|Welcome to New Faces, where we are pleased to introduce some of the new authors on the mystery scene. This time we welcome C.J. Songer, whose novel BAIT is available now. Let's meet her!
Tell us about yourself.
Well, I write about OTHER people
because I don't like to talk about myself... :) I was born and raised on Long
Island, NY a looooong time ago. I'm the third of six children, which was a
blessing in a lot of ways because with so many kids in the same household, you
instinctively learn to blend in as well as to stand out (depending on what
you want at any given moment, of course!) I was the "dreamy, shy one",
which I think basically means that I found other people noisy and unpredictably
untrustworthy (kids are so goodhearted and so MEAN -- very confusing to the
loyalties) so I read books. Lots of books. We moved when I was eight, and
the public library was right next door to the grade school. You could walk
across the field to the Emma S. Clarke, and browse the library until it was
time to take the later bus home.
That's where I first got into trouble, actually. The librarian there got
very angry at me one day and refused to let me check out any more books
until my parents came in to discuss my bad behavior and what we were going to do
about it. My dad was surprised, (well, I was normally such a GOOD kid :),
but he went in with me the next day. The librarian commenced to scolding,
telling him that I was abusing the library, making work for everyone,
because I would check out two books, return them almost instantly, check out two
more, return those, and so on. SOMEONE had to reshelve all those books I
obviously wasn't reading -- and I did it every day! Clearly this couldn't
My father, fair man that he is, turned to ask my side of it. I
said, rather indignantly, that I WAS reading all those books, but I was only
allowed to check out two at a time, (the library's rules then for children),
and so I was always done before the bus came. He then asked me for details
on several of the books in question, and it was somewhere in the middle of
that conversation that we all realized I was a speed reader. I'm very happy
to add that the much-nicer librarian apologized for doubting me (well, she
hadn't asked me before and so I hadn't known what I'd done wrong) and I was
one of the few children ever given special permission to check out up to ten
books at a time -- and I was even allowed, after it became obvious that I'd
read everything in the Children's Section, to move up to Young Adults (where
the books were MUCH more interesting, in that there was Emilie Loring (love
stories), Mary Stewart (MYSTERIES with love stories) and Andre Norton (sci-
fi - no love stories in there, sorry, but still, life was good!)
I have a B.F.A. in Theatre from the University of Minnesota (at
Minneapolis/ St.Paul) and an M.F.A which is technically from Florida State University at
Tallahassee (a campus on which I've only set foot once - but I liked it!
don't misunderstand!). I actually garnered the M.F.A. while working in an
Actors' Equity intern program with the Asolo State Theatre of Florida in Sarasota.
The Asolo is a regional repertory theatre, which at the time was performing
exclusively in a jewel of a reconstructed (18th century?) Italian theatre on
the grounds of the John Ringling (of Ringling Brothers Circus fame) Art
Museum and estate.
(And then C.J. went out into the REAL world, folks...where, actually, she'd
already been thoroughly living and working because another part of being one
of six kids is that you like to be responsible for yourself. That way,
people can't bug you all the time about what they think you should be
Are you coming to mystery writing from another job?
Yes, although I'm still working at it full-time -- it's called Being A
Mom, and as far as I can tell, the job changes, but it doesn't END.... :)
What led you to write mysteries?
I love books. I'm a long-time reader (although, forgive me, not so much
recently because I've been pretty busy the last few years!) I decided to write
mysteries because of the combustible conflict of coming from a liberal arts/
liberal family background, and then going to work for the Glendale Police
Department (at what was supposed to be strictly a day job, a way to pay for
the roof over my head, and that's it, folks, that's all -- DATE one of those
guys? Not on a bet! They're strange.) Life has a way of wrapping you
around, though. Cops have been a constant in my life for the past eighteen
years - sometimes more, sometimes less, but always there.
I started to take some weapons/combat courses along the way, and discovered
that I have an aptitude, a knack, if you will. Those are abilities that I
might not have known that I had, if not for my PD involvement. I'm a great
believer in incorporating experiences into your consciousness (now doesn't
THAT sound liberal artsy?? :) and accepting their being important -- what
else is life if not the sum of your experiences, good, bad and indifferent?
You can ignore them, I guess, (because a lot of people do that, selectively
choosing), or you can work to understand them all, at least for yourself.
I' ve always written, so to me writing is a natural expression, an art form, my
effort at giving a gift. A way to translate, perhaps, between different
cultures and feelings. That sounds high-falutin', and truthfully, I don't
know that anyone else perceives my books that way, or will care very deeply,
but still I have this obligation, the need to express...to give back a
little, to honor the people and the influences as best I can.
Tell us about your road to publication.
Well, I'm a perfectionist idiot. Once you understand that about me,
everything else falls into place. It took me twelve years from conception
to (I don't want to say "execution", so what would be a better word? "Production"? Naah...) the actual "birth", because I was also living a very full life all that time. I was having two children, I was working a part-
time, on-call job that was strictly full-time for fourteen months, I was
later doing day-care so I'd be able to afford being home with my kids (
because I wasn't going to have them and hand them over to strangers to
raise) and I was getting up at four-thirty most mornings in the hope that I could
tiptoe verrrrrrry quietly down the hall without waking one or the other of
my babies, who would then think "it's food" or "it's playtime" (!), so that I
could possibly write for an hour or so before daycare kids came. I like to
think of it as "determined" or even "persistent", but sometimes I'm willing
to think I'm just slow...
I sent BAIT out every once in a while - my brother-in-law, for instance,
had a cousin at Random House, who'd offered to have somebody look at it. I
thought she'd meant an editor's just-promoted assistant or something, and it
turned out she meant one of the senior Executive Editors, so it was good
that I didn't know that in advance or I'd never have turned the thing in. He
wrote me a surprised-sounding letter saying that he thought it was actually
very good, and would I mind if he sent it on to an editor he knew in their
paperback division? I certainly DIDN'T mind, but I wasn't extremely
UNprepared when that editor returned it with a nice letter of his own,
saying basically that I'd gotten a lot of good response around the office there,
but unfortunately they were booked up on mysteries for the next two years or so.
I interpreted that to mean that it was ALMOST but not quite good enough, and
I pulled it back then to take it apart and rewrite. (The conventional
wisdom is to slap a new label on that jessie and send it straight out again, but
like I said, I'm an idiot. I wanted it to be "right".)
That took me another few years, in and around children and jobs, but it WAS
appreciably better. Even I could see that. I then went to one of the
California Writers conferences up in Asilomar near Monterey specifically to
look over the agents there. Had a 10-minute interview with an associate
agent I'd liked on a panel, and persuaded her to take my Bait-packet (
synopsis and first three chapters) with her on her vacation rather than my
just sending it on to her office. She called me from San Francisco the day
after to tell me she'd stayed up late reading it and wanted the rest in her
office immediately. I was jazzed! The short story on that was they felt
the first fifty pages didn't live up to the rest of the book, so could I rewrite
them? Heck, yeah, I could rewrite! I went heavily to town, rewrote the
first 100 pages and shipped them off within three weeks - MUCH better pages
- and several months later, they said they were sorry, they loved the pages
but were just overbooked, so they were going to pass. Bummer. 'Almost' again,
but not quite? I talked to the gal to see if this was simply a 'thanks but
no thanks' kind of letter, and she gave me more heart, saying no, it was
strictly an office decision, and she knew she was going to be kicking
Meanwhile, the rewritten first 100 pages WERE much better, but they
wouldn't paste easily onto the rest of the manuscript to send it out elsewhere, and I
didn't now want to send the OLD pages out. You guessed it -- I drew it back
in again for a year or so, rewriting. Just as I was ready, literally, to
send it back out, sitting packaged on my desk and everything -- God threw an
earthquake at Southern California. That rearranges your priorities in a
hurry. It took almost another year before I sent it out, because I had the
ground rocking in little waves of motion for the next several months,
children to reassure and get back into school, insurance companies and
contractors to deal with, the house to repair and repaint, and reality was
that my whole book-writing career, anyway, was a someday, a maybe, a dream,
compared to the glass I was sweeping up out of the living room.
Things happen the way they're supposed to, I think.
What kind of research was involved for your first book?
Seriously? Life. :)
Who are your influences as a writer?
As aforementioned, I've always loved Mary Stewart. Helen MacInnes,
Georgette Heyer (!), Ngaio Marsh. Allister MacLean. John D. MacDonald,
Lawrence Sanders, Dashiell Hammett, Wambaugh. Lawrence Block, John LeCarre,
Paul Bishop, Robert Crais. Jean Hager. Andre Norton, Frank Herbert, Jo
Clayton, Jane Gaskell, C.J. Cherryh. Og Mandino. (And others, but I just
don't have them belovedly here on my bookshelves!)
What does your family think of having a mystery author in their
Well, my son thinks I should write more like his current favorite author,
K. A. Applegate, who pens the extremely popular (and I'm choosing to believe '
lucrative') series, Animorphs. As he said to me only the other night,
"Yeah, Mom, but SHE writes a book a MONTH -- 174 pages and it took you a YEAR to
write 200...." He's an ungrateful pain in the neck, but he DOES have a
point, there! :)
(On the flip side, he wrote me a note telling me that he likes me better
than K.A., really, and offering to get me a picture of her so that I can "through darts at it"... :)
Tell us about plans for future books.
Fortunately, as it happens, I'm contracted for another book in this
series (at the moment only one, unlike K.A. who's saying on her Animorph website
that she's thinking of writing another 30 or so Animorph books in addition to the
* 35* she's already contracted for. *35*!! And one a MONTH!! Aarrrghh --
where ARE those darn darts???? :)
HOOK is a sequel to BAIT, and will be coming out in hardcover from Scribner
in December of 1999. (December 1st, I believe, with shipments in November,
so forget about the Y2K crisis long enough to buy Christmas presents for
your dearly beloveds, okay, everybody?)
How can readers get in touch with you?
They're welcome to email me at RedsFox@aol.com or write to me at:
P.O. Box 393
Simi Valley, CA 93062
I'm fairly busy these days, so don't despair if it takes me a day or two or
three to respond. I'll answer you, really, just as soon as I can -- I
appreciate it and I thank you so much!
Thank YOU, C.J., and best of luck with your books! Readers, check out TMR's review of BAIT.
December 4, 1998