Posted on 02/13/2019 at 11:21 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Many kids dream big, imagining themselves flying to Mars, running the country, or striding down the red carpet at awards shows.
Given that Terry Ambrose took thirty years off from fiction, it’s safe to say he wasn’t picturing his fiction being nominated for — and winning — any awards.
Ambrose’s first short story was written for an elementary school assignment, and his mother’s praise wasn’t enough to persuade him to pursue writing any further.
It took years of working in the business world, including as a skip tracer, to make him realize that fiction was calling his name.
Fortunately, he listened, and he’s now the author of the Trouble in Paradise McKenna Mysteries series, the License to Lie thriller series, and the Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast Mystery series.
Among those series are two finalists in the San Diego Book Awards and one winner — not what his eight-year-old self probably pictured.
Ambrose recently took some time to explain how he went from dealing with shady characters to creating them.
SADYE: When you realized you needed a change from a high-stress job, why did you choose writing?
TERRY: During my career in business, I wrote a wide variety of things.
After I left bill collecting and skip tracing, I ended up as an analyst with a public utility in Spokane. I wrote training materials almost constantly for that job and loved it.
My next job was with another public utility, but as a manager. I had one extremely difficult employee, and eventually the stress got to be too much.
Enter a return to writing, but this time I decided to create a murder mystery. The goal was to get rid of the source of my stress by committing murder—but only on paper.
After all, I’m basically a chicken, and ever since eighth grade, when I was caught toilet papering a house, I knew I was not criminal-mastermind material.
So, it was murder on paper. The problem was, the final product was terrible. From bad dialogue to poor plotting, I committed every egregious writing sin possible.
However, I realized the process of writing through my frustrations had made me feel better. It was at that point I knew I wanted to write crime fiction, and that I needed to get better.
SADYE: Beyond, obviously, giving you plot or character inspirations, how else did skip tracing help form your writing career?
TERRY: Actually, the answer to this question goes back even further.
In college, after bombing out of nuclear physics, I studied anthropology. It was then that I realized the reasons people did things fascinated me.
During my early business career, I spent years collecting from and finding people who didn’t want to be found or who couldn’t afford to repay their debts.
Fast forward to when I decided to commit murder on paper, and all that training finally felt like it was coming together.
For me, it was not only skip tracing, but my education in science and anthropology, that helped put me on this path.
SADYE: Do you have a story from your skip-tracing days that’s worth sharing but won’t make a novel?
TERRY: Most of the work I did while skip tracing was done from the office.
But there was one time when I was trying to find someone who just seemed to vanish. The only good information we had on him was his mother’s name and telephone number.
So I played the star-crossed-lovers card.
I had my assistant call his mother, tell her she’d met the woman’s son in a bar, that they’d hit it off, and she was desperate to reach him. Mom gave up her son in a heartbeat.
I guess it just goes to prove mothers never give up trying to help their kids.
SADYE: Did you pursue traditional publication or go straight to indie publishing?
TERRY: I did try traditional publishing first but had little success.
Part of the problem was that I guess I don't deal well with rejection. The other half of the problem was that I began as a very insecure writer.
After a few rejections, I would decide the book wasn't good enough and would start on a new project.
I'm actually writing the first book in a new series now that I hope to publish via a traditional publisher. I believe this will expand my reader base and open new opportunities for me.
SADYE: You also coordinated an anthology to benefit literacy in Hawaii. What inspired you to do so, and what’s a brag moment that you can share?
TERRY: I was writing my McKenna Mystery series when I started thinking about how important literacy is to writers.
Because I was focused on Hawaii for the series, I decided to do something to create future readers in the islands I love so much.
The idea for Paradise, Passion, Murder came about after I heard of other writers who were working on literacy projects.
The first step was to find an anchor for the series, so I decided to see if we could get Toby Neal to write a story for the anthology.
Toby signed on, and soon I had assembled a group of authors who all had followings in the Hawaii crime fiction market.
The best news came when our literacy charity drew the attention of the organizing committee of Left Coast Crime.
As a result of that recognition, Read Aloud America became the sponsored literacy charity for the 2017 Left Coast Crime convention, received a nice grant, and we may have inspired other similar projects.
SADYE: The “stimulus and response” scene-writing process has helped you immensely; can you tell us a little more about it?
TERRY: The stimulus and response model comes from a book called Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham.
The way I use the model is to define the action that kicks off the scene I'm working on.
After that, I decide what the main character would do as a result of that action, i.e., what is the response.
I then dissect the scene further by deciding on a goal for the scene, what the main conflict is, and what will be the outcome.
The model describes this outcome as a “disaster,” but it’s really just the next stimulus and sets up the next scene. Even with my cozy mysteries, I think of those scene endings in these terms.
Some writers call this disaster a “hook,” but the idea is the same—make it difficult for the reader to put down the book. After setting all of those parameters, I know what the scene is about and can begin writing.
The thing I like about this process is I always know what I'm trying to accomplish and how I'm moving the story forward.
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Categories: Author Interview