What are a few of your favorite books, and why?

I got hooked on reading when I was in middle school. My parents, one brother, three sisters and I lived in a big Spanish-style house and a quiet veranda was just off my second-story bedroom. I’d sneak out there and read Nancy Drew mysteries, totally immersed in the plot and characters. Later, when I reached my senior year, my English teacher assigned us To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, to read and evaluate. And that did it. I was hooked as a reader for life. To not have a book (my Kindle now) on my lap 24/7 is a rare occasion. For decades, if anyone asked me who my favorite author was, I proudly said Harper Lee. Then a good friend introduced me to Kate Morton’s book, The Forgotten Garden, and suddenly her voice came crashing into my limited realm and made me sit up and take notice. Her writing style, her poetic grace with the English language, the way she weaves multiple points of view into her convoluted plots, asking the reader to jump from one decade to another, seems like pure magic. Naturally I inhale each of her books and wait with abetted breath for her next.

J. K. Rowling is another author I’ve admired, and I consider myself a devoted fan. I mean, who doesn’t know about Harry Potter? One would have to be living under a rock, to not know her amazing personal story and/or know about the phenomenal success that series has produced in every corner of the planet! I’m sure that between these two authors, millions of younger folks have turned to reading, as opposed to video games or other sources of entertainment. So I say, get comfy, find a good story on your iPad, laptop, or the printed page, and fall into a magical, fictional world. You have good company.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Like most ‘fine-art types’, I get inspiration from just about any source: a TV commercial, a photo in a magazine, overhearing a conversation two people might think is private, yet offers some juicy plot points or dialogue for my next book, and of course, reading other books. Sunsets and sunrises are nice, and of course, the daily news is packed with ideas. A famous painting opens vistas that might include historical facts and that’s always appealing as I, like many writers, like to include historical facts to help authenticate a moment in time. Mix in some fictional characters and a bit of dialogue and you now have the reader imagining that scene actually happened. I’ll read about a character in someone’s work and maybe that character is secondary in that story, but could be the main character for the one I’d like to write. The key is to have an open mind (and to listen well). Permit yourself to be receptive to all sources.

What would we find on your writing desk?

Well, my trusty laptop (with worn keys), a white binder for each tittle filled with notes, drawings, printouts from research, quotations from the Bible and from famous people. A coffee cup is always handy and, oh yes, the TV on mute over my shoulder. Writing can be a lonely business, but knowing that the rest of the world is still out there keeps me grounded. At some point in time I have to stop (some days after sitting there for eight hours—straight) and think about lunch or even breakfast. When I have a plot swirling in my head, I’ll often get up at 4 am and hit the deck, running. Exercise? Who has time for exercise? My cat, Dolly will jump up on my lap and wonder if I’ve forgotten she eats food. Poor kitty.

What writing tips do you have for an inspiring author?

We each have our unique personalities and writing styles and what works for one person may not be suitable for another. Plotters. Outliners. Seat of the pants visionaries. Go with the flow-types. All hands on deck, whatever comes to mind? We’re all different. Still...the very best advice I could possibly offer is the advice I’ve heard repeatedly. And that advice is this: BEGIN. No matter what inspires you to write, just do it. Put your buttinski in the chair and WRITE. Don’t let a blank page on your screen (or a blank piece of paper, if you write with a pen) intimidate you. Secondly, don’t ever think that those first words are magical and that you just have to keep them, come hell or high water. Remember there is a delete key on your keyboard and if you think what you just wrote is garbage (or the very best the English language has seen since clocks were invented), then maybe, just maybe a reader will think these same thoughts. Who knows? It may be garbage. It could very likely be Genius. (But keep that in a separate file anyway---everyone likes a back-up).

 Immerse yourself in a variety of resources and attend as many conferences as you can afford. Listen, there are far better writers than yours truly and I have spent hours upon hours reading their wise words and suggestions, listening to speakers tell their own story and what makes them tick. How they put pen to paper and become New York Bestselling authors. What makes them keep writing? Those highly successful authors? They all say that writing is Re-Writing. Stephen King says this in On Writing (buy this book and read it over and over because he knows stuff and we all should listen). You might get the plot idea down pretty well, and then say, okay, here is how I’ll start the story and this is how I’d like to finish. But the thing is, all that “noise” in-between is where the work is. You may crash and burn after (my pre-determined point is the first 5,000 words) and then it all fizzles into nothing. BUT, if you persevere and work out the kinks, start the story in a completely different place, or discover that the secondary character is a far better main character, then keep churning. All those mixed up thoughts and scenes will often gel and then you have the distinct pleasure to finally come to a conclusion; when you stop on that last paragraph, on that last word and say to yourself. “The end.” Play Picasso and be brave enough to lay down the brush. Maybe not all the points were wrapped up with pretty red bows, but you’ve satisfied your goal for writing the story in the first place. What was the whole point of this story? If it satisfies you in the end, then it will satisfy your reader. Only then will your audience be waiting for your next book.

Have any ideas for that next book?

Actually, I’ve written a manuscript with two stories interwoven; one part contemporary, the other historical. Not sure what genre to call it: Historical Fiction? Semi-biographical? Not a Memoir as it’s based upon my ancestor’s experiences…their personal struggles. At any rate, I’m dying to get it into print, so who knows?

I’m also working on a story that includes some scenes from an elementary school and my time as a teacher plays into that manuscript. They say it’s best to write what you know, but honestly, I get a kick out of imagining. What I know may not be enough bread and butter to fill a book, (plus be too boring), but a story on the peripheral of what I’ve done in my life? Now that I can sink my teeth in; motivate my imagination to ask What if…? Whatever it is, I will probably approach it in the same way I have now for sixteen very long years. I’ve come to the conclusion that writing is a slow, methodical task and that crossing all the “t’s” and dotting all the “i’s” takes time and diligence. It may be a lonely job for a time, but once you find those Beta Readers who can offer a thumps-up or a thumbs-down and who you can trust implicitly; their opinions are worthy, then my friend, you’ve struck gold. And then the only question you have left is…what will I write next? The key is to take that risk. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

If you are involved in a completely and totally different career, and only read fiction for pleasure, then these same words of advice will fit in with whatever you do. I hate to add one more cliché, but it really is true: Success comes in cans; failure comes in can’ts. We only get one shot at this living gig, so make the most of every single day.