AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: M. S. SPENCER
M.S. What is your most current work?
Murders, mistrust, misfits, and miscreants—needlepoint artist Milo Everhart has her hands full. Can love bloom in the midst of chaos? The question is answered in my latest romantic suspense novel:
Artful Dodging: The Torpedo Factory Murders, by M. S. Spencer
Tell us a little about Artful Dodging: the Torpedo Factory Murders…
In Artful Dodging: the Torpedo Factory Murders, we meet Milo Everhart and her merry band of artists. Milo creates delicate needlepoint and her friend Tekla Spirikova creates large metal objects. Together they fight City Hall (literally), which wants to give their beloved Torpedo Factory Art Center away. Things get complicated when their greatest adversary turns out to be the man Milo loves, and even more complicated when too many murder victims turn up.
Artful Dodging takes place in Old Town Alexandria, a historic cobblestoned city on the Potomac River in Virginia. An old munitions factory on the waterfront, the Torpedo Factory Art Center lay abandoned after World War II until the 1970s, when an intrepid band of local ladies convinced the city to lease it to them. Today it houses 82 studios, the Art League, the Friends of the Torpedo Factory, and an Archaeology center. I’ve been working as Executive Director of the Friends for several years, and wanted to pay homage to the sometimes eccentric but always interesting denizens of the building.
When you start writing, do you already have the story plotted out or do you let the characters dictate what will happen?
I usually begin with the ending—sometimes I write the last sentence before anything else. Then I’ll choose the setting. After that I attempt to create a plot line, which goes awry the minute I start writing, due to the unfeeling intransigence of my characters.
What inspired you to write in your genre? Is this the genre you started writing in or have you morphed to this one?
My first novel (lost in a move) was a straight murder mystery. My first published novel, Lost in His Arms, let me enjoy everything I didn’t have in real life at the time—lots of sex and a happy ending. Shameless plug: it’s now available in print at Amazon.
Do you have a favorite character you have written?
I can’t tell you that—what if they’re listening? It’ll be “I knew Mom liked you best” forever. No, I love them all equally….That’s my story anyway.
Who was the toughest character for you to “get right” that you have written so far?
Rose Culloden in my first novel, Lost and Found. For one thing, with a name like that you have to pick your verbs carefully (“Rose rose from her bed as dawn rose over the hills…”).
For another, Rose’s good qualities—loyalty, humility, compassion—tended to make her indecisive, which could be annoying. But what’s an author to do? That’s who she was.
To help give you a sense of Rose, here’s the blurb:
What do you do when David, your husband of a year disappears? If you’re Rose Culloden, a beautiful woman in her forties who had despaired of finding happiness, you do anything to find him. The trail takes you to the North Woods of Maine, where you meet James Stewart, who vividly highlights the contrast between a real man and your delicate husband. Loyal to your marriage despite your powerful attraction to James, it takes the dramatic discovery that David is not just vicious and venal, but insane, to free your heart for true love.
Do you draw inspiration for your characters from real life? Any fun stories you could share?
Of course—that’s what people are for, aren’t they? In Losers Keepers, I had the opportunity to totally shred this fellow who had dumped me—a deeply satisfying experience. Only my best friend knew of whom I wrote (I hope).
What do you find the hardest part of writing?
The first three chapters of the first draft. I don’t really believe that I can put words on the page at all until I see those magic words: Chapter Four.
Name one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you.
How about this? When I was 13, I crossed the Atlantic on the sister ship of the Andrea Doria, the Cristoforo Colombo. For those who don’t remember, the ocean liner Andrea Doria sank in 1956, the worst maritime disaster in U.S. waters since 1915. I remember that we ran into a great storm and had to use life lines to walk the decks, praying all the time. Plus I got to see Lolita. Woo oo.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
“A” guilty pleasure??? As in one? Do I have to choose?
What do you need before you start writing? Anything that is just a must have or the creative juice don’t flow?
I need about three hours of aimless wandering through emails, Facebook & other social media. Then I need to realize that if I don’t start working soon it’ll be lunchtime, then naptime, then we’re into cocktails, and the entire day’s shot. What do I need? Discipline.
Does music influence your writing? If so, do any of your stories have a theme song?
Not really. I need quiet when I’m writing, although I love to listen to music at other times, especially opera and country.
If your story was optioned for a movie, who would play your characters?
Hmmm. I’m not really up on current box office stars. The Brad Pitt generation all look alike to me (sorry!). For Artful Dodging, my perfect cast would have been the young Sean Connery as my hero Tristam Brodie and Irene Dunne as Milo Everhart. On a more realistic note (just kidding), since my characters are in their late 30s: Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds have the right mix of sex appeal and humor.
Where were you when you got your first contract? Who did you tell first?
Where else? Sitting at my laptop checking email. I didn’t sit very long. The first person I told was the man I loved.
How old were you when you read your first romance book?
Depends on how you define “romance.” As an adolescent I went through Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, the Brontes, etc. I read my first official romance in my 20s—a Kathleen Woodiwiss bodice ripper. Sigh.
What author causes you to “go fan girl”/ squeal over/anticipate upcoming books?
If you still have one of those pesky non writing jobs what is it?
I don’t read as much as I used to—can’t keep more than one story in my head successfully. I have been known to pre-order Christopher Buckley’s books (Thank You for Smoking; Little Green Men etc.). I still have a very part-time job as Executive Director for the Friends of the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, VA. It’s nice because I get free parking and a view of the Potomac.
What are you currently working on, and what else is in the wings?
I currently have 2 full-length novels in final pre-submission edits. The first is Mai Tais and Mayhem: a Sarasota Romance (working title #1) or Turtle Love: the Mote Marine Murders (#2). In it we find our heroine Tessa Diamond dealing with romance, the Russian mafia, smugglers, and sea turtles, not necessarily in that order. The second WIP, tentatively entitled Lapses of Memory: Love in the Air is the story of two journalists who meet every few years on an airplane on their way to various global hotspots as love (not to mention flight technology) grows.
If you could co-write with another author who would it be?
I’m not sure I could, although I admire people who can collaborate. I really appreciate editors and beta readers—I have a friend who is wonderful at finding inconsistencies and rewording difficult passages when I’m stuck.
How do you pick your characters names?
Ooh, that’s a fun question. I’m finishing the final draft of the Mote Marine murders novel and I’m STILL choosing names. Thank God for the Find & Replace Function! I keep a list of names I like and go to that when I’m first drafting a story. The hero and heroine’s names are rarely set before the third chapter. If I’m looking for an ethnic name or one with a special meaning I use the various baby name websites. For example, my hero in Lapses of Memory is Elian (Welsh for a moment in time) and my heroine is Simone Bellek (Bellek is Turkish for memory). The Sarasota novel is replete with fish names—my first contest is already set—name all the fishes!
Do you prefer the love at first sight approach or a steady growth throughout?
Love at first sight is such a wonderful concept, but doesn’t often happen in real life. Steady increase in affection (or transition from dislike to like) works better in a story. If you have love at first sight you have to introduce some awful challenge or difficulty to make the story work, and that makes me sad.
What is your reaction to people who say one of the following…”Oh you write romance, I thought you were a real writer”, “Romance isn’t a real writing career” or the ever popular “Oh, one of those books”.
I see no reason to continue the conversation.
And for the silly side – What is your favorite type of chocolate?
Dark, dark, dark—with sea salt. I found these incredible chocolate bites—bittersweet with caramel center and dipped in coarse sea salt—absolutely to die for. And I feel so much healthier after eating them!