Gemma had a hard time figuring out what she wanted to be when she grew up. She worked as a film and television actress, a teddy bear importer, a department store administrator, a preschool teacher, a temporary tattoo artist, and a 900 number psychic, before finally deciding to be a writer. Since then, Gemma has written several mystery novels and been the recipient of numerous awards, including a National Reader’s Choice award and three RITA nominations. Her books have hit both the USA Today and the New York Times Bestseller lists, as well has hitting #1 on the Kindle bestseller list. Gemma now makes her home in the San Francisco Bay area where she is hard at work on her next book.
1.How did you start writing? One day, out of reading material, I picked up a romance novel that had come free with some promotion. Sadly, it stank. Really badly. It was the worst thing I had ever read. So, after chucking it across the room during one particularly laughable chapter, I said to myself, “Well, even I can do better than that.” So I set out to be a romance writer. I’ll admit, at first I wrote a couple of really awful manuscripts. It was a lot harder than I thought to write a terrible book let alone a good one But then I wrote a couple that weren’t so bad, and then even a couple pretty good ones. Eventually my writing style evolved more toward mystery, and I hit on one manuscript good enough to publish. And the rest is history.
2.How many manuscripts did you write before selling one? Six. It was lucky number seven that was finally published. What was your road to publishing like? It was not pretty. The path was strewn with rejection letters. Some encouraging, some… not so much. Originally I had this idea I would write deep books. Serious ones. With lots of drama. So, I wrote about five of those over the next two years before someone finally told me, “Um, your serious dramas are just a little too funny for us.” *Mental forehead smack* So, I wrote a couple funny, fashionable books and, what do you know, those were actually kinda good. I was originally published with Dorchester publishing, which was a fanatic experience for several years, then it fell off the deep end as the company ran into financial trouble and dissolved. After that I took on contracts with St. Martin’s Press and Harper Teen, but at that point Dorchester had been unable to pay authors for several months. Meaning, I was in deep financial trouble myself. A good friend of mine, J.R. Rain, was having some success selfpublishing, so he convinced me to try my hand at it. That was in 2010, and I figured I could use a little extra spending money. I had no idea how exciting self-publishing would be. In 2011 I sold my 1 millionth self-published ebook.
3.Where do you get your inspiration? Everywhere. I know, cop-out answer, but it’s so true. Any little bit of dialogue I hear at Starbucks, song I hear on the radio, or guy in line at the grocery store can inspire a new idea. The only thing I can say for certain is that I steal from the people I know a lot. Thankfully my family and friends get a kick out of seeing me exaggerate their finer traits on paper, but there are a few ex-boyfriends that probably shouldn’t read my books. I do write about murders after all.
4.Have you always been interested in mysteries? Actually, yes I have. I grew up reading the Happy Hollisters mystery series as a kid, then later graduated to Agatha Christie. I love the kind of stories that keep you on the edge of your seat, and if there’s a great twist at the end, so much the better. Is the character Maddie from your High Heels series based on you at all? Um…yes, I admit, she is. I’m almost as crazy about shoes as she is, though I couldn’t design one to save my life. Quite a few of Maddie’s friends and family are based in part on people that I know. And, I’ll admit, I do have ditzy blonde syndrome at times myself. I’ve actually stuck my stiletto in my mouth the same way Maddie does on numerous occasions. But, unlike Maddie, I’m happy to say that I have yet to stumble over any dead bodies.
5.What does a typical work day look like for you? Typical day? Do I have one of those? Let’s see… yesterday I got up, went straight to the gym (because unlike my characters, I gotta work for my figure), then came home and answered emails for an hour or so before grabbing my laptop and hitting the corner Starbucks for a few hours of writing. I usually write until a) I get the caffeine shakes, b) my fingers get sore from typing, or c) I run out of ideas. Unless I’m coming up on a deadline, I don’t generally write in the evenings (hey, a girl’s gotta have a social life) but, if I do, it’s with a glass of wine in hand.
6.What’s the toughest thing about writing a mystery series? What’s the best?Hands down the hardest thing about writing a series is keeping the characters and storylines fresh. There’s a fine line between being repetitive and staying true to the characters, so straddling that line has been my biggest challenge with my series. Hopefully I‘ve pulled it off! The best part is when readers come up to me and start talking about my characters as if they’re real people. I love that! I think the great thing about a continuing series is that readers really get to know the characters as well as I do, which is totally fun for me.
7.Which aspect of writing do you enjoy the most? I love plotting. I grab a pad of paper, a fresh pen, and a latte, and I can just visualize the whole book coming together.
8.Which aspect of writing do you enjoy the least? Actually having to write it once I have it all plotted out. It takes so much longer! 😉 When you’re not writing what do you do to relax? I’m an admitted shopaholic. If there were an Olympic medal in this sport, I’d have the gold, hands down. Obviously I do a lot of reading in my spare time, but I’m also a huge movie and TV fan. DVR is the best thing that ever happened to me. And I’m totally addicted to Amazon streaming.
9.What is one piece of advice for aspiring writers? One thing not to do? To do: read a ton of books in the style/genre you want to write. Even more so than craft books, this really helped me to know the rhythm and flow of my particular genre and what the readers of that genre would expect from my books. Not to do: Over analyze. I’ve seen writers spend over a year revising one manuscript over and over and over until it’s so polished that it’s lost all of its character and charm. I say revise to the best of your ability, but then let it go and start something new. You’re going to get better with each manuscript, so don’t sweat making #1 your one shining masterpiece.
10.Which one of your books is your favorite? My personal favorite is the first in my Hollywood Headlines series, HOLLYWOOD SCANDALS. I really loved writing the main character, Tina, who had a distinct edge to her character. She had a lot of depth to her, and I think she was a lot of fun.