Monday, March 04, 2013

A Conversation with Debut Mystery Author Lee Mims

Omnimystery News: Author Interview
with Lee Mims

We are delighted to welcome debut mystery author Lee Mims to Omnimystery News today.

Lee introduces geologist and amateur sleuth Cleo Cooper in Hiding Gladys (Midnight Ink, January 2013 trade paperback and ebook formats).

We recently had a chance to chat with Lee about her new book.

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Omnimystery News: Why did you choose to write a mystery with a recurring character?

Lee Mims
Photo provided courtesy of
Lee Mims

Lee Mims: As a writer of a mystery series, it is my intention to develop my main character, Cleo Cooper, over the course of three books. Therefore, the need for flaws. After all, each of us has flaws; there are no perfect people. With that in mind, Cleo's tendency to risk everything — both financially and sometimes with her very life — in the hope of a high return is perhaps the flaw I most often use to get her into situations that test her resolve.

For instance, who could walk by a well and not gaze down into it? And, provided there's a rope reaching down into the water below, who could resist pulling on it to see if it's attached to a bucket? What if you couldn't reach the rope? Do you have enough dare devil in you to lean out just a little further? I do but then I'm rather like Cleo myself and end up learning life's lessons the hard way. We do something stupid, we learn and grow. I know I did and so will Cleo.

Cleo's constant desire to do everything herself, to ask for help from no one is another character trait that could be considered by some as a flaw. While it might be understandable, given the fact that she was married at the tender age of 20 to a somewhat older, very wealthy man with an inclination to overprotect, it's still the catalyst I use to place her in challenging predicaments. It may be that over time, she'll look back on having someone to lean on as being not so bad. Or, maybe she'll evolve further into a loner, a woman who having finally attained the self-respect she craved by standing on her own, cherishes it all the more. Only time and two more books will tell.

OMN: Would you characterize this mystery as a cozy?

LM: I think of my books as medium-boiled mystery/thrillers. At the beginning of each one a body shows up. How the victim died and who killed them lingers, hopefully as a tantalizing question until the end. I add “thriller” to my categorization because I love action with a dash of the fear factor thrown in for good measure.

I'm not a marketing expert, just a writer, really, but I think for my Cleo Cooper series, marketing to fans of mysteries and thrillers is definitely an advantage. These readers are a devoted group and if I am lucky enough to gain their approval, I feel I can count on them to keep me on my toes with all the details that must go into writing a mystery that really works.

OMN: Did you incorporate any of your own personality or experience into Cleo Cooper?

LM: Of the three books, Hiding Gladys, will probably be the one with the most personal experience backing it up as I actually worked in the field doing much of what Cleo does. I have a Masters in Sedimentary Petrology. That is, I have the underpinnings of a petroleum geologist but since I never worked in that field, I wouldn't call myself one. So, my second book, Trusting Viktor, relies heavily on research. Moreover, the world of oil exploration is entirely closed to anyone not in the industry. This is so not only because of the proprietary nature of the knowledge they acquire at huge expense, but because they are so often maligned by the press. Having said all that, the internet has made knowledge in any area of interest under the sun accessible with the click of a mouse. I spent literally months on the computer researching the technical information I needed for Trusting Viktor and this, coupled this with actual trips to the Gulf to interview people in the industry, gave me enough knowledge to, hopefully, make my readers feel they're actually aboard a drillship.

I don't know about you, but the books I enjoy the most are those in which you can experience another place as though you were really there. James Hall's Thorn novels come to mind. When you read them, you are transported through his prose to seedy backwater bars with a gritty floors deep in the Mangroves of central Florida or to lonely stretches of beach with sunsets that take your breath away.

Mr. Hall is able to do this not only because he is a master writer, but also because lives in and obviously loves Florida. Similarly, I want my readers to experience eastern North Carolina from country roads cutting through farmland to maritime forests and backwater marshes to the beaches and even to some of my favorite restaurants. Since these are the places of my heart, the places where I lived and played for most of my life, I hope my books will accomplish this.

OMN: Tell us about your writing process.

LM: Long before I was a writer, I was an artist. I've painted literally hundreds of paintings over many decades and I can tell you this for sure: the creative process for writing and painting is very similar. Both start with a sketch and with an overall mood or atmosphere in mind. And, for me, both writing and painting are done in layers.

My writing sketch consists of a very rough synopsis which I never hold myself to, which is a good thing, because as the story progresses, invariably I find a better way to go to make the story stronger. Often — and this is the most amazing part of writing for me — as I write, the story goes off its own and even I am surprised. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you're laboring along at your computer, thinking you know where you're headed and then: boom! A thought flies into your head that changes the whole tale … for the better.

I liken the layering technique I use with my oil painting layers to layering in my writing in the following way: I start with an primer color and a rough in. At this point you absolutely have to let the paint dry before you add a new layer. In this way, you can leave some areas untouched and add to others to get the feeling of depth and inner glow all artists strive to achieve.

Similarly, my novels begin with an initial rough draft. Then, like letting the paint dry, I let my books "cool off" before my first rewrite. This cooling off period needs to be at least a few weeks. Then the hacking begins. Following another few weeks away from the book, I rewrite again, this time tightening and adding more color and detail. I do this as many times as my deadlines permit before I send it to my editor who refers to herself as my hired gun because at that point, each sentence in the story is getting to be an old friend and killing them off is not something I don't do well. When all the revisions are done, the story, like one of my studio paintings is the result of may layers of thought.

OMN: If a studio adapting your book was casting for the role of Cleo Coyle, who would be your first choice to play the part?

LM: I definitely write my story with a mental image of Cleo that I arrived at by writing from the perspective of my own physical attributes such as height, weight, strength, etc. So, if by some miracle of a semi-religious nature, a major motion-picture studio wanted to turn my series into a movie, I can't think of a better actress to play the part than Cameron Diaz. She, like me is 5'9", has an athletic build and blond hair, and in some of her movies, appears to be quite strong. Important note: I don't look like Cameron Diaz. Oh, the pity! Anyway, she's the almost the right age, too. She's 41 and Cleo is a indefinite age somewhere past mid-forties. I never say for sure because that adds to her mystique.

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Lee Mims is and always has been a North Carolina farm girl. She played outdoors from dawn to dusk, built forts, drank water from garden hoses and ran with sticks. And for 25 years, she raised and trained Quarter Horses.

She was often sick as a child, and it was while staying home with her mother that Mims learned the beauty of words. Together they read endlessly: short stories, fairy tales and adventure novels.

Because of her love of the great outdoors, she later earned a master's and bachelor's degree in geology from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and worked as a field geologist. And as a popular wildlife artist, Mims owns her self-named studio where she does both portrait and fine art oil paintings.

Books never escaped her, and her geology background inspired Hiding Gladys, the first of the Cleo Cooper Mystery Series.

You can learn more about the author and her books by visiting her website at LeeMims.com or finding her on Facebook or Twitter.

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Hiding Gladys by Lee Mims

Hiding Gladys
Lee Mims
A Cleo Cooper Mystery (1st in series)

A rock fortune inspires family betrayal and murder …

Cleo Cooper is either about to strike it rich or lose it all. Discovering a huge and rare granite deposit is a geologist's dream come true. The multi-million dollar quarry deal will also benefit Cleo's friend Gladys Walton, who owns the rural North Carolina property. So what could go wrong? Finding a dead body in Gladys's well, for starters.

A hitchhiking rattlesnake and a near-fatal accident during the drill test convinces Cleo that someone is dead set on scaring her — and halting the project. The two likely suspects? Gladys's greedy, grown children, Robert Earle and Shirley, who try every dirty trick in the book to cash in on the granite-rich land. But are they nasty enough to resort to murder?

Between romps with a hot geologist, Cleo devotes every fiber of her being to keeping Gladys safe — and keeping her dream alive.

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Virtual Book Tour for Lee Mims's Hiding Gladys

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