Today 2 Wild Women Authors are pleased to welcome author E. F. Watkins who brings Quinn Matthews from her paranormal mystery Dark Music, a January 2013 release from Amber Quill Press, LLC.
First, a brief synopsis of today's featured story: Dark Music:
When single, 30-something Quinn Matthews buys a Victorian house in the New Jersey suburbs from a relative, she finally owns the home of her dreams. She tries to ignore the peculiar chill she feels whenever she goes near the attic, where her late uncle suffered a fatal heart attack.
Quinn, who writes about architecture and interior design for a living, plans to restore the place in true 19th-century style. Her efforts are hampered, though, by strange accidents. She also hears classical piano music and gunshots from no earthly source, and finds eerie messages on a wall, a notepad and even her computer. An unstable next-door neighbor accuses her of “stirring up trouble” with her renovations.
Finally, Quinn accepts that her dream house is haunted. But the ghosts don't want her gone--they want her to right a terrible wrong that took place in 1897.
A latent psychic gift makes Quinn identify strongly with their sufferings. Soon, she feels the strain on her relationships, her finances and even her sanity. To lay the ghosts to rest and keep the house she loves, she must re-investigate the murder of its first owner--a dashing classical pianist whose love life was far from “Victorian.”
Where are you from, Quinn? Northern New Jersey, the Attitude Capitol of the U.S.A.!
What is Dark Music about? It tells how I bought a Victorian house I’d admired all my life—it belonged to my late aunt and uncle—and found out after I moved in that it was haunted, but not by my relatives…These spirits went back a lot further. They never even bothered my relatives very much, but for some reason they really latched onto me and nearly drove me insane. Maybe because I have some slight psychic abilities, they saw me as the perfect person to finally solve a murder that took place at the house more than 100 years ago. I soon realized the only way I’d get them out of my house was to do what they wanted, if I possibly could. But talk about a “cold case”--!
What made you choose writing about architecture and interior design as a profession? I started out as a general-assignment reporter on my local newspaper, but covering town council meetings and interviewing local politicians bored me silly. I’d minored in art in college, and when the paper’s interior design writer retired, I applied for her spot. I’ve always been especially fascinated by older buildings…though I’m a little more wary of them now that I’ve discovered I’m a magnet for ghosts!
Knowing what you know now, if you had it to do over again, would you still buy your house? I had an inkling the place was haunted before I moved in, but I went ahead anyhow. Of course, I had no idea the hell those ghosts would put me through, or that they would stir up psychic “gifts” I’d just as soon have let lie dormant. The whole ordeal took an emotional and physical toll on my friends, too. On the other hand, the experience certainly taught me more about myself. I know now that I have the ability to help spirits move on…and to give the folks they’re haunting some peace, too.
What is your biggest fear? That I’ll encounter a spirit or other entity that’s too much for me to handle, and lose control. I “channeled” a ghost, at one point, and it was way too much like possession to suit me! I could have hurt somebody while in that state without ever intending to.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Gail Kleinholtz, a professional psychic who has become sort of my mentor, reassured me that a ghost can’t directly harm a living person—that people are only injured because they overreact in fear. I’m not so sure of that, but it has given me the courage to actually stand up to and talk back to spirits. Amazingly, they do seem to respect that!
Now, it's E. F. Watkins turn at bat. Which authors have had a major impact on your writing? My early favorite was Ira Levin, the author of Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives. I loved the way he inserted the paranormal very subtly and gradually into the everyday lives of modern, intelligent people, until they ended up having to accept and cope with the unbelievable. One of my strongest influences in writing the Quinn Matthews Haunting Mysteries has been Barbara Michaels (a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters), because she was the first mystery writer I came across who used “real” paranormal elements in her plots. The ghost, curse or possessed object wasn’t just a clever trick, it really was supernatural. She gave me confidence to do the same thing, because I’ve always loved paranormal plots.
Who is your favorite fictional character and why? I love a good villain! I’ve always been fascinated by Dracula, because he has so many different aspects to him. Among villainesses, I love Rebecca (from the book of the same name), because she exerts such a malignant influence over everyone, even from beyond the grave.
With regard to research, where did you start for this novel? I talked to and read books by credible psychics to be able to describe their experiences with hauntings. I also researched daily life in the New Jersey/New York area at the turn of the century and the experiences of Irish immigrants at that time.
Did that lead you down different paths, thereby changing the original concept? I wrote the first version of this book a long time ago as more of a horror novel, because at the time that’s what was selling. But it never found a publisher in that form, and I always saw it as a quieter story. The ghosts in Quinn’s house aren’t trying to kill her or drive her out—they want her to expose a terrible injustice that took place over a century ago. When I re-envisioned the story a “cold case” murder mystery—adding the modern-day threat of a disturbed and dangerous next-door neighbor—it came together as the story I always intended to tell.
Tell us a bit about your publisher, E.F.. How did you hear about them? I was a founding member of the Garden State Horror Writers (now Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers), and around 2002 we had a speaker who talked about the new phenomenon of ebook publishing. She was interested in my vampire thriller Dance with the Dragon, and suggested I send it to her publisher. That company evolved into Amber Quill Press, which now publishes both ebooks and trade paperbacks, and Dance with the Dragon was one of the first books they put out in 2003. (It went on to win a 2004 EPPIE ebook award for Best Horror Novel.)
What influenced your decision to submit to them? I had tried the traditional route for many years, but my books always crossed genres, which made them problematic for traditional publishers. I discovered that small and “indie” publishers (here meaning independent, not self-publishing) were more open to quirky plots, such as mixing mystery with paranormal. Amber Quill has turned out to be a great fit for my work.
Tell us a bit about their submission process. How long did it take from query to release? Dark Music will be my seventh book with AQP, so at this point the submission process goes pretty fast. I email them a brief, informal query giving the premise of the book; if they think it sounds promising, they ask me to email them the whole MS., and in a few days they let me know if it’s accepted. They then put it on track for publication and it goes to my regular editor. She sends me her edits and I make the necessary changes; after that I get a galley, which is usually pretty close to finished except for any mechanical errors that might have cropped up in the layout process.
Meanwhile, I work with the Editorial Director on cover ideas. After that, the book is on track to come out. What I love is that with a small press like AQP this happens in four to six months, rather than the year-and-a-half time lag I might get with a larger publisher. I am sorry to say, though, that with very few exceptions AQP is closed to new, outside submissions and has been for some time. By now, the company has a large stable of authors, and I guess we’re so prolific that we give them all the work they can handle! Even I have a second Quinn Matthews book waiting in the wings…
thanks so much, EF and Quinn. Dark Music sounds so interesting and it's been a nice follow-up to an earlier feature with paranormal influences--as well as learning about a new to us Amber Quill Press. We hope you'll come back soon!
Veronica and Kat
To learn more about E. F. Watkins and the stories she creates, go to: www.efwatkins.com.
To purchase Dark Music, go to http://www.amberquill.com/DarkMusic.html