|Welcome to our New Faces column, where we're delighted to introduce some of the newest mystery authors on your bookshelves. In this issue we welcome Kris Neri, whose first novel Revenge of the Gypsy Queen is now available.
Hi, Kris! Tell us about yourself.
I consider myself a native Californian - by choice, though my body was
held hostage in New Jersey for its first eighteen years of life! Except for
the time I spent in college in West Virginia University and Emerson College
in Boston, majoring in Drama, I've lived in California all of my adult life,
first in San Francisco and now Los Angeles.
My husband and I and our pets live within the L.A. city limits, but in
the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains near a lot of open space.
We're about an hour's drive from skiing in the winter, and we have our
own pool for summer swimming. We really like it. Yet I'm the first to
admit I'm not blind to L.A.'s faults, though most days I'm more of a sardonic
critic than a harshly negative one, I hope. But aren't all writers observers
of their environments?
Are you coming to mystery writing from another job?
Too many to name! My most recent background was in another form of
writing - nonfiction features for magazines. Before that, however, I
worked as an actress. Well, I was really more of an unemployed actress
than a working one, but I did do some on camera commercial and voice-
over work, and some film and TV.
Like most actors, I supported myself through a variety of odd jobs. The
oddest of those was passing out samples of cookies made with a new
cordial in liquor stores. They kept sending me to terrible neighborhoods
where the police regularly patrolled the liquor stores - and the
customers dove behind displays to avoid being seen by them! Quite a
cultural shock after my suburban background. Though the people in those
neighborhoods didn't have the money for expensive cordials, and I was
paid on commission - I still loved the experience. That should have told
me something about the direction my future would take. Mystery writing,
of course, not active participation in crime!
These days, apart from teaching mystery writing on a variety of Southern
California campuses, I devote my all my time to writing.
What led you to write mysteries?
I've loved mysteries since I read my first Nancy Drew book as a young girl.
Nancy was such a smart, bold, unconventional girl, and she proved to be a
role model for me. Mysteries also introduced the presence of justice into
my life, which I didn't always find in the real world. I still love knowing
that I can create worlds in which justice will be served, though not always
in the obvious ways. I think I need to experience that, and I like sharing
it with my readers. I also find the plot, such a critical element in mysteries,
provides me with a real anchor in the writing process. Occasionally, I've
tried writing in other genres, and less plotted forms feel harder to me; I
seem to need to write from one critical point to another.
Tell us about your road to publication.
My road to publication probably wasn't the typical one. As I mentioned, I
started writing nonfiction pieces, and I also loved mysteries. At a certain
point, I combined those two parts of my life and started writing short
mystery fiction. I've now published more than forty mystery short
stories, two of which, "L.A. Justice" (Murder by Thirteen anthology/Intrigue
Press) and "Capital Justice" (Blue Murder Magazine #1) won Derringer
Awards for Best Short Story from the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
Moving from short nonfiction to short fiction just seemed to be a natural
transition for me.
When I decided to try to publish a novel, the hardest part for me was turning
that part of my career over to an agent. In both types of
my short works, I was responsible for whatever success I enjoyed. But I
believed I needed to work with an agent if I wanted to get a novel
published. My agent peddled around my first book, a suspense novel,
which garnered good rejections but no offers.
Meanwhile, "L.A. Justice" was published. I should tell you
it's my absolute favorite of all my stories. It features Tracy Eaton, a
mystery writer, detective wannabe and the offspring of eccentric
Hollywood stars, a character I just adore. So do readers, apparently -
they kept telling me to put Tracy in a novel, but my agent disagreed and
advised me to stay with suspense. When "L.A. Justice" won the
Derringer, I decided the readers were right. My agent and I parted, and I
began to peddle my suspense novel to independent publishers. It still
hasn't been accepted, but I think after another revision, it just might be.
But that gave me time to finish writing Revenge of the Gypsy Queen,
the first novel-length Tracy Eaton mystery. It was bought by the first
editor who read it. There were a couple of lessons there, at least for me
- about listening to readers, and pursuing my own path to publication in
my own way I hope other writers realize they can take the reigns of
their careers into their own hands, too.
What kind of research was involved for your first book?
Since I grew up just outside of New York City and have made regular trips
back, I know the city pretty well and I didn't need to do a lot of research
to decide where I would set it. I also drew on my own show business
background to flesh out some points. The one area that I needed help
with was the workings of the NYPD, and I found a wonderful officer within
the NYPD's information office who went through everything with me,
working out all my problems, as well as some cops from a variety of
jurisdictions that I met online who also helped. I prefer writing an
amateur detective to stories that are police or forensic heavy, so I rarely
need to do a great deal of research in those areas.
My second book deals peripherally with law firm issues, making partner,
etc., and a couple of good friends with legal backgrounds have helped me
get those right. It's important to get the details right, I think, but it's
equally important not to get lost in research. I try to achieve that
Who are your influences as a writer?
As I've already mentioned, the Carolyn Keene Nancy Drew series was an
early influence in my life. But given my dramatic background, playwrights
played a big role, too. Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, Terrance Rattigan and
Henrik Ibsen were probably my favorites. I read all the mystery classics,
but I found them entertaining, I didn't love the way I had Nancy Drew until
female mystery writers came into their own in the late seventies and early
eighties. I've learned things from too many writers to list, but some are
Carolyn Hart, Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller and Eleanor Taylor Bland. But
so many others have also contributed to my growth as a writer.
What does your family think of having a mystery author in their
My husband is not only my life partner, he's my best friend and greatest
supporter. He believed in me when no one else did, including me. Every
time I lost momentum, he encouraged me to keep going. I don't think I
would have reached this milestone without him, though he insists I would.
He's so proud now, snapping so many pictures at my signings, you'd think
I was his baby! My dogs and cat think I should spend more time at my
computer, with them clustered around my chair, and less time in
bookstores doing signings. Or better yet - feeding them.
Tell us about plans for future books.
My next book is called Dem Bones' Revenge, and in it Tracy's mother,
movie star Martha Collins, is accused of bumping off some old Hollywood
figures. Yet when Tracy tries to clear her mother, Martha seems to foil
her efforts at every turn. I'm just about finished with it, and I'm sorry to
see it end. I had more fun with this book than I've ever had. It should be
out sometime in 2000.
How can readers get in touch with you?
Readers can email me directly at: KrisNeri@aol.com, or they can access
that email through my website. I just ask that they be patient; I'm always
days behind on my email. On the website, they can also read "L.A.
Justice" and the opening of Revenge of the Gypsy Queen, as well as
check out some of the wonderful reviews this book has received. I'll
probably add the first chapter of Dem Bones' Revenge shortly. They can
also share some family photos on the website.
Kris, thanks for joining us, and best of luck! Readers, check out our review of Revenge of the Gypsy Queen.
August 30, 1999