Thursday, September 16, 2010

Success of an Ambitious Woman: Barbara Ross

ROBERTA: We at Jungle Red get SO excited when one of our writing friends publishes her first book! And today we're delighted to introduce Barbara Ross to talk about DEATH OF AN AMBITIOUS WOMAN. Welcome Barbara and congratulations on your book! It's a thrill isn't it? I love your protagonist, Acting Police Chief Ruth Murphy. Tell us about how you came up with this character. (And how does this relate to the line in your bio: "She knows something about the stresses of being the boss.")
BARBARA: Thanks, Roberta! I knew I wanted to write a professional sleuth. You write what you love, and if I were marooned on a desert island, the books I would want would be P. D. James’ and, most of all, Ruth Rendell’s Wexford series. So the question I had to deal with was—what perspective could I bring to that world? I decided it was the experience I had as someone who’d known the responsibility and occasional isolation of being the boss. Of course, I’ve never made life and death decisions, but I have made decisions where people’s money, employment and careers were potentially at stake, so I know how that feels and I decided that was one of the things I could bring to the character.
ROBERTA: We talked yesterday about where our cop details come from--this must be especially important in a police procedural. How did you manage to get it right?
BARBARA: I didn’t aim for “right,” I aimed for “believable.” I wanted to create a fictional world people would accept. I took a community policing course, did a ride-along with a female police officer, interviewed prosecutors and defense attorneys and a state accident reconstruction specialist. There’s a lot of literature around about women in policing, much of it written for college criminal justice courses, and that supplied a larger context. One of the reasons I didn’t go for “right,” was I’m not sure it’s achievable. One of the incidents in the book is something the accident reconstruction specialist swore he’d seen with his own eyes, yet a police officer I interviewed was sure “it would never, ever happen like that.” So “right” is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.
ROBERTA: And for readers who are as yet unpublished, please tell us a little about your path to publication. Any good advice for future published writers?
BARBARA: This book had a really long path to publication, but now I’m having a blast and can easily say it was all worth it.
What have I learned? Hmm—they sound like such platitudes—be persistent, write the best book you can, don’t let the rejection wear you down, but they’re all so true.
I wondered why, in my day job, I could pitch a company to venture capitalists and if they weren’t interested, it hardly affected me emotionally. Their loss, I would think. But rejections for my book from agents and publishers were devastating. More upsetting than someone saying your baby is ugly. Because you know darn well your baby isn’t ugly. But new writers often don’t have the same confidence as new mothers or entrepreneurs. The rejection can undermine you.
So I guess that’s what I learned. If you’re confident what you’ve written is the best book it can possibly be, you can keep going through the inevitable setbacks. And if you’re not sure, go back and keep writing until you are, because that chink in your confidence can make it really hard.
ROBERTA: As if your writing and your day job and your volunteer work with Sisters in Crime aren’t enough, you've also gotten involved with Level Best Books. Tell us about that project.
BARBARA: Mark Ammons, Kat Fast, Leslie Wheeler and I have been a part of a writers group for close to fifteen years. We are huge fans of the Level Best anthologies. Two of us had our first fiction publication with Level Best. When the previous editors, Kate Flora, Ruth McCarty and Susan Oleksiw, announced they were done, we understood, but like many in the New England mystery writing community, we were also sad. We started talking about taking it on. Kate, Ruth and Susan were so supportive and helpful that the little “what if” became a reality, and now we’ll have an edition—titled Thin Ice—this year in time for the New England Crime Bake. It’s exciting and fun—and we haven’t killed each other yet!

ROBERTA: Thank you for stopping in today and we wish you much success with this book and all that comes later!


  1. Thanks for hosting Barbara, Jungle Red. One of the absolute best things about Sisters in Crime is the way we support each other. Over the years, among my greatest pleasures has been celebrating the moments when our sister writers emerge from the unpublished writer's corner and hold their first book. I've known Barb, and her work, for many long years, and admired her as a writer. I've published her fine short stories, and hoped for the emergence of her novel. The publication of Ambitious Woman is a joyous moment not only for her, but for all of us here in the New England chapter.
    May it be followed by many more. (books and joyous moments)

  2. For the last few years, Barb has read snippets from her work at an annual Sisters in Crime/NE meeting when members get to read. So nice to see some of it in print! Barb's launch party last night at Porter Square Books was standing room only, and they sold out! Way to go!

  3. I love your book! And it's so wonderful to see you being so successful--last night at the signing, the books flew off the shelves until they were all gone and the store was taking orders!

    So--what's up for you now? Well, put it this way--I hope what's next is for you to enjoy this.

  4. Yay, Barb! I can't wait to read the book, and was so sad that a bad back prevented me from attending the party last night. May there be many more launch parties in your future.


  5. Hi Barbara,
    Congrats on the new book. It sounds thoughtful as well as suspenseful.

    I love the point you made about how you could take a rejection before venture capitalists but fiction rejection is just so EMOTIONAL

    Even as a journalist, which is writing, I'm unemotional about rejection - I figure whatever it is just doesn't suit the needs of the publication - I never take it personally.

    But fiction just goes deep -- too deep sometimes!

    Congrats on your persistence!

  6. Thanks, everybody.

    I had a great time at the launch party at Porter Square last night (which you can probably tell because I am showing up so late this morning.) Thanks so much to Hallie, Hank, Kate and so many others who were there.The support of Sisters in Crime has been truly amazing.

    I don't know what's coming next, but right now I'm finishing the new book, promoting the current book, working on the Level Best anthology for November and enjoying every minute.

  7. Congrats on your success--and everything you say is absolutely true. I agree, 'believable' is probably more important than 'right' in fiction--especially since it can take so long from writing to publication that what was once 'right' might not be anymore.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  8. Thanks for an interesting and helpful blog - "right" has alway been a bone of contention that looks like it's here to stay.
    I particularly liked the remark about 'knowing your baby isn't ugly' LOL
    Love and best wishes,

  9. Hi Terry and Jackie-

    I've often heard law enforcement people say, "that would never happen," but sometimes what actually happens in unbelievably dull.

    I also think it's hard to suspend disbelief when it's your profession they're showing. My husband works in politics and it drives me crazy when movies and TV shows in particular get things like campaign finance laws so wrong. But I know that's specialized knowledge not everyone has.

    In my book I worried as much about getting the art work and the world of mutual funds wrong as I did the police work.

  10. Barbara: Loved reading your post, about your path to publication. That's always interesting, to find out how someone got started. Good luck with your debut book, and I'm impressed with your diligent on-the-job research.

  11. Congratulations, Barb! My book's on order. Can't wait to pick up where you stoppped reading last night.

    The word I love is "verisimilitude," which translates roughly to "seems like the truth." That's the trick--make it seem real. I'm sure you've done it beautifully.