Tuesday, September 2, 2014

C. L. Pauwels on revving up to write Forty & Out

HALLIE EPHRON: Yes, you all know her! C.L. (Cyndi) Pauwels has been a frequent contributor to comments on Jungle Red. And now her first mystery novel FORTY & OUT has just been published and we are so happy to have her here on the front page taking a bow!
Like so many of us, Cyndi got serious about writing after working and raising her kids, but all along, she was revving up to write. I'll let her tell it.

CYNDI PAUWELS: Thanks so much for inviting me, Hallie! I’m all aflutter being in the company of the Reds. You gals rock!

I don’t remember when I first tried writing a story, but I wrote a play in the third grade that was performed on stage in the auditorium for the whole school – and parents! Something about astronauts teaching Martians to speak English (due to JFK and the moon landing program – you do the math), and we had a song about vowels. Even then I was writing intrigue because I remember something about sabotage.

Other than a juvenile fascination with Nellie Bly, I couldn’t imagine anyone actually making a living as a writer, but writing has been a huge part of nearly every job I’ve held – except for that unfortunate stint as a waitress in college. I’ve written classified ads and employee manuals, designed in-house newsletters, and yes, eventually did some newspaper reporting.

It wasn’t until much later that I ventured into fiction. My first published short story was in 1989, in the NATSO Truckers News Mark Twain Essay Contest – I won the $250 third prize. The story was loosely based on my mother, who at age 40 put herself through truck driving school and hit the road to support her kids.

HALLIE: Ooooh I'd LOVE to read that story!

CYNDI: Finally in 2004, after both kids were both off to college, I was able to take my writing seriously. I started freelancing, wrote as a stringer for Cox Ohio - Dayton Daily News and The Western Star. I wrote fiction on the side.

HALLIE: Were there experiences or colleagues you had during your years a dispatcher that found their way into your writing?

CYNDI: Working as a police and fire dispatcher, and then as a federal court deputy clerk for a combined fifteen-plus years gave me such a unique insight into the criminal justice world. My time on the job brings an authenticity to my stories, and as for colleagues, well, let’s just say the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

HALLIE: You can do something I can't imagine doing: Write fast. Can you tell us about your experience with NaNoWriMo? Was it the magic bullet?

CYNDI: In 2005, I discovered National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and what at the time seemed like an impossible masochistic event (writing 50,000 words in 30 days) showed me I was capable of producing a novel-length manuscript.

That first NaNo effort – with much revision – became my creative writing master’s thesis in 2010. My second NaNo effort became my debut novel, FORTY & OUT.

It started out as a short story, “Happy Birthday to You” (so creative!), in 1990, in Toledo’s now-defunct Ohio-Michigan Line magazine. After 39 rejections from agents and publishers in the past four years (yes, I keep count!), Deadly Writes Publishing released FORTY & OUT in August 2014.

When I told the story about the rejections to some friends over dinner just before the book was released, someone noted, “Thirty-nine? If you’d have called the book Twenty & Out it could have been published two years ago!”  *Sigh*.

HALLIE: Love your book title, but I've got to ask: Forty what and out??

CYNDI: Forty years old and pfft! A serial killer is targeting single women in Toledo, Ohio, as they reach that milestone, turning birthday greetings into obituaries. Renegade Detective Veronica Jadzinski (Jadz) has to figure out where the killer finds his victims and how all the deaths are staged as suicides – and why – before her drama queen sister is the next unfortunate celebrant. Toss in a by-the-book new partner, a lieutenant who thinks Jadz is out of her league, a needy widowed mother, and an almost-ex-husband who doesn’t want to let go…Jadz’s first official case in Homicide isn’t the only thing that keeps her up at night.

HALLIE: Love it! Will we see more of Jadz?

CYNDI: Absolutely! Her next case is underway with more murder (of course!), high-tech thievery, and a few more family squabbles along the way.

HALLIE: And the perennial writer’s question: plotter or pantser?

CYNDI: Pantser, all the way! I have just enough OCD in me that if I try to work off an outline, I don’t dare deviate from I, II, III. And I’ve learned my characters have a much better idea of how the story should unfold than anything I could ever come up with. 

HALLIE: Cyndi is giving away a signed copy of FORTY & OUT for a randomly-selected commenter, so let us know... 

This is making me remember MY first writing success, third grade, a poem that was published in our local paper. Eight lines of doggerel about my sister flying back to college with her cat. My sister didn't ahve a cat. Already I was writing fiction.   

First writing efforts anyone?

FORTY & OUT is available from Deadly Writes Publishing, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and  bookstores. Find C. L. Pauwels the web at http://clpauwels.com, Twitter (@clpauwels), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/clpauwels), Google+ (https://plus.google.com/+Clpauwels/posts), and Goodreads.


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  2. Congratulations . . . what an amazing story. I'd have loved to have seen that play!
    Forty & Out sounds like a great story . . . I'm looking forward to reading it.

  3. This is so terrific--there's nothing like seeing that first novel! Congratulations..and so lovely to see you at Killer Nashville!

    (And that is so--mordant, Cyndi--forty and out. Sigh.)

    My first real story (non-fiction!) that was published was in Rolling Stone--I covered Susan Ford's prom at the White House. I should go find that..

  4. So thrilled to be keeping company with the Reds! And believe it or not, Hank, FORTY & OUT all started with that short story long before I hit the milestone. Maybe I was dreading it myself?

  5. Ah yes, once upon a time forty seemed like a big deal.

    Hank, what did you wear to Susan Ford's prom? (Her PROM was at the White House??) Curious minds... This is worthy of another blog topic.

  6. Congrats, Cyndi! Having hit that milestone myself last year, well, I'm glad I'm not a character in your book. =)

    And yes - characters often have better ideas than the writers do, don't they? I totally relate to your "outline OCD" - I feel the same way (I wrote this outline this way and I must stick to it).

    First piece of writing? Very, very bad urban fantasy in 8th grade. =)

  7. Prom at the White House?! At least blog-worthy, Hank!

    Don’t fret, Mary – it’s surprising how unimportant that whole 40 things seems from the other side of the milepost ;-)

  8. Thanks, Joan! The play was...interesting. We even made a huge (to a third-grader!) chicken wire and papier-mâché astronaut to adorn the stage.

  9. Congratulations, Cyndi! Somewhere there was a teacher applauding your efforts and getting that play on the stage--another blog topic, I think--how those first sparks of creativity are recognized and honored by a legion of wonderful teachers and mentors.

    My first creative writing effort was a poem in fifth grade. Does anyone remember the doggerel poem about the monkeys playing in the tree? I loved the sound and play of language and thought to myself, I can do that! And I did. I showed it to a classmate who didn't believe I wrote it. My next effort came in sixth grade when I was reading a book of plays, and thought to myself, I can do that! This was a play about knights and a prince complete with swordplay. We put the play on for the other sixth grade class, then took the show on the road to the kindergartners and first graders. Let's just say that academically, I never looked back or faltered after that teacher's encouragement.

  10. FChurch: Our ten ittle monkey jumped on the bed. One fell off and he bumped his head...

    Your play sounds awesome! I can only imagine how exciting it was to have it performed. Could have spoiled you for life.

  11. Absolutely honor the teachers, FChurch! From that third grade experience, through the sixth grade teacher who posted my poem (about trees, I think, not monkeys!) on the bulletin board, to my high school composition (and philosophy!) instructor, to the college faculty who shepherded me through academia - where would we be without their dedication?!

  12. Congratulations, Cyndi! Like Hallie, I envy your ability to get 50,000 words out in a month (of only thirty days!)

    My first published fiction was IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER, but as a young teen, I wrote a lot of angsty short stories wherein a girl who was pretty much me did something amazing and cool and heroic and everyone was VERY SORRY they hadn't recognized how wonderful she was before. Fortunately, none of these masterpieces still exist.

  13. Welcome, Cyndi! Love the Title FORTY AND OUT — so deliciously creepy…

    Hank, are there any pictures from your White House story? What did you wear?

  14. Congrats. As I'm approaching 40 myself (and still single), that concept intrigues me.

    I had a short story printed in a collection of stories from selected kids in the school we home schooled through. That's my only real publishing effort period.

  15. Thank you, Julia! And I’m betting we all have our “angsty” better-left-to-history pieces…I know I do!

    Susan, so happy to be here! I like “creepy” – not something I’ve heard applied to FORTY & OUT before, but the villain is certainly that. ;-)

    Don’t worry, Mark – we all start somewhere! I never expected that 1990 short story to lead to my debut novel.

  16. Oh my gosh, we have some very young commenters:).

    Congrats Cyndi--love your long and winding road, and especially the paper mache chicken astronaut!

    Did you have a lot of revision to do after nanowrimo, or were the bones of the book laid out?

    (I can't remember my first writing ever, but I did produce an awful collection of lovelorn poems with a friend. I'm rather glad it's disappeared...)

  17. This sounds fantastic! Great story, and yes, we've all slogged through rejections before that elusive moment of acceptance (whatever that elusive moment might have been).

    I wrote the occasional poem in elementary school and junior high, but my first attempt at fiction was my version of a Sweet Dreams Romance. It capped out at about 10,000 words (which I only know because a few years ago I found the copy I'd typed on the typewriter and transcribed it to the computer for posterity's sake!).

  18. So happy for you, Cyndi! Looking forward to reading Forty & Out.

    Hank, I also want to know what you wore to the White House prom.

    My first well-received piece of writing was a story about an elf, in sixth or seventh grade. We had mother-daughter teachers in those two years, and one taught math while the other taught English for both years, so I had the same teacher and can't remember which year it was. But Mrs. Adams praised the story, and wrote in the margin: "You should be a writer!"

    It took me almost twenty years after that to get paid for writing, though. The first time was after writing an association newsletter for two years as a volunteer. I decided I needed to quit and let someone else do it, but the group begged me to stay and offered me money to keep doing it. Which gave me the courage to then go on to write my first (non-fiction) book.

    Now I've written for several national and local magazines, newspapers, and a million newsletter articles, as well as five books. Never would have done any of it if Mrs. Adams hadn't written those five words on my paper, though.

  19. I had to write a story in 6th grade. At least that's the first story I remember writing. It was about a salesman trying to sell his product door to door. I don't remember much about it except he was practicing his technique in poorer neighborhoods. Oh. In 4th grade we had to write about what we would be doing in 20 years time. I was a detective, Nancy Drew style, solving a mystery in outer space!
    Congrats Cyndi! I lived in Ohio between Akron and Cleveland for 18 years so have some familiarity with the Toledo area. Your book goes to the TBR pile!

  20. Congratulations, Cyndi!!! There is nothing like the feel of your first real book in your hands, and those 39 rejections must make it all the sweeter.

    I had a 10th grade English teacher who gave me a A+ on a poem (no idea now what it was about...) and told me I was talented. It didn't keep me from dropping out of school the next year, but it must have ignited a little spark somewhere...

  21. Cyndi, I am a fellow elementary school playwright. I think I wrote my play in the 4th grade, and it was performed for the school. It involved an Egyptian mystery, as I was interested in mystery even then. I sure wish I still had a copy of it. Did you manage to keep a copy of your play?

    Your book, Forty & Out sounds so good. The character of Jadz appears to be one of those wonderfully layered women who must juggle much and make it all look perfectly manageable to her co-workers, while those same co-workers would go screaming into the night if they were faced with putting fires out on all those fronts. And, there is so much room for this character to grow. Jadz is someone worth watching for sure.

    Hank, I'm in agreement with everyone else who want to know more about your coverage of Susan Ford's prom at the White House. Talk about a layered character. Ms. Hank, you are indeed a woman of many layers and thrilling experiences.

  22. Lucy, as thrilled as I was with the end product of NaNoWriMo 2006, that was only the beginning! FORTY & OUT has been expanded, revised, rewritten, work shopped, edited…and yet in the final proof before publication, I found two glaring errors in physical descriptions. When you read it – you will, won’t you? – watch for the car accident with the 360-degree spin. Throughout all those earlier efforts, I had it going 180 degrees instead…which left me with a huge gaffe!

    But then, I freely admit to being directionally challenged. ;-)

    Diane, I’ve re-typed and saved old pieces I’ve stumbled across, too. Do you cringe as much as I do as you’re keying it in?

    Anonymous, volunteer writing led to my first non-fiction book, too! Isn’t it great how it all comes around?

    Thanks, Pat D! We spent many happy times at Jacobs Field in Cleveland (or whatever it’s called these days!).

    So many of us have good teachers to thank, don’t we, Deborah?

  23. Cyndi, fancy seeing you here! This is great. It was great meeting you at Killer Nashville. Your book is on my nightstand!

  24. Congratulations Cyndi! I found your story of how you got to this point very inspiring.

    My first writing event was also in third grade. I won the local newspaper's essay contest on the topic "What Christmas Means to Me." The top prize was getting to throw the switch to turn on the town Christmas tree. We still have press clippings of my moment of fame. But what I remember thrilling me more than the actual prize was that the principal had me read my essay aloud over the PA system to the whole school. I think that was glory at a level I understood better.

  25. Kathy, I keep wishing I had a copy of that play! But alas, my stage debut is lost to the ages (probably for the better!). And yes, Jadz is complex – and fun! I hope you enjoy her as much as I do.

    Thank you, Lisa! So lovely meeting you, too. And KILLMOON is in my TBR ;-)

    Susan, I’m seeing a trend here…so many of us got hooked on writing in grade school!

  26. Cyndi,
    I am so enjoying watching you have a blast with your book debut. And how cool that it cam from NANO!

    Jude Whelley

  27. Anonymous: Tell us who you are so we can Google your by-line!

  28. Funny to hear that others live vicariously through me and I do through others, Jude!

    I think it is, Gram! Let me know how you feel after you read it. ;-)

  29. Congratulations, Cyndi! FORTY & OUT sounds great! So neat about your play in elementary school. I wrote a play around that age, too, but it was performed in my basement with a very small audience. :)

  30. Congratulations Cyndi, what a great career story & so glad you got published.

  31. Jim Collins, Durham, NCSeptember 2, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    Congratulations, Cyndi. That's great perseverance! I'm forwarding this to my wife, who is working on her first novel.

  32. I always like to say that my first writing success was when I was three. I wrote my name on the bedroom wall. AND I did NOT get into trouble. ;)
    My mom dragged everyone into the bedroom to see it.
    So I think that somewhere in my little mind I decided writing is a good thing to do!! :D

    Pen Mettert

  33. Any audience size is a good audience, Susan! (That’s what we keep telling ourselves at lightly-attended signings, right?)

    Thank you, Joan and Jim!

    I love your story, Pen – and glad you weren’t discouraged from writing!

  34. Congratulations on the book, Cyndi!

    Like you, I finished my first novel once I discovered NaNoWriMo. Until then, I never managed to get to THE END.

    p.s. I'm 39. Dare I read FORTY & OUT? ;)

  35. You're good, Gigi - Jadz caught the bad guy ;-)

    So glad you found success with NaNoWriMo, too!

  36. We really enjoyed bringing Jadz to the page. We are also looking forward to Jadz returning soon. Cyndi did a great job on her first book and we're proud to have her as our debut author!
    Bill & Sharon Hopkins
    Deadly Writes Publishing, LLC

  37. Aww, shucks! Thanks, Bill & Sharon!

  38. I'm late to the party (too much writing yesterday and too little reading), but congratulations Cyndi on your debut. I hope it and you do well by each other.

    My first writing was "The Case of the Red and Green Striped Zebra" a la the Hardy Boys. The perps should have used oil based paint.

    ~ Jim

  39. Love the Hardy Boys, Jim! I started with my uncles' very old collection of those before moving on to Nancy Drew.

    And I'd love to experience a day of "too much writing," is such a thing actually exists.

    Thanks for the congrats -

  40. Michelle, then you'd recognize lots of things in FORTY & OUT - beginning with the outline of the former OI building downtown on the cover: Tony Packo's, Fifth Third Field, the Mud Hens (of course!), and the Metroparks.

    Thanks for stopping by!