What are you currently reading?
I just finished The Ex by Alafair Burke, and now I’m diving into The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford and then The Widow by Fiona Barton. I’m currently on a thriller kick, and my reading list definitely reflects that.
What authors would you consider your favorites? What book or books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I adore so many authors –Mary Kubica and AJ Banner and Sophie Littlefield to name just a few – but there are so many other good ones out there, and of all genres. In women’s fiction, Heather Gudenkauf, Laura Dave, and Allison Winn Scotch are automatic buys for me. Jonathan Tropper can always make me laugh out loud, and whenever a new Black Dagger Brotherhood book from J.R. Ward comes out, I will literally block off a day or two on my calendar to read it. I’ll read pretty much anything, and everything I read has an influence on my writing, from how the author builds suspense to their tight and fast-moving plotlines to the clever ways they lighten up dark subjects with humor. It’s every writer’s affliction; I read with an eye to writing.
Other than writing or reading, what are some of your favorite things to do?
I am a yoga fan, and I’m constantly folding myself into a pretzel in order to think through a scene. For me it’s more than getting up and out of my chair; it’s about getting grounded, about letting the story go long enough to let my subconscious take over. Especially when I’m stuck, I’ve found that as soon as I let go of the story and do something physical, my plot knots unwind and I figure out how to move forward. The longer, leaner yoga bod is an added bonus.
You’ve traveled to places all over the world. Is there a place you’re still dying to see?
Yes, so many places to still explore! I still haven’t seen a lot of Asia or South America, and one day I’ll make it to Fiji and New Zealand. Traveling is my absolute favorite way to spend my time and money. I’ll go just about anywhere, but I prefer places that require a plane ticket and a passport.
You’ve spent a lot of time in the Netherlands. What is it like living there?
Oh, yay! How much time do you have? Because I can talk for days and days about The Netherlands, and how much I love that country. If you’ve ever been, you know why. The windmills and flowers and beaches and bikes and wooden shoes. And did I mention the flowers? Tulips, as far as the eye can see.
But that’s not to say moving there was easy. I essentially plopped myself down in a foreign country, one with a strange language and culture, where I knew exactly one person. In the beginning, it felt a lot like an adventure, but starting over in Holland wasn’t a vacation; it was my new life, and I was determined to carve one out for myself. I learned the language and the culture, found a job and made friends, learned how to fit in. It took me a bit before I felt comfortable there, but that country eventually wormed its way into my soul, and even though I don’t have the passport to prove it, Holland feels just as much like home as the US…just colder and wetter and windier.
How has it inspired your writing?
Living abroad impacted me as a writer because it changed me as a person. I grew up in Eastern Tennessee, in a small town nestles up against the Appalachians. It’s a beautiful but remote area, a place where the towns are small and insular, where everybody knows everybody and everybody knows your business. I couldn’t wait to escape.
I definitely pulled from my own experiences while shaping Gia’s character in The Last Breath, and we’re alike in a lot of ways. We both grew up in a tiny Tennessee town, we both fled after high school to see the world, and we both ended up learning new appreciation for the charms and security of a small-town life. Just because we have roots doesn’t mean we have to give up our wings.
When did you first start writing? When did you finish your first book?
I worked in nonprofit fundraising for years, but in 2008, when the economy crashed, so did my job. By that time I was pushing forty, and I still hadn’t written that novel I’d always dreamed of writing. It was a now-or-never moment for me. I could either go find another job, or I could go for it. I decided to go for it.
I wrote The Ones We Trust in a little under a year and began querying, while also starting on The Last Breath. In October of 2012, I pitched both books to Nikki at a conference, and she signed me by the end of the month. A year later, she’d sold both books to Mira, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What do you think is the toughest part of writing?
Besides finding 90,000 words, and putting them in just the right order? Because that part’s really easy.
In all seriousness, I find it incredibly difficult to write the story I’m supposed to be writing, and not what others expect me to write. Once you publish a book, all of a sudden there are editors and marketing departments and reviewers, people talking about what they like and don’t like about your stories. It’s so hard not to let their words and opinions get in your head and mess with your writing mojo. I am constantly reminding myself to be true to my story, because that’s the only way to consistently write a book that’s better than the last.
What do you think is the easiest part of writing?
For me, there’s nothing greater than spending an entire day in my house alone, with only my dogs and imaginary characters for company. I’m kind of a hermit when I’m writing a story, one of those writers who forgets to do the laundry and cook dinner. It’s why I so love writing retreats, where I can pound out words without having to take care of anyone but myself.
One of my favorite craft elements in your books is voice, any tips for writers looking to create an authentic voice in their writing?
Thank you! Finding your voice is one of the best things you can do for your writing, but also the hardest, and unfortunately, no one can tell you where or how to find it, only that you should. My best advice is to play around, and to keep practicing until you see your personality shining through. Once you find your voice, you’ll know it, and so will everybody else.
When you develop characters, do you already know who they are before you start writing? Or do you let them develop as you go?
I’m a planner, but I don’t plot every chapter out beforehand. When I start out with a story, I have a good handle on the characters, the conflict, and the major plot points along the way, but that’s about it. I don’t always know how I’m going to get from A to B to C, just that I need to figure out a way to get there. So I guess to answer your question, I start with a good sense of my characters but let my imagination flesh them out as I go.
Speaking of characters, if you could hang out with one of your characters for a day, which would you chose and why?
I’d love to spend a day with Gia from The Last Breath, and preferably in some foreign land. She and I have a lot in common – the nonprofit work and the wanderlust – and I’d love to pick her brain about both, and compare stories. And I really hope she brings Jake. 😉
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
The biggest advice I can give to any writer, aspiring or otherwise, is to keep writing. Letter for letter, word for word. Don’t wait for an agent, a publisher, a contract, just keep writing and polishing your craft, every single day. Treat your writing like a job, even if no one is paying you. Set your alarm and got to “work” behind your laptop every day, five days a week, because if you wait for inspiration to strike—or for a story idea to come upon you—you’ll never get anything written. Some days you’ll end with a lot of words, other days you’ll stare at your screen and pull out your hair. In the end, it all evens out, but eventually, you have a whole book.
Do you have anything specific you’d like to say to your readers?
When I began writing, I thought it might be nice if one day someone besides my husband and my mother would read my stories. And then I got published, and my books landed in stores and libraries. People who didn’t know me picked up my book anyway, and they actually like the words I wrote. They send me emails and write reviews and give my books as gifts, and just writing those words makes me teary because all those things are beyond anything I ever could have dreamed. So to my readers I say thank you, for spending your hard-earned cash on my stories, for caring enough about them to tell your friends, but most of all for reading. I am forever grateful.
Your latest book The Marriage Lie comes out early next year. Can you tell us anything about it?
Absolutely! The Marriage Lie is a story about how even the perfect marriage can have its dark side. Here’s a quick blurb:
Iris and Will’s marriage is as close to perfect as it can be: a large house in a nice Atlanta neighborhood, rewarding careers and the excitement of trying for their first baby. But on the morning Will leaves for a business trip to Orlando, Iris’s happy world comes to an abrupt halt. Another plane headed for Seattle has crashed into a field, killing everyone on board, and according to the airline, Will was one of the passengers on this plane.
Grief-stricken and confused, Iris is convinced it all must be a huge misunderstanding. But as time passes and there is still no sign of Will, she reluctantly accepts that he is gone. Still, Iris needs answers. Why did Will lie about where he was going? What is in Seattle? And what else has he lied about? As Iris sets off on a desperate quest to find out what her husband was keeping from her, the answers she receives will shock her to her very core.