Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Interview: Meredith Holland and Morgan St. James

Yesterday we learned a little bit about who these women are and how their experiences inspired this book. Today were going to find out more about the book, the characters, and what these two have planned for the future. 

1. What was your inspiration for "Who's Got the Money?" Meredith and I met when we both worked for the real entity that represented sales of furniture and cubicles manufactured in Federal prisons. It wasn’t an actual government department as it is in our book, but rather a private sector company with a 5-year marketing contract. When we were hired we were astounded to learn that manufacturing in Federal prisons is actually an Eight Hundred Million Dollar a year business, and both of us sold millions of dollars worth of furniture every year. We also saw the insides of a few of the factories and met inmates, toured military warehouses and supply depots, and had some off-the-chart experiences. 

I resigned after four years and a few months later Meredith was unceremoniously fired by voice mail (which inspired a scene we used in our book). Months later, the company we’d worked for was shut down by the prison bureau and later sued for the return of misbegotten money. Meredith knew I’d written published books by then and suggested we use our experience to cook up a fictional but feasible plot laced with humor. The result is WHO’S GOT THE MONEY?. We were delighted that it recently was a Finalist in the USA Best Books Awards.

2. How did the two of you develop the storyline together? What was the process and share of the workload like?
Since I was the writer with published books, I took the lead and organized the plot points and crafted the draft chapters. However we worked on the storyline together, analyzing all of the things we’d experienced, how the system operates and what would make an almost undiscoverable embezzlement scheme. It took us close to five years to settle upon a plot that could happen and to finish writing the book. After we actually began to write the chapters, I had a wonderful writing buddy who worked hand-in-hand with us and helped edit with an “eagle eye” as the escapade unfolded.

All along we’d envisioned something like First Wives Club meets Nine to Five. We wanted an underlying revenge plot for our trio of down-on-their-luck female executives who start out investigating what happened to the sales team’s quarterly bonuses and wind up uncovering a multi-million dollar embezzlement plot—somewhat like bumbling Charlie’s Angels.

3. There are humorous elements in this book. Who is responsible for the humor, or are you both funny ladies? 
We both have rampant senses of humor. One of the things I really liked about Meredith when we first met is that we were always laughing together. Some of the proposed antics by our three heroines were really over-the-top and had to be scrapped, but we sure enjoyed batting them around.

We worked long distance as I split my time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and Meredith lives in the Seattle area. Her location was a real bonus. I know Seattle and the surrounding areas quite well because I spent a lot of time there in the late 80s to early 90s, but Meredith was able to pinpoint areas that were pertinent to the story, flesh them out to make the locales accurate. She also has a great memory and was basically the “idea person” in many instances. For example, I’d forgotten about us running down 5th Street in Anchorage, Alaska in front of the Egan Convention Center trying to steer a dolly loaded with boxes containing more than 19,000 brochures. We’d ordered 2,000 for a GSA show from the prison printing facility and received 20,000 instead. With only about 200 attendees, the cost of sending them back, even with the government Federal Express rate, would have been astronomical. Printing cost was lower and we decided to dump them and not tell anyone. But where was a dumpster? 

The scene wound up in WHO’S GOT THE MONEY? and is good for a belly laugh.

4. Can you describe the one responsible for the scheme this story is centered around, Abby Hamilton? 
Abby Hamilton is a woman who was probably very pretty at one time, but following an affair with a lover who dumped her, (one of the characters in the book who is reminiscent of a part Alec Baldwin could play to perfection) she took her disappointment out by eating non-stop and her weight ballooned. Then she became the Director of the newly formed marketing arm for furniture manufactured in the prison factories and was relocated from Washington, DC to Seattle, Washington. She is passionate about the rehabilitation aspects of teaching inmates skills, but she is even more passionate about what Abby wants for Abby.

Ambitious, aggressive and devious, she will do what she has to in order to get what she wants and use anyone necessary to achieve her objective.

5. How do Abby's choices in personnel hires affect her plans? 
She had put together a slick team of cohorts and had almost reached her goal when she made the mistake of hiring Jennifer, Kate and Cameron who blew the lid off her Pandora’s Box.

6. Can you tell us a little about each of the women (Jennifer, Kate, and Cameron) who intend to expose Abby? 

Jennifer lost her job as Vice President of Finance for a technology company when the crooked CEO pilfered all the assets of the company. She managed to snag the job of Controller for the newly formed division of the prison system. Jennifer is analytical and very sharp at what she does. Certain things she found caused her antennae to tingle. Kate had been the Director of Sales for a large communications company. Beautiful, composed and quick to spot a rat now, she wasn’t able to do that before and that’s what did her in with her previous employer. As for Cameron, picture Goldie Hawn as an advertising executive. She’s cute, able to play the dumb blonde although she is anything but that and she rounds out the trio. Cameron returned from her “vacation” to a very disturbing voice mail and the end of her career in advertising.

These women are way over-qualified for the jobs they took with this division of the Federal prison system, but have one thing in common. Without a job, they were all broke and needed income fast. They were destined to become friends and their inquisitive minds led them into their undercover investigation. Each one has a unique talent, and together they are bumbling but effective.

7. How does the fact that these three have no experience in undercover investigations help or hurt them? 
In many ways it does hurt them because it takes them longer to figure out how to do things and they take risks a seasoned investigator might not. But if they were skilled, it would wipe out a lot of the humor in the book. They stumble into situations that could be dangerous, or even life-threatening, but we find they have some hidden talents we didn’t know about.

As far as helping them, their lack of experience makes them really use their “gray matter” to attempt to make sense of what seem to be nonsensical situations. They are not jaded by experience, so don’t really realize some of the risks they are taking. Again, it adds to the humor.

The book is filled with twists, turns and backfires. As one of the reviewers said, just when you think you’ve got it figured out another facet is uncovered. But if you love to solve crimes, there are plenty of subtle clues dropped along the way.

8. Who are your favorite authors? 

MORGAN: I have several with a trend to character-driven books. I love some sarcasm or levity in mysteries so Robert Crais is at the top of my list. One of the other things I like is reality in locations and word pictures that create the effect of immersing you in the surroundings, plus suspense thrown in for good measure. So, next would be Lee Child and Michael Connelly. I also love Lawrence Sanders—his playboy detective Archie McNally and his family are priceless. John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee is a great character, too. The list goes on, but I think you get the idea. I read lots of mysteries or listen to mystery audio books.

MEREDITH: I will read any book that is well written and can keep my attention.  For one reason or another I have some preferences.  I have found that I must enjoy books that are mysterious stories with a little romance mixed  in.  Some authors I enjoy are Janet Evanovich and Julie  Garwood. 

9. Do either of you have any interesting rituals or habits when you write? 

MORGAN: I like to work from plot points. I’ve tried several other methods like chapter sheets and outlines, but find this gives me a road map of the book while still allowing for flexibility. I’ve never hesitated to rewrite an ending or a scene if a flash of inspiration or suggestion from an editor or first reader shows me it could be better. The same for editing. I don’t hold onto ideas I loved but prove not to work for the plot. Also, I almost always write a full chapter at a time. If I let it get cold it’s hard to pick up with the exact mind set. Then I let a chapter get cold before sending it to a co-author or editor so I can review and make changes first. You see so many things when it’s cold that you don’t see while creating. I like to periodically review several chapters at a time to make sure I haven’t missed anything that affects the timeline or “final destination.” For me, it’s easier to make corrections or adjustments that way correcting things I missed after the manuscript is finished. That’s probably why most of my first drafts read like second or third drafts.

MEREDITH: I often walk or run most days. This brings me a calming experience which I find relaxing and invigorating.  I then find I bring this energy with me and this helps me focus inward.

10. Can you tell us a little about your future projects? 

MORGAN: I’m currently working on a fascinating true crime book entitled “No More Crying Angels” with co-author Dennis N. Griffin and the woman whose story it is. We are anticipating a finished manuscript by February. The title comes from the lyrics to a song she wrote several years ago, and it is currently being produced complete with a music video. I’m also working on the 4th Silver Sisters Mystery—a funny crime series that I write with my sister Phyllice Bradner—entitled “Diamonds in the Dumpster.” The first book in the series, “A Corpse in the Soup,” was named Best Mystery Audio Book in 2007 by USA Book News. There is a great contrast between the two projects. One is intense and shocking while the other is a fun romp. There are a few other projects in the thinking stages, as well.

Who's Got the Money? is available now from Amazon in paperback and Kindle,  as well as from Barnes and Noble