Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jamie Freveletti and Avery Aames at The Poisoned Pen

It may sound like an odd combination, but thriller writer Jamie Freveletti, and mystery author Avery Aames made a terrific combination at the Poisoned Pen recently.  Jamie just won the International Thriller Award for Best First Novel  for her book, Running with the Devil.  Now, she's on tour with the sequel, Running Dark.  And, Avery Aames' debut mystery is The Long Quiche Goodbye.  Freveletti writes fast-paced intense thrillers, while Avery's book is a traditional mystery about the lighter, nicer side of society.

Avery started the program out with laughter.  When the microphones weren't working properly, she said, "I was a cheerleader.  I can do this without a mike."  The authors were asked to talk about the difference between a thriller and a mystery.  Avery said she is a thriller writer, who hasn't published a thriller yet.  But, the pacing is different.  The choice of verbs is different.  Thrillers have shorter sentences, and they're abrupt because they want people to move forward quickly in the book.  However, a mystery goes into detail.  It's more nuanced.  In her book, The Long Quiche Goodbye, she wants people to taste the cheese and wine.  The book is set in a small town in Ohio, with an easier lifestyle, and slower pace.  In a thriller, the killer may be after the main character.  In Aames' book, the main character is after a killer.  The pace is slower, and the author may give clues, woven into the story of cheese.  The pace only picks up toward the end of the book.

Jamie said she doesn't write from an outline.  She just goes.  If she's having fun, then she thinks the reader will have fun.  She's trying to give the feeling of a woman on the run.  There's no time to develop the character or plot in depth, as there is with a slower paced book.  Freveletti's character is a long distance marathon runner, and the plot and pace just keep going.  Avery said she tries to make readers turn the page at the end of a chapter.  There's an uptake at the end of chapters because she's essentially a thriller writer.

Freveletti's latest thriller, Running Dark, features Emma Caldridge again, an ultramarathon runner.  Asked if she intended to write a series, Jamie said the publisher decided it would be a series, and told her to keep going with the same character.  In this one, Emma is running a race that actually exists, the Comrades ultramarathon in South Africa.  It's fifty-five miles.  Freveletti's husband runs ultramarathons.  While Emma's running, a roadside bomb explodes.  There are lots of explosions and guns in the book.  She comes to, to find a man injecting her with something.  It's dopamine, mixed with another drug, so she can continue running.  

Freveletti said she knows something about drugs because she was a trial lawyer who specialized in food and drug law.  She did the oatmeal case.  When oatmeal packages said they could lower cholesterol, they can't make that claim.  That's a drug claim.  She did that petition.

There's all kinds of things happening in Running Dark, from the explosion, and drugs, to Somali pirates with rocket propelled grenades, and a Senate investigation.   Jamie said she reads the news all the time for ideas and research.  In 2005, Somali pirates shot at a cruise ship with a rocket propelled grenade.  That was a Carnival Cruise ship, but they wouldn't answer any questions.  And, HarperCollins wasn't excited about the idea of pirates.  They could just think of Jack Sparrow.  Then, the Somali pirates took that tanker, and Freveletti's publishers called, and said, can you write that book any faster. 

Avery said she has seven manuscripts in a drawer.  She had been an actress before she started writing, and she had decided to go back to acting if this book wasn't accepted.  We laughed when she said she didn't get some acting jobs because she reminded people of their wives.  But, she had been about to quit writing when The Long Quiche Goodbye was accepted.  Agents and publishers liked her writing, but she just couldn't sell anything. 

Jamie took a year to write her first book, Running from the Devil, and eight months to rewrite it.  When she submitted the first thirty pages, her agent told her she needed to join a writing group.  So, she went to her public library, and found a group.  With the second book, she had eleven months to get it to the editor, and her third book is due to them on Aug. 1. 

According to Aames, Berkley, her publisher, wants a book every nine or ten months.  The first book took eighteen months from contract to publication.  They wanted an outline.  She had three months to write the next book, Lost and Fondue, with one month to rewrite it. 

Freveletti's editor gave her eighteen days to rewrite.  She said, "Come on, I have children."  They're teenagers, but it's like having babies all over again.  You have to watch them.

They quoted Lee Child as defining the difference between a mystery and a thriller with a Humpty Dumpty analogy.  In a mystery, Humpty's already down, and you have to figure out who did it.  With a thriller, he's teetering, and you have to stop it.

Avery said she has to know how her character, Charlotte Bessette, figures out who did it.  She plots in the clues, the red herrings.  The entire book is plotted out, although she may change it.  But, Aames knows who did it and why, and adds the roller coaster ride.  She'll re-outline if things change, but even if she changes something, the same person always did it.  She does know who did it when she writes the book.

Jamie's third book is due to the editor on Aug. 1, but she's been on book tour, doing two signings a day, and she didn't know the ending of the book until she was in Vero Beach, and she still had 15,000 words to write.  So, when she was driving, if the TomTom GPS was quiet, she was plotting.  She knows the ending now, but she was putting it down on paper on the planet to Phoenix. 

Asked if she still participates in the writing group, Jamie said she's concerned about working with an open group, and the accusation of plagiarism.  She doesn't worry about the core group, but the library group is open to the public, so she no longer shares there.  She meets with a couple other writers, though.  Freveletti has a twenty-two page contract with HarperCollins, and they won't indemnify her for legal fees, so she also won't take unsolicited manuscripts to read, since she's afraid something would happen.  So, she goes to her private group.  She still loves the library group, but she doesn't take her manuscript there, or accept anyone's. 

Freveletti was so excited when Running from the Devil was nominated by the International Thriller Writers as Best First Novel.  It's hard for a woman to get nominated.  The book was one of five nominated for the award.  And, then her husband, a numbers guy, said that's great.  You have a 20% chance of winning.  But, Jamie's publicist knew, and was told to get her to New York.  She just wishes her publicist had told her to wear waterproof mascara.  And, she had no speech prepared, but she wanted to thank Lee Child and Tess Gerritsen, who had blurbed the book.

Aames said she had a call from her publicist after the cheese shop was out for one week, saying, congratulations, you're #7.  And, she said, number seven on what?  She was number seven on Barnes & Noble's mass market list.  That means Charlaine Harris has six paperbacks ahead of you on the list.  The publishers are pleased it hit the list because now they can put "National Bestseller" on the future books.

Freveletti said Running from the Devil was huge in Europe, even though it's set in South America.  Her husband is German, but he said his five relatives aren't the ones who made it a bestseller.  But, now HarperCollins can say it was an international bestseller. 

Someone in the audience mentioned that when Alex Kava was at the bookstore earlier in the week, she said it was hard for women to break into the thriller field.  The women said there is some sexism out there, but a lot of it is from women readers.   Many of Freveletti's readers write and say,  I won't read thrillers written by women, but....

Asked how they research, Avery Aames answered, "I eat."  She said she didn't eat a lot of cheese before
working on The Long Quiche Goodbye.  But, Berkley wanted a cheese shop mystery.  They wanted that niche.  And, Avery had been a caterer, a waitress, and had sold wine.  She had also been a actress, as Charlotte's grandmother is in the book.  She said the cheese tasting is fun, and her husband likes it.  So, she writes about it, and includes recipes using cheese on her website and blog.  Aames blogs at  She went to Ohio, to Amish country, the setting of the book, to do research.  Aames is from California, so she also based the setting a little on Menlo Park, where she grew up.  Everybody knew everyone there.  But, her primary research has been cheese tasting. 

When asked about her favorite cheeses, Avery said a sheep's cheese, Manchego, has a nutty taste.  Then, Taleggio melts wonderfully over vegetables.  She also loves cheddar.  She admitted she wouldn't eat Limburger cheese.  She also found a bleu cheese too strong; it was rancid smelling.  Aames reminded everyone that cheese is alive, and you shouldn't wrap it up, but keep it so air can get to it, and it won't turn.  She told us if a Brie is too young, it will be too hard, and if it's too old, it will be runny.

Jamie Freveletti did the research for her first book by flying to Colombia.  When she first told her husband she was going to do that, he said no she wasn't.  They solved that.  He went, too, and they stayed in Cartegena, in a beautiful hotel with guards with dogs.  She couldn't go to Somalia to research Running Dark, so she consulted a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

And, remember that Carnival Cruise lines refused to help?  She contacted Commodore Warwick, who had been captain of the Queen Mary II for twenty years before retiring, and he helped her.  The drugs she used actually cause an addiction.  She wanted one that would cause people to turn to gambling, or another addiction, and this one actually exists.  And, she consulted a scientist about the jellyfish in the book.  Box jellyfish are one of the most venomous species.

Jamie went on to discuss winning one of the Thriller awards, as a woman.  She said it was the night of the woman that evening.  Lisa Gardner had warned her they weren't going to win, because women didn't win thriller awards.  But, that night, Gardner, Freveletti, and Twist Phelan all won.  Tom Piccirilli was the only man to win.

Freveletti said she's hoping Angelini Jolie's movie, Salt, does well.  If Salt does well, Jamie's books might be optioned for film.  The theory has been that thrillers featuring women don't do well in movies.  This isn't a pairing with a man, and it doesn't involve a superhero.  So, if the movie is a hit, it may indicate a trend, that a thriller can be a hit with a female lead.  It might start a trend if Angelina can carry it off in Salt.

Freveletti's Running with the Devil is up for two more awards, a Barry and a Macavity.  She was on Cloud 9.  It was like a Cinderella story.  And, when she got back to Chicago, she was told her book was  #5 on Chicagoland's Indie booksellers bestseller list

Avery Aames reported that she does have a thriller on an editor's desk.  The story has a male protagonist.  It was inspired by her nephew, who was her sister's son.  Aames' sister was a drug addict.  Aames recommends that thriller writers go to New York to Thrillerfest because a thriller might be picked up there.  She said her real name, Darryl, might be helpful in the thriller market, since it can also be a man's name.

In the meantime, Aames considers herself as a writer for hire, working for Berkley, since they asked her to write a cheese shop mystery.  Berkley looks for a hook for a traditional mystery.  They want a series that will run for three to twelve books.  With the right hook, readers will read everything in the series.  They've covered subjects such as scrapbooking, knitting, catering.  They wanted to cover the cheese shop niche. 

Aames took the job.  She had written a thriller about a woman in Lake Tahoe who was an ex-soap actress, and it didn't sell.  Then, she wrote another one, a Lake Tahoe thriller about a costume designer.  She thought she had a hook for a series set in - Lake Tahoe!  It was to be a gem series, featuring pottery and jewelry made with glass.  A hook can be a city or town, but in Berkley mysteries, it's usually a profession.

Freveletti said a thriller has to be high concept.  Her first book went to a bidding war before being bought in a pre-empt by HarperCollins.  Some of the suggestions, though, from other publishers helped her define her character.  She knew she didn't want to write about a damaged heroine, as someone suggested.  The high concept for book #2 was the Somali pirates.  Book number one was down in the Colombian jungle. 

Since there were a number of writers there from Sisters in Crime, one question was whether you should compare your book to others while pitching it.  Jamie answered that it doesn't hurt to define your book in the genre.  Tell publishers what it's like.  Her books are like The Bourne Identity, early Ludlum, or Lee Child.  Avery said she compares hers to Lisa Gardner's. 

According to Freveletti, the next big hurdle, after acceptance of the first book, is to get a second contract.  The first contract was for books one and two.  Then, you hope books three and four will be picked up.  For her, it didn't hurt that Running with the Devil was a bestseller in Germany.  Aames said her Berkley contract was for three books.  Hopefully, they'll pick up books four through six.  Jamie's HarperCollins contract was for books three and four in the Emma Caldridge series.   There is a kicker clause in the contract.  They have right of first look at the book, but she can send it to another house if she chooses. 

Asked about getting a lawyer for the contract, Freveletti said you don't need one if your agent has a good template for contracts.  She said the publishers are business people, and hers has been wonderful to deal with. 

Both authors stressed that writers need to be persistent.  Don't give up.  And, they need to belong to a group such as Sisters in Crime.  The Guppies are unpublished writers who are members of Sisters in Crime.  Jamie joined Sisters in Crime.

Asked how her kids saw her career, Jamie said her youngest asked if she could get a pony.  But, now that she's older, thirteen, she said she doesn't have time for a horse.

Avery warned that everyone doesn't get Jamie's contract.  Freveletti agreed.  She said her book went to a bidding war, and she received a six figure advance for a two book deal.  Her second contract was close to six figures, but she gets higher royalties, and the publisher pays for her tour.  She has a fantastic agent.  Aames said she doesn't have that kind of contract. 

Freveletti's book sold in forty-five days.  She said the houses have email messages to agents, and their emails said they needed a woman who could write a thriller, and they couldn't find her.  They'd been looking for three years.  Jamie's agent said she was submitting her.  Running from the Devil went to a bidding war.  She said it was interesting.  She had a list of ten editors, and she wanted one of them.    Her agent had a different goal.  She wanted a six figure advance because she wanted to break that six figure ceiling, a rare occurrence. 

Following the program and book signing, the Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime had invited the authors to dinner next door at Grazie Pizzeria and Wine Bar.  I felt lucky that they included me.  Great looking group of women, isn't it?  We had a wonderful time as the authors continued to tell us stories of writing, conferences, and publishing.

Avery Aames' website is and she is one of the bloggers at Mystery Lovers Kitchen.

The Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2010. ISBN 9780425235522 (paperback), 304p.

Jamie Freveletti's website is

Running Dark by Jamie Freveletti.  HarperCollins, ©2010. ISBN 9780061684241 (hardcover), 322p.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

What beautiful pictures of y'all!

I know that every time I read a post about Avery's book that I'm going to get hungry. :) Sure enough! The food descriptions are amazing.

I can totally see Avery having been a cheerleader--because she's always very positive, upbeat, and encouraging. One reason why she's doing so well in publishing!

Ellery Adams said...

You gals look fabulous! What lucky readers!

Lesa said...

The pictures turned out great, Elizabeth, because I didn't take any of them. My recent pictures of Tess Gerritsen didn't turn out at all. Great looking women, aren't they? I just love hanging out with strong women.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Ellery! It was such a treat to meet Avery and Jamie, and then have the chance to spend more time with them and the Desert Sleuths.

Avery Aames said...

Lesa, thank you so much. What an in-depth review. And folks, she took notes by hand to get all of this down. We didn't answer questions after the event! Wow.

Hugs, Lesa.


PS. It was book two in A Cheese Shop Mystery series that I wrote in 3 months {Lost and Fondue}. The first one {Quiche} was contracted in January 2009, and it took 18 months from contract to publication, July 2010.

Chantelle said...

Thank you so much for the kind words about the Desert Sleuths. You certainly fit right in to our group, and it's truly our pleasure and honor to count you among us.

I'm so glad we all got to spend time with Jamie and Avery - another pair of very strong women that I feel all authors can learn a great deal from (in addition to enjoying their books!). It was wonderful that they agreed to take time out of their busy schedule to sit down with us!

Lesa said...

Thanks to Avery & Jamie who both stopped by to read the post. Jamie pointed out two critical errors in my notes, so I went back and fixed them.

Avery, I'll go back and fix yours as well. Thank you! And, it was nice to meet you. What a nice time on Sunday. Thank you.

Lesa said...

Thank you for including me, Chantelle! You're right. They are two strong women, and I enjoy talking to women who appreciate each other's success. (Like Desert Sleuths!)

Cleo Coyle said...

Lesa - Nice post and big congrats to Jamie on her International Thriller Award and to my fellow Mystery Lovers Kitchen blogger Avery Aames on her new bestseller. Their tips, advice, and words of wisdom as pro writers ring very true indeed.

Jamie Freveletti said...

Thanks Lesa and thanks to the Desert Sleuths for a wonderful day!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Cleo. Fun afternoon with two terrific authors.

Lesa said...


Thank you for correcting the two errors! It's not always easy to catch every detail while taking notes, so I'm glad you let me know there were a couple mistakes.

Thanks for spending time with all of us!

Kaye George said...

Thanks for the interview of these two. I already know Avery (and have finished her excellent book with the help of about a pound of cheese to help me through), but am glad to know about Jamie.

kathy d. said...

Wow--what a workout. Thanks, Lesa, for writing this much information about the event. It's the next best thing to being there and it brings the introduction of more new women authors.

Lesa said...

I like your comment, Kaye. It's hard to get through Avery's book without stocking up on cheese first. I'd recommend anyone planning to read it shop for cheese ahead of time.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, kathy. I enjoy the author appearances, and I always think other readers will as well.