Mystery Writer Peg Herring

If you could sit on a panel with three famous authors, who would they be?
I’ve shared the mystery stage with the likes of Laurie King and mother-and-son team Charles Todd, and I was once on a historical panel with the great Margaret George. They were all very positive experiences. If I could choose a dream panel, I might ask for Michael Connelly, Sara Paretsky, and Louis Bayard. Though they have very different writing styles, I think they’re wonderful at what they do.

Which of your characters (or character types) is the hardest for you to write?
Before starting the Loser Mysteries, I should have thought about how difficult it was going to be to write three books with a protagonist who doesn’t like to talk! Loser, the protagonist of Killing Silence, Killing Memories, and Killing Despair, was a challenge to write, but she turned out to be very compelling for readers. Her limit of thirty words per day made it tough for her to become an investigator, and I did a lot of counting in each chapter. Of course she thinks a lot more than she says, and she does get better over the course of the three books.

What part of publishing makes you want to tear out your hair?
The not-getting-rich-and-famous part, maybe? Getting noticed is difficult. Think about any bookstore you’ve ever entered: How many books were in it? Then imagine how many books have come and gone from there over the years, and add in how many books that bookstore never carried, probably never even heard of. Having a huge variety of choices is great for readers (and I’m one of those), but the sheer number of books currently available makes it hard for any author’s work to emerge from obscurity. No matter how well we write what we write, most of us will never become famous—much less rich!

What’s the best thing anyone ever said about your writing?
I enjoy any compliments people are willing to give, but specific ones are the most memorable. “I loved your book” is great, but recently a reader sent an honest-to-goodness card in the mail that listed the characters she likes best in one of my series. She even gave examples of things they did she found endearing.Even a criticism I once got was a compliment in an odd way. Two readers had an argument on Facebook about whether my character Barb would have obeyed a gunman’s command to drive to a remote spot. They decided she was too strong to meekly do that, and while I disagree (Anyone outside an action movie who gets a gun stuck in her back is going to do what she’s told), I was amused that they “knew” how a fictional character would have reacted.

A reviewer demonstrated that she “gets” my Sleuth Sisters series by commenting that each sibling contributes to solving the mysteries. None of them is the “bad” sister who always messes things up. They each have their strengths and their foibles.

Another time someone said, “I didn’t guess the ending of (my historical) Poison, Your Grace, but thinking back, I should have. You gave me everything I needed to know to figure it out.”

Comments that reveal that readers see my characters as real, that they understand the themes I try to highlight, and that they appreciate the work I do to concoct puzzles that mystery lovers can delight in. Those are the best things people say about my work.

What do you wish people knew about the writing business?
Every job in the world is more difficult to do well than it appears to outsiders, and writing is no exception. Often I hear, “I’ve got a book idea in my head. I just need to write it down one of these days.”That “just” is the sticking point. Ideas are a dime a dozen (though good ones are hard to come by). Writing it down is the hard part, and writing THE END doesn’t mean you’re finished. You must edit, rewrite, and edit again many times before a book is any good at all. You need to get suggestions from readers, editors, and experts who don’t know you. (Your friends and relatives want you to be happy more than they want to be book critics.)

Most people simply don’t have the desire to work on a book until it’s truly polished. Perhaps the hardest part of all is recognizing that point where you want to be done with it but know in your heart it isn’t quite ready yet. That’s when a real writer goes back to work.

Peg Herring is the award-winning author of three series: The Loser Mysteries, The Dead Detective Mysteries & the Simon & Elizabeth (Tudor) Mysteries as well as stand-alones that offer readers Strong Women and Great Stories. She lives in Michigan.

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