Connie Garrett knows that a trenchcoat and a fedora don’t make a detective. She’s the co-founder of Murder for Hire, an acting troupe that specializes in spoofing, not sleuthing. When MFH performs at a sleepy coastal community’s mystery gala, celebrating the works of a famous hard-boiled mystery writer, the bodies start stacking up, and Connie finds herself on the case whether she likes it or not. Now Connie is committed to solving the murders while trying to keep both the show-and her love life-afloat.
Was this story inspired by your own acting experiences?
Murder for Hire was definitely inspired by real life events. My best friend and I had a murder mystery oriented theater troupe in San Diego many years ago (I will not say how many, other than to admit that I had to actually add cell phones in by the time the book was first published). Many things in MFH actually happened, including a confrontation with a truly horrible woman who tried to get us fired from one of our jobs. She actually said that we’d ‘never work in this town again.’ She caused a lot of stress for us and our actors, so we decided to kill her. In a book, of course! So we wrote the first draft of MFH, which was rewritten several times over the years before actual publication fifteen years later.
God, I feel old now…
Is acting a good preparation for writing?
For those of us that like to write, I think it gives much experience to draw from. But I don’t think the crossover works for everyone because there are plenty of actors with no interest in writing and vice versa. Where I think acting experience really helps a writer is prepping them for public speaking and publicity. So many authors are introverts and find the whole process of promoting themselves and their works to be akin to torture. I personally love it, but when I first started acting I was a lot more self-conscious than I am now.
What skills are similar?
Hmmm… the ability and delight in stepping away from the real world for a while and making it as real as possible to the readers/audience.
So, are there any characters based on real experiences?
Well, see above for the woman who inspired MFH in the first place. Her name and appearance were changed to protect the innocent (that would be me), but at least one of her scenes pretty much followed the true to life version of it. A lot of the characters in MFH are based on real people. Some are conglomerations of two or more people. Some are completely made up. The two main characters, Connie and Daphne, were definitely inspired by me and Maureen (my best friend), but the difference between the first and final draft is very noticeable because I’d managed to achieve distance and perspective. Which made for a better book.
How would you compare writing this novel to writing the Ashley Parker novels?
Oh jeez… There’s no way to really compare because MFH was so closely based on real life events (and wish fulfillment ’cause killing off people who have been total asshats without fear of being arrested is AWESOME) that writing it was… well, it was easy. Mind you, it needed the rewrites it eventually got, but that first draft… I think it was a three-week process.
Come to think about it, I still kill off people who piss me off in real life in my novels… So as far as that goes, I enjoy it as much in my Ashley Parker novels as I did writing Murder for Hire.
Do you always start out with a clear plan or do you feel your way along with a story?
First draft of MFH was outlined. The murderer, though, did not cooperate and ended up being changed after the first draft was finished. That made for a better book because there were all these built in red herrings pointing to the character who was originally the villain. The first Ashley Parker book was not outlined beyond a page of ‘this happens and there are these characters and, and, and… zombies!’ Now that I’m working with Steve Saffel at Titan Books, everything has at least a basic outline. I still find some of the best ideas happen when I’m doing research and something will spark an idea that leads me down a completely different path than expected.
Will there be more novels in this vein?
I really want to finish the sequel to MFH. I started it quite a while ago and have three chapters waiting for me to get on with it.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on the first in new urban fantasy trilogy based on the Lilith mythos for Titan Books (which is, btw, a UK publisher), which is going to be released next year. I’m also working the first of a science fiction trilogy with my husband David Fitzgerald (an awesome writer!) that’s also being published by Titan Books. It’s called TimeShards. I’m stoked (that’s my Southern Cal surfer gal coming out there) about both series. Additionally I’ve got a story coming out in the latest V-Wars anthology, edited by Jonathan Maberry (he also writes the wraparound stories for the books), as well as a story in the upcoming Joe Ledger crossover anthology Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, which is being edited by Jonathan and Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and features characters from various authors’ universes interacting with characters in the world Joe Ledger.
What are some of your favourite crime stories or writers? Films that inspire?
Not so much into crime stories as I am mysteries, really. Favorite authors off the bat: Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Marlys Millhiser, Juliet Blackwell, Terry Shames, Susan Shea, Lisa Brackmann… that’s just a start. As far as films? Classic film noir for the win as far as inspiring MFH!
Is writing better than acting?
And yes, writing is MUCH better than acting. I can wear pajamas and don’t need a boob job to do it!!!
Dana Fredsti is a novelist and screenwriter, B-movie actress, zombie aficionado, exotic and domestic feline advocate, swordfighter, wine lover and beach glass junkie. She writes the best-selling Ashley Parker series: Plague World, the sequel to Plague Town and Plague Nation, is available now from Titan. Murder for Hire is out now from Fox Spirit Books.