Ep: 108 Lambda Literary Award and Goldie Award winner Elizabeth Sims talks with Brad about balancing being both a writer and an editor, how her writing voice reflects her personality, working on a sheep ranch, and the experiences that shaped her outlook on life.
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Elizabeth Sims learned the art of fiction by listening to tall tales on her father’s knee, and by reading all sorts of books brought home by her mother, a teacher. Today Elizabeth is the author of the Rita Farmer Mysteries, the Lambda and GCLS Goldie Award-winning Lillian Byrd Crime Series, and other fiction, including the standalone novel Crimes in a Second Language, which won the Florida Book Awards silver medal. Booklist calls her work “Crime fiction as smart as it is compelling,” and Crimespree magazine praises her “strong voice and wonderful characters.”
Elizabeth is an internationally recognized authority on writing. She’s written dozens of feature articles on the craft of writing for Writer’s Digest magazine, where she’s a contributing editor. Her instructional title, You’ve Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams (Writer’s Digest Books) has been specially recognized by National Novel Writing Month and hundreds of other web sites and bloggers. As an adjunct professor she has taught creative writing at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, and is a popular speaker at conferences and workshops around the United States.
She’s worked as a reporter, photographer, technical writer, bookseller, street busker, ranch hand, corporate executive, certified lifeguard, and symphonic percussionist.
Brad's Website: bradshreve.com
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Brad Shreve 00:00
Did you know Over the course of 12 seasons of Murder She Wrote, Jessica Fletcher solved nearly 300 murders, and 28 of those victims were close friends of hers. That's one woman I wouldn't want to hang around with. Despite the absurdity of amateur sleuths, they're damn fun and one of my favorite types of mysteries. My guest, Elizabeth Sims, writes a great series with Lillian Byrd, who happens to be one of those poor souls who can't seem to go about life without stumbling on bodies on a regular basis. listen in on the fun as we talk about that and much more.
It's time to pit on your sleuthing cap seal nailbiting dread and face heart racing fear. This is Queer Writers of Crime, where you'll get book recommendations and hear interviews with LGBTQ authors of mystery, suspense and thriller novels. Here's your host, Brad Shreve.
Brad Shreve 00:59
Hi, this is Brad and welcome to Queer Writers of Crime. You know, in my introduction, Elizabeth, I referred to Lillian Byrd as an amateur sleuth, but she's actually a reporter. So that's not entirely true. Is it?
Elizabeth Sims 01:12
Oh, you know, she's, you know, I, well, she's certainly amateurish. She makes a lot of bad decisions and gets into various bits of trouble here and there. She's fairly good at getting out of that trouble, though. And so yeah, she's nominally a reporter. She's a an investigative journalist, as she would call herself as self styled, I guess. She had a steady paycheck for a while until things went wrong in the first book held Holy Hell, where the boss's son at the newspaper she worked for took too many liberties with her and so she wound up stabbing him with a with an exacto knife and his rear end, I got fired for that. So so her paycheck disappeared, but then she just tries to kind of strings together jobs for the local. I guess it's a slick independent called Motor City Journal, which is a fictitious organization, but the boss there throws her different bones. And if she can come up with some interesting stories, then she gets paid for that. So she's really just kind of stringing that along.
Brad Shreve 02:14
I have never stuck my boss with an Exacto knife in the ass, but I would say that's probably the end of the job.
Elizabeth Sims 02:21
Yeah, it was the boss's son, which is like even perhaps worse than the bus. But you know, so yeah, that really didn't work out very well for her even though she was very well justified in doing that. So it goes.
Brad Shreve 02:34
The guests I'm chatting with right now is Elizabeth Sims. She is a Lambda Literary Award winner and a Goldie award winner. She is most known for her Lillian Byrd and her Rita Farmer Mystery Series, any reader of Writer's Digest should recognize her name as well. Her most recent novel is Tight Race, which is book six in her Lillian Byrd series. So now a formal welcome to the show.
Elizabeth Sims 03:00
Thanks, Fred. I'm honored to be with you today.
Brad Shreve 03:04
Well, I won't tell you certain times we have our book recommendations. We never do book reviews here. But we do book recommendations. But in my interviews, I tried to do the verbal equivalent of a poker face, because I allow my guests to introduce themselves, because whether a book is good or bad can be so subjective. But however, I am a weak man. I have to tell you, sometimes I can hold back, I adored Tight Race, and I am in love with Lillian Byrd.
Elizabeth Sims 03:36
That's wonderful. Thank you.
Brad Shreve 03:38
And I also want to thank you, one of my big pet peeves, and I'm sure listeners are tired of hearing it is series novels, that you have to read them all to understand what's going on. And this book is clear a standalone. And in fact, I knew his book number six, but I actually checked a couple of times to make sure I was right. Because it was any book you could pull off the shelf and start reading. So good job, and thank you for doing that. Sure.
Elizabeth Sims 04:07
Yeah, all of them are pretty all of them can stand alone. I really wanted to make it that there wasn't, you know, that you didn't have to read from the beginning to enjoy one or the other. Yes, yeah. Thanks. So that's, uh, that was definitely a deliberate thing.
Brad Shreve 04:21
And also where you succeeded is. I understood Lillian, I knew where she was coming from, but I didn't get a long boring backstory. So good job on that
Elizabeth Sims 04:34
as well. Thanks.
Brad Shreve 04:38
Now on Elizabeth's behalf, I'm sure she won't complain if you go by book number one Holy Hell, but you will not be disappointed if you go straight to Tight Race. And I'll say just go ahead and buy one through six. She'll be thrilled with that.
Elizabeth Sims 04:51
Super. Yes. Thank you in advance. You folks out in radioland.
Brad Shreve 04:57
We met in kind of an unusual way. Elizabeth, I was looking for a new editor. And another author said, I know somebody, that's great. You need to go check out Elizabeth Sims. I went and checked out your website to see about your editing services. And I saw the drop down box where it said books. And like, oh my god, it's that Elizabeth Sims. She's got to be on this show. Oh,
Elizabeth Sims 05:26
oh, nice. That's very nice. Yeah, yeah, this reminds me of some irrelevant. I'm sorry. I don't need to interject with a with a little story about my Rita series. But anyway, go on. Sorry. No, go ahead and energy it has to do with the "the", you know, are you the friend of mine? Happens to be I'm afraid she's passed on by now. But we were good friends. And she was a doctor. And she helped me in a number of my books. Mostly the Rita Farmer books that I wrote in the late aughts and into the 10s. She helped me with some medical details. And she also was a musician as well as I was how we met. And at one point, she she was playing in a smaller ensemble. And after the concert got done, a woman came up to her and said you Dr. Baker? This is yes, you are you. Margaret Baker, MD. Yes, I am. She's Are you the market Baker, MD? And she said, Well, I am Magaret Baker MD, but I there might be more of more doctors by my name in the US or somewhere I don't know. And the woman said what are you though the Margaret Baker MD that Elizabeth Sims thanked in her book The Extra? The Rita Farmer book, are you are you that doctor? And she said, Yes, I am. She said, wow. It's like totally irrelevant to anything. The you know, how much individual perception shapes our experience of others, you know,
Brad Shreve 07:03
it's totally relevant. I, I am so surprised that somebody would remind Remember, a person mentioned in your acknowldegements.
Elizabeth Sims 07:14
show, it's like insane, you know, this woman must have like, really gotten into it. And into the book. Yes. Yeah,
Brad Shreve 07:21
I actually read acknowledgments. But I would say probably within five minutes, I've forgotten something right, unless it's somebody I really know. Well, but I will say as far as you being an editor, if you become my editor, Dharma Kelleher recently wrote a book called Breakthrough. And it's about overcoming imposter syndrome. I wrote the foreword to it, I was very honored, and I highly recommend it to any writer. But despite having read her book and written the foreword, after reading Tight Race, I'm absolutely terrified of you look at a manuscript of mine.
Elizabeth Sims 07:58
Oh, my goodness, well, you'll, you just have to get over that Brad. You know, I mean, I happen to have a talent for editing. And so I'm I like to help people doing it, although I'm probably not going to be doing it for very much longer. I'm going to try to celebrate my 65th birthday, coming up this year, by stopping doing editing and concentrating much more fully on my own work. So anyway, that's just a little aside, I really shouldn't have even said how old I am. I'm supposed to say my mother always lied about her age. And then she lied about her children's ages. And so I tried to because once you get too old, you know, you have to start lying about your kids ages. You can't say you've got a 50 year old kid if you're trying to act, you know, pass off as 65. But that's that's the case it so yeah, oh, yeah, I was talking about editing and how I do have somewhat of a talent for as it turns out, and like I say, I do like to help people with it. And what the folks I like to help the most are writers who already have some level of talent, and I can kind of help them get to a level that they that they're aspiring to, but might be a little bit stuck on how to get there.
Brad Shreve 09:01
Well, first, I want to tell you to give your age that you're 65.
Elizabeth Sims 09:04
64, I'll be 65.
Brad Shreve 09:07
Oh Okay, 64 Yes, in 2022 It's not a big deal anymore. I guess. You know, it wasn't that long ago, when 65 would have met you're wearing a frumpy house dress and wearing your slippers. And yeah, people just looked old. Yeah, and I can tell you folks, I'm looking at her now. She's vibrant.
Elizabeth Sims 09:30
You're very kind and and I'm very lucky to not look my age. That's true, too. I try to stay active and this is actually my natural hair color folks out there can't see this but I have a few gray streaks my parents both looked younger than their years as they got as they got older. And so so I'm I'm lucky in that in that way. But yeah, you're right that these days. It's so funny I think about I think about my parents and how and their their behavior and their aspect as they aged and you Even though both of them were, you know, in good shape, and my father died a little too young, not of natural causes, which is another whole story, but yet, you could look at him and think, Yeah, sort of old person. And but, you know, I look at myself and some of my friends, and we're much more, you know, active and youthful seeming, I guess, it might have to do with might have to do with fashion, I guess. But it also I think, does have to do with a bit of a mindset of, the more the more modern mindset, you know, there's more things available to a person is as one ages, there's no stigma about going and getting a college degree and starting at age 55, or higher, or something like that. So and of course, we know more medically and physiologically about how great it is to be active and stay active. As one gets older, instead of just sort of sit there and you know, pet the cat and bake cookies for the grandkids, let's say Not that there's anything wrong with either of those two things.
Brad Shreve 10:58
I am the exact same age right now as my mom was when she died. And she was never gonna say an old lady, but she did look like an older housewife, which she was. So yeah, it's really changed. I think much for the better.
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Brad Shreve 11:36
Now going back to you as an editor, being an author and an editor, what are the pluses and the minuses doing dual roles?
Elizabeth Sims 11:45
I kind of got into it by accident, really? Because so I started out, you know, being an author. And then I started realizing that I had some ideas that I thought could help other writers. And I used to subscribe to this magazine called Writer's Digest magazine. And I found helpful things in there. And I thought, well, you know, I've got a few books under my belt now. And I, which would be the first few in the in the Lilian series that we've been we talked about earlier, I thought, well, you know, let me just write this up, or, you know, kind of let me inquire with this magazine, see if they think my ideas are worth, you know, me writing an article about and they say, this is kind of interesting. As far as doing freelance work. I sent an inquiry, this was already in the days of email, thank goodness. And I said, I have this idea about an article I'd like to write for you guys. Here's who I am. And by the way, I also have done at the bottom of the email, I said, No, you could also if you don't like that one, I have these other ideas very quickly, just little, little bits. And so they got back to me, they said that the editor at the time, said, Well, your first idea that your main one sucks, but I like the second one, your little list at the bottom? Do you think you could write me 1200 words on that? And I go, Yes, I can. So that started way back in 2006, me writing for that magazine. And one thing led to another, I kept writing more and more for them. And they liked what I wrote and put together and then I became a contributing editor, which is basically kind of a title more than anything, but you agree to write only for that magazine on writing. And then they agree to give you first consideration for pieces. And I also get a little bit more money per word than non contributing editors. That's kind of how that works. And then readers of that magazine got in touch with me occasionally to say, hey, you know, do I like your work in the magazine? Do you think it could help me with my novel coming along? And I said, Well, yeah, I guess I could, and kind of put together a fee structure. And so then I formalize it a bit more on my website, and have been doing that kind of work as a sideline ever since. Because, I mean, you know, if you're, unless you're one of the fortunate few who's quite successful, whose books do very well financially, we kind of got a cast around for other work to do. So. This has been helpful to me. And then I kind of have a bit of a gig with a publisher, a small one of queer publishers, and they'll send me where they're the authors that they consider their top authors, and they want to really make their books shine. And so they I'm flattered that they feel I can help with that. And I do.
Brad Shreve 14:20
I'm probably like a lot of people, I would guess, here, I was a subscriber to Writer's Digest decades ago, and read it and thought it was wonderful. Now that I'm an author, I don't read it and you have reminded me I need to subscribe to because it really is a great magazine.
Elizabeth Sims 14:37
Oh, yeah, they do have and I think they're getting better and better over time. They've adjusted with the times and they also are attracting more and more different writers. So that's nice. And I realized they didn't exactly answer your question about the, you know, kind of the pros and cons of being a writer and an editor too. So I mean, if I could kind of go back to that for a moment. Sure. You know, the pros are of course, I you know, helps my income, because I just as much as I'd like to do it for free, I just can't. And it's quite time consuming, editing is really quite time consuming if you want to do a good job, it takes time. I always like to in all aspects of life under promise and over deliver, you know, as opposed to the opposite, which is kind of the con artist way to go. So the you know, so the pro Another pro is that I get to see other people's work and I get to see what people are doing and which sometimes is disheartening, if the person I seriously I mean, you know, it's really tough, if I've got a client, you know, they want to make it the best they can they feel I can help them and I know I can help them make it better than it is. But whether it can be in any sense of the word publishable. In some cases, it's just pretty sad. But I still try to help them because well, they might put it out themselves, and at least it's going to be better than it was in the first place. So that is a bit of a, you know, a bit of a downside. It's an upside to know that I've helped someone and it's really an upside to hear back from an award winning novelist, a NYT best selling novelist saying, the notes you gave me on my book are the best I've ever gotten in my whole career. That and I've heard that more than once. And that is very, I mean, you know, so we're hearing him bragging about myself, but that's very rewarding. And on the other hand, yes, it's time consuming. And sometimes it can be a bit of a downer, because I'm like, Man, I'm spending hours and hours and hours of my life on this manuscript, that is never going to be anything much. Because even though I'm going to give this person a whole bouquet of actionable items that can help make the book better, is their talent is at a level that they're, they're not going to be able to execute much that I'm that I'm going to try to advocate for them to do. So that you know, so yeah. You know, isn't isn't any kind of creative endeavor when you are teaching. I mean, and I've been an adjunct professor at a college in Florida did that for a while, in the creative writing department. And, you know, I mean, you've got some students who are going to shine and some who are just not going to be brought along no matter what you do. And that's just life, you know?
Brad Shreve 17:06
Well, it's okay to brag about yourself. artistic people tend to not like to sell and market themselves. Unfortunately, as authors, it's our job to do that as well as the job we hate, but we have to do it. So good job sliding that in.
Elizabeth Sims 17:22
Brad Shreve 17:23
You did that very well. So you know, we probably should talk about Tight Race. Sure. Let me start by talking about The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath is my favorite novel of all time.
Elizabeth Sims 17:39
That's wonderful. I'm a huge fan of it, please go on.
Brad Shreve 17:42
In general, when it comes to writing, Hemingway's minimal style, where I can fill in the blanks is what I prefer overall. Ah,
Elizabeth Sims 17:52
he's a big favorite of mine to go.
Brad Shreve 17:54
So when I started reading the novel, I got a little nervous because it began the story began with the description of Maria Maria Chamberlain. Chamberlain. Yes, that's right. And I thought, Oh, dear, here we go. But you did just right. I will tell you, I was hooked from the first page, just hooked. And you did the same thing with Lillian in very few words. I see her clear as day. So tell me what is your writing style? What's your voice?
Elizabeth Sims 18:27
Golly. Well, first of all, thank you for those compliments. Yeah, when and when you said when you started reading the description of Maria, did you think and you said, oh, oh, here we go. Did you mean like, oh, too much description or something like that, that you thought was good.
Brad Shreve 18:40
It sounded like you were gonna go really deep in her description. And really, I think it was just her hair and maybe your Yeah, but my initial thought was, you're going in that direction. And then you didn't I don't know why.
Elizabeth Sims 18:54
That's okay. That's interesting, because I actually did have more description and backstory about Marie in that first chapter, in my earlier drafts, and I cut a bunch of it because I thought, yeah, this is just getting sludgy here, you know, even though I'm having fun describing this person, so, yeah, one has to be, you know, one has to be strict with oneself. And that's something that comes with experience as an author, you know, you just get a feel for it. You look over what you've written, you know, what you wrote two weeks ago? And you're like, Okay, this is good. This is not so good. And why how do you know that it's very hard to objectively explain why I know I need to cut back the description here on this person, how much to cut it back? Well, how many words like wild you have to cut through you know, if it's 300 words, do you then you do cut you know, 100 words or 101 words? I mean, you know, you can't quantify very much but that's an that's that's art. You know, I mean, that's, you know, a painter looking at a picture and saying, okay, the mouth isn't right. I need to make a line right here and all of a sudden it's perfect or whatever. So yeah, the creative process is endless. Mr. But if one is patient with oneself and diligent about continuing to apply oneself and learning, then you can get better. You really can. So and now, now, did I get off the topic here? Yo, so you're asking me about, you know, process and style, I guess, style tone? You know, how do I go about these things? Well, you know, well, I guess I partly answered that.
Brad Shreve 20:24
I think you covered it pretty
Elizabeth Sims 20:25
well, in that, you know, I mean, you know, I, the voice, I mean, the voice in the Lillian books is, of course they are, they're written in first person. And so you are hearing the narrator is the main character, and she is telling you about what she is doing every day, and how things are unfolding in this in this, these different pieces of her life. And the activities that she pursues. So she you know, and she, I've kind of put her together as an alter ego of myself in a way. And I certainly started out the first book, not knowing how many books there'd be in the series, or what would happen or whether that book would ever get published or anything. But I started out using the a couple of nuggets of actual experience I had as a reporter, Lillian starts, as I mentioned earlier as a reporter for this small newspaper, and she gets fired from that job by by basically standing up for herself against the grabby handed boss's son. And she then gets drawn into a murder investigation, because she happens to have some knowledge of who this anonymous victim is. That turns up on the outskirts of town. And I based some of that on the one really the one murder case I actually covered as a reporter in this little town, a body was dumped on the outskirts, and no one knew who it was. There was no identification. It was a man that I saw that police photos and the police gave me a photo that they they let me see the photos. And then they gave me a sketch that was done by one of the State Police artists based on one of the photo of the dead guy's face. And this was they said, would you run this in the paper so that, you know, maybe if somebody knows this guy, they can come forward? And so I did. And I don't know that it was ever solved. Because it was certainly wasn't solved in a couple of years, I worked at that paper. But it set me to thinking about, you know, how I might introduce a crime in this novel that I so that
Brad Shreve 22:24
experience gave you at least a little bit to help you out in writing this series.
Elizabeth Sims 22:29
Yes. Yeah. And you learn, you know, it's interesting when you when you work as a reporter, no matter where you are, and most reporters start out small, and either a small town or a small radio station, or what have you, or a small job in a, you know, bigger concern. You learn a lot about how governments work how city governments work, town, village governments work. And then you also learn how they really work. That's been very helpful to me. Just a short few years I spent doing that were as much of a better education and then getting a degree from a university, frankly, well,
Brad Shreve 23:13
it's funny. In my novels, I did just give basic descriptions because I like to let the readers fill in the blanks. And I have had people say, you know, I wish you would have told me more what he looks like, okay, and that's fine. That's the way they like to read. And it makes me think of Lawrence Block my favorite author, and his Burglar Series. Okay, now, Bernie, the burglar. I've read the entire series. And I can picture Bernie clear his day, without a doubt. And it wasn't until the very last app quite a while after I read the last book, that I learned in an article that he never described Bernie, in that entire series.
Elizabeth Sims 23:52
How that's fabulous. Yeah, and you know, and of course, and you know, as an author, you know, that you're writing to different readers, of course, and the readers are going to bring any number of variations of their own experience to what you're doing. And you happen to be a reader who, who has an imagination and who applies his imagination to what he reads. And not all readers, of course, are that exact same way. And so I find it interesting that you, you said that, it tells me that you do have an act of imagination, and I imagine that your writing is perhaps better than it's feared. You know, so, there you go. And that's interesting. I didn't know that about Lawrence Block and that hear oh, that's really funny.
Brad Shreve 24:32
And like you said, I'm sure there are readers who would read that and tossed it aside. That's just not their thing.
Elizabeth Sims 24:39
Yeah, yes. Right. Right. Not not all material speaks to all people, that's for sure.
Brad Shreve 24:44
So you touched her on her a little bit, but tell us more who is Lillian Byrd? What makes her tick?
Elizabeth Sims 24:52
Yeah, she's, yeah, you know, she is unlike some of the heroes and heroines of If I made the binary there of fiction, who had got a little smile on either say, fiction, who are the dashing, trust funders or you know, very, very well off and their financial position helps them do their, you know, do their crime busting thing with her investigation thing, she's always almost always pretty close to broke. And she's always kind of scrounging and you know, she's always got a driving a secondhand car that used to be a police car. She buys them at these auctions, and you know, and she wears jeans and sneakers, and she's got one wool pea coat. And you know, but she never goes hungry. And she's, you know, she has this pet rabbit. And she, you know, was able to care for the pet. In a way I'd say she's a seeker. She's always there. She's actually a mix of street smart and naive. And you might think, how can that be, but I see you nodding your head here. And I know our listeners can't see this. But in I think that you might make kind of perceive that a bit. And when I just articulated it, it kind of resonated with you. So that, you know, it's like, you know, she's had a lot of different experiences, but her heart is kind of pure, you know, and she's always looking, looking for the best in people. And she's looking for true love, and she's, but she also knows that life's not fair. And you know, you can't expect the whole lot you kind of get out of it, what you give to it. So and she's interested in things she has, she has a morbid streak of curiosity, you know, and I certainly do. And I mentioned, she's my alter ego. So yeah, I send her off on these adventures that I might not have quite the same amount of guts to go on or foolishness, but you know what, however one might, one might put it but she really likes to plunge forward and she may not be totally prepared to do something, but it needs to be done. And well, by golly, I'm just gonna jump right in here. And you know, see what happens.
Brad Shreve 26:53
And you said it perfectly. She has that rough exterior. She seemed like a hard ass, but there is that soft squishy inside. I really enjoyed that. So let's talk about Tight Race. Tell us as much about the story as you can. Don't tell the ending.
Elizabeth Sims 27:10
No, no, he gets a labotomy. Yeah, no. That was my brother was standing in line with a ticket waiting to see One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with his wife. Many years ago when that movie came out and a guy came onto this theater and yelled he gets a lobotomy at the end. My brother, you know, he not done a law abiding citizen. I think he would have throttle that guy on the spot. So anyway, so that's he gets a lobotomy at the end is one of my favorite little, you know, stupid throwaway lines. So tight race is a all the Lillian series occurs either in whole or part in the Detroit area in and around Detroit. And so which is which is the major city in Michigan. It's not the capital city, which is Lansing, but the it's the biggest city in the state. And most folks are aware that Detroit has had its problems and its ups and downs. Lilian in this book starts out being the media manager for a man who is running for mayor of Detroit. Detroit has had its problems with corruption with, you know, crime and lots of lots of troubles is a lot of generational poverty in Detroit. There's there's bad weather, sometimes. The winters can be a bit rough. But so this man, Leon Sorrell, who is trying to become mayor, he's a former police lieutenant, and he he is aware of corruption in City Hall and in the police department, and he wants to clean things up and help, you know, help be a moral leader for the town, not just try to be an administrator. And Lillian is quite attracted by that. And she helps him and while this is while she's helping him, she winds up in a love affair with his campaign manager. And that doesn't go very well. The murder occurs and Lillian, Lillian discovers this murder scene. And she gets drawn into it. She is a suspect actually for a bit of time. And she wonders who really did it because she knows she didn't. So there's a and then of course, because this is a queer novel and readers expect this and I like to provide it there is a love interest comes along who is one of the police detectives on the case. And this police detective and Lillian wind up being attracted to each other and in this case in this one. There is not much explicit love scene stuff, as in some of my past past books. I wanted this one to go more slowly because I wanted this one to be more meaningful to Lillian than the past ones have been. So that's a part of the plot. The opponent of the Lillian's candidate is the incumbent who is a woman. And it's called Tight Race, a couple of different meanings there. Of course, it's it's a it's a tight political race. There's not a lot of politics in it. There's not Republican versus Democrat. Both of these candidates are independents. And they're just different and the incumbent, of course, wants to keep her incumbency. And she happens to be white of Greek descent, as are many Detroiters are actually is for fairly large Greek population, Greek population of Greek descent in Detroit is a little Greek town. And her opponent, Leon Sorrell is a black guy who this is the former police lieutenant. So there's some treatment of racial issues. Not all that much in Lillian is a white woman, white queer woman. And she is able because she has a good relationship with her candidate, she's able to talk with him a little bit about race and racial issues. And they're because they're buddies. And there's not any danger, you know, for anybody to talk about these things. And so she tries to be frank about these things and relationship with her boss. And with those she comes in contact within the city. So there's a little bit about that and about the struggles of Detroit and about the middle of a light at the end of the of a tunnel that there might be really happening for Detroit these days, many dark days, but there's a lot of people of all colors and beliefs, working to make things better. There's still a long way to go for especially in the neighborhoods, there's there's a lot of good, well, good intentions and good actions going on. That's happening. And then I also put in a subplot having to do with cultural appropriation. And it has to do with Lillian's aunt who enters a a macrame dog Sweater into a competition and she is she's Yes, she lives there. There's there's comic relief. But one thing I mean, I do try to be I mean, my humor comes through in my writing and I think you can see this and in my work and in this book, Tight Race. Okay, so So aunt Rosalie enters this Dog Sweater into the macaroni competition, and she finds herself on the receiving end of some very, very actually hateful censure from some of the other micromate artists in this organization. The Quad, Quad State Macrame a society I can't remember what I named it anyway, it's a fictitious organization, fictional organization. And she she's she's attacked because she uses symbols and colors and emblems on this sweater that certain acromion artists decide are not hers to use, you know, there are the colors of some African nation flags, there are some symbols that are used by native peoples around the globe. And, and it's like all this lady wanted to do is make a sweater that looks nice for this dog next door and maybe win a prize for it in this competition. And she's clueless she's clueless old lady. So she had she's getting raked over the coals for just for nothing that she knew even knew she was doing. And so I because my own sensibilities get like, stretched thin by the overly woke culture, I guess I'll say at the risk of, you know, I don't know what censure against myself here. I just I just wanted to poke fun a little bit, I guess at the whole at all the outrage that happens against folks who don't mean any harm by what they do, and are and aren't even causing any harm.
Brad Shreve 34:06
There's an old episode of Murphy Brown I love where she created a women's study program at her college. And so she goes back to it and she's sitting there with the women and, and they're talking to him. One of the women says, I went by a construction site, and I was so uncomfortable. And one of them said, Oh, were they calling you names? No. Were they whistling at? You know? Well, I just knew that they were looking at me that way. And Murphy Brown is like, no, no, no, this is not who I met. That's not what I started and well intentioned. And sometimes it's hard to to keep that balance between the two.
Elizabeth Sims 34:50
Well, that's a good example Brad that you just said. So with a sub plot. I wanted to just kind of poke fun at some of that. And so anyway, that's part of the The book and Lillian winds up actually helping her aunt a bit, as does her candidate, buddy. And Lillian then winds up, you know, having to she winds up getting into a fair amount of trouble trying to figure out who committed this double murder at the beginning of the book, and then things work out and will not. I won't go into too much detail anymore on that. But the basically the basic thing is the good guy against entrenched corruption. That would be one that that's one major part of it. And then the subplot of the cultural appropriation and then the the to love stories that occur. So there there you have it, it's a bouquet of marvelous writing. So everyone should run out and then demand that their local bookstore, carry it and buy it.
Brad Shreve 35:50
I agree. And you mentioned the the humor, and that is one thing that really endeared me to this book. It i There were a couple of guffaws I had but mostly it was just witty and understated. Q. I started thinking of like McDonald's Fletch series, which I really enjoy. But it's a comedic series. And then I mentioned Lawrence Block earlier, and he has Matthew Scudder, which is about as dark as it can get i Your you to this good balance in the middle. And in my opinion, I think that would be more difficult. What are your thoughts on that?
Elizabeth Sims 36:27
You know, I really think it has to do with the personality of the author. I have tried to imagine myself writing a serious geopolitical thriller, you know, Earth in the balance, and you know, that sort of thing. I just think I can't do it, you know, I can't take. See, the thing is, I take my art, and craft seriously, but I can't take myself all that seriously. And I think that comes out in my work, you know, it's just like, hey, you know, let's have some fun here. You know, and, and that's my personality, I'll you know, people will come over for dinner, and we'll be talking and laughing and they'll, I'll just for whatever reason I can I say stuff that people find funny. And I can't even remember what it was after the end of the evening. And they can either they just say Oh, you were so funny, but I don't know why or how. So this is just the personality. And I've met some highly successful authors. Some of these, let's say guys who have written top top selling these thriller series. And I won't say their names because I'm thinking of one in particular. And I'm like, God, he's such an overbearing Idiot. Idiot, I used to different I used to vulgar term, you can be vulgar in my, in my mind. And he seemed like the self absorbed, asshole, you know who? God you know, it took himself tremendously seriously. And I was just like, Man, I don't even want to have a drink with this guy, you know? So it has to do with really, it has to do with one's personality. And I kind of feel sorry for readers of authors who are these just these dead serious, you know, types who, just man I was like, where's the relief here? You know, they can't they can't make fun of you know, themselves or their, their material at all or their subjects, you know? And yeah, I realized that I'm like, being nasty about other authors. And I don't really mean to be there are many authors I admire who do have, you know, both the self awareness and the talent to pull off some, some some subtle humor, some some wit, you know, other than that, I guess that's about as best I can answer that one. Yeah.
Brad Shreve 38:44
I have to commend you. You did a beautiful impersonation of William F. Buckley. For those of you too young to remember him he was stuffy and very full of himself.
Elizabeth Sims 38:59
Yes. You certainly less Yes.
Brad Shreve 39:04
I'm going to steer us on a different route now. Because I really want to talk about your philosophy on life, which I just love. And I want to start with, you worked on a sheep ranch for a while. Give us just a little bit about that. How long were you there and how did that happen?
Elizabeth Sims 39:22
Well, it was not a full time position. I didn't live there I was neighbors with while that doctor that I mentioned earlier, she and her wife had a ranch just on the other across the ridge. They're from where my wife and I lived in Washington State. And they so this was kind of a part time thing for them. They had a small herd of sheep. The ewes were over on one side of the road and the Rams were on the other side of the road because you keep them separate. Unless it's mating season and you want them to mate. And boy, it doesn't take long. Those guys send one I'm over and he knows exactly what to do even if he's never made it before even if he's the little, the little young boy around boy, they should know. So that's it. And then they have llamas also for well really to guard the sheep llamas will challenge a predator. Like if a coyote comes through the fence somehow jumps over or gets through somehow dilemmas will challenge that or, and cougars as well. And the cougar, the Cougar will win if they're very determined. But that's something that I learned about hearing the llama alarm call. Because if you've if you're there and you've you hear the alarm, alarming one of the lamas alarming you go and immediately and go see what's going on because something's going on. And then you might be able to save the situation if there's something deadly going on. So yeah, so anyway, so I was a neighbor, they called me for help occasionally. And I would then I would just keep coming over whenever they needed help for like it, lambing or if there was a difficult lambing situation for shearing, I assisted in shearing, and I also assisted in slaughtering. I didn't do the slaughtering myself, but that they had, they had some rescue sheep that they needed to slaughter, and they had a slaughter or come in and then I just assisted with that. And they use the meat, but in the hides as well. But that and then I did actually euthanize a llama myself for them one day, and that was pretty heavy experience was, yeah, so I was basically kind of like a part time hand and they would throw me you know, some bucks from time to time to help them, you know, thanks for helping them out. And so that's kind of, I mean, I literally did work on a sheep ranch, but I wasn't a full time Wrangler.
Brad Shreve 41:44
What's interesting to me about that is you're a city person. And a lot of folks from the big city would have not taken advantage of this, I think exciting opportunity. And you seize that. And like many people, probably like most people there, I had opportunities that I could have grabbed, and I didn't do it. And an example is, for whatever reason, I don't know, I always wanted to work on a shrimp boat. Oh, cool. I lived in North Carolina for a while I loved the coast, love to go there shrimp, barges. And when and all the blue, I had offered this job to work on the shrimp boat, you know, I got a little nervous, and I didn't take it. And the reason I'm bringing up is the blog post that you submitted, folks go to the website and read her blog post. And you will see at the bottom, there may be some free books that she offers, if you read it, so make sure you read it and then take advantage of her offer. But in that blog post, which I found fascinating. You talk about a situation that was you got yourself unwittingly into a dangerous situation, for lack of better term, oh, say a long distance fan. Yes. And after you've told the story, what I loved is you said, and these are the final words, I'm going to quote you verbatim from the blog, you said, you can't control everything. And one must take risk here and there. And then added no matter who you are, at some point you have to decide to relax and enjoying. Enjoy the ride. I love that philosophy. And I want to know, did someone inspire that in you? Did it learn? It did come naturally? Where did that come from?
Elizabeth Sims 43:30
You know, that's, that's very some kind of a moving question there. Brad actually, part of that comes from the fact that I in my younger days, said no to some new experiences and opportunities and regretted it and regret to this day that I didn't do you know, kind of say yes to certain things that I was like, wow, I probably should do that. Well, you know, and then I come up with some reasons why not to well, and I think yeah, so but there there have been times when I have gone ahead and done it dig you know, like taking the leap or gone well, yeah, okay, well, what the hell, you know, let's see what happens. And knowing that I have regrets from the past for not doing certain things to making certain choices, that always helps me now as the older I get the more I'm on the lookout for things to say yes to. So yeah, in the fact that golly, you know, I mean, you know, we all are here for such a finite period of time. And you another thing I mean, I was working as a business as a manager in big retail for a while and I left that work to be a writer and I have in had I stayed in business management. I would be so much better off financially than I am now because it's you know, it's been most of the years has been a quite a struggle to you know, make ends meet But I'm not dead yet. And I've got plans and more things, you know, lined up and I'm working on things and I keep learning, you know how to how to do things well, so, you know, make making the leap away from a paycheck, a very good paycheck to total uncertainty was a big one. And, and I feel it. So sometimes I look back and I think, oh, man, you know, why did I do that? Look where I'd be if I had, you know, financially only all I think about is, you know, along this line as well, financially, I'd be better off well, yeah. But I probably would have, you know, shot myself in the head. Oh, with despair by because of the, you know, soulless work that I was winding up getting deeper and deeper and wild with. It's what you know, as I, as I say, in my instructional title, about writing, you've got a book and you say, you know, what did I want on my tombstone? You know, she was an executive vice president, or she went for it. And, yeah, everything comes with it comes with a price, you know, it, you know, riches from a corporate job come at a price and artistic achievement comes at a price. So, ideally, you know, you want a tombstone that says, The bitch could sell books, and the bitch could write really? Well, yes, you want both of these things on your tombstone? You don't want, you know, the bitch could sell schlocky books. Or you know, or she wrote great books that didn't sell you want great books that sell. So, anyway, that's what I keep on working on.
Brad Shreve 46:31
Well, I will tell you, based on my experience, my personal experience, he made the right decision. When I was a late teen and early, early college. Gary Trudeau wrote rights Doonesbury was my idol. And I decided I was going to be a comic strip artist. And so I wrote this comic strips that I just shared with friends. And I learned that even though I liked both physical art, such as painting and sketching, I really enjoyed the stories more. And I said, I want to be a writer. Well, you know, one day I was working at a Hallmark store friend of mine managed it and she needed help. So I walked in and human resources director from a major hotel chain walked in and should we got into conversation. Next thing I know, I'm working as a Bellman in the hotel. Wow. And every promotion I went for I got so I was in the hotel business for 16 to 20 years. And when I left, I had a really nice position in the Secretary, all the things that you're supposed to have a great big window and I so wish I so wish I didn't talk that woman that day.
Elizabeth Sims 47:39
Wow. But it looked good. And the money was good, but it wasn't what was making me happy at all. Yeah, yeah. That's a good story. But and then you got out.
Brad Shreve 47:50
Yes, I did. Yes, I did. So now, I don't know if you've listened to the show before but it is time for awkward questions authors get. Okay. And what I do is I spin a wheel and we will see what question you get. So are you ready?
Elizabeth Sims 48:10
I'm ready as I can be.
Brad Shreve 48:13
Okay, here. Here we go. Okay, congratulations. You sold the movie rights to a Lillian Byrd novel. Who would you like to play the lead?
Elizabeth Sims 48:29
Goodness? Oh, my goodness. Okay, I'm gonna go. I'm gonna go back in time. I'm gonna say, I think it's gonna be Katharine Hepburn. You know? Yeah. Yeah. I mean, she interesting
Brad Shreve 48:44
choice. I don't think I would have picked her. But I can see
Elizabeth Sims 48:47
why you think you know, some? Possibly, you know, possibly Candice Bergen. She could do it. I know. There are current actresses going on today. Yeah. And, you know, Cate Blanchett, she's pretty good. You know, she'd be she'd be a possibility.
Brad Shreve 49:03
So you have a pretty good list there. So one more time. What's the name of the novel? The novel
Elizabeth Sims 49:11
we've been talking about today? Yes, is Tight Race that is book six in the in the Lillian Byrd series. And I might add that when this podcast goes live, the fifth in the series, the one just before that, called Left Field will be free on Amazon for a free ebook. So folks can check it out. Check out Lilian for free.
Brad Shreve 49:34
Okay, these are going to be really busy show notes, because I will make sure that is in the show notes. I'll make sure that I have the link to Elizabeth's website. And I'll have a link to Tight Race. So I want to thank you very much for being a guest on the show. I'm so happy that I met you
Elizabeth Sims 49:52
very much. Ditto Brad. It's been an honor talking with you and I certainly hope that your listeners enjoy this of this podcast. And I know they'll certainly enjoy you as a host going forward because I sure did
Brad Shreve 50:04
well it's easy when I have a great guest