Below are some answers to questions I get asked most often. If you have a question that I don’t answer here, shoot me an email and ask! I love hearing from readers.
Q. When did you begin writing? Did you always want to be a writer?
A. I’ve always loved writing, in one form or another. One of my oldest girlfriends told me that she remembers me writing stories when we played together as little girls at my house. I still have some of the notebooks I wrote in back then, but I don’t have any memory of writing when others were around. Even when I wasn’t writing, I remember lying in bed at night and making up stories in my head. It was my way of entertaining myself until I fell asleep! To this day, I work out many of my plot problems when I’m in bed, just before falling asleep. It helps to keep a small notebook on the nightstand.
I became more serious about my writing after I had my children and became a stay-at-home mom. By pure luck, I stumbled upon some fantastic mentors. My first ever writing workshop, held at my local YMCA in St. Louis, was led by John Dalton, a writer who went on to publish the award-winning Heaven Lake and The Inverted Forest. In Boston, I signed up for a course taught by multi-published author Ellen Cooney. Ellen was the first teacher to encourage me to start submitting to publishers, with a simple note scribbled at the top of a story: “Send it in!” It wasn’t until I moved to Philadephia, however, that I wrote my first novel. Under the guidance of Alison Hicks in Philadelphia (Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio workshops) and later, Jamie Morris in Orlando (Voice Heart Vision, formerly Woodstream Writers workshops), my writing blossomed from scenes, character sketches and a few stories to three full length novels and many short stories and poems. The workshops I participated in throughout the years provided inspiration, discipline, critiques, camaraderie, confidence and encouragement. I would not be published today without them. I have since started offering my own workshops in the Daytona Beach area, Beach Writers workshops, in hopes of creating a similar, supportive environment for local writers of all genres, styles and levels of writing.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for Tell No Lies?
A. When I sat down to begin the story, I had two characters in my head – Jack and Jenny. I knew they were friends and colleagues; I knew they were attracted to each other but weren’t supposed to be; I knew they disagreed about the death penalty. But other than that, I had no idea what would happen to them or why. At some point I came across two news stories that got me thinking. The first was about a politician who’d done something wrong and really stupid (I don’t remember what, but we hear these stories all the time, don’t we?). The other was about a young man who’d committed some crime, and when the reporter interviewed his mom, she kept proclaiming his innocence despite all evidence to the contrary. These stories helped me to develop Jack’s story. I wanted to explore how and why a basically good person ends up doing something so out of character and show how he’s able to rationalize it to himself along the way.
There’s a point in the novel where Jack asks Jenny, in reference to another character they believe has embezzled from a client, “Why would he do that? Why would he risk everything like that?” Those questions speak to the heart of the novel, in my opinion. I’m a firm believer that man is basically good, and whenever I hear about someone doing something we consider bad – immoral, unethical, or sometimes just plain nonsensical, I want to know the “story behind the story” – because I believe there is always a larger story than just what appears on the surface. Not a justification, necessarily, but an explanation.
Q. What about Rescuing Olivia?
A. Rescuing Olivia first originated from a prompt in a writing workshop, believe it or not. (Thank you, Woodstream Writers!) Our leader, the amazing Jamie Morris, told us to write a scene in which someone was in possession of something he or she was not supposed to have. I started writing about a guy who had a box that didn’t belong to him and was contemplating opening it, even though he knew he wasn’t supposed to. At the time, I had no idea who this guy was, who owned the box, why my character had the box, why he wasn’t supposed to open it, what was inside it . . . you get the idea. Sometime later, I heard a song on the radio that spurred more ideas, I added those ideas to that first little bit I’d written in workshop, and ran with it. The final result was Rescuing Olivia.
The larger theme in Rescuing Olivia is domestic and sexual abuse and its effects on people who have been a victim of it—either physically or as a witness. I volunteered for a number of years as a guardian ad litem for abused and neglected children, and Rescuing Olivia was my first attempt to write about some of the things I observed and learned in that role. The main character, Anders, is sometimes criticized for being weak, but readers who are familiar with the effects of domestic abuse completely understand (and often identify with) his decisions, actions, and his lack of confidence.
Q. What about Keep No Secrets? In the past, you said you wouldn’t write a sequel.
A. I’ve learned never to say never, that’s for sure. A lot of readers assume the ending of Tell No Lies is ambiguous because I planned to write a sequel. But that couldn’t be more wrong. Tell No Lies was my first novel, so it was a learning experience for me. I spent many, many years writing it and then revising it, over and over. By the time I finished, I was so tired of the characters. The thought of writing a sequel never even entered my mind. The ambiguous ending is there for a reason, but a different reason: I wanted readers to decide for themselves, based upon everything they’d learned about the characters and their histories.
To my surprise, after Tell No Lies was published, readers began to write and ask about a sequel. As time passed, I began to consider it. But I didn’t have any ideas for the plot, so it remained a “maybe” percolating in the back of my mind. I didn’t want to force it. After I finished Rescuing Olivia, I started to write a different novel about a guy wrongly accused of sexual assault by one of his kids’ friends – an idea given to me (unwittingly) by my sisters-in-law during a discussion we had at Christmas one year about who (husband or wife) drives the babysitter home. About twenty-five pages into it, I realized, this could be the next chapter in Jack’s story. Here’s this guy whose is trying to move on from a mistake he made, trying to be trusted and respected again. And then, boom, after doing what he thinks is the right thing for his son’s girlfriend, she accuses him of rape, and he suddenly finds himself on the wrong end of a criminal case and his past quickly catching up to his present.
Q. Are any characters in your novels based upon real people?
A. There’s only one character in Tell No Lies who comes straight from someone I know, and he’s a very, very minor character. He’s really there as an inside joke. As for all of the other characters in my books, most have personality traits that I’ve seen in exhibited in people I know or have met, for better or worse, but the characters themselves are fictional. The seed for a few characters might have originated from real people (one that immediately comes to mind is Jenny’s nemesis, Maxine Shepard), but once I began to write, they took on a life of their own.
Having said that, I think certain details from my life (as opposed to people) find their way into my stories. For example, in Tell No Lies, there’s mention of Jack touring the remains of an exploded farmhouse early in his career. I actually did that, and what I saw found its way into my writing. One of the earliest drafts of the novel had quite a lengthy description of the destroyed house. I edited most of it out at some point, though, long before the publisher ever saw the manuscript. Even though I liked what I had written, it was irrelevant to the plot.
The same thing happened with Rescuing Olivia. The Africa parts of the story developed from a decision my husband and I made to celebrate our 20th anniversary there. I honestly can’t remember which came first – whether my research of Africa for the novel led me to want to go there, or whether we picked Africa for our trip and then I decided to make it Olivia’s birthplace – but it became a huge part of the novel. So many of the descriptions in the novel come directly from places we visited or stayed.
Sometimes, however, the opposite happens, and my stories find a way into my life. In Rescuing Olivia, I had Anders ride a motorcycle because he reminded me of so many of the guys I see in Florida on their bikes. Once I got deeper into the writing, I decided I should learn to ride so I’d be able to write the motorcycle scenes with more authenticity. I took lessons and got hooked, and not long after, bought a motorcycle.
Q. If Tell No Lies or Keep No Secrets were made into a movie, who would you like to see play Jack? Jenny? Claire? Earl?
A. I am asked this question so often, yet I never have a good answer. As the author who created the characters, I have a very distinct image of them in my mind, but because they’re fictional, I could never imagine any well-known actors stepping into their shoes. Well, I was finally forced to make some choices. Here’s what I came up with (before I wrote Keep No Secrets).
Q. What about Rescuing Olivia? Who would play Anders? Olivia? Shel? Lenny?
A. I’ve never been able to cast Rescuing Olivia to my liking. There are a few actors who come close, but to date, no one rings every bell for me. I’ll update this if that changes!
Q. What’s your typical writing day like?
A. Wow, the answer to this question sure has changed over the years. Back when my girls were younger and in high school, they left for school very early (we’re talking 6:15 a.m.), so most days I started writing as soon as they were gone and I had made my coffee. I’d take a break for a quick lunch, and then I’d return to my desk for another few hours until they got home. Now, they’re both in college, so my start and end times are very flexible. If I’m deep in the middle of a novel-in-progress and not spending too much time promoting a published one, I can spend ten hours a day writing, no problem. It’s heaven, having so much uninterrupted time to devote to my passion. I know how lucky I am. I’m incredibly impressed by writers with full-time jobs who still manage to find time to finish novels.
Q. What do you do when you’re not working on your next novel?
A. I sometimes write short stories, poems, and essays, and when the mood strikes me I’ll post an entry on my blog or hang out on Facebook. When I’m not writing, I read. A lot. So many books, so little time . . . I love the beach and try to get there as often as I can. If the day’s not too hot, I’ll get out on my motorcycle. I have no musical talent of my own, but I love listening to music, and I’m a HUGE Dave Matthews Band fan, so I try to catch a show whenever and wherever I can. (To see just how huge, check out this blog post.)
Q. What’s your next novel about?
A. I’m working on a novel that is related to Rescuing Olivia, but not quite what I’d call a sequel. It’s a coming-of-age story told from the point of view of Maddie Erickson, the eleven-year-old daughter of Anders and Olivia. One of my favorite books as a kid (even though it was a book intended for adults) was Addie Pray, which was later made into a movie, Paper Moon. Addie, the ten-year-old girl in that story, was my hero. I loved her spunk, her precociousness. The character definitely inspired the character of Maddie in my novel. Writing from a female child’s point of view has been quite a change for me, since to date my protagonists have been adult males, but I’m having a blast doing it. It’s also been the first time I’ve written in a predominantly linear fashion, starting with Chapter One.
Q. Will you write any more novels about the characters from Tell No Lies and Keep No Secrets?
A. I hope so. I started a third novel with the same characters, got about seventy-five pages into it, and then set it aside to work on Maddie’s story. But I have the bones of the story in my head, so I suspect I’ll go back to it eventually.
Q. Your first two novels were originally published by Macmillan, but you decided to self-publish Keep No Secrets. Why?
A. I watched the rise of self-publishing for a few years and paid careful attention to what worked and what didn’t. After I got the rights back from Macmillan to my first two novels, I decided to give self-publishing a try by re-releasing them as e-books at a competitive price. At the time, my agent was still shopping Keep No Secrets to traditional publishers. I told myself I would decide what to do about Keep No Secrets after I’d tested the water with the first two. Well, the rest is history, as they say. I was so blown away by the success I had with self-publishing Tell No Lies and Rescuing Olivia as e-books that I immediately decided to do the same with Keep No Secrets. (I also published a print edition of Keep No Secrets.) It’s truly been amazing. I’ve reached more readers this past year than I ever thought possible.
Is this to say I’ve turned my back on traditional publishing forever? Not at all. I believe one of the reasons I’ve been able to have this type of success with self-publishing is because the books I’ve written so far are categorized in the mystery, thriller and suspense genres. Writers who self-publish in these genres have it a bit easier, I think, as do writers in the romance genre. I’m not sure if I’d have the same success with another type of book. My decision about what to do in the future will depend a lot upon what I decide to write. Plus, the industry is changing so rapidly. I have no idea what the landscape will look like in three months, much less a year or two years from now. I intend to play it by ear.
Q. Do you read your reviews, good and bad? What effect do they have on you?
A. When one of my novels is first released, I read almost all of the reviews, if I’m aware of them. I’ll watch for “quotable” lines in a positive review, which can be very helpful to my promotional efforts. And I’ll try to learn from negative reviews, especially if they are written thoughtfully and address issues of craft. But as the number of reviews grows, and I have a general sense of how the novel is being received, I pay less attention to them and get back to writing.
I’d be lying if I said reviews didn’t affect me. Good reviews, of course, are wonderful and I find them very motivating. But someone once said: if you believe the good things a reviewer says about your writing, you also have to believe the bad. I agree. So you learn to take them all in stride, good or bad. My skin has grown pretty thick over the years, so I’m able to move on from a bad review quickly now. Author Joe Konrath wrote a blog post about dealing with bad reviews, and in it he said something that I think is brilliant: “What Peter says about Paul says more about Peter than Paul.” It’s so true! Each reader brings his or her own experience to a book, and that experience colors how it’s perceived. I’ve been fortunate in that the lion’s share of my reviews has been very positive, but I’ve noticed that when I do receive a negative review, more often than not the reader is upset about what my characters have done as opposed to the quality of my writing. I’m okay with that. It means I’ve struck a nerve.
Q. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
A. Be persistent. Never give up. But also recognize that simply because you write “The End” doesn’t mean the work is done. This is the biggest mistake of most new writers, myself included. They think the book is ready to be published before it actually is. The problem has grown because self-publishing is now so easy. Just because you can self-publish doesn’t mean you’re ready to. Revision and editing are crucial, and the process involves much more than fixing typos and grammar.
Q. Will you read my novel and critique it for me?
A. No. I get asked this question quite often, and unfortunately, I have to say no because if I said yes, I’d never have time to work on my own novels. I’m a writer, not an editor, but if you’re looking for someone, write to me and let me know where you are in the writing process and I’ll recommend some folks. In the meantime, here’s a great post from Mary Ann de Stefano of Mad About Words in which she explains the different types of editing. (Also, stop back soon to see my Writing Advice page (currently a work-in-progress itself).)
Q. Who is your biggest supporter? (I was once asked by an interviewer, “What question are you never asked but wish you were?” This is that question, and the answer.)
A. My husband. Without his support—physical, emotional, financial—I wouldn’t be able to pursue my dream of writing full time. For years he has worked long hours at a very stressful job while I have worked as a stay-at-home mom, a job which also enabled me to be a full-time writer. In all the years I have been at home creating stories about imaginary characters, he has never suggested I go out and get a day job with my law degree, which would bring in much more income for our family and allow him to relax a bit. He has never begrudged me following my passion, even though it has meant he is the primary breadwinner and that the entire family depends on his income to live. I write about fictional “heroes”—but my husband is my real life hero, and he deserves more credit.