“Wednesday Writer” – Susan Dayley

I’m back in the chair for another interview after a two-month hiatus and I’m already booked up into August with some great writers. Today, I’m talking with Susan Dayley, author of REDEMPTION: THE STORY OF JONAH and the soon-to-be-published COLD PURSUIT. One highlight of her new novel is its interactiveness. So we decided to try to make this interview as equally interactive as possible. Click on the links for a few extras, revealing some of Susan’s favorite things. Hope you enjoy it!

Susan DayleyLet’s get right to it, shall we?

ME:  What was your most formative childhood memory in terms of where you are now as a writer, and how old were you?


Growing up, the second of nine children, life seemed meant to be fun. We lived outdoors in the summer and when the tried and true games wore through, we improvised new ones. One time when I was about 12, I invented a game that had a fairly long run. It was based on a witch capturing people when they left the safety of their “homes” (corners of the back yard). The captives were placed in her “dungeon” (usually the front steps). The object of the game was to free others while not getting caught; however, to do so, a “spell” would have to be broken. The captive was told what was needed (such as a pinecone, a smooth stone and a leaf), and they relayed the information to their rescuers. In the meantime, those in the backyard, who were not out freeing someone, carried on, making berry soups or visiting each other. It was a combination of playing house, tag, and scavenger hunt. When I use my imagination, I’m rarely content with simplicity, and I like to try innovative ways of doing things. Like my latest book. Chips and Hummus.

(Sorry we don’t have a cover to share yet, but these are recipes I’m going to have to try, since I grew up with hummus. Yummy!)

ME:  Describe the circumstances that led to your first piece of creative writing, and, if you can recall, the gist of the story or poem.

SUSAN:  I began writing simple verses early. My third grade teacher, years later, recalled the social studies report I did set to rhyme. But it was in Junior High that I received the confidence to pursue writing. The highlight came one day at a school assembly that featured 5-6 students reading papers they had written on the theme of America. Mine was about George Washington. All of the other students were chosen from the advanced creative writing class. I was the only one from the introduction class. Sitting in a chair on the stage, blinded by the spot light, I realized that someone besides my mom thought I could write. The Piano Guys.

(Okay, whether you’re a LOTR fan or not, this is great.)

ME:  How has your family background affected your writing, if it has? (And I’d love a picture of you with the family you grew up in.)

SUSAN: My grandparents often gave us books as gifts. One child at a time, one birthday at a time, a library of classic children’s literature was built. I read them all from Joe’s Boys to Robin Hood. My tomboy tendencies were reflected in my preferences (I also read all of my brothers’ Hardy Boys Mysteries). (Me too! Hardy Boys and Tom Swift.) Later my granddad introduced me to Last of the Mohicans and other classic works. I was a copious reader. Because our little house was bursting with children, I had few places to read. My standbys were at night under the covers with a flashlight, and up the backyard willow tree, where I’d climb with my book in my teeth. Spudnuts(I imagine they played a large part in her growing up years.)

Hatch_Family(Susan’s the tall one in back to the right.)

ME:  Okay, what gave you the nerve to attempt your first novel, and can you describe it?


SUSAN: I was teaching kindergarten at a private school and one of the literary selections was the story of Jonah from the Bible. After researching it (far beyond what the children would receive—including Ships of Tarshish, trade routes, Nineveh, other ancient cities along the way, Jewish traditions, etc.), I recognized there was a story there that hadn’t been told. It was my first novel and far more narrative in style than I now do, but the ancient details and legends are fascinating. (Did you know that in the Mishnah, Jonah is presented as the son of the widow of Zerephath, the one Elijah raised from the dead?) My working title had been: The Terrible City, the Reluctant Prophet, and a Second Chance. Obviously, too long. It ended up as, RedemptionThe Lord of the Rings

(Hmmm…I think she’s a LOTR fan.)

ME:  Can you describe the process it took for you to get published? Also, if you’ve published any others since, please tell us about them.

SUSAN: Submit, submit, submit. Pace and drum fingers. Finally, an acceptance! wahoo! Since I’m late to this process, this is only my second published book. [I don’t mind if we skip this question. Lol] (Sorry, no skips. All writers have to struggle. It’s part of the process.) Bugs—they make my nose itch.

(How can they be a favorite if they make her nose itch? Also, I can’t help wondering if she’s comparing publishers to bugs.)

ME:  Please describe your writing process and where you do your best work. (I must have a photo of your writing space.)

SUSAN: For lack of a sturdy willow tree, I’ve had to retreat to practical.  My desk is in the kitchen. When I need a break, I can quickly unload the dishwasher or fold a batch of clothes etc. Since we’re empty nesters, I have the luxury of writing in the center of where I spend most of my time.

where I write

There I begin with outlining. With Cold Pursuit and the sequel this was the most difficult part. Not only is it a mystery, with clues popping through and events accumulating, but with four different endings, I had to keep track of what was being developed for which option. Victor, Idaho where my great-great grandpa homesteaded.

(I forgot to ask if this is the area she lives in today. Or maybe she just likes visiting.)

ME:  As I understand it, you are about to publish a novel in a genre entirely different from historical fiction. Why the change, and what else will be different about this novel?

SUSAN: I still love historical fiction. I have the story of Hezekiah sitting on the cyber shelf and “yoohooing” at me once in a while. I’ve invested a year in that project, and I absolutely am in love with his story. Someday I’m going to pull him out again, but I’m turning it into a history—he’s too epic to be a simple novel.

Cold Pursuit was the result of accepting that the eBook industry was striding forward, and asking how I could embrace the new technology. I decided to create an interactive eBook—or my take on one. Not just the multiple endings, but links to online resources are throughout the book. Now how cool is that? (Remember, I don’t do “simple”.)

Plus I like romance. I admit, to my husband’s delight, I’m a great fan of kissing and such.

Mark & Susan wedding(Susan’s romantic interest, Mark, THEN…)


(And NOW)

Summer thunderstorms from the front porch.

(Let’s see. We’ve gone from recipes to LOTR to bugs to Grandpa’s homestead and now a drenching thunderstorm. I guess it’s a feast for our senses.)

ME:  Please give us a brief rundown of the plot of COLD PURSUIT.

SUSAN: How often, when you read a book, or watch a movie, do you feel like the story is predictable? Or you don’t like the way it ended? With Cold Pursuit, you can’t be sure where it’s going and if you aren’t happy with the ending, you can try a different one. Cold Pursuit is a multiple ending story: the reader can choose which direction the story goes at two different junctions. Kennady and Atticus team up to figure out what is missing from the lab of Dr. Takishida. In one option it is the professor himself, in another it is his files. Both of those options divide into two endings for a total of 4 different mysteries and romantic twists. And one of them leads to Hot Pursuit. (INTRIGUING!) Tree houses.

(I love tree houses! Except for the bugs. But these are some great ones!)

ME:  Are there any other ambitions you’d care to share with us?

SUSAN:  Traveling to amazing places, reading timeless stories, gathering in dozens of grandchildren (I may have to start adopting some), and never serving deviled eggs again. (Why not? I love deviled eggs and bless the hands that take the time to prepare them.) Chuck Mangione. (Yes!!!)

ME:  Finally, why have you been taking math classes at this point in your life?

SUSAN:  Because when I raise my hand, someone calls on me. Seriously, I’m finishing a long-lost degree, and since my transferred credits are counting mostly as electives after 30 years, I still have some generals to knock out. That means, though I’m an English major, I take algebra. Arrgh! (However, I’m rather proud of my “A” I got last semester).

(You should be!)

And her last favorite thing was this picture of her and her mom standing in the South China Sea at sunset:


It looks like she’s already begun some of her traveling adventures. Once you stop feeling a little jealous, check out Susan’s blog or her books on Amazon.

Next Wednesday I’ll be chatting with YA author, Cindy C. Bennett.

Cindy C. Bennett

Originally posted 2013-05-29 13:51:41.


More than the Whitneys and a writing conference took me off course over the past two months. But now that all of that is over and family difficulties seem to have eased, I feel ready to plunge back in, renewed and reoriented.

First, some thoughts about the Whitney Awards Gala. I loved it. I was honored to have been a finalist this year in a category that was particularly strong. The presenters did a marvelous job and were often quite creative. Sarah Eden was an inspiration! So, in the end, I didn’t mind eating the traditional “Losers Cheesecake.”


IMG_1737And here I am with my editor, Linda Prince


And two from my writer’s group–Liz Adair and Christine Thackeray

The conference was as terrific as ever, but I must admit that I took things easy (after Publication Primer, that is . . . and I had a great group) this year because, given the situation with my daughter, it was hard to keep my focus.

IMG_1732The 3 “L”adies — Liz Adair, Linda Adams, and Laurie Lewis


Me and the brilliant Michelle Wilson

Still, I came away with some valuable insights from Traci Hunter Abramson on writing a series, Michael Young on recording audio books (yes, I do have plans in that direction), and most of all, our keynote speaker, the NYT bestselling novelist, Anne Perry, put juice back into my writer’s veins. (Liz and I lucked out Friday morning and got to eat breakfast with her.)

Anne Perry

I had begun to despair that my daughter’s difficulties had sapped all my inspiration. But Perry made it very clear that, regardless of genre, theme is all important. If we overlook it and take the easy path, our writing will wilt. I suppose you could say she gave me the courage to pick my brain up again and begin to prod at my view of life for its obvious and not-so-obvious truths. Whether I’m writing for youth or adults, and no matter the genre, the message is key.

The best part of the conference was getting a request for the full manuscript of my middle grade fantasy from Dystel & Goderich Literary Agent Michael Bourret. That gave me the energy to drive on down to Kanab, Utah with fellow “Writeminded” author, Christine Thackeray, and take full advantage of a writing retreat in Liz Adair’s guest bunkhouse for four days and five nights to do a final revision of THE ACADEMY OF THE ANCIENTS: THE HEYMAN LEGACY.

IMG_1740The bunkhouse sleeps 8 — here’s one half


And there’s shelves and closet space too!

Tip #1: If Liz happens to extend such an invitation to you, do not pass it up! You’ll get clean air, quiet, a beautiful setting, homemade whole wheat blueberry pancakes with sausage or bacon each morning, and an ATV outing or two to work the kinks out. If everything were just right at this moment in our family’s life, I’d move down there in a second.

IMG_1878The ATV I rode up to the top of Antennae Mountain


Liz pointing to her neighborhood in Kanab


I’m following Christine into Peekaboo Canyon–Gorgeous!

Tip #2: Liz is putting on the Kanab Writer’s Conference at the end of October (evening of Oct. 25th and all day the 26th), so I’ll be returning to make a couple of presentations. And one of the keynote speakers is Janette Rallison. It only costs $40 (including lunch) for 20 breakout classes in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. (I foresee another great time in the bunkhouse.)

Mark your calendars now and go ahead and register.

In the meantime, I’ve got some writing to get back to. I’m all reoriented and raring to go.

Originally posted 2013-05-20 21:37:41.

“Wednesday Writer” – Carole Thayne Warburton

(NOTE:  I’m afraid my postings may be a bit sparse for the next couple of months since I’m in the throes of reading Whitney Finalists, but if you’re a writer and would like to be interviewed as part of my “Wednesday Writer” series, please let me know in a comment below.)

I’ve wanted to get to know Carole better for some time now because I could sense she was a kindred spirit through some of her blog posts and comments in the LDStorymakers email loop. The fact that she has a new book out–POACHING DAISIES–gave me the perfect opportunity. I’m happy to say she provided me with lots of great pictures, too!

Carole Thayne WarburtonME:  What were some of the most formative events from your childhood, the ones that made you the person and writer you are today? (And I’d love a picture of you as a child to share with readers.)

CAROLE:  It’s easy for me to look back and see the turning points that sparked my interest in writing. My mother took a creative writing course through the mail and I remember her typing her stories and reading them to us. She also was a reporter for the Orem Geneva Times. She was a member of the League of Utah Writers and attended Round-up several times. She took me with her to hear Louis L’Amour when I was in junior high (What a wonderful opportunity!) and I took third place in the youth division for fiction.

hp_scanDS_811261412028(That’s Carole with her mother and brother. She says that for most of her childhood, she thought the table arrangement behind her was her hair. :D)

Several of my teachers through the years told me I was a good writer. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t until I was in high school that the creative dream expanded to include pottery. I was the youngest of five and the only girl in our family. Life at our house was chaotic. I would often seek a quiet spot in the house or my room to read or to write. My imagination was always huge and when I played with my friends, I was the one who was constantly coming up with the pretend scenarios.  In college, I took creative writing classes along with my art classes. I never could choose one over the other, so years after graduating in art, I went back to college and got a degree in English. (Congratulations and good for you!)

ME:  If you had to choose between pottery and writing, which would you choose and why?

CAROLE:  That is a really hard question. (Sorry…) I honestly can’t imagine having to give up either one. I used to tell people that giving up pottery would be like cutting off my arm. It’s so much fun. Writing is a different kind of outlet and a different kind of energy. I go through phases where one has to take over and become more important. In the summer, it’s all pottery. But when I’m editing and re-writing, I have little time for pottery.

Since you insist on choosing, I will go with pottery, mainly because it never lets me down. There is rejection in the process of getting in shows and things, but the rejection doesn’t feel as personal or as painful as getting a rejection on a book. Writing is a great way to work through problems, but it often leaves me feeling raw and sometimes drained of energy when I write about a difficult situation in my life. The pottery energizes my soul and doesn’t leave me feeling depleted. I feel happier when I’m making pottery. On the other hand, I only have a couple of good potter friends, but I’ve made dozens of friends through my writing. I would never want to give up the friendships I’ve made. So what a hard choice!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(And we can understand why when we see the fruits of her gift…I’d love a dinner set!)

ME:  Why do you write? What are you striving for with each book or story, and what are you hoping the reader comes away with?

CAROLE:  So far, my books have been for fun. I like to tell stories. I like to listen to stories. I like to read stories. I’m the one who is listening in on conversations in restaurants hoping to glean a nugget I can use in a story. (So that was you the other night, eh?) I am a great observer.. So what I hope is that I’m successful in getting the reader to escape, to laugh, and to think.

A recurring theme (hopefully not too overt) in all my novels is that people aren’t always what they seem. The kindest person in town may not be the most successful. I love small towns and I think that’s reflected in all my stories too. Other than my novels, I do write a lot of personal reflection essays. Some of these have made their way to blogs, but some are too personal even for that. That kind of writing is the way I deal with the more difficult aspects of life and religion. I used to be a great “letter to the editor” writer, but ever since blogging came along, I’ve found I can get most of what I need to say out and only contribute to the newspaper occasionally.

ME:  What are the similarities and differences between creating a good ceramic piece and creating a good story? (And I’d love a picture of you at work doing each.)

CAROLE:  Creating something that wasn’t there before. Always doing your best, whether or not you are creating an essay, blog post, novel, bowl, mug, or vase. The first idea that comes is often cliché, so take that idea and make it better. The ideas come similarly. For writing, an idea will come and it develops in the process. In pottery, the ideas come more quickly because the process is so much faster from start to finish–unless it’s a short writing piece.

at work on potphoto

There is art and crafting in each skill. There is something about continuing to learn and develop. Both arts need a consumer for the process to be complete. Writing can be just for the person, but it’s so much better if the writing can be shared and experienced by many.

vase on potters wheel

The differences are in the product and function. I can sell a book to someone I will never see and often never hear from. But usually when I sell pottery, I will have some personal contact with the person. I often can see them hold my pottery and I can imagine them using it. I get to see how my work affects them. But each piece is usually only enjoyed by one person or family. With writing, it may be enjoyed by thousands of people, but I only occasionally get feedback from the reader. My writing can convey ideas. My pottery is meant for function and beauty.

(Very well put.)

ME:  Okay, this next line of questioning is a little out there so let’s see if I can phrase it well enough to get my meaning across. As one “liberal” to another, how much of a struggle is it to keep politics and social views out of your fiction, or do you throw caution to the wind and risk alienating half of your readers by letting it all in? Do you even feel that tension as you write, and how does it affect what you write and the way you write?

CAROLE:  I don’t know how much people notice the liberal themes in my books. No one has complained to me personally yet. I don’t like anything that is hard sell myself, so I try to be subtle. There are always liberal characters in my books; environmentalists, being the easiest to write about comfortably, are generally the main characters. I like to pair this character with one who makes a living doing something counter to the more liberal person’s point of view. Usually these two opposing characters find a way to compromise and get along. (If only our Congress could follow suit!)

I try to show the humor in extreme views. I did have one reader/writer take offense to Iris, an extreme environmentalist, in POACHING DAISIES. I said, you are supposed to think she’s over-the-top. Once she knew that, she was okay with Iris’s view. Another character is a gun-toting conservative and the two of them have some pretty humorous arguments. In other words, I don’t keep politics out of it, but I want people to lighten up and try to work together.

There are other social views I have that I haven’t included in my fiction. Someday! I do worry about alienating my readers, but also realize that some of the best fiction is not always comfortable. (True.) Think of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. That story creeped me out. (Good example.)

ME:  Tell us more about your recently released novel, POACHING DAISIES, and what led you to write it.

Poaching Daisies CAROLE:  I write about places where I have a very strong connection. The setting is very important in each of my novels. POACHING DAISIES was set in the small tourist town of Silver Gate where my grandma and grandpa built a cabin in 1960. The town is one mile outside of Yellowstone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Here’s a picture of the town)

Several years ago, when we were visiting, they had a town meeting about eradicating the oxeye daisy, an invasive species. At the time, it was very popular to plant this flower in your summer yard. The problem is the problem-free flower would take over native grasses. The “environmentalists” took the task of eradicating it very seriously. A story began to brew in my mind. Then I brought in another problem that had been in the news and that was poaching bears and harvesting certain organs for “medicinal” purposes. I found the two a pretty fun match for a suspense novel set in the park. (It does sound fun!)

ME:  I have to be honest and say that I’ve been struck by the seriousness of some of your blog postings of late. It makes me wonder if you might have a deeper, more serious novel working its way up in you–something beyond genre fiction. How do you respond to that?

CAROLE:  I wondered if anyone noticed the seriousness of my posts. I’ve had a difficult year emotionally. Just when we start to feel comfortable, things shift–beliefs shift–leaving us feeling wobbly at times. Issues and difficulties in life literally keep me awake at night. I’ve found that if I can write about it, I can go to sleep. For me, writing in a journal doesn’t work. I like the idea that someone else might benefit, relate, or think about something I have to say.

I was raised in a home of strongly opinionated people. We didn’t discuss, we argued. (Me too!) As I grew up and developed my own beliefs, I found those clashing with my family and with many of my friends and neighbors in Utah. Something I’ve grown to feel passionate about is that, as a society and as a church, we’ve left some people without options. Four years ago I witnessed the tragic death of a young man. Since that time, my heart has felt more deeply than it ever had before. I never stop thinking about the fragility of life. I ache with the thought of the mother and father whose son never came home again. And yet I’ve heard of some parents turning their backs on a child because he or she is gay or because they left their faith. I don’t know how anyone recovers from losing a child, but choosing to lose a child because they aren’t what you think they should be breaks my heart.

I do know that, as writers, we take all of the stuff around us and it will come out in some way in our writing. But letting ourselves feel, really feel what’s happening or could happen is painful. I’ve been helping a friend to write her story. She came out as a Lesbian to her husband of sixteen years and that is one of the biggest reasons her marriage ended. She has a story to tell and I’d like to help her get it out. The seriousness of the subject is something that requires a lot of skill and grace. I hope to be up to the challenge. Creative non-fiction is my favorite kind of writing.

ME:  I know you’re a hiker. Looking back on all the hiking/camping trips you’ve taken, which has been your favorite and why? (And please provide pictures, if possible.) Also, have you ever gotten a good idea for a novel out of one of your hikes?

CAROLE:  Choosing a favorite hike might be as hard as choosing a favorite novel or child. When I was in high school I had a good friend who lived up Provo Canyon. She really got me into hiking. We hiked lots of trails in the canyon and hiked to the top of Mount Timpanogas several times every summer. It’s about a 15-mile roundtrip hike and has a lot of wildflowers. I was lucky enough to marry a man who loves to hike as much as I do. Together we hike all the trails in Logan canyon and around us. One of our favorites is to Jardine Juniper, a barely alive gnarly tree that is 3200 years old.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Carole with her husband above on a hike near Silver Gate–setting of POACHING DAISIES…and with her daughter below on the Crimson Trail in Logan Canyon)



(With members of her writing group at Jardine Juniper for a birthday hike)

In Yellowstone, we like to do several hikes each trip and always try to find one we haven’t done yet. Our children and grandchildren all hike. It’s part of being in our family. Everyone knows I do an annual birthday hike. Anyone can come and it’s a way I’ve learned to deal with growing older. (Sounds like a terrific tradition, as long as you stay in shape.)

I haven’t gotten a specific idea for a novel, but Poaching Daisies includes several of the hikes I’ve done in the Yellowstone area. The opening scene with a dead bear and gunshot takes place on a hike that I have done several times.

ME:  Please describe your writing space and what makes it uniquely fit with you.

CAROLE:  My friend, whose story I want to write, gave me a lovely desk to thank me for the efforts I’d made in helping her. The desk fits perfectly in our new upstairs. I take turns writing at the desk with the spectacular view behind me, or I sit on a recliner and write on my laptop and look out at another mountain view.


(Riding her bike near her home in Avon, Utah)


(Springtime in Avon)

I love to write outside on our wrap-around porch, but can’t deal with the glare, so I usually end up coming inside. I wrote most of my novels in the house we lived in in Paradise at the kitchen table. I love the flexibility of a laptop and honestly don’t think I would enjoy writing a novel on a desktop again.

ME:  Finally, what are you working on now both in pottery and writing, and how would you describe your writing process?

CAROLE:  I’m not actively writing anything right now. I’ve started my memoirs, which are mostly just for fun, although I hope, at some point, some part of it can become marketable. I am trying to get back with my friend and help her write her story. I keep thinking about novel ideas and love some of my characters that I would like to meet up with again. I keep thinking about how Sunny Day from my book FALSE PRETENSES of a decade ago would love to meet Iris MacAfee from POACHING DAISIES. I hear new stories from friends in Grouse Creek, and that makes me want to write another novel set there. The town is down to only about 70 people and the school has only about seven students. That is a lot smaller than when my husband and I taught there twenty years ago. It’s such a unique setting that the story ideas are easily mined.

As far as my pottery, I love functional pottery. I love that small pieces of art are gracing the homes of typical families. Because it’s such an affordable art to own, so many more people can enjoy it. I’m working at building and marketing my business. And of course ideas are always coming to change designs and styles.

If you’d like to read more from Carole or see more examples of her pottery, check out her blog. POACHING DAISIES is currently available on Amazon.

Originally posted 2013-03-13 06:00:33.

“Wednesday Writer” – Marlene Bateman Sullivan


An author of both fiction and nonfiction, Marlene Bateman Sullivan has recently had yet another book published. GAZE INTO HEAVEN is a compilation of fifty documented near-death experiences of life beyond the veil, drawn from the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As part of her two-week blog tour for the book, I’m interviewing her here today.

Banner for Blog Tour

ME:  What made you always want to be a writer, and what was the plot of the first story you ever wrote?

MARLENE:  Part of my wanting to be a writer had to do with reading so much. I was a voracious reader as a child and have remained so. For three years in a row in elementary school, I won the award for reading the most books. And the prize was: A book! I was delighted, of course and still have those books. 

I almost wonder if writers are born, because I always wanted to write. I don’t remember the plot of the first story I wrote, but I do remember one day when I stayed home from school.  There was a storm, and I watched the amazing clouds and wrote page after page about the clouds. I guess it would be boring to read, but it was exciting for me to write about! I also remember writing a little story about my brother’s blue car, which he parked in the back yard when he went on his mission. I was about ten, and wrote about how sad the car was to be alone, and how birds came and sat on it, and so on. My mother read it and thought it was so “precious” that she shared it with other people, which embarrassed me to death.

ME:  Tell me about the junior high teacher who encouraged you in your writing. And was there also a particular teacher in high school who influenced you?

MARLENE:  I feel bad I can’t remember her name, but she was a student teacher and was so encouraging. She was so supportive of me that when I had written a story, I asked her to read it. She praised me and said my writing style was like John Steinbeck, which thrilled me to death. There wasn’t a particular teacher in high school that helped me, but some teacher asked us all to write down a goal a year for the next ten years. I put down to go to college, write and publish a book, get married, write another book, have children, write another book, etc.  Didn’t happen—I didn’t foresee how much time raising children would take. So I wrote for magazines instead while my children were small. When the kids were older, I was able to start writing books. (But it all started with those goals!)

ME:  What was Sandy, Utah like when you were growing up there, and how has it changed?

MARLENE:  Sandy was the boondocks back then, although 700 East had started to become a very busy street. My parents had 1 ½  acres and I loved the country feel of it all.  My father raised mink, gladiolus, and later, large pumpkins. We had fruit trees, raspberry bushes, and when I was little, chickens.  Now, Sandy is mostly an intermittent strip mall! (Not unlike most of the I-15 corridor from SLC down through Utah County) The house I grew up in was torn down and now a large office building sits where we used to light sparklers, irrigate the crops, weed the corn, and have barbecues.

(That kind of makes me sad.)

ME:  How would you, as the former owner of a floral shop, compare writing to making floral arrangements?

MARLENE:  I think arranging flowers and writing are both very creative endeavors. I’m very thankful to have this talent and have tried to use it to please customers and my readers. I loved working with flowers. Each arrangement was different and you got to pick whether to put snapdragons in, or carnations, or alstroemeria. It was just fun to create something beautiful. I especially loved school dances and helping the boys pick out colors and flowers. But then I gave it up and turned to writing full time, another creative endeavor that is very fulfilling and satisfying, just in a different way!

ME:  What made you finally sell the shop and pursue writing full time?

MARLENE:  I had a health scare. I went in for a routine mammogram and was told to return another day for another one. During that one, a doctor said I would probably need a biopsy for a lump they had found. I had a few days to think. At times like that, you look back on your life, and I asked myself, “If I had something to do differently with my life, what would it be?”

I could only think of one thing—that I had always wanted to be a writer. And while I had written numerous magazine and newspaper articles, and one book—I had hoped to do so much more. When the test results came back that the lump was just a massive cyst and all was well, I was relieved but determined to live my live without regrets. I talked with my husband and we decided to close the shop so that I could have more time to write. My husband, Kelly, has always been extremely supportive and I would not have gotten to where I am without him.

(I think spouses of writers are born that way, too.)

ME:  You began by writing nonfiction–LATTER-DAY SAINT HEROES AND HEROINES (VOLUMES ONE AND TWO), followed by a 3-book series about true angelic experiences, and then BRIGHAM’S BOYS. What made you turn to fiction?

MARLENE:  I wrote nonfiction because I was afraid I couldn’t write fiction. I longed to write fiction, but didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t realize that nonfiction writers must also write well. I didn’t believe in myself. Writing fiction was something I really wanted to do and so I decided to try. It was hard, but I kept working and re-writing it until I felt I had a great book, Light on Fire Island and it turned out to be a bestseller. Yay! (I’ll say. Congratulations!)


ME:  Now you’re back to nonfiction with GAZE INTO HEAVEN, your latest. Please tell us about it and how you decided which stories to include and which to leave out?

A Gaze Into HeavenMARLENE:  I was amazed when I started researching to find out there were so many near-death experiences! I snapped up each one, but soon had to set some parameters. First, I decided to use only experiences in early church history. Plenty of people had written about modern-day experiences but I wanted to provide something new and different.

Second, I came across a lot of experiences where people had visited the spirit world, but had seen it through a vision or dream. Their experiences were almost identical to those who had near-death experiences, but I had to leave them out of this book. In the future, I hope to do a sequel so people can read the rest of these amazing experiences about visiting the spirit world.

ME:  Are you working on any more fiction and, if so, what? Also, which do you find more difficult–fiction or nonfiction? And why?

MARLENE:  Right now, I’m working on a light-hearted, romance novel that is set at Christmas time. It’s been quite a change for me, since I’ve been writing mysteries for a while. My second novel, Motive for Murder, will be out this June. It’s a great mystery with a quirky private eye, Erica Coleman, who has OCD. It has a very surprising twist at the end!

I also have another non-fiction book, Heroes of Faith, coming out in July. This is a collection of stories about people in early Church history who actually risked their life in defense of the gospel.

As for which is easier to write, I would say nonfiction.  However, nonfiction does require a lot of researching, and you have to be extremely accurate. But I love to research.

With fiction, I like to write mysteries and it’s a lot of work to plot them. Plot is everything in a mystery and you have to have a good, solid foundation, or else the book is not going to work. I love it, but I find it is harder to write than non-fiction.

ME:  Finally, please describe your writing space (and provide a picture or two) and your process.

MARLENE:  I dearly love my writing space. We remodeled our house four years ago and my writing area is perfect now. I’ve included a couple of pictures. About ten years ago, I splurged and bought a really nice L-shaped desk that came in three pieces. The left part of my desk is about 4’ long and it has 3 cupboards and two shelves. My two monitors sit on the middle piece, which is about 2 1/2 feet across in front. Years ago, my dear son, Ryan, a computer genius, insisted that I get a second monitor, and now, I could not live without it.

Desk view 1Desk view 2(Check out the comfy chair, too…and that looks like some kind of plotting board)

To my right, is another section that is about 4’ long, and holds my computer, router, print server, etc. plus printer.  Behind it is another small table for a second, color printer. I have a beautiful bay window where I can look out across my lovely yard and my two dogs huddle under my desk by my feet to keep me company. I’ve included a picture of them, too.

My friends(Too cute!)

Outside, is my second ‘office’—my gazebo. It’s my writing oasis in the late spring, summer, and early fall. We have half an acre, with bushes, trees, gardens, and lawn so I’m surrounded by nature. I love it! I had my husband put up blinds on two sides of the gazebo to cut down on the glare on my laptop. I put a little fountain in one corner, and have a cushioned swing to sit on. My two dogs and one cat come out and lounge around, keeping me company as I write. (Okay, is someone spoiled here or not?)


I’ve written so much; I’d best leave out my writing process, which could go on for another full page. But I will say that my daily schedule is to do housework, yard work, grocery shopping, visiting teaching, etc. etc. until 10:30. (Although it’s often past that time when I begin writing.) I write until 12:30, then take an hour break to eat lunch and to read. I also take a 15-minute power nap.  I then resume writing until 7:00 p.m. when I stop to make dinner. Most afternoons, I take a short break and go for a walk with my dogs.

If you want to learn more about Marlene, check out her website. Her newest book, GAZE INTO HEAVEN, is available on the shelves at Deseret and Seagull Bookstores, or you can order a copy right now on Amazon, Deseret Book, and Seagull Book.

Next Wednesday I’ll be interviewing a fellow free thinking writer, Carole Thayne Warburton.

Carole Thayne Warburton

Originally posted 2013-03-06 06:00:41.

“Wednesday Writer” – Maria Hoagland

Maria Hoagland “nailed the whole church society thing” according to one reviewer of her first LDS novel, NOURISH & STRENGTHEN, and now she has another out titled FAMILY SIZE.

Family Size Cover Final 72 dpiHere’s the synopsis:

Jessica loves being the mom of an ever-expanding family, but when an ultrasound throws her a curve, can she adapt with grace?

Dragged away from home, Maya feels deserted by her workaholic husband in a land of confusing accents and church cliques. What will it take to acclimate and save her marriage—or does she even want to?

Sloane is an algebra teacher and runner who would give up both to be a mom, but no matter what she does, pregnancy remains elusive. Can she adjust her thinking and find purpose in her life?

As their lives intertwine, can friendship and faith help these women hurdle expectations of an ideal family size?


Family Size blog tour bannerAs you can see from the above banner, Maria’s offering a free signed copy. Just click on the first link below for a shot at the prize, or click on one of the next three links to buy your own copy today:

Blog post with rafflecopter: http://mariahoagland.blogspot.com/2013/02/family-size-giveaway.html

Amazon (Kindle, but paperback on same page, too): http://www.amazon.com/Family-Size-ebook/dp/B00BFVJGG2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1361675099&sr=8-2&keywords=maria+hoagland

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/family-size-maria-hoagland/1114578255?ean=2940044315266

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/283339


Now, let’s get to know Maria a good deal better!

Maria Hoagland

ME:  How is it you became a big fan of Annie Dillard and why? (And you might want to explain who she is for those of us who might be a bit less literate . . . otherwise, we’d have to go scurrying to Wikipedia. :D)

MARIA:  LOL! I forgot I said that at one time, but she is one of the originals who inspired me–though our styles are nothing alike. What especially spoke to me about Annie Dillard’s writings when I was introduced to them by an amazing grad student/teacher in college were Annie’s nonfiction essays about nature and the application she made to her life. I realized you can write (and read) what you are passionate about and it’s that passion that will communicate to others.

I write LDS women’s fiction because that’s what I like to read. It covers ideas, issues, and feelings that are important to me. If I were to write something else just because that’s the trend readers are looking for, I wouldn’t be true to myself and get the same enjoyment and fulfillment I get out of writing what speaks to me. (Good for you!)

ME:  Please describe your development as a writer, from the beginning until now. And if you had to couch it in playwriting terms, what would you title Acts 1, 2 and 3? (And I’d love a picture to go with each act.)


Act 1: Education–In high school and college, I dabbled in writing short stories and poems while I worked on my English degree, but it was a way to pass time, not something I thought would develop into anything serious. I took all the creative writing and editing classes that were available at the time (which weren’t many), but it was what I read that fueled my writing and I just didn’t have much to say.

When my children were small, there was a huge intermission in my writing. I didn’t feel a desire to write; instead, I channeled my creativity through raising children and scrapbooking.

Act 2: Apprenticeship–When my youngest started kindergarten, all of a sudden I found myself with a strong desire to write that coincided perfectly with my new influx of ime available to do it. By this time, I felt I had some life experience and something to say that I really didn’t have a dozen years before. It took me about nine months to write my first draft of a novel, but several years to edit, re-edit, and re-re-edit that novel. I had a lot to learn about the craft and the writing process. In addition, I had to research the publishing process and find the confidence to query. It was during that time I attended my first writing conference.

That writing conference led me into . . .

Act 3: Where I am today, practicing my craft–I am writing and editing on a much faster timetable now, though still not as quickly as some. I’ve made connections with other writers, which helps me improve and make writing fun. Honestly, I know I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I hadn’t gone to that first writing conference or signed up for writing groups and taken part in critique groups as opportunities arose.

(Very nice play structure, with the end yet to be determined.)

ME:  Like you, I majored in communications at BYU to be more practical, but I stuck with it. What exactly was it about writing for The Daily Universe that made you realize you weren’t cut out to be a journalist?

MARIA:  It shows that you stuck with journalism–you’re asking some difficult questions.

(Thanks…I dream of taking part in a presidential press conference some day…just kidding!)

Honestly, the worst part about writing for The Daily Universe for me was calling people. (Oh, yes! Me too!) I don’t know why it is–maybe it’s the introvert in me–but I HATE calling people I don’t know. It was that, and when I went to my very first real interview and left in tears. (Oh, no…that bad?) I think I’d be better at it now–I’ve toughened up a little in twenty-some years–but anything slightly confrontational is just not my thing. I didn’t want to force myself to work at something I dreaded; I wanted to do something I loved. (Smart girl!)

ME:  How does your husband feel about your writing, particularly when he finds you working on it while preparing dinner? For that matter, how does your whole family feel about it?

MARIA:  I’d like to say I’ve gotten better about cooking and writing, though I’m still not the best. Often, I realize I forgot to thaw something or get the crock pot started at the right time, and then we’re scrambling last minute to figure out something different. Even with my lapses, my husband is very supportive of my writing, even to the detriment of his stomach! (Now that’s true love.) The kids rarely complain, but if they happen to marry someone who likes to cook, it will open up a whole new world to them!

(I got lucky–my husband does the cooking.)

ME:  You’ve said that your first book, NOURISH & STRENGTHEN, came out of a journal entry about your family cat, and then you ended up axing the cat part of the story. I want to know what the journal entry was about.

MARIA:  I’m trying to remember exactly what that one was about and what parts stayed in the final draft. The gist was the idea of an indoor cat teasing the outdoor cat–a false feeling of safety because they were separated by glass. (She was scared to death of him “in person.”)

Sometimes we have to go out of our comfort zone to grow as a person–yeah, something I didn’t embrace at The Daily Universe, I suppose–but as far as it relates to NOURISH & STRENGTHEN, there’s a balance to learning to accept ourselves for who we are and loving ourselves even when we’re not perfect, but then there’s also expanding our talents, improving our relationships, and doing our very best.

ME:  Please talk about your particular writing process. Is there a particular time every day that you’ve carved out for writing–a time respected by your friends and family?

MARIA:  My writing schedule is a work in progress even still. I try to make every snatch of time productive–and that means carrying my Kindle and netbook with me as much as possible for when I’m waiting in the car. I don’t do much writing during family time and never on Sunday, but with all my kids in school, I’ve got most of the day to write (my other job is only part time during the school day). Because I enjoy writing, I find the time and tend to put off things like grocery shopping or Costco runs so I can sit in Barnes & Noble or a park with a netbook.

ME:  Do any of your other activities serve to better your writing? If so, please describe how.

MARIA:  Most of the time, running helps me clear my head and gives me time to think through whatever blocks or issues I have with my WIP. I’ve been known to stop running, pull out my phone to make a note, and then go on.

Also, I find that hanging out with friends, working, volunteering, and spending time with family gives me more ideas. You can’t write about life without living it.

ME:  Please describe your writing space and what makes it special. (And I must have a picture.)

MARIA:  I have a new writing space that I love–one all my own for the first time ever. My oldest child went off to BYU and will be leaving for a mission in April (Congratulations!), so when I realized that he wasn’t going to be home for two-and-a-half years and there was no reason to keep it “his” room, I transformed it into my own. I brought in everything I love that I didn’t have room for elsewhere in the house: a huge bookshelf, a love seat, a place for the cat to sit under the window, a desk that looks out the window . . . all very important to my creative process, especially when the weather’s not nice enough to write outdoors. I hated to make my son feel like he was being kicked out of his own home, but I think he knows it’s temporary–I’ll happily relinquish control when he ever has need of the room. Until then, it’s MINE!


(Here’s the love seat . . . check out the drawings!)


(And here’s the desk and window, plus what looks like a plotting board)

ME:  Finally, what are you working on now, and do you ever think about trying anything besides fiction (like Annie Dillard)?

MARIA:  I don’t think I’ll ever write anything but fiction. I have a couple more novel ideas running around in my head–one more persistently and prominently than the others–but I’m still in the idea-gathering, research-scouring, outline-producing stage, so I think I’ll keep mum at the moment until I know my idea will work.

(I understand, but if you were the President, I’d be more persistent :D.)

Thank you so much for interviewing me, Tanya! Congratulations on being named a Whitney Finalist. I’m hoping some day to make it to that stage, as well. Best of luck in May!

(Aw, thanks. And I have no doubt you will achieve that dream . . . and more.)

If you want to know more about Maria and her writing, you can check out her website or her blog.

Next week I’ll be interviewing bestselling author, Marlene Bateman Sullivan. She has a new book out!

By the way, if you’re a writer and would like to be interviewed as part of my “Wednesday Writer” series, please leave me a shout out here in the Comments section.


Originally posted 2013-02-27 06:00:47.

“Wednesday Writer” – Jennie Hansen

Jennie Hansen

Everyone in the LDS publishing community knows who Jennie Hansen is. Besides having penned many of her own novels in several different genres, she reviews regularly for Meridian Magazine. And now she has a new novel out–WHERE THE RIVER ONCE FLOWED.

WheretheRiverOnceFlowed_COVER_COMP(Great cover!)

Here’s a brief synopsis:

New Mexico, 1879—The Sebastian Hacienda is a lucrative and coveted ranch deep in the fertile wilderness of New Mexico, a property held for generations by the powerful Sebastian family. After the death of his son and heir, proud and formidable Don Sebastian has only one hope for the preservation of his land: his beautiful young granddaughter, Iliana. Desperate, he makes a shocking deal—the property will be sold to Ross Adams, an American cowboy, on the condition that he marry the stunning young Iliana and bequeath the land to her sons. A bargain is struck, but not everyone is pleased with the outcome. Neighboring rancher Ben Purdy has his eye on pretty Iliana—and on ownership of the Sebastian Ranch. In his ruthlessness, Purdy is willing to go to terrible lengths to acquire them both, even if it means destroying everything in his path . . . Utah Territory, 1891—Travis Telford was born to be a cowboy. He left his family to chase the dream of someday owning his own ranch, but years of nomadic living as a ranch hand have proven taxing. After several seasons of horse trading with the American owner of the Sebastian Ranch, Travis finds his life dramatically altered by a routine stop at the property. He finds the ranch in chaos and the rancher’s beautiful widow Iliana in the midst of a turbulent land battle. His instinct to protect Iliana is undeniable, and as the danger mounts, only their reliance upon each other has the power to save them.

For those of you intrigued by the story, here’s the link to purchase Jennie’s latest in ebook form.

Now let’s get to know her a bit better.

ME:  As I understand it, you were first published at age seven in a farm magazine. You said that you’d read an article about a cat in that magazine, and that you were certain your cat was much smarter, so you wrote about her. Being a cat person, myself, my question is, why were you so certain your cat was smarter? (Also, I’d love to share a picture of you with your cat at that age.)

JENNIE:  I don’t remember anything about the cat in the article I read, but my cat, Streaker, could run really fast, jump from the treehouse to the next tree, catch mice and gophers, wiggle out of any doll clothes I put on her, sneak past KC the gander, and she found a hidden spot inside the barn to have her kittens where the coyotes couldn’t get them. (Okay, I’m duly impressed!)

My mother didn’t often get out her old box camera, and most of the few pictures she had were ruined in a flood when I was eight. I have only a couple of pictures of me at that age, but my cat isn’t in either one. One is of me in my blue satin Sunday dress…


…and the other is of my cousin, Colleen, and I riding my brother’s horse.

Jennie and Colleen(There’s Jennie in back)

ME:  Like you, I moved around a lot as I was growing up, so I can identify with your sentiment about your siblings being among your closest friends. Do you still get together frequently, and have any of them made it into your novels as characters? (I’d love a picture of the whole family when you were young.)

JENNIE:  My siblings and I are still close and we get together as often as possible, which isn’t as often as we’d like, but we live in three different states. Cancer took one brother and one sister not long ago. I’ve never put any of my siblings in any of my books. My characters are always entirely products of my imagination, but I suppose there are bits and pieces of real people in my head that creep into those imaginary characters’ makeup. (I wouldn’t be surprised.)

Smith Family with G.Shepard(Jennie in the front row, far left, with her family)

ME:  As you moved between Idaho and Montana, which state did you come to prefer and why? Or was there no real difference between them? And how does Utah now compare?

JENNIE:  I found a great deal to love about each state, and I associate Idaho with my early childhood and later teens, while Montana holds my memories of those “tween” years from eleven to thirteen. I found the most enduring friendships in Idaho, but Montana can’t be beat for fishing, hiking, and outdoor fun. I love living in Utah now with its mixture of indoor and outdoor opportunities. It’s where we raised our children and holds the best of my adult memories.

ME:  I can understand how an early bout of rheumatic fever gave you the time to really develop your love of reading, but who or what got you interested in politics at an early age?

JENNIE:  My dad had strong political views, which he shared with us kids. I also had a history and civics teacher in high school who encouraged us to learn political analysis, as did a college economics professor. My years as a newspaper reporter honed my interest in politics, as well, since it brought me in close contact with many political figures and, in a way, led me to run for the town council, work as a page for the legislature, and hold various party offices.

ME:  Of all your awards in journalism and writing, which means the most to you and why?

JENNIE:  That’s hard to answer. Offhand, I’d say the national award I received for editing from the National Federation of Press Women, yet awards for various individual articles I wrote mean a lot to me too. This award matters to me because it was my first big award and because journalism played such a strong part in my life.

I felt extremely honored to be one of the first recipients of LDStorymakers’ Lifetime Achievement Award (as part of the Whitney Awards). And the Silver Trumpet Award from my publisher holds a lot of personal meaning for me. I really can’t say one means more to me than another. They both touched me deeply because they’re a tangible symbol of something I worked so hard to achieve.

ME:  Please tell us how your diagnosis of cancer affected your writing. And how do you maintain the kind of inspiration needed to keep producing novels at the rate you do–24 now (particularly since you also regularly review books for Meridian)?

JENNIE:  I was diagnosed with cancer four weeks after my first novel was released which kept me from an active role in marketing it. I gained some insights from my experience fighting cancer that affected subsequent books, but I never really wrote about cancer other than a brief bit in JOURNEY HOME a few years later. I did help a couple of other writers who were writing about cancer with their research. 

I always thought I’d write more extensively about cancer or have a character fight cancer in one of my books, but having lost two siblings to it, struggled through four bouts of the nasty C with a couple of my children, and recently undergone a pancreatectomy to keep it from destroying me in the near future, I find I can’t do it–at least not yet. (Wow…I’m not surprised.)

As far as the inspiration to keep writing goes, I’m presently taking a break from novel writing. I don’t have another novel started yet; I’m simply concentrating on getting well and focusing on my Meridian reviews. However, Covenant is putting out a Mothers’ Day book this spring that will have a short story by me concerning my two miracle granddaughters which I actually wrote while at the rehab center. I’ll always write–I have ink in my veins–but it might be awhile before I write another novel.

ME:  What gave you the idea for your latest novel, WHERE THE RIVER ONCE FLOWED, and what are you working on next?

JENNIE:  WHERE THE RIVER ONCE FLOWED has a convoluted history. I was in the middle of a six book historical series (The Bracelet series) when Covenant, my publisher, was purchased by the Church and fell under the same umbrella as Deseret Book. The new management decided my series and another series by another well-known author should switch from hardbound to soft cover and be only four books instead of six.

High Country

I already had Diamond completely written and was well into Sapphire. I hurriedly changed both books to leave out the jewels. Sapphire became HIGH COUNTRY with a different ending than originally planned. My publisher decided Diamond was much too long, and I wrote two other books, SHUDDER and IF I SHOULD DIE, while I figured out how to break up Diamond. As you’ve probably guessed, those two books became THE HEIRS OF SOUTHBRIDGE and WHERE THE RIVER ONCE FLOWED.

The Heirs of Southbridge

As for my next book? I don’t know; I’m not ready yet to undertake a task as large as writing a book. (I think you deserve a rest, too.)

ME:  As the first Whitney Awards Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, I think you’re in an excellent position to measure the growth of this particular awards program. How has it been successful, and what ways do you imagine it might expand in the future?

JENNIE:  It has brought a lot of attention to LDS fiction and educated readers to the fact that LDS fiction is not one-size-fits-all but represents every genre. In the future, I’d like to see these awards move away from peer awards and better represent the views of readers, but I’ve no idea how that might be accomplished. 

I support the concept of awarding and acknowledging quality writing in the LDS market and hope to see the  program grow. I’m not fond of the Best Book of the year part of the awards since I don’t think it is possible to  compare apples and oranges and determine a speculative book is somehow better than a Mystery/Suspense. It is my hope that, in the future, these awards will highlight better and better professionalism in LDS novels and perhaps even include nonfiction and novellas categories.

(I’d even suggest short story anthologies, since that seems to be a growing segment.)

ME:  And how about the state of LDS fiction? You probably read more of it than any of us. Are LDS writers getting better? Does it help that some are getting national exposure, or are there inherent dangers in going national?

JENNIE:  LDS fiction covers a wide quality range. We still have a lot of cheesy, poorly written novels. We also have many novels that can hold their own in any measure of professionalism. I see supposedly LDS novels that exhibit no adherence to Church standards or doctrinal accuracy and others that are so preachy I wonder why they consider their sermons to be novels. There are those that bend over backward to make sure there are no references to the Church and others that read like missionary tracts. 

I don’t know whether LDS writers are getting better or not. Some are; some aren’t. Editing is becoming more sloppy and I’m not sure if that is because of the large number of amateur editors offering their services (note I said amateur, not freelance. Some of the freelance editors are very good.), colleges aren’t producing as many qualified editors, the economy has made hiring and maintaining good editors more difficult, our general reliance on electronics instead of real people, or the fact that some small publishers and self-publishing for e-readers do no editing at all. There are plenty of well-written, well-edited books by LDS authors, but sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which until you’ve spent your money.

I’m pleased to see LDS writers succeeding in the general market, but most are really no better writers than those who are sticking to the LDS market. Most of that success seems to be in the teen market and is heavy on the supernatural, sensationalism, dystopia, science fiction, or some type of fantasy. Though those genres are all represented to some extent in the LDS market, there isn’t as much demand for them. Those writers are writing what they enjoy and the general market is where the demand for their type of writing is.  Equally good writers are staying within the LDS market to write what they enjoy and know.  I don’t think LDS writers succeeding in the general market is good or bad, and I believe it is a fallacy to think general is somehow better. I think it’s great that LDS writers are succeeding and making a difference no matter where they find their audience.

(Very well put.)

ME:  Finally, please describe your writing space in the voice of one of your favorite protagonists (your choice, but tell us who and from which novel, okay?). (Also, please provide a picture of said space.)

JENNIE:  This isn’t going to work for me. Once I finish a book and it is published, I really can’t get back in a character’s head. Almost half of my books are historical and my protagonists in those books would have no idea what my phones, printer, computers, cameras, Kindle, paper cutter, etc. are.

Kallene in IF I SHOULD DIE would probably wonder why I don’t upgrade my laptop and do more cleanup on my desk computer. She’d probably wonder, too, why I have a printer with more features than I need and is more suitable for a business office than a home office.

The mother-in-law, Barbara, in THE RIVER PATH, would likely tell me I need to dust more often, shred instead of stack papers I don’t need, and clean out my files better.

Macady from MACADY wouldn’t care one way or another what my office looks like, but would be more interested in meeting my family and checking to see if I have a horse or two.

(I think that gives us a pretty good idea of your space.)

My office 001(And here are a couple of views)

My office 002 (The business model printer must be hiding in the corner. :D)

If you’d like to get to know Jennie even better, be sure and check out her blog.

By the way, Monique Bucheger won the copy of Craig Everett’s Toby Gold and the Secret Treasure in last week’s Rafflecopter giveaway.

Come back next Wednesday when I’ll be interviewing Maria Hoagland about her new book, Family Size, and how she has developed as a writer.

Maria Hoagland

Originally posted 2013-02-20 06:00:38.

“Wednesday Writer” – Craig Everett

Craig Everett is a financial researcher, teacher and author. While he currently serves as an assistant professor of finance in the MBA program at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, I’m focusing on him here today as a writer and an advocate for youth financial literacy education. His middle grade novel, TOBY GOLD AND THE SECRET FORTUNE, was described by Kirkus Reviews as “Unique children’s lit that cleverly tackles interest rates, endowments, fluctuating commodities, bullying and identity.”

Here’s a brief synopsis of the book:

An infant is discovered one night on a commuter train from New York City during a stop in the sleepy town of Wallingford, Connecticut. The local police are summoned, but are unable to locate the boy’s parents, despite painstakingly questioning each person on the train. 

Assigned the name “Toby Gold” by social services, the mysterious child grows up in Wallingford, moving from foster home to foster home not knowing who his real parents are – or why he was born with such freakish skills with math and money.

Now a teenager, Toby suddenly finds himself involved in a financial conspiracy that puts his life, and the lives of his two closest friends, in great peril. Ultimately, Toby solves the crime, saves his friends, and even saves his school using only his amazing money skills – and some chocolate pudding.

One lucky commenter on today’s post will win a copy of his book, as long as you also “like” his Toby Gold Facebook Page.

In the meantime, let’s find out more about this financial whiz and what led him to writing.

Craig EverettME:  What about your childhood in Maine led you to your chosen vocation in Finance and your avocation as a middle grade fiction author?

CRAIG:  My career focus is entrepreneurial finance. This is what I teach in my MBA program. I come from a long line of small business owners. My grandfather owned the Everett Saw Company in Bangor, ME. They made bucksaws. Unfortunately, the invention of the chainsaw made bucksaws obsolete. Oh well. My dad always had his own businesses, which inspired my love and interest in small business ventures.

ME:  Why middle grade? I would imagine that, having spent time with Fortune 500 companies and the like, you might have ventured into writing corporate or financial thrillers at the adult level. So what is it about this age group that draws you?

CRAIG:  I LOVE middle-grade. Middle-grade is all about the story. It has to be interesting, funny and fast-paced in order to maintain the attention of the reader. I also like middle-grade because it’s okay to be clean and moral. This is largely missing from YA and adult fiction. (You have a point there.)

(NOTE: I asked Craig for pictures of him digging for treasure on the beach as a boy…and of him in middle grade, but he declined. I think he’s afraid his graduate students will find them and use them for blackmail.)

ME:  So many authors I’ve come to know have a background in acting or theater, and it appears you’re no different (though you’re one of the few I’ve come across who has their own IMDb listing). Tell us about your acting background and how you came to be cast in “The Adventures of Food Boy,” as well as a little about the film’s story and your particular role. (I hope you’ve got a picture of you in costume.)

CRAIG:  I have participated in community theatre since childhood, starting with “The Theatre of the Enchanted Forest” company in Maine. It’s just fun for me. It was through a community theatre friend in Virginia that I met the writer/producer of “Food Boy.” I sent them an audition video and got the part of Montagu.

(Okay, again no picture…and very few details about the movie. I’m going to have to check it out from Blockbuster.)

ME:  How does your experience with acting and performing help when it comes to being a writer?

CRAIG:  I think that my acting experience gives me a good sense of dialogue pacing. It also helps me to think in terms of scenes and transitions.

(True, and speaking of transitions . . . )

ME:  Do you think kids today are more . . . or less . . . aware of the role that money plays in their lives, and why? And how can TOBY GOLD AND THE SECRET FORTUNE affect that awareness for young readers?

Toby GoldCRAIG:  I think that kids are less aware. This is why I wrote the book. It’s much harder for kids (and teenagers) to get jobs these days, so they really don’t have a healthy concept of the relationship between work and consumption.

ME:  I believe you have said that “Save Half” is your motto. Could you elaborate? And have you been successful in getting your own kids to save half of all they earn? In fact, please tell us how you’ve taught your own kids to deal with money. (If you don’t mind, I’d love to post a picture of your family.)

CRAIG:  Well, it’s not MY motto. It’s Toby Gold’s. The idea is that I want to instill the idea that we should live well below our means. Saving half requires that we make tough choices about how big our house or apartment is, and how large we live in general. Do I expect all my readers to actually save half? Well, it would be nice, but not necessarily realistic. Some will, some won’t.

But here’s the thing. If your goal is to save 10%, but then some emergency comes up, you end up saving nothing (or worse). On the other hand, if you’ve organized your life to save half and something unexpected comes up, you may indeed fail to achieve your 50% savings goal, but you will still save a lot. Better to shoot for the stars and hit the moon, than to shoot for the moon and then get incinerated in the atmosphere if you miss.

Craig Everett Family(Yay! A picture of his family)

ME:  Tell us about your new publishing imprint, Fiscal Press, how it came to be, and what kinds of fiction and non-fiction, if any, would be considered a good fit.

CRAIG:  Fiscal Press is an imprint of Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing in Oregon. I originally pitched the book to Wyatt-MacKenzie along with a bunch of other independent publishers (after my agent gave up on the major New York publishers). In general, they (the fancy-pants NY editors) all had great things to say about my book, but were not interested in taking the risk of publishing something so out-of-the-ordinary. I had interest from three independent publishers, but Wyatt-MacKenzie was willing to establish this new imprint, so I went with them.

ME:  I understand this new imprint is going to be managed by your MBA students. How? Will it be a class you teach or is this something outside the classroom?

CRAIG:  It’s entirely outside the classroom. It gives the students the chance to do some real publishing work.

(Sounds like fun!)

ME:  I believe you do most of your fictional writing with your laptop at a café or restaurant. Since I always like to discuss a writer’s “space,” could you please tell us your favorite location and the reasons you prefer it. (Also, please provide a picture of your writing space there.)

CRAIG:  Well, I wrote the first draft of TOBY GOLD on my laptop at the Purdue University student union in West Lafayette, Indiana. I would go there at lunch and write for an hour or 1,000 words, whichever came first. I liked it because it was a change of scenery from my office in the Krannert building.

Purdue University Student Union(Craig’s writing space)

ME:  Finally, what are you working on now in terms of fiction, and what projects lie ahead?

CRAIG:  I am working on book #2 in this series, called Toby Gold and the Order of the Invisible Hand. There are a total of six books planned in the series.

If you want to learn more about Craig, check out his website, and there’s more about his series here. In the meantime, you can enter the Rafflecopter drawing below for a chance to win a hardcover copy of Craig’s book–perfect for your kids!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And next week I’ll be interviewing writer and reviewer Jennie Hansen, who has a new novel out–Where the River Once Flowed.

Jennie Hansen

Originally posted 2013-02-13 07:00:16.

“Wednesday Writer” – Frédérique Molay

Frédérique Molay is the author of THE 7TH WOMAN, which is the first in an ongoing series of edge-of-your-seat police procedurals set in Paris focusing on the city’s elite Criminal Investigation Division and its Chief of Police, Nico Sirsky. This book won France’s most prestigious crime fiction award, was named Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year, and is already an international bestseller. It was published in English by the digital-first publisher Le French Book.

Frederique MolayME:  When did you first know you wanted to be a writer, and what prompted you to attempt your first novel at age 11? Can you give us a quick summary of the story? (Also, I’d love to show a picture of you at that age.)

FM:  When I learned to read, it was like a revelation. It was incredible to discover that letters formed words, then sentences and, finally, stories. Stories that take you into a parallel world, a fourth dimension, a land of dreams–and nightmares.

Very quickly, I became intrigued by the mechanisms of suspense that keep readers turning the pages of a book. So, I made a wish: to discover this power granted to novelists so that I, too, could make others feel such strong emotions. To do that, I wrote my first novel when I was eleven years old. It was a story about a child-killing cat. (Okay, that’s scary. Sounds like the kind of thing Stephen King would have started out writing.)

FMolay1(Frédérique, at 11…obviously a dog-lover)

ME:  You have said that you think writers “are actually made to write in one genre or another” . . . that the writer has to find what he/she is made for and accept it. How did you finally know crime fiction best fits you, and what in your particular brand of crime fiction echoes who you are?

FM:  There are so many books I would have loved to write, magnificent books at that, but I quickly realized that I was made to write crime fiction. This is perhaps because I’m really two different people. One is Cartesian, realistic, reasonable, ordered, the filing kind . . . and the other is a dreamer, the story-telling kind, who feels the need to flee, to escape and to forget.

Perhaps also I feel the need to establish a special bond with the reader that you find in the interactive game offered by the mystery genre. Perhaps it is because I am attracted to the fight between good and evil, and like the search for truth, as well. In 1791, the French philosopher Nicolas de Condorcet said, “The friends of truth are those who are seeking it, not those who boast about having found it.”

And also, perhaps I am afraid of death and I am trying to come to grips with that. What could be more reassuring than discovering a motive and a culprit, a good explanation for a death?

(So many possibilities. Each one sounds reasonable.)

ME:  What was your childhood like, and did anything in it lead to your interest in crime fighting and justice?

FM:  I had a happy childhood; bad luck came to me later on. My paternal grandfather was a Voltaire-style humanist, as was my father, and I always tried to understand rather than judge the things that happened to me. Except that in my stories, good always wins out over evil. I should also mention that I have always loved American movies, and particularly the Marvel universe of superheroes. The ups and downs of life and human cruelty will never make me forget my thirst for ideals and justice.

ME:  Why did you go into politics, and did that motivation have anything in common with why you write?

FM:  Because of my ideals. I wanted to help people and to participate in local development. Building projects, writing speeches for a commission chairman at the National Assembly or for a government minister certainly contributed greatly to my understanding of how investigations work and the attention to detail that is involved. In the end, politics scuffed up my idealism, (Why am I not surprised by that?) but my characters bolster it.

ME:  I’m very interested in the minds of writers. You’ve said, “For me, writing is an outlet, a way to fulfill a need to live in a parallel life.” Does everyone have that need, or just writers, and why?

FM:  I imagine that anyone who gives themselves over to an art form, whatever it may be, does so out of passion, but also because of some inner necessity, some need to externalize emotions and feelings, driven by the desire to share and impact others, and to be loved in return.

As Hermann Hesse said in The Journey to the East, “My happiness did indeed arise from the same secret as the happiness in dreams; it arose from the freedom to experience everything imaginable simultaneously, to exchange outward and inward easily, to move Time and Space about like scenes in a theatre.”

(That’s an excellent summation of the writing process!)

ME:  You’ve also said, “It is a form of self psychoanalysis, but you have to remain Zen.” Could you elaborate on that? What exactly did you mean?

FM:  In Dune, Frank Herbert asks, “Do you wrestle with dreams? Do you contend with shadows?” I prefer to wrestle with dreams. That is most probably my way of escaping the daily grind, of inventing a world where, although there is still crime, the good guys never lose sight of what is essential. Ultimately, my main goal, though, is to give readers strong emotions, an agreeable moment during which they can forget whatever my be bothering them.

ME:  Why do you think people enjoy reading suspense?

FM:  Oh, that magical power we talked about earlier in this interview. Writers of suspense are sorcerers who make readers keep turning the pages, who drag the readers into a story and knowing the end becomes the sole focus. Who killed and why? How can you stop before you know? Watch David Fincher’s The Game with the so-attractive Michael Douglas (I told you I love American movies). It has an excellent plot that ends in a kind of apotheosis. Like a good mystery should.

(Thanks for the suggestion :D)

ME:  Which writers or philosophers have influenced you the most and how?

FM:  Who has influenced me? Enid Blyton was a big part of my childhood, then came Stephen King (Aha! I thought so), Mary Higgins Clark, Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson, Michael Connelly and so many others. I am a fan of fantasy and crime fiction, but I often dive into more traditional literature, and read it with great pleasure. I love so many writers, it would be hard to mention them all here. What is interesting is to see the historical and philosophical threads that connect these authors.

For example, in Planet of the Apes, which marked me deeply, the author Pierre Boulle’s commentary on human society, mockery of those refusing to have critical thinking, satire of human pride, and his humor were all inspired by the French philosopher Voltaire’s short story Micromégas, a philosophical tale of an extraordinary voyage, representative of the Age of Enlightenment and symbolizing the philosophical notion of relativity. (Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, was also inspired by Voltaire’s Candide.)

ME:  I understand you take a fairly structured approach to writing. Could you describe your process in writing a novel from start to finish? Also, what are you working on now?

FM:  A plot revolving around a police investigation is necessarily based on a logical approach: you have to plant the clues, give them meaning and lead the reader to the culprit. There is, of course, still a certain amount of room for the imagination. In THE 7TH WOMAN, I didn’t know who the killer was when I began the novel. It became obvious to me who it was as the story took shape. On the other hand, other stories require knowing who killed and how. But in any case, the characters sometimes reveal themselves to be different from how you imagine them at the beginning. They really do take on a life of their own.


I am also regularly in contact with police officers, medical examiners and judges in order to be able to describe what they do in a realistic way.

Currently, I am working on the fourth book in the Nico Sirsky, Chief of Police, series. It renews with the kind of harshness found in THE 7TH WOMAN, where my hero finds himself facing uncertainty in his private life that makes him both darker and more fragile. I’ll say no more for now. (We understand. :D)

ME:  Finally, always being interested in where writers create their stories, I’d love it if you would describe your writing space in the voice of your main character–police inspector Nico Sirsky–as if he were conducting an investigation there. (It would also be wonderful to post a picture of your writing space.)

Molay_officeFM: (As Nico)

Nico climbed the stairs to the mezzanine that overlooked the living room. Piles of magazines and books surrounded two low chairs and a tiny coffee table. His heart beat faster as he cracked open the door leading to the devil’s lair: his creator’s office. What, or who, was he expecting to meet? What did it matter, anyway? What could possibly be worse than learning that he only lived through a woman’s imagination? That he was just a name on a book cover? That he would die the day his readers turned away from him, with complete impunity? A fate as terrible as getting shot in the heart as you turn a street corner.

The woman was sitting in a black leather chair, behind a long desk made of light-colored wood. She was focused on her computer, lost in a parallel universe, the one she built for him every day. All around her were white walls, with two roof windows letting the light flood into the room. There were paintings, and pictures of children, probably hers. There was one of her with Mary Higgins Clark, when she was younger; a good luck picture. There were other objects, Mother’s Day gifts and travel souvenirs, some look like they are from Russia, where both their ancestors came from. A Plexiglas tower overflowed with CDs. She liked music just like he did, played in the background, or blasting through the apartment. In the end, Nico found the atmosphere to be studious and calm, nothing at all like this woman’s blood-filled imagination with the crimes she set out on his path and made his duty to resolve. He observed her for a minute with a knot in his throat. Her face stiffened and then relaxed incessantly, while her fingers tapped away at the keyboard, nothing gentle at all in her approach. He sat down on a bench, slowly to keep from rustling the papers laid out there, hand-written notes and printed documents for her novels.

His lips formed the words, “Thank you.”

She straightened up, and seemed to look in his direction.

“No, it is I who thank you,” she whispers.

Nico wondered which of the two breathed life into the other, dazed by the very question.

(Formidable! E merci!)

Come back next Wednesday for my interview with Craig Everett, author of the middle grade financial literacy thriller, Toby Gold and the Secret Fortune.

Craig Everett

Originally posted 2013-02-06 06:00:09.

“Wednesday Writer” – Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen are two French authors who write a whodunit series set in wine country. They are Epicures. Jean-Pierre is a magazine, radio and television journalist when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. He is a genuine wine and food lover and the grandson of a winemaker. Noël lives in Paris, where he shares his time between writing, making records, and lecturing on music.

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen(Noël Balen and Jean-Pierre Alaux)

The first in the Winemaker Detective series, TREACHERY IN BORDEAUX, was recently published in English by Le French Book, a digital-first publisher of France’s best crime fiction and thrillers in English. The Winemaker Detective series now has 20 titles in French.


(Disclaimer: Any winery information I provide about Washington State in this interview was learned through research on the Internet, and I can’t vouch for its accuracy.)

ME:  First of all, I couldn’t help noticing that the main character in TREACHERY IN BORDEAUX, Benjamin Cooker, a winemaking consultant in his fifties, and his younger, handsome assistant, Virgile, somewhat resemble the two of you. Am I imagining this, or did you indeed fashion the two characters after yourselves in some small measure?

JP AND N:  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we are both over fifty, but there is clearly a part of us in Benjamin Cooker, with his somewhat sarcastic view of life, a relative distance in the face of life’s hardships, a sense of memory, and some wisdom in the observation of human passions. However, we drew inspiration from our own children and their friends to develop the character of the young assistant, Virgile, who to us represents an optimistic view of the world. He is sometimes candid and decidedly enthusiastic, with a thirst for learning and always the same energy.

ME:  In any case, why did you decide to make your protagonist part British? Why not purely French?

JP AND N:  It was important for us to have a perspective of the wine world that was not ethnocentric, and that goes beyond France’s borders. The vineyards in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are certainly incomparable, but we are aware of the wealth and variety of wine produced worldwide.

Also, there is a long-standing tradition of wine making and appreciation in Britain and throughout the English-speaking world that we thought interesting to highlight. Historically, the English have contributed a lot to the science of oenology (Note: that’s the study of wines for the uninitiated like me), and they left their cultural mark in the Aquitaine region, and particularly in Bordeaux. And, of course, there is the fact that the British have a certain number of legendary figures in the mystery arena, not the least of which being Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. We thought the blend was a fine way to pay homage.


ME:  You have both been described as epicures–those who take pleasure in fine food and drink. How did your paths first cross, and how did you happen on this approach to a mystery series?

JP AND N:  Our meeting occurred during a cocktail party that ended up with a fine meal, which of course bode well for the future. The conversation quickly turned to our shared passion for wine and our first thought was to create a crime fiction series focusing on the world of winemaking for television. A wine and crime series had not been done. When we were asking around at the French publishing house, Fayard, for contacts in TV, we were surprised to get an immediate proposal to publish the novels.

We owe this to Claude Durand, who was heading up Fayard at the time, and who supported the project and gave us long-term possibilities by signing on the first ten titles right away. (I like how the French do things!) The series’ success led to a contract for another twelve books. The television series was then the next logical step, considering the project’s origin. Now, each of the novels is adapted for TV. The third season is being written now, and will be shot this summer.

DSC_5514 copy(Noël and Jean-Pierre flanking the stars of the TV series)

ME:  As I understand it, the twentieth book in the series came out this past fall, and the pair travels to wine estates not only in France, but around the world. How many of the books are set in the United States? And have you yet visited any of the vineyards in Eastern Washington where I live?

JP AND N:  Our characters have visited vineyards in Hungary (Tokay) and Spain (Rioja and Ribera Del Duero). We often mention wines from other countries in the stories, and in one of the books, we cover the Napa Valley in more detail, because an investor from California purchases property in the area around Bordeaux. We are also planning on setting a plot in Tuscany to celebrate Italian wines. So why not discover the vineyards in Washington State? We will admit to not being familiar with these wines and it would be a real pleasure to go and taste them in person. Discovering a new wine region is always a fabulous experience. When is the best time to come?

(Spring, early summer and fall, according to Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Avoid July and August.)

ME:  Jean-Pierre, you have said, “The world of wine is no more respectable than the world of finance . . . [it] has all the requirements for a detective novel: death, crime, inheritance, jealousy. You name it, all human weaknesses are present.” My question is, do the two of you ever base your plots on actual stories in newspapers or magazines, whether French or not?

JP AND N:  In our experience, reality always exceeds fiction. We will often imagine particularly nasty scandals, terrible violence, warped backstabbing and the most twisted acts, and then when we start digging through local archives, exploring history and even more recent news, we are surprised to find that people have never lacked imagination when it comes to harming their neighbors. The novelist’s job is to put the darkness of the human spirit to music, turning what defies comprehension into a credible story. (That’s a great quote!)

ME:  Now that your series has become a TV hit in France, has it made it a bit more difficult to travel around and do research to capture the history, traditions and flavor of a locale? How important is the setting in your stories?

JP AND N:  Every region has its own specific, singular and absolutely incomparable context. That is what is so incredible about the world of winemaking. Every aspect–the region’s geography and geology, the human factors and social ramifications, the specific climate, the culinary tradition, political choices, and historical events–becomes palpable when you are attentive and receptive.

When we go out researching, we focus both on the people we meet, on their attachment to the region and their way of approaching their work, as well as the numerous details we observe in the field (architecture, nature of the soil, local festivities, etc.). We are very careful to note all the details that contribute to a region’s flavor, its local culture and way of life, right down to the smallest door stud (in copper or porcelain) and the most insignificant road taken (be it paved or unmaintained).

(Okay, if you’re coming to Washington, you might want to check out the wineries on the western side of the state in April when the Tulip Festival takes place in Skagit County.)

ME:  When did each of you know you wanted to be a writer, and what was your first attempt at creative writing?

JP:  I’m less driven by the idea of being a writer than that of telling stories. My work as a reporter was quick to take the mystery out of the act of writing. Being a journalist is more often than not about telling a story with both realism and imagination in order to make things understandable to readers. My first books were short stories, then biographies and finally novels. One thing led to another until writing became a daily part of my life.

N:  Writing is a natural addition to a life that focuses on music. As a child, I read a lot, then later I worked as an instrumentalist and then a record producer. I never envisioned doing anything other than writing and composing. In books, I look for the rhythm, the melody, the harmony, and the alchemy of notes. It doesn’t matter what the story is, as long as the partition invites the reader to take the voyage. My first book was a collection of noir stories, followed by several novels, along with musicology essays and biographies.

ME:  I know that one of you uses a Mac and the other a PC, but I’m wondering what each of your writing spaces look like. Where and when do you do your best writing?

JP AND N:  Yes, one is Mac and one is PC, but that is just a fun detail. Our respective working tools are a sign of how we complement each other and they make us very compatible despite our differences. Jean-Pierre is very attached to his region and his house perched above the Lot River valley, while Noël love Paris a stone’s throw away from the Champs-Elysée.

View of Lot River Valley(A view of the Lot River Valley)

Champs Elysée

(Downtown Paris and the Champs Elysée)

Jean-Pierre works better in the morning, and Noël is a night owl. Our approaches are different and our lifestyles pretty much opposite each other, but we share a number of common points, which is our strength and what holds us together. In addition to our love for food and wine, we also share the same tastes for painting, literature, antiques, outdoor cafés, Moleskine notebooks for jotting down our ideas (YAY! My regular readers know how much I like Moleskine notebooks!), fires in the fireplace and old buildings.

ME:  I read an excellent review of your co-authoring process on the blog, Mystery Fanfare, but how do you manage to fold two separate first drafts (based on a mutually formed outline) into one finished manuscript? How long does it generally take?

JP AND N:  One of us is responsible for doing the fieldwork and writing the first draft, based on a pre-approved plot line. With observations from the sites and an in-depth knowledge of how things are done there, he can give a better feel for the observed reality. The final polishing is then done by the other one, although occasionally, we’ll both do it together.

The time it takes to complete a book varies a lot, but we can say it takes an average of six months between the basic idea and the final manuscript. It depends on the subjects as well as our available time, because we also write our own books in addition to the series.

ME:  Finally, how many more books do you envision for the series, and have you thought about working together on any other kind of series?

JP AND N:  We have the feeling that this writing adventure is a never-ending source of inspiration, kind of like the image of the Daughters of Danaus, whose task was never completed, except that for us it is never a punishment. There is still so much to learn, so many regions to explore, mysteries to unveil and wines to discover. As long as our health permits (helped with some reasonable wine consumption, perhaps), we will continue our explorations. Our readers, and now our television audience, are pushing us to continue, and we can’t let them down.

(Hopefully, they’ll travel to Washington State for one of their future novels.)

Next Wednesday I’m interviewing Frédérique Molay, who won France’s most prestigious crime fiction award for her novel, THE 7TH WOMAN, an international bestseller.

Frederique Molay

Originally posted 2013-01-30 14:11:28.

“Wednesday Writer” – Sylvie Granotier

Author, screenwriter and actress Sylvie Granotier loves to weave plots that send shivers up your spine. She is an acclaimed crime fiction author in France, with over thirteen novels to her name. Her novel, THE PARIS LAWYER, a legal procedural that doubles as a psychological thriller, was recently published in English by Le French Book. Sylvie splits her time between Paris and Creuse.

SylvieGranotier3-225x300ME:  You and I were both born in North Africa (you in Algeria and I in Libya) and raised in the Arab culture in a region that has certainly seen its share of violence (particularly now that Algeria has, once again, been in the news). What are some of your earliest memories of Algeria or Morocco . . . memories that have influenced your writing?

SYLVIE:  My parents married young when my father was barely finished with his medical studies. They had two children in the next two years, lived in a hotel, and life was not easy. Then my father was sent to Algeria and the change was enormous: they had a house, a housemaid, nice weather, and a comfortable life. (This is beginning to sound like my childhood in Baghdad.)

So, I was born at the best of times and the home movies my father made then show a sunny, joyous atmosphere. My parents always referred to these four or five years as their happiest, a kind of lost paradise. (Yes, definitely like Iraq in the early 60’s.) Much later, I read a book on the Algerian War and realized that meanwhile there had been mass massacres in this Eden of ours, and even though my father was a doctor and a good man, he still belonged to an occupying army. Violence was the background of this idyllic place of birth. (As it was for us in Iraq–three revolutions, but I was hardly aware.) I’m now convinced this latent and actual violence had a huge impact on me and made me choose the thriller genre.

We left when I was two and I have no precise memory, except I still have a very strong feeling of familiarity with everything Algerian. Morocco came later, when I was seven. It may surprise you, but that’s where I developed such a liking for everything American. There was an army base near where we lived, and being an American teenager seemed to me the most desirable state. Their freedom, their active social life, their music. So I tried to look American and my triumph was being hailed in English.

Less fun: I remember this good Moroccan friend of mine who was taken out of school at 13 or 14 because she was to be married. She visited me once in a car with blacked windows and we tried to play except, all of a sudden, she had the seriousness of maturity, while I was still a careless child.

ME:  I, too, have long felt a certain rootlessness because of my background. Did this sense of being a “nomad,” as you put it, have any effect on the protagonists in your novels, and, if so, how?

SYLVIE:  No, strangely enough, I don’t think it did. In one novel, my lead character is a French woman living in New York, but mostly my stories are rooted in France. One thing, though–I have never dealt with a really settled character. They all yearn for stability but have real difficulties attaining it. Deeply rooted people fascinate me. My ex-husband of 16 years comes from the north of France and has very strong links with this area, its culture and its traditions. I wanted to swallow it all and belong . . . some place.

ME:  So many writers I know have a background in theater. Please tell us about yours and how you think such experience makes its way into the writing process for you.

SYLVIE:  My background is both in theater and in movies, and I think the important factor is acting. I know, and have been told many times, that my strong point in my books is characters. I’m convinced this comes from having become so many people as an actress. I start with a vague outline of this woman, or that man, then they grow on me, as if I allowed them to take over, until they become so alive and surprising that they obey their own nature rather than follow my directions.

Then I know I’m doing OK because they are alive, not rational and predictable, but strange and exciting. And they keep their mystery. At the end of the novel, as well as in real life, I don’t know all there is to know about them. I have a new novel coming out in February in France, and for the first time I’ve kept my lead character, Catherine Monsigny, from THE PARIS LAWYER. She was very familiar, of course, but I know I can go further with her because she still intrigues me.

ME:  You were fortunate enough to spend time with the acclaimed short story writer and poet, Grace Paley, before she passed away. Please share some of what she taught you about writing, including her comparison of literature to a cathedral.

Grace Paley(Grace Paley)

SYLVIE:  I had not started writing when she came to Paris, and we took long walks and we talked about many things as women do, from the most frivolous or pedestrian to more cultural subjects such as films or books. I remember her buying a postcard showing a first of May demonstration (France celebrates International Workers’ Day on May 1), the Parisian streets dark with joyous crowds of united workers. It thrilled her. She was amazed at the number of bookstores around the city. She had a real knack for enthusiasm.

When I started on my first novel, I realized how much she had helped me unknowingly. She was a late starter compared to some and that did not bother her. She always insisted that one had to be modest to become a writer. Deciding to write the novel of one’s generation was a sure way to fail. You have to be modest and honest. That’s what came with her idea of literature being an intimidating cathedral. A cathedral is made of masterpieces, sculptures, paintings, stained-glass windows, and intricate tiles, but it also needs little stones to stand straight. I loved that idea, and still believe it: there’s room for all good writers, the giants and the midgets alike.

She also said that she never started on a story without the same impulse that drives a little kid to come running from school: “Mommy, I’ve got to tell you…” And knowing when to stop, that moment when you cannot go further without ruining what you did, even though you may still be far from the mark you had hoped for. And reworking: hunting for those bits and pieces you’re so pleased with and which are, in fact, complacent. Her story, “A Conversation with My Father,” is wonderful about how to write a story.

(That’s a book I’m definitely ordering.)

ME:  What was your very first attempt at creative writing and how old were you at the time?

SYLVIE:  I was 37. I had translated Enormous Changes at the Last Minute and met its author, Grace Paley. She left Paris and I started on my first novel. She had made me jump the first hurdle: allowing myself to try and write a novel. It took time and effort, and I learned a lot in the process. I had the plot–a good one, I thought–and I could not find the right way to tell it. I may have done five or six versions before I understood it was a long letter written by a woman to her mother to explain the murder of her lover and the consequences on her own teenage daughter. The book suddenly made sense. It was about the load each generation passes on to the next. And I easily wrote the final draft. I’ve known since then that point of view is capital. Anyway, it was a long and arduous process, but it finally got published. It’s called COURRIER POSTHUME (available in French only).

ME:  Please describe your writing process. Also, which is more challenging–short stories or novels?

SYLVIE:  I have lots of stories floating in my mind. There comes a point when I have the detonator, a kind of matrix, usually the opening scene, a situation that intrigues me. I want to know more. I start by hand writing a sketchy outline from beginning to end. Every morning, rain or shine, after breakfast, I set to work with a minimum word count to produce daily usually four pages. I drive on, never stopping to catch my breath. The tone may be wrong, the style sketchy, but I need that quick first draft to find the pace of the novel and to follow almost blindly the path my characters are opening. Normally, if things go right, I have my whole plot then, which is often different from what I thought it would be.

Then starts the actual work. I’m reassured at this point that I have a story. It’s a matter of polishing, rewriting whole passages, usually shortening because I tend to write long. I also try and track all the useless, artificial, ungraceful bits. Then, I give it to one or two good and trustworthy friends. I listen to them and rework a bit. Then I give it to my editor. I never have a prior contract. I hate feeling bound and never know when I start whether I’ll actually have a worthy novel. So, thank God, the editor usually accepts the novel and we rework a bit together. Experience has taught me how to use the various comments made on my work. Very often, a reader may pinpoint a problem whose source is actually some place else. It’s a tricky process. Critics are always worth listening to, especially when their criticism hurts.

I love writing short stories because I can have a first draft in one day. It’s like in painting, when you face a huge canvas and start and have to keep the whole image as you work on bits, as opposed to a miniature where you can rapidly have an overall image. Everything counts in a short tale; you have to be extremely rigorous, so it’s difficult. I don’t understand why, but I’ve always written short stories on demand.

ME:  What are the differences between American thrillers and French thrillers other than location, or is location in itself a big enough difference?

SYLVIE:  More than location, I would point to the cultural element. After all, some French novels take place in the United States, and some American novels are set in Italy or Greece, and other locations. Though, thinking about it, Americans live in a huge territory and space counts very much in fiction. A character can change states and still be in his country; ours have to pass borders and deal with foreign languages, so they act in restricted areas usually.

The Americans have a sense of evil we French don’t, and we are naturally more skeptical and more cynical. Evil to us is part of the human nature, not a dark force that “the good people” fight against. We fight against the dark side of ourselves or of society. So we’re often more political in our views. We denounce, but know it has every chance of being a losing proposition.

Of course, generalities tend to be wrong, and every writer is an exception to the rule. So…It’s interesting that many American writers refer to the Old Testament as a source of storytelling. Culturally, we’re more familiar with the New Testament. I would find it hard to explain how that difference actually works, but I’m sure it does. Also, the French are obsessed with style and form and will be less exacting when it comes to the mechanics of plot.

ME:  You say that the part of France where you live–Creuse–has become almost like a character in your stories. How so? And are all your stories set there? (I’d love to post some pictures of Creuse and you in that setting.)

SYLVIE:  I don’t live in Creuse full time–I’m still a Parisian–but I spend a lot of time there, where I have a house that feels like my true home for mysterious reasons.

byhd5JGL3itN0JoqLwLIVnczutjYgzvmS_hBev5RWe8(Her home in Creuse)

It has helped me settle down and taught me that you could look at the same view for years and find it different every time. It’s taught me to slow down and has changed my sense of time. Nature and its toughness force you to think more and go deeper.


IRy-lQV8i50ec2fOf_2udsAHqESR2I1BunlJOYW-WbQdlHKBHGoqkA6XH2-2BaC4g5fOVfykWpRi114tnFmxvo0Cu0EADxKlCz-7yWIZKT2PIZmcrKa2WCvT5wX1NegdYIt took me years to use Creuse in a novel. I could not do so as long as I felt like a tourist. Not all my stories take place in Creuse, but little by little it has infiltrated my work. The setting of a novel is important to me. It influences both events and characters, and I’ve always known that taking the thriller out of the big cities to the countryside would open a new range. So, yes, it works a bit as a character.

ME:  What are you currently working on and where do you do most of your writing? I’d love a description of your writing space or office in the voice of Catherine Monsigny, the protagonist of THE PARIS LAWYER.


SYLVIE:  At the moment, I’m preparing for the new novel, LA PLACE DES MORTS, which is scheduled for release in France in February. It’s a sequel to THE PARIS LAWYER (Le French Book hopes to have this in translation soon).

I write in corners, facing a wall. I write in Paris as well as in Creuse; if necessary, I can work in a hotel. As long as there’s no distraction. Hence the wall! I’ve just moved so my new Parisian writing space is not quite in place yet.

In Creuse the study is the only modern room in a very old house. It used to be a separate bread oven, but has been linked to the main building by a glass door. It’s very luminous. It is all white with big black tiles on the floor and it has a high, tilted ceiling with windows that open on the sky, the passing clouds and the occasional sun. Shelves filled with books line the longer exterior wall of the house then make a corner that encloses a big oak table that turns its back to the door, half window pane, half wood, and to the only window that opens on the garden. There are dictionaries within easy reach on the right side, lots of notebooks, and a gas heater on the left against the other wall, which is all stone and painted white.

On the shelves in front of my workspace is an old doll, the portrait of an unknown red-haired Elizabethan youngster, and on top of that, a Dick Tracy doll holds the foot of a lamp that’s never used.

(I can picture it perfectly!)

ME:  Finally, what draws you to read and write thrillers?

SYLVIE:  As I said, I was born in a land of violence and am convinced it drew me to the genre. I started reading in English by reading thrillers. You just have to go on, and they’re usually an easy read. I love suspense and popular literature. It always seemed to me an incredible achievement to write books that grip the reader and hold on to the end. Easy read is often hard write. Good thrillers are accessible and give you more if you dig deeper. They helped me in times of sadness or difficulties and opened me to worlds I could never have known first hand. The same curiosity guides my writing: Unveiling what’s hidden and discovering who I am by understanding strangers and their strange doings.

Again, if you want to know more about Sylvie, look her up at Le French Book, where you can read other fascinating interviews.

(By the way, I apologize for the mixup last Wednesday. I had expected to interview Craig Everett then but due to a miscommunication I’ll be posting his interview on February 13th, after I’ve concluded my interviews with these wonderful French authors.)

Next Wednesday, I’ll be talking with Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen, the writing duo responsible for a whole winemaker detective series, so popular it’s been made into a TV series in France.

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen

Originally posted 2013-01-23 06:00:53.