Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thank you Naples Florida Weekly for a great review of RESCUING OLIVIA!

Naples Florida Weekly had a really nice write-up of Rescuing Olivia in this week's print edition. The online link won't be available until February 11, but here's a taste:

"Ms. Compton paces the story majestically, giving just enough new information in each scene to raise new questions that pull the reader forward. A fascinating cast of characters deepens the story. And as she does with the people in her story, Ms. Compton also makes each of her major settings – Florida, New England and Africa – contribute mightily to the imagistic and emotional power of the novel. By making a seemingly ordinary guy like Anders Erickson her central character, Ms. Compton goes against the grain of much contemporary suspense fiction written by woman. Most of her peers select a female protagonist, but Ms. Compton does a remarkable job of portraying a flawed yet sympathetic male hero." Naples Florida Weekly

Saturday, January 30, 2010

RESCUING OLIVIA is in Stores! (A bit early . . .)

Stopped by the Barnes & Nobles on Colonial here in Orlando to see my book on the shelf. (When I was talking to the manager the day before, he mentioned he already had the book out.) I'm so pleased to see that it's not only out, it has its OWN TABLE! And a wonderful window display, too. Barnes & Noble really does advertising well. Thank you, Geoffrey at BN!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Should a seven year old child be in a tanning booth?

A seven year old girl spending time in a tanning booth? And everyone from her mother who called to make the appointment (who I have to believe is the instigator of this activity) to the employee at the salon taking the call, thinks it's okay? When Rick came home from getting his haircut to share this story with me, I simply couldn't believe it. But then, I live in an area where boob jobs and Botox injections are more common than palmetto bug sightings. A seven year old in a tanning booth really shouldn't surprise me.

I'm the first to admit I've been guilty of sun-worship. I have darker, olive skin to start with, and it tans easily. I'm from the generation of women who, as teens, used to slather baby oil on every inch of our bodies and lie in the sun holding album covers wrapped in foil near our faces to speed the process. We didn't know any better then.

Even now, some of my favorite days are the ones spend in a beach chair next to the ocean, reading a good book and soaking up the rays. Rick sits under a large beach umbrella, but I place my chair outside its shadow. I'm a little bit smarter than when I was sixteen, though; I wear suncreen with a much higher SPF, and I reapply it often. And now that I live in Florida, I no longer sit in the sun six days in a row to get as much color as possible before I return north from vacation. My long days in the sun are few and far between, and they're no longer the goal, but merely the byproduct of a day at the beach. I know there's no such thing as a safe tan, but like the smoker who continues to smoke even as he's hacking away, I accept it as my one vice that has the potential to kill me and so I make an effort to do it less and less.

Yet I'd be lying if I said the only reason I'm more careful in the sun is to protect myself. No, what finally compelled me to limit my time in the sun and wear stronger suncreen was the need to protect my daughters, and to teach them good habits. My oldest daughter, Jessie, has my husband's skin -- fair, and quick to burn. It's never been too difficult to convince her to wear sunscreen. She has seen how fast she'll turn lobster red if she doesn't. She often wears a shirt over her bathing suit, and she always sits under the umbrella if she's not in the ocean on a boogie board. But Sally has my skin, and she believes she's invincible. She gets dark fast, and she thinks that means the sun won't hurt her. I try to explain that a tan is evidence of the sun's damage, but my explanations fall on deaf ears. Instead, I simply become the mean mom and insist she wear sunscreen and reapply it often. Even coated with 30 SPF suncreen, she still gets dark, and when I take her to the pediatrician, I always get a lecture about skin cancer. Her doctor takes one look at Sally's skin and disbelieves my assurances that I make my children wear suncreen.

So when Rick came home from getting a haircut to tell me about the mother making a tanning bed appointment for her seven year old daughter, I was appalled. Huh? He expressed the same disbelief to the salon employee, and she defended the decision. "The tanning bed is safer than the sun." Really? People really still believe that?? And how about the fact that no one has considered why a seven year old needs a tan in the first place?

Someone please tell me this type of thinking is the exception and not the norm.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Please meet . . . Margaret Reyes Dempsey, author of THE BENEFACTOR!

Today I'm delighted to introduce Margaret Reyes Dempsey, the author of The Benefactor. My friendship with Margaret is another one of those "would have never met her but for my book" type of stories. Interestingly enough, Margaret and I attended the same university, Washington University in St. Louis, and we graduated only one year apart. (I confess. I'm the older one.) We probably walked the same halls at the same time, because she majored in Spanish and I majored in English but also took plenty of French classes, and all of the Romance languages were in the same building. But we never met. Until, years later, when Margaret saw a blurb about my first novel, Tell No Lies, in our alumni magazine and wrote to congratulate me. At the time, I was renting a little house for a week up near the coast in Georgia, a little retreat in the middle of the swamps where I go sometimes to write. I take my dog Wolfie and we have a nice, quite week away. Her email came as a surprise, and feeling as isolated as I did out in the boondocks, I was happy to have someone to correspond with. Turns out Margaret was a novelist, also, still trying to get published, and we've been writing to each other ever since! (We've even travelled with each other – see my July 06, 2009 post.)

Well, Margaret is no longer trying to get published. She is published. The Benefactor is romantic suspense novel featuring Kate Barrett, a girl who begins receiving anonymous gifts from someone called Secret Friend after the tragic deaths of her parents when she is eight years old. Years later, after landing a challenging job and the apartment of her dreams, she is caught off guard when another package shows up at her now unlisted address. Troubled that someone is watching her every move, she sets out to discover the stranger's identity.

Margaret took the time to answer a few questions about herself and her writing. (She has a great personality, as I think you'll see from her answers.)

How did you come to write The Benefactor? What initially sparked the idea for the story? Is the story that made it into the published novel the same one you began with?

Exactly four years ago, I was reading the newspaper and saw a brief article about money stolen from a church's poor box. In my typical fashion, I started asking "why" and "what if," jotted down a few notes, and filed it all away since I was already in the middle of writing a novel. A year later, I had finished that novel and was submitting it and wanted to start a new project. I peeked into my Ideas folder and found the notes I had written a year before. I decided that was the next story I wanted to write.

The story in the published novel is somewhat different than my first drafts. I ended up doing a rewrite of the story after my "first readers" reviewed it. I just felt it was missing something. I think what I ended up with is better.

What did you do upon first learning that your novel had been accepted for publication?

That was an odd day. I had just visited my son's fourth grade class for an authors' party--the kids had written books about endangered animals. We walked around the classroom, read their stories, and signed their fan pages. On my son's page, I wrote that I was proud of him and that he could now say he was published before his mom. A half hour later I arrived home to find the email indicating my novel had been accepted. I jumped, screamed, ran around a bit, and hyperventilated. Later that night, a friend and I went to a book signing for Mary and Carol Higgins Clark. I told them the news and they were so excited for me. It was nice to see that they hadn't forgotten the thrill of that first acceptance.

Tell us a bit about your writing history and your journey to publication. Is The Benefactor the first novel you wrote, or do you have others tucked away in a drawer somewhere?

No, no, no and yes, yes, yes. My very first novel was called Survival of the Fittest. I started it in 1987 and rewrote it dozens of times over the past 20 years. It in no way resembles the original story. In fact, it's so different, I could finish the last version and the first version and no one would realize they were the same book. That one is kind of like the child who never grows up and moves out.

After that, there were about a dozen half-finished novels, which are bulging out of my file cabinets. In 2005, I was finally sufficiently disgusted with myself to actually finish a novel. I'll never forget the day I printed out the entire Self-fulfilling Prophecy manuscript. It was like giving birth. The very first one I ever finished. Though that one was never accepted for publication, it will always be special to me.

What writers or other people have influenced you? In what way?

The biggest influence in my life was my grandmother, Nana Mickey, a creative person who was not aware of her own giftedness. She used to babysit for us every Saturday night and thrill us with her made-up stories of smugglers and kidnappers at the South Street Seaport. Each week she'd leave off at a cliffhanger to be continued the following week. When I was a bit older, I would raid her bookshelves for romance novels. I think that's why I've always been drawn to write stories that were suspenseful and romantic.

I know she's smiling down on me, no doubt proud that I've been published. She was always my biggest fan. What a blessing it was to have a whole squad of cheerleaders wrapped up in one cuddly grandmother!

Tell us about Margaret Reyes Dempsey.

I am nothing if not enthusiastic and intensely curious. I love new experiences--visiting new places, meeting interesting people, trying new foods. I'm always thinking. I have a team of hamsters in my head and they are always on their wheels, spinning, spinning, spinning. I'm less interested in the "who" and "what" as I am in the "why." I love "what if" scenarios. It's how I create stories. I start with a nugget and then ask what if this happened or what if that happened; before you know it I'm onto something.

My biggest thrill in life is helping people see their own gifts. It's a shame that so many people aren't aware of just how creative they are. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who just cooked a magnificent dinner for a big party and they're lamenting the fact that they have no talents? Or the person who whips up dozens of beautiful, hand- knit scarves for the holidays and wishes they were creative when they hear you've published a novel? My jaw drops and I want to shake them by the shoulders until they realize just how gifted they are. :-)

Besides my fiction writing side, I also happen to be an entrepreneur. I own a consulting company specializing in technical writing. The experience I've acquired in promoting my business is a huge asset in promoting The Benefactor. Unpublished writers may not be aware that, these days, once you're published, the marketing of your book is mostly up to you. Fun, fun, fun.

And speaking of fun, I believe writing should be fun. Not to say it isn't hard work, but hard work can be fun when you're passionate about what you're doing. I think a lot of needless, personal suffering in life is due to people not following their passions. But this is just my opinion. There's room for others. In fact, I was recently talking to a writing pal and mentioned that I'd jumped ahead in one of my writing projects because I got bored in the current scene and wanted to keep it fun. He was a bit horrified and told me we were supposed to suffer as writers. I laughed hysterically at this and we bantered back and forth until he finally acknowledged we were approaching it from two different directions. I agreed and told him he was "approaching it from pain and suffering and I was approaching it from pleasure and joy. Whatever works for you. Jumping ahead has reinvigorated my writing, it's energized me, it's given me insight into my writing process, and now it's provided something to discuss in Julie Compton's interview. So thank you for disagreeing with me."

What's the one thing you think readers would be surprised to know about you?

When I was eight years old, my lifelong dream was to be a cashier. Alas, I never had the pleasure of fulfilling that dream. However, as a technical writer, I have written several training manuals on how to use sophisticated cash registers. :-)

Okay, I'll admit it...when my son was just a toddler, I played with his toy cash register after he'd gone to sleep.

All right. I'll give you one more. I'm a pretty quirky person. I can't eat the end slices from a loaf of packaged bread. Yuk!

Which authors do you like to read? What books are currently stacked in your "To Be Read" pile right now?

I have eclectic tastes when it comes to reading--anything from beach-read novels to medical textbooks. The following books have been sitting patiently on my bookshelf, waiting to be opened. I purchased many of them just before I found out The Benefactor was accepted for publication, and it's been a whirlwind ever since.

The Anatomy of Story - John Truby
Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger
The Scottish Novels - Robert Louis Stevenson
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke
The Art of War - Sun Tzu
The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Inheritance - Natalie Danford
Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult
A Great Deliverance - Elizabeth George
Gaslit Nightmares - Edited by Hugh Lamb
Daniel Deronda - George Eliot
The Princess Bride - William Goldman
Republic - Plato
1001 Ways to Market Your Books - John Kremer (Guess I should move this one to the top of the list, eh? :-))

What's next for you? Is there a work-in-progress readers can look forward to?

I actually have three works in progress. The latest one was a crazy idea. In the busiest month of my life, with book promotion tasks piling up, I decided to join the NanoWrimo contest and attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November. The idea comes from a real life experience--I was having odd dreams after which I'd wake up feeling there was something very important I had forgotten. I know it was just my mind's way of dealing with the anxiety of being a newly published author, but the idea appealed to me as a story. I started asking my "what if" questions and ended up with a psychological/scientific thriller. I didn't complete 50,000 words by November 30th, but I'm happy with the 25,000 or so I've written so far.

Another work in progress is a romantic comedy novel I'm writing in collaboration with Richard Lamb, a screenwriter from the UK. We met online, have been writing our novel online, and the online theme carries over into the novel. It's the kind of thing that makes you pause and consider what a miracle it is that we can make friends with people in other countries and conduct business all with the click of a mouse. The best part is I don't have to get out of my pajamas for meetings. :-)

The third work in progress is a suspense novel I started last year just before I got the good news about The Benefactor. It starts off as a deceptively simple murder mystery, but it doesn't end up that way. In fact, I'm not sure how it will end. I have two possible paths to explore.

How can readers contact you and learn more about you and your books?

My website provides one-stop shopping. You can read about The Benefactor, hear the latest news about my journey as an author, find upcoming events, access my personal blog, print photos of me to hang on your refrigerator (kidding), access links to buy the book, and send me an email. I love to hear from readers and respond to all emails I receive.

Thanks so much, Julie. This has been lots of fun. Happy New Year to you and your readers.
You're very welcome, Margaret. Thanks for stopping by!
For those in the New York, Long Island area, Margaret will be signing her books this Saturday, January 16, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Broadway Mall in Hicksville, NY. Proceeds will be donated to the LIV LIFE MS Walk Team (LI Chapter of the National MS Society).

Saturday, January 09, 2010

New Year's Predictions, How Eerily Accurate They Were

Happy Birthday Dave Matthews! (43 today)(picture taken by yours truly!)

Sometimes I mention things I love about being a writer (other than the actual writing, which is a given). For example, hearing from old friends. Another is meeting new ones. Another is meeting other authors. Writers tend to be a friendly bunch, and mystery and thriller writers, in particular, are some of the nicest people I've met. I mention this today because yesterday I was interviewed for an upcoming feature in The Big Thrill (International Thriller Writers' online newsletter) by Lj Sellers. I'd never met nor spoken to Lj before, but I immediately felt at ease with her and wished we lived in same town to meet for coffee. Alas, she lives on the Northwest coast, and here I am in the East. But hopefully, we'll see each other soon at a writer's conference. Check out Lj's website.

Now, on to the topic of the day: New Year's predictions.

On Thursday, one of the most interesting and unexpected pieces of mail showed up in my mailbox. It was an envelope from my good friend Karen in Boston. (I realize as I write this that Karen gets mentioned a lot in my blog. See my Feb. 28, 2008 post and my July 21, 2009 post. I wonder how she feels how about that?) It was a regular size envelope, but it felt slightly thicker than a regular piece of mail and, even more unusual, it was addressed to both me and Rick. It was also unusual because Thursday was her birthday; I remember thinking, why is she sending me something on her birthday? I'd sent her a present, and had left a voicemail message earlier for her, but we hadn't talked yet.

Still, I didn't open the envelope right away because I was running out to drop off my youngest daughter Sally at volleyball practice. When I returned home, I jumped in the shower before Rick got home; we planned to have dinner out together and then pick up Sally from volleyball. (In case you haven't noticed, we spend a lot – I mean a lot – of time driving Sally to and from volleyball.)

Well, Rick apparently opened the envelope while I was in the shower; later, at dinner, he told me what it contained: a cover letter from Karen asking, "Do you remember where you were ten years ago?" – referring to New Year's Eve 1999 – and then proceeded to remind us. We had been at a New Year's Eve party at Karen's house. We had already moved to Philly at the time, but we drove up to Boston the day before, stopping in New York City to see the Times Square preparations for the big turn-of-the-century party the next night.

Karen's cover letter reminded us who was there, what we ate, what we did, etc. But here's the most interesting part: underneath the cover letter were two pieces of confetti-decorated paper, one in my handwriting, one in Rick's handwriting. At the top was typewritten, "Happy New Year!" and the question, "What do you expect your life to be like in 10 years?" Following that question were our handwritten (quite sloppily – I think we were a little tipsy) predictions. Reading mine gave me the chills:

Will have:
(1) published something, anything
(2) jumped out of an airplane (with a parachute, of course)
(3) travelled to various parts of the world – Africa, Europe, Russia, etc.
(4) obtained my instrument rating
(1) be a mom my kids still talk to and want to spend time with
(2) live anywhere but PA – preferably near a beach
(3) spend at least one New Year's Eve in Times Square – perhaps the real millennium
(4) be healthy

Wow. I wrote these things ten years ago. I think my batting average is pretty darned good.

I'm published.

I haven't jumped out of the airplane yet, but my daughter Sally (yeah, the volleyball fanatic) intends to do it for her 18th birthday (a few years off) and I have told her I will do it with her.

We travelled to Europe (Belgium, to be specific, to attend the wedding of our friends Jolanta and Ronny) and the UK, and even Africa, which plays a large part in Rescuing Olivia. Russia is still on the list.

I haven't obtained my instrument rating yet, but it's still on the list, too.

I think my kids still like to talk to and spend time with me. You'd have to ask them, I guess. :-)

We live in Florida, which most certainly is not Pennsylvania and is near the beach. To be fair to PA, I wrote my list not long after moving away from Boston. I loved Boston and didn't want to leave. But I grew to love PA pretty quickly, and I cried my eyes out when we left for Florida in 2003.

We haven't spent New Year's Eve in Times Square, but we did go to the Macy's Day Parade one Thanksgiving and, as fun as that was, I think I no longer have the need to be in a NYC crowd during a major event. I guess that means I'm getting old!

And lastly, I consider myself healthy. I don't run as much as I used to, but I eat well, don't smoke, and my only real vice is the sun, and even that I don't abuse too much any more because I simply don't have the time.

All in all, not bad. What I found most interesting about my list from ten years ago is how well I knew myself. I've always been a goal-oriented person - probably too much so. Darn it, if I want to do something, I want to do something. LOL! This attitude comes in handy in the publishing business, where roadblocks exist at every turn. If nothing else, I know how to persist.

So what are your predictions for yourself? Where will you be ten years from now? Make a list, tuck it away in a safe place, and you've given yourself a neat little present for 2020. Just remember, no peeking!

Next up: an interview with Margaret Reyes Dempsey, the author of The Benefactor.