March 31, 2020
Note From Rochelle
I’m starting week three of my extreme social isolating. I say extreme because I’ve been social isolating for years. But, before the coronavirus hit, I was getting out regularly to shop at the bookstore, teach at the library, attend yoga, and hang out with friends. Still, given the situation many people are facing, I am thankful to be well and able to work.
Speaking of work, I would like to serve you better during this time and beyond. If you have a moment, please fill out my short survey to help me understand what you need: WRITE NOW! COACH SURVEY. In mid-April, when I’m sure everyone has had a chance to weigh in, I’ll throw your names in a hat and choose five of you to receive a complimentary e-copy of my new book, Level Up.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Erica Ruth Neubauer to the blog to talk about her brand new book, Murder at the Mena House. Happy book birthday, Erica!
Writers@Work: Writing and Promoting in Lockdown
An Interview with Debut Novelist
Erica Ruth Neubauer
by Rochelle Melander
Welcome to the blog and congrats on your new book! Tell us about your debut novel, Murder at the Mena House.
Well, the book is set in 1926 Egypt, and my protagonist Jane Wunderly is an American—a widow of the first World War. She and her wealthy Aunt Millie are traveling to Egypt for a vacation; Jane is really excited about the archeology and seeing the pyramids, and Millie is excited about escaping Prohibition and getting some decent booze. Jane runs up against a young flapper named Anna Stainton, who appears to be vying for the attention of a handsome but mysterious gentleman named Mr. Redvers. Of course Anna winds up dead, and Jane has to dig into everyone’s secrets in order to prove her innocence.
What drew you to write about 1920’s Egypt?
My dad raised me on old black and white mysteries, as well as Agatha Christie and Masterpiece Mystery. Somewhere along the way I picked up very romantic ideas about Egypt, and especially Egypt in the 1920s. I had a very clear picture in my head about slow-turning fans overhead in a fancy hotel where everyone is dressed elegantly, but someone winds up dead. So when I was reading Ashley Weaver’s first novel Murder At The Brightwell, (https://amzn.to/2UuffVo) I thought this! I want to write something like this! But set in that 1920’s Egyptian hotel that had been rolling around in my mind for so long.
This is your debut novel and the first in a series. Can you talk about what the writing and submitting process was like for you? What led you to your agent?
I’d had the idea sort of percolating in my head for a while and when I finally sat down to write it, it just poured out. I think I wrote the first draft in about seven weeks. And then I set it aside for several months before I came back to it and went to work on revisions. And I worked on revisions for months—I think I have eleven different versions of the novel saved on my computer. I got input from some more experienced writers, and eventually made the excellent decision to hire a freelance editor—Zoe Quinton. She really worked with me on getting it into shape. And when she said it was ready, I started submitting to agents.
I looked at agents who represented the type of thing I wrote and targeted them, and I also spent a lot of time on the blog Query Shark learning how to write a query letter. That part is really important and very different from writing a novel. I collected a fair amount of rejections before a friend of mine reached out to an agent that I was particularly interested in working with and let her know I was an acquaintance. She had me re-submit my query and I ended up signing with her—Ann Collette. She also represents Ashley Weaver, which brings it all full circle for me, since Ashley was a large part of my inspiration in the first place.
You are studying to become a PI. What attracted you to that profession? Do you have plans to write a PI novel in the future?
I actually have a historical PI novel in the drawer right now, and someday I’ll pull it out and dust it back off—probably after I have a few cases under my belt as a licensed private investigator. I’ve always been interested in PI work—they are one of the sub-genres I love the most. And it’s sort of a natural step for me after eleven years in the military and two as a police officer. I also think it will be a great part-time job for me while I continue to write—and will certainly give me lots of good characters and stories to work with in the future.
What are some of the tools and tricks you use to stay creative and productive as a writer?
Mostly discipline. I’m not someone who writes every single day, but when I’m working on a project I absolutely do. When I’m in drafting mode, I sit down every morning and get back into the story. And when I find myself stuck, I go for a long walk—either outside or on a treadmill. I find that helps my brain work out the issue and throw up some creative solutions so that I can keep going. I also channel my anxiety—while I was out on submission with my first novel I wrote the second one. It was really helpful for me to have a project to work on to keep my mind off whether or not we could sell the first.
How are you managing to stay productive and sane during the “safer at home” lockdown?
It took me a little while, but once I stopped obsessively reading the news, I was finally able to start writing again. I think limiting my exposure to social media is important to keep my mind clear. I’ve also been taking long (socially distant) walks and doing yoga–my yoga studios have gone online, which has been a lifesaver.
How are you marketing your book in this new normal?
As for marketing in this new normal, it’s all online now! My launch and my tour were obviously cancelled—well, hopefully just postponed—so I’ve been more active with a blog tour. I’m very lucky because many other people have reached out and offered to host me places (like you!) and that generosity has only increased since the lockdown. So I’m doing more blog posts than I might have before. And I finally started a newsletter! I guess it took a quarantine to get me to figure out the mechanics on that.
What are you reading now?
I just finished a trilogy by Theodora Goss, which started with The Strange Case Of The Alchemist’s Daughter. It was a mystery—sci-fi mash-up and I really enjoyed it.
The other things I really recommend right now are The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day. Her writing is beautiful and the stories are really twisty. Pretty As A Picture by Elizabeth Little is also a favorite that just released recently. Little just nails voice in her books—truly unique and wholly captivating.
And next up on my pile is Kristen Lepionka’s Once You Go This Far. This is currently my favorite PI series out there. Lepionka is doing amazing things—the stories and characters are just so good.
About the author. Erica Ruth Neubauer spent eleven years in the military, two years as a cop and one year as a high school English teacher before finding her way as a writer. She has reviewed mysteries and crime fiction for several years at publications such as Publisher’s Weekly, the Los Angeles Review of Books and Mystery Scene Magazine and is a member of both Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. When she’s not writing her next novel or curled up with a book, she enjoys traveling, yoga and craft beer. She lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband. Visit her online at: https://www.ericaruthneubauer.com/
A note on the links: Yes, those are affiliate links. I encourage you to support your local bookstore and order these books from them. If you do follow the links and purchase from Amazon, I will receive a super tiny commission, which will help me serve you.