Interview with Lynda J. Cox, author of “The Devil’s Own Desperado”

A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?

I can’t and won’t speak for others, but in my case, it’s very true. My social ineptness stems from having anxiety attacks. I tend to avoid social situations. It’s much more comfortable for me hide out at home.

What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

I write romance and I promise a happily ever after (or at least the happy for now) ending. Love is the most powerful driving emotion that we share. Hate is and often is strong, but it is love that will always win the day. How much more special can that be?

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

I’m a pantster. I have a general idea where the book is going to go, but I don’t write to an outline or even plot points. Half the fun for me is discovering where we’re going with the characters as we head out on the journey to the sunset and that promised happy ending.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

Writing. It really is the hardest thing to do. Without making a deliberate decision to write, the words aren’t going to show up. I know a lot of people who tell me they have all these stories in their heads and want to write them, but they never do. For whatever reason, they’re terrified of sitting down and committing to writing those words, telling those stories. I hear that “I’m not a good writer” or “I can’t write well.” Guess what—none of us has ever been born a good writer or with the ability to write well. It’s just like any other craft or art—the more you write, the more feedback you receive, the better you will become.

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

Yes, actually I have. I started writing in my first marriage (it was a lifeline to sanity, to be honest), but only became serious about publication about five years ago while I was working on my master’s degree in English. My second publish book actually started life as a contemporary novel, and when I decided to pull that book out and try to polish it, I realized how dated it was. So, I turned it into an historical. It actually stewed for almost twenty years.

Does a bad review affect your writing?

Not really. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’m actually kind of tickled that a reader actually took the time to write a review. And, in the smattering of bad reviews I’ve had, not a one of them (so far!) has been a DNF (Did Not Finish) book. So, even for the bad review, there was something in that book which kept the reader engaged and reading to the end.

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Yep. DO NOT MARRY THE FIRST ONE! Seriously, the only good things I got out of that marriage were my two kids, who I love with all my heart.

Do you read any of your own work?

All the time. I find myself even reading things I wrote when I was working on my undergraduate and noting, “Well, that isn’t so bad,” and wishing I could revise that paper one more. Or, with the three books I have published, I find myself wanting to change something in the final Word document and have to make myself walk away. It’s published, through a publisher, and changing anything in those books is no longer an option. I guess it’s because as a writer, I’ve realized I’ll never have anything written exactly as I want it, I want to make that writing as perfect as I can make it, and there comes a time when I have to realize that it is as good as it can be and I have to leave it alone. But, it’s never perfect—and that drives me crazy.

How important is research to you when writing a book?

I’m a western historical romance writer. I have to have the historical aspects correct—or I will hear about it. Not to mention, my undergrad work was in both English and History. I love research. I love adding in the historical facts, how people lived into my novels. It’s those things that ground the book in reality and allow the reader to suspend disbelief and live in my little created world with my characters for a little while.

Who are your books mostly dedicated to?

In my “real” life, I’m a dog show fanatic. I’ve raised and shown collies for more than thirty years. Two of my three books are dedicated to two very special collies in my life. All three of my books have dedications. The first, The Devil’s Own Desperado, is dedicated to my husband and to the champion collie who inspired the hero’s name. My second book, Smolder on a Slow Burn, is dedicated to the men who fought and died on both sides of the conflict in the American Civil War. My third book, Seize the Flame, is dedicated to my grandchildren and to my “heart dog” Vander.

Writers are often believed to have a Muse, your thoughts on that?

Oh, yes, I have one and She is evil. She has a nasty habit of dropping an amazing idea on me when I can least work on it. The Devil’s Own Desperado was written while I was writing a twenty-five page plus critical introduction to my master’s creative project (that didn’t include the sixteen pages of bibliographic material or the Works Cited pages). I jotted the idea down and it wouldn’t leave me alone. So, I ended up having two documents open—I’d write a page or two of the romance novel and then write a paragraph of that critical introduction. I was literally bouncing between strict, academic writing and creative writing. More than once, I gave myself a headache.

Did the thought to give up writing ever occur to you?

Yes, but it had nothing to do with the rejection letters. That temptation to stop writing came about after a very vicious critique which made me question everything I thought I knew about writing, about romance novels, and about my ability to craft a story. It took me almost two years to work through the self-doubt. In that period, I didn’t write a single word, didn’t read anything I wrote, and at one point, had everything I had written collected into one folder on my computer’s desktop and had my cursor hoovering over the “delete” button. Thank heavens sanity returned before I did that.

How did it feel when your first book got published?

I was working at my alma mater at the time, running the Writing Center, when I signed my first contract. I wasn’t sure I was reading the e-mail correctly. I printed out the e-mail and took it to my boss (who was also the Department Chair) and asked him to read it for me and tell me I was reading it right, I was being offered a contract. I will never forget the grin that cross his face when he read that and then said, “Congratulations.” I truly danced back to my office, fist pumping all the way. I couldn’t wait to share the news with my husband and as usual, when I have something I really have to tell him, he wasn’t answering his cell phone and he won’t answer the clinic phone when he’s doing surgeries (guess that is a good thing) so I didn’t even bother to try calling his veterinary practice. I had to wait until he got home that evening to share the news.

Do writers become narcissists once their book starts to sell?

I can’t speak for other authors, but in my case, I have some close friends that I have made promise me that if I ever start to get a swelled head and believe that it’s “all about me” they will Gibbs-slap me upside the head. And, if that doesn’t knock some sense back into me, they’ve promised to take me behind the wood shed. I don’t want to be that author.

If you die today, how would want the world to remember you?

I would hope that I’m remembered as a person who genuinely cared about other people, as someone who was passionate about my beliefs, and as someone who followed the adage of “Do no harm.”

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?

Every single character I’ve written is made up. However, I do tip my hat to some of the people who influenced me in my “real” life of showing collies. The back story for one of the peripheral, reoccurring characters in all three of my published books is that he grew up in Kentucky and his family raised horses (like that isn’t clichéd at all). The name of the farm was homage to one of the most successful collie kennels in my lifetime and owned by one of my mentors when I first started in the show ring.

Have you received any awards for your literary works?

Yes. The Devil’s Own Desperado won The Laramie Award for best debut novel. Smolder on a Slow Burn was RONE nominated (just the nomination was a huge deal), and was winner of the Easy Chair Bookstore’s peer judged romance category.

Had any of your literary teachers ever tell you growing up that you were going to become a published writer one day?

Not growing up. But, my college career was undertaken as a “non-traditional student” (think old enough to be mom to more than 90% of my freshman cadre), and when I went into the master’s program I was blessed to have a creative writing instructor who was simply amazing. His name is Aaron Morales and he pushed me to go in directions I never thought I could go. He was harder on me than other students, he admitted such to me, and when I demanded to know why, he said he knew I could handle the pressure and I would take it as a challenge to be a better writer. Each member of my master’s committee foresaw publication for me.

Have you ever written a character with an actor in mind?

I’m laughing with this question. The answer, in a nutshell is “Yes.” I need visual stimulation sometimes, so when I decide on what the main characters look like, I start searching for images that match them. Those images are then printed out and taped up to the walls around my desk. I won’t say which actors correspond with which characters because I do want my readers to bring their own ideas of what the characters look like, but I do use actors when I’m writing.

Do you prefer being intoxicated to write? Or would you rather write sober?

Hemingway is rumored to have said to write drunk and edit sober. However, I have a family history of alcoholism and there is more and more empirical evidence that alcoholism runs in families, so I don’t touch the stuff. Now, with that being said, I do metaphorically get drunk on the idea of writing, of bringing a story to life, of creating characters that readers can appreciate, grow to care about, and even love. That’s what keeps me writing—the hope that readers fall in love with characters.