Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
I've been writing for decades--magazine articles, newsletters, books, and blogs. I started writing when I moved to the mountains of N.C. Even all these years later it seems like an unlikely place to begin a life-long career--in the mountain town of Brasstown. While plenty of people visited the town, its population was only about 200. Once I settled into my new home, I took a drive to see more of the area. I stumbled upon the Campbell Folk School, an amazing center for art, craft, and music (and featured in my novels as The Hickson School of American Studies). Later, the director asked if I’d like to learn public relations. To be honest, I should have answered, “What’s that?” Instead, I said, “Sure,” and took to it like ink to newsprint. I haven’t stopped writing since.
What makes writing your passion?
I am a born storyteller, so it thrills me to get my stories out and make the words sing. Sure, the writing stages are important, but it's the editing that I get passionate about. How can I make every idea, phrase, word the best it can be?
How long have you been writing?
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
I wrote some books for publishers, but those were mostly hard work for little pay. The book that really excited me was my first original book--a nonfiction book entitled "Words at Work." Over the years, I'd seen so many people struggle with their writing. Like me, they had trouble letting go of all the unkind comments of parents, teachers, colleagues. I don't know why human beings do that--diminish one another's creativity. With all the problems we have, you'd think we'd be celebrating each other. Anyway, in that book, I tried to dispel all the writing myths that every writer has labored under, to varying degrees. That was a dozen years ago or more--but I still love that book and how it encouraged writers to believe in themselves and keep writing.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
My Appalachian Mountain Mysteries pay homage to the people of Appalachia who taught me so much.
Decades after I moved away, I reflected on how often the stories I share begin with, "When I lived in the mountains of North Carolina …" All the things I enjoy—writing, hiking, wildflowers, birds, gardening, preserving food, early instruments, bluegrass music, ecology—took root while I lived on a small farm, making mistakes by the wheelbarrow load, but learning so much. I've taken many of the people I met during my 15 years on a farm and later living in Asheville and fictionalized them. I wanted to remember them and honor them for taking a naive young woman and sharing so generously their skills, food, and lore.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
Editors! When I wrote magazine articles, writers had a saying: Editors don't know what they want until they know what they don't want. All those rewrites because they changed their minds. That can happen--once the research is done, the story isn't what we thought it was. But I'm talking more about whims. I'm a much nicer editor to myself!
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
At the risk of sounding arrogant, I've never really had writer's block. I had bills to pay, and that went a long way toward getting me over the hump. That said, early in my fictional books, before I know exactly how the story goes and what the characters get up to, I can dillydaddle and procrastinate. But once the story is clear to me, I love to write it.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
Believe in yourself. As I mentioned earlier, don't let ANYONE tell you that you're not good enough. Maybe you have some things to learn. Fine, go out and learn them. But keep at your craft and dreams.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Write fiction sooner (if that's your goal). It feels like getting out of jail. No one else telling you what characters to use, what direction to take, whether it's good enough. I'm a pretty strict editor of my own work, so, yes, I make myself rewrite and improve a lot. I edit my books about 25 times each. I suppose if reviews were bad, I'd need to crack down a little harder, but fortunately, my readers seem to like my characters and stories. So my advice comes down to: 1) believe in yourself, 2) write what YOU have always wanted to write, and 3) be willing to fix things if you don't get the response you want from your readers.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
At first I read all the reviews. Now I glance at them from time to time. There are so many people in this world--all with different tastes. When I saw that "Where the Crawdads Sing" had one-star reviews, I relaxed. That is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read--and if Delia Owens can get one-star reviews, well, I don't mind getting a few. Again, if I had a lot of them, that's time to go back to school, the drawing board, an editor.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
It makes my day, of course. I love hearing from my readers, and I always write back when they drop me a line.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Many of the scenes in my Appalachian Mountain Mysteries are true. I wanted to capture the flavor of living on my small mountain farm, in a community as foreign to me as one in Latvia!
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
Della Kincaid is my fictional persona. Her voice is mine, her writing career was mine, and many of things that happened to her are mine. Of course, I exaggerated a bit--that's the fun of fiction.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
No, I don't think that. Sure, the cover is super important in order to attract readers. But if I haven't told a good story by page 35 or 40, no cover is going to correct that.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
I always return emails when my readers write to me. I can't accept phone calls--I'd never get any writing done!
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
It's a great feeling!
Who is your favorite author? Why?
I mentioned Delia Owens above, though I've read only one book by her. I also love the writing of several authors: Michael Connelly, Keith McCafferty, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Jonathan Kellerman, Anthony Horowitz, among others. They all write such beautiful prose--and tell a meaningful story.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
OK, I have to admit it. I'd love for my series to be made into a movie. TV is fine--it doesn't have to be the big screen. So that puts me in league with Michael Connelly and Anthony Horowitz.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
No, I did so much of that before I published, they are exactly the story I wanted to tell.
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
I guess Anthony Horowitz. I'd love to live in England and have my stories on the telly.
What would you say to the “trolls” on the internet? We all know them – people who like to write awful reviews to books they’ve never read or didn’t like that much, just to annoy the author.
I've had a few of those. As long as they are in the minority, ignore them. If a lot of other people agree with them, ignore them--but get some help with your writing and editing.
What would you say to your readers?
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I so appreciate your reading my books and sharing your reviews and thoughts. Without you, they might as well be locked in a vault!
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
What is your day job if you have one?
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
Did you have a happy childhood?
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
What is your favorite music?
Share a secret with us 🙂