Welcome to Authors Love Readers
This podcast, hosted by USAToday bestselling author Patricia McLinn, is a conversation between authors about how and why they create stories. With questions contributed by readers. Quite a few podcasts are out there for aspiring and established writers, both on the craft and the business.
This podcast, though, is for readers.
The goal is to have authors on the show who write in all sorts of fiction genres. As a reader, it doesn’t matter which path to publication an author takes – independent, traditional, hybrid and other combinations. That’s not going to matter on Authors Love Readers, either.
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Host Patricia McLinn talks with Laura Resnick about creating worlds, developing characters, and how Casablanca should have ended. Patricia and Laura discuss Laura’s diverse writing career — from nonfiction to urban fantasy to short stories and memoir — and the way that she thinks about her characters and books.
You can find Laura on
* her website,
* and Twitter.
Thanks to DialogMusik for the instrumentals that accompany this podcast.
Transcript: Authors Love Readers with Laura Resnick
Patricia McLinn [00:00] Hi, welcome to this week’s Authors Love Readers podcast, where we delve into the stories behind the stories. We’re asking authors questions. Some of them fun, some of them serious, and from their answers, you’re going to learn things you never knew about the people who write the stories you love. My name is Patricia McLinn. I’m your host and designated question asker.
Laura Resnick [00:23] I’m Laura Resnick, and I’m an author who loves readers.
Patricia McLinn [00:33] Now let’s start the show. Hi, welcome to this edition of Authors Love Readers. And our guest is Laura Resnick. Laura and I have known each other for quite a while. Kind of just in the writing world, the way you kind of are aware of other people. And then back in 06 or was, well, 07, I guess, um, I was president of Novelists, Inc. And Laura was elected as the president-elect who, um, is kind of in training to take over the presidency the next year. And I will admit I had some trepidations because neither Laura, uh, nor I is, um, wishy-washy. How’s that for subtle, Laura?
Laura Resnick [01:24] I was going to say we met when you were young. I still am, of course.
Patricia McLinn [01:31] Yeah. You’re following just as fast as I am, girl.
Laura Resnick [01:37] Oh, that’s a good description.
Patricia McLinn [01:40] Yeah, so, but we did great. I thought we were a terrific team.
Laura Resnick [01:44] We were. We worked very well together.
Patricia McLinn [01:47] Yeah. And we, we hit some crises as often do, and we—
Laura Resnick [01:53] But I had bail money. So it all went well.
Patricia McLinn [01:57] That was to bail her out. I told her she could not go to jail until after I was done being president. That was the deal.
Laura Resnick [02:08] That was actually.
Patricia McLinn [02:09] Then she was on her own. So, Laura is the author of, um, a diverse, uh, kind of you’ve had a diverse career and now as publishing a great urban fantasy series. And we’ll come back and talk about that some more, but first let’s talk about, let’s do some quick corky questions just to kind of get to know you. What’s your favorite taste?
Laura Resnick [02:35] I like really, really salty foods. Stuff like, um, feta cheese, capers, Greek olives, uh caperberries. I like things often so salty that normal people don’t like them. Even thinking about it makes my mouth water.
No mystery how Nancy Drew addicted Laura to reading
Patricia McLinn [02:51] Okay. We’ll get off that. So we don’t make, you want to end, to end the discussion right away. Um, do you have a childhood book that addicted you to story?
Laura Resnick [03:02] I do. It’s basically the first book I ever got all the way through by myself. I was seven years old, and I read a Nancy Drew mystery called The Witch Tree Symbol. I was very intrigued by the title and I don’t remember the story much now. But I remember even as hard as it was for me to read the book, it was beyond my reading level, I was just so absorbed by the story, I really stuck with it, got all the way through the book, improved my reading level a lot, and that was when I became a voracious reader. And I read like the next 50 Nancy Drew books and lots and lots of other stuff. And that book is really kind of a turning point for me.
Patricia McLinn [03:41] Have you ever gone back to it?
Laura Resnick [03:44] You know, I have not. Something, uh, actually what I was trying to remember the title of it, I was like, I ought to do that. I have never gone back and reread it.
Patricia McLinn [03:52] I think it can be hard though, as, especially once you’re a writer to go back and reread books, um, that you loved when you were younger, because you, you see the mechanisms.
Laura Resnick [04:05] That’s a kid’s book, you know, not, I don’t know, not necessarily because it’s not really something I, I do or have read in years, but I have definitely noticed that with books I really enjoyed or writers I really enjoyed when I was say around twenty, that now often I, if I pick them up, I think, what did I like about this?
The rewriting of Casablanca and desert islands
Patricia McLinn [04:24] Do you have any stories or did you have a story before you were an author that you thought, Oh, this just doesn’t end right. I don’t like this. And then you at least mentally rewrote it.
Laura Resnick [04:35] For me, it was probably the same one it was for millions of people. I was a huge fan of the movie Casablanca. I still am. It’s probably my all-time favorite movie. And for years, as a girl, a teenager, a young woman, I thought that at the end of the movie, and here’s a spoiler people, but the movie is like 80 years old, so get over it, I thought that Ilsa should’ve gone off with Rick. Um, and so I would rewrite it in my head that way and you know, what would happen next and so on.
Um, now that I’m an older woman, I realized no, no, no, Victor Laszlo was much the better choice. Rick shouldn’t have even had to tell her that she should have known that. You want to go off with the man who like has a commitment and a stable job and is very understanding when he finds out about your adultery. You don’t want to spend your life with the, um, alcoholic who has raging fits of jealousy. But at the time, I didn’t really realize that I was young.
Patricia McLinn [05:30] Now I always thought that they should, she should go off with Victor. They should win World War II. And then she goes to Rick, once you get the serious, save the world stuff done, then you can have the great romance.
Laura Resnick [05:44] I don’t know. I mean, I love that movie, but the older I get, the more, I just find Rick really tiresome—
Patricia McLinn [05:49] Oh, you’re mean. How can you do that?
Laura Resnick [05:52] —I am, I mean, he’s a great character, but if you think of living with him, very tiresome.
Patricia McLinn [05:57] Far too practical. Okay. Do you have any things from earlier in your life that you fretted over? That you now, I actually am having a hard time imagining you fret over something, but okay. That you’ve read it over that now you don’t give a darn about?
Laura Resnick [06:14] This one will really surprise you. It will surprise anyone who knows me well now. When I was young, say in my twenties, I fretted over whether people thought I was nice. Yeah, who would think, but I did. I know now I’m like, Oh, who cares? Like in fact, I I’m very comfortable with not being thought of as nice, but no, it really, in my early twenties, I really, I fretted over that. I, you know, what can I say? I was young and dumb.
Patricia McLinn [06:39] How did you get past that?
Laura Resnick [06:42] You know, it just became too much effort. And when I, I stopped having the energy as life got more and more complicated to make the effort to try to be thought of as nice, I found out I was really much more comfortable. And people whose opinions actually mattered to me, they didn’t always think I was nice, but they liked me. They cared about me anyhow. So I think that was really good.
Patricia McLinn [07:05] Well, it’s very sane. Which you probably also don’t hear very often. Okay, so you have your reservations about Casablanca. What three movies would you take with you to a desert Island? Yes, this desert Island has the ability to play movies.
Laura Resnick [07:25] Oh, who cares. The issue is I’m stranded on a desert Island, I’m not going to be watching movies. I’m going to be trying to be rescued.
Patricia McLinn [07:34] What do you do at night when you’re tired? You have to decide between—
Laura Resnick [07:37] I build bonfires in the hope of being rescued.
Patricia McLinn [07:41] Three movies, Laura.
Laura Resnick [07:43] Well, Casablanca, obviously.
Patricia McLinn [07:46] So you can gripe about it, huh?
Laura Resnick [07:50] No, no. I actually love that movie. I just, uh, no longer think it should have ended differently. No, I love that movie. Um, I would also, I would bring Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe because that is a comedy, and I will need cheering up. And it’s full of all of these fabulous, wonderful meals, and I’ll probably be missing good food. And I would bring, um, a Bollywood movie called Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, which was a popular movie about 15 years ago that I enjoyed, and I would bring it because it’s like four and a half hours long, and I will have a lot of empty time to fill.
Patricia McLinn [08:28] In between bonfires.
Laura Resnick [08:30] Yes. So those would be my choices, I guess. Not necessarily the three best films I’ve ever seen, but, they would serve their purpose.
Patricia McLinn [08:37] Very practical. Um, okay, what’s a saying of your mother or your father that you hear yourself saying now?
Laura Resnick [08:46] Oh, it’s one of my favorites of my mom’s it’s um, that person you’re speaking of someone specific, that person is a silly millimeter deep.
Patricia McLinn [08:56] And which of your parents says that?
Laura Resnick [08:59] My mom.
Patricia McLinn [09:00] That’s great. That’s great. Okay. I don’t know why this fascinates me, but it does, your dominant hand, and you’re right-handed, aren’t you?
Laura Resnick [09:09] Yes.
Patricia McLinn [09:10] Yeah. Okay. Is your ring finger or your index finger longer?
Laura Resnick [09:16] My ring finger. And I have never noticed that before. Nor do I have any idea what it’s supposed to mean? I have lived with this hand for over half a century without ever noticing that.
Patricia McLinn [09:28] It’s my job to open your eyes to these new things in the world, right? Okay. I, see I’ve got to ask you this question. Do you have any strong fears? Have you ever used them in a book?
Laura Resnick [09:41] Yeah, I’m very frightened of snakes. And I’ve used that a couple of times in books. I’ve never actually made a character as frightened of snakes as I am, because I think readers would find it really over the top. But I, I’ve written— Yeah. Somebody I share that with actually is, um, I don’t think I’m giving anything away, Tammy Hoag. And she’s used that a number of times in her books.
Patricia McLinn [10:05] It’s strictly, literally as afraid of snakes, or do you think that’s also accessing that fear to explain other things?
Laura Resnick [10:12] I think it’s strictly snakes. I think it’s the real-life thing. Certainly when I was, you know, uh, very young, I was fascinated with the Freudian interpretation of that, but that doesn’t really apply. I don’t think, I think it’s really just snakes.
Patricia McLinn [10:28] The, the movement or the perceived—
Laura Resnick [10:32] I don’t even like talking about it in all honesty. Like I am that phobic. Yeah. Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [10:40] Ah, darn. I was really going to delve into this. Oh, this is a question I haven’t asked anybody else, and I got to ask you because I think it’ll drive you crazy. If your writing were a color, what color would it be?
Laura Resnick [10:53] Uh, I think it would be a really fiery color, like a bright gold-orange sort of thing.
Patricia McLinn [10:59] Oh, that’s good. I like the, I like the gold with that. I have this reaction to some authors like it, to me, Agatha Christie is always orange, but it’s a more muted orange. It’s kind of a rusty orange, maybe old blood, huh?
Laura Resnick [11:17] Hmm. I never thought of it in terms of color, but. You know, I think of something like really bright like that, because what I like as a writer, also enjoy as a reader, but what I think I gravitate to as a writer is, um, larger than life characters and a lot of action, a lot of dialogue, a lot of pace. I don’t, uh, I don’t think I will ever write a, a gentle introspective novel about a woman, uh, you know, discovering who she really is. It’s, it’s just not something that attracts me. I like, you know, uh, let’s get like half a dozen zany characters together and send them on a chase, sort of thing is what I like to write. So I, I think about a high energy color.
Where writers’ ideas come from
Patricia McLinn [11:59] Okay, and this leads to a question from one of the readers who says, where do your stories come from? I know one author who dreams her stories. Another has a character suddenly taking up residence in her head. So how are your beautiful stories born?
Laura Resnick [12:15] You know, it’s funny, you should ask, cause I was complaining recently, like just three, four years ago, to one of my closest oldest dearest friends. Like God, why do people always ask where writers’ ideas come from? How boring, how, why does anyone even ask? We all know. And she looked at me, she’s like, People ask, you idiot, because they don’t know, Laura!
And it was an eye-opener to me to realize not everybody thinks like writers. I, because, uh, I’ve always thought this way. And as you know, I was raised by a writer. My father’s a writer and, uh, we had a lot of writers around the house growing up when I was growing up, and so on. I thought this was normal.
Patricia McLinn [12:59] Explain who your dad is.
Laura Resnick [13:01] Uh, my father is Mike Resnick. He’s a science fiction writer. He’s quite well known in his field. And he’s been writing since about the time I was born. So I’ve always lived with this kind of a lifestyle in this kind of thinking. And to me, stories come from absolutely everywhere. Every situation and every sight, every sound suggests a potential story idea, and that seems completely normal to me.
And it was only quite recently I realized, no, not everybody sees the world that way. I just assumed, uh, the only difference between writers and non-writers was writers are the people who then put their butt in the chair and crafted a full beginning middle and end type of story out of that. And everybody else was busy doing other things. So my book start from, or my stories start from all different sorts of places. And it’s a very natural, organic process that I, is so natural to me, I genuinely didn’t know everyone, doesn’t have it. Until quite recently.
Patricia McLinn [14:05] So that sort of answers, another question that I like to ask is whether you think, uh, writers observe the world and people differently, or, um, approach things differently. And you’re saying you didn’t realize that until just recently.
Laura Resnick [14:23] Yeah. I mean, I think clearly we do. I just wasn’t aware of it because the way, I know so many writers, I was raised around writers, the way we approach things, was what I believed was normal. And it turns out I’m mistaken, that rarely happens, you know.
Patricia McLinn [14:38] And, and even more rarely that you acknowledge it. So, okay. So you have this story idea, however, it comes to you, how do you start converting that from, uh, an idea or an impression or a character into a book?
Laura Resnick [15:01] Um, for me typically I’m very much of, um, I’m very methodical I’m, and I think the way people write is reflective of the way, in most cases, we also live. I’m very methodical about how I do most things. I’m, what do you say, a plotter, not a panster. Um, I, I’m the sort who, um, before I go anywhere new, I’ve got all of the directions printed out, and I’ve read them. That sort of thing. And I write that way too.
You know, there are writers who just like say, No, no, make it fun, sit down and have a creative rush. Uh, we had a mutual friend, um, since passed away, Jo Beverley. Who used to say, Fly into the mist and see where that takes you. I’d be like what mist? There is no mist. Um—
Patricia McLinn [15:48] There’s lots of mist.
Laura Resnick [15:50] Well, yes, but I’m not flying into it. Uh, I typically sit down, um, still the old fashioned way with a notebook and a pen. Um, cause there’s all this software you can use now. I’m like, Nah, now I have to think, technically that’s not really good for me when I’m working on a story idea. So I just sit down with a notebook and a pen and I’ll do this a lot for a while and I’ll just make a lot of notes and I’ll write down a lot of questions as I start to think of the story idea, you know.
Uh, I often start with a character, um, well, you know. Why would this person do this, or what do they want or who would they encounter? Um, or if there’s a story idea without a character yet, what sort of person would do this or would want this and who would they, uh, come into confrontation with? And I’ll, I’ll write a lot of questions like that to myself, and I’ll make all sorts of notes and arrows and diagrams, and I’ll fill a notebook with what I assume is indecipherable to anyone, but me. And I don’t really refer back to it that much, I think that this is just the process that starts helping me work out the cement, the cement paces of the story. What, now that I have, you know, a few ideas, um, an idea is different from a story it’s, it’s, you know, it’s a spark for a story.
Patricia McLinn [17:08] Mmmhmmm.
Laura Resnick [17:09] I don’t even know if it’s a starting place. It’s the spark. Now I have a starting place and I’m going beyond that to get some of the steps in the journey. And that’s where I start.
Researching your setting
Patricia McLinn [17:17] And how do you integrate that? How do you integrate that with, um, like you have world-building in your Esther Diamond series, wouldn’t you say?
Laura Resnick [17:29] Yeah, I do. I also did really elaborate world-building and, um, I have a traditional, uh, traditional fantasy trilogy. Um, the Silerian Trilogy I did, which was set in a make-believe world, as sword and sorcery fantasy often is. So there are, you’re starting absolutely from scratch with your world building. It’s not even a version of our world, it’s something else entirely. Um, I tend to think in my genre fantasy, and this is not how most people think. I think world-building gets really overemphasized.
It’s just setting and the differences rather than researching your setting, you know, rather than researching, um, 12th century Italy or 18th century France or 21st century New York, instead of researching it, you’re inventing most of it. But you want, in either case, um, the same level of detail, uh, not more, not less. And you want it to be kind of the same level of textured background to your story, so, I’ve pretty, you know, if I start with world-building, I kind of start with a concept like, um, uh, this is a society that’s been at war for so long, that war has become very profitable to everybody and almost nobody wants peace. And I could start there, but then I think of the characters and their conflicts next. And all of the little details of world-building like in fantasy, you have magic systems and ethnic groups and religions and weapons, all of that comes later, um, and it’s not separate it’s, it’s sort of an accessory to the core of the story for me. And it’s the same way with the urban fantasy.
Patricia McLinn [19:15] Are you doing that though separately from creating the action of the story and the characters of the story, do those, do those world-building details arise out of, um—
Laura Resnick [19:27] They arise out of the story.
Patricia McLinn [19:29] —what the characters are doing?
Laura Resnick [19:30] Yeah. They never come out separately. I never sort of have a story and then think, you know, Oh, let me go create a magic system. It always comes directly out of the characters and the conflict and the setting, um, um.
Patricia McLinn [19:42] But then as you establish those rules in your world that you’ve built, do they ever back you into a corner? In the writing?
Laura Resnick [19:51] Um, only in the sense that if you are setting something saying, you know, 15th century Spain, the reality of your research might back you into a corner, into a corner at some point that you’ve got to replot your way out of, only in that sense.
Patricia McLinn [20:05] Yeah, but then history did that to you. You didn’t do it to yourself.
Laura Resnick [20:10] Well—
Patricia McLinn [20:11] If you’re making up the world.
The Lithuanian Thing
Laura Resnick [20:12] If you’re making up the world, you have more flexibility, but, um, uh, here’s an example. I had, in the urban fantasy series, I, uh, created just this, this casual joke that found its way into the first manuscript where, um, the, the, sort of the gatekeeper of the fantasy world, a character named Max, who’s a 350-year-old wizard who runs, uh, an occult bookstore in New York City, 21st century, New York City. And he engages with a contemporary actress, Esther Diamond, the protagonist of the series. And he just sort of casually asked her in passing, Oh, by the way, you’re not Lithuanian, are you? And it just kind of worked its way into the, into the text. And I thought it was funny, so I left it in. And in all my revisions, I, I kind of thought it was funny and I left it in.
And, um, so it worked its way into the next book. And by the time it worked its way to the third book, readers were saying, So what’s the Lithuanian thing? And my editor said, what’s the Lithuanian thing? I had only dropped it in there, cause I thought it was funny. And now I’m like, Oh crap. I have to come up with—
Patricia McLinn [21:15] It has to pay off.
Laura Resnick [21:16] —has to pay off, or it’s just dumb. So the entire fourth book was based on explaining what the Lithuanian thing is.
Patricia McLinn [21:25] And did you tell your editor it’s a secret? I don’t want to tell you yet.
Laura Resnick [21:31] Sometimes, yeah.
Patricia McLinn [21:33] You’re desperately in the background going, Oh my God, what’s the Lithuanian thing?
Laura Resnick [21:37] Yeah, pretty much. That was how the third book, I’m like, Oh crap. What is the Lithuanian thing? And there are several ways in which I, I did that to my, I’ve done that to myself in that series, and you know, you come up with something and then it’s kind of like Chekhov thing. One of my favorite, um, guidelines for writing is, uh, it’s attributed to the playwright Chekhov when he’s said, If there’s a rifle over the fireplace on the first act, you’ve got to use it by the third act. And if you use a rifle in the third act, it has to have been over the fireplace since the first act. And I think that is just a great tidy summary for how plot and story and structure, and indeed world-building need to work.
And the good thing about writing is a much like sausage, no one sees the process. So in the context of one book, it can be a terrible mess when you start, by the time you deliver it to your editor, it can be very tidy as if you knew all along the rifle was there. Um, in a series you just kind of cover your tracks a little bit better and lie when you were in front of people. Oh yeah, I know what the Lithuanian thing is. I’m just, you know, building the suspense.
Patricia McLinn [22:48] So what’s your favorite part and what’s the worst part of the process for you?
Laura Resnick [22:55] Uh, liftoff is definitely the worst part of the process for me. Every book I’ve ever written, the first 150 pages, almost exactly the first 150 pages, are just torture. They’re just, they’re horrible. It’s slow. It’s sluggish. It’s not very good. I don’t enjoy it. Um, the part I really like is, uh, I like writing toward the end of a book. Well, I love having written, who doesn’t.
Patricia McLinn [23:20] Yeah.
Laura Resnick [23:21 I love it when it’s done.
Patricia McLinn [23:22] Yeah.
Laura Resnick [23:23] But in terms of process, um, I don’t do multiple drafts or rough drafts or anything. I write and then I fix what I’ve written, and I go forward and then I go back, and I fix and I go forward and I go back. I just keep fixing as I go along because I don’t know what comes next until everything that’s before it is pretty much the way it needs to be for this next thing to happen. So by the time I’m writing the last, say three chapters of a book, the whole rest of the book is really tight, it’s really set in stone, and I’m really focused and know what I need to do. And that’s the first time usually, those final chapters, where I really feel like I know what I need to do. And it goes pretty fast. Prior to that, it’s really, really a struggle.
Patricia McLinn [24:08] So do you have stories that maybe hit that 150 pages mark that never went beyond that that are half—
Laura Resnick [24:20] I do.
Patricia McLinn [24:21] —well, that would be less than half finished, cause you tend to write long.
Laura Resnick [24:23] I do mostly they’re from earlier in my career. I, um, I had my den and there were several times I wrote, uh, anywhere from 75 to 150 pages and kind of ran out of steam and realized, I, I don’t really have more than this. I don’t know where this is going. If you have a contract that tends to really motivate you to figure out where it’s going, if you do not have a contract, um, you tend to think I, yeah, I, I feel ready to put this aside for something, um, more likely to cover my mortgage payment and do it that way. So, but yeah, it hasn’t happened in a long time, but it did happen a few times.
Patricia McLinn [25:04] So do you still hold on to those? Do you go back and look at them? Do you hold that any hope that they will revive at some point?
Laura Resnick [25:10] Um, no, I did for a while. I have a folder where I keep all my ideas, whether they’re just like, you know, a couple of notes on one piece of paper or in some of those cases, chapters written, I keep a file there, and every year or two, I go through everything to see what am I still interested in and really want to do. And a lot of it will stay. The Esther Diamond series actually is one that I wanted to do for years. And back when you had to have a publisher to retreaters, nobody would buy it. And every year I looked at it and I still loved it and I would keep it there. And now I’m on the eighth book of the series, a with a publisher, but there are other things—
Patricia McLinn [25:47] Well, and a publisher did buy it.
Laura Resnick [25:50] Yeah. But there are other things that I go through the folder and after three or four or six years or five months, I look, I’m like, yeah, I’m not the same writer I was when I came up with this, I’m not that interested anymore. There are other things I’d rather do. And I delete it at that point. I don’t save it. And those projects I mentioned were all things I ultimately said, I don’t even, I’m not even interested in this anymore. And I moved on.
Patricia McLinn [26:11] But you haven’t thrown—
Laura Resnick [26:12] I did. I threw them out. Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [26:14] Oh, you did throw them out.
Laura Resnick [26:16] Yeah, Yeah, I did throw them out. I’m not a saver. I throw out anything I’m not really engaging with. I always have, I’ve actually thrown, I threw out a completed manuscript that was one of the early things I wrote. I sold two books. I had a third completed manuscript that nobody would buy. I kept it for a few years. And then one day I read it and went, okay, I see why nobody would buy this. It’s really flawed. And I threw it out at that point. I’m not a saver.
Patricia McLinn [26:37] I still have one that, a completed manuscript that, um, actually I have two, but I haven’t thrown them out. I keep thinking there could be something I could do with it.
Laura Resnick [26:50] And who knows, maybe there is. I mean, I think that when I feel like I’m not interested in this and that’s when it’s time.
Patricia McLinn [26:55] I’m a big packrat, but I think you have a really great point about how we change as writers and that what, what we wrote and could write early, earlier in our career, changes as you go along. Both I, I think you become better, but in some ways I also think you become, um, more tied to a certain way of viewing the world. Uh, and the, cause it’s not so much technical as I think is worldview.
Laura Resnick [27:28] Yeah. I think it is, um, absolutely worldview. I’m sure when I was a younger writer, I tackled stuff I maybe didn’t have the craft skills or experience to do well, but I was ready to tackle it, that didn’t stop me. It’s more, when I look back, I don’t throw out something cause I think, Oh, it was a great idea, but I didn’t execute well. I think I’m not interested in that concept anymore in those characters, that story, that tone. I’ve, I’ve moved on, I’m just not interested. It’s not that the skill isn’t there, but sometimes it’s not.
Patricia McLinn [28:00] You also write short stories.
Laura Resnick [28:03] Yes, I do.
Patricia McLinn [28:04] Can you tell at the beginning whether it is going to be a novel or a short story?
Laura Resnick [28:08] Yeah, I can, for me, I’m uh, it’s ironic cause people I’ve, I’ve published like, I think it’s about 70 short stories now, a lot. So I was surprised to find out that a few of my friends thought I was, um, think of me as, you know, someone who is a natural, short story writer. I’m not at all. I don’t think in short story terms, I don’t read short stories. Um, short stories are hard for me to come up with and sort of the evolution of how I wound up with all of these short stories is, uh, it’s a very popular form in my genre, science fiction fantasy. So there’s lots and lots of opportunity.
And, um, lots of people are putting together, and have always been putting together, books and anthologies and collections where they’ll invite a bunch of writers in based on a theme. So I, I think out of 70 short stories, I think 68 of them, I was invited by somebody to write based on a theme. And what I have found is if somebody kind of gives me some sort of guideline or parameter or premise that’s, you know, unifying the, the theme of the anthology that helps me. Awful lot. Come up with a short story.
If it’s just a, Laura, this editor, this magazine likes your writing, send them a short story. It can take me two years to think of something because I’m not a natural short story writer. And the reason being, uh, short stories, I mean, I am, I’m a character writer. That’s what interests me in a novel. It’s what I’m good at. It’s what my strengths are. It’s what I tend to focus on character development and relationships and how characters change through conflict and their relationships and over time and so on. And that’s a novel format. Short stories are much too short to show a long evolution of a character or a relationship. Uh, you can do it, but because of the form, it would be kind of gimmicky. Short stories are really idea fiction, and I’m not an idea writer.
Laura Resnick [30:08] So, for me, one reason I know something’s a short story is I have been asked to write a short story that’s almost always how I do it. And I’ve been asked on the basis of a theme and the difference to me is very clear between a short story, it’s, it’s, idea-based, it’s a gimmick, it’s a concept. It’s something pretty brief, and a novel is something about the journeys that characters take.
Patricia McLinn [30:33] Do, do, have you ever had short stories or ideas for short stories that have become part of novels? I could see where they weren’t necessarily the germ for a novel, but they could be a tangent almost.
Laura Resnick [30:49] No, but I have gone the other way. Um, again, when I was trying to sell the Esther Diamond series. Um, I just had this concept for the second book that I loved. Doppelgangster, um, and the title alone attracts people and it kind of sells it. And the idea being that mobsters are being bumped off in mysterious ways shortly after seeing their own perfect double. And I’m not normally a concept writer, but it was just this really tight concept.
Well, I couldn’t sell the series, and I couldn’t sell the series. And, um, I came to believe after like five or six years of this, I would never get to write that book back when you could only get things out there if you had a traditional publisher. So I took that concept and I used it in a short story called Doppelgangster. So I went the other way with that. And I did that a few times over the years when I had some sort of concept that was kind of going to be the MacGuffin for a novel and for one reason or another, I thought, you know, I don’t know if I’m ever going to get to write that book. So I would take that concept and pluck it out and use it for a short story. So I went the other direction, but the short stories were not, you know, remotely, like what I had pictured for the novel, with that concept because the novels were really character-driven and short stories generally, are not.
Patricia McLinn [32:10] Explain what a MacGuffin is for any listeners who aren’t familiar with it.
Laura Resnick [32:14] That’s the, sort of the kickoff concept of a book like, um, you know, the MacGuffin of Gone with the Wind is, uh, at the start of the Civil War, this spoiled Southern Belle is torn between two men and will spend the rest of the book, uh, bouncing between her attraction for them, and her changing role, uh, in this changing world that she lives in. And for Doppelgangster, the MacGuffin is this thing about mobsters seeing their perfect doubles before they die.
Patricia McLinn [32:44] At which of your stories, novel or short story, has surprised you the most. And how did it surprise you?
Laura Resnick [32:53] It was definitely In Legend Born. Um, that book was a huge journey for me. It’s the first book of the Silerian Trilogy. It’s traditional fantasy novel sword and sorcery epic fantasy. When I started it, uh, I pictured it as, you know, this 90,000-word book. It’s a fairly short book, a book you could read in a couple of evenings, probably. Fairly short book, a coming of age story about a teenager written in the first person point of view. The actual book is, um, about 250,000 words, it’s almost three times the length of what I imagined. And, uh, it has ten point of view characters. It’s written in the third person, ten point of view characters and this enormous epic sweep. And it was not something I even thought I could do. In fact, I remember saying at the start, I can’t do this. This is not what I do. I can’t do this, not capable of this. And so that book in many ways just kept surprising me.
Patricia McLinn [34:01] Did you try to write it in first person at, at the beginning? How did it, how did it evolve from you thinking first person to third person? I can see how a book could keep growing.
Laura Resnick [34:12] It was really the only time ever in all of my dealings with literary agents. It’s the one time a literary agent, um, gave me good advice and did something that helped me rather than, um, hurt me. Um, and I don’t deal with literary agents anymore cause I had just so many really bad experiences with them that held me back. But this is the opposite of my normal experience. I showed this, um, the first chapter or two of this book with the outline to my literary agent, and me just having said, you know, world-building’s not really the thing. He liked the world-building a lot.
What he said is, you know, having looked at it, Well, I like this, but you know, if I take this to an editor, we’re going to get like a little $5,000 deal. And the book’s going to be released straight to paperback and forgotten very quickly. But if you kind of take this, this concept you’re working with, cause it was going to be the first of three books or something. So you take this concept. And if you could expand it to an epic canvas, something really big, that would, that would really get us a good deal. We get a good, hardcover deal. You’d be launched really well. It would really do a lot for your career.
And I didn’t think I could do this. I didn’t think it would work, but I went back to the drawing board and I took back a much bigger idea to him. It was still in first person, and he said, You know, this has really shown so much improvement, but I think first person’s going to limit the story. Could you try it in third person? And I thought, Oh, I really can’t do that. That’s not a good idea. I’ll, I’ll, I’ll do it and show them it’s not going to work. And once they started doing it, he went, Oh, actually this is better. So he, I have to say for all that, I have a lot of negative stories about that agent, he made a tremendous difference for me in that instance, and I’ve always acknowledged that.
Uh, and that was really sort of the launch pad. And even at that point, having come up with, I had like this 25-page outline of this incredibly big sweeping and complicated plot and all of these larger than life characters. And I had about 70 pages of, uh, text chapters that really launched it, I still didn’t think I could do it. And I was at least halfway through that book before I was like, Oh, look, I’m doing it. Getting to, you know, roughly a quarter of a million words with this thing. So that book—
Patricia McLinn [36:32] But you were going to show him. You were going to show him.
Laura Resnick [36:36] No.
Patricia McLinn [36:36] You were going to show him.
Laura Resnick [36:37] I really didn’t show him. I was, um, I had a contract to fulfill at that point. He sold it really quickly. And now I had, well, if I want the, you know, if I actually don’t want to have to give back the money and be, you know, crawl away with my tail between my legs. Now I actually have to deliver this book I’ve described. And that was what got me there. And, um, the whole process to me on that book was just a big surprise. It was a huge leap forward in my craft, my storytelling, uh, my, my vision of, uh, how much more brave I should be when tackling projects, everything really.
Patricia McLinn [37:11] It’s echoed through your subsequent books.
Laura Resnick [37:13] Yeah. I mean, they aren’t all 250,000 words. Thank God. But yeah, it’s just taught me, you know, go for it. Just absolutely go for it.
Patricia McLinn [37:21] That’s a great lesson.
Laura Resnick [37:22] It is.
Patricia McLinn [37:23] Isn’t it. I have to keep learning it.
Laura Resnick [37:26] I do too. It’s not like they got it perfectly after that.
Patricia McLinn [37:30] Uh, you talked about when we were talking about world-building you talked about, um, that if you were doing, you know, historical research, you know, 15th century Spain, you would be restricted by the realities of it, that research. Do you find that you also need to do research for your books in addition to the world-building, and how do you feel that enjoy research?
Laura Resnick [37:52] I enjoy researching, and, yeah, I do quite a lot of research. Um, for, uh, epic fantasy, um, where you’re, you’re kind of coming up with a make-believe world, the research you do depends on, um, how you’re structuring your world. Basically, I did for the Silerian Trilogy. Lots of research about weapons and, um, hand-to-hand combat. And combat with bladed weapons because, uh, it’s a very violent trilogy. And one of the main characters is an expert swordsman. So I want it to be able to convey that in some credible way. I didn’t want to write something that, you know, the very first person who’s ever taken a fencing class would read it and go, Oh, this is garbage. She didn’t know what she was talking about. And that’s one example of the kind of research that goes in there.
With my urban fantasy series, um, yeah, I do quite a lot of, a lot of research there because I am introducing a magical fantasy concept to the real-world setting of New York City. And I do a whole lot of research about—
Patricia McLinn [39:00] So you have to have reality first.
Laura Resnick [39:02] So I do a lot of research about New York, and part of the conceit of the series is each book uses a different specific, um, setting or background in New York. So one book would be entirely, um, set in, well, almost entirely set in, uh, say a theater in the West Village. So you want to make sure, uh, you know, what goes on in a theater and what the different rooms are called and, um, what kind of equipment is back there and what it smells like, and, uh, so on and so forth. You want to have some reality there.
But in a much more complicated, um, background research I did in that series, one book is set, uh, The Misfortune Cookie, it’s set entirely in Chinatown. And, um, a lot of the characters are Chinese or Chinese Americans. And I did tons of research on that because, uh, you want to get the veracity and the texture. I also did a lot of onsite research, which I do for that series, which I really enjoy, like when I have kind of picked, uh, the settings for the next couple of books, I like to go to New York and spend a lot of time on site getting as much, uh, hands-on background as I can. And I feel that’s helped the books a lot. Um, somebody said to me, you know, New York is like another character in these books and that’s what I want. So I think it’s well worth doing that level of research.
Patricia McLinn [40:31] Do you find that as you’re doing the research, it can change a story because of something you’ve found, either closing off the door or opening other doors?
Laura Resnick [40:42] Yeah, both of those. I typically, you know, I don’t plot a book and then go do my research. It’s when I’m thinking, right, I want to set the next book in Chinatown or, um, I want to set the next book on Wall Street, and I go there and I start doing the research and that will start shaping some of the details or, um, markers of the story in my mind.
And there may be things I thought before I, I did my research or go on my trip that once I get there, I realized, well, that won’t work, but it’s not a huge change because I don’t really have a storyline yet. For the most part.
Patricia McLinn [41:17] Do you tell people what you’re doing while you’re researching? Do you, and do you talk to people?
Laura Resnick [41:24] People always ask the same questions when they, when you say you’re a writer, Oh, have you ever written anything? Yes. That’s why I say I’m a writer. Have you read anything published? Yes, that’s why I say I’m a writer. Oh, have I read anything you’ve written? How the f*** do I know what you read?
Patricia McLinn [41:42] I don’t know.
Laura Resnick [41:43] Sometimes it depends on the circumstance, but very often I do not say. Though, when people see me taking lots of notes and asking very detailed questions, if they start to look suspicious, then I say, what I do, it depends.
Patricia McLinn [41:57] I recently was on a cruise is, um, as you know, and I have this idea for a murder mystery. And so I, um, arranged with some persistence to talk to one of the officials on the, uh, ship and ask about what they do if they find a body who, that does not appear to have died from natural causes.
Laura Resnick [42:21] Oh, they must’ve enjoyed that.
Patricia McLinn [42:23] He was very nervous initially, very wary of me. Eventually, I won him over, though with my charm and innocence.
Laura Resnick [42:37] Now, if I wanted to kill someone using this pliers, exactly how would you recommend I do that?
Growing up in a writer’s house
Patricia McLinn [42:46] Research is fun. So with, with your background, did you ever think that you would do a different job from writing? Were you always thinking you were going to be a writer?
Laura Resnick [42:58] No, growing up in a writer’s house, I never wanted to be a writer. Uh, I saw what kind of lifestyle it was. I remember as a child, seeing my father walking to the mailbox every day, wondering if he’d been paid yet. And, you know, and I saw that he spent, uh, all of his working life just alone in a room, in a grubby sweater, unshaven, um, type, type, type typing away madly. Uh, all of his friends were weird as writers are. I just didn’t, you know, it wasn’t the life I wanted for myself.
Uh, I actually really wanted to go on the stage. I wanted to go into theater, on, I trained very seriously as an actress, but I really didn’t have the temperament for it. I, um, I think a huge difference between acting and writing is when you get rejected as a writer, you’re at home alone in your comfortable space, reading a letter or email telling you why you’re being rejected. As an actress, you’re kind of standing up there in front of a table of people who are staring at you as they reject you and other people are watching this, and then you have to go home alone, and I didn’t have the temperament for any of that. I found it excruciating.
Um, whereas getting a rejection as a writer doesn’t seem to bother me that much. So, and I, I really prefer kind of, it turns out being alone in the room with the characters in my head compared to, um, doing eight shows a week, or, you know, doing a lot of, um, as an actor, you’re often doing material that’s not that good. And as a writer, you mostly get to do the best work you’re capable of. Um, so there were just a lot of ways in which I was always much better suited to this life and I did wind up writing early on. I think I sold my first book at a 25. So I started pretty young comparatively speaking.
Patricia McLinn [44:52] I would have thought that one of the things that, that would appeal to you about writing over, um, being an actor, would be control?
Laura Resnick [45:01] Yeah. Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [45:03] I was right on that.
Laura Resnick [45:05] As an actor, it was among other things, you know, it’s very hard to actually to act if you haven’t been hired. You know, cause you need other actors, you need a space, you need production, you need time. As a writer, uh, all your, all I needed to get started was a notebook and a pen and a few hours to myself. And I could do whatever I wanted as a writer, whether or not you get published as another matter, but you, you don’t need anything outside of yourself to write a book. And I liked that about it. I still do.
Patricia McLinn [45:32] Yeah, that’s, that’s interesting. And I, I suppose you do in, in, um, in acting to you, but you, you definitely need yourself and you need to be able to go inside yourself, I think, to write. Um, which can scare some people off.
Laura Resnick [45:50] Well, it’s very solitary, um, extremely solitary. And I, I think there are people who don’t like that about it. I think there even writers who don’t like that about writing. Um, it’s, you know, writers are frequently people who actually enjoy being alone in a room, a lot of their lives. I’m one of them.
Patricia McLinn [46:10] Yeah. There, there will be discussions online where somebody will say, Oh, my gosh, I had take a shower and go out and meet people. And all these other authors are going, Oh, you poor soul. And civilians are going, What? Huh?
Laura Resnick [46:29] Exactly. Yes.
A natural baker
Patricia McLinn [46:32] So this is a, this is an out of the blue question. Um, what is something or several somethings that you are really good at that people don’t know about?
Laura Resnick [46:41] Well, um, my friends know, but otherwise I suppose not, uh, I’m a very good cook. Um, and I love cooking because it’s the opposite of writing, you know, writing you do, it’s so much in your head. Or just at a keyboard on a screen or a piece of paper that only you see, it’s very intellectual. It’s very, uh, private. When you’re done with it, uh, you send it off to an editor who just tells you everything that’s wrong with it. And then it’s like a year before it’s published and you share it with other people.
Writing by contrast, I mean, cooking by contrast, you go into your kitchen and it’s very sensory oriented. You’re smelling and tasting, uh, you’re cutting and chopping and kneading and wrapping and wrestling stuff. It takes about an hour to make a nice meal and you immediately share it with people who appreciate it and compliment you. So, yeah, so that’s a lot of what I enjoy about it. I enjoy experimenting. I have an enormous cabinet chock full of spices and herbs and some things in there I don’t even know how to use, and it’s fun to pull them out and say, Well, you know, let me try this, and if it doesn’t work, I wasted an hour and I’ll have one bad meal, rather than if you try something in a novel that doesn’t work, you might be wasting months and losing a lot of income. So there’s a whole lot about cooking. I really enjoy, and doing it a lot makes me good at it.
Patricia McLinn [48:07] Do you follow r— Do you follow recipes or do you make things up?
Laura Resnick [48:12] I do both ways. I, I tend to really enjoy following recipes, like the first time I make something, and then I start tweaking it to make it more my own.
Patricia McLinn [48:20] What’s the best thing you’ve made lately?
Laura Resnick [48:22] My new thing is I’m learning to make British meat pies. I lived in England for three years and I really love meat pies, things like Cornish pasty, and steak and kidney pie and things like that. And we really don’t do that over here. And it finally occurred to me years after coming back, you know, instead of just pining for that stuff, what if I just learned to make it?
And so I got a British cookbook on making savory pies and I’ve been making some of those and, uh, I’m not very good at the pastry yet. I’m not a natural baker. I’m improving on that, but I have made, uh, I made, uh, a roasted vegetable pie two weeks ago that came out really pretty well and was very pretty. And I’ve made a few things like that. So that’s kind of my new, um, project and I’m quite proud of my efforts so far.
Patricia McLinn [49:13] What do you think makes somebody a natural baker?
Laura Resnick [49:16] Um, I don’t know because I’m not one, but you have to be good at it, and I think you have to—
Patricia McLinn [49:22] Okay, what’s the difference between a baker and a cooker in skills or temperament or—
Laura Resnick [49:27] Well, one reason I’m not a natural baker, I don’t enjoy the ingredients. Like, you know, I’ve described how much I enjoy working with the ingredients of cooking, even really gross ingredients, like raw chicken, which is disgusting. I enjoy that, but I don’t really enjoy working with flour, sugar, baking soda. Um, I don’t particularly enjoy mixing batters.
Um, I hate kneading bread. So one thing is I think a natural baker enjoys those processes, whereas I don’t. And I think baking everyone always says, and I think it’s true. You have to be very exact in baking. And I’m not really that exact.
Patricia McLinn [50:05] Oh, that’s interesting.
Laura Resnick [50:06] I’m more organic, like the way, you know, like the recipes handed down from my mother say things like, um, you know, add half a palmful of rosemary, and I know how big my mom’s palms are, so roughly what would half of her palm be? And I toss that in there and if I don’t have rosemary, I’m like, well, let’s see how it tastes with sage since I’m out of rosemary. And I liked that process, and in baking that’s disastrous, but in cooking, it tends to work just fine.
Patricia McLinn [50:35] I am, I tend to bake more than—
Laura Resnick [50:36] That figures.
Patricia McLinn [50:37] —or I think my focus is more on baking, but I’m not exact. Um, but I tend to do recipes that I know really well and, uh, I will eyeball them.
Laura Resnick [50:50] Well, the other thing too is you do so you get better at it because I don’t really enjoy baking. I’ve never done it enough to get good at it. If you enjoy it and you’re doing it, you’re doing it enough to get good at it, and you can eyeball it.
Urban fantasy or epic fantasy
Patricia McLinn [51:00] On your, you were talking about not joining the ingredients, and I think, But you didn’t mention butter. And you, you mix flour and sugar with butter, and you don’t need anything else. Okay. Well, we really got off on a fun tangent there. Um, but, and this is something I wanted to ask you earlier, and then we, we got off oddly, Laura, I don’t know how this happened. We got off on another tangent. Um, so let’s go back to talking about your genre. Um, and this could go either for either both urban fantasy or the epic fantasy. What, what are the big things that people think they know about those genres that they get wrong?
Laura Resnick [51:47] Well, one that slaps me in the face immediately, um, in urban fantasy, there’s a very common, I think at this point we could call it a common cliché that people think is a requirement, and no, it’s just a cliché. They think that your protagonist in an urban fantasy novel has to have magical powers. And I know people think this because it’s often common Esther Diamond, the protagonist of the Esther Diamond series, does not have magical powers. She is an ordinary person who gets mixed up in magical misadventures. The series is comedic. Um, and I have seen people, um, like—
Patricia McLinn [52:28] Oh, uh, before we, before you go any farther, tell some of the titles.
Laura Resnick [51:47] Um, Disappearing Nightly, uh, you’ve heard Doppelgangster. There’s, um, Vamparazzi, uh, Abracadaver, Polterheist, um, and so on.
Patricia McLinn [52:47] Yes, I like them.
Laura Resnick [52:48] So, um, and the titles are really—
Patricia McLinn [52:50] Great titles.
Laura Resnick [52:48] The titles are killer to come up with cause they have to be, each one has to be a self-evident supernatural pun that my editor thinks is funny. That is a pretty big list to fill. So the titles absolutely kill me. But, um, anyways, Esther doesn’t have magical powers. Um, Esther knows a few people who do, but she doesn’t. And from the start I saw people saying anything from, Oh my God, that’s so different, an urban fantasy heroine who doesn’t have magical powers, to quite a few people saying, Well, this author doesn’t know anything about the genre because she doesn’t realize her heroine is supposed to have this.
But, no, you know, there was, I think, uh, definitely more or less a requirement in fantasy that there has to be some sort of fantastical, magical, mystical, supernatural, non-realistic element. Um, in that phrase, I would include say, um, literary magic realism, because there is something in magic realism, which is not realistic as we understand it in our culture, but no, there’s absolutely no requirement that any specific character or indeed any characters have to have magical powers. I think that’s a very common misconception.
I think these days I haven’t run into it that much myself, but just, it seems all too predictable that if you are writing epic fantasy, big sword and sorcery fiction, people will think that George Martin’s work is the baseline for it, and you need to do things the way he does it because people tend to cleave onto something that is that influential and believe that defines the genre. Uh, in much the way that I’m sure many people would say, you know, Agatha Christie defines what a mystery novel or cozy has to be. I think that that’s probably fairly common, at a guess, with George Martin these days.
Patricia McLinn [54:45] And you’re, you’re writing the Esther Diamond series, are you, um, open to thinking about wanting to continue to, um, write epic fantasy also?
Laura Resnick [54:58] I am. Absolutely. I, um, got burned out on it for a while and moved away from it. I really, really wanted to do this urban fantasy series. Um, and now I’m definitely feeling an interest in, um, I want to keep doing the Esther Diamond novels, which I thoroughly enjoy. But yeah, I also want to kind of mix it up a little now, before I get burned out on urban fantasy, maybe, you know, alternate and, um, I have an epic fantasy project I’m starting to make my notes about. That, uh, I would very much like to get to work on. Part of it is just, I’m not that fast. And so, uh, I’m moving slowly. But yes, definitely.
Patricia McLinn [55:37] So, which of your books would you say is the best place for a reader who’s entirely new to you to start.
Laura Resnick [55:46] Um, you know, a lot of people seem to start with Doppelgangster and really like that as a starting place. Uh, it’s—
Patricia McLinn [55:54] And it’s the first book—
Laura Resnick [55:55] No, it’s actually the second book.
Patricia McLinn [55:56] —in the Esther Diamond series.
Laura Resnick [55:59] It’s actually the second book in the Esther Diamond series, but because of the publishing history of that series, uh, I wrote Doppelgangster with the idea that it might be the first one people pick up. Because what happened with Esther Diamond was, um, after years of not being able to sell it, uh, I fired my agent and I immediately sold Esther Diamond to a publisher, Luna Books.
And they released the first book, and it all went very badly. It was the wrong publishing house for Esther. I think they liked the book, but they didn’t really know how to publish it very well, and I think there were problems with their program. And, um, so the first book disappeared overnight, Disappearing Nightly, and they canceled the rest of my contract. And I then fired my next agent, and I resold the series to Betsy Wollheim at DAW Books, which is where it’s been ever since.
Laura Resnick [56:52] But the, uh, I got all the rights back, but the first book, Disappearing Nightly, was still under contract at Luna. And it had just been published. We couldn’t start with that. So Betsy was willing to try and launch the series with book two, even though it would be book two. So I, and by then book one wasn’t even available in bookstores anymore, but the rights were still tied up. It couldn’t be reissued yet.
So I wrote book two, Doppelgangster, with the idea that it was going to be a while before we could actually publish a new edition of the first book in the series, which, uh, it was about two years before we can do that. So Doppelgangster is kind of a good place to start. Uh, I think I was a much better fit with DAW Books, so I think it’s a much better book, in fact, than Disappearing Nightly. But Disappearing Nightly’s fun. And, um, I think people really seem to enjoy the concept too, of these, you know, um, delving into the, the mafia and everything in this sort of ludicrous way. So I think that’s a good one to start with. And if you don’t like that, you probably aren’t going to like my writing.
Patricia McLinn [57:54] Do you have any books that even your dedicated readers might have overlooked as a sort of hidden gem?
Laura Resnick [58:04] Uhhh. Well, not everybody who reads the Esther Diamond books even knows about the Silerian Trilogy because I wrote the two series pretty far apart. Um, and I’m very proud of the trilogy. So I would encourage people to look at that. I also have a nonfiction book called Rejection, Romance and Royalties, and that is a collection of essays about, uh, being a working writer and what this life is like. And it’s pretty fun. Um, it’s actually based on a whole series of columns I did for Novelists, Inc., uh, some years ago. And because it was, you know, it was released by a small press and had a fairly short shelf life. That’s one that I think a lot of people don’t know about.
Patricia McLinn [58:48] That’s a great recommendation, especially for anybody who’s either interested in the real realities of the writer’s life. Um, especially in the traditional model, um, or as an aspiring writer. It’s also, um, one of those amusingly depressing books.
Laura Resnick [59:10] It’s a good way to put it.
Patricia McLinn [59:11] Because it is realistic about that traditional model.
Laura Resnick [59:14] Um, yeah.
Patricia McLinn [59:15] Okay. I have some, I have some questions from readers, additional we’ve, we’ve already asked a few. One is, When you finish a book, do you miss the characters?
Laura Resnick [59:27] I do. I miss them a lot. I’ve been living closely with them for months.
Patricia McLinn [59:33] Yeah.
Laura Resnick [59:34] And after I finished a book, I’m still very absorbed in them for a while. I think about them for several weeks afterwards. And I do miss them. Yes.
Patricia McLinn [59:41] And have other, uh, subsequent books ever arisen out of that period of missing them, you know, do you come up with new ideas for it.
Laura Resnick [59:50] Yeah, back when I was a romance writer, um, I started out years ago as a romance writer writing under a pseudonym. My work was very different than, but it did a few times then. I would have a character in a book I really liked, and it was just like, okay, let me make this the hero or heroine of my next book. And I did that a few times.
Um, more recently, I’ve been writing series anyhow, you know, and when you finish the end of a trilogy, uh, I’d put those characters in the Sil— through the Silerian Trilogy through so much. I felt they had a well-deserved rest. They, they, they should be left alone for a while now though, I miss them a lot. Um, and Esther Diamond, I’m still in the middle of. So some, there are characters though that I developed an Esther Diamond that I think they’re going to be in one book and I really liked them, so I make them kind of part of the regular cast. So yes, sometimes it does result in something new.
Patricia McLinn [100:39] Great. This next reader asks when the cover image doesn’t match the character description and she says a pet peeve of mine. How does it feel?
Laura Resnick [100:50] Well, I have so many stories about book covers, as do we all. I think the thing to keep in mind about that, uh, at least from a writer’s perspective and in hopes of maintaining one’s sanity, is that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the cover of a book is supposed to be an accurate advertisement for your book. And the thing I look at when looking at it, I asked myself when looking at a cover is, Does this cover accurately portray the tone and feel of the book? Does this cover convey the most important information?
For example, The most important information about an Esther Diamond novel is that it’s fantasy. It’s funny. It’s a series, a, it’s urban fantasy. It’s humor. It’s a series, the cover’s got a tray. Those three things. If it doesn’t, it completely fails, no matter how much the model might look like Esther Diamond. And in fact, when Luna Books, uh, which originally published Disappearing Nightly, the first book I mentioned earlier, when they published that book, the cover didn’t convey even one of those things. You couldn’t tell it was a fantasy novel.
Patricia McLinn [102:07] Oh, dear.
Laura Resnick [102:08] You couldn’t tell it was humor. You couldn’t tell it was part of a series. So it failed on all counts, which was one of the reasons I felt sure as soon as I saw that cover, that the book was going to fail because it didn’t add, the cover didn’t accurately in any way, it also didn’t advertise the tone correctly, nothing. Uh, the covers that DAW puts on there, correctly convey all of that and correctly convey the tone.
So I look at that a lot more than I look at, do the models look like the characters. I have had some covers though, that when I’ve looked at them, they were so bad that literally, I cried, I shed actual tears. I thought, in fact, I thought that with Disappearing Nightly. I thought this is going to kill this book, this cover is so bad. And I’ve had that happen a couple of times, and it is incredibly disappointing.
Patricia McLinn [103:00] I th— I think one of the aspects from the author’s point of view, you know so many of the nuances, and you know the ins and outs and the hearts of the book. And it’s, it’s sort of like when people want you to write a blurb and I’m, I come from a journalism background, I can be, write headlines, but if I could have told the whole story in 300 words, I wouldn’t have written 75,000, you know, and to boil it back down is brutal.
Laura Resnick [103:32] And once you’ve written 75,000 words, wouldn’t you be so pissed off to find out you could have told the story and just 300.
Patricia McLinn [103:40] Yes, God. So, so there’s sort of that element with the covers too, that the, the cover can never portray, or convey the, all the intricacies that are in the book. And as you say, the best they can do is give the reader, um, uh, an entree to the mood of the book, to what they’re going to get from that book.
Laura Resnick [104:10] Yeah. And that’s, I think what they should do, and that’s all that they’re intended for, it’s all there needed for it. It’s what they’ve absolutely got to do well. Um, I actually—
Patricia McLinn [104:20] But I really empathize with this reader too, because it drives me nuts.
Laura Resnick [104:23] I actually write my own cover blurbs. I learned to take it over from editors because I found I was doing it better. And, um, and then they tweak them. They maybe put them more into, you know, sale kind of language. And here’s kind of a tip for aspiring writers. The way I learned to write a synopsis of a book. And also the way I learned to write cover blurbs. I started out by spending a year. Every time I read a novel by someone else, I would then write a synopsis of it. And I would write a cover blurb for it, because you have that separation from someone else’s work. And that’s how you teach yourself the techniques to do it well for your own work.
Patricia McLinn [105:00] Okay. Here’s my contrasting tip for aspiring writers. Become an independent, where you don’t, you never again have to write a synopsis. You do have to write blurbs now and then, but just you’re saying the idea of writing synopsis of other people’s books makes me want to bang my head against the table. I hate those so much. Oh my gosh.
Laura Resnick [105:22] Because I’m very methodical. I, well, I would never do other people’s now. I’m like, Oh no, that sounds like so much work. But back then it was valuable to me. I kind of like writing synopsis for my own book. I always write a synopsis before I start writing the book. It’s just kind of is like a roadmap for me because I’m very methodical, and it doesn’t mean I’m shackled to it or constrained by it, or must do what the synopsis says.
It, it means that just like if I were driving from here to Los Angeles, I’d like to have a map. Uh, even if I’m going to deviate from it for me, it’s the same. If I write a synopsis, now I have a map.
Patricia McLinn [106:00] In case, in case listeners can’t tell I’m a total pantster. So, um, okay. Another lovely reader asks, what is your favorite place to write and why? Does it have an inspirational view?
Laura Resnick [106:17] No. I live, I have a view of a—
Patricia McLinn [106:20] But it’s still your favorite place to write.
Laura Resnick [106:17] I live in the city, I have a view of a parking lot. Um, years and years ago, I lived in a crummy, crappy little place where I happened to have a wonderful view out the window. And I absolutely loved that view, and I still miss it. Since then, I have never again lived in a place with a view, which is why I still think about that particular view.
Generally, I like to write at home. Um, I write either in my home office or my bedroom, there’s, I write at my desk or in a chair or in bed. I like quiet. Uh, I like privacy. Uh, I like to have a certain setup of notebooks and reference books and things spread around me in a pretty organized way. So that’s what works for me.
I don’t like to write in cafés or in public. I’ve written in all sorts of places, when you have to do, what you have to. I mean, I have actually written an airport waiting lounges and things, but, uh, I’m generally not someone who takes my laptop on a trip so I can write while I’m away. I don’t like to write in other places. I, I tend to write at home.
Patricia McLinn [107:30] And this is, this is a question I am eager to hear your answer to.
Laura Resnick [107:33] Oh, dear.
Patricia McLinn [107:34] And this is from a reader. If you could write a book with any other author, alive or dead, who would you want to work with and why?
Laura Resnick [107:45] It’s so easy. I think I would choose Sarah Caudwell, who is dead.
Patricia McLinn [107:51] Ohhh.
Laura Resnick [107:52] She was a British mystery writer. She died around the year 2000 or 2001, uh, at the age of 60, she had only written four books. They are some of my favorite books. Uh, they’re mystery novels. So charming and delightful and erudite and intricate and entertaining and engaging.
I met her once well before that at a conference, I met her. Probably in the late eighties, early nineties. And the reason I started reading her books was she was so charming and funny and interesting at this conference, I just thought I got to read her work.
Patricia McLinn [108:29] Very dry humor.
Laura Resnick [108:31] Very dry, very witty, very British. And I just think to do anything with her would be so much fun. So that’s who I would choose.
Patricia McLinn [108:39] Oh, that’s a surprising answer and a great one. Your most recent release was?
Laura Resnick [108:46] Oh, it’s been a couple of years, now. It was Abracadaver. The seventh Esther Diamond novel.
Patricia McLinn [108:51] So you have seven in that series that, so people—
Laura Resnick [108:54] Yes.
Patricia McLinn [108:52] —have some catching up to read with that.
Laura Resnick [108:56] Yes. Also that ser— I just wanted to say that series in the past this year, that series has been, all seven books have been produced as Full Cast Audio productions—
Patricia McLinn [109:09] Oh, what fun.
Laura Resnick [109:10] —by GraphicAudio. Which is the coolest thing. And I sent a sample of that to your podcast address, if you want to post that.
Patricia McLinn [109:17] Yes.
Laura Resnick [109:18] There’s like a two-minute sample.
Patricia McLinn [109:20] Absolutely.
Laura Resnick [109:21] Um, it’s really neat. Graphic Audio’s, um, promo or mark, their, their description of their format is a movie in your mind. So, they hire different actors for all the different characters in the book, they have sound effects. So if, uh, Esther Diamond’s narration says, there’s an explosion, you hear the explosion. If she said, um, you know, uh, the crowd panicked, you hear people stampeding and panicking.
Patricia McLinn [109:48] Oh, what fun.
Laura Resnick [109:49] Um, there’s background music. It’s a wonderful format for these books and they’ve done a terrific job. Um, I actually had some anxiety about adaptation, but I’m so pleased with the way they’ve done it and they’ve done a great job. So those were all released this year.
Patricia McLinn [01:10:04] That’s really great. Um, and I’m glad it’s been a good experience for you too.
Laura Resnick [01:10:10] It has been, yeah.
Patricia McLinn [01:10:11] That’s terrific. So for readers to find, um, where’s the one best place for them to go to find out more about you and about your books.
Laura Resnick [01:10:19] On my website, lauraresnick.com.
Patricia McLinn [01:10:22] Okay. I will also say Laura has a section there for aspiring writers and with information, uh, writerly information. I often send people there, uh, to, to find her links, they’re very useful. Um, okay, now we’re gonna, we’re gonna wrap up with some rapid-fire questions you have to say either, or, um, I’m going to start with an easy one. Appetizer or dessert?
Laura Resnick [01:10:49] Appetizer.
Patricia McLinn [01:10:50] Would you binge watch or would you make the watching last as long as possible?
Laura Resnick [01:10:55] Binge watch. We could all be dead tomorrow.
Patricia McLinn [01:10:58] Cake or ice cream?
Laura Resnick [01:11:00] Cake, but that’s a tough choice.
Patricia McLinn [01:11:04] It is a tough choice. Day or night?
Laura Resnick [01:11:07] Night.
Patricia McLinn [01:11:12] Toenail polish or bare toenails?
Laura Resnick [01:11:10] Bare.
Patricia McLinn [01:11:13] Mountains or beach?
Laura Resnick [01:11:15] Hmm. That’s a tough one too. I guess I’ll go with beach.
Patricia McLinn [01:11:21] Next one, dog or cat?
Laura Resnick [01:11:23] Ironically dog, but I have a lot of cats and no dogs, but it’s, I’m a dog person, but cats currently suit my lifestyle better. I like all animals, but I would say primarily I’m a dog person.
Patricia McLinn [01:11:41] Tea or coffee?
Laura Resnick [01:11:42] Coffee, but I like both.
Patricia McLinn [01:11:45] Garden. Gardening or house decorating?
Laura Resnick [01:11:47] Hmm. That’s another tough one. I’m learning both as a new homeowner. Um, house decorating, I guess.
Patricia McLinn [01:11:55] Paint or wallpaper?
Laura Resnick [01:11:57] Paint.
Patricia McLinn [01:11:59] Sailboat or motorboat?
Laura Resnick [01:12:00] I get seasick.
Patricia McLinn [01:12:03] Okay. Uh, save the best for last or grab the best first?
Laura Resnick [01:12:10] Grab the best first. We could all be dead tomorrow.
Patricia McLinn [01:12:13] There’s a theme here. Um, cowboy boots or hiking boots?
Laura Resnick [01:12:17] Hiking boots.
Patricia McLinn [01:12:18] Oh, I thought you were going to say neither one. Okay, I was wrong about that one. Well, this has been delightful, Laura. It’s been wonderful spending some time with you again, and we didn’t even have to run the world this time.
Laura Resnick [01:12:33] Well, thank you very much for inviting me and best of luck with your new podcast venture.
Patricia McLinn [01:12:38] Thank you so much. And I hope all of you listeners will come back next week for the next edition of Authors Love Readers.
That’s the show for this week. Hope you enjoyed it. And thank you for joining Authors Love Readers podcast. Remember, you can always find out more about our guest authors in the show notes. And you can find out more about me at www.patriciamclinn.com. You can also send in questions to be asked of future authors at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next week, wishing you lots of happy reading. Bye.
Today, Patricia McLinn talks with Barbara McMahon, author of 87 romance novels and counting. Patricia and Barbara discuss sources of inspiration for writers, the dedication and consistency required to write so prolifically, and the “scathingly brilliant” ideas that sometimes change the course of a book.
You can find Barbara on
* her website,
* and Twitter.
Thanks to DialogMusik for the instrumentals that accompany this podcast.
Transcript: Authors Love Readers with Barbara McMahon
Patricia McLinn [00:00] Hi, welcome to this week’s Authors Love Readers podcast, where we delve into the stories behind the stories. We’re asking authors questions. Some of them fun, some of them serious, and from their answers, you’re going to learn things you never knew about the people who write the stories you love. My name is Patricia McLinn. I’m your host and designated question asker.
Barbara McMahon [00:24] Hi, I’m Barbara McMann. I’m an author who loves readers.
Patricia McLinn [00:28] Now let’s start the show. Welcome to another edition of Authors Love Readers. And this time I am delighted to have Barbara McMahon here. Barbara McMahon is one of my great writing buddies. We met, you know I don’t know what year it was, but it was, uh, the Romance Writers of America national conference in Hawaii.
The last time they have had the conference in Hawaii, I don’t think they ever will again, cause it was a fairly small group, which I thought was wonderful. And Barbara and I sat next to each other, McLinn and McMahon, at the literacy signing that they always have. And it’s usually at the beginning of the conference and Barbara thought I was funny. So, forevermore we have been friends.
Barbara McMahon [01:19] And I still think you’re funny.
Patricia McLinn [01:21] Yay. Yay. And Barbara has written how many, how many romances?
Barbara McMahon [01:29] Eighty-seven.
Patricia McLinn [01:31] Oh, my gosh. Oh my gosh. She started as she wrote for Harlequin and Silhouette. Writing for a Harlequin romance, right?
Barbara McMahon [01:41] Correct.
Patricia McLinn [01:43] And who else? Tell us all the ones you wrote for.
Barbara McMahon [01:45] Okay. So I also wrote for Silhouette Desire for Silhouette Special Editions and for Harlequin Superromance.
Patricia McLinn [01:52] Yes, all sorts of books. And now she is an independent author. She has the rights back to, um, some of those past books, and she is also writing new romances.
Barbara McMahon [02:05] That’s right.
Patricia McLinn [02:06] We’re going to start with some quick questions here just to let people get started to know you.
Barbara McMahon [02:10] Okay.
Patricia McLinn [02:11] I’m going to say, what is your favorite taste? And I do mean food, although it’d be interesting. She asked me do I mean food or do I mean clothing? So now I want to know both.
Barbara McMahon [02:21] Oh, okay. So I guess my favorite is pizza followed by dark chocolate. I, and I don’t have a, you know, I don’t have an ethnic one, like Italian or, or Tex-Mex or something like that. But my favorite food is pizza and I love dark chocolate. And then in clothes, I go through really casual Western attire.
Patricia McLinn [02:40] Do you have cowboy boots?
Barbara McMahon [02:42] Absolutely.
Patricia McLinn [02:43] Absolutely. Okay. What is your favorite color?
Barbara McMahon [02:46] Blue. Dark blue. I have nine dark blue T-shirts. I can go weeks without ever wearing another color.
Patricia McLinn [02:55] Well, how did that start?
Barbara McMahon [02:57] I have no idea. I have always liked blue, and I like all the shades, but I really like navy. And so, you know, anytime I go somewhere, and there are navy blue T-shirts on sale, I buy them. And then I realized the other day, cause I do laundry once a week, that, oh my gosh, how long could I go with nine shirts and never wear another color? Probably infinitely.
Pre-author jobs: guide for blind skiers, flight attendant, VP of software firm
Patricia McLinn [03:19] My next question is, what surprising jobs you’ve held.
Barbara McMahon [03:23] One you may not know about is I was a guide for blind skiers.
Patricia McLinn [03:28] I didn’t know that.
Barbara McMahon [03:30] Yep. I had to go through training.
Patricia McLinn [03:31] When did you do that?
Barbara McMahon [03:32] It was several years ago, actually, shortly after I had done several, I fell and injured my knee, and I haven’t been able to go skiing again, but I did it for one season, and it was a lot of fun. And, um, mostly I had kids, teenagers that were blind and special programs would bring them up to the snow, and then our group would guide them.
Patricia McLinn [03:52] So you should tell people where you live in general.
Barbara McMahon [03:55] Oh, I live in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, not too far from Lake Tahoe.
Patricia McLinn [04:00] So she has lots of, lots of opportunities to, to have the snow to ski.
Barbara McMahon [04:04] Absolutely.
Patricia McLinn [04:06] That’s cool.
Barbara McMahon [04:07] I have snow at home too.
Patricia McLinn [04:08] So I have to ask you if, then I have to ask you a related question to get the answer I want.
Barbara McMahon [04:13] Okay.
Patricia McLinn [04:14] Uh, what other day jobs have you held?
Barbara McMahon [04:16] I was a flight attendant during the Vietnam War, and then I ended up being a vice-president of a software development firm before I quit to write full-time.
Patricia McLinn [04:25] And did you want to do those jobs? I mean, did you always want to be a writer and you were doing those other jobs to support yourself, or were those the jobs you had hoped to have and then you went naahh.
Barbara McMahon [04:37] No, I actually have been writing since I was a teenager, and we had a “quote,” a literary magazine at my high school, and I used to write for that. And then a friend of mine and I would spend our summers writing these mysteries and things like that, but I didn’t think of being a professional writer. What I really wanted to do was work in the Foreign Service. Then I, I did a stint as a flight attendant and got to fly all around the world, which I loved, and that was my goal.
Then I ended up getting married, and my then-husband did not want to be a person attached to a foreign person, you know, in a foreign embassy or something like that. His job was in the Bay area, so we stayed here, and I gave up that dream. And then I just worked and worked and, but wrote on the side. And then after I had published several books, I thought, well, I’m just going to quit this other job and write full-time.
Patricia McLinn [05:28] Good for you.
Barbara McMahon [05:29] It’s been fun.
Patricia McLinn [05:30] Good for you. So when was your first book? When was your first?
Barbara McMahon [05:33] Um, 1982.
Patricia McLinn [05:35] And when did you go full-time?
Barbara McMahon [05:36] It must’ve been 1992. So for ten years, I wrote on weekends and sometimes in the evening.
Patricia McLinn [05:44] Do you have a strong fear? And if so, do you use it in your books?
Barbara McMahon [05:48] No. I mean, I don’t like spiders, but I don’t use them in my books. I guess I could, but it’s like, don’t tell people that, I mean, I’m kidding.
Patricia McLinn [05:58] Barbara is very sane. No, no fears, no phobias. I was sorta hoping there’d be a closet one that, that I’d hear about.
Barbara McMahon [06:08] Yes, exactly.
Patricia McLinn [06:09] That I could use against you.
Barbara McMahon [06:10] But, no. Sorry. Sorry to disappoint.
Patricia McLinn [06:12] Okay. Do you have a saying that your mother or father used that you hear yourself saying now?
Barbara McMahon [06:18] Because I said, so that’s why.
Patricia McLinn [06:21] And does it work any better than it worked on you?
Barbara McMahon [06:25] No, not really. And mostly, I can only say to my grandkids, and they are intimidated just a wee bit, but now my, my daughters, they just laugh when I say it.
Patricia McLinn [06:33] Okay. Most writers, now Barbara may be the exception here, have a bad habit word, you know, a word that crops up and, you know, hopefully we know about it and we go back in and check for it, but it, it’s showing up when it should not. I, I have said this over and over. Some of mine, uh, include just and really. Very will show up too. What do you, what’s your bad habit?
Barbara McMahon [07:00] Two. I would say one is just, like you were saying. And at the end of the book, I go back and search on just and eliminate them or change the word sometimes to merely, but mostly eliminate it, because it’s like, Oh my gosh, I said it again. And the other bad habit I have, and it’s not really a word, it’s starting without a subject. You know, just jumping in with the, the phrase that includes the verb and going forward. And then when you read back, it’s like, well, that’s very abrupt. So then I’ll add an I or a he or she or something like that.
Patricia McLinn [07:32] Oh, that’s interesting. I have a tendency to use the phrase, um, it was not dadadada, it was… Which actually is harder to search for because it has the variable in the middle of it.
Barbara McMahon [07:47] Uh, yeah.
Patricia McLinn [07:48] So I, I get a lot of, it was nots that I wanted, but they can’t find this other phrase without going through the, it was nots. So, I have multiple bad habits. I have bad habit phrases.
Barbara McMahon [08:02] Oh, I do too. One is the dark of midnight. And I had a, I had a reader who got a whole bunch of my books at one time. And then she wrote me and she said, I really enjoyed them, but do you know, on every book you say, In the dark of midnight? And it was like, Oh no, do I? So I haven’t said, I don’t think I’ve used it once since that reader brought it to my attention, but apparently in six books, I said it.
Patricia McLinn [08:24] That’s terrible though, that now you’re so conscious of it. So there’s probably a spot where it’d be exactly perfect to use it, and you can’t use it.
Barbara McMahon [08:31] I would not let myself use it.
Patricia McLinn [08:34] You told us that the phrase that your, that your folks used and that you now use, how about, do you have a motivational or upbeat quote that you like?
Barbara McMahon [08:42] The one I like best is, I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. It’s from Philippians. And it is one that I have used for many, many years. It gets me through everything.
Patricia McLinn [08:53] That’s, that’s a real foundation—
Barbara McMahon [08:55] Yup.
Movies for a deserted island: Where Eagles Dare, Kelly’s Heroes, and The Sound of Music
Patricia McLinn [08:56] —for you. Okay. What three movies would you take to, with you to this strange desert Island that allows you to play movies?
Barbara McMahon [09:03] Okay. Let me see. You’ll probably laugh at these. One I would take would be, um, Where Eagles Dare, which was a Richard Burton/Clint Eastwood action flick. And another one—
Patricia McLinn [09:15] Ohhh, a World War II—
Barbara McMahon [09:16] —I would— Yes, World War II. And the other one would be Kelly’s Heroes, which was Clint Eastwood, also in World War II. And then the other one I think I would take would be The Sound of Music.
Patricia McLinn [09:26] Well, those are interesting. I was thinking the first two, there’s sort of a theme there of overcoming adversity, certainly, you know, all war—
Barbara McMahon [09:36] Yeah, big odds to overcome.
Patricia McLinn [09:39] Interesting. And then why The Sound of Music?
Barbara McMahon [09:40] I don’t know. It’s so upbeat and cheery. And of course, once you hear those songs, they resonate through your head for days afterwards. That would keep me company on the desert Island.
Patricia McLinn [09:49] So you be off singing the songs.
Barbara McMahon [09:52] That’s right. And dancing around like Julie Andrews did on the hillside. I know you can picture me doing that even in jeans.
Patricia McLinn [09:57] I can, I can, I can very much picture that. Okay. I’m going to ask another kind of strange little question. If your writing were a color, what would it be?
Barbara McMahon [10:10] Well, of course, it would be blue.
Patricia McLinn [10:12] Oh, okay.
Barbara McMahon [10:13] Blue is my happy color and I’m happy when I’m writing, so it would be blue. But it would probably be a light smoky kind of blue, not navy.
Patricia McLinn [10:20] Not navy. Yeah. I can see that. Okay. So where did your story, your love of story come from?
Barbara McMahon [10:28] I can’t remember.
Patricia McLinn [10:29] Do you know?
Barbara McMahon [10:30] I, I, my mom had told me, I started reading when I was about four and I can’t remember ever not reading. And I can remember as a kid, I had a bedtime, I’m not sure kids do these days, but I did. And so I would dutifully go to bed with a flashlight and a book. And as soon as they said goodnight and closed the door, I was under my covers reading.
Patricia McLinn [10:50] Oh, yep.
Barbara McMahon [10:52] So classic for that generation. Don’t you think?
Patricia McLinn [10:55] I did that too.
Barbara McMahon [10:57] Did you?
Patricia McLinn [10:58] Under the covers with a flashlight.
Barbara McMahon [10:58] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [10:59] No, like no adult could see through that.
Barbara McMahon [11:03] Well, I actually—
Patricia McLinn [11:04] Through the sheet.
Barbara McMahon [11:06] I shared a room with my sister and I was afraid the light would wake her up. So that’s why I would go underneath, and you know, and I’m sure you did it too. I’d be up so late, I’d be so tired the next day, but I couldn’t tell anybody why.
Patricia McLinn [11:18] I don’t think they expected anything of me except for being tired the next day, because I’ve long been a night owl.
Barbara McMahon [11:24] Oh.
Patricia McLinn [11:25] So I didn’t have to explain, but the other thing I used to do, I’m the youngest by a bunch. So my older siblings and my parents would be downstairs and I swear all the fun started when I got sent to bed, I’d be sent to bed and all of a sudden, there’s all this laughter downstairs. So I would sneak down. The first half of the stairway—
Barbara McMahon [11:44] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [11:45] —to where, where it opened up into the, into the downstairs room.
Barbara McMahon [11:50] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [11:51] And I’d be there listening. And my mother would say, Are you in bed? And I would pound up the stairs and jump from the landing to the middle of the bed and then say, yesss, like she had no clue what I was doing. So, yeah, I, I don’t think I was cut out to be a spy.
Barbara McMahon [12:17] No, probably not.
Patricia McLinn [12:19] Question from a reader.
Barbara McMahon [12:22] Okay.
What sparked the idea for One Stubborn Cowboy
Patricia McLinn [12:23] She says, Where do your stories come from? I know one author who dreams her stories. Another has a character suddenly taking up residence in her head. So how are your beautiful stories born? I love that. She says the stories are beautiful.
Barbara McMahon [12:38] I will see something and it will spark my imagination. I came out of the grocery store one night, um, and in the handicap parking place was a pickup truck with this really cute cowboy sitting inside behind the wheel. And as I walked by, I saw a wheelchair in the back of the truck. And so right away, I thought that’s gotta be his because whoever else was in the truck is no longer in the truck.
So then I started thinking of an injured cowboy. How would that happen? While he was rodeo cowboy, he got, um, injured being bucked off the bull or something like that. And then it just developed into a whole story, which was One Stubborn Cowboy, one of my first Desires. Another time—
Patricia McLinn [13:20] That’s great.
Barbara McMahon [13:21] Another time I was at the Amador County fair. I live in Amador County, and it’s a rural county. It’s, it’s big on cows and cowboys and things like that. And I was sitting down resting and eating an ice cream cone, because we’d just been walking all over the fairgrounds and this cowboy, of course, with two little girls, I mean, maybe nine months each, one in each arm. They were big enough to sit up by themselves and look around and all, but they looked like they probably weren’t walking much.
And I thought, well, that’s a great idea. What if there’s a single dad with twins. So that was another book, Daddy and Daughters. Another one I got was from a Lacy J Dalton song, which is country music. And, um, I put it back from that. So I get ideas from everywhere and then they just sparked something in my mind.
Patricia McLinn [14:18] Okay. So when you start, you have that idea, then how do you actually start the book? How do you start writing? Do you do work with that idea? Do you outline, do you take notes or do you just start writing and do you start writing at the beginning? Um, or—
Barbara McMahon [14:32] The first couple of books—
Patricia McLinn [14:34] —somewhere that’s not the beginning.
Barbara McMahon [14:35] Unlike you, my dear. Um, some books, I wrote two or three books, um, back in the day, when you had to write a whole book before they would buy it, at least Mills and Boon wouldn’t buy it without the whole book. Then when I started going to contract with just proposals, they insisted on an outline. So then I’d outlined the book and then my editor would say, You never follow this outline, but it’s okay, cause your books turn out okay. But they would insist on the outline every time. So in a way, I have a very vague outline on what’s going to happen, but a lot of it just as I’m typing, it was like, I have this scathingly brilliant idea, and then I add that to it. So, and then I have to go back and lead up to it. So I, I consider myself an outliner that’s a panster.
Patricia McLinn [15:20] So you have to track back—
Barbara McMahon [15:22] Yes.
Patricia McLinn [15:23] —in the, so you’re writing a sequentially, but then you have this scathingly brilliant idea and you have to go back and, and drop in hints and stuff to make it work from the beginning.
Barbara McMahon [15:33] Exactly.
Patricia McLinn [15:34] So you’re sort of, you’re sort of sequential, but you do jump.
Barbara McMahon [15:38] Yeah. So does that make me a hybrid?
Patricia McLinn [15:41] Yes.
Barbara McMahon [15:42] I think so too.
Patricia McLinn [15:43] And now that you are, you are a totally independent author, as am I, has that changed the way you write at all?
Barbara McMahon [15:48] No, because the habit’s in place after eighty-seven books, it’s, it’s hard to change what’s ingrained.
Patricia McLinn [15:54] What’s been the easiest book you’ve written. Can you think of one off the top of your head, out of the eighty-seven, it was just a joy to write?
Barbara McMahon [16:00] It was the One Stubborn Cowboy, and I had a week’s vacation and it was during the time my kids were in school. I wrote solid for one week and got the first draft done. I’ve never before, nor since done that, but that story just flowed like crazy.
Patricia McLinn [16:18] Oh, that’s wonderful.
Barbara McMahon [16:20] But I wish I could do it again.
Patricia McLinn [16:22] I was just thinking that I would love to recapture it. When, then this is a question from a reader. When you finished a book, do you miss the characters? Do you think about them afterwards? And, and if you do, has that ever led to, uh, an additional book about characters?
Barbara McMahon [16:41] It has. Yes. Yes. I miss the characters because I’ve been living with them for months and, you know, I write for a period of time in the morning and then the rest of the day, I’m thinking of what I’m going to write next or doing some research or something like that, about the book.
And, and so I’ve really lived with these people for months, and it’s like a friend that visited and now has gone, and you miss them. And I’ve never done a sequel because of it, but I have then gone back and added epilogues. Just like, Oh, well, let’s just think down the road a bit. And how did these people fair? And so that’s sort of fun—
Patricia McLinn [17:17] Interesting.
Barbara McMahon [17:18] —to go back and see, um, Oh, here we are nine months later and they’re still very happy.
Patricia McLinn [17:24] That’s cool that you add the epilogues. That’s a good idea too.
Barbara McMahon [17:29] Well, it’s, it’s nice because then your book doesn’t necessarily end with, with happy ever after and you wonder, is that true? And then it’s fun to see them later in the, they really, the love has even blossomed more, and they’re just really happy, and that makes me happy too.
Patricia McLinn [17:44] Yeah. Living the life that, that the book’s set up for them. I know you’ve heard me say this before. I often think of my books as not having happily ever afters at the end, they have happy beginnings. Cause what the characters have gone through and learned in the course of the book has taken them from two people who couldn’t have a real committed relationship at the beginning to two people who could have—
Barbara McMahon [18:09] Right.
Patricia McLinn [18:11] —a committed relationship at the end. And so the epilogue then gives you a, a glimpse into that beginning of, of their new life.
Barbara McMahon [18:20] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [18:21] I liked that. I may steal that.
Barbara McMahon [18:23] I’m happy to share.
Patricia McLinn [18:26] Well, thank you. Um, do you have books that are unpublished or half-finished that it just never quite jelled and, but you’ve held onto them?
Barbara McMahon [18:37] I have three historical ones that I wrote back when Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss were so popular. And I actually sent one of those off. And, um, the, I don’t even remember what house it was in, this was down before, this was like in the 1970s. And it came back with this three-page critique, and I didn’t know anything then.
And I said, Sadly, they don’t like my book. Had I known then that an editor doesn’t spend three pages of critiques, if they’re not interested in the book, my whole life could be different now. But I put it away, I put all three away and, um, no, I never did anything with them. And I don’t know. I mean, I still have them, but they’re typed. That was before computers.
Patricia McLinn [19:26] You could get those scanned in.
Barbara McMahon [19:28] Yeah, I could.
Patricia McLinn [19:29] What, what era were they? What historical era?
Barbara McMahon [19:32] Revolutionary War.
Patricia McLinn [19:35] Oh, interesting. My favorite. I really liked that period.
Barbara McMahon [19:40] I do too.
Patricia McLinn [19:41] Which of course is the reason I wrote my historical and 1880s Wyoming. Just spending all my life studying colonial and revolutionary—
Barbara McMahon [19:51] Right.
Patricia McLinn [19:52] —in the US, where I knew the research. No, no, I went to do the harder stuff. But, see, I think there’s a future there for you, Barbara, if this contemporary gig gives out—
Barbara McMahon [20:05] You have a backup.
Patricia McLinn [20:07] —no problem.
Barbara McMahon [20:08] I was a history major in college. And so I thought, well, I’d write about this because, you know, I get to do all this research and all, and after, and I only tried with the one book I had in the meantime had written the others, waiting for the response and, um, and I thought, you know, this takes forever to research and if they’re not, and to buy it, I’m wasting my time. And that’s how I went contemporary. Cause I thought, I know this timeframe. I don’t have to look up, you know, how they dressed or what kind of conveyances they rode in or stuff like that. So yeah, if this ever goes up, I might go back to it. Unlikely.
Researching tools: cattle ranches, fire station, Google Maps and Google Earth
Patricia McLinn [20:39] Let’s talk, let’s talk a little more about research because some people think, well, there’s no research in contemporary cause you’re living the time, but I find there always is every book there’s research. Um, do you like research? Do you do it all before? Do you have, do you have a routine that you follow with the research search?
Barbara McMahon [20:58] I do research. And one reason I like to write cowboy books, and like I said, I live in a rural county, I have a friend who actually owns a cattle ranch, and anytime I have questions, I ask her things. Um, I did a book once for, about a wildfire, which are prevalent in California as you well know. Um—
Patricia McLinn [21:16] Yes.
Barbara McMahon [21:17] —and so I called one of the local fire people, and he spent a long time telling me about the nature of fire and what to expect in the terrain I was picking up and things like that. And my biggest, biggest win has been Google Maps and Google Earth. Because it used to be if I was writing for another location, I would go and get all the travel books I could get from AAA or from the library and read up on everything I could about the topography and the architecture and customs of that area and stuff like that. And now you can go online and actually walk the street practically that your heroine’s going to walk or ride the range.
Barbara McMahon [21:56] I did a, uh, long jump, which is what’s called, um, hot air balloons that go long distances. They’re like contests, you know. And so it was set in Spain. And so I took off in Barcelona and in Google Earth, you can go, you can say how up, about how high above the earth you go. So I went as high as hot air balloons go, and then just went in the direction the balloon would go. And I was able to describe all of what they would have seen.
Patricia McLinn [22:27] Isn’t that amazing.
Barbara McMahon [22:28] I love Google Earth. So yeah, I guess I do research on almost every book, at least some facet of it. And it’s easier when doing the Western ones because I’ve got, um, friends that are in the cattle industry, but you know, I like to do other things too, and there’ll be readers who aren’t enamored with cowboys, and so I try to do rich guys and sexy guys and business tycoons and things like that, too.
Patricia McLinn [22:55] So, do you have a favorite type of character to write about?
Barbara McMahon [22:58] Yeah, I like cowboys.
Patricia McLinn [23:00] There is something about them. When you’re working on a book, do you have a certain routine that you follow?
Barbara McMahon [23:07] Yes, I get up every morning and have breakfast. And then I, some people don’t eat breakfast, so, and then I sit down—
Patricia McLinn [23:15] That’s true.
Barbara McMahon [23:16] —and I work probably from maybe eight or eight-thirty in the morning until about twelve-thirty, and then I go have lunch. And then in the afternoon I do, you know, any research I need to, or other things I, you know, I’m involved, there’s things, I’m a volunteer for different organizations. So I’ll, I’ll do stuff like that. And then the next morning I’ll get up and the same thing.
And I listened to the same classical music I have for twenty-some years, because it’s like when I have on those headphones and that William Tell Overture starts, I go into this zone and the time just flies by.
Patricia McLinn [23:49] That’s such a great piece of music too. I mean, I think we take it for granted because it’s used for commercials—
Barbara McMahon [23:55] Yeah. Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [23:56] —and things like that. I love the pace of it, and I, I listened to a variety of music, but one of the pieces I listened to our, um, theme songs from Errol Flynn movies. And I find the faster the music goes, the faster I type.
Barbara McMahon [24:06] Me too.
Patricia McLinn [24:07] So, when it’s going **Hums a tune** I get a lot of words in. We’re good, we’re going to have to put together a collection of fast-paced, classical music for writers to be productive.
Barbara McMahon [24:21] Oh, that would work. That would be really good.
Patricia McLinn [24:23] So what’s your favorite part of the process, and what do you, what’s the most difficult for you too?
Barbara McMahon [24:29] My favorite part is starting. It’s so hopeful and, and it’s building a picture of the character that I hope the reader sees is as what I see, you know. I have a picture in my mind and I try to describe them, not just physically, but personality-wise as well, so that others will see what I’m envisioning in my head.
And then the middles are hard sometime. I know where I want to go, but it’s like, how do I get there logically, you know, I don’t want, I don’t want something to feel contrived or, or too coincidental or something like that. So, so that part’s probably the hardest for me. And then I sort of slow down at the end because I’m getting ready to say goodbye, and maybe I’m not ready to say goodbye to them yet. And I do slow down a little at the end.
Patricia McLinn [25:15] So is it is the end, your least fav— No you said the middle is kind of your favorite.
Barbara McMahon [25:19] The middle, yeah, that’s my least favorite.
Patricia McLinn [25:21] Do you have tricks to get past that?
Barbara McMahon [25:24] Yeah, sometimes I start mid-book and try to, um, brainstorm other ways to make it fresh and a bit different and unexpected. Sometimes I like to say, can I just make this unexpected, and then go a different way. And so, sometimes I do that, and then if I get the scathingly brilliant idea, then I can include that here. And then I have to go back of course, and lead up to it.
Patricia McLinn [25:44] What, now you’ve written so many books, and you started eighties when, again, as I was, you started when you were a toddler, I’m sure.
Barbara McMahon [25:54] Of course.
Patricia McLinn [25:55] Um, having been a toddler flight attendant, previously.
Barbara McMahon [26:00] Yeah, I was probably—
Patricia McLinn [26:02] Those little three-year-olds walking down the aisle of the plane, telling you to put your seatbelt on.
Barbara McMahon [26:08] That’s right. Oh, you’ve captured the scene perfectly.
Patricia McLinn [26:14] So, but you’ve written these books and, and you’ve had, um, a very career, a very successful career. How do you think you’ve changed as a writer over the years? And have, have you had just one change or has, have you, can you see sort of the ages of Barbara McMahon as an author?
Barbara McMahon [26:36] Well, I started out writing for Harlequin in their London office and they’re a bit more formal in their speech and sentence, um, set up than Americans are. And so I do notice that if I go back and look at earlier books, they seem more, almost literary rather than fast-paced and keep moving so you see what’s happening to the characters. And my more recent books in the last fifteen years or so maybe, um, I think are, are more suited to our lifestyle now, you know, you, you’ve got some fast-paced things going on and then you take a break and that would be probably where someone to put the book down and go cook dinner or something and then come back and pick it up again.
Barbara McMahon [27:17] So, yeah, I definitely see a change, to a degree, not hopefully not too much, but to a degree in that. And since I’ve gone independent, one of the things that Harlequin harps on, bus or sweetheart, is making it very generic because it’s going to be sold to, you know, a gazillion foreign countries and in foreign languages and things like that, so it needs to be very generic, and I feel I can really write more to the American market now that I’m, um, an independently published author, so that it’s a lot more like the lifestyle I lead.
Patricia McLinn [27:51] And more specific, yeah.
Barbara McMahon [27:53] More specific to the United States.
Patricia McLinn [27:56] Yeah, and more specific to the character, I think, often because the character is in the United States, but, um, I used to have those, ahem, discussions with some of my thirty-two editors that I had for my—
Barbara McMahon [28:11] Oh my gosh! Thirty-two? Oh my God.
Patricia McLinn [28:14] Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. And you know, they, they would want things that could apply to anybody. And my point was, but this character isn’t anybody, it’s this specific person.
Barbara McMahon [28:27] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [28:28] So yeah, we were never a great, I was never a great fit there. Um, so that the publisher and I were never a great fit, but those days are past, now we’re Indies.
Barbara McMahon [28:38] And I love the freedom now. I mean, I feel like I can, can write as fast as I want, or as slow as I want. Um, I can write what I want and not write to the market, so to speak, just write what makes me happy and hope it makes people who read it happy.
Patricia McLinn [28:54] That’s interesting. Cause you have even been published, always in romance?
Barbara McMahon [28:58] Yes, always in romance.
Patricia McLinn [29:00] What things do you believe that people think about the romance, um, genre and are sure they know that just isn’t so. In other words, what misconceptions do people have about it?
Barbara McMahon [29:17] I think if people are not already reading romances, they think they’re fluff. And I have a, I was on a nonprofit committee with another woman, and it came up what I did, as a romance author. Uh, I never read those, I read histories. And I’m thinking, they’re genre fiction too. So, so I think the perception is they’re not as in-depth reading, and yet they, more than anything, have universal appeal because you’re going for the assumption, I mean, what’s better than falling in love?
But, but then also you can connect into sadness sometimes or anger or envy. I mean, you can go through all the emotions that everybody feels, and that’s why some people do so well in other countries because it doesn’t matter too much about the situation, they’re touching into those universal feelings that, that we all have. And I think it’s enriching to find out how some people deal with those, even if it is fiction.
Patricia McLinn [30:17] How do you feel when you’re writing about characters who are sad? Do you find that that affects you?
Barbara McMahon [30:23] Oh yeah, I’ll be sad. And I still have some books that if I go back and reread them, I start crying and I wrote the stupid things. So it’s like what in the world, but, but hopefully, the sadness of that situation comes across. And I’m not sure that every book’s an emotional roller coaster, but I think if you have different emotions surface, it makes it a more enriching read rather than just straight through. So I been trying to get just a little bit of difference out of that underlying emotion pain, being falling in love.
Patricia McLinn [30:58] You mentioned emotional roller coaster and my mind immediately went to, um, every book is an emotional roller coaster. For me as I’m writing it. But ups and downs, a lot, a lot of scary turns. So, when you’re writing, um, I know you’re, you’re a little more even keel, but, um, do you celebrate different, do celebrate beginning a book or ending a book or having it be published?
Barbara McMahon [31:28] Sad to say I no longer do, but in the early days, every time I’d get a new contract, my husband would take me out to dinner and we’d celebrate. And then, then when I finished a book, we’d go out to dinner and celebrate and, and then after awhile it became like, Okay, they bought another book, but I’m busy, I can’t go out to dinner. And then we just, after a while it’s like, okay, well this is your life. This is not an extraordinary thing anymore. It’s, I mean, I’m blessed to be able to write this long, but in my own lifestyle now it’s not an extraordinary thing. So no, we don’t celebrate as much as we used to.
Authors are people too
Patricia McLinn [32:04] Well, that’s a, that’s an interesting point though, about the, this is your life. And I think, um, sometimes people meeting writers, uh, think we have these very different lives from, from other people. And I will often post on Facebook or Twitter about, you know, taking leaves out of the gutter. Oh yes, the glamorous author life, you know. But do you think that writers view the world differently from other people or approach things different? Are we, are we that, are we different? I guess.
Barbara McMahon [32:45] I think we’re different. When I have spoken to groups, they always ask, where do you get your ideas? Always. I have yet to meet another writer who asks me that. And I think the difference is, we have more ideas in our head then we will ever live long enough to write. And people who are not writers don’t. And so, yeah, I think that makes us different. It was a gift that we were given than other people were given other gifts to, you know, to do in their lives. And that was a gift given to us.
And, you know, I love to, like, if we go to Disneyland, I’ll sit out with the grandkids so I can watch people walk by. I like that kind of stuff. If I’m riding on the train, I eavesdrop on the people talking just to hear, you know what they’re talking about, how they’re saying things, trying to guess what might come next. That kind of analytical kind of stuff maybe, and my friends don’t do that, my non-writing friends don’t do that. So yeah, I do believe we see the world differently.
Patricia McLinn [33:41] Yeah. Barb, I’ve said this in some other, um, talks that I’m an eavesdropper. Uh, and when I go like to a restaurant with other authors, sometimes there’s this sort of scrambled to get in the best spot to either eavesdrop or watch the whole room or the, or the super-duper, the, the double, daily double is to have a place where you can do both. And Barbara is one of the authors that I wrestle with who’s going to sit in the best spot. Try to get to the good chair first.
And you can tell there’ll be a group of authors at a meal. And, and we tend, because we spend a lot of time alone, um, when we do get together, there’s a lot of talking and then all of a sudden there’ll be this lull, and you know, there’s a good conversation going on at a nearby table and everybody’s mentally taking notes.
Patricia McLinn [34:41] So, okay. Here’s a question from a reader. You actually answered kind of one reader’s question about where your stories come from. So we’ve covered that, but what is your favorite place to write? Does it have an inspirational view, and why is that your favorite spot to write in?
Barbara McMahon [34:58] My computer is set up by a window. I live in the Sierra Nevada mountains, so when I look out, all I see is trees. And to me, that is peaceful and serene and tranquil, and I really like it. Sometimes in the fall, the, um, some of the needles, not all of them, but some of them fall, especially from the fir trees and they’re gold, they turn gold. And so if they’re falling in the sunshine it’s just like golden snow almost falling down. Of course you only have to blow the driveway cause they make a terrible mess. But, yes—
Patricia McLinn [35:29] The glamorous life of a writer, right?
Barbara McMahon [35:32] Exactly. But while they’re falling, they’re gorgeous. And you know, I got my desk by the window and I’m just there every day. And again, you slip in front of the computer, you put on the earphones with the same old music I’ve been listening to for decades, and you just zone out and write. And I have tried taking my laptop out on my deck. I’d have even a wider view, but, but no, it doesn’t work.
Patricia McLinn [35:56] Oh, really? You, you can’t work out on the, on the deck?
Barbara McMahon [36:00] And I’m sure some of it, and maybe it would work, because now I’m thinking about it, I have, when we’ve had a power outage or something up here for a long duration, I have gone to the library and been able to work there, but I also think I miss my music and listen to it while I’m working.
Patricia McLinn [36:18] Yeah, I do think that. Maybe authors in particular are, um, trainable, like Pavlov’s dogs, you know, that we, we get certain cues and when, if we’re smart, we create those cues so that we can get back into the writing mode.
Barbara McMahon [36:33] I absolutely agree. I mean, I just consider that my training over, you know, I’ve been doing this for thirty-some years and that’s what works and, and I do often say I’m like Pavlov’s dog. You know, I put the earphones, I can’t hear the phone. Don’t answer the phone. Um, my husband knows not to come up and talk to me when I’ve got earphones on. And, um, and then between writing books, I do editing of course, before I’m ready to release it and I don’t listen to the music then. Um, and so it’s a different mindset in a different way of working. And then when I’m ready to start creating again, I go back into the same mode.
Patricia McLinn [37:11] Yeah. I find when I’m editing, even if. I, I, I’m listening to the words, at least in my head from, you know, from when they’re on the page, when I’m writing, I’m listening to the voices in my head.
Barbara McMahon [37:23] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [37:24] If that—
Barbara McMahon [37:25] Yeah, it does.
The freedom of self-publishing and Play-Doh covers
Patricia McLinn [37:26] —makes sense. Yeah. So you do your books tend to, once you, you start, you have the idea. Well, you’ve said you’ll have scathingly bright, brilliant ideas during, so do they tend to, to change a lot from the start, from your conception to what they end up as?
Barbara McMahon [37:42] They don’t change a lot, but often the ending will be different. And, um, and it’s like, you know, this is what I envision right now today. And as I get into the stories and, and, you know, develop the characters and, and come up with these other things to make them distinctive, and it says, Oh, well, he really wouldn’t do that kind of thing. And so then I’ll slightly change it, which then ripples through and goes all the way to the end. So the basic concept is there from start to finish, but yeah, I will often have the different ending than originally anticipated. I say it used to drive my editor nuts, but, but she knew, I mean, she never asked me to go back and change it like I had it on the outline, and now I don’t have to answer to anybody but me, and so I can make the change whenever I want.
Patricia McLinn [38:29] I don’t know if the listeners, um, can get the visual of when you’re saying you don’t have to answer to anybody but you, and probably on both ends of this call, there are authors going taladadada dancing around the room. Don’t have to answer anybody else. Uh, following up on the stories whether they changed from conception to publication, have you had any that really surprised you?
Barbara McMahon [38:56] No. I don’t think so. I don’t know what you mean by really surprised me.
Patricia McLinn [39:01] So you have, it sounds like you have a pretty good grasp on what the story is at the beginning. Some of us don’t.
Barbara McMahon [39:09] Oh, no. Yes. I’ve heard about writers like that. I can’t fathom—
Patricia McLinn [39:16] And you love us.
Barbara McMahon [39:17] I do. I do, but I can’t fathom how that works. I’m very linear. I start at the beginning and go to the end. The, the road there might veer slightly and have a different ending, but it’s still pretty beginning to end.
Patricia McLinn [39:31] Okay. I love you despite that so, we’ll forgive you. Here’s a question from a reader that will, I think, take you back to your traditionally published days. When the cover image doesn’t match the character description, a pet peeve of mine says this reader, how does it feel?
Barbara McMahon [39:53] Oh my gosh, I hated it. We have, as, when I worked for another publisher, all of those that I worked for, we had these elaborate fill out the cover detail sheets. I mean, there were pages long, and they asked, what color are their eyes? Who cares, you can’t see the eyes anyway, and they’d ask you the hair color and like, what do they look like? And what are they wearing? And where’s this—
Patricia McLinn [40:15] What jewelry they wore.
Barbara McMahon [40:16] —then it’d be something totally different. And you think, what in the world is that? And it wouldn’t match anything. And it’s like, I spent hours doing this form that you had, that was several pages long. And it’s like, Well, put that one aside and let’s go with this one. And, yeah, it used to drive me too. Pet peeve, hmm, yeah, I think so. Did I, was I, too strong? I used to drive me nuts!
Patricia McLinn [40:41] It does. It is a crazy method.
Barbara McMahon [40:43] I have to tell you this one. I did this one story and, um, I had the guy be blond, and the hair came back on the cover, looking like Play-Doh like yellow Play-Doh, and I never have had a blond hero ever since I said, if this is what they do with the blond, they’re dark from now on.
Patricia McLinn [41:03] Oh, but now see, I get to challenge you to have a blond hero, now that you’re an independent, and see what you come up with, I bet you come up with something that is not Play-Doh. For readers who are, who might be new to you, where, what are a couple books that you would say would be a good place to start reading you?
Barbara McMahon [41:25] I don’t know. I have eighty-seven favorites, so narrowing down all these children to one or two is really hard, but maybe one that I was really fond of was The Rancher’s Bride. And it was a modern-day marriage of convenience story for older people. He already had a grown son and I have like two stories going in it. His, the, the heroes love affair, and then his son’s love affair. I liked that one a lot.
Patricia McLinn [41:53] Oh, nice.
Barbara McMahon [41:54] And then another one that I liked a lot was Angel of Smoky Hollow, and it was, uh, a burnt out violinist from New York Philharmonic, goes down to Kentucky of all places and learns to play bluegrass. And there’s more to the story than that—
Patricia McLinn [42:12] Cool.
Barbara McMahon [42:13] —but I thought that was a nice story.
Patricia McLinn [42:15] Well, and those, those are good stories for new readers to be introduced to, to your works. That’s great. Uh, how about, um, even with your most loyal readers, and I know you have a lot of really loyal readers, there must be a book or two that maybe you think has been overlooked a little bit, that isn’t as well known by your, by your loyal readership as others. Do you have those hidden gems?
Barbara McMahon [42:44] Actually, none come to mind. Pretty much, pretty much, they all seem to sell, you know, within a range of each other. I haven’t had any that, that nobody’s ever read or never has gone anywhere.
Patricia McLinn [42:58] Okay. Well, we’ll leave, maybe we’ll leave that question open. If any of your readers have books they want to nominate and say are one of Barbara’s hidden gems—
Barbara McMahon [43:07] I’d love that.
Patricia McLinn [43:08] —they don’t think has gotten as much attention as, as the stories deserve.
Barbara McMahon [43:13] That would be really interesting to see. I like that idea.
Patricia McLinn [43:17] What’s coming up. What’s well, what’s your most, really most recent release. Let’s start with that.
Barbara McMahon [43:22] I had a novella out in December called The Cowboy’s Special Christmas. And a year ago I did A Soldier’s Christmas, and I’m trying to start a new deal of every year having a novella out at Christmas and, um, so I’ve got two down and hopefully quite a few more to go. And then, um—
Rocky Point series and Christmas novellas and more cowboys
Patricia McLinn [43:43] And will you do it like a different occupation each year?
Barbara McMahon [43:45] Yes. I’ve already thought of the one for 2018. He’s going to be a doctor from Doctors Without Borders. So, it’ll be the Doctor’s Christmas or the Doctor’s Hometown Christmas, but you know, something they’ll have Christmas and doctor in it for the title. I don’t have the title yet, but, um, yeah, I’ve already got the idea for the hero for that one. And then, um, I have, I did a series of Christian inspirational books called Rocky Point, Maine, and I have the latest, one of that one that’s due out in the spring called Rocky Point Inn. It’s about an innkeeper and the, she’s, she’s watching, her best friend died and she’s watching her daughter until the best friend’s estranged brother shows up to claim the daughter. And you can imagine if the sister and brother were estranged, how close that family wasn’t.
Patricia McLinn [44:32] Yeah. And when will that be early out?
Barbara McMahon [44:35] Probably April, but maybe as late as May.
Patricia McLinn [44:38] And are you working on something else for, for past that? Do you have something else in mind?
Barbara McMahon [44:43] Yes, I have, um, uh, cowboy series. Cowboys again. Um, one is The Reluctant Cowboy. One is The Cynical Cowboy, things like that. It’s an eight-book series of brothers and cousins that, um, live on or around this ranch in Wyoming. I’m going to Wyoming too. I love Wyoming. I love your book set in Wyoming.
Patricia McLinn [45:02] When are you going to Wyoming?
Barbara McMahon [45:04] Oh gosh, I haven’t been there in years. I need to go again.
Patricia McLinn [45:08] Oh, okay. Yes. Oh, you meant you were going to Wyoming in your books?
Barbara McMahon [45:11] In my book? No.
Patricia McLinn [45:13] Yeah, it’s great.
Barbara McMahon [45:15] One of my favorite states.
Patricia McLinn [45:18] And where is your ranch set? Where in Wyoming is it?
Barbara McMahon [45:22] Near South Pass.
Patricia McLinn [45:24] Okay. That’s an area I have not been in very much, actually, haven’t been in at all. I’ve been, so I still have much more of the state to explore. Road trip.
Barbara McMahon [45:34] I know, I know. Isn’t that fun. And I haven’t been there in a while. We should go back. I should talk my husband into going back.
Patricia McLinn [45:39] It would be a lot of fun.
Barbara McMahon [45:41] It would be.
Patricia McLinn [45:42] Okay. And so tell readers where they can find out more about you and about your books.
Barbara McMahon [45:47] Okay. I do have a website, barbaramcmahon.com. And, um, I have books on all platforms from Amazon to Google, to Kobo, Apple, Nook, all of those. And, um, I have a readers list. If they want to sign up, they can go to my website, and there’s a signup place there. And I’ll send you information when new books are coming out.
Patricia McLinn [46:08] That’s great. Is there anything, this is my, my favorite journalism question, is there anything I haven’t asked you that I should have?
Barbara McMahon [46:16] Oh my gosh, I don’t think so.
Patricia McLinn [46:18] Okay. Then we’re going to go to the rapid-fire epilogue questions. You have to say, you have to pick one or the other.
Barbara McMahon [46:25] Okay.
Patricia McLinn [46:26] And we’ll start with appetizer or dessert?
Barbara McMahon [46:29] Dessert.
Patricia McLinn [46:30] Binge watch or make the watching last as long as possible?
Barbara McMahon [46:34] Make the watching lasts as long as possible.
Patricia McLinn [46:37] Oh, you drag it out. Do you? Okay. Cake or ice cream?
Barbara McMahon [46:41] Chocolate cake.
Patricia McLinn [46:43] Day or night?
Barbara McMahon [46:45] Day.
Patricia McLinn [46:47] Toenail polish or bare toenails?
Barbara McMahon [46:50] Bare toenails.
Patricia McLinn [46:51] Dog or cat?
Barbara McMahon [46:52] Dog.
Patricia McLinn [46:53] Tea or coffee?
Barbara McMahon [46:54] Tea.
Patricia McLinn [46:58] Now that was a tough one for you.
Barbara McMahon [47:00] Well, I like lattes, but they’re mostly milk.
Patricia McLinn [47:03] Cruise or backpacking?
Barbara McMahon [47:07] Backpacking.
Patricia McLinn [47:09] Sailboat or motorboat?
Barbara McMahon [47:11] Motorboat.
Patricia McLinn [47:12] Which is eerier to you, an owl hooting or coyotes howling?
Barbara McMahon [47:17] Hmm. I guess the owl.
Patricia McLinn [47:19] Mustard or ketchup?
Barbara McMahon [47:21] Mustard.
Patricia McLinn [47:22] Best China or paper plates?
Barbara McMahon [47:24] Paper plates.
Patricia McLinn [47:26] Save the best for last or grab the best first?
Barbara McMahon [47:30] Save the best for last, especially if it’s dessert.
Patricia McLinn [47:35] On that note, we’ll wrap up. I will say, thank you so much to Barbara for, for joining us this week. Hope you all have a great week of reading and we’ll come back to Authors Love Readers next week. Bye.
Barbara McMahon [47:53] Bye. Thank you.
Patricia McLinn [48:01] That’s the show for this week. Hope you enjoyed it. And thank you for joining Authors Love Readers podcast. Remember, you can always find out more about our guest authors in the show notes, and you can find out more about me, at www.patriciamclinn.com. You can also send in questions to be asked of future authors at email@example.com
Until next week. Wishing you lots of happy reading. Bye.
Patricia Lewin writes contemporary suspense and romance novels. She’s published 11 novels and is currently writing Out of the Woods about her favorite character, Erin Baker.
In this discussion with host Patricia McLinn, Pat shares her love of storytelling, her favorite books and authors, and how locations in her life are relevant to her stories.
* Twitter and
Thank you to DialogMusik for the instrumentals that accompany this podcast!
Transcript: Authors Love Readers with Patricia Lewin
Patricia McLinn [00:00] Hi, welcome to this week’s Authors Love Readers podcast where we delve into the stories behind the stories. We’re asking authors questions, some of them fun, some of them serious. And from their answers, you’re going to learn things you never knew about the people who write the stories you love. My name is Patricia McLinn. I’m your host and designated question asker.
Patricia Lewin [00:23] Hi, I’m Patricia Lewin and I’m an author who loves readers.
Patricia McLinn [00:27] Now. Let’s start the show. Hello and welcome to this edition of the Authors Love Readers podcasts. Our guest this time is Patricia Lewin. I had to hesitate because she’s also known as Patricia Keelyn, and Patricia, who I will probably slip and call Pat at some point, maybe throughout, is one of my best writing buddies one of my longest term writing buddies too. We met, shall I say the real year?
Patricia Lewin [00:59] Well, I don’t know which is worse, saying the real year or how long ago it was.
Patricia McLinn [01:05] We were both toddlers. It was, it was my very first Romance Writers of America conference in Boston, and I had sold my first book but it hadn’t come out yet. It was 1989. And it was standing in line to register for the hotel. She claims she doesn’t remember, she forgot me. But I remember. So we have known each other all this time, ups and downs, few tragedies here and there, lots of good news, lots of fun times and changing our writing too, we both have ventured in different ways.
Patricia McLinn [01:54] So this is going to be an interesting conversation because, as I said, she has two names. That’s because she’s writing two things. Patricia Lewin is doing thrillers. And Patricia Keelyn has the romance, and where Patricia, Pat started her writing. So to get us started, get us loosey-goosey here, we’re going to do some quick, quirky questions.
What are some surprising jobs you’ve held, Pat?
Pre-author days: chemistry lab for frozen potatoes and IBM programmer
Patricia Lewin [02:22] Well, um, surprising I worked in a chemistry lab as a chemical lab technician. I was a little different, um—
Patricia McLinn [02:30] Did you blow anything up?
Patricia Lewin [02:32] No, it was, it was for a potato, a frozen potato company. It was a long time ago, and we did testing to make sure that there were no chemicals in the frozen products. Um, it was a lot of fun actually.
Patricia McLinn [02:45] You didn’t blow up any frozen potatoes? Oh, what an opportunity.
Patricia Lewin [02:48] Wouldn’t that have been a mess? Yeah, but um, but I only did that for a short time, but my main job before writing was that I work for IBM as a programmer computer program. And also surprising or not.
Patricia McLinn [03:03] Well it is I think it is a little bit surprising because a lot of authors come from teaching, few number of us from journalism, there are a fair number of escaped lawyers, but not so much from the computer world. So that’s interesting. Okay, do you have a childhood book that addicted you to stories?
Patricia Lewin [03:25] Yes, the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley.
Patricia McLinn [03:30] Oh, oh, I love those.
Patricia Lewin [03:32] I could not get enough of them and my, I started with those, um. I have three older sisters, and one of them, I’m sure I was annoying her, she took me to the library to get rid of me and took me to the section of the book, the kids store, and that’s where I found the Black Stallion, and she never had to worry about getting rid of me after that because books worked.
Patricia McLinn [03:55] That’s, and that’s a great series. And a lot of people don’t know as a whole series that it wasn’t just the first book.
Patricia Lewin [04:01] Oh, yeah, and nothing in for a while after reading that is a kid, and I’ve actually gone through this with kids I know now, nothing was ever as good for quite a while after that.
Patricia McLinn [04:13] You know, there’s a whole series of books like Misty of Chincoteague and—
Patricia Lewin [04:18] I read those too.
Patricia McLinn [04:20] By Marguerite Henry. Yes. She was from the little town in, Illinois that was next to my little town in Illinois.
Patricia Lewin [04:26] Really?
Patricia McLinn [04:27] Yeah.
Patricia Lewin [04:28] That was, that series was part of my search to find something as good as Black Stallion. And what was the other one though? The black race horse? What was it Black Beauty. Black Beauty wasn’t as good either. Be interesting to read them as adults and see what I think of them now.
Patricia McLinn [04:45] I don’t know if I want to read them as an adult because I want to hold on to that feeling and especially as adult writers because it can make it harder to read books, purely as readers.
Patricia Lewin [04:59] That’s true.
Patricia McLinn [04:50] So I may not look at them again. But, okay. Did you ever have a story from your pre-author days that you rewrote the ending at least in your head because it didn’t end right?
Patricia Lewin [05:13] The Black Stallion. Are you detecting a theme here?
Patricia McLinn [05:18] Yeah.
Patricia Lewin [05:20] I really do not remember because it was a long time ago. How I rewrote the end but the ending bug me, and I didn’t want it to end that way. So that’s why I rewrote the ending myself.
Patricia McLinn [05:33] And do you think that led you a toward being a writer?
Patricia Lewin [05:38] Possibly. I mean I started becoming a little obsessed with it at that point. I don’t think is as a kid it ever occurred to me that I could actually write as a profession, but that was the first experience I had with writing and then moved into other stuff when I was in high school there was different too.
Patricia McLinn [05:55] You know, Pat, most authors, at least this is my theories, have a bad habit word. Often they use it all the time and have to take out. So what’s yours
Patricia Lewin [06:07] You want mine now or my original one when I first started writing—
Patricia McLinn [06:11] I want both.
Patricia Lewin [06:12]—my first start, my first books I wrote, I was the queen of should’ves and would’ves and could’ves.
Patricia McLinn [06:19] Ohhh.
Patricia Lewin [06:20] Yes, and I had a critique partner who at that point was very vocally pointed out to me that that was incorrect. There was no should’ves, would’ves, and could’ves, but then later on, I moved into— I’m very good with the words still and yet. She did something still … or yet. So now to this day, I still have to go, still have to go and find some of those words and pull them out because I tend to go crazy with them.
Patricia McLinn [06:52] Oh, that’s it. That’s really interesting. One of mine is really.
Patricia Lewin [06:55] Really?
Patricia McLinn [06:56] I have to I do—
Patricia Lewin [06:57] Really?
Patricia McLinn [06:58]—search and replace or search and delete it’s— Yep. And very and just—
Patricia Lewin [07:00] Yes.
Patricia McLinn [07:01]—when I’m trying to intensify it’s the really and the very. And when I’m trying to diminish it’s the just, and you know, you just have, you just, there I go, you have to use the strong enough for the right, the right word for the situation and not rely on those crutches.
Patricia Lewin [07:21] That’s true.
Patricia McLinn [07:21] I like my crutches.
Patricia Lewin [07:23] But still.
Patricia McLinn [07:24] Yes, but still and yet.
Patricia Lewin [07:28] And yet. Yes.
Movies for a deserted island: Avatar, Lord of the Rings series, and Aliens
Patricia McLinn [07:29] Okay, what three movies would you take with you to a desert island that somehow let you play movies.
Patricia Lewin [07:35] Oh my gosh, Pat and I are going to disagree on these so much.
Patricia McLinn [07:40] yeah, we’re gonna be on different Islands.
Patricia Lewin [07:42] I know. Different Islands. Um, Avatar. Can I say the whole Lord of the Rings series?
Patricia McLinn [07:51] Oh, that sneaky.
Patricia Lewin [07:53] Yes, and this is one Pat really isn’t going to like, Aliens the second one. Not the first one. Aliens.
Patricia McLinn [08:01] Yeah, we’re on different move, different islands.
Patricia Lewin [08:03] But we’ve known that for a long time.
Patricia McLinn [08:05] Yes, we have. Yes, we have. Okay, I’m gonna ask you one more. On your … you’re right-handed.
Patricia Lewin [08:12] Yes.
Patricia McLinn [08:13] On your right hand, is your ring finger or your index finger longer?
Patricia Lewin [08:19] My index finger. Well, no. It depends on how I twist the fing— My ring finger.
Thrillers written under Patricia Lewin name, such as Blind Run
Patricia McLinn [08:24] Okay. I’m just curious that it has no significance that I know of. I’m just curious. All right. Now we’re going to talk about some, some more about the, about writing in your works and your books. What’s the easiest book you’ve written? That it was just a joy to write.
Patricia Lewin [08:44] Probably Blind Run.
Patricia McLinn [08:48] Okay. And that’s the first of your thrillers?
Patricia Lewin [08:50] First of my thrillers is a stand alone. Although I have gotten so much feedback about having a sequel and I did set it up for a sequel. But it—
Patricia McLinn [09:00] Including feedback from, oh, somebody else who might be on this podcast, maybe?
Patricia Lewin [09:06] Possibly. Have you told me that I need a sequel? A lot of the, I mean—
Patricia McLinn [09:10] I’ve told you that.
Patricia Lewin [09:11] I actually set it up for a sequel, and I wanted, I plan to write it the sequel, right after writing Blind Run. I had it all plotted at that point, and my publisher at that time didn’t want the sequel, they wanted something completely different.
Patricia Lewin [09:32] But as far as the writing goes, Blind Run came fairly easy easily to me. I had, it was just something I wanted to write thrillers so bad that it just kind of came.
Romances, such as Keeping Katie, written under Patricia Keelyn name
Patricia McLinn [09:38] Mmm, and at that point, how many romances had you published?
Patricia Lewin [09:42] Nine.
Patricia McLinn [09:44] Do you think that, that we— Do you feel like you were always meant to write thrillers?
Patricia Lewin [09:50] Yes, I do. I think that that is, I enjoy writing romance, and I enjoy, I enjoy reading romance more than I enjoy writing romance, but the suspense came, comes easier to me than the actual writing of action and with some emotional components obviously, but the actual tension and everything suspense comes much easier to me than the, the tension in a romance.
Patricia McLinn [10:18] What do you think people who ask you about writing romance and writing thrillers? What do they get wrong about, the, about the different approaches to the two different genres?
Patricia Lewin [10:35] The different approaches to both romances and thrillers?
Patricia McLinn [10:40] Yeah. I’m just, I’m thinking that there’s probably expectations from readers about how a romance author might attack a thriller and, and then go back to a romance. How, how you would shift gears and I’m wondering if those expectations are right, or if you think it’s what your experience has been.
Patricia Lewin [11:06] To me, they are two separate ways of thinking when I’m writing, and I’m not sure I’m answering your question the way you want. It’s, one is the focus, in a romance, the focus is on the relationship and on the love story and you can trickle in some suspense, which I tended to do in my later romances, was there’s always the more romantic suspense lite, LITE than heavy romantic suspense.
Patricia Lewin [11:26] Whereas the suspense or thriller is almost the exact opposite. All the focus is on, you know, the bad stuff and you in the more if you can put an emotional component with that that, that makes the suspense of the thriller stronger. I mean there are very successful thriller writers who write just straight action and that’s not me. I need to add that component, that emotional component. And I actually think that writing romance first helped me write better suspense, because I can’t completely get away from the emotional component of the characters.
Patricia McLinn [12:17] So it made makes you go deeper into your characters in the thrillers.
Patricia Lewin [12:23] Right. You’d asked me earlier somewhere about my favorite quotes and just made me think of one. Michael Haig says about, that all story is about emotion whether it is the sweetest romance or the most hardcore thriller or science fiction story. And I think he’s right. If your characters don’t feel, whether it’s just fear or whether it’s love, they have to feel something, and I think writing romance, helped me to put elements of emotion into my suspense whether they are fear or whether they are love. Does that make any sense?
Patricia McLinn [13:01] Yes. You said that you said that it was a different way of thinking. Do you find if you’re, that your mood or how you’re feeling about things Is affected by what you’re writing?
Patricia Lewin [13:16] You mean affects the genre that I want to write in or just affects the writing in general?
Patricia McLinn [13:21] No, affects your writing. Say you’re writing a thriller, are you then in a, in a different kind of mind frame because you’re writing a thriller from what you might be when you’re writing a romance? In other words, which one should I wait for you to be writing before I call up and ask a favor?
Patricia Lewin [13:42] No, I don’t think, I don’t think that my mood affects which of the genres that I want to write in. My mood is actually there I can write.
Patricia McLinn [13:51] I was asking the opposite, whether the genre affects your mood.
Patricia Lewin [13:55] No, I don’t think so.
Patricia McLinn [13:56] Okay.
Patricia Lewin [13:57] Sorry.
Patricia McLinn [13:58] You even keel people you. So when, when you published your first book— When your first book got published, and Pat started out in traditional publishing, as did I. How— Did that change your writing process at all?
Patricia Lewin [14:17] It did quite a bit. I was working at IBM when I wrote my first book. Actually, I wrote three books before I sold one, and I was working at IBM. So I was writing on weekends and on lunch hours, and instead of going on vacations. I would write so it was constant and a month after or a month before my very first book came out, I left IBM. It was a variety of circumstances, it was not because I thought I was finally going to be able to support myself writing one book. But then, so then, suddenly I had to write full-time, and it was, it was a transition to suddenly go from writing in every available moment to having time.
Patricia Lewin [15:09] And at first it worked because I had a very insightful young editor, who threw a contract out on at me and said we have a slot open, but you have got to write this book in eight weeks and I don’t think I can do that now, but I did it then so it got me into the process of, of setting up my time, you know so many hours a day, although I actually I do page counts. How many page counts a day? So that’s what happened
Patricia McLinn [15:34] And you still do that. How many page count, pages—
Patricia Lewin [15:36] I’m not as good as I used to be. There’s a lot more distractions now. It’s easier the, what I found over time, it’s easier to get distracted, and it’s easier not to have a steady rhythm when you have all day.
Patricia McLinn [15:54] Mmm, that’s true.
Patricia Lewin [15:55] And there are people that are extremely good at that. I am good at it in spots. Sometimes I, you know, can go every day and write whatever my page count is, and sometimes I can’t.
Patricia McLinn [16:08] What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
Patricia Lewin [16:11] Oh, I love story building. Story building and creating, creating worlds and connections and people and, and scenarios. I love story building.
Patricia McLinn [16:22] So is that necessarily before you start writing, or is that while you’re writing as well?
Patricia Lewin [16:28] Both, I start off beforehand. You know, I have this whole thing going on in my head, and then the story building goes on as I write. And on the flip side, the hardest thing for me is the actual putting words on paper. Well, not a paper, on the screen, because I’m bit of a wordsmith, and so I sit there and fuss, you know, over sentences or paragraphs instead of just getting the story out. The story’s all in my head, you know, but it’s a little harder for me to actually, you know, get the words in the screen.
Patricia McLinn [17:11] And then how does that affect your editing? So if you’re, if you’re fussing word-by-word in the draft process, are you pretty well set when you go to edit?
Patricia Lewin [17:24] Yes. Yes. I’m, I’m pretty close to a first draft writer, meaning by the time I get done with the book, it is pretty close to being finished. I do go through, of course, again. And when I was writing for traditional publishers, they went through it several times. And I always had to do some revisions, but the book is the actual writing and everything is pretty clean when I get it done, um, the first draft. Now, there may be structural issues sometimes or planning problems more of those than there are actual craft issues.
Patricia McLinn [18:01] Have you ever edited something out of a book or, or had something edited out, that you still mourn?
Mourning character names in Once a Wife and It’s a New World
Patricia Lewin [18:08] A character name.
Patricia McLinn [18:11] Oh.
Patricia Lewin [18:12] I, my—
Patricia McLinn [18:13] A character name.
Patricia Lewin [18:15] —Um, in my book, Once a Wife, which I think was my third. Give me a sec, I think it was my third, third book.
Patricia McLinn [18:23] And it’s, and it’s back out now.
Patricia Lewin [18:25] It’s back out now and actually. Since I thought about this question, I thought, Oh, maybe I can go back and change this now. My character and my editor told me years later that this was in her opinion the best of my books, my romances.
Patricia Lewin [18:40] The character is half Shoshone Indian and she was raised on a reservation and her, I picked her name as a shy name. It was Kya, KYA, and when I submitted it, the senior editor, not my editor, but her boss, told me that I couldn’t use that name because it sounded too romancey. This is a romance, right?
Patricia McLinn [19:05] Yeah. Yeah.
Patricia Lewin [19:06] So for all the editing process, I had to change her name, change it to Sarah, which is a little standard romance author, a romance character name, but I could not stop thinking of her as Kya because that’s what she was to me through the whole process of writing the book, but I thought—
Patricia McLinn [19:26] That—
Patricia Lewin [19:27] Go ahead.
Patricia McLinn [19:28] I was just going to say I have a similar story.
Patricia Lewin [19:29] Okay.
Patricia McLinn [19:30] and I did change the character’s name back when I brought the book out myself. It’s A New World, my second book. The heroines first name is Eleanor, and she becomes involved with a man who is a modern-day Irish immigrant to the United States, and she, I very carefully found her name. I wanted it to sound a certain way. I wanted some hard sounds, and I wanted it to be connected to Gloucester, Massachusetts, which is where the book is set.
Patricia McLinn [20:00] And I also spent, this is back pre-internet days, I spent an hour plus on the phone with this wonderful woman from the Chamber of Commerce on Cape Ann, which is where Gloucester is, looking up to make sure that there was no family that actually had that name, because I didn’t, I said nasty things about the family and I didn’t want there to be a real family that I accidentally insulted.
Patricia McLinn [20:30] So in my, in my world, her name was always Thatcher. Eleanor Thatcher. There’s a Thatcher Island by Gloucester and no, there was then no Thatcher family. And the editors came back, I think it was a senior editor again and said you cannot call her that because our UK readers would be upset with a woman named Thatcher sleeping with an Irishman.
Patricia Lewin [21:01] That is so ridiculous that, that is as weird as mine. You know, I—
Patricia McLinn [21:08] Yep.
Patricia Lewin [21:09] Traditional publishers, sometimes they had very strange ideas.
Patricia McLinn [21:12] In the traditional published edition, she was, what was she? Halston, I think, which I never liked, so I blithely changed her back.
Patricia Lewin [21:25] Even the last name change that is even stranger than a first name change.
Patricia McLinn [21:29] Yeah. Yeah.
Patricia Lewin [21:30] Well—
Patricia McLinn [21:31] So, we both had that, that episode. And now, how do you go about naming characters?
Patricia Lewin [21:38] It’s kind of a varied process. I kind of troll around. I look through baby books, and I really am stuck on a story until I get that name, but I’ll use Xs for a while, but the name has got to have the right feel for me. And I will go look up meanings of names like, I did in my last romance that I just put out an April. The character’s name is Daniel, and it just fit. He is a beast, and he communes with animals, and it just seemed to fit with the whole biblical.
Patricia McLinn [22:11] Oh, yes.
Patricia Lewin [21:16] Daniel and the lion, you know.
Patricia McLinn [22:18] That feel. Yeah.
Patricia Lewin [22:25] Yes. So names, I go a little crazy with names and find the right one. And that’s why Sarah in Once A Wife, really bothers me because although Sarah is a beautiful name, it just did not fit this character. And it just, you know, what I would love to hear from your readers if they responds, if I would change the name now the book has been out again digitally for, I don’t know, a year and a half more, it is probably one of my bestselling books. What if I change her name now? Is it too late?
Patricia McLinn [22:54] No.
Patricia Lewin [22:55] Would I drive everybody crazy?
Patricia McLinn [22:59] Why would it? Because the people who have already read it have read it, and it would be for the new readers coming to it.
Patricia Lewin [23:06] Yeah. I might do that.
Patricia McLinn [23:07] I say change it.
Patricia Lewin [23:08] Okay. I’ll do it.
Patricia McLinn [23:09] You know me. I’m a rebel. Touching off how you look for names, this sort of connects. This also goes back to the world building. What sort of research do you do, and how, when do you do it and do enjoy it or is it a chore?
Patricia Lewin [23:28] I do my research differently for both for the romances and for the suspense. When I started writing my Lewin books, my thrillers, I did an immense amount of research with, for about the CIA because my characters— My books are not really about the CIA, but my main characters are CIA officers or ex CIA officers who kind of … go off the rails, so to speak. I did a lot of research on the CIA, I read everything I could find out then.
And then I also had a connection with a woman who was one of those serendipitous things, where I met her I was looking, originally I was looking for something, I actually originally I was going to make the character and I say and it just wasn’t working and I met this woman and she was an ex CIA analyst who was a budding writer. And she couldn’t write anything like I was writing because of her non-disclosure agreement with the CIA, but she could help me to certain extent.
Patricia Lewin [24:28] So I did an immense amount of research on that, on the CIA because it was so integral to the story. Now other types of research like for my romances or actually for some of the peripheral stuff in the suspenses, I kind of write through it and then go back and look and see if I’m right. Especially the romances I did this a lot. If I wasn’t sure about something I’d write something through it.
I’d write through it and I highlighted then I go back and I found that 90% of the time that I was right that I would had guessed right, you know, like locations or things like that. The suspense I can’t do that because obviously I didn’t know anything about CIA before I started and then locations, you know, I try and visit locations or I write about places I’ve lived and then I love going to research locations.
Patricia Lewin [25:28] Anyway, I do have a funny story about a location research thing that Blind Run was set the San Juan Islands, which is off the northern coast of Washington, and I had lived in Oregon, in Portland, for years. So I had a really good feel for the Northwest and what it was, and there’s some pieces is an island and it’s some pieces that were about Northwest weather and how you know, it’s very cloudy and rainy there and cool. And so there was that, kind of a lot of that in Blind Run. And I recently got a review back from somebody who was telling me that I obviously had never been there because the San Juan Islands was a one of the few places in the Northwest where there was not rain. Okay, so I was freaked out.
Patricia Lewin [26:15] Well, recently this summer I went and spent some time on Orcas Island, which is on one of the northern, big islands in the San Juan’s, and come to find out there is a portion of the San Juan Islands in the Olympic Rain Shadow, which doesn’t have a lot of rain, but the rest of them are all rainy and cloudy just like I said. I asked two or three tour guides about this, and they always kind of looked at me, and they said that’s reasonable. Why would I think there isn’t rain here, it rains all winter long. So that was kind of an interesting thing. Anyway.
Patricia McLinn [26:38] To be proven, right? That’s always wonderful.
Patricia Lewin [26:41] Well, it’s freaked me out because I thought, Oh my God, did I get this book wrong? You know and it was just one reviewer and, and he obviously had been to the part of the Olympic Rain Shadow where there, wasn’t raining. My book is set in the fake Island on the very north side of the San Juan’s almost a bit ago.
Patricia McLinn [27:01] In this rainy part.
Patricia Lewin [27:02] In the rainy part.
Patricia McLinn [27:04] Okay. Here’s, here’s a question from a reader. This says, Where do your stories come from? And the reader went on to say I know one author who dreams her stories. Pat and I have a mutual friend who dreamed her stories, their special one. Another has a character suddenly taking up residence in her head. So, how are your beautiful stories born?
Patricia Lewin [27:27] I think that a character or situation just kind of starts intruding on my thoughts or situation. Blind Run came to me because I had this idea about a man having to protect children. I had a vision of the desert and I had a vision of him having to protect kids and him being, you know, wishing he was, he’d rather be dead than alive, but he doesn’t have the nerve to pull the, the trigger and then these children redeem him. So that’s where it started with that one. Sometimes. I can’t even tell you where it starts but it usually is a situation that pops into my head and then I have to find characters that fit it or sometimes it’s character, but I’m much more situational where I start with a situation then and then I find characters that can play out that situation.
Patricia McLinn [28:08] Yeah, I’m much more characters. They start talking in my head.
Patricia Lewin [28:12] I know I’m the weird one.
Patricia McLinn [28:14] You are. I’m totally normal, I hear voices. What’s your problem? So from that, from that start, from the situation that comes in your head. Do you, do your stories often change a lot from that point to where you publish it?
Patricia Lewin [28:39] Yes, very much so. I mean, I start playing around with it. I start, you know, working out the details and, and trying to find how the situation can work and that it often changes before the end. I remember one of my romantic suspenses, I don’t even remember which one well, I was writing as Keelan. I had a reviewer come back to me said, Oh my gosh, this is so wonderful. I didn’t know what was going to happen next.
Patricia Lewin [29:14] And I thought to myself, That’s because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I mean, I learned before I wrote the Lewin books that I had to plot these things out but, those first romantic suspenses that I wrote it as romances, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t know where the story was going to go. So I would write myself into a hole and then had to figure out how to get those characters out of the hole I put them in. I was lucky that it worked. I don’t think it would have worked that easily with the, with the thrillers.
Patricia McLinn [29:37] So how do you plot ahead of time? Do you outline? Do you write a synopsis? Are you just doing notes? How do you plot those thrillers?
Patricia Lewin [29:47] I do a free-flow outline with an idea, you know, I mean, I just I, knowing that, knowing that the outline can be changed, nothing cast in concrete, but I just write bullet points and then sub-bullets and every now and then I’ll, a piece of it will grab me and I’ll write maybe a section of dialogue and then as I start writing if something is bugging me if I’m not, if I’m not finding a solution or the way I had originally done it is not working, I will then take a little side thing I do another outline like, why is this?
Patricia Lewin [30:10] You know, how, what about the scene? What am I trying to accomplish in this scene? And will it move the story forward? The other thing that I find for Thrillers that I actually I was working as an editor for a while, and I did I would do this with some of my thriller authors, my romantic suspense authors, is I have to define what the bad thing is. What is the bad stuff that my character is going up against and then, and that is really integral because until you, until you know what your characters are fighting against you’re kind of, you don’t have story. So I will also add that on the side. So it’s kind of a free flow type of outline type thing.
Patricia McLinn [31:10] And do you do a lot of work with your, with your bad guy characters or bad women characters?
Patricia Lewin [31:17] I do. I find a lot of times that the, um, your antagonist is what, is could be a really interesting character and sometimes you have to be careful that they don’t take over the story and it’s come to them in different ways.
Erin Baker series, Out of Time and Out of Reach
Patricia Lewin [31:30] For instance, in the second of the Erin Baker series, Out of Time, which takes place in Cuba, which was so much fun, but anyway. I had a character, she wasn’t the main antagonist, but she facilitated the main antagonist and she was a brilliant researcher while I had it as a man, like, you know because who knows why. Because that is the tried and true, you know. He’s a—
Patricia Lewin [31:45] And one of the people that was helping with the researcher was a friend of mine who has a MD PhD in molecular genetics and she says, Why does he have to be a man? Can it be a woman? And I don’t know why I never thought of that. I was using her as research, I mean and, so that was kind of cool. So then I could once I had her as a woman instead of a man, then I could really flesh her out and she became a much more interesting character than if it had just been a man.
Patricia Lewin [32:15] Plus then I named it after, I named the character after my friend, so she really loved that.
Patricia McLinn [32:22] What— Did she get destroyed at the end of the book or could that character show up again, sometime?
Patricia Lewin [32:40] She disappeared.
Patricia McLinn [32:42] Aha, which of your stories has surprised you the most?
Patricia Lewin [32:48] I think Out of Reach because I fell in love with my main character.
Patricia McLinn [32:50] Okay. Well, wait now let’s explain Out of Reach. So, you did Blind Run was your first thriller.
Patricia Lewin [32:52] Right. And it was a stand alone.
Patricia McLinn [32:53] And Out of Reach was your second thriller.
Patricia Lewin [32:55] Yes and it was the first—
Patricia McLinn [33:06] They’re not related. But then Out of Reach is the first of a series.
Patricia Lewin [33:10] Yes. Out of Reach is the first in what will be a three book series at this point. I’m working on the third but Out of Reach was the first one and it is about a CIA officer, Erin Baker, and I just fell in love with her. She always say that not only do I like her, I want to be her. She’s tough and she’s brilliant and she’s got lots of baggage. So I fell in love with her as a character, and I tend to be, I tend to more fall in love with my male characters, but this one I really like Erin. And that’s why there had to be a second and, now working, which is Out of Time. This is the one that takes place in Cuba. And now I’m working on the third one, which I’m hoping to get out early next year.
Patricia McLinn [34:06] You going to get it out early next year?
Patricia Lewin [34:08] It’ll be done by early next year. We’ll have to go through the whole editing process and everything and we’ll, we’ll see
Patricia McLinn [34:12] That, that sort of segues into, I was going to ask if you miss characters as you did with Erin in Out Of Reach, where you kind of missed her when, when the book was done and you wanted to do another book with her. Do you miss characters when you’re done with them? A reader asked this and it was because she misses the characters when she’s finished a book that she really likes.
Patricia Lewin [34:38] Well, I was obviously obsessed with Erin Baker it, for my other books, earlier books for my romance was I was more obsessed with the characters while I was writing them, you know calling family members my character’s name et cetera. But Erin just kind of. Stuck in my head, her story was not done in my head and she’s still the character I think about well, of course because I’m writing the book, that part of it, but I will also admit that the Blind Run characters have stuck with me and it just goes back to the fact that the thrillers grab me. Some of the characters in in Blind Run have stuck with me too, but mainly Erin I think of all my characters is one that I just had to write more about her. I had to know what was going to happen to her.
Patricia McLinn [35:27] When you when you finish a book, do you celebrate or do you celebrate beginning a book or publishing or, you know, do you have do you have particular celebrations?
Patricia Lewin [35:38] I don’t have particular or things that I do other than just collapsing or doing nothing or you know going to movies or having a glass of wine or two, but I don’t have any particular ritual that I do. It’s just kind of like something is come out of you when you’re done. It’s like oh my gosh, it’s over. Okay go on. Let’s go on.
Patricia McLinn [36:00] Re-entry to normal life.
Patricia Lewin [36:02] Re-entry and everything gets put off at the very end there, you know, the house gets to be a disaster. You know, I haven’t talked to my husband or kid in, my daughter, in a while, you know that kind of things and so all that stuff can resurface after you get done with the book.
Patricia McLinn [36:17] Do you remember the movie Romancing the Stone?
Patricia Lewin [36:20] I do.
Patricia McLinn [36:22] The beginning sequence—
Patricia Lewin [36:23] Yes.
Patricia McLinn [36:24] —she’s finishing a book and she goes around and she can’t find anything to blow her nose on because she’s run out of all these things.
Patricia Lewin [36:32] Yes. That’s, that’s very much the way it is. Yes.
Patricia McLinn [36:35] Reality-based people think that’s funny. It’s not so funny. When it’s you.
Patricia Lewin [36:41] When my husband would follow me around the house sometimes and I would do things like, you know, put the milk in the stove or the microwave away or put things away in the wrong places obvious wrong places, like cold stuff in the because your mind is elsewhere. Your mind is not on the everyday stuff.
Patricia McLinn [37:00] I had a neighbor and Virginia who rang my doorbell one day at like ten-thirty in the morning, which is very early for me.
Patricia Lewin [37:08] Yes.
Patricia McLinn [37:09] And I came down was quite grumpy and she said, I know, I know you’re on deadline, but I was worried because you left your car doors open all night.
Patricia Lewin [37:21] Yes, I can see you do that.
Patricia McLinn [37:23] Which is very unlike me in ordinary times and, it’s okay. You’re forgiven. I think she had this vision of a massacre in my, in my house. Of course, that started me in other story ideas. What do you read for fun?
Patricia Lewin [37:40] You know, I read all over the place, but I read a, something that I have not let myself write, and so I enjoy it immensely is Science Fiction and Fantasy, you know, I because I don’t, you know, you like stuff you don’t like it, but I know tend to tear it apart like I do suspenses, you know, I write is somebody else’s suspense. I’m, I’m trying to figure out how they put it together when it works. You know, why is it so good or. Why is it not so good? I don’t do that with Science Fiction and Fantasy. If I don’t like it, I just stopped reading it, it’s tempting to actually write it because I do love it.
Patricia McLinn [38:17] In addition to writers looking at things as writers, and I refer to it as seeing the man behind the curtain, do you also think that writers look at the world or other people differently than most people?
Patricia Lewin [38:33] It’s possible. I mean, we’re always looking, we’re always seeing story ideas and every little thing. I remember years ago my critique group and, this is going to this is going to sound, maybe heartless when JonBenét Ramsey was murdered and we were sitting around in our critique group the comment was, If I was writing this book this is who would be done it, who would have done it. Yes, we look at story ideas and say story things are happening in the news and saying okay. This is how I would do it.
Patricia McLinn [39:04] There are a lot of studies now that story is part of the human condition and that that the brain processes story mostly the way it does real events, and I wonder if kind of the flip of that is true that story is our way of processing horrific things.
Patricia Lewin [39:30] It’s true.
Patricia McLinn [39:30] Or other things that are happening that we’re observing and possibly experiencing and to, to look at it as a writer you’re, you’re involved in it emotionally, and yet you’re also observing which I think in some ways is protective.
Patricia Lewin [39:55] Very much so.
Patricia McLinn [39:55] Or you could.
Patricia Lewin [39:56] Yeah, because I for you know, something is something is bothering me a lot I have on occasion written a short story where I changed things. Or if you’re upset about something you can and I’ve done this with a couple of things and if I write a little short story about making things different or changing things. It makes me feel better. Even if it’s just a story. Does that make any sense?
Patricia McLinn [40:29] Yes. Absolutely it, we have control.
Patricia Lewin [40:34] Well, you know, I think that’s what it is. I think this I think most writers, we do have a bit of a control issues. You know, when we write we control the universe.
Patricia McLinn [40:43] Isn’t that lovely and we did such a good job of it.
Patricia Lewin [40:45] We do and good always triumphs, you know, the world is set right.
Patricia McLinn [40:51] In our books. Yes.
Patricia Lewin [40:52] And our book, yes.
Patricia McLinn [40:54] Okay. Here is another question from a reader says, What is your favorite place to write and why? Does it have an inspirational view?
Patricia Lewin [41:03] I have to write at my desk in my office on a desktop. And no, no inspirational viewing. I have the blinds closed. I do use music though. I listen to classical music while I’m writing and my usually Chopin piano concertos, my-my thought is, you’re going to laugh, is genius will inspire genius. But no, I, um, I know a lot of writers use their laptops and things and go and write in different circumstances, and I haven’t quite gotten the, I haven’t quite got the comfort level of right I would feel like I’m playing when I’m writing on my laptop. So I’m at my desk in an office setting, and it’s right here in front of me. I know that’s not very exciting, right?
Patricia McLinn [41:47] So you’re trying to possibly block out some of the other visual stimulation so that you’re not distracted from the vision that’s in your head.
Patricia Lewin [41:58] Exactly and also well also because it’s a writing cue or a trigger when I’m at my desk. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing. And that’s why I listen to classical music. I can’t listen to any music with words in it, because I will start singing and then we know we won’t get any writing done.
Patricia McLinn [42:18] I will start typing the words.
Patricia Lewin [42:20] Hold on up either tried it, but so I, so you’re right up and it’s like the music is white noise. It’s beautiful white noise, but it’s white noise and it does block things out.
Patricia McLinn [42:33] Well, and especially I think if you play the same music over and over it defin— It’s a, an element of Pavlov’s dogs. I hear this music I write. And it also it’s a there’s a certain rhythm to the music and I think that can carry you through, and keep you writing where you might otherwise have gone with a distraction.
Patricia Lewin [42:57] Yeah, you’re probably right. I mean it just it does and I do listen to the same music. I know authors some authors write different music for different books, and I’ve tried that it doesn’t really work for me. I always keep going back to the piano the Chopin piano concertos. I mean, there’s lots of other classical music with that, words out there, but why do I keep going back to the Chopin? I don’t know. And I think what you just said is probably it’s just it’s a trigger. It’s, it’s what I’m used to and it just soothes me and gets me concentrating on the words I’m trying to put down.
Patricia McLinn [43:32] That’s a great thing to have found for you.
Patricia Lewin [43:34] Yeah, I don’t know where I’ve been doing it for a long time. I don’t know where it came from.
Patricia McLinn [43:39] Okay. Ready, ready for another reader question.
Patricia Lewin [43: 41] Yes.
Patricia McLinn [43:42] This, this is more applicable more to the traditional world. But let’s see if it has any in your Indie publishing too. Says, When the cover image doesn’t match the character description, a pet peeve of mine says the reader, how does it feel?
Patricia Lewin [44:03] Drives me crazy. I have been blessed—
Patricia McLinn [44:09] I knew that answer.
Patricia Lewin [44:11] Yes. I um, I must have had some really great covers and no really horrible covers, but my original Blind Run cover, the original suspense, although it was a beautiful cover, it drove me crazy because it’s two characters and it looked like a, um, older girl, kid and a younger boy racing out on a pier into a really glassy ocean.
Okay. Well. It drove me crazy because the boy in the stories the older and the girl was younger, and there’s a third person, and they’re an adult running with them, and they’re running off to a pier in a turbulent Pacific. I know these are really minor things, right, so it drove me crazy because the cover just, I said, you know, you got this all wrong, and they basically told me to be quiet and go away.
So that is what that was one of the first things I changed when I went indie with this book was that I got the cover the way I wanted it. So yes, it drives me crazy when the cover is wrong.
Patricia McLinn [45:13] I see, I thought I knew what the answer to that one was going to be.
Patricia Lewin [45:16] You did, huh?
Patricia McLinn [45:17] I did.
Patricia Lewin [45:18] What do you think it was gonna be.
Patricia McLinn [45:19] That answer.
Patricia Lewin [45:20] Oh, okay.
Sally Field moments and mistaken for lost relatives
Patricia McLinn [45:22] So, do you have other, do you have good stories about communication with readers or encountering them, or how have you dealt with readers? For how long have readers dealt with you?
Patricia Lewin [45:36] You know when my first romances came out and I would go to writers conferences, it would always surprise me when somebody would come up to me and say, You’re the writer. You’re the author who wrote Keeping Katie or whatever, and it was like I’m looking behind me trying to figure out who you’re talking to, you know, that can’t be me. But now online, I get some really, I don’t have any, overarching stories but except for the fact that you do get some really great readers communicating with you sending you email or, or reviewing your books or talking to you. Sending you private notes when they read stuff that you know, that might be considered, you know, you know because we talk a lot online and the calm you down about things so I have been very. Thankful for my readers. They keep me writing.
Patricia McLinn [46:30] I remember receiving my first letter from a reader with my very first book, and I got it, and I looked at the return address and it’s from Oregon, and I thought I don’t know anybody in Oregon. What, how is this possible? And when I read the note it was, it gave me chills because she got from the book what I had hoped people would get from the book. And I often say reading is interactive that we as authors put material out there, but that’s only half of it. The other half is what the reader takes from it. So this was, this was a click what I put out was what she, she got from it and then she wrote to me saying how much she loved it and I was like, Oh my gosh!
Patricia Lewin [47:26] It’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it?
Patricia McLinn [47:30] It was, it was a fabulous feeling. There was also this little tiny piece of me that said, Oh my God, strangers are reading my books.
Patricia Lewin [47:26] I find that with looking at good reviews too. It, just when somebody loved something that you put so much time in, it’s just like, oh my God, they’re talking about something that I did and it’s very surprising for all the readers out there, it really is surprising when people like what you did because you just, you know, we live in our little bubble.
Patricia McLinn [47:58] It’s a Sally Field moment.
Patricia Lewin [47:59] A Sally Field moment?
Patricia McLinn [48:01] They like me. They really like me.
Patricia Lewin [48:03] Exactly. I had, actually, your talk about the same you think about a funny story I had about a reader when I was writing romance, who this really isn’t about the book, this is about how she contacted me. She contacted my publisher, who sent me a letter because they will never give your address out, and put me in contact with this woman who was convinced that I was her husband’s sister who had been put up for adoption when I was born.
Patricia McLinn [48:33] Oh my God.
Patricia Lewin [48:33] And I could not convince her that I was not this person and she kept saying all I know it’s really upsetting to find this out and blah, blah, blah. But you know, I was number four of six kids. Believe me, after three, they would not have adopted a fourth, but it was very interesting.
Patricia McLinn [48:52] And it’s not like you guys don’t look like each other at all.
Patricia Lewin [48:55] Oh, yeah, we, yeah.
Patricia McLinn [48:56] Some of you.
Patricia Lewin [48:57] Yeah, but she was convinced because of my last name that I was her brother’s long-lost sister. And I kept saying I wish I could say I was, but I’m not.
Patricia McLinn [49:07] There’s a book in that, Pat.
Patricia Lewin [49:09] Actually. I never about that, but you’re right, there is a book in that one.
Patricia McLinn [49:13] Dibs.
Patricia Lewin [49:15] My story. You probably get it done faster than I would.
Patricia McLinn [49:19] Of all your books that are done so far, as opposed to the ones you’re going to write really fast now, ahem, are any of them what you would consider an overlooked gem something that even, even your loyal readers may not have come across?
Patricia Lewin [49:39] Well in the romances, I think, well from any suspense, Running for Cover always surprises me because it’s kind of buried in the— I’ve two series in my romances, and it’s kind of the theme series, you don’t have to read them in order. It’s kind of buried like third or fourth in that series and people don’t seem to get to it. And if you like, you know romantic suspense is more romance than suspense, although they are obviously running through the entire book, I think for romance readers, that’s the one that I think that gets overlooked a bit. And as far as the suspense is go, I mean, I don’t know I, you know, I loved Out of Reach, but then I love the whole Cuba thing and Out of Time. So it’s kind of hard to say, but for romances, I would say Running for Cover.
Patricia McLinn [50:24] Well, so for somebody who’s new to you, hasn’t read your books yet, what would be the best book for them to enter say the romances first and then the thrillers.
Patricia Lewin [50:35] if you like, you know, family-oriented romances, then I would say Keeping Katie because those three books are part of a series called a mother’s heart. They’re all about women who are mothers but in different ways, I mean not necessarily biological mothers, and they’re more about family and the love of family and children as well as the romantic loves.
Yeah. Keeping Katie is my first book and I loved it. So, so I would say if you like family-oriented stories that you would start with that. Those books are all themed, it doesn’t matter which order you read them in. if you like something a little more action than you start with the, The Protector series which are all, all the heroes in those books are ex-protectors, military or cops or something. And they all have a little bit more of an element. Some of them have more suspense than others.
So the first one in that series is Loving Lindsey, but it doesn’t matter what order you read them and you could read them all over the place.
Patricia McLinn [51:38] How about your thrillers?
Patricia Lewin [51:40] You know the series, I mean Out of Reach is, Out of Reach seems to be the book that I have got, when I was traditionally published originally in hardcover and I got the best reviews on Out of Reach of any of my books as far as in Publishers Weekly and everything, you know, Blind Run is kind of my baby and I do plan to write the sequel to that, but Out of Reach is the book that seems to have the most seems to be more compelling I guess this is maybe the right word.
Patricia McLinn [52:10] And this is another question from a reader. I love this one. If you could write a book with any author alive or dead, who would you want to work with and why?
Patricia Lewin [52:20] Oh my gosh, that would be a really hard decision. It’s almost the same thing as asking me who my favorite authors are, which is, since everybody I know is an author, is an unfair question. But, you know, I’m going to cop out and go with, you know, one of the big names. I would I mean just to meet somebody like JK Rowling’s you know, I don’t write that kind of book. So maybe that’s not a good answer but you know—
Patricia McLinn [52:48] Well why, why would it?
Patricia Lewin [52:50] Because of her incredible skill of detail. And putting stories together that are immensely complicated. I mean you can like the books or not, but they, you can’t ignore the skill there. The skill of any, remember story building is what I love most about writing, and her to be able to put together this really complex world and have it all mesh. I think that is a phenomenal talent.
You know the other author that I adore his skill is still storytelling is Stephen King. I don’t write that kind of stuff either. So why would I want to work with him? I don’t know, just because he has this really great storytelling ability. For people that I write what I write I probably Lisa Gardner I would want to work with Lisa, you know, because she writes the same type of book that I write and you know, it would be interesting to work with her.
Patricia McLinn [53:50] Okay. Is there anything, I’m thinking of I’m, I’m sitting here thinking of authors and working with them and what you learn and, and I think even like Stephen King even though you don’t write what he writes. I think there could be a great deal that you would learn that anybody would learn—
Patricia Lewin [54:09] He’s an incredible storyteller. I mean, he really is, and so you would learn that aspect of it from him. And you know what? When I say Lisa, I really like her books to, that would be more of a collaborative type thing where I don’t know. I’m sure she could teach me something. I’m sure but not like, you know, Stephen King or JK Rowling’s you know that you could actually, you know, I could actually identify what it is they could teach me.
The other author that I would really love to write work with is Robert McCammon. He is probably one of my all-time favorite authors, and his incredible ability to tell a story and, and it doesn’t have the complexity as JK Rowling, I don’t know if anybody does, but he does. He’s also a great storyteller and a great writer. And I would think there would just be an incredible amount to learn from him, and he writes all over the place rights all kinds of stuff.
Patricia McLinn [55:07] It’s a fun question, isn’t it?
Patricia Lewin [55:09] Well, it’s an interesting thing to think about because I never even, you know, I have a list of authors I’d like to meet but would I like to work with them? I mean in a certain sense working with somebody like JK Rowling could be very intimidating, you know, and even more intimidating than Stephen King. I would be so in awe of her ability that it would be a sin intimidating. So I never even thought about actually working with another author.
Patricia McLinn [55:34] I think I would tend to take somebody who is dead, just because there’s always the possibility you could run across the live person, you know in real life and but the dead person you can’t so you take the opportunity of the question to go for somebody who is impossible in real life.
Patricia Lewin [55:55] But if you’re working with him—
Patricia McLinn [56:00] How’s that for logic?
Patricia Lewin [56:02] But if you’re working with them, it’s okay to run into them, right? Because you’re working with them.
Patricia McLinn [56:06] So, as we’re close, getting closer to the close here, tell us about your most recent release.
Patricia Lewin [56:09] The one I’m working on or the one that just came, that the, um, the last book in—
Patricia McLinn [56:13] The most recent release. The one that came out.
Patricia Lewin [56:15] Okay, that was be Out of Time. And that’s the second book in the Erin Baker thriller series.
Patricia McLinn [56:20] What’s the significance of that title?
Patricia Lewin [56:22] Because she’s on a deadline. She has to she, it takes place in Cuba. She gets sent into Cuba to investigate a missing agent or officer, they don’t call CIA offi— agents. They’re officers, and there is a real short time span. She goes in, she’s half Cuban. Looks are so Miami, which I spent most of my life in South Florida so that fit, and she goes in to investigate and the way they get her in undercover is that her estranged father runs a medical facility that’s something like Doctors Without Borders. But I did make up a thing, didn’t use Doctors Without Borders, and that’s her way in but that’s not who she goes investigate.
Patricia Lewin [57:22] She goes to investigate a missing officer who happens to be a friend. So I have the dynamic there of an estranged father who left her at a very young age, and she has all these built, this is the emotion thing all these built up emotions, and she’s very unhappy with the CIA at the moment, but she is only there because of this friend of hers is missing so we have the combination of the emotion and the action and this bad stuff. She goes in they think it’s going to be a slam dunk that she’s going to go in and come right out. And of course that never happens in books right has to get worse and worse and worse.
Patricia Lewin [57:50] So I really. I loved writing that book. The whole Cuba thing was fascinating, having spent most of my life in South Florida with the huge Cuban population, and, um, and I had to do a ton of research on Cuba. I actually tried to get into Cuba and at the time I had to submit an application to the State Department, and they turned me down. But so that is—
Patricia McLinn [58:10] They’re so short-sighted and not thinking that book research is a good reason—
Patricia Lewin [58:15] Yes.
Patricia McLinn [58:16] —for any trips.
Patricia Lewin [58:18] I might be able to get in there now, but I couldn’t at the time. And, and you know, I had friends say, Oh just fly through Cuba, I mean, fly through Canada or fly through Mexico and I’m thinking, oh, yeah, I’m going to do that and then I’ll be the one they make an example of an American in Cuba and get charged. So I didn’t do that.
But one of the things that I loved about this book, and I won’t tell you, but the ending to me leaves Erin, I always like to leave Erin with little bit more baggage, and she does end up with a lot of baggage to this book and which is the trigger for the book I’m working on now. The one that’s her follow-on.
Patricia McLinn [58:50] Have the title for that one yet?
Patricia Lewin [58:53] Out of the Woods.
Patricia McLinn [58:56] Ah, okay.
Patricia Lewin [58:58] Yes, and it started as a short story, and it just kind of, because I was trying to have her reconcile where she was at the end of the book, and it just became much bigger than a short story can handle and, and basically she has to come to terms with the kind of person she is. And she is basically a protector. That’s what her, her whole thing in life has been she’s a protector and a warrior and she’s been fighting that forever. And in this book, she has to come to terms with what she is. And what she is meant, why she is here. Does that sound a little too philosophical for you?
Patricia McLinn [59:34] No, no. Pat, where can readers find out more about when Out of the Woods is coming out and about your other books?
Patricia Lewin [59:43] Well, they can go to my website, which is PatriciaLewin.com and Lewin’s, I have excerpts out there. I have a brief blog, and I will post about Out of the Woods as I get a little further along where I can actually give you a time that’s a little bit closer than early next year.
Patricia McLinn [01:00:10] And how about the romance books?
Patricia Lewin [01:00:11] That’s at PatriciaKeelyn.com. And you spell Keelyn, K-E-E-L-Y-N is much more active than my Lewin website, and I can’t even tell you why that is but that, there’s always something going on there. I’ve blogs and giveaways and things like that. At this point, I don’t have any crossover between the two, and this is actually going to be a question for your readers is that I find that there are a lot of, a lot of romance readers read everything. There’s a lot of crossover that my romance readers will go read my suspense folks. I don’t find that there’s crossover the other way around, and so I’ve been considering putting both websites under an umbrella site with links to both websites so that you can cross over, and I’m not sure whether that’s a good idea or not.
So I’d love to hear what readers think about that an umbrella site that would either be my, I don’t know, just something where you go to one place, and then you can go to either my suspense books or my romance books. So I’d love to hear what readers think about that.
Patricia McLinn [01:01:18] Okay, and we will also have those URLs and others in the show notes for folks to find Patricia’s books. Now, we come to the what I call the epilogue. Rapid-fire either/or questions.
Patricia Lewin [01:01:36] Okay.
Patricia McLinn [01:01:37] No warnings. Well, I’ll give you a warm up one, appetizer or dessert?
Patricia Lewin [01:01:43] Appetizer.
Patricia McLinn [01:01:44] Day or night?
Patricia Lewin [01:01:45] Day.
Patricia McLinn [01:01:46] Toenail polish or bare?
Patricia Lewin [01:01:48] Toenail polish? After you said bare, I’m thinking Bears. I’m going, what is one thing have to do with the other.
Patricia McLinn [01:01:54] You’re thinking EAR instead of ARE.
Patricia Lewin [01:01:57] Exactly. Polish, definitely polished
Patricia McLinn [01:02:00] Tea or coffee?
Patricia Lewin [01:02:01] Coffee.
Patricia McLinn [01:02:02] Dog or cat?
Patricia Lewin [01:02:03] Cat.
Patricia McLinn [01:02:04] Knew we wouldn’t agree on that one.
Patricia Lewin [01:02:05] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [01:02:06] Which is eerier to you, an owl hooting or coyotes howling?
Patricia Lewin [01:02:11] Coyotes.
Patricia McLinn [01:02:12] Sailboat or motorboat?
Patricia Lewin [01:02:15] Sailboat.
Patricia McLinn [01:02:16] Save the best for last or grab the best first?
Patricia Lewin [01:02:19] Save the best for last.
Patricia McLinn [01:02:21] Paint or wallpaper?
Patricia Lewin [01:02:23] Paint.
Patricia McLinn [01:02:23] Mountains or beach?
Patricia Lewin [01:02:25] Oh, this is a really hard one because I can never make up my mind. I used to play this with my daughter, and I love both the mountains and the beach, so I would have to have a mountainous beach. I really don’t know the answer to that one because I love them both
Patricia McLinn [01:02:39] Cake or ice cream?
Patricia Lewin [01:02:41] Ice cream.
Patricia McLinn [01:02:42] Yoga or walk?
Patricia Lewin [01:02:44] Walk.
Patricia McLinn [01:02:45] Garden or house decorating?
Patricia Lewin [01:02:47] Do I have to do either? Probably house decorating of the two would-be least of the two evils.
Patricia McLinn [01:02:55] I was good guessing that one. Leggings are sweats?
Patricia Lewin [01:03:00] Sweats.
Patricia McLinn [01:03:01] Cowboy boots are hiking boots?
Patricia Lewin [01:03:03] Hiking boots.
Patricia McLinn [01:03:04] Oh, I thought that might be another do I have to do—
Patricia Lewin [01:03:06] To be honest, I don’t like boots period of any kind, and cowboy boots, you know, hiking boots have a function cowboy boots, don’t seem to have one. Well, I guess if you’re a cowboy.
Patricia McLinn [01:03:10] Yes, they do.
Patricia Lewin [01:03:12] If you’re a cowboy, they are, but—
Patricia McLinn [01:03:20] Okay. Well, it’s been lots of fun to have one of my longtime, we won’t say oldest, we’ll say one of my longtime writing buddies here, and hope that the listeners will come back for another session of Authors Love Readers and hope you have a great week of reading.
Patricia Lewin [01:03:39] Thanks, Pat.
Patricia McLinn [01:03:40] Thank you. That’s the show for this week. Hope you enjoyed it and thank you for joining Authors Love Readers podcast. Remember, you can always find out more about our guest authors in the show notes and you can find out more about me, at www.patriciamclinn.com. You can also send in questions to be asked of future authors at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next week wishing you lots of happy reading.
Acclaimed author Judith Arnold has published over 100 books spanning the romance and mystery genres. In this wide-ranging discussion, Patricia and Judith discuss how Judith creates her stories, conducts research for her books, and approaches the writing process.
Judith’s newest book, Kick the Bucket, is a Lainie Lovett mystery and is now available. Readers can find Judith at:
* on BookBub
Thank you to DialogMusik for the instrumentals that accompany this podcast!
Transcript: Authors Love Readers with Judith Arnold
Patricia McLinn [00:00] Hi. Welcome to this week’s Authors Love Readers Podcast, where we delve into the stories behind the stories. We’re asking authors questions, some of them fun, some of them serious. And from their answers, you’re going to learn things you never knew about the people who write the stories you love. My name is Patricia McLinn. I’m your host and designated question asker.
Judith Arnold [00:23] I’m Judith Arnold, and I’m an author who loves readers.
Patricia McLinn [00:31] It’s my pleasure today to introduce Judith Arnold and I truly mean my pleasure. I’ve known Judith for we’re not going to say how many years because we’re younger than how many years we’ve known each other. We frequently roomed together at writers conferences, and one of the saving graces for us is that she’s a morning person and I’m a night person, so we never argue over the bathroom.
Judith Arnold [00:56] We are very compatible that way. Yes.
From H&R Block to Playwright and writer of mysteries, cozy’s, romance, and more
Patricia McLinn [00:58] We are. So we just get along fine. And Judith was an established, renowned author when I was just starting. She has so many wonderful books that you could spend the next year reading her terrific books. She writes romances, mysteries — fun, cozy mysteries — and women’s fiction. And does that cover it, Judith?
Judith Arnold [01:26] I think pretty much I have written some very bad poetry, but we won’t go there.
Patricia McLinn [01:33] She’s also a playwright. She has educated as a playwright, and has had plenty is produced. So to get to know her a little bit on a fun level, we’re going to ask her some questions. I might have just taken one answer. So what’s a surprising job you’ve held?
Judith Arnold [01:51] A surprising job I’ve held is a tax preparer for H&R Block.
Patricia McLinn [01:57] I didn’t know that.
Judith Arnold [01:58] See? Surprise.
Patricia McLinn [02:00] Yes!
Judith Arnold [02:01] Yes, I did that before I had sold my first book, my husband was so convinced I was going to make tons of money he suggested I take an H&R Block course so I could learn how to do our taxes when I was making all this money. And I took the course and I did so well in it, that they offered me a job and I’ve been very superstitious and felt if I don’t accept this job, I will never sell a book. So I took the job and it was from January to April, obviously heavy tax season. And I sold the book the first week in February, sold my very first book, but then I was stuck working at H&R Block until April 15. Because they could not let me go before then. And that was my, my most bizarre job.
Patricia McLinn [02:49] That’s terrific. And what a great background for an author.
Patricia McLinn [02:54] What’s the saying of your mother or father that you hear yourself saying now?
Judith Arnold [02:59] Oh, this is really kind of embarrassing but can’t a person get some peace and quiet around? And my mother used to say this to me when I was a child and I was so wounded and I would think I will never ever say this ever but of course I say it all the time a little less now that my kids are grown and out of the house although I do have to say to my husband sometimes, but yeah, that’s the one I hear coming out of my mouth and think oh, no, I’ve turned into my mother.
Patricia McLinn [03:27] Yeah. Okay, you’re right handed correct?
Judith Arnold [03:31] Yes, I am.
Patricia McLinn [03:32] Which is longer on your right hand, your index finger or your ring finger.
Judith Arnold [03:36 They are you know, they are identical in length. I don’t know what that means.
Patricia McLinn [03:39] Are they really? I don’t know what it means either. But that’s weird.
Judith Arnold [03:45 As long as they work on the keyboard, I don’t care.
Patricia McLinn [03:48] Good point. What’s your favorite color and why?
Judith Arnold [03:51] I think my favorite color is turquoise. It just makes me happy when I see it. It makes me happy when I wear it. Right now, you can’t see this but I have a turquoise scarf around my neck, a silk scarf that my husband gave me as a gift and I just love turquoise. It’s just a happy, happy color for me.
Patricia McLinn [04:10] I love that color too. So do you have a childhood book that addicted you to stories?
Sleuthing with Freddy the Pig and saving spiders
Judith Arnold [04:17 I have a few, there is one group of books that I read as a child that I’m really so excited about because now I’m writing mysteries too. They were Freddy the Pig books, which were a mystery series. And they were wonderful. And many years later when I had my first agent, it turned out that he was the agent for Walter Brooks who wrote the Freddy the Pig books, which was—
Patricia McLinn [04:41] So Freddy the Pig was the sleuth.
Judith Arnold [04:43] He was the sleuth and all the books take place on an Upstate New York farm. And it’s all you know, anthropomorphic animals and they’re very funny and witty, and I read them to my children. And as an adult, I discovered there was so much subtext, that I was not aware of as a child, but they were absolutely brilliant and wonderful and I would happily read them again right now. And the other book I would think of was Charlotte’s Web, which blew me away as a child and blows me away as an adult too. E.B. White’s classic is just such a wonderful, wonderful book. I love spiders because of that book.
Patricia McLinn [05:22] Okay, you can kill all the spiders in any rooms with spiders.
Judith Arnold [05:27 I don’t kill spiders. I let them live because I keep thinking they could be Charlotte, you know.
Patricia McLinn [05:32] Okay, you could place them outside the room.
Judith Arnold [05:35] That’s fine. Okay,
Patricia McLinn [05:36] Let’s move into the more substantive questions. Before you wanted to be a writer, what did you want to be? I’m thinking not a tax preparer.
Judith Arnold [05:45 I did not want to be a tax preparer. It was funny, until I decided I was going to be a writer, I always assumed I would do other things but write because I always was writing. I wanted to be a lawyer because I thought I could be the first women on the Supreme Court. Fortunately, we did not have to wait for me to do that. For a while I wanted to be an astronaut till I found out how much science you have to know.
Patricia McLinn [06:09] Oh, yeah, draw back.
Judith Arnold [06:09] And I wanted to be a rock star. Of course I was in some rock bands growing up. And actually majored in music in college and wrote a lot of very kind of Joni Mitchell like songs. So yeah, I was gonna be a rock star too. But I was always writing no matter what. And finally, it occurred to me, Wait, I don’t have to be those other things. I could be a writer.
Patricia McLinn [06:30] Do you think writers look at the world and people differently from non-writers?
Judith Arnold [06:36] I think so. I think writers, for one thing, we have to understand motivation. And I, you know, maybe I’m speaking in broad generalizations here. But I think, you know, when people do things, I’m always trying to figure out what their motivation is. Why they feel this way, why they said that, why they did this. And so that’s one way I think that we see the world differently? Another way, and maybe this is just me, but I have always processed my experiences in words. It’s like, when I’m observing something, I hear it in my head in words. And I’ve known like artists who visually see everything. I… I, you know, they process the world through their eyes, and I sort of process it very verbally.
When I’m thinking through a problem, I think it through in paragraphs in my head and then there’s sometimes I even edit the paragraphs. And, you know, I just, you know, when I’m lying in bed at night, if I’m having trouble falling asleep, I just, words are just always in my head. So it’s kind of a way of interpreting the world for me and I assume other writers probably experienced something similar. We’re just, we’re so immersed in words. The words … words are the way we connect with the world.
Patricia McLinn [07:58] When you start a story, where do you start? How does the story start for you?
Judith Arnold [08:04] Uh, usually it starts with some characters taking up residence in my head and saying, Here’s our story. Here’s our situation. I wish they would tell me more of this story, usually they only tell me their situation. Here we are. Here’s our problem, you write it out and solve it for us. And sometimes I pay attention and sometimes I will tell them, No, I’m not interested in your story, go away. And sometimes I’ve done that and they just won’t leave me alone. So I finally give in. They just nag at me and nag at me, but I almost always will start with character. And usually, you know, after interviewing the characters for a bit in my head, I will have an understanding of what they want in life, kind of the goal, their motivation and what’s standing in their way and then the story sort of blossoms from there.
Patricia McLinn [08:58] What’s your favorite part of the process? And what’s your least favorite part?
Judith Arnold [09:02] Well, I would like to say my favorite part is typing The End. Ha-ha, I’m done. I actually do like the revision process. I like to in a way sometimes, this is going to sound like I’m an artist rather than a writer, but I think of it almost as a sculpture. And the first draft is a very rough-hewn part, and then I like to go back and polish and smooth and tweak and play with the words. It’s, I get more of a chance to play with the words in the revision process. So I really do enjoy that. And, and, and, you know, it depends on the book. Some books are just so brutal to write, they just don’t want to come out. And in those cases, the writing itself is a real, real torture. But usually I like the conception part, the part before I start writing when I’m interviewing the characters and getting to know them, and I love the revision and the rest of it, well, I love having written as a lot of people.
Patricia McLinn [10:03] When you have a book that is brutal like that, do you find the reaction from the readers, do you think that other people get that sense that it was brutal or for even for you in the rereading it or editing it, can you tell that it was brutal?
Cry Uncle, writing during the tough times
Judith Arnold [10:20] They come out, they come out pretty much the same as the ones that aren’t brutal which amazes me. I’m usually, when I have a brutal book and then I go back to do the revisions, I’m usually astonished to find out this, this doesn’t suck, you know, I thought it sucked while I was writing it, but it doesn’t. I have one of my books, Cry Uncle, it was originally published by Harlequin and now it’s available in an updated digital edition. But I wrote it during a really awful time in my life. My sister was battling cancer and she was not doing well, and this was a comedy. It was a funny book.
And every day you know, I would go to visit her in the hospital and I’d come … because she was in this isolation thing, she was getting special experimental treatment, and I’d come home, and I’d have to force myself to write this book because it had a deadline. And I finally finished it. And I mailed it to my agent and said, Please read this overnight, because it was due, I was very close to the deadline. So he read it overnight and tell me if it’s as bad as I think it is. And he read it and called me the next morning and said, it’s fine. I’m sending it off to your editor.
And the book was not only successful, the editors loved it, readers loved it. It was very funny. I don’t know how I got through that but it took me years and years and years to be able to go back to that book because all I could think of when I read it was this terrible time in my life and how torturous it was to write.
Patricia McLinn [11:45] The real life view associated with it.
Judith Arnold [11:47] Yeah, but actually it was very funny and came out fine. I, you know, sometimes I think the Muse takes over or some spirit inside you takes over when you don’t think the writing is coming, somebody else, some kind of supernatural spirit comes out and gets the writing done for you. But they are fine even if they’re horrible to write, they still seem to come out okay.
Patricia McLinn [12:14] Maybe that book came to you then because you needed that respite.
Judith Arnold [12:18] It could be, it could be it was a little bit of an escape, you know I could come back and say I can control this world I can’t control what’s going on in my life right now but—
Patricia McLinn [12:27] Yeah.
Judith Arnold [12:27] —I can control these characters, although again, sometimes characters just don’t want to be controlled. They go off their own way, they have their own minds. But yeah, it was kind of fun to kind of slip back into Key West and all the crazy kooky people in Key West and the Haitian Voodoo Lady and the bratty five-year-old and all these other characters in there and just you know, lose myself with them for a while.
Patricia McLinn [12:50] You brought up sometimes the characters don’t cooperate, do you find that your books change a lot from conception to publication?
Judith Arnold [13:00] Absolutely I am… I am a pantser, you know, I write by the seat of my pants. I do not like to outline my books before I start writing because the outline is part of the discovery. And once I’ve discovered the whole thing, I, you know, who wants to go back and now write it, I already know what happened. So, again, I usually start with the characters and their situation and their problems or whatever their conflict, and then I kind of see where they take me, and sometimes they take me down a blind alley, and I have to yank them back.
I usually have an overall idea obviously, if I’m writing a mystery, I know there’s going to be a dead body in the beginning of the book, and there’s going to be a solution at the end. But sometimes I don’t even know until three-quarters of the way through who the actual villain is, which I think probably comes through in the writing so that the readers are kept guessing also because they may not realize it, but the author is kept guessing of who did it, but you know, I have that basic architecture I know.
In a romance, I know there’s going to be a couple and they’re going to fall in love, they’re going to have a lot of conflicts, they’re gonna have to overcome some major problems and they’re going to end up together. So I have that basic overall structure in place, but how they get there? Who knows? Sometimes they surprise me. Often they surprise me. And usually the surprise is good. Sometimes the surprise is not so good. We have to kind of backtrack and find a new, a new route to where we’re going.
Patricia McLinn [14:30] Sometimes for me when that happens, the answer is in research. Do you do you enjoy doing research? Or—
Judith Arnold [14:38] It depends.
Patricia McLinn [14:38] —dread it.
Researching dangers for sexy lingerie or the best poisons
Judith Arnold [14:39] I will say that, you know, when I first started publishing, there was no, well the internet may have existed, but it was not what it is now. So there was no Google certainly. When I wanted to research something I had to get on the phone. You probably know this from your background in journalism, you had to get on the phone and call experts or I had to go to the library. And now of course, research is just so easy. You just, you know, Google something and of course then you know, the downside of that is like, I’ll be writing a book in which the heroine, it’s a romance and she’s gonna wear some really sexy lingerie, so I researched sexy lingerie and then for the next six months I’m getting ads for crotchless panties showing up on my browser, but the research it can be…
Patricia McLinn [16:03] We blame it all on research.
Judith Arnold [16:04] Of course. Of course. And of course with the, with the murder mysteries, I am always a little worried, you know, you know, when I do try to use books more than the web for, you know, like when I’m researching poisons or weapons or something, because who knows, I don’t want the FBI to show up at my door saying, you know, why are you doing all this research on cyanide? I do have a few books for that. But yeah, the research can be fun. It’s, you know, it can be dangerous because you just get so absorbed in it. You forget that you’re supposed to be writing a book, you just keep clicking along and saying, Oh, but that looks interesting. Oh, let me check that too. So yeah, I do enjoy that though. And it’s, of course, it’s so convenient nowadays that you can just sit there and do it right at your desk.
Patricia McLinn [16:08] So on your most recent release— What was the title of your most recent release?
Judith Arnold [16:13] It’s called Kick the Bucket. It’s the fourth book in my Lainie Lovett murder mystery series. It just was released on Halloween, October 31.
Patricia McLinn [16:22] What research did you do for Kick the Bucket?
Judith Arnold [16:25] Well, I did actually did some hands on research for that because it’s set in an independent living senior residence, very similar to the one where my mother lives. So I’m a little worried about what she’s going to say when she reads it because I, I’ve told her several times, this is fiction, this is fiction. You know, I’m waiting for the paperback edition to be released right now. It’s only available in digital and my mother does not read digital. So she has to wait until the paperback version comes out.
You know, I having, having her live there and you know for the past eight years and I spend a lot of time there visiting her and it was, it was on-site research. I did have to do some research on, on poisons for that one but my younger son gave me for Christmas last year a book about poisons. I requested it. It’s Dear Santa, will you bring me a book on how to kill people? But—
Patricia McLinn [17:25] I think that’s on the naughty list.
Judith Arnold [17:26] Yeah, yeah. So I did do some research and I actually no, that must have been two years ago because I researched a lot for my third mystery, the one that came out before Kick the Bucket. But that’s a handy one to have, handy book for if you’re writing mysteries and it’s probably a little safer than going online and looking up all these things. And although I do, I mean I do look up poisons online too. And I haven’t been arrested yet. So I guess we’re okay.
Patricia McLinn [17:52] I look them all up online.
Judith Arnold [17:53] Okay, and you have been arrested yet either
Patricia McLinn [17:55] Not yet and I figure if they come knocking at my door, that’s good research.
Judith Arnold [17:59] Well, you know, if we both get arrested we can be roommates in jail, since we do get along so well.
Patricia McLinn [18:05] And you can dispose of the spiders.
Judith Arnold [18:07] That’s right. Yes, I will take care of all the little Charlotte’s.
Patricia McLinn [18:10] When you finish a book, when you wrap it up, do you find that you miss the characters? Think about the characters once you’ve finished that book?
Judith Arnold [18:18] Usually I do. In a couple of you know a couple of those torture books, you know I’m just so glad to be rid of these people, go away I’m done with you, that’s it. But with most of them, yeah, I do want the characters to hang out with me afterward. You know, on some occasion like with the mysteries, that’s a series, so I always know that Lainie the heroine and her sidekick friends and her kids are going to be around and her two occasional boyfriends, they will all be around in subsequent books, so it’s never really goodbye it’s just sort of go take a vacation. I have to write some other books now. And you know, I’ll let you know when I’m ready for the next book. But yeah, characters become so real to you when you’re writing their stories, you’re living their lives with them. And yeah, it’s sometimes very hard to say goodbye.
Patricia McLinn [19:08] Has that led to having additional books come from the first book?
Judith Arnold [19:13] Yes, yeah, well certainly it has. I have two books which I’m hoping to update and reissue now that I’ve gotten the rights back to them. The Bloom Family books, which were originally published by Mira, and the first book I just wrote, and everybody loved, including me, loved the characters so much I wrote a sequel.
Patricia McLinn [19:35] And what were those two titles?
Judith Arnold [19:37] The first one is called Love in Blooms. And the second one is called Blooming All Over.
Patricia McLinn [19:41] And tell us a little bit about the story.
Judith Arnold [19:44] Well, they’re about a family in New York City that has owned and run a gourmet food emporium, kind of like Zabars, if you know New York City delis. When I say deli, I think people think of a sandwich shop but this is much grander than that with imported cheeses and artisan breads and all kinds of gourmet stuff. And the first book just kind of came out. It was, it was fun to write, I did a lot of research there and would go down to New York City.
My parents were living in the city then and they’d say come on down and do research. And my father and I would go up to the deli that the Blooms’ deli is based on, and we’d come home with shopping bags full of all kinds of gourmet treats, and my mother would say, Enough with the research I’m gaining weight from this book.
You know, people to it was just it was fun to write and the story came out great and people wanted to know more about the Blooms family. So the first book was about one of the Blooms sisters and the second one was about her younger sister, and I do have an outline, a very vague outline for a third book. Once I reissue the first two books, I plan to write the third book and just party with the Blooms family. Because they are, they’re crazy, wonderful people.
Patricia McLinn [21:03] Do you have any—? Will any of the lead characters be guys?
Judith Arnold [21:07] In the romances, I write heterosexual romances in the heroes and heroines are pretty evenly balanced. Sometimes the book is a little more hero oriented, sometimes a little more heroin oriented. And with the Blooms Family, of course, they were two sisters. But there were plenty of men in the family also, I don’t really ever think about it. Should I write a book that’s really you know, more about men or more about women? Again, in my romances, I tend to think they’re pretty balanced.
Patricia McLinn [21:34] What do you find the most difficult about creating a character of the opposite sex?
Judith Arnold [21:40] I don’t find it that difficult because I raised two sons and watching … you know, it was amazing watching boys grow up, it helped me to understand why men are the way they are so much. I mean, you see it from an early age there, you know, I’m a militant feminist and wanted to raise feminist boys, and I think I did, they both are very good cooks and very helpful and very respectful of women and view women as their equals. But there are certain things that are hardwired into men that originate when they’re, when they, you know, they pop out of the womb with their little Y chromosomes and, um, and watching them grow up really, really gave me a lot of insight into guys.
I have messed up some things I know. Sports — this will break your heart — but I do remember I wrote one book in which the characters were discussing the Harvard Yale football game and the book is set in October and my husband went ballistic. He said no, that game is always played on Thanksgiving. What is wrong with you? But he’s the only one who ever noticed that I did not get you know torrent of letters from readers saying, Why did you have them discussing the game in October? But so I might get some of those details wrong but and, and yeah, occasionally my husband who’s read a lot of my books and he will say, you know, real men wouldn’t think that way when he’s reading a romance and I always say yes, but these are fantasies.
These are these are, what women wish men would be like. So I don’t find it that difficult. I think part of the job of a writer is to get into the heads of people we aren’t, you know, in the same way that it is difficult for me to get into the head of a five-year-old because I’ve written some books with young characters, or an elderly woman or, or someone from another country or another ethnicity. You know, it’s just, it’s I consider it part of my job to really immerse myself in those characters’ heads and see things through their eyes.
Patricia McLinn [23:52] When you talked about having difficult books, you know, that were really hard to write. Have you had any that you’ve had the give up on or that you have given up on or that you set aside temporarily, you know, ideas that just would not gel for you?
Judith Arnold [24:07] I do. I have, I have a whole file on my computer of started books that are going nowhere. If I was really ready to part ways with them, I would delete them all but I don’t because I keep thinking, well, maybe someday, if I’m stuck for an idea, I’ll go back and revisit this idea and see if it’s if I can make it work or see if it speaks to me in a different way now than it did then. So I saved them all, but yeah, and you know, in the pre-computer days, I have a drawer full of rejected manuscripts or completed manuscripts that I read and buried and said no one will ever see these. And yet somehow, I have not thrown them in the fireplace. So I guess somebody may see them someday. I will be dead by then. So they can’t embarrass me.
Patricia McLinn [24:54] But have you had some that you have given up on that you have thrown out?
Judith Arnold [24:58] I don’t know. I’m kind of a packrat, I don’t know if I’ve thrown any out, I’m sure, I’m sure I’ve given up on most of them. I mean, some of them date back 20, 30 years and I haven’t looked at them since. So, yeah, yeah, you know, I do think that every book you write or even every book you start and don’t finish it’s a learning experience. It’s uh, you know, I learned something about myself or, or something about my writing. So I don’t consider them a waste of time. But I don’t know that I’ll you know, again, I don’t, whenever I think I’ll never have another idea. Suddenly another idea pops into my head. So I’d rather pursue that idea then go back to some other idea that didn’t work out ten years ago.
Patricia McLinn [25:39] Do you have a specific name for the computer folder that you put those files in?
Judith Arnold [25:43] No, they’re all, they’re all, actually, it’s my WIP folder — works in progress. And everything, whether it’s a successful book or an unsuccessful, aborted project, they’re all in that folder. Once a book is finished, on its way to publication, it gets pulled out of the WIP folder, and you know, gets its own folder then because I’ll have other material that I want to, you know, affiliated with blurbs and the reviews and whatever else I have for it. But until it’s completed and on its way to publication, everything is in the WIP folder, including I look, sometimes I look at the WIP folder, and I see a title of a book, and I think really, what was that I remember it. And I suppose I could open that file and read it and say, Oh, that was what that was, but I don’t have the time right now, because, again, there’s always a new idea and I’m so busy focusing on that.
Patricia McLinn [26:35] Of the books that have made it from the WIP folder to the published folder, do you have any that you would consider an overlooked gem, a book that even your loyalist readers might have missed?
Judith Arnold [26:49] I do I have one book, in particular, it’s called The April Tree. And this was a book actually, you asked if I ever go back to failed projects, the first time I tried to write a version of this book. I was 12 years old. I came back and forth with it for years and years. And I discarded for ten years at a time. And but there were all these ideas about this book that I really wanted to write at some point. And I finally, a few years ago, I thought my career had flatlined. I thought I was never going to sell another book. And I just said, well—
Patricia McLinn [27:25] After how many books?
Judith Arnold [27:27] Oh, gosh, that was probably around 85 or 90 at that point. 85. But, you know, I had left my publisher, I had no agent. And I just said, I can’t stop writing. I mean, I have tried to stop writing. And it’s, it’s, I can’t, so I said, but you know, if I’m never going to sell another book again, maybe it’s time to bring out The April Tree and really work on it. And the timing was right, I just, the story flowed out of me. It was a very different telling than it was when I was needless to say when I was 12, or when I tried it again, when I was in my 20s, or when I tried it, it went when I was in my 30s.
But I wrote it. And right after I wrote it, I wrote my first mystery. And I sent them both to the editor of a small, midsize press. I had sold the book to the Bell Bridge Books. And I said, You know, I think you’ll like the mystery cuz it’s funny and it’s, you know, commercial. Would you do me a favor and read this book too, and tell me if I should, you know, bury it in the bottom of the drawer or what? And my editor started reading it first, before she read the mystery. She called me up, a couple of days later, she said, I’ve just finished the first chapter and I can’t stop crying. And she ended up reading it and insisting on publishing it. And it’s very different from my other books. It’s more literary, it’s, uh, it deals with some very heavy issues. It’s about how three friends cope with the inexplicable death of their fourth friend, and it was inspired by—
Patricia McLinn [29:02] And how old are they?
Judith Arnold [29:04] They? Well, in the beginning of the book, they’re 15, at the end of the book 20. It’s written in two parts. One is when they’re in high school, and one is when they’re in college. But when I was, when I was 12, my best friend died, and it made me question so much about, about life and what I understood and faith and all of those things. And these were questions obviously, they’ve been rattling around in my head ever since. And so writing this book out, allowed me to explore those feelings and it’s, it’s really I think, it’s a beautiful book. It is such a special book to me. I hope more readers will find it some someday it’s again, it’s called The April Tree and it was published by Bell Bridge Books and just a very special book.
Patricia McLinn [29:46] And it’s available both as a paperback and digital, isn’t it?
Judith Arnold [29:50] That’s right. Yes, it is.
Patricia McLinn [29:51] That’s a particular kind of read. Do you think that you have other books that would be an easier place or the best place for new to you readers to start with? With your works because you are now over 100 books published. Are you not?
Judith Arnold [30:10] That is true. That is true.
Patricia McLinn [30:12] Yay. So of those hundred, do you have a couple you can tell us a reader who has never read Judith Arnold before?
Judith Arnold [30:20] Well yeah, I would say if you are a mystery fan and like white funny, clever mysteries, you should start with the first book in my Lainie Lovett series, Still Kicking. It’s a fun, fun book, but it’s a good mystery. And Lainie Lovett is just a really cool middle-aged schoolteacher who plays soccer and ends up solving mysteries.
If you’re a romance fan, I would suggest you try my Magic Jukebox series. The first book of that series is called Changes. And again since these are series it’s probably best to sort of read them in order Changes is— The Magic Jukebox series is about a… It’s— They’re all set in a kind of a seaside town north of Boston. I live in Massachusetts and there’s an old kind of, you know, working-class tavern in the town where a lot of town people hang out, and in the tavern is an antique jukebox. And no one can figure out how it works. All they know is if you put a quarter in, you’ll get three songs you don’t, you can’t choose the songs, you have no idea what the songs are going to be, but they’re going to be old songs old enough to have been recorded on vinyl.
And every now and then the magic jukebox will play a song that somehow casts a spell over two people in the tavern, and they will ultimately fall in love. And that’s the premise of the series and Changes is the first book in the series. It’s the song in that one and is David Bowie’s Changes, his song. Each of the books is named after the song that somehow connects the hero and heroine and they’re also there. They’re pretty short. They’re fun. They’re, um… Some of them are darker. Some of them are lighter, but they’re just, they’re a lot of fun and readers really seem to enjoy them.
Patricia McLinn [32:06] I would also recommend the Daddy School books.
Judith Arnold [32:09] Yeah. Oh, they’re, they’re… Yeah, they’re great too, the Daddy School. Originally they originated when I was still writing for Harlequin. And again, I’ve gotten the rights back to them and updated them and reissued them. That’s a series, the first book in that series is called Father Found, which when it came out originally it was it received the Reviewers Choice Award from RT Magazine for the best Harlequin Super Romance that year.
And the premise of that is that men want to be good fathers but sometimes they need some instruction, and so all of the books have a child in them or a baby or somebody struggling, it’s not always the heroes child either. In at least one of the books, it’s the heroine’s child and the hero wants to fall, he’s falling in love with the heroine, but he hates children. So he still has to learn how to deal with kids too. And they are a lot of fun. Again, some are a little lighter, some are darker. But the first book in that series is called Father Found. That’s a fun series, too.
Patricia McLinn [33:12] Yeah. What… What do you read for fun?
Judith Arnold [33:15] Well, it depends on what I’m writing. If I’m working on mysteries, I try not to be reading mysteries. If I’m working on a romance, I try not to read a romance. I really do like what I guess falls under the kind of vague genre of women’s fiction, which I think you know, it’s a funny name. I always joke that if somebody took The Great Gatsby and put a pink cover on it, and it was written by Zelda Fitzgerald, it would be considered women’s fiction. But I think, I think women’s fiction are books about relationships, books about… They’re character driven, they usually have strong, interesting heroines. So I love women’s fiction. I’m pretty eclectic, guys.
Frequently, I will just read a book that somebody handed to me or that that might be Book Club is reading or I recently read a couple of manuscripts from friends of mine who wanted some input on them. It varies, right now I’m reading a women’s fiction book by a friend of mine and enjoying it a lot.
Patricia McLinn [34:16] Do you find that when you read manuscripts like that, where somebody is asking for input, is that a different reading experience for you from reading a finished book by somebody you don’t know?
Judith Arnold [34:27] Yeah, yeah, it is definitely for one thing, when I read a finished book, I know that my input is not going to make any difference. I can’t, I can’t call them to say, you know, I think that you could build this plot thread a little stronger or whatever, and so there’s no point. I don’t read those books with a pad and pen next to my hand. But yeah, when I’m reading critically for a friend, yes, I’m looking at very specific and I’m looking not just I’m not looking for problems, but I’m looking for whatever I can tell them that will help them strengthen the story.
You know, sometimes the story is… if the story is flawless, well, bravo. But you know, if a story has promise, but needs some work, you don’t just want to say this has promise and needs some work. You want to be able to kind of guide them. Say, here was the question in my head when I read this section, here was what I was wondering what the heroine really wanted in this, in this moment. They have something that they can work on, if they want, you know, I mean, I don’t take it personally if they read my critique and say this is this doesn’t make any sense to me and they can toss it, you know, it’s up to them. It’s their book.
Patricia McLinn [35:36] You’re probably better at reading published books without that critical aspect to it than I am.
Judith Arnold [35:44] You know, I know. It’s— No, it’s really hard there, there have been times when I have bemoaned the fact that I am a writer because it has, in some ways really diminished the joy of reading for me. Because, yeah, we read everything as, as writers and we think, Oh, I would have done it this way or, Oh, she really blew that or, Oh, you know, he didn’t develop this the way it should have been developed. Yeah, it makes you very, very critical. I used to liken it to a magician watching another magician’s performance and thinking, Oh, I know how that works. Oh, I know how he did that.
Patricia McLinn [36:18] Yes.
Judith Arnold [36:19] Yeah. So yeah, yeah, it does. It does reduce the joy. And that’s one reason that I sometimes enjoy reading books that are completely not what I write. And just because I can sort of separate myself from it more and not think, Oh, he should have done it this way. She should have written it that way.
Patricia McLinn [36:36] I like the magician because that sometimes it’s not that we’re thinking how I would do it or change this or do that. It’s just seeing the man behind the curtain. So you know what’s happening and you know what’s going to happen well before you should in the rhythm of the story, and it just, it makes it hard to be as immersed in the story. A lot of times I go back and reread things that I first read before I became a writer because I can still access that reader feel—
Judith Arnold [37:10] That’s wonderful.
Patricia McLinn [37:11] —with those.
Judith Arnold [37:12] Sometimes I do that I go back to them and I think, Oh, why was I so transported by this way back when. So it can go either way, but sad that that fresh eye and that almost naïveté when you read that book. It’s like, oh, wow, this is a whole new world, now I’m, I can jump into it.
Covers: Wanting MacGyver and getting Doby Gillis
Patricia McLinn [37:31] Yes. And speaking of reading and readers, we had some questions from readers, one may not apply as much to what you’re doing now as an independent author. But she asks when the when the cover image doesn’t match the character description, and the reader says, a pet peeve of mine. How does that feel?
Judith Arnold [37:55] Oh, it is a pet peeve of mine too. When I work with publishers, especially with Harlequin, they would always ask for these very detailed descriptions of all the characters or they did the cover art. And then they’d send you the cover flat and you’d say, huh? I do remember I had written a book I had visualized the hero is looking like I think it’d be with Richard Dean Anderson. It was MacGyver, the original MacGyver. Really kind of a blond guy. And I specified this on the … and, he was kind of a quirky, high tech genius too, so it made sense. And then they sent me the cover flat and instead of MacGyver, I got Doby Gillis, and I was just oh, no, I hate it, too.
Back when I worked with publishers, I had no real input into it at all. So Reader, believe me, I sympathize. One of the nice things about being an indie author is that I can veto a cover, I can ask for redesign, and I can say this is what I want. These are the characters I want on that cover, so it is less likely to happen. Sometimes you just can’t get exactly what you want. But yeah, you read these books, you fall in love with these characters, you visualize them in a certain way.
And then there are these people on the cover who look nothing like them. I had written one book, which I have reissued in digital recently called Going Back in which the heroine was, she was kind of funny looking. And that was one of the premises of the book, she just was not very pretty. And part of it is that the hero, he falls in love with her, he realizes that he loves her anyway, because he’s gorgeous. And, you know, at the end of the book, it ends with their, they make their lifelong commitment to each other. And he says that, you know, would you consider getting contact lenses because you really look dorky in the glasses, you know, so it’s not like she suddenly, you know, not like the librarian who pulls up, puts down her hair and takes off her glasses. She’s always going to be funny looking, but she’s just a wonderful person and he loves her. And of course, I got the cover and there’s this absolutely gorgeous woman on the cover.
Patricia McLinn [40:00] Oh no.
Judith Arnold [40:01] That’s not how I pictured her. But what are you gonna do?
Patricia McLinn [40:04] I got one cover. And I said out loud as I looked at it. Who are these dorks? And what did you do with my character? He’s a rancher, and they’ve got him in a suit. And, you know, just this is one of the reasons most of my covers now don’t have people on them. Because I can never find the right people. I could spend days looking at stock photos and none of them are exactly who I have in my head. So I tend not to have people, I tend to have something that represents either landscape or something that represents something happening in the book because that’s a lot easier to get right. So that is a great question, Reader.
Judith Arnold [40:48] You know, the other thing I would say to the reader or to everybody, is that when you do read digitally, I mean, I do most of my reading on Kindle now. The cover, because the cover is a good tool to capture your interest in the book, but once you start reading, you don’t ever look at the cover again. So that sort of helps me when I have, when there’s a cover that I don’t think is right for the book. But then once I’m in my Kindle, I don’t really have to look at the cover anymore.
Patricia McLinn [41:16] It’s a really good point. I tend to read a read digitally, but across multiple platforms and audiobooks, too. Whereas with a paperback book, you’ll see the cover physically because it’s sitting there…
Judith Arnold [41:20] Right there.
Patricia McLinn [41:21] …and you’ll see it multiple times. So it has more impact on you, I think, than that first one first sight that you get with a digital or an audiobook. So another reader question. Well we sort of covered where do you stories come from? And you talked about the characters setting up shop in your head. Okay, this is about where you work, your workspace, and it says, What is your favorite place to write? Why? Does it have an inspirational view. And I’m gonna say, I’ll tell you, Reader, that her usual workspace does not have an inspirational view and it’s a mess.
Judith Arnold [42:10] I was … I was waiting for that, unfortunately Pat has seen my office and she’ll tell you all the rest of my house is very neat and very tidy.
Patricia McLinn [42:20] True. True,
Judith Arnold [42:21] But my office is like a menagerie. It’s just a zoo. I will say there actually there is a window on the side of my desk, and it overlooks this small patch of woods in our backyard.
Patricia McLinn [42:34] Okay, I saw it at night
Judith Arnold [42:36] You saw it at night, so you did not did not see that, but I have always had to have a window right near my desk so I can gaze out the window at something pretty. And I mean, when we bought this house, I got to choose which room was going to be my office before we doled out the bedrooms to the kids. And I needed, I needed a room at the back of the house so I could look out at the woods rather than on the street.
But yeah, I do work at my desk most of the time. My desk is very cluttered. Among the clutters not just folders of information, research materials, you know, just all that kind of stuff, but I also have like a whole pile of stuffed animals. I have a bunch of them there and they are all significant in various ways. I have a bunch of books, a couple of two thesauruses, several dictionaries, my most important reference book I have besides the book of poisons is my 10,000 Names for Babies because I’m always looking for good names. Just a bunch of books like that. And again, piles of stuff. I have a couch in my office that has room for one person to sit on because the rest of it is piled with books. I have bookcases that are—
Patricia McLinn [43:52] But wait a minute. Timeout, timeout because if that one person sits on the couch, this is the voice of experience, that person is then covered by an avalanche of books.
Judith Arnold [44:04] Because they all slide down toward you, I know. I know. But I also find I can work when I have to, I take my Netbook or my little laptop, and you know if I’m traveling or when my kids were growing up, I used to take the laptop to their Little League games because they’d have to get to the field an hour before the game would start. I never missed watching the game, but during the hour warm up and practice I would just take my laptop and sit in the bleachers and get a lot of writing done. I did have to be careful because sometimes a kid would suddenly, I realized some kid was reading over my shoulder and if this was a sex scene that would not have gone over well you know. Or the lounge outside their music teacher’s studio or when … one of my son’s is recovering from cancer right now, but I have gotten a lot of writing done in the waiting area while he was getting his chemo and so—
Patricia McLinn [45:02] And he’s doing great.
Judith Arnold [45:04] He is doing really well. He is in remission, no signs of cancer in him right now and we’re very pleased. And I’ll give a shout out to Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, they are miracle workers. But so you know, I do find sometimes that I get more writing done on my laptop because it doesn’t have you know, I could access Facebook on it but I don’t you know, it’s sort of more focused in it’s not as comfortable a machine for me to go around playing and I certainly can’t play Solitaire on it very easily.
So I do write on that sometimes if need be, but I am very comfortable in my office. It’s my little hidey-hole and that’s where I get most of my writing done amid the clutter. I keep thinking, how can I write with all this clutter, but somehow I think it works for me. I’ve actually reached the point now where I’m afraid if I cleaned the place up, I would never be able to write again. So that’s my excuse anyway.
Patricia McLinn [46:01] Yeah, it’s so weird because as Judith says, the rest of her house is very neat and orderly and having roomed with her, she’s, she’s generally neat. And this room—
Judith Arnold [46:11] You stopped when you walked in. Oh my God.
Patricia McLinn [46:15] When you were talking about little kids seeing what you were writing on your screen, are you conscious of that on airplanes?
Judith Arnold [46:21] Fortunately, the seats usually have pretty high backs. If there’s somebody sitting next to me, I’ll kind of tilt my machine a little bit just to make sure they can’t see what I’m writing.
Patricia McLinn [46:33] It’s not, it’s the people diagonally behind you because I look at people’s screens. So I know people look at the screen, so I’m very conscious of it with mine.
Judith Arnold [46:46] Thank you for that advice. I will bear that in mind, so I—
Patricia McLinn [46:48] Yep. So watch what you’re writing on airplanes.
Judith Arnold [46:51] I will be very careful about that.
Patricia McLinn [46:52] From when you first got published, have you changed the way you write? Changed your process?
Judith Arnold [47:00] Oh, yes, yes, it has a lot. Um, I first I sold my first book in 1983, before when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. When I first started writing, you know, I was reading a lot of romances and trying very much to, to mimic, in, not to copy, but to kind of capture that voice and capture that, that kind of language. I know, I slipped a lot because my editor always would tell me, you know, I was reading your book, every time I read one of your manuscripts, I always have to look up at least one word. And that kind of irked her but I have a big vocabulary, what can I say?
But as I, as I began to feel more confident about what I was doing, I began to color outside the lines a lot more. Now, I think my writing is, my writing voice is a bit more streamlined. It’s about bit more direct and I feel much more comfortable that way. And in terms of the writing process, I used to, I used to get the best writing done in the morning now I get the best writing done in the afternoon. It’s, it’s…
Patricia McLinn [48:14] You’re coming to the dark side.
Judith Arnold [48:16] Well, no, it’s because I’ve now I’m out jogging in the morning and taking care of errands and things like that in the morning. There’s something about by, I usually have a real dip in energy in the early to midafternoon. And somehow that, um, that dip in energy, you think it would make it harder for me to write, but it sort of strips away any kind of inhibitions, that is not quite the word.
Patricia McLinn [48:40] Internal editor.
Judith Arnold [48:41] Yeah, that’s, that’s it really, and I just, I just say, Okay, I’m exhausted. I’m just gonna spew it all out. However it comes out. And I get a lot of writing done in a very short stretch of time, usually in a couple of hours. You know, I like I have to build up and build up and build up until about 2 or 2:30 in the afternoon, and It all comes gushing out of me. And that seems like a very undisciplined way to work except that it works. So I don’t question it. I think that’s one of the things I’ve learned over the years is if something is working, just go with it and don’t say I should be doing it this way or should be doing it that way. Just do it the way it works.
Patricia McLinn [49:16] Accept it when it works.
Judith Arnold [49:18] Yeah. And be grateful fall on your knees and say, thank you. Thank you. It’s working.
Patricia McLinn [49:2] I think that touching on that internal editor, I think that’s our internal critic. It’s something that a lot of people either don’t recognize or they think they’re the only one that happens to. I think a lot of us write with at least two voices going on at the same time in our heads. The voice of the story of the characters, and we’re writing that along and then there’s this, Shouldn’t have done that, you should have done this better. That isn’t very good. What is what are you doing here? Oh, no, you can’t go there. You’re going down this track, that’s not good. And then there can be another voice even saying should be spending your time on this other project. Why are you working on this project? There’s this other project you should be doing. I probably have five voices going most of the time. Now if you tell me I’m the only one—
Judith Arnold [50:17] We’re schizophrenic. Well, I, I, yeah, lots of voices. The Three Faces of Judith or The Three Faces of Patricia. Yeah, I … you know, I, we have talked with some of our writer friends who use dictation software to write verbally, and I could never do that because I’m constantly editing as I write, you know, write a sentence and say, Oh, no, I have to change that word. I can’t move on to the next sentence until I feel if I have like a word that I’ve repeated several times in a paragraph and I think, Oh my gosh, you have to fix that paragraph before I can move on to the next paragraph. That’s kind of the internal editor nagging me. Yeah, there’s there are lots of voices and then there were the character voices in there, too. Shouting wait, wait, it’s my turn for a big scene, you know? Yeah. So yeah.
Patricia McLinn [51:05] Yeah. Unless dictation picks up cut and paste and backspace delete. I don’t think I will be able to use it. Because I’m using— I’m going backwards at least as much as I’m going forward. You, you mentioned naming characters. And do you have thoughts about how you name your characters? Are you looking for specific things when you’re coming up with the name? Do some of them come pre-named? Do they ever announce their name to you?
Judith Arnold [51:32] Some of them do, most of them don’t. There are certain things I do look for in names. One really important one is if a book has a number of characters in it, I want their names to be different enough that there won’t be confusion, unless confusion is an important part of the plot. You know, I try it like in romance, I will try to make sure my hero and heroines names do not start with the same letter. I don’t know why I just sort of feel they need contrast. Certain names fit certain personality types. So yeah, if I have a certain kind of character, I can’t name him something that’s just not going to fit his type. And usually, you know, I’ll go through the book through my 10,000 Names for Babies book. And as I’m thumbing through it suddenly certain names will leap out at me. They’ll say, yeah, this name would fit him really well.
I do, I do pay attention to the last names also. Because the last names will frequently tell us something about the character’s ethnicity, and you know so not all of my characters are WASPs you know, I have I like to have Italian characters, Jewish characters, Polish characters, Irish characters, and so their last names, may be reflecting that. And then I wanted the first name and the last name to have a nice rhythm to have a nice flow. When I first started out writing romances, I was always very conscious about whether the heroine’s first name would go well with the hero’s last name because I knew they were going to get married at the end of the book. But you know nowadays lots of wives— Anyway and that is no longer a major concern for me.
But you want the names to tell us something about the character. Um, sometimes a person’s name really reflects the kind of person they are or reflects something about their background because I you know, I pay a lot of attention to my characters backgrounds, you know, their childhoods what their parents were like, where they grew up, you know, I had in the second book in the Magic Jukebox series, the hero, his family came over from Russia when he was a small child, you know, that affected the kind of person he was because he became a very rebellious American teenager who kind of troubled his parents. But it also reflected you know, a lot of names and things like that to. His name is Max which is a good for a Russian immigrant, because you also I mean, if your characters if it’s a romance hero, you want his name to be kind of sexy also, you know, there, I wanted sell people by naming some male names that are not very sexy, but—
Patricia McLinn [54:14] You’re going to get yourself in trouble, Judith.
Judith Arnold [54:17] I know, I know.
Patricia McLinn [54:18] Have you found that since you first published in 1982, you said?
Judith Arnold [54:24] 83. 83.
Patricia McLinn [54:25] 83. Okay. Have your names changed or…
Judith Arnold [54:26] When I was five years old.
Patricia McLinn [54:31] Can you go back and look at the names of characters in those early books and see that they were, you know, oh, look at those 80s names, or look at those early 90s names?
Judith Arnold [54:42] I’ve tried not to do too many trendy names, actually, the heroine and the hero and heroine of my first romance were named Kate and Russell. And I’m not sure where I came up with those names, except I liked them, but they’re not particularly 80s names are. Well Kate was, I guess, pretty common name at that point or for babies, but, you know, I’ve never I, I’ve always had this sort of feeling what I would read certain romances in the hero’s name was, you know, Flint or something like that. And I would think, what were his parents smoking when they came up with that name? I don’t know. You know, I’ve tried to have kind of normal names, you know, names that people can, can relate to. I did, I had one hero named Cody, this is a fun, fun book. It’s called Married to the Man, but he was definitely a bad, bad boy. Until I had the title down for that book, I just, my working title for it was Every Writer Needs a Hero Named Cody. And so I had my—
Patricia McLinn [55:46] That’s a rather long title.
Judith Arnold [55:47] Yeah, well, it was just it was what I had in my head. You know, he was gonna be my Cody. I was gonna write my Cody book. Did you ever have a yearning Cody?
Patricia McLinn [55:56] No, I don’t.
Judith Arnold [55:58] Aha, well, every writer needs to have one.
Patricia McLinn [56:01] So I still gotta write more books.
Judith Arnold [56:04] Yeah. Better write a Cody book soon. But for the most part, my characters have pretty ordinary names. I think another reason I like to give them sort of ordinary names is because I want them to be relatable to the reader. You know, I want the reader to say, Oh, yes, someone I could know, this is someone I could be. This is someone I could fall in love with. I choose names that convey that.
Patricia McLinn [56:27] I have another reader question. And I love this one. If you could write a book with any author alive or dead, who would you want to work with? And why?
Judith Arnold [56:38] That is a good question. I would, because collaboration is a tricky thing. And you know, there are writers who I absolutely admire and love, writers who have changed my life I would say, one writer—
Patricia McLinn [56:53] Like who?
Judith Arnold [56:53] Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. That book changed my life. That was the book that made me decide, Yeah, I want to write, I think, you know, I was writing before I read that I think I read it for the first time when I was 10. But it just knocked me sideways. That book just floored me. And, and it still floors me when I read it. But I can’t, I mean, I would be so intimidated, the thought of collaborating with her, I’d say, Oh, I will, yeah, I will. I will be your secretary, you just dictate to me and I will write it down. I think it would be probably more fun to collaborate with someone you know, whose writing style is kind of different from me. I did once collaborate with a friend on a play. And we both thought the play when we were done writing it, we thought it was absolutely brilliant. And I sent it to my then theater agent who said, Well, that was a fun project. Now get back to work.
Patricia McLinn [57:48] Oops.
Judith Arnold [57:48] I still think of that. He was, he was a very talented writer. He has written some children’s or young adult fantasies and at the time we worked on the play, he was a writer for Mad Magazine. Yeah. Very quirky sense of humor. And we really had a good time writing the play. But collaboration is hard.
I would love to, I would, I would love to write with E. B. White, who again gave us Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, and my absolute favorite books when I was growing up. But then he also wrote all this grammar books, and he probably be smacking my hand and saying, don’t split that infinitive— I mean, I really admire people who can collaborate. It’s a difficult thing to do. You have to, you have to be able to assert yourself and not just subsume yourself in the other person’s voice. But you know, Pat, we could have fun collaborating, I bet. We get along so well.
Patricia McLinn [58:40] I bet we could have fun. Yeah.
Judith Arnold [58:42] All right, some night when we’re—
Patricia McLinn [58:44] Or it might be the end of a beautiful roommate-ship.
Judith Arnold [58:50] Some night when we’re sharing a room at a conference if we have a lot of wine on a hand.
Patricia McLinn [58:56] We do, we do write occasionally at conferences, but what we’re usually sitting across the table from each other that’s writing our own stuff on our own our own computers that the good thing about that is I look up and I’m ready to, you know, goof off or something I look up and Judith is writing away so I slink back to my keyboard and keep writing.
Judith Arnold [59:21] You know, again at the, at the last conference where we room together and we spent that last afternoon and I kept looking over at you and saying, Oh, she’s so writing. I better get back to see we’re good for each other.
Patricia McLinn [59:33] Mutual guilt. Yes. So okay. You told us a little bit about your most recent book but tell us some more. This is book four in your mystery series, which is called—?
Get a kick out of Lainie Lovett Still Kicking, Kick Back, Drop Kick, and Kick the Bucket
Judith Arnold [59:44] The Lainie Lovett mysteries and all of the books… Um, again, Lainie, Lainie Lovett, she is a fourth grade teacher, widowed, middle age. She has two nearly grown children. One has Boomerang back to the house after college and the other one is still in college. She loves her children. She loves her teaching. She loved her husband very much. And she loves this recreational soccer team that she plays on. And her closest friends are a couple of her teammates on the soccer team. All of the books have a certain soccer title soccer game and they all have the word kick in them.
The first book is called Still Kicking. The second one is called Kick Back. The third one’s called Drop Kick. And the fourth one is Kick the Bucket. And they’re very funny. And as one thing I learned, if you want to write funny mysteries, you always have to make sure that the victim is someone who’s pretty despicable because otherwise if it’s a beloved person, nobody’s gonna find the book funny, but if it’s if it’s an obnoxious, creepy, everybody’s kind of happy he’s dead. And that’s kind of the attitude I have in getting… Kick, Kick the Bucket is they’re all set in a moderate size town, in the Boston suburbs. If you saw my town, you probably would recognize some of the scenes in it. I’ve changed the names but you know, our little favorite Mexican restaurant in our town is called El Camino in the series. And Lainie and her friends, after soccer practice they always go to El Camino for Margaritas.
In the first mystery she is, she is kind of dragged into the mystery quite against her will and by accident, but now once she solves that mystery people sort of revere her as a person who can solve mysteries and in the fourth book in Kick the Bucket, one of her soccer friends brings her to visit the soccer friend’s aunt who lives in this senior residence, independent living residence because there are a number of mysteries in the residence and they all want that famous friend of yours who can solve mysteries. Figure out why things are missing. Of course, given who the residents are some of the things are missing because they’ve misplaced them. Or because you know, they’re there to one in, well, I don’t want to ruin the book but you know, things like that.
But you know. when somebody dies and Lainie points out people are old in this place, you know, so I guess that’s not surprising, but she begins to suspect there’s something very suspicious about this death. And she just kind of gets sucked into it. So she, but they’re a lot of fun. And there there’s a real kind of suburban feel to them. And although the third book in the series is set in and around Boston, it has more city scenes, because you know, you’d have to be careful you don’t want to get into what I call the Jessica Fletcher Cabot Cove situation where, you know, everyone comes to this little town in Maine and dies.
And you know, so you do want to kind of open things up a little, so it doesn’t, so Rockford is the town. The town is named the town Rockford because I used to love watching The Rockford Files that Is my homage to James Garner. You don’t want people to think that Rockford is a town people go into die so I have had some of the murders you know, one of the murders is set outside Rockford and actually in the second book, in Kick Back, the murder victim lives a town away from Rockford, but she works in the school where Lainie teaches.
Yeah, so at the end of Kick the Bucket it was, it was fun to get her into this other community with these older people. I had a lot of fun writing about them. She in order to have an excuse to keep coming back to the place she offers to teach a class in, in memoir writing. And I have had a lot of fun having these people arguing about their memoirs and writing paragraphs about you know, 40-year-old and 60-year-old grievances and things. So it was a lot of fun to write. And I hope it’s a lot of fun to read, too.
Patricia McLinn [01:03:56] So what do you have coming up next? What’s the next release on the schedule? Do you have one?
Judith Arnold [01:04:01] Well, I don’t have a release date yet. I’ve just started work on a new Magic Jukebox book. This book is called Rescue Me after the Aretha Franklin song. I love that song. One of the things when I’m writing these, when I’m writing the Magic Jukebox books, is that I listen to the song that is the theme song of the book over and over, so I’ve been listening to a lot of Aretha Franklin singing Rescue Me. In it the hero is a police officer in town who’s trying to help the heroine, who’s being stalked by someone. But in a way, he needs to be rescued from traumas in his past also, so they end up rescuing each other in a way. He’s a police officer and she’s kind of a, she’s a yoga teacher who comes from a very flaky background. And so it’s an opposites attract kind of book, they end of rescuing each other and because…
Patricia McLinn [01:04:58] I like mutual rescues.
Judith Arnold [01:04:59] Yeah, I do too. So that’s it’s just I’m just starting it now in the first chapter but hopefully I will be able to write it quickly because my readers keep saying when is the next Magic Jukebox book coming out? So, gotta get it done.
Patricia McLinn [01:05:13] So where can readers find out about that book and the Lainie Lovett series and all your other books?
Judith Arnold [01:05:20] My website is www.juditharnold.com and I have a Facebook page which I think is JudithArnoldAuthor. Or they can follow me on BookBub, I have, you know, I have followers there, too. All of my books are available on Amazon and iBooks and you know all of the retailers and I’m out there and contact me through the website and we’ll talk.
Patricia McLinn [01:05:54] And we will have the URLs in the show notes where it’s so much easier to just click and go find out more about Judith. And now we’re going to do a little epilogue on this. These are rapid-fire, hopefully fun questions. No forewarning.
Judith Arnold [01:06:13] The lightning round.
Patricia McLinn [01:06:13] And it’s an either or. Yes, you have to pick one or the other. Okay, I’m going to start you off with dog or cat?
Judith Arnold [01:06:25] Dog
Patricia McLinn [01:06:26] Tea or coffee?
Judith Arnold [01:06:27] Coffee
Patricia McLinn [01:06:28] Cowboy boots or hiking boots?
Judith Arnold [01:06:30] Hiking boots.
Patricia McLinn [01:06:31] Cake or Ice cream?
Judith Arnold [01:06:33] Ice cream
Patricia McLinn [01:06:33] Day or night?
Judith Arnold [01:06:34] Day.
Patricia McLinn [01:06:36] Which is eerier to you, an owl hooting are coyotes howling?
Judith Arnold [01:06:42] Coyotes howling.
Patricia McLinn [01:06:44] Cruise or backpacking?
Judith Arnold [01:06:45] Oh, gee. Um. Cruise. I’m getting old. You know, 40 years ago I would have said both, now I’m getting old. Okay. Cruise.
Patricia McLinn [01:06:55] Mountains or beach?
Judith Arnold [01:06:57] Beach.
Patricia McLinn [01:06:58] Leggings or sweats?
Judith Arnold [01:06:59] Uh, sweats.
Patricia McLinn [01:06:59] Save the best for last or grab the best first?
Judith Arnold [01:07:05] Saving the best for last.
Patricia McLinn [01:07:06] Okay, that will be our last question for today. Thank you so much Judith Arnold. Really appreciated your coming on Authors Love Readers and having this conversation with me. And I don’t think we’ve told any, any real secrets. We’ve been pretty good. I was a little concerned about that. Because when we get talking.
Judith Arnold [01:07:29] We will keep them, that’s why we’re still friends. Although you did tell about my messy office, I don’t know. You revealed my dirty secret about my office. Thank you so much for having me. It was wonderful. Because I always love talking to you.
Patricia McLinn [01:07:44] Yes. I love talking to you, too. Hope to talk to you again soon.
Judith Arnold [01:07:46] Okay. Thank you.
Patricia McLinn [01:07:48] Bye for now. That’s the show for this week. Hope you enjoyed it. And thank you for joining Authors Love Readers podcast. Remember, you can always find out more about our guest authors in the show notes, and you can find out more about me at www.patriciamclinn.com You can also send in questions to be asked of future authors at podcast at AuthorsLoveReaders.com. Until next week, wishing you lots of happy reading. Bye.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Hello from author Patricia McLinn. The Authors Love Readers podcast will be interviews with fellow authors for our readers – we talk about books and life and quirky, fun things. I’ve gathered questions from readers, adding them to the many, many, many I always have.
To start, I did an interview with Kay Coyte, my intrepid assistant, whom many of my readers know from her handling giveaways as well as answering questions and such. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know her better, how we work together, and her experiences in stepping into the whirl of publishing. : – )
Among the first authors I interview are Judith Arnold, Patricia Lewin, Laura Resnick, Emilie Richards – and many more! We cover lots of genres and all kinds of books.
Music by DialogMusik for the instrumentals that accompany this podcast!
Patricia McLinn [00:00] Hi, welcome to this week’s Authors Love Readers podcast, where we delve into the stories behind the stories. We’re asking authors questions, some of them fun, some of them serious. And from their answers, you’re going to learn things you never knew about the people who write the stories you love. My name is Patricia McLinn. I’m your host and designated question asker.
Patricia McLinn [03:33] Now, let’s start the show.
Patricia McLinn [00:35] Hi everybody. This is Patricia McLinn and I am here with Kay Coyte. Those of you who on my reader’s list or on my Facebook page often hear about Kay or are asked to communicate with her as my assistant. And I thought it would be fun for you all to meet her in person say hello, Kay.
Kay Coyte [00:58] Hello, everyone.
Patricia McLinn [00:59] And also to get to know, get to know a little bit about how we work and how we started, um, working together. We actually started working together. Mumble mumble mumble years ago—
Kay Coyte [01:15] Many years ago.
From the racetrack to the Washington Post
Patricia McLinn [01:16] —many years ago, yes. At the Washington Post and, uh, Kay was working there part-time and additionally, in addition to working a full-time job at a horse magazine, um, so you want to tell them a little bit about the horse magazine or your background with horses?
Kay Coyte [01:33] Yes, I’m, I’m a graduate, uh, grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, graduate of University of Kentucky. And while I was an undergrad, I actually worked on the racetrack in the mornings, um, mucking out stalls and walking the horses until they cooled off. Um, so I sort of parlayed that into my first job at a newspaper in Upstate New York to cover horse racing at Saratoga and went from there to a national trade horse racing magazine based outside of Washington, DC.
Kay Coyte [02:02] And I think I must be the only person who came to the Washington Post from a horse racing trade magazine. But I got my toe in the door to work part-time on a sports copy desk, and I really wasn’t very good at first, but, um, I got a bit more and more tied on as I stayed there, and I really wanted to make it work. So I did. Um, and when Pat came on, um, uh, I was probably a pretty regular Steady Eddie part-timer at that point.
Patricia McLinn [02:34] Yes.
Kay Coyte [02:35] And I did eventually go full-time not long after Pat arrived.
Patricia McLinn [02:38] And I, I arrived as a full-timer from the Charlotte Observer, Charlotte, North Carolina, where I had been assistant sports editor. Um, the Post had recruited me and I thought, you know, I will never have another chance to try the Washington Post without having written a query letter. So that was my big reason for, for doing a tryout with them. Um, because I liked Charlotte, I liked it a lot. But it, it turned out. Oh, and the, the AME for sports, the assistant managing editor for sports, told me the winters were no worse in Washington DC than they were in Charlotte. And the first winter, when it was really bad, I said, Hey. And he said, I lied. Yeah, you will recognize that. Right? Kay.
Kay Coyte [03:28] Right.
Patricia McLinn [03:29] Our mutual former boss. So we worked together on the sports desk for quite a while on the copy desk. Eventually, I was a copy chief, um, defacto, for sure. And by that time though, I was also starting to write and publishing, I think, um, Kay was the only one at the Post who knew that I was writing until I’d actually sold the book. Um—
Kay Coyte [03:51] And then let me interject there. Those, that year and a half or so, it was like the hardest thing I ever did in my whole life, because Patricia was working on a book about, that was the book that became Hoops. So it was sports related, basketball coach meets a student advisor, and I wasn’t allowed to talk about it to anybody. And I like to talk about things. So, um, but I have to say that. You know, we often would, we had the way the sports copy desks work. We often had a full hour long lunch, and that was to give us something to do in between additions of the newspaper, but keep us there late at night for late-breaking sports news. So I learned a lot about the publishing business right along as Pat was learning about the publishing business, it was, it was kind of interesting.
Patricia McLinn [04:41] Yeah, that was, that was the old publishing business.
Kay Coyte [04:44] Yes.
Patricia McLinn [04:45] Um, and so then as I started publishing more regularly, um, I eventually went part-time, and I had, I come to, uh, a crossroads where I either was going to apply for higher up jobs, um, including, uh, um, day editor. I was asked if I wanted to apply. And I said, yes. And I thought about it overnight. And I thought, what do I really want to do with my life? And I, it was, um, writing. So I came back the next day and said, no, I don’t want to apply for that job. And I’m going part-time. So, as far as I know, I am the only person at the Washington Post who ever got a going away party for going from full-time to part-time. And worked both days, the two days in a row with the— One day I was full-time. One day I was part-time. So then our paths sorta crisscrossed for awhile cause you went to Detroit—
Kay Coyte [05:47] Right.
Patricia McLinn [[05:48] —right?
Kay Coyte [05:49] Yep.
Patricia McLinn [05:50] And then you came back to the Metro section.
Kay Coyte [05:53] Right. That’s exactly right in between that time I had a child. Um.
Patricia McLinn [05:58] Yes.
Kay Coyte [05:59] So I went part-time in order to be with my son more often and followed my husband up to Detroit. I sort of vowed that I would never work— Before I left, I was with the new service, and that was the first time that, that as working colleagues, um, Patricia and I crossed paths again, she was at the new service before I was, um, but I was also working on other desks, financial desk style desk, Metro. Um, and I went back to work in sports in Detroit, which was a lot of fun, cause it was such a great sports town, but sadly that newspaper went on strike shortly after we moved there and I went, went running back to the Washington Post full-time on the Metro desk, um, and stayed there for a couple of years before an opportunity came to, to get back on with the new service.
Patricia McLinn [06:44] Yeah. And by that time, I, because initially when I was part-time I worked for sports financial and the new service. I was doing a lot of juggling. And, um, eventually I, I went to working strictly with the news service, um, which was so different from the six deadlines a night of, of sports and, and lots of pressure. And how much can you get done in twenty-two seconds? Um, and handling lots of stories. Uh, so it was a different pace, had different requirements, especially as we got more involved with graphics. But, uh, I continued there and then I left the Post in 2007 to move to, um, Northern Kentucky because I could write full-time here because it was so much less expensive to live in than, um, Northern Virginia where I lived.
Patricia McLinn [07:39] And Kay continued at the Post, was the head of the news service. Um, and then retired actually retired a year later than she was supposed to, according to what she’d told me, and when I was going to start her having be my, be an assistant. And then a little over two years ago, so in the fall of 2015, she finally retires and she sort of got thrown into the deep end of being an assistant for an indie published. Well, I think I was. I was like, no, I just finished being hybrid at that point, so I was strictly indie, um, because my previous assistant, um, had pulled back because of family issues. Um, so instead of gaining help, I had Kay really, as I said, got thrown into the deep end. And, um, I, I had told her going in, there are a lot of moving parts. So what’s been your biggest surprise about this, Kay, the past two years?
Kay Coyte [04:48] I think the biggest surprise is just how things continually change. So I will think I have got something learned, um, and then we evolve. So a good portion of what I do, of what I do is a lot of physical uploading of Patricia’s books to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, et cetera, um, and making, and price changes on those sites with their sales, that sorts of things. And seems like there’ll be snags or problems or, you know, just different things and, and they, there’s just changes all the time. Um, and there’s changes all the time in, you know, of course we do a lot of social media, um, work on Facebook in particular and Twitter and other platforms. And that is kind of constantly changing.
Kay Coyte [09:41] What is, you know, what is most visible and, um, it’s just always changing. And then, then of course, there’s some things about the publishing business that to me are just counterintuitive. I think at one point when I had, um, you know, sort of some free reign to do some book sales, I think I set a book at a dollar ninety-nine, I think it was. And, and I got this kind of universal, you know, like blow back from Pat, but I think I was at a meeting where other people went, Oh no, not a dollar ninety-nine, because apparently has to do with, um, we’re royal to where the, where the dividing line for royalties jumps in. So there’s just lots of minutia that I, I didn’t know, but I will say this about how, how sometimes it’s interesting how past jobs dovetail into present jobs. Um, back when Pat and I were both working on the news service, I used to joke that it was the Reader’s Digest, condensed Washington Post, because that’s what we did. It was at a time when there was more staff, more newspapers, and part of our job was to boil down these Washington Post stories and to concise stories other newspapers, who didn’t have as much space, they could use these.
Patricia McLinn [10:53] Right.
Kay Coyte [10:54] So it’s really been helpful in, you know, in doing those stories, the Washington Post, I was mindful of each reporter’s voice, you know, I wanted to keep their voice, not just lop off the bottom ten inches of this story, but try to keep the voice, if it was humorous or you know, keep it balanced. It was strictly news. And this has been helpful in sometimes I’ve had to boil, um, book descriptions to smaller things, or I’ve had to boil something down—
Patricia McLinn [11:23] Right.
Kay Coyte [11:24] —to what I think is how Pat would describe something. And I think this gives me at least a little bit of confidence to be able to do something like that.
Patricia McLinn [11:32] I’ve always said that being an editor of any sort requires you to be a chameleon, being a good editor, because you do have to adapt to that voice, uh, of each, not only each writer, but each work, each story.
Kay Coyte [11:47] That’s true.
Patricia McLinn [11:50] Um, because they can vary so much so, and it, and it helps a lot that, you know, we’ve, we’ve talked five days a week for mumble mumble years, and we’re not going to go into that, uh, exact comment of yours. So, um, I think we do know how, how each would respond to things and, and might phrase things. Um, and I, I think the changes, uh, are not going to stop by any means. In fact, I think they’re going to accelerate. And the upshot or the upside of that is that, you know, they say that learning new things keeps you young, so we are never—
Kay Coyte [12:23] That’s right.
Patricia McLinn [12:24] —going to get old, Kay.
Kay Coyte [12:25] The changing in the publishing business, um, as I was leaving the Washington Post, um, we were, the news service was in the process of updating its very outdated website, and we were putting together one that was pretty good. Well, about the time we were in, this was a years’ long process, and that’s when Jeffrey Bezos bought the Washington Post and there became many more good tech folks available to make this a better, sharper website, but at one point, one of our officials on the desk, not a news-based person, but one of the more sales-based people said, well, you know, we’ve got to get this website right, because we won’t keep changing it. We won’t change it again for oh ten years. Most looked around the table, and I thought, ten years, you know, ten years, we might be just thinking about things and they’re going to appear somewhere somehow. No one can predict—
Patricia McLinn [13:33] Right. Right.
Kay Coyte [13:34] —no one in the web, the internet publishing business, where anything is going to be ten years from now.
Collies and mutts with a Lassie heart
Patricia McLinn [13:40] Yeah, that’s nuts. And as a side note, I was back at the Washington Post in April, this April of 2017. Um, writers’ conference took me there. Um, and I got together with some former colleagues, your ears must’ve been burning, Kay, cause we were talking about you a lot. But that the Post, since I left, had moved from the old spot where it was on 15th and L to a couple of blocks away. And I will tell you, the new building is very snazzy. And my comment to the former colleagues is, Hey, when I was here, we had mice. Now you’ve got marble, you know, this doesn’t seem right. This isn’t fair, but, um, but I gotta say I, I missed people from the Post a lot. I miss the DC area a lot, but I don’t miss working every day, so for the, for that kind of work, I like the writing, um, and the writing world. So as you, um, listeners, uh, communicate with, with me through the newsletter. Oh, and one of the things Kay is doing now is the pets. You want to talk about that.
Kay Coyte [14:58] Sure. We just, um, we all know that Patricia is a huge dog fan and particularly a huge collie fan. You’ve seen pictures—
Patricia McLinn [15:08] Yep.
Kay Coyte [15:09] —of Kalli and previous collies and mixed mixtures of collies. Um, and actually, I had a dog in my, many dogs—
Patricia McLinn [15:18] Named Lassie.
Kay Coyte [15:19] —some named Lassie, which was ironic because my dog named Lassie was like a little brown mutt that looked nothing like a collie.
Patricia McLinn [15:29] She had a Lassie heart.
Kay Coyte [15:33] Yes, she did have a Lassie heart. Um, but, uh, so we, those, uh, people, Patricia’s readers love reading about the dog and dogs also figure prominently in her books, many of her books. Um, so we started maybe seeing pictures that people were, were posting on Facebook and thought, well, let’s just ask people to send their pictures in and we’ll, you know, make it a little regular feature of the newsletter. So we do that now once a month, we feature two or more pets. Um, and we’ll, I’ve, I’ve got, uh, quite a few more, but I’m always on the lookout for more pet pictures.
Patricia McLinn [16:09] It’s been fantastic. They’re they, they always make me smile every, every time we have them in and they are just so cute. Um, oh, I love that. And Kay is doing another feature in the newsletter too, in honor of my mystery series, Caught Dead in Wyoming, the sleuth who’s Elizabeth Margaret, also known as E. M. Danniher is, um, a consumer affairs reporter in this little tiny station in, uh, Wyoming, which is a major life change for her. So Kay is doing, um, uh, consumer protection type, uh, posts on my blog and in the newsletter. And then they show up in the blog too. So do you have any favorites of those that you’ve done?
Frank Abagnale and consumer protection
Kay Coyte [17:00] I don’t know about favorites, but one of the, um, uh, one thing that occurred here in Louisville recently was, um, a speech by Frank Abagnale, who is the real-life character from the Catch Me If You Can movie. He was played by Leonardo DiCaprio in a movie, and he came to speak in Louisville about identity protection, um, and I went down to hear him speak. I expected, you know, kind of a dry, um, presentation, but it was really a very heartfelt presentation, a lot about him personally. Um, but because of this background that he has, and he pointed out during that speech that he was not particularly smart.
Kay Coyte [17:45] He was just, you know, a young man who was observant and knew how to to take advantage of vulnerabilities and systems. And this is how he managed to pose as an airline pilot and fly all around the world and as a doctor and other professions. Um, but he’s applied that across, um, you know, banking and other, um, things that we use every day. So he’s, uh, you know, he’s had a complete 180 turn in his life and now dedicated to informing people about scams and fraudulent practices. So I reported on that, uh, the first one, and I’ll keep reporting on that off and on in newsletters as we go along, because it was just really very interesting and some things I wasn’t thinking about. Um, but I think some of the ones that kill me are scams that prey on old lonely, you know, elderly, lonely people, or, um, some of the most vulnerable people, a whole nanny scam where people were pretending or scamming people are scamming nannies by pretending that there was jobs available for them. And, um, just, you know, just how low people can go to make a buck is just very sad to me.
Patricia McLinn [19:02] It is sad, but it’s all the more important that people are on the alert and aware of them and, and the most recent, uh, Caught Dead in Wyoming book backstory, one of the scams that figures in it is, um, people calling up and saying that you, uh, you missed jury duty and you’re going to get this huge, horrible, fine, unless you, um, and, and be arrested unless you pay the fine and you have to do it right now over, um, you know, using your credit card or, you know, they have various, um, ways that they do it. So I always think one of the lessons is, you know, you don’t do anything on the phone right away. You always check, and you check, you don’t call the number they give you, you go find the, the, um, main switchboard number for an organization or, or legal or business or whatever. And then, and then you do the tracking down.
Kay Coyte [20:07] And that, that was another, that was one of the ones I wrote that was very personal for me because something like that, very similar to the jury duty scam is the, um, the granny scam where, uh, uh, uh, a person calls and pretends to be the grandson or nephew of an older person, and they use their confusion and their concern about this person to use Western Union to wire them money. And my mother nearly fell prey to this. And of course this was, you know, family lore that, that this was the case. And then my sister’s husband, even though he knew about this, he almost did the same thing because it was so realistic. Um, but thankfully, both of them, you know, realized when it was a scam hung up and didn’t pursue it.
Patricia McLinn [20:54] Yeah. That’s, that’s so scary that, that it can happen to, to anybody. And it’s taking advantage of your concerns, which is why they succeed and why they keep doing it, so— Well, we may be having new features for you in the coming year. Not saying exactly what, what it will be. Um, this might actually be a surprise to Kay, but you never know when these things are going to show up. So it’s been lots of fun talking with you. Uh, we talk pretty regularly, and, but letting the readers in on this conversation and I hope you all have enjoyed it too. And we’ll come back as we have more recordings of various kinds, um, about the books, about writing, who knows where, maybe about dogs, huh? Who knows where these recordings will lead.
Patricia McLinn [21:54] But for now, we’ll say, Hope you have a great day. That’s the show for this week. Hope you enjoyed it. And thank you for joining Authors Love Readers podcast. Remember, you can always find out more about our guest authors in the show notes, and you can find out more about me at www.patriciamclinn.com. You can also send in questions to be asked of future authors at podcastatauthorslovereaders.com. Until next week, wishing you lots of happy reading. Bye.