A Chat with Rosemary Morris

 

Rosemary Morris

Writing from her lovely home in Hertfordshire, UK, Rosemary Morris writes about the past, with characters full of life, love, and adventures, but her feet are planted solidly in the present. Witty, intelligent, and a prolific writer, she lights up the pages of history and allows her characters to tell their story in a way that draws readers in and holds them close. Welcome, Rosemary.

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q: What is it about historical fiction that first attracted you as both a reader and a writer?

A: At primary school, I enjoyed history and English literature more than any other subjects. When I was old enough to choose library books, I selected stories set in the past. Later, I discovered authors who wrote historical fiction for children. One of my favourite novels was The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, which is J.K. Rowling’s favourite children’s novel. I still enjoy reading historical fiction.

From an early age I had a vivid imagination. I made up stories about children who lived in the past. In my teens, I wanted to write in the same style as my favourite authors. Eventually, my first novels were either rejected or the publishers reneged on the contract. Real life intervened until I wrote another novel, and at long last achieved my dream of becoming a published author.

Q: What can you tell us about your latest book?

A: My latest novel is Yvonne, Lady of Cassio, The Lovages of Cassio, Volume One, (BWL Publishing), and is available from Amazon as a paperback. It is also available as an e-publication from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and other online venues.

When Yvonne and Elizabeth, daughters of ruthless Simon Lovage, Earl of Cassio, are born under the same star to different mothers, no one could have foretold their lives would be irrevocably entangled.

Against the backdrop of Edward II’s turbulent reign in the fourteenth century, Yvonne, Lady of Cassio, contains imaginary and historical characters.

 Q: What surprised you the most about how people actually lived during the period you write about?

A: My novels are set in England during three periods: Edward II, Queen Anne Stuart 1702-1714, and the ever-popular Regency era.

The limited legal rights of women surprised me more than anything else. For example, if a woman married to an abusive husband left him, under the law he could have custody of their children, and not allow her to see them. Moreover, he could refuse to provide for her financially.

Q: How do you decide what historical facts go into a book, and which ones are interesting, but don’t make it to the pages of your novel?

A: I write from my characters’ viewpoints. I only include historical facts which are part of their lives, such as their food, clothes, religious beliefs etc., and events that have a direct bearing on their lives, which they discuss or are involved in.

Q: Those who love to read (and write) historical fiction often lament the fact that some writers create “modern” characters in period setting. How do you overcome that dilemma and ensure your characters are true to their time period, status, etc.?

A: I write fact-based fiction in which my characters act and speak according to the era which I am writing about. My research is extensive. I study relevant literature, economic, political, and social history, and visit museums, stately homes, gardens, and other places of interest.

When writing dialogue, I strike a balance between the way people spoke in the past and the way they speak now.

Q: What have you learned about yourself since beginning the journey of becoming a writer?

A: Before my first novel was published I wrote when I ‘was in the mood’.  Afterward, I learned self-discipline. I usually wake up at 6 a.m., write 2,000 words of my work in progress and deal with ‘writerly’ matters until 10 a.m. Next, I get on with the practicalities of daily life—cleaning, cooking, gardening, shopping, etc. After lunch, I work online for an hour or read non-fiction related to the novel. Between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. I often answer e-mails, post messages online, visit the online writers’ group I belong to, and critique chapters or apply critiques of my chapters.

Q: What advice would you give to that would-be or new novelist?

A: Imagination can’t be taught, but writing is a craft which can be learned. Read books about how to write, and attend a writers’ group where you will receive constructive criticism. Don’t be discouraged by rejections from literary agents or publishers. Most published novelists have served a long apprenticeship before one of their novels is accepted.

Q: How do you deal with the question of blending fact and fiction to tell your historical fiction stories?

A: Fact must be included to ground a historical novel in the past. I show my characters choosing what to wear, what to eat, etc. I allow them to express their opinions about current events and to discuss important matters.

Q: Is your genre specific or general? Why?

A: I write romantic historical fiction, which is rich in historical detail, drawing room manners, food, fashion, economic, political and social history, and much more.

Q: Did your reading choices have anything to do with your choice genre?

A: So many authors still inspire me, including Georgette Heyer’s historical fiction. I have read her books so often that the pages are almost ragged. I also enjoy Elizabeth Chadwick’s medieval novels, which I have read more than once, and Elizabeth Goudge’s lyrical prose, particularly Little White Horse, Island Magic, and Green Dolphin Country. My favourite classics, such as Jane Eyre, Ivanhoe, and Pride and Prejudice, also deserve a mention. Yet, as much as I admire and have in one way or another been influenced by these writers, I have found my own voice. My novels have themes that modern readers can understand. For example, greed in Tangled Love, a woman previously misused by a cruel husband in The Captain and The Countess, and in False Pretences, a young woman’s determination to trace her birth parents.

Q: Where were you born?

A: In Kent, South East England.

Q: What do you like most about where you live now?

A: My three-bedroom house in Hertfordshire is small and easy to take care of. From upstairs it has a beautiful view of my organic back garden with herbs, fruit trees, and vegetables. Beyond it is a green edged with woodland.

Q: What’s your favorite season?

A: Spring, when I begin sowing seeds and planting out herbs, vegetables, and ornamentals.

Q: Do you have any personal heroes/heroines?

A: I admire A.C. Bhaktivedanta, Swami Prabhupada. Penniless, at an advanced age, he went to America and founded The International Society of Krishna Consciousness, which has spread throughout the world.

Q: What’s next for you, Rosemary?

A: I have nearly finished writing Wednesday’s Child, Heroines Born on Different Days of the Week, Book Four.  After I submit it for publication I shall write Thursday’s Child Book Four, and Grace, Lady of Cassio, The Lovages of Cassio Volume Two.

Website: www.rosemarymorris.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/writerinagarret/

Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Rosemary-Morris/e/B007MQI9Q2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1496328000&sr=8-1

 

 

 

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A Conversation with Jamie Dare

Jamie Dare headshot

As one half of the dynamic duo, Hamlett & Dare, Jamie Dare takes no backseat in her co-writing endeavours. An outstanding writer, she dives right into new projects with gusto, and loves exploring new opportunities to write “outside the box”. Funny, quixotic, and down-to-earth, Jamie takes her writing seriously, and isn’t afraid to tell us a bit about her own insecurities, writing processes, and give us a small, behind-the scenes look at what goes into co-writing a book and comedic play that’s currently in the works. Welcome Jamie!

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q: What kind of research do you do when preparing for a new book project?

A: Read, read, Google like a maniac, read. I hadn’t read much chick lit before “While You Were Out” so to familiarize myself with the genre, I blazed through the entire Sophie Kinsella canon. I hadn’t planned on doing this, but after the first book, I couldn’t stop. Ms. Kinsella’s books are like rainbow Skittles. Can’t stop at one.

Q: What’s the most unusual thing you had to research online for your book?

A: Two words: stargazy pie. In “While You Were Out,” Henny’s mother isn’t known for her culinary prowess. So you can imagine what happens when she tries her hand at this rather unique dish. Someday I will work up the courage to make it myself.

Q: Do you work from an outline, or allow the plot to unfold as you go along?

A: The latter. I know you’re supposed to outline before writing. So I outline, but I never stick to it. I’m most definitely a pantser.

Q: Describe your writing process in five words or less.

A: Procrastinate, panic, write, rewrite, repeat. Were I allowed a sixth word, I’d probably put “procrastinate” in there twice.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the current project you’re working on?

A: Christina and I just wrapped up “Séance and Sensibility,” a comedic take on the Jane Austen classic. In the play, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood navigate Regency-era England’s stuffy social customs with assistance from a crystal ball. And some otherworldly friends, of course. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing a script. It’s also our third Austenesque spoof. “Cliffhanger Abbey” and “Hyde and Prejudice” can be found at Heartland Plays (https://heartlandplays.com/).

Q: Have you ever experienced “writer’s block”? If so, how do you overcome it?

A: I haven’t experienced writer’s block, I AM writer’s block. It should be my middle two names.

I have different methods for un-sticking myself. If I find myself staring at “At Rise” or “Chapter 1” for hours on end, I’ll force myself to write something. Anything. Even if it’s terrible. Even if it’s “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”. (Although, this technique made me want to put an axe through a door, so I’ve sort of stopped using it). The next day the deficiencies are so glaring, I can’t wait to dive in and rewrite.

If I’m stuck in the middle of a chapter or scene and the words aren’t coming, it means I’m out of gas. So I’ll do something else to give my mind a break. Run, walk, bike, line dance. I always fear the words won’t come back, but they do. Usually when I don’t have a pen handy, but that’s beside the point.

Q: What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

A: Strength would be dialogue. I love writing dialogue, which is odd because in real life I can’t stand talking. I’m also a decent first-drafter.

Weaknesses? Where to begin. I’ve given myself bald spots trying to plot out stories. While we’ve all heard that “Good writing is rewriting,” I sometimes overdo this to the point I’m writing and erasing at the same time.

Q: What was your elevator pitch for the While You Were Out book?

A: It’s one thing for Henny Tinker to think her handsome and charismatic new boss, Geoffrey Bond, is way out of her league. The more she reflects on his secret trips and his uncanny ability to acquire never-before-seen artworks, the more she suspects he’s – quite literally – out of her time-zone.

Could it have something to do with the Scottish railway clock in his office that runs perfectly…in reverse? Is it his penchant for period outfits that supposedly coincide with the themed costume parties he attends? Or has Henny simply been watching too many time-travel movies and now sees evidence of its existence everywhere she looks?

Set against the backdrop of modern-day London, While You Were Out is just the right mix of romantic comedy, mystery, and a dash of wicked competition in the world of high-end art acquisitions. My stellar writing partner is the genius behind this pitch, by the way.

WYWO front cover

Q: What was the most difficult scene for you to write in While You Were Out?

A: Honestly? The restaurant scenes! Geoffrey and Henny dine at the finest establishments in London. I don’t eat out unless I have a coupon, so I have no idea what a five-star restaurant would serve. I burned up the Internet researching words like “vacherin” and “fribourgeois”.  To me, these sound like an ailment and its prescription. Henny notes this in the book as well.

Q: Tell us an interesting, fun fact about your book.

A: I had no idea how it would end — until the very end! Christina and I write by dividing up chapters or scenes; she’ll write a couple, then I will, and so on. For “While You Were Out,” she had the final chapters and kept me in the dark about the big reveal. Like Henny, I was left to develop my own theory about Geoffrey’s comings and goings, and his odd disappearances. The finale was even better than I could have ever imagined.

Q: What have you learned about yourself since you began writing?

A: I’ve learned I can stay awake until 3am on a consistent basis. I wouldn’t say I recommend this as a writing schedule, but that’s the way my mind works. It doesn’t matter if I staple myself to a computer from 9am to 5pm. The words that “stick” to the page are the ones that come in the wee hours of the night. I’ve learned to accept it. Embrace who you are, kids.

Q: What is the most difficult and easiest part of co-writing a book with another writer?

A: The easiest part is having another writer as a sounding board. Instant feedback from someone you trust… it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s also invaluable having a co-writer who is adept at story structure. Christina has plotted out entire novels in her sleep, no joke. You know what I do in my sleep? Sleep!

The only difficult part is trying to keep up with Christina’s prolificity. I’m the type who agonizes over every word, so whenever I send off new pages, it’s a big deal. I’ll go make myself a celebratory sandwich or whatever and by the time I’ve finished eating, Christina has sent me her new pages. I have no idea how she does it.

Q: What’s next for you, Jamie?

A: Lots of fun stuff on the horizon! The response to “While You Were Out” has been so overwhelming, we’re planning another chick-lit novel, “Saving Captain Cupid.” We’ve also broken ground on a romantic suspense novel, “Silent Knight.” Watch this space for more details.

And look for a new play, “Last Flight to Ithaca,” from Brooklyn Publishers in August 2017 (https://www.brookpub.com). Christina and I love adding a contemporary spin to the classics, and this comedy finds Ulysses (yes, the Greek hero) stuck in an airport as he tries desperately to get home for the holidays. Talk about an odyssey. Wow, that’s a lot in the pipeline! Time to go clean the house.

 

For more information about Jamie’s work, please visit https://hamlettanddare.wordpress.com/.

 

 

 

Romancing the Klondike

 

CanadianBrides-Yukon

Just as tradesmen took leave of their jobs, doctors took leave of their patients, and the world at large took leave of its senses in 1849 to scramble to California in pursuit of glittering treasure, a similar stampede for riches got underway 47 years later—this time, toward Northwestern Canada’s rugged Yukon. It’s against this rugged backdrop that a young woman named Pearl Owens goes in search of adventure while her cousin, Sam, is equally fervent about staking his own claim for gold. Such is the premise of author Joan Donaldson-Yarmey’s latest novel, Romancing the Klondike.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first realize you had been bitten by the writing bug and wanted to pursue this as a possible career?

A: I had thought about trying to be a writer for a few years while my children were young. I wrote a few stories but just put them away. When my children were teenagers I took a writing course and wrote a short story about the injured hawk my son and I found on the side of the road. We took it home and kept it a couple of days until it was better, then let it go. The story was accepted by a small magazine and I was paid $100.00 for it. When I saw the published story and people told me they had read it and liked it, I was hooked.

Q: Who are some of the writers (living or dead) whose work you especially admire?

A: Since I write mysteries, of course Agatha Christie is one of the writers I admire, especially for her innovated plots. I can say the same for Mary Higgins Clark. Their endings were surprises and I like that. I wasn’t a fan of most of Mordecai Richler’s books. However, I really enjoyed his novel, Barney’s Version, for the unique way it was written and, again, for the surprise ending.

Q: If you could invite three of them to a private dinner at your home, what questions would you most like to ask each one before the evening is over?

A: How do they come up with their ideas? How many rejection slips did they receive before their first book was published? How long did it take for them to get their first novel published? Did the same publisher publish their second book? If they switched publishing houses during their career, why? I would ask each of them these questions because I’m sure their answers would be different.

Q: You’ve held no shortage of diverse jobs throughout your life – printing press operator, bank teller, house renovator, bookkeeper. How did each of these prepare you for both the work ethic discipline and the solitary aspects of spending time in fictional worlds of your own creation?

A: I think I am naturally a disciplined person. When I decide I want to do something, I do it no matter what I have to go through to accomplish it. I like immersing myself in my story and characters. Sometimes, when I am living my normal life, I miss the people and life happening in my book. Having a variety of jobs did provide me with a lot of occupations to give the main characters in my books. Although technology has changed since I worked at some of them, I might be behind the times on how things are done. But I am free to set my books during any decade I want.

Q: You’ve also moved more than 30 times. That’s a lot of packing and unpacking! What would you say accounts for this sense of wanderlust…and are there any upcoming moves on the horizon?

A: I like new places, new experiences, meeting new people. I never really have been attached to a house to the point that I have said, I don’t want to move. Sometimes, once I’ve left a place I look back at the fun I had and the friends I met, but I never really say “Oh, I never should have moved from there.” Instead I think, if I had stayed there, I wouldn’t be here. Right now I live on an acreage with fruit and berry trees. Being raised on the prairies where we had to purchase all our fruit like cherries, peaches, pears, apples, it is nice to go out into my yard and pull them from the tree and eat them fresh. Every once in a while I think it’s time to move on, but so far I haven’t found the next place where I want to live.

Q: When and where do you feel you are able to be your most creative self?

A:  Right now, I have an office with my desktop computer, plus I have a chair in the living room with a table beside it for my laptop. I seem to be able to watch television and follow the show while writing at the same time. I get most of my work done there.

Q: After successfully penning a number of historical articles and travel books, you made the switch to fiction. What was it that influenced this decision?

A: I like reading mysteries and I found that there were so many with inferior plots or predictable endings. I figured I could write a book at least as bad as some of them and tried. It took a couple of years but I found a publishing house that accepted my first mystery, Illegally Dead. Since then I have published three more mystery novels, three historical novels, two sci/fi, one contemporary young adult and one Christmas romance (with my sister).

Q:  As someone who is skilled at writing in different genres, how do you go about deciding which genre will ultimately be the smartest fit for a new story?

A: Most times I set out to write a mystery. The main character of my first three novels, Illegally Dead, The Only Shadow in the House, and Whistler’s Murder, which I call The Travelling Detective Series, is a travel writer. She somehow manages to get involved in a murder while researching places for articles for travel magazines. So the books include information about the places she visits as well as the mystery. In The Only Shadow in the House, she also has a boyfriend, so there is a romance. But since they are mainly mysteries, I put them under the mystery genre. My stand alone novel, Gold Fever, there is a mystery and romance so I call it both. My historical novels and my young adult contemporary young adult were easy to define. It was my novels, The Criminal Streak and Betrayed that I wrote first and then decided that they belonged in the science fiction genre.

Q: What comes first for you – the plot or the characters?

A: Usually it is an idea that I get from reading a news story, overhearing a conversation, or seeing something on television. Then from there I decide on the plot and then bring in the characters.

Q: Do you develop your stories from an outline or develop the actions and interactions as you go along?

A: I have never worked with a solid outline because I find that my characters seldom end up the way I first pictured them and plot never takes the route I thought it would. I do start the story with the main character in his/her everyday life so the reader can get to know them then I put in the trigger that starts the mystery. This puts the main character on his/her quest for a solution.

I do have scenes pictured ahead of time where characters are going to have a certain conversation or be at a certain place but unexpected conversations or character twists surface as I am writing the story. Some of these are surprises or mishaps or problems that get in the way of my character’s quest. I strive not to make these predictable nor so far out that they don’t make sense to the story. I try to leave the reader with the thought that (s)he should have figured that would happen. I find that it is no fun to read a book where you can foresee where the story line is headed and what is going to happen before it does.

Q: For your latest novel, Romancing the Klondike, you chose the backdrop of the Yukon, specifically 1896, the year before the great Klondike Gold Rush began. How did you go about doing the research for this era in order to ensure the storyline’s authenticity?

A: I have been to the Yukon twice. On the second visit, in 1997, I was working on my non-fiction travel book, The Backroads of the Yukon and Alaska. I decided that I wanted to hike the Chilkoot Trail, since it was the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Klondike Gold Rush. To write Romancing the Klondike I used my knowledge of the territory plus read books about its history to make sure I had that right. I also read books about the late 1800s to describe hair dos and clothing and equipment.

Q:  Romancing the Klondike isn’t your first novel about gold. Your mystery/romance Gold Fever is set in the mountains of southern British Columbia. Do you have a fascination with gold?

A: I guess I do. My father panned for gold with two of his brothers in the Salmo area of southern British Columbia in the late 1930s. When WWII broke out, he and one brother joined the army. At the end of the war, Dad ended up in Vancouver where he met my mother and they married. In 1980, my husband, kids, and I accompanied my parents to the gold claim that Dad once owned. He showed us how to pan and we all ended up with a little bit of flour gold.

In 1992, my husband and I decided to drop out of society for a while. We sold our house, quit our jobs and headed to the Salmo area to get a gold claim. We found a small section of the Salmo River that was not part of any claim and we staked it. When we registered it, we found out that it was part of the claim that my dad had had in the 1930’s.

Q: You have written two other Canadian historical novels, West to the Bay and West to Grande Portage. What do you think makes Canada’s history such compelling fodder for novelists and authors of nonfiction?

A: When I attended school in the 1960s I was told that Canada was too young a country to have much of a history and what it did have was boring. I was taught the history of the United States, France, England, and ancient Greece and Rome. I decided that I was going to prove my teachers wrong and began reading about Canada, and yes, sometimes the books were boring, but when I looked at what the people who lived in that time did to survive and thrive, it was amazing. In 2014 I wrote West to the Bay, the first in my Canadian historical series for teens, young adults, and adults. The story takes place 1750 and is about four boys who join the Hudson’s Bay Company and sail from Scotland to Rupert’s Land to work in an isolated fort. It is also the story on a young native girl and her family who wait expectantly for the yearly visit from her grandfather on the supply ship.

In 2015, my second book in the series, West to Grande Portage, was published. It takes place in Montreal in 1766 and shows the life of two young adults, a boy and his female cousin as they each strive to make a life for themselves, he as a voyageur with his uncle and she as a volunteer at the hospital and prospective bride.

The Hudson’s Bay Company was founded in 1670 and set up a few forts on Hudson’s Bay in Rupert’s Land, as Canada was known at the time. The Company began as a purchaser of beaver pelts but over the centuries also became a retailer, opening stores across the country. It is the oldest continuously operating company in the world.

The birch bark canoe was invented by the natives and used by them and non-natives to navigate the lakes and rivers for centuries.

Q: Since you write in so many different genres, what’s your favorite genre to read?

A:  Mysteries, mysteries, mysteries. I like to be drawn into a detective novel, taken through all the clues and red herrings and then be shocked at the ending.

Q: Do any aspects of your own personality find their way into the characters you’re writing about?

A: Yes. The main character of The Travelling Detective Series is an aspiring travel writer who works as a nursing attendant in a long term care facility. I am a travel writer who has worked in a long term care facility. My family and friends who have read the novels say that they can picture me saying or doing things that she says and does.

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you?

A: Oh, yes. In The Only Shadow in the House, I was waffling between two characters as the killer. Suddenly, a different character stepped up and said they had done it and gave the reason why. The funny thing is that readers have told me that they had thought the killer was one of the two people I had been waffling about.

Q: Which of these characters would you most like to spend a day with and where would you go?

A: Since my main character is most like me, only younger, I would like to spend a day with her. I could give her pointers on travel writing and we could discuss delving into a murder mystery and how to interpret clues while we drink Pepsi and eat chocolate.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on a mystery/romance and also on a saga about four generations of a family.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: No. These questions cover everything.

 

 

 

 

Ten Days in Summer

Calder-TenDaysInSummer[825]

In chatting with novelists over the years, it has always fascinated me how they go about choosing careers for their protagonists. Some of those professions are dream jobs the writers themselves would love to have pursued–provided, of course, they could gracefully pirouette across a stage without tripping, fearlessly jump out of a plane to pursue a villain in the alps, or design breathtaking architecture that truly takes everyone’s breath away. Others draw from personal experience and give us insider insights into career choices with which we may not be familiar The insurance industry, for instance. The latter was the case for author Susan Calder, who drew from her expertise as an insurance adjuster–and her remembrance of some of the more unusual claims–to create a most watchable series character, Paula Savard. In her new novel, Ten Days in Summer, we meet Paula as she is investigating a suspicious building fire that caused the death of a hoarder.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What (or who) first ignited your passion for writing?

A: As a child, I wrote a few plays for the kids on our street to perform for our mothers. I also enjoyed writing stories and poems for school, and got encouragement from my teachers. My sister and I spent countless hours making up stories with our paper dolls or simply with our voices talking out characters. I set that kind of storytelling aside for 27 years, until a personal crisis shook me up and landed me in a place where I felt I had things to say and wanted to create stories again.

Q: Were you a voracious reader as an adolescent and teen? If so, what are some of the titles we might have found on your bedroom nightstand?

A: I recall an uncle admonishing me for burying my nose in a book rather than appreciating the sunset, so I must have read a fair bit. My most memorable books on my teenage nightstand were Gone With The Wind, High Wind in Jamaica, The Catcher in the Rye and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. I also loved two novels we studied in class: Pride & Prejudice and Of Human Bondage. They led me to read other novels by Jane Austen and Somerset Maugham. Glad as I am that I read all of these books and more, I think my uncle was right about the sunset.

Q: What attracted you to the mystery genre?

A: My childhood reading included an abundance of mystery novels. Whenever I found a series I liked, I read every book I could get my hands on. It began with The Bobbsey Twins and continued to Nancy Drew, The Happy Hollisters, Trixie Belden and several British series. In my teens I enjoyed Mary Stewart’s romantic mysteries and later I got into Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier. So, mystery novels were never far from my nightstand and we tend to write what we read, for good reasons. Several themes intrinsic to the mystery genre appeal to me. The search for the truth. Who can you trust? What’s really going on beneath the surface?

Q: Who are some of the mystery authors whose work you especially admire?

A: Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, for their complex characters and plots. I like Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series for its Venice setting and the dark story endings that rarely show justice completely served. And I still think my classic favourites, Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier, stand up to the best of mystery writing.

Q: In your view, what governs the choice to make a mystery novel a standalone title or a series?

A: When I wrote my first novel, Deadly Fall, I intended it to be a standalone. Paula, my protagonist, functioned as an amateur sleuth and I wrote it as a story of personal growth within a mystery plot. It was only toward the end of the second draft that I thought I would like to continue with these characters, to see what happens to them next. This was partly because, with the attention needed for the mystery of the victim’s life, I didn’t have space to explore all I wanted about Paula. A standalone is probably a story where the protagonist primarily investigates her own life. It becomes her defining, life-altering experience and why would she need another one?

Q: One of the biggest advantages of series fiction is that one’s lead characters are already well known to readers. A challenge, though, is in ensuring that one’s readers actually read the books in the same order in which they were written. Is this the case with your own work or could a reader be introduced to your protagonist at any juncture in the line-up?

A: I think a new reader to the series could pick up book 2, Ten Days in Summer, and quickly become acquainted with Paula, her family, friends and colleagues. They are where they are at this point in their lives and I make little reference to past cases and experiences. I plan to do the same for book three. Except, there are a couple of spoilers in Ten Days in Summer for those who read Deadly Fall afterward and there will probably be one more spoiler in my next book for people who read that one first.

Q: What aspects of your real-life career in the insurance industry influenced your approach to planning and writing works of fiction?

A: I wanted Paula to have a career and figured it would be easiest to give her one I know well—insurance adjuster. It didn’t occur to me until I was almost finished with the first draft of the novel that adjusters might stumble on insurance claims that conceal a murder, such as burglaries, fires and automobile accidents. Rather than continue with Paula as an amateur sleuth, a genre that’s hard to make believable, I wanted her next mysteries to come from her job. To start each novel off, I have to think of the kinds of insurance claims I encountered in my work.

Before Deadly Fall, my insurance career inspired a short story called “Adjusting the Ashes,” which in several ways is a forerunner to the Paula books. I chose a type of case we encountered periodically, which I found peculiar and humourous. Our company insured a brewery. Every so often someone would claim he swallowed a mouse in his bottle of beer. We settled these claims for nominal amounts to get rid of them. But I thought, what if one of these nuisance claims mushroomed into something huge? This story has been published so I can’t do the mouse swallowing again, but it would be fun to come up with an unusual claim for a future Paula story. Maybe for book four.

Q: Ten Days in Summer is set in Calgary. What elements of this city’s “personality” are infused in the storyline and make it as much a living, breathing character as the human players?

A: The Calgary Stampede wild west festival takes over the whole city of Calgary for 10 days each summer. People dress cowboy and cowgirl; banks and stores sport bales of hay and drawings of horses on their windows. I wanted the atmosphere to permeate the novel and I doubt there’s a chapter without some reference to the Stampede. Several scenes feature it prominently. Another aspect of Calgary is that it’s an oil town, subject to boom and bust. Ten Days in Summer is set when the price of oil and the city is near bottom, and that mood prevails in the book. But during the booms, Calgary’s a place where people come to try their fortune or escape their past. It’s also a city of entrepreneurs and individualists, reflecting the western spirit. I try to bring this out through the characters Paula meets in her investigation. Paula, herself, is a migrant from Montreal, who moved west to improve her life and found that everything didn’t work out as she’d hoped. Now she’s moving in new directions.

Q: What was your inspiration for this particular plot?

A: I was mainly inspired by the Stampede and Hoarding. Since Deadly Fall was set in the fall, I wanted the sequel to take place in another season and settled on summer. Among other things, summer in Calgary means the Stampede. I find two weeks or thereabouts a good time frame for a novel and realized I could set the whole story over the Stampede’s 10 days. My sister had once lived on the top floor of a building with a view of downtown Calgary and the Stampede grounds. I joined her one evening to watch the fireworks from her deck. I decided the novel would begin with Paula at the opening day parade and end the last night of the Stampede, with a group of characters watching the fireworks from the deck of the building damaged in the fire claim Paula was investigating.

At the time I was developing the idea, my siblings and I were engaged in assorted legalities regarding our late grandmother’s house. With our mother also gone, we had to deal with her only sibling, a hoarder who occupied the home’s second floor. He made things so difficult that I decided to fictionally kill him off. A hoarder’s home would be a high fire risk, which gave me the idea to have this character die in a suspicious building fire. Paula would come in to handle the property insurance claim and deal with his heirs, who gained financially from his death.

Certain things changed in the process of writing the book. I discovered it worked better to start the story the night before the parade. Technically, it’s still Stampede time, since the fair grounds are open for preview on this sneak-a-peek night. And the hoarder character inspired by my annoying uncle became the most sympathetic character in his fictional family.

Q: Which comes first for you – the characters or the storyline?

A: The characters. For Deadly Fall, I first thought of Paula, her associates and her family members. Then came the inciting plot incident—her best friend from childhood is murdered. Next more characters arrive: two detectives, people from her friend’s life. Their actions and agendas fuel the plot, which develops all the characters, including Paula.

For Ten Days in Summer, I already had Paula and the continuing characters in place. So the characters came first again. To start things off, I needed a plot point, the insurance-related incident, and decided on the fire. Through her work, Paula meets people involved with the victim and the claim. They create plot and are, in turn, affected by story developments.

Q: Do you work from an outline or allow the plot to unfold as you go along?

A: I start with a few elements – basic ideas for characters, a murder or suspected murder, and setting details. I also have some thoughts about what’s happening in Paula’s personal life. Paula spends the first quarter or so of the novel draft meeting with suspects, colleagues and family members, setting up the story problems. I try to write loosely, letting unexpected details and dialogue creep in, while keeping on top of the pacing, to make sure this beginning doesn’t get sidetracked or go on too long. From this setup, the plot unfolds. There should be enough to keep it rolling to the middle, when I need new wrinkles to raise the conflicts and tension until the end.

Q: You’ve won a number of contests for your short stories and poems. Are these two outlets easier or harder than writing a full-length novel?

A: Generally speaking, I find the more words in a piece of writing, the longer it takes to write and revise to make the best I can. In that sense, a full-length novel is harder than shorter works. The few short poems I’ve written have come to me almost fully formed. I can write them down in an afternoon. After that, I tweak and revise, but there are only so many words and punctuation marks to play with. I also feel I’m not experienced enough in poetry to know how to improve poems a lot. I haven’t won contests for poems, but have published four—vs. only two published novels that represent many more years of work.

While there are contests for unpublished novels, there are many more contests for unpublished poems and short stories. Usually these contests come with publication. I discovered I had better luck getting my short stories published through contests than through regular submissions. Perhaps this was a fluke, or perhaps there is less competition in contests due to the entry fee. To build a resume of published credits, I entered contests and sometimes won or placed. It’s nice to say now that my stories have won contests, but it doesn’t mean more than publication.

Q: Do your characters ever surprise you over the course of writing their story? 

A: Since I develop my characters in the process of writing the story, they always surprise me, at least in small ways. A large surprise in Deadly Fall was realizing, in draft # 4, that a character I had not considered a suspect might be the killer. I seriously considered changing my plan about who did it. I figured, if I hadn’t had a clue, how many readers would? In the end, I stuck with my original vision, although this character’s new involvement in the case solved a plot glitch.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would you like to see cast as Paula Savard?

A: This is fun. Since no one came immediately to mind, I did a Google search for Hollywood actresses aged 50. I like Diane Lane. She’s not highly recognizable and I’ve admired her work in movies. I can also see that a number of others who are more familiar could suit the part and infuse themselves into Paula’s character. Choices might be Emma Thompson (if she’ll do a Canadian accent), Andie McDowell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Julianna Marguilies, who I enjoyed on the TV show ER when she was involved romantically George Clooney’s doctor character. I could handle George Clooney as my movie’s male romantic lead.

Q: How much was research was involved and what were your principal resources to ensure authenticity?

A: My insurance work experience was long ago and didn’t involve many property claims. At a literary reading, I happened to talk with a man who told me that he’d recently retired from insurance claims work. He gave me his email address and I contacted him with questions about insurance, to get those details right and up to date in the book. To learn about building fires, I called a friend’s son who is a fire fighter and met with him and his colleagues at a Calgary fire station.

When I was writing my first mystery, Deadly Fall, I belonged to a Calgary Mystery Writers group that featured monthly speakers on topics related to crime writing. Some of these were police officers or others with knowledge relevant to my book. I learned much about police procedure here and also took the free Calgary Citizens Police Academy course, a 12-week program with speakers from different branches of the police.

Any time I step outside my immediate experience, I have to look things up, even something simple like the location of a particular street. The Internet helps. I read a couple of books on hoarding to confirm and enhance my understanding of this psychological condition. It’s surprising how much research you need to do for a contemporary story set in your home town, but I want to make things as accurate as I possibly can.

Q:  Do you revise and edit scenes as you move along or wait until the very end? Why is your chosen method an effective one for you?

A: I write to the end before doing any editing. The rare times I might revise a scene would be when I can’t move forward without doing this. Since I don’t write from an outline, the first draft becomes my process of developing the story and discovering what it’s all about. Only when I reach the end do I fully know if the novel works and what I need to add, delete, change or enhance in the earlier chapters.

Q: Do you let anyone read your work in progress or do you make them wait until you have typed THE END?

A: Ideally, I wait until I’ve typed THE END. I believe the first draft should be only the writer’s vision. After that, you find out how the story and characters are coming across to others and modify them for readers. Now that I have more confidence in my writing, I will occasionally show people small pieces before I’ve finished the first draft. For someone newer to writing, I think if you show your work too early, you risk being swayed too much by their opinions and you might lose what’s strongest and most original about your story.

Q: When and where do you feel you do your best wordsmithing?

A: I mainly write at home, in my den at my computer and don’t feel the need for different locations to wordsmith better. I like writing best in the mornings, when I’m fresh, but other activities often get in the way of this.

Q: What, for you, is the hardest part of the writing life and what helps you to move past this hurdle?

A: Rejection. By this I mean rejection from publishers and losing out on contests and awards that I’d thought I had a chance with. It’s also criticism of my writing at any stage in the process, from showing an early piece of work to others or receiving a critical print review.

What helps me move past this, is forcing myself to sit down and write. Before long I’m into it, and realize that it’s the process of writing that I love and it’s not really about outside opinion.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: That I read The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell as a teenager? It surprises me to recall that I did, partly because today we don’t hear much about this philosopher, mathematician, political activist and 1950 Nobel prize recipient for Literature. ‘Bertie’ inspired me to take a math option at university because he declared that math was essential to the study of philosophy.

On the other side of the intellectual coin, for the past forty years, off and on, I’ve followed Coronation Street, the British TV soap opera about working classes residents in Manchester. I enjoy the tangled relationships between those everyday blokes. This was one thing I didn’t need to research for Ten Days in Summer, when I made Paula’s mother a Corrie fan.

Q: When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?

A: Travel. Over the past few years, my husband and I have been to Europe and Mexico several times each. We make regular shorter trips to eastern Canada to visit relatives and friends.

Hiking. For the past 8 years, we’ve belonged to a hiking club that does weekly day trips to the nearby Rocky Mountains from May-Oct. Our club organizes an away trip each summer, this year to Revelstoke where I’ve never hiked before. The rest of the year, we do two hour walks in Calgary and region parks. Every couple of years, a member organizes a hiking holiday. This winter, about 25 of us spent a fabulous week in Mesa, Arizona.

I also enjoy my twice-weekly Zumba class and look forward to bicycling when the ice and winter grunge finally disappear from Calgary’s pathways and streets.

 

 

 

The Freedom Broker

The Freedom Broker

Thea Paris is one of twenty-five elite kidnap negotiators in the world, and she takes on her toughest case with a special client: her father. The pulse-pounding action unfolds In K.J. Howe’s new thriller, The Freedom Broker, and we’re delighted to put her in the spotlight this week at You Read It Here First.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q:  You’ve lead an international life with a wide variety of activities. Tell us about some of them.

A:  Growing up, I lived in the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe because my father worked in telecommunications. Adventure and travel have been an important part of my life ever since. I’ve had the pleasure of racing camels in Jordan, ziplining in Costa Rica, diving with Great Whites in South Africa, and interacting with elephants in Botswana. I really enjoy immersing myself in other cultures and learning about them.

Q:  In what ways was that lifestyle influential in prompting the urge to become a writer?

A: I had an eclectic education because of all the travel. Stories were my sanctuary, a lovely escape from the pressures of always being the new kid. I enjoyed reading so much that I wanted to create my own books. I spent years as a medical writer as I worked on my craft and storytelling skills in fiction, and I’m most grateful to have The Freedom Broker out now.

Q:  If you had never left Toronto—or had grown up and stayed in a small community—would you still have started writing novels?

A:  I definitely feel that I would be writing whether or not I’d had my international upbringing, as I love books, stories, and the experience novels provide. I started reading at an early age, and I always wanted to be an author. That said, I believe my choice of international thrillers is firmly rooted in the experiences I’ve had abroad. I work hard to create verisimilitude by immersing myself in the locales I’m writing about, as I love to transport readers there, bringing them the smells, tastes, and sounds of a country. Maybe if I would have stayed in Toronto, I would have written different books—but most likely in the thriller genre.

Q:  What comes first for you—the characters or the plot?

A:  Thea Paris came first, but in thrilleresque fashion, the story raced to close the distance. I wanted to create a strong, talented woman with humanizing vulnerabilities, including Type 1 diabetes. I enjoy books that are character based, so I’m hoping Thea might resonate with people, and perhaps encourage anyone with an illness that they can still reach for their dreams.

Given my extensive research into kidnapping the last three years, I wanted Thea to be an elite kidnap negotiator—a freedom broker—who travels to the world’s hotspots to bring captives back home. The world of hostage retrieval fascinated me, as it lurks in the shadows of society, a heartbreaking and dangerous milieu. Thea Paris became a freedom broker after she witnessed her brother’s kidnapping as a child. While her brother returned home nine months later, he was never the same. As a result, she was determined to help other hostages. There are over 40,000 reported kidnappings every year, and the number continues to grow.

Q:  What attracted you to the thriller genre?

A:  Thrillers appealed to me because I’ve always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie, something that was fostered by my father. He introduced me to motorcycles, scuba diving, and other adventures. I also love whiplash pacing, and the most suitable genre for that is thrillers. And maybe writing suspense novels is my way of vicariously experiencing the life of an action hero!

Q: Who are some of the authors in this genre whose work you especially admire?

A:  David Morrell, also known as Rambo’s Daddy, is an exceptional writer. He has had such a rich and diverse career writing everything from spy novels to historical trilogies to papers on John Wayne. I respect David’s approach to writing as he delves deeply into whatever subject matter he is studying. He is also a guru on the craft of writing, a professor of literature. And creating a new word in the English language—Rambo—is pretty darn sensational.  I also have the deepest respect for Lee Child and his creation of Jack Reacher, Lee’s character is a throwback to a Western hero, a stranger who comes into town and solves a problem, then blows back out with the wind. I love that Reacher doesn’t do laundry, that he doesn’t own a credit card, that he lives by his own rules. It’s refreshing in today’s world to have a character who stands out in the crowd—and not just by his height. And Lee’s prose is tight, smooth—he’s a brilliant author.

Q:  Authors often infuse their fictional characters with aspects of their own personality. In what ways are you and your protagonist, Thea, very much alike? And in what ways are you very much different?

A: Most authors inject themselves into their characters because writing is a catharsis, a way of making sense of our world. I feel a strong collegiality with Thea Paris, as I never wanted the fact that I was a woman to stop me from pursuing any interests. Thea and I share a love for travel and adventure, but Thea is far braver than I am. I’m not big on being shot at, but she rushes into the fray. And Thea has Type 1 diabetes, which is a serious vulnerability for her, especially when she travels abroad, as insulin is her elixir—without it, she would die.

Q:  In Thea Paris’ bio, we learn that her brother’s kidnapping led her to become a negotiator for kidnap situations and an advocate for the families. What in your life prompted you to choose this particular career path for your main character?

A:  With over 40,000 reported kidnappings a year, this issue has become a global crisis. Kidnapping is a purgatory of sorts, as the hostage is alive, but not really living life. Every single item a hostage wants, whether it be food or privileges, he/she must obtain permission for it, a horrible existence.

I spent a lot of time in countries with high threat levels, so there was always a shadow hovering over me—and being abducted was a realistic fear. When I met former hostage Peter Moore, the longest held hostage in Iraq (for almost 1000 days), I had such respect for the courage he showed under enormous duress. Peter was taken hostage along with four British military gentlemen, and sadly, he was the only one to come home alive. What made Peter able to cope?  I explore issues like this in my book. I wanted to create a character who would help bring hostages home, a strong female who would do anything to assist others. And Thea is personally motivated to be a kidnap negotiator because of her brother’s experience. It’s more of a calling than a job.

Q:  The theme of The Freedom Broker had to have involved extensive research in the arena of covert operations. How did you go about identifying expert resources so that your suspenseful plot would ring true?

A:  I attended a kidnap and ransom conference, and I met some fabulous experts who were willing to share their knowledge. From there, I kept building relationships with a variety of people in the milieu, including kidnap negotiators, former hostages, K&R insurance executives, reintegration experts, and the Special Forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues. I plan to continue my education on this compelling topic as I write the series.

Q: What was the most intriguing thing you learned from your body of research?

A: The kidnappers usually settle for around 10-15 percent of the original ransom demand—and haggling is an important part of the process to avoid the kidnappers thinking they have a cash cow on their hands. If the hostage’s family doesn’t stretch out the negotiations (which is hard to do when your loved one is in captivity), then the kidnappers might accept the ransom as a first payment and demand more. Also, it’s important to cry poor because if you pay too much, too quickly, then you are seen as a soft target, and the kidnappers might come after you or your family member again.

Q:  Did you envision Thea Paris’ journey to become a series when you started writing your debut novel?

A: Yes, I wanted to create a series character, and I felt a freedom broker had endless story potential. There are many facets of kidnapping, from kidnap for ransom to virtual kidnappings to tiger kidnappings. I could also explore extortion and piracy in the series because Thea works in those areas. And there are endless hotspots in the world, so there are countless settings for future novels.

Q:  Let’s talk about the advantages—and the challenges—in creating and sustaining a series with an overall story arc.

A:  The advantages are many in a series. Readers tend to connect with recurring characters, as they become real to them. It’s incredible to see the fan loyalty with some major fictional characters. I definitely considered the overall story arc, but I also left wiggle room for being impulsive. Like any seasoned operative, Thea left me egress routes all planned out.

Q:  Do you work from an outline or do you let your characters “talk” to you as you work from chapter to chapter? Why does this approach work well for you?

A:  When people ask if I’m a plotter or a pantser, I answer, “pants on fire.”  I’m definitely an organic writer. I do think about the story all the time, but I don’t plot out my novels. Instead, I feel that if I’m surprised, my readers will hopefully be as well. I don’t think there is one right way to write, it’s more a personal decision based on the way you work best. I love creating as I go.

Q:  If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast?

A:  Charlize Theron or Mila Jovovich for Thea Paris—I’d like to see a strong, fit woman play her. Phillip Winchester for Rif Asker, as I loved him in Strike Back. And Thea’s brother Nikos, maybe Robert Downey Junior or Lieb Shreiver.

Q:  Do you allow anyone to read your work in progress or do you make them wait until THE END?

A:  I’m happy to have help along the way. It’s good to talk to trusted readers, get feedback.

Q:  When and where do you feel you do your best writing?

A:  I do my best writing on my laptop alone at home on a comfortable couch. Because I travel a lot, I write on planes and in hotel rooms, but my first choice would be home sweet home.

Q:  What do you think readers would be the most surprised to learn about you?

A:  That I’m an introvert at heart. Because I had to integrate into new environments, I’ve had to come out of my shell and become more extroverted, but I truly am introverted and a little shy.

Q:  What’s next on Thea’s (and your own) plate?

A:  I’m doing edits on the second book in the series now, Skyjack. Thea is shepherding two African orphans from Nairobi to London where they are being adopted when the plane they are on is hijacked. The adventures kick off from there. The CIA, the Vatican, secret stay-behind armies from WWII all collide when Thea has a huge challenge in the not-so-friendly skies.

Q:  When you’re not at your keyboard, what do you do for fun?

A: I love sports, especially tennis and swimming. Being out in nature is also very restorative. Travel, adventure, thrills. I love learning new things.

Q:  You’re the executive director of ThrillerFest. Can you tell us more about this conference for thriller enthusiasts?

A:  ThrillerFest is the annual conference for the International Thriller Writers held every July in NYC. It’s a wonderful gathering of over 1000 authors, and we celebrate the genre. We have something for everyone, whether you’re an aspiring author, a fan, or an industry professional. You can learn more via www.thrillerfest.com

Q:  Best advice for aspiring authors?

A:  Be passionate about your subject matter. You will spend so much time working on your books, take your time and choose the genre and topic carefully. And embrace constructive criticism. Writing is a journey of a thousand steps—or more like a million words—so enjoy the process of learning and be kind to yourself. Like any skill, you need practice.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  I love hearing from readers, so if you’re reading this, please drop me a line anytime at kj@kjhowe.com.

I’d like to thank you for taking the time to interview me. It has been a real pleasure.

A Chat With Joan Hall Hovey

Joan Hall Hovey, Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-Journal

Joan Hall Hovey

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

 I’m very pleased to introduce thriller/mystery writer and fellow Canadian, Joan Hall Hovey. Joan has been blessed with a talent for telling dark stories that stay with the reader and keep them asking for more. A self-described “avid listener of stories”, she loves weaving tales that chill to the bone, however she enjoys a quieter, saner life in her lovely home in Saint John, New Brunswick. Welcome Joan!

Q: What is it about writing thrillers and dark mysteries that holds and keeps you?

A: It’s hard to know why I’m drawn to the dark side in the human psyche. Some people can’t get enough romances or westerns. My son and granddaughter are hooked on SciFi, but since childhood you could always get my attention with a good ghost story, or any story that had tension and chilled the blood.  I read everything by Edgar Allan Poe, love the Gothic suspense novels, my favorite being Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I collected my pennies and went to see all the scary movies. Later I discovered authors Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith of the Ripley books, and Stephen King.  All those authors have influenced my work in some way.

Q: You often write about strong women who are facing challenges in their life, or who must learn to trust themselves and others. What is it you want female readers to take away from your stories?

A: My main job in writing a suspense thriller is to entertain; to keep my readers at the edge of their collective chairs and turning those pages until the last and hopefully satisfying sentence. The underlying message in my books is that we’re stronger than we think we are. We find this out when we’re forced to draw on that inner strength we didn’t know we had in the face of challenges that can shake us to our very core. Most of the time we manage to come out the other side, not only relatively intact, but often to find we’ve grown in confidence and in our ability to not only survive, but thrive.

Q: What do you think is the future for print and e-books, and why?

A: I think print books will be around for a long time to come, but many people, including me, have also embraced the technological age. I have always had a passion for books. I love the heft of them, the smell, everything about books. Unfortunately, my eyes are no longer as sharp as they once were, and I can make the font on my Kindle as large as I need it to be. Because I like to read in bed (too busy writing and teaching during the day), the Kindle is very lightweight to hold in my hand, so my arthritis is thankful for it.

Q: What advice would you give to new writers just starting out on this crazy journey?

A: Focus on your writing, make it the best it can be, and try to write every day. Pick a time that works best for you. I like to write in the mornings before the rest of the world is quite awake—that time between the black and gray zone. This is how you become a disciplined writer. Learn to do the work whether or not you’re inspired, because a page you’re not happy with can always be edited and improved. The rest—publishing your book, promoting it, etc., can be learned. You can Google anything today.

As far as publishing your work goes, writers definitely have more options today than when I began. You can try for a big publisher through an agent, or a good small press, or you can even self- publish.  If you choose the latter road, keep in mind that you’re solely responsible for everything involving your book’s success. 

Q: Would you say writing the beginning, middle, or end of a book is the most difficult for you, and why?

A: I don’t find one part of the novel more difficult than another. If it’s going well and I am really into my story by experiencing what my characters are experiencing, seeing clearly those scenes in my imagination, I’ll be fine. It’s not easy, although there is nothing I can think of that’s more rewarding. Expect lots of trial and error.  Some authors like to outline, while others write by the seat of their pants. I’m somewhere in the middle. I outline mainly in my head, and take copious notes as I go along. Sometimes a plot problem will solve itself while I’m on a walk, or doing the dishes. Magic happens when you’re there, deep in the book.  Stephen King calls those great gems that come to you when you least expect them gifts from ‘the boys in the basement’.

Q: Many of your books contain an element of the supernatural in them. Have you had any experiences with the supernatural that you can share with us?

A: Yes, there are a few occurrences in my life that caused me to wonder, and sometimes even lose a little slept. I want to keep those to myself, though, so I can draw on them for future books.  

Q: As an actor you have the opportunity to act out characters and experience storytelling in a very different way. Does your acting experience influence how you write?

A: Absolutely. Just as I enter the skin of the character I’m portraying on stage, it is the same with my characters on the page. I really must inhabit their bones, take on the emotions and sensibilities of the character, because it’s how I’m able to grasp that character and make him or her real to the reader.

Q: So many novice writers balk at learning to effectively use social media and the Internet, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs and book trailers, in order to connect with other writers and readers. What advice would you give them when it comes to marketing and promoting their work?

A: There are literally thousands of books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and so on. Readers will simply never find your book if you don’t find ways to point them to it, and we’re so lucky now to be able to take advantage of social media and the internet. Marketing your book is your job as the book’s author; it goes with the territory. It can be the difference succeeding as an author or not, regardless of the level of your talent. I’d suggest spending an hour or two each day on promoting your work.

Q: What have you learned about others since you began writing?

A: I’ve been writing stories and poems since childhood, and then professionally for more than 40 years, so it’s difficult to say. The writing grew and changed as I grew and learned. I believe that’s true for most people. In September 2015, I lost my dear husband of 63 years, following a lengthy illness. It was a numbing shock, even though I knew death was inevitable. It has changed my life in ways that I don’t even understand. I’ve learned that you recognize the changes more with the passing of time, but rarely while they’re happening.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your latest novel?

A: My latest release is titled ‘And Then He Was Gone’. Here is a little about it from the back of the book:

AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON PRINT/EBOOK and other online bookstores.

WHERE IS ADAM?

Julie Raynes’ husband has been missing for six months. Devastated and confused, she refuses to believe that he would leave her voluntarily, though her best friend thinks differently. However, her Aunt Alice, a psychic, tells her Adam has been murdered, and when she reveals how she knows this, any hope that Adam is still alive, dissipates.

The police are also beginning to believe that Adam Raynes was murdered. And Julie is their prime suspect. Her life in ruins, Julie vows to hunt down whoever is responsible for Adam’s murder and make them pay for their crime.

In the meantime, David Gray, a young man who was pulled from a lake by a fisherman when he was 9 years old, wakens from a coma after nearly two decades. Unknown to Julie, Adam and David share a dark connection, a darkness that threatens to devour both of them, in a terrifying race with death.

Q: What’s next for you Joan?

A: Probably another suspense novel, but I want to explore other options as well . I have always loved writing short stories, so I may return to that at some point. I will say that I expect they will also fall somewhere on the dark side.  🙂  

You can find Joan here: http://www.joanhallhovey.com

And she loves to hear from readers.

 

 

 

Dancing at Midnight

 

Dancing at Midnight

On a trip to England years ago, I recall learning that Queen Elizabeth has kept a diary ever since she was a young girl. This poses an interesting question. When it’s understood (or just assumed) that one day these private entries will be read by someone other than herself – or perhaps even made public – how candid might they actually be?

I like my dogs and horses better than my children.

Camilla wore the most ghastly shoes at lunch today.

Philip’s a dear but his snoring is really vexing me.

Perhaps instead, she sticks to safe ground to avoid controversy and the potential ruffling of feathers.

The morning began with light rain but cleared by midday.

I think I’ll buy a new hat.

I tried a different marmalade on my toast. It was amusing.

In Rebecca Yelland’s compelling new book, Dancing at Midnight, a mother’s secret journal takes center-stage after her death and causes her estranged daughter to suddenly start questioning everything that she once believed was true. While catharsis may be good for a troubled soul, it’s not without the risk of collateral damage – a scenario this author thoughtfully explores.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: First of all, congratulations on your debut novel! Have you come down from the ceiling yet?

A: I’m not sure. Every time my feet start to touch the ground, a great review or acknowledgment pops up and I’m in the clouds again. Most recently, I was awarded the indie BRAG medallion for literary fiction. It’ll be a few weeks before I land.

Q: Seriously, what did you do to celebrate the book’s release?

A: When I received the first copy of Dancing at Midnight in the mail, I was grinning like an idiot. But other than plastering all over social media to friends and family that my book had been published, nothing particularly special. The real work of promotion had only just begun.

Q: When did you first know that the burning desire to be a writer was in your blood?

A: I come from a family of artists. Literally. My uncle and grandfather were both painters and my grandmother and her family were musicians. I guess you could say it was in my DNA to seek some sort of artistic outlet like writing. I started out composing poems as a child and graduated to songwriting in my teens and adulthood. Eventually that led to writing my first novel. Expressing my thoughts on paper is a natural as breathing.

Q: What’s the earliest thing you can ever remember writing?

A: A poem when I was in 3rd grade. I can’t remember the name. It received an award and was published along with other winners for our school district. Sadly, the publication was lost many years ago during a move. I hope to find another copy someday.

Q: Successful wordsmiths are often voracious readers. Is this the case with you?

A: In my case, not so much. I’ve always had a way with words. My mind absorbs everything around me – including the use of language. I read a lot when I was younger. But with the demands of a full-time job that required hours of computer work, my poor eyes needed a break in the evenings.  However, after publishing my book, I have been able to enjoy a short work sabbatical and have been catching up on my reading.

Q: What’s your favorite genre?

A: I’d have to say memoirs and biographies. I am fascinated with the true life stories of people who have overcome great obstacles and challenges in their lives. I’m encouraged to learn of such individuals who have emerged from the other side and survived.

Q: Let’s say you’re planning a dinner party and can invite six authors (living or dead) that you most admire. Who’s on that auspicious guest list and what question(s) would you like to ask each of them before the evening is over?

A: J.K. Rowling – What sparked your brain to create the elaborate world of Harry Potter?

C.S. Lewis – If you had to give one reason to believe in God, what would you say?

Judy Blume – You are so relatable to young girls. What’s your secret?

Mary Shelley – What was the inspiration for the “monster” in Frankenstein?

Virginia Wolf – Do you believe that depression is a life sentence that cannot be overcome?

Amy Tan – Do you think women of the past were right or wrong to hide their traumatic experiences from their daughters?

Q: You’ve spent a large part of your career as a human resources professional. What aspects of that job have yielded the most insights on what makes people tick, and how have you applied those insights to the development of fictional characters?

A: I’ve worked in several different industries with several different employee populations. In preparing performance reviews, interviewing candidates and handling the delicate nature of terminations, I’ve been exposed to many personality types in the process. As a result, I’ve come to learn that everyone has a story to tell. Observing a large spectrum of human behavior on a daily basis has only helped me in creating believable characters for my story.

Q: What was the inspiration for Dancing at Midnight?

A: I was randomly looking through my family’s genealogy one day and realized there were a lot of missing pieces in the lives of some of my relatives – including my own mother. I knew some about her life, but not enough that would help explain her often erratic behavior. My mother has since passed away and there are so many things I will never know. In writing Dancing at Midnight, I was able to give my character the answers that I had hoped to find.

Q: The plot of your debut novel revolves around the discovery of a mother’s private journals and the secrets she has kept hidden from her family. What is your own theory about the keeping of diaries (i.e., a cathartic way to examine one’s life with no intention of those entries ever being read OR a confessional that is meant to explain past deeds and seek redemption after death)?

A: Diaries can be a very therapeutic way for otherwise introverted individuals to express their deepest thoughts and darkest secrets. Especially when dealing with trauma they would prefer to keep private from the outside world. In the time period of my novel, it makes perfect sense then that June would use her diary to sort out her feelings in a time where many of her experiences were not openly talked about like they are now. I believe keeping the journal was the only thing that helped her to go on living.

Q: Do you keep a diary?

A: I’ve kept a diary at brief points in my life. I usually ended up losing interest after a while and forgot to keep them up. I prefer to talk about my feeling to a live person if possible.

Q: How much of your own personality was put into Dancing at Midnight?

A: I am a combination of both Carolyn and June. But mostly June. Both characters suffer from an anxiety disorder as do I. As a daughter, my mother was very much like June. As a mother, I have suffered trauma that I feel is often misunderstood by family and friends. It’s interesting that how in writing this book, my personality became more evident in the mother.

Q: Have you ever entertained the idea of penning an autobiography?

A: Yes. I’ve had a very eventful life and wish to write about it someday. However, in consideration of others that may be affected by my story, I’m waiting until the right moment to present itself.

Q: Who’s your favorite character in Dancing at Midnight?

A: That would be Jimmy! I don’t know how that character came out of my brain. He is wonderful! I want to marry him myself.

Q: Is there a takeaway message you’d like your readers to have by the final chapter?

A: There are two things actually. First, not everyone is who they appear to be. Carolyn’s frustration with her mother was based on lack of knowledge and understanding. We never know what someone else has endured unless we have lived in their shoes. Judgement should be reserved when you don’t know the whole picture. Second, not everyone heals from trauma the same way. For some the trauma lasts a lifetime. Our society is so quick to shame people into “moving on” and just “getting over” it. Mourning is unique to each individual. The timeline should never be judged or rushed.

Q: Like a lot of authors today, you chose to go the self-publishing route. Was it easier or harder than you expected to wear a multiplicity of hats and get this book in front of a readership?

A: I originally opted to pursue self-publishing as a simpler and faster way to get my book published. It has proven to be anything but that. Although my book has received outstanding reviews and honored by indie BRAG, the promotion has been an extremely frustrating process. Writing a good book means nothing if you can’t get it out to the masses!

Q: What are you doing to promote it and which methods are working the most effectively for you?

A: I’ve done a lot of giveaways on Goodreads, Facebook and Amazon. Goodreads has given me the most exposure, but it’s still limited in the grand scheme of publishing. At this point, word of mouth had brought about the best results so far.

Q: Let’s say Hollywood comes calling to adapt this to a feature-length film. Who comprises your dream cast for it?

A: A film would be my biggest dream! I saw the book as a movie in my head the whole time I was writing it. The cast suggestions below are based strictly on physical resemblance and types.

Jimmy – Alex Pettyfer

June –Aleixis Bleidel

Alice – Jessica Hamby

Tom – Brant Daughtery

Carolyn – Rachel McAdams

Sharon – Reese Witherspoon

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m terrified of frogs! My brother lives in a rural area and in the summer it looks like one of the Egyptian plagues outside his house.

Q: Who or what inspires you as an author?

A: My inspiration is based solely on my need to put my thoughts on paper. It is very therapeutic for me to express myself in this type of format. Sometimes even I am surprised but what I write.

Q: When and where do you feel the most creative?

A: Unfortunately, I’m the most creative when I’m trying to get to sleep at night. I wish I could plug my brain into a computer and transfer the data. By the time I get up and go to my computer I don’t always remember what I want to say! So I write mostly at night/early hours of the morning. It’s my best time to concentrate.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m currently working on a sequel to Dancing at Midnight. I wasn’t planning on writing one but there has been an overwhelming request to do so. You’ve got to make your readers happy, right?

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Publishing my first novel has been an incredible personal accomplishment. I have many more stories in my head. I look forward to expanding my collection of titles in the future.