I can’t remember when I first formally met Sue Ann
Jaffarian, but I remember when I first saw her. She was emceeing one of our Sisters in Crime Los Angeles (SinC/LA) chapter meetings. (I had recently joined this mystery writing organization.) She was introduced as doing some stand-up comedy on the side and I said to myself, how brilliant is that for a mystery writer.
In time, I would get to know Sue Ann and her work a lot better. Like her plus-size lovable amateur sleuth named Odelia Grey, Sue Ann is a paralegal. She self-published her first two mysteries through iUniverse, and when she read an excerpt of her second, THE CURSE OF THE HOLY PAIL, at one of the SinC/LA meetings, I again said to myself, this stuff is good–it needs to be picked up by a traditional publisher.
Well, that hope came true this year, when Sue Ann’s debut, TOO BIG TO MISS, was released by Midnight Ink. THE CURSE OF THE HOLY PAIL will be coming out next year, with a third, MOTHER MAYHEM, due for publication in 2008.
Sue Ann and I have, before and after her Midnight Ink deal, sat side by side at numerous author festivals and library events. (We’ve joked around coining our combination Hiraharian or Jaffahara–nice Japanese/Armenian mix, no?) She is currently in her third year of her second term as president of SinC/LA. She’s served on the board for seven years, and when her term as president expires at the end of 2007, she will leave the board.
Sue Ann, with her stick-to-it-tiveness and great warmth, is a wonderful representative of the organization, which nationally is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Here to discuss not only Sisters in Crime, but also the road from self-publishing to a traditional publisher is Sue Ann Jaffarian:
How did you get involved in the organization? How old is the chapter?
I originally heard about the organization from a friend of a friend who is a close friend of former L.A. author Glynn Marsh Alam. I was almost done with my first mystery novel, yet had never heard of SinC. The chapter was founded in 1989.
I’ve heard that the Los Angeles chapter is SinC’s largest. Is that true and how many members does it have? About what percentage are women vs. men? Can non-L.A. residents join? What would you attribute to the chapter’s success?
I don’t know if we are the largest chapter, but I believe we are either #1 or #2 in size (the other large chapter being the New York/Tri-State Chapter. SinC/LA usually runs about 180-200 members, with about 30-35% men. In recent years our proportion of published authors has grown to reach close to 70. And, yes, non-L.A. people can join! In fact, we have many members from places like Northern California, New York, Arizona and New Mexico. Non-L.A. authors join us to take advantage of our various signing opportunities.
Several factors contribute to the success of SinC/LA. One, we are in Los Angeles, a huge metropolitan area and entertainment mecca that attracts many writers in many fields. SinC/LA doesn’t just have mystery novelists among its members, but screenwriters, TV writers, comedy writers and journalists, all with an interest in the mystery/crime/thriller areas.
Another big factor in the chapter’s success is the dedication of the board to find ways to help writers of all levels rise in their careers, whether they are just starting to write, have a finished manuscript, newly published, or well established. We do this by providing interesting and informative monthly speakers, a biennial writer’s conference, a speaker’s bureau that provides opportunities for library and book store events, and a presence at major local book festivals. SinC/LA is focused on helping its members realize their goals.
Tell us more about the No Crime Unpublished writing conference in 2007. Do you have a date or location for it yet?
The date will be Sunday, June 10, 2007 (save the date!) and the keynote speaker will be Jacqueline Winspear, author of the incredible Maisie Dobbs series. The location is the Embassy Suites Hotel in Arcadia. Shortly, the board will be releasing details and we will once again offer an early bird registration special. So stay tuned!
I know that through your and now vice president Diana James’ work, SinC/LA has revitalized its Speaker’s Bureau. How would interested members get involved with it?
With Diana James recently moving into the vice president spot and the overwhelming interest from libraries and bookstores in the program, we have divided the duties of the Speaker’s Bureau along geographical lines among several motivated board members: Gayle Bartos-Pool (Director), Celeste Covas and Ashley Baker. Author members interested in the program should contact Gayle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us more about SINC L.A.’s anthology, LANDMARKED FOR MURDER, which debuted at the West Hollywood Book Fair.
LANDMARKED FOR MURDER is actually the brainchild of SinC/LA board member Susan Beery, who originally came up with the theme of linking short stories together with Los Angeles landmarks. She teamed up with Michael Mallory, who was instrumental in bringing SinC/LA’s last anthology, MURDER ON SUNSET BOULEVARD, to life. The editors of LANDMARKED FOR MURDER are Harley Jane Kozak, Nathan Walpow and Michael Mallory, with a foreword by Taylor Smith. The featured authors include some returning favorites, such as Kate Thorton and Paul Marks, as well as exciting new contributors.
I know SINC-LA uses the term “pre-published” for its unpublished writers. Certain critics really assail the use of that term. What’s your take on it?
I often have published writers approach me with negative comments about the term “pre-published,” and I don’t understand why this term bothers them or why they invest energy in thinking about it. Perhaps they have forgotten the insecurity of working on that first novel, wondering if anyone else will ever see and understand the vision they’ve been toiling on for so long. While the term was coined and used at SinC long before I became a part of the organization, I see it as a harmless little nudge or boost of positive energy. During those long and lonely hours at the computer, when self-doubt threatens to creep in, if someone feels better thinking of themselves as “pre-published” rather than “unpublished,” then good for them. Of course, I understand that not all “pre-published” authors will become published, but if that term can make the emotional road a little easier, then by all means use it.
Tell us a little about your own journey from POD to a traditional publisher. Why did you opt to go with iUniverse with the first two Odelia mysteries? Was being an iUniverse author difficult in attracting an agent and traditional publisher? And how different are the Midnight Ink-edited and -published versions from the POD originals? In hindsight, would you do things differently?
Let’s start with the last question. In hindsight, I don’t think I would head to self-publishing so quickly if I were doing it all over again. People are surprised when I say that, BUT it was (and is) a very hard row to hoe, and most authors don’t have the stamina to fight the prejudice and rejection that goes along with being a self-published author. (Hmmm, maybe being a fat woman in a thin society gave me an edge on that, I don’t know.) When I first published TOO BIG TO MISS through iUniverse, I was totally ignorant and naive of what I was facing, which was probably a good thing or I might never have done it. I mean, would you throw yourself off a cliff after first having a chance to stand on the edge and look down at what’s ahead?
I chose to publish TOO BIG TO MISS through iUniverse when my agent at the time refused to represent it (not the lovely agent I have now). She called it “purient” and “crap.” Well, being the stubborn junk yard dog that I am, I wasn’t about to be deterred from my goal of being a “published” author. Also, I was worried that maybe she was right. So I used self-publishing to test the waters, only to discover that readers LOVED my book. Then, worried that I was a one-hit-wonder, I wrote and self-published THE CURSE OF THE HOLY PAIL. When that was successful, I knew it was time to get another agent and find a traditional publisher. Attracting a new agent was not a problem at all, but many publishers turned the two books down because they did not want to reprint them. My agent presented them to Midnight Ink Books and the rest, as they say, is history.
As for the difference between the iUniverse editions and the Midnight Ink editions, both books were re-edited, though THE CURSE OF THE HOLY PAIL not as much as TOO BIG TO MISS. TOO BIG TO MISS was totally overhauled, given a new ending, and 6,000 more words. So it’s really almost a whole new book. When MOTHER MAYHEM is released in early 2008, it will be the first original Odelia Grey mystery in five years.
I know that the series has been optioned for TV. Any news on that or any other new developments (translation rights, etc.)?
Yes, the series has been option for TV. Yea!!! All I know right now is that TOO BIG TO MISS is being packaged by a very well known agency for presentation to various networks/cable companies. Hey, I’m just the author of the novel. They gave me money, sent me on my way, and told me they’d let me know if there were any solid developments. Don’t ya just love Hollywood?
As for other developments, TOO BIG TO MISS should be coming out soon in e-book through Hard Shell Word Factory. Also, Midnight Ink Books will be releasing the second book in the series, THE CURSE OF THE HOLY PAIL, January/February 2007, with the third book, MOTHER MAYHEM, scheduled for January/February 2008.
Besides the writing conference, L.A. Times Festival of Books, West Hollywood Book Festival, and SinC Hollywood conference, what other SinC/LA activities are on tap for the rest of this year and next year?
SinC/LA is hosting the Friday night welcome dinner (Nov. 3) for the SinC Hollywood conference, and after that will be our December Holiday Party and Pre-Published (there’s that word again) Author Showcase. In the next month or so, the board will also be kicking around some pretty creative fund-raising ideas, with the actual fund-raising event in February or March. So stay tuned! And, as always, we are planning a full roster of monthly informative and fun speakers for our general meetings.
Thank you, Sue Ann!
I predict greater and greater things for this SinC/LA president. Already she’s been mentioned in the New York Times by a reporter who just happened to come across TOO BIG TO MISS in a shelf in a bookstore! And she’s currently having a contest, with the prize being an ARC of her upcoming THE CURSE OF THE HOLY PAIL and Thin Mints (yum, my favorite–am I eligible to enter?). The deadline for the contest is October 31, so hurry on over to her website, www.sueannjaffarian.com.
Visit SinC/LA at www.sistersincrimela.com.
For national information, go to www.sistersincrime.org.
And finally, there will be two special Southern California events involving the organization this month:
On Saturday, October 14, the Orange County Sisters in Crime will be celebrating national’s 20th anniversary with Michael Connelly’s kickoff signing of ECHO PARK from 11 to 12:30 p.m. and a reception from 1 to 5 p.m. at Book Carnival in Orange. See the OC website for more information.
And on Saturday, October 21, at 5:30 p.m. SinC/LA will have a launch party for its LANDMARKED FOR MURDER anthology at the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. One local reviewer has stated, “LANDMARKED FOR MURDER is the best of the Sisters-In-Crime/LA
anthologies so far.” It’s a nifty collection with a real cool cover showcasing one of my favorite L.A. landmarks, Eagle Rock.
Published by Top Publications in Dallas, the collection includes short stories by Gay Degani, G.B. Pool, Darrell James, Dee Ann Palmer, Paul D. Marks, Kate Thornton, Jinx Beers, Pamela Samuels-Young, Arthur Coburn, and A.H. Ream. Congrats, all!
WEDNESDAY’S WORD: niisan (SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, page 111)
Pronounced NEE-san, it means older brother, not to be confused with younger brother, which is ototosan. For older sister, there’s nesan (NAY-san) and younger sister, imotosan. In terms of “sisters,” there’s the word, shimai, but I personally haven’t heard it used that often–which may mean absolutely nothing.
LITTLE TOKYO GETS ITS SCREEN TEST: For those who saw this week’s
episode of NBC’s “Heroes,” it was Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, pretending to be the Big Tokyo in Japan, in a key scene. Actor Masi Oka plays Hiro Nakamura, an ordinary man with the extraordinary power of freezing time. He becomes convinced of his destiny through a comic book that plots out his future. In the Little Tokyo scene, he stops time to save a little girl from being hit by a truck. Here’s a piece of trivia for you: the statue of the rocket in the street (that is also featured in the comic book) is a memorial to Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka, one of the astronauts who died in the Challenger explosion. That street, formerly Weller, was renamed in Onizuka’s honor, provoking some protests from Japanese merchants who were afraid that the name’s meaning, Devil’s Grave, would be distasteful to foreign visitors. Japanese Americans, on the other hand, successful fought for the name change. It’s fitting that Onizuka’s memorial was on a TV show called “Heroes.” If you want to read and see more about that episode, including cool storyboards and candid production shots, check out the blog of the show’s director. A great insider’s view.