I believe I first met Cathi Stoler at the Brooklyn Book Festival a couple of years ago when she signed my copy of FAMILY MATTERS, a Murder New York Style Anthology, published by the New York/Tri-State Sisters in Crime. Her Derringer-winning short story, “The Kaluki King of Queens,” appears in the anthology, and it is definitely worthy of the honor. I have since had the pleasure of getting to know Cathi through Sisters in Crime New York/Tri-State, and I am delighted to have her on the NOT EVEN JOKING today!
Cathi Stoler is the author of the three volume Laurel & Helen New York Mystery series, as well as the novella, NICK OF TIME. She has recently completed a new Urban Thriller, BAR NONE, A Murder on the Rocks Mystery and OUT OF TIME, a full-length sequel to NICK OF TIME. Her latest book is BAD THINGS HAPPEN, a collection of short mystery stories. Cathi won the 2015 Derringer for Best Short Story, “The Kaluki Kings of Queens”. She hangs out with the usual suspects at Sisters in Crime New York/Tri-State, Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers and lives in Manhattan with her husband, Paul.
Thank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking! Congratulations on the release of your BAD THINGS HAPPEN. Does your writing process differ when you are writing a short story vs. a novel?
It does in some ways and doesn’t in others. Both my novels and short stories usually start with a question: What would happen if…? Once I see the answer, or beginning of an answer, in my mind, I start to build around it.
For a short story, conflict and resolution have to be condensed. My character development needs to be more immediate, readers need to know who these people are right away. The plot has to go forward and resolve itself quickly. And, there’s not a lot of room for backstory, or introducing peripheral characters. I think my career as an advertising copywriter has given me the ability to find an idea and condense it to its essential elements—there are only so many thoughts and words that fit into a :30 second TV spot or a two paragraph ad. It’s the same for a short story.
BAD THINGS HAPPEN is a collection of six of my short stories. Each one is very different but they all move at a good pace and hopefully give the reader that combination of conflict and resolution.
For a novel, the What would happen if…? is more about creating a grabber opening that draws the reader in and sets up the plot. While the action still has to keep moving along at a good pace, there’s more time to develop the narrative arc, build suspense, bring in characters who interact with the protagonist, introduce sub plots and toss in a few red herrings. Of course, in the end, it all has to be resolved. I never want the reader to feel cheated, or wonder “Where did that come from or how did that happen?”
You’ve set your novels in some pretty fabulous locations, including Florence, Venice, Las Vegas and of course, New York. What inspired these magnificent backdrops?
I love to travel and have been to all the locations in my novels except Monte Carlo. Florence, Venice, Prague, Zurich, London, Las Vegas, and of course, New York all have a certain glamour and cachet attached to them. Writing about them brings readers a taste of International luxury and indulgence they can enjoy at home. And really, what better places than these cities for mystery, murder and intrigue?
What’s next for you? Will we be seeing more of PI Helen McCorkendale or Nick Donahue?
I hope you’ll be seeing more of Nick Donahue very soon. I‘m working on getting the next Nick book, OUT OF TIME, into print in the near future. The novel begins in Dubai with Nick Donahue hanging from the spire of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. While that might seem pretty intense, Nick’s problems only get worse from there as he travels to New York and the Kentucky Derby to fight the ultimate terrorist battle. Actually, my husband and I are going to Africa and then Dubai next month, so I’ll see if I got all the details right. If not, I’ll be doing some rewriting.
As for Helen McCorkendale, I plan to work on a book featuring her after I complete my current projects. I just retained the rights to my 3-book Laurel and Helen New York Mystery series and am deciding how to proceed with those. Helen is one of my favorite characters and I would love writing something with her again.
What else gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? And how does this influence your creative life? (or does it?)
I love living in New York and being in the city. It’s exciting and vital and it inspires me in so many ways. Walking around, listening to people on the street, observing what’s going on—it’s amazing what you see and hear.
I’ve never really been passionate about politics, but in this current climate, that’s what’s been firing me up every day. It’s a big change for me. I feel I have to find positives ways to help.
What advice would you give to a young person who thinks they’d like to write mysteries?
If you’re intrigued by mysteries (or thrillers or suspense or crime stories) read a ton of them. Think about the ones you think are really good and what makes them work—it’s always good to understand the genre and how other writers approach their characters, plot, settings, etc. People may tell you that you can’t have more that two points-of-view, or third person works better than first person, or put a pet in your story. With that said, I don’t really think there’s any right way or wrong way to write a mystery. Be yourself. Let your story come alive on the page the way you see it happening.
Thank you so much for joining me here today! And safe travels! Dubai and Africa…how exciting! And that is wonderful writing advice. I think writers often try to be someone else when they write, but finding your own voice is so important!