Author Interview: Bernadette Steele, Author of THE POETRY OF MURDER

Determined, personable, and imaginative are the words used to describe, Bernadette Steele. Throughout her life, Bernadette has used her persistent nature and quiet strength to navigate the hills and valleys of life.

A native of Chicago, Illinois, Bernadette moved into the International House at the University of Chicago in 2004. The multicultural environment and gothic architecture of I-House and the U of C campus inspired her to write her first murder mystery novel, The Poetry of Murder (Oak Tree Press, January 2008).

Due to a difficult childhood, Bernadette did not finish the sixth grade and never attended high school. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1993 and her Master of Science degree in Technical Communication and Information Design from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 2003. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in Technical Communication at IIT and has an expected graduation date of 2010. She plans to pursue a career in academia.

For eight years, Bernadette worked as a technical writing and website designer for a major financial institution until she was laid off in December 2005. Prior to being laid off, Bernadette started writing The Poetry of Murder, and finished it in 2006.

As a resident of I-House, she served as a Representative-at-Large on the Residents’ Council from 2004 to 2006 and as the election coordinator in 2006.

She approaches her writing in a systematic manner that involves developing detailed outlines and character descriptions. Some of Bernadette’s favorite authors include Walter Mosley, James Baldwin, Agatha Christie, and Victor Hugo.

Bernadette has been an active member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority since 1999. She has served as her chapter’s webmaster from 2004 to 2007 and as a corresponding secretary from 2004 to 2005.

Bernadette enjoys a host of activities such as going to the movies, hiking and traveling. Her favorite film genres include film noir, science fiction, action/adventure and murder mysteries. For Bernadette, the seasons are divided up according to the various sporting events that she enjoys. Fall and Winter mean hoping that the Chicago Bears will get a decent quarterback and that the Chicago Bulls will get to the NBA championships again. Summer and Spring mean rooting for James Blake to win a championship tennis match and watching Tiger Woods have a winning season of golf.

The Poetry of Murder is the first in a continuing series of mysteries featuring the protagonist, Geneva Anderson.

Bernadette is a resident of Chicago and lives in the Hyde Park community.

You can visit her website at http://www.bernadettesteele.net/.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Bernadette! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’m a native of Chicago, Illinois and a trained technical writer and website designer. I am currently a PhD candidate at the Illinois Institute of Technology in the Technical Communication program.

I started writing when I was in college. I took a creative writing course, and I wrote some short stories for the class. After college, I did not do any writing. Instead, I spent fifteen years, reading books about writing and publishing, but I did not write. I collected story ideas, articles and pieces of information that inspired various story ideas.

In 2004, I thought that I wanted to go to law school. But, law school didn’t work out. So, I decided to do something that I have always wanted to do—write a novel. Therefore, in January 2005, I started writing my novel and committed myself to becoming a published author.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

The Poetry of Murder is about an aspiring African American poet named Geneva Anderson who inherits a fortune from her aunt and is later accused of her aunt’s murder. As a result, Geneva starts to investigate the murder of her aunt and must navigate her way through a web of revenge, deceit, and blackmail.

Because I’ve always been a fan of murder mysteries, I decided to have my first novel be a cozy murder mystery with an amateur sleuth. Because it is easier to establish a fan base around a series of books than a single novel, I also decided that this novel would be the first in a series of mysteries featuring the same amateur sleuth.

The task of solving a crime is a part of the job for a professional crime solver like a private detective, forensic expert, or insurance investigator, but for the cozy amateur sleuth who has a non-law enforcement job, solving a crime is a major disruption to their everyday lives. Thus, I think cozy mysteries are more intriguing because readers can see themselves in the same situation more easily.

I decided to have my cozy amateur sleuth, Geneva Anderson, be an aspiring poet because to my knowledge a poet has never been an amateur sleuth and is rarely portrayed as being a hero. Personally, I admire poets for their ability to turn words into verse that speaks to the soul and comforts the heart. Geneva’s profession also influenced the title of the novel, The Poetry of Murder.

What kind of research was involved in writing “The Poetry of Murder”?

I had to do secondary research about the history of Hyde Park, Rockefeller Chapel, information about fencing, the drugs used in the book to disable the victim, and psychoanalytic therapy.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

I was given the opportunity to review the drafts and to make suggestions, but I left the final decision to the designer and my publisher.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

I would not describe the ride as being bumpy but rather as being long. It took a year and a half for me to find a publisher. I submitted over eighty query letters to agents and publishers. My one acceptance came from Oak Tree Press, a small independent publisher in Illinois.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

It took 10 months. I think this is short compared to large publishers, but I’m not sure.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

No, I don’t have an agent, and I’ve never had an agent. However, I do feel that it is necessary to have an agent in order to get your foot in the door of the large publishing houses who only accept books from agents and not directly from authors.

Do you plan subsequent books?

Yes, The Poetry of Murder is the first in a series of mysteries featuring the protagonist, Geneva Anderson. I am also currently working on an historical romance about the first African Emperor of Rome, Septimius Severus.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

I am both. During the week, I write at night when I come home from work. And on the weekends, I write in the morning. I prefer the morning.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?
If I had unlimited resources, I would invest in advertisements on blogs with heavy traffic and a few high traffic websites, and I would pay someone to organize an internet radio and podcast tour for me. In addition, I would do a postcard mailing to people who have purchased mysteries in the past.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Self-promotion is crucial to the success of any book. Thus far, I have done the following to promote my book:

• Contacted my warm-market of friends, neighbors, schools, co-workers and etc.
• Created my website at http://www.bernadettesteele.net/
• Had a book trailer created and posted at least 20 video sharing websites
• Employed the services of Pump Up Your Book Promotion to conduct a virtual book tour
• Had a link to my website created on 140 different social bookmarking sites to increase my search engine rankings
• Conducted monthly mailings to libraries around the country

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

My words of wisdom would be to seek feedback from others. But try to pick people who don’t know you very well. And then pick and choose very carefully what advice you follow because when you try to please everyone, you please no one. In addition, be open to criticism but don’t let it destroy your dreams. I find that people who destroy the dreams of others, don’t have any of their own.

How do you see yourself in ten years?

Because I believe in thinking big, in ten years, I see myself as a bestseller author, the winner of at least one Pulitzer Prize, and the writer of at least one screenplay and one television show.

Thank you for coming, Bernadette! Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

My book is available at bookstores and online booksellers such as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Bernadette's virtual book tour is brought to you by Pump Up Your Book Promotion and choreographed by Cheryl Malandrinos. If you would like to comment on today's blog post, click here.
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