This is my recent interview with Zoe Tribley/ The Bookshelf, Thomasville, GA prior to my book launch event on 3/31/2018.
Where did Sanctuary start in your head?
The initial seed of thought got planted the Fall of 2013. My wife suggested I write a story that would contain life lessons for my grandkids. She knew they would not likely sort through all my inspirational and devotional archives. With my wife’s blessing, I retired in January 2014 to devote my full-time resources and time to write such a novel. The story that ultimately became Sanctuary I finished the Summer of 2016 and published April 2017. It went through rigorous changes until it came together thanks to a great writing coach who continues to serve as my editor. She helped me grow the story from the simple notion that a beloved coach died saving others in a horrific courthouse fire. Creating the fictional, time-lost South Georgia town of Shiloh and all the believable, yet colorful characters took months, but now Shiloh and its citizens are all very real to my wife and me. Getting intimately familiar with each citizen, street and building in little old Shiloh allowed the story to unfold. Sanctuary began with an “if, then” premise and I merely wrote each scene that followed. The hardest part of the creative process involved the editing after each draft.
The title, Sanctuary, was suggested by one of the Beta readers, and my wife came up with the subtitle, A Legacy of Memories, which got tacked on the updated 2nd Edition to connect with the new sequel, Testament, An Unexpected Return. Of course, Shiloh’s citizens are lobbying for the third in the Shiloh Mystery Series, Purgatory, A Progeny’s Quest which I plan to publish in 2019.
What does my normal writing day look like?
My wife cleared out the back bedroom for my writing and then kept herself preoccupied during the day running errands, taking care of her mother, and volunteering at the Cancer Treatment Center. Being retired allowed me to devote a minimum of four to six hours a day, five days a week to crafting my novel. There were days my wife still laughs about when she’d knock on my door and ask when I would be getting home from Shiloh because dinner was on the table. I’d smile and say, “give me five minutes,” but I’d end up eating another cold meal an hour later.
At least three times a week my wife and I would share a long three-mile walk together. I’d use the hour of fresh air to talk about where I was in the story, and she’d help me with various plot and scene details. No doubt she played a huge role in formulating the airtight facts that came out in the storylines in Sanctuary and Testament. We both wanted realistic, entertaining, and believable stories for the readers to get caught up in reading.
After I finished Testament, we remodeled much of the house, and my writing desk got relocated to a more spacious area of our home that included larger windows, next to the kitchen. Before I moved, someone could bang on the front door, and I’d not hear anything. Now I am more cognizant of activity in and around the house, and with the kitchen more accessible I can refill my coffee cup or grab an apple or handful of peanuts without disrupting my thoughts.
Was the setting of Sanctuary personal?
Absolutely! Shiloh did not spring ex-nihilo (out of nothing). For over thirty years business trips took me in and out towns throughout the South. And, after I went back to school to finish some degree work and seminary, I taught, coached, and preached in Lower Alabama, Northern Florida, and South Georgia for ten years. My wife and I experienced firsthand family-centric, small-town life in the Deep South before we settled outside of Atlanta to retire near family. Ironically, we ended up buying a home outside of historic Newnan, just beyond the shadows of Atlanta.
The other influence on the selection of Shiloh being in Georgia was my father’s family heritage. Although my grandfather relocated the family to Miami at the end of the Depression, my father’s relatives resided in and around Atlanta for at least three generations. However, only when my father passed did my father’s youngest brother tell me about my father’s travails as a young boy separated from his family out of necessity until my grandfather found work in Miami. I named the wily old barber in Testament Wiley to honor my father and grandfather. A name they both carried.
What am I reading now?
When not reading novels by author-friends, I attempt to shrink my to-be-read stack on my nightstand. At the moment, I am enjoying Camino Island by John Grisham. My stack also usually includes titles by Nicolas Sparks, Charles Martin, David Baldacci and Terry Kay, among others.
If I was to give my book a partner, like a significant other that it would balance with, what book would I pair with it?
Though I do not claim to be on the same plain or even stratosphere for that matter as John Grisham, either Ford County and The Last Juror would be the likely first choice.
Who did you have the most fun writing, Theo or Liddy?
Got to say Liddy. I tried to make all my female characters to portray unique, believable, and desirable qualities, while also causing a chuckle once in a while by their antics in the story. I learned to listen intently to my wife and my editor when it came to writing scenes featuring my female characters. Of course, after 47 years together, it’d be hard not to give Liddy some of Connie’s traits and quirks.
This is Interview with Lena Dooley just prior to the launch of my sequel, Testament, An Unexpected Return.
- Why do you write the kind of books you do?
Love the question. I went back to school and attended seminary after our youngest son graduated high school. It was there my passion for writing developed. What began with theological expositions and sermons blossomed into Bible studies and regular devotional messages as my internet presence grew. However, I felt my writing failed to communicate as I wanted it, especially with my grandkids. Right after we moved to Georgia just before I retired, my wife challenged me: “If you want to reach folks, especially your grandkids, write real-to-life stories that will exemplify your inspirational messages – stories that will become a legacy of love your family will cherish for years to come.” I accepted the challenge and over time conjured up the settings and characters I felt most comfortable spending endless hours talking with and about. Up sprang little old Shiloh, a time-lost South Georgia town, and all its colorful cast of characters tackling 21st-Century challenges and changes while dragging their heels in their 20th-Century traditions and pace of life. I have tried to create believable Southern flavored mysteries with a setting and cast of characters that readers can identify with, and eagerly ask, “When’s the next book coming out?”
- Besides when you came to know the Lord, what is the happiest day in your life?
At 66 years of age, married 45 of those years as of this August to my best friend, this question poses a lot of possibilities for me. However, over my dresser rests a charcoal portrait of my wife Connie drawn during our fifth-anniversary celebration in New Orleans. It reminds me that every day with her is the happiest day in my life. As corny as that may sound, I am eternally grateful for her love and inspiration, and the growing family who surround us today. That is God’s grace poured out in my life every day.
- How has being published changed your life?
Being published helped me to realize there were lots of others beyond my grandkids, family, and friends interested in my stories. Being published also has allowed us the opportunity to visit a host of new places and gotten to greet a passel of folks we would never have had known otherwise. In fact, signing books at all these events continues to be one of the most humbling experiences for me. Thanks to getting published, my golf clubs sit waylaid in the garage, collecting dust beside my fishing gear.
- What are you reading right now?
The table beside my bed holds an ever-changing stack of TBR (to-be-read) books by any number of my favorite authors, as well as some written by author-friends. When not writing, I am reading, always leaving a positive review for each book I invest time to finish.
- What is your current work in progress?
The third story in my Shiloh mystery series is entitled Purgatory, A Progeny’s Quest. It continues with most of the characters my fans have enjoyed in the first two stories, but this installment focusses on a band of teenagers during a summer of misadventures after an unlikely orphaned young girl arrives from Louisiana seeking to learn about her family.
- What would be your dream vacation?
My dream vacation would involve sharing a large, rustic cabin somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains with my two sons and their families. We would all be unplugged and off the grid so that we could enjoy each day hiking, swimming, and kayaking. Sitting beside a lazy creek flipping rocks across the surface with each of my grandsons and my granddaughter, talking about nothing particular, just enjoying time together.
- How do you choose your settings for each book?
Shiloh is an amalgamation of memories from my youngest memories from decades of driving throughout the South on business. I have a blog on my webpage that speaks about my paternal heritage in Georgia dating back into the 19th-Century. I believe we all cherish the Southern-minute pace of small-town life; where porch rockers remain occupied and howdies and smiles greet strangers as if friends. In my stories, I contrast the hustle and bustle of Atlanta versus rural life just three hours south along the Flint River below Albany.
- If you could spend an evening with one person who is currently alive, who would it be and why?
Wow! I guess I’d love to spend a lazy evening rocking on a porch with John Grisham because I’d pick his brain about his inspiration for his older stories that evolved around Ford County, Mississippi, and all the quirky characters in those stories. I would ask him about the transformation of his writing as his celebrity grew in recent years. Then I’d ask if he wanted to write another story in follow up to The Painted House, one of my favorites of his.
- What are your hobbies, besides writing and reading?
One of these days I wipe the dust off my golf clubs and pick up some new fishing gear, but right now doodling around in my flower beds is all I have time to do outside of my author activities and spoiling grandkids. I’m just having too much fun doing what I’m doing right now.
- What is your most difficult writing obstacle, and how do you overcome it?
Not having an extensive writing background has been my second most significant obstacle. The first is my passion for being the best I can be at whatever is worth doing. Thankfully, God gave me a phenomenal writing coach and editor. Without Kari Scare I would still be staring at my first draft of Sanctuary. I also know God prepared my wife to be my number one encourager along the journey.
- What advice would you give to a beginning author?
Once you begin, never, never, never quit! And, accept the fact there are no shortcuts. Always know why you started the journey and then remind yourself daily because it will be easy to get off-track and derail your project. Finally, if money, fame, and prestige are your motivators, then I suggest becoming an author may not be the right endeavor for you. Maybe you can attain a little of each along the way, but they are rewards, not goals.
- Tell us about the featured book.
Testament, An Unexpected Return is the second in the Shiloh Mystery series.
In this sequel to Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories, Theo and Liddy are finally sinking deep roots into their new hometown of Shiloh. Friendships are blossoming as Liddy ponders an offer to become the new art teacher at Shiloh High while Theo sends off his manuscript for Jessie’s Story to be published. Life appears to be settling down, but ominous shadows from the town’s past herald more tragedy lie ahead in little old Shiloh.
“The testament of a man lies not in the magnitude of possessions and property left to his heirs, but the reach of his legacy long after his death.” Theo Phillips
- Please give us the first page of the book.
“Theo, wake up! Mary’s here.” Liddy jostled my hammock, disrupting my mid-summer siesta.
Pressed by Cornerstone Publishing, my former employer until eight months ago, the final draft of my expanded manuscript of Jessie’s Story rested in the gifted hands of Mary Scribner. Over the past four months, I had holed myself up for hours on end leaving no stone unturned as I combed through dog-eared files and scrawled notes used in writing the articles first published in the Sentinel last December, retelling Jessie Masterson’s story.
As Mary exited her sky blue hatchback, I swung my legs onto the floor and stepped beside Liddy at the foot of the steps.
Liddy tendered an approving smile as she smoothed the back of my hair. “That’s better,” she whispered as she squeezed my waist and added, “Mary’s Cheshire Cat smile must be a good sign.”
“Theo, I think you’ll be happy. Jessie’s Story is ready to earn Cornerstone’s editorial final blessing. Your rewrites provided the conclusion the entire town will be proud to read.” Mary extended the swollen envelope she’d been cradling.
“Thanks, Mary. I couldn’t have done this without you.” I slid the immaculate manuscript from the envelope.
Liddy chuckled. “Mary, this most certainly looks a far sight better than all those raggedy, yellow legal pads filled with his chicken scratch.” Mary’s eyes danced between Liddy and me. “Oh, it wasn’t that bad Miss Liddy,” she managed to say stifling her giggles.
- How can readers find you on the Internet?
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