Two Hits And She's In!

By Denise Baton

Kris Neri Kris Neri is the creator of the TRACY EATON series. The first in the series, REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN, was nominated for Agatha, Anthony & Macavity Awards. DEM BONES' REVENGE, second in the series, is just out and all reviews report itís even better than the first. I chose Kris for a MYSTERICAL-E interview because she is an up-and-comer and because she is militant when it comes to campaigning for the short mystery story. She is dedicated, spirited and a woman worthy of admiration.

Denise: Kris, you're a member of Sisters In Crime; in fact, you've been president of the Pasadena Chapter. Tell me why you believe so much in this organization and how it has affected your career.

Kris: Although we meet in the South Pasadena Public Library, we call ourselves the Los Angeles chapter. Sisters in Crime is a wonderful organization that was organized to support women mystery writers and to educate the public about the contributions female mystery writers have made to the field. But in reality, it has done so much more for its members. Most women my age weren't schooled in the value of networking, nor were we given to believe that self-promotion was acceptable. It's from Sisters in Crime that I learned to do those things. The LA chapter is also a very proactive group that publishes anthologies, puts on conferences and excellent meetings, and offers support to its members in so many different areas. Incidentally, though we call ourselves sisters, we have many brothers in crime, too; it's just as valuable an organization for male mystery writers and readers.

Denise: Are you a member of MWA and why?

Kris: Since full, active membership in MWA is something a writer must qualify for, MWA is in essence the professional organization of mystery writers. I'm proud that I qualified for active membership with my first published short story.

Denise: The Short Mystery Fiction List is an online group of writers who chat via email. You're a member of this list. What is it all about and why do you do it?

Kris: The Short Mystery Fiction Society exists to actively promote awareness of the short mystery form and those who write short stories. It's also the organization that awards the Derringer Award. I think the SMFS provides an important service in the mystery field, since most groups are actively devoted to the novel form. Since I started my fiction writing career with short stories, and since I'm a two-time recipient of the Derringer Award for Best Short Story, I'm quite devoted to this group, and think it's important that I give it my support. Plus, it's a really nice group of people that I like spending a little cyber-time with.

Denise: You teach a crime fiction class at Learning Tree University. I've heard your students proclaim that the W method saved their writing careers. What is the W method?

Kris: While I do teach the W-plotline, it isn't something I invented. If it's highly regarded, it's just that it gives new writers a visual of the journey a character will take in the course of a book or story. It operates on the principle that from the start of any project, the character is pursuing a goal. But from the start, the writer must pull the rug out from under the character. Then she must be allowed to make some progress toward her goal, but something invariably comes up to prevent her from reaching it again until the point when she finally puts everything together and soars to the climax of the book, and reaches her goal. It's just a visual of the character's journey.

Denise: You are extremely supportive of other writers. Is there a satisfaction that you derive from the process of helping other mystery writers?

Kris: Of course. I see us all as being part of a continuum. And other writers have been extremely supportive of me, it's only right to pass it on.

Denise:To what degree has the mystery writing community been supportive of you?

Kris: To an incredible and gratifying degree. The awards I've won and those I've been nominated for are just one demonstration of that support.

Denise: You've been very busy appearing at several conferences. Can you name them all?

Kris: I try to attend three conventions per year, as well as some writing conferences. In the last year I've attended the Malice Domestic Convention in Washington, DC, Left Coast Crime in Tucson, and Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, in Denver. I've also spoken at the MWA conference at UCLA. Next year I expect to attend Malice and Bouchercon, and I'll be appearing at the Bare Bones Writers conference, sponsored by the San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the Orange County Chapter of Sisters in Crime's writers conference, too.

Denise: Which conference was your favorite?

Kris: I think they all have their own unique flavor and I enjoy that diversity, though I must confess to a special fondness for Malice.

Denise: If you could change one thing about your personal journey as a writer what would it be?

Kris: I wish I had realized sooner that I could sell a novel myself, rather than relying on an agent. But everything we experience teaches us something. I'm not big on second-guessing myself. You can't go back.

Denise: What is your ultimate goal as a mystery writer?

Kris: I want to know that I've provided my readers with an image of justice being served, even if it's not justice in any traditional sense; that I've entertained them, and maybe made them think about something. If I've accomplished those things, I've done my job.

Denise: How did it feel to be nominated for all those awards your first time out as a mystery novelist?

Kris: It was enormously gratifying, beyond my ability to describe it. An absolutely glorious reward and adventure.

Denise: You now have two novels under your belt and numerous short stories. At the book launching of DEM BONESí REVENGE it was mentioned that you have written over forty short stories. When did you start writing and why?

Kris: I started storytelling before I could read. Iíd make up stories to go with the pictures in the Sunday comics and pretend to read them to my younger sister. Iíve always written but it never occurred to me to make it my profession until twelve years ago. I started writing nonfiction features and first person pieces for magazines. From there I moved on to short story writing and ultimately to writing novels. I suppose there are simply stories inside of me that want to be told. The fact that I write mystery fiction is a critical part of it, too. I like righting wrongs, and crime fiction is the ideal way to show that happening.

Denise: You strike me as a short story activist. Do you think that being a two-time Derringer Award winner has something to do with that?

Kris: I never thought of myself as a short story activist. I genuinely love the form, and I know how hard it is to write a good short story. Our genre credits its beginning in Poeís short stories, and yet short story writers rarely receive the respect they deserve. Iím equally at home in the short or long form, but I donít forget my roots.

Denise: What I find so exciting about you is that you are like a force of nature, in the air, everywhere, all one has to do is sniff. When I open a newspaper, go to the local library, read any promo on mystery organizations or go to a chat room I see notices of your work, your books for sale or available to check out, etc. You do appearances from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Is this unusual for a small press mystery writer?

Kris: I laugh at this question because a force of nature would surely be less tired than I usually am. My first book, REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN, was published at the start of what really seems to be a small press renaissance, a time in which readers became more open to works put out by non-traditional publishing outlets. I benefited from this movement. Iím also fortunate to have a publisher who sees the value of offering review copies. Too many publishers just wonít go to that expense. As for my own promotional efforts, I try a number of different approaches, and I donít worry whether or not they work. I just trust that if I put a certain amount of PR out there, some of it will pay off, though not necessarily in the way Iíve planned.

Denise: There is a definite excitement about DEM BONESí REVENGE. Many have said it is even better than REVENGE OF THE GYPSY QUEEN, which was hard to top. What do you think accounts for this?

Kris: Every writer hopes to put what she learned writing the prior book into the next. But I have to admit that Tracyís crazy mom had a lot to do with it. She just took that book and ran with it. The other characters and I had to struggle to keep up with her!

Denise: Tell us about RAINBOW BOOKS.

Kris: Rainbow Books is a family-owned, female-owned small press in Florida that recently celebrated its twenty-first year in publishing. In most of those years, however, they published nonfiction exclusively. The small staff has had such fun with publishing mystery fiction, I think theyíre planning to stick to putting out some mystery fiction each year. They say the promotional part is so much more fun than nonfiction. Nonfiction remains their bread and butter and still dominates their yearly list.

Denise: And your next project?

Kris: I have two projects in the works now. One is the next Tracy Eaton mystery. The other is a harder, edgier novel called NEVER SAY DIE based on the character, Zoe, first launched in my short story, SENTENCE IMPOSED, (A DEADLY DOZEN ANTHOLOGY/UGLYTOWN MYSTERIES). Even though the book is not published yet, itís actualized in my mind.

Denise: And what happens in the next Tracy Eaton mystery?

Kris: REVENGE FOR OLD TIMESí SAKE satirizes law firms as DEM BONESí REVENGE did the film business. I donít want to give too much away here, but Drewís had enough abuse and he snaps and punches out his boss. The next day, Drewís superior is found floating face down in his and Tracyís pool. Iím bringing the two mothers together in this one, Tracy and Drewís. Instant fireworks!

Denise: Your husband, Joe Neri, is a blues band leader of the group, BLUES DAWG. Do lots of mystery writers show up for his show?

Kris: A fair number do. Actually, Iíll take a little match-making credit for the band. I put my husband, Joe, together with my good writing friend, Larry Hill, who proved to be a brilliant guitar player who mentored Joe, and together they formed BLUES DAWG, which is now producing a CD.

Denise: Whatís your single most important bit of advice to writers?

Kris: Donít write for the marketplace, write what you love. Be persistent in your marketing efforts to guarantee that your material will wind up on the desk of the editor who sees the value in it. Donít take rejections too seriously. They just reflect one person's opinions or needs at a particular time.

Denise: Thanks Kris, we eagerly await your edgy novel, SENTENCE IMPOSED, and your next Tracy Eaton novel, REVENGE FOR OLD TIMESí SAKE.

For more information about Kris Neri visit her site at:

Dem Bones' Revenge

Copyright © 2000 Denise Baton