Hot Seat: Taking the Mystery out of Mystery…

Welcome to HOT SEAT. Here are the answers to your awesome questions of last week. I love my readers, you know how to play, and you bring fun to my day, or week. (Let’s leave that as week…heaven forbid I start blogging every day!) And Maria, I think you definitely win the award for most questions asked. I owe you at least a cup of coffee. : )

Thank you so much for being my guest author, Linda. I know you’re extremely busy, and I didn’t give you much lead time with my request. You were so gracious to accept the challenge.

I will now turn this over to Linda O. Johnston: Hi, everyone.  I’m delighted to be here and will always make time for something as fun as this.  Thanks again for inviting me, Robena.  Let’s get started!

Judy: How did you get started rescuing pets?

LindaI’ve always been nuts about pets, especially dogs.  When I decided to do a spinoff series from my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mystery series and Berkley was interested in my Pet Rescue Mystery idea, I wanted to learn a lot more about how pet rescue organizations worked.  I visited quite a few, both public and private ones, and got hooked!  I started volunteering at one local private shelter but they were in the process of changing their program for volunteers so I took a volunteer orientation lesson at Pet Orphans of Southern California–and have been volunteering there ever since.  I’m mostly a dog adoption counselor, but I help to socialize dogs and also do whatever is needed in the office.  Most recently, I helped to put Pet Orphans ID tags onto their loops and ruined my nails, but that was okay.  The tags are given to each adopted pet so that, if they get lost, there is an additional way of identifying them besides their microchips and any ID the new owner puts on their collars.  And, yes, all the pets adopted out at Pet Orphans are microchipped.

That may be more than you wanted to know…  but it’s a really wonderful, fulfilling experience to go on the Pet Orphans website a day or so after I’ve shown a family a potential dog to adopt –and learn that the adoption has gone forward!

Robena: What is it about the mystery genre that calls to you?

Linda: I’ve read mysteries since I was a young girl.  I always like to try to solve whodunit just as a protagonist does.   It’s also a fun challenge to me to try to write something that’s wrapped up logically at the end but will hopefully stump a reader through most of the book.  I want readers to believe that someone else is the bad guy but have the real villain make sense.   Those are my favorite kinds of books to read, too.   I always love it when I realize that I was fooled enough to suspect someone else, but the conclusion is logical.

 Lynne: Are you a draft writer? If so, how many drafts do you do per book? Or, do you polish as you write?

Linda: Oh, yes, I’m a draft writer.  I always try to spew an entire draft onto my computer as quickly as possible–although that does take time–then go back and edit when it’s done.  I edit as I go along, too, but it’s always a relief to get that first draft completed so it can be fully revised.  And revised.  And revised again.   I do at least a couple of drafts before trying to get one of my critique partners to go through each manuscript, then revise at least one more time.

Gina: You’re so prolific! Do you focus on one book at a time or do you work on several projects at once?

Linda: I like to focus on one book at a time, but I do put together ideas and proposals for new ones even as I’m working on a full manuscript.  Then, as I’m writing, I’m also waiting to see what’s likely to come next! 

Maria: Do you prefer a detailed plot or do you work with a basic outline and then just write? Do you have a different method for paranormal? Does selling on proposal require a plot, and how closely do you follow the outline you sold? What happens if you veer away from the proposal? Have you written any books opposite to your normal style?

Linda: I used to do very detailed scene lists and stick to them.  Now, I like to do a synopsis, whether or not it’s required by my publisher, so I’ll know where the story is going.  I start out by filling in pieces of a “plot skeleton” that I’ve developed over the years that has blanks to fit the kind of story I’m writing, although I don’t always complete it.  I follow that by putting together the synopsis. 

Sometimes, as I’m writing, a story foils me and goes off in a slightly different direction from the synopsis, but I’ll usually rein it, and my characters, in, since most often if I go off on too much of a tangent the story tends to stop working. 

Some publishers, like Harlequin, usually want actual proposals to buy a book, although I’ve done “blind” books for them as well as for Berkley–ones where they’ll buy it before you’ve plotted it as part of a multi-book contract.  Harlequin still wants to approve a synopsis before I start writing the book.  I do submit at least the idea, and usually the synopsis, to my Berkley editor to make sure she’s okay with my direction, even though it’s generally not required for my mysteries.

And no, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that’s way off my usual course of putting a story together.  I seem to do things pretty much the same way in whichever genre I’m writing at the time, paranormal or “real.”  The systems I use have morphed over time, though, as I mentioned before.  I’m always open to trying new genres but figure I’ll plot anything new the same way.

Leigh: How do you come up with your story ideas?

Linda: I have a very active subconscious mind, especially when I’m in the bathtub at night.  That’s when most of my ideas come to me, both for new stories and for what I’ll be writing next on the story I’m currently working on.  I always keep pen and notecards nearby.  As I’ve said many times, my favorite quote is “Reality is only for those who lack imagination.”  I’ve never learned who said that in the first place but would love to figure that out.

Jen: You write without a pen name in two different genres: Does this ever cause confusion on the publishing side of things?

Linda: Fortunately, I’ve never had any issues with writing under my own name despite the different genres I’ve written in.  That could change if I go off in yet another direction.  I’m open to it.  But I like people to know that I write in different genres.

 Megan: Do you still use a critique partner? Do you use different people for each genre? Do you submit the whole book to them, or chapters as you finish each one?

Linda: I’ve been meeting with the same critique group for many years.  Sometimes the members change but the core remains pretty much the same.  We all write in more than one genre, so we get along well.  Mostly, we read whatever we want to aloud each week when we meet, but when we’re getting ready to submit something we’ll often print it out and give copies to one another, or send electronic copies for review.

 Yes, this has been fun.  Thanks again!

 To learn more about the author, please visit or visit the blog she shares with five other authors, where she posts every Wednesday. Linda is also on Facebook. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Orange County and Los Angeles chapters of RWA, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Lexie and Mystie.


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15 Responses to Hot Seat: Taking the Mystery out of Mystery…

  1. Robena Grant says:

    Linda, these answers really are fabulous. I’m like you in reading mysteries. I’m always thrilled when I get it right, and when I don’t I have that “oh yeah” reponse. In looking back, I can see the steps the author took, but somehow I skimmed over one detail that didn’t seem important at the time.

  2. Wonderful interview, Robena and Linda. I had always wondered how you got into pet rescue. As always, your book cover is adorable. Who can resist that?

  3. Thanks Linda. The insight into your process is appreciated greatly. I love knowing how writers do their thing, and why.

    And, Robena – great news about the new prospect for your series!

  4. Maria says:

    What a great interview Linda and I’d love to see your “plot skeleton” at some point. Learned quite a bit about your process and thank you Robena for having her.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to answer all of our questions, Linda O.

    I’m really glad you don’t have two pen names! 🙂

    Another great blog, Robena.

  6. Hi Robena and Linda! This was an awesome hot seat! Great questions and really great answers. Thank you!

  7. Robena Grant says:

    Thanks, Robin.
    Oh, and I just want to say that comments are just as important as questions (some weeks we’re so busy we don’t even know our name, let alone be able to think of a question to ask) so, keep the comments coming. They are valued. : )

  8. I really appreciate all the great comments–and the support for my using my own name in my writing!

  9. londonmabel says:

    Interesting! Thanks!

  10. Robena Grant says:

    Thanks for dropping by, London. Hope all is well with you.