Denise Weeks knows the mathematics of writing!
Denise Weeks has been writing since she could hold a crayon. She is a graduate of
Southern Methodist University , and worked as
a software engineer for several years. She and her husband live happily in a
northern suburb of Dallas, Texas, with their two beloved pets: a yappy
Pomeranian and Denise's elderly mother. The best way to get to know her is to
follow her blog/journal at shalannacollins.blogspot.com Visit the Jacquidon
Carroll Mystery Series blog at http://jackiesjotting.blogspot.com.
Please, tell us a bit more about yourself.
No one wants to hear about anyone else's long struggle towards publication, not any more than they want to hear about someone's root canal. Right? So let's just hit the high points and skip those parts that people skim (at least I hope we skip those).
I'm a graduate of Southern Methodist University (many years after Laura Bush) with bachelor's degrees in mathematics and computer science (including minors in English and music) and a teaching certificate in secondary school mathematics. Even though my high school teachers and counselors recommended that I study to become a college professor teaching English language and literature or French language and literature, my family insisted that I needed to be able to support myself in style (and send money home! Those were the days!) Because I have a natural aptitude for higher mathematics (inherited from my dad, who had his Ph. D. in math), I caved and managed to muddle through. I never stopped writing, however.
For years I worked as a software engineer and software test/quality metrics engineer, but the bosses don't miss me much (partly because they always suspected I was taking notes on them in order to kill them in my next book). I'm also a somewhat accomplished amateur pianist with paralyzing stage fright (probably because the family never wanted to hear the piano when I was young, and they would shout from other rooms telling me to stop playing because they couldn't hear the television over the sonata) and an avid trivia player.
Don and I have been happily married for over twenty years, residing in a northern suburb of Dallas with our beloved pets, including my 83-year-old mother and our perfect Pomeranian.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. My first attempt, around age four, was a coloring book (made of taped-together sheets of typing paper from my dad's home office--much like an early zine) that offered sketches of our house, our car, our cat, a ladybug, the back yard, and God Himself (although He was shown behind a white cloud, with only His crown and the legs of His throne showing above and below the fluffy cumulus-ness. I was well aware even at that age that those who gaze on the face of the Lord must die, and besides I knew He was too big to draw. Over the years, I have often marveled at the chutzpah of a child who dares to include ALL her favorite images in a humble coloring book.)
When I was around six and home sick from first grade, my dad explained to me that books didn't just fall from the sky but were written by mortal men. This upset me greatly at first, but then I figured out that I would be one of those who wrote the books for children in the future to marvel over.
But it took me a long time to get started seriously. When I scribbled, nothing but juvenilia came out until I had my first job and was forced to use shorthand under the conference table during long, pointless staff meetings. (I do wish my mother had not thrown out that blue cloth binder in which my best friend Theresa W. and I had begun our own version of a Mafia novel. That was in fifth grade, in the late seventies, and Godfather pastiches were all the rage, then as now. Ours was a parody, played for laughs, and I wrote while she illustrated. I remember that her illustration of the Don behind his desk smoking a great cigar and making a pronouncement was rather excellent. This would have been a sure-fire best-seller had we completed it. But two cute boys started sitting at our lunch table, and all our efforts soon went to learning to put on mascara and flutter our lashes. Alas.) I came back to writing soon after the boys drifted off to more fertile fields because I never stopped hearing the singing of the Muses, and I'm glad I did.
What was your first published work and when was it published?
Let's not count the juvenilia, although when I was eleven I did get a letter to the TV critic published in the Dallas News TV TIMES magazine (and was invited to tour their studios as a result) and at fourteen had a short article about graphology in the old American Girl magazine in the 1970s, when it was still owned by the Girl Scouts. Unfortunately, no one noticed that my handwriting analysis article was not from several sources but just a rephrased summary taken from the Dell mini-book on the subject (remember those? They were sold at the cash register in supermarkets.) When I eventually began building a freelance writing portfolio in order to enter the SMU Creative Writing Program, I went proudly back to the tearsheets of this article and found that I had saved the Dell book in the same file folder. When I skimmed both texts, I paled at the similarities. I had rephrased it "in my own words" and had added a few tidbits from other sources, but the discerning eye could see the problem, and it cried with shame. It didn't strictly qualify as plagiarism, but it was obviously a summary of the longer work and not a piece of original reporting. Needless to say, I never included that article in any portfolio. A tough way to learn a tougher lesson! (By the way, that article was published under my maiden name, so you'll never find it. Bwaa-ha-ha.)
The first short story I placed in a "real" (professional) anthology was "Prom Night," in the Heaven and Hell anthology published in 2002 by Speculation Press. My story is RIGHT AFTER Jody Lynn Nye's. Score!
My first novel _Dulcinea: or Wizardry A-Flute (ISBN 0-7388-5388-7)_, written as Shalanna Collins, was the first runner-up in the 1996 Warner Aspect First Novel Contest and was published in 2001. Every word mine.
Do you plan all your characters out before you start a story or do they develop as you write?
My books begin with a character. Usually she (or sometimes he) is standing there in my mind's eye, looking a bit uncertain, about to step into some sticky situation. Or he/she has a problem and it's about to get worse. I know the character's name almost immediately. I usually get the hair/eye color and height/weight vaguely, and the style of dress, but mostly it's the inner person who forms in my mind. It's like an actor stepping onto a stage. Something begins to happen for my intrepid hero or heroine, and I start recording. Much of the backstory, explanation, history, plot, and so forth will develop as I reach the point where it's needed.
I have several articles on my website dealing with various aspects of plotting, revision, and motivation. Readers can access them for free at http://tinyurl.com/shalcolumns or preview them at http://preview.tinyurl.com/shalcolumns (for the timid). I also often blog about writing issues.
Is there anyone who really mentored or inspired you to keep writing until you were finally published?
My teachers. All through school, they encouraged me and claimed that I was ready for prime time. Unfortunately, the industry didn't welcome me with open arms. After I graduated from college, the praise ended. My husband has been supportive in the sense that he never said I should stop writing, but he did stop believing that anything would come of it many years ago--and I can't blame him.
People think that a writer's family must be the most enthusiastic fans, but typically they are not. Mostly they wish we would make money. (LOL) My family has never been inclined to read my books. My mother-in-law used to read my work. My late aunts did sometimes. On occasion I can get my mother to read a book of mine, if I prod A LOT. Otherwise, no. They don't have any interest in my work for itself or because it's mine (if you know what I mean, Vern). This hurts my feelings and is a source of angst, but after finding out from many other writers that they're in the same situation, I've resigned myself to it.
Did I ever have a mentor after getting out of school? Not a LIVING soul. Only my balcony people. (Joyce Landorf defines them as those present in spirit who have gone before, watching over you, hanging over the balcony in Heaven looking down and cheering you on.) Even my critique partners (except for two in particular) and those who saw me daily on the writing-related message boards have regularly urged me to give up on myself, because my work was not the type they saw on the best-seller lists or like the prose they heard praise for (the no-style style, the workmanlike or clunky stuff, the outlandish plots with zombies.) I don't know how I've managed to keep Believing, but I suppose I always felt it was my destiny to teach through my writing (as well as to entertain and divert).
What are your hobbies?
I am a somewhat accomplished amateur pianist, concentrating on the classical to Romantic periods of Western art music and on pop/jazz standards (which I often play by ear). What I listen to is fairly eclectic, though, from classic rock and jazz to Sinatra and show tunes. I'm a licensed amateur radio operator and have done balloon chases and bunny hunts, though not for a while. Hubby and I are both computer enthusiasts, and we geocache occasionally. We love to travel, although we don't get many chances. I'm also an amateur photographer and dabble in cryptography. I cook and bake a little, if forced to. Of course I'm an inveterate reader. I'm never without some kind of reading material nearby.
Please tell us your latest news!
My traditional/cozy mystery NICE WORK, written under my "real" name (for some value of "real"), Denise Weeks, won the Dark Oak Novel Contest last year and has just come out from Oak Tree Press. A traditional mystery with an edge, NICE WORK is the first book in the Jacquidon "Snoop Sisters" Carroll series. Jacquidon Carroll could've killed her boss when he downsized her--or so the police think. Can she and her sister find the real killer in the maze of BDSM clubs and secret societies that her (ex-)boss turns out to have been involved in before it's too late? No explicit stuff--everything's played for laughs. It's a romp comparable to Anne George's Southern Sisters series.
MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS, the first book in the Ariadne French paranormal mystery series, is also out now from Pandora Press. This series is darker than the other and is for those interested in fiction that takes an unusual look at the world and examines fantastical/paranormal experiences. If you've never heard of the Marfa Mystery Lights or of the mystique that surrounds them, you should investigate. Ariadne French went to the reading of her ex's will in Marfa, Texas, and found herself immersed in an exotic world of religious cults, a smarmily charming minister, a mystic-minded Cherokee lawyer, a secretive musician, and a piece of cryptography software that her ex wrote and possibly got himself killed over. After enduring everything from a chase through the desert by the Marfa Mystery Lights to some very real death threats from Aaron's other erstwhile heirs, Ari must discover why Aaron was killed, and who killed him.
Over the years, I've also published a number of YA fantasy/dark urban fantasy novels under the name Shalanna Collins, the name I've always gone by on the 'net (Collins is an old family name on my mother's side, and I never liked the name Denise, so I made "Shalanna" out of "Sheila" and "Lana," two of my favorite great-aunts). APRIL, MAYBE JUNE and two sequels have just gone under contract with Muse Harbor Press, so you'll be seeing another popular YA fantasy/adventure series taking hold soon. These books feature a pair of precocious "genius girl" sisters who keep getting into magical scrapes.
The reason I don't use the same name on all my books is branding, and of course y'all understand about that, but my mother never has, so she's thrilled beyond measure about the mysteries. She can finally remember who writes my books! She also disapproves mightily of all fantasy because "it isn't real." Nevertheless, my fantasy novels have enjoyed some success. APRIL, MAYBE JUNE is aimed at the middle grade/young adult market, and CAMILLE'S TRAVELS is for young adults. APRIL COME SHE WILL, the next book in April's series, is percolating even as I type.
There! That didn't hurt, did it? Well, hardly, anyhow. SELLIN' IS OVER! You can open your eyes now. Nothin' up my sleeve! Presto!
What would be the best way for readers to contact you? Do you have a website? Email address?
My e-mail address is dlweeks @ tx.rr.com. Feel free to write and ask advice, tell me something, or just commiserate.
I have a website at http://tinyurl.com/bvffdml (mostly chronicling my book releases).
I'd love for you to visit one of my blogs. They serve as my bully pulpits and as outlets for many of my musings.
© http://deniseweeks.blogspot.com (general official blog--book giveaways, etc.)
© http://jackiesjotting.blogspot.com (for the Jacquidon Carroll series)
© http://shalanna.livejournal.com (personal journal--no holds barred)
© http://shalannacollins.blogspot.com (official Shalanna blog--quirky)
Be sure to stop by one of my blogs to leave a comment!
My Amazon author pages:
Can you please give us a sneak peek at any of your upcoming books?
From my upcoming paranormal romantic suspense, LOVE IS THE BRIDGE. This is a newfangled ghost story, involving a "ghost in the machine" as well as a haunting and a hunting. Bear in mind that this is not the opening, but a snippet from the middle of the book showing the viewpoint of the hero as well as that of the heroine. Also, because the book is currently in the hands of the editor and publisher, this segment might be modified in (but not eliminated entirely from) the final version. This book should be out as a Christmas release for the Kindle and in trade paper!
Jacquidon Carroll has problems ... She’s diagnosed with diabetes and laid-off from her job the same week, but that’s nothing compared to becoming a suspect in the murder of her ex-boss… She becomes convinced that someone recruited from an Internet sex site is the real killer. To clear herself, Jacquidon and her intrepid sister Chantal steal information from the boss’s computer and a mysterious journal they find, among other (sleazier) places. The clues lead them through a network of local sex clubs and the seamy underside of the BSCM (S&M) lifestyle. By the time Jacquidon gathers the evidence they need, the murderer is on the same page—and intends to stop her the same way the boss was silenced.