And the e-book coupon winner is:
Brandi D!! Congratulations, Brandi!!
Today we’re on location in Rome at the Colosseum because mythology from ancient Greece and helped to inspire Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, a new novel by mystery author, Stacy Juba. She's also written the upcoming mystery novel Sink or Swim, and the children’s picture book The Flag Keeper. She is a freelance writer and former daily newspaper reporter with more than a dozen writing awards to her credit.
I've also worn my best toga today and am glad to see you have all dressed appropriately and made Stacy proud. Thank you and I do appreciate it!
Deanna: Stacy, I'm pleased to introduce you to my readers and welcome your readers to join us today also. Tell us a bit about yourself that our readers might not know.
Stacy: Thank you for having me here today. I’ve been writing since I was a child so most people assume that I majored in English in college, however, my college major was physical education with a concentration in exercise science and health fitness. To some degree, this was the wrong major as I didn’t enjoy my brief stints working in a health club and in a hospital cardiac rehabilitation program. I wound up using my writing abilities after all, as a journalist and publicist. However, my interest in health is still a deep-rooted part of ‘who I am.’ I’ve done a great deal of health writing for newspapers, magazines and newsletters. I’m very interested in holistic subjects such as energy healing. I’m trained in Reiki, a form of hands-on healing, and have studied meditation, self-hypnosis and Tai Chi. In the past, I’ve introduced readers to these subjects through my article-writing. In the future, I plan to incorporate these subjects into my mystery novels.
Deanna: What happened that made you want to become a writer?
Stacy: I’ve been writing mystery stories since third grade. My first story was a paranormal thriller called Curse of the White Witch, written around age 9. By fifth grade, I was churning out stories every week or two. I was very introverted, and was so quiet that nowadays they call it Selective Mutism, as I literally could not bring myself to speak in certain situations. I don’t like the word shy at all, but people called me tremendously shy. On paper, however, I shocked my teachers with these fully developed stories of mystery and intrigue. I think writing helped me to distance myself from the world, and to see it as an observer, which was a far less threatening mode of communication for me. I’m still introverted and I still believe that I express myself better in writing.
Deanna: Do you write under a pen name?
Stacy: I write under my married name Stacy Juba, however, my first book Face-Off (now out of print) was published under my maiden name Stacy Drumtra when I was a teenager. Someday I plan to release an updated version of the book, and possibly publish its sequel. I’ll likely do the Face-Off books under Stacy Drumtra so they’ll have a clear connection to the original book published by Avon Flare in 1992.
Deanna: Is there a certain type of character that is easier to write than another?
Stacy: I prefer writing about female amateur detectives, young women who are tough and can take care of themselves, but have an underlying vulnerability that they need to overcome. In Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, newspaper editorial assistant Kris Langley needs to overcome her feelings of guilt from a childhood tragedy and feels compelled to redeem herself from an old mistake. In Sink or Swim, (coming out in December 2010) sassy personal trainer Cassidy Novak carries a chip on her shoulder as her father walked out on the family years ago and she hopes he’ll find out that she did just fine without him. As a result, she is very ambitious – too ambitious – and goes on a reality TV show as a means to win a lot of money and further her professional goals.
Deanna: Do you read in the same genre that you write in?
Stacy: Yes, I love reading mystery and suspense novels. I’ve loved reading that kind of book since my days of devouring Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden.
Deanna: Briefly tell us about your latest books.
Deanna: Briefly tell us about your latest books.
Stacy: Twenty-Five Years Ago Today is available in trade paperback and for Kindle and other e-book formats, and would appeal to both mystery fans and romantic suspense fans. For twenty-five years, Diana Ferguson’s killer has gotten away with murder. When rookie obit writer and newsroom editorial assistant Kris Langley investigates the cold case of the artistic young cocktail waitress who was obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology, she must fight to stay off the obituary page herself.
My picture book, The Flag Keeper, is available in paperback and is a sweet story of a patriotic bear named Elizabeth who teaches herself to raise the U.S. flag on her flag pole while her dad is on a business trip. It is an educational story about flag etiquette and includes discussion questions, flag etiquette facts, and an activity. It is especially popular with teachers, troop leaders and military families.
Deanna: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
Stacy: I’m not one of those laidback writers who can make it up as they go along. For my work-in-progress, I’m using a 20-page outline that maps out the main events in each chapter. I divide the outline into three acts: Act One is the book’s set-up, Act Two is the development of the crisis, and Act Three is the resolution. The outline isn’t written in stone, but it keeps me on track so I always know what scene to write next.
Deanna: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
Stacy: The biggest challenge was getting published. It took several years to find a publisher for my second book, Twenty-Five Years Ago Today. It was agented for three years, but it didn’t sell. The book publishing industry is competitive and it can be discouraging for new authors trying to find a home for their work. I thought about quitting a few times, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d had interest in my work from agents and editors, and I was a recipient of the William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Grant, awarded annually at the Malice Domestic Convention in Arlington, VA. It’s hard to give up on your dream when you have hope. Deep down, I felt that if I could get my mystery novels published, readers would like them, so I persevered even when it seemed dim.
Deanna: Writers, especially new writers, are always looking for tips and helpful information. What is the single most important “tip” you can give to a new writer?
Stacy: I think it’s important to hone your craft and learn how to edit your work. I recently critiqued several manuscripts for a writers’ conference and the most common mistakes I saw were: 1. Too much back story 2. Excess dialogue and description that didn’t advance the story 3. Point of view problems 4. Improper use of commas. Find critique partners to exchange manuscripts with, either on-line or through a writer’s group, whichever fits better into your lifestyle. You’ll gain fresh perspective into your own writing and you will become a better editor.
Deanna: Tell us about your journey to publication.
Stacy: My journey was a bit unusual. I wrote my first book, Face-Off, at age 16, entered it in the Avon Flare Young Adult Novel Competition for teenage authors, and to my delight, it won first prize. Avon published the novel when I was 18. I naively believed that publishing subsequent books would be just as easy, but I went through 17 years of rejection. I was young when I started out, and needed to discover my niche, fine-tune my craft, and gain life experience beyond high school. Fast forward to last year…when I got the e-mail from Mainly Murder Press that they were offering a contract for Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, I felt sheer relief that the hard work had paid off.
Deanna: Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
Stacy: Definitely. I’d ask myself why it was so important for me to get published and why couldn’t I just let writing fiction be a hobby. If all I received were form letters for years, then maybe I would have quit. And I did get hundreds of form letters. But, I also had editors champion my novels before Publishing Committees at different publishing houses. Editors wrote me long letters inviting me to resubmit if I did rewrites. I’ve had editors and agents brainstorm with me on the phone. I had an agent for a few years who believed in my writing and went to bat for me. When that didn’t lead to a sale in the long-run, I contemplated giving up, but then I won the $1,000 William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Grant for my mystery-novel-in progress. My rejections far outweighed the encouragement, but the encouragement gave me hope. It’s hard to let yourself give up when there’s still a glimmer of hope, especially when you’ve invested so much time, effort, and money into pursuing your goals.
Deanna: What are some of the websites our readers can find you and your books?
Stacy: My website is http://www.stacyjuba.com. I also have a newsletter, a yahoo group and a FaceBook page, all of which can be reached from my main website. I love to hear from readers so please feel free to contact me. My email is also on my website.
Deanna: How did you come up with the idea for your character in Twenty-Five Years Ago Today - Kris Langley?
Stacy: I began my journalism career as an obit writer and editorial assistant for a daily newspaper, and one of my tasks was compiling the 25 Years Ago Today column. I was trying to come up with an idea for a mystery novel, and I thought, what if a rookie editorial assistant stumbled across an unsolved murder on the microfilm? What if she was haunted by a tragedy in her own past? What if she becomes obsessed with solving this old case as a way of redeeming herself from her past mistakes? I started writing, and named the character Kris Langley. Kris will do what needs to be done to get the story, but she has a great deal of empathy for her sources and wants to get it right. Whether she’s writing an obit or a news story, she feels that people are trusting her with their words and their personal histories. As a result, Kris is very hard on herself when she makes a mistake.
I'd like to share an excerpt:
Kris Langley stared at the bright newsprint lit up on the microfilm reader. The top headline leaped off page one. “Missing Barmaid Murdered.” She squinted over the story of Diana Ferguson, a young woman found bludgeoned to death in the woods. In little over a week, it would be the twenty-fifth anniversary. A quarter of a century ago, Diana must've dressed and driven out as always. An evening like any other. By the end of the night, she was dead, her life extinguished like the other victims on fate's hit list.
Most people had forgotten Diana by now. In the black and white yearbook photograph, she didn't smile. Straight dark hair curtained her serious oval face. Diana had her arms crossed on a table, slender fingers too delicate to protect her from a killer.
Kris flipped to a blank page in her notebook, scribbled “Diana Ferguson” and stopped writing. Resurrecting the tragedy in her “25 and 50 Years Ago Today” column would catch readers’ attention, but it seemed inappropriate.
She jumped as Dex Wagner, the seventy-year-old editor-in-chief of the Fremont Daily News, slapped a rolled-up newspaper against someone’s desk. “Jacqueline, why the hell didn’t we have this theater group feature? The Fremont Community Players are in our own backyard.”
Suppressing a grin, Kris swung around in her seat. She could use a distraction right about now. Dex waved the competition paper in the air, red circles and slashes marking half the page. In her three weeks as editorial assistant, Kris had enjoyed Dex’s tantrums. So far, none had been directed at her.
Managing Editor Jacqueline McCormack tossed back her blonde ponytail, gathered in a tan fabric scrunchie. She owned a world class selection of ponytail holders that complemented her designer wardrobe. Kris couldn't help thinking of her as a thirty-five-year-old cheerleader. Corporate Barbie.
“We ran a story last week in our entertainment section,” Jacqueline said. “They got the idea from us. Gosh, Dex, are you trying to blind me with that underlining?”
Dex paced to the oak bookshelves and back to Jacqueline's neat desk. His stomach bulged under a rumpled gray suit and his wrists hung out of jacket sleeves a couple inches too short. “I think we missed it.”
“Trust me,” Jacqueline said. “I put a headline on it myself. You do read beyond the front, don’t you, Dex?”
Grumbling under his breath, Dex opened The Greater Remington Mirror, a large daily that covered the ten towns in their readership area and more. Kris saw another column ballooned in red marker.
He pressed his index finger against the lead paragraph, his penguin-patterned tie flapping as he stooped forward. “What about the stabbing of that Miles kid? We should be talking to his family and we haven't even contacted them. For Christ's sake, do I have to keep track of everything?”
“Relax, I'm working on that,” Bruce Patrick, the police and court reporter, said from the doorway. He swaggered over and hopped onto the edge of Jacqueline's desk.
“I just got off the phone,” he said. “The parents are basket cases, but the siblings said I could come by tonight. And it's an exclusive.”
A 19-year-old college student had murdered his classmate, Scott Miles, in a fight that went too far. Kris had edited the obit, stomach queasy as she cut “beloved son and brother” out of the text. Dex insisted such phrases only belonged in paid death notices.
Unlike the Diana Ferguson case, there was no mystery to this homicide. Many young people had witnessed the brawl, which started over a girl. It had lingered in her memory, though, a teenage boy who went to a party and left dead in an ambulance. Another individual singled out by fate, never suspecting he had no future. He picked the wrong girl. For that, he died.
Kris shuddered despite the heat in the newsroom. The family members must feel like their world had spun out of control. She remembered the grieving process well: walking around as if in warm Jell-O, arms and legs heavy, head difficult to hold up, and crying until numbness froze the tears. Forgetting had disturbed her the most, slipping away into the calm relief of sleep, then jolting awake in cold horror.
Jacqueline's ponytail bounced in glee. “They'll talk?” She turned to Bruce. “Terrific. Have you assigned a photographer?”
Bruce rested his notebook on his thigh. “You bet. I didn't mention the photos, but once we're there, I'm sure they'll go along with it.”
“Get two or three color shots for the front,” Jacqueline said, a lilt in her voice.
Kris abandoned her quiet corner of the newsroom and strode over to the group. Bruce and Jacqueline had never suffered tragedy in their lives, or they wouldn't act so blasé.
No one noticed Kris’s presence. She spoke quickly, before she lost her nerve. “I know you want a good story, but have a little sympathy. Sending a photographer unannounced would be taking advantage of these poor people.”
Her co-workers regarded her with blank expressions.
“Why?” Bruce asked. “The kids are of age. It’s not like we’re exploiting pre-schoolers.”
“If they're inviting a reporter into their home, they should realize we intend to play up the story,” Jacqueline said.
“They'll be emotional,” Kris said. “A photographer will make them feel worse. The least you could do is prepare them.”
Jacqueline folded her arms, covering a horizontal row of gold buttons on her biscuit-colored blazer. “I'm sure they expect it, but Bruce was smart in setting it up this way. If they have doubts, they'll be more likely to say yes once our staff has had a chance to develop a rapport. If the pictures bother them, the family can always decline.”
“They'll feel pressured,” Kris said. “They have enough to deal with right now. You’ve got your exclusive. Why can't you just run photos of the boy who died?”
“Kris, this is our job, not yours.” Coldness had replaced Jacqueline's lilt. “This paper tells it like it is. If you can't accept that, then maybe you shouldn't work in a newsroom.”
“Maybe you should treat your sources like human beings.”
“Why don't you stay out of things that don't concern you? As I recall, you have no news experience. I'm not even sure why you were hired in the first place.” Jacqueline glared at Dex.
They all knew the answer to that. The previous editorial assistant had quit on Jacqueline's vacation. Dex grew impatient and placed a classified ad. Kris admitted she preferred the dreaded four-to-midnight shift, and he hired her on the spot. His judgment wasn't good enough for Jacqueline, who had reminded him of the three-month probation for all employees.
Dex's shaggy salt and pepper eyebrows curled downward. “Kris does fine. She's bright and talented. Give her a chance to learn.” He glowered at Bruce. “Next time you're working on a hot story, check with me.”
He stalked to his desk, leaving the others gaping after him. Her neck and shoulder muscles tense, Kris released a deep breath. She needed this job. Like it or not, she was stuck working with Barbie. “Sorry if I offended you, Jacqueline. I just wanted to give you another perspective.”
Jacqueline ignored her and gestured to Bruce. “Come on, let's discuss tomorrow's budget.”
He snapped to attention and followed her into the conference room. Jacqueline carried herself with the posture of a model, her back straight and an upward tilt to her chin. Jacqueline and her budget. Kris had once asked Dex if the paper was in okay shape, money-wise. She’d assumed Jacqueline was obsessed with the editorial department’s finances. Dex just laughed and said, “That’s news lingo for story line-up.”
As others in the newsroom headed out, Kris drifted back to the microfilm machine and her research. Her editors demanded eight historical facts per issue. Dex told her to play up light local fluff as people liked seeing their names in print, while Jacqueline said to emphasize hard news. Kris found herself trying to please them both.
At first, she had enjoyed exploring the older editions. Fifty years ago, chunky blocks of type took up the front page. Most articles came over the wire and staff-written pieces had no bylines. Dex had explained how reporters worked for “the paper” in those days, not for the recognition. But now if Kris spent too much time on the machine, the scrolling of the film gave her motion sickness. The focus lever didn't work right, so she'd press her finger over the tape, holding it in place.
Frowning, Kris stared at the bold black headline splashed above the subhead “Body Found In Fremont State Woods.” For the second time, she skimmed the article about Diana Ferguson.
Available in trade paperback, on Kindle and in multiple ebook formats distributed by Smashwords. Visit http://www.stacyjuba.com for more information.
Deanna: Where do you find your inspiration for your writing?
Stacy: I like to write about things that interest me. I’ve always enjoyed Greek and Roman mythology, and found it fascinating that ancient cultures created these stories about magical gods and goddesses. As a child, I was intrigued by the stories of the gods and goddesses who lived on Mount Olympus, with all of their quarreling and imperfections. That interest made its way into Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, as the murder victim painted intriguing scenes inspired by Greek and Roman myth, paintings that will provide clues about her death. I got the idea for The Flag Keeper picture book because my husband is very patriotic and taught me about U.S. flag etiquette. My interest in health and fitness inspired the character of personal trainer Cassidy Novak in Sink or Swim. My interest in energy work, alternative medicine, and psychics led me to start writing my WIP Sign of the Messenger, and because of my interest in those subjects, I think it would be fun to develop those characters into a series.
Deanna: What are your upcoming projects?
Stacy: Mainly Murder Press will publish my second mystery novel, Sink or Swim, in December 2010. After starring on a hit reality TV show called Sink or Swim, ambitious personal trainer Cassidy Novak attracts a stalker upon returning to her normal life. In addition, I’m polishing up a paranormal young adult thriller Dark Before Dawn, and I’m also working on the holistic mystery series. As I mentioned above, at some point, I’d like to bring back an updated edition of my out-of-print young adult book Face-Off and publish its never-before-seen sequel Offsides.
Deanna: Stacy, thank you so much for sharing this time with us! I’m sure our visitors will be putting your books on their TBR lists. It’s been a pleasure to hear about another writing making things happen! Do you have a giveaway you’d like to do?
Stacy: First, thank you for having me. I love hearing from those interested in what I write. I do have a giveaway today. I’ll give a coupon code for a free copy of the e-book version of Twenty-Five Years Ago Today through Smashwords to one commenter. If you are interested in entering, please mention it in the comments.