Tuesday, January 18, 2011
As little as possible. I like my story people to be themselves and not reflect my ideas, tastes etc. Except I think they’re probably more like me than I think. If I’m not careful they react to situations like I would as an introvert. And that doesn’t work well for an extraverted character. I try hard to get into my characters’ minds so they don’t become me. So far I’ve never used my life experiences in my books and I don’t plan to. But who knows.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
I’m definitely not a quirky person. But I’ve done a couple of adventurous things, even though I’m not at all adventurous! The first thing was my girlfriend and I took a bus down the Dalmatian coast in Croatia in the middle of the night while the country (Yugoslavia) was still Communist. We were the only two Americans on board a bus full of drunken Yugoslavian soldiers and we were the only young women. Sounds like a dumb thing to do, doesn’t it? We were travelling from Italy to Split, Croatia, to meet the ship, the U.S. aircraft carrier our husbands were serving on. They were both Navy pilots. Going by bus seemed like the easiest way to get there, but certainly not the most relaxing.
The second adventure happened several years later. My husband and I travelled to Colombia to adopt a baby girl at the height of the drug wars. Planes were exploding midair, bombs were going off in airports and on the streets, but we went down there anyway. The State Department warned Americans to return home, but we travelled there instead. Fortunately, all went well, and our daughter is now a young adult.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
When I was seven I wrote a book for my parents’ wedding anniversary. My story, based on the Bobbsey Twins, was twenty pages long. The covers were red construction paper and I bound it with pieces of light blue yarn. I loved reading and writing! I decided I’d become an authoress like Laura Lee Hope. My career got off to a great start, but then it stalled for several decades as the practicalities of life took over. Eventually I realized that if I wanted to be an author the time was now or never.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I love to read romance, women’s fiction, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, literary, non-fiction and occasionally children’s books. My favorites are historical, although I enjoy contemporary as well. If I live to be one hundred I’ll never finish all the books on my selves and on my computer. I could easily read all day without getting tired of it.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I pray for peace in my life because I can’t work well if I have problems to resolve or brush fires to put out. In order to write I have to focus. Unfortunately I can’t concentrate in the middle of noise or chaos, although if you saw my house (sometimes) you wouldn’t believe I need serenity to work well. When I have a deadline looming I have to work no matter what’s going on around me, so I ignore the chaos and lock myself in my bedroom to write. But give me peace and quiet and I’m a lot happier.
If I need to settle my mind I often pray, read the Bible or read a novel. Getting away from writing and all the commitments it involves, even for a short time, refreshes me. I don’t give in to pressure because I’m afraid it might lead to writer’s block. Another great stress reliever is taking a walk, but I’m allergic to any form of exercise. Only kidding—I do walk a lot, just not as often as I should. And I don’t enjoy it too much. I’m a couch potato at heart.
I try to keep organized, not over commit or let myself become overwhelmed. Getting enough sleep is important too. It’s crucial to keep my writing in perspective. It’s a career I love and appreciate, but it’s not worth ruining my health over. And family is the most important part of my life.
Mainly the character names just come to me. Sometimes I google baby names for 1880 or 1890. Many of the names popular during the Gilded Age are not too popular now, so I don’t use them for my heroine. A few might be Gladys or Gertrude or Bertha. I might use them for secondary characters. If I write about a Horace or Willard, he probably won’t be the hero. I give my heroes and heroines names that were popular back at the turn-of-the-century and also popular today--or at least pleasant sounding—Lilly and Jack, Charlotte and Daniel, Melinda and Nick.
Since I write about 19th century New York and Newport society, I try to use similar last names. Many of the people were on English or Dutch descent so those are the type names I look for.
Sometimes a name pops into my head. For example, I have a character named Elvira Plunkett who hasn’t made it into print yet. Her name came to me before the character herself. But it’s obvious to me she’s a middle aged southerner, probably a country woman, or a lady from a small town. Very colorful and very opinionated. Her name suggests a personality to me.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Finishing my first book. It began as Joanna’s Treasure (contemporary) and eventually was published as Love on Assignment (historical), the second book in the Ladies of Summerhill series. I tinkered with it for years changing the location from Vermont to West Virginia to Rhode Island. It took a long time to get the story right, but I kept at it. I’m so glad I did.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
Definitely a cocker spaniel. When I was in my early twenties a little cocker spaniel named Holly owned me. She was a delight, at least to me. I’d love to be pampered like Holly. My husband would probably say I am pampered and he’s right.
What is your favorite food?
I couldn’t possibly narrow that to just one favorite food! I love sword fish with lemon, mashed potatoes and chocolate cake. If you’d like an essay on my favorite foods I could write one without any trouble. No writer’s block.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Over editing. I’d write a paragraph and revise it to death until I got it perfect. Sometimes I’d suck the life out of it. I’d never make any progress. When I joined a writers’ group I was amazed that authors actually finished their manuscripts. I couldn’t conceive of completing anything, not even a chapter. But I learned to buckle down and keep typing one word after the other without rereading and fixing. Yes, I still have a tendency to edit as I go, but I don’t let it stand in the way of progress. I try hard to write 1,000 words a day. Not a lot, I know, but those words do add up.
Tell us about the featured book.
My second book in the Ladies of Summerhill series is called Love on Assignment.
While Charlotte is focusing on uncovering sordid information on columnist Daniel Wilmot, her heart leads her into uncharted territory. During the summer of 1900 Charlotte Hale, a native Newporter and secretary for the Rhode Island Reporter, accepts an undercover assignment as temporary governess to Daniel Wilmont's children in order to secretly gather evidence against him. As he helps her rediscover God, Charlotte learns that Daniel is an honorable man. They unexpectedly fall in love despite their different backgrounds and social positions. Charlotte soon realizes she must defend Daniel against the forces set against him—a willful student with a romantic crush and the newspaper editor determined to destroy his reputation.
I'm going to like reading this one. Please give us the first page of the book.
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
Charlotte Hale’s legs, hidden beneath her long serge skirt, wobbled like a newborn colt’s. But she pinned on a confident smile and gazed directly into her boss’s dark granite eyes.
“Please be seated, Miss Hale. We have something important to discuss.” He gave her a curt nod as he loomed behind his polished mahogany desk, an engraved nameplate resting on the edge. Arnold Phifer, Editor.
Dressed in his well-tailored navy suit and silk vest, he stared at her as if assessing her value. A cherrywood pipe protruded beneath a white handlebar mustache, waxed to stiff perfection.
She slid into the chair across from the middle-aged editor of the Rhode Island Reporter, stenography pad in hand. In the three years she’d worked at the newspaper, Mr. Phifer had never once summoned her to his private office which overlooked the bustling Thames Street, except for dictation.
He pulled the pipe from his mouth and placed it in an ashtray beside a ceramic jar of tobacco. “Miss Hale”—his bushy brows drew together across his pink forehead—“I’m impressed with your work.”
I'm intrigued. How can readers find you on the Internet?
I’m at caralynnjames.com and at seekerville.blogspot.com
Thank you, Cara Lynn, for the delightful interview.
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