Friday, November 17, 2017

She's an AAA: Actress, Academician, and Author

Several years ago, I took a writing class with Jonathan Maberry, an excellent teacher and a multiple winner of the Bram Stoker award. One of the other students in that class was the delightful Lesley Grigg. We read our work aloud to the class, and Lesley said that she liked my reading voice so much that I should register as voice talent at the ad agency where she worked. I did, and got some paid work out of it.

We didn't stay in touch and I lost track of her when she switched jobs. But a few years later I met her again when she joined the Brandywine Valley Writers Group.

About Lesley Grigg: She has a degree in elementary education, and a background spanning the entertainment industry in and around Philadelphia. Lesley has been active in the classroom and on and off the stage, screen, and writing desk.

As an actress, she's performed in theater, film, and television before moving behind the scenes to work in casting, catering, talent representation, and more. Watching peers achieve their goals in the arts has inspired Lesley to write, produce, and direct an independent film and play. By following her passions, no matter how many there are, she hopes to inspire others to reach their goals as well.

Lesley published her first novel, Remember, in 2013. Her new novel is Aunty Says, Get aLife. Here's my interview with her:

Welcome, Lesley. Before we talk about your books, I want to ask about the book trailers you’ve done to promote your books. They’re nicely done, and look very professional. However, there’s a lot of controversy among authors as to whether or not book trailers are worth the effort. Your thoughts on that?

Thank you! Well, since I enjoyed making these trailers, they weren’t so much of an effort. I think video is just another way to entice an audience. I’m very visual, so even though these trailers are basically moving words with some sound to stir the imagination, it adds another element to book marketing, and they were fun and easy to make!

You now have two novels out. Is all your writing long form, or do you write short stories as well?

No short stories yet, but they may be on the horizon. I started with blogging, which is like an informative short story. I still blog about travel and writing on my website, and I freelance for other various clients. I’m also a full-time creative copywriter, so writing short sell copy to tell a product story is my day job.

In your bio, you mention that you enjoy travel. Has travel informed or enriched your writing?

Absolutely! Traveling has opened my mind to other cultures and experiences, both of which I write about in blogs and has inspired many of the scenes in my newest novel, Aunty Says, Get a Life.

For years, I’ve kept a file titled “Character Names,” which I use to name the characters in my stories. But I use that file just so each character has a distinctive name, so the reader doesn’t get them confused. You also pick interesting, offbeat names for your characters: Neviah, Pelia, Carys. Do these names have any hidden meaning?

Thanks! Yes! I love naming characters, and I’m a big believer in name meanings, so I search the baby naming sites and choose names that match a character’s personality. A little inside info, some names even give spoilers! For instance, Neviah means “Prophetess, seer into the future” in Hebrew, which goes along with the paranormal aspects of her story. In one of the chapters, she also mentions why her mother chooses Hebrew names. Pelia means “miracle of God” in Hebrew. Carys is Welsh for “to love” and “beloved friend,” which is both beautiful and speaks to her personality.

Tell us about you new book, Aunty Says, Get a Life.

Aunty Says is like a fictionalized quarter-life crisis memoir, in a way. It’s inspired by some tough love advice from my aunt, and a lot of my travel experiences. I changed the names to protect the innocent—and not so innocent.

Readers ride shotgun with Carys, who goes through a near death experience and has to find a way to reclaim her life. 

Your first novel, Remember, is written in the first person Point of View. How do you decide on what Point of View you use in your books?

It’s not so much of a conscious decision. It’s more of how the characters speak to me. I was in a lot of character heads while writing Remember, and they all had such a distinct voice, so first person was the easiest route to take.

What’s next? Do you have a children’s book on the horizon?

I do, and this project is actually what got me started writing books. This idea of a series of picture books about travel has stuck with me since before any novel was considered. It’s gone through agent and publisher offices and across a few illustrator desks, but hopefully I’ll have something to show the world early next year.

Let’s finish up with a process question. Are you a morning writer, an evening writer or a weekend writer?

Oh man, I’m probably not the one to ask about process, because I don’t have a regular one. I find it easier to write in the beginning and at the end of a project, when the ideas are flowing and the story is finally coming together. The middle is a struggle. I’m sure many writers can relate.

As a copywriter, I’m writing every weekday, 9-5, so most of my personal writing happens at night or on the weekend – I’m not a morning person at all. I rely a lot on the power of inspiration. Sometimes it comes in the form of a great movie I just watched, book I read, or song I heard – this gets the process moving along more smoothly. 

Lesley, thank you for your time.

You can follow Lesley Grigg on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter. She also has pages on Amazon and Goodreads.

Lesley Grigg will be signing copies of her books on Sunday 19 November, 2017, from 1 to 3 pm at the West Chester Book Outlet, 967 Paoli Pike (in the West Goshen Shopping Center), West Chester, PA. Phone: (610) 430-2184

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mr. January Knows Where the Bodies Are Buried

I met Todd Harra at a meeting of the Wilmington – Chadds Ford Writers Group. He is currently promoting his latest book, the mystery novel Grave Matters. Todd is a fourth-generation undertaker who enjoys writing in his spare time. His family has been in the undertaking business since the Civil War.

In 2008, Todd appeared in the Men of Mortuaries calendar as "Mr. January." He is a graduate of Elon University and the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service. He works for the family business in Wilmington, Delaware, McCrery & Harra Funeral Homes and Crematory.

Todd’s humorous non-fiction books are Over Our DeadBodies: Undertakers Lift the Lid and Mortuary Confidential: UndertakersSpill the Dirt, both co-authored with Ken McKenzie.

Welcome, Todd. You certainly have an interesting background. Before we focus on your latest novel, Grave Matters, I want to ask about your two collaborative books. How did you and your co-author, Ken McKenzie, come to work together? What was the co-writing process like?

We met in California while shooting Ken’s Men of Mortuaries Calendar. The calendar is one of the ways he funds his breast cancer foundation, KAMM Cares. Ken later reached out to me with an idea he had for a book, what would eventually become MC:USTD, as an additional vehicle to fund KAMM Cares. I loved the premise, and saw the idea had real potential so I told him I wasn’t interested in ghost writing it, but was interested in co-authoring it.

We complement each other as a writing team because together we have the skills necessary to bring a good book to market. Ken collects the stories and then hands them off to me, I write the books, and then Ken does the lion’s share of the marketing. Ken is a promotional machine. Me, I’d rather write.

Let’s talk about your mystery novel, Grave Matters. First off, congratulations! You’ve produced a book that’s both entertaining and informative. You made a choice that surprised me, though. I expected the action of the book to take place in your native Wilmington, Delaware. Instead, it takes place in and around Charleston, South Carolina. Why there?

I wanted a location that was sexy and sophisticated, something Murder City is neither. Additionally, Charleston is unique in a geographic sense. If you look at a map, it’s essentially a peninsula formed by a confluence of rivers that flow together to form the harbor (of the Fort Sumter fame). Without giving anything away, those rivers are an important part of the plot, as are some important historical events that happened in Charleston.

Your protagonist, Tripp Clipper, is a funeral director like yourself. Anytime the protagonist of a mystery is something other than a police officer or a private detective, you have to justify why the lead character gets involved in the mystery.

Clip, as his friends call him, was a medic in the Army. When he gets a case that supposedly died as the result of a car wreck, his medical background tells him the injuries don’t add up. He brings this information to the attention of the coroner’s office, but it’s the usual politics. The coroner doesn’t want to reopen a case that’s been cleared. Clip may have let things go, but when the dead girl’s brother shows up fresh off the Afghan battlefields, it becomes a brother-in-arms thing. Clip decides to ask a few questions. What could possibly be the harm in that?

Grave Matters is written in the first person Point Of View. In that POV, the reader only knows what Clip knows, and Clip appears on every page of the book. While first person is traditional for a mystery, did you consider a different POV?

The original incarnation of Grave Matters I wrote in third person. It was a very different book. Thankfully, I had an editor smart enough to tell me to get my head out of my ass, and helped me hone in on my strengths, one of which is writing in first person. For some reason it’s a lot more natural for me. Everything I write is first person. I found writing a mystery in first person was quite a balancing act. Make the protag too smart and the mystery is solved in chapter two. Make him/her too dumb and mystery remains, get the picture.

What’s next? Will we be seeing another Trip Clipper mystery?

Yes, hopefully soon if I can bring the cruise ship into dock. I have a few thousand words left on the first draft of Blackwater, but finishing a book is a lot like the fourth quarter in a football game: in theory it’s only 15 minutes, but the reality is it’s a lot longer. Blackwater finds Clip in the middle of a bioterror attack on Charleston where he’s pressed into service for DMORT. DMORT is a federal organization that responds to mass fatalities.

That sounds like a very different – but fascinating  – book! Let’s finish up with a process question. Most successful writers get into a regular pattern. Some write in the morning before they go to work, others at night. As a funeral director, you have a very irregular schedule – clients don’t die on a predictable schedule.  Sometimes you must have several days off in a row, while other days you probably don’t have time a write at all. How do you keep up with your writing?

Simply making it a habit. Even if I have a busy day, I try to sit down and produce for 10 or 15 minutes, just to stay in the groove of the story. It’s funny how some of those micro writing days are more productive than an entire day off!

Todd, thank you for your time.

You can follow Todd on Facebook at or on his website at

Todd Harra will be signing copies of his books on Sunday 19 November, 2017, from 1 to 3 pm at the West Chester Book Outlet, 967 Paoli Pike (in the West Goshen
Shopping Center), West Chester, PA. The bookstore’s phone is (610) 430-2184.