Alpha Connect Sisterhood Series

A Conversation with Author Denise Swanson Stybr, Gamma Lambda

December 03, 2021 Kelly McGinnis Beck Season 2 Episode 14
Alpha Connect Sisterhood Series
A Conversation with Author Denise Swanson Stybr, Gamma Lambda
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode, Kelly chats with author and Alpha Sigma Alpha Recognition of Eminence Award Winner Denise Swanson Stybr, Gamma Lambda, about her path to becoming a New York Times Best Selling Author. Denise’s new book, Resurrection, will be available December 9th on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. 

Disclaimer: This transcript was developed with an automated transcription program, spelling and grammar errors may occur.

Kelly  0:04 
Welcome to the Alpha Connect Sisterhood series podcast. I'm your host Kelly McGinnis Beck national president. This podcast is all about sharing the stories of our members and our connection through Alpha Sigma Alpha. Thank you for joining us today. Welcome to the podcast, Denise Swanson.

Denise  0:25 

Thank you so much for having me. I'm honored you invited me.

 Kelly  0:28 

I am excited to share your story with everyone. I think it's an interesting one, even though I don't even know all of it yet, but just the little bits that I know. But before we jump into that, let's start like I always do with every guest. Tell us your AΣA story. How did you become a member and share chapter and college name as well?

Denise  0:47 

Well, it is a bit of a weird story, which sort of encapsulates my whole life. I never quite ended up being where I think I'm going. I, my first year in college, was 1975. It was Loyola, which means my chapter would be Gamma Lambda. And I come from a very small town, I didn't know anybody who had ever been in a sorority or fraternity, the 70s for those of you old enough to remember or young enough to have done research, were not high sorority times that sororities were not I don't think thought of very well back then. And I had no intention, or even considered joining a sorority. So fast forward, I'm in my dorm room with my roommates. And Debbie Beckage, who is was my closest friend in college, and is still one of my closest friends. decides she wants to go to rush, but she doesn't want to go by yourself. So of course, you know, being the friend you you go with her.

 Kelly  2:08 

That's right.

 Denise  2:09 

And, and so we, we went to the parties, and we did the rush activities and all of that. And I was very surprised at the women I met. I you know, everyone was friendly, everyone was nice. Everyone. There was the level of superficialness I was expecting, I hate to admit. And we, we had a great time. And as it turns out, we both were invited to join Alpha Sigma Alpha. And I had to talk to my parents because they were pretty much barely scraping by to get me through college, especially a private college like Loyola, my dad was a farmer, my mom didn't work. So it was, you know, money was a big concern for me joining. But my mom thought it was a wonderful idea. She had more of the 1950s version of a sorority and her thoughts. And she was pretty happy that I was finally being more social. That was a real social proof that I I, I used to drive her crazy in high school because I would turn down and I would go to parties, and it would just drove her nuts. So she was really thrilled about the idea. And so they would come up with the money. So Debbie and I joined and we had a fairly small, I guess, pledge class, I think we had 10, or 10 or 12 girls in it. And it was just it was the best thing that ever happened to me for college. You know, the friendships, like I said, I wasn't a real social person. And this sort of forced me to be more social. And I got to know more types of people. You know, we talk about diversity now. But coming from a small town, I really only knew small town people and we were not a diverse population. So it was it was a really fortunate series of events that led me into joining Alpha Sigma Alpha.

 Kelly  4:31 

That's awesome. Now, were you a freshman or were you?

Denise  4:37 

Yeah, I was a freshman. It was my second semester.

Kelly  4:40 

Okay. So you went through so Loyola had what we call deferred recruitments. They have formal recruitment in the spring.

 Denise  4:47 

Okay, yes, I didn't realize that but yeah, they, they, you know, I think the whole campus did it then. Yeah,

 Kelly  4:57 

That would be what we would call it today. So Definitely.

 Denise  5:00 


 Kelly  5:01 

Well, awesome. Well, how, what a fun story to to come and not know anything about sorority and then you have support your friend and here you are, aren't we lucky?

 Denise  5:11 

Yeah, very lucky. And four of us from my pledge class, about four of us, including me, still well before COVID got together about every other month for lunch.

 Kelly  5:24 

Oh, that's awesome. I love to hear those stories.


Denise  5:27 

Yeah, like a third of our pledge class. So, and one of them, I, Debbie, and I'd always kept in touch, and she kept in touch with one of the other women. And the fourth one that we were very close with, we had all lost touch with and I tracked her down via Facebook.


You know, Facebook can be really handy for those types of things.


You know, luckily, she had just enough of a different spelling of her first name and a different last name, that, you know, sometimes you go to try and track somebody that has Facebook and all you get, you know, 70 people with that name, and there's no way of figuring out who, which one is the one you want.


Kelly  6:15 

Right? It is a little tricky, but it is fun to find people that way. I know, I certainly have found a number of people through Facebook and reconnected that way. So Denise, I know that you are a recognition of eminence award winner through Alpha Sigma Alpha from 2014. And so for those that don't know, the recognition of eminence award, is designated to honor alumnae whose professional or community achievements have attracted recognition beyond the circle of Alpha Sigma Alpha membership. So certainly, you have received that award. But before we get to kind of the why behind that, and what your achievements were leading to that, tell us a little bit about your story of of your career, because it is certainly ebbed and flowed. I think you would probably agree in different directions than maybe where you thought when you started out, and how you ended to where you are today as an author.


Denise  7:13 

Yeah. Again, like, like I said, like most things in my life, it just never quite starts and ends where I think it's going to. I was, at Loyola I was pre-med and...


Kelly  7:28 



Denise  7:29 

Yeah, I think 90% of the class is pre-med. And, you know, coming again, you're gonna hear this a lot from such a small town. You know, my class that at my graduating class in high school in '86, I was used to being one of the smartest people in the room. Sadly, that was not the case in college. And my first semester, biology class and I had loved biology in high school, just to say that but my first semester biology class was just a train wreck. I don't know if I the wrong teacher. I certainly wasn't partying because it was I do. But you know, it was I barely eeked out a C in that was the first C in my entire life. I didn't like it at all. And I really had to rethink you know where I was gonna go because you certainly back in the 70s weren't going to get into med school with a C in biology. Even, you know, your first class. You know, I stayed on that path. Mostly because I didn't know what else to do at that point. At that point, and I, you know, I was pretty quickly as I went through the sciences in the math, realizing that that really wasn't my talent and wasn't my interest. So I started looking at the classes that I did like, and I, the ones that I really liked, were English, psychology and sociology, none of which really, you know, were super employable degrees. So I, you know, continued for the first two years where you're taking most of your core courses, but I knew at that point, I was gonna change majors and I changed to psychology thinking I would go to graduate school because there's really not a lot at least I don't know if there is now but back then there wasn't a lot you could do with a bachelor's degree in psychology.


Kelly  9:44 



Denise  9:45 

So I you know, made that adjustment and I started concentrating on psychology, sociology, and I took English classes as my amusement I, I loved English classes. I took a Shakespeare class I signed up for a Shakespeare class because I love Shakespeare, and found out that it was a senior honors class. I was I was either a freshman or sophomore. The professor was was not happy to have me in. But I really liked it. And I did really well in it because I had already read all the Shakespeare plays. Anything assigned was a reread. And I loved writing the papers he assigned and that was, you know, the English classes throughout college degree were really my, like I said, my, my leisure time. So you would think at that point, I would realize that I probably should have majored in English, that there was a lot you could do with it.


Kelly  11:03 

Life has a funny way of taking us on different paths.


Denise  11:06 

Yes, yes, it does. When I, by the time I graduated, I was already engaged. And my husband, fiancé, then was a chemical engineering major. And they generally take you know, their degrees, generally a five year degree, he did it in four and a half years. And I had that half year while he was still finishing his degree and I had already graduated to work. And I wasn't I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but I wasn't sure which type of psychology I wanted to go into. So I took that as sort of a gap year. And I went to work for the YMCA as a, gosh I forget what the title was, but basically it was counseling for pre-juvenile delinquents.


Kelly  11:56 



Denise  11:58 

They hadn't. They were they had all been involved with the court system. But instead of being sentenced, they were referred to me.


Kelly  12:07 

Okay, well, that's not a bad thing.


Denise  12:10 

No. So it was it was an interesting, interesting year, it was a yearlong program. It was like a government grant that the YMCA had for, you know, poor areas for socioeconomic areas. And, you know, that my eyes had been opened up by being, going into the city for college, then they were really opened up into the inner city to work. So I, it was an interesting year, and I knew I, I knew it was only one year because I knew the grant was only for one year. So I spent that year trying to figure out what graduate kind of grad school I wanted to go to. And this would have been about this would have been '79 to '80. And school psychology was just becoming a career path at that point, the first school psychologist appeared in schools in 1975. So it was a relatively new career at that at that point. Now adding to the, to my thoughts were the was the fact that I had gotten married, my husband had gotten a job and so I was now limited geographically to where I could go to graduate school. So I there were two within driving distance in that was stretching it both of them were about 50 minutes to an hour each way. So I knew it was gonna be a haul to do to do this. So I applied, I got accepted. I went to graduate school. School psychologists do three years of graduate school, I was able to do it in two years because I was able to do the summer sessions, they the school I chose was or had the program set so that a lot of it was they were attracting people who already were had jobs. So a lot of the courses were in the afternoon evening and they did a three trimester, which included the summer, so you could get through the program faster than a crack then a semesters practicum and a year of internship. So, you know, it pretty much took me as long to become a school psychologist than it would've been to become a doctor. And then I went to work as a school psychologist and I got a lot more interesting experiences and I would sit there at meetings and I meetings were on-ending you know, I really pictured my, my career as a psychologist and school psychologists working with kids, working with the teachers, you know, doing testing, doing counseling, which of course I did. But I would say a good third to half of my time was spent was spent in meetings.


Kelly  15:11 


Denise  15:13 

Yeah. And most of them, I had nothing to contribute to, you know, I was, they weren't, my title had to be at the meeting, but I really had nothing to do with what was going on. So I would sit there and I would just make up stories about the people...


Kelly  15:37 

I'm guessing this led to the stories we read about in your books?


Denise  15:41 

Yes, yes, I, I would sit there. And I would write two or three page, like mini biographies of the people making it all up for the most part, you know, maybe 1%, actuality and 99% my imagination. So I had been in, I've been a school psychologist, probably for let's see, 3, 6, maybe about 7 years by that point. And I was able finally to get into a, I had always been itinerant, which meant, at times I had, I was traveling to 10, and 11, schools to provide services. But I finally got a job where I was assigned to, at first to schools. And then finally, just to the, to the junior high. And the social worker, there also was, she had been an English teacher before she was a social worker. So we we both had a love of books. And we both sort of confided in each other that we had always wanted to write a book. And we decided, since we had the summer off that we would try it. So we we wrote a book together. A mystery. And we didn't know any of the constraints. We didn't know how long it needed to be. We didn't know who to send it to. We didn't know what to do with it. And I guess I was more interested than she was because I sort of pursued it longer. And I finally did get an agent to say that they would like to see it. But they wanted some significant changes. We had our sleuths were a social worker and a psychologist, and they had sort of equal time in the book. And one thing the the agent said is they they needed to be one main protagonist. And so one of them had to take a back a backseat. And the social worker, wasn't interested in rewriting it all. And I guess she had gotten her urge to, to write a book out of her system. And she worked, she was still with it. We finished it. That was it. So basically, I took that book and sort of took my half of the book with the psychologist, school psychologist, and turned it into Scumble River.


Kelly  18:19 

Well, I have read all of the Scumble River series. So I am a huge, huge fan.


Denise  18:24 

Oh, well thank you.


Kelly  18:26 

So, you start writing about Scumble River. So I imagine you're drawing from your own experience growing up in a very small town?


Denise  18:38 

Yes, originally, I had set the book in my small town of Coal city. But when I when I finally got it to the point, and that's another story altogether, where I had I was had an offer for it from Penguin. My husband who was the practical half of our our duo you realize that a lot of what you've written, people are going to be super offended and might sue us?


Kelly  19:09 



Denise  19:10 

And I said, Well, no, I hadn't thought. I thought I changed all the names. He was like yeah, I'm pretty sure they could figure out who they are. So I decided I would fictionalize the town. And combine the area I lived in had three small towns that were very close together and interacted with each other a lot. Coal city was where I lived. My mom had lived in Brentwood. And then I actually worked in Wilmington for a couple of years as this psychologist so I combine those three, and then started browsing the dictionary trying to come up with a unique name for the the fictional town and when I found the word scumble, which is an art term that means to obscure, like if you're using pastel chalk or something and you use use a tissue to like blend. I thought that is such the perfect word for, for my town. So Scumble River was born.


Kelly  20:24 

That's awesome. What an interesting story to figure that part out. So how what led you to the names of the characters? And then maybe we can talk a little bit about what led you to put your own I'll call them easter eggs into the book related to Alpha Sigma Alpha.


Denise  20:47 

I'm sort of embarrassed to say that ego was involved in naming the main character I wanted something with my own initials, or at least my initials reversed. And originally, I had gottn my main character Sky Dennison, and would be called Sterling, because I really liked that name. But enough people, when I sent it off, when I was trying to find an agent, I thought that she was a man at first because Sterling apparently is a man's name. I didn't know that. And led me to change her name to Sky. And Dennison and of course, my ego with Denise. I'm sort of embarrassed now at this point in my life


Kelly  21:38 

I think you put your own mark on it.


Denise  21:41 

Yeah. Back then it seemed like the thing to do, you know, when you're, when you're a lot younger things seem different.


Kelly  21:48 

I bet that if we talked to other authors, they would share some sort of a similar story.


Denise  21:56  

Yeah, so I am in most of the names, a lot of the names I just chose for fun. You know, certainly all of the Doozer names are chosen to be funny. My mom's name is Marie. So I made my made her mom and a lot of them is just were just chosen back then because of you know, family associations, or funny enough, I liked the name when I opened the baby book up.


Kelly  22:31 

There you go. Is your husband named in there somewhere?


Denise  22:35 

Hes hi--I do have an Easter egg. There is a the florist is named after him. Stiver florist.


Kelly  22:45 

Oh, okay.


Denise  22:48 

The reason for that is in high school, he had a job as a delivery guy for a florist.


Kelly  22:54 

Oh that's awesome.


Denise  22:56 

So I thought I would just put that in there.


Kelly  23:00 

So tribute to him.


Denise  23:02 



Kelly  23:04 

So tell us about what led you to put in the character of Loretta, who is your Alpha, who is Sky's, Alpha Sigma Alpha sister. I loved that the first book you you introduce that and just reading Alpha Sigma Alpha in the book, just for me was just so cool. I thought that was just one of the neatest things ever to see that in there. But, and I've seen it continue through the series, but talk a little bit about the development of Loretta.


Denise  23:34 

Part of it was I wanted the story to be relatively realistic. And you know, at the time I was writing the small town that I was in central Illinois, or north central Illinois, where I'm writing about, you know, they were very I don't think the word is un-diverse, but they were very homogeneous very. And I wanted a way of bringing in some diversity to the, to the cast of characters without making it unnatural for the setting. So in the secondary or maybe equally, I, I wanted to sort of show other people that sororities weren't what they thought they were, or what you know, I know what I had thought they were I knew, you know, a lot of what a lot of people thought they were and I wanted to show all the good things they are not what you see in TVs and in the movies.


Kelly  24:40 

Isn't that the truth.


Denise  24:42 

Yeah. So I thought, you know, this is my chance. I can use, you know, my own experiences in a sorority and my own prejudice going into it to sort of illuminate what what the prejudices are and show what the reality is. So I was looking at my, at our, the first picture, the group picture, when I was first, when I was first, pledging, maybe it was even right after we had been 10. But, and there, again, not a lot of diversity, but there was one African American sister. And I thought, you know, that's so perfect. It always it sort of highlights both of my, my themes. And so I, I quickly, some times have changed, you know, I was in the sorority in the 70s. And I was writing this more in the, I guess it was more like, around 2000. And I wanted to, so I started like clicking through Google and looking at soroity pictures for Alpha Sigma Alpha in different different chapters. And like, okay, yeah, there's a lot more diversity now. So that won't be something that people come back and say, you know, there were never any African American members. So that's sort of all the rhetoric came to be, I had remembered one woman who, one of my sorority sisters who just would almost meet me at the door when I came back, because both my mom and grandma baked a lot. So I would always come back with cookies, and pies, and apples. And she was, you know, tall, slim, beautiful woman who, you know, would gobble up all these goodies. And never gave a no, so, I thought, Okay, I'm gonna, I want to bring that I want to bring this, this side of it into the, into the story. And I had this a nice reaction from the sorority community, not just our sorority, but you know, many readers who have been in sororities, who, you know, we're so happy to see them portrayed in a better way that I decided to, you know, make sure was always at least a small theme in every book.


Kelly  27:28 

Well I love it. And I love the story of her and, and, you know, ther aking her job in Chicago, and then leaving and marrying Sky's brother and moving to small towns, Grumble River and all of it. I just think it's a great character.


Denise  27:45 

I really love the character. And truthfully, I had none of that planned when I started. I talked to so many writers who have this like great overreaching arc for their series, and people ask me, and I'm like, no, I just write the book.


Kelly  28:04 

So tell us about...Oh, sorry. Go ahead.


Denise  28:07 

I was gonna say in the characters sort of tell me where they want to go.


Kelly  28:11 

And that was kind of my next question. Tell us a little bit about, you know, how how you do your writing where where the stories go, and what your inspiration is for that?


Denise  28:23 

Well, it definitely in the beginning, you know, the inspiration for most of the school psych stuff, if not all, what were my own experiences. I had been keeping notes for years, as I mentioned. And the very first book, Murder of a Small Town, Honey, the main theme of that, which, you know, is the festival taking place, the temporary festival taking place in in Scumble River. I had been working for a rural school system, well, not working for them. They were one of my, like, 10 schools that I work I was assigned to from the cooperative. And I had had a late meeting with a parent I think, I don't really remember. And I was walking out of school, when almost everybody else was gone. It was probably four or five o'clock. And it was, you know, in the fall, it was already getting a little dark. And the faculty parking lot was slightly away from the school. So I was walking toward my car, and I could see these two figures. Like, it looked like they were dancing, and they couldn't figure out what what was going on. But it turned out it was the school principal, and the mayor of the town having a fistfight.


Kelly  29:50 



Denise  29:51 

Yeah. So I you know, I'm like, Okay, I you know, I have a natural nosiness and I continued on and it turned out that they were fighting over the town's festival because it was always, like the weekend after Labor Day. So school was already in session, and it disrupted everything in the school. Kids, teachers will take that would take days off and call in sick, and kids, and it was just a mess. So that's what they were fighting about. And that's what I was driving home that they're that, you know, somebody could get killed over that. And that's sort of the first book was born.


Kelly  30:35 

Oh my goodness.


Denise  30:37 

I do still have, there's always something in my life that inspires the next book, in all of my series, but Scumble River especially, just because I, you know, I had so many experiences as a school psychologist, I worked as a psychologist for 22 years. So I had a lot of experiences with different people in different communities and different situations. So there's always something you know, that I can use, they're getting a little more difficult to write just because my protagonist Sky, recently had twins. And I have never had children. And it's a lot more difficult for, like, what to do with these kids while she investigates.


Kelly  31:35 

I'm sure well, and then you bring in tornado into town wipes out her house, and she's living out of a sonic trailer. And all of that, yes. I mean, it's, it's really great storytelling. So how much research goes into crafting those stories?


Denise  31:54 

You know, I, there's always a little something you have to look up, like, you know, the tornado, for instance, actually happened to my hometown in Coal city. So, and like, destroyed my mom's garage and other houses, it was a huge tornado. So I had gone through all sort of the steps of that. And I had that research done. Plus, although you know, clippings from the local papers, and, you know, that was pretty easy to write actually. Cuz I had lived through it. But, you know, things like babies, you know, I have to go back and like, when do they do what and what can you know, what can I write about this? The hardest thing for me usually is researching the the method of murder, you know, how how to you know, how the victim is going to die, you know, sometimes pretty easy, you know, dependent, you know, depending on the weapon. I don't know if you recall, but in Murder of a Chocolate Covered Cherry, the the woman died in a vat of chocolate. That was actually my husband's experience. He is a chemical engineer, and he did a lot of work in food plants, and food is chemical. And he did a lot of work with chocolate factories.


Kelly  33:23 



Denise  33:23 

And he came home one day and said, you know, somebody fell in the vat of chocolate, and we just barely got them out in time before they'd smothered. And I'm like, Oh, another murder.


Kelly  33:38 

It makes me think of the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Augustus falls into the river and then get sucked up the, the whatever you call that. Interesting, that is interesting. So funny. I imagine a lot of writers similar to yourself taking out snippets of what happens in life and then expand upon it from there.


Denise  34:04 

A lot of them that I've talked to, you know, you know, take inspiration from the news, or, you know, most what's happening in the world and things like that, but I really like it when it's closer to home.


Kelly  34:20 

Yeah, I do too. I think there's a different element to that.


Denise  34:23 

Especially writing about a small town. You know, there's there's a lot of things that are just never going to occur and we're not gonna have, you know, a gang shooting probably.


Kelly  34:36 

Right. Well, and it's funny, I read this thing, and I think about that, there's lot of murder in this little town.


Denise  34:42 

Yeah, there really is. It's sort of like Jessica Fletcher, you know.


Kelly  34:47 

Oh I love her, she wrote...


Denise  34:48 

You know I want Sky to be a good...


Kelly  34:52 

That's great. So now I know you also have a couple other books or series aside from Scumble River I think is one of one of the Dimestore Mysteries from, correct?


Denise  35:05 



Kelly  35:05 

I haven't read all of them. My mom has read them all, but I haven't read all of them yet. They're still sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me.


Denise  35:12 

Yeah. Besides the Dimestore Mysteries there are currently seven in there seven of that series. And there are usually, I don't know if its in every book, but there usually is a slight mention the sorority in all of them, even if it's, you know, just a line. I also my newest series is my newest mystery series is the Chef-to-go series, which is actually set in a college town, which has been fun to do. So she I haven't done a lot with sororities in that one yet. But there's such a potential for that one. And I, because I just had so much time on my hands. I also wrote a paranormal cozy mystery.


Kelly  36:04 



Denise  36:06 

I'm writing the second book in that series right now. And I've written let's see, four... six romances. And my next book coming out is going to be a zombie apocalypse.


Kelly  36:21 

Oh, my.


Denise  36:23 

I know.


Kelly  36:25 

I know some some sorority sisters that will definitely be interested in that.


Denise  36:32 

The title is Resurrection, and refers to the town that the survivors end up settling in. But of course, it also reflects back on the dead coming to life and the survivors coming back to life.


Kelly  36:51 

Well, we've certainly seen that in a number of TV series in the last several years.


Denise  36:55 



Kelly  36:55 



Denise  36:58 

I try not to make it too much resemble The Walking Dead. It's more, mine is more of a I want to say kinder, gentle or apocalypse is more focused on what would happen we know what happens to society and how do you rebuild and you know, who's survives? And how the survivors interact with each other? Then there's not as much blood and gore as is a lot of the movies. There’s some but not as much.


Kelly  37:40 

Well, that's good. I'm not too much into the blood and gore piece of it. I did get through Game of Thrones, but it took a lot in the earlier seasons, they got better as it went along. That's where I think about The Walking Dead as well. I've never watched the actual Walking Dead TV show. It's a little bit too much for me.


Denise  37:58 

Yeah, it is a lot. The first two seasons were excellent. After that, it sort of ebbed and flowed and I actually I was I was a huge fan at first, even stopped watching it and ended up this...I had been recording and I just ended I knew I was never gonna watch all the episodes, the rest of the episode. So I erased it all. I was like no,  they went off the path that I was interested in.


Kelly  38:31 

So how long does it take you to write a book?


Denise  38:35 

You know, it really depends a lot first on the length of the book. And second on how much of the story I already have in my head when I start. My first book, probably between, you know, starting out writing with another person and then having to take, you know, all of her parts away and fill that part in with more of my part, and rewrites and edits. And that probably took me about five years.


Kelly  39:05 



Denise  39:07 

But once I was under contract I I was at first I was writing a book about every nine months. But I was also still working as a school psychologist. So once I I retired to. I took sort of an early retirement when the books started to get really successful. And you know, when my first book hit the New York Times list the the publisher really wanted me to have at least two books a year coming out. And so, looked at the finances and decided we could handle that. So I took sort of an early retirement and for a while there I was writing two to three books a year now with caring for my mother and my mother-in-law and just you you know, the general malaise of quarantine, I'm probably down to maybe a book and a half a year.


Kelly  40:08 

Until you talked about being under contract when in...I'm just curious, I don't I don't know enough about that, that process. So when you sign that agreement, is that committing yourself to producing so many books in a certain period of time? How does that work?


Denise  40:26 

Yes, a traditional publisher will generally offer a two to three book contract for a series. I'm not sure you know, a standalone book is probably a different proposition. But because I always write series, they generally offer three, two or three books contract. And before the contract is drawn up, you know, all the dates are agreed upon, like, you know, you'll have the first the manuscript done by this day, you'll have the edit of the manuscript, then by the next day. And the manuscript will then be published by this day. And so you are legally obligated to, you know, fulfill those days, and there's quite, quite, there's consequences if you don't financial consequences. So you're pretty much tied into, to what you agree on.


Kelly  41:24 

So what do you do when you have writer's block?


Denise  41:28 

You know, up until the past couple of years, I genuinely never had writer's block, I had a million stories in my head. And I, you know, having gone through graduate school, I had really good discipline about sitting down and producing, you know, a certain number of pages every day and doing that. Since my mother has gotten less able, and my mother-in-law has some health issues, I have writer's block is more of a real thing to me, you know, I, I still get some pages written, but not every day anymore.


Kelly  42:11 

How many pages did you use to write a day? What was that discipline, like, I'm fascinated by the whole writing process,


Denise  42:18 

I would probably try to write seven to 14 pages, five to six days a week, because I do quite a few drafts. So it's not like I just write the book and it's ready to, you know, send in. So writers talk about words, or I still talk about pages, but most writers will say, a certain number of words they want to write every day. So I on my best days, I was writing 3500 words a day.


Kelly  42:55 

Okay. And then what is the editing process like? So you put your manuscript together, you send it off to the publisher, they you know take it to the editing department? And what is that process like?


Denise  43:07 

Well, you work with one editor, the the person who acquires your books, who bought by, you know, who signed you to the contract advisor, but is your editor and then that’s who edits you. I, my process is I do a very rough first draft where I just tried to get, you know, the bare bones of the story out, you know, usually it ends up being about 50,000 words, then I do a second draft where I add a lot of clues and a lot of the humor and a lot of the details and descriptions. And that usually has another 25,000. So I'm at about 75,000 words at that point. And then I do a final polish, where I'm just going through and making sure that I haven't used the same word a million times, you know, in two paragraph or used, you know, some of my favorite words like yet. That was, I have to be pretty ruthless in getting out of the manuscript, then I send it to the, to the editor. The editor then does a content edit, where she goes through the book and pretty much picks up the parts she doesn't like, doesn't think works. Or she wants elaborations on or she wants something fixed. And I'll get a letter back then outlining everything that she wants fixed. So then I do that edit. Send it back to her and there's usually one more round where you know, just little nitpicky things. Maybe like I said I I've started something and said I wasn't changing it that she wanted changed. And then we do the final edit where we come to some kind of agreement, that it goes to a copy editor, where they, you know, they look for punctuation and grammar and consistency. So he's the one that makes sure I don't have things like two Mondays in a row, or change the name of a character which I've done or something like that. Then it goes through a production editor, who is looking more for, more for typos and things like that, but occasionally come up with some other questions as well.


Kelly  45:37 

Wow, that's a lot of editing.


Denise  45:39 

It is. And still, there are always some little mistakes that a reader will find.


Kelly  45:47 

It's always amazing to me, no matter how many eyes on it, something still gets missed.


Denise  45:51 

Yeah, I mean, because it goes through my beta readers, my editor goes to her assistant, a copy editor, the production editor, and still there's something.


Kelly  46:00 

Yes, it's crazy. So you said the next book you're working on is on the zombie apocalypse that when when should we be on the lookout for that to hit bookshelves?


Denise  46:11 

Well, it's at the editor right now, I'm not quite sure when I'll get the revisions back from that, I'm hoping for late fall, early winter to that that is a book that I am self-publishing. So I, I have complete sort of control of it, it doesn't have to get in the queue for the publisher. The publisher needs about a year's advance before it, you know, it's in line behind the other books that they're going to be bringing out because they don't want to bring, you know, 10 Knitting mysteries out on the same month.


Kelly  46:50 

Make sense.


Denise  46:50 

So, since I'm self-publishing, once I get it back from the editor and make all the corrections. All of that it'll go to the person who will format it and get it ready to be published. And my husband has taken over that role since he, when he retired he he did a lot of software engineering kind of work as well. He's a type of chemical engineer, but a lot of computer training. So he took over all the formatting and, and things like that. And for this book, we're actually doing the cover art stuff. I usually hire a cover artist when I do a self-published book. But he had happened to take the perfect book picture of a sign with a withered vine over it that we're going to be manipulating for the cover.


Kelly  47:46 

Oh, fun. So now it's it's a joint effort.


Denise  47:49 

It is it is it always has been. He's always been my first reader and, you know, fixes a lot of the stuff before it even sees my editor.


Kelly  47:59 

Well, Denise, this has been a ton of fun. I've learned so much about the writing process. I loved your story. I knew that you had been a school psychologist before, mainly because I've read the books. And there's the bio in there as well. But just getting to hear a little bit more detail is great. I hope that our listeners if they haven't picked up a book of yours yet, that this will prompt them to pick up any of the books that you've written. But my personal favorite is the Scumble River mystery, so maybe they'll start with a small town, honey murder. I don't think I said that title. Right, but close enough.


Denise  48:38 

Yeah, Murder of a Small Town, Honey.


Kelly  48:40 

Murder of a Small Town, Honey. Thank you.


Denise  48:43 

That would be the best book to start with, if they're going to start the mysteries to read the mystery, because I think it it has all the backstory of how Sky is where she is.


Kelly  48:57 

Yes, I once accidentally skipped a book. And I was so confused when where she was in her life. And I realized that I had taken the pile and put them out of order. So I had to go back and put them back in order because I was like something I'm like we've jumped in her life a little bit. So now that I'm all caught up on all of them, I know that won't happen again. But because I was getting caught up on the entire series I did miss one and you know I will I will share I find them you know quick easy reads. I mean I could sit down and in a day a day and a half have gotten through that book. I'm also an avid reader and love mysteries so that probably helps but I find them very, very easy to read and you know, I keep you know turning the page I think oh one more chapter. Oh, one more chapter.


Denise  49:46 

Well, I will tell you a secret writers do try to put some kind of little hook on the end of each chapter so that you can't just put it down you have to go to the next chapter.


Kelly  49:56 

I know they are good at that you guys are all good at that. So it's What keeps you reading well thank you for taking the time today to share your story with all of us and to our listeners until next time.