Q&A With Ann Charles

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Q&A With Ann Charles 

Another guest that Mickey Mikkelson has connected me with is USA Today Bestselling author Ann Charles. Ann Charles is the author of The Deadwood Mystery Series.  I love a good mystery and the title sounds exciting! 

Q: Would you like to tell the readers of the blog and I about The Deadwood Mystery Series, and how you came up with the concept for the books?

A: The Deadwood Mystery series came to me one day while I was visiting my mom, who lives near the real version of Deadwood, South Dakota. I was pregnant with my second child at the time and driving around town when the thought came to me—what it would be like to be a single mom trying to raise two kids there. At the time, the area’s economy was struggling because the local mine had closed down, so jobs were hard to come by and people were moving away. That was the moment when the heroine of the series, Violet Parker, stepped into the spotlight in my head.  

But why Deadwood, because the old west town has been known for being a bit of a rough and rowdy place since its gold-rush beginning in the late 1800s. It’s also well known for having many haunted locations. I had spent a lot of time there since childhood, so I knew its history well—ghost tales and all. It seemed only natural to start throwing in a mystery or two for Violet Parker to solve. I decided to toss in some supernatural elements and let the story unfold.

Q: How many books are currently in the series?

A: At this time, there are 13 full-length books, along with 5 novellas that fit in here and there between the novels to give extra details on the characters and their history. There is a lot more fun on the page to come for Violet, too. Things are really rolling now!

Q: Are you currently writing the next book in The Deadwood Mystery Series? 

A: I just released the 13th book in the Deadwood Mystery series, called TimeReaping in Deadwood, at the end of September, so I’m taking a short break from actually writing. However, I am in the midst of brainstorming story ideas for this series and others, waiting to see which story my mind wants to focus on next. I hope to dig in and return to the keys by the end of October.

Q: What drew you into writing in the mystery genre?

A: I actually started out trying to write in the romance genre many, many moons ago. After writing several romance manuscripts (that are now hidden away deep in the far corner of my closet), I realized that as much as I enjoy these types of tales, I wanted to throw other genres into my own stories. 

Throughout the years, I’d always liked mysteries—books, TV shows, and movies. I also loved stories with humor and adventure, along with supernatural elements. After opening my mind to genres other than romance, story ideas started coming to me with strong mystery elements. I used to joke that my romances sucked until I threw in a dead body or two.

Anyway, after letting the voices in my head have their way, my manuscripts started to be a blend of mystery and romance. Then I decided to toss in a good dose of humor, bits of supernatural and suspense, and lots of adventure. Finally, the stories coming out started to feel “just right,” and I loved what was happening on the page. I’ve not looked back since then. In the series I co-write with my husband, we include western history in the stories, too, which is a blast.

Q: If you were to write outside of the mystery genre, which genres would they be and why?

A: I’d love to write a medieval historical novel with humor and supernatural mixed into it. I’m thinking of swords and armor, wizards and alchemists, and monsters that inspire Goosebumps on top of Goosebumps. It would be a prequel maybe to my Deadwood Mystery series. However, at this time, the research to put that idea in motion would take me years, because it’s so important when writing historical fiction to have details accurate—including the types of clothing, weapons, food, and so much more. Maybe someday I’ll find the time to dig into this historic world and have fun playing on the pages.

Q: If Hollywood were to get the rights to your series (if they haven’t already) who would be your dream cast for the characters you created?

A: Well, back when I started, I had ideas for certain characters, but it’s been almost fifteen years since I wrote the first book in the Deadwood Mystery series, Nearly Departed in Deadwood. The actors I’d envisioned originally have aged so much that now they’d need to represent the slightly older generation in my stories. We’d have to find a younger group of actors to fill the main roles. Honestly, after all these years of writing the series, the characters in the stories have solidified into their own “people,” no longer taking on any resemblance to real actors. It’s hard for me to picture them as anyone other than whom they are in my head. It would be really interesting (and maybe a bit tough) to take part in the casting of the characters if the stories were made into a series or a movie. I wonder if authors often get to be in the room during that process, or if their two cents would be more trouble than help.

Q: What would be your best advice for anyone wanting to write mysteries?

A: My advice would be to think about your favorite mysteries—books, movies, or TV shows. Why do you like them so much? Is it the characters, the thrill of unraveling the mystery? And what kind of mysteries do you enjoy? There are many different sub-genres these days—women’s sleuth, amateur sleuth, hard-boiled crime, etc. 

After you’ve figured out what style of mystery you enjoy, then it’s time to break down your favorite story. Try to look behind the scenes at the plotlines, sub-plot threads, characters’ growth, and more. Understanding the story’s structure can help you understand how to create your own mystery and have fun on the page as you tell the story. Building a story is like building a house. You have to understand how the structure works underneath the drywall, roofing, and flooring before you can make it strong, beautiful, and memorable for the readers.

Q: How long does it take for you to write a mystery book?

A: I write longer novels, averaging 125,000 words, so it takes me a while to tell the story. I’d say that I usually spend about three to four months plotting and writing scene by scene, and then another month of going through my editing process, which is multi-layered and includes a professional editor. I try to make time for my family while writing my books and aim for 2,000 words a day most of the time. (Unless I’m under pressure to hit one of my self-imposed deadlines—I’m my own worst boss, I swear!)

Q: Where is your favorite spot or spots to sit down and plot, write and edit your work?

A: Over the years, I have found that it’s not where I do my work that’s important for me to be successful, it’s my mindset and ability to focus. I’ve done some of my best brainstorming when I’m in crowded places, and I’ve written many scenes while sitting in a room full of people. If the story is exciting and I’m enjoying what’s happening on the page, then I can sink into that world anywhere. However, I do have a very nice office that is all set up with fun lighting and great speakers, so I work there most of the time when I’m home. I’ve been known to sweep the sidewalks and pull weeds around our yard while plotting my next scene, or just sit outside on our porch and listen to music for inspiration. The key is being able to focus on the story in my head no matter what is happening in the world around me.

Q: Do you use bits and pieces of real people and places to create your fictional characters and worlds?

A: Well, Deadwood is an actual town full of wonderful folks (and some have quite colorful personalities). I use as many of the real places as I can there, including public buildings, streets, and cemeteries. The setting of the Deadwood Mystery series has become a character all on its own. When I started writing this series, I wanted to create a story world that closely resembled the town to make it more fun for readers to go there and feel like the stories are a little more “alive.” 

As for the characters in the story, there are bits and pieces of people I’ve known in many of them, a sprinkling here and there, if you will, including some of the things that have happened to them both ghostly and not. I think that each character has a little bit of me inside of them, even the villains and jerks! Ha!