Terry Odell began writing by mistake, when her son mentioned a television show and she thought she’d be a good mom and watch it so they’d have common ground for discussions. Little did she know she would enter the world of writing, first via fan fiction, then through Internet groups, and finally in groups with real, live partners. Her first publications were short stories, but she found more freedom in longer works and began what she thought was a mystery. Her daughters told her it was a romance so she began learning more about the genre and craft. Now a multi-published, award-winning author, Terry resides with her husband and rescue dog in the mountains of Colorado.
Terry Odell began writing by mistake, when her son mentioned a television show and she thought she’d be a good mom and watch it so they’d have common ground for discussions.
Little did she know she would enter the world of writing, first via fan fiction, then through Internet groups, and finally in groups with real, live partners. Her first publications were short stories, but she found more freedom in longer works and began what she thought was a mystery. Her daughters told her it was a romance so she began learning more about the genre and craft.
Now a multi-published, award-winning author, Terry resides with her husband and rescue dog in the mountains of Colorado.
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Mark Lefevbre 00:01
Hello, this is Mark Lefevbre from Draft2Digital, but you can call me Mark2Digital, that’s so much easier. I am delighted to have in the virtual studio with me today, Terry O’Dell. Terry, welcome to the Draft2Digital Spotlight.
Terry Odell 00:17
Thank you for having me. This should be fun.
Mark Lefevbre 00:19
Yeah, I’m really looking forward to this, because—I’m gonna pop a little something else up on the screen just to show people, because I’m really … I was intrigued, the first time I met you, of your brand. You started off with Terry, obviously Terry Odell, romance with a twist of mystery. Before we get into specific questions about your writing. I really want to find out, was it mystery or was it romance that you were first drawn to when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Terry Odell 01:05
I was a mystery reader. I loved mystery books. I read nothing but mystery books. And one day on a whim, I thought I’d see if I could write. I mean, I had no background in writing, no education in writing, other than, I could put words together in a sentence. I was a reader. I started writing this book that was gonna be this mystery. And my kids, my daughters were grown, but I would send them chapters and they reached a point where they said, “Mom, this is a romance.” And I said, “Romance, how can I possibly be writing a romance?” And they gave me a paragraph, they both quoted the same paragraph, when the cop took her out after her store had been robbed. He took her out to calm her down, and she looked into his eyes and noticed, the brown eyes were really flecked with hazel. I tried to learn how to write description and it turned my book into a romance. So then I had to start reading some romances, and I didn’t like them. I found romantic suspense. And that seemed to be the way to blend mystery with romance. And I realized that when I read mysteries, I was reading series, and I was reading them twice usually. Once to follow with the character: what’s Spencer doing with Susan in this book? And then go back and read, you know, “Oh, wait, there’s a crime. I should know about that too.” So that’s how I got that started.
Mark Lefevbre 02:17
Really? Wow. And so, this is funny, When you were talking about that scene, was that the first book in the Pine Hills Police series?
Terry Odell 02:26
That was Finding Sarah.
Mark Lefevbre 02:27
That was Finding Sarah. Yeah, because I read that, I love that book. I was like, I know that scene. So I find it funny that you kind of accidentally found that you were writing romance in the mystery. That was just part of what you were sharing. It seemed to be natural, but you didn’t even know the tropes you were playing off of.
Terry Odell 02:43
Not at all. You know, trope is still like a weird word to me. It’s like, I just do whatever I want. Nobody ever told me how I had to do it, so I took it to a writing group in Orlando when we lived there, a live group. And they were all going back to school as changing careers, or mature women looking for a new outlet. So they were giving me all of their class information. It was like I was getting that course for free, because I’d write something and they’d go “No, no, you know, you can’t do that,” or “Just because it’s right doesn’t mean it’s good, you’ve got to fix it.” So, that’s basically how I got everything going.
Mark Lefevbre 03:27
Okay, that’s fascinating. So, we mentioned the Pine Hill Police series, which I have enjoyed the least the beginning of that series. I haven’t made it all the way through yet. But you have three other universes or three other series that you write in. Are they all mystery, or romantic suspense? Mystery with a romantic twist?
Terry Odell 03:44
No. I have four, I think, because I wrote a trilogy that was a romantic suspense mystery, because it’s a good excuse to go on a cattle ranch and spend a week there and write it off because you’re researching.
Mark Lefevbre 04:04
Sounds like a good tax write-off for research.
Terry Odell 04:08
Yeah. Well, the next book, that was my trip to the British Isles. Then the Pine Hills, those are romantic suspense. The Blackthorn are covert ops romantic suspense. But the Mapleton mysteries are straight mystery, although they don’t follow any of the rules there either, because they’re sort of police procedurals, but a cozy feel, and I don’t read cozies either, so I didn’t know that.
Mark Lefevbre 04:38
You’d accidentally realized you were writing something. And your daughter said, “Wait a second, I know what’s going on here.”
Terry Odell 04:46
Yeah, that book was the one where I thought, well, now I can really write in mystery. I’ve written eight other books, I knew how to write a book, and I could write a mystery. And then when I was trying to get it published, the agents and the editors that I would spoke to said, “It’s really good, but we can’t sell it, because we don’t know if it’s a cozy or mystery. So make up your mind and rewrite it.” And I go, “No.” You know, by then you could indie publish. And readers don’t care what shelf it came off of in the bookstore.
Mark Lefevbre 05:17
They just want to enjoy what they enjoy, right? So a mystery with a twist of romance is exactly the drink they ordered, right?
Terry Odell 05:25
Or romance with a twist of mystery.
Mark Lefevbre 05:28
So, was there a time that you were interested in traditional publishing, and then did you move into indie? How and when did that happen for you?
Terry Odell 05:37
Okay, I started writing probably around 2003-ish. Maybe before that, just playing with it, because I was goofing off with fan fiction because of my son. I first got into—well, there was no indie publishing, so you did have to go out and try. So, you know, you try to find an agent and you try to find a publisher. And that was when e-publishers were springing up. Ellora’s Cave was huge. They started the ebook craze, revolution, whatever you call it. Because they wrote erotica, and readers of erotica did not want to walk into the bookstore and grab the book and carry it up to the counter where a kid they knew was working summers behind the counter. So they were reading on … not iPads. Rocket book was the format … Now I’m drawing a total blank. What did you call them? PDAs.
Mark Lefevbre 06:46
Yeah. Oh yeah. Those little PDA devices, yeah.
Terry Odell 06:50
And that was how you read the book, or you sat in front of your computer and read them. And if you wanted to buy one, you went to the website of that publisher and downloaded the book. When Ellora’s Cave decided they were going to try a new imprint … Mainstream, not erotica, you know, just romance but mainstream romance, they accepted Finding Sarah. Their marketing idea tanked because people that were reading erotica did not cross over. So you weren’t selling like those erotica authors were. But it was getting in the door, and then there was Wild Rose Press. And I got, they took short stories. I had written this wonderful little, I don’t know, 1800-word short story. It had been approved for a magazine that went out of business before it was published. So here I had something that had validation. And I didn’t know where to put it. And then Wild Rose came up and they were doing short stories. So I kind of got into that. And then when I had a traditional publisher, five star, hardcover, library focus, and they didn’t understand the marketing trends that were coming up, so I had the e-rights to those books. So when they remaindered them, I had to wait a year, and then I could do it. And then that’s when the Kindle showed up. And that’s when Jay Conrad said, “Hey, put your books up for 99 cents. You know, people buy them.” Well, they bought his books, but it took more than just putting them up there before people bought mine.
Mark Lefevbre 08:29
You know, I think they were buying your books too, because I have to share this comment that Ray had popped up early in the conversation saying, “I just finished listening to What’s in a Name,” one of your novels. “I absolutely loved it. Thanks for writing this wonderful book.” So obviously there are people buying and reading and enjoying your novels. Thanks for sending that, Ray.
Terry Odell 08:48
Yeah, but it wasn’t just a matter of popping it up there and the next morning you would, you know, sell thousands and thousands of copies. It’s slow.
Mark Lefevbre 08:56
So let’s talk about the process then. How did you begin that process of getting folks like Ray, who obviously you’ve just listened to, obviously you have an audiobook? Or maybe he was lucky enough to have someone read it to him? That would be awesome.
Terry Odell 09:10
Yeah, I doubt that. No, I have 15 audiobooks.
Mark Lefevbre 09:13
Okay. And we’re gonna get into that. We’re gonna get into that soon. I want to ask you about that process. But the process, how did you start? You obviously must have an author newsletter.
Terry Odell 09:22
I have a newsletter. That wasn’t the start. When I had my short story accepted by Wild Rose. And, you know, no idea, they just wanted to try something. And they’re one of the few that is still in business, still doing well. They said, “You need a web page, you need a blog.” So, you know, they were my publisher. So I created a blog and just started chatting, just putting stuff up. And I still have that blog. It’s changed a lot. But that’s a way I catch readers. And then Facebook showed up. And so I had a profile, and then they allowed you to do an author page. So I have an author page on Facebook. And that’s where we have a lot of fun. Every day I put up the word of the day from dictionary.com and everybody makes up crazy definitions. And it’s a great game and it gets, those people have started to know each other, and they start commenting back and forth, you know. “I was gonna say that! How could you do that?” So that’s, I put that out first thing in the morning. And then in the evening, on that page, I post some stupid meme that’s caught my eye. So, usually funny. And I just put those up. And then in between I may talk about, you know, this is the last sentence I wrote, I don’t know what’s coming next. Or I need a character name. Always. Always looking for character names. So that’s kind of like my playground, is my author page on Facebook.
Mark Lefevbre 11:02
Really? Oh, that is cool. I love that. It seems like the engagement then obviously is really, really valuable to you as an author.
Terry Odell 11:11
Yeah, and when you live where I do, that’s like the only engagement you get.
Mark Lefevbre 11:02
Well, let’s talk about where you live because I am jealous. Because, I think you sent me a picture that I want to share with people here. I think this is your, is this your view that we’re seeing?
Terry Odell 11:26
Yeah, that was morning before last on my back porch, sunrise.
Mark Lefevbre 11:32
Oh my goodness. Oh my God. That is gorgeous. Morning before last sunrise. Oh. How do you get any writing done when you can just be sitting there looking at a view like that?
Terry Odell 11:43
Close the blinds. Yeah, right now I’ve got, the hummingbirds are just starting to come back in the feeders outside one of my office windows, and I [inaudible] let my husband know and he runs out with the camera. So we can speak about the wildlife in my yard.
Mark Lefevbre 12:03
Yeah, yeah. Tell me. Again, I’ve got more images to share as you’re sharing the story. So let’s talk about, was it a visitor you had?
Terry Odell 12:11
Yeah, yeah. A little kid came by and climbed our tree.
Mark Lefevbre 12:18
This guy here?
Terry Odell 12:19
Yeah. My husband took the picture. The dog has learned, when she hears the camera shutter, because he puts it on motor and it goes [clicking sound]. And she goes running into his office to look out the window. She’s like, what are you taking pictures of? And so when I wrote Deadly Places, I needed a cover. And so we, I got with my cover artist, and he took that.
Mark Lefevbre 12:49
So this was a photo your husband took of your friendly neighborhood Yogi Bear that came to check things out? And then your cover designer …
Terry Odell 13:00
[inaudible] and then the cover artist adds the background, and it was a fall set book around Halloween. So we added the pumpkin. You know, I can’t do that. My son could do that, but he doesn’t want to. That’s not what he does.
Mark Lefevbre 13:18
And you know what I never even noticed is, on the cover the “l” in deadly is a knife. I never even noticed that before. That is awesome.
Terry Odell 13:24
Yeah, that was, the cover artist that I was using at that time, he’s retired since then, but he’s been generous enough to say, “Sure, you can have the fonts and all of that.” So that “deadly” is in all the Mapleton books.
Mark Lefevbre 13:39
Now, speaking of brand, I believe there was a time when you had to re-update your covers. I remember reading that, either on your blog or something way back. So what was that experience like, where you’d had a bunch of books out and then you had to redo them all? What was that all about?
Terry Odell 13:57
Um, the publisher that I had for my hardcover, for the library books, they bought one book at a time, their art department did a cover based on that book. There was no connection to them. There was nothing that said they were the same author, they were related. So I went through and said, “Okay, let’s try to take the same covers, or as close as we can get.” Because, you know, the publisher owned the artwork. I got the rights back to the inside of the book, not the outside.And we did, came up with the fontfor my name that’s consistent all the way through, all of them have.
Mark Lefevbre 14:38
Oh, there. With the same font, etc. Yeah.
Terry Odell 14:42
So, the series title might be different, but my name is the same on every book, regardless of what series it’s in. That was better. I liked, you know, it gave the continuity. And then I just got to the point where, you have to reach a point where you’re, it’s not about you. What you like is not marketing. I, you know, I hated the romance covers with a couple at the top, floating in air kissing or something like that. I didn’t want a floating heads cover and I didn’t want this and I didn’t want that. And I didn’t want people on my covers at all. Because I didn’t like the clinches. But they weren’t selling as romance, they weren’t automatically obvious that they were romance. And I could see that in the reviews. “There’s sex in this book.” Or what my husband calls, “There’s mushy stuff.” So we went, and I got with my current cover artist and I said, “Okay, it’s not about me. It’s not about what I like. Let’s put a hunk on all the Blackthorn books, so that it’s pretty obvious what they’re getting.” And then we went through with the Pine Hills book. And it’s really hard to find a couple on a cover that looks like what you’ve written. Unless you’re smart enough to find the couple and then write the book. I can’t do that. It just doesn’t occur to me. So we I went with shadowy figures, a couple in shadow so that it didn’t matter what they looked like. You could just tell there’s people in the story and it’s likely to be a romance. And then for the mysteries, they all have that crime scene tape on them.
Mark Lefevbre 16:29
Oh, yeah, I know. The crime scene tape is for the mysteries, right? Or right across the … Yeah, there you go. Deadly Bones. Okay, cool. Excellent. And that really is part of the genre. So when people see the crime scene tape they know they get some police procedural, some mystery.
Terry Odell 16:49
Yeah, exactly. And then the logo, I think you’ve got a slide of it but I have my …
Mark Lefevbre 16:57
Oh, you’ve got your mug, your logo everywhere. Yeah, there’s the romance with a twist of mystery, as you wreck everything in the background there. I hope the mug’s still okay.
Terry Odell 17:06
Yeah, the mug is fine.
Mark Lefevbre 17:08
So yeah, where did that come from?
Terry Odell 17:10
That was a gift from my daughter. I had a, you know, when Wile Rose said, “You gotta have a website,” and I go, “I don’t know,” and you come up with something. And so, my son, who is a photographer, put together a twist of mystery with the lemon twist like in a martini. And that was my cover for, or my logo for a while. And then when I started moving into more books, and it became serious, and this wasn’t just a fun little thing, I asked my daughter if she could do anything with it. And she had a friend who’s a graphic artist over, either in England or Ireland. And he designed that and I love it. You know, it’s just perfect. It’s got that heart and the dagger. And so that’s where, and that was just a birthday present one year.
Mark Lefevbre 18:14
Oh my god, I really like your daughter. Not only did she help you identify that, but then the … That is really cool. So any children or siblings or spouses of authors who happen to be listening to this, a really great gift for an author is either, you know, some professional design for a logo, for a branding. So branding is obviously very important to you. You’ve got the mug. Now, is that stuff for the, is that for your fans as well when they, when you’re at events, or how does that work?
Terry Odell 18:46
If I’m at events, not the mug, because those are too fragile and costly.
Mark Lefevbre 18:51
As we saw, yes.
Terry Odell 18:52
I have notepads, I have post-its, I have pens. The one that people love the most is my lip balm.
Mark Lefevbre 19:05
Yes. Especially where you live, right? It can be dry
Terry Odell 19:08
Yes, in Colorado you can give that stuff out like crazy. So if I go somewhere where I’m going to see people, yes. Or if I have a giveaway, I’ll tuck one of those in, throw in some swag and give it away. So you just figure, I know that they’ll buy the book, but if they see your name on a 25 sheet notepad, that’s 25 times they’ve seen your name.
Mark Lefevbre 19:35
That’s awesome. So let’s, we hinted at audiobooks. You have15 audiobooks. How many books do you have published, actually in total?
Terry Odell 19:44
You know, I was thinking of that before we started, saying, he’s going to ask me how many …
Mark Lefevbre 19:49
More than 15, I’m assuming, right?
Terry Odell 19:50
Right. I think I have 21 novels. And then there’s shorts, novellas, I’ve got a couple of short, two collections of short stories. And then I’ve got some bundles. So I don’t know if you can call that … You know, I wrote those books individually, and then I put them together a couple of years later. So …
Mark Lefevbre 20:14
25 titles, roughly, I’m guessing? Something like that?
Terry Odell 20:16
Mark Lefevbre 20:18
Okay. And 15 audiobooks?
Terry Odell 20:21
Mm-hmm. Yeah, I did not put the Blackthorns into audio, simply because at the time there were already six or seven of them. And it’s just too expensive. You know, because if you do one book [inaudible], one leads to the next. So if you can’t get all, and now there’s nine of them. And if you can’t get nine of them up there … It’s a long time to get your money back on an audiobook.
Mark Lefevbre 20:54
Well and that’s … Yeah, so you must have started this way back, actually.
Terry Odell 20:58
Yeah I just looked, my first audio book is coming up to the seven year mark with ACX.
Mark Lefevbre 21:05
Seven years. So you were initially, you’re counting that because initially you did the royalty share, is that how you did it?
Terry Odell 21:17
Yeah, because at the time, I got an email from an author friend who said, “Terry, you’ve got to do this. You know, it doesn’t cost you anything. And you know, it’s an extra few hundred dollars a month in your pocket,” which was all my goal ever was, then. I thought, you know, okay, an extra hundred bucks and there was no investment. I paid $25 for the cover. But, you got royalty share, it gave something the narrators to type in. So the narrator eager to do it, because they knew they were going to make money, so it wasn’t a gamble. Now that there’s so many other gateways into audio, I wouldn’t recommend going that way.
Mark Lefevbre 21:57
What would you recommend? What’s the process that you’re using now?
Terry Odell 22:00
Right now I’m using Findaway Voices. And I’d done that kind of through the backdoor as well. They are more expensive, to get a narrator through them, they tack on like 15% of what the narrator would charge. But they will take a book, and I’ve worked with my mystery narrator long enough that he trusts me. And I say, you know, will you narrate this book? And I’ll pay you, but not until it’s done.And he said, sure.
Mark Lefevbre 22:34
Because you’ve worked together before?
Terry Odell 22:35
Yes, he’s done all my Mapletons. And he’s also very good about not wanting or requiring money, when I had one of the Mapletons in royalty share, he did not ask me to buy him out. He just said, you know, because he’s smart, he looked back and said, you know, in four years we’ve sold 89 copies. I’m not making any money anyway.
Mark Lefevbre 22:58
I’ll take the money up front, thank you.
Terry Odell 22:59
All the rest he did, I did as per finished hour with him.
Mark Lefevbre 23:07
Okay, that’s cool. So it sounds like trust and relationships with people in the industry, like your narrator, editor, designers, the people that you work with, that’s obviously really important to you?
Terry Odell 23:21
I think you need a relationship with them. They have to know that you’re good for whatever you’re coming up with, and that you’re … You know, with my cover, the cover artist, she doesn’t charge until she’s done and you say okay.It’s not like you know, give me a hundred bucks up front and I’ll see what I can do for you. My editor, I’ve been with her since the Five Star books. I think there are only two books that I used a different editor for, when she was not taking on clients.So, yeah, I mean, she knows me, and she knows when I say I’ve got a book for you, she knows about how much work it’s going to be.
Mark Lefevbre 24:09
Because you’ve done that repeatedly, right?
Terry Odell 24:10
So it’s correcting my grammar and my typos. But there won’t be a lot of them.
Mark Lefevbre 24:14
That’s fantastic. And so the audiobooks, in all realistic fashion, it’s not like you made an audiobook on kind of like the Jay Conrad stage, where you stuck it up and a bazillion people bought it and you became rich. You’re in this for the long run?
Terry Odell 24:10
You have to you know, you have to be. I went to a Novelists, Inc. conference when audiobooks were just starting and they had several authors up there with the ACX rep, and they were talking about how, you know, I’ll mortgage my house to pay for my audiobook or whatever else. And then the next year they’re going, well, I haven’t made my money back yet. And they’re looking, and they’re, you know, general opinion if you’re a midlist wannabe, five years.
Mark Lefevbre 25:04
Okay, so it’s, yeah, you’re thinking of a longer term. Yeah. Which is probably why ACX has that seven year contract. One of the reasons is, well, you got to give it some time if they’re going to to get their money back, right?
Terry Odell 25:17
Yeah, yeah. The royalty share is the one that really locks you in. That’s a toughy. I went through nightmares trying to get the one book, the one Mapleton book, Deadly Bones, out of the royalty share and it was a nightmare.
Mark Lefevbre 25:40
Do you have any opinions about exclusivity versus wide?
Terry Odell 25:47
Mark Lefevbre 25:53
And why is that?
Terry Odell 25:55
First off, you never know where you’re going to find a reader. But I have to be fair and honest. I’m retired. My house is paid for, my cars are paid for, I don’t have kids living at home. I don’t put a roof over my head or food on my table with my royalties. But so, I am the kind of person who, back in the day when somebody asked me if one of my books would be on all romance ebooks, she said, because that’s where I buy my books. And my answer to her was tomorrow. And [inaudible]. Because she’s a reader, and who knows how many other readers she’s going to tell about it. And I also just, quite honestly, I’m just very concerned that the big guy can change the terms at any time. You’re locked in there and you say you’ve got all the rights, and, you know, I’m making all my money on page reads. And then they say, well, we’re not going to pay that much money for page reads. It’s still my biggest income source, not the page read thing. I, you know, I don’t have my books there. You have to buy them. But I have four free ones, first in series is free. So, I just make most of my money there, but I make enough from Apple and Kobo and Barnes and Noble that I couldn’t give that income up. I wouldn’t risk it. And I think that’s what the people say going the other way. I’m making this much money with Kindle Unlimited, I can’t risk taking them down.
Mark Lefevbre 27:39
Right. Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about that. Oh, sorry, what was that?
Terry Odell 27:48
No, that’s that was nothing.
Mark Lefevbre 27:59
Oh, okay. I know you’re in the mountains and the signal seems to be just wavering there. It’s like a Star Trek transmission. But that’s okay. We’ll keep going. I do know because, that’s the price you pay for all that beauty I guess. But you talked about free first books. And so you have four series, and the first book in each series is free. That’s like permafree everywhere?
Terry Odell 28:14
Uh, three of the series. The Pine Hills Police, the Mapleton, and the Blackthorn. My cowboy books, there’s only three of them and it really doesn’t pay to knock the price down until you have enough other books.I, yes. I mean, those things bring in people. It’s not immediate. When you advertise and you promote free in some of the sweepstakes type deals,you know, here, you can sign up for the newsletter and you can have 30 authors and 30 books and all of that. There’s a lot of glommers out there. There’s people who go, I’ve got more books on my Kindle than I can read in my lifetime, and I haven’t paid for one of them. That’s not my audience. You know, but I’m willing to say, you’ve never heard of me. Here’s a book, read it. If you like it, there’ll be a whole lot more. And they’re good for giveaways and for prizes, or whatever. You can just tell people look, here’s a free book. And yes, they’re permafree.
Mark Lefevbre 29:18
Cool. Well, I think I discovered Pine Hills Police because book one was free. But because I was commuting a lot, I ended up going and buying the audiobook anyways. Which was, yeah.
Terry Odell 29:33
Yeah. And that’s the other thing too, is, those first in series free books in audio tend to sell better than the rest because if you buy the ebook and the audiobook, and the ebook is free, so the audio book only cost you five or six bucks. My best-selling audio book at ACX is the bundle, because it’s a subscription service. So people are going, why should I use my credit for a $12 book when I can use it for a $25 book? So the bundles do much better at ACX.
Mark Lefevbre 30:13
Oh, that’s fantastic. Yeah, cuz it’s way a better deal for the $15 a month, right? That’s fantastic. Cool. So we’re at the half hour mark. So we’re going to start taking some questions from our live audience. And the first question comes from Carla. And Carla asks, “How long does it take you to write a book and how do you decide what to write next?”
Terry Odell 30:36
Okay, on a non-stressful universe, about three or four months to write a book. They average about 100,000 words. I shoot for 80 and I end up at 100. And I publish them at 90. As far as deciding what to write next, it’s whatever strikes my fancy. Right now, what I decided to write next was a book set in the British Isles, so I can write off my trip. But it’s a standalone, and then that’s not going to be fun. But for variety, I tend to bounce my series around. So I go, okay, I’ve been you know, I need a new Blackthorn guy or you know, I’ve just spent too much time with Gordon, he’s got to have a break before his next case. And so, yeah, every now and again, I think I’ve had you know, like a reader say, “I really liked this series. When is your next one going to be out?” And I’ll think, well, I can write that.
Mark Lefevbre 31:39
So the readers that you engage with asking questions is sometimes a prompt to say, “Oh, I guess I should revisit them”?
Terry Odell 31:45
Yeah. I mean, I’ll just look at just about anything. Anything to avoid cleaning toilets.
Mark Lefevbre 31:53
So I have to ask, because we’ve talked about the British Isles twice. Was it the characters and the setting and the idea that brought you there? Or was it, Terry and her husband really want to go there and this is a great tax write off? Don’t worry, the IRS is not listening.
Terry Odell 32:09
I hope not. One of my daughters lives in Northern Ireland. She was here visiting and pointed out that she’s lived in Northern Ireland for 12 years we had never visited. We had a 50th anniversary coming up. And we said, let’s go visit Jess, but let’s take a tour. And we got with the travel agent, who set us up on a tour. Which then, nobody else signed up for the tour, so we ended up with a private driver and got to do a lot of stuff. And it was fun because they would take us places where they’d say,
Oh, you got to see this, there’s this guy with the sheepdogs. And one speaks Gaelic and one speaks English.” And, you know, “Okay, we’ll go see her.” So yeah, and then I asked my, you know, tax guy and said, “Can I really write off this whole trip?” Basically, because you don’t have a plot in mind when you go, so you’re looking at things where every day, everything you see is a plot idea, so it’s important. So he said go for it.
Mark Lefevbre 33:22
So let’s talk about that. You say everything you see is a plot idea. Is that true for you as a writer?
Terry Odell 33:29
Oh, a lot of times, yeah. I mean, some of it you look and say, oh, that’d be boring. But you know what, when we go places with my husband and we meet people and he will say, “Watch what you say. She’s a writer and it’ll end up in a book.” So, you know.
Mark Lefevbre 33:52
Does he have a t-shirt that says that, or do you say that? You know, “Don’t annoy me, I might kill you in my next book”?
Terry Odell 34:00
Yeah, careful or you’ll end up in my novel.
Mark Lefevbre 34:01
Is there a setting, like Pine Hills or Mapleton, are they places … Are they based on places that you’ve actually lived, or are familiar with?
Terry Odell 34:10
Pine Hills is based on visits to my husband’s sister in Salem. So I did that, and then I thought she was getting sick of me having to keep emailing her. “It’s May, what trees are blooming in the streets?” and all that. So I set the next one in Orlando and found that was harder because it was real. You know, I made the character a deputy with the Orlando PD.
Mark Lefevbre 34:37
So it was like a real location, not a fictional … Okay.
Terry Odell 34:41
And that was real. And that was spooky because, you know, I met this guy who was teaching SWAT aerobics or something like that at the Y. And so I asked him questions and I called him one day and I said, you know, what color’s the carpet? And he goes, “I don’t know. Gray, or whatever? You want to come for a tour? And I said sure, you know. She walked me through everything and let me ask all the questions and all that. So I try to be accurate. But I felt like it had to be much more accurate than saying okay, this police, you know, that’s where my Blackthorns came in. They need a fancy-ass helicopter, I can give them one. I don’t have to worry about that the Police Department can’t afford that.
Mark Lefevbre 35:27
Oh, that’s fantastic. So for the research that you do, because it’s police and mysteries and stuff like that, how often are you reaching out to experts in the field to kind of glean their insights and, you know, not just the color of the carpet, but maybe investigations and things like that?
Terry Odell 35:43
Whenever I need it. You know, I get to the point in the book where I go, well, wait a minute. You know, how can this guy, you know … He’s gonna get stabbed in the liver. You know, I’m gonna stab, you know, how long will it take? You know, and you just ask. I’ve called up to the coroner in Jefferson County. The fun part is, is that they normally will tell you much more, they’ll tell you how to solve the thing. “Well just send it all to Texas,” and they’ll tell you who, you know. The book is over in chapter three. You can’t identify them, you know?
Mark Lefevbre 36:24
Yeah. Maybe like you come up with a reason why they can’t do the thing and so it just sort of drags on, right? So another reader might go, “Wait a second. Why didn’t they just send it to Texas?”
Terry Odell 36:33
Right. Yeah. And you say well, because there were no teeth left.
Mark Lefevbre 36:37
Are there any times when you’ve reached out to a coroner or investigator or a law enforcement officer where they wondered? Do you just go, like, “Hi, I’d like to inquire about some murders?”
Terry Odell 36:56
I normally lead off with, I am a writer working on a novel.
Mark Lefevbre 36:59
Okay. Yeah. Usually you let them know that up front.
Terry Odell 37:02
Right up front. That’s my lead-in.
Mark Lefevbre 37:03
What’s the response? How do they normally respond to that? Is it, “Oh, I’m too busy. I can’t talk to you because it’s just this writing, this fluffy writing thing you’re doing”? Or do they actually take care of you?
Terry Odell 37:13
Most of the time they’re flattered that you want their opinion, and they want to help and make sure you get it right. They don’t want to be portrayed in a bad light. So they will go on and on, and tell you stuff that you may never even be able to use, but. I’ve never really had some … I usually start with email now. I figure if they’re busy, they just don’t answer.
Mark Lefevbre 37:38
So for other writers who are interested in reaching out and talking to experts. It doesn’t have to be, you know, law enforcement officials. What do you recommend? How do you approach that as a writer?
Terry Odell 37:43
I … use a contact. I’ve found people on Facebook, I needed to know stuff about flying. And I put something, you know, I think I typed pilots and I got names and looked at their profiles or whatever. And messaged one, and he came back, he was great. And gave me all the information that I would need, I thought. And then he called me on the phone. He got my number, and he called me, and he said, “I told you something wrong. The plane you’re using, you know, that requires a copilot. You have to have two people up there.” That kind of thing. So you either get another character or you change the pieces, you could make it this kind of a plane. So, you know. It’s cool. People just like to help.
Mark Lefevbre 38:44
And Is that a thing where you have an acknowledgement section and you talk about …? And whether or not they allow you to say their name?
Terry Odell 38:52
Yeah. I will ask first and say, you know, can I use your name and how would you like it? Because sometimes they want you to say, you know, detective retired de-da-de-da enlisted, and sometimes they go, I don’t care, whatever you think is just fine.
Mark Lefevbre 39:06
I just want to read the book when it’s done. I want to make sure you got it right.
Terry Odell 39:11
Yeah, well, my Orlando cop, he does read them, and he says, you know, I’ve got enough of a relationship with him that I can send him a scene, and say, how is this? I wouldn’t do that with a stranger. You know, I would go through with scenarios and ask questions, and we would do it all by email. But with Mark, I can just email it to him and say, “Did I get this right?” You know. And he’ll say, you know, the other guy needs to go in the back door. You know. They don’t both go in the front. Or whatever.
Mark Lefevbre 39:46
Oh, that’s fantastic. Cool. Well, thank you. This is awesome. I’m getting all kinds of great material here. We have another question from the live audience we have. Danielle asks, “Do you have any tips for aspiring first time authors?”
Terry Odell 40:05
Write and read. And read. Read what you like, read what you want. Right now, with the ability to publish, you have to decide if you want to do it traditionally, if you want to do itthrough indie. If you’re going to do it indie, don’t be in a hurry. Because it won’t be as good as you think it is. Get an editor, get somebody professional to look at it, because that’s your only chance. Your first and last chance. If you put up stuff that you think is good, because you speak English, so why can’t you write English?You’ll kill your career.Find critique partners, find critique groups. It was pointed out to me, one of my critique partners lives in London. So we actually got together for fish and chips and beer at a pubacross the road from where Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. And yes, that is in the book.
Mark Lefevbre 41:07
Yeah, you added that to the book, right?
Terry Odell 41:11
Oh, I absolutely did. I hadn’t written the book yet, but I went, this is gonna be in there. And he said, we’ve been together 14 years now. It’s amazing, you know, I can’t imagine, but I’ve been with this critique group for up to 14 years.And, you know, we pull no punches.
Mark Lefevbre 41:32
I guess that’s really, that honesty is very important, because you don’t want to put out an inferior product, right?
Terry Odell 41:38
Right. If you’ve got people who are saying, “Oh, this is great. This is wonderful. This is wonderful,” you know, that’s not your group. I got into the group because I was writing Finding Sarah, and the moderator of the group, it was online, and she says, “Oh, don’t let anything bad happen to Sarah. Don’t let anything else happen to her.” And well, that’s you know.
Mark Lefevbre 42:03
Doesn’t make for an interesting story, then.
Terry Odell 42:04
Happy people in happy land does not sell books. Except maybe kids’ books.
Mark Lefevbre 42:10
But no, but that’s true. I mean, two important things happen there, right? People in peril and turmoil change, very valuable. The stakes need to be important. But then you also have the flip side is, wow, they care that much about Sarah. That’s a pretty awesome thing.
Terry Odell 42:28
Yeah. And I do appreciate that. You know, I’m really glad. Usually now it’s the reviews who will tell me something. I got one, “No person in her right mind would do that. Sarah should never have done that,” you know,and the only answer you can get is, I’m glad she was real for you. I made her up and she did what I wanted.
Mark Lefevbre 42:55
So you’ve got 25ish books out there. How important is continuing to go—you talked about going to Novelists, Inc. I know that I met you at Superstars writing seminars in Colorado. And how important is that writer community to a writer?
Terry Odell 43:19
When you’re starting, it’s very, very important, both for just walking into a room and saying, “God, all these people are in the same boat.” You know, they understand what I’m saying. It was sort of like the first time I walked into a mothers of twins meeting and saw people still alive. I thought, “Oh,” you know, “there’s hope.”I have gone to fewer of them at this point, because you reach a point where you’re saying, I’m spending a lot of time and a lot of money. None of them are cheap, especially if you have to fly and stay in a hotel, and all of that. I want to either be able to give, so I want to do a presentation, I want to be able to share what I have, or feel like I’m going to get back more. I reached the point, quite honestly, with some of the local conferences and stuff where, it was, I could have given that talk and I could have done it better. But until you reach that point, you’re learning. And so that’s why I used to go to conferences all over the place, and take in, you know, how to write craft and marketing and all that stuff. Because I didn’t go to school and get an MFA or study marketing or any of that, you know, it’s all absorbed over the years.
Mark Lefevbre 44:38
Well Terry, thank you so much. This has been really insightful, you shared all kinds of wonderful things that I wasn’t even expecting that we were going to be talking about, which was fantastic. Where can people find out more about you, about your books, check out your blog? Because I know you have stuff for writers on there.
Terry Odell 44:55
They can get started on my website, which should be right there at the bottom of your screen. Terryodell.com. And the blog is a link there. It’s got a page on my books, it’s got extra stuff, and follow my blog. We have a lot of fun on that. And at Facebook, you know, as well. It’s author Terry O’Dell at Facebook.
Mark Lefevbre 45:18
Excellent. And lots of “thank you”s popping up. Terry, I want to also say thank you so much for spending the time with me today and everyone, have a wonderful weekend.
Terry Odell 45:28