Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Julie Smith - An Author Interview in the HBS Author's Spotlight

Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Author Julie Smith. She writes Mystery & Thrillers and Young Adult novels. Julie is the author of the Edgar Award-winning Skip Langdon Series. Also, her company, BooksBnimble, is an ebook publisher.

Author Genre: Mystery & Thrillers, Young Adult

Website: booksBnimble
Twitter: @booksbnimble
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Author Description:
I first knew I wanted to be a writer at seven, knew it was mysteries I'd write at 12, was desperate to win the Edgar at 13, but became a journalist to...well...keep from starving till I had the courage to actually try it. I had a great time and learned more than ten colleges could have taught as a reporter for first the New Orleans Times-Picayune and later the San Francisco Chronicle. Finally, I wrote six or seven mysteries (I've lost count!) over a period of eight years, to absolutely no avail, and was about to give up when I made my first sale. DEATH TURNS A TRICK was my first published book, and the Rebecca Schwartz series was born. I later added a second San Francisco series, plus two in New Orleans, and guess what? My first New Orleans book, NEW ORLEANS MOURNING, won the Edgar for Best Novel.

So some dreams come true! Boy, it was hard, and it took forever, but mine actually did. I'm still pinching myself. After wanting something so much and finally getting it, who would have thought I'd turn to something else after twenty-one books? (That's right, twenty-one not counting a non-fiction one on writing itself. So, twenty-two, really.) My whole identity was writing. But along came ebooks! Suddenly a gigantic opportunity opened up. I realized I could be a publisher myself---I could help other people achieve their own dreams. I couldn't help it, I got the publishing bug. Bad.

In 2010, I founded, a digital publishing company that focused at first on video-enhanced ebooks, but now not so much enhanced as just great quality---and, as you might imagine, with an emphasis on mysteries. So far, we've published eight authors (including me). It's been a treat to learn to function in another whole world and it's been incredibly rewarding to be able to help other writers, to bring back people's backlists, and to discover new, exciting talent.

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

Let’s start with what’s next. Do you have another book on the horizon? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?

Yes, my YA novel, CURSEBUSTERS, retitled BAD GIRL SCHOOL, will be out as a digital book in the next month. Retitled because who doesn't like bad girls? It involves a teen-age burglar of the female variety, a Mayan curse, a boarding school psychic club taxed with a world-saving mission, and their ruthless--though fuzzy--mentor. (Think cute-like-Yoda, mean-like-Freddie-Krueger.)

You have a good following on twitter. Since you started before the social media buzz, what impact has social media relationships had on your current success? How did you build your following in your niche? Did you use forums, newsletters and methods like that?

Honestly, I don't think I can credit social media with any direct success. Peripherally, I hope it helps, because it sure is a time-suck, but I think it's very overrated as a way to sell books. I've noticed this about getting followers--I have one for just about every tweet. People unfollow if you don't tweet enough and follow if you catch their attention, so it seems to come out kind of even.

You have great covers. They carry a theme and your brand with them. How does your book cover creation process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

Thanks. I'm incredibly lucky. I have a great friend who's designed most of the covers for my books, and she's amazing to work with. She's not a designer by trade, but a best-selling author. (No kidding, she really is.) I'd protect her anonymity if she cared, but she's happy to 'fess up and get praise for her covers--so I'll just say that someone I'll call "Nevada" is good with Photoshop, so she volunteered to do them and over time, her technique has just gotten better and better. I usually do give her an idea and she runs with it; or we develop an idea together. On "Death Turns a Trick," for instance, which is set in San Francisco, we thought something regional might be nice. But the first draft underwhelmed us both. So I reminded her it was set in a bordello and she came up with a pair of kicking red-stockinged legs. Whoo! I love moments like that.

What writer support groups do you belong to? Do they help with the writing, marketing and the publishing process?

I only belong to MWA, and have for more years than most members have been alive. It's a great support, but not actually in those areas--networking's its strong suit, I think. And the Edgar Award. (Since I once won it, I'm pretty much overcome with gratitude for MWA! But to tell you the truth, I always loved it.) Wait! I belong to Sisters In Crime too! Another great group.

Has the advent of ebooks changed anything in your writing, getting the book to your readers and the relationship with your readers and fans?

It's definitely changed my relationship with fans--I think there's much more give-and-take, much more accessibility, though less face-to-face. Odd, I know--we no longer see each other in bookstores, but we do correspond.

What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?

I love free! I do KDP Select a lot. And Goodreads. And blog tours sometimes. Every giveaway I've been involved with has been successful in its own way. In addition, I make a point of offering a free book to anyone who writes to me--if they can be bothered to do that, I can at least give them a little something. And last but not least, I have a guarantee--if anyone finds as many as five errors in any of my books, I give them their money back, or any other book of their choosing, or both. People love to play the "find-the-error" game. Honestly, I think some enjoy it more than reading the books!

Usually at this point in the interview I ask the question: Have you created a book trailer for any of your books to promote them online? (I need to add the link to your video Prose Nazi: A trailer for Edgar Award winning author Julie Smith's at this point plus the Prose Nazi OutTakes: Bloopers from a book trailer. Great stuff.)

Yes, I did do that one silly video. Hey, applause please--not at the mastery of the medium, but at my willingness to play the fool in public. Took courage! (Takes even more courage to watch it.)

But seriously--a YouTube-quality video (and you absolutely don't need fancier) costs nothing to make-- you sit the author down, point the camera, and ask questions--and it gives an intimate glimpse of that author. So well worth doing!

Let’s discuss BooksBnimble. Explain to our readers/authors what the basic concept of enhanced ebooks is? Currently what genre should be looking into this concept? How do authors get involved with BooksBnimble?

booksBnimble is a digital publishing company I started three years ago that does mostly mysteries, including my own backlist. I think we were a bit ahead of the curve on the enhanced idea--we were really excited about multimedia, especially video, but Amazon, the largest platform, hasn't yet embraced that, so we kind of backed off. But I just read Marisha Pessl's NIGHT FILM, which uses other kinds of multi-media, and liked it quite a bit-- loved the book, actually, but only "liked" the multi-media, because it really didn't show up well on my Kindle. Mostly, I guess, I liked that she was thinking outside the box, which was always our goal with booksBnimble --we just didn't find a huge demand for it! (She said sheepishly.)

We're currently looking for backlist mysteries and romances, especially--on the romances-- historical or funny, and extremely well-written ones. Well, not necessarily backlist--but series. If you've got something good, write me at

What is your method of getting reviews for your novels? Do you seek professional reviews, use social media or do you rely on your reading audience to supply them?

Crossing our fingers is the best method we've yet discovered. LOL, because you might as well laugh as cry--wish I were joking. Reviews are SOOOOOO hard to get--on a launch, that is. Later on, the book develops its own momentum. But one thing we do when we're feeling brave is set a book free for five days-- that always produces reviews, but there's a kind of axiom at work--some gigantic percentage of these (as opposed to reviews of books people paid for) will be slams. Don't ask! It's human nature at its least attractive. Don't try it at home, especially if you haven't been doing a lot of yoga and meditation and working out and feeling especially strong.

You have put together a collection of short stories by other authors called New Orleans Noir (described below.) You note: A portion of the profits from New Orleans Noir will be donated to Katrina KARES, a hurricane relief program sponsored by the New Orleans Institute that awards grants to writers affected by the hurricane. What a great cause. How can readers get involved besides buying your collection?

How kind of you to ask! Actually, the donations have been very successful--the library uses them for a special program of giving books to newborns (no, silly, not FINNEGAN'S WAKE--more like GOODNIGHT, MOON--so parents can get the sprouts addicted early on.) But truthfully, our recovery since Katrina--meaning the city's and by extension the library's--has been phenomenal! So…kind as your question is, there's nothing that separates our library from others in terms of need right now.

Author's Book List
Mean Woman Blues - Skip Langdon Mystery #9
Mean Woman Blues is the NINTH book in Edgar-winner Julie Smith’s Skip Langdon mystery series.


That would be the Rev. Errol Jacomine, crazy as a fox that just ate a loon, and more dangerous than a cell full of serial killers. She’s Detective Skip Langdon, the New Orleans cop who’s twice smashed his criminal endeavors, yet each time he’s managed to slip away. Now he’s mad. In both senses of the word. And he has the connections to have her killed—or worse, those she loves.

After one near-miss and several nasty threats, Skip is driven by fear that she’ll lose the people dearest to her. Despite finding herself disgraced in her own home town (seems Jacomine knows how to frame as well as kill), she goes on the hunt for the kind of maniac with a gift for conning people and the extreme makeover to make it work.


But by now Jacomine’s madness has escalated to the point that he’s finally gone too far with too many people. Before it's over, more than one person’s stalking him, and some are women feeling as mean as their quarry. If Langdon doesn't get there first, there’ll be a bloodbath. If she does, only one person will walk away—and Jacomine’s as lucky as he’s ruthless.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Other People's Skeletons - Rebecca Schwartz #5
Other People’s Skeletons is the FIFTH Rebecca Schwartz mystery by Edgar-winning author Julie Smith.

What she’s about to learn will rock her world!

Rebecca Schwartz, “Jewish feminist lawyer,” as she’s fond of saying, thought she knew her best friend--and her boy friend. Not to mention her family. But everything’s about to change.

Secrets spill out of these pages like hornets out of a nest, each with its own distinct sting, as author Smith weaves a thrill-packed and complicated mystery that’s as much about how little we know about our nearest and dearest as it is about whodunit.

Rebecca’s shocked when Chris Nicholson, her glamorous law partner, is arrested for murder--but not nearly so shocked as when she discovers Chris can’t come up with an alibi. What she was doing, Chris says, involves a secret so damaging she’d be drummed out of San Francisco legal circles if anyone knew. All she’ll say is what her secret isn’t--crime, drugs, sex, alcohol, addiction, illness (mental or otherwise), or an eating disorder. So what’s left? Sure enough, when Rebecca uncovers it, her world tilts on its axis—and continues to list, ever more dangerously, as the story picks up speed and this formerly rational lawyer finds her worldview threatened by things she never knew existed. At least not in her circle! And Chris is far from the only one with a skeleton in her closet.

The murdered man, Jason McKendrick, was a much-loved columnist, a carefree bachelor with a million glamorous women, who also happened to have a very special friend who slept on a filthy mattress in his apartment. As Rebecca and Chris peel back the layers of Jason’s complicated world, they find he was leading not just a double life, but maybe many more. Only one person knows what made him tick. But can she stay alive long enough to tell his story?

Order the Book From: Amazon
PI On A Hot Tin Roof - Talba Wallis #4
The FOURTH mystery in Edgar-winning author Julie Smith’s Talba Wallis series.

Your lawyer needs you to bail her out? Isn’t that kind of backwards?

So thinks PI Talba Wallis, on her way to Parish Prison—and indeed something’s badly amiss.

New Orleans’ most dynamic detective duo, poet/computer genius Talba and street-savvy Luddite Eddie Valentino, have a personal interest in this one—Eddie’s lawyer daughter Angie’s been set up for a drug bust.

Prominent Judge Buddy Champagne’s the obvious perp and Talba’s so mad she embeds herself in his house as a spy—but she doesn't count on ending up with a family straight out of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; nor did she realize how involved she was going to get—especially with Buddy’s 14-year-old daughter Lucy.

It works, though, She uncovers plenty of evidence the judge is dirty. And then things get ugly: Somebody kills Buddy and Talba’s true identity comes to light. The Champagnes hate her at this point, but guess what? They hire her to solve the case.

There are plenty of mysterious twists and turns on the way to an ending guaranteed to surprise—but the real joy here is in the relationships, especially Talba’s with Lucy, who, it turns out, is a budding poet. And with another little girl, her boy friend’s bratty daughter Raisa. She’s SO not prepared for quasi-motherhood!

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Louisiana Hotshot - Talba Wallis #1
Louisiana Hotshot is the FIRST book in the Talba Wallis series by Edgar-Award winning author Julie Smith


Confirmed grump Eddie Valentino placed the ad. Hotshot twenty-something Talba Wallis knew exactly how to answer it.

And thus was born the dynamic duo of New Orleans private detectives, one cynical, sixty-five-year-old Luddite white dude with street smarts, and one young, bright-eyed, Twenty-First century African-American female poet, performance artist, mistress of disguise, and computer jock extraordinaire. Think Queen Latifah and Danny DeVito.

In Louisiana Hotshot, their job is to hunt down a sociopath and pedophile who’s molested the fourteen-year-old daughter of their client, hangs out on the ragged edges of the rap and recording industries, and has more powerful allies than a Cabinet member.

But both detectives have unfinished business from the past—in Eddie’s case, something he deeply regrets; in Talba’s, a personal mystery, one so frightening no one will help her investigate. But she knows she won’t sleep till she solves it—and the truth will change her forever.

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Louisiana Lament - Talba Wallis PI Series #3
Louisiana Lament is the THIRD book in the Talba Wallis mystery series by Edgar-winning author Julie Smith.

Nobody knew who she really was … but her parties were to die for!

They’d be Queen Latifah and Danny DeVito if this were a movie. In Louisiana Lament, they’re P.I.s Talba Wallis and Eddie Valentino—Talba's young, African-American, computer-brilliant, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and a noted poet by night; Eddie's pushing seventy, white, hopelessly tech-challenged, and pretty much burned out. Somehow, they make it work—with Talba’s tech-and-street smarts, and Eddie's old-school hard-earned savvy, they even complement each other.

One stormy day Talba gets an emergency call from Janessa, the sister she barely knows, and arrives to find a body floating in a swimming pool—the mortal husk of Allyson Brown, known in New Orleans literary circles as the Girl Gatsby. Like Gatsby, Allyson was one of those mysterious rich people who move to town, give amazing parties, and seem made of moonbeams.

Investigating, Talba finds the reality behind the Gatsby glamour. Allyson was a con artist who neglected her children, ignored her bills, and lied like a rug. But she wasn’t the only bad actor on the local literary scene. Fellow poet Rashad leads Talba a merry chase, leaving a trail of clues in the form of poetry, while novelists engage in fisticuffs, unseemly preening, and unforgivable arrogance.

Before it’s all over, Talba finds out just how seamy, petty, and downright murderous her fellow literati can be.

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House of Blues - The Skip Langdon Series 5
House of Blues is the FIFTH book in the Edgar Award-winning Skip Langdon Series by Julie Smith.


Sugar Hebert arrives home from a ten-minute errand to find her husband shot to death and the rest of her family missing—including her daughter Reed, heir apparent to the Hebert restaurant dynasty, and Reed's eleven-month-old daughter.

Detective Skip Langdon’s hunt for a murderer and the missing Hebert heirs embraces worlds within worlds—splendid but dangerous Garden District digs, Faubourg Marigny drug dens, broken-down projects, lowdown bars, an elegant hangout for crooked politicos, and a dealer’s crib masquerading as a sultan’s palace, harem and all. A palm reader warns Langdon of danger, but it comes when she's least prepared for it. Before long, the mob’s involved (maybe there’s a reason Hebert’s Restaurant won the lucrative casino contract), and so are family secrets so ugly they’d make Tennessee Williams wince. Everyone has them—the Heberts, the mob princess, even the crooked cop.

And Langdon finds she should have listened to the damned palm reader.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Kindness of Strangers - Skip Langdon Mystery #6
Kindness of Strangers is the SIXTH book in the Edgar Award-winning Skip Langdon mystery series Julie Smith.


Politics makes the strangest bedfellows of all and in New Orleans, a psychopath’s running for mayor. Not just the usual harmless megalomaniac—a murderer and a monster. His supporters and a good proportion of would-be voters think he’s just a kindly preacher-man and handily crucify anyone who says otherwise. Enter Detective Skip Langdon, who met the Rev. Errol Jacomine on a case, finds him pretty much the personification of evil, and can point to a pile of corpses to prove it.

But Langdon’s fresh out of street cred. On administrative leave after shooting someone, she’s become the Cassandra of the police department—everything she says gets put down to paranoia. So finding the proof to discredit Jacomine becomes her obsession until he kidnaps a couple of kids she cares about—and then it turns into a mission from hell.

Langdon has to bull her way through a hurricane to find the small army of Jacomine’s thugs who’ve got 15-year-old Sheila, the closest thing she has to a niece, and Sheila’s friend, who’s having the mother of inappropriate love affairs—with someone dangerously close to Jacomine.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
New Orleans Noir - (Akashic Noir)
Brand-new stories by: Ace Atkins, Laura Lippman, Patty Friedmann, Barbara Hambly, Tim McLoughlin, Olympia Vernon, David Fulmer, Jervey Tervalon, James Nolan, Kalamu ya Salaam, Maureen Tan, Thomas Adcock, Jeri Cain Rossi, Christine Wiltz, Greg Herren, Julie Smith, Eric Overmyer, and Ted O'Brien.

[A portion of the profits from New Orleans Noir will be donated to Katrina KARES, a hurricane relief program sponsored by the New Orleans Institute that awards grants to writers affected by the hurricane.]

Beneath the glitter of Mardi Gras lies the sleaze of Bourbon Street; under the celestial sounds of JazzFest, the nightmare screams of a city once at war within its neighborhoods, but after Hurricane Katrina, seemingly at war with nature and the rest of the country as well. New Orleans is a Third World country in itself, a Latin, African, European (and often amoral) culture trapped in a Puritan nation. It's everyone's seamy underside, the city where respectable citizens go to get drunk, puke in the gutter, dance on tabletops, and go home with strangers, all without guilt. It's the metropolitan equivalent of eating standing up--if it happened in New Orleans, it doesn't count. The city was always the home of the lovable rogue, the poison magnolia, the bent politico, the sociopathic street thug, and, especially, the heartless con artist--but in post-Katrina times it struggles against . . . well, the same old problems, just writ large and with a new breed of carpetbagger thrown in.

Combine all that with a brilliant literary tradition and you have New Orleans Noir, a sparkling collection of tales exploring the city's wasted, gutted neighborhoods, its outwardly gleaming "sliver by the river," its still-raunchy French Quarter, and other hoods so far from the Quarter they might as well be on another continent. It also looks back into the past, from that recent innocent time known in contemporary New Orleans as "pre-K," to the mid-19th century, the other time the city was mostly swampland

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Crescent City Connection - Skip Langdon #7
Crescent City Connection (formerly Crescent City Kill) is the SEVENTH book in the Edgar Award-winning Skip Langdon series by Julie Smith.


Sure, New Orleans is known for corruption, but suddenly the good guys get a break—an honest police chief. And then someone guns him down. When a terrifying organization called The Jury takes out the cop-killer, Detective Skip Langdon’s on the case. But no one cares! After all, the guy was a cop-killer.

Skip cares really a lot—because she suspects The Jury’s the brainchild of her old nemesis, self-described preacher Errol Jacomine. And because other lives are at stake—those of Jacomine's granddaughter Lovelace and his younger son Isaac. Eager to add Lovelace to his maniacal fold, Jacomine has Lovelace kidnapped, but she escapes and flees to the bohemian home of her Uncle Isaac, an artist and true eccentric known as The White Monk. Isaac’s taken a vow of silence, but uncle and niece manage to communicate and form a bond that could save both their lives. And Langdon comes up with a plan so clever even the FBI can’t shout her down.

Order the Book From: Amazon
Death Before Facebook - Skip Langdon #4
Death Before Facebook, formerly entitled New Orleans Beat, is the FOURTH book in the Edgar Award-winning Skip Langdon series by Julie Smith.


It’s a chilly November in 1994, and thirty-one-year-old Geoff Kavanagh surreptitiously splits his time between science fiction novels and cyberspace in his parents’ dilapidated, overgrown, uptown New Orleans mansion. Until his mother finds him dead from a suspicious fall off a ladder. Maybe he should never have posted about seeing his father murdered … because way too many people on the TOWN, a pre-Facebook virtual community, knew things about his family he didn’t even suspect. Decades-old skeletons start falling out of closets after Geoff’s untimely death, thanks to New Orleans Detective Skip Langdon. Langdon finds Geoff’s gorgeous mom strangely uninterested in her son’s fatal fall, but Mom’s apparently the only one. It seems the post has gone viral. Suddenly all the TOWNSpeople have theories—and ambition as cyberdetectives. What’s a murderer to do but kill his way out?

Order the Book From: Amazon
Axeman's Jazz - Skip Langdon Mystery #2
The SECOND book in the Edgar Award-winning Skip Langdon mystery series by Julie Smith.


A place where he (or maybe she) can learn your secrets from your own mouth and then make friends over coffee. A supposedly "safe" place where anonymity is the norm. The horror who calls himself The Axeman has figured it out and claimed his territory—he's cherry-picking his victims in the 12-Step programs of New Orleans.

And he's had the gall to name himself after a historical serial killer. He just needs to go down, and fast, because this is New Aw'lins, dawlin'—half the town is either alcoholic or co-dependent!

Who better to take him out than tall, funny, social-misfit Skip Langdon, now a homicide detective on the Axeman team, a gig that takes her into the 12-Step groups to meet the suspects (giving author Julie Smith a chance for gentle satire). As Skip threads her fascinated way from one self-help group to another, she finds she has more in common with the twelve-steppers than just the murder—her mother, for one thing, whom she encounters at Overeaters Anonymous! And she knows what they do not: that among their anonymous numbers is a murderous, and dangerously attractive psychopath…

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
New Orleans Mourning - #1, Skip Langdon Mystery Series
Winner of the 1991 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel and the FIRST mystery in the highly acclaimed Skip Langdon series, New Orleans Mourning falls deliciously between the psychological suspense of Laura Lippman and the delicate drama of Tennesse Williams.

It's Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and civic leader and socialite Chauncy St. Amant has been crowned Rex, King of Carnival. But his day of glory comes to an abrupt and bloody end when a parade-goer dressed as Dolly Parton guns him down. Is the killer his aimless, promiscuous daughter Marcelle? Homosexual, mistreated son Henry? Helpless, alcoholic wife Bitty? Or some unknown player? Turns out the king had enemies...

Enter resourceful heroine Skip Langdon, a rookie police officer and former debutante turned cynic of the Uptown crowd. Scouring the streets for clues, interviewing revelers and street people with names like Jo Jo, Hinky, and Cookie, and using her white glove contacts, the post-deb rebel cop encounters a tangled web of brooding clues and ancient secrets that could mean danger for her—and doom for the St. Amants.

Langdon, with her weight worries, insecurities, and yet overall toughness has long been a favorite of those who like their female sleuths bold, smart, and refreshingly human.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Author Recommended by: HBSystems Publications
Publisher of ebooks, writing industry blogger and the sponsor of the following blogs:
HBS eBook Author’s Corner
HBS Mystery Reader’s Circle

Check out the index of other Spotlight authors. Spotlight Index.

1 comment:

  1. This was fantastic, James! Really comprehensive. Thanks so much--Julie