Kris Neri is the creator of the TRACY EATON series. The first in the
series, REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN, was nominated for Agatha, Anthony
& Macavity Awards. DEM BONES' REVENGE, second in the series, is just
out and all reviews report itís even better than the first. I chose
Kris for a MYSTERICAL-E interview because she is an up-and-comer and
because she is militant when it comes to campaigning for the short
mystery story. She is dedicated, spirited and a woman worthy of admiration.
Denise: Kris, you're a member of Sisters In Crime; in fact, you've
been president of the Pasadena Chapter. Tell me why you believe so
much in this organization and how it has affected your career.
Kris: Although we meet in the South Pasadena Public Library, we call
ourselves the Los Angeles chapter. Sisters in Crime is a wonderful
organization that was organized to support women mystery writers and
to educate the public about the contributions female mystery writers
have made to the field. But in reality, it has done so much more for
its members. Most women my age weren't schooled in the value of networking,
nor were we given to believe that self-promotion was acceptable. It's
from Sisters in Crime that I learned to do those things. The LA chapter
is also a very proactive group that publishes anthologies, puts on
conferences and excellent meetings, and offers support to its members
in so many different areas. Incidentally, though we call ourselves
sisters, we have many brothers in crime, too; it's just as valuable
an organization for male mystery writers and readers.
Denise: Are you a member of MWA and why?
Kris: Since full, active membership in MWA is something a writer must
qualify for, MWA is in essence the professional organization of mystery
writers. I'm proud that I qualified for active membership with my
first published short story.
Denise: The Short Mystery Fiction List is an online group of writers
who chat via email. You're a member of this list. What is it all about
and why do you do it?
Kris: The Short Mystery Fiction Society exists to actively promote
awareness of the short mystery form and those who write short stories.
It's also the organization that awards the Derringer Award. I think
the SMFS provides an important service in the mystery field, since
most groups are actively devoted to the novel form. Since I started
my fiction writing career with short stories, and since I'm a two-time
recipient of the Derringer Award for Best Short Story, I'm quite devoted
to this group, and think it's important that I give it my support.
Plus, it's a really nice group of people that I like spending a little
Denise: You teach a crime fiction class at Learning Tree University.
I've heard your students proclaim that the W method saved their writing
careers. What is the W method?
Kris: While I do teach the W-plotline, it isn't something I invented.
If it's highly regarded, it's just that it gives new writers a visual
of the journey a character will take in the course of a book or story.
It operates on the principle that from the start of any project, the
character is pursuing a goal. But from the start, the writer must
pull the rug out from under the character. Then she must be allowed
to make some progress toward her goal, but something invariably comes
up to prevent her from reaching it again until the point when she
finally puts everything together and soars to the climax of the book,
and reaches her goal. It's just a visual of the character's journey.
Denise: You are extremely supportive of other writers. Is there a
satisfaction that you derive from the process of helping other mystery
Kris: Of course. I see us all as being part of a continuum. And other
writers have been extremely supportive of me, it's only right to pass
Denise:To what degree has the mystery writing community been supportive
Kris: To an incredible and gratifying degree. The awards I've won
and those I've been nominated for are just one demonstration of that
Denise: You've been very busy appearing at several conferences.
Can you name them all?
Kris: I try to attend three conventions per year, as well as some
writing conferences. In the last year I've attended the Malice Domestic
Convention in Washington, DC, Left Coast Crime in Tucson, and Bouchercon,
the World Mystery Convention, in Denver. I've also spoken at the MWA
conference at UCLA. Next year I expect to attend Malice and Bouchercon,
and I'll be appearing at the Bare Bones Writers conference, sponsored
by the San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the Orange County
Chapter of Sisters in Crime's writers conference, too.
Denise: Which conference was your favorite?
Kris: I think they all have their own unique flavor and I enjoy that
diversity, though I must confess to a special fondness for Malice.
Denise: If you could change one thing about your personal journey
as a writer what would it be?
Kris: I wish I had realized sooner that I could sell a novel myself,
rather than relying on an agent. But everything we experience teaches
us something. I'm not big on second-guessing myself. You can't go
Denise: What is your ultimate goal as a mystery writer?
Kris: I want to know that I've provided my readers with an image of
justice being served, even if it's not justice in any traditional
sense; that I've entertained them, and maybe made them think about
something. If I've accomplished those things, I've done my job.
Denise: How did it feel to be nominated for all those awards your
first time out as a mystery novelist?
Kris: It was enormously gratifying, beyond my ability to describe
it. An absolutely glorious reward and adventure.
Denise: You now have two novels under your belt and numerous short
stories. At the book launching of DEM BONESí REVENGE it was mentioned
that you have written over forty short stories. When did you start
writing and why?
Kris: I started storytelling before I could read. Iíd make up stories
to go with the pictures in the Sunday comics and pretend to read them
to my younger sister. Iíve always written but it never occurred to
me to make it my profession until twelve years ago. I started writing
nonfiction features and first person pieces for magazines. From there
I moved on to short story writing and ultimately to writing novels.
I suppose there are simply stories inside of me that want to be told.
The fact that I write mystery fiction is a critical part of it, too.
I like righting wrongs, and crime fiction is the ideal way to show
Denise: You strike me as a short story activist. Do you think that
being a two-time Derringer Award winner has something to do with that?
Kris: I never thought of myself as a short story activist. I
genuinely love the form, and I know how hard it is to write a good
short story. Our genre credits its beginning in Poeís short stories,
and yet short story writers rarely receive the respect they deserve.
Iím equally at home in the short or long form, but I donít forget
Denise: What I find so exciting about you is that you are like
a force of nature, in the air, everywhere, all one has to do is sniff.
When I open a newspaper, go to the local library, read any promo on
mystery organizations or go to a chat room I see notices of your work,
your books for sale or available to check out, etc. You do appearances
from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Is this unusual for a small press
Kris: I laugh at this question because a force of nature would surely
be less tired than I usually am. My first book, REVENGE OF THE GYPSY
QUEEN, was published at the start of what really seems to be a small
press renaissance, a time in which readers became more open to works
put out by non-traditional publishing outlets. I benefited from this
movement. Iím also fortunate to have a publisher who sees the value
of offering review copies. Too many publishers just wonít go to that
expense. As for my own promotional efforts, I try a number of different
approaches, and I donít worry whether or not they work. I just trust
that if I put a certain amount of PR out there, some of it will pay
off, though not necessarily in the way Iíve planned.
Denise: There is a definite excitement about DEM BONESí REVENGE.
Many have said it is even better than REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN,
which was hard to top. What do you think accounts for this?
Kris: Every writer hopes to put what she learned writing the prior
book into the next. But I have to admit that Tracyís crazy mom had
a lot to do with it. She just took that book and ran with it. The
other characters and I had to struggle to keep up with her!
Denise: Tell us about RAINBOW BOOKS.
Kris: Rainbow Books is a family-owned, female-owned small press in
Florida that recently celebrated its twenty-first year in publishing.
In most of those years, however, they published nonfiction exclusively.
The small staff has had such fun with publishing mystery fiction,
I think theyíre planning to stick to putting out some mystery fiction
each year. They say the promotional part is so much more fun than
nonfiction. Nonfiction remains their bread and butter and still dominates
their yearly list.
Denise: And your next project?
Kris: I have two projects in the works now. One is the next Tracy
Eaton mystery. The other is a harder, edgier novel called NEVER SAY
DIE based on the character, Zoe, first launched in my short story,
SENTENCE IMPOSED, (A DEADLY DOZEN ANTHOLOGY/UGLYTOWN MYSTERIES). Even
though the book is not published yet, itís actualized in my mind.
Denise: And what happens in the next Tracy Eaton mystery?
Kris: REVENGE FOR OLD TIMESí SAKE satirizes law firms as DEM BONESí
REVENGE did the film business. I donít want to give too much away
here, but Drewís had enough abuse and he snaps and punches out his
boss. The next day, Drewís superior is found floating face down in
his and Tracyís pool. Iím bringing the two mothers together in this
one, Tracy and Drewís. Instant fireworks!
Denise: Your husband, Joe Neri, is a blues band leader of the group,
BLUES DAWG. Do lots of mystery writers show up for his show?
Kris: A fair number do. Actually, Iíll take a little match-making
credit for the band. I put my husband, Joe, together with my good
writing friend, Larry Hill, who proved to be a brilliant guitar player
who mentored Joe, and together they formed BLUES DAWG, which is now
producing a CD.
Denise: Whatís your single most important bit of advice to writers?
Kris: Donít write for the marketplace, write what you love. Be persistent
in your marketing efforts to guarantee that your material will wind
up on the desk of the editor who sees the value in it. Donít take
rejections too seriously. They just reflect one person's opinions
or needs at a particular time.
Denise: Thanks Kris, we eagerly await your edgy novel, SENTENCE
IMPOSED, and your next Tracy Eaton novel, REVENGE FOR OLD TIMESí SAKE.
For more information about Kris Neri visit her site at:
Copyright © 2000 Denise Baton