This interview originally posted on December 3 at the lovely Christine Young’s site for my Goddess Fish book blog tour.
What or who inspired you to start writing? I think it’s a combo of nature and nurture. My parents love books and I don’t recall a time when books were not part of my life. As far as writing goes, my mother recalls that I’d be outside playing with the neighborhood kids when I’d suddenly run inside to grab a paper and pen. “What are you doing?” she’d ask. “Shh, Mama, I have to write,” I’d reply. I have no recollection of this, but I do remember needing to write, to create, from a young age. In high school, some of my favorite Saturday nights were not spent with friends, but with some good goth music, low light, and a pen and paper or sketchpad and charcoal.
How did you come up with ideas for your books? An obsession with something – a song, a place, a dream, a face – something will drive me to drill that obsession down as far as I can go. The absolute lust for a decrepit Back Bay mansion drove me to research and finally write a novel about the old Charlesgate Hotel. The search for an elusive chocolate cake recipe and a dream about King Arthur led me to write Cake, A Fairy Tale and a minor character from Charlesgate, the love of Santa Cruz, and a bluegrass song inspired Kicking Sideways.
If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why? Mike Sullivan from Kicking Sideways. He is steady and sure and takes life as it comes. At the same time, he is passionate. He enjoys the small moments. He has inner peace. When I first wrote Kicking Sideways, I identified with Mike, and I assumed he was most like me.
Cree was a harder study. She just poured out of me but she was difficult in that I did not always like her and she would not do what I wanted her to do. She is stubborn. Frustrating. And very dark. Some readers will not have patience for her.
During the edits for this re-issue, I realize that Cree is a lot like me and Mike is the person I hope to be. The realization was a little startling, really. Cree is tortured. She can’t get out of her own way. Mike is not.
If you were the casting director for the film version of your novel, who would play your leading roles? The characters in Kicking Sideways are especially tricky for me to cast. Mike is a creature of my mind. I know what he looks like but he is an idealized version of my first high school crush both physically and emotionally. A lot of actresses could play Cree, although I am hard pressed to think of one!
If I had to cast Mike, though, it’d be a “My Blueberry Nights” era Jude Law. For Cree, there is a photo of Patricia Arquette that reminds me of Cree but Patricia Arquette would not be the right actress in general. She has to be a queenly, cool blonde with gray, troubled eyes. Both photos are on my Pinterest page for Kicking Sideways. Always happy to hear reader suggestions!
Do you outline your books or just start writing? Both. The characters and structure percolate in my head until one day I just start typing. I get to know my characters and figure out what they think the want versus what they really want/need. I make a visual chart for each character. When I get stuck, I refer to that chart. I write, outline a bit, then write some more. I know what the end will be, but I don’t know how I’ll get there. Mostly, I try to relax and enjoy the process. If I let the characters speak, they do.
I love putting together puzzles. Those Buried Treasure puzzles are a favorite. Has anyone out there done those? Dracula ‘s Castle is my favorite. Writing a novel is a bit like putting together a puzzle. You have to relax into the process and the pieces naturally gravitate to each other. Sometimes you refer to the picture on the puzzle box to remind yourself of the destination or for technical guidance, but there is no defined path to that expected outcome. Writing is the same.
Do you have any hobbies and does the knowledge you’ve gained from these carry over into your characters or the plot of your books? Absolutely. My interest in books, music, ghosts, mythology, history, genealogy carry over into my novels. I have all these useless passions and facts in my head and writing a book is a good way to appease my obsessive nature and tie everything into one neat little package. A completed puzzle! I know it’s time to start a new novel when my brain starts to overflow with seemingly disconnected obsessions. My brain works and works at those passions until a novel is formed. I’ve come to believe that writing is some sort of compulsion, a cleaning frenzy. Kicking Sideways combines my obsessions with “The Lost Boys” and Santa Cruz, Halloween, a high school crush, the power of Little Women, transcendental philosophy, and the deconstruction of a song.
Do you have an all time favorite book? Every one I read! Even the worst book I’ve read has wisdom to share. Books save lives. I firmly believe that. But if you ask which books I return to again and again: A Room With a View, Wuthering Heights, The Witching Hour, Paradise, Here on Earth, North and South (by Elizabeth Gaskell, although I love the John Jakes TV miniseries), and Middlemarch.
Who is your favorite actor and actress? Viggo Mortensen. I fell in love with him after seeing “The Passion of Darkly Noon” and “Indian Runner.” He just melds into whatever character he is playing. Aragorn? Drool. Gary Oldman. Same morphing ability. He nailed Sid Vicious. Mark Ruffalo, Gene Tierney, Vivien Leigh, Toni Collette and Nicole Kidman.
What is your favorite reality show? Walking Dead and Outlander (*winks).
Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to write a series? I don’t write series, but I do connect all my books. I love reading standalone books that subtly reference other places or characters from that same author’s other books and so I strive to do that with my own books. Mike Sullivan, the hero in Kicking Sideways, originates as a minor character from the world of Charlesgate and Zylla and Jabe from that book make an appearance in Kicking Sideways. There is a subtle reference to Charlesgate in Cake, as well. All these interconnections make me forget the characters don’t really exist. Or maybe they do. Who knows? You did see “Lost in Austen,” right? It could happen.