Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Meet Pamela Samuels Young - Author of Murder On The Down Low

Pamela Samuels Young
Author of Murder on the Down Low

1. Why did you become a writer? Was it a dream of yours since you were younger or did the desire to write happen later in your life?

I knew pretty early that I wanted to be a writer, having worked on school newspapers in junior high, high school and college. When I decided to major in journalism at the University of Southern California, I didn't give much thought to creative writing. At the age of 18, I didn't have the guts to even consider a career as a novelist. The writers I enjoyed reading—James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Joan Didion—were incredibly talented literary writers. I knew I didn't have that kind of poetic writing talent. So I pursued a career in journalism, working as a news writer at WXYZ-TV in Detroit and as a news writer and associate producer at KCBS-TV in Los Angeles.

I later found myself burned out after a few years of the daily newsroom grind and decided to go to law school. Flash forward several years and I somehow gathered the courage to give fiction writing a try. As it turns out, writing legal thrillers is the perfect combination of my journalism and legal careers.

I'm so proud to have published three books: Murder on the Down Low (2008), In Firm Pursuit (2007) and Every Reasonable Doubt (2006). Getting published was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, but nothing has been more rewarding.

2. What do you love about being an author? Is there anything you dislike?

I love sitting down at a computer and seeing my imagination come to life on the page. It's so cool to get an email from a stranger who enjoyed one of my books. It can be a little weird, however, when someone sees me at a book signing and wants to discuss a character like she's a real person. I don't particularly like the business side of the publishing industry. Many writers will tell you they don't see eye to eye with their editor regarding cover design, promotional angles etc. But it comes with the territory and you just have to deal with it.

3. How do you balance your personal and writing time?

Personal time? What's that? I have none. I work fulltime as a lawyer for a large corporation. All my free time goes to writing.

4. How do you write? Do your characters come to you first or the plot or the world of the story?

The story premise is where I begin. I will then spend anywhere from a few weeks to as long as three months outlining a book before I sit down to write. I also mull over my story quite a bit. I'm thinking about it in the shower, while I'm standing in line at the grocery store, during my 45-minute commute to work. I can almost see each chapter as if it were a scene in a movie. Only after I have a completed outline do I start writing. And when I write, I go from page one to the last page without doing much editing. For me, it's psychologically motivating to complete that first draft, even if it's so bad I'd never dare show it to anyone. Once I have a first draft, then the real writing starts. I revise, and revise and revise some more. That process can last six months or more.

5. What genre(s) do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?

All three my books fall within the legal thriller genre. I'm a lawyer and I've always loved reading mysteries, particularly those that involve fascinating legal cases. My desire to see more diversity in legal fiction is what caused me to take a stab at writing my first book. It bothered me that the legal thrillers I read never depicted women attorneys or African-American attorneys as lead characters. So . . . I decided to fill the void.

6. What is the biggest misconception about being an author?

That you're making lots of cash. Not so! (At least not yet!)

7. Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

Many of the characters in my book are based on people I know. Some are from my imagination, and some have some element of friends and family members. It's so funny when friends ask me, "Did you base that character on me?" Even if I didn't, I tell them I did.

8. Out of all the characters that you've written, who is your favorite and why?

Special who is in all three of my novels.! She is indeed Special. She's smart, street savvy and a true friend.

9. If you were writing a script for the big screen, who would you want to act in your movie?

If I were casting Murder on the Down Low, I'd like Jada Pinkett Smith to play Special, Sainaa Lathan to play Vernetta, Queen Latifah to play Nichelle, Angela Bassett to play J.C. and LL Cool J to play Jefferson.

10. What would you want readers to take away from your most recent book, Murder on the Down Low?
I often have a hard time recalling exactly when or how the idea for a particular novel originated. For the most part, the ideas simply pop into my head from some unknown place. That's not the case with Murder on the Down Low. I have a crystal clear recollection of watching an Oprah show featuring J.L. King, author of On the Down Low. As I listened to him discuss this secret world of men on the down low—guys who insist that they're heterosexual but have sex with other men—I was completely stunned. My emotions went from shock to anger to fear. The next day, while driving to work, the premise for the book popped into my head: What if attractive, prominent, successful married men were being gunned down on the streets of L.A. and no one knew why? And what if they all shared a dirty little secret?

Writing Murder on the Down Low gave me an opportunity to both entertain and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. It's my hope that Murder on the Down Low helps people understand that HIV is not a gay disease. Many people – male and female, straight and gay -- don't know their status because they haven't been tested, so they're unwittingly spreading the disease.

11. Do you have any advice for beginning writers in regards to writing a book?

Don't let the naysayers discourage you. Agents and editors have rejected lots of writers who went on to major success in the publishing world (e.g., John Grisham, Terry McMillan, Stephanie Meyer, J.K. Rowling). So when you get that rejection letter, take a minute or two to whine about it, then move on. Your day will come. Just keep writing!

12. Who are your favorite authors?

Too many too name, but here are just a few . . . Terry McMillan, Greg Iles, Tami Hoag, Sandra Brown, Walter Mosley, and a new writer Scott Pratt.

13. What are you reading right now?

The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffrey Deaver and I'm loving it. This is my first novel by Deaver. I am now a fan for life!

14. Do you have a belief in certain spiritual things? (For instance, souls, nirvana, God, invisible pink unicorns, flying spaghetti monsters, or heaven.)

Without my faith in God, I wouldn't have the success I've had so far. My day begins with prayer. I couldn't survive this tough publishing industry without it.

15. Which of the following motivates you more to accomplish something?
The prospect of fame or self-fulfillment.

Definitely self-fulfillment. I wrote for three long years without making a dime and, unfortunately, I still haven't socked away a fortune though I have published three books. I write because these engaging stories drop into my head and I feel compelled to put them down on paper so I can share them with others.

16. Which of the following best describes you? And give us an example of how emotions or logic show up in your work. I am emotional and base my decisions and writing on feelings. I am a thinker and I base my decisions and writing on logic and research

I am definitely emotional. Just ask my husband! I want readers to feel what my characters feel. I'm pleased when readers tell me they identify with my characters' rage or fear in Murder on the Down Low. That was indeed my goal. One of my favorite characters, Special in Murder on the Down Low, is a good example. Her rage over her cousin's death leads her to do some crazy things. I actually felt her rage as I wrote the scenes.

17. What strengths and weaknesses do you bring to writing?

My strength is my background as a journalist, specifically a television news writer. I spent seven years writing news under the gun, so I can get my first draft down on paper pretty quickly. I also write quite a bit as a lawyer, so writing comes pretty easily to me since I do it so much. I love writing dialogue, but I have a lot of room for growth when it comes to the narrative portions of my chapters. I often have to close my eyes and try to imagine the scene where the chapter is taking place. Descriptions, whether people or inanimate objects, are difficult for me.

18. Describe a time when you had to sacrifice quality for a deadline, or visa versa. Would you try to extend a deadline to stay true to the quality of writing you aspire to?

I'm glad to say I've never run up against a deadline I couldn't meet. (Knock on wood!) I hope to never have to sacrifice quality. If I wasn't happy with the final product, I wouldn't send it in. I would definitely ask for an extension if I thought I needed more time. Readers are very unforgiving. It you write something that sucks, they will never forgive you.

19. Tell me about a project you have been working on and how you organize the your paperwork, chapters, writing goals, etc.

I'm working on a new thriller called Buying Time. It's the tale of a recently disbarred lawyer who unwittingly finds himself in the middle of murder scheme where his former clients are the victims. I practice law full time, so I write whenever and wherever I can. Usually in the evenings and on weekends. I recently started using Dragon, a voice recognition software. It allows me to dictate into the computer. It's amazingly accurate. I recently dictated a few chapters into my digital recorder during my 45-minute commute home, then downloaded them to my computer when I got home. It allowed me to use time sitting in traffic writing my book!

20. Now that we know you better, how can we buy Murder on the Down Low?

All three of my books, Murder on the Down Low, In Firm Pursuit and Every Reasonable Doubt, are available wherever books or sold. If you don't find them on your local bookstore shelf, please ask the stores to order them.

Pamela Samuels Young is a practicing attorney and author of the legal thrillers, Murder on the Down Low, Every Reasonable Doubt and In Firm Pursuit. You can find Pamela's articles on writing at BizyMoms.com, where she is a featured fiction writing expert.

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