Author Interview: LynDee Walker, Cover Shot (part of an Agatha-nominated series)

It’s been a slow news month in Richmond, and crime reporter Nichelle Clarke is enjoying the downtime when ominous messages and a dead body kick things into high gear. And that’s before the guy with the rifle takes a hospital full of people hostage.

Up to the top of her knee-high Prada boots in leads, Nichelle finds her favorite detectives under pressure to make an arrest, but it doesn’t add up—and ignoring the “why” of this story could cost Nichelle the most important person in her life.

With too much to lose, a shot at the story of a lifetime, and a missing bullet that might be the key, landing this headline could save the day, but can Nichelle dig up the truth before the killer buries her with it?

Books in the Headlines in High Heels Mystery Series:

 



Q: Aloha LynnDee, and thanks for stopping by! Cover Shot is #5 in the Agatha Award-nominated Headlines in High Heels Mystery series. Can you tell us what the series, and the newest book, is about?

A: The series follows crime reporter Nichelle Clarke as she moves into more investigative reporting. The books are humorous mysteries with a little romance, and the main storylines take on some big issues: police and political corruption, religion as a business, the healthcare system…Nichelle chases important stories, and we all get to have some laughs along the way.

For this book, I wanted to show how pivotal photos can be to a story, and I also wanted to take a big issue from current headlines and flip it on its head to see what would happen. It was probably the most complicated book in the series so far, but it’s also the one that gives me the biggest sense of accomplishment when I look at the finished product.

Q: You started out as a journalist. Was there anything about news reporting that you brought with you to fiction writing? What did you learn about drawing in readers and keeping them engaged?

A: The most helpful skills I brought from the newsroom are the ability to write in any noisy environment (great whether the noise is coming from my littles or a crowd at Starbucks) and the ability to write on deadline. When you’re a journalist, you don’t have the luxury of “waiting for the muse:” the editor expects his copy on time, and you’d better have it ready.

I think the ability to hook a reader and keep them turning pages has less to do with journalism and more to do with just being a good storyteller, though it’s a skill that serves authors and reporters both well. News writing did teach me that the first sentence is everything. That line is the one that gets picked apart and tinkered with the most in every one of my books.

Q: What are some similarities and differences between writing articles for a deadline and writing a novel?

A: With a first novel, you have the luxury of taking your time. You can study every single word and rewrite to your heart’s content. When you’re working under deadline, like with journalism, there comes a point when you have to be finished. That said, I do think it’s true that practice makes every author better, so what would’ve taken months of revising on a first book take s a couple days by the fifth. That part is nice.

In both cases, you want to write the best story you can in the fewest words you can. When I first started writing fiction, I made the mistake of using way too many big flowery words, and they weakened the story. Use strong words. Make every scene count. The same lessons I learned in journalism school, just reworked slightly for the longer form of novels.

Q: Your website is gorgeous, and fits very nicely with the feel of your books. What went into its design?

A: Weeks of work and a whole lot of swearwords. (I’m kidding. Sort of.)

Thank you for the sweet comment—I’m really proud of the fact that I did it myself. I am not a technical girl at all, but I had an idea of what I wanted and I taught myself web design via Google (“why are there gray boxes around my photos? Oh. This says to use this code to make them go away. Copy. Paste. Fixed.”) My editor sent me the artwork and color codes from the cover of Front Page Fatality, and I used those to make the site go with the books.

Q: Over the five books in the High Heels series, how have you allowed the characters to change, and what has stayed the same? How do you address characters’ aging over the course of a series?

A: I think everyone has changed in some way—it’s one of my favorite things about writing the series. The characters are like friends to me, and I love watching them learn and grow. Nichelle has realized a lot of things about herself, good and bad, that have given her more confidence or are helping her be a better person. Bob has learned he’s not Superman and has some limits, and he’s gotten more protective of Nichelle. Parker has gone from Captain Notch on the Bedpost to a one-woman guy. Joey has tried to fight his attraction to Nichelle pretty unsuccessfully, while Kyle has tried just as hard to win her back. I love opening a new file and getting to catch up with them all. The constant in my stories is that the main characters are good people at heart—flawed, sure, but all trying to make some kind of positive difference in their corner of the world.

Nichelle is aging, and since I have so many stories of hers I’d like to tell, I started her out pretty young (28) and I’m moving the timeline by only a few weeks or months at a time.

Q: Do you have any cast iron skillet recipes for a beginner? I have a cast iron skillet and no idea what to make in it.

A: My mother made the world’s best cornbread, and the skillet was the secret. Here’s how you do it:

1 cup white cornmeal
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (softened)
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 375.

Before you start mixing the batter, put the oil into your cast iron skillet, and put it in the oven to heat while you’re making the batter.

In a large bowl, beat sugar, butter, eggs, milk, honey, and water (I have a kitchenaid stand mixer that does this beautifully: use the flat paddle beater and speed 3).

In a separate bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt.

While mixing, slowly add dry mixture to batter. It will be slightly lumpy when fully mixed.

Take the skillet out of the oven (careful, it’s hot!), and tilt it so the inside gets coated with the oil. Quickly pour your batter into the skillet (the outside of the bread gets flash-fried in the hot oil, which is how you get the crispy crust), and then pop it into the oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Q: So now that you’ve given us something delicious and fattening, what one or two things would you recommend to writers and other computer-bound people to maintain health and sanity?

A: Sunshine and exercise. It’s sometimes hard for me to follow my own advice, because between children and deadlines, my days stay full—but getting outside for a walk or a bike ride recharges me like nothing else.

Links to where readers can follow you (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)

Twitter:
Facebook:
Pinterest:

Thanks so much for having me today! What a fun interview!


LynDee Walker’s award-winning journalistic work has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the nation.

Her debut novel, FRONT PAGE FATALITY, is an amazon and Barnes & Noble #1 bestseller, and was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. DEVIL IN THE DEADLINE is the fourth in LynDee’s Headlines in High Heels mystery series. The fifth COVER SHOT is out November 2015.

LynDee adores her family, her readers, and enchiladas. She often works out tricky plot points while walking off the enchiladas. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she is either playing with her children, working on her next novel, or admiring beautiful shoes she can’t wear.

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