A DEAD MAN’S EYES is a Shamus Award Finalist!

I was sleep-deprived (teen boys nearing the end of the school year) Thursday morning when I sat down to check my messages and emails. So it didn’t sink in when I first saw the message from friend and mystery author Bruce Coffin congratulating me as a Shamus Award finalist.

Was I reading that right?

Was the message intended for me?

Must be a mistake.

Then I googled the 2022 finalists for the awards, which are given each year by The Private Eye Writers of America, and there it was: A DEAD MAN’S EYES appears as a finalist for Best First PI Novel with my name beside the title.


The realization took the breath right out of me. I was not expecting this. Not at all. I became a cliché. I punched my fist in the air. I did a little dance. I stifled a giddy scream because my college-student daughter was still asleep.

I am thrilled, honored, humbled, you name it, to be selected as a finalist and to be in the company of so many amazing writers. (Click here for a full list of finalists.) The awards honor novels and short stories published in 2021 that feature as a main character “… a person PAID for investigative work but NOT employed for that work by a unit of government.”

That includes journalists like my main character Lisa Jamison.

Winners will be announced in August, according to the website. Winning would be nice, but I am honored just to be a finalist. A DEAD MAN’S EYES is the first in my Lisa Jamison Mystery Series. NEVER BROKEN, book 2, was released in April and NO TIME TO BREATHE, book 3, releases from Level Best Books in April of 2023. My first thriller, NEVER LET GO, releases in December.

A DEAD MAN’S EYES was also a nominee for an Agatha Award in the Best First Novel category.

What a great year this has been!

A DEAD MAN’S EYES: Agatha Award Nomination

Can you believe it?

It hasn’t sunk for me yet.

I keep bringing up the homepage for Malice Domestic, clicking on the Agatha Awards link and checking to see that my name and my book title are still there. And there it is. Every time. A DEAD MAN’S EYES is right there under the Best First Novel category.

I owe huge, huge, huge thanks to those who nominated A DEAD MAN’S EYES. You are the best!

Here’s some information about the award:

The Agatha Awards honor the traditional mystery — books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie — and are awarded annually by Malice Domestic during the conference by the same name in Bethesda, Maryland. Winners are chosen by attendees and will be announce during the conference April 23.

The competition is stiff, which makes the honor all the greater.

Here is a list of the nominees and categories:

The 2021 Agatha Award Nominees

Best Contemporary Novel
Cajun Kiss of Death by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane Books)
Watch Her by Edwin Hill (Kensington)
The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)
Symphony Road by Gabriel Valjan (Level Best Books)

Best Historical Novel
Murder at Mallowan Hall by Colleen Cambridge (Kensington)
Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara (Soho Crime)
The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)
Death at Greenway by Lori Rader-Day (HarperCollins)
The Devil’s Music by Gabriel Valjan (Winter Goose Publishing)

Best First Novel
The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker (Level Best Books)
A Dead Man’s Eyes by Lori Duffy Foster (Level Best Books)
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala (Berkley)
Murder in the Master by Judy L. Murray (Level Best Books)
Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes (Crooked Lane Books)

Best Short Story
“A Family Matter” by Barb Goffman (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Jan/Feb 2021)
“A Tale of Two Sisters” by Barb Goffman in Murder on the Beach (Destination Murders)
“Doc’s at Midnight” by Richie Narvaez in Midnight Hour (Crooked Lane Books)
“The Locked Room Library” by Gigi Pandian (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine July/Aug 2021)
“Bay of Reckoning” by Shawn Reilly Simmons in Murder on the Beach (Destination Murders)

Best Non-Fiction
The Combat Zone: Murder, Race, and Boston’s Struggle for Justice by Jan Brogan (Bright Leaf Press)
Murder Most Grotesque: The Comedic Crime Fiction of Joyce Porter by Chris Chan (Level Best Books)
The Irish Assassins: Conspiracy, Revenge, and the Phoenix Park Murders that Stunned Victorian England by Julie Kavanaugh (Atlantic Monthly Press)
How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America by MWA with editors Lee Child and Laurie R. King (Simon & Schuster)

Best Children’s/YA Mystery
​Cold-Blooded Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Algonquin Young Readers)
The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur (Fiewel and Friends/Macmillan)
I Play One on TV by Alan Orloff (Down & Out Books)
Leisha’s Song by Lynn Slaughter (Fire and Ice/Melange Books)
Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer (Wednesday Books)

Meet Author James L’Etoile

(I ran out of room for my full interview with James in my November newsletter, but his answers were all too good to waste. So, I decided to run the full interview here in my blog.)

James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, facility captain, and director of California’s state parole system. He is a nationally recognized expert witness on prison and jail operations. He has been nominated for the Silver Falchion for Best Procedural Mystery, and The Bill Crider Award for short fiction. His published novels include: At What Cost, Bury the Past, Little River -The Other Side of Paradise and Black Label.

A bit about his latest novel, Black Label, released in July by Level Best Books:

Big Pharma has a secret and it’s costing thousands of lives. Prison gangs and corporate board members make strange bedfellows, but where there’s money to be had, peace exists through an off the books Black Label drug lab. Until a pharmaceutical executive wakes up in a strange apartment and finds herself suspected of the CEO’s murder. Believing she’s insane, or a murderer, Jillian Cooper is on the run from the police and gang enforcers as she tries to unravel the secrets of Black Label.

The Interview

Q: For almost three decades, you have worked with criminals through the prison system. When did you realize you also wanted to write novels? How did you hone your skills?

James: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a reader. But I didn’t start writing fiction until I retired from my career in the California prison system. I recall reading a novel and it wasn’t particularly good—predictable, tons of plot-holes, and characters I really didn’t care about. Something in me snapped and I thought, “I could do better than this.”

I didn’t have the confidence to jump in and write fiction, until I thought back to one of my early assignments as a probation officer. I prepared pre-sentence reports for the sentencing judge. To prepare those reports, I interviewed the defendant in jail, taking down their version of the crime, spoke with the investigators, read the arrest reports, and meet with victims uncovering the impact of the crime on them, or their families. I’d then have to sort through all this information and cobble together a narrative about the crime and make a recommendation for how long in prison or jail it deserved. What I didn’t realize until I thought about writing crime fiction was, I’d been writing crime stories all along.

With that confidence—that I’d been down this road before—I began learning more about the craft of fiction writing, attending writer’s conferences like the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference outside of San Francisco.

Q: You have written both serial mysteries and a standalone thriller. Which do you prefer and why?

James: What a good question. It’s difficult to pick a favorite. Writing a series allows you to take your existing characters and move their stories even further along. You have the setting in place (usually), existing players ready to act their roles, and character traits/motivation established. It’s familiar. Throw in a new villain and a unique problem to overcome, and you’re on your way. I like writing standalones because of the absolute freedom. You, as the author, get to create a new world, fresh, new characters, and there are no limits on where the story can go because of the constraints of an established series. What I attempt to do in a series is keep the story as self-contained as possible, so the creative freedom is there in a sequel. And readers can pick up any book in the series and not feel lost.

Q: You worked in the prison system for twenty-nine years, yet the protagonists in your serial fiction (both published and forthcoming) are detectives. Why detectives rather a protagonist based on your experience in parole, or as a hostage negotiator, an associate warden, or a facilities captain?

James: Good catch, Lori! I’ve taken that direction intentionally, because most readers have a general idea of police and police work—even if it’s from bad episodes of CSI-Miami. Ask people about what goes on in prison and people tend to have a vacant stare. That said, most of the novels and short fiction I write have some sort of tangential relationship to prison. A character has been to prison, the detective visits him in prison, or as in the case of a manuscript being shopped around now, a man comes home after a decade behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit and the only way to prove his innocence, is destroying the entire town, including the one woman who stood beside him.

Q: How long did it take you to write your first novel, land an agent, and then sign your first publishing contract? Were there any surprises along the way?

James: The first novel, a manuscript which shall forever be entombed in my bottom drawer, took about two years. You don’t know what you don’t know, right? So, with a little practice and a few craft workshops under my belt, my debut novel, Little River, took another two years before a publisher picked it up. I was working on At What Cost and had an elevator pitch to throw out when I attended a mystery writers conference at Book Passage. I listened to an agent panel, approached one of the agents, gave my pitch and she told me to send her the manuscript. Six months later I was represented, and a publisher offered a two-book deal after a short submission period.

As far as surprises along the way—I had to learn a new business model, which was nothing like running a prison, or managing a half-billion-dollar budget. Everything moves in slow motion, except for your deadlines. The biggest surprise, I think, was finding out the crime fiction community is incredibly supportive and actually nice. Where I worked before, folks were generally not nice, and I needed to wear a stab-resistant vest.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Black Label?

James: At What Cost and Bury the Past were straight up police procedural thrillers. Police detectives on the chase to bring down the bad guy before the next bad thing happens. I enjoy writing them and they kind of play into my wheelhouse with my former career in the California prison system. The inspiration for Black Label came from a session I was teaching at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference a couple of years back. A few of us were talking about using fear in our work. Not the fear that you won’t hit your deadline, or the fear that no one will read your book, both real, but I’m talking about that base-level fear each of us have at one point or another. Fear of heights, fear of the dark, or in my case fear of being utterly helpless.

There’s something about being helpless that scares the bejesus out of me. Maybe it’s the control-freak in me, or it could stem from working in prison where you always had to be in control and be prepared for the bottom to drop out from you at any second. So, I wanted to create a character and a storyline where that kind of fear was thrust upon them. What could make someone feel helpless more than being accused of a murder when you’re not sure if you did it or not?

Jillian Cooper is faced with evidence that she’s either a murderer or insane. I like the idea that she must struggle through the helplessness, when the police, the press, the corporate boardroom, and her own mind are ready to take her down.

Jillian is like so many of us who devote our lives to the company, even take on the job as part of her identity. Jillian is smart, focused, and driven to succeed. Her Type-A personality is probably in response to her childhood experiences—told she never measured up to her older sibling, witnessing her mother’s declining mental health and eventual suicide. These all combined to push Jillian to excel and prove to herself that she was good enough.

I think Jillian would tell readers that she is a cautionary tale. When you are so single-focused, spending all your waking moments emptying your life into a job, you miss what’s happening all around you. Sometimes that means you sacrifice relationships, or social interaction. In Jillian’s case it threatens to kill her. I think Jillian would now advocate for a work-life balance.

Q: Tell us about your upcoming series and the first book, Dead Drop, which is due for release in July of 2022?

James: I’m looking forward to the first installment in the new series. Dead Drop is a return to a procedural thriller. It takes place in the Southern Arizona desert where Detective Nathan Parker confronts the deadly consequences of illegal immigration. He’s got a reason he wants strict enforcement of the immigration laws—his partner was murdered by a coyote smuggling people over the border. Parker follows a series of migrant deaths in the desert and soon finds himself relying on very people he chased back across the border for his own survival

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

James: Oh, Lordy. Publishing is a weird business. And it’s just that—a business. It doesn’t care about you personally. It’s very much a what have you done for me lately thing and even then, publishers have been known to change course and focus on different genres to take advantage of what’s hot in the market. Rejection comes with the territory, and it might sting, but when it’s all said and done it ain’t personal it’s just business. That said, I’ve met some of the nicest, most generous people in this business. There are authors, editors, booksellers, bloggers, and readers, who make all the hard solitary time worth it.

So, to a new author, I’d strongly recommend you get involved in this writing community. They are an incredibly supportive bunch, and you can find them in Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America.

From coals to flames: A passion reignited

Soon after the release of A DEAD MAN’S EYES, I joined several Facebook groups geared toward readers and reviewers. My goal was promotion. I wanted to let readers know the book was out there and encourage reviewers to download the novel from NetGalley.

So I posted and I posted and I posted.

But there is one group I could not bring myself to include in my promotional efforts, The Book Hangout Spot. Yes, I have sometimes recommended my own novel when group members have indicated they are looking for a fast-paced read or a good mystery, but I usually find myself pushing the works of my favorite authors from all genres.

And I get a rush of excitement when I do it.

This particular group has reignited in me a passion that had been reduced to smouldering coals by my efforts to meet editing deadlines, write guest blog posts, do interviews and explore new ways to promote A DEAD MAN’S EYES. My to-be-read piles are huge but, in looking through them again, I now realize the books I feel I have to read outnumber the books I crave.

I want to support my crime-writing friends by reading their novels. I especially want to support my colleagues at Level Best Books by reading and promoting their awesome works. I also need to read new releases in my genre to keep up with the latest trends. Most of those novels are fantastic and I am glad to have read them, but I now understand I have been neglecting other authors and genres I love for more than a year.

I greatly enjoy mysteries and thrillers, but I love any book that is written on a level that transcends genre, including many crime novels.

I used to alternate books from two different to-be-read piles– one pile of crime fiction only and a second pile of books from other genres. But I looked on my nightstand and dresser a few weeks ago and realized only one book in those stacks would fall into a different genre.

The revelation saddened and inspired me.

That second pile is growing again thanks to the administrators and members of The Book Hangout Spot. Their passion for reading blew oxygen on my coals and reignited my own passion for all genres. Some of the members are authors and writers and book promotion is allowed, but, there seems to be an unspoken rule that we are united by reading in this particular group, not by writing. Readers do most of the promoting in this group, not authors.

So, to the members and administrators of The Book Hangout Spot, I want to say thank you.

How to make your wife cry

Want to make your wife cry?

Take a lesson from my husband.

This is what he posted on Facebook the day A DEAD MAN’S EYES became available for pre-order:

“When I met Lori 28 years ago, she had a dream. She had always had a passion for storytelling and wanted to pursue creative writing. While she loved working as a journalist and was a tenacious reporter, she loved the writing. Later I would learn that this was nothing new. Her siblings used to battle her proclivity for telling incessant tales by chanting, “Lori has a story,” repeatedly to shut her down.

Within five years, it looked like she might be on the road to that dream. We moved to Arizona and for a fleeting time it looked like she might have more time to write. What we didn’t know was that she was already pregnant on the trip west. For the next 20 years “time to write” would become a wavy mirage.Her dream took a back seat to my career.

We moved four times. She worked to support our growing family as three more kids arrived. She did technical writing. She taught college level English in Arizona and New York. She started a business selling products related to writing. All this kept on the periphery of the work she loved. Being a mom was her top priority and not once did she ever feel writing should come before that. Late at night or on an occasional weekend, she pulled it off. She would go months without writing fiction and then get in a groove and crank out several chapters in a few weeks.

Over time, she wrote not one, but several novels.

Meanwhile, the traditional publishing industry changed dramatically to a shadow of what it was. Amazon changed the business model. The distinction between traditionally published works (they pay you) and self-published works (you pay them) was harder for readers to discern.What this meant was that the process I and some of our friends had followed years ago – get an agent, write a book, negotiate a deal and get a modest advance and hope for sales – was much harder to achieve. Unless you already had a platform – such as being a celebrity with advice on a protein diet – it became harder to publish and publishers became increasingly less likely to arrange publicity and foot the bill for marketing.

So this 28-year journey also has entailed: Getting an agent. Parting ways with that agent. Getting a second agent. Parting ways with the second agent. Getting a book contract with a publisher and then cancelling that contract when that publisher’s staff failed to meet deadlines and, at the end, even acknowledge emails. And, most recently, getting a second publishing contract for not just one novel, but multiple books.

So, I think I can speak for our kids, co-workers and friends who have been in the passenger seat on this ride in saying congratulations on achieving what truly has been your lifelong dream. As for me, I could not be prouder of my wife and best friend. Although she has published non-fiction and short stories, she has insisted I cannot call her “author” until her novel is on sale. Understandable, given the long climb this has been. But as of today, you also become my favorite author, Lori Duffy Foster.

To quote the great doctor:

‘You’re off to great places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting,

So… get on your way!’ “

Oh, geez. Here I go again!

Book promotion and my jig addiction

The sun is shining, the snow is melting, the sap is flowing from our maple trees, and I am only about six weeks away from the April 13 release of A DEAD MAN’S EYES.

Wait a minute …

(Sorry. My giddiness demands that I stop what I am doing now and then and dance a little jig. 🙂 )

Okay, I am back.

I am busy, busier than ever, but that’s okay. I finished the final round of edits for the novel last week and, while I await the cover art and pre-order availability, I am working on promoting it. Book promotion is a huge job, much more time-consuming than I had ever imagined, but I am getting to know the coolest people and discovering some awesome podcasts, blogs and Facebook pages. How had I missed them before?

My publisher, Level Best Books, will do some promotion and marketing for me. I am fortunate in that sense. Most small publishers do not have the means to help authors promote their books, and most big publishers will do little or nothing for books that are expected to rank mid-list. They reserve the big money for the potential bestsellers. But Level Best Books is pretty unique. Again, I am fortunate.

I could have hired someone to market and promote my book. Many authors do. I know people who have spent anywhere from $400 to $20,000 on blog tours or public relations firms, and I am happy they are able to do that. But there are two reasons I decided to go it on my own, at least for my debut novel.

First, there is the expense. With two kids in college and two at home, we need to save money every way we can. Second, there is my background. I am a former journalist. I have been on the other end of press releases and interview requests. I knew I could succeed if I just flipped that dynamic around.

So far, I am thrilled. What I learned is this: There are tons of good people out there who are eager to help a debut author. If you check out my News and Events page, you will see much of what I have scheduled so far, and that’s not everything. I will send out press releases to bookstores and libraries when the cover art is ready. I plan to work with other authors to offer virtual panels for writing groups, book clubs, libraries–anywhere that will have us.

A DEAD MAN’S EYES will also soon become available on NetGalley, where reviewers and journalists can download electronic copies for free. That opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

I am nervous and excited, but I am trying not to lose focus of the most important factor in book promotion: the readers.

Over the past several years, I have asked friends, relatives and strangers time and time again how they decide which books to read. The most popular answers are that they get recommendations from friends or they read books by authors they have met. So, despite the pandemic, I will spend as much time as I can meeting people in person (masked and socially distanced), getting to know potential readers and introducing them to Lisa Jamison, the main character of A DEAD MAN’S EYES.

If my novel isn’t right for them, that’s okay. I can always use more good people in my life, especially friends who have book recommendations.

I am doing all this while working part time and doing the usual parenting stuff, but I don’t feel overwhelmed (well, sometimes, but not often). The adrenaline is flowing right alongside the thin sap that we will soon boiling into maple syrup and, with spring in the air, it is hard to be anything but ecstatic.

I enjoy people, and I hope to meet everyone who reads this blog post somewhere along the way–during virtual events; through comments on Facebook, blogs or podcasts; or in person at festivals of book events. But please forgive me if my attention is momentarily diverted while I dance a jig.

Another book contract!

For nearly 20 years after I left my full-time journalism career, fiction writing took a backseat to parenting (and to paid work).

That seat was never too far away. Picture the special infant seat in some minivans, the one located in the center of the middle row that you can slide up so the baby is within reach of the front passenger seat. That’s where I kept my passion for fiction: always within reach, but still safely tucked behind me.

I didn’t mind, most of the time.

I did have my share of meltdowns, times when I thought that if I couldn’t give it my all, I should give it up. But I did not give it up. I wrote when I could, sometimes missing days, weeks or even months, but always thinking about writing and knowing I would eventually get the words down.

It turned out to be a productive method.

Earlier in 2020, I signed a contract with Level Best Books for three novels in a series. Two weeks ago, I signed another contract with Level Best Books for three standalone novels. Of the six novels, five are complete, products of my writing-while-parenting methods. The sixth is under construction.

The last of the novels under contract will be published just before our youngest two children graduate high school.

How fitting is that?

I am ecstatic, of course. I want to shout it out to the world.

But I am sharing this news for another reason.

I know there are more people like me out there, parents who are struggling to feed that passion for writing while also feeding young children who need us in ways that can be physically and emotionally intense. I know there is pressure to carve out untouchable time each day for writing, a feeling that if we can’t do that, we are not passionate enough.

That we will fail.

I sharing this so you know that is not true.

You can be a good and attentive parent and still succeed as a writer. Your journey might deviate from the norm, but that will only make it more exciting, an original, like any good novel plot. Keep the faith, my parent-writer friends. Ignore those who say the world of fiction belongs to the young, the single or those who can afford full-time daycare while they write.

Good things will happen if you are patient and persistent.

The ARCs are here!

The electronic ARCs for A Dead Man’s Eyes have arrived and the physical ARCs are on their way. I am nervous and excited.


ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) are copies of books that are distributed to book stores and reviewers three to six months before publication with the understanding that there is more editing and a polished cover to come. Their arrival means I can start begging for reviews and mailing copies to authors I admire in hopes that they will write a few kind words for my book cover.

My publisher, Level Best Books, will send ARCs to industry publications for reviews and will make the ARC available on the website NetGalley, where book reviewers, librarians, educators, any readers of influence, can read it for free. NetGalley members are urged to review the books they choose to read, so that will be a good reality check for me.

It also means that round two of editing has begun, the cover art will soon be on its way and that I have some work to do. I have to write acknowledgements, a bio and a dedication for the book, and get a professional photo taken to go with it all.

The photo part makes me nervous. I have put on a few (a lot) of pounds in recent years and I have aged, but I am counting a movement initiated by author Laura Lippman for confidence. She wrote a tweet in 2014, encouraging female authors (all women, really) to post bare-faced selfies in support of Kim Novak, who was criticized for her appearance at the Oscars.

The tweet went viral. The photos that emerged showed me that most female authors get boosts from make-up and Photoshop and that many of them, in reality, are just like me. I found their bare-faced photos stunning in a more honest, artistic way. It also helped me relaxed about the prospect of in-person events. Physical perfection is not critical for book sales.


My journey to publication has switched gears with the arrival of the ARCs, and I will need to learn a few new skills to navigate at this speed. I am looking forward to the challenge and to sharing some of those adventures here. Thanks for all the support and encouragement along the way.

Family time wins in the year of virtual conferences

I always feel a tug at my heart when I leave for a writers’ conference. The further I drive or fly, the stronger it grows. The tug is most powerful when I am trying to fall asleep in the dry air of a generic hotel room, the night before the conference begins. It weakens some if I have met a fellow writer or two in the lobby or at the bar, but it is still there.

I miss home.

I miss my husband. I miss my kids.

But once I am immersed in the conference, their hold falls away. I am in another world, attending workshops on craft, marketing and publishing; discussing careers and expectations over breakfast, lunch and dinner with fellow writers; swapping stories and experiences that grow more intense with each glass of wine at the hotel bar when the day is over.

My focus improves because I am there, in person.

With coronavirus in the air, writers’ conferences have gone virtual this year. Leaders of the non-profit groups that host them have become technological pros. They are more than event organizers. They are big-time producers, bringing the show live into our living rooms and coaching reluctant reality stars in the art of virtual delivery.

With no travel expenses and reduced registration fees, some of those conferences have drawn more participation than ever before. They have suddenly become accessible to people who cannot afford to travel, are hindered by disabilities or are nervous about mingling with strangers.

But I have attended none.


The tug of family is too powerful at home. I spend an awful lot of time on my laptop, working my part-time job or writing. While I am working or writing, I have to resist the desire to play a game with my twins, text or call the older kids at college or go for a walk on the property with my husband. It helps that they are all busy as well during the week, my husband with his job and the kids with school.

But on the weekends, they are free.

The amount of time kids spend in our midst is short, about one-fourth of our life expectancies. I cannot bring myself to spend an entire Saturday online while they are here, available to me. I need physical distance and the in-person interactions to resist that pull.

I have taken part in one-hour sessions here and there, and they have been worth every minute. I almost feel that I get more out of a webinar, with chat features that allow me to ask real-time questions and get to know other participants, than I would an in-person event.  I can see myself tuning into more online workshops and presentations even after the pandemic ends.

But weekend conferences will probably have to wait.

Some people will see that as a weakness, insisting I prioritize my career, but life is a constant balancing act and the scales tip differently for all of us. We are all at different stages in our lives. For me, family time outweigh the benefits of conference time in this virtual life, but I am not giving up on conferences altogether. I am registering for three already in 2021, optimistic that they will be held in-person.

I hope organizers continue to provide some level of online participation after the restrictions lift for those who have benefited from the virtual experiences, but I am looking forward to the comradery of other writers, to the in-person dynamics that take me fully from one reality into another. I am excited for the year ahead and looking forward to seeing you all there.

Meet Author Kathryn Craft

A shorter version of this interview appeared in my November newsletter, but I loved the longer version so much, I wanted run it here. I hope you enjoy it!

Kathryn Craft is the award-winning author of two novels, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and the author of chapters in Author in Progress and The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing from Writers Digest Books. Her fourteen years as a freelance developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic.
Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she is an active member of Pennwriters; the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, serving as its 2020 Guiding Scribe; and an award-winning marketing cooperative of women authors, Tall Poppy Writers. Kathryn leads writing workshops and retreats, mentors novelists through her Your Novel Year program, teaches for Drexel University’s MFA program, and is a regular contributor to top writing blog WriterUnboxed.

About her books

The Art of Falling: All Penny ever wanted to do was dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

The Far End of HappyRonnie’s husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned. The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage—and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie’s fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family’s lives depend on the choices she will make—but is what’s best for her best for everyone?

Conversing with Kathryn

Q: What drew you to fiction after so many years in dance and as a dance critic?

Kathryn: During my first marriage, back when I was a dance critic, I was known for saying, “With so many real stories in the world to tell, why make one up?” Hardly an intro to a career as a novelist, right?

Then, s**t got real. My sons (8 and 10 at the time) and I lived through the unfolding drama of my husband’s suicide standoff against a massive police presence. What does a writer do with an experience like that? Well, if she wants to learn and grow and create meaning, she writes about it.

First, I wrote memoir. Then, considered and discarded notions of nonfiction book, self-help, magazine articles, and essays. Turns out I didn’t want to cite statistics or convince or warn. I wanted to write to show how, in the face of one of the most unconscionable acts to be taken by someone who says they love you, the characters in this family sustained hope.

Life can seem random and chaotic. People come to fiction in search of a world ordered through consistent characterization. A carefully constructed story gives us a chance to point readers toward an equally true, yet better ending. I sought order. I sought consistency. In my hands, hope could suggest a better ending.

So, in the end, I wrote fiction.

Oh, that and I’d had my nose in a novel ever day of my life—doh! 

Q: Your novels are informed by your own life experiences (your dance/choreography/critic career and your husband’s death by suicide), yet you succeed in ensuring that they do not feel autobiographical.  Your characters are unique, and they own their experiences. How difficult was that, to draw so strongly from your own life, but remain true to the craft of fiction?

Kathryn: Thank you for these kind, very hard-won words!

Penelope Sparrow, in The Art of Falling, was more fictional, and therefore easier for me. I started dancing late and never sought a professional career. While I didn’t suffer from body image issues to the extent Penelope did, my mother was always weighing me with her eyes when I entered a room, often commenting on my weight before anything else. Someone like that, especially someone you are related to, can systematically shred your spirit. A saving grace for me was my interest in science; I was a biology major undergrad and I have a master’s in health and phys ed. Our bodies are nothing less than miracles, and, as the only means we have to convey our spirits here on Earth, they deserve the utmost respect and love. Steeped in a dance world I was familiar with, showing how that negatively impacted Penelope’s relationships was simple extrapolation. “Simple” in that it took me eight years to figure out, lol.

The situation in The Far End of Happy was harder to wrap my head around. For each change away from “fact,” I had to ask myself, “how does this change improve the kind of story I want to tell?” For instance, my mom and dad were sequestered with me during the real-life suicide standoff. It was comforting to see their faces that day, but they could have been framed pictures on the wall for all they did to impact the unfolding drama. That doesn’t fly in fiction. What characters could I create, that could better drive the narrative?

For the novel, I made it Ronnie, the wife whose self-actualization will leave her husband behind; her mother, with an unresolved past as concerns both suicide and elusive love; and a mother-in-law who judged worth through monetary value. I did this to show that the three women closest to Jeff didn’t really know him at all. They hadn’t seen the threat of suicide coming, and yet they were left behind to clean up the mess. Each of them also kept secrets that blow up from the standoff’s tensions, exploring the very real phenomena of blame after a suicide.

Once you change who Ronnie is with, you change Ronnie, too, as she interacts with these characters. My sub-genre is called “psychological women’s fiction” and I pay close attention to the development of these relationship arcs.

Q: Do you have a favorite character or scene in either your novels? Could you tell us about it?

Kathryn: I still miss Marty Kandelbaum, the baker, whose car and doughnuts helped save Penelope Sparrow’s life. He believes in comfort food, love, and the unconditional support of and responsibility for people God has placed in his path, even when that becomes exceedingly difficult. He has a quiet, kind wisdom that surprised and delighted me.

I’ll be lucky if a character like him ever comes my way again. The closest may be André Burnett in my work-in-progress.

As for favorite scene, it has to be the dance that Penelope choreographs for her friend Angela in The Art of Falling. In that one scene, I had to tap my experience has dancer, choreographer, and dance critic.

I realize I am leaving out The Far End of Happy on my list of faves. I am incredibly proud of that novel, which, despite being written as fiction, feels incredibly true and important, but it’s hard to say anything about that day is a favorite, you know? If pressed, I’d say any scene involving Max, my cockapoo, who played himself. Despite trying circumstances that gave him PTSD for life, he came through it like a champ, and was a constant source of joy and emotional support for me until the end of his days.

Q: You spend a great deal of time giving back to the writing and reading communities. Why is this so important to you?

Kathryn: Actually, thank you for asking this question, as I have a score to settle.

Back in 2006 or so, when I ran for president of my local writers’ group for the second time (which we built from 75 to 150 members during my first presidency), I actually overheard someone in the back row say, “She’s certainly a doormat.”

He was 100% clueless—and no doubt, unpublished. Here is what I know, for sure:

The arts are crucial to our humanity.

Without volunteerism in the arts, the world would stop spinning and we’d all fly off.

If you want to live forever, mentor someone. They will never forget you.

Writers may write on their own, but they cannot be published, well, all on their own.

There is no better way to network (find critique partners, meet agents and editors, find published authors who might one day blurb your book) than to roll up your sleeves and volunteer.

I guess I’m not giving away much of a secret when I say I am a socially motivated person who will often do more for others than I would do for myself. Yet there is method to my madness. I would never hold another writer to a higher standard than I’d hold myself. This creates a very gratifying karmic loop. By helping others get better, I improve. It’s win-win-win, all the way down the line.

Q: I understand you are working on a third novel. Can you tell us more about it and when we can expect to see it one the shelves?

Kathryn: I am not writing this one under contract, so I have no publication date, nor do I know if it will ever get published. I do love it though, and have been writing it for four years. It had to go through a severe course correction at one point (It began its life as domestic suspense at the suggestion of my agent. She didn’t like it. I split from that agent and rewrote it in my psychological women’s fiction lane, found a new agent, went on submission, and pulled it to address consistent feedback from editors.).

I can now say with hands-on street cred that shifting a story’s genre will require rethinking every one of the tens of thousands of individual decisions that contribute to the reader’s accumulating understanding. (But no pressure, right?) In the end, we all must write to please ourselves. Otherwise, writing novels is just too hard to be sustainable.

I’m in the final days of getting ready to resubmit for agent feedback, so I hate to be too specific, but in its broadest sense, it is a story of a woman who seeks to reclaim her true nature after trauma, set within Nature’s own violent reclamation during a Northeastern ice storm. It is a love story grounded in place and belonging, in which trees play major characters.

The newsletter version, which also includes thoughts on writing from author Carol Pouliot and updates on my own journey to publication day can be found here: https://preview.mailerlite.com/a3c7d5