board for book seven, a story that had come to me while visiting my family in Deadwood, South Dakota one summer. I decided to try my hand at first person point-of-view instead of third and tell the story of Violet Parker, a single mom of twins who moved to Deadwood to try her hand at a new career, selling real estate. I had an idea about how to pull in Deadwood’s famous history and yet make it a mystery. I interwove a romance plot to spice up the story. When I finished and sent it to my agent, she called me and yelled, “You’re brilliant!” (You can see why I love her.) Then Nearly Departed in Deadwood won twice over in the RWA Kiss of Death Chapter’s Daphne du Maurier contest—both the first place prize in the Mainstream division and the overall Daphne winner for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. Finally, after more than a decade of learning and practicing, I’d hit my stride.

But Violet’s story is way too long and juicy to be told in just one book, which I knew from the start, so I plotted out the series. Then I dug into my eighth book, Optical Delusions in Deadwood, which is the second in the Deadwood series and is now in the final editing process, the release planned for early spring.

Which leads to my ninth book, currently titled A Dead Case in Deadwood, the third book in the Deadwood series. I intend to hit the keys by the end of January with an estimated release date of early 2012.

Truth be told, I stumbled backward into this writing career, and continue driving onward in spite of my failures because I’m too damned stubborn to give up. Plus, the highs are addictive as all get out. One of the quotes stuck to the wall next to my computer is by Jonathan Winters: “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.” Well, I have donned my flippers and nose-plugs and am dog-paddling my way through the waves—in spite of the sharks.

MLM: I love Jonathon Winters! I had his voice in my head saying it to me, lol! Thanks for sharing your journey with us this week!

Readers - Be sure to come back next Thursday
when we post Part 2 of our interview with Ann!
In the mean time, check out her website: