What is one book everyone should read?The Bible for all the obvious reasons, if you’re so inclined. But also for an understanding of how theology—like mythology—influences literature.
What has most surprised you since beginning your publishing career?USA Today selected Treasure Me as one of the best of the Indies. I wouldn’t have known if a blogger hadn’t kindly sent mail. I was also pleasantly surprised when the book became a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Awards.
Please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book.Because you like books that make you laugh one moment and dab at your eyes the next.
Any other books in the works? Goals for future projects? Second Chance Grill, the next book in the Liberty series after Treasure Me, will be released in late October. I’m also midway through revisions of my fourth release, due out in early 2013.
What inspired you to become a writer?Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. My late mother swore I began reading at age two. Having met toddlers, I find this hard to believe.
Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.Reading reviews by readers who’ve stumbled across my books. If that sort of validation doesn’t send you back to the computer to begin work on the next novel, nothing will.
If you could jump into a book, and live in that world … which world would it be?Harry Potter, first year at Hogwarts. I’m not sure I could stomach life at Hogwarts in later years when he-who-is-not-named began stirring the soup.
What is your dream cast for your book?Funny you should ask. Lately I’ve been deliciously tempted to send Treasure Me to Whoopi Goldberg and beg her to play Theodora in the movie. Not that I’ve sold the film rights, but still.
What was your favorite book when you were a child or teen?Peter Pan. I was utterly convinced I could fly. It’s a miracle I didn’t fall out of Bobby Cooper’s treehouse while trying to demonstrate my gifts to the neighbor kids. Interestingly, Bobby and I both reached adulthood soaring above the clouds—he flies F16s and I’m still floating through the imaginary world of stories.
What’s one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?Don’t damage your health by pulling all-nighters pounding out fiction while gorging on carbs. This isn’t a college exam. Producing your best work comes with time, reading often and well, and having the courage to put emotion on paper.
List five suggestions or writing tips for aspiring authors.
1) Read often, and across genres.
2) Polish each draft relentlessly.
3) Join a critique group.
4) Read books on craft, and strive to improve.
5) Make time for your art every day, if only for twenty minutes.
What is your favorite Quote?My late father had a saying: Do you want to be a follower or a leader? As he lay dying, I grabbed his hand and shouted the only words that came to mind. “Dad, don’t go! Do you want to be a follower or a leader?” Despite the pain he was enduring, he smiled at me and said, “Always a leader.” I try to live by the last words to leave his lips.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?I’ve always known I’d write. During childhood I’d drift through libraries running my fingers across the spines of books in a dreamy sort of rapture. As my fingers glided across the covers, I felt like I was touching other souls. I wanted to be a part of that.
What led to your decision to self-publish?I worked with two agents, each for about eighteen months. Random House was interested in Second Chance Grill. A division of Penguin considered releasing Treasure Me and the other Liberty books in hardcover. Then Wall Street melted down. The interest fizzled, and my critique partners convinced me to self-publish. By then I’d read enough success stories to realize London and New York no longer held a monopoly on the publishing industry.
Who are your favorite authors of all time?It’s impossible to choose a favorite. Sue Monk Kidd, Nora Roberts, Ann Patchett, J.K. Rowling, Toni Morrison, Sarah Gruen—the list of remarkable talent is varied and virtually endless. I’m not a genre reader. If a novel is good, it’s on my TBR list.
Where do you get ideas for your stories and characters?Usually I get the kernel of an idea, a conflict. The characters most apt to struggle with that particular issue begin to appear in bits and pieces. It’s rather like molding a sculpture from clay, with the final result hidden for many months.
Can you see yourself in any of your characters?Theodora is my inspiration of the best way to age—with fire and sass. Birdie? One morning she simply arose from my subconscious, dangling from a window ledge. Hugh’s hard edge came from years in public relations when there was always another deadline to meet. Ditzy Ethel Lynn and the skillet-wielding Finney … they’re probably the bits and pieces of women I’ve known and loved. Landon and his all-consuming depression came from my experiences helping friends struggling with mental health issues. And Meade reminds me of any woman who has experienced great loss but deftly hides her pain behind elegant gestures and immaculate clothes.
What character in literature do you consider the most memorable?The abuse suffered by Celie, the poor, uneducated black narrator of The Color Purple, will always haunt me. Three pages into Alice Walker’s masterpiece, and I was in tears. Later in the novel Celie’s triumph over hardship becomes one of the most moving passages in literature. A truly stellar work.
What’s the craziest writing idea you’ve had?It hasn’t occurred yet. I’ll keep you posted.
How do you relax when you have free time?I was a single mother for many years. Even now, “free time” comes at a premium. I’ve learned to exercise daily and reserve time for my family. I love to cook, garden, visit museums, dance … and, of course, read. Everything from The Economist and Scientific American to the latest novel to catch my eye.
How do you react to a bad review?I don’t. By definition art is interpretive. One man’s gold is another’s pile of manure. Of course, if I released a novel that didn’t garner predominately 4- and 5-star reviews, I’d pull the work from circulation for reassessment. I owned a public relations firm for many years and learned to emotionally detach from whatever I write.
In your opinion, what are the qualities of a good book?Depth of characterization. Flawless execution of plot. Succinct, creative prose and a relentless pursuit of editorial perfection. Great books are also character-driven.
What is your writing process? Describe your typical day. Creating a compelling novel requires mind-body balance. I start writing early in the morning then knock off around lunchtime to head to the gym. After I work out for an hour, I return home to edit the morning’s pages. And I eat well—lots of fruits and veggies. You can’t fully honor your creativity unless you honor yourself as well.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started writing?I wish I’d known it’s possible to thrive as an independently published novelist. My books don’t easily fit a particular genre—they’re part mystery, part romance, with both poignant and comedic elements. New York editors enjoyed several of my books, but never knew where to place the works on the shelves. With the advent of electronic publishing, I can build a readership without worry about where my books should sit in a physical bookstore.
What is the biggest obstacle you have to overcome when you want to write?This may sound strange, but my biggest obstacle involves knowing when to stop and rest. I get utterly caught up in my character’s lives. During the first 100 pages I’m able to conduct a normal routine. By page 250, all bets are off. I wake in the middle of the night with half of a scene spilling from my subconscious and hurry to the computer. Midway through dinner I leap up to scramble for pen and paper because I’ve suddenly solved a story problem. It becomes rather silly, but my young adult children and husband are very understanding.
You have won one million dollars. What is the first thing that you would buy?I’d pay off my children’s college loans. I have three kids in college presently, and the baby is a high school senior. Ouch.
What do you do in your free time?My husband and I are still discovering so much in our new home of Charleston, South Carolina. We live ten minutes from the beach, and we love to walk the dog there. Recently we toured a mansion downtown that miraculously survived The Civil War. By the way, genteel Charlestonians call the war “The Great Unpleasantness.”
What was life like before writing?My twenties and thirties were a blur—working in public relations, living from deadline to deadline. Then my now ex-husband and I adopted a sibling group of four children from the Philippines. Moving from career woman to fulltime mother was a shock. It took many years of doctor visits to The Cleveland Clinic to heal my kids. Today they’re all healthy, happy adults.
What is one thing your readers would be surprised to know about you?The age thing is usually a surprise. I’m fifty-three years old. People usually think I’m much younger. And the composition of my family always surprises. It’s not every day you see a white woman with four Asian kids. I affectionately refer to my children as ‘The Asian Invasion.’ We stand out in any crowd.
When is your next book coming out? Can you tell us about it?Second Chance Grill will appear on Amazon in late October. A prequel of sorts to Treasure Me, the book depicts the story of Dr. Mary Chance, who’s just inherited The Second Chance Grill, and Anthony Perini, a single dad with a precocious daughter. Of course the feisty women of Liberty will be featured. You’ll learn more about the “bad blood” between Theodora and Ethel Lynn. Their battle was “fur and feathers” in Treasure Me. In Second Chance Grill, they’re even wilder.
Do you have any writing rituals?Working for many years in public relations gave a love of constancy. No writer can create compelling fiction, book after book, without committing to a serious work schedule. Most days I’m at my computer early. By noon I need a break and head to the gym. Then I spend the afternoon editing the morning’s pages. That’s the first edit, mind you. I’ve never written anything that wasn’t submitted to an endless series of revisions.
Your character’s names—Birdie, Blossom, Wish—seem to hint at a bit of whimsy. How do you choose your character’s names, or do they choose their names?There’s no set pattern for naming characters. Some, like Birdie, arrive fully formed. Others start with an archetype employed to aid in fleshing out the character’s traits. In Blossom’s case, I wanted a name that conveyed “life” despite the struggle she faces. Wish is another play on opposites. I think of her as a nefarious criminal who destroys the wishes held dear by others, a sort of death wish in human form.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?Nothing beats the experience of reaching the middle of a work-in-progress and becoming utterly immersed in the characters. They’re real by that point, flesh-and-blood people one might meet on the street. Yet I’m privy to their darkest fears and brightest hopes. It’s an exhilarating feeling.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced in the self-publishing market?The biggest challenge is the allocation of time. Those long, leisurely mornings of writing are now encroached upon by marketing demands, creating a buzz, talking to readers—without the help of a New York editor or a publishing house’s marketing department, I must wear many hats. On the up side I can directly connect with readers, which is marvelous.
What’s your cure for writer’s block?I think writer’s block is a misnomer. Writers are often overworked—if the pages don’t arrive on schedule, perhaps you need a night out with friends. A walk in the park to reconnect with nature. Or more exercise, and a bit more sleep at night. Here’s some motherly advice: Eat more fresh fruits and veggies. Oftentimes the well-balanced life produces the finest art. If you feel blocked, asked yourself, “What should I do to bring myself back into balance?”
If you could choose to be something other than a writer, what would it be?Already chosen! Sixteen years ago I boarded a plane, traveled to an orphanage in the Philippines, and adopted my kids. Becoming their mother was—and still is—an absolute joy. Today I view parenting as a privilege, the finest blessing in my life.
Any advice for aspiring artists?If you burn with the need to paint, sculpt, write—whatever your passion—find time to cultivate your gifts. Ignore the parent who questions why you’re wasting that expensive education on frivolous pursuits. Explain to your significant other that your inner muse requires some of the precious hours of your life. The world is made all the more beautiful by a ballad of human experience sung in a chorus of voices.
About the Author
Some writers are gifted with an unusual life and I’m certainly one of those. I’ve lived in Ohio, Virginia, California, Utah and now South Carolina. In college I was featured on the front page of theHouston Postfor a lark that erased all my debt. I met my four adopted children for the first time in the sweltering heat of the tropics. I helped build several companies and was lucky enough to earn a living doing what I love best—writing—in a PR firm I owned.
In 2004, I made the wisest and most irrational decision of my life—I began writing fiction full-time. All those years of hard work pay off daily in sweet notes and comments from readers. Please continue the mail and the tweets. I cherish your support and love chatting with readers.