1 Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Energizes, almost always. During those few times when the writing has been exhausting, I have learned to perceive the exhaustion as a symptom: Something’s wrong. The fatigue most likely stems from one of a broad array of causes- I need to figure out which it is. And deal with it.
Is it just that I’ve been pushing too hard? Or is there a problem with the plot or character that I’m not admitting? Or am I getting sick and not paying attention?
Q2 Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
The books I write derive from stories that ‘show up.’ My writing is not a case of ‘delivering what readers want,’ but rather of writing a story that is begging to be told. Perhaps like others of us writers, I’m aware that genres like erotica and romance are responsible for the most sales─ and that psychological suspense is a top seller, but those are not the stories that appear in my psyche and beg to be told.
Q3 Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
The reason I write is to know what I think. When I am asked my opinion during a conversation, I attempt to give a thoughtful answer. But in writing fiction or non-fiction, the words are carefully selected, measured even tried on for size and changed if necessary. That takes time, energy and commitment, to get it as right as possible. I cannot comment on any writer but myself but I could not write without strong, even passionate feelings, questions that beg to be answered, complex problems requiring more than a superficial glance.
Q4 What does literary success look like to you?
That’s a subject that I ponder periodically. Because I need to remember what I learned about success, fame and money during a time of my life when I’d achieved a modicum of fame: Success and fame are not what we think they are-at least they were not for me. There was no sense of Ahhh, I’ve made it! Very little gratification when introduced as an expert; instead there was another voice…This is what an expert looks like? Really?
Rolling the clock forward, I revisit that lesson when my book sales are disappointing or when a bad review grabs my attention. It’s not the volume of sales, or the opinions of others or the rank on Amazon.
Literary success then, is the knowledge that each book is better than its predecessor and that I have done the very best I could with each story.
Q5 What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
A researcher by nature and training, I have learned to curb my love of research. While writing my first book, the research took me close to two years. My need to understand alcohol and drug addiction, what being an inmate in prison was like, ‘big pharma’ and investigational drug research approached obsessiveness. I read more than forty books, spent a week with a researcher in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, a morning with an ADA and read the entire court proceedings from the case of a Texas physician charged with intentional murder. And wrote to more than ten wardens in failed attempts to get inside a prison-get the feel of that being locked in would feel like.
In truth, I was avoiding the writing of the book by extending the research. With subsequent books I have kept the research at three to four months. Usually I read something like ten to twelve books on the subjects my story features. Sometimes more.
Q6 How many hours a day do you write?
It depends. I’ve learned there are many myths out there about writing. This one appears frequently: ‘To complete a book, you must schedule times and a place for writing it. And consistently adhere to that schedule.’
I don’t have a writing schedule. Nor do I have a specific place to write. But I do write only on my laptop never desktop. Certainly, when I am approaching a deadline, my writing schedule might be most of my waking hours or as much of them as I can devote to it. But other things interrupt-husbands, kids, holidays, life. As they should.
Perhaps because I’ve worked for myself for over fifteen years, the challenge of working from home is a norm for me. And grabbing a few hours here and there to write doesn’t drive me crazy. Not anymore.
Q7 Do you read your book reviews?
In the beginning, I read all of them. An unknown, most of them were written by friends and family members who were somewhat stunned that the book was actually done. Published. They’d been hearing about this book for years. An embarrassing number of years while I did battle with another set of voices: You think you can actually write a novel? At your age? You don’t know what you’re doing, why don’t you just quit?
Those early reviews were fun to read. But most were not objective. As the next books rolled out, I saw fewer and fewer reviews from friends—like most readers, they stopped posting the reviews at Amazon. And I began to solicit reviews from paid and unpaid reviewers. Which gets into the next question.
Q8 How do you deal with bad or good reviews?
I am weaning myself off the need to read them. A recent slew of surprisingly nasty reviews about an early book that had recently been released in audio- the kind where the reviewer can find nothing good to say- threw me for a loop. The timing was poor because I was on a deadline for my latest novel. For close to a week, I could write nothing. Some of the most negative phrases echoed in my mind and I felt stunned…flattened.
One day, while fooling around on line, I checked out the reviews of The Shack, Paul Young’s movie and found many which were astoundingly vicious. There was no other word for what these people chose to write about his movie, The Shack. One that I thought was brilliant- I thought the film far superior to the book.
Curious, I went to Young’s website where I read a post where the author blogs. His most recent post was one thanking those who had taken the time to see and review his new movie. He had selected a few to highlight in the post. They were uniformly glowing about the film.
And I got it. Reviews are opinions, no more. No less.
Q9 Do you believe in writer’s block?
No, I think it’s another myth. Or more accurately, it’s a name for something else: Fear. A couple of brand new characters in my last two books were very intimidating to me. Because these men were completely outside my field of reference, their initial descriptions read like cardboard. Flatter than pancakes, they lacked substance, were unidimensional.
I took my time, a lot more time than I normally do. And wrote them differently. I kept going back to read and re-read sentences and paragraphs sometimes taking days or a couple of weeks off before returning. Until finally, they had flesh and muscle. I could seethem, even understand, how they got here.
Q10 What lessons have you learned as a writer?
Humility. Humility. Humility. No matter how hard I work to create a perfect book, it comes up short. Whether it’s missed typos, a minor inconsistency in the plot or a character, I become aware that I could rework this story for the rest of my life and still find things to change. Sentences that could be said better. Even ideas that could have fit if I’d had them in time.
The importance of an excellent editor and a good proofreader. For me that means two people.
Q11 Which books do you like to read?
I enjoy mystery, thrillers, and some supernatural stories. While writing my novels, I read extensive non-fiction while working on the new story therefore during my off times-like now, I love reading just for fun. I just finished Dean Koontz’s second Jane Hawk novel. And will read the first I missed while I was working on my latest book. Daniel Silva’s novels are also favorites.
But when non-fiction books like Grit, Drive, Mastery, The War of Art and Quiet appear in the headlights, I devour them.
Q12 Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
It’s funny because during my career in academic medicine, I considered myself an extrovert. My life was composed of constant public events, travel, speaking engagements; In short, being ‘on.’
Only now in my fifth-or is it sixth?- career of writing fiction have I become aware that yes, I’m a loner. And it was while reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet that I realized that my husband is the extrovert. Reading Cain’s book helped me think about what I preferred.
Did I like large groups or one on one’s?
Did I enjoy solitude or was I happier when actively engaged with others?
Surprised at my replies, I realized I’m far more or a loner than a joiner.
Q13 What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?
For fiction, I look for a gripping read. One that is hard to put down. Usually that is due to the author’s ability to grab my attention in the first several pages. I think the first sentence of a book is critical- it must reach out and shout to the reader.
Just as important are surprises…I did not expect this or that twist. But, of course, there needs to be elements of consistencies and plausibility.
In non-fiction, the subject needs to be something I can identify with. Or better, wondered about. I like understanding more about what seems to make us tick.
Q14 What’s the best way to market your books?
When I began this business, I knew it would cost me money. After all, I was a novice and an unknown fiction writer.
Therefore, I threw a lot of money at all kinds of marketing in attempts to see which would stick. I doubt there are many types of marketing methods I have missed. Among them were hiring a publicist, holding book readings and signings in libraries, book stores, hosted book clubs, radio show appearances, church groups and women’s group forums. I also invested with several of the countless promoters promising to get thousands of likes and followers. And I invest in SEO for website and promotion of weekly blog. In addition, I do Amazon, Facebook and Twitter ads.
The most books are sold from appearing in front of audiences who like to read, meet and talk with authors. Given an audience of thirty, twenty will buy at least one of the books. Several will buy two or three. And last I have a mailing list of readers used to promote my books.
Q 15 Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
Although I have never thought about it in those words, yes, that is true for me. When I started writing fiction, I approached the first book the same way as I’d written non-fiction: Creating a detailed outline of the entire story. It was impossible. After weeks of failed attempts, I gave up and just began to write. I intended that the investigative journalist in the book would be a contemporary narrator through whose eyes, the reader would learn about the protagonist. But she gained traction as I wrote and established herself as a major character.
I realized that some- not all- of these people whom I write into existence take off with an energy that cannot be explained. In my newest book, I did not know what would happen with one of the major characters until the chapters were written.
Ceding control of the story has been one of the most difficult things for me to learn. But what an adventure once it happens!
Q16 How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
Like many young English majors, I dreamed of writing a novel while in undergraduate school many years. But satisfied the need to write by publishing articles, book chapters, a textbook in my field. So, I wrote part-time for over thirty years. Full-time writing started about ten years ago.
Q17 How do you select the names of your characters?
For important characters, people who are pivotal but not one of the protagonists or antagonists, I research first and last names and wait for the right one to declare itself. Until the person is named, I cannot write a word. Not infrequently, the name of the person appears in my head. Like Lindsey McCall did during a hike in the mountains behind my house. Along with a background of who she was- an interventional Cardiologist and cardiovascular researcher working at the Texas Medical Center in Houston.
Just a year or so, another one appeared: Morgan Gardner…a teenager who would be a central character in the 4th book of the Lindsey McCall medical mystery series.
Q18 What is your favorite childhood book?
I was ill-at times, critically so, for much of my early childhood. Consequently, books became places of refuge from doctors and hospitals. When I was too sick and most likely too young to read, my grandmother read the book Heidi to me. Later, one of my favorite authors was Alfred Payson Terhune. His stories about the collie Lad transported me to places that felt more real than the life I was living.
Q19 How much of yourself do you put into your books?
I write from my experience. Since I spent my working life in academic medicine, the plots and characters are a composite of those years and the cardiac research I was involved in. No character or scenario is entirely factual but all the books are grounded in history or actual science.
Q20 Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
My next novel is a surprise to me. The title, I Claudia will tell the story of Claudia, the wife of Pontius Pilate. Switching from medical mystery to historical fiction was not in my plan but then much of this fascinating dance with fiction has been wholly unplanned.