Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Author Interview: Pamela Samuels Young

Today's interview is with Pamela Samuels Young, author of Buying Time. Be sure to read her guest blog and my review of the book!

Jennifer Walker: What inspired you to write Buying Time? How did it come about?

Pamela Samuels Young: The idea for Buying Time came to me while chatting with a friend at a party. I knew he was in the insurance business, but when he explained that he was a viatical broker, I started asking lots of questions because I’d never heard of the viatical industry. When he finished explaining how he brokers the insurance policies of terminally ill patients, I knew there was a thriller in there somewhere.

Jennifer Walker: Are any of the people or events in the story inspired by real life?

Pamela Samuels Young: In Buying Time, one of my characters, Dre, is a drug dealer. I wanted to create an authentic background story for him, so I found a drug dealer who was willing to talk to me about his business. I actually went to his home and interviewed him. I found him to be a very complex guy. He was bright, articulate and college educated, yet dealing drugs was his chosen profession.

Jennifer Walker: Do you have any hobbies? Tell us about them.

Pamela Samuels Young: Writing legal thrillers is both a hobby and a passion. I still practice law, so there’s not much room in my life for anything else.

Jennifer Walker: What is your background--schooling, experience, etc--that helped you to write Buying Time?

Pamela Samuels Young: I was raised in Compton, California, where my parents still live today. I’m the middle child and I have an older and younger brother. In college, I was set on becoming a newspaper reporter, but somewhere along the way I discovered broadcasting and fell in love. After earning a bachelor’s degree from the USC School of Journalism and a master’s degree in broadcasting at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, I spent six years as a television news writer and associate producer in Detroit and Los Angeles. After getting burned out from writing news stories under the gun every day, I turned in my electric typewriter (there were no computers in the news room back then!) and enrolled in law school at the University of California at Berkeley. I’ve been practicing employment law now for nearly 20 years. My journalism background and legal experience turned out to be the perfect combination for writing legal thrillers.

Jennifer Walker: Did you learn anything or experience anything remarkable during the writing of this book?

Pamela Samuels Young: I guess my most memorable experience was interviewing a real life drug dealer and trying to understand the life choices he made. I have to admit that I was quite nervous being in his home since I assumed he had drugs in the place. I kept thinking, “If the police bust down the door, will they really buy my story about being a writer doing research?”

Jennifer Walker: How did you come to be a writer? Has writing been a life-long passion or a recent development?

Pamela Samuels Young: I’ve always loved reading mysteries, particularly those that involve fascinating legal cases. It bothered me, however, that the legal thrillers I read never depicted women or African-American attorneys. So...I decided to fill the void.

I knew pretty early in life that I wanted to be a writer, having worked on school newspapers in junior high, high school and college. But when I decided to major in journalism at the University of Southern California, I didn’t give much thought to creative writing. At the age of 18, I didn’t have the guts to even consider a career as a novelist. The writers I enjoyed reading – James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Joan Didion – were incredibly talented literary writers. I knew I didn’t have that kind of poetic writing talent. So I pursued a career in journalism and later, earned a law degree. Flash forward several years and I somehow gathered the courage to give creative writing a try.

Jennifer Walker: Tell us about your family. Are they supportive of your writing?

Pamela Samuels Young: Absolutely! I’ve only been married for five years and still consider myself a newlywed. My husband is my biggest fan and never complains when I decide to head off to Palm Springs or a local hotel for a week of solitary writing. From my parents, to my brothers to my friends and co-workers, I have the most encouraging support system I writer could hope for.

Jennifer Walker: Tell us a little about you. What is your day job? Do you have any hobbies? Pets?

Pamela Samuels Young: I currently work as Managing Counsel for Labor and Employment Law for Toyota. It’s quite a challenge writing my novels and promoting them every weekend while still practicing law. It means writing early in the morning, late at night, weekends, whenever and wherever I can squeeze in the time. With my packed schedule, I really don’t have time for any hobbies. And thank God that I don’t have any pets. I’m sure they’d have grounds to charge me with neglect.

Jennifer Walker: What is your favorite food?

Pamela Samuels Young: Seafood gumbo. I love it!

Jennifer Walker: Where is your favorite place to visit?

Pamela Samuels Young: Absolutely anyplace with a waterfront view. I’m lucky to live in Southern California. In a matter of minutes, I can be at the beach. One day, I’d love to have a writing room with a view of the Pacific Ocean.

Thanks to Pamela Samuels Young for stopping by to talk about Buying Time!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

Guest blog with Pamela Samuels Young

Today's guest post is from Pamela Samuels Young, author of Buying Time. Be sure to read my review!

Crafting the Page-Turner

By Pamela Samuels Young

Don’t you just love reading a page-turner? As a mystery writer, I constantly strive to write books that readers have a hard time putting down. After much trial and error, I learned to write fast-paced novels by dissecting well-written, engaging books and studying how the author structured the story.

You, too, can write a page turner. Here are five tips I use that will help you keep readers turning the pages.

1. Create Characters the Reader Cares About.
To hook your readers, give them characters they can root for as well as root against. If your protagonist is an underdog with the odds against her, make sure there’s a reason for the reader to be in her corner. The same goes for your villain. If he’s a real scoundrel, readers will want him to fail. So make sure that you build your plot so readers aren’t disappointed in the end. Your characters must be intriguing as well as believable enough that readers will relate to them and care what happens to them.

2. Conflict is Crucial!
It’s essential that you have conflict in every chapter of your novel. Conflict engages the reader and entices them to keep reading. Conflict doesn’t mean people are arguing or yelling at each other. For me, it means the presence of one force working against another. There’s a struggle or collision of interests. For example, the prosecutor wants the defendant to go to jail, but the defense attorney is determined to see that his client goes free. Every chapter must have conflict. No one wants to read a book that meanders along with a bunch of happy people.

Once you’ve set up your conflict, don’t tell it all! String the reader along. Explain that Misty has a secret in Chapter 1, but hold off on revealing the secret until later in the book. If you spill the beans too soon, you must incorporate something else to keep the suspense going. If you string the reader along to a big buildup, make sure you reward them with a bombshell that is believable and worth the wait.

3. Understand the Impact of Narration vs. Dialogue.
Generally speaking, dialogue and action (e.g., people saying or doing something) will speed up the pacing of your novel, while extensive narration and description will slow it down. Literary fiction, which is character-driven and lauded for its poetic prose, is typically heavy on narration and description. Commercial fiction, which is plot driven, often includes more action and dialogue. Compare, for example, a James Patterson mystery like Run for Your Life (commercial fiction) versus a novel like the Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (literary fiction). The latter is heavy on the narrative, the former has far more action and dialogue. If you feel your story is dragging, analyze the amount of narration versus dialogue and action and make the appropriate changes.

4. Hook Your Readers and Don’t Let Go.
Many readers who aren’t already familiar with an author will make a decision to buy a book after reading just the first few pages. Hence, your opening scene is your chance to grab their attention. But don’t stop there. Make sure you grab them throughout the book. You can accomplish this through conflict and suspense and by presenting engaging characters. You must end your chapters with a hook. That will make it hard for the reader to put down the book because he’s dying to know what’s going to happen next. If your protagonist narrowly escapes a tough situation, present him with another crisis. Keep your readers on the edge of their seats wondering, What’s going to happen next?

5. Record Your Book On Tape.
The last step in my writing process is to read my entire manuscript into a tape recorder and listen to it with pen in hand, ready to make any necessary changes. I often hear things that I don’t see when I’m simply reading the manuscript. I’ve discovered things like word repetitions that I missed, a lag in the pacing, and inconsistencies in my story line. After several hours of listening to my story, I’ve sometimes discovered that it takes too long to get to a pivotal events. So I go back to the drawing board.

If you’ve never listened to a book on tape, try doing so before you listen to your own book. Ask yourself if the story grips you and if not, figure out why. By the same token, if the book doesn’t grab you, analyze what the writer could have done differently to engage you. If you only follow one piece of advice from this article, please follow this tip! You will be amazed at how much you will be able to sharpen your manuscript as a result of this simple exercise.

Pamela Samuels Young is a Los Angeles-area attorney and the author of four legal thrillers. Her latest release, Buying Time, is her first stand-alone novel. A former television news writer, Pamela is the Fiction Expert for BizyMoms.com and is on the Board of Directors of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. To contact Pamela or to read an excerpt of her books, visit www.pamelasamuelsyoung.com. For more writing tips from Pamela, visit www.bizymoms.com.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Book Review: Buying Time, by Pamela Samuels Young

Buying Time, by Pamela Samuels Young

Paperback: 370 pages
Publisher: Goldman House Publishing (November 1, 2009)
ISBN-10: 098156271X
Rating (1 to 5 *): ****

Book Review: Buying Time

Waverly Sloan is in big trouble: he is about to be disbarred, and his money-loving wife will probably never forgive him if he can no longer keep her in the lifestyle she is accustomed to. His father-in-law already thinks Sloan is inadequate, and this development is not likely to improve his opinion. Unable to work up the courage to tell anyone the bad news, he agrees to take a new job as a viatical broker—selling the life insurance policies of terminally ill patients at a discount to private investors. The patients get cash they may need for medical care or living expenses, investors make a huge profit when the patient dies, and Sloan pockets a hefty broker fee. Soon, he is making more money than he ever dreamed he could, and far more than he ever made as a lawyer.

The career change seems to solve all of Sloan’s problems—his wife is happy with the increase in income, his father-in-law is grudgingly impressed (though suspicious) and he doesn’t have to tell anyone he’s been disbarred. What he doesn’t know is that he is being investigated because the insureds whose policies he sells are dying at an alarming rate—all before their projected life expectancy, and most of suspicious accidental causes. The situation is further complicated by a so-called business associate of his down-and-out brother, who insists on buying in against Sloan’s better judgement. Sloan has no idea what’s really going on, but soon everything comes crashing down around him.

Buying Time is a fun and engaging legal thriller, enticing the reader to turn the page again and again to find out just who is behind the killings and how every piece of the puzzle fits together. She keeps the secret well right up until the end, when it finally comes clear in the denouement. The sad thing is that all of the characters are despicable, unlikeable people—even the good guys have personality traits that leave much to be desired. However, those who like legal thrillers should find some great entertainment in Buying Time.