Having lived in the West all my life and having grown up in ranching country, stories involving horses always intrigue me. My guest today in My Writing Corner brings us a book that immediately caught my attention. Joining us today is author Marla White, who is a story analysis instructor at UCLA and writing coach living in Los Angeles. She tells us she graduated from the University of Kentucky where she took her first horseback riding lesson.
After dabbling in hunters, barrel racing, and weekly trail rides, she fell hopelessly in love with the sport of eventing. She says she “conquered” Novice level before taking a break to pursue novel writing. She says she hopes to return to the saddle some day soon.
Marla has been involved in several award-winning television movies for ABC, CBS, USA, and HBO. Later she became the head of television for Emmy Award winner Peter Tolan. She currently teaches story analysis and story workshops at UCLA.
Her first novel, The Starlight Mint Surprise Murder, was published in 2021, followed by the first two books in her Keeper Chronicles series. When she’s not writing, she’s out in the garden, hiking, or putting together impossibly difficult puzzles.
Here's a fun fact Marla has shared with us today.
"The first time I got on a horse was to ride a neighbor’s fat pony bareback. It took off, I clung to its side for maybe 100 yards before hitting the ground, and have been in love with horses ever since. It’s entirely possible I hit my head."
Tell us about your road to publication.
Like a lot of other authors, my “overnight success” was about 10 years in the making. I wrote my first book, “Cause for Elimination,” years ago as part of a writers’ group. Once it was finished, I submitted it to publishers and agents, did PITMAD, and heard resounding crickets. So I put it away safely in a drawer and wrote my urban fantasy series instead.
In 2020, an author friend told me about an open submission alert she’d gotten from her publisher, The Wild Rose Press, looking for novellas in any genre with a holiday cookie at the heart of the story. It was the middle of Covid and like everyone else, I took up baking to pass the time, only a childhood favorite cookie kept epically failing. So during NaNoWriMo I wrote the first draft of “The Starlight Mint Surprise Murder.” Then I realized the submission couldn’t be longer than 25,000 words so I had to cut it down by half! I sent it in and on April 1st I got the e-mail they wanted to buy the book. At first I thought…April Fool’s day? This has to be a joke but nope, they meant it. And then my editor asked if I had anything else so, with her immense help and kindness, dusted off “Cause” and here we are!
What do you find is the most challenging part of being an author?
That’s easy – marketing. It’s 1,000 times harder for me to come up with marketing and promotional plans than it is to actually write the book. Don’t even get me started on the nightmare of being a grown up adult navigating the shark infested waters of TikTok.
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Two bits of advice that are more or less related. Write every day. It’s a muscle you need to keep using so write. If you have ten minutes free, scribble some ideas down. Ideas come to me at the weirdest time so I always have a notebook to jot it down before my swiss-cheese brain forgets it. If you sit down to write and nothing comes to you, keep typing or scribbling anyway, even if you think it’s garbage. That’s what re-writing is all about. If you’re just not in the mood because God knows we’ve all gone through some pretty dark days in the past couple of years, put your novel aside and write about what you’re feeling. To paraphrase a famous slogan, just write.
And don’t give up. I hope the story of the long road to publication for “Cause” will inspire new writers to keep at it. Keep working to improve your writing, take the notes from your beta readers that make sense, but don’t let a few negative responses become obstacles in your way the way I did.
What is your latest book and how did you come up with the idea to write it?
In addition to “Cause for Elimination” coming out on October 10th, I have my second cookie book, “Bloodstains and Candy Canes,” available for pre-order now.
The idea for it came from a combination of things/events. I had mostly finished a first-person cozy mystery that features a female veteranarian in Los Angeles who gets drawn into a murder mystery. Then the open submission for the cookie books popped up in my email and I thought about using those characters, because I just adore them, but didn’t have a story idea. Without giving too much away, some events happened in my life and I thought, “I can’t murder you in real life, but I’m a writer and can kill you in a horrible way”. That’s one of the reasons I love writing murder mysteries, it was definitely cathartic!
Let's get a Blurb for her featured book today, Cause For Elimination.
Reclaiming her life after a devastating riding accident, equestrian Emily Conners’ world shatters again when she discovers her friend and boss lying in a stall with a smashed skull. Now jobless and with a handsome cop underfoot investigating the case, she's torn between wanting the killer found and keeping her own secrets safe.
As the search for the murderer heats up, their hearts become entangled and their lives at risk, forcing Emily and Justin to work together to find the killer before they strike again.
Fun facts about the book
Something readers might find interesting:
Much of what happens in this novel is inspired by real events, people and places from my years of riding horses. Emily’s distinctive pickup truck was inspired by a real truck I coveted. Justin’s uncontrollable ride with “whoa?” – happened to me on that very field. The horse she rides, Reese, is based on the last horse I owned right down to his big suitcase head that he likes to waggle. Don’t even ask me about the upholstery story! And though I’ve never forgotten to unhook my air-vest, I’ve certainly had my share of close calls.
Now, how about an excerpt:
“You can save your smarmy charms for someone else. I’m not crazy. There’s no way that horse kicked Pamela to death.”
“No one is saying you’re crazy, Ms. Conners,” he explained in a tone which implied exactly the opposite. “I understand how difficult this must be for you, but as you must be aware, horses can be unpredictable. Isn’t it possible your friend–”
“Her name was Pamela Yates. I’m—was, I guess—her assistant.”
“Excuse me, ma’am, of course. Isn’t it possible Miss Yates startled the horse, and the animal kicked out as a natural response, injuring her and causing her death?”
Injured? Pamela’s brains were on the wall. On three of them, as a matter of fact. “Have you actually seen her body, detective?”
“No, ma’am, I thought it would be best if we talked first.”
The man’s soothing voice made her want to scream. Instead, she fought to maintain a reasonable tone in her own. The last thing she needed was to antagonize him, erasing all hope of keeping Feneatha off the endangered species list.
“Why don’t we do this,” she said, keeping the you patronizing, pompous ass comment to herself. “Why don’t we take a look at the… at her…at the stall.” If it doesn’t put too much a dent in your morning, detective, sir.
Emily clenched her fist so hard her fingernails bit into her palm. “If after seeing her you decide it was an accident, I’ll move aside and let animal control do their job.”
“Fair enough,” the detective agreed and followed her down the barn aisle to an open stall.
What’s your next project?
I have two books I’m working hard to finish by the end of the year, plus hope to get a third outlined during NaNoWriMo. I find I do a lot better when I have a deadline and love participating whenever I can.
One book is the follow up to “The Starlight Mint Surprise Murder.” This time around ex-cop Mel O’Rourke is busy re-inventing herself as the owner of a B&B in the small mountain resort of Pine Cove when the last person she expected to see shows up on her doorstep asking for help. Poppy Phillips, the smarmy, sophisticated cat burglar Mel was chasing when she suffered her career-ending injury, is afraid she’s being framed for murder and needs Mel to find the real killer.
The other one I just got back to polishing after a long absence is part of my urban fantasy Keeper Chronicles series. They are the ongoing trials and tribulations of the ex-archangel Gabriel, his devilsh lover Evie, and his human friends. They’ve battled a dragon, a demon horde, and now face his toughest challenge of all – his family. Because Michael can be a jerk, the other archangels have ego issues, but when Lucifer gets involved all hell breaks loose.
Thank you, Marla, for being my guest today! Here are Marla's Buy Links and her social contact information.
Social Media Links
Any comments or questions for Marla?