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How much of yourself do you write into your characters?
I suppose there is a bit of me in most of my characters, especially the major characters. Because I’m from the South, the Southern culture that is mine seeps into my characters too. Music, art, good food, and a healthy faith seem to be important to many of my major characters because those things are important to me. And honestly, I think I deal with some of my own personal flaws, issues, and hurts by writing them into my characters.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
I have a very strong “should & ought” system, and quirky doesn’t fit into that often. However, the story that my husband Bill likes to tell on me is about the day we went to Houston to interview former President George H.W. Bush. Our cable network was filming Bill’s interview about the President’s role in the Americans With Disabilities Act. My assignment was to give President Bush the gift we brought for him and former First Lady, Barbara Bush. Our production crew was ready, the Secret Service had checked us all out, and they called for the President. He entered the room, shook my husband’s hand and looked around to acknowledge the crew, and sat down. He rubbed his hands together and said, “Let’s get started.” Now remember, I had an assignment which I took very seriously. So, I stepped out from behind the production crew, and said, “Wait, just a minute, Sir.” In about three seconds, I was surrounded by Secret Service men as I stood there with a beautifully-wrapped gift box. The President was most gracious about it, laughed and then sent for an autographed bookplate to go in the copy of Barbara Bush’s autobiography I had with me. My husband gently reminded me later, “You don’t tell the President of the United States to wait.” But, I did.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
Honestly, I can’t remember not writing and inhaling books. Writing has always helped me to sift, clarify and distill my own thoughts. But the day I walked into the home of Mr. Thomas C. Chubb to interview him, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Mr. Chubb was a Dante scholar and lived on his plantation just south of my hometown. I was a senior in high school writing a paper entitled, “A Comparative Study of Dante’s Inferno to Aeneas’s Descent into Hell in the Sixth Book of the Aeneid.” (That’s a mouthful and it was a handful for a sixteen-year-old.) But, when I spent time with Mr. Chubb in his library that looked like a scene out of an 19th century English novel, I knew and began to verbalize that writing and books would always be my happy place. And especially after the written review he gave my paper, I just thought I actually could be a writer.
What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
With fiction, I prefer character-driven stories and gravitate toward those writers who write clean fiction and tell powerful stories through their multi-dimensional characters. A sense of place is always so important to me. In non-fiction, I enjoy books written by writers who are attempting to create paradigm shifts – especially in healthcare and studies about the brain and human personality. I keep a hymn book near for the pure poetry, and I read my Bible and some devotional material every morning.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I just don’t run, run, run anymore. I sold the big house, down-sized by getting rid of “stuff” that tethered me, and I moved to the hills, literally. Life is quiet and peaceful here, and the view through my window on the world reminds me I should be thinking of eternal things. That’s not so easily done living in the city. I’m committed to my purpose in this season of my life, and that makes it a bit easier to say “no” to things that don’t help me do that.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Sometimes the character reveals the name. Other times, the character reminds me of someone in my life experience, and I use that name. And frankly, sometimes I just query on websites with names–baby names, surnames, names associated with certain ethnicities. I also do name studies to find the meaning of certain names, especially those of major characters. I just know when the name is right.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
This was a very thought-provoking question asked by an interviewer and caused me to reflect on my spiritual life, my family life, and my professional life. There are several things of which I am proud, and many more of which I’m not, but there came a memory to me very quickly, so I’m going with it. Three years ago, I opened my computer one Sunday morning early to find an email from a former student from around thirty-five years ago. He had been searching for me and was inquiring if I was the one who had been his piano teacher. I remembered him well and immediately responded. Now a man in his mid-forties, he just wanted me to know that I had made a difference in his life, that I had made him feel he was worthy and could accomplish something with his life. He just wanted to say thank you. That started a wonderful email exchange that we have continued. I don’t have words for the way that made me feel. That was an accomplishment of which I’m proud – that I encouraged someone else and something I said made a difference in someone’s life.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
Oh, I think I’d like to be a bird. I have the great desire to fly, and I love to sing. And who doesn’t like birds?
What is your favorite food?
Are you kidding me? I’m from the South, and you ask me my favorite food? I would have to say whatever I’m eating at the time. However, I do love sweet potatoes any way you prepare them and fried chicken (although I allow myself to eat it only a few times a year) and anything green. If I could only have one food for the rest of my life, it would be sweet potatoes. I probably know eighteen ways to prepare them, and they’re all good. And just don’t get me started on dark chocolate? I must tell you this – I do know my way around the kitchen, and all my family and friends enjoy putting their feet under my table.
What is your greatest roadblock in writing, and how did you overcome it?
Making time. For years, I desired to write a book because I had a story to tell, but I was hard at work in the business world. There was no time. Even after I retired, it seemed my life was crowded with activity, good activity and service. But over a period of a few months of really pondering and praying, I began to ask myself how many more good years I might have. Nothing like dealing with your own mortality to clarify your thinking and clear your calendar for those things that should be a priority. Writing is my priority and why I get up every day.
What do you tell aspiring authors?
Read, write, then read and write some more. Learn what you can about the publishing industry, and don’t give up. Keep writing and reading.