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TEN QUESTIONS WITH VANESSA A. RYAN

Author of The Trouble with Murder

Today I’m pleased to welcome Vanessa A. Ryan to the blog. She’s a talented artist, actress, and writer, and her brand new book, The Trouble with Murder, is out now. So without further ado, let’s get started!

As an actress (Magic Mike, Heart of Fear), former stand-up comedian, artist, writer, and feral cat rescuer, tell us — what’s your writing story? What led you to writing?

I liked writing stories when I was in elementary school. I even wrote our sixth-grade class play, but when I went to college I studied art. I worked hard at it and eventually made a living from selling my work. Though before that happened I supported myself by teaching grade school and then working as an accountant, as well as a few other short-term jobs. I didn’t have time to think about writing stories, though I did take some writing classes at UCLA and UCI Extension. 

When I became more successful as an artist, I decided I had more time to write, and I wanted to write a novel. That novel ultimately became A Palette for Murder. One of my writing teachers had referred me to a New York agent, and she tried but couldn’t sell an earlier version of it. Then I sent that agent A Blue Moon, which became the first novel I published. She hated it and left me a voice message about how much she hated it. At that time, I had an answering machine, and when I saw a message on it I picked up the phone to hear her shouting about how much she thought it was the worst book she had ever read. When she realized I had picked up the phone, she told me she had meant to leave a voice message and told me to write another mystery. However life got in the way, but some years later I got A Palette for Murder published, though not through that agent.

Your newest book, The Trouble With Murder, is the first in a brand-new series featuring private investigator Hetty Carson. Tell us a bit about it.

I had written about amateur detectives, and The Trouble With Murder is my first private eye novel. I wanted to add a noir element to a novel, and I felt that having a professional investigator as my protagonist would be the way to do it. Hetty isn’t the clichéd hard-drinking PI. Her ex-husband was a rich, powerful lawyer who’s now disbarred and on the lam for embezzling his clients. She makes it her mission to track him down, so she starts working for a PI firm as an intern. When she has enough experience, her employer promotes to an investigator. But after a few years, the company fires her for spending too much time trying to locate her ex-husband and not enough on their clients. She starts her own PI business, but clients are few so she takes a side job selling tequila mixers to bars and restaurants. Her sales route is in the garment district of downtown L.A., and this is where the story begins.

Your previous books, A Palette for Murder and A Blue Moon, are mystery and urban fantasy novels, respectively. What drew you to the mystery genre?

As a kid, I read Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys novels. As an adult, I discovered Agatha Christie’s novels and devoured them. I also started reading other classic mystery novels and then I got into darker ones, such as those by Dorothy B. Hughes, Cornell Woolrich, and James M. Cain. I read all the Graham Greene novels and those of Ernest Hemmingway. Since I loved reading mystery novels, that’s what I decided to write.

Who are your favorite writers? How did they influence you?

I guess, Agatha Christie, Cornell Woolrich, Graham Greene, Dorothy B. Hughes, Mary Roberts Rhinehart, Barbara Michaels (aka Elizabeth Peters), and there are so many more I couldn’t name them all. 

From these authors, I learned about timing and transitioning from one scene to the next. I once tried outlining some of their novels but got so caught up in the stories that outlining seemed too tedious. I’d rather just enjoy them. I think people learn by osmosis or something.

Are you a “pantser,” a “plotter,” or a bit of both?

I’m a bit of both. I outlined my first novel on 3×5 cards. But now I think of the main characters I want and the situation I’m putting them in. I have a vague idea of where the story will end up, but I don’t always know how I’ll get there. Or who the culprit is. 

What’s your typical writing routine? Do you prefer to write in a busy coffee shop, or a quiet corner? 

I like to write in my home office on my desktop. I need a very comfortable chair. And a large block of time so I won’t be thinking I’m supposed to be somewhere else. I usually like to start in the late morning, but sometimes at night before I turn off my computer I will look at what I’ve written and start plowing into it with rewrites or new ideas I’ve thought of during the day.

What inspired the idea for The Trouble With Murder?

I once worked in the garment district of L.A. and I had a friend who was a fashion designer for one of the manufacturers there. Hetty sells her tequila mixers to dive bars in that area, and when I lived in Venice, California there was a dive bar across the street from my art studio. I had many artist friends and we would hang out in that bar. I wasn’t much of a drinker (and neither is Hetty), but it was fun to go there. We thought the upscale bars in Marina del Rey were too corporate for our tastes.

Social media. Love it or hate it? 

I don’t enjoy posting and keeping up with it, but it seems that we all need to be involved in it. The Internet is a blessing and a curse.

What can we expect from you in the future? Any plans to switch genres?

I plan to write more mysteries. I don’t know if I’ll ever switch genres, though I have written paranormal mysteries, and I may write more of them.

For all of the aspiring writers out there, share your best writing advice.

Hmm. My advice is to keep writing and try to ignore your critics. If you’re lucky, you’ll develop an audience who enjoys your work. If you’re luckier, they will outlast your critics.

Great writing advice, Vanessa! Thank you for stopping by.

To learn more about Vanessa:

Vanessa A. Ryan website

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The Trouble with Murder