Saturday, August 1, 2009

Author Interview with TERRY ODELL

Terry Odell is the author of four romantic suspense novels and a prolific blog--in addition to numerous short stories and training manuals. A native of Los Angeles, California, she now makes her home in Central Florida.


Writing short stories and novel-length fiction is very different. Tell us about the pros and cons of each.

Aside from the obvious "you're done sooner" with a short story, I think both require the same writing skill-set. You have to construct a story, create characters a reader cares about, give them conflicts, goals, and motivations, and they need to grow over the course of the story. However, in a short story, you have to limit everything to fit the much narrower word limitations. I find a short story is much harder to construct, because there's no room to ramble about. Every word has to serve in several functions, or it's not needed. When I started writing short stories, my mentor would tell me I had a beginning, a middle, and more middle, and even more middle. T here's got to be a beginning, a middle and an end, just like a novel-length piece.

You’ve been writing, in one fashion or another, for a long time. Tell us how your stories progressed from training manuals to Romantic Suspense.

The training manuals were part of my job (or in case of the Adult Literacy League, part of my volunteering). I had no choice but to write them. There was little satisfaction other than being able to say, "It's finished" (although "good job" helped). For romantic suspense—a long story. I got into writing more or less by "mistake" when my son was visiting and clicked through the TV channels and stopped at Highlander and said, "Cool show." I started watching to be a "Cool Mom" and got caught up in the world of fandom, including fan fiction. From there, I thought I'd see if I could write something totally mine instead of borrowing characters. I found an online short story group at iVillage, then a local 'live' group (The Pregnant Pigs), and decided to tackle a longer story. I thought it was a mystery, but my daughters told me it was a romance. I'd never read a romance to that point, but I realized that when I read mysteries, I preferred series, and was always as interested in the characters and their relationships as solving the crime. Romantic suspense seemed the logical combination of the two.

What type of books do you prefer to read—and why?

My first love is still series mystery…IF I love the characters. I like the puzzle-solving aspect, but I also like to watch the characters grow over a course of books. I hate coming to The End and thinking I'll never see that character again. But I also like romance for the emphasis on the relationships. The 'best' combination, I think, is the "In Death" series by J.D. Robb. I get to watch a relationship--several, actually, as the series progresses--and solve a mystery/crime along with the heroine. And who doesn't love Roarke? After that, I'd say contemporary romance, if the author can make me love the characters. Give me a well-written book, and I'm there. Of course, I'll read cereal boxes if there's nothing else. My parents tell everyone we had to move out of our first place because I'd finished the library.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

Marketing, promotion. It's not "fun" the way writing is, but writing for a small press, and not having a widespread distribution, it's part of the game.

What is When Danger Calls about? Where can we buy it?

If someone asks single mother Frankie Castor to clear a room, she'll smile and find a vacuum cleaner. Ryan Harper uses a gun. Can they work together when their lives depend on it? Frankie has returned to her childhood home in Montana to help care for her mother. Her biggest worries are balancing the budget and the upkeep of an aging home. When she offers a man a ride home from the hospital, she never imagines she’ll end up having to choose between her daughter’s life and matters of national security that could cost the lives of millions.

Ryan returns to his family home to find a way to prove he didn’t leak vital information on a covert ops mission gone south. As he searches for the meaning of a file he’s kept hidden from the mission, he has no idea that international mercenaries have been searching for it—and him. When the mercenaries come after Ryan, he’s torn. Fighting for his country wars with fighting to rescue people he loves.

Set against a Montana mountain backdrop, When Danger Calls is a story filled with action, adventure, and romance, where the stakes keep getting higher and higher.

You can buy the book at Amazon, and should be able to request it at Barnes & Noble. Frankly, the publisher targets the library market, so I'd also love it if you'd ask your library to carry it. Or, if you'd like an autographed copy, you can check out how to get one on my website.

What are you working on now and when/where do you expect it to be available?

My next "release" will be a short story from Cerridwen Press featuring Randy and Sarah from Finding Sarah and Hidden Fire, which will be available on July 27th. It's a humorous look at what goes on behind the scenes between author and characters. Best of all, it'll be free.

I've just signed a contract for a mystery anthology, which will be coming from Highland Press. My contribution consists of two short stories about a homicide detective who runs into the unexpected when working his cases. It was a great deal of fun to write, totally different from romance. No official release date yet.

I've got 2 more books related to When Danger Calls, but they're as yet unsold. Each follows one of the secondary characters introduced in When Danger Calls, but they're standalones. I'm also working on updating a previous release, set against the Orlando Sheriff's Office, and a completely new book, more mystery than romance, set in a small town in Colorado.

Writers, especially new writers, are always looking for tips and helpful information. What is the single most important “tip” you can give to a new writer?

Keep writing. If it was easy, everyone could do it. Read. You can't fix a blank page. Allow yourself that crappy first draft. Keep writing. Write every day. Read. Develop a thick skin. Submit. Keep writing. Find critique partners you trust. Keep writing. Read. Cliches? Sure. But persistence pays. You'll never know what the next query response would be—until you send it. Find your voice, and the only way you can do that is to keep writing. It develops with time. If you're reading what you wrote and it sounds 'writerly' – cut it. It needs to come from the characters, not the author.

You’re a member of Romance Writers of America and, I believe, a RWA chapter in Florida. Tell us what other writer’s group claim you as a member and how membership helped you on the road to publication.

I'm also a member of MWA, the Mystery Writers of America. Through their annual conference, Sleuthfest, I met the late Barbara Parker whose generosity with her time and expertise encouraged me to pursue the craft. And I thank the Harlequin editor who spoke at RWA and said that they look at e-publications as writing credits, and she encouraged me to sign my first contract with Cerridwen Press.

Here’s your opportunity to tell us anything else you care to share.

I think I've covered most of it. I would like everyone to visit my blog, "Terry's Place" where I have special guests, including stories written by a local homicide detective, which I post every Friday. You can look for "Homicide – Hussey" (no, they're not that kind of story – Hussey is his name, and that's how he answers his phone). I normally have some sort of a giveaway every month, so please check my website.

What are the addresses of your website(s) and blog(s):


  1. I love your point- "You can't fix a blank page." I think it's very important that we all give ourselves permission to WRITE. Put down what's on your heart, in your mind, and FIX it on the second pass-through. Great interview, Terry! Thanks. And best of look with all your endeavors.

  2. Thanks, Drue - I know I've often sweated a scene, thinking I just don't know what to do with it, but once you forget about caring if it's good, knowing it's ok if it's not good YET, you've got something to work with. I've been sharing a lot of tips on my blog as well.

  3. I agree whole-heartedly with your admonition to 'write'! IMHO, persistence trumps talent in this business. I've learned that I often have everything on the page, more or less, in the first draft, but not in the right order, or not expressed in the most effective words for the story. Thank's for taking the time to visit! You are one busy woman!

  4. Exactly, anon - Barf it out first, clean it up later.

  5. Nice interview. Thanks. I like the comment about short stories needing an end rather than lots of middles. Thanks for sharing what you've learned.

  6. Great interview Terry and great advice. I love your Homicide blogs :)

  7. Thanks, Sheila - they say your ending has to sell the next story, so it's important to make it strong. That's always a challenge.

    Katie, so glad you came by, and glad you like Detective Hussey's stories on Fridays at my blog.

  8. Better late than never, I guess. I'm trying to catch up with my favorite blogs, and here you are again, Terry.

    Excellent interview, ladies.