Interview // A.J Rivers, Author of the Emma Griffin FBI Series
Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
Yes. I’ve been fascinated by true crime, particularly serial killers and complex murder mysteries, since I was really young. I read The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers at eight years old and was hooked ever since. Being familiar with both famous and lesser known but really interesting murders and conspiracies is a major inspiration for me. The details are always different, and I put my own spin and twists and turns into it, but I love to weave in homages to actual crimes and events. My books have included inspirations from well-known killers such as Dahmer and Bundy, but also more obscure crimes and those with no resolution, such as Elisa Lam.
How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
Writing is my dream, and I always remind myself of that. There are definitely stressful moments, but when I find myself having a hard time, I think about how fortunate I am to have achieved “what I wanted to be when I grew up”, and how many amazing opportunities it gives me. The most important thing is just loving what I do. I get to tell myself stories all day, and that’s pretty awesome. I maintain my enthusiasm by thinking of myself as my first reader. When I’m writing, it’s like I’m telling myself the story, and I want to know what’s coming next. Even though I have thorough outlines and plans, there’s always something to discover when the moment comes to type it, whether it’s a line of dialogue or a little twist reveal.
Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
I am an occasional audiobook listener. I love the actual act of reading, so I tend to lean toward reading the books myself, but audiobooks are great for road trips or when I’m cleaning the house. I like the performance value of it. I’m particularly fond of fun mysteries and comedies because I enjoy listening to the narrator give their spin to pacing and dialogue in those genres.
There’s also something really nice about the sections of an audiobook being paced so they are roughly the same length. It helps to create little digestible chunks so I can listen to a certain amount during an activity and use it to time myself.
If this title were being made into a TV series or movie, who would you cast to play the primary roles?
This is so much fun to think about. When I’m writing, I like to imagine how the scenes would play out if they were being done for TV or a movie, so this is something I’ve thought about before. I would cast Ronda Rousey as Emma. She has the intensity, strength, and fearlessness, but is also endearing, funny, and attractive. For Sam, I would choose Armie Hammer. He is tall and handsome, with a strength and steadiness about him that would make him a good sheriff, but also has a lovable boyish quality. I would choose Jensen Ackles as Dean for the dark, chiseled quality he has that makes him believable as someone who is scarred and hardened by his past, but also has the ability to be goofy and fun when he’s relaxed.
What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
I think that’s crazy! No one says it’s cheating if you watch TV when you could read the screenplay, or if you listen to music rather than play it yourself. It’s a different way of enjoying the same thing. The point of getting lost in a book is the story. Whether you’re curled up with a beaten up old paperback version or listening to a narrator while driving down the road or doing dishes, you’re still getting the story. I like to think of audiobooks as being a cousin to the great radio dramas of past generations. You can relax and let the performance give you a new perspective and appreciation of the story.
How did you celebrate after finishing this novel?
I am a major coffee lover, so I really enjoy celebrating wrapping up a book by getting out of my writing room and relaxing with a good cup of flavored coffee. I drink my coffee black all the time, and I’m usually drinking very dark, robust blends. My favorite is actually called Death Wish. So when it’s time to relax and “indulge” a little, it’s with a cup of still black, but flavored coffee. My current choice is S’mores, but we’re getting close to pumpkin season. Since the end of books is always the most intense when it comes to writing, I also love to let off steam when I’m done by bringing my dog Daisy out for a long walk and enjoying the fresh air.
In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of writing a stand-alone novel vs. writing a series?
There is definitely a time and place for both. A stand-alone novel is a great opportunity to tell one focused, explosive story that doesn’t have to rely on any previous world-building or leave room for other books. It’s a shooting star situation. One bright moment that is contained within itself. Stand-alone is also great for much longer works. A series is all about creating a world for readers to live in. They get to know the characters like friends and family, and go on these adventures with them. It’s a blast to be able to revisit the same places, get to know the people, businesses, and little quirks, and keep up with them as time passes. It makes you want to keep coming back, so you keep reading the books. A series lets you explore big story arcs and delve deeper into the characters. But it also requires organization and attention to detail. You have to be able to come up with layered people and realistic places that readers will care about, as well as complex stories that can unfold a little at a time.
What’s your favorite:
Food: I don’t have one set favorite, but I love Indian food. Chana masala is my go-to. I am always in the mood for raw vegetables or fruit salad.
Song: Thriller, by Michael Jackson.
Book: Dream Boy, by Jim Grimsley
Television show: Murder investigation shows, Matlock, Murder, She Wrote, Golden Girls, and in the spirit of full disclosure, my guilty pleasure shows include Catfish and anything having to do with Halloween through holiday cooking or baking
Movie: The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, Dirty Dancing, Ghostbusters, Nightmare Before Christmas
Band: Beatles. Michael Jackson is my favorite musician, I love girl groups from the 50s and 60s, disco, and 80s music
Sports team: Chicago Cubs
City: Richmond, Virginia
Murder investigation shows, Matlock, Murder, She Wrote, Golden Girls, and in the spirit of full disclosure, my guilty pleasure shows include Catfish and anything having to do with Halloween through holiday cooking or baking
Are any of those things referenced in appearance in your work?
All the time. Because I have some pretty obscure tastes in some ways, I sometimes find myself having my characters reference things or make jokes and cultural references I then wonder if the readers will even get, so I have to go back and replace them with something easier to recognize. Especially when it comes to music and movies. I’m not a huge movie person and the ones I particularly love are pretty old school, so when I whip out references to Luther Heggs, I have to remind myself that probably isn’t going to ring a ton of bells.
What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
I’ll repeat the same thing that’s been said over and over, but that is so true. Write. Write. Write. Write all the time. Don’t just rely on your computer. Bring a notebook and pen around with you and write things down. You never know when you’re going to hear a phrase that inspires you, or get an idea, or even just hear a name that you like. Write it down. I also highly recommend talking through dialogue out loud. It can feel awkward at first, but the natural, believable conversations and thoughts are key to really enjoyable books. They make the characters more relatable and the action smoother. The best way to make that happen is to carry on the conversation. If you have a voice-to-text program on your computer, put it on and just talk through the conversation like you are the characters. Don’t worry about the spelling, punctuation, or accuracy at this point. Just talk it through as naturally as you can and let it come out. You can then take what you said and write it out in your draft with proper tags and action.
I’d also tell aspiring authors to take their writing seriously. There can be a lot of pressure to only seeing writing as art and something that can only be done in the right mood or situation. There is definitely art to good writing and crafting a book, and it’s always easier when the mood and inspiration are right, but if you are going to consistently create strong, enjoyable books, you have to see it as work. You have to work hard, get the words out even when they aren’t flowing smoothly, and be willing to edit mercilessly. The best advice I ever got was from my college professor who told me to kill my darlings. You have to be willing to not see every word you write as precious, but also fight for your voice and your vision when it’s important.
A.J. Rivers loves all things mystery and thriller. Growing up in a sleepy small town, A.J. spent her days enthralled in crime solving novels and movies. She started creating stories at a young age to escape and create adventures for herself. As a child she dreamed of solving crimes and becoming a crime fighter. She dreamed of being as great as her favorite crime solving character Sherlock Holmes. While in college she realized that leading a crime fighting life might be more gruesome than she could stomach. She decided that the best course of action would be to fuse her love of writing with her love of thrilling mysteries together.
She finds inspiration from researching true crimes and is passionate about writing suspenseful novels with crazy twists. Twists that you’ll never see coming. The inspiration for her first novel came when she read a news article about a missing young woman in a small town that was never found. Her question on who, what, and why brought her to her journal to discovering the dark twisted story behind the disappearance and to seek justice for the victim through her writing.
Her thriller novels have elements of mystery, suspense, and romance.
When she’s not absorbed in a novel or working on her next thriller mystery, her favorite past time is spent with her husky. She finds great inspiration while going on hikes with her dog.
Social links above with synopsis.
Claire Duncan is a multi-award winning actress living in NYC. She has performed Off-Broadway, regionally, and in national tours, and appeared in the Drama Desk nominated revival of The Threepenny Opera. She has played the lead in a dozen films, and received a Best Actress Award for her work as Rosetta in the dark comedy Rosetta’s Blues, which debuted at Cannes. As a singer, she had the honor of performing at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and toured the country as a travel host with Visit The USA.
Claire’s broad career has shaped her into an exceptional and flexible voice artist. You can hear her on Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, in hundreds of national commercials, and in over thirty audiobooks.
“Claire Duncan was a dynamo” – New York Stage Review
“Simply side-splitting… a terrific comedic actress” – Show Business Weekly
Proud member of SAG-AFTRA and AEA.
View the tour schedule for The Girl in Cabin 13 by A.J. Rivers via Audiobookworm Promotions here.