Debbi Mack is author of the Sam McRae mysteries, including the Kindle bestseller LEAST WANTED and the New York Times ebook bestseller IDENTITY CRISIS. A Derringer Award nominee, she’s published an ebook short story collection called FIVE UNEASY PIECES. Debbi’s novels have been Kindle bestsellers on both Amazon.com and Amazon UK.
Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?
Well, it’s complicated, but I’ll take a crack at it:
A lawyer defends a girl accused of killing her abusive mother. A homicidal maniac pursues the lawyer to keep her from discovering the real killer.
That’s stripping things down quite a bit, but it’s the best I can do in no more than 25 words. J
What was your motivation for writing it?
I first became interested in the subject when I read an article about girl gangs in the Washington, DC area. These weren’t girls hanging out with gangs made up of boys, but girls who had their own gangs. This got me thinking about what would motivate young girls to join gangs and the potential stories that could be written involving the kids in gangs like those.
I was motivated, in part, because I wanted people to know that girls were doing this now. That juvenile violence isn’t just a boy thing, anymore. Unfortunately, violence has become more prevalent behavior among girls than it used to be, particularly among juveniles in certain ethnic and socio-economic groups.
Also, because my husband was a D.C. firefighter, he had a lot of direct experience with people who live in poor, mostly black neighborhoods. One of his firefighter acquaintances worked at one time as a security guard with a Prince George’s County public school. The stories he told put the lie to any notions that the suburbs are safe havens or places where kids are innocent angels.
Finally, I spent the first twelve years of my life growing up in a housing project in Queens, New York. We were one of the few white families in the neighborhood. To say that race and prejudice are issues of concern to me would be putting it mildly.
How much difference does an editor make?
I think a good editor can make a great deal of difference. A great editor is a writer’s best friend.
Most writers don’t have the objectivity to see their own weaknesses. An editor’s job is to take what the writer has done and make it the best it can be.
And if a writer is smart, he or she will pay attention and the next time think about what the editor has suggested and try not to repeat the same mistakes. I think it’s all part of the process of raising the bar on yourself just a little each time you write. The editor is there to help guide you in that process and reset the bar.
I know some writers who claim they don’t need an editor. Personally, I think they’re lying to themselves. Or turning a blind eye to their own potential errors. Either way, they’re not doing themselves or their readers any favors. But that’s just my opinion, for what it’s worth.
Do you have any other projects on the go?
I’m currently finishing up work on the third Sam McRae novel entitled ALIEN SHORES. In it, Sam and her best friend, Jamila Williams, take a vacation in Ocean City, MD, a week before attending the bar association convention there. Unfortunately, it turns into the vacation from hell after Jamila is accused of killing a man who had an altercation with the women because Sam called the police on him and his friends for holding a loud party in the condo where the two are staying. Incidentally, the man is a complete racist and total white trash and Jamila is black. The Eastern Shore has something of a history and reputation, race-wise. It was, for instance, one of the last places in Maryland to desegregate its schools. It’s also been known for its dreadfully underpaid black farmworkers, at least in the past. Today, those workers are more likely to be from south of the border.
I have plans to write a young adult novel, as well as to revise a couple of standalone crime novels I’ve already written. And I have other ideas for more books in the Sam McRae mystery series, as well.
My more immediate project is an online book launch for the print edition of LEAST WANTED on Amazon.com. Among other things, that launch will offer a free autographed copy of my New York Times bestselling novel IDENTITY CRISIS to everyone who buys a copy of LEAST WANTED on Amazon.com. The launch is currently scheduled for Wednesday, June 15. (I’ve arranged with my printer, Lightning Source, for the print edition to be made available on Amazon UK. If that hasn’t happened by the time this interview is posted, I’m hoping it will someday soon. J)
Ever tried your hand at screenwriting?
Yes, I have. In fact, I tend to structure my books very much like screenplays. This was especially true when I started out.
But to answer your question, I have written one feature film screenplay about a murder that takes place at the Stonehenge War Memorial in Washington State. It’s an unusual location and one many people don’t know about. I made up a fictional town nearby and created a scenario in which a burnt out FBI agent had been investigating a serial killer in the Portland, OR area 10 years before. Just as they’re closing in on the likely perpetrator, the agent’s wife is found murdered by the killer. The agent has a nervous breakdown. The film opens 10 years later when he’s been reassigned to work in Washington, DC at a desk job. He doesn’t like his work, but he drags himself through his paces. Then this body turns up at the Stonehenge Memorial and it looks like it might connect with the serial killer from 10 years ago. And they want him back on the case.
Thing is, they’re assigning him a partner who says she’s from the DEA. And she has an agenda, which she’s not sharing.
And everyone in this small town has secrets and distrusts the Feds. So, in that way, it’s like Twin Peaks without the backwards-talking dwarf. J
How important is a book's central character?
Extremely important, since that’s the character the reader identifies with most while reading the story. If readers can’t connect with the central character, chances are they won’t care about what happens to them. And if they don’t care what happens to the central character, they’ll have little or no motivation to read the story. Period.
What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?
Write the kind of book you’d want to read. Write what you love and pay no attention to trends. The best writing you can achieve reflects your unique voice. Writing strictly in order to win the approval of others is a losing proposition.
What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?
Be able to separate the creative part of the work from the marketing part. Understand that once your book is published, it becomes a product that’s as subject to branding and marketing as any other product.
With that in mind, set aside time every day to do a little bit of marketing. Even if it’s just one small step toward accomplishing a big project. Think of it as a daily chore that must be done – like brushing your teeth.
Once your marketing chores are done, then you can do your writing, knowing that you’ve done what you can to get the word out about your book for the day.
Be persistent. And never, ever give up.
Least Wanted by Debbi Mack