Interview with cozy paranormal mystery writer Bill Alive

psychic touchTell us about the new series. What inspired the characters and storyline?

Thanks for asking!

My new paranormal mystery series stars Summer, a secret psychic who’s lonely in the big city and thinks she’s the only psychic in the world, who discovers all these other secret psychics in a cozy little town in Virginia named Wonder Springs.

Here’s the teaser blurb for the first book, Murder With a Psychic Touch:

Her unique power is secret …

… but she just got framed for murder.

Can Summer use her psychic gift to catch the real killer in time?

Wonder Springs seems like such a sweet little Southern town. A mysterious “Grandma” invites her to stay at the lovely Inn.

Then a fellow guest drops dead.

And Summer’s the only suspect.

Until now, Summer’s always been a loner. (Except for her beloved cat.) Can she get over her haunted past and work together to catch the killer…

… with new friends who may have secret powers of their own?

You’ll love this fun, fast-paced cozy, because it has fresh paranormal powers, a huge warm family, and a twist ending you’ll never suspect.

Get it now.

What I love about Wonder Springs is that I can just run wild with all kinds of fun psychic powers and (to me, what’s almost as magical) gorgeous architecture.

murder awfulI spent a semester in Europe in college, and I’ve never quite gotten over the ache of those little hill towns made of stone and wood and centuries of human lives … the buildings are sinuous and organic; they seem to grow out of the very mountains. So Wonder Springs is this beautiful old town that has somehow magically happened in the hills of Virginia.

In my previous paranormal series, which starts with Murder Feels Awful, I worked really hard to ground it in the “real world” so you’d get that delicious feeling that this could maybe actually happen. That detective, Mark Falcon, really does seem to be the only empath in the world, or close to it, and his town of Back Mosby feels like any small town you might drive through around here.

But for Wonder Springs, I just let loose. I imagined the town I wish we had. Plus all the different psychic powers I can think of. I mean it: there’s a telepathic parrot [Editor’s note: His name is Keegan, and he’s an African Grey parrot.] Although, to be honest, I got that parrot idea from real life. There have been actual experiments testing the possible telepathy between a parrot and its owner … you can check YouTube. The world is strange, my friend. Strange and wonderful. And hilarious.

psychic zapWhere do your stories come from? Do you imagine them out of whole cloth, or does something else spark a story in you?

Well, sometimes you might come across the idea of, I don’t know, telepathic parrots? And it’s just, like, obviously, that has to go in the book. But really, a story, especially a novel, is a big, long, complicated piece of machinery, with lots of moving parts. So you might start out with a few scattered parts that have a great energy and just seemed to come to you, but you’re still going to have to go exploring for all the rest. To totally switch metaphors: sometimes it feels like I’m foraging around in a vast jungle with occasional caches of gems. Or maybe I’m foraging for parts that might fit into my machine.

Imagine how excited you’d be to be scrounging around in a hot soaking jungle and find that perfect part that will not only fix your engine, but also give it a rocket turboboost. It’s awesome.

But then imagine walking another two hundred miles before you find that stupid fan belt you also need… and you really do need it, even if it’s nothing special, otherwise your machine won’t even run. And then right next to the boring fan belt, buried almost out of sight, is the tip of a pair of wings …

(P.S. My favorite craft book of all time is John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. If you’re reading this, it’s worth a look.)

You’ve switched from empathic to psychic powers. Do you consider them on the same plane?

Definitely! For me, empathy is just one of many of the possible psychic powers in this fictional world. And I’m apparently a big fan of empathy, because Summer’s cousin and sidekick, Tina, is also an empath.

That said, it’s been a lot of fun seeing how different the empathy power plays out between sweet, kind, loving Tina and reclusive, laconic, (but also loving) Mark.

I’m still trying to figure out whether those two will ever meet …

crazyWill you be writing any more Murder Feels … novels?

Absolutely! I’ve been ruminating over the fourth book, Murder Feels Deadly, for over a year now, and I’m really excited to get back to Mark and Pete and continue where book 3, Murder Feels Crazy, left off.

Although I’ve got plans for multiple Summer books in 2020, I also really want to at least get out Murder Feels Deadly this year too. No promises yet, but seriously, it’s about time.

Plus, this is an “alphabet” series, and so, in theory, I could be looking at twenty-six books here. I’d better get cracking.

Your stories are generally set in Virginia. Are you a native of the Old Dominion? If not, what brought you here? What do you like about the state?

I am indeed a Virginia native! I grew up in Northern Virginia, and though I’ve spent time elsewhere as an adult, for the last few years we’ve been back here in Virginia, in the lovely, scenic, and perhaps slightly economically depressed Shenandoah Valley. One thing I like very much about Virginia is that I know it really well, so I’m less likely to make cringeworthy mistakes trying to worldbuild it for my stories. I’m not going to say that’s the only reason my stories are set in Virginia, but … well …

No, honestly, the Shenandoah Valley is quite gorgeous, and I feel very blessed to live here. We have fantastic national parks and many kind people. When people choose to live here, it’s often an economic sacrifice, either in the commute into Northern Virginia for their work or else in accepting a much-reduced income. So I often meet people with a deep appreciation for nature and small-town life.

On the other hand, not everyone out here gets that choice to begin with … but that’s a longer discussion.

psychic kissWhat’s your writing routine? Do you have a dedicated office, or do you write at the kitchen table? Do you write longhand or type everything?

I write every weekday morning, and sometimes on Saturday, on whatever’s my current main project.

Yes, I take holidays off, but otherwise, without this routine, I don’t think I’d have anything finished out in the world. Ever.

“Home office” sounds a bit grand for my little back room, but I do have a dedicated space for work, if you don’t count the closet with the Christmas decorations. (No, never mind, the decorations are in my long-suffering daughter’s closet.) I’ve been trying for years to call the room my “study,” but somehow the name never sticks.

I’d love to write longhand, but that will have to wait until I can afford to employ a secretary with serious skills in cryptography. I’m apparently going to spend the bulk of my adult life typing.

Although, for the most recent Summer book, Murder With a Psychic Kiss, I did also use a huge whiteboard with post-it notes, and that was fantastic. I had a column for each act, with a separate post-it for each scene, so I could see at a glance which acts were mostly done and which were still vast swathes of unexplored story tundra. I definitely plan to keep using the whiteboard. But it’s still mostly typing. I write way more words trying to figure out the novel than I ever write of actual prose.

post-it-notes-whiteboard-800x573_c

You’ve said you outline your stories in advance, but do the characters ever pull you in a different direction once you start writing? Do they speak to you?

They certainly do “speak” to me … but I’m not even going to try to describe that process because, honestly, it only gets more mysterious. However, my outlining is so iterative that I haven’t really had the experience of getting halfway in and then getting wrenched into some totally new direction. (Not since I started outlining.)

I can see getting wrenched if you just dove in and started pantsing your way through the plot jungle, sure. But with an outline, I’ve had so much time to glimpse the ending and the beginning and everything in between that I’ve already been surprised and delighted and made those kinds of changes long before I started the final prose.

It’s like planning a house. You might get surprised while you’re drawing and redrawing the blueprints, but you’re not going to pour the foundation and get all the framing done and be halfway through the roof and then be like, “Holy crud! We need an indoor pool!”

Of course, now that I say all that, I’m realizing that 1) I can think of at least one time where I did have to do a major rewrite, despite all my outlining, and 2) Watch me have to do some major change on my next book. Ugh.

murder badBut it’s worth noting that that major rewrite (Murder Feels Crazy) actually didn’t change any major plot beats. It was all about the tone and some character problems … problems which had fiendishly eluded me in the outlining.

Anyway, that doesn’t mean the draft is boring. I get loads of lovely little surprises as I’m finally writing the prose. I love seeing just how Pete or Summer are going to feel as they experience the scene, the comments they’ll make and the details they’ll notice. Sometimes I know a bit of that ahead of time, but I’m often discovering as I go. And sometimes I’ll get ideas for a whole new scene or some new connection that can enrich a later scene.

Really, I distinguish less and less between the outlining and the prose. In the end, you’re making discoveries and decisions at every level of the process. Sure, creating prose does have some extra stress because that’s the part that everyone, you know, reads. But the more I work on crafting stories, the more I feel like everyone cares much less about the prose than they do about the story. And they mostly care about the huge story turns, which is what I figure out in the outlining. So, for me, it’s all “writing”, if that makes sense.

What do you like best about being a writer? What do you like least?

Let me start with what I like least … hmm … oh, that was quick. Marketing. 😊

When I can learn the wisdom of loving marketing, I will be a true master.

As for what I like best … do I have to choose?

I am thankful that I do love the actual process of writing. Many writers seem to dread writing. I’m not saying I never get stage fright or self-doubt or that I never have to battle the insidious “Resistance” that Steven Pressfield talks about. [People ask me sometimes, “When in your day do you first feel Resistance?” My answer: “The instant I open my eyes.”]* I get that all the time. And I’ve had plenty of toxic struggles related to writing … I’m even working on a special project about mental health for writers, because it’s this huge elephant in the room, and too many of my writer friends are getting trampled. It’s called Your Writing Is Killing You:  (https://yourwritingiskillingyou.com/).

hideous vaseBut once I get into the actual writing, the thing itself, the ratio of pleasure to pain just seems like a freaking amazing good deal. Maybe it was different when I was younger, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I should try to figure out why. I have a lot of dread around drawing and artwork, so I suppose that might be similar.

For me, writing novels really does mean novelty … there are so many subtle and nuanced pleasures lying in wait.

The zing of a well-turned phrase … the tingle of a shocking scene turn … the abrupt belly laugh that makes you light enough to float, while also reassuring your wife and kids at the other end of the house that you are, in fact, still alive … not every occupation gifts you with so many moments of gold.

And then (sometimes) there’s also a whole new book at the end? That didn’t even exist before? That other people can actually read?

Sign me up.

bill

*https://stevenpressfield.com/2019/10/resistance-wakes-up-with-me/

Bill Alive writes hilarious paranormal cozies with heart. (Plus other cool genres he’s still trying to fit into a pithy tagline.) For more on Bill Alive’s fantastical books, including your very own free paranormal cozy mystery, visit: https://billalive.com

Did you even doubt there’s a psychic parrot on YouTube?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0xYuOAQKts