Friday, March 15, 2013

New Romance Author

Today I'm featuring an interview with my friend and fellow Mobile Writers' Guild member, Marilyn Johnston, writing as cj petterson. Her first book, Deadly Star, was recently published by Crimson Romance. Here's one of its early reviews from John Gordon, author of Katelyn's Killer:
"A gutsy astronomer finds herself at the intersection of twinkling stars and secret satellites. Stir in bribes, blackmail, and international intrigue and you have a thriller from start to finish. Highly recommended!"

Deadly Star is available from Crimson Romance,, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and Sony. The paperback will be available in June 2013.

JSS: Tell us a little about yourself.

cjp: Born in Texas, raised in Detroit, retired as a manager in the New Product Development Research department of Chrysler Corp. and moved to Mobile to be near family.

JSS: Where did you get the idea for Deadly Star?

cjp: My son, Jeff, came up with the idea. "What if what looks like an asteroid was really a satellite?" he said one night. "Suppose it was a weapon?" My imagination took over and gobs of research followed. I found that in the 90s, the U.S. government funded something called "Operation Dawgstar" and provided grants to college students to develop nanosatellites, that one was actually launched from the space station in 2001, and that they could possibly go undetected by world powers for some time. The surprise meteor that hit Russia in February 2013 proved that premise. It was reported to be as big a five-story building when it entered the atmosphere but wasn't detected. Scary stuff.

JSS: How do you determine that all-important first sentence?

cjp: A good bit of trial and error goes into the first sentence. I want to begin in the middle of some action. I write something down, continue writing, go back and re-write it, continue on, go back and re-write the first sentence again, etc., etc. Starting my stories with a hook is paramount for me, and I think that comes from having spent a few years on the editorial staff of the corporate newspaper. (At that time, it had a readership of 100,000, more than a lot of hometown newspapers.)

JSS: What are your protagonist’s strengths and flaws?

cjp: Dr. Mirabel Campbell is a bit of a nerd who withdrew into her work and laboratory after a divorce. She is also smart, loyal, and sassy.

JSS: Are you a pantser or a plotter?

cjp: I'm basically a pantser. I found that writing an outline made me feel as if I had already written the story and it dampened my enthusiasm. However, I'm a few chapters into a female detective story that I hope to make into a series, and that will definitely require some plotting and planning. Of course, it will constantly get tweaked as I put the protagonist into threatening situations and then create believable escapes.

JSS: Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

cjp: When I'm stumped or bored with the computer, I read something from a how-to, like Stein on Writing or from a mystery/suspense/thriller author I like or watch the news on TV.

JSS: What is a typical writing day like for you?

cjp: Generally, I'm jockeying for the computer. My son is a photographer, and the big monitor of the Mac is perfect for his work. I spend an hour or so in the morning writing or researching, then give it up and come back later for another hour or so before I go to bed...which is usually after midnight. I recently set up a PC workstation opposite the Mac, and once I get a chair for it, I'll have no reason for not writing.

JSS: Your body of work includes both full-length novels and short stories. Do you prefer one over the other and how do you decide the length of a story?

cjp: I prefer short stories, and I think that's because I got used to writing newspaper style. I consider a short story like haiku. I don't have a lot of words to "tell" the story. Each word becomes very important and must show as well as move the story along in the reader's imagination. I think it was Mark Twain who said something like, and I'm paraphrasing here, "The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." As for the length of my stories, I write a beginning, a middle, and an end, and when I get to the end, the story is done. Sometimes the arc is completed at 60,000 words, sometimes it's 70,000. I had to work hard, even added a chapter, to get close to 80,000 words for Deadly Star.

JSS: Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

cjp: My family is a great influence on my writing. I constantly think about what they might like or not like to see. Professionally, two of my bosses during my sojourn in corporate communications were positive influences. They were humorous, exceptional wordsmiths and generous mentors. Makes me smile just to remember them.

JSS: What do you consider the most important element of a story?

cjp: For me, the most important element of all stories is a likeable protagonist. She or he can, and should, have flaws, but the reader has to find something to like about the character or the story may not get read from start to finish.

JSS: How would you categorize your writing style?

cjp: Someone told me once I write a little bit like James Lee Burke, but I think that was because one of my early short stories had a protagonist named Thibideaux. If it is true that readers can identify the sex of the author by the style of the writing, I intentionally tend to write with a man's voice, even for female protagonists. Some of that comes from being a tomboy when I was young and from having raised two sons (no daughters). I also try to "write tight."

JSS: Everyone's road to publication is different. Take us down yours.

cjp: I was fortunate enough to have several short stories, both fiction and non-fiction, published in different anthologies—the first three in 2008. However, Deadly Star, which I had written as an action/adventure/woman-in-peril piece, went through several years of query = rejection. I put it aside after several reviewers and contest judges made note of an unfulfilled love story in the novel. So, when I saw the request for submissions from Crimson Romance, I tweaked a few places, beefed up the romance, changed the ending to happily ever after, and sent it off in October 2012. Crimson Romance offered me a contract in November, and the e-book was launched in February 2013. The paperback is slated for May or June.

The thing I have to constantly deal with is how my name is printed on the story ... cj petterson has no capitals, no periods, and no spaces in cj. Everybody and every computer program, including Word and Facebook, doesn't know how to accept that style. I guess it'll either get me noticed or forgotten.

JSS: Are you working on anything new?

cjp: I have three novels as works-in-progress. The story of lady detective Jake Konnor is one. There is another suspense romance almost ready for a beta reader, and I have about four chapters done on a fantasy YA that has a boy as the protagonist. I often, however, stop what I'm doing on the novels and try a short story for an entry into a contest.

JSS: When the work day is done, what is your favorite way to relax?

cjp: If I'm not watching some grandkid play one sport or another, I deadhead roses or pull weeds. Nice mindless work that helps me get rid of my aggressions.

JSS: What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

cjp: I enjoy Robert B. Parker's "Spenser" and "Jesse Stone" series. I also like Robert Ludlum, Tony Hillerman, and some of Nora Roberts.

JSS: Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” As a transplanted Southerner, do you have a favorite Southern saying or expression?

cjp: I think of myself as a Texan, but I agree with Twain, almost ... I think it's writers that speak music (see my blog-site name). I guess my favorite Southern expression would have to be, "Well, bless her/his little heart."

JSS: Where can readers find out about you and your events online?

cjp: My shared blog-site is Lyrical Pens, and Crimson Romance also has an author paragraph for "cj petterson."

JSS: Thanks for stopping by to tell us about you and your book, cj. I have it on my Kindle and can't wait to read it.

cjp: Thanks, Joyce, for asking me to be on your blog today. It's been fun.

~Stay true to yourself and your dreams will come true!

Follow me on Twitter: @JoyceScarbrough
Like my Facebook Fan Page here