Wednesday, February 16, 2011

STORIES ARE LIKE PUPPIES

It’s my pleasure to have, Deborah Coonts, visiting with us Over Coffee. She describes her writing as “sexy, wry, romantic, and slightly naughty mixed with a little murder and mayhem—shaken, not stirred—then illuminated by the bright lights of Las Vegas.”

She is an overnight success—by way of 15 years of bad writing and learning her craft. Sounds familiar. :-)

So how did she find her voice and style? What made this story worth publishing where her other stories weren’t. Deborah shares a bit about her journey to publication.



For a long time I wanted to be Sandra Brown. Okay, I didn’t actually want to be her, I just wanted to trade jobs with her… and paychecks…and, well, maybe wardrobes, but that’s all, I swear. But, have you seen her husband? He was the sports guy on Channel Eight when I was growing up---serious crush. Sandra was the weather girl. The weather girl and the sports guy, it’s great isn’t it? I couldn’t write it as well.

As it turns out, I can’t write like Sandra Brown either.

Oh I tried. My first romantic suspense effort was an international intrigue mish-mash of long-winded backstory, a plot with more black holes than a Star Trek movie, purple prose and nauseating descriptions. Absolute drivel. I’m pretty sure I’ve destroyed every copy. I’d rather find myself naked on the Internet than have anyone read that thing.

My second effort was a bit better—something about a small town Colorado lawyer, single parent with a small son. Curiously, I was a small town Colorado lawyer on my own with a small son. To say the whole story bored me is a gross understatement. Writing it was like Groundhog Day. Didn’t I just do this? Didn’t my son just say that? My life wasn’t nearly exciting enough to live it over and over.

But, I had no more stories. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. The well was dry.

Briefly I thought of resorting to mind-altering substances to jump-start my muse. We all know about those creative personalities, don’t we? But as a tax lawyer, creativity was a go-straight-to-jail card. And that whole single-parent thing didn’t mesh too well with a life spent in an alcohol-induced haze. So I did what everybody in that position does: I took a job doing something I had absolutely no idea how to do and for which I was peculiarly unqualified.

I became a humor columnist for a national magazine.

I know, what was I thinking? I can’t tell you how many times during those years I asked myself just that. But, I kept churning out columns that were EXACTLY 1100 words. And I learned. I learned to write tight. I learned what was funny. Actually, I learned more from being scolded when readers thought what I wrote WASN’T funny AT ALL. I learned I am way more hambone than I ever imagined. And I rediscovered my infatuation with a good belly laugh. I’d forgotten. But, I still didn’t have a story.

Until I threw everything out the window.

Every rule I’d been told about writing novels, every suggestion, the whole write-what-you-know-thing, the wanting-to-be-Sandra-Brown thing, which was an example of the write-what-you-read thing, all of it, out the window. I opened my heart…and nothing but the wind blew through. Oh, I felt lighter, unfettered, a veritable ball of iconoclastic optimism, a renegade writer waiting to be told what to do. Yup, still hadn’t quite gotten the point.

One summer afternoon, I was sitting on a bench at the Grand Lake Lodge on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The sun balanced on the mountain range to the west. The air was still. I could hear the hummingbirds zinging by. The day had quieted. Even the boats on the lake bobbed at anchor, their engines silenced. I shut my eyes and leaned by head back, luxuriating in the warmth of the fading sun. Softly, a voice whispered through my brain. The voice belonged to a young lady named Lucky O’Toole and she wanted to tell me her story. I smiled as she talked and I imagined her world—a huge resort/casino on the Las Vegas strip. I imagined her history—a mother who ran a brothel, of course. Hey, it’s Sin City, right? And her best friend—a straight female impersonator who just wants to get the girl. Would he have trouble? How would women perceive him? How would Lucky respond to a guy with better legs than hers?

Just like a puppy picks it’s owner, MY story found me.

The minute I began listening and taking notes, I became the author equivalent to the Whoopi Goldberg character in Ghost—listen to one character and all of a sudden there were hundreds shouting to be heard. All of them were like puppies wanting to run in any direction other than the one I wanted, peeing on my foot when I’m not listening, refusing to budge until I give a little and go where they want to take me. They’ve taught me to trust my instincts, go with the flow. Since that day, it’s been my sincere delight to be able to herd them into a novel, then a sequel, and a third. Now, a fourth is coming together.

You know what’s funny about the whole thing? I had written the first line to what became WANNA GET LUCKY? five years before Lucky whispered in my ear. It was there all along, but I hadn’t listened… hadn’t found the courage to listen. I mean, humorous first-person stories are devilishly difficult. What kind of nut tackles that right out of the box?

This kind of nut, as it turns out. It turns out I’m not Sandra Brown; I’m me. Who knew?


Are you trying to be someone else? What story is in your heart, but you are afraid to write?



LUCKY STIFF (Hardcover 368 pages)


Lucky O’Toole—head of Customer Relations at premier megaresort the Babylon—thinks its just another night in Las Vegas. A tractor-trailer has spilled its load of millions of honeybees, blocking not only the Strip but the entrance to her hotel…The district attorney for Clark County—apparently the odd man out of a threesome on the twelfth floor—is hiding in the buff in one of the hotel’s laundry rooms…And Numbers Neidermeyer—one of Las Vegas’s less-than-savory oddsmakers—is throwing some major attitude at Las Vegas’ ace private investigator, the beautiful Jeremy Whitlock.


The next day, Lucky discovers Ms. Neidermeyer had been tossed into the shark tank at the Mandalay Bay Resort as a snack for the Tiger shark. When the police show up with a hastily prepared search warrant, applied for by the district attorney himself, and Jeremy lands in the hot seat, Lucky realizes her previous night was far from routine.


Amid the chaos of fight weekend, the Babylon’s hiring of a new, eccentric French chef, and her madam mother’s scheme to auction off a young woman’s virginity, Lucky is drawn into a deadly game that will end only when she discovers who made fish food out of Numbers Neidermeyer.


Lucky O’Toole and fabulous Las Vegas—life doesn’t get any better. Excerpt


~*~*~*~
 
My mother tells me I was born a long time ago, but I'm not so sure--my mother can't be trusted. I do know that I was raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer. I currently live in Las Vegas where family and friends tell me I can't get into too much trouble. Silly people. I have owned my own business, been a tax lawyer and a flight instructor, and have survived a teenager. And now, I make stuff up for a living.

Each day I sit in the front window at my favorite Panera and play with my imaginary friends. My SO is a psychologist and he tells me that many of his colleagues would consider me an annuity. I can live with that. Thankfully, he can too.

I write a mystery series set in Las Vegas--funny, sexy and romantic. I've been told they are comedic thrillers--sounds like an oxymoron to me, but you get the drift. The first in the series, WANNA GET LUCKY?, came out May 2010. The second, LUCKY STIFF, will be available February 15th, 2011. With the third, SO DAMN LUCKY, to follow.
 
You can find Deb: Facebook, Twitter, and her Website
 

24 comments:

~Sia McKye~ said...

Deb, welcome to OVER COFFEE! I'm so glad you could visit with us.

Plenty of caffiene and goodies. Sorry you'll have to use your own gym afterward as mine is undergoing renovations. :-)

I love the thought that we need to be ourself and write the story we hear whispering in our heart.

Mason Canyon said...

Deb, so glad you finally stopped and listened to those voices. Sounds like LUCKY STIFF is a great read. Best of luck.

Sia, another wonderful interview. Thanks for the introduction to an interesting 'new to me' author.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Stephen Tremp said...

Two jobs making stuff up ... a lawyer and a writer. Its great work if you can find it. best wishes for your success with Lucky Stiff!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Mason, she's new to me too. But I enjoyed what I read of the series and thought my readers would also enjoy it.

Elizabeth Loupas said...

Awww, puppiesssss! But seriously, it's a great analogy. Those stories do just come sit on your feet, wagging their tails. (Tales?) Deb, your books sound like a delight and I look forward to making Lucky's acquaintance.

Sia, you always introduce us to the coolest people. :)

Lisa K. said...

Thanks, Deborah, for sharing the story of your journey with us. I found it to be very inspiring.

And thanks, Sia, for another great interview!

readwriteandedit said...

Deb, if your fiction is anywhere near as entertaining as this article, I predict a great and long career. I need to buy Wanna Get Lucky so I can start from the beginning.

Thank you for sharing this part of your writing life with us.

Beth

Kat Sheridan said...

Laughing out loud here at the blurb!! It sounds wonderful! And Las Vegas? The city that God made just for me? What could be more perfect?! (Ask Sia: if it's neon, noisy, or goes bling-bling, I consider it MINE!) And I love the analogy of puppies! Just perfect!

James Rafferty said...

Deborah,

Your apprenticeship in writing humor columns shines through here. I've also found it helpful to listen to those characters who are just begging to have their story told.
I also enjoyed the excerpt. Best of luck with your writing career.

Helen Ginger said...

They sound like fun books. And I'm going to be in Vegas later this year. I'll look for the first just to get me in the mood!

Olivia Cunning said...

Sounds like a whole heap of fun!

Deb Coonts said...

Hey everyone! Sorry, had a computer disaster while on the road--the Shameless Sef-Promotion Tour Part Deux. I am back online. Fun, humor, belly laughs...sheer entertainment, I'm shallow that way. No wonder I found my home in Vegas:)

Deb Coonts said...

Regarding the lawyer comment....:)
When asked what I do for a living, I used to answer that I tell lies. That didn't work--everyone assumed I was a lawyer. Of course, I am a recovering attorney, but, thanks to wonderful readers, I haven't had to bill an hour in a long time :) can't say that in Vegas...people would talk.

~Sia McKye~ said...

We all need belly laughs and entertainment, Deb.

How is your road tour going? What cities are you in? Any fun adventures to share with us?

As for Las Vegas, not necessarily a town made for me but it is a lot of fun. Found all sorts of adventures and all outside gambling rooms. Although I do love seeing the casino *cities*. It's amazing.

aries18 said...

This sounds like a series right up my alley! I love to read first person, love the humor and anything with a little mystery and adventure... well, I'm there! I'm putting Lucky on the top of my TBR list right now!

Deb Coonts said...

Tour is off to a bang. Houston right now. Then home to Vegas for a day of TV and radio. Then a quick strike on San Diego--will be signing at Mysterious Galaxy at 4pm on Saturday, if anyone is in the neighborhood:). Fun adventures...this is all fun:). But nothing ambarassing or humiliating so far, but give me time. Lucky may have a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease, but I know whe she gets it:)

Deb Coonts said...

And, since I'm in a sharing mode, I'm not into the gambling thing either. Never even put a quarter into a slot machine:). Such a Vegas girl! I'm bad...

~Sia McKye~ said...

Busy lady, Deb! Oh how cool to have a tour stop at Mysterious Galaxy! Must get pictures although I'm sure you'll be in their newsletter.

I'd love to visit with you but I'm smack dab in the Midwest at this time, near St. Louis.

I can't say I haven't put in a coin, I did play Family Feud. I figured there was as much chance of winning because of my brain and not just Madam Luck. Did pretty good. But honestly, there are so many fun things to do rather than sitting in a casino pooping coins.

I loved the picture of your house outside of Vegas and I've seen the part that offers camping, swimming, horseback riding. LV is much more than just casinos.

Deb Coonts said...

To me, Vegas is magic. I don't know, perhaps it's just so quintessentially American, but it's a wonderful place. People come here to let their real selves out to play before they go back home to their buttoned-up world. Being raised in the South where appearances are so important, I sorta identify. And the great food and shows, there is that:)

VA said...

Vegas, humor, Lucky...what else could a reader ask for, sounds delightfully entertaining. Being melanin-challenged, I'm not big on the impersonating a rotisserie chicken, so the desert isn't my favorite place even though I think it is spectacular! Gorgeous! And Awesome!!!

Cheers, Sia. Fabulous find as these books sounds like they're right up my alley.

Tonya Kappes said...

Very cool! I love the charms on the cover. I wear TWO charms bracelets filled to the gills with charms I collect when we go places. That grabbed my attention. Plus I love her story about her journey and how Lucky popped in her head five years prior and stuck with her. Very cool!!

Deb Coonts said...

Charms...it's funny the publisher finally settled on that talisman for the series. My grandmother got me started on the things years ago. I've charms commemorating every trip, every country visited, practically ever good meal consumed. I love them. And when I bring out my grandmothers bracelets, they transport me back in time. I can picture them on her wrist making noise every time she moved. Funny how those things stick with you. Hope the charms work their magic for Lucky.

Talli Roland said...

What a fantastic post! It took me quite a while to learn what exactly my voice was. I think I'm still finding it, to a degree!

Thank you!

Deb Coonts said...

Voice is an interesting concept. If a writer writes across genres or dual series or whatever, her voice has to be different. That being said, the core voice, the one that strikes a funntbone with wry asides, always filters in. I guess that's the true me....certifiable to the end.