Rochelle Staab did what many writers only dream of: she sold the first book she wrote. Hollywood Hoodoo, a current Golden Heart® finalist, will be released by Berkley Prime Crime in November 2011.
Rochelle lives in Studio City, California, where she pens mystery and romance. Before retiring and taking up writing full-time, she enjoyed a long career in the music business. She started in radio programming in Milwaukee, moved to Manhattan, and then settled in Los Angeles. After several years in radio, she landed a job doing marketing for Warner Bros.—“the best music label in the world”—and had a satisfying career, working her way up to Vice-President of Advertising. She says, “I was at WB so long I think I could drive to the Burbank offices blindfolded if I had to!” She still consults with WB and loves working with the smart, creative people on the Warner/Reprise staff.
When Rochelle isn’t writing or doing consultant work, she enjoys watching sports, going to the movies, reading, and going on research trips for her stories. She’s at the gym six mornings a week and takes a yoga class on the Sundays when the NFL isn’t in season.
•I asked Rochelle to dish up some munchies of the virtual variety for you, something she really likes, and here’s what she’s offering . . .
Because we’re cyber, we can drop the ‘bad for you’ and head for a cyber diner. My vice is French fries –well done, crunchy fries. How about a basket full? Must be hot, lightly salted, accompanied by diet cola in a tall glass filled with ice. Lots of napkins, no ketchup – maybe some bleu cheese dressing on the side for fun. And since we’re going for it – let’s get onion rings, too.
So, help yourself to some of those crunchy fries . . . or onion rings . . . or both, sit back, and enjoy getting to know more about Rochelle, her interesting life, and her journey to publication.
Rochelle’s Journey Begins
•How did you make the leap from music to writing stories fulltime? Did the transition take time, or did you jump in with both feet?
First, I want to thank you for inviting me to your blog. Author stories inspired me when I had doubts about writing to publication. I hope my experience will motivate someone too.
The transition: A leap with both feet but I paced around the pool for years before I dove in. I toyed with plots, wrote a page now and then, and threatened/promised/vowed to write a novel until my friends rolled their eyes (“Oh, yeah. You’re writing a book. Sure.”) I think the notes for my first romance novel are still packed in a box in an ex-boyfriend’s garage somewhere. One of the characters in Hollywood Hoodoo was a brainchild five years before I set a word on paper.
When I decided to commit to my dream or quit yapping about it, I enrolled in a two-day writing course at UCLA. That weekend I felt like I came home. I joined the UCLA Writers Program and fell in love with the process of learning to write. Most of the classes were online and I spent almost two years on the first draft of Hollywood Hoodoo. Who knew there were so many rules? Outline? Synopsis? Get me a Thesaurus! A query? So much to learn but I dedicated myself to the process. My goal was to complete a novel.
In Novel 1 class I met Lynn Sheene, another aspiring author. We became friends and critique partners; the novels we began in that class sold for publication within a week of each other!
•Before you started your first story, you wrote tons of other stuff. What can you tell us about that? How have your experiences served you as a novelist?
I wrote radio promos, advertising, and business reports; ghostwrote letters and speeches for executives. Writing for other people toughened me to ‘toss my darlings’ as fast as an exec could say, “That’s not me.”
At 4am every Wednesday, when weekly music sales were posted for the record labels, my job was to analyze the market and e-mail a recap to WB execs before breakfast. I’m sorry, but 4am is way too early to analyze with intelligence AND write coherently. I studied the data with care then wrote the recap – good news and bad – like I was chatting trends over morning coffee. The e-mail distribution grew to hundreds and received wonderful comments. It gave me confidence in my voice.
•What was it like writing with a marketing focus? What were the benefits?
When I ran the Advertising Dept. we produced, wrote, and edited ads for a span of pop, rock, country, R&B, rap, and adult contemporary music artists. Targeting multiple music genres taught me to set aside personal taste or age bias and speak to the audience – a plus for writing varied fictional characters.
We had 15 or 30 seconds for a commercial and sometimes just ½ or ¼ page on a print ad to make an impression on millions of consumers. You learn real fast how to cut unnecessary words to get to the point – a benefit when a scene in a novel begins to drift.
Each piece of advertising had to be approved by the artist, manager, marketing director, executive committee, and sometimes the agent, tour manager or consultant. You think your critique group is tough? EVERYONE had an opinion. I learned then that an opinion is just an opinion. In novel writing it’s your voice on the line. If your instincts tell you to ignore a comment – ignore it.
Rochelle’s Five Life-changing Calls
•Call #1 – The Call At The Conference . . .
You and your FIRST book made quite a splash at a conference. Which one? What was it like to hear the emcee of the awards ceremony call your name? Did you run up on stage, sashay confidently down the aisle, or sit there in shellshock until someone gave you a shove to get you moving?
I submitted the first chapter of Hollywood Hoodoo for an advance read with an editor at the 2010 San Diego State University Writer’s Conference in January. My heart was in my throat when I met the editor. At the 2009 conference I did a round of agent meetings and stumbled through my pitch to lukewarm results. I hoped the advance read would preclude me blowing my pitch this time. I knew I had to put myself out there and it was the right move. The editor was enthusiastic about the chapter, gave me a thoughtful and encouraging critique, and I left the ten-minute meeting on a cloud.
The next morning at the awards breakfast, the agents and editors each gave their favorite read of the weekend a Conference Choice Award. Lynn Sheene and I were at a table at the back of the room. I’ll never forget when Hollywood Hoodoo was announced over the microphone as one of the winners. My mouth dropped open, I squeezed Lynn’s hand then walked to the stage, beaming. It was a very personal, gratifying moment. I wanted to hug everyone! I did.
•Call #2 – The Agent Call . . .
I’ve heard that The Agent Call is as exciting, if not more so, than The First Sale Call, primarily because an agented author has an idea that a deal is in the works. What led to Christine Witthohn’s call? Where were you when it came? How long and loudly did you squee?
Honestly? I still whoop every now and then just because the whole experience was so amazing. I e-mailed a cold query to Christine in January, based on an enthusiastic rave I read about her on an online loop. The night I returned home from the SDSU conference, award in hand, there was a request for a full from Christine, waiting in my inbox. Seriously – best weekend ever.
I e-mailed the file that night with an added note about my conference success. She replied before morning! (The woman is totally on top of her business, never sleeps.) Within days, she read my book and set up a phone call for that Friday.
Did I take the call from the luxury and quiet of my home? Uh-uh. I was on jury duty, assigned to a trial, and took my Agent Call in the cafeteria of the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building. Fitting for a mystery, right? Rain pounded on the windows, the restaurant was jammed, and my cell phone connection was patchy. I was so nervous. Christine was calm and wonderful. I celebrated on the drive home and for the rest of the weekend.
•Call #3 – The First Contest Call . . .
You ventured onto the contest circuit recently and met with success right away—with your FIRST book, no less. Please tell us about your first contest experience, what you were doing when you got The Contest Coordinator Call telling you that Hollywood Hoodoo was nominated in the 2010 Chicago North Fire & Ice, and how you reacted.
One of my favorite Thoreau quotes is: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams…” After the query dead zone around the holidays and before the San Diego conference, I wanted to create positive energy to stay motivated instead of going nuts, waiting for query replies. I entered four contests to stir up some momentum. My first contest response came the week after I signed with Christine. And I missed the call!
The Fire & Ice coordinator e-mailed me the news of my nomination. Missing the phone call didn’t dampen the thrill – I replied with multiple Thank You’s and more exclamation points than an author is allotted in a year. I clapped, did a jig, and then booked reservations. The Fire & Ice news was triple exciting because I grew up in Milwaukee, an hour north of Chicago, and promised myself I would attend the conference if nominated.
Hollywood Hoodoo took second place in its category and I was honored – the members of the Chicago North RWA chapter are savvy and bright. I met wonderful writers at the conference and had so much fun.
•Call #4 – The Golden Heart Call . . .
On March 25, you received The GH CALL from a Romance Writers of America® board member with the news that your story is a finalist in the Contemporary Series Romance: Adventure/Suspense category. That’s a call a romance writer will remember for years to come. Please tell us about yours. Is it just as thrilling as one might expect?
More so. On GH morning I made a quick stop at CVS Pharmacy on my way home from the gym. I was in the stationery aisle when my phone rang. My phone rarely rings. That was my first clue. Clue number two was the area code I didn’t recognize. I answered with the smile that lasted all day. The woman on the phone was so nice, so excited for me, and so very gracious. She congratulated me. Tears dropped down my cheeks. My heart was bursting with a wonderful sense of achievement and pride. I thanked her over and over then hung up, a mess of happy adrenalin.
A CVS employee stared as I paced the aisle to calm down. I explained I was just nominated for a Golden Heart award, a huge honor. He nodded. I told the woman at the prescription counter; she asked for my insurance card. I told the cashier; she gave me my receipt. But every motorist on my way home saw me pumping my fist and cheering with joy.
•Call #5 – The First Sale Call . . .
Where were you when The First Sale Call came and you learned that Michelle from Berkley Prime Crime wanted to buy your FIRST book? How wild was your happy dance, and who did you invite to join you?
April Fool’s Day! I was getting my hair cut in Beverly Hills, across the street from the building featured in the climax of Hollywood Hoodoo. I sat in the chair, head soaking wet, my hairdresser chatting away as she trimmed. My phone rang (the one that never rings); I checked the screen. “It’s my agent,” I said. “I have to answer this one.” Remember, Diane is clipping away – no jumping, no squirming – as Christine relates the incredible news. Actually, the restraint didn’t matter because I was in utter, joyful shock.
Diane went wild and did the happy dance for me. We told the man in the next chair, the receptionist, the owner – everyone in the salon! After I left them, I looked across the street at the building I described and revised so many times in my novel. The moment was surreal. I was filled with gratitude.
And then I shared the good news with my amazing and irreplaceable critique partners, Viva and Lynn.
Rochelle Rockets to Success
•In case you missed it, Rochelle sold her FIRST book in a three-book deal to a major publishing house. How many of you have dreamed of doing the same? Yeah. I see those hands waving. It seems too good to be true, but then we hear stories like Rochelle’s, and our dreams are fueled.
OK, Rochelle, on behalf of those of us who are doing our darnedest not to turn green, let us in on your secrets. What did you do that worked?
I didn’t think about the end result. I kept my focus on each stage of the process: took classes, listened, wrote and completed my novel. I worked with critique partners who were consistent and patient with their time, who sent harsh criticism when I needed it and praise when I earned it. I rewrote, then rewrote again. Found cold readers, considered their comments and revised again until I was satisfied with the result. Then I queried, entered contests and let go, knowing I put my best effort into each step.
•What would you have done differently?
I’m someone who believes everything happens at the time and in the manner it’s supposed to. The hurdles were opportunities to learn and I needed each of them. I appreciate every stumble. I’m grateful for each success. I want to keep learning, get better at the craft.
•What advice would you give those of us who are plugging along with the goal of publication, busy writing one manuscript after another, and filling agents’ inboxes with queries?
Keep writing. Write every day. Be confident. Stay positive. Follow your instincts. Entertain yourself first. Don’t ever give up on your dream!
Rochelle’s Research Process
•All writers have to perform research, not just those writing historicals. What does your research process look like?
I hound the Internet and keep stacks of bizarre out-of-print books as resources. But my favorite research is footwork. I’m fortunate to live in the city I write about. I photograph setting locations, go to town meetings and interview the police or firemen who linger in the lobby. I drove across town at 6am to interview a homicide detective in his office, the only time he could talk to me. Took a one-day course on How To Be A Private Detective. Took a real private detective to lunch.
Hollywood Hoodoo questions the occult. I visited psychics, occult bookshops, and toured the French Quarter in New Orleans with a voodoo priestess. Enrolled in tarot classes for accuracy.
What other job could possibly be this much fun, this interesting? People love to talk about themselves to writers!
Rochelle’s Debut Novel
•I know it’s probably too soon to get a look at your cover and to read your “official” blurb, but can you be persuaded to tell us about your story—in your own words?
How about the description in my query? “Hollywood Hoodoo is a witty murder mystery with a voodoo curse, set in contemporary Los Angeles. In Hollywood Hoodoo, mysterious tarot cards, a cursed voodoo spell book, and a best friend falsely accused team L.A. Clinical Psychologist Liz Cooper and Religious Philosophy Professor Nick Garfield in an unlikely partnership to hunt down the real killer of a voodoo initiate.”
Rochelle’s Journey Continues
•Your first novel is in your editor’s hands, and you’re hard at work on your second. May we have a sneak peek?
The second novel continues the occult theme with the same main characters. This time I’m researching Santeria, gangs, and MacArthur Park – one of the most dangerous and fascinating landmarks in Los Angeles.
•Do you plan hold a launch party? If so, what do you envision as a fitting way to welcome your book into the world?
If I could do anything I wished without a thought to cost, I’d throw a gala at an old Hollywood mansion (preferably haunted) and have a séance, fortunetellers and tarot readers. But really? Truth? I want to celebrate with friends at a local bookstore because the biggest thrill, the most fun, will be seeing Hollywood Hoodoo for sale on the shelves. Wherever the celebration is, you and your readers are invited!
Six Aspects of Writing That Bring Rochelle Joy
- Falling into the world of the story when it’s all I can think about
- Meeting and talking craft with other writers
- Building Character Profiles
- Writing banter
- The perfect twist
- Big, fat, wonderful word count days
Six Ways Rochelle Fuels Her Creativity
- Windows open for fresh air or a lit fireplace and incense (weather dictates which)
- Singing along to music, loud
- Collecting quotes for my quote journal
- Travel (I love airplanes. Clouds and landscapes inspire me.)
- Exploring tastes and scents
Rochelle’s Question for You
I like bold people. If you dared to be bold, what would you do?
Rochelle has generously offered to give away a Hollywood Hoodoo Rose Candle. The rose scent, with its mysterious undertones, was inspired by one of the characters in her novel.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Rochelle by midnight June 18 (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)
On June 19, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)
Congratulations to Abigail, winner of the Hollywood Hoodoo Rose Candle.
Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.
Learn More About Rochelle
Visit her website ~
www.rochellestaab.com – full site coming this summer
Friend Her on Facebook ~ Rochelle Staab
Follow her on Twitter ~ rochellestaab