Liz Freeland’s new mystery hero Louise Faulk is one of New York’s first woman police officers, a sharp-witted young woman of modest means who solves murders and combats prejudice as she builds an independent life in 1913 New York.
Hi there I’m your host Jenny Wheeler and today Liz talks about her long lived career and what’s kept her going as she’s published close 50 books in romance, chick lit, family drama and now her new mystery series.
Here’s great news! We’ve got five signed copies of Book One, Murder in Greenwich Village, to giveaway to five lucky listeners. Just enter
Six things you’ll learn from this Joys of Binge Reading episode:
- Why Liz writes under three different pen names
- Her early career in romance and chick lit
- Her move into historical and cozy mystery
- Spending time as an artist in a New York garret
- The writers she admires most
- The secret to authoring more than 50 books
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
Jenny: But now, here’s Liz. Hello there Liz and welcome to the show, it’s great to have you with us.
Jenny: Beginning at the beginning – was there a “Once Upon a Time” moment when you decided you wanted to write fiction? And if so what was the catalyst for it?
Liz: Well it’s hard to say, because I think I have pretty much always loved telling stories. I wrote stories in school, but I think the biggest catalyst was when I was a theatre geek in high school. I went to college and studied theatre, and started play writing. That’s how I really started taking myself seriously as a writer, trying to write plays.
After college, I started turning my hand to fiction. It’s hard to write plays for yourself, especially when you’re completely undiscovered and you don’t have a lot of venues to get your work performed. So I started writing stories, and even novels on my own after work. I really enjoyed it. You sort of get to be the puppet master of everything. It’s great. You’re the director, the actor, you’re everything in a novel so I really love that aspect of it. I never really looked back after I started writing fiction that way.
Fifty romances under three names
Jenny: You’ve had an amazing career – writing more than 50 romances and contemporary fiction titles under other names including Liz Ireland and Elizabeth Bass. We’ll get to that a little later. Firstly though, your new series is a mystery set in pre-World War 1 New York. It features Louise Faulk, a
Liz: Well I read romance, and then for a
Switching from romance to mystery
Jenny: That’s good, because mystery after romance has come up as a popular category in recent years, hasn’t it?
Liz: Oh yes. Especially historical mysteries, they seem to be in fashion right now. I’ve always known that whatever the fashion is at the moment, the market can get saturated. Tastes can change, and next year could be something completely different. There are no guarantees.
Jenny: That’s right. You have written some historical romances, so the historical sort of side to it wasn’t totally new to you, was it?
Liz: Oh no. I’ve written Western historical romances especially, and it’s a little different, just because when I was writing Western historical romances, it was pretty much pre Wikipedia and pre-internet. They’re both such useful research tools. It’s just a lot easier to research now; there’s so much more available online and you don’t have to go to the library and spend an afternoon trying to chase down one fact anymore. I’ve done it before, but it’s a lot easier now in a lot of ways.
Jenny: And I gather as a young aspiring writer yourself, you “ran away” to New York and perhaps did the “writer in the garret” for a little while. Could you tell us a little about your life in those years? I think you also worked in publishing for a while, did you?
Liz: Well this goes back to play writing. I was in college and studying play writing and I won an award for play writing in my third year. I had enough credits to finish college at that point. The play writing award came with $1,500 which just seemed like a huge sum to me at the time. I thought, this is it! This is my huge opportunity to run away to New York. Of course, I didn’t realize that at the time, $1,500 dollars in New York lasts about two weeks.
So I ended up in a very tiny apartment working all sorts of odd jobs. But I did straggle into publishing. I worked in a book store, and then studied proof reading and got a job as an editorial assistant at Harlequin and Silhouette books. All those years I was just writing in my spare time at night. After a while, I decided to do that again but in reverse. I ran away from New York, back to my home state and started working on becoming a writer full-time.
Being young in New York
Jenny: I quite liked the thought of you and of your heroine Louise, two young women in the same city 70 years apart. She had her own double standards and social barriers that she had to try and break through She is one who wanted to step outside of the norms. She wasn’t ready for getting quietly married. Was that part of the reason why you chose New York for the setting in the mystery?
Liz: Yes, partially, because it was an easier place to lose yourself. I guess everybody understands that. It’s such a big city and there’s so many people who are immigrants and from other places there. It’s just easy to reinvent yourself as somebody new. Louise, when she goes to New York, really needs to put the past behind her because she’s been through a traumatic experience.
She’s given birth to a child out of wedlock, and has given it up for adoption. She just wants to start over and remake herself. New York is the best place for that. Also because I lived in New York, I still feel a certain familiarity with it. It’s a very easy place to research, because there’s just so much to learn about New York – the history, what the streets looked like 100 years ago. It’s a fairly easy place to research I think.
Jenny: The first book was Murder in Greenwich Village, and the second one Murder in Midtown. It’s due out in a few weeks is it, or is it already out?
Liz:No, it’s due out at the end of March.
Jenny: How many do you think there are going to be; have you got number three underway already?
Liz: I’m almost finished number three, I’m writing the end of it right now. I’m not sure how many there will be – I’m hoping for six. My publisher might have other ideas. I originally planned for there to be six. The trajectory in my head was always for around six books, give or take a book I guess.
First days of Women police officers
Jenny: In Book Two, Louise gets accepted into the police force and I think I read somewhere that there were 70 female female police officers at this time in New York, 1913. Is that right – 70 out of 10,000 or something?
Liz: That is right. There were not many female police officers. They didn’t have a lot of different duties to perform. The authorities didn’t like to put women police officers out in public. For instance, they could have used female officers to direct traffic because there were no traffic signals at that time and they needed police to do that job. Female police would have been good at it, but they thought if they had police women out in the streets, it would stop traffic because they’d be so distracting; all of the males would be staring at the women instead of looking at the road!
So women really had a limited role in the police force at that time. That changed fairly soon, changing in the late teens and twenties they got to do more work. That’s what I’m hoping I’ll show with Louise, because she’s going to have more to do in the next book than she’s doing now.
Jenny: That would be a very interesting transition, and of course we’re very interested to know what happens with Muldoon.
Liz: It’s a little bit of a tease, but I’m interested in that too!
Jenny: It’s just a slow moving interesting potential romance happening there in the background which is quite fun! Are you still doing any other writing under your other pen names, like Elizabeth Bass?
Cozy mysteries and ‘Chick Lit’
Liz: Well, I’m doing them on my own, I haven’t given up. I still have a couple of stories that I’m working on that are womens’ fiction, or along those lines. I haven’t submitted any or sold any that would be coming up, but I hope to. I still love womens’ fiction and would love to keep writing that.
Right now, I’m working on the mysteries and a cosy mystery series that’s going to come out next year that I’m actually working on too, alongside the historical mysteries. I’m just trying to find time to do everything, which can be challenging.
Jenny: Can you give us a hint into what the setting of that city is going to be?
Liz: It’s a holiday themed series, and it involves someone named Mrs Claus. That’s pretty much the idea right now.
Jenny: So you’ve done some very popular contemporary romances as well, and one of them I saw online was Three Bedrooms in Chelsea. It sounds very like a Sex and The City scenario; you have three girls that are finding jobs, chasing the dream, landing the guy and paying the rent on time. It was published around the same time as Sex and The City, but you have said you’re not too influenced by popular trends. I guess that was something that came naturally to you at that stage of life.
Liz: I actually love Chick Lit. I loved all those books. Starting with Bridget Jones, my sister bought me back a copy from England when she had been to visit. I guess it was in the late 90’s or sometime around then, and she said “this is just so fantastic, you should read it”.
I just fell in love with that whole genre. That’s one example of when the market did become saturated with those type of books and publishers pulled back from wanting to have as many of those as were being produced. I turned to more serious family dramas after that. I really loved those books, and writing those books. I think that was one of the first books I wrote.
Jenny: The one that’s got the most marvellous title- How I Stole Her Husband- is that another one of those ChickLit types?
Liz: Yes. That book came out of me incredibly fast, because I thought of the idea and thought of the title right away too. It just seemed to flow, and I really like that book a lot.
Jenny: As I was explaining to you earlier, I was trying to find the digital form because I thought I’d love to read that – but quite a number of them aren’t published digitally. You’re still trad published, aren’t you? Have you done any self publishing yourself.
Liz: No I haven’t. That’s on my ‘to do’ list for this year, is to look at some of my backlist titles and try to figure out how to get into publishing them myself. It seems like it will be time consuming, because I’m not even sure if I have some of the files for the books, or they’re still on a disc or something. It’s a little daunting, but I hope to get some of them back out.
Jenny: That sounds like a great idea.
Liz: I’m not sure how they would read nowadays. I mean some of the old romances from the nineties I look at think “I don’t think anyone will be interested in those”, but I can’t be sure because I don’t go back and read my old stuff ever really! So I’d have to bite the bullet, sit down and read some of these and see if they were ever dated or not.
Different pen names
Jenny: When you’re writing under different pen names, does it feel like someone else, a different writer when you’ve got a different name? Does it change the way you regard what you’re doing?
Liz: You know, that’s an interesting question. I feel like my voice is fairly consistent overall, over everything I’m writing. I tend to write slightly humorous female books, you know very femalecentric. I have to say though, that when I’m writing under different pen names it’s mostly the audience I’m thinking of.
The genre seems very specific to me. I don’t think the audience would think picking up a Liz Ireland romance and thinking that they are reading a Liz Freeland mystery would be very satisfying. I think they find that it’s a very different type of book, and they may even want their money back- I’m not sure. Readers like specific things. In fact, we’re trying to figure out whether I’l need a new pseudonym for writing cosy mysteries, because sometimes mystery readers especially seem to be very specific about which mysteries they like.
I know I have friends, and I’ll ask them which mysteries they like and they’ll say “I like everything, but mostly I read police procedurals and they have to be with a policeman in a police force; it can’t be a retired policeman”. They go into all of these things about what they want, and I’ll think wow that’s pretty specific!
The pseudonyms are more a marketing tool for the publisher than anything I’m actively thinking about when I’m writing.
Jenny: Is it the same publisher who has handles all of your work?
Liz: Right now I’m writing for Kensington. Primarily, I used to write for Harlequin and I started with Silohouette books. I wrote sweet romances for Silhouette, and that genre also sort of went away fairly quickly. I think sweet romances sort of became inspirational romances; they kind of got devoured by that genre.
Jenny: I gather that it’s now quite a move back to what they call “clean and wholesome romance” Romance without the Shades of Grey end of the spectrum. This has been pulled back into the more clean and wholesome area.
Liz: That’s true, I think there has been a pull back. There are a few lines now that have started that. I’m glad, because I think people like all different kind. They’re specific on what type of romances they want, on what type of mysteries they like. A person that likes Hallmark types of stories doesn’t necessarily like erotica, so it’s good to have a nice array of titles available to people. Romance readers are probably the most voracious I’ve ever met!
Jenny: So how has publishing changed during your time of writing? You mentioned about the researching side of it, but is there anything that stands out?
How publishing world exploded
Liz: There have been lots of changes. Actually, when I started working at a publishing house- Silhouette and Harlequin books. It was 1989, and we didn’t have computers. We all worked on IBM Selectric typewriters and every once in a while, they would bring somebody in to tell us about computers. We would have little seminars to tell us what would happen when the computers came.
Computers already existed, I had one in my house during all these years, but publishing is a little slow to adopt new trends it seems like, or at least it was back then! So there was always that. I mean the whole computerised digitalised publishing world has completely revolutionised everything. I think publishing at some point just exploded. When I was working in romance publishing, it was sort of the golden age of romance publishing.
We had so many readers, and it was a very popular time. Authors were just beginning to look at self publishing and getting into their own promotions, partially because they had to. There were so many romances out there, they had to get their names out. But then, when self publishing started, things really got crazy.
The golden age of romance
There are so many books out now, coming from so many directions and it can be overwhelming. I spend a lot of my time looking at new releases and what authors are out there, and who’s putting out what. It’s just astonishing how much there is and it’s astonishing things can get seen at all. It’s a much harder world to navigate than it used to be for the people who are publishing.
It used to be that you tried to break into publishing, and once you got in an inch you could pretty much dig in and keep writing the kind of book and bud a career. Now, it seems every book is a mountain to be climbed. Every release is a little tougher. It’s a big industry, and I think as a reader you can feel that way too. It’s a little overwhelming.
Jenny: Is there one thing in your writing career, that you’ve done perhaps more than any other, that is the secret of your success?
The secret of success
Liz: The first thing I would say, is that I don’t see myself as a huge success. I mean I’ve hung on, and I think that’s the thing that I’ve managed to do most; to keep persevering. I think most writers face a lot of rejection, and as I was talking about, you’ll be writing a series that suddenly readers lose interest in, or the publisher loses interest in. It can be devastatng. You suddenly find yourself kind of orphaned.
The thing you have to learn to do is to keep a lot of irons in the fire, and a lot of things going that you want to write. Just keep on. That’s the most common advice I hear from writers. What you have to do is to keep writing, and finding new ways to express yourself when the old ways hit a road block. I’ve been pretty successful at doing that, and thank goodness because it’s been thirty years.
Jenny: It sounds like you needed to be resilient, that’s one word for it isn’t it?
Liz: Well that would be a good word, yes!
Jenny: Now you’re also crazy about classic movies, and I was curious as to whether you had a favourite in the movies that you’d like to share with us?
Liz: Oh, that’s a hard one to answer because it’s just like asking about your favourite book! I love so many old movies, but I think the ones I always come back to are Hitchcock, and Barbara Stanwyck, I love Joan Crawford movies – those old female pictures that she made. I love Betty Davis, and all old romantic comedies. Pillow Talk I think is just a hilarious movie, I could watch it a hundred times. It’s Rock Hudson and Doris Day- they made several movies together, and I just find them all very fun.
Jenny: It’s amazing to think, she’s turning 100 soon isn’t she?
Liz: She is, she’s an amazing person. Talking about resilient, that woman went through a lot!
Turning to Liz as reader
Jenny: The series is called “The Joys of Binge Reading” because I see it as providing inspiration for people who like to read series. Who are some of your favorites?
Liz: I like to binge read mystery series that I haven’t caught up on yet. Right now I’m reading the Michael Connolly books that are set in Los Angeles. He’s written so many, and I just hadn’t read them. I had always known they were in the background. I think I’d read one or two, but I just hadn’t really sat down and just binge read them. Now I really am and it’s great! I love to hold some series in reserve anyway, because it’s so satisfying to find an author; it’s like you’ve tapped into a vein of gold. So that’s the vein I’m on right now.
The series I really love right now are Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series. That’s probably the one- the minute those books come out, I just stop everything and read the next one. I didn’t come in at the very beginning, so there were a few available already when I first discovered them, and of course I just devoured them. I
Also love the Nicci French Frieda Klein series, but of course that’s over- I’m just waiting to see what they do next. Of course I love the Adrian McKinty Sean Duffy series, set in North Ireland during their troubles. It sounds like it’d be very dark, and in a way it is but he has a great sense of humour. All of the characters that he has in that story are just wonderful, so I’m a very big fan of those books too.
Jenny: A couple of those I haven’t seen, so I will go and have a look for them.
Liz: I have a series on my “to read” list and it’s a series by Elly Griffiths. She writes the Ruth Galloway series I think, about the archaeologist. She has another series of books, I think it’s a magician series in the 1950’s, which I really want to read. It looks really fun- I think it’s called Stephen’s & Mephisto or something.
Jenny: At this stage in your career, if you were doing it all again, what would you change – if anything?
Liz: You know, I’m not sure what I could change. The thing I could have more of, and which seems weird because I just said I had a certain resilience in my career- I wish I had a little more persistence. There were some books where I was writing that I had wished I’d kept up with, even though I got a little discouraged. I have a lot of books in the drawer that I don’t think deserve to be in the drawer, and I wish I could find an audience for them. Maybe that’s what self publishing will do if I ever figure that out, which is on my to do list. Hopefully they find an audience sometime soon.
Jenny: And they may be the ones that you end up indie publishing.
Liz: Yes they might be; they’re sort of the orphans.
Jenny: What is next for Liz the writer? What are you working on, and new projects?
Liz: I’m definitely going to finish the third Louise Faulk book. I’ll probably be working on it for another two months, and then I have to write my cosy mystery. I’m researching about a real person in history that I’m hoping to write a book about- a fictional book about, so that will be my big side project which I’ll be working on my own. Hopefully it will be a historical novel one day, but I’m still considering that.
Jenny: Are you hoping to indie publish that one, or will it be traditionally published?
Liz: I’ll probably seek a traditional publisher for that. I work with a lot of independent, self published authors and it’s a real hard road to hoe. Especially if you don’t have a big name to begin with. I always think it’s wise to find a traditional publisher first, unless you have a really good sense of how you’re going to promote this book on your own.
Jenny: Do you enjoy interacting with readers and where can they find you online?
Where to find Liz online
Liz: I love to talk to readers. I feel like I’m online all the time! I’m on Twitter a lot, I feel like that’s where I do all my research.
I’m @elizabethbass. Bass is my real last name. I’m also on Goodreads.
I love to be on Goodreads, and I always read my reviews on Goodreads although I don’t jump in and talk to the reviewers because I feel they should be left alone! I love to look at what other people are recommending; I find it really essential as a reader to be on Goodreads.
I have a website- it’s sometimes neglected because I don’t know about websites! I’ve never got as excited about websites as I have Facebook. I have a Liz Freeland page and I also have an Elizabeth Bass page, I’m all over the place!
My website is under Elizabeth Bass. It’s www.elizabeth-bass.com.
Jenny: There’s this last question, and I’m really curious to hear your response on it. I was listening to a podcast, and someone mentioned that the winner of this year’s Amazon Storytelling Contest- she wrote a dystopian novel about a world where people have the right to amend. That meant they could go back to their lives, and formally write a letter to the government and ask to change two decisions in their life if they wanted to.
If you were offered that chance, would you consider taking it up; and if you did take it up, would it actually change anything materially or would your life turn out exactly the same anyway in the end?
Liz: That’s just such a great idea isn’t it! I would have to say can I change only two?
Jenny: Only two, that’s right.
Liz: I’m just one of those people- I wake up at 3am thinking about all the things I’ve done wrong, all the things I shouldn’t have said, you know all my big regrets. They crop up at 3am, and yes I don’t know which ones I’d pick, but I’d definitely take them up on that. Whether it would make much difference, well it’s all hypothetical isn’t it? It would make a huge difference, I’d be so happy! But yes, I would definitely take them up on it. Hopefully it would lead us to a better place, but I’m not sure.
Jenny: No, I’m not sure either. Perhaps you better read the book and find out what happens!
Liz: Yes- see what the pitfalls really are!
Jenny: It’s been wonderful talking, I’m in awe of your career. How many books have you actually published?
Liz: You know, I don’t actually know. I haven’t ever counted. I think I’m somewhere in the forties still. I also wrote some with my sister under a different name, so I probably need to count those too, but I think it’s around forty something.
Jenny: That’s wonderful, it’s a tremendous record. You just keep going, I love the sound of the real person whom you’re writing a fictional account of. It makes me think of a book I read last year called Love & Ruin. That was Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway and their marriage, but a fictional account. It was really quite a good read.
Liz: You know I think I’ve got that on my Kindle to read.
Jenny: I really recommend it, it’s quite interesting. It gives you a great insight into how much of a creative battle women had when they were paired up with big ego creative men, and how hard it is to create space for themselves. That marriage tells that story, really. In the end, she almost had to walk away from the marriage in order to work.
Liz: Wow, that sounds great.
Jenny: It’s lovely chatting, it really is. All the very best with the new projects, and we’ll follow you with interest.
Liz: Thank you so much for thinking of me and having me on, it’s been wonderful.
- If you enjoy Liz Freeland’s feisty new cop Louis Faulk you may also enjoy Jennifer Kincheloe’s irresistible Anna Blanc, one of Los Angeles’ first woman police officers.
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