Monday, December 19, 2005

Threads of Malice

I emerge from my cavern of blankets and hot soup to tell you of Tamara Siler Jones, author of the Dubrick Byerly Mysteries. Tamara's newest novel, Threads of Malice, has just been published, and readers are raving about it.


One by one, young men in the kingdom's outer reaches are vanishing into the dark. So far, two bodies have washed up on the local riverbank. But Dubric Byerly, head of security at Castle Faldorrah, soon realizes there are countless more victims...for it's his curse to be forever haunted by the ghosts of those whose deaths demand justice.

The latest to vanish is Braoin, a seventeen-year-old painter whose mother came to Dubric's aid when he most needed it. All Dubric knows is that the boy is still alive. But time is running out, and it isn't only Braoin's life hanging in the balance. If Dubric can't untangle the twisted web of clues and lies and find his way to the killer, one of his own pages will be the next to die...


Readers have said things like:
"I couldn't put this book down, I read it straight through to the end."

"Well developed characters and mysteries mixed with tiny sprinkles of humor and romance really make for a well rounded book."

"This was a hard one to put down. In fact, I didn't get to bed until 1 am, after finally giving in to my husband's eye rolling. Then I was up at 7 am with my nose in the book by 5 after. I LOVED IT! What a spectacular job Tamara Siler Jones did. I highly recommend this book. Enjoy!"

"Fast paced, violent, disturbing, gripping and horrifying in the best possible way, Threads of Malice is a book you don't want to read alone at night. It only took about 2 pages to capture my interest and Tamara Siler Jones' excellent writing and story held it in a death grip until the final page."

"The second Dubric ghostly tale is a much more vividly darker novel than the more capricious sprightly GHOSTS IN THE SNOW. The efforts to use forensics during the medieval era and thereby before the science of criminology has been created add to a fine blending of mystery, horror, and even a touch of the fantasy. Interestingly the investigation is filled with twists and turns, red herrings, and dead ends (literally and figuratively) that makes for a fine who-done-it. Still this is Dubric's tale as he battles ghostly migraines, evil spirits, rotting corpses, bumbling assistants, and a touch of love to battle an unbeatable foe."~Harriet Klausner (#1 Amazon Reviewer)

Harriet Klausner

THE AUTHOR (in her own words)
How does someone write their own biography?

I suppose the joke goes - "One word at a time."

In reality, that's how you write a book, too, or at least that's how I did.

I've been a reader since I was three years old, or so my mother tells me. I do know that when I was in first grade they had to special-order books for me because the 6th grade ones were too easy. Getting labeled as a "nerd" at the ripe old age of six isn't the easiest thing to endure. I started writing not long after that. Stories, mostly, occasionally a poem, and I don't think many were chipper, cheerful pieces.

I finished my first "real-book" at fourteen. Remembered Past was about a woman who was raped, beaten, and left for dead. When she awoke and started to heal, she realized that she couldn't remember anything -- amnesia was evidently cool to my teenage self -- and most of the story was her trying to figure out her past while the man who gave her the amnesia tried to finish what he started. It was written entirely in long hand, in a fat spiral notebook. A friend snatched it, read it, passed it around. I don't know how many kids read it, surely a few, but by the time I got it back the cover was ruined and the pages stained, but it was intact. Well read and dragged who knows where over its mysterious journey, but intact. People who normally wouldn't give me the time of day would come up to me to tell me that they read my book, when was I going to write another one? I don't recall the follow up, but I still have Remembered Past in the attic, somewhere. And I kept writing. For Christmas that year I got my first typewriter. Pretty cool.

The remainder of high school and into college sent me through stories of vampires and hauntings (I was a HUGE Stephen King fan, still am) and gruesome little murders . Leaving my native Iowa, I started my academic career as a Veterinary Medicine/Chemistry double major (the nerd label definitely stuck) but after a year at Northeast Missouri State University I had to leave due to financial problems. My exhausted but much loved manual typewriter came home with me.

Then it was community college, and darker, bloodier stories. Kidnappings. Rapes. Lovely little things they were. I couldn't seem to settle on a major, but I definitely settled on a man. After a mere three months of dating, I married Bill but the vicious stories continued flowing from my fingers. While pregnant with our daughter we got a computer and I wrote a bit of froth I called Magician's Gambit (totally unaware of the same title being in David Edding's Belgariad series). Being newly married, and blissfully happy at it, Magician's Gambit chronicled the kidnapping, rape and torture of a lord's daughter by a man controlled by a demon and the prince in disguise who set out to save her from being sacrificed.

Magician's Gambit sucked wind -- and still does, so don't even ask to read it although a few select people have -- but it did give me a nice, juicy world to play in, a world where things might look good on the surface but under the painted on skin are boils and pustules and noxious vermin. It also gave me Dubric, who was a very minor character. I think he was in one scene.

Time goes by, we have a baby -- she's fourteen now -- and I go back to school, as an Art major, of all things. I actually graduate with a degree in Graphic Design and I go to work for a small corporation. I write on the sly, bits here, plots there, but no real books, not even real short stories. Stress to the point of therapy makes me realize that the corporate world is not a good place for me, so I quit and take a job in a small art studio doing brochures and logos, mostly. I heal and the writing comes back.

While at work on February 14, 2001 (Valentine's day -- seriously) I get this idea . Dubric needs to solve a serial crime. Ooh! What fun! But when? (Dubric's character has a long and convoluted timeline) I think about 2 seconds and decide to do it during the courtship of Risley and Nella. I get home and start writing. Six months later Ghosts in the Snow's first draft is done, an epic fantasy with mystery undertones, all whopping 247,000 words of it.

As Mr. King instructed in his marvelous tome, On Writing, I set the manuscript aside for 6 weeks. As I read it again, I realized that something was amiss, but I couldn't decide what. Bill located the Del Rey Online Writer's Workshop and thought they could help me. Willing to try anything, I signed up and within minutes I met Joshua Rode who I credit for this hulabaloo I now find myself in.

Josh loved what he saw (actually, he ripped my first chapter to shreds! Woo hoo!) and he invited me to join his writer's group where I met Heather Nagey and Catherine Darensbourg, among others. Within two weeks Ghosts became an Editor's Choice and won Runner Up Best Fantasy Chapter for November 2001. About that time I meet J.M. Blumer, Johnny B. Drako and Sam Godwin (She is the best and most ruthless proofreader and pre-editor I have ever met. No one, not even my editor, sees my prose before Sammie gets a chance to tear it apart). Sam introduced me to her sister Meg, who runs this site and knows many of my dirty secrets. These writers, each and every one more talented than I, are my Writing Posse. They're the best crit goup I could imagine and I love them all dearly .

I get Ghosts all polished (still a whopping 247,000 words) and start agent hunting the following spring. No bites, heck, no nibbles. After about 6 months and still determined but not discouraged, I re-vamp my query letter and offer to split the story into two halves. One agent, William Reiss at John Hawkins and Associates, requests three chapters with his query.

I am at a bit of a loss. Every other agent had wanted merely a letter and synopsis. We're broke, it's November (gotta think about Christmas for the kid) and I have to pay a nickel a page to print at work. Add to that the fact that JHA is the oldest literary agency in America, founded the AAR, and was waaay too prestigious for a ditz from Iowa like me, that I almost didn't send the query, but Bill said to do it, take the chance. I printed out the 100 some pages (if I remember right) plus a color mailing label, then paid $4 or whatever it was for postage (only a regular return stamp, thank goodness). We couldn't afford it, but I did it anyway . Mailed it on a Friday.

The following Tuesday, my email dings. Mr. Reiss (who I almost didn't query) has enjoyed my narrative so far. Could I send him another 100 pages?

Sure, I reply, then I have Bill dig through the change jar to reimburse the boss and I send out 107 more pages that night (I finished out the chapter).

Friday, another email ding. Could I please be so kind as to rend the remainder through the point where I intend to split it?

Yep. Scrounge up some more change and out it goes.

The following Wednesday I was agented.

He was the only agent to read my work, and he's fabulous. The moral of this story is, I guess, to keep your change jar full because you never know when you need to send out 240 pages like right now! Oh, and never give up or trying to reach for the best. They just might ask to see more of your narrative.

Ok, agented. Bill (agent Bill, not hubby Bill) decides to send out the manuscript to three publishers the first of January. It's currently almost Thanksgiving and book publishing practically shuts down over the holidays. January 2, true to his word, the book goes out.

A couple rejections, out to other publishers but no word from Bantam. In June another ding in my email. It's a forwarded and edited-to-lessen-the-blow letter from Juliet Ulman at Bantam Spectra. Essentially, would the author (me) be willing to cut out the epic fantasy and focus instead on the mystery aspects of the story?

I reply back to Bill with an affirmative and offer up a couple other story ideas (one of which has become Threads of Malice). Contract negotiations ensue and I set to work. Of Ghosts' first half -- the only part Juliet has seen -- about the first quarter remains. Everything after that is tossed away and done anew . It's dark in places, funny in others, tragic and romantic and delightfully gruesome. It's the book the quarter million word behemoth was meant to be and I'm very happy with it.

So here I am, published writer. I'm still delightfully married, still a ditz from Iowa, and I'm still a nerd. I learned a lot getting here and I have a lot more to learn. I couldn't be here at all without the help of many wonderful people taking a chance on me, or being simply supportive.

Thank you, everyone, and thank you for taking the time to read this.


P.S. Yes, Josh, this is all your fault! You were supposed to be first, not me.


MO'C: Thanks for appearing on the blog today, Tamara.
TSJ: You're quite welcome.

MO'C: How did you get started writing?
TSJ: I’ve written for as long as I can remember, but primarily for myself. Back in 2001, I wrote a book that just poured out of me and it rapidly took on a life of its own. I was happy being a private writer, but the book had other plans. Ghosts in the Snow wanted to be published, crazy as that sounds, and I thought why not take the shot? Bing bang boom, I was agented and had a multi-book deal from a major publisher. All because of an old man and a few drippy ghosts.

MO'C: What are the special challenges of combining fantasy and suspense?
TSJ: I’m not sure I’d call them challenges, they’re more like balls I have to juggle. There are various fantasy aspects I keep active, like the world mythology and the artifacts, but I also have to keep track of all of the mystery and suspense points, like the available forensic techniques, the realistic dangers and internal strife. The trick is to combine all the different parts so that the magic and fantasy elements reflect into and support the mystery suspense elements, that character issues help shine light on the main plot, and that everything combines into a seamless whole.

My books are rather complicated structurally and I think that’s a reflection of all the different aspects that interconnect to create the three-dimensional whole.

MO'C: What do you like best about combining them?
TSJ: It’s a lot of fun to approach each aspect of the story (like Dubric’s hatred of the Goddess, for example) from several angles at once. The mystery at hand impacts upon it, the magic, the history, the other characters… Everything in the story becomes a multifaceted piece and I really enjoy the intricacies of developing all the layers to support and modify one another. Sometimes, though, it can become a bit overwhelming when the narrative is running long, is too complicated, and I have to decide what to remove without shattering the multi-dimensional, “this is a real place with real people” quality. That’s very difficult.

MO'C: In what ways are you like Dubric?
TSJ: I’m stubborn and cranky when I’m tired. ;) I’m also curious and driven and principled. Life doesn’t always throw good things at me, but I can endure. I also suffer from a lot of guilt and that, too, reflects back into Dubric.

MO'C: What do you like about writing a series?
TSJ: Watching the characters change. All of the primary cast have gone through a lot together, and it shows. They’ all started at one place in Ghosts in the Snow, had their world ripped away in Threads of Malice, and in Valley of the Soul (the book I just completed) they’re in a completely different and more dangerous realm, even though they’ve never left home. It’s amazing to me to see how they each react in their own unique ways, how they’ve grown, how they’ve refused to budge, and how the interpersonal relationships have changed. Just like real people.

MO'C: You are an avid quilter. How does the craft of quilting relate
to the craft of writing?
TSJ: That’s a very apt question. Several of my friends (writers and non-writers) have remarked that I write just like I quilt. Lots and lots of bits and pieces and scraps, some of which you’d never think go together, but in the end they create something beautiful and unique and resonant. No one makes quilts that look like mine, and no one writes like I do. I’m happiest when it appears to be all chaos but it makes perfect sense to me.

MO'C: Do you have any advice for mothers who write?
TSJ: Not that they’ll want to hear, I’m afraid. I essentially stopped writing completely from the time our daughter was born until she started school. She was far more important than my writing, and claimed most of my attention. I have no regrets about that. While she was in grade school, I wrote occasionally, little bits of nothing, scenes, character sketches, things like that. I wasn’t able to start writing with any seriousness until she was in middle school and, frankly, I didn’t want to. I still did plenty of things to feed my inner creativity – I started sewing by making her baby clothes which soon turned to making quilts, for example – but writing well takes a lot of mental energy and focus. I couldn’t do that without feeling like I shortchanged my daughter and husband. I could stop the sewing machine at a moment’s notice, or set aside the fabric and go be a mom (or sew while she played with all the scraps), but it’s a lot harder to stop in mid scene or mid sentence then come back and seamlessly pick up where you left off. For me, writing is like a job and it wasn’t worth it when she was little. Family comes first. Always. Once she became self sufficient, time opened up and I could write again without feeling *too* guilty.

MO'C: What's your writing day like?
TSJ: It’s more like a writing night. I do some research, reading, general notes and things during the day, but I mostly work only after supper, and can really focus after the family has gone to bed. Generally, I work from 7pm, ish, until I can’t stay awake anymore, roughly 1 am.

MO'C: Any tips for aspiring authors in general?
TSJ: Read a lot, write a lot. Learn about the nuts and bolts of the job (yes, that means grammar) and all the other things like tense and voice and structure and theme. I love theme! Learn the craft, and never, ever give up.

MO'C: What's next for Tamara Siler Jones?
TSJ: My third book, Valley of the Soul, is coming out next Halloween. After that, I don’t know. I’m planning on writing at least three more Dubric books, taking a stab at commercial fiction… And making a lot of quilts!

Many thanks to Tamara for her visit today. Her books are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local indy bookseller.