Amanda Ball, Author of the Carter Thompson Mystery: Forever 11:59, Talks Writing

My guest today is author Amanda Ball. Amanda lives for creativity. She is active in many fields of show business, including working as a musician; author; filmmaker and actor. 

On the book side, she started writing in order to fulfill the dream of being a mystery novelist. But, since it was difficult to break into that field, she wrote romances and chic lit in order to get started. (She writes romance under the pen name Dayne Gearner, and chic lit under the pen name LeAnn Coston.) 

Finally, in February 2012, her mystery novelist dreams came true with the publication of her first mystery, Forever 11:59. When not actively engaged in creativity, Amanda enjoys cooking, travel, reading, movies and TV shows, and things with motors.

Anne – Welcome to the Muriel Reeves Mysteries, Amanda. I have a feeling with all your creativity, this is going to be fun! So, if you’re ready, let’s talk writing. When did you first realize you were destined to be a mystery/suspense writer?

Amanda - My first real job after college was as a reference and circulation librarian. I had not planned for this career field. I just fell into it. My last year of college, I worked part time at the library, so when they had a full time opening, I applied. I have always loved books. It's genetic. My mother reads maybe 300 books a year. So, when you read enough, you decide to try to write a book. Then you try and try and try some more. It took me maybe ten years of trying to figure out "how to pull a book out of a human." I had the plot for Forever 11:59 figured out early on. What took me so long was developing the personality for the female protagonist. Since this is the first book in a series, I wanted to get this right.

Now, finally, it's here. The book sees the light of day. I am actively working on the second book in the Carter Thompson series. But I have four or so books in my "active" file, and maybe 15 going in some form or another.

My biggest complaint is that there are not enough hours in the day! Ha!

Anne - Oh, I concur about those hours. They rush by while I seem to be in slow motion! Tell us the defining moment when you felt as if you’d finally made it as an author.

Amanda - I don't know that I'm there yet. But, having sold a few thousand books so far, and receiving good reviews, both from reviewers and customers, I can relax a little bit, if that's even possible. How does one define success? Finishing that first manuscript? Being offered that first contract? Holding one's book in one's hands? Being on a best-seller list? Making money? Having someone stop you on the street and discuss your work?

All of those things are super-cool, but when is it enough? For me, I don't know if anything will ever be enough?

About a month ago, I was at an event with my Dad. Dad was in a room, and a woman from the event happened to be walking down the hallway at the same time as me. She said, "Your Dad tells me you are a novelist."

That blows me away--that, after all these years, my Dad can tell someone about my accomplishments, and it's not some vague accomplishment such as winning a medal in band camp or winning a bowling trophy. There are actual books out there that people can read. Whoa!

So, in terms of "making it"-- I'd have to say that making my parents proud of something in my creative life is a huge accomplishment. They have always shown me unconditional support. But's wonderful to have actual books out there as proof of my life's work.

Anne - Any words of advice for struggling, unpublished writers?

Amanda - Keep writing. Apply the butt to the chair. Find what works for you. There are all sorts of how-to books out there, and read them. But don't take them as the gospel truth. You have to find your own way. I know that one of the mantras of writing is: write every day. I struggled with that one for years. I'm involved in many projects. I have many interests. Finally I drew that metaphorical line in the sand and said, "I'm not a writer every day." Actually I said, "I'm not a musician every day." But, it applies to everything I do. I have personality and work modes. So, one day I play the piano. One day I do an acting job. One day I write. The fact that I'm not writing every day does not mean I'm a failure. It means that the way I employ my talent and my time is up to me.

Anne - Quick. Your five favorites – author, actor, movie, song, quote.

Amanda – Author: Sue Grafton. Actor: William H. Macy. Movie: Brokeback Mountain. Song: Luckenbach, Texas. Quote: "It will all work out just like it's supposed to."  ~ my mother

FYI, my mother Karen Ball is also a talented artist. She did the cover art for five of my books. On Forever 11:59 she took the original clock photograph for the cover. The clock is a family heirloom, which sat on my grandmother's mantel for years. The clock is the inspiration for the mystery, and I really wanted it to be represented on the cover. So, thanks to Mom for making that happen.

Anne – Wow! The entire family is creative. J Outside of writing, what accomplishment are you most proud?

Amanda - As a songwriter, I have a 380 song catalog. I do occasional live performances, but right now I'm more focused on studio work. I have been working with Nik Pardue at a private recording studio in Oklahoma City--Nik's Studio at E.X.P. The Experience. He is quite talented, and it's wonderful to bring recorded music to the forefront of my music career.

As a filmmaker, I directed a movie a few years ago, and really, really want to get that going again.

As an actor, I have worked (as an extra) on three movies that are coming out in 2012. One opened Memorial Day weekend. About two months ago, one of the movies I'd worked on was on broadcast television.

How cool is that?

Anne – VERY cool! Tell us about your book.

Amanda - Forever 11:59 is the first book in an exciting new mystery series featuring the female protagonist Carter Thompson. Carter arrives in Autumn, Kansas to help her Great Aunt Edna celebrate her 80th birthday.

Carter is a witty, sarcastic, observant woman, so as she is thrown into the melee of crazy, gossipy small-town life, she finds herself reacting as a fish-out-of-water.

When a murder is committed and Carter finds that she can't leave town, her powers of observation and curiosity kick in.

Anne – Would you share an excerpt with us?

Amanda – You have to ask? ;-)

The price of gasoline at the Shell station was $3.38 per gallon.

That's as good as it's going to get, I figured, and I signaled for a right hand turn into the filling station.  My Chevy truck turned to the right, just as I wanted it to, and my twenty-two foot home on wheels followed it.  I pulled up in front of one of the two gas pumps and cut the engine. Before I could even reach for the door handle, a voice said through my open window, "Fill her up, ma'am?"

The 'ma'am' didn't sit too well with me. I'm twenty-nine years old, which is not old enough to be ma'amed!

"Yeah, thanks," I told the young attendant.  He didn't look like he was nineteen years old, soaking wet.
"Both tanks."

"Sure, thang, ma'am," he said, "right away."

I sighed at the second ma'am, but he had already turned his back to me.

I got out of the truck to stretch my legs. I had spent the night in  Missouri, and I left in the small hours before dawn. It had been a long drive. Thank goodness for coffee and thermoses.

So, this is Autumn, Kansas, population  950, I thought.  Oh, I'd heard about the place. I'd listened to Dad's stories about his family as he was growing up. He didn't actually grow up here, but my late grandfather did. There wasn't much to look at, but maybe there was more to the town somewhere else. From where I was standing I could see a tiny post office, a small grocery store, and a sign on a storefront that read Jakes. It gave no clue as to the type of business. I saw one beauty shop.  Then there was the Shell station, which I could see had a series of shelves for movie rentals. There was a small brick building. I squinted hard at the small sign. It read 'City Hall'.  There looked to be some empty storefronts along the street. That was it. There were no more stores in sight. There were no more businesses in sight. And there was no traffic in sight.  Here, you didn't need to look both ways before crossing the street, because you could hear any vehicle moving from four blocks in either direction.

"Arkansas plates, huh?"

I turned at the sound of the young attendant's voice.

"You new around here?" he asked.

"Uh huh."

"What brings you to Autumn, ma'am?"

I stifled the urge to box his ears and start shouting epithets about my age. "I'm here visiting relatives," I said, false sweetness dripping from my voice. I looked him straight in the eyes.  Then I gave him a whisper of a little smile. This is what we women call mild flirtation.

"Harummph," cough, cough, cough. "Uh,....pretty nice weather we're having...for April...aren't we?" His blush started at the vee of his shirt and slowly rose.  My eyes held his eyes.

When his blush was about up to his eyebrows, I let him off the hook. "Gorgeous, just gorgeous," I said.

He nodded and looked away.

I continued my survey of the town, at least the part I could see.  I'd see the other half later.

Standing on tiptoe, I looked down the street for Aunt Edna's house, but I couldn't see it. I knew it was on Main Street, and was therefore blocked from view by the other buildings.

I was in Autumn for Aunt Edna's eightieth birthday celebration.  She'd invited me back in January. This was April, and I wasn't about to miss it. She said she was inviting every relative that she had, and I'm sure most of the town would show up, too.

"Uh, harumpph, uh, ma'am?"

Not again, I thought. 

"That...that'll be $94.64."

Mentally I shook my head.  Oh, Carter, give him another chance, I thought to myself.

Slowly I reached down to the front pocket of my jeans. Slowly I pulled my hand out, as I did, I lifted my chest. I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head.  Strike one, I thought.

Slowly, I peeled off five twenties. Then I got in the truck and slammed the door. I stuck my left hand out the window and tucked the twenties in his shirt pocket, then I pulled the flap of his pocket down and patted it flat.

He stared at me and his jaw fell open.   Strike two, I thought. Then with my index finger, I gently raised his jaw and put my finger to his lips.

"Uh—hm, uh, ma'am?" he stammered.

"Strike three," I said.

I cranked the truck and put it in gear.  I pulled out and he hollered something.  I chuckled.  At least he had the grace to stop after 'thank you'.

Anne – Where can readers find you online?

Amanda – At my websites: Amanda Ball, Dayne Gearner and Leann Coston, and at my blog.

Anne – Thanks so much for dropping by, Amanda. I wish you every success wherever all your creativity takes you!

Readers, your comments are always welcome and appreciated. To ensure you receive every Muriel Reeves Mysteries blog post, author interview, update, book giveaway and more, why not become a follower? It’s easy, and you’ll have my eternal gratitude. 

Until next time, happy reading!

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Susanne Drazic said...

Really enjoyed the interview. Forever 11:59 has a great cover. Thanks for sharing the Excerpt. This book is going on my TBR book list.

Amanda Ball said...

Thank you, Suzanne. The cover came out sooo great. The blue was an accident, but I loved it so much, I used that wash as the background.
Have a fabulous day!