I was a freelance journalist for many years, so I’ve been widely published in nonfiction and short fiction. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have had corporate writing jobs. My goal has always been to write novels, but I waited until I left the corporate world to think seriously about that.
Do you think an author is born or made?
Good question and one I’ve spent a little time thinking about. I used to say that ANYBODY could write a book, it just took discipline and a computer. Now I don’t believe that’s true. It does take a certain amount of discipline and focus, but more important is imagination, and the ability to see things that don’t exist and describe them with words on paper so that others can see them too. Everyone can’t do that.
What is the first book you remember reading?
I’m glad you asked this. I talk about this at my signings and workshops. I was very young, a beginning reader, and my mother walked me to the library to check out a book for the first time. The book was called, “Val, a Dog.” To this day I clearly remember closing that book and thinking to my little self, “I can do that.” I knew in that instant that I wanted to write novels, and I’ve made an effort to do interesting things in my life so I’d have interesting things to write about.
For instance, my book THE CHARMSTONE is set in Monument Valley on the Navajo Indian Reservation. The events in the book were inspired by the people I met and what I learned while I lived on the Reservation as a VISTA volunteer. My book RUNNING FROM STRANGERS is about a child advocate on the run with a child in her care. That book was inspired by my experiences as a child advocate in a big city family court system.
At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?
Well, I’ve learned to always trust myself as a writer, and by that I mean trust the process. It’s amazing how information and ideas come to me when I need them the most. You know, just the right bit of research falls into my lap, or someone who knows what I need to know comes into my life at just the right time.
But I’m also always open to suggestions. Another pair of eyes on a manuscript is extremely helpful. If I can use someone’s suggestion, I do. If the suggestion doesn’t work in my story, I ignore it. It’s just that simple. No hard feelings. I’m not insulted.
Are takeaway messages (in your book) important to you?
As a famous movie director once said – If you want to send a message, use Western Union.
So no, I don’t develop a book idea with deliberate messages in mind, but I have recently realized that my books almost always involve someone caring for a child who isn’t theirs. And I do try to make my female characters intelligent and empowered, in charge of most aspects of their lives. If they’re confused and conflicted at the beginning of the book (which they have to be, I guess, or there wouldn’t be a story), they resolve their conflicts in a courageous manner. You know, being afraid but doing it anyway, facing the scary stuff instead of running away from it. To me, that’s courage.
When do you know you’ve got the finished product and it’s your best effort?
I don’t know how other writers feel, but even after my books are in print I find myself thinking of plot points and adventures my characters could have. I think that’s because I fall so in love with my characters, I don’t want to let them go when the book is finished. I’m always thinking of things they could say or do later on. When a book is finished, my mind automatically begins thinking sequel! sequel!.
Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books?
I’ve always tried to do interesting things with an eye to using the experiences in a book. I’ve toured an active mine in the Rocky Mountains miles below the surface of the earth, spent the day on the range with a BLM wild horse herd manager, lived on the Navajo Indian Reservation, worked on an archaeological dig at an Anasazi site, many more. I’m getting ready to volunteer in the Missing Persons Division of the Phoenix PD.
I’ve just finished a follow up book to THE CHARMSTONE called A SECRET WORTH KILLING FOR. This book is also set in Monument Valley on the Navajo Indian Reservation and involves searching for people in a fifty year old photograph. The mystery evolves from what happened to those people some of whom are still alive and some of whom have disappeared mysteriously.
I have a book coming out in July 2009 that is a departure from what I usually write. It’s an Old West historical romance called SAGE CANE’S HOUSE OF GRACE AND FAVOR about a reluctant madam who teaches the women in town how to keep their husband’s home at night. Westerns are my secret guilty pleasure.
This is an excellent question! And I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings here, but the truth is I’ve received some very harmful advice through the years about writing for publication. It wasn’t until I ignored 90% of it that I sold a book. You’ve heard people tell beginning writers to write the book of their heart? Well, in my workshops I tell them DON’T DO THAT! Nobody cares about the book of your heart! You have to write what editors are buying, and what is selling.
You do this by making an effort to read debut books, that is, an author’s first book. That will tell you what editors are recently buying. Keep in mind that particular book may have been contracted 12-18 months ago and the trend may have changed since then, but it will give you an idea.
You can find out what is selling by talking to your local bookstore managers. They will tell you what is flying off the shelves and what customers are asking for.
Once you’re established as an author and selling regularly, you can write the book of your heart. Remember – this is a business not a social club or a support group.
How do you craft a plot?
You’d think there would be a simple answer to this simple question, wouldn’t you? Alas, there is not, at least not for me. My plots have never come together the same way twice. I’ve written a book that felt like the story was being channeled to me, and I’ve written a book that I struggled with and gave up on three times before finishing. And everything in between.
Do you begin writing with a synopsis in hand, or do you write as the ideas come to you?
Unless I’m forced, I never write the synopsis first. But I’m a plotter, not a pantser. In life, I don’t go anywhere without a map and if it’s more than a hundred miles, I need a Triptik. In writing, I need to know where I’m going before I begin a book. My writing Triptik is an outline and/or index cards with the major plots points spelled out in chronological order. Sometimes I can write the synopsis part way through once I’m sure where the story is going.
What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?
That there is no ONE way to write a book. There are many ways to write a book.
Oh, yes. My CHARMSTONE Dream Team! Three readers from Pennsylvania who fell so in love with THE CHARMSTONE they took a road trip out West to visit Monument Valley on the Navajo Indian Reservation, and came to Phoenix to meet me and have me sign their books.