It was my recent pleasure to interview Chicago’s own best seller author, Jamie Freveletti, one of this year’s ‘featured authors’ for the 2014 Love Is Murder mystery/thriller writer’s conference February 7,8 & 9, 2014 at the Inter-Continental Chicago O’Hare Hotel.
A trial attorney, martial artist, and runner and holds a black belt in aikido, a Japanese martial art. After law school she lived in Geneva, Switzerland while obtaining a diploma in International Studies. Back in Chicago, she represented clients in areas ranging from class actions for mass salmonella poisoning to securities fraud. Her debut thriller, Running from the Devil, was chosen as a “Notable Book” by the Independent Booksellers of America, awarded “Best First Novel” by the International Thriller Writers, awarded a Barry Award for “Best First Novel” by Deadly Pleasures Magazine, and nominated for a Macavity Award for” Best First Mystery” by the Mystery Readers International and “Favorite First Novel of 2009” by Crimespree Magazine. It has been translated into three languages and was an international bestseller.
Her second novel, Running Dark, released in June, 2010, hit both the Chicagoland and South Florida bestseller lists and the third novel in her series, The Ninth Day released in September, 2011 and was chosen as one of the “Best Thrillers of 2011” by Suspense Magazine.
In January, 2011, she was tapped by the Estate of Robert Ludlum to write the next in the Covert One series. That novel,Robert Ludlum’s The Janus Reprisal, released on September 11, 2012. The fourth in her series, Dead Asleep released on October 30, 2012 and hit #1 on Amazon’s kindle bestseller.
Q: Jamie, your biography states that you’re a trial attorney. I’m sure your readers are curious to know whether you’re still actively practicing law or if you are now writing full time. And, if you’re still actively practicing, how do you manage to do this and yet write such wonderful books in fairly quick succession?
A: Since the Ludlum deal (where I was asked to write a book for the Covert One series) in addition to my own series, I have pursued writing as a full time career. It was clear that with two books a year to write that I needed to make a choice about how to best manage my time. I resigned from the firm and focused on writing.
Q: In the current publishing climate, the odds of a new fiction author landing a contract with one of the ‘big six’ is very difficult, even when they have a prominent agent. What led you to decide to enter this arena with its somewhat discouraging statistics and how did you obtain your agent?
A: I’ll never forget the moment that I decided to pursue a contract with a “big six” house. It was in 2007 and the current e-book revolution hadn’t happened yet. I had been pitching to smaller houses that seemed more available and open to new authors. I was asked to create a CD with special requirements to submit to one. I’m technologically savvy, so I wasn’t worried about doing it, but I was still working as an attorney, raising two small children, and writing in the dead of night after I got the kids to bed. I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to slot in even more time to package, distribute and market a novel in what was the then traditional manner. I made a decision at that moment to pursue an agent and shoot for the big houses.
I sat down and made a list of my “dream” editors and kept it on my desk. When I spilled coffee on it I wiped it off and posted it above my computer. Every day I looked at that list. In 2008, when my book Running From The Devil was acquired, it was by one of the editors on that list! I also timed my query letters to allow for about two months before the next International Thriller Writer’s conference, where I knew they were having an “agentfest.”
I slaved over the query and submitted it cold to a batch of agents that I found through a search on publishers marketplace.com. Publishers Marketplace has a search engine that allows you to find all the thriller deals and the agents that sold them for the past several years. I picked active agencies that had sold thrillers in the past year and sent out the query. My current agent, Barbara Poelle, was brand new at the time and was one of several who contacted me. We met at Agentfest, clicked immediately, and three months later she sold the book. I credit the opportunity of being able to meet her in person as a key element that sealed the deal for both of us.
Q: The publishing achievements of trial attorneys such as yourself, Turow and Grisham, would seem to indicate that there are particular skills acquired during your long years of legal training and courtroom experience which lend themselves to such successes. This said, what in your experience would you say that might be directly related to such outcomes in general, and are there any particular skills that are a carry-over from your own training and practice as a trial attorney?
A: As litigators we have to tell a client’s story to a judge or jury in a way that makes sense and conveys the client’s intentions and acts. It’s perfect training for a writer to learn both the value of point of view and the need to order events in a way to form a plot. It’s invaluable.
Also, on a more mundane level, I have to again turn to the idea of time. Lawyers bill in small increments, sometimes as little as six minutes. You learn early on in your law career that time is valuable and become very aware of when you are wasting it. The discipline of billing hours has made me more effective in ordering my day now as a writer, because it takes a lot of self discipline to keep focused on a goal when it’s just you and your keyboard and a beautiful, sunny day is beckoning!
Q: Many years ago at ‘Dark and Stormy Nights’ I attended a session featuring Sara Paretsky. One of the attendees asked her if V.I. Warshawski was her alter ego to which Sara replied there were aspects of V.I. she felt were her alter ego and others in V.I. which she would like to have, but didn’t. With your main heroine, Emma Caldridge, readers can certainly see a bit of you in her from just reading your biography, but are there aspects of you in Emma the reader doesn’t see or characteristics of her that you might like to have or acquire in the future?
A: Emma is not me in a lot of ways. She’s a scientist, and that makes her much less emotional than I am. She is unafraid of plunging into dangerous areas of the world and is a bit of a loner. She is also a ton more patient than I am. I’m a social, emotional person who laughs more and worries a whole lot more than she does. I’d love to be able to slow down my brain and be more patient. I am patient with my kids, but get me behind the wheel of a car and in a traffic jam and I can feel the disbelief rising. Can it possibly take this long to drive a mile? Thank god for the radio. Music is what I love as much as reading. When the weather permits you’ll find me running errands on my bike and not in my car. What we do have in common is athleticism. I love to run, bike and keep active, and so does she.
Q: Every author in the mystery/thriller genre works differently during the process of creating interaction and tension between characters against a background of escalating threads of action that eventually are drawn together. Some use detailed grids, others use story boards or outlines and some let the story unfold once the initial germ of an idea or ideas is grounded in their mind. In your creative process, what have you found works best for you and do you always use the same process?
A: I’m a seat of the pants writer through and through. I never know where a book will go when I sit down to write it. I have a simple, one or two sentence premise and I hit the keyboard. It keeps me interested through the months it takes to write a book. I’m discovering the story in the same, fresh way that a reader does. Having said that, I have been asked by the Ludlum Estate to present a synopsis of the book that I wrote for them. I shuddered when I first started that process, but I do see the beauty in planning, albeit just a little. I can’t ever see myself creating a detailed outline, though I have writer friends that do and they swear by them. For me, creating an outline would waste time that would better be spent writing.
Q: Your writing style creates a wonderful ‘sense of place’ which takes the reader right into the locations. As each of your books including The Janus Reprisal, is set in ‘interesting’ places do you feel a writer needs to have experienced the places they use for their stories? And, if this isn’t possible, (especially in the case of foreign locations) do you have suggestions as to how one might successfully create a ‘sense of place’ for the reader even if they haven’t experienced it first hand?
A: I’ve traveled to most of the places that I write about, including Colombia, but not Somalia. For that country I ended up contacting a journalist who was there and we exchanged emails. I also use Google earth and street view. I will watch an area over the course of several days and get a feel for the rhythm of life there. I suggest using Google earth and reading traveler’s blogs, especially back packer blogs.
The bloggers are wonderful in their often detailed explanations of the different areas that they visit. My next Emma Caldridge book is set in West Africa and I’m reading some wonderful postings from Peace Corp and Foreign aid workers. I’ll probably take a trip to Morocco for more research on this one, but I’ll stay in hotels and travel safely. The Peace Corp volunteers really see a country the way that Emma would experience it, and their journals are invaluable to me.
Q: Could you speak a bit about how you came to be tapped by Robert Ludlum’s estate and selected as one of the writers for the ‘Covert One’ series? Do you anticipate that you’ll be writing in the future for the series?
A: My understanding of the process is that the Estate was evaluating several authors that would be a good fit for the series. I learned that I was one of the three finalists on their list in New York after Running From The Devil won ITW’s Best First Novel award. I mean literally after, because I stumbled off the stage in a daze of happiness and tears and went straight out of the ballroom to settle down and regroup. My agent was with me and told me then. I tried not to think about it too much. because one of three, while good odds, is still not a done deal. Three months later Running From The Devil won the Barry award in San Francisco and again, after I got off the podium, my agent told me that we were to meet with representatives of the Estate in the bar for a drink and conversation. I learned then that they wanted me to consider the project. It’s been a great experience and I am in conversation to write a possible second. The details haven’t been pinned down as yet, but I’ll update the “News” section of my website when they are!
Q: Do you have a new book currently in process that your readers can look forward to?
A: Yes! I’m working on the fifth in the Emma Caldridge series. This idea for this one came to me when I was reading about the Dakkar rally, a famous motor race from Paris to Dakkar, Senegal, that crosses the Sahara desert. Seems that the race was moved to South America after the unrest in West Africa and Mauritania became increasingly dangerous. I started reading about the area and decided that it was a fascinating “hot” territory bubbling with unrest and close to exploding.
I put Emma there, and she’ll be caught between two warring terrorist organizations vying for control of West Africa and forced to march to Marrakech through Mauritania. Along the way she collects aide workers and refugees and helps lead them to safety. She also takes on a few guerrilla camps when she finds that they are stealing the aide supplies sent from the West. It’s been a great book to write and is one of my grittier and more socially aware story lines. I’m also working on a stand alone thriller that will feature a new character, and then there’s the possible future Covert One. Needless to say, I’m writing full time and then some!
Q: Finally, given the current publishing landscape that seems to be changing by the hour these days, how do you think it will look for aspiring authors say, within the next three years or so?
A: I’m fairly new to this industry and only have a short time line perspective, but it seems to me that there’s never been so much opportunity for authors to carve their own path than there is now. I love working with publishing houses, but I also enjoy that I can write a short story or novella and have a place to publish them. I wrote a serial novella featuring Emma in three short episodes called Risk, Gone, and Run. They were designed to be short enough to finish on a subway or train ride, but when strung together formed a complete novella and are published only in electronic form. The ability to work in different formats help keep things fresh and interesting, and I love it.
I’m releasing another short story that I wrote, called Buddha’s Black Soul, which grew out of an actual incident. My father lived in rural Missouri and had a beloved German Shepard police dog. Someone in the area began shooting and killing animals under cover of darkness, including cows and other livestock, and Sheba was shot in the jaw. The vet tried to save her, but she died of an infection. I wrote the story out of anger, but when I was done it seemed to be really about karma and how our acts, either good or bad, circle back to us. Hence the title. I hope to release it in late August.
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