Welcome! Please introduce yourself.
R. Ann Siracusa is my real name, but you’ll have to guess what the initial R stands for. I’m retired from a 37-year career as an architect and urban planner, which makes me older than dirt. I’ve been married to the same man for more than 45 years (an Italian policeman from Sicily whom I met on my first day in Rome). We live in San Diego, with no children or pets, but we do have a wild rabbit that lives under the workbench in the garage. We also have three grown children and eight grandchildren (ages 6 months to 23 years), all living in normal houses (not mine, thank goodness) and not under anyone’s workbench.
Quilting and riding quads in the desert are my hobbies. Writing novels and foreign travel are my passions, which I combine into novels that transport reader to foreign lands, immerse them in intrigue and suspense, and make them laugh. While I did a great deal of non-fiction, professional writing during my career, my debut novel (a mafia thriller set in Sicily after WWII) was published in 2008. Since then, six additional works have been published by Sapphire Blue Publishing, with two more contracted. I’ve been a member of Romance Writers of America since 1985, recently served two terms as Co-president of the San Diego RWA Chapter, and serve on national committees.
For more dull stuff, look at my resume on my website.
Tell us about your latest release.
My latest releases, both within the last five weeks, are books five and six of my Tour Director Extraordinaire series. These are humorous romantic suspense novels (and shorter works) featuring a young tour director, Harriet Ruby, whose biggest problem is that she doesn’t have any real problems…until she meets Will Talbot, a Europol spy with a dark and troubled past. Her life turns upside down, and things will never be the same. They team up in different exotic foreign lands in pursuit of great sex, smugglers, murderers, and terrorists, and a healing once-in-a-lifetime love.
In “Destruction of the Great Wall,” Will travels with Harriet on her tour to China as her husband, his cover for a mission to recover a list of double agents. Unexpectedly, Harriet’s parents show up as part of the tour group and, to protect Will’s cover, they must lie and tell them they are married. The drama heats up when an attempt is made on Harriet’s life, diverting Will from his mission. He stays with Harriet, her parents, and the characters in her tour group, on a cruise down the Yangtze River. His mission, more threats to Harriet’s life and her family gradually come together, and Will begins to regain bits and pieces of his missing past, with some surprising results.
“Halloween In The Catacombs,” a short “bridge” story with the same hero and heroine, takes the reader with Harriet and a slightly “paranormal” group of tourists on a tour of the Roman catacombs on Halloween, with some unexpected results.
Have you ever had an idea for a story which scared you after you began writing it?
No, nothing that “scared” me. However, there have been a few occasions when the subject matter turned out to be so intense, gut-wrenching, and emotional that it was hard to deal with. One is a murder mystery which revolves around the sexual abuse of children. I did write and finish that one, but it’s not published yet. There are a few others I’ve outlined but couldn’t write.
Have you incorporated actual events from your own life into your books?
Yes, to some extent. All authors tend to use some events and experiences from their own lives, particularly when they first start writing, but I haven’t fictionalized my life or anything like that. For example, when I graduated from U.C. Berkeley, I went to Rome to go to the University of Rome. My heroine, Harriet Ruby, also goes to Rome when she graduated from M.I.T. but to accept a job as a tour director while she decides what she really wants to do with her life.
I use incidents that have happened to me or to others, and particularly travel incidents, more for ideas but not necessarily in the same location or context. I tuck those things away in my gray matter and when the right places comes along, I use them.
The whole Tour Director Extraordinaire series came from an idea I’d had kicking around for over ten years. When I traveled to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco in the mid-nineties, our tour director told us the worst experience he’d ever had happened when he first started in the business. One of his tourists died in Morocco, and he had to smuggle the body back to Spain to avoid the tour group being detained. Great idea!
At the time I had no notion I would end up writing novels using my travel experiences, but I played around with that idea using various times and locations. Nothing clicked. Then, when I traveled to Eastern Europe in 2003, I discussed the idea with the tour director on that trip. He thought I ought to make it a WWII story about smuggling a dead body out of Berlin. Great idea! When I asked him what his worst tour director experience had been, he told me one of his tourists got his leg caught between two boats and losing his artificial leg in the river. Wham! That was it. I put the dead tourist in Morocco together with losing an artificial leg, and I was off and running with the first book in the series, “All For A Dead Man’s Leg.” You never know!
How much research do you do? Do you research first and then write, or do you write first, then research as needed?
Yes, I research, but how and when I do it changes according to how familiar I am with the subject matter and location. Since I write action/adventure, I always have to research things like the latest design in body armor, weapons, and poisons. And technological changes occur so fast these days that material I researched eighteen months ago may be out of date. I’m currently editing book four in the Tour Director Extraordinaire series to submit to my publisher, and I’ve had to re-research Tasers and stun guns. When I wrote the book, Tasers could only fire one shot at a range of about twenty-plus feet. Today, some Tasers fire three consecutive shots and have a range of thirty-five feet. That happens to make a difference in outcome of the book. Who knew?
Also, since my settings are in foreign countries, I usually have to look up some of the history and details, but I never write about countries and places I haven’t experienced personally. I’ve learned to keep good notes when I travel, but even then, not knowing what story will take place in that setting, I often don’t look at the right things. But I have to have experienced the sounds and colors and smells of a place – the feel and flavor of it – if I want the reader to feel as though he/she has been there. That kind of information can often be hard to find by researching on the Internet.
A few other points about research: First, in my opinion, unless the storyline is dependent on an historical event, features of a location, a technological device, etc. I don’t recommend doing to research in advance. With the Internet, it’s very easy to look up most of the details you need when you get to them so your descriptions are as accurate as possible. It’s also very easy for a reader to check up on you. But if the solution to your murder mystery is dependent on the murderer being able to get from A to B in a certain amount of time (or the entire story doesn’t work), you’d better be sure that’s possible from the get-go. If you are writing a novel about explorers in Africa, the hero better not be attacked and half eaten by an alligator (but if he’s exploring in China, you’re good to go).
Second, don’t be sloppy or lazy. Do your homework. If your book has a river running through city X (and it’s a real city), that needs to be a true fact. Don’t use technology before it was invented, etc. There will always be a reader out there who knows.
Third, anyone can put anything on the Internet and state it as a fact. Often those “facts” don’t match. Sometimes “facts” are one person’s opinion or experience and sometimes they’re pure B.S. Double check everything with reliable sources.
Fourth, even if your facts are 100% correct, if the reader questions them or doesn’t believe them, as a writer, you’re better off changing to something that is both accurate and credible.
Is there any message you want readers to take from reading your work?
In this series, I want the reader to have fun and, in the process, to learn something about other places in the world and other people. I want them to be transported to someplace interesting with exciting characters doing things they wouldn’t do in their own real lives. Nothing deep or profound. I have other novels with have different objectives, but these are fun, fast, and sexy. An escape from the real world.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m about fifty-fifty. I wrote my mafia thriller with only a loose outline and ended up with 300,000 words. Cutting over 600 pages was like killing my children. Some of my favorite scenes and best writing had to go. I cried for 6 months, and then it took another year and a half to revise.
After that, I wrote from a very tight outline until my experiment with writing humor in first person (All For A Dead Man’s Leg). That started out with a general idea and not a clue what was going to happen. It worked, but I was so lucky. Since then, I settled into using a one-page plotting outline (one sentence per scene about what has to happen) so I know where I’m going, what scenes I need to get there, and the plot points, but not specifically how I’ll accomplish it. And, of course, things change along the way (no matter whether you’re a plotter or pantser). I update the plot outline if modifications are important enough to impact other scenes, plot points, and overall direction.
Have you ever had a story take on a life of its own?
Absolutely. For me, that occurs most often when one of the main characters does, thinks, or says something I never expected and don’t understand. Maybe totally out of character. Or it might even be a minor character who suddenly takes on a significant role in the story. When that happens, often plot points (or the whole novel) go off in different direction than I’d planned. Initially, I’d change those things, but I’ve learned to leave them and see what happens. Most of the time there’s a good reason that either I’m not privy to (and the characters are) or my subconscious works it into something that makes sense. When those unexpected things don’t pay off, they have to come out, but more often than not, they make the story better. It’s very scary when your characters start acting on their own, but that’s what makes a novel come alive.
How long did it take for you to be published?
Forever. I’ve always liked to read and write stories, but I never considered writing as a profession. I decided in junior high (yes, that’s what middle school was called in the “olden days”) that I wanted to be an architect and went on to earn a degree in Architecture from UC Berkeley. I worked in Rome and got married there, then was caught up with family and profession (where I did a lot of non-fiction and professional writing).
I didn’t follow up on my interest in fiction writing until I was in my forties, when I read a novel that everyone was raving about and said, “Oh, man. Even I can write better than this.” So I sat myself down and wrote a novel. But it wasn’t until I retired in 2000 that I really got into fiction writing as a career and began sending my work out. I’m one of those authors who write the stories they have to tell, so my novels never quite fit the current market.
If you could go back and tell yourself anything when you first began your writing career, what would you say?
You mean, besides telling myself, “You’re nuts!”? Well, it would be very hard to limit my advice to one or two things, since I have a long list. And, truth be known, I probably wouldn’t have listened. I’m sure I heard these words of wisdom from others along the way.
First, I’d convince myself that my calling was to be a writer and not to put it off but start writing right away, which would include learning the craft, writing every day, and networking with other writers.
Second, my advice would be “Run away from home!” Advice which wouldn’t have been practical or possible but might have prepared me for the difficult task of juggling even more plates in the air than I already had. The important thing is to set aside the time to write and stick with it, in spite of your family and your job. Don’t allow interruptions, even if it’s only fifteen minutes a day.
Third, learn to write anywhere. Always have something with you and use whatever time is available to write.
Fourth, learn to “write by the rules” first. When you master them, then you can break the rules by making conscious choices. Bottom line: Most of us have to pay our dues.
Fifth, learn to take and use criticism, don’t get discouraged, and be persistent.
Sixth, prepare a career plan.
Laptop or pen and ink? What are your ‘must-haves’ when writing?
One of the pieces of advice I would give to a writer is to learn to write anywhere, always have something with you to work on, and write whenever you have the opportunity. That includes pen and ink.
At this point, I generally write on my computer in my office, but my laptop goes everywhere with me. I write or edit waiting in the doctor’s office, I proof-read walking on the tread mill, I write while waiting for my grandkids to get out of school, I write while sitting with my husband in front of the TV (wearing earplugs – I’m wearing them, not my husband). I jot down ideas on paper napkins in restaurants. I even wrote the Tour Director Christmas story bouncing along on the tour bus in India with my mini-laptop balanced on my knees, sweating bucketloads in hundred degree heat, and hoping to get something down before the battery ran out for the day.
Writers have lots of tools these days, including paper and pencil. Be comfortable using them all. You’ll find you have a lot more time than you thought you did if you are versatile and prepared for the opportunity.
Who are your favorite authors? Who would you say influenced you the most?
I’m an avid reader and very eclectic, but at any given time I’m usually reading in the same genre that I’m writing in. I particularly like mysteries, science fiction, and action/adventure, and books that make me laugh out loud.
Some of my more-or-less contemporary favorites include: P.D. James, Janet Evanovich, Katie MacAlister, Sue Grafton, Tony Hillerman, Ken Follet, Dick Francis, Issac Asimov, C.J.Cherryh, Andre Norton, Carl Hiaasen, Bob Mayer, Jennie Crusie, Ann McCaffrey, Helen MacInnes, Linda Howard, J.D.Robb, Daphne DuMaurier, S.L.Stebel, Thomas Harris, Rosamunde Pilcher, Karen Rose. I like the classics, too, and I’m always finding new authors that I love to read.
Out of all my favorites, I’d say Janet Evanovich, Katie MacAlister, and Dick Francis have influenced me most. I love their use of the first person, and I love the humor and laughing out loud. I wouldn’t have tried write humor or in first person if it hadn’t been for those authors.
What would your readers be surprised to learn about you?
Let’s see. I was a model for part of the time I studied architecture at UC Berkeley. I had to look up the word fidanzata in the English-Italian dictionary to find out I was “engaged.” I raced my first desert motorcycle race on a Suzuki 175 dirt bike when I was thirty-nine. I’m a Trekkie. For years I helped one of my sons raise Green Tree Pythons (and know how to give injections to snakes and everything.) The most unusual place I ever made love was on the steps of Palazzo della Civiltá Italiana in Rome. (Well, it was late at night and dark.)
Favorite Halloween memory?
I’ve always like dressing up on Halloween, but my favorite was the first time I took my children trick or treating in the US. (At that time, when we lived in Rome, Halloween was more of a religious holiday. In the last few years, it’s become popular and is a little like Carnival).
Favorite Scary Movie?
I don’t have a favorite. Scary movies give me nightmares, so I avoid them.
Frankenstein, Dracula, or Werewolf?
Thank you for being here today! Please tell us where we can find your books.
My Tour Director Extraordinaire books are available in e-book format from Sapphire Blue Publishing Sapphire Blue Publishing, and also on Amazon.com (Kindle books) and Barnes and Noble (e-books).
The mafia novel “Family Secrets: A Vengeance of Tears” is available in print from Amazon.com
(search author R.A.Siracusa)
DESTRUCTION OF THE GREAT WALL - BLURB /EXCERPT
By R. Ann Siracusa
Publisher: Sapphire Blue Publishing
I’m Harriet Ruby, Tour Director Extraordinaire. At last, one of my fondest wishes has come true! Will Talbot, my favorite Super Spy and the love of my life, wants to include me in his covert mission to recover a list of double agents for the US government.
Wow! Usually, I want to know everything, and he can’t tell me anything. Now, I’ll be part of the action. I am so-o going to love this!
Not that I have a big role. I only have to pretend we’re husband and wife when he accompanies me on my China tour. The tour group members are strangers we’ll never see again, and we can spend three intimate weeks together.
I mean, how hard can that be?
Surprise, surprise! My parents show up on the tour as replacements for some cancellations. Now, we have to lie and tell them we’re married to protect Will’s cover.
And then, other problems erupt when someone tries to kill me and terrorists kidnap me and my mother to lure Will into a trap. Not to mention the damage my assault rifle does to the Great Wall . . . .
Oh, man. It wasn’t my fault. Really!
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE
“Get down!” Will yelled over his shoulder. He fired off a six-shot burst as he dropped prone into the tall grass and out of sight. There was no other cover here — nowhere else to go.
Oo-kay, Harriet Ruby, this is no time to lose it your cool. I dove onto my stomach after him, but not before I took a heavy painful blow to the chest.
“Aii!” My body slammed into the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of me. The soft wet earth sent splatters of mud across my goggles.
With all the air whooshed out of my lungs, I couldn’t breath and lay there gasping for oxygen. I couldn’t think.
Three projectiles whizzed past my head in rapid succession.
Ohmigod! Time to get out of here. Vision impaired, I scrambled in the direction I thought Will had gone. My elbows and knees dug into the ground, dragging my body on my stomach through the wet grass, my automatic weapon clutched in both hands in front of me.
This was no fun at all. Where was he?
My heart pounded against my ribcage. Sharp pain stabbed through me with each breath. My aching hands knotted around my rifle. Black dots cavorted in front of my eyes and everything had fuzzy edges. I sucked in a big gulp of air ― along with it a small bug.
“Aah-ugh!” I tried to spit it out but already the critter fluttered its wings in my throat.
Coughing, I buried my face against my arm to muffle the sound. Before I could stop hacking, a hand grasped my ankle and pulled me into a pit behind a bunker.
“Eek!” I smashed down on top of a warm body. A nice hard, well-muscled body. One I recognized by feel and scent. “You did that on purpose.”
“Shh.” Will waited long enough for both of us to relish our position, then rolled me off onto my rear end.
I pulled away and sat up, then collapsed with my back against the dirt wall of the ditch. He studied me for a long moment ― although I couldn’t see his expression through the protective gear ― then pulled some sort of spy instrument out of his backpack and fiddled.
Damn these grim-faced, efficient, military types. At least today he didn’t have a razor-sharp crease in his camos. Shaking my head, I reached up to wipe the grime off my face with my sleeve. “Ow!”
Will crouched behind the bunker, peering into the tool, which now looked like a small periscope. He whipped around.
“You’ve been hit.” His tight voice conveyed alarm.
Jeez, did he need to lighten up, or what?
I threw down my automatic Spyder MR2, pulled off my facemask and helmet, and sent them rattling to the ground beside the weapon.
“Right. And it hurts like the devil.” I stared down at the damp red stain on the front of my shirt.
Halloween In The Catacombs – Blurb and Excerpt
By R. Ann Siracusa
Publisher: Sapphire Blue Publishing
Harriet Ruby: Tour Director Extraordinaire, had had some real winners when it came to tourists, but this group, wearing Halloween costumes on an all day tour of Rome, took the cake. Well, it was Halloween, but these folks were seriously different.
When nine of them decide to explore on their own and take off down a restricted tunnel of the Roman catacombs, Harriet has to find them…for their safety and her reputation…and ends up involved in something she never expected.
A blast of cold air sliced through me. "Yikes!" I screeched with surprise and almost dropped the flashlight. My body trembled, and I tightened my grip on my young charge.
"W-what w-was that?" he stammered.
For a moment my chattering teeth kept me from speaking. I had no clue. "An air vent, probably. They have to get fresh air down here somehow."
Still shuddering, I inched forward, dragging the boy with me. "We should be close to the steps to the next level, so be careful. What were these people thinking, taking off like this? You're absolutely sure you saw them go into this gallery?"
"Yes. I'm sure."
"Then…aiii!" My foot slipped on a loose rock. I stumbled to one knee, flapping my arms for balance, and ripped my hand from Calogerus's. The flashlight sailed out of my grip.
Smash! Ping! The light went out.
Swallowing the string of curses that rose in my gullet, I crawled to my hands and knees and felt around for the lost light. "That's just great. Are you all right?"
"I'm okay, but I think your flashlight is toast."
Right. Okay, Harriet, now what? "Well, we can't go any further without a light. We'll have to go back and let the security guards find them. All we have to do is follow the wall. We didn't make any turns so-"
"They went that way," the boy cried and tugged on my arm. "C'mon. Let's go."
"What? How do you know?" With one palm against the cold damp wall for balance, I scrambled to me feet.
"I told you, I can see in the dark." I sensed him move away from me and almost screamed.
In an instant, he returned to my side. "Here. Open you hand."
In a frightened daze, I complied, and he placed something soft in it. "What is it?" I fingered the object, like pulpy but thin vegetation.
"It's an apple blossom."
Whatever I might have said to that morphed into a startled gasp as an uncanny inhuman howl resonated through the enclosed space, coming from a distance in front of us.
"Let's go. We're running out of time." Calogerus grabbed my hand and pulled me unwillingly along behind him. "Hold onto me. I'll lead the way. Be careful on the stairs."
An apple blossom? The stairs?
Two brownie points for Calogerus.
What could I say? This was going to be a tough one to explain, even to Will. Okay, God. You and I need to talk. This is all about the sex without marriage, isn't it? You know we're working on that.
We clambered down the steps as fast as we could with a night scope-equipped ten-year-old leading the way and me as blind as a bat without sonar and shivering with trepidation.
On the last step, I smelled it. My stomach churned as though I was about to hurl. Formaldehyde? L'Amour's aftershave. Squeezing my lids tight, I swallowed hard and forced the sense of sickness back into my belly. When I opened my eyes, a faint glow shone from a room at the end of the long hall.
We both ran toward the light and the smell, and in seconds burst into another wide cavern with pictures and symbols painted on the walls.
I skidded to a stop, and wrapped my arms around my middle against the frigid damp air, which mitigated the surge of panic I'd experienced. Burning incense sticks filled the space with a dim, diffused luminosity and the exotic scent of sandalwood, reducing the intensity of the essence of L'Amour.
My missing tourists stood with their backs against the walls, watching the old woman Bria, on her hands and knees, drawing a large circle in the center of the rock floor.