1. What can you tell me about your latest book and what inspired you to write it?
I've always been haunted by the above quote from Maya Angelou. What would it be like to have a story you could never tell anyone? Almost all my stories begin with a "what if?" question. When I began to think about A Bend In The Willow, the first question that came into my mind was: What would happen if a teenaged girl met violence with violence, then disappeared and completely reinvented herself? What if 20 years later that girl had found a way to go to college, had married a good man and together they were raising a son? What if the little boy was diagnosed with a chemotherapy- resistant leukemia and would die without a bone marrow transplant? What if relatives make the best donors? What if neither she nor her husband is a match? What if she goes back to a town where she is wanted for murder to find her family and hopefully save the life of her five-year-old son? One question builds upon another until the story emerges.
Now that I’ve written a few books, it seems I most often write about themes of forgiveness and redemption. How a character finds her way back to herself.
2. What made you become a writer?
I don't think I made a decision to become a writer. I believe I was born a writer. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. Let’s face it, writing is isolating and doesn’t pay very well. I’m not sure many people would choose to write if they were of sane mind and could avoid it. When I was a little girl, my father won a Smith Corona portable typewriter in a poker game. He gave it me. It came with 45 rpm records guaranteed to have you typing in four weeks. It was the beginning of my life as a writer. I taught myself to type with the help of those records and started writing poems and stories. I’ve never stopped. I went back to college after my children started school This time I majored in creative writing.
3. What book has most influenced you as a writer and why?
To Kill A Mockingbird had a profound influence on me because of Atticus Finch and the pureness of his vision—his knowledge he was doing the right thing—his willingness to fight for his client, even though he knew he couldn’t win. Atticus was a great character—obsessed with justice. I’ve learned over the years obsessed characters are usually the most interesting and the most fun to write.
4. Where do your ideas for books come from?
Ideas are everywhere. I find them in my life. In articles I read in the paper. Sometimes I hear something on the news that triggers me to ask the “what if?” question. One time I was sitting on a park bench watching a little girl on the swing set. I had a terrible feeling—almost as if it was happening right in front of me. What if someone who loved that little girl got distracted? What if it was her half-sister, a teenager? What if she was babysitting for that little girl? What if she had a terrible relationship with her young stepmother, but adored her half sister? What if that little girl was kidnapped?
Stories are everywhere. It’s just a matter of finding the ones you are willing to spend years writing. Finding characters that don't bore you.
5. Where do you find ideas for your characters?
Usually the story comes first. And once I have the story I create characters who will help me prove my premise or answer the central dramatic question. I will create a complicated history for them—a backstory—so I get to know the character before I begin to write. In the case of A Bend In The Willow—the central dramatic story question is: Will Catherine Henry face a past in which she murdered someone in order to save her son’s life? Since the main character has been deceiving her husband and everyone around her for years—it was important that her husband be a stickler for the truth. Jim Frey (How To Write A Damn Good Novel) calls this the unity of opposites. It makes the characters ripe for conflict and growth.
6. What is your writing style?
Somewhere between commercial and literary. My creative writing focus in college was on poetry so my style tends to incorporate metaphor and simile. I make use of some poetic devices while trying to keep moving the story forward. I realize most readers are more interested in the story than in beautiful writing—so I strive to find balance.
7. What is the most difficult part of writing a book for you?
For me, the most difficult part of writing a book is the synopsis. No kidding. I can write that 400-page manuscript, but when it comes time to write a one or two page synopsis, I’m tearing my hair out and opening the wine bottle.
8. What are your working on now?
In addition to planning for the release of A Bend In The Willow, I’m working on a 3-book series using the same detective. The books are a bit of a cross genre—family dramas in which there is also a murder or a kidnapping. I sent the first one to my publisher to see if they are interested. The second one is almost ready to go. The third is still a seed in my mind.