Interview: Nancy Raven Smith

Please welcome Nancy Raven Smith, author of Land Sharks.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
So many days are perfect, but if I had to choose a one, it would be a vacation day with my husband, daughters, and son-in-law. I’d like to think we’re on a beach on a warm day. We’d spend the day relaxing, enjoying the water and the sun, and use the day to share family news, plans, and Pina Coladas.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
Nothing that I’d call a signature, although my favorite perfume is Fleurs d’Orlane.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
I’d need a book to list them all. So many great authors and so many great books. Here’s a few that LandSharks-200x314I most enjoy and re-read frequently: Elizabeth Peters, Dick Francis, Dorothy Gilman, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, John D. MacDonald, Michael Crichton, Sarah Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Arthur Conan Doyle, James Herriott, Mary Stewart, Suzanne Collins, and Cornell Woolrich.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I do listen to music, and I listen to movies when writing. My original training as a writer was as a screenwriter. While I wrote screenplays, I would play DVDs of good movies in the same genre as my project. I’d turn the volume low so the dialogue wasn’t particularly discernable, but I could hear the rhythm of the movie. Since I wrote comedies and thrillers, that helped me keep a sense of the pacing.

Now that I’m writing novels, playing music while I write helps block distractions and focus my energy. I do have eclectic tastes. Currently, the albums on my player include “Mozart/Eine Kleine Nachtmusik Overtures The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute,” “John Denver’s Greatest Hits,” The Soundtrack for “Top Gun,” “The Very Best of Meatloaf,” “Big, Bad Voodoo Daddy,” “The Boston Pops Round-up,” and Billy Joel’s “An Innocent Man.” Other things frequently in the mix are Cajun/Zydeco music, Broadway scores, more Boston Pops, and Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Land Sharks would be semi-sweet chocolate with mixed nuts. The mixed nuts are for the characters in the story and semi-sweet chocolate is for my protagonist’s romantic life.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I seem to be fascinated by frauds. Most people who commit them are sociopaths or psychopaths, and I find fraud cases to be fertile ground for my story ideas. They’re also filled with opportunities for humor. For Land Sharks, I was originally drawn to the location of Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia which used to be known as the Plastic Triangle because much of the early credit card fraud originated there. Today, credit card fraud is everywhere. My protagonist has a job as a bank fraud investigator which places her up to her neck in frauds. That allowed for other frauds to find their way organically into the story.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
For me, theme is what I’m saying about the human condition in my stories. I know many people define it differently. And stories can have more than one theme. I think Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy has more huge, important themes than anything I’ve read in a long time.

For Land Sharks, the central question is “When is love real?”

For Horsing Around – How 26 Rescue Horses, 12 Cats, 10 Dogs, and a Cow, Plus 2 Suburban Teenagers Made Me a Better Human, written by my husband with support from our daughter, Lynn Raven and myself, it’s “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” (Neale Donald Walsch)

I once pitched several of my screenplays to a vice president from New Line Cinema. Her response floored me. She said that they all had the same theme of searching for identity. She said that the majority of writers have one major theme that resonates throughout their work. I had never thought about it before, but when I did, I saw that she was right.

Tell us about your main character.
Lexi has been accurately described by a reader as a “feisty gal with a good left hook.”

In her mid-thirties, Lexi Winslow is an attractive, capable woman with good street smart sense. She’s excellent at her job as a bank fraud investigator. The beginning of Land Sharks finds her after she’s been arrested for a crime she didn’t commit and then released for lack of evidence. Even though she wasn’t charged, her reputation is in ruins, and she was fired. She’s managed to land a job in her field, which may well be her last if she isn’t careful. That situation puts her at the whims of her new boss. She feels the loss of control over her life and resents it. ‘In control’ is definitely her preferred state of being. Even her romantic life is a mess as she’s drawn to a man who’s toxic for her.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Maybe the tone, fun, and craziness of Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss and hopefully the earnest heart of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
It would have to be a banquet instead of a dinner party. I couldn’t possibly narrow it to just six. Here’s my shortest possible guest list–Elizabeth Peters, Dick Francis and his wife, Dorothy Gilman, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, John D. MacDonald, Sarah Paretsky, James Herriott, and Suzanne Collins.

What’s next for you?
I mentioned our family memoir, Horsing Around, earlier. It’s finished and we’re preparing it for publication this summer (2016). I’m also currently plotting the sequel for Land Sharks.

Thank you for letting me share with your readers.


Nancy Raven Smith grew up in Virginia where she rode horses competitively and ran horse sport events. On her farm, she rescued horses, dogs and cats and is an advocate for animal rescue. Later in California, she traded her event experience for film work. Her screenplays have won numerous major awards. Raven Smith decided to write one idea as a novel and discovered a passion for writing mysteries. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Women in Film, and Romance Writers of America.




22 thoughts on “Interview: Nancy Raven Smith”

  1. Nancy, I find it fascinating that you had movies playing while you wrote screenplays. I often have background music, but if a movie is on I think I’d get distracted. You said you turned the volume down just loud enough to get the rhythm of the movie. How does that work? And you have a very eclectic playlist!


  2. Welcome Nancy Raven Smith to Mysteristas! Sometimes I run the TV in the background while I’m writing and I’ll hear a line from a new story which just fits beautifully and creepily into my dialogue. Looking forward to reading Land Sharks!


  3. Mary voiced my question, too. I can’t imagine the distraction of a movie playing while writing, but it’s very interesting about sensing the rhythm. Looking forward to checking out your books!


  4. Great playlist!

    The fraud department of a bank called me a couple of days ago to ask if I’d made some charges. I hadn’t. This was the second credit card that had to be cancelled and reissued. And I’ve had one checking account become compromised.

    Glad you were here and I’ll be checking out your book!


  5. Hi, I usually use a movie I know pretty well when I use it in the background. The ones where you can cite the best dialogue. That way they’re not a distraction because they’re familiar. I don’t wonder what happens next. Lot’s of movies use the space between the dialogue to great effect, tense scenes are followed by quiet ones. Different genres have a different rhythm. It doesn’t work on novels for me because they’re so much longer and deeper. Screenplays run about 120 pages. So for novels, I just play music.


  6. Thanks for the nice information. I am a reader rather than a writer, and, thank, to your interview, I plan to read “Land Sharks” next.

    Unless I have “met” the author, most of the time when I pick out books to read, I just gaze over the many titles and covers of books on the shelf. Did you pick out the title of your book ? The cover? What do your title and/or your cover say about your book?


  7. One thing I didn’t mention on playing movies while writing screenplays, movies have music backgrounds. Not the soundtracks that are full songs, etc., but the actual score of the movie. That’s a big part of the rhythm I’m listening for.


  8. Cynthia, I was blown away by how astute the VP from New Line was. And she picked that out from my pitches, not from reading the screenplays. I think sometimes a theme isn’t discovered until you recognise it when you’re editing it. Then you can enhance it. I think Suzanne Collins “Hunger Games” trilogy must have been started with her major themes somewhat consciously. Gary Ross, the director for the first “Hunger Games” film is a master of themes, so he definitely got what Suzanne Collins was saying. He’s also an excellent screenplay writer. I think as people, as well as writers, we often don’t realize we have our own personal themes.


  9. Welcome, Nancy, and wonderful interview! You have very eclectic taste in music, and I love what you said about writers having a central theme, although I wonder if that central theme changes over time?? Land Shark sounds fabulous–can’t wait to check it out!


    1. Hi Kate – I am definitely eclectic about music. On personal theme, I think that in a hidden place, deep in our DNA, that there may be one main theme that stays, but rises to the surface in different degrees and intensity. But I’m no psychologist. I’m not sure we can always tell what our theme is. I didn’t recognize mine until it was pointed out to me.


  10. 3 no 7 – I’m a big reader too. The title came from the fact that there are many people who prey on other people. I dubbed those people Land Sharks and they will be featured in each book of the series. The cover is of the famous shadow puppets of Indonesia. It’s to show that the male puppet’s shadow with the knife shows his true intentions. Kind of a beware. You may only see one side of someone. The side they want you to see. Sprinkled throughout, I also hope to alert the readers to some scams they may not be aware of and ways to protect themselves as well as tell a fun story.


    1. Thanks for the reply. It is a big help to readers when the title and cover reflect the book. I like to anticipate reading from the “clues” I find on the cover and don’t want to be surprised by finding a different story inside.


      1. 3 no 7 – I totally agree with you about the cover reflecting the story. Since my story begins in Beverly Hills, I was quite concerned that someone reading the first few pages in the book store would get home and be surprised when the story goes to Sumatra. I actually tweaked the tiltle to also reflect that. I also don’t like that kind of surprise.


  11. Land Sharks sounds right up my alley. I’ve spend all day with a sick kiddo and it sounds like the perfect diversion, almost as good as your pina colada beach vacation. Looking it up on my nook asap. 🙂


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