Bolder and Older: Morgan St. James
This month Older and Bolder features the multi-talented Morgan St. James. It’s hard to believe, though she had written numerous articles, this lady didn’t publish her first book until she was in her 60s. Maybe this was because she had a lot of other things going on and didn’t have the time to focus on a book. But now she’s on a roll with fiction and non-fiction works. In addition, she is an advocate for stopping domestic abuse. Now it’s time to set back and learn more about this amazing woman.
Before moving your focus to writing, what were your prior jobs?
Well, do you have a couple of hours? Just kidding, but there were many and they all come in handy when I write. I began as a secretary for a Beverly Hills business manager to the stars, then was a secretary with a Secret clearance in various aerospace companies, administrative assistant, office manager, interior designer (for 20 years), design related sales, manufacturer’s rep for furniture manufactured in Federal prisons (inspired the fiction book Ripoff), and, of course, writer. I probably forgot a few.
When did you start writing and how old were you when your first book was published? What was the title?
I began seriously writing in the late 1970s at age 42, when my first article was published in Designer’s West Magazine. After that I went on to write many magazine and newspaper articles. In the mid 90s, as I neared 60, my sister Phyllice Bradner and I (both published writers, but not in fiction) were inspired to launch our own mystery series. The first book in the Silver Sisters Mysteries, A Corpse in the Soup, was published in 2006. I was 66 years old. It was named Best Mystery Audio Book by USA Book News. There are now 4 books in the series and we will begin the 5th one in 2017.
Do you feel starting a writing career at a more mature age makes you a better writer?
Actually, I do. I had so many life experiences by then that it not only gave me a wealth of information to draw upon, but things took on a different perspective. Of course, this is only my opinion, because a young writer might have a totally different take on it, but I believe it added texture and depth to my work.
Are your female characters older, or more in the younger category? If you write both, which do you feel is more comfortable for you?
I am comfortable writing about all ages. To give you an idea of the diverse ages of the characters, in the Silver Sisters Mysteries, we have the main characters, identical twins Goldie Silver and Godiva Olivia DuBois who are 50ish, their mother Flossie Silver who is 80 and Goldie’s daughter Chili Pepper who is somewhere in her 20s. In some of my other books I have women in their 40s. Having lived through all of those eras, I simply reach back down to remember what it was like. However in the case of Chili and any of her contemporaries, times have changed so much, I make those characters relate to modern thoughts, action and style. Sometimes that requires some research. It is also important to relate to characteristics based upon where they grew up and where they live currently.
I notice you also write with several different partners in addition to the works that have only in your name. Is it easier to write with a partner or alone?
It depends upon who I am writing with and their writing talents and backgrounds. However as a blanket comment, for the most part it is more fun to write with a partner because writing is such a solitary profession. That said, it is also important, in my opinion, to belong to at least one writers’ group. When writing with a partner, the main thing is to identify in front each person’s strong points relative to writing and capitalize upon them—to decide right from the start how possible disputes about characters, scenarios or timelines are settled, and to agree that it isn’t brain surgery. You should enjoy what you do.
How would you describe your writing style?
I am lucky in that I have a very fluid writing style. I’m told that not everyone clicks into “automatic writing,” like I often do. Sometimes when the chapter or scene takes hold, my subconscious takes over and the words flow nonstop. Often if I reread it in the morning, I don’t even remember writing some of it. That said, I have learned to work with plot points and a timeline. Not an actual outline, but more of a loose roadmap that reminds me of certain things I want to happen in the plot, characters I want to introduce, and the timeline and order of things. Adopting this style has been invaluable to Phyllice and me as we create more and more Silver Sisters escapades, because we can leave a project, come back to it even months or years later, and know where it is going. Interior monologues for the characters are also a powerful tool. The characters can tell you things you never knew about them. And, of course, since nothing is etched in stone as the saying goes, if a better, more challenging or interesting idea comes up during the writing, I’m always open to considering alternatives. I’ve actually changed endings several times.
Do you do specific research for you books, or do you write based around life knowledge?
Both. As I said, I am lucky to have had many life experiences and to have travelled a great deal, both nationally and internationally. However, it is imperative to “get it right.” So if there is something I, or my writing partner and I, need to know more about in depth in order to get it accurate, research is definitely called for. Here is an example. A Corpse in the Soup involves a murder during an internationally televised cooking competition, the Greatest Gourmet Gladiator Tournament. Now remember, Silver Sisters Mysteries are funny, fast-paced mysteries. To get the entire setting right, I did extensive research revolving around how shows like The Iron Chef are produced, how the stages are set up and everything related to televised cooking competitions. I also research locations to make sure I get them right. For this book, we needed a relatively small town in California with certain characteristics. The internet is great for this kind of research. I found the town of Cotati which was a perfect fit. We absorbed so much information, that some readers thought we had been there, including one person who actually lived in Cotati. Unless it is a fantasy or sci-fi, and you use actual locations, you must strive to get the details right.
I understand in addition to having a new Silver Sisters Mystery coming out this month, you also have a new book coming out wherein you helped the couple write their true story. Can you tell us a little about that?
Since collaborating with Dennis N. Griffin and Bella Capo to write La Bella Mafia, her memoir (the first book I worked with an abuse victim,), I have become an advocate for abuse awareness. I become very attached to these women, as well, and view Bella as a surrogate daughter. Dennis and I subsequently worked as consultants on another such memoir and then he was approached by Cheryl and Robert Cuccio to help write their amazing story. Incest, Murder and a Miracle, which is due for release on December 10, 2016.
Cheryl was a teenage victim of the worst kind. Her father, James Pierson, abused her sexually, physically and mentally from the time she was only about ten years old. Her mother had a terminal illness and died a few years later. When her father threatened to turn his attentions to her eight year old sister in 1985, Cheryl panicked and arranged for a classmate to kill him, having made a promise to protect her sister as her mother lay in her coffin. Her boyfriend at the time, seventeen year old Robert Cuccio, was her only protector and became involved. James Pierson was murdered in 1986 and Cheryl spent time in jail as a youthful offender for arranging her father’s murder. Robert received probation. This was one of the first times the word INCEST was emblazoned in headlines and could have been a precedent-setting case. It was in national media for a few years. Nine months after her release from jail, she and Robert were married and have been together ever since.
Cheryl became a strong survivor, determined to never be a victim again—and here is the miracle part. In 2012, at age 44, Robert Cuccio was pronounced dead after 30 minutes without a pulse or oxygen to his brain. Cheryl would not give up on him and implored the doctors to continue trying to revive him. He came back to life after being dead 43 minutes and today is back at work as an oncology nurse. This true story will shock, amaze and inspire the reader and I am proud they chose me to help them tell it.
I must add, that I have had to limit writing books like this, because it is as though I am living the story too, and it is so painful for them to reach back into their buried memories. It takes so much out of me. I then revert to writing funny books.
Morgan, what else would you like to share with our readers?
To aspiring writers, I would like to emphasize that you shouldn’t give up. It is sometimes tough to break into this field. It is so important to know your craft and understand the business of writing. I cover quite a bit of that in my book Writers’ Tricks of the Trade, and also in my bi-monthly online magazine of the same name. I have written over 600 published articles on the craft and business of writing.
I give workshops at writers conferences and can also arrange to speak to groups via Skype, or where practical, in person. I live in Las Vegas and am on the board of Writers of Southern Nevada. Lists of my talks can be found on the Speakers Bureau page at http://www.nevadawriters.org. Lists of my workshops for conferences and more information about me can be found on my website www.morganstjames-author.com.
Where can readers find you and your work? Also, are the same locations if someone would like to reach out for your help in telling their story?
My website, www.morganstjames-author.com also has links to my other websites and blogs. I currently have 15 books in publication, and most are on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, almost every online bookseller including Walmart.com and in some libraries. The majority of my books are available in trade paperback and Kindle. Some are also available in other digital platforms and in audio. You can also check my website for additional information.
Columnist Lizzie T. Leaf: Award winning author, Lizzie T. Leaf started life in Kansas, sprung to adulthood in North Carolina, and currently shivers through the winters in Colorado.
Since discovering the fun of writing paranormal, she plays with creating vampires, faeries and other immortals. When she needs a touch of reality, her Contemporary Erotic Romances come into play. Her most recent release is Nordic Heat, available at http://amzn.to/1owng5k
If she’s not creating mischief for paranormal beings, or getting under the covers with her erotic heroes, she can be found exploring the other genres she wants to write. She is a member of RWA and has served as President for the Heart of Denver Romance Writers and VP of Programs.
Lizzie loves to read, spend time with her family and travel with her best friend husband.