Episode 9: Creating a Past, with Victoria Thompson

Host Patricia McLinn talks with bestselling author Victoria Thompson about her Gaslight Mystery series and the ups and downs of a career spent writing historical romance and mystery books. Victoria and Patricia discuss the craft of writing and teaching that craft to others.

You can find Victoria on:

*her website,

*Facebook and


Thanks to DialogMusik for the instrumentals that accompany this podcast.

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Transcript: Authors Love Readers with Victoria Thompson

Patricia McLinn [00:00] 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.

Victoria Thompson [00:24] I’m Victoria Thompson. And I’m an author who loves readers.

Patricia McLinn [00:27] Now let’s start the show. Welcome to this edition of Authors Love Readers podcast. I’m delighted to have the guest Victoria Thompson here this week. And Victoria, and I, I don’t know how long we’ve known each other. It’s been a really long time.

Victoria Thompson [00:45] Forever.

Patricia McLinn [00:47] Don’t you think?

Victoria Thompson [00:48]Yes, forever.

Patricia McLinn [00:49] Or it just seems like forever. Is that what you’re saying?

Victoria Thompson [00:52] Right. Well, if we met at Novelis Inc. it has to have been since 1989. That’s what it, that when Novelis Inc. started. So that’s probably back then.

Patricia McLinn [01:02] Yeah. Did it start in 89? I don’t think I joined until the second year.

Patricia McLinn [01:09] Yeah. Great organization. And those have listened to other podcasts, it crops up now and then. And Victoria is a former president, a past president of Novelis Inc. As am I, and, uh, is back on the board doing yeoman’s service as the advisory council liaison to the board. So we really appreciate everything she’s, she’s done and is doing for Novelis Inc. And let’s see when we first met each other. You were writing historical romance, right?

Victoria Thompson [01:47] Correct. Yes.

Patricia McLinn [01:49] And I was writing contemporary romance and over the years and here and there and she, she made this, the switch to, um, historical mysteries. And I’ve added contemporary mysteries. I never let go of anything is as you know, and has this wonderful two wonderful series now.

And we’ll, we’ll, we’ll talk about those a little bit more, but first I just wanted to kind of ask you some. Get to know you questions for the, for the readers. And I uh, I don’t know the answers to some of these, so let’s start off with surprising job you’ve held.

Victoria Thompson [02:31] Oh my gosh. I was a printing specialist for the government, US government printing office back in the day, shortly after I got married, my husband, um, wanted to become a preacher. And so he was going to, so we were going to move from the Washington DC area to Dallas and he was going to go to college to become a minister and I needed to get a job to support him.

And a gentleman on our church, it was a friend of the public printer, who’s like the secretary of state to the, to the government printing office. And, uh, he gave me a job in their Dallas office. That’s where we moved to Dallas and, uh, so I became a printing specialist, was my title. I knew absolutely nothing about printing. And for years afterwards, whenever my husband was describing someone who knew nothing about what they were doing, he would call them a printing specialist.

Patricia McLinn [03:29] I think that’s confirming a lot of people’s belief about the—

Victoria Thompson [03:32] About the government. I know.

Patricia McLinn [03:33] —government, that somebody called a specialist, and knows nothing about it.

Victoria Thompson [03:36] And after working in it, I can readily understand that they’re, they’re certainly justified in being a little skeptical. But my job was to order printing for various government agencies whenever they needed anything printed, I would write the specs and bid the job out. So I do know a lot about printing now. I did not however, when I was hired for that job.

Patricia McLinn [03:57] Now, was that ever a good background for you and in your publishing career?

Victoria Thompson [04:01] Never.

Patricia McLinn [04:03] Never.

Victoria Thompson [04:04] Not in this life. I mean, I do know about fonts, maybe that was helpful. I don’t know. I mean, being traditionally published, I was never involved. It’s actually pretty my book. So it wasn’t helpful at all,

Patricia McLinn [04:18] But that’s a great odd job that you’ve had. Okay. What’s your favorite taste?

Victoria Thompson [04:26] My favorite taste. I, you know, sweet, I guess.

Vicki Barry mysteries, the color red, and anger

Patricia McLinn [04:30] Uh, do you have a childhood book that addicted you to stories?

Victoria Thompson [04:33] You know, I read so voraciously when I was a child that it’s hard to pick a favorite book, but what I do remember the book I remember most from my childhood was a series, the Vicki Barr mystery. She was a stewardess. It was sort of like Nancy Drew, except she was a stewardess. It was that same era in the 1950s.

And I had gone to the book fair at school, and I saw this book and it was, um, this character had the same name as I did. She even spelled it the same way. And, um, she was a stewardess, which was the most glamorous job you could possibly have in the 1950s. And she solved mysteries, and, um, I asked my parents for that book and, um, It was a hardcover book and it was expensive and I didn’t really hold out much hope that they get it. And they came back from the book fair without it. So, I just assumed they hadn’t gotten it for me.

And I was looking in a closet one day and I found that book, the sequel to that book in a hidden, carefully away, because they were going to give it to me for Christmas. I was so excited. So of course on Christmas morning I pretended to be very, very excited. Didn’t have to pretendto be happy. But that was like, sort of my, um, it’s sort of, I don’t, I’m not sure it’s the first mystery I ever read, but it certainly cemented my love for mysteries.

Patricia McLinn [05:55] Uh, do you know how you became a voracious reader? Was it from your folks? Or was there something else that got you started?

Victoria Thompson [06:03] I think it’s, um, I think it’s a culture that, um, that you’re raised in. My parents were both readers, and my mom, my mom subscribed to the book of the month club. So we always had, we always had in the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, she got, we always had books in our house and my mother was always reading, so, and, and they read to us as children. We had a whole shelf full of Little Golden Books. And so we always had story time before bed at bedtime and stuff. So, um, reading was just a natural part of life, I think. And, um, so as, as far back as I can remember, so I think that’s certainly a contributing factor.

Patricia McLinn [06:43] Do you have any saying from your mother or father that you hear yourself saying now?

Victoria Thompson [06:52] My mother, my mother always said, Be careful. Whenever you left the house was like a mantra for her. And when my sister and I got older, we would say no. When she’d say, Be Careful, we’d say no, just to be contrary. But yeah, that’s she said it to the day she died.

Patricia McLinn [07:16] So do you hear yourself now saying be careful or are you always saying no?

Victoria Thompson [07:20] I try not to, you know, I try not to assume something terrible is going to happen every time somebody walks out the door. So, um, no, I don’t say be careful a lot, but I do say it when it’s, um, I think when it’s appropriate. Like my daughter is out in Los Angeles, and in Los Angeles right now and there’s fires there. So I told her to stay safe, but you know, that’s appropriate. I think.

Patricia McLinn [07:47] So do you have things from earlier in life that you used to fret over that now you just don’t care anymore?

Victoria Thompson [07:54] Oh, my goodness. I guess I used to care what people think. I don’t worry about that so much anymore. Um, I reached the age where, you know, I’m old enough now I can say pretty much whatever I want. People just roll their eyes attribute it to old age. But, um, yeah, it’s a nice feeling that you don’t have to worry about, you know, impressing people anymore.

Patricia McLinn [08:21] That’s terrific. So what’s your favorite color, Victoria?

Victoria Thompson [08:24] Red.

Patricia McLinn [08:25] Do you know why it’s your favorite?

Victoria Thompson [08:27] I don’t.

Patricia McLinn [08:29] You look great in it.

Victoria Thompson [08:30] Thank you. Well, that’s probably a contributing factor, but yeah, cause I’m a winter and I do look good in red. But, I have a red Mustang convertible and just about every, you know, whatever I can, I— Actually are living room furniture’s kind of red. I just really like it. I think it’s bright and it’s a strong cover, color and hot. I, uh, I heard someone talk about, David Morrell was speaking and he said, you should, you should decide, figure out what your, what your dominant emotion of your life is. And I, I was horrified to realize mine was anger.

Patricia McLinn [09:07] Really? I would not associate that with you at all.

Victoria Thompson [09:09] Oh, well, thank you, that’s good it doesn’t show. But I’m, you know, I’m always outraged about something. Not necessarily angry at someone, but outraged about some injustice or whatever. So, uh, in fact, there’s just some stories, news stories that I don’t read and books I don’t read and movies that I watch because I know they’re just going to make me so angry that I, and then not be able to do anything about it. So I just don’t, don’t participate.

Patricia McLinn [09:35] Do you, does that find its way into your books, or do you vent in that feeling at all in your books?

Victoria Thompson [09:43] Actually, yes, um, because in fiction you can, uh, you can get people justice, but you can’t necessarily in real life. Sometimes real life doesn’t cooperate. But, um, in fiction, you can always have a happy ending. You can always get justice and things can work out and be fair, which is not necessarily true in real life.

Patricia McLinn [10:05] So that’s, that’s putting your anger into books. How about fears? Do you have any fears that slide into your body?

Victoria Thompson [10:12] Well, I’m afraid of heights. I’m terrified of heights. Sometimes I’ll give my, uh, character a phobia, because that’s kind of fun.

Patricia McLinn [10:19] Not necessarily heights or is it usually at heights?

Victoria Thompson [10:23] Heights—

Patricia McLinn [10:24] If they have a phobia.

Victoria Thompson [10:25] If they have a thing it’s not, you know, I can, I can, if I’m inside of a building, I can look out the window. But it’s, uh, I think my husband says I’m not really afraid of heights, I’m afraid of falling. So if it’s open and I could, could conceivably fall, then I’m scared. But if I’m inside of a building, like there’s a window between me and whatever, then I’m fine. So, I know people though, who can’t even go near a window.

Patricia McLinn [10:52] Yeah. I really think that glass is going to save you, huh?

Victoria Thompson [10:55] Let’s just say the chances are, I’m going to throw myself through it are pretty small.

Patricia McLinn [11:02] A lot of us writers, putting myself into this because I definitely do have a bad habit word or two that crops up in our, our writing. It’s a crutch and most of us have to go back and take it out. And, if we’re aware of it, do you have a bad habit word? Will you confess your bad habit word to us here?

Victoria Thompson [11:25] I do, but it varies from book to book, so, for some reason, I’ll get stuck on, on a phrase or a word and keep using it over and over again in that book and then never, it’s never a problem again. But, uh, um, one, I remember one book, it was, the word was like, and I was in a critique group. This was years ago when I was writing historical romance and I had a critique group. And they said, You know, you’ve used like twenty, you know, thirteen times on this page. And I’m like, What? And I’ve used its various meanings too, but, you know, but I never did that again.

Um, but I think because I was conscious of it from then on it. Sometimes it’s that I tend to overuse that a lot. Um, and I just got a fan letter the other day from someone who said, Do you know that you use the phrase or something, um, which, you know, like, blah, blah, blah, or something, um, twenty-seven times or whatever in this book?

And it was like, Oh my gosh, if only my editor had caught that before it got published. And I noticed the book, I was, I just finished last week, um, I kept, I got a feeling that I was using of course, a lot. But, you know, people would say something and the reply would be of course. And I thought so, um, so I just was conscious of it and I cut it out a lot of them so that it wouldn’t happen. But yeah. The answer is yes.

Patricia McLinn [12:48] That’s particularly difficult when it changes in the book.

Victoria Thompson [12:50] Exactly, because you don’t really notice, not necessarily.

Patricia McLinn [12:53] It’s a moving target. Yeah. Well, we have a question from a reader that I will start you off with. That, um, it’s related to, but not exactly a question that we get a lot. And 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?

Gaslight series, Murder on Union Square, and Counterfeit Lady series like Robin Hood

Victoria Thompson [13:21] Usually from research for me. Um, I create, you know, I’ve written the Gaslight series now it’s twenty-one books long. And, um, so when I want to, so the characters are pretty much set, their world is set.

Um, and when I want an idea for a story, I just start researching wherever we are in the timeline. Um, what happened at that period of time. What was going on in the world? And usually that’ll trigger something, some idea, because there’s always something interesting going on in the world. If people, what were people thinking about? What were they talking about? Was there a scandal? Was there, you know, something, something new invented. Just anything could be a trigger like that. So that’s what I do. I just, when I’m ready to get an idea, I sit down and, and start reading research on that era.

Victoria Thompson [14:15] In the Gaslight series, um, the, the book I just finished, which will be out in May, um, Murder on Union Square, is, uh, it’s September of 1899. So the next book is going to be set at NewYyear’s time. And when the century turns. They already know some funny things that happened at that time. So those are the things that are going to go into the next book.

The, my other series is a completely different series and it is the heroine of the Counterfeit Lady series is a con artist reformed con artist, I should say. And so each book will feature a different con that she is using her talents now for good. And the second book I just finished, uh, she tucks, she mentions Robin Hood. Someone said, Oh, you’re like Robin Hood or robbing from the rich to give to the poor kind of thing.

And, uh, except she’s robbing from the evil people to give to the good people that they’ve cheated kind of thing. So she’s getting people’s money back from, for them, that kind of thing. And, uh, So I just research, um, books about conmen and, you know, come up, read a story about a real con that happened and think, Hmm, how could I adapt that for this book? So that’s where I’m getting the ideas for that series.

Patricia McLinn [15:32] And when is that series set?

Victoria Thompson [15:34] That’s series, it starts in 1917. The first book is set in November. So the second book is in January of 1918.

Patricia McLinn [15:43] So we should compare notes at some point because my mystery series Caught Dead in Wyoming, the sleuth is a TV reporter and she’s working at this little tiny station. She’s been sort of exiled there from her high flying career on the East Coast. And she is put in as the consumer affairs reporter. So I’m often dealing with a scam that she’s either actually covering or using as a blind for her boss to pretend she’s covering to, to do these other things. It’d be really interesting to know if some of the same cons slash scams have endured for a hundred years.

Victoria Thompson [16:23] Yeah, I mean, it’s really, there’s really basically three big cons that exist. One is the stock market scam. One is a race, like a fixed race, um, I can’t even remember what the third one is, but they’re just really, so what you have to do is sort of fudge. And, but a lot of these scams don’t work anymore because the technology has changed so much. So they, people are more creative nowadays, I think.

Patricia McLinn [16:53] Or the, or the people who call up and say, um, We’re with Microsoft and you have to do, pay this and this and this or your computer—

Victoria Thompson [17:01] Right. Exactly.

Patricia McLinn [17:02] —won’t work anymore. I know somebody who told them that they didn’t own a computer and the person started arguing with them. What do you mean you don’t own a computer? Everyone owns a computer.

In your research, have you ever had research that messed up your, your projected plot? Or I guess if you’re doing it early enough, it’s not going to be a dead end.

Victoria Thompson [17:25] No. And since I get my ideas from the research, then it’s, it meshes much more easily that way. A lot of times though, I’ll um, I’ll be writing a, a line… I did this several times in the book I just finished, I’m like, um, I needed a place, I needed them to use a safe deposit box. So I’m like, did they have safe deposit boxes in 1918? I had no idea. Luckily they did. So…

Patricia McLinn [17:52] Where you’re suddenly questioning things that you take for granted now. Yeah. So once you’ve done the research, how do you start actually writing the story? Do you start at the beginning, do you outline, do you just start going?

Victoria Thompson [18:08] Well, when I first started writing, um, I was a plotter, and I would completely outline the entire book before I ever would sit down to write. And the book was essentially finished in my head and I was just typing it up so other people could read it too. Um, that was how I did all my, uh, romances.

And then when I started writing mysteries, I can’t even remember how I wrote the first mystery, if I, um, I just sort of did it by the seat of my pants instinctively. I’m a, I’m an intuitive learner, which means that reading how-to books don’t really, doesn’t really help me.

Victoria Thompson [18:49] I just, you know, I read a lot of fiction and, and I’ve sort of instinctively figure out how it’s done subconsciously. Um, like when I wrote my first book, I, I just knew from reading the hundreds and hundreds of books in my life that you end a chapter with a cliffhanger. Um, you know, that wasn’t something I read in a how-to book. I just knew that that was how you write because good books are always written that way.

Um, I knew, you know, I just knew how, uh, the rhythm of the plot should go because that’s how having read so many books, you just know instinctively where the crisis should come. And so when I started writing mysteries, that was, um, I just sort of relied on that instinct that I had from having read so many in my lifetime.

Victoria Thompson [19:42] And, um, and then I’ve, um, because I teach writing too, I’ve worked out, uh, a system for doing the mysteries now. And I come up with a list of, I figure out who the victim is, and then I figure out five people who wanted that person dead, who had motive, opportunity, and then I give them each a, a secret, which is either connected to the murder or not connected to the murder, but makes them look guilty because they have the secret.

So that is the basis of my plot. And when you have all that, You pretty much have outlined it. You, you know, you can just, uh, you figure what clue, you know, what, what you want to reveal when, and that’s how I write those, the mysteries.

Patricia McLinn [20:31] So you know that before you start writing?

Victoria Thompson [20:34] Not always. Sometimes I don’t know people’s secrets at the beginning. Usually I know their motive and their opportunity, but sometimes I don’t know their secret. And so they’ll tell me as I’m writing along, um, sort of comes up in the conversation.

Patricia McLinn [20:51] It’s interesting that you’re doing less outlining in the mystery, because one of the things that, that, um, held me back from starting mysteries, I’m a real pantser, and everybody said, Oh, you, but you have to plot mysteries. And it wasn’t until I thought, Well, wait a minute, I’m not actually writing any mysteries by thinking I have to plot them. So it can’t be any worse if I try pantsing it, you know, what do I have to lose?

Victoria Thompson [21:23] You know, I mean, I, I have a lot of friends through the years who say, if they know how the book is going to end, they aren’t interested in writing it anymore. So that would be, yeah, it would be critical that you don’t know how the book ends. Um, I don’t even know how, uh, who the killer is. I used, I mean, when you’re writing a romance, you know, if the couple is going to get together and live happily ever after in the end, so that’s all you really need to know. But in a murder mystery, you kind of have to know who the killer is by the end of the book. But I, I set it up so that everybody had motive and opportunity.

And, um, so they all had it. You don’t have to decide right away. You can, uh, you can wait to decide until close to the very end of the book who the actual killer is. And that also helps create suspense too. If the writer doesn’t know, then, I mean, what I, what I discovered writing the first couple is that if I knew who the killer was at the beginning of the book, I made it so obvious that I had to change it anyway, so I just didn’t decide until pretty far into the book who the killer is.

Patricia McLinn [22:27] And a little over a year ago, I was working on a book called, um, Look Live, and I knew who the killer was, which is rare. And I’m writing along and I’m thinking, I’m going to be done ahead of time. And then the one I thought was the killer ended up dead. And I can remember sitting and looking at the screen going, This is a problem.

Victoria Thompson [22:52] Exactly. Exactly.

Patricia McLinn [22:54] So what I took from that as a lesson is don’t think things out ahead of time. It just is a waste of time, but, so what is your favorite part of the process? What’s your favorite part about writing?

Victoria Thompson [23:09] My favorite writing quote, which I think is another one of the questions, but it’s from Dorothy Parker, and she says, I hate writing, but I love having written. I think most writers feel that way. I, you know, writing is, it can be fun. I mean, let’s face it, sometimes it’s just so much fun, but a lot of times it’s like pulling teeth too. It’s not always fun, but what is really fun is typing The End and knowing you’re finished and having written a book. That’s the best part for me.

Patricia McLinn [23:41] Then, do you celebrate when you finished?

Victoria Thompson [23:45] Um, I went out the other day and bought clothes, went shopping, treat myself to, you know, just be good to yourself, do some, do fun things. You know, that I, that I enjoy doing.

Patricia McLinn [23:58] Do you have something that really cool that you did one time?

Victoria Thompson [24:00] I think I went on a cruise once or I’ll go on a trip, you know, try to finish up. So then when we go, I usually planned trips ahead of time, but knowing that I have that to look forward to, that’s my reward, when I finished the book kind of thing.

Patricia McLinn [24:13] Do you need deadlines? Or do deadlines add more pressure for you?

Victoria Thompson [24:18] I need deadlines. Um, I’m not sure, it’s just too easy to not write if you don’t have anybody waiting for it. I don’t always meet them, but it does keep my nose to the grindstone.

Characters keep adding up, superstitions come true, no room for everyone

Patricia McLinn [24:33] Do you miss your characters after you’ve finished a book? Now I know you’re doing ongoing series, but you have characters who appear in some books and, and, uh, not others. And this, this is a question from a reader who says she does miss the characters. So I’ll, I’ll give that part away. Um, but do you?

Victoria Thompson [24:52] Oh, my Lord, yes. I have put too many, I’ve created too many recurring characters. Um, there were in the beginning, it was Frank and Sarah and Frank was, Frank has a son, and his mother lives with his mother who takes care of his son. And Sarah was childless, a widow and estranged from her parents. So it’s a very small world in that first book.

But then Sarah makes up with her parents. So she has her parents in, to deal with. And then her, um, nosy next-door neighbor, who gets involved in some of the mysteries, and her next-door neighbor has a son. And then Sarah picked up a, um, an orphan, an orphan child and she couldn’t leave the orphan child alone, so she had to get a nanny for the orphan child.

And then Frank needed a cohort at the police department, so he got Gino as his sidekick. And Gino’s in love with the nanny now. And it’s like this, you know, it just got bigger and bigger, and I get fan mail that says, So-and-so wasn’t in the last book. What were you thinking? I didn’t have room. There was no reason for this person to be in this stories.

Patricia McLinn [26:07] The readers are not going to be very understanding if you start killing off any of those characters.

Victoria Thompson [26:13] Oh, I wouldn’t dare kill any of them. Heaven above, no. But I did get, I did have now Sarah and Frank are married and they all live in the same house. Sarah and Frank and his mother and, and his son and her daughter and the nanny. So that’s six people that live in their house, one house. So that makes it a little easier to get everybody.

Her parents still live somewhere else. And the next-door, the next-door neighbor now lives across the street. So cause they had to move to a bigger house obviously because of so many people living here, you know.

Patricia McLinn [26:45] You’re going to have them have their own village pretty soon.

Victoria Thompson [26:47] Exactly, it takes a village. Yes. Um, and my, the neighbor is superstition, superstitious, and I started by having her, um, quote some kind of superstition in every book, which seemed like a really great idea in the beginning, but I am running out of superstitions. I mean, I have books and books of superstitions, but you’d be amazed at how few of them work in an urban setting.

Most of them require some kind of nature or, you know, uh, exterior birds or bees or wildlife or plants, or, you know, so it’s hard. People say, um, you could make them up and I could, except I can’t just make them up. I just I’ve tried, and I’m just, my brain just doesn’t work like that. So it’s um, so Mrs. Elsworth always has to come by at some point and spout some superstition. And her superstitions always come true. Like if she sees an omen, and whatever it is, the omen was for, happens. So, which nobody’s ever challenged me, but it’s true.

Patricia McLinn [27:58] How about having a reader contest?

Victoria Thompson [28:00] I should. Yes.

Patricia McLinn [28:01] Where they give you, uh, superstition ideas.

Victoria Thompson [28:05] Ah, yeah. Well, you know, I get the same three every time. I actually have tried that on Facebook, and I say, what are some superstitions? And you know, he’d throw the hat on the bed, shot salt over your shoulder, breaking a mirror. I mean, I’ve used all of those so…

Patricia McLinn [28:24] Well, there are a lot of, there are a lot of superstitions about New Year’s, and if you’re doing the end of the year, that should give you, New Year’s is the only time in the year ever that I eat pickled herring and I still do it under protest, but it’s, I don’t know if it’s a family superstition, but it’s a superstition that you have to, that has to be the first thing you eat in the new year.

Victoria Thompson [28:47] Oh my goodness. Yeah, the Pennsylvania Dutch say pork and sauerkraut, which is not too bad. I actually liked that. So, in Texas it was black-eyed peas.

Patricia McLinn [28:58] No, I think I’d take pickled herring over that. Yeah, black-eyed peas is a big one. The other thing is you have to go out and you make noise, and then the first person back in the house has to be a dark-haired man. Well, there’s a fair amount of gray going on with the dark-haired man. One time we made a family member back in to the house where the dark hair was. So superstitions can be fun, at least for, for observers of the writing process.

Victoria Thompson [29:30] Unless you scour, unless you realize, Oh my gosh, Mrs. Elsworth hasn’t shown up yet. I have to find a superstition. So everything for three days, while I scour all these books looking for a superstition.

Patricia McLinn [29:43] Before you wanted to be a writer, did you have something else you wanted to be, or, or, and when did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Victoria Thompson [29:50] Well, I don’t think when I was young, I never really thought of writing as a profession, uh, a job. And, you know, I grew up in the 1950s, my goal was to get married and have children and be a housewife. I was not planning on having a career at all at first. So, um, and then as I got older, I decided I wanted to be a nurse. And I actually picked the college I went to originally because they offered nursing. but by the time I got to the college, I realized that the sight of blood may be faint. And you had to study science to be a nurse. And I wasn’t that interested in science at all. So once I figured out those two things, I thought, Nah, nursing is not for me.

And at that time, they’re, really the choices for career for a girl were teacher, nurse, or secretary. Couldn’t be a nurse already decided that, and I didn’t want to be a secretary. So that left teacher. And I did sort of like teaching. So I, that’s what I majored in, in school. I was, uh, I always say I’m a retired English teacher. I taught one year and retired. It was quite a nightmarish experience that I still have nightmares about.

But, um, teaching writing since 2000 and that’s been, and informally before that for many years. Um, so yes, I really do enjoy teaching. So, uh, it did work out in the end, but it took a long time.

Patricia McLinn [31:21] And a lot of us are involved in teaching writing in that informal way, but you did it in a very formal way. So tell us some about that.

Victoria Thompson [31:31] Um, well, the, I teach in the Seton Hill University and at Seton Hill. And it’s located in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh. There is a Seton Hall in New York City, but that’s not it. Okay. So don’t correct me. You’d be amazed how many people say I know it’s Seton Hall, but no, no. There is Seton Hill.

And Seton Hill has a master’s degree program in writing popular fiction. It was the first in the country that focused on popular fiction. Most writing programs at the university level are focused on literary fiction and are very, very, um, snobbish about popular fiction. Don’t even accept people who write popular fiction. Um, so ours was the first program and I was recruited, I think, in the second term that they offered this program.

Victoria Thompson [32:30] And, and I started in, uh, January of 2000 teaching in the program. And it’s a, it’s a low residency program designed for people who can’t take two years out of their lives to get a master’s degree. So you only have to be on campus for a week, each semester, and then you go home and we, and um, you come for the week and you take classes, and then you’re assigned a faculty mentor, and you go home and every month you write pages.

A certain number of pages and turn those into your mentor who critiques them for you. And you take online classes as well for, um, during the semester. So, uh, by the end of the two and a half years, you have a completed manuscript, hopefully suitable for publication at that point. So it’s a really great program for people who are serious about writing and want to write popular fiction. And we accept people from all, all the genres.

Patricia McLinn [33:20] And so it’s open to people outside of the United States, as long as they can come and spend this week on campus?

Victoria Thompson [33:25] Yes. We’ve had people from Russia, people from, um, Austria. Those are just the ones I happen to know, but yeah, you can come from anywhere, from all over the world, but you do have to come to be on the campus for the, for that week.

Patricia McLinn [33:39] What has surprised you, uh, from the teaching angle? What, and have you, have you learned things about your own writing from the teaching? And what, what things have surprised you about this teaching in this program?

Victoria Thompson [33:54] Uh, the reason I keep doing it, even though it doesn’t pay very well and, uh, it’s a lot of work in it doesn’t pay well, but it’s, it’s really, really, really rewarding. Every time I would think, Oh, you know, I should probably flip this and I think, Oh, I miss it so much because it’s so to go to the campus for that one week and be with, be with the other teachers and be with the students who are so excited and so invested.

Um, and to remember what it was like to be a, uh, unpublished and, and to be brand new in this business and innocent and, uh, and, and teaching really does keep you on your toes, you know, you’re, cause you catch yourself falling into bad habits. And, um, it just keeps my writing fresh because I always have, I’m, I’m always criticizing someone else’s work and it’s so much easier to see faults in other people’s work than your own.

So, um, it keeps my attention on the things that are important. So there’s that. And it’s just fun to have students who get pumped to see them go through the program and then get published. One of my students has a book coming out this month, her first book, and she’s contracted for three different mystery series. It’s cool, which is really unusual for that level of success. But, you know, she asked me to give her a cover quote for her book. And I was like, I’m thrilled to do that. That was just so exciting to see people coming through and, and, um, having success.

Teaching writing, using many ideas or only one, refusing help with your writing

Patricia McLinn [35:29] So when you, when you’re looking at this student’s works, can you spot story ideas that just are not going to work? You know, the writer can be talented, they have the, the ability to do the writing, but you can see that that story isn’t going to carry it?

Victoria Thompson [35:48] Oh, yes. Um, you see every possible kind of mistake that people can make. And I think, you asked me, I think the original question was what is surprising. And I think what a surprise, been surprising to me is that, um, when you point out these things to people, you know, like you say, this character, isn’t appealing, this plot element isn’t going to work, this whole plot idea isn’t going to work. Nobody’s going to buy it. Nobody will publish it. Nobody will read it if you publish it.

It’s, um, when you point these things out to people, some people are like their aha light clicks right on. And they say, and you know, part of my job as a teacher is not only to point out the errors, but to suggest ways to fix it. And so I always like editors who will, you know, they say, This is, this is wrong in your book. And here’s an idea for fixing it, but then they don’t expect me to necessarily use their idea.

Victoria Thompson [36:44] But then their idea gets me thinking in a whole other direction and I come up with a better one of my own. So, I expect my students to be able to do the same thing, but some people can’t. Some people, um, I mean, come in the program and with an idea, one idea it’s been their idea for their entire life and their dream is to write this story.

And they’ve come to you to figure out how to do that. And when you tell them the story is not going to work, they don’t want to hear that. And so they’re reluctant to change the story in any way or to think about it any, in a different way. And some people don’t make it through the program because they’re unable to accept criticism and improve their work based on other people’s suggestions, which is pretty critical if you’re going to be published.

Patricia McLinn [37:40] Yeah. Well, that’s, that’s true if you’re going to have a career as a writer, but that’s very different from having one, one story idea that has—

Victoria Thompson [37:51] Right.

Patricia McLinn [37:52] —you know, taken up space in your head. Um, because I think a lot of us who do it as a career have many, so we have more, more ideas than we could possibly finish in a lifetime.

Victoria Thompson [38:03] And I think that’s also, that’s also the problem with people who come with one idea is that they think that’s the only idea they can ever have, and they may be right about that. And so there, I think it’s a fear that if they let that go or change it in any way, it will slip away from them and they all, and it’ll be over.

And, and for some people that may very well be true, they have one idea and that’s all they’re ever going to get. But real writers, oh my gosh, we get so many ideas that we couldn’t possibly write them all. I think that’s where you separate the real writers from the, from people with an idea.

Patricia McLinn [38:44] I remember a session at, um, Novelis Inc. long time ago. Um, long, long time ago. I want to say, were we ever in San Francisco? Hmm, someplace like that.

Victoria Thompson [38:56] Gosh, not that I know of. San Diego.

Patricia McLinn [38:58] Maybe it was the one in Vancouver. I know it was on the West Coast. And the question was asked, you know, the group of us all sitting around in a, in a circle. And the question was asked if you had a choice, would you rather be a career writer or have one huge hit. And, and never write another book again, but that one book would set you up. You’d be rich. You know, you wouldn’t ever need money again. And I was stunned that a few people said the one big book, I, it never occurred to me that—

Victoria Thompson [39:38] —that anyone serious.

Patricia McLinn [39:41] Yeah. Would want, would want that option. And I, uh, It was a good lesson to me that not everybody thinks the way I think. What a concept.

Victoria Thompson [39:53] Right. I mean, I’ve been around a long time. I published my first book in 1985, and I remember I went to my first Romantic Times conference before my first book ever even came out because I was writing for Zebra, and which was at that time was Kensington. And, um, and they had a, the Kensington authors had a fashion show and they invited me to participate. So we all dressed up like our heroines of our books and were in this fashion show.

And I look back on all the women that were in that fashion show with me, all of whom were at that point in time, much more successful than I. How many of them had stopped writing at some point along the way. And I, you know, I actually had an opportunity to stop writing when I got dumped by my publisher and I couldn’t, couldn’t publish historical romance anymore because my sales were too low and nobody else would take me on, and I could have given it up.

Victoria Thompson [40:54] I had to get a job a day job anyway. And I could have just packed it in and said, No, the heck with this, but I couldn’t. I just, I couldn’t stop getting ideas for stories. I could not even think of myself as someone who wasn’t a writer, it just, you know, wouldn’t compute. So I just kept plugging away until I finally, um, had success again in mystery and got published there. But a lot of people who started out with me in the business, quit at some point. And God bless them, if you can do it, fine.

Patricia McLinn [41:29] Yeah. Well, and I look back and I see people I thought were they, and they were doing so much better than I was—

Victoria Thompson [41:37] Oh, yeah.

Patricia McLinn [41:38] —at various times. And they aren’t, they aren’t around anymore. Um, for a variety of reasons. Have you ever gone through a period where you didn’t write for a while?

Victoria Thompson [41:50] Yes, I did. Um, actually. Well, I used to take off half the year and not write when I was working full-time. Um, I’d write for the first six months and then take the second six months off. I was just, so just get one book a year, um, just because it was so hard because when you’re writing, you go to work all day, come home, eat dinner, and sit at the computer and write until bedtime. And all weekends are taken up with writing too, and you don’t really have a chance to live a life. So, so you need that time. So now I’m writing just in the daytime. Now that I’m retired from my day job, I just write in the daytime.

So I, in the evening I can watch television. I can relax. I can read, I can do whatever I want and I can take days off if I need to. And that sort of thing. But, um, and you know, I’ve been chasing rabbits and I can’t even remember what we were talking about originally.

Patricia McLinn [42:50] About taking time or, or going through a period where you didn’t write.

Victoria Thompson [42:54] Where I didn’t write, yes. Uh, well, when I, when I lost my publisher, um, and this was the late 1990s and, uh, I couldn’t, it wasn’t that I wasn’t writing. I was, um, I was churning out proposal after proposal sending them to my agent and she was sending them out and they were getting glowing rejections left and right. I did have to take some time at that point.

And I remember I was so stressed and so, such a wreck because, you know, it’s, it was, it was very traumatic being dropped by my publisher, and a career I thought I would have for the rest of my life. And, and even though I was still writing it wasn’t, nobody was interested in publishing it. So I had to step back and think, Okay, what am I doing wrong here?

Um, and I needed to, I needed to reboot myself essentially. And one of my friends who, um, who, like me, very practical and very skeptical of all the touchy-feely stuff, said I needed to do The Artist’s Way, needed to read that book and go through the program. And I resisted for several months, but then several other friends who didn’t know that, that the original friend had suggested it, were suggesting the same thing to me.

Victoria Thompson [44:13] And I thought, Well, This, obviously this is something I need to do if everybody thinks it is. And people who, um, who were like me and were not touchy-feely, and, you know, were skeptical about this kind of thing were telling me to do it. So I bought the book and I did, did The Artist’s Way program and it, it successfully rebooted me. And not only that, but it led to me, um, getting the mystery series.

And, uh, I, I found a letter that I had written to my agent, but I’m, a cover letter because back then we had to do things by snail mail and I’d sent her a proposal. And, uh, I wrote her, the cover letter said, this is because I’ve been doing the writer’s Artist’s Way. It’s all synchronicity.

So yeah, that’s, but yeah, it, it’s, it’s, I know writer’s block is a definite thing and what it really is, is burnout. When you’ve gone to the well too many times, without letting it, giving it a chance to refill and refresh. It’s, you just have to be good to yourself.

Patricia McLinn [45:20] How did you make the decision or, or what, what took you from writing it, knowing that the historical romances weren’t working, um, for the market, guided you to historical mysteries?

Victoria Thompson [45:34] Okay. So I was trying to write a contemporary thriller, um, uh, romantic suspense. And I actually wrote several, um, one of them was optioned and, uh, the producers sold the option to ABC and they wrote a script. Then it was never made into a movie. Um, I got really glowing rejections on that. Everybody, my agent loved that story. She sent it to every publisher known to man, and I said, Are we trying to set a record here, being rejected by every publisher? And she said, Yes.

I think it was rejected by just about every publisher and they all, none of them said exactly what they thought was wrong with it. I just, I’ve figured it out later. Catherine Coulter read it for me. And she told them, I was telling her about it, and she said, Well, if it comes back again, send it to me and I’ll see if I can figure out what’s wrong. And, and, um, when she, after she read it, she said, I think you must’ve done something really bad, and God punished you by giving you the idea for this story.

Victoria Thompson [46:33] I reminded her of that years later. She’s like, I didn’t really say that, did I? But yeah, it was fatally flawed, she figured it out, um, what the fatal flaw was, but nobody else could. The editors couldn’t figure it out, they just knew instinctively there’s something wrong with it, they didn’t know what it was.

So anyway, um, so I had been doing this and, and, you know, I was sending these proposal after proposal, and I sent this one to my agent, and she calls me and she said, You know, with just a few minor changes, this could be a launch book for a mystery series. And I said, the thirteen stupidest words I’ve ever said in my life, I said, Eww, I don’t want to be stuck writing the same characters over and over.

Victoria Thompson [47:17] So I did not take her up on that. Um, I probably wouldn’t have been that successful as a series in any event, but, um, so I kept trying and trying for probably another year. And then I, uh, I was actually at a conference for my day job in Chicago of all places where I live now, but, and I got a message to call my agent. And I, uh, I had to wait until I had, uh, some time off and we were, we had an afternoon off and we had gone down to The Miracle Mile to shop, and I was in the food court where there were payphones. Cause we didn’t have cell phones in those days.

I called my agent, you know, it’s noisy and I got my finger in my other ear so I can hear her. And she said she had had lunch with an editor from Berkley who was looking for an author to write a series set in turn of the century New York City, where the heroin is a midwife, would I be interested in giving it a shot? She had been trying to talk me into trying it, doing a mystery series for a long time, and I’ve been resisting and resisting, as I just explained.

Victoria Thompson [48:23] Um, but by then, I was so desperate to be published. I would have done anything. So I thought, Okay, I’ll give it a shot. And it was set in turn of the century in New York City. My daughter had just started school at NYU. My husband and I had walked around Greenwich Village. We’d even bought a couple of books on the history of Greenwich Village, just because we were interested. Um, I was working for the March of Dimes. Some of my volunteers were midwives, and I thought, This is kismat.

Patricia McLinn [48:52] Yeah. Yeah.

Victoria Thompson [48:53] So I, um, so I wrote a proposal and, um, sent it to them and they bought it. And that, I added a few tweaks. They wanted, they wanted the, uh, heroin to be the poor relation of a rich family, but I made her the daughter because, uh, uh, she needed to be able to go, move in all social classes easily. So I made her the daughter of a rich family and, uh, I knew she needed a sidekick. And that a midwife probably would not be coming across a lot of murders in the general course of her life. So I gave her a police detective to be her partner because it’s his job to solve murder. So the two of them between them manage, always managed to stumble across the body in the course of there work at some point.

Patricia McLinn [49:46] Do you ever struggle with the, the dichotomy of the real world calendar and how it runs versus the fictional world calendar where you’ve, you’ve written twenty-one books in how many years?

Victoria Thompson [50:04] Twenty-one years I’ve written them, but it’s covered, they met in April of 1896 and now it’s September of 1899. So it—

Patricia McLinn [50:17] So does that ever blow your mind? Do you have trouble with, with the timeline?

Giving the characters time to get themselves together after life-changing events

Victoria Thompson [50:23] Well, what I used to have trouble with it in the beginning, after about five or six books, I started getting fan letters that asked, When Frank and Sarah are going to get together? And I would say, You know, it’s been five years for you, but it’s only been six months since they met. So it’s really… And they’d be, Oh, really? I didn’t’ realize that. So…

Patricia McLinn [50:42] Uh, I’m getting that with, with my sleuth, who, um, in story time has been divorced for now exactly a year. And she’s met, she met these two guys basically seven or eight months before, and a few readers, not many, but a few are like, Well, how much longer do we have to know which one she’s going to go with? And why isn’t she over this? And I’m thinking, come on she—

Victoria Thompson [51:11] Yeah. Give her a break.

Patricia McLinn [51:13] Yeah. Give her a chance to, to really get her feet, and, you know, they say when you have these major life changes such as moving and, or divorcing that you should wait a full year before making big decisions, but…

Victoria Thompson [51:26] Right, at least.

Patricia McLinn [51:28] She’s practical. She’s going to do that.

Victoria Thompson [51:30] Right.

Patricia McLinn [51:31] She may wait longer. How do you like that? Sometimes I think, I’m just going to make you wait.

Victoria Thompson [51:38] That’s right. That’s right. Well, I made my readers wait like fifteen years before Frank and Sarah finally got together, but it was only like, two and a half years for them.

Patricia McLinn [51:49] How has having them be married changed the books?

Victoria Thompson [51:53] Oh, it has been wonderful because they have, I mean, they’re together, first of all, they don’t have to figure out ways to be together that are proper. They sleep together now, so they’re sharing a bedroom. Um, And, uh, and they, and, and I had to, um, in order to get them married, I had to figure out a way to make Frank socially acceptable.

And that was, he came into some money and because he was rich, he, the police department, uh, he could no longer work there. Um, it was just, people were just, the other employees were just too jealous of him. So he couldn’t, he couldn’t work as a police officer anymore. So he, but he didn’t want, wasn’t interested in becoming the idle rich.

So he opened a detective agency. So now he can pick and choose. He can get justice for people that the police department wouldn’t mess with. Um, you can do all kinds of things so that that’s opened up a lot of possibilities as far as the kinds of cases that he can take. And he doesn’t even have to worry if he gets paid or not, because he’s rich so he can help poor people as well.

Victoria Thompson [53:00] And Sarah naturally helps them because they’re married. And I don’t have to figure out a way for her to get involved every time, which I used to have to do because she, they weren’t married and she was not involved with the police department. And there were reasons, many reasons why she shouldn’t be involved.

Now, it’s just, you know, he’s always worried about her safety, but other than that, that’s about the only hang up, uh, so it’s, it’s opened up all kinds of, uh, of opportunities for them.

Patricia McLinn [53:31]Well, that’s encouraging. I’ll have to keep that in mind, when I think about mine.

Victoria Thompson [53:36] Yeah. And actually it rebooted the series because everything’s different now. The whole dynamic is different now.

Patricia McLinn [53:42] That’s cool. And how have readers reacted to that?

Victoria Thompson [53:45] They seemed very happy that they finally got together. They were getting angry before. In fact, that was why I finally figured that I had to get them married because I don’t normally read my reviews, but I, for some reason was an Amazon and happened to catch site of some reviews of the latest book, and people were just like, I’m never reading this series again. I’m so mad, you know, fifteen books in one kiss and blah, blah, blah.

And I was like, ah, I gotta get these people together. It’s just cruel to make, and, and it, it was getting very awkward after awhile, you know? I mean, there were many reasons that they couldn’t get married, but still it was, they, they probably would have stopped seeing each other would have been too difficult to continue because if they weren’t going to get married.

Patricia McLinn [54:32] Yeah. In addition to your readers agitating for, for them to, to come together and get married, do you have other, um, reactions from readers or have you had encounters or, um, special letters?

Victoria Thompson [54:46] I haven’t had anybody not like the fact that they got married. I think it was just so, people were just so desperate, but you know, it’s really ironic when I, cause I was came to mystery from romance and, and my editor and my agent and everyone warned me. You have to be so careful in mystery because mystery readers don’t like romance in their mysteries.

I can’t tell you how many people told me that. And I’m like, I don’t think so. I think what they don’t like, they don’t want it to be a mystery, a romance plot. They don’t want the romance to take over the story, like it would’ve in a romance. But they really do like relationships. They like their characters to be real and have real human relationships and romances, or one of them.

Victoria Thompson [55:34] And so, so I, and it was really hard writing that first book, because if it had been a romance, those two people would’ve gotten together by the end of that book and lived happily ever after. So I had to keep them apart, but it was obvious, and they were so different, and the relationship was so interesting, and the people had so much room to grow and it was just so cool.

And so I started getting fan letters, and every fan letter I got would say, I really liked this or that, or blah, blah, blah, and when are Frank and Sarah getting together, I mean, that started immediately with book one. And so I knew I hit the right balance there then, they, they wanted a relationship. Maybe they didn’t want romance, you know, the whole sexual attention stuff, or, you know, they might not like that part, but they did want, uh, those people to fall in love and get married and live happily ever after and keep solving histories. So it was, yeah, that’s how it came to be.

Patricia McLinn [56:34] Well, I have some more questions from readers that I am the designated question asker on their behalf. Um, one question is she says, when the cover image doesn’t match the character description, a pet peeve of mine, how does it feel for the author? How does the author react to that?

Victoria Thompson [56:55] My very first novel that I ever wrote, um, my very first published novel, the hero was named Dusty Rhoades, and he had red-gold hair, when I got the cover he had black hair.

Patricia McLinn [57:12] Oh no.

Victoria Thompson [57:13] Yeah, oh no. And it was imperative that he have red-gold hair. So they sent it back to the artist and the artists put what might be highlights there. It was pathetic. So I felt really bad, really bad. And then I had another hero who was prematurely gray. He was like 28, but his hair had turned gray. So, and it was like a joke in the beginning of the heroine meets him, and she thinks he’s an old man, because he has gray hair and, um, so she’s not at all interested in him. So, um, that was just sort of a, a little joke.

And, uh, um, so I get my, when my editor calls me, she says, we love the book. We’re going to buy it, and he can’t have gray hair on the cover. So they made him blond, I think. And then, you know, I got letters, all kinds of letters. They always blamed the author for these things. You know, my husband used to say that they made you fill out these forms with the description of the character so that they, to make sure that the people on the cover look nothing like the people in the book.

Patricia McLinn [58:19] It felt like that, didn’t it? Yeah.

Victoria Thompson [58:23] It does sometimes. And I’ve been very lucky, I’ve only had a couple instances, like the ones I just described. However, on my brand new series that just launched in November this month, the heroine has dark black hair and blue eyes. And when I got the cover, the heroine has auburn hair and she was beautiful. Just. Beautiful.

And my agent is like, you have to change her hair. And I’m like, I know I have to change her hair. It’s just, the cover was just so breathtaking that, it only required a couple of changes in the text. So I fixed it pretty easily. But, uh, and, and I did a signing for it not too long ago. And, uh, I was chatting with some, some of the readers and they were looking at the cover and she said, I’m so glad she has red hair.

Patricia McLinn [59:18] Oh, well, that’s good.

Victoria Thompson [59:19] Not in the beginning. So sometimes, you know, it’s fate, it’s just have to—

Patricia McLinn [59:26] Yes. Yeah. I don’t know that, well, it depends on at what point I knew her hair color cause sometimes certain pieces of the characters come to me and they’re so it’s so strong and so vivid, I cannot change it.

Victoria Thompson [59:41] Right. Right.

Patricia McLinn [59:43] You know, it could be, it could be that he wears a brown bomber jacket or that, you know, he has a dog named Chair or, you know, whatever it is, but that, that cannot change. Everything else could change about them, but that can not. So…

Victoria Thompson [59:57] Yeah. But when I saw that cover, I knew that was Elizabeth. Now Elizabeth has red hair, apparently. I didn’t know.

Patricia McLinn [1:00:03] There you go. Okay. So, what is your favorite place to write and why? Does it have an inspirational view? That’s what a reader asks. And then I would expand on that and ask if you have a writing routine.

Victoria Thompson [1:00:17] Okay, I have a writing nook in my house and I, you know, I started, when I started writing, a computer was a big clunky thing, a tower and a keyboard and a monitor, and you had to have a desk. You couldn’t sit on your couch and write. Um, there were no such thing as laptops. So that’s how I started writing was sitting at a desk and writing. And even today, even though, um, even though I have had many laptops now, go through many laptops in the course of my career. I used them as my tower now. I plug my keyboard and my monitor into my laptop and I write at a desk.

Now, if I do my email or something, I can take my laptop and go sit in the recliner. But, but if I’m writing, I really do need to be at a desk. And in my writing nook, I have liked that, it’s like an office. I love my bookshelves with all my research books. And I have a file cabinet with all my files and, uh, all my writing awards hanging on the wall.

Patricia McLinn [1:01:18] And is that the view?

Victoria Thompson [1:01:21] And I have no view I’m facing a blank wall. So, uh, just cause I’m not distracted, I don’t want to be distracted. I have a beautiful view if I turn around, I’ve a, my backyard and there’s a Lake back there and it’s really lovely, but I don’t… You know if I want to stare at that, I go sit on the patio. I need to not be looking at the view.

Patricia McLinn [1:01:40] I can sort of understand that. Although I like to see outside. But I purposely do not have my, um, office at the front of the house because I’d be watching what was going on out there distracted by that.

Okay. Here’s another question from a reader. If you could write a book with any author alive or dead, who would you want to work with and why?

Victoria Thompson [1:02:03] That is so hard. I, my, my instinct is to say Mary Higgins Clark, just because I admire her so much. But you know, the truth is I’m such a control freak that I can’t imagine every working with someone else to write a book. Cause it’s my way or the highway. I’m not going to compromise for someone else. So the answer to that question is Mary Higgins Clark if I had to, but probably wouldn’t happen.

Patricia McLinn [1:02:35] That’s, that’s an interesting insight. Yeah. Cause it does specifically ask, you know, who would do work with, cause there’d be lots of people it’d be interesting to talk to.

Okay. Among your books, which one is the best place for a reader who’s new, new to you to start?

Victoria Thompson [1:02:54] It sounds very cliche, but um, I would always recommend that you start at the beginning of the series. Um, although you can read my series out of order. Um, I don’t give away, you know, previous cases. I hate when that happens, you know, read a book, read a series out of order, and you already know who the killer was in the previous book because you just read it in this book. So I never give away the solution to other books.

But the, book one is Murder on Astor Place. It, it, you know, it’s the book that introduces the characters and explains how they got together and why they worked on their first case together and that sort of thing. And it builds from then. And then you get to watch the relationship develop over the course of the series.

Patricia McLinn [1:03:37] And what’s, what’s the title of book one of the new series?

Victoria Thompson [1:03:40] Book one of the new series is City of Lies, which is brand new, right, just been out a few weeks. And it’s a, it’s a completely different kind of series. One of the reviews said if you’re, you’re expecting, uh, a dead body and five suspects, you’re going to be disappointed because that’s not what this book is about. This is a different kind of book. It’s a lot of fun. It’s funny. It’s an, and very interesting, I think because of, uh, the cons and the way they work and you get to see how conmen actually operate and, and how they think. Which has been fun for me to research.

Patricia McLinn [1:04:22] So that, that the title then refers to the, the lies of the cons.

Victoria Thompson [1:04:27] Exactly. Exactly.

Patricia McLinn [1:04:29] Okay. And what else, what’s coming up next?

Victoria Thompson [1:04:33] Uh, next I have, uh, the Gaslight series. The next book is Murder on Union Square. And in that book, Frank and Sarah are ready to adopt the little girl that Sarah has taken in because according to what they believe, her parents are dead. Both of her parents are dead, and so they, um, they think that they can adopt her. But they find out when they go to adopt her that, uh, the law considers this other man, who was the man who was married to her mother, to be her legal father, even though he’s not really her father at all. So they can’t adopt unless he relinquishes his rights to her.

And so they go and ask him and he agrees. But when Frank goes back to have him sign the papers, he’s dead, he’s been murdered. And so Frank is accused of murdering him and they have to figure out who really killed him to, uh, Clear Frank’s name and to enable them to adopt Catherine.

So, uh, and then the next book in the, uh, in the city, in the Counterfeit Lady series will be City of Secrets and, uh, And that’s, that book will involve, Elizabeth will be, uh, she’s engaged to the hero at that point. I’m not going to make the mistake I made in the first book when she was going on for years, knowing him forever. So she got, he proposes to her at the end of book one, but from, for many reasons they cannot get married right away. So, um, and they can’t even announce their engagement because she was engaged to someone else. It’s very complicated. But anyway.

Patricia McLinn [1:06:14] When does that book come out?

Victoria Thompson [1:06:17] That book will come out about next November and then Murder on Union Square will be out in May of 2018.

Patricia McLinn [1:06:24] And readers can find out about these releases and other things about you and your books. Where’s the best place?

Victoria Thompson [1:06:31] Um, you can go to my website, victoriathompson.com. Or you can follow me on Facebook. It’s Victoria Thompson.Author. Or you can follow me on Twitter. Um, Gaslight VT, and I guess you’ll have those posted somewhere.

Patricia McLinn [1:06:47] All the URLs will be in the show notes. And, um, people, where it’s so much easier to—

Victoria Thompson [1:06:51] Right.

Patricia McLinn [1:06:52] —follow, then listening to them and doing them. So I’ll ask you, is there anything I should have asked you that I haven’t?

Victoria Thompson [1:06:58] Oh gosh, I can’t think of anything. You’re very thorough. I don’t think I have any secrets left.

Patricia McLinn [1:07:03] Well, we’re, we’re going to do a few more. We’re going to do these rapid-fire ones.

Victoria Thompson [1:07:09] Oh, God.

Patricia McLinn [1:07:10] Um, and so it’s they’re either or questions. Not, not real serious.

Victoria Thompson [1:07:14] Right. Right.

Patricia McLinn [1:07:15] You can just answer. So we’ll, let’s see, we will say tea or coffee?

Victoria Thompson [1:07:21] It depends on the time of day, coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon.

Patricia McLinn [1:07:27] You troublemaker.

Victoria Thompson [1:07:28] I know.

Patricia McLinn [1:07:29] Sailboat or motorboat?

Victoria Thompson [1:07:32] Sailboat.

Patricia McLinn [1:07:33] Day or night?

Victoria Thompson [1:07:35] Night.

Patricia McLinn [1:07:36] Cake or ice cream?

Victoria Thompson [1:07:38] Ice cream.

Patricia McLinn [1:07:39]Toenail polish or bare toenails?

Victoria Thompson [1:07:43] Toenail polish.

Patricia McLinn [1:07:44] Dog or cat?

Victoria Thompson [1:07:46] Dog. I’m allergic to cats.

Patricia McLinn [1:07:49] Ohh. Cruising or backpacking?

Victoria Thompson [1:07:53] Cruising.

Patricia McLinn [1:07:55] Gardening or house decorating?

Victoria Thompson [1:07:59] House decorating.

Patricia McLinn [1:08:00] Paint or wallpaper?

Victoria Thompson [1:08:02] Paint.

Patricia McLinn [1:08:04] Good. Appetizer or dessert?

Victoria Thompson [1:08:09] Desert.

Patricia McLinn [1:08:10] I’m with you. Heels or slippers?

Victoria Thompson [1:08:13] Slippers. I don’t even own heels anymore.

Patricia McLinn [1:08:18] Binge watch or make the watching last as long as possible?

Victoria Thompson [1:08:22] Binge watch.

Patricia McLinn [1:08:24] Okay. So then, uh, I’m guessing we might know that, but we’ll try, save the best for last or grabbed the best first?

Victoria Thompson [1:08:32] Save the best for last.

Patricia McLinn [1:08:34] Well, thank you so much, Victoria. It’s been a lot of fun and I hope everybody has enjoyed the, your visit to Authors Love Readers, and will come join us next week for a new interview. And have a great week of happy reading everybody.

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@authorslovereaders.com

Until next week. Wishing you lots of happy reading. Bye.


Episode 2: The Characters in Our Heads, with Judith Arnold

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:

* her website

on Facebook

* on BookBub

Thank you to DialogMusik for the instrumentals that accompany this podcast!

authors love readers judith arnold


authors love readers patreon

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

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