PERSONAL WRITING HABITS
Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?
Up until recently, I worked a 9-5 job writing for a boss, in addition to writing for myself. Now that I am “retired,” I can devote all my time to furthering my own projects. That being said, I have had to come to terms with forming my personal writing habits. I was afraid I would piddle my time away with other things, so I set up a kind of schedule, based on the days of the week. So far, it has been successful. Monday is Manuscript day. I spend the entire day (and sometimes long into the night) writing, drafting outline ideas, writing scenes, and letting whatever book I’m working on take me to wherever it happens to lead. (I’m rarely in control of the outcome!) Tuesday is Tech day when I edit, proof, revise, rewrite, and work with my editor. Wednesday is Web day, and I use it to update my online presence. Thursday, I do Research (In college, Thursday was always listed as R on the calendar) on my topics, characters, and ideas for other books. (I often have more than one going at a time.) Friday is Funding day and is devoted to all things marketing-related. Saturday is Solidify day and is the day in which I incorporate my research and tech-related activities into my current manuscript. Sunday is “UN” day. I rest my body and try to rest my mind by reading other authors or watching old movies.
Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
I have a general idea of plot, and usually I have a bare-bones outline from which I work; however, once I sit down to write, the characters take over and I find the plot traveling down avenues I never anticipated. Sometimes, in the middle of writing for one book, a character from a future story will demand my attention, and I must address that character’s situation. I keep several files open on my computer for upcoming books to write down what I think of in the moment that would otherwise be lost if I continued without making a written note. When I go back and check the note, I find it has a direct link to the current book’s timeline or character development.
Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?
Yes. I am a lucid dreamer, and all my novels have begun as dreams. The first dream became Backtrack: The Scout’s Story. I dreamed the story in its entirety several nights in a row. At the time, I was a teacher and mother to five young children, and I really needed my sleep, so I set up a “modern” Kaypro computer in the dining room and began to write until I had committed the entire dream to paper. Then, I printed it out on my trusty dot-matrix printer, gave it to my father to read, and anticipated some decent rest. (If you don’t know what a Kaypro computer and dot-matrix printer are, Google them and have a good laugh.) Even though the story was on paper and tucked away, I continued to dream subsequent stories, one after the other. Because I was a working mother, I pushed them to the back of my mind for many years. Now, they are coming into their own at last.
How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”?
When I was a school teacher, I taught writing to children using music as a background and as inspiration. I discovered mixed responses to the stimuli, as some children became distracted while others took off like racehorses. For myself, music plays a part in the inspiration for and development of the storyline. I include original lyrics in my books that correspond to music in my head. While writing, however, music is merely a neutral “white-noise” background that does not distract me.
What do you do in your free time?
Free time? What is that? The playwright, Eugene Ionesco, wrote, “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” That’s very accurate. When I’m not writing, I’m definitely thinking about it.
When can the readers expect your next book in print?
The next novel in The Trackers Series is scheduled for release in July 2018. Kachina: The Snapshot’s Story is the story of Raven Looking Bird Lightfoot, the psychic portrait clairvoyant who just married Dane Lightfoot, who is a clairscentrist. Her book continues where his book, Mist: The Bloodhound’s Story, left off.
Are you working on something new at the moment?
Yes. I am in the process of drafting and doing research for Ouroboros: The Echo’s Story, Book 4 of The Trackers Series. It is the story of Graham Skysong, the Navajo clairaudient, and is set in the Navajo Nation.
Name one book that you like most among all the others you have penned down.
My all-time favorite book is my children’s picture book, The Beautiful One, written under the name Mickey Middleton. It is the first in my “Small Tails of True Love” series of full-color rhymed picture books. Each book features small forest animals, insects, and plants who tell moral tales to promote positive self-esteem. When I first wrote the book, I let some teacher friends read it. One Kindergarten teacher was engrossed in the book, lovingly talking about the main characters of the Pumpkin and the Field Mouse. Suddenly, she burst into tears crying, “He’s dead! Oh no!” One page later, she jumped up and down exclaiming, “He’s alive! He’s alive!” I knew then that this book had the power to tap into real emotions.
TECHNICAL ASPECTS OF WRITING
Do you read any of your own work?
I re-read my books all the time, repeatedly, both for quality control and for pleasure. Every time I do, I find myself immersed in my characters’ lives, just like the first time. In my opinion, if an author doesn’t experience a thrill each time he/she reads his/her own work, then how can another reader be expected to enjoy it?
How important is research to you when writing a book?
I was always told that one writes what one knows. I don’t think that’s entirely accurate, because I have friends who write science fiction when they have never been away from this planet! What gives an author that edge of realism is the research that is done beforehand. I have never been to the Navajo Nation, so it is incumbent on me to do my homework and learn everything I can about it to make my book accurately reflect the people, their culture, and their location. That’s my responsibility as a writer.
Do you have specific culture you like to write about?
I love writing about Native and indigenous cultures. My children are part Creek Indian, and I have been fortunate enough to be invited to participate in their tribal ceremonials. I did post-graduate studies in ethnomusicology, and my focus was on Native American music. Many aspects of the first people resonate with me, and I adore writing about them. I tend to become immersed in the cultures of any country I happen to visit. I don’t “go native,” per se, but I get pretty close. I sang in Japan and fell in love with their people and their traditions; I volunteered in a little village in West Africa, and I cherished those people, as well. Expect to find characters from Asia, Central America, Spain, and West Africa in future books!
If you’re writing about a city/country/culture you haven’t physically visited, how much research do you conduct before you start writing?
I will probably use up a ream of paper printing out my research on the locations, customs, people, foods, music, and languages of the tribes I include in my books. I constantly refer to my research as I write to be certain my portrayals are accurate.
Do you like traveling or do you prefer staying indoors?
My children have joked that my dream house would have screen doors and a slide-away sun roof. I would much rather be outdoors, and I love to travel! My personal mantra is: My dreams may take a winding path; through wind or rain or frost, to hills and valleys, woods and water, I wander but never get lost. So, sit with me, beneath a tree, and we’ll share many a story. We’ll read and write both day and night, and free our hearts from worry.”
If you could live anywhere in the world, which country would you choose and why?
Ireland. I visited the country twice and cried each time I had to return home. I would be so happy in one of the little thatched-roof houses in the middle of a field overrun with sheep. It is a lovely, magical place. (Or as they say, “It’s a bonny, wee land.”)
FAMILY AND BACKGROUND
Who are your books mostly dedicated to?
All my novels are dedicated to my father, Dr. Wilbur A. Middleton. He set me on the path to writing the first novel and continuing with the series. He was the most instrumental person in my life, and I miss him every day. He taught me the power of a colorful vocabulary.
Were your parents reading enthusiasts who gave you a push to be a reader as a kid?
Both my parents were readers. My father was in the military by the time he was 16, but his quest for knowledge was unquenchable. He put himself through college and attained a Doctorate in Education. My mother loved to read Harlequin romances. On our trips from Army post to Army post, she gave me Little Golden Books and comics to keep me busy. I became a sponge, absorbing everything with writing on it: books, magazines, even cereal boxes.
What did you want to become when you were a kid?
I wanted to be a professional singer…and I became one. I wanted to be a contemporary pianist…and I became one. I wanted to be a veterinarian…and that never happened!
When you were younger, did you ever see writing as a career or full-time profession?
I began writing as a pre-teen. I wrote short stories with ghastly plots and unimaginable characters. As a young woman, living in Los Angeles with my actor husband, I split my time between singing on stage and writing for myself and other people. It was then my writing began to come together as something I could see as a full-time profession. I wrote mostly plays and musicals at that time, but I knew there was a book inside myself somewhere. Back in Florida, after my children grew up, I had the time to really devote to my writing as a career, and that is what I do now.
Do any of your family members make occasional cameos in your books?
They are all throughout my books. Every character is an amalgamation of people I know, and most of them have character traits of my family members and friends.
CHARACTERIZATIONS OF SELF AND OTHERS
How much of yourself do you put into your books?
I am a part of many characters in my books. No one character is completely Mickey, but several of them are very close.
Have you ever written a character based on the real you in some part?
The real me appears in at least five characters in my books. Some of those characters are even male. These characters have attributes of my personality or physical appearance at various times in my life.
Have you ever considered writing an autobiography?
It has often been suggested to me to write an autobiography. I don’t find the need to do so because my fiction contains a great deal of my life experiences. If you know me, you’ll find me in all my books; if you don’t know me, read my books and you will!
Although all books say that all the characters in the book aren’t real or related, but are they really all fictional and made up?
Some authors probably create completely fictional characters. I don’t think anybody in my books is entirely made up. They all have some bits and pieces of people I know.
Have any of your past loves inspired characters in your books?
Oh yes. If it was a good relationship, that character has a certain amount of presence and longevity. If it was a bad relationship, well, that person may become incarcerated or come to a tragic end. I have a mug that reads: Please do not annoy the writer. She may put you in a book and kill you. I give you fair warning!
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
I always incorporate events of my real life into my books. Some of them are pleasant; some of them are not.
Often, we are stuck in situations that we are not able to find a way out of. Have you ever incorporated a real-life situation from your own experience into the book and made the character find a way out of it the way you could not?
Since so much of myself is in my books, I often find my characters work out things in print that I could not work out in person. It can be very satisfying to tie up loose ends vicariously, but at the same time, sometimes when I read back what I’ve written, I’m a little sad that I wasn’t able to rectify wrongs or get myself out of a jam in real-life.
Do you often project your own habits onto your characters?
Not only do I project my own habits onto my characters, I give them habits I don’t have, so I don’t have to experience them in real-life. Noah has a cocky smart mouth, and so do I, at times. I don’t smoke, but several of my characters do. Liahona has the patience of Job, and I have the patience of a gnat!
Which literary character do you most resonate with on a personal level?
Were I British, I would be Claire Randall Fraser of the Outlander series. She has the same spunk and tenacity I tend to project, she is more at home outdoors than inside, and she has a knack for herbal healing. She loves Jamie with a fierceness that is unequal to that of any mere woman, yet she’s easily hurt. Yes, I would be Claire Randall Fraser. Were I Neanderthal, I would be Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear. She is the cave woman version of Claire.
CONVERSION TO OTHER MEDIA
They say books die every time they are turned into a movie; what do you think?
Oh, I don’t think books ever die, despite their conversion to other media. There have been many movie adaptations of books that made me want to read the novels from which they were inspired. Unfortunately, many movie versions of books are pale in comparison to what the mind can imagine while reading.
If you were to watch your favorite book (which hasn’t been turned into a real-life motion picture) turn into a movie, which would you choose? Or would you rather keep it stayed as a book?
I would love to see a film adaptation of The Eight by Katherine Neville. The plot is intricate, with many twists and turns, and set in a historical time that was dramatic, in and of itself. I fear it could never be properly scripted, however. It would probably be better suited to a long-running television series. In my mind, I’ve already cast it!
Doesn’t it bother you that when books are turned into movies, they are often changed to suit the audience needs?
For a long time, I wanted to see a film version made of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. One came out a few years ago, and it was dreadful. I taught that book every year, and it was a class favorite. Many of my former students wrote me and expressed their extreme disappointment in the movie version.
In case one or any of your books honor the big screen, which book would you like it to be?
Backtrack: The Scout’s Story is the natural book for filming. It is the first book in The Trackers Series and sets the stage for all the other books. It would be a fabulous movie, so long as I had a huge say in the script and the casting.
Which book is the one you keep going back to again and again?
I have read The Eight by Katherine Neville so many times my book is worn out. Another that I’ve read multiple times is The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. Both these books, by female authors, are masterful tales with engaging plots, colorful language, and enchanting characters. If I had to be marooned on a desert island with only two books, those would be the ones I crammed into my pockets, along with my Swiss army knife and atomic lighter.
If you were given the opportunity to form a book club with your favorite authors of all time, which legends or contemporary writers would you want to become a part of the club?
My book club would be composed of the following members: Katherine Neville, Susan Cooper, Diana Gabaldon, Jean Auel, Robin Cook, Dean Koontz, Tony Hillerman, and Dr. Seuss. They are the authors who have had the most profound influence on my life.
Has it ever happened to you that someone published your story in their own name?
For someone to take another person’s intellectual property is unconscionable, but it happens all the time. In 1984, when I was living in Los Angeles, I co-wrote a three-act comedy murder mystery for the stage with my father-in-law, Joseph Cranston. It was based on a popular Parker Brothers murder mystery game. We pitched it to a well-known production team. (Their first names were Jon and Peter.) After several months, they passed on the project. Imagine our surprise when a movie about that same game came out in 1985. The idea was the same, as were the characters, but just enough of the storyline was different to say it was not plagiarized. Live and learn!