Thursday, February 28, 2013

Maryann Miller Interview about Stalking Season

When not writing, Maryann likes to play on stage.
 Here she is as Mildred in "Squabbles."

Today we welcome one of our own for an interview. Maryann Miller has a new book out from Five Star Cengage/Gale, the second in her police procedural series set in Dallas, Texas. Stalking Season was released December 19th, 2012. The underlying ground in the series explores issues involving racism, rooted in the partnership between the two female police detectives, one white and one black. Here’s a brief synopsis:

In this second book of  The Seasons series, homicide detective, Sarah Kingsly, and her partner, Angel Johnson, are pitted against an uncanny killer while still struggling to feel like real partners. Neither wanted the pairing in the first place, and it isn't getting any better. A young girl is killed in a cheap motel, and when her identity is discovered, an influential Dallas businessman brings the heat down on the department. It isn't easy to work under the thumb of the mayor and the police commissioner, and it doesn't help that Lieutenant McGregor has his own issues with the brass.The investigation takes the detectives inside an exclusive gentleman's club, a prestigious private school, and leads to a killer that surprises them all.

Dani: Okay, so let’s get right to the gentlemen’s club part! Did you actually go to one to do research?

Maryann: Yes, I really did. It is hard for me to write a scene set in a real place that I have never seen. I always scout locations for places where major scenes take place in a story. I must say, my son, who is my research assistant, enjoyed the visit to the club more than I did. He took copious notes about the dancers, just in case I needed lots of detail. (smile)

Dani: What made you take on the subject of sex in this second book? Was it something you read in the newspaper that struck a chord? How did you get the idea for this story?

Maryann: Unlike the plots for my other books that started with a real crime or a real person, this one started with wanting a different kind of killer. As I played around with finding a not-your-typical serial killer, the character came to me. Then I had to decide what would motivate this person to kill young women. All that thinking evolved to the young girls dancing at the club, initially just on a lark.

Dani:  Let’s touch on the ongoing subject of racism in this series and some of your other writing. What’s the motivation for using this theme in your fiction?

Maryann: That probably stems back in large part to my involvement in the civil rights movement as a young college student. (There, I've dated myself.) In working with people of all colors, I have discovered that we really can't experience the issues of prejudice and bigotry the way the other person does. I have a good friend who has had many discussions with me about this, and she said that even though I did experience some discrimination because of my background, it still did not put me in her shoes. She has also been very willing to acknowledge that racial prejudice is a two-way street. Until we can stop defining ourselves in terms of color, the prejudice is always at work, even in small ways. I find all of this incredibly interesting, which is why it does creep into my work.

Dani: Are you working on the third book now? You have a wicked set-up at the end of this book, and I’m anxious to see where it leads!

Maryann: Thanks, Dani. I am working on the third book. It is still early in the process, so I really need to buckle down and concentrate on finishing. It is called Out of Season and we will take a break from the serial killers. The set-up you mention does get followed up on in this next book.

Dani: I just got an email from LJ Sellers (who visits us tomorrow) asking readers to stop by her Facebook page and inviting them to leave a review of her latest book. I notice you only have one review on your Facebook page for Stalking Season. Do you ever ask your readers to do this? If so, how?

Maryann: Requesting reviews on Facebook has not been something I have ever tried. If I know someone has read the book, I do send an e-mail thanking them and asking if they could post a quick review. Obviously, that has not spurred a lot of response. (smile) I have also posted on Twitter how important reviews are to authors, but I have not specifically asked for a review of a particular book. I need to be more diligent about seeking reviews. And, of course, if anyone who reads this has read the book, I would love to have a review.

Dani:  If I wrote a quick review of Stalking Season, here’s what I’d say:
The ongoing personal issues between the two women partners, as well as the sexual misadventures of the young victims, probably make this novel more interesting to female readers. Much of the action is emotional on many levels, and certainly women will view the “gentlemen’s” club setting in a markedly different way to most men who might shrug and think, “What’s the big deal?” I found the themes particularly relevant to the modern world, where racism is often swept under the carpet, cheap sexual themes are ever-present in the media, and women are more objectified than ever. Each protagonist is likeable in her own way, although decidedly different and the development of the friendship between the two is well-crafted and heartening. It’s probably my favorite part of Miller’s writing, and makes me look forward to the next installment.
Maryann: You should go put that review on my Amazon page. (laughs)

Dani: By golly, I think I will. What about you, readers? Do you make it a point to leave an Amazon review on a book page? If you loved the book? If you hated it? How long does it take you to write an Amazon review, and what do you focus on? How do you determine the star rating for a book? Please leave us a comment!

Dani Greer is founding member of this blog, hopelessly trapped in a submissions mailbox sorting through manuscripts, dreaming of planting gardens and knitting socks, while watching with dismay as more snow begins to fall. Suffice it say say, she is ready for a change of season. Hey, that could be a title in Maryann's series! Aren't I clever?


  1. First -- congrats on the book. The whole Amazon (or B&N, or Goodreads) review system is a double-edged sword. I've sent out review copies of my books hoping for reviews (and these are to people who ASK for them) yet maybe 1 in 10 actually posts something. Is it because they didn't like the book? Just wanted a freebie? Haven't read it yet?
    As an author, I'm uncomfortable leaving reviews because 1) I'm honest; and 2) I read differently from 'regular' readers. And, 3) I'm afraid it can have an effect on people's opinions of me and will carry over to my books.

    I did an entire blog post not long ago about what the stars mean, and the difference between reader reviews and professional reviews. I wish they'd get rid of the whole "star" system, frankly, because it means something different to different people despite the fact that the sites explain what they should mean. And even though a reader understands that a 1 star review for a book that says "it took too long to get here" doesn't mean anything, that 1 star is still averaged into the overall ranking... and on and on.

    Terry's Place

  2. The series sounds interesting and I will add it to my TBR list. Mystery is my favorite genre. I have reviewed a few books on Amazon, though not nearly enough. I only praise books I like. The books I didn't like aren't worth my time and I may not have been the target audience. I do promote books I love on Facebook and Twitter by liking and sharing. I won't promote a book I haven't read. It doesn't feel authentic. As an author, I can sympathize with Maryann. I'm terrible at self-promotion. Gentle prompting has not resulted in many reviews and I'm not comfortable being pushy.

  3. Congratulations on the book, Maryann. I sure wish I had the gumption to get out of my basement office and do on-site research ... maybe if I had some, um, more interesting locals that would inspire me.

  4. Terry, you make some good points. I, too, hesitate to write reviews at times for some of the reasons you mentioned. On the other hand, I have been a professional reviewer for newspapers and magazines for a long time, so I enjoy the reviewing process.

    IndyWriterGirl, I hope you enjoy the series and find the books worthy of a review. See, Dani, I'm getting better.(smile) Like you, I promote books and authors I like a lot, and I won't promote or review a book I didn't like.

    Christopher, you may just have to choose your locals wisely. (smile)

  5. Maryann, congratulations on your book release! I'm going to use a quote from this interview on my "Countdown" post next week so be on the lookout!

    As a former dance critic I am so disheartened by the implosion of the veracity of book reviews thanks to the "friends and family" nature of Amazon and Goodreads. If only so many authors hadn't gone down the "pimping" road—while I know the reviews are vital for discoverability, they are virtually meaningless to me.

    Back when criticism was an art form that had to be honed like any other, critics had standards. Critics contextualized a work, so that whether the slant was good or bad you came away knowing more. You could get to know them and decide whether to trust their word. Now everyone gets 5 stars across the board, it would seem, because no one wants to step on the toes of fellow authors in the good ole boys' club (as opposed to the gentleman's club, lol). Quite a conundrum, but hoping for a solution.

    I thought amazon didn't allow authors to review one another any more? That struck me as a step in an ethical direction.

  6. I tend to be honest in my reviews, but have learned over time that I can be kind about it, yet and still get my point across. (My mother was the perfect example of how NOT to be - prided herself on her honesty and hurt more feelings than I'd want to justify come the big judgment day! ;) If I can't find more good to say than bad about a title, I simply don't review. But if I like three things, I can write about them, and if something like too much use of the ellipsis bothers my inner editor, I state exactly that and temper it by mentioning that most readers probably wouldn't notice. Why don't I write more reviews? Mostly because my manuscript rejection letters are a lot like an Amazon review and I write so many, I don't really want to add that to my plate. But it is important and authors ought to make it a point to write reviews for other authors they read and enjoy. In a perfect world, we'd just do that without prompting, wouldn't we. Because it comes back ten-fold.

  7. Excuse the extra word in my previous post - I'll now go correct the grammar error in the blog post. LOL.

  8. Kathryn, I don't know how Amazon could keep authors from reviewing one another, since they are also readers. Besides, they are probably the most qualified readers to write a review, and the assumption that we are all shills is not only annoying, but rather insulting. I don't think this is any different than writing a blurb for a book cover. Integrity is at the foundation of that little chore, too, and professional authors act accordingly.

  9. What about stars? I don't write a review if I'd star it 1 or 2. I don't mind writing a 3-star review, but would probably elaborate on why the score dropped. A 4-star review is pretty typical for me. I don't have to love the story, but the characters and story must be strong with a solid beginning and ending. I don't give many 5-stars and would certainly elaborate there, too. I really think a 10-star rating would make more sense.

  10. I just love this! And the books is on my TRL too. The part about the gentleman's club gave me my morning laugh.
    Congrats, Maryann!

  11. Kathryn, I agree with your comments about the "friends and family" reviews. I know some authors who went down that road, but I have avoided it. I do review other author's work, if I like it, and I treat it like any other review.

    What I think Amazon is watching for is the practice of trading reviews, which some authors have done. Early on when I started reviewing Terry Odell's books we considered whether it would look strange for all of my books to have a review by Terry and all of hers to have one by me. We decided that was probably not a good idea. I can still review hers, but since it is not reciprocal, Amazon can't call us on that.

    Dani, on rare occasions I have done a review of a book that I really did not like and given it one or two stars if I think the review will help someone avoid buying a book that was not well written. I focus on the craft, not whether I like that genre or the storyline. Most of my reviews get 3 stars for a book I consider good and worth the read. I give 4 stars to an excellent book that I recommend not missing, and 5 stars to an outstanding book. I don't give too many 5 stars and I agree with you that a ten star system would work better.

  12. Congrats, Maryann. I look forward to reading your books. When I finish the last editing/layout jobs still remaining in my queue (soon, very soon), I am going to read for pleasure — something I haven't done for several years.

    I like your underlying racial prejudice theme; I've seen first-hand that it is, indeed, a two-way street. Human interactions and reactions make great grist for the writing mill, don't they?

    Great interview, Dani. :-)

  13. I'd even challenge the traded review concept. If two authors like and respect each other's works, why shouldn't they trade a review and what could possibly make it less worthy? Even beyond that, with all the millions of buyers on Amazon, how many actually would spend the time to compare if two authors randomly popping up on their suggested purchases window and are actually reviewing each other? I suppose there are some anal retentive trolls who do that, but the average buyer is in too much of a hurry to even consider such a thing. I think we're making issues where none really exist. Of course, I'm presupposing a level of integrity, not authors paying each other off to lie. Which I don't really think happens much either!

  14. Great interview. Also, I love Maryann's picture! She is amazingly active! Always doing something.

    Morgan Mandel

  15. Dani I don't think I'm making this up! There was quite a to-do about this a few months ago and Amazon was pulling down reviews that authors wrote about other authors' work. Maybe the furor died down.

    But here's a Dec. 26 post at slashdot:

    In an effort to step up its fight against astroturfers, Amazon has barred authors from reviewing books. It's not simply that authors can't review their own books — they can't review any book in a similar genre to something they've published. "This means that thriller writers are prevented from commenting on works by other authors who write similar books. Critics suggest this system is flawed because many authors are impartial and are experts on novels." British author Joanne Harris had a simpler solution in mind: "To be honest I would just rather Amazon delete all their reviews as it... has caused so much trouble. It is a pity. Originally it was a good idea but it is has become such an issue now. The star rating has become how people view if a book is a success and it has become inherently corrupt."

  16. Congratulations, Maryann! May your success be serial!

  17. Kathryn, I'm guessing Amazon has stepped back from this position, or can't police it. Because there are certainly examples of authors reviewing each other on Amazon. We might want to research this and write up a blog post. First step would be to contact Amazon for their official position.

  18. From the Amazon site:

    Who can write customer reviews?

    Anyone registered as an customer is entitled to write customer reviews.

    I haven't found anything over there yet limiting one author from reviewing another author.

  19. Here's as close as I've found so far:

    What's not allowed

    Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)

    This doesn't really address the idea of an honest review by another author. Certainly Little Pickle Press books have reviews from employees and merchants who are enthusiastic about those books and it hasn't created a problem for Amazon. So I'm perplexed why people think Amazon is being heavy-handed about the practice. I still think asking them directly would be a good thing.

  20. Also from the Amazon guidelines page:

    Tips for writing a great review:

    Include the "why": The best reviews include not only whether you liked or disliked a product, but also why. Feel free to talk about related products and how this item compares to them.
    Be specific: Your review should focus on specific features of the product and your experience with it. For video reviews, we recommend that you write a brief introduction.
    Not too short, not too long: Written reviews must be at least 20 words and are limited to 5,000 words. The ideal length is 75 to 500 words. Video reviews have a 10-minute limit, but we recommend 2 to 5 minutes to keep your audience engaged.
    Be sincere: We welcome your honest opinion about the product--positive or negative. We do not remove reviews because they are critical. We believe all helpful information can inform our customers' buying decisions.
    Full disclosure: If you received a free product in exchange for your review, please clearly and conspicuously disclose that you received the product free of charge. Reviews from the Amazon Vine™ program are already labeled, so additional disclosure is not necessary.

  21. Inability to police—I do see that. I assume computers can do everything, so that they would know if someone registered as an author had tried to post a review or create a dummy account. Maybe I've seen too many conspiracy theory movies, lol.

    Anyway, Maryann, sorry to shift focus away from what sounds like a great book. The cover is great, too, and indicative of genre.

  22. This book sounds really good, Maryann! I'm looking forward to reading it! Thanks, Dani, for this great interview.

  23. We're going to feature a book from a resident BRP blogger each month. Who is next? Step up if we haven't blogged about your book yet.

  24. Wow, you all have been busy pursuing this review issue while I was away at play rehearsal and preparing to leave for a signing event.

    Thanks to all for the congrats and good wishes for my book. I am pleased that so many people are enjoying it. I just received a letter from a reader and that was a nice surprise in my inbox.

    Thanks so much, Dani, for hosting me for the interview and for the great review.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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