What is the working title of your novel?
Where did the idea come from for the novel?
During the demolition of St. Louis City Hospital, a diary was discovered among medical records in an old file cabinet in the Radiology Department. The entry was written by a terminally ill woman who had just discovered that her husband was in love with another woman. The entry was entitled, “Bitter Rendezvous.”
Needless to say, those words sparked my curiosity – and my imagination.
What genre does your manuscript fall under?
It is a romance.
Which actor would you choose to play your character in a movie rendition?
The story is told through the eyes of a medical student. Matthew McConaghey comes to mind.
What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The bitter marriage of a terminally ill patient teaches a medical student about life and death among the broken-hearted.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Almost two years.
What other books would you compare your story to within this genre?
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The diary entry was so poignant, I had to know how the story ended.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
To enhance the authenticity of the book, I did a lot of research regarding City Hospital, including interviews of those who worked there. Their anecdotes and observations were incorporated, where appropriate.
And now, an Interview with author Claire Applewhite
Claire Applewhite, the author of The Wrong Side of Memphis, Moonlight Becomes You So (2009), Crazy For You (2010), St. Louis Hustle, Candy Cadillac (2011) is a graduate of St. Louis University, (AB, Communications, MBA), Mercantile Leadership Program for Women. A participant in the Writers Institute at Washington University, and freelance writer—Healthy Cells magazine, House of Style magazine : Www.HouseOfStyleSTL.coM, reporter for Patch.com. For more on Claire, visit her website: ClaireApplewhite.com.
Other distinctions include: Immediate Past President, MissouriWriters Guild Board member of Midwest Chapter, Mystery Writers of America. Member and St. Louis Metropolitan Press Club, Active member of St. Louis Writers Guild, Sisters in Crime, Ozark Writers League and Active Status member, Mystery Writers of America.
Claire, thank you for taking the time for this interview. Why don’t you start by telling us about your most recent release?
Candy Cadillac is the third in the ‘nam Noir series, featuring Vietnam vets Elvin Suggs and Di Redding. Set in south St. Louis, it presents an intriguing time in the late 1980′s when car bombings and organized crime were active concerns.
What is your writing routine?
I generally write in the early morning, the earlier the better, and go for around four or five hours. Sometimes, it’s 4:30 am, and sometimes it’s as late as six o’clock a.m., but the point is, I get it done first, before anything else has a chance to insinuate itself into the time designated for writing. Then, I stop, preferably in the middle of a chapter or scene, so that when I return, I will readily recognize the conflict and carry on from the stopping point. I dont look at it again that day, because I believe a writer has to allow some time to pass to better judge the quality of the writing and to recharge psychologically after spending emotional energy on characters.
Do you begin with plot or characters?
I begin with plot because I believe the plot will tell you what kind of characters live in the story. For example, the story of Cinderella dictates the cast of characters, and even the setting.
Tell us about the characters in Candy Cadillac.
The characters in Candy Cadillac are the series characters from the ‘nam Noir series. Elvin Suggs and Di Redding, along with Cobra, the sniper, are Vietnam vets turned St. Louis PI. Their creepy next door neighbors, the omnipresent black limo, the physician without a license to practice at City Hospital, Barbara Lacey, a mysterious blonde, and three women who assume her identity after her death, complete the cast.
What are you currently writing?
The fourth in the series, Tennessee Plates, and a stand alone novel about a real life case that occurred at St. Louis City Hospital.
What tips do you have for other aspiring writers?
Consider that writing is a lifetime vocation. It’s not about money, or fame, or even bestseller lists. If you’re not growing and changing on some level with each book/screenplay/piece you write, or if you’re expecting a lot of money in a very short time period, writing may disappointment you. As soon as you have polished a piece of your writing, start to send it out for consideration. Even if it is rejected, read the critiques. And then, rewrite and resend. Don’t let anything that isn’t your absolute best leave your desk. Ever.
What type of story do you most like to write? Why?
I like to write a story in which a major transformation has occurred in the life or lives of the main characters. This could be a major disillusionment, a discovery of the truth, or a love that saves. I write fiction because anything is possible. For me it is about creating a world where things may happen in a haphazard way, BUT in the end, order and justice prevail.
What do you read?
I like to read a story in which I learn something I didn’t know (it could be anything), and where the writer does something extraordinary with ordinary characters or circumstances.
How did you get your start in writing?
I’ve always written, from the time I was seven. But, it wasn’t until 1999 that I decided to get serious about getting published. My first book was published in 2009.
How did you land your first book contract?
Actually, I submitted a short story to an anthology at the request of a friend, and after it was accepted, I decided to send a novel that I had been writing and revising for almost seven years. I had not sent it to anyone for fear of rejection. That initial success gave me the courage to submit the novel that became The Wrong Side of Memphis.
With the rise in eBook popularity, the publishing industry is in a state of change. What do you see as positives and negatives in this reformation?
I have heard that the advantage of ebooks is that they do not have a shelf life, compared to print books. In other words, an ebook might enter the market later in the book’s sales cycle, but it never leaves the shelf, virtually speaking. After six months, physical books are removed from shelves and returned. An ebook can be downloaded in thirty seconds. That said, there is something about holding an actual book in your hands, or buying a book that is personally signed by the author and/or given as a gift on a special occasion. Also, books can be handed down from generation to generation. As with most things, there are tradeoffs.
Thom Reese is the author of DEAD MAN’S FIRE, THE DEMON BAQASH and 13 BODIES: SEVEN TALES OF MURDER AND MADNESS. Upcoming releases include the novels, CHASING KELVIN, and THE EMPTY. Thom was the sole writer and co-producer of the weekly audio drama radio program, 21ST CENTURY AUDIO THEATER. Fourteen of these dramas have since been published in four collections. A native of the Chicago area, Thom currently makes his home in Las Vegas.
We first became acquainted by email a year and a half ago when she scheduled herself to a part of a gathering of Midwest mystery writers at Booked for Murder, our independent mystery bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin. She didn’t get here, though. Her participation in the kickoff for St. Louis’s Big Read kept her in her hometown that day.
We’ve corresponded since, and last fall she accepted my invitation to mentor an unpublished writer through our MWA—Mystery Writers of America—Midwest chapter’s mentorship program. Did a fine job of critiquing the work of the writer I assigned her.
Claire is a promoter. She’s out everywhere, doing appearances and author talks and selling her books at bookstores and writers’ conferences. You expect that, but she also does book events at pet expos and fashion shows.
She’s equally aggressive in seeking publicity, even asked me to do a Featured Writer story on her.
So come along and meet Claire Applewhite.
Claire Applewhite, a mystery writer who gets noticed
Gaze upon the photo of Claire.
Does that look like a writer to you?
Most of us picture writers as grizzled characters—check out my own profile picture—with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other, hermits who hide away, beating out their stories on Remington typewriters or old Mac II’s.
Claire Applewhite—a mystery and a romance novel to her credit, a second mystery about to come out, and two more books awaiting publication—looks like a model.
“I got that photo taken in response to my readership regarding the professional photos I had been using,” she says. “To quote one younger reader, ‘You look like Meryl Streep in the Manchurian Candidate,’ or another well-meaning friend, ‘You look like a banker.’ I concluded that I did not look like a writer.”
So Claire asked friends in the news business—she does some writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch—to suggest a good photographer she could hire to shoot a few new publicity pix.
This photo is the result of 10 hours in the studio, posing, posing, posing. She wore six different outfits that day.
Claire is no slouch as a writer. When yet unpublished, she entered four of her manuscripts in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition. In 2005, ’06, and ’09, her manuscripts made the first cut and became semi-finalists in their divisions. “Night and Day,” the manuscript she entered in 2007, made the second cut and became a finalist in its division.
That’s darn good.
Getting published came about this way. A friend asked Claire to submit a short story for an anthology that L&L Dreamspell was going to bring out . . . and her story was accepted.
She followed that by sending the Dreamspell editors her private eye manuscript, The Wrong Side of Memphis.
They took that, too, and brought the book out in 2009.
Lots of dead bodies in this story. The reviewer for Kirkus put it this way, “Dead bodies start to outnumber the tenants of a seedy apartment building in this sprightly mystery.”
That seedy apartment building, the Jewel Arms? Great name, isn’t it? Claire modelled it after an apartment building in which she lived when she was a college student.
The Jewel Arms, like so many of the characters in The Wrong Side of Memphis, doesn’t survive. Claire blows it up before the book ends.
While The Wrong Side of Memphis is the first in a series, the next Applewhite book that Dreamspell published was Crazy for You, a stand-alone romance novel about obsessive love among the wealthy of St. Louis. It came out last April.
Anybody who can bring off a lead character named June “Bunny” Dingwerth—she’s in the Crazy for You book—gets my vote as a writer who has a gift for selecting memorable names.
“I think everyone knows a ‘Bunny,’ don’t you?” Claire says. A Bunny, yes, but it’s the name Dingwerth that grabbed me.
But back to Bunny. “For this reason”—everybody knows somebody named Bunny—”a lot of physical description almost wasn’t necessary.”
St. Louis Hustle is Claire’s second book in her P.I. series. It will be out, again from Dreamspell, in a couple months.
She is a disciplined writer. “I spend four hours a day or night writing. Five pages a day, no matter what,” Claire says.
Five pages a day, five days a week, that’s 25 pages . . . in three and a half months, she’s got a first draft finished.
When Claire started on her odyssey as writer, she wrote in the morning—early, before the alarm clock goes off for most of us. Now she’s a night owl. “I find that the writing is best between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.,” she says. “The world is quiet, and the characters’ voices are clear.”
Like the photo? Read on. Claire Applewhite’s second novel, just out, is Crazy for You, about obsessive love among St. Louis’s wealthy elites; the first was murder mystery The Wrong Side of Memphis (2009), both published by L&L Dreamspell. She is also the new President of the Missouri Writers Guild, potentially a very powerful organization. She wrote novels for a decade before getting published, and has an MBA.
Your novels are fun to read. And they have a satirical edge. Did you have fun writing them? Whom do you picture as your readership?
I hope that my novels take my readers to another world, and that there is a message waiting for them there. The challenge is to deliver the message couched in fun. I don’t believe a writer’s job is to judge, lecture or preach. I think it is to suggest, question and/or present–and allow the reader to form a conclusion based on individual experience and imagination. I hope that the “fun” in my novels encourages readers to read them. As far as my readership, anyone who enjoys a story with quirky characters, multiple dilemmas, and a Midwestern and/or Southern setting.
I know some people very much like Bunny, the spoiled St. Louis heiress in Crazy For You, and her parents and friends. Do you?
I think everyone knows a “Bunny,” don’t you? For this reason, a lot of physical description almost wasn’t necessary–again, the suggestion of her appearance and mannerisms are left to the readers to form their own conclusions based on individual experience. The challenge as a writer was to expose the part of the characters that was not stereotypical.
How were sales of your first book?
Sales of The Wrong Side of Memphis were very competitive for a first book from a small press. However, I actively and aggressively promoted it, assisted by a publicist. I lectured at luncheons and book clubs, made multiple public appearances, scheduled many book signings and distributed complimentary copies. I asked for blurbs from other authors and journalists, and obtained reviews from book reviewers and Kirkus Reviews. Promotion was as integral as writing in launching the book.
You once said you got up at 5 a.m. to write. Do you still do that?
Actually, I have become a night owl. I find that the writing is best between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The world is quiet, and the characters’ voices are clear.
What is your ultimate career goal?
To become the best writer that I can be. I would like to pick up one of my own books someday and say to myself, “I couldn’t have done any better,” or, “Hey, I’m impressed.”
Where’d you get those extra-foxy photos of yourself in evening wear? And why did you have them taken?
Ah, the photos! I got those photos taken in response to my “readership” regarding the professional photos I had been using. To quote one younger reader, “You look like Meryl Streep in the Manchurian Candidate,” or another well-meaning friend, “You look like a banker.” I concluded that I did not look like a writer. I asked people in journalism for the name of a good photographer. We did a ten-hour photo shoot, with six outfits, and, well, these were the best ones.
As the new president of the Missouri Writers Guild, what is your vision for its future?
I am excited to promote literary talent in Missouri–and there is a wealth of it. My vision is to encourage new writers with the accomplishments of those Missourians who have achieved success.