Saturday, June 07, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author A. J. Lape

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with A. J. Lape
with A. J. Lape

We are delighted to welcome mystery author A. J. Lape to Omnimystery News today, courtesy of Great Escapes Book Tours, which is coordinating her current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find her schedule here.

A. J.'s third young adult mystery to feature teenaged amateur sleuth Darcy Walker is 100 Proof Stud (A. J. Lape; May 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats), and we recently had the chance to catch up with the author to talk about her work.

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Omnimystery News: 100 Proof Stud is the third book in your series with Darcy Walker. Has she changed any since being introduced in Grade A Stupid?

A. J. Lape
Photo provided courtesy of
A. J. Lape

A. J. Lape: Good question, and the answer is yes AND no. Darcy will always fundamentally be who she is — she's hardwired for action, ADHD, and a verb in a world full of nouns, but she does age in the series. So her problems age, her emotions age, but who she is in her gut and soul will always stay the same. She's the quintessential underdog, and you just can't help but root for her. The fourth book in my series (not released yet and called DEFCON Darcy) was actually the first book I wrote. However, I decided to go back a bit before I laid Darcy's soul bare. Her character in the series has progressed like an onion — each book has peeled back another layer where we get a glimpse into what has molded her into the person that she is. I revealed a huge bombshell in 100 Proof Stud that I can't wait to hear fan reaction!

OMN: Into what genre are your books generally placed?

AJL: The Darcy Walker Series is categorized as a Young Adult Mystery/Thriller/Humor book, but thankfully readers of all ages have enjoyed her. I'm not sure it's been a disadvantage to categorize the series as such, but I definitely think there are a lot of misconceptions about Young Adult fiction in general. Specifically that an older reader might not be able to remember what high school was like or that the subject matter might be a snore. My goal is to always be authentic and honest with whatever a scene calls for. If it's suspense, then let's scare the bejeezus out of someone. If it's blood and guts, then make a scene so vivid that you can smell it. If it's ugly, then pull on your "meal girl" and pray the meanies get what's coming to them … LOL. And if it's romance, then bring on the teenage angst and go 100 Proof Stud on the reader.

That being said, I'm consciously aware that the series is technically YA. Having two kids of my own, it is a delicate balance to bring truth to a scene while considering the age of a potential reader. So far, so good. Since I try my best to depict life "as-is," no matter what the plot calls for, as always, I insert comedic relief. That will always be my number one goal. My word, life can be so freaking difficult at times, and Darcy has her own cross to bear. She's ADHD with secrets in her past that would crumble a lesser man. Humor is her coping skill, and I think her unabashed honesty in all situations has helped the series span the age gaps and grow her audience by leaps and bounds.

OMN: Give us a synopsis of 100 Proof Stud in a tweet.

AJL: Fighting crime. Dodging bullets. And a little bit of love on the side. @darcywalker13 is back in #100proofstud. #kindle #mystery

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience are in your books?

AJL: I always write from what I know or what interests me. The first book in the series is called Grade A Stupid, and in that particular book, the reader is introduced to what I call Darcyspeak. It is Darcy's own made-up dictionary of terms. One of her favorite words is "fastard," insert a "b" if you're the cursing type. Darcy refers to bad-boys as fastards. They come on hard and fast, make you think that they love you, only for you to find out that the fastard has a Mrs. Fastard on the sly. Yeah, I went through a lot of fastards in a majorly dumb era of my life, but you live, learn, and then write a book about it. As far as content, I'm a huge social media buff, so whatever is trending on twitter, TMZ, and entertainment sites are huge influences. Plus I stalk the US Marshall's website to find out what the big, bad, uglies have been up to lately that are messing with the crime-stoppers. Darcy is raw and gritty, so urban life and lingo in general usually find their ways onto the page.

OMN: Describe your writing environment for us.

AJL: It is my laptop, Coke and Doritos, a blanket, socks because my feet are always cold, and my ADD dog (and used to be hamster, rest her soul.) Sometimes I have Spotify or some show saved on my DVR playing in the background. Just depends on that particular day and whether it would be a distraction or not.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

AJL: Grade A Stupid has a plot of mobsters, gangs, and a big baddie in the mobster world getting murdered. I checked, rechecked, and made sure what I wrote was totally factual and believable. I researched gangs on the Internet, gang symbols, how you are "jumped into" gangs, and geographical areas of certain gangs. I modeled the gang in the book after MS-13, known as Mara Salvatrucha, probably the deadliest gang in the world keeping the FBI up all night. This gang has certain tattoos that mean certain things, and I made a victim in Grade A Stupid have similar-like markings.

In my second book, No Brainer, I read kidnapping articles on the Internet and talked to experts in the field. A sorority sister's husband is a detective, so I bent her ear when it came to what types of weapons a detective would carry.

In 100 Proof Stud, I have two friends that work or have worked in the fraud department at banks and another that owns a title company and thus understands the way banks do business. They were a wealth of knowledge about how an identity theft can successfully pull off their crimes. I would say fraud was the most challenging to research because it goes so much beyond just stealing a credit card. I would write passages and send them to these friends and say, "Is this right? Would this happen? Did I use the right terminology?" I try really, really hard to get this stuff right so readers can concentrate on the plot, not be sidetracked by something that isn't legit.

OMN: Tell us more about the setting for the series.

AJL: My books are set in Cincinnati in the fictional suburban township of Valley, OH. I did this for two reasons. The suburbs of Cincinnati are so cookie-cutter. The kids looks the same, dress the same, drive the same cars, and their parents are just larger clones of them. The things I wanted to do required a more diverse demographic, and making the town of Valley seemed to be the right choice. The majority of kids in Valley are the benchmark of "the best," but there are some have-nots among all those haves with the five inches thick wallets. The have nots, you'll find, is where the best stories lie. Darcy likes to hang with those underdogs.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author?

AJL: No one likes to get critiqued, but it goes with the territory. In general, criticisms don't really bother me if they are done in a courteous, professional way that can help you hone your craft. However, I've run across some that just like to ruin your day … bleh. When Grade A Stupid was released almost two years ago, on the day of release a review hit Goodreads where someone just raked me over the coals. I thought, "Whaaaa?! How can you rate something that isn't even up on Amazon yet? You don't even have a book!" That right there made me appreciate The Golden Rule … do unto others, blah, blah, blah — you know treat them the way you want to be treated. You've got to have a tough skin, like a dang crocodile that can stand up against machine gunfire.

Best advice I've personally received, hands down, is to write for yourself, and above all, don't waste your time trying to convert people that are haters who don't understand what you're trying to do. Listen to them, learn from whatever the critique is, and move on. Concentrate on those that love your character and vision and just enjoy yourself. Enjoy the whole process, and never live with regrets. Chase every dream, even if it leads you down a rabbit hole, because regrets are worse to live with than small failures. I'm a firm believer than failure is not final. It only means you try another tactic.

OMN: What kind of feedback have you received from your readers?

AJL: I'm so not a prima-donna author who doesn't have time for people. Listen, I come from a long line of "oh-crap, did that just happen." So the fact that someone reads something I wrote and then takes the time to email me about it is the biggest thrill ever. One snippet of positive feedback can catapult you skyward from the lowest of lows. Readers like it that Darcy has flaws, and they seem to have been able to identify with the girl who is just trying to figure out where she fits into life. Not only where she fits in, but where she can make a difference.

OMN: Your book covers are really quite stylish. How did you come up with them? And tell us a little more about the titles.

AJL: Ah, I love my covers!!! My covers are made exclusively by the team at '68 Zombie Comics. And those guys are just the coolest thing ever. I went to school with Mark Kidwell, and my sister suggested I contact him via Facebook when I released Grade A Stupid a year and a half ago. I chatted with Mark for a good half hour one day and told him about my character and plot of the story. He told me that if I ever did a monster book, he was my guy, but YA fiction wasn't really his thing. Still he stayed online to tell me about the business in general since he'd released a horror book called Bump. (Um, fab-FAB story. Totally recommend it if you like horror.) Anyway, when we got done chatting, around twenty minutes later he faxed me a picture of the cover of Grade A Stupid. I was floored! First off, because I didn't think we'd be working together, and secondly (point for me), the man got inspired! Darcy did not originally have a tramp stamp, but since Mark depicted her that way on the cover, I wrote a paragraph into the story to explain how she got it. Now I'd basically follow Mark to the ends of the earth so he won't quit working with me!

And how did I come up with the name? I knew I wanted to use the word "stupid" because it is Darcy's favorite word. I was watching The Cooking Network and they were talking about the grades of eggs, so I decided to "grade" Darcy's behavior into stupid … really stupid … and so darn stupid it's Grade A. No Brainer, book two, was a logical second choice, and since "love interests" come into play in this third play, I thought what better way to describe the ultimate hottie than by calling him 100 Proof.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a crime novelist and thus I am also …".

AJL: I am a crime novelist and thus I am also a bipolar, schizophrenic sociopath who hides behind a computer keyboard and can of Coke, lying to myself that the crap I do is normal and not me exorcising a demon of some kind. Seriously, I murder people every day, I lie to people in the name of justice, but I also get to be a superhero in the end. I get to put bad people away and bring happiness to the wallflowers of the world and those unlikely heroes — the dark horses — that no one bets on. That's a pretty darn, good day!

OMN: What types of books do you read for pleasure?

AJL: My Kindle is very diverse! I always love JR Ward and Karen Marie Moning in the paranormal, dystopianish variety. Also throw in Tina Folsom, HP Mallory, and Lara Adrian. Sylvia Day, Maya Banks, and M. Leighton are favorites in romance. And Liliana Hart, Kristen Ashley, Gemma Halliday, Tonya Kappes, and CM Stunich, are also beyond superb in the mystery-thriller category. They make me laugh while delivering up hair-raising plots and alpha males that you wish were truly sucking in O2.

OMN: Do you have any favorite series characters?

AJL: Stephanie Plum, JJ Graves, Addison Holmes, Jamie Bond, Dulcie O'Neil, and the Rock Chicks.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

AJL: I used to play softball weekly, but then I had kids and they just sucked the personal entertainment out of my schedule. So right now, I chase them in soccer, cheerleading, and track. I am a huge hometown sports fan, so whenever I can catch a Cincinnati Bengals or Cincinnati Reds game, I'm all over that. And yes, sports do find their way onto my pages. I'm sort of a jock like that.

OMN: What kinds of films do you enjoy watching?

AJL: I'm all about action, thrillers, and comedy. I don't have a sophisticated sense of humor or culture. I wish I did. I more of an Anchorman, Bridesmaids, and Hangover kind of girl. I love the Bourne movies, anything with Denzel Washington in it, Daniel Craig as James Bond, and adore the Ironman franchise. Scary movies like Jaws are great, and I love, love, love B-movies like Chuckie.

OMN: Suppose you were casting for the television or film adaptation of your series. Whose agent are you calling?

AJL: Lookswise, the best image of Darcy I have come up with is Blake Lively. She's got the dimpled chin, green eyes (at least I think her eyes are green), and the height. But she also has this impish grin that says there may be a little bit more to her than just a pretty face.

OMN: Create a Top 10 list for us on any subject.

AJL: Top 10 films you should see:

1.  It's a Wonderful Life (When you think your life has gone to XC$&&!!, George Bailey can show you that the world would be whole lot less of a place without you in it.)
2.  The Princess Bride (Hands-down, best fairytale ever. I'm going to cry just thinking about it.)
3.  Forest Gump (No explanation needed … there is beauty in all types of people.)
4.  Schindler's List (Um, seriously, this film can wake you up to the atrocities in the world around you. Most of us live in a bubble. This film can show you what true heroes are and make you go hug a soldier.)
5.  A tie between The Departed and The Passion (I know, weird combo … but there is that underlying theme that the good guy gets a punishment he doesn't deserve. I like it when the good guys win, peeps.)
6.  Up
7.  Bridesmaids
8.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
9.  The Star Wars Movies
10.  Iron Man

OMN: What's next for you?

AJL: Professionally, I'm working on DEFCON Darcy, book four. Personally, I'm currently enrolled in the Citizen's Police Academy in West Chester, OH … no lie. It's been the biggest thrill ever. A girlfriend and I have wanted to do this for the longest time, and I started investigating it last fall. It's given me valuable insight into the world of police work, what is allowed, what isn't allowed, what their days and nights are like, and their detective teams. We've gone over search and seizures, basic infrastructure, toured the 911 Call Center, and we're going to watch a SWAT demonstration and go to the shooting range! It's all been a blast, but it's been very humbling, actually. The stuff they do, ain't easy.

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A. J. Lape Book Tour

A. J. Lape lives in Cincinnati with her husband, two feministic daughters, an ADD dog, and an unapologetic and unrepentant addiction to Coca-Cola, with a lifelong love affair with bacon. She studied English, Journalism, and Political Science at Morehead State University and left the business world when her daughters were born. Her love for suspense and a good story was born from watching Mystery Science Theater with her sister during childhood. That and any B movie with comedic undertones they could get their hands on.

When she's not riding that razor-thin line between creativity and insanity, she  likes to read, watch too much cable TV, or cheer like a banshee at her daughters' sporting events. She's a huge hometown sports fan and loves to watch the Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds whenever she can.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at AJLape.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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100 Proof Stud by A. J. Lape

100 Proof Stud
A. J. Lape
A Darcy Walker Mystery

The story picks up four months after No Brainer's cliffhanger ending, and Darcy discovers the aftermath pales in comparison to the crisis her heart is in. All of a sudden it's raining men, and this teenage heroine's personal life turns her inside out.

Before she can sort out her feelings, she chases a spray-painting vandal and stumbles upon a case of identity theft right in her own backyard. Darcy jumps into the fray headfirst to prove she can hang with the big boys.

But it's not just to hang … nope, she's chasing reward money.

Tapping her band of misfit brothers for help, she turns Valley upside down trying to unearth the criminals. Problem is, the cloak and dagger goes high-octane, and she raises the bar on "crazy" in the process.

Bullets ring out … dead bodies appear … and Darcy rubs shoulders with the ultimate sociopath. In the midst of murder and mayhem, will she finally follow her heart or build a fortress of lies around it? Will she even get the chance?

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