I read and reviewed author M.J. Labeff’s novel Last Summer’s Evil back in May 2018. I was so very impressed with her writing. That is why she is one of my favorite authors and has earned a position on my Author Spotlight page! Please see her interview and upcoming work below. Thanks M.J!
1. What inspired you to write a book?
I’ve been a lifelong reader, and I think at a very young age that sparked my interest in writing. My mom is an avid reader, and she inspired my love of books. I was fortunate growing up that she always allowed me to buy books and brought me and my sister to the library and encouraged us to read. The seed had been planted before I even realized how much I wanted to write my own book. I grew up in a small town in northeastern Ohio and went to college in northwestern Pennsylvania. During the late 80s and early 90s it didn’t seem like a career choice. Although I’d always been a “good” writer in high school and in college (I majored and graduated with a BA in Communications-English from Gannon University) my teachers and professors never suggested being an author. I also never asked. During those years, my desire to write a book grew even more when a friend introduced me to author, Mary Higgins Clark. Her writing and storytelling is brilliant, and her books had me thinking more and more about writing a novel. However, I didn’t sit down at a computer to write until 2000. I started crafting a mystery. I learned two valuable lessons: 1) writing a novel isn’t as easy as reading one makes it look 2) always back up your hard drive. I lost a partial manuscript and honestly, when the hard drive couldn’t be recovered, I gave up. I didn’t start another novel again until January 2007. I finished it within nine months. After that I kept writing a book a year. Last year, I almost finished two. Almost. I’m getting closer to typing THE END on the second. Now, if I can just nail down a title. I’m leaning toward: The Perfect Revenge.
2. What does your typical writing day look like?
I work full-time in the financial services industry so my writing day looks like a notebook and pen that sits next to my desk at work, just in case an idea sparks to move my current work in progress forward. My job requires my full attention but having a pen and paper helps to jot something down. So for me, it’s really a writing night. My morning starts early just after 5 a.m. with a cup of coffee and my iPhone. I catch up with my friends on Twitter and Facebook and then I’m racing to get ready and out the door. Depending upon book edits or writing, I may visit social media again before I start working on my book(s).
3. Do you have a favorite book you have written?
How can an author love one book baby more than another? It’s hard to pick just one, but I will say Last Fall’s Hunted book 2 of my series always comes to mind. I fell in love with the plot and secondary characters. However, I’m really proud of Last Summer’s Evil, book 1 as it won the American Fiction Award in the thriller category presented by American Book Fest and was also a finalist in the mystery/suspense category. I’m especially fond of all of the books in the Last Cold Case series.
4. What advice would you give to a new writer just starting out?
Write, write, and write some more. There’s no magic formula here. Learning craft and the genre you write in is important, but you can always edit. So, if you have a story that is ready to burst from your fingertips just type! I’d also suggest using a favorite book you’ve read as a guide to learn about pacing, how characters are introduced, how points of views shift without “head bopping”, pay attention to descriptions in scenes, how are transitions from one scene to another made, how long are the chapters; I could go on and on but I’m sure everyone gets the idea here. You can learn so much about writing by simply reading in the genre you want to write. Most people frown on this but I’ll suggest it anyway. Learn the basic rules of fiction writing, pick action verbs- avoid “to be” always and watch out for the overuse of “was” (the latter is needed but when you can pick a nice action verb- do), when you’re in a characters point of view (POV)- you don’t need to write “she felt” or “he felt” we know how or what he/she is feeling because you’re writing from that characters POV, and watch for too many pronouns . My editors at Muse It Up Publishing like to “ding” me on the latter tip. I’ve cleaned up my fair share of pronouns! I’m no expert, but I’m happy to share a few “rules” I learned long ago. Let’s hope I’ve gotten some of them right in my own books.
5. Are you on social media and can your readers interact with you?
I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Yes, I love to hear from readers and try to respond to everyone. I’m active on all three but will admit to spending more time on Twitter. I also have a website mjlabeff.com and a monthly newsletter and often friends who have subscribed to the newsletter will reach out to me through it too.
6. How do you handle literary criticism?
When it comes from my critique partner or editors, I take it under serious consideration. I’ve been fortunate not to have any big rewrites requested on my books and the suggestions from my editors have always been an open discussion via track changes or emails. So far, book reviews have been positive. When you put your work out there you’ve got to mentally prepare for how it’s received or viewed. You have to have a thick skin as a writer. It’s not easy. Just try to remember even the very best writers in the business get 1 and 2 star reviews. You’re not going to please everyone all of the time. As for how I handle setbacks and/or disappointments when it comes to my writing and books, I workout and sometimes I’ll call a trusty friend or my parents. The most important thing is to move on.
7. Please describe your writing space?
My desk has two computers on it. An old trusty Asus netbook for writing and an HP laptop that’s 3 or 4 years old for editing, research and social media. Although, I really use my iPhone for posting and tweeting. I also have a couple of paperweights, several rocks, including a piece of quartz, small writing pads, a file for my current work in progress, and a wooden caddy for pens, bills and more paper. Sometimes, I like to get away from my desk so I’ll take my netbook out to my dining room and write there.
8. Who is your own favorite author? Dead or alive.
Mary Higgins Clark. Two of my favorite books by her are: “Where are the Children?” and “A Cry in the Night”.
9. What is the most helpful thing to you in this industry?
Social media and the kind people I’ve met on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram. It’s the easiest way to meet new friends, readers, authors, artists, musicians and other creatives. Everyone has been incredibly support and I’ve been quite humbled by the sheer volume of nice, caring people out there. I feel so blessed having this wonderful network of friends, and I’ll never forget some of the people who did so much to help me when my debut novel, Mind Games was released in 2015 and then again when Last Summer’s Evil, book 1 of the Last Cold Case series came out in 2017.
10. If you had to describe yourself in 3 words…what would they be?
Honest, Determined, Focused. Gosh, can I add I’m also funny! I sound so serious, but those three words really describe moi.
Upcoming Work and Projects!
Take a moment to shine! Please tell us about your upcoming work. Any reveals, teasers etc…
Last Spring’s Stranger book 4 of my Last Cold Case series is scheduled to release this fall/winter. I haven’t received any edits yet, so I’m guessing my publisher is looking at a winter release.
Here’s a preview of the back jacket copy:
Secrets can have deadly and life altering consequences. The legend of Verch’s Hollow has intrigued the residents of Snug Harbor, Ohio for generations. Myths about the abandoned property abound. When a teenage girl is murdered in the Hollow, her gruesome death threatens to expose a secret from Homicide Detective, Rachel Hood’s past. Forced to face the truth of her deception, she reopens a cold case that could jeopardize her career. A victim of adolescent cyber bullying, messages fill her personal inbox with threatening undertones from years ago. Do keep evidence and share it with an authority. Enter FBI Agent Nick Draven an occult crimes specialist and Hood’s fiancé. As they delve deeper into the sender’s motive, Rachel has to confront the harsh reality she left behind over twelve years ago: a murdered friend, Tina; a glimpse of the killer at the scene of the crime, who she can’t identify despite her psychic empathy; and her own involvement with the evening’s sinister events.
Now see that, this reminds me of the numerous suspects and twists and turns, and I almost wanna tell you it’s my favorite book! It’s another serial killer thriller and by the end of chapter one homicide detective, Rachel Hood has three dead bodies on her hands. If you’re a fan of crime fiction with a supernatural twist, please add the books in the Last Cold Case series to your reading list. There’s also a discussion guide for readers in book clubs on my website-www.mjlabeff.com
About the Author:
MJ LaBeff is an American author best described as the girl-next-door with a dark side. MJ grew up in northeastern Ohio but traded snow for sunshine and moved to southern Arizona over a decade ago where she lives with her husband and two dogs. She’s drawn to writing suspense novels, featuring complicated characters and twisted plot lines that will keep readers turning page after page. When she’s not writing or plotting her next novel, MJ enjoys reading, running, lifting weights, and volunteering for the American Cancer Society