Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with mystery and historical novelist and short story author Doris ‘D.R.’ Meredith. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Doris. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Doris: I am a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, and was enrolled in the graduate programs at three different universities (my husband kept moving and taking me with him) until I decided there was nothing I wanted to do that required a master’s degree, writing being a profession where you learn by doing. My first book was actually written on a dare: “Why don’t you write a mystery instead of reading so many?” asked my husband. I replied: “I’ll do that, and my detective figure will be a Texas county sheriff, and I’ll bury the body in the barbeque pit!” I did exactly that between caring for a two-year-old who alternated between asthma attacks and tonsillitis, and an infant with a sleep disorder before that term became fashionable. Walker and Co. bought that book with paperback rights to Avon. The three book series, in addition to two more, was later reprinted by Ballantine, which also did my Murder By series. I live in Amarillo, Texas, with my husband of several decades, because this is where the various moves culminated. My husband is an attorney and long time prosecutor until he retired to become a criminal defense attorney. We refer to it as switching to the dark side. I have two children. My daughter has a Ph.D. from Cambridge and works at Oxford; my son is a systems engineer for a defense company in Portland, Oregon, and he and his wife own an ebook publishing firm, Tattered Plaid Press (http://tatteredplaid.com).
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Doris: I generally write mysteries–humorous, outrageous ones–and I have published two historicals–not humorous nor outrageous, strickly four-hankie books. I also have written several short stories and a novelization of a TV series–a short-lived series, unfortunately.
Morgen: “strickly four-hankie books” I love that. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Doris: I write as D.R. Meredith because when I first published it was best to avoid the gender identification. I don’t know that I would bother today. I have written nineteen novels, including the novelization, several short stories, and way more than two thousand book reviews, almost all on Western novels and histories on the American West. My published novels are:
The Sheriff Series (Sheriff Charles Matthews)
- The Sheriff and the Panhandle Murders
- The Sheriff and the Branding Iron Murders
- The Sheriff and the Folsom Man Murders
- The Sheriff and the Pheasant Hunt Murders
The Murder By Series (Attorney John Lloyd Branson)
- Murder by Impulse
- Murder by Deception
- Murder by Masquerade
- Murder by Reference
- Murder by Sacrilege
Megan Clark Series
- Murder in Volume
- By Hook or by Book
- Murder Past Due
- Tome of Death
- Murder by the Book
Historicals (The McDade Family Chronicles)
- A Time Too Late
- The Reckoning
- Reap the Whirlwind (in progress)
- No One Dies in Chinatown by Max Lockhart
- Nine Short Stories
There is a personal story for each book and short story, but those stories can wait for another time.
Morgen: Wow. That’s some going. You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Doris: I have never been self-published–until now. My backlist except the Megan Clark series will go online by the middle of August. All new titles will be self-published with Tattered Plaid Press doing the heavy lifting in terms of cover art and putting the manuscript into whatever form is required by Nook, Kindle, Kobo, etc. Why did I decide to self-publish all future works? Two reasons: I write some off-the-wall stuff, almost all set in Texas or the West, and frankly, it’s hard to sell to editors, and without exception, East Coast publishers are without a clue how to market it. I can’t due much worst on my own. My second reason is money. All my Murder By series had multiple print runs, yet I never saw any money beyond my advance. I found that curious. I can at least earn as much as my advances and I can keep most of it.
Morgen: That’s why I love it. I’m a bit of a control freak. 🙂 Are all your books available as eBooks?
Doris: Twelve of my books and all my short stories are eBooks. See http://highwatermysteries.wordpress.com for links to whatever eReader you own. You can find a blurb and reviews for each book there also, as well as my personal blog on whatever subject strikes my fancy that day–except for politics and religion.
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Doris: I love my two historicals — A Time Too Late and The Reckoning. Mattie Hunter is a strong woman who typifies many pioneer Texas women. I love the characters in my mysteries, too. The Sheriff is an outsider in the Panhandle, useful when needing to describe our cultural quirks. John Lloyd, Lydia, and Sergeants Schroder and Jenner are always a delight and always outrageous. The only actor I would enjoy seeing as one of my characters is Russell Crowe as Sergeant Schroder. I have no preference for actors otherwise, as long as would-be, no-talent celebrities (who shall remain nameless to avoid libel suites) stay far away from any of work.
Morgen: 🙂 Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Doris: I had no say about covers on my print books, and covers are extremely important. I make suggestions and approve of all my eBook covers. Ironic, since I believe blurb and price are much more important than covers when marketing eBooks. When scrolling through an author’s work on Kindle, how much of an impression does a thumb-nail size cover really make? I think we are still fixated on cover art because it is so important in print books. Our thinking hasn’t progressed beyond that fixation.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Doris: I am working on a mystery series featuring a Comanche warrior set in Nineteenth century Texas; a sixth John Lloyd mystery; the third in the McDade Family Chronicles; the first of the Elizabeth Walker-Highwater novels; a quasi-time travel book; and a mystery series set in Roswell, New Mexico, the site of the infamous Roswell Incident so beloved of those who believe in UFOs.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Doris: I have had to curtail social media which can become addictive and take up waaay too much time, in order to keep a fairly intensive writing schedule. Whenever I came to a standstill, or what come call writer’s block, I just keep writing. I know where I want to eventually arrive, so I push on even if what I’m writing is nonsense. Eventually I break through, then I delete the nonsense. It works for me. The very worst thing is to sit and stare at your monitor. Write something even it’s bad.
Morgen: Absolutely. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Doris: I write a short synopsis, usually about twelve pages, then get on with it. Sometimes, make that frequently, the final book bares a family resemblance to the synopsis, but that’s as close as it gets.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Doris: I don’t have a method that I’m aware of; I just call them up from my imagination. A major character, Miss Poole, in the Sheriff series just appeared. She was not in the synopsis, nor any character like her. I don’t know, literally, where she came from. I don’t question or analyze serendipity. As for making them believable, the best way is dialogue. Each character, each person for that matter, has their own unique speech patterns.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Doris: As someone much more well-known than I said than he was a poor writer, but a hell of a re-writer. I concur. I always edit every morning what I’ve written the day before.
Morgen: That’s a good idea. Even a few hours is ‘distance’ from the original thought process. Do you have to do much research?
Doris: For my historicals, yes. I learn more about the locale and its history than I ever use. Even many of my contemporary mysteries required research. Murder by Deception, which is the story of the US Department of Energy’s attempt to locate a high level nuclear waste depository in The Texas Panhandle, specifically in the middle of the 10th most agriculturally productive county in the United States, which happens to be located over the Ogallala Aquifer, the underwater water supply for eight states. That book required extensive research and interviews.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Doris: I prefer third person, although I have used first person in a short story. I don’t do second person; I don’t even like to read books written in second person.
Morgen: Most people don’t. There are a few of us oddities who love it. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Doris: I have written short stories, and I guess one could consider my book reviews as non-fiction. I was editor for the section on Westerns for a reference series, What Do I Read Next?, and I had to write a lengthy essay on Western fiction. I guess those essays might be considered non-fiction.
Morgen: I would say so. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Doris: Yes, two books. However, I’m planning to re-write them and turn them into thrillers. If I’m satisfied with the result, I’ll self-publish both. If I’m not satisfied, I’ll shred them.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Doris: I’ve had rejections; however all but three of those eventually sold. How do I feel? I go into a blue funk, rant and rave, then tell my agent to submit the book elsewhere. Rejections are part of writing. Not every editor will like your work.
Morgen: It’s just finding the right person for the write thing. Do you enter competitions?
Doris: I do not enter competitions with the exception of the Edgar, The Spur award from Western Writers, and the Anthony. I’ve never won the Edgar, won a Spur for my book review column, and was a finalist for the Anthony twice.
Morgen: Congratulations. You’ve not won an Edgar yet. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Doris: I have an agent, but no, agents are not vital unless you are submitting to print publishers. Otherwise, why on earth would you need an agent to self-publish?
Morgen: Some authors who have self-published have then gone on to be picked up by the mainstream (Amanda Hocking being an example). How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Doris: I did a lot of promotion pre-Internet, and was well-known regionally, but a writer reaches a point where she needs publishers’ big guns in terms of intensive publicity. I simply never got that help. For my eBooks I’m using the Internet exclusively. I’ll see how it works.
Morgen: I only have one novel out as an eBook so I’m still working on that. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Doris: My favorite part of writing is what I call “getting into my world,” by which I mean I’m totally focused on my imaginary universe and the people who live there. My least favorite part is editing, asking myself whether this plot twist work or doesn’t it. Should I use a semi-colon or a dash? Fact checking over and over again until I want to scream. Re-writing a sentence or a paragraph or a whole scene, sometimes several times, until I’m satisfied with the flow. Those tasks are drudgery. What surprised me most was how ill-informed and lacking in general knowledge some reviewers are.
Morgen: Really? That’s interesting. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Doris: Gain a mastery of your tools: grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure. An adequate knowledge of your setting and time frame and subject; in other words, the nuts and bolts of how your characters live in your imaginary world. It’s not a good idea to set your story in a submarine if you know nothing about submarines. Curtain your social networking; read a book or short story or the label on a can of soup, but READ everyday; and write, write, write every single day.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Doris: I would invite Shakespeare, Aristotle, and Benjamin Franklin, and I would feed them steak and baked potato. I do live in the West, after all.
Morgen: 🙂 If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why? Doris: I would re-live the day Sara Ann Freed called from Walker and Co. to tell me they were buying my first book “because it had such an exotic setting and characters.” I looked out the front window of my bookstore to see a tumbleweed blowing down the middle of our main street. Exotic is in the eye of the beholder.
Morgen: <laughs> Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Doris: This is not a direct quote, but is the essence of numerous quotes: the successful man is the one with the most failures, because he tries one more time.
Morgen: Indeed. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing? Doris: I write book reviews on the Internet, but only on books I’ve bought and especially like, and not for a formal book reviewing site. I also do my own blog and a few guest blogs.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Doris: I read every day. I’m a speed reader, and generally read a book a day unless the work is exceptionally long. I enjoy traveling when my husband’s health allows it. I also work in my yard (I think the English call it working in the garden), although I confess my working consists of pulling a few weeds and trying to persuade my trees and shrubs that the 100 plus degree days will not last forever; it just seems that way.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Doris: Certainly your website is valuable. I surf other sites, one being the Sisters In Crime site for the monthly updates on the industry, but I think you have to be a member to receive those updates. As for books, I recommend every writer own a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a grammar book.
Morgen: Thank you very much. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Doris: I found you whom I consider very valuable. I also am on Facebook, Twitter, belong to several forums on writing which I skim very quickly for information or interesting discussions. Sometimes I join in the discussion if I feel strongly about the topic; mostly I don’t. I can spend my time chatting on the Internet, or I can write. I write.
Morgen: We are writers so we should be writing (pot, kettle, black). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Doris: More books will be published as eBooks, although I don’t believe the print book will ever disappear. Publishers do need to come to terms with the fact they don’t control the industry anymore.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Doris: My blog http://highwatermysteries.wordpress.com, Google me; I seem to all over the Internet, more than I ever knew. The Sheriff series and the Murder By series are Amazon UK as well as every other place in the known universe where Kindle or Kobo has a virtual store.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Doris: One more comment about writing. “It takes imagination and obsession, something stronger than merely perseverance. If you’re talking about a book, whether it’s a mystery or historical (Fiction), you’re talking between 60,000 and 150,000 words. That’s a lot of words. That’s a lot of sitting in a room talking to people who don’t exist about things that never happened in a place which also doesn’t exist. That’s what a writer does.
Morgen: It is, and I love that. The writing is my favourite part. If I could just write the first draft and pass it on to my editor I’d be happy. 🙂 (she probably wouldn’t be though) Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Doris: Did I give you way more information than you needed or wanted?
Morgen: There can never be too much when it comes to writing. 🙂 Thank you, Doris.
I then invited Doris to include an extract of her writing and this is from ‘Murder by Deception’…
Lydia Fairchild stood at the window looking down at the town of Canadian, Texas. Dusty pickups were clattering down it uneven red brick streets, stopping at corners todischarge wives in a hurry to begin Saturday morning shopping. With a wave of the hand and a vague remark about errands to run, their drivers sped off in search of farming cronies at the feed store, or the farm equipment store, or the hardware store, or maybe the local cafe. They’d gossip about one thing or another–who was in trouble with the bank, or with his wife; whether to sell cattle or feed them over the winter; the chances of the Canadian High School football team winning the conference.
Sooner or later, Lydia knew, the conversation turned to the IQ, parentage, and sex habits of politicians–the natural predators of farmers. They all agreed the first was low, the second doubtful, and the third indiscret. Farmers held politicians in about as much esteem as green bugs in the wheat. Maybe less.
After wishing the politicians, individually as well as collectively all the prosperity of a chicken farmer with one sterile rooster, they’d choose sides and argue farm policy: lower farm subsidies; higher farm subsidies; no farm subsidies; lower production to force prices up; raise production to export more; sell wheat to the Russians; don’t sell wheat to the Russians. They never all agreed on one policy, but it was a way to pass the time.
But there was one subject about all the farmers agreed: the dump. In Deaf Smith county just southwest of Amarillo lay one of three test sites for America’s only underground, high-level, high level nuclear waste dispository. An ecological disaster in the making, a radioactive time bomb with a ten thousand year fuse ticking away underground. Also underground lay another kind of repository: the Ogallala Aquifer, water supply for eight states and part of Canada. A leak, a shift in the earth’s crust, and eight agricultural states, America’s breadbasket, would be contaminated. From productive land to nuclear wasteland in a single generation. America would no longer be selling wheat to Russia; America would be buying wheat from them.
….and a synopsis and this is of‘ Murder in the Moon When the Leaves Fall: A Spotted Tongue Mystery’…
Spotted Tongue is a aged Comanche, but a warrior no longer. For nearly fifty years he has lived in Oklahoma on a piece of land deeded to him by the U.S. government. Spotted Tongue is the last of the generation who rode free and fought the white man, and he often thinks of those days. His granddaughter, a mixed blood Comanche, pleads with Spotted Tongue to her stories of the past when he was known as “Oru hoiaitu kish ‘wat” He Who Hunts Down a Bad Person. Few now know of him and the strange road he traveled as a hunter of men. Spotted Tongue gives in to his granddaughter’s entreaties, and tells her of his involvement in investigating the murder of a teamster at the Great Treaty Council at Medicine Lodge in October of 1867-The moon when the leaves fall.
D. R. Meredith, Doris to her friends and family, was born in Oklahoma, loosely translated as “Home of the Red Men,” and her nearest neighbors and many of her classmates were Indians. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma, where she met and married her husband Mike. After studying for her Master’s degree at three different universities, she decided she didn’t need a graduate degree to write, that profession being one in which one learns by doing. She wrote her first book on a dare from her husband. The Sheriff and the Panhandle Murders was followed by seventeen more novels and numerous short stories. She has been a teacher, a librarian, a bookseller, and an administrative assistant at her husband’s law firm. She has been a book reviewer for more than two decades, and is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Western Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the American Crime Writers League.
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