With a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education, a Master’s Degree in Guidance & Counselling, and four published suspense novels, it is little wonder she ended up in San Diego, California last week… But what was she doing there and of course who is she?
let’s find out who is next up on Simons 10 Q Interviews…
We are speaking of Claudia Whitsitt, author of The Wrong Guy, a suspense novel loosely based on The Michigan Murders of the late ‘60s and The ‘Samantha Series’ for which she recently launched the third in the series; Internal Issues .
Claudia is just back from San Diego, CA, where she tag-teamed a workshop with Best-selling and Award Winning Authors; Laura Taylor and Dennis Bowen entitled; Indie Excellence: Do I Really Want to Sell My Books? at the Southern California Writers Conference…
But, there’s no respite for Claudia as she heads straight back to the QWERTY to pick up where she left off with the other two thrillers already in the making; Two of Me and Between the Lines!
Let’s see how she got on whilst running the gauntlet of Simon’s 10 Q Interviews…
SD Q1: Your second thriller released in 2011 was loosely based upon the murders of several coeds at the Eastern Michigan University Campus. Not only were ‘The Michigan Murders’ notorious, but you started as a student shortly after these heinous events took place…. Did your parents think six children was one too many, did you know any of the unfortunate victims and what led you to write a book about these crimes?
CW A1: My folks seemed to like me well enough, but maybe there was more to their dropping me off at Eastern than I knew!
I did not know any of the victims personally, but did meet one of the girls’ sisters after I wrote the book. It was a very emotional meeting for us both, and from the early inception of The Wrong Guy, I’ve always wrestled with the effect my dredging up the topic would have on family members of the victims.
From the start, I knew that my college experience was not the “normal” one. From the day of my arrival at EMU, meetings were held in our dorm on a regular basis, warning us to take safety precautions—carry mace on our key rings, walk only in well-lighted places, and never travel alone or hitchhike. (Yes, it was considered safe to hitchhike before the murders!) Dating was tricky, as I was nervous about going out with a guy whom I didn’t know, and often double-dated so that I’d feel safe until I knew a guy well enough to trust him. As I looked back over my life, and played “what if”, I was compelled to put myself in the place of one of the victims and have them survive a horrendous attack. It was my feeble attempt at making things right again. Not that I could, but writing can be cathartic in that way.
By the way, I will be re-releasing this thriller in May 2014, so it is currently unavailable. I’ll be sure to let you know once it’s been released again.
SD Q2: You come from a brood of six and went on to create a brood of five of your own. So, you have never experienced the silence of an empty home previously? Now, as you so perfectly put it, “The Nest is Empty”, does the silence; unnerve you, relax you or frustrate you and how have you come to terms with that effect?
CW A2: Your question takes me back to my youth. I have always loved being alone and remember how much I loved tiny spaces as a child—a closet, a cubby beneath the stairs, the closed up space of a pup tent. I think it comes from the fact that I was the oldest and only girl with five younger brothers. They teased me mercilessly, and the only peace and quiet I ever had was when I hid from them.
While I loved raising my five children, I still treasured the quiet moments, mostly in the car when I drove the forty minute commute to my teaching position. So, in answer to your question, I love the quiet. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I miss my children, but I don’t miss the noise, and now that I’ve retired from teaching, my life is blessedly quiet. I can visit my children or the classroom if I feel lonely or in need of some noise!
SD Q3: You have a series of “Issues” that I don’t think you’ll mind me discussing; Identity Issues, Internal Issues and Intimacy Issues. That’s a full bag by anybody’s standards. They say an author often writes about their own experiences and personality. What issues, outside of your writing, have you found most challenging and how have you overcome them?
CW A3: This must be the hard question! Or maybe it’s just because it’s nearly impossible to pick the most difficult of all of my personal “Issues.”
My shyness has been an “issue” since I was very young. I must constantly push myself not to be the shrinking violet. I’m sure I’ve been successful at hiding this “issue,” as I suspect few people know this about me. So, we are letting the cat out of the bag here! When I must speak to a stranger or speak in front of a crowd, I have a good talk with myself, and tell myself to step outside my safe cocoon and it will all be okay. It mostly is, haha!
SD Q4: You were recently involved in workshops at The Southern California Writers Conference with our friend; the RITA and MAGGIE award winning Novelist Laura Taylor and a man hot on your heels for an interrogation; Dennis Bowen. How was that experience, what part did you play within those workshops and, aside from the aforementioned authors, did you meet any other authors of note at the conference?
CW A4: It was an honor to present a workshop with Laura and Dennis. We are all devoted to producing the best possible books we can, and to teaching other authors the value of scrupulous editing, branding yourself with your cover art, and the steps needed whether working with a boutique publisher or acting as the author/publisher yourself.
Since I’ve worked with two boutique publishers, I am able to offer authors interested in a similar path a step-by-step guide to the process, and insight into what they can expect from the publisher as well as a birds eye view of their role in the process.
At the February conference, I met several celebrated authors: Laurence O’Bryan, The Istanbul Puzzle, Bhava Ram, The Warrior Pose, Suzanne Redfearn, Hush Little Baby, and Janis Thomas, Something New. Other favorites I’ve met in the past are T. Jefferson Parker, Robert Gregory Browne, and Selden Edwards. Always a treat to meet talent of this calibre!
SD Q5: You are probably aware that I am not always in agreement with the literal meaning of the proverb; “You can’t judge a book by its cover” largely due to the fact that if a cover doesn’t grab my attention I’m never going to find out whether the content is better than the cover or not. I guess that makes me fairly shallow as a reader, though, I hasten to add, I do relate well to its deeper meaning in others walks of life. So, I must congratulate you on your “Issues” series of covers which are awesome! Who decides on the poses of the characters and design of those covers? Have you found that going down this wonderfully quirky route has increased awareness of the thriller series’ brand and sales and how do you go about choosing books when in need of a good read?
CW A5: I don’t think it makes you at all shallow, and I do the same. Outward appearance matters to me, and I like to get a feel for a book when I study the cover art. I temper myself in “judging a book by its cover” in other parts of my life, and learned better many years ago that what’s inside the package often delights, even if I’m not taken with it at first.
Readers love my covers and when I attend book fairs like Printers Row in Chicago, I find that readers are drawn to them. Of course, I like to think they increase my sales! (It’s part of my brand, a woman in bed!)
My publisher and I came up with the initial idea after discussing concepts, but I have to give credit to Gabriel Porres for initiating the shock appeal for the first book in the series, Identity Issues. We discussed blood and beds in our talks, but he produced the most amazing cover I could have imagined. It’s been a real treat for me to see the final product after our consultations.
For Intimacy Issues it was easier, since we had already decided that we wanted to tie the books through the titles and cover art. We took elements from the story for both that book and Internal Issues.
Cover art is an essential part of an author’s branding. It’s the writer’s first opportunity to hook the reader. In fact, I believe that once the author’s name and title are stripped away, the art should tell the story, pull in a reader because it appeals to a certain audience, should it be young adult, romance, mystery, thriller, or fantasy. Take it a step further when you are authoring a series. There should be continuity between each book in the series. Not only should the fonts for the titles and author’s name be consistent, but the reader should feel that the story arc/character arc is portrayed in a familiar fashion, like visiting a friend who still lives in the same house she always has, but has some new secrets to reveal.
SD Q6: Given your interest in Mystery and Suspense; what in your opinion (religion aside) rate as the three greatest unsolved mysteries of all time and, if I were to lend you the Time Machine I have secretly hidden away, for just one trip, where and when would you travel in order to find out the answers. Finally, on your return, who would be the first person you would tell (other than your husband) or would you remain zip lipped about what you discover through fear of being locked in a padded cell by the men in white coats!?
CW A6: Oh, yay! A Time Machine of my very own?
SD Comment:! Steady on Claudia, don’t get carried away, it’s a loan and for one trip only!
CW A6: I’d travel first to July 2, 1937, and fly over Howland Island in the Pacific and discover what really happened to Amelia Earhart on that final flight. She was a woman of fierce independence, ahead of her time, and I’d love to be the person to solve that mystery! The person(s) I would tell are my daughters (I have to tell them both—can’t play favorites), since we talked about Amelia when they were young and wondered together about her last moments.
SD Comment: For a moment there I thought you said first…you did, didn’t you?
CW A6: From there, I’d travel back in time to July 30, 1975…
SD Comment: Hey, were you not listening? *Urghhh* I bet Claude Bouchard put you up to this?!
CW A6: That was the day Jimmy Hoffa, the Detroit (my hometown) Teamster Union President disappeared. This mystery has plagued Detroit for almost forty years. Just last summer, as a matter of fact, the concrete floor in a barn in a nearby city was removed in hopes of finding his body. These types of unearthings have occurred frequently; it seems like every year or so, authorities are digging up one thing or another in hopes of finding his remains. There are an abundance of theories about who killed him. He was rumored to have mob connections—there was talk that both the FBI and CIA had put a price on his head. In reality, the guy had more enemies that the automotive capital has vehicles. In the case of this mystery, I’d keep my findings to myself. I think it would be a risky leak, and zipping my lips and tossing away the key in my best interests!
SD Comments: Hmmm… I hope you’re going to leave the tank topped up with Plutonium after your little jolly. Can I have my machine back now please…
CW A6: The Michigan Murders also continue to haunt me…
SD Comments: Is anybody else getting this… Is this what they call a woman’s prerogative or is my cloaking device still switched on? I don’t seem to be getting through to her…
CW A6: Because John Norman Collins was only convicted of one of the crimes, the others went unresolved. I’d love to be able to prove that he committed those crimes, so that the families could be afforded that small bit of closure. They deserve it.
SD Comment: Hmmm… Perhaps I should have made myself clearer, perhaps something was lost in the Anglo-American translation, perhaps…but as the last trip was for an admirable cause, I think we’ll let that one pass… Right, where were we…
SD Q7: I read somewhere that you were involved in teaching those with special needs. What led you down that admirable path and, whilst I note you are now retired from teaching, can a helper ever really stop helping and what would you say to those who don’t, or never have, to wake them up?
CW A7: I was only ten when my mom took me to the theater to see The Miracle Worker. Once I witnessed the story of Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, I was called to teaching. I’ve always felt extremely lucky to have known from such an early age what I wanted to do with my life, and fortunate to have had such a long (37 years) and rewarding career.
The helper in me will never stop helping, but I do try to use some of my time now to focus on me. It’s the little things like an extra cup of coffee. I am currently working on a book for Middle Grades and visit a classroom of 5th graders monthly to share the process of character development and plotting a historical fiction novel. The kids love it, and I find it immensely fulfilling to share the experience with them. So, I’m still involved, and can’t imagine a time when I won’t be.
One of the most rewarding experiences in life is helping another person, giving of oneself without expecting anything in return. I wish I could give folks a swift kick and make them help out, but alas, I don’t have the kind of power. Maybe when I’m in the Time Machine, I’ll be able to hone my magic powers and then I’ll be able to do that!
SD Q8: Of all time; Who is your favourite author, What is your favourite film and what is your favourite book most suited and yet to become a film and why?
Why? They all create relatable characters who I want to know personally. That would be a great question for an interview. Which character would you like to have dinner with? It would definitely be Jack Reacher for me!
Favourite Film? Stranger Than Fiction.
Why? I love the quirkiness of the characters, the irony and the humor.
Why? Well-casted and equally as gripping as the book. I rarely enjoy a movie adapted from a thriller, but this one did it for me!
SD Q9: You entered professional writing fairly late on; what motivated you to write novels, what is your current pet project and what can we expect from you in 2014?
CW A9: “Fairly late on”. You are so kind. More like, very late on! I was 54 when I began to write my first novel. True events led to the writing of Identity Issues, the first in The Samantha Series. As the situation presented itself, I knew I would one day write a book about it, as it was too preposterous a set of circumstances not to tell the story. A stolen passport, late night phone calls from Botswana, a woman who thought I was married to her husband—you can’t make this stuff up!
I’m currently writing a historical novel for middle grades entitled Between the Lines, which is based on the lives of three 5th grade girls who lived through the ’67 Detroit riots to discover increased racism, and a resistance from the adults in their lives to pursue their friendship.
SD Q10: Alas, we are at the end of 10 Q’s…. Thank you Claudia for taking part and all the best for the rest of 2014 and beyond. My last question is fast becoming a tradition on Simons 10 Q I; If you were to host Simons 10 Q Interviews, who would be first choice in your line up, why, and what burning question/s do you have for them?
CW A10: I would love to interview Jojo Moyes, and ask her if we could trade spots for a week. I’d love to be in her head when she writes and discuss story ideas. I love her writing style, and her book Me Before You was my favorite 2013 read!
If you want to find out more about Claudia’s work, then why not follow the links below where the Samantha series of books and The Wrong Guy can be downloaded on kindle.
Simon Duringer is both a Goodreads author and Independent Interviewer. If you have enjoyed reading this interview, why not download a copy of The Word: The Best of Simon’s 10Q Interviews, featuring 28 equally interesting and exciting interviews, available on Kindle, Prime (#Free) and Paperback. Links to Simon’s Amazon Author Page are as follows;
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The Claudia Whitsitt interview took place on 14 March 2014.
Simon Duringer © 2014.