Doreen lives in Oregon with her husband, Bill, who is also her manager. They share the household with Tippi, a rat terrier who thinks she’s a Great Dane. They play golf, and spend summer weekends camping at the beach in their trailer. In the last twenty years, Doreen has written over fifty books, many of which have appeared in countries all over the world. She has made the Waldenbooks Top Ten Romance list seven times, and has appeared three times on the Independent Mystery Booksellers best sellers list.
What is your current project? Tell us about it.
Right now I’m working on the third book in the Bellehaven Mysteries series. The stories are set in Edwardian England in a finishing school for young ladies. The head mistress is visited by the ghosts of victims, and must solve their murders so they can pass over. Aiding and abetting her are two other teachers, plus a brash handyman, while she juggles her duties at the school and tries to hide her extra curricular activities from the handsome owner of Bellehaven House. The books are light cozies with a heavy dash of humor.
Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head?
I started telling stories when I was seven years old, and wrote my first book when I was twelve. For the next forty years I wrote newsletters, narrative poems, short stories and song lyrics, but it wasn’t until I was facing my fiftieth birthday that I decided it was now or never. I wrote four books, all of which will remain hidden from the public eye forever, before I finally wrote a romantic suspense that I felt stood a chance. I sent it to Silhouette, and on February 6th, 1987, at 2.30 in the afternoon, the phone rang.
I was in the middle of a tense scene at the time, and I almost didn’t answer it. I was sure it was a sales call. Something prompted me to pick up the phone, and the voice on the other end introduced herself as an editor from Silhouette and she wanted to make an offer on my book. I don’t remember what I said. I know I babbled a lot, tearfully agreed to everything she asked and put down the phone. The scream that followed must have echoed throughout the entire neighborhood. I called everyone I knew and no one was home. This was in the days before cell phones. I had to wait three hours for my husband to get home so I could tell him. It was a day I’ll never forget.
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.
I’ve written fifty-five books, and yet I don’t think a week goes by without me vowing to give up writing altogether. This is the publishing business – the most unpredictable, agonizing, terrifying roller coaster thrill ride in the entire universe. At the end of each contract I’m convinced I’ll never sell another book, and as I begin each book I’m convinced I’ll never be able to write it on time, or if I do, it won’t be nearly as good as the last one. Did I mention that most writers are the most insecure professionals on the planet?
Overcome it? If you can tell me how I’d love to know. Seriously, the downside outweighs the upside ten to one. But when it all comes together, when a fan raves about your latest book, when your agent calls with a new contract, when you finally figure out a plot, when a check arrives in the mail, when you make it in the top ten of a list…any list… that’s what makes it all worthwhile. If I had one piece of advice it would be this. Work through it. Persistence pays off. What’s the best or worst advice (or both) you’ve heard on writing/publication?
The best advice? Write your book as if you are telling your best friend about something that happened to you. That is how you find your “voice,” the intangible thing that sets you apart from everyone else.
The worst advice? Write what you know. If we all did that, there would be no historicals, no fantasies, no thrillers, no ghost or vampire stories. What you don’t know you can learn, especially these days. I had no computer or world wide web when I started, and did all my research in libraries. It’s so much easier now. You can find out anything you want to know on the internet. Writers need to challenge themselves to grow. Push the envelope, try something new. Go for it.
Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.
Oh, so many. Like the time I stood with my husband at a crowded checkstand and told him I had decided to poison the ex-husband instead of stabbing him, since it would be tougher to detect. That caused quite a stir.
With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?
First and foremost, never give up. Too many aspiring authors don’t realize that writing for publication has to be learned, and learning means practice, practice, practice. You don’t become an accomplished pianist without practice, or a successful lawyer without years of study. Writing is no different. Rejections are part of the learning process. Pick yourself up, and start over again. If a project’s not working, start something else. Just don’t give up.
What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?
It’s called The English Wife, written under my Doreen Roberts pseudonym. It’s a novel about a woman starting her life over in middle age, finding out things about her late husband, her past life and herself that she never knew. Readers wrote to tell me I made them laugh and cry, and even question their own lives, and there can be no greater compliment for an author than that.
Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?
A dream most authors share, I suspect – to see one of my books made into a movie. I have rehearsed my speech at the Oscars so many times I know it off by heart.
What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
Favorite part? That’s easy. Receiving fan mail. I love to open up my Email in the morning and find notes from readers. I make a point of answering everyone. I’ve made some really good friends this way and continue writing to them. Writing is a lonely business. My rat terrier keeps me company, but she’s not the greatest conversationalist, and the Emails help to alleviate the long hours I’m on my own.
How has your unique life journey prepared you to be an author? What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?
Sitting in the air raid shelters in London during the Blitz in WW II. I told stories to my schoolmates to keep our minds off the bombs exploding all around us. The buzz bombs in particular. They were unmanned rockets, designed to cut their engines and explode over the city. We called them buzz bombs because of the sound they made. It took ten seconds from the time the engines cut to the time they reached the ground. We would hear them overhead, then the noise would stop. In the silence that followed we would count to ten then brace for the explosion. I learned an awful lot about suspense in those days.
What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?
Panic. No… I guess it depends on the genre. With the mysteries, I start with the murder. Who died, where and how he died, who had reason to want him dead. When I have the answers to those questions, I start with an outline and work out the plot. With romantic suspense, it is always the characters who come first. Who are they, what do they want, what is stopping them from getting it, why do they want it and what will happen to them if they don’t get it. Then I write two or three chapters to get to know them before working on an outline.
Plot, seat of pants or combination?
I write mysteries and romantic suspense. I have to plot, or I’d paint myself into corners. Though there have been a couple of times when it’s turned out near the end of the book that the murder was committed by someone else other than the person I’d planned. I hate when that happens.
How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?
As little as possible. I’d rather devote the time to writing a good book.
Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?
Just this. My fans are wonderful and I owe my continued employment to all of them. I never let myself forget that. Thank you for inviting me onto your website.