Before we get started with the interview, here’s a bit about Force of Habit:
Giulia Falcone is convinced she's going to Hell. First, because she left the convent. Second, her new job with a private investigator has her sneaking around and lying. Adjusting to life in the outside world isn't easy. Makeup, dating, and sex are all new to her. And despite a crush on her boss Frank Driscoll—a foul-mouthed, soft-hearted ex-cop—Giulia is sure he'd never fall for an ex-nun.
Her first case involves drop-dead handsome Blake Parker, a man with immense wealth and an ego to match. He and his fiancée are getting disturbing "gifts" with messages based on biblical verses. When Giulia is drawn into the stalker's twisted game, salacious photos of her appear, threatening her job and her friendship with Frank. No one imagines—least of all naïve Giulia—the danger ahead, when following the clues turns into a fight for her life.
Hi Alice! Thanks so much for talking with me today. First, I’d like to talk a bit about your debut novel, Force of Habit. What was your inspiration for this novel?
Thanks for having me!
I queried a well known agent with my first book, a religious horror, mentioning in my query that I was an ex-nun and thus knew religion. He passed, but suggested that he’d like to see a mystery starring an ex-nun who solves crimes. I dismissed that suggestion initially, because “I wrote horror.”
However, the idea percolated in my head, and wouldn’t leave me alone. Eight months later I had Force of Habit. I queried the same agent with it, he asked for the first three chapters—and passed. In the politest way possible, too. Ya gotta laugh.
Guila is such an awesome character. When reading FoH, I found myself really routing for her, both in her personal quest for identity resolution, her attempts at romance, and of course in her debut as a detective in training. Authors often pull character traits from themselves or someone they know. How many of Guila’s attributes were inspired by you or someone you know?
Very few. The similarities to me are: She was a Franciscan nun, and so was I. Giulia is much more uptight and repressed than I ever was. However, some nun traits are universal and enduring. For instance, about fifteen years after I left the convent, a priest told me I still “stood” like a nun. Force of Habit is fiction—my characters come out of my bizarre and dark brain and nowhere else.
FoH is a fun, fast-paced story and we get to follow Guila through many unexpected events that lead to both the discovery of the stalker she investigates and finding out things about herself. These two sides of her are woven seamlessly together, appealing to both types of readers. I really enjoyed that juxtaposition of emotional growth and mystery/action. Are these the same types of books you’re also drawn to as a reader? What are your favorite books/authors?
Absolutely. I always prefer books that blend genres. One of my favorite writers was Patricia Wentworth. She wrote dozens of light mysteries with a touch of romance. However, my real writing inspiration is HP Lovecraft. He wrote the creepiest psychological horror. You can’t really overlook the fact that he was a snob and a bigot, but some of his stories still give me a shiver in broad daylight.
Since there are probably some aspiring authors that will read this, can you tell us a bit about your road to publication? When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
High school, I think. That was when I started writing a bit of everything: Poetry, plays, short stories, the beginnings of novels. I searched for my voice and imitated my favorites (HP Lovecraft, Lloyd Alexander). Writing was something I did every free moment because I loved it. Perhaps my lightbulb moment came when one of my poems won first place in a local women’s organization contest. Earning money for writing was a new experience for me. I realized if I could get to this point once, I could get to it again. That was a very good day.
What was your favorite part of writing FoH?
Surprisingly, the gamer parts. I’m not a gamer and don’t know the first thing about them. Fortunately, I work with some hardcore gamers. I did a bunch of online research and sat at the feet (figuratively) of one to learn the basics. It’s a whole ‘nother culture.
The attempted rape scene and its aftermath. I had to get into my MC’s head for that and it was a scary place for a chapter or two.
Tell us about your journey to getting an agent.
Fast-forward past the convent and theater and marriage and kids. In 2006, I had a finished novel that I thought was All That. A thorough critique by a published writer cured me of that. (She and I are friends to this day, despite the fact that she writes sweet Christian fiction and that particular novel was my religious horror, which one critiquer refused to read while alone in the house.)
In 2007, after 2 complete rewrites and invaluable help from the regulars on the Absolute Write Water Cooler, I began querying. I found a new agent who loved the book. A year later, that agent quit the business and I was back to square one. However, I had three complete novels by this time and several layers of rhino hide. I was ready to hit the query trail again.
That was in September of 2008. I researched every agency that represented one of the genres of my books (mystery, paranormal, and horror). I sent out queries in batches of six, ready to send a new query out for every rejection or non-response. I gave each query three months. If I heard nothing by that time, I assumed it was a pass and crossed them off my list. This turned into roller-coaster time. I got requests for partials and fulls. I also got form rejections on requested fulls (ouch!). I got two offers to revise and resubmit on two different books. I had one agent love my characters and another say they were bland. It truly is a subjective business.
Then in spring of 2009, I sent a "Why not?" query to Kent D. Wolf, an agent whose list of sales and genres he was seeking looked interesting. The next day, he called to request the full of the mystery. (Agents don't normally call for that. I was a bit startled.) Two days later, he called to discuss the book, the characters, the convent, and how I felt about revising. (Is the sky blue? Of course I was willing to revise!) Two days after that, he called to offer representation.
Six days. Okay, to be technical, a total of four years, 185 rejections, and six days.
And how about finding your publisher?
My submission story went faster. We went on sub in June. 6 months and something like 8 passes later, we sold to Midnight Ink. An agent who knew and loved my genre, had sales in it, and knew the people involved in it was my goal, and it paid off. I have to plug Absolute Write again, because the pros and amateurs there gave advice, critiqued, held my hand during the rejections, and did it freely because we're all fellow writers and we're all in this together. Without them, my journey would've been much longer.
What is the best part of the publishing process?
All the great people I’m working with. My editor is so much fun and full of great ideas for making my book read even better. My production/copyeditor, who’s just as intensely picky as I am. The thrill of seeing my first page proofs. Holding a real ARC. Holding a real, final version. Walking into a Barnes & Noble and seeing my book—mine!—on the shelf.
Those gremlins of self-doubt. They pop up out of nowhere and you’re never really prepared for them. They whisper in your ear that you’re not really a good writer, that it’s a fluke, that no one will ever buy your book, that you should’ve stayed home in obscurity reading books, because you don’t have the talent to write anything more than a grocery list. It takes tenacity and determination and much gritting of teeth. This is where fellow writers are invaluable. They understand the gremlins and are there for those times as well as the celebratory moments.
Can you give us a hint of what we can expect from book two in the series? And when is it coming out?
In book 2, Giulia’s going undercover—in the convent. It’s nothing like Sister Act! There will be catfights, oppression, clashing personalities, and gratuitous pawing of lacy underwear. Stay tuned!
Any last advice for any writers out there?
Never give up! Never surrender! (With thanks to the movie Galaxy Quest.) I had some brain-melting setbacks in my drive to see my name on a shelf in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. But if it had been easy, then seeing my book on those shelves wouldn’t be as sweet.
Also, find some fellow writers, online or in meatspace. This business is like the roller coaster from Hell sometimes, and fellow screaming coaster passengers make it easier.
Thanks Alice! Looking forward to reading more from you in the future!