Q: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Hey, kid. You know you love to write stories. You know you’re good at it. Believe in yourself. Now learn your craft.
Q: What have you done to learn the craft of writing?
First off, this is an important question. Most writers grew up always wanting to write stories. I’ve been writing since I learned how to read. My first grade Christmas present was an old Underwood Typewriter. Even way back then I had to put the story on paper. (Bad spellings and all!)
However, the writer takes a huge leap when she decides she wants others to BUY her stories. That’s when I knew I had to learn the craft. As soon as I started writing stories for other folks to read, I knew I had to improve my writing skills. People deserve a well-constructed story line, well-developed characters, a plot that will make them beg them to keep reading. The only way I knew how to do that was to go to school.
Yes, I got my undergraduate degree in Mass Communications at Illinois State University. Yes, I already was a media librarian at a law school in Houston, Texas. Yes, I eventually went on to teaching middle school literature for ten years.
Learning to write for a living is a whole different matter. I had to learn the craft. My first step was to join the Houston Writers Guild, and I started to attend their workshops and network their resources.
It wasn’t enough, and I knew it. I was too unpolished, too green. So I applied and was accepted into the Novels Writing Colloquium at Rice University where I studied for four years until the death of my incredible instructor, Vankatesh Kulkarni.
I knew by then that writing is pretty much like any art. You are always learning. I am constantly taking classes, going to seminars, hitting writing retreats, participating in critique groups and anything else that comes down the pike. I will never learn it all, no one can, but I constantly work very hard to improve my writing. My goal is to put the best possible content on the page for my readers.
Q: Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Yes and Yes. Even though my Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series builds connections within the series story arc, I can’t assume that the reader will always start at book one. Its important to make each book in the series deliver a fully developed and fully satisfying experience for each reader.
Having said that, I also enjoy writing stand-alones—specifically when there is something in our culture that calls me to talk about a specific situation. In Three Days at Wrigley Field, I needed to respond to my eight-year-old daughter’s question, “Why can’t girls play professional baseball?”
Q: What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
For some of the folks I write about, their characters are my thank you to the incredible impression they’ve left on me, whether it be their humor, their grace, their strength, their faith.
For other folks, yes, they left an impression on me as well. Unfortunately for them, their characters get based on their egos, their rude behaviors, and their judgmental loathing of those who are different than they are. (And thank God, there are people different than they are.) For those folks, they’ve already gotten what they deserved. That sounds petty and judgmental, I know. But I have to have bad guys, right? I’m just writing what I know!
Q: How do you deal with writer’s block?
Writer's block would be a problem for me IF I didn't have two stories going at the same time. Here's how that works for me. I write on Book A until I hit a wall. (I find I hit a wall when I’ve written something "not right". It's like my subconscious says, "No way, honey. This is the wrong path.) Then I write on Book B. It's like a breath of fresh air--I'm excited to be with these characters again, back in this plot again, etc. Eventually I will hit a wall in story B, and I go back to Book A. When writing on the other story my brain usually figures out what's needed with Book A. It's so much easier to see the forest through the trees when I've been away from the story for a little while.
Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?
I like to write about stuff that I want to know more about. I very much enjoy researching my subject matter, but that can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes I get lost in four hours of research for just one sentence!
I like getting to know my characters. Sometimes they surprise me, sometimes I get so mad at them I could scream, sometimes I get teared up when I have to kill one that I really like. It’s an adventure going to my computer each day and seeing what’s going to come out of so-and-so’s mouth today.
Favorite Questions I’ve Been Asked