For Victor Sykes, business is good. His illegal diamond importing business is thriving, and circumstances require that he bring more people to his team. His niece and nephew, Rubi Lee and Zeke, are as dangerous as they are desperate, and they follow orders to make sure everything goes right. But when the shipment of diamonds–sewn into the inner lining of a sweatshirt–is mistakenly confiscated, the entire operation is put at risk. Such is the set-up for author Holly Spofford’s second novel, Hot Ice, Cold Blood, a pulse-pounding thriller that will appeal to anyone who loves a good mystery.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Let’s start with what sounds like a very intriguing career path. You’re a former middle school teacher and coach of 25 years. Tell us about your decision to leave the world of teaching to enter the world of writing.
A: My decision to leave the world of teaching was difficult and emotional because I loved my colleagues, my students and I loved teaching. For the last ten years of my career, I taught in a small all boys school with the greatest colleagues. We were a happy family. I was very tight with my students; many of whom I taught for two years in a row because I taught sixth and seventh grade boys. The day I told my sixth graders I was not going to return the following year was April 1st. They knew I loved to joke around, so understandably they all were convinced I was pulling an April Fool’s day prank. It was heartbreaking to tell them I was not kidding, especially when some of them started to cry. That got me. I’ll admit, I cried too!
Q: What do you know now about writing/publishing that you didn’t know when you started?
A: I now know that writing is easy; writing well is difficult. I’ve learned writing requires patience, personal trust and humility. I’ve learned writing is personal, scary, and very rewarding. I’ve learned to walk away when I am struggling because if I try to force the words, the work will be contrived. It’s a profession in which we (authors) expose ourselves to the world for all to see. That is a vulnerable feeling. With regards to publishing, I self-published and I found the process to be painless. What I did not know about publishing (because I’m new) was how much there was to learn about designing covers, formatting, marketing, etc. I am lucky because I have gotten a “free” education.
Q: You published a murder mystery in 2017, yet your current book is a thriller. Which genre do you prefer to write?
A: Since the age of ten, I’ve wanted to write a book. I was not sure in what genre at that young age. As I grew older, I loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers. This was a tough question since I love both genres. My final answer: Thrillers with murders peppered throughout the book.
Q: Plotter or pantser?
A: I’m a Planster. I have an old school black and white composition book in which I create character sketches, jot down ideas, and write skeletal frames of chapters. I love the feel of pen in hand. However, there are times when I do zero planning because an idea grabs me from out of the blue, and I must run with it. As a result, I end up writing several pages of a chapter in which that ‘IT’ factor is there.
Q: What was the inspiration for Hot Ice, Cold Blood?
A: After Christmas in 2016, my husband and I visited DC. We spent three nights there enjoying all the magnificent museums, memorials, and restaurants. We loved everything, especially the gorgeous War Memorials. I loved the layout of the city, too. After that trip, I knew I had to write a book with DC as the setting. I felt the city’s vibe in my bones when we walked the streets.
Q: You kept a diary for many years. Do you feel that writing in those diaries was a pre-cursor to your career as a writer of fiction?
A: I do. I found the bag of my diaries in our attic. I laughed out loud at some of my more riveting entries as a twelve-year old: “Dear Diary, today I ate ice cream.” “Dear Diary, I really like G.O. but he likes L. D.” I enjoyed chronicling events in my life. Eventually, I realized how mundane they were, so I intermingled the real events with things I WISH were going on in my life- and BAM! A career in writing fiction was born.
Q: What governed your decision to self-publish your work?
A: As a new author, I figured self-publishing was the safest route to take. I knew my work would be published this way. I enjoy the autonomy of self-publishing, especially since I can set my own deadlines and schedule. With that, I can work at my own pace. Cost helped to govern my decision, too. Going forward, I will continue to explore publishing houses and see what they can offer. I would like to have three books completed before I begin to seriously explore them.
Q: Best advice to aspiring authors planning to follow the DIY route?
A: Find a GREAT editor who edits solely in your genre. My editor is awesome.
Do your research on the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. a publishing house
Make sure to educate yourself on the different self-publishing platforms -many are available.
Q: Have you ever found your characters taking the reins and saying, “Oh, I think we should go a different way?” Do you tug them back or listen to them?
A: Yes, I have, and I am a good listener. If they want to go, I let them. Listening to them does not always guarantee they make the final cut though. Several times, specifically at the start, I had been 100 percent convinced that a character was necessary. And as the story unfolded, I realized they were not as relevant as I first thought. Rather than tossing that character away, I “save” them for potential use in another book.
Q: Where do your characters come from—straight from the ether or inspired by people you actually know?
A: The creation of my characters comes from both real people and the ether. I often “mix” a few real people together to create the ultimate character(s). I enjoy observing people and inventing stories about their lives. Creating characters is one of my favorite aspects of writing. I love describing their looks, their backstories and I love watching my characters evolve. I walk in their shoes and hope to have my readers cheer on the good ones and detest the bad ones. In my second book, I created some very dark people which made me wonder about myself!
Q: What do you find to be the most satisfying/rewarding aspects of penning works of fiction?
A: The most rewarding aspect was when the box containing copies of my first book arrived. I was so emotional I asked my husband to open it! When I held A Letter for Hoot in my hand and admired the gorgeous cover, I was overcome. Another highly rewarding aspect is hearing all the positive comments about my books from my readers. They motivate me to continue to write.
One of the most satisfying aspects is how natural it feels to write. I never doubted I would publish a book. Sure, I struggle at times. However, I am very tenacious, and I know I will break through whatever barriers are thrown my way. In addition, another gratifying element is the improvement I see in my work. For example, I’ve learned to improve the pace of a novel by eliminating the superfluous. While I may LOVE a certain description or paragraph, if it’s not relevant and drags the pace along, it gets axed.
Q: And the most frustrating/challenging?
A: The most frustrating thing is self-imposed: trying to make it all ‘perfect’. Nothing is perfect. I am working hard to avoid deleting and/or rewriting the same sentence a thousand times. My intellectual side says, “That’s why you write several drafts!” Yet the stubborn side of me doesn’t listen all the time. I drive myself (and my husband) nuts when I delete and delete. It is counterproductive and irritating.
Q: Tell us about an average writing day/week in the life of Holly Spofford.
A: I thrive on a schedule. Call me boring, but I need one. I love to exercise, therefore every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning I swim at least a mile. The pool is a fantastic place to engage in creative thinking. Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I spend writing thoughts/ideas/scenarios in my black and white composition book. In the afternoons, I walk with my stepdaughter and grandsons. I work almost every evening from about 5:00 until dinner which is usually around 8:30–we eat late! My husband and I come up with creative ideas during cocktail hour! After dinner, I often check sales, website traffic and other authors’ websites. I also indulge in some Words with Friends. My husband and I are avid golfers and play when we can-weather permitting. During our rounds we talk a great deal about my books. In essence then, I “work” on the golf course, too.
Q: What is the oldest, oddest or most nostalgic thing in your bedroom closet?
A: I’ll go with the oddest. An 18” long, hand-made machete from Costa Rica.
Q: If we took a peek at the books currently on your nightstand, what would be on it?
A: The Guest List,
Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar,
A Prayer for Owen Meany
The Family Upstairs
Q: You’re an avid golfer. What three authors (pretending they play) would comprise your perfect foursome and why?
A: Louise Penny: She is one of my favorite authors. I admire her writing style, she creates fantastic characters, and she always keeps me guessing. Her work inspires me to hone my writing skills and push myself to develop intricate plot lines, memorable characters and produce great books.
John Irving: I’ve read many of his books and loved them all. His character development is excellent, especially of Owen Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany. His sense of humor comes across vividly in that book. The World According to Garp was one of my and my mom’s favorite books. Hollywood did a magnificent job (in my opinion) of turning that book into a movie. I don’t know how many times my mom and I laughed about Bonkers the dog. Like Louise Penny, he makes the reader want to turn the page to find out what happens.
David Sedaris: He’s hilarious. My brother lent me Naked about twenty years ago and I still laugh at excerpts. I quickly read several more of his books, and I admire him because writing humor/comedy is extraordinarily difficult. Another reason he would be in my foursome is his wonderful story of achieving such success. I’d like to hear about that firsthand.
Q: As an indie writer, what have you found to be the best way to market your books?
A: My husband and I are my best marketing agents. He ordered face masks designed with my book covers on them! Voila! Instant advertising-and it works. I carry bookmarks and books with me wherever I go. My family and friends have helped spread the word of my books. Social media, creating videos, word of mouth and book signings have been helpful in marketing. I have joined several writing groups too. A goal of mine for the next year is to start a newsletter about my books.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I am currently working on the third book in my Daisy and Nick series. I hope to publish it sometime in 2021.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Readers can go to https://hollyspofford.com for more information about me and my books. I can be found on Independent Authors Network, on Instagram as hssauthor, and on Facebook as Holly Spofford Author. My books are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thank you for the support, dear readers. Stay tuned for more and be well.