An Interview with: Serita Stevens

Serita Stevens is a psychiatric nurse and published author of over 32 books, stories and screenplays. She has also written two non-fiction books. The Book of Poisons, a how to guide for writers on the art of killing your victims correctly and the Forensic Nurse which shows how nurses help law enforcement solve crimes.

Serita’s Amazon.com page:  http://www.amazon.com/SeritaStevens/e/B001HMRZ80/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
Serita’s Website:  http://www.seritastevens.com

BMH:     What’s a common and accepted practice for Americans nowadays that you think we’ll look back on with regret?

SS:    Using abbreviated symbols for words like OMG, LOL, U R etc.  I don’t think my 20 year old can write a decent sentence anymore!  And then, too, all this on line reading.  I love paper books and manuscripts that I can hold and make notes on.  I get so many submissions from my students, etc on email and I need to print them out to experience what is being said.  Really an irritation.

BMH:    Describe a few pet peeves of yours.

SS:    As I said above, one of my pet peeves is our falling out in the use of our language and disrespect for our books.  I also hate that grammar has fallen by the way side.  Kids these day spend too much time with their phones, texting and watching TV.

BMH:    What do you know now that you wished someone had told you ten years ago?

SS:    That persistence is the key to success.  I have persisted, but I have lived a lot of my life on a hope and prayer thinking that around the next corner would be that big contract.  Like many novice writers at the time, I thought that one could actually make a living as a writer.  Little did I know that only about 10% of writers actually can do that and even with as many books as I have published, I would still have to be doing other jobs.

BMH:    Do you blog? If so, why and what do you usually blog about?

SS:    Yes. I don’t blog as often as I should, but I write about writing issues – like people who tell me they have a great story and then don’t want to make the effort to sit down and write it (but they want me and then want all the “glory” of having written it!)  Or people who want me to introduce them to my agent and won’t let me read their material before hand to judge if it is a good fit!!

BMH:    Have you ever done a blog book tour? What was that like and would you do it again?

SS:    I have never done one.  I am not sure how to do one, but would like to learn.

BMH:    Do you enjoy doing promotion?

SS:    I do.  I love speaking at events and helping writers with their problems.  A lot of promotion takes time from my writing, but it is necessary to do so.  One has to learn to balance this.

BMH:    What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever done to promote your work?

SS:    One of my historical romances was set in French Canada – 1700’s.  I contacted Air Canada to see if they could offer it in their in flight catalogue.

BMH:    Respond to these pairings and tell why you respond the way you do:

Series or stand-alone books?
SS:    I do both.  Series can be difficult as you have to be consistent with the character and yet make sure their growth is enough to keep the reader interested.  But fans seem to like this.  Stand alone are probably easier to do.

Outliner or A-Seat-of-a-Pantser?
SS:    I have to outline. Often I am doing more than one project at a time and I can keep track of where I am in each story by the outline. Also, when I was working full time it helped to know okay, in this section or chapter I have to accomplish this and this.  I write detailed outlines but I let my characters know they are free to make different choices.

Lots of research or make it all up?
SS:    Some research is necessary, even when you think you know it.  New discoveries can change the way you write something. While I am in the midst of writing, I will sometimes go with my gut and then check later to make sure that I am accurate.  When I do historicals – like when I did Paris in the 1700’s – I often can only go by the maps I have. With Paris, after I had finished the book’s first draft, I took a trip to France and was able to walk to streets and say okay it would have taken my character this long to get from here to there then or that would have looked that like that then.  It was exciting to walk the streets my character might have and be able to envision them.  Most of the time, I was dead on.

Neat or sloppy ?
SS:    My handwriting is atrocious.  I have to type things or I can’t read them.  When I take notes, if I don’t transcribe them immediately I often am not sure exactly what I said.

NY or DC ?
SS:    Both are great cities.  I like NY for the liveliness and the plays.  I like DC for what it means as an American and the majesty of the buildings.

Carnivore or vegetarian ?
SS:    Well, I do like my meat and potatoes, but I also like vegetarian items, too.  I love my greens.  Some say it is healthier.  Actually, in the Torah, I am told, when we bless what we eat, we are blessing the soul of the animal.

BMH:    How have you grown as a writer? What has gotten better?

SS:    I learned a long time ago that you can learn from everyone. Despite the number of books and scripts I have done, I continue to take classes and listen to lectures.  Someone just might have a new technique that will ease one of my story problems.  In fact, even when I am teaching, I often pull myself up short as I am discussing a technique and I say “hmm..I haven’t used that lately.”  It reminds me that we are not all perfect.

BMH:  What things have you dropped along the way?

SS:    Two husbands and “friends” that did not support my writing and told me to give up and “get a real job”.

BMH:    What helped most in your growth as a writer?

SS:    Knowing that I can learn from everyone, continuing to read and take classes – even when I think I know what they are talking about.  Being willing to rewrite and revise my work and listen to others – like my agent. Learning how to take notes from others and not be defensive.

BMH:    What is the worst and best advice you’ve received about writing?

SS:    When I was first starting out, I had written my book about Deborah, the Prophetess – Lightning and Fire.  In an effort “to be helpful” my first husband gave the manuscript to a “literary writer” who did not understand the genre at all. She said to me – “Honey, go home and do you housework.” Granted that was my third attempt at a book. I went home and cried a few days and then pounded the pillow and “FU!” I refused to give up.

The best advice was from the Chicago writer in residence at the time – Harry Mark Patrikus – who when someone asked him when should they give up – his response was “Honey, if you can give it up, more power to you. If writing is in your blood than you cannot give it up and live a normal life.”  I knew them that writing was in my blood and that I would never give it up.

BMH:    What surprised you most about your writing journey?

SS:    What surprised me most is how long it took me to understand that even if I am not making a huge amount of money at my writing, I am successful not only for the amount of material that I have published, but that I am happy in what I am doing. I think of all the poor sots with their 9-5 drudgery and living their life for “one day.”

BMH:    Why did you choose to write suspense fiction?

SS:    I write suspense and mystery because I like seeing justice done.  It gives hope to people especially when justice is often denied in real life. I started out with historical romances and realizes that many of the men – especially with the attitudes of the day – were almost abusive.  “You will do this – or else.” So I switched to mystery.

BMH:    Who are your favorite authors?

SS:    Too many to name here.  As a child, I loved Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, Helen McInnes, Mary Higgins Clark.

BMH:    What do think about the new faces of publishing?

SS:    As I said above, I still prefer the paper books.  I think that many of the larger houses are too bottom line oriented and often ignore the gem of writing under their feet.  The independents are taking over and doing a good job. Too bad most of them do not provide advances.   I still am hesitant when someone wants to self-publish because many are poorly edited and unless you have a great network and are willing to do a lot of work, more than just the writing, your book will just sit there.

BMH:    What is a typical writing day for like?

SS:    Well, I get a ton of emails – sometimes as many as 500 a night – and I try to wade through them for a bit in the am.  Usually I still remain behind.  To start my writing, I will often glance over what I did the day before and then at my outline to se where I am headed that day. I try to make appointments for the afternoon and then go back to my work in the evening.  Most times I am at the computer until after 11.  Before I end for the night, I will jot down thoughts for the next day’s chapters that might differ from the outline or go more in depth with the outline.  When I am working on more than one project, I try to allot a certain amount of time to each story and attempt to stick with that, unless I am really on a role.
I attempt to go to the gym several times a week – don’t always make it but it does stimulate my brain as I am on the treadmill.  I feel lousy if I don’t do some writing during the day and become very irritable.

BMH:Would you rather…
……live without music or live without TV?

SS:    I listen to classical music when I am working or mood music, at times.  I don’t watch as much TV as I should since I do sometimes write in that medium.  Often it is a time to relax with my husband.  (Even then I often have a manuscript in my hands and am only paying half attention.)

……be gossiped about or never talked about at all?

SS:    Well Andy Warhol said it I believe – talk about me, but spell my name right! At least, if people are talking about you, you are in their minds.

BMH:    What are you working on now?

SS:    I have several projects going at this time.  I am working on a true historical book/script about three pre-Civil War slaves who, when their master is mysteriously murdered, inherit his plantation and have to fight both the family and Reconstructionist South to get their just reward; I am expanding my award winning short story “The Unborn” into a full length script/book, I am doing a three book/film deal with a well known director; I am revising some of my older scripts that have not yet sold to make them edgier, and I am finishing up a true crime about one of the FBI’s top 10 art heists as told to me from the POV of one of the felons – among other things.  I do what my agent finds me.  I also do travel articles. I just did a series on Israel for www.lasplash.com and I review plays and movies for them, too.

BMH:    Where can we find your books?

SS:    Well, on my web site http://www.seritastevens.com you will find some of my books listed. Amazon has a lot of them as does B&N and many can be found in libraries.

 

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