rsz_1qanda_picWhere do you get your ideas?

Everywhere. Like most writers, my mind is always noting unusual things, funny things, even mundane things that can be used in a story. I think this is what musicians or painters must also do, but in their own art form. They hear melodies, notice particular shades or blends of colors, and set out to recreate them.

Viv is a hoot! Is she based on anyone in particular?
Viv is an amalgamation of a few different people I’ve known in real life, but she’s also taken on a personality all her own. Physically, she’s based on a woman I know from church, who I think is particularly stylish and who I’d like to emulate someday. Her personality is a blend of a woman named Sarah that I used to know from a weekly writing group, plus my husband’s grandmother, who at one time — among a lot of other interesting careers — owned a motel much like G-Ma’s. Back when I first started writing the books, I think I intended for G-Ma and Viv to be one character, but then it kind of branched out from there. Now G-Ma and Viv have a kind of rivalry going, and that’s been fun for me!

What is your writing process? Do you outline?
I call my process the jigsaw puzzle. You know how you search through the puzzle box and find all the pieces with a straight edge, and put them together for the frame first? I do that with the basics of my story — I know what the crime is, who did it and why, and why Salem and Viv are involved. I also usually know something about the internal conflict — Salem has a lot going on in her life and with her relationships, and I want to make sure that her actions and reactions make sense, given what she’s dealing with on a personal level.

After that, it’s pure randomness for a while. I don’t write in a straight line. I write random scenes, jumping around the story as each scene takes a form in my mind. This is the fun part, for me. It’s like new discoveries all the time. I don’t worry much about how it’s all going to fit together, I just keep writing as much as I can, and as the scenes build up, they suggest other scenes.

Inevitably, I get to a point where I have a jumbled mess of discrete scenes and it starts to feel a bit top-heavy somehow, like a messy house of cards that’s about to topple. This is the NOT FUN part. I know I have to wrangle it into some kind of order before I can go on. There are seminal questions at this point that I don’t have answers to, and it makes me nervous. This is the point when I start to think I won’t be able to get it together and make a real book out of it.

So I print everything out, sort the scenes into as some kind of sequence of events, and I read through it. I remind myself that I’ve been here before, and I figured it out. I have a glass of wine. I think about getting a part-time job and give up this authoring pipe dream. I might become somewhat difficult to live with.

I keep going.

Eventually, with more reading through and more shuffling, I start to discern a plot. I fill in gaps. I print it out again and go through, making notes in the margins for things that still need to be written, where something needs to be foreshadowed, where something that seems to be foreshadowed didn’t pan out. This is when it starts to get FUN again, and the hope comes back. The resume goes back in the drawer.

Then I go through again and massage the story, revising and refining, smoothing out the rough edges. I write connecting bits so the scenes flow together and the emotional transitions are made.

All that said, I don’t particularly think this is the best way to write a book. Since I’ve started this series and people are actually contacting me to ask about the next book, I’ve felt the need to write faster. I mean, if you want to read my next book, I want there to be a next book to read, right? So at the moment I’m looking at ways to get faster, plot better, plan better. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What’s your writing space like?
The entire world is my writing space. I love to take my laptop to the library, to the coffee shop, to the park — anywhere. During the phase where I’m just writing the random scenes that’s all I need. When I get to the part where I have a big fat binder full of marked up pages, I carry both the laptop and the binder everywhere I go, and it gets a bit cumbersome, but it gets done. I don’t have an office.

Who are your favorite writers?
I have many. Diana Gabaldon, who also writes in the “jigsaw puzzle” fashion that I described, but to much more impressive effect. Janet Evanovich, as you might guess. Every time I get a review that compares my books to hers, I’m impossible to live with for a few days, my head gets so big. I love Catherine Ryan Hyde, I’ve never read a
a Stephen King book I didn’t like. Ditto Harlan Coben. I love Robert McCammon, especially the Matthew Corbett books, and I’ve recently discovered Alex Grecian’s Victorian England mysteries. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Charles Dickens on Audible, and it’s fantastic. I feel kind of foolish even mentioning it, because of course Charles Dickens would be fantastic, right? I read several of his books when I was a kid, but the humor completely went over my head. If you listen to no other audiobook in your life, listen to Richard Armitage performing David Copperfield. Totally worth every second of the 36 hours.

I also like to listen to non-fiction, like the Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain, and I’m pretty fascinated with World War II books. One I listened to recently was Citizens of London, and loved it. I think I’ll listen to that again, in fact.

So, gosh. Reading back over this, I might have gotten carried away. The shorter answer is, I love books, lots of books, all kinds of books — paper books, ebooks, audiobooks. I love it all.

How much of yourself is in your work?
Hmmm…that’s a good question. A lot of my own neuroses go into Salem, that’s for sure, even though we haven’t had a lot of the same experiences. I’ve always felt like I had the ability see differing points of view — I’ve never been a black-and-white kind of person. I used to feel kind of bad about that, actually, especially after I heard the phrase “so open-minded your brain falls out.” But I don’t know, I kind of like being somewhat open-minded.  I feel like that’s given me the ability to get into a character’s head.

Some of Salem’s experience are straight from my own life, though. For instance, my dad used to have a rooster named Rambo, and we did accidentally kill it, we think, with a ricocheting BB bullet. Not during a cock fight, though. That part was made up.

What’s your favorite thing about writing?
It used to be that I liked everything about writing except the actual writing – I liked talking about it, thinking about it, reading back over what I had written. But I could have done without the writing part. I’ve really grown out of that. As I’ve gotten older I’ve really fallen in love with the whole process, and stopped focusing so much on getting to a destination. I just love every step of the way. My very favorite part, though, is that moment when I get an idea, an insight, on something I’ve been struggling with. That magic moment when it feels more like I’m excavating something instead of creating it. That’s my favorite.

And a very close second favorite part — readers. Readers are the best.

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