E. Denise Billups: My Guest Author. Professional Dancer and Wall Street Financier Turned Suspense Thriller Author
Currently, she’s working on her third suspense novel: A Blog Affair – Coming Summer 2017
Let’s find out more about her and her writing:
Tell us a little about your early life and your ambitions.
Jane thanks for having me as a guest on your wonderful blog! Where should I start . . . I was born in a small town, Monroeville, Alabama, the home of several well-known Authors— Truman Capote (In Cold Blood), Mark Childress, (Crazy in Alabama), Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), and a few other artists. At the age of nine, I left Alabama to live with my aunt in New York City where I’ve lived most of my life. However, my roots are still deeply ingrained in the south where my two sisters and the majority of my relatives reside.
My aunt, an educator and actress, and a strong and independent woman became my second mother. I accredit her for the wonderful childhood and the freedom to find my artistic self through dance and music (classical guitar and piano) lessons. My aunt, an actress, surrounded me with her thespian friends and the theatre. But I was never drawn to acting. My passion was dance, specifically ballet.
Was/is dancing your first love and do you still dance?
Yes, dance was my first love. At nine-years-old, a photo of a beautiful ballet dancer was the impetus of my foray into the dance world. I was in awe of the grace and discipline of the art. With a deep interest, my aunt immediately enrolled me in dance classes. I begin ballet training with Fowler Ballet, and later, jazz and modern dance with Alvin Ailey Dance until college when I gave it up. I loved dance but was skeptical of a career with such a short life. Fear played a part in the decision to pursue another career. I’d seen dancers whose careers ended abruptly because of injuries and or lack of work. With no other career, they struggled to survive financially. I didn’t want that fate, so I pursued college. However, I’ve always had a dancer’s spirit. Over the years, I’ve channeled the discipline into a lifestyle of health and fitness (Yoga, Pilates, running, etc.). I’ve completed several marathons domestically and internationally and continue to train today. I’ve applied the discipline I learned from dance into every aspect of my life, especially writing. Completing a novel requires self-mastery, and I’ve harnessed the mental and physical control to see a story to completion.
When did the world of Finance become attractive and what motivated your financial career?
In college, I majored in Economics and Finance. It was a natural progression to the Financial Services Industry on Wall Street.
What was the trigger which caused you to give it up and turn to writing?
I discovered early on Wall Street wasn’t my passion. I hung in there because I needed to work and pay the bills. I really should have left the industry long ago. During the last recession and collapsing housing market, my company had massive layoffs. I vowed never to go back to the industry, and that was the impetus that led me to my second passion—writing. I wrote my first novel, By Chance in 2014, and haven’t stopped since.
Do you come from a family of writers and/or readers?
I originate from a family of educators. My aunt, who raised me, was a teacher and wrote children stories but she never published them. My uncle, also a teacher has published one book.
Do you recall the first book you read and who wrote it?
Wow, I’ve read so many! They all seem to meld into years of ceaseless reading. There was one particular author I loved as a child, E.B. White. I read most of his books, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, which I must have read a dozen times. I loved Wilbur, the pig, and his relationships with the little girl Fern and other barn animals. This book was one of the many factors to influence a lifestyle of vegetarian and veganism, which I’ve practiced since the age of thirteen.
Toni Morrison’s book, The Bluest Eyes, also made a profound impact at the age of fourteen. It made me aware of the importance of loving yourself and one’s own natural beauty, not a standard set forth by a racist society. Louisa May Alcott’s, Little Women was also a book I treasured. The four sister’s profound journey from childhood to adulthood was inspiring. I admired Jo’s pursuit of a literary career and found a bit of her character—overly independent, fiery and passionate about life in general—in my own personality.
Have you always written?
Since grade school, I’ve been an avid reader. Books became my second passion and a door to another world. My aunt filled her bookshelves with a variety of books I devoured them all during my teenage years. One summer, I actually read an entire collection of classics (Toni Morrison, D.H. Lawrence, F. Scots Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, J. D. Salinger, Charlotte Bronte, Edgar Allen Poe, and more.) These books inspired me to write. Since my teenage years, I’ve written countless short stories and poems which I’d never attempted to publish. Though I’ve always aspired to write, life would get in the way. I believe the path I’ve traveled has led me to the writer’s life, a little late, but I’m finally here with a world of experiences.
What inspired you to write Supernatural Suspense and Thrillers?
I love a book that keeps me in suspense from the beginning to the end, that edge of the seat feeling wondering where the story will end. I guess you could say I’m an adrenaline junkie and desire that rush from novels as well. I confess anything fantastical, magical, or supernatural catches my interest. Anne Rice, Toni Morrison, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe and others have made an impact on the genre I’ve chosen to write – Supernatural Thrillers. I’ve written straight suspense without the supernatural element—Chasing Victoria and the current book I’m writing, A Blog Affair— but I’m always tempted to throw a ghost or two in the mix. I confess I love horror flicks and a good fright.
Do you read Suspense and Thrillers?
Constantly! With technology and my subscription to Kindle and Scribe, I find myself reading all the time, searching for new writers, and revisiting favorite books.
What do you consider (in your opinion) to be the most important ingredients required to make a gripping read?
I believe every suspense or mystery should hook a reader’s attention from the very first sentence. Creating a sense of immediacy in that first paragraph is crucial. I believe the first paragraph should pose a compelling question inspiring the reader to continue reading. I thought I’d throw in a few examples of first sentences that capture the sense of immediacy well.
Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz
“Tuesday was a fine California day, full of sunshine and promise until Harry Lyon had to shoot someone at lunch.”
Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”
Someone Has Been Disarranging These Roses by Gabriel Garcia Marquez,
“Since it’s Sunday and it’s stopped raining, I think I’ll take a bouquet of roses to my grave.”
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
“Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”
Are you a writer who likes including a lot of description of places and people, or do you allow your reader to imagine most of this themselves?
I’m a little of both depending on the scene. If it’s a scene that is action-oriented, I try not to be overly descriptive to keep the plot moving without breaking the suspense.
Who are your favorite authors – why?
Ooh, that’s a tough question to answer. I’ve been influenced by so many it’s hard to choose. But as I’ve stated above I was influenced greatly by authors of supernatural thrillers and magical realism – Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Rice, H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Clive Barker, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel and many others.
Whose writing career do you most admire and why?
I admire all writers who have made a successful career out of writing. It’s one of the toughest industries with no guarantee of success.
Are there any books you have read more than once, if so, why?
Hmmm . . . Books I really enjoy I’ll occasionally refer back to, but I’ve never completed them a second time. The old classics that I read years ago, I find I’m in constant nostalgia when I happen upon them a second, third, or fourth time, and will revisit a few passages.
When do you write – daytime, later or at no specific time?
My creative juices flow early in the morning before sunrise. I’ve tried to write at night, but just end up editing instead of putting new words to paper. So it’s me and several cups of coffee before the sun peeks above the horizon. Dawn has always been my favorite time of day for writing and working out.
Do you have a routine for writing?
I start early, preferably before other daily distractions, and after I’ve worked out in the morning. I try to put in at least a good three hours sometimes longer.
Do you write by hand or on the computer?
I love the sound of keys clicking and prefer the computer. But when I don’t have access to my laptop, I’ll use a notepad or cell phone to capture my thoughts.
Are you a note maker – a plotter – or do you wing it and write whatever comes to you whilst gazing at the blank screen/page?
A little of each, but most of the time I find myself winging it. I’ve tried using outlines, but end up straying off course.
What is the hardest part of being a writer for you? Working alone or trying to do your own marketing?
That’s an easy answer, marketing. I’d rather be writing than trying to promote my books. But as an Indie author, marketing is crucial. I do believe my background on Wall Street, and my Masters in Business Administration (MBA) helps with the marketing.
Are any of your stories based on real events or real people?
No, they are all fictitious characters, crafted in my mind. However, the HGTV sweepstakes did inspire my story for By Chance. The story is set in a real world setting of the sweepstakes in South Carolina, with a mystical realm of three clairvoyant women and a supernatural presence from the eighteenth century. Again the real world and mystical play a big part in most of my stories.
Have you, or do you plan to set some of your stories in the world of dance or finance?
I did set one of my novels, Chasing Victoria, in the world of finance amidst a corrupt Hedge Fund operation involved in money laundering. But I’m always tempted to add a supernatural aspect when I’m writing suspense strictly.
Do you edit and rewrite as you go along or do you complete your work then go back and begin correcting and expanding your work?
I find myself editing and rewriting as I write the story. Some days when words are flowing, I’ll write then go back later to edit.
You are self-published, was this a conscious decision?
I’m one of those who scoffed at the idea of self-publishing in the beginning. Like most authors, we want our books published the traditional way. But after much research and seeing traditionally published authors turning away from publishing houses and doing their own thing, I decided to give it a shot, and it’s the best decision I’ve made. Of course, if I’m offered a contract by a publishing firm, I wouldn’t turn it down. But for now, I’m enjoying full control of the publishing process.
Why did you decide to go this route?
I have a business background and felt my experience and knowledge would be beneficial as an Indie author. Self-publishing is time-consuming, but it allows me to have complete control of my brand and product.
What do you find most challenging about being your own publisher?
Marketing, marketing, marketing . . . It is extremely time-consuming. And the research of finding the best venues, managing multiple platforms is daunting, to say the least.
Are you actively seeking an agent and a publisher?
Not really, but that may change in the future.
Would you say you write for financial gain (hopefully) or for creative satisfaction? What is your motivation?
I honestly write for creative satisfaction. When I wrote my first novel in 2014, it wasn’t about monetary gain but creative fulfillment. Now a few years later, I’d love to see my work sell and hopefully provide some monetary value.
If you were not successful (financially) would you give up, or write for your own enjoyment regardless?
Nah, I don’t give up easily. I still continue to write and hope for the best. But writing has always been for personal fulfillment. So, whether I’m successful or not, I’ll continue to write.
If you could no longer write, would you go back to finance or is there another challenge waiting to be met head on?
I would never go back to Wall Street or finance. This venture as an Indie writer has opened a few more doors and possibilities. And I’m always open to change.
You write short stories as well as novels; do you plan to have a story or book released every few months/once a year or how do you decide upon frequency?
I enjoy writing short stories. I have a few on my computer I’ve been working on the last couple of months. If I can publish one every two months, I’d be a happy camper. Novels require a lot more work, and I’m currently working on one now. The ideal would be to publish one novel every year and short stories every month.
How long does it take you to write a short story or book?
Short stories take about a month sometimes less. My first novel took seven months, my second about a year. My third novel, the one I’m currently working on has been a little over a year.
Would you say you are a prolific writer?
Not at all! I like to put a lot of thought into a topic before proceeding. I have many ideas, but words come a little harder.
Do you have lots of material waiting for completion or publication?
I have several short stories waiting for completion. After I finish this novel, I think I’m going to take some time and just write a book of short stories.
Do you enjoy feedback from your readers and do you spend time interacting with them?
I appreciate constructive criticism, honesty above all, not empty words spoken to make me feel good, but honest remarks that help me improve my craft. And of course, I love to hear readers enjoyed my work. I haven’t had enough interaction with readers but hope to do so in the future.
Would you say Social Media is an essential part of your marketing plan, and if so how?
It’s the most crucial part of my marketing at the moment. And of course, there’s word of mouth and my blog. But social media is a great venue for Indie authors to put themselves and their work in front of their audience and find their niche.
Which do you find the most beneficial and/or rewarding?
I’m really enjoying Twitter. I get to interact with other writers as well as readers looking for the next interesting book to read. But I find it’s easier to build a presence on Twitter than Facebook. I’m not sure why that is, but I believe every author has a social media of choice.
Please include the opening paragraph of your most recent book or work in progress so we can experience your writing.
The Playground: A Supernatural Short Story
An evil that exists for centuries resides by my side. Our souls remain between earth and a spiritual plane. Imprisoned inside decaying church walls, I watch my eternally youthful daughters, laughing and playing like living, breathing children on the playground. He watches too, but for different reasons, to reap his vengeance on people in town who dare trespass on cursed grounds. It was a year ago my two daughters, and I came to this place, looking to start a new life after death befell my husband. His life taken by the sea, one sunny day on an Atlantic beach, his body never recovered. He left us saddled with debt, and no real assets, our home and material things sold to sustain us. We traveled from coastal Florida, searching for a new start, stumbling on the town of Willows Grove.
Many thanks for being my guest author. I do hope you have enjoyed telling us about your work and I hope you will garner more followers and readers as a result of being here.
Jane, it’s been my pleasure. Thank you for the interview. I hope one day you will accept my offer and appear as a guest author on my blog.
You can follow her at:
YouTube: @E. Denise Billups