I had the privilege of hearing Kris Neri speak at a recent meeting of the Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths chapter. I thought you’d enjoy learning about her.
Kris writes the madcap Tracy Eaton mysteries, featuring the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, the latest of which is REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, a road trip mystery. She also writes the Samantha Brennan & Annabelle Haggerty magical mysteries, featuring a fake psychic who teams up with a modern goddess/FBI agent.
Kris’s novels have been nominated for such prestigious awards as the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and Lefty Awards — she is a three-time Lefty Award nominee for Best Humorous Mystery. Her last magical mystery, MAGICAL ALIENATION, recently won a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award in the sci fi/fantasy category.
Kris teaches writing online for the prestigious Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School and other organizations, including the Sisters in Crime Guppies, and provides writing coaching and editing for private clients.
With her husband, Kris owns The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, Ariz.
“It’s a tough juggling act sometimes, but mostly I manage these various book careers well,” says Kris.
Here’s the interview.
KR: What led to you becoming a writer?
KN: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, in one form or another. When I was a toddler, before I could even read, I used to go through my picture books and make up stories to go with the pictures. I haven’t stopped stringing words together since. I started writing professionally more than twenty years ago when I wrote an “as told to” piece in my husband’s name for Triathlon magazine. Getting my first piece into print and getting paid for it convinced me to keep it going. I wrote scores of articles for magazines in the years that followed before I finally decided that since I loved reading mysteries, I had to start writing them.
KR: What was the path that led to your first book being published? Since then?
KN: Since I was used to writing short nonfiction, when I shifted into writing fiction, initially I started with short stories. I’d had a few stories published when I had a chance to submit a story for my then-Sisters in Crime chapter’s (Los Angeles chapter) first anthology. I wrote a story called “L.A. Justice,” which introduced a daffy, over-the-top movie star, Martha Collins, and her unconventional mystery writer daughter, Tracy Eaton. When Martha is framed for the murder of her latest boy toy, she enlists Tracy’s help in obliterating any connection to her before the police, the mob, the media, or her husband can learn of it. “L.A. Justice” made it into the MURDER BY THIRTEEN anthology. That story went on to win the Derringer Award for Best Short Story that year, and readers kept telling me I should put those characters into a novel. I took that advice and wrote them into a novel called REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN. I had an agent at the time, but she didn’t like GYPSY QUEEN. I submitted it to a well established nonfiction publisher that had just begun publishing fiction. They accepted it in about ten days. REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN went on to receive three major award nominations for Best First Mystery. There are now four novels in this series. Along the way, I’ve also begun writing a second series, that’s a humorous paranormal, as well as a couple of standalone thrillers.
KR: Tell a little about your bookstore.
KN: It’s a general interest bookstore in West Sedona, voted Best Bookstore in Sedona for six years in a row. We feature lots of author appearances, as well as live music concerts. It’s a pretty lively place. We set out with the idea of developing a community gathering spot, and that has worked out even better than we hoped.
KR: As you go about your daily life, what brings you joy? And how do you express it?
KN: Writing, of course. Nothing makes me feel more joyous than when a character begins to come to life on the page, speaking in her own unique voice and dictating her own actions. After writing, my absolute favorite activity is taking Sedona red rock hikes. The red rocks and their unique energy give me the most awesome sense of well being.
KR: What advice would you give to someone who has written a manuscript but doesn’t know how to go about getting it published?
KN: Publishing today is harder than it has ever been. It’s absolutely essential that new writers work at their manuscripts until they’re as good as anything that’s already published. Reaching that level of excellence is a required first step before pursuing publication. Only after they accomplish that should they think about approaching agents. And that requires putting just as much effort into writing a first-rate, imaginative query — something that goes beyond the ordinary to catch the attention of someone who sees too many ordinary queries. Those steps would provide a good path to publication.
KR: Are there groups you would recommend that aspiring authors join?
KN: I’m a big believer in Sisters in Crime. I can trace everything I’ve accomplished in publishing back to SinC and the other writers I’ve met in it. That’s where I learned about networking, book signings, and everything else a new writer needs to know, including how to get published. When my first book was accepted, I was able to secure great blurbs from top authors that I’d met in SinC. But, of course, it depends on what someone writes. Romance Writers of America is also a great organization for those writing romance, or many forms of cross-genre fiction. The most important part is finding a supportive group, in which you can learn what it takes to secure publication in your genre.
KR: Anything else you want people to know about you?
KN: Anyone who has read my books probably knows more about me than I realize. I’m always amazed by how much of myself I put into my writing. They might guess from the dishes I name in my books, and the promotional recipe cards I give away, that I also like to cook.