Friday, February 12, 2010

A Visit With Shirley Damsgaard-The Ophelia and Abby Mysteries, The Seventh Witch, and What's Next!

Special Contest Note! Contest Ends Monday, February 22nd! Shirley Damsgaard has been kind enough to arrange for no less than seven individuals to win SIGNED copies of THE SEVENTH WITCH, to go in conjunction with this interview and the new release! All you have to do to enter is put up a comment at the end of the interview, naming 2 books and 2 movies that you are looking forward to in the near future, along with an email address to contact you by ( and spell out dot com in your email addy so that spammers can't pick the address up). Seven winners will be selected at random, and the contest will end on Monday, February 22. You've got a great chance to win a great book by a great author, so put up a comment!

The Interview:

I first met Shirley Damsgaard last spring, during my trip to DemiCon, a sci-fi and fantasy convention in the wonderful city of Des Moines, Iowa. I was placed on a panel with Shirley and another wonderful author, Lettie Prell, and I have been in touch with them ever since. After getting to know Shirley, I have been really looking forward to the seventh installment in her Ophelia and Abby Mysteries, which is now out on Avon Press, an imprint of HarperCollins. THE SEVENTH WITCH was just released on January 26, 2010, and is already receiving outstanding reviews!

Graced with a sharp wit and an engaging personality, Shirley is one of those authors that you feel is a longtime friend from the first day that you meet her. She is a very gifted writer, and one that is not hesitant to share her experiences and advice with new writers, and those who are just setting out on the long literary and publishing road.

In this interview, I really wanted to see what Shirley had to say in regards to her new book, the series as a whole, and the dynamics of being a writer of a series available coast to coast, in every bookstore. There is a lot of insight and wisdom to be gained in her answers, elements that should be well-heeded by newly published and unpublished writers alike.

Her answers will give you a window into her rich personality, and I hope that you go out and give her Ophelia and Abby Mysteries series a try, from WITCH WAY TO MURDER all the way through THE SEVENTH WITCH. You will discover a great storyteller in the process, and one that you can definitely be proud of supporting and reading.

The horizon looks very bright for Shirley Damsgaard, and I will be one of many looking forward to her next adventures. As this interview is a celebration of her success with her Abby and Ophelia Mysteries as a whole, I have worked in all the book covers for you to enjoy as you read the interview!

-Stephen Zimmer for Seventh Star Press Blog Site, February 12, 2010

SZ: First of all, congratulations on the new book. Lucky seven! Tell us a little about the 7th book in your Ophelia and Abby Mysteries, The Seventh Witch, which was just released on January 26th.

SD: Thanks Stephen, and thanks for inviting me to your blog!!!

Hmm, THE SEVENTH WITCH?? Ophelia, Abby, and Tink journey to Abby's childhood home for the infamous Great-Aunt Mary's 100th birthday celebration. (Aunt Dot, one of the readers' favorite characters, also makes an appearance. And a pesky Nisse, a Danish house elf who takes a disliking toward Ophelia!)

Even though Ophelia isn't looking forward to meeting Great-Aunt Mary again...she's just as persnickety as O remembers...she is looking forward to a quiet family vacation. Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for the trip to turn sinister and it's obvious that Abby is the target. It's going to take all of Ophelia's talent and some help from an old "friend" to get them out of this one!

SZ: This question concerns the process of a series, and the readers that come into it at different stages. Describe a little about the dynamic of having readers that came aboard with the series early, versus readers of yours that have come aboard more recently. Do you notice different kinds of reactions or feedback from longtime readers as opposed to newer ones?

SD: One reaction I receive from new readers? They hate spoilers!! And to be honest, there are several references in each book about what's happened in Ophelia and Abby's past. It was a real problem for to show Ophelia's growth as a character without mentioning the circumstances that helped her achieve this growth. So anyone out there who hasn't tried the series, if you do hate spoilers, I recommend starting with WITCH WAY TO MURDER! *g*

And my long time readers? Their response to THE SEVENTH WITCH has been wonderful! I've received many lovely emails telling me that this is their favorite! And you understand this as an author, Stephen, one just never know how ones work is going to be received. Will they like this one as well as the last one? Was I too explicit in Chapter 2, Scene 1? Not explicit enough? Will they get the ending? These are the questions that I use to torture myself late at night!! Lol! As a result, when I do get positive feedback, it means the world to me!!!

SZ: As the series has developed, what kinds of things do you find yourself revisiting in regards to the earlier books? Do you ever find yourself wanting to change anything?

SD: Truthfully?? Once a manuscript is editor's changes are made; I've went over the copyeditor's remarks; and proofread it one last time, I'm done and I never go back. There's a reason for this...since 2004, when I signed the contract for the series, I've written six books and done the promoting for each while working a full time job. It's been important that I concentrate on the project at hand, without second guessing myself about the ones already published. But that's not to say that I haven't learned something with each book. I've had terrific editors and gained from each one of their edits. And with each book I try and put that new knowledge to use.

SZ: As a writer, in what areas do you believe that you've progressed, or developed further, during the evolution of the series?

SD: Well, put it this way—the edit on WITCH WAY TO MURDER took me two weeks, working eight hours a day, (I took vacation time from my day job) to complete. My last edit—one weekend! Now I'd say that's improvement!!! Lol! Seriously, as I said earlier, I've had wonderful editors who've really cared about this series and taken the time to give me excellent feedback.

What have I learned from this feedback? I've always loved writing dialogue and it's always come easy to me. (My oldest daughter claims it's because I'm "chatty" in real life!) But when it comes to showing my characters' reactions? Not so much!! That was the problem with WITCH WAY—I swear my editor must've worn her blue pencil to a nubbin writing "What's Ophelia doing?"; "Show me Abby's reaction."; etc. in the margins. It was so bad, I was even dreaming about it at night!! (No kidding—I dreamed I was in a room with Rick and Ophelia and had a pen and paper in hand, writing down their body language as the scene played out!! Talk about a nightmare!) It still doesn't come as easy for me as I would like, but hopefully I've improved!

SZ: Have you worked with the same editor for the entire series, or have you had to work with different ones over the course of it. If so, what adjustments did you have to make?

SD: I worked with the same editor, Sarah Durand, on the first six books. And she was wonderful—patient, responsive, always interested in giving me input as I worked on the manuscript. But during THE SEVENTH WITCH, she left Avon for another position! At first I was really worried—we had such a great working relationship—but my new editor, Emily Krump, made the difficult transition painless for me! Then Emily was off for a bit and I worked with Wendy Lee. So I wound up working with two editors on THE SEVENTH WITCH!! And it was fine!! Both of them had great ideas and they both put their stamp on the book.

You see, my attitude is really very simple—just try and do what my editor tells me!!! When you stop and think about it, they have one goal in mind, create a product satisfying to the reader, and that's my goal too. They're experts in their field, so who am I, sitting at my little computer in the middle of Iowa, to argue?? And you know...they've always been right. Every comment, suggestion, correction, has only made the series better.

SZ: Looking back, in hindsight, what are some of the things that you did not expect when you started out on the series with the release of Witch Way to Murder. (any unforeseen challenges or pitfalls that you had to hurdle or adjust to?)

SD: The biggest challenge was to try and not be redundant!! To come up with new ways Ophelia and Abby could use their talents; different ways to describe the same setting. (There are only so many adjectives one can use to portray the same kitchen, the same library, the same house in seven books! I tried to be consistent, but not boring!)

I also didn't anticipate how much time I'd spend in marketing and promotion. When a book is first released, I'll spend more time working on those projects than I do writing.

SZ: Who amongst your non-recurring characters over the course of the series do you view with a special fondness, now that you have the 7 books out?

SD: I really liked creating the character of Walks Quietly. I find the Native American culture fascinating, and a very wise man whom has now since passed, helped me create that character. As a result, Walks Quietly will always have a special place in my heart.

In THE SEVENTH WITCH, I had great fun with the character of Cousin Elsie! In fact, I had so much fun, by the end I wished I'd brought her into the action earlier.

SZ: Even though your series is with an outstanding publisher like Avon (an imprint of HarperCollins), you definitely don't rest on your laurels. For aspiring writers, small press writers, and the like, tell us why it is important to maintain a number of personal appearances, attend festivals and conventions, and the like, even when your books are on the shelves everywhere.

SD: I have one piece of advice in answer to that question—never, ever underestimate the importance of personal contact with your readers!!! A reader who has met you is more likely to chat up both you and your series than someone who has never had the opportunity to meet you. And word of mouth is the best endorsement you'll ever get! Plus it's fun!! I love getting out there and meeting people! Many of them have become good friends!

SZ: Is there any chance that we'll see another adventure in your Ophelia and Abby Mysteries series? Would you be up for it?

SD: Who knows what the future holds, Stephen?? If someone would've told me that the series would come this far, I'd never have believed it!! (Plus I would've been scared spitless at the idea of writing seven books! *g*) It's been a joy and a pleasure to create these characters and tell their stories, and I hope at some point to do so again. But that's really up to Avon and the readers. In the end, if the demand is there, Avon might want more, and if they do...I'm in!!!

SZ: What's coming up next for Shirley Damsgaard in 2010, and perhaps 2011?

SD: 2010 is going to hold many changes for me! This fall, I plan to retire from the Postal Service after thirty years to devote more time to writing. (A new series idea is screaming to get out!)

In the meantime, I have a manuscript due in August for a stand alone. I can't say much about it now—we want to give THE SEVENTH WITCH a proper launch—but I will say this, "new concept—new name!" I'll be talking more about it on my website and on Facebook in a couple of months. I just hope that all the readers who've been so supportive of Ophelia and Abby enjoy this one when it comes out in 2011!

I just finished a short story for an anthology that author Anne Frasier is putting together. We don't have a publication date, but again, I'll let everyone know the details once I receive them via my website. I'm also doing a short story for the next MAMMOTH BOOK OF PARANORMAL ROMANCE. No pub date on it either. It's been fun doing short stories again—I haven't written one since the series started, so it's nice to get back to my roots so to speak!

Then there are personal appearances coming up—in May, "The Festival of Mystery" in Oakmont, PA (always a good time!); "DemiCon" in Des Moines, IA, also in May (hope they put us on the same panel again, Stephen!!); author Lora Leigh's "RAW" in September (Jim Butcher and his wife, Shannon, are going to be there and I'm such a fan!! I love the Codex Alera series!!); I hope to make it to "Archon" in October this year; then last but not least "Murder and Mayhem in Muskego 6" in Muskego, WI November 13th.

SZ: Tell us a little about the Something Wicked Blog-site, where you have teamed up with some other really good authors (such as Angie Fox) Are your posts still on Thursdays?

SD: I'm really lucky to be with such a group of terrific authors, aren't I? Angie Fox, Casey Daniels, Jess Granger, and Lori Devoti! We have a lot of fun over at "Something Wicked", contests, special interviews, in addition to our own thoughts about writing and life in general. We've also a great bunch of posters who've been very loyal! And yes, I still post on Thursdays.

SZ: On that note, where can readers connect with you, in terms of websites, facebook pages, and all that kind of good stuff?

SD: My website,, which one of my goals this year is to do better at keeping it up to date!! (My webmaster can't post until I send her something to post!!) I have a Yahoo group and a Facebook page. I also have a MySpace page, but don't visit there very often. It seems there just aren't enough hours in the day to keep up with everything!!!

SZ: Thank you very much for joining us on the Seventh Star Press blog! Wishing you the best success with all your literary and other endeavors!

SD: Thanks you so much for inviting me, Stephen!! It's been a pleasure, and continued success to you with THE EXODUS GATE and CROWN OF VENGEANCE!!!