One of the things authors are often asked to do, apart from book signings, speaking engagements, events, and book festivals, are “Interviews.” Since my first book published in 2009 … I have done many interviews for magazines, newspapers, and review blogs. I thought it might be fun for this March blog to reminisce about some of those interviews and to include some of the questions and answers given about writing over the years. I tried to pick a diversity of questions, spanning from early in my career to later … and from a variety of sources. Hope you enjoy reading some of the questions I was asked and the answers I gave.
INTERVIEW 1: DIVINE DETOUR: An early interview I did in 2010, after my first two books came out, was for Kathy Harris’s Divine Detour Blog. Kathy manages the Oak Ridge Boys in Nashville, keeps an active website about books, media, detours and dreams, and is also a writer with published books of her own. In the years since this first interview I’ve occasionally done a few other interview with Kathy and last year we got to meet for the first time when she came to my Barnes & Noble Book Signing in Franklin, below Nashville.
Here were a few of Kathy’s questions and my answers:
Let’s talk about the Smoky Mountain Series. Please tell us a little about the first two books. I write warm, contemporary romances with a dash of suspense, a touch of inspiration, and a big dollop of Appalachian flavor. The Smoky Mountain novels are a series of twelve linked books all set in different areas around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in East Tennessee. … The Foster Girls, published in 2009, is set in the rural Wears Valley near Pigeon Forge, and Tell Me About Orchard Hollow, released in 2010, is set in the Townsend, Tennessee area of the Smokies. For Six Good Reasons, the third book in the series, comes out soon in the spring of 2011. One of my college students said to me: “Oh, Dr. Stepp, I thought you’d write dark novels being a psychologist.” But, no, I write warm, charming, happy novels with a good, satisfying ending. …. Because the books are a linked series, versus a continuing series following the same characters and ongoing drama, each of my books has is its own complete story, with its own unique set of characters and plot. However, for readers who follow the whole series, I do sometimes let book characters pop back into a future book, like meeting an old friend for readers who follow the whole series. …In my novels “detour events” cause dramatic changes in several characters’ lives—and I like showing how my characters work through and past those events to create a richer and stronger future.
Did you begin writing as a child? What draws you to writing as a creative outlet? From the earliest years I remember, I loved words in print. To this day, I love the sights, smells, and feel of a library or bookstore. I read extensively as a child and doodled at writing in fun ways for pleasure as I grew up. Writing has always called to me like a misty siren and tangled me up in its embrace. … On my Facebook page recently I wrote: “Something I love about writing novels – unlike life – you can determine what happens.” That’s a happy truth. It’s a joyous creative outlet for me to construct worlds, characters, stories and conflicts, and make everything in that world turn out as I want.
How does your faith play into your writing? My faith plays into my writing in two ways. First, I feel strongly that we are each meant to use the talents God gave us – and in ways that bring honor to Him. Johann Goethe wrote: “The person with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.” … Second, writers are more powerful leaders than they may realize. They can touch and influence lives by what they write. I plant “seeds of faith” in my novels, simple examples of how people of faith live their lives by what they believe mixed with a wholesome, entertaining, and engaging story. …In truth, I can’t really separate my writing, my life, and my works from my faith. As Dolly Parton says: “God is in everything I do and all my work glorifies Him.”
INTERVIEW 2: SOUTHERN WRITERS MAGAZINE: In 2012, my first interview with Susan Reichert for SOUTHERN WRITERS MAGAZINES appeared in the magazine’s May/June issue – right between publication of Delia’s Place and Second Hand Rose. This was my first introduction to Susan, who had been reading and enjoying my books, and later I wrote several articles and Suite T blogs for Susan’s publications. Here are a few of Susan’s questions and my answers:
Did you choose your genre or did it choose you? A little of both. As my husband and I hiked and explored the Smokies for our hiking guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER, I kept stopping in gift stores and book shops along the way looking for light, contemporary novels set in the area … you know, good Southern stories, with a little romance, a little suspense, rich characters, and a happy ending. There weren’t any—only guidebooks to the area, old-time biographies, historical novels, pioneer tales, and mountain recipe books. I asked a bookseller one day, “Where are your contemporary novels set in the mountains?” …He shook his head. “There aren’t any. I wish someone would write some. People ask for them all the time.” I guess that seeded the idea for me. I hated the idea that there weren’t any contemporary novels set in the Smokies when the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in America. As we hiked that day, I started thinking, “Maybe I could write some.”
Later, traveling and doing marketing work for Huntington Learning Center at schools in a locale near the mountains, the idea for the whole series of Smoky Mountain novels simply walked into my mind while driving down the highway. I could see the first book clearly, in vivid detail, and the idea for subsequent books tumbling along behind. …I couldn’t wait to get home to start writing everything down. I’d wanted contemporary books in the mountains and perhaps those books wanted me to write them!
How do you find the time to write? I make time and I think that is true for all authors. When I started to write seriously at mid-life, I knew, in order to be successful, I had to think of writing as a “real” job. Since I carried other jobs—as a faculty member at Tusculum College (at that time teaching eight to nine courses a year in psychology and research) and also working as the part-time Educational Coordinator with Huntington Learning Center (making educational marketing visits to K-12 schools), I knew I’d need to plan diligently, make time some time sacrifices, and restructure my life to find the hours to write.
Most serious part-time jobs require a maximum of 20 hours a week of work, so I set that as my minimum weekly goal. I tried various methods of structuring those hours into my weeks—and gradually found, for me, that blocking five hour time blocks into four days a week worked best for me. I planned and penciled these hours into my daybook, and if I didn’t fulfill them, I made myself shift the hours to another day I’d hoped to be “off.” This method wasn’t, and still isn’t, easy but it worked. Starting this routine in 2006, I researched and wrote two books a year this way. In 2008, I started seeking a publisher while working on book four in my Smoky Mountain series. I connected with my current publisher, then seeking a regional romance series set in Appalachia (nice match). My first book THE FOSTER GIRLS, set in the scenic Wear’s Valley below Cove Mountain, came out in 2009. The second book, TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW, set on the quiet side of the Smoky Mountains in Townsend, came out in 2010, with FOR SIX GOOD REASONS highlighting the little-known Greenbrier area following in 2011. My latest release DELIA’S PLACE, published this year, takes readers to the familiar resort town of Gatlinburg. I’m currently writing book ten in the series, around edits with the publisher on book five, to come out April 2013.What sacrifices have you had to make to be a writer? Working 20+ hours a week writing around my other professional jobs—and now adding in publicity, marketing time, signing events, presentations and speaking engagements—leaves me less and less time for pleasures. Where I used to spend Saturdays on the hiking trail with my husband, we’re now traveling somewhere at a signing at Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, or some other venue. Where I used to enjoy attending a watercolor group every week to paint, I no longer have time to go. TV watching is totally eliminated from my life, since much of my writing is done at night. When people casually discuss tv shows and characters, I smile a lot. I’ve never seen them. Home projects have been put on permanent hold. Painting, crafting, and gardening projects are a thing of the past. I think I caught one movie this past year and one symphony. The writing life is a very disciplined life.
INTERVIEW 3: Nickie Simmons Review Blog: Nickie Simmons, in Sevierville, TN, contacted me to do an interview for her blog not long before SECOND HAND ROSE published in 2013. She and her mother were both big fans of my books and I now know both of them well. Nickie is a busy teacher and part-time minister and no longer does a blog, but I have gone to talk with her students at her school and will be there again this month speaking for the school’s Literacy Fair. Here are a few of Nickie’s questions and my answers:
What age were you when you started writing? My mother was an oral storyteller and I began weaving stories in my mind at a young age. Childhood friends remember that I created the roles and plots for play games. Later, I used my writing gifts on the school newspaper and in writing a few early poems and stories. In college, not finding a major for creative writing and illustration—or receiving any encouragement to pursue either—I majored in education, a practical major for women of my era. I ended up getting three degrees in the psychology and educational arena and began to teach college and work in educational marketing after. … Writing got shelved through those busy years of college, marriage, children, and work. It wasn’t until the children were grown that I began to write with any serious intent, coming back full circle to early girlhood dreams.
How many books are you currently working on? Recently I completed the final edits for my next Smokies novel Second Hand Rose, which is now working its way into galleys and will be published next spring 2013. In between edits … I am writing on book ten in the Smoky Mountain series, a title called Daddy’s Girl, set in Bryson City. I am also involved in final editing stages for my husband’s and my hiking guide, The Afternoon Hiker, which will come out later this fall…… I am a multi-tasker and can work on several projects at once—a blessing in the writing and publishing world! I also am working on a devotional guide, a children’s book, and another non-fiction book. This weekend, I am heading to the beach to Edisto Island, SC, where—even there—I will “play in my mind” and scribble down thoughts and ideas for a trilogy I plan to set at this island where our family has visited every summer since the 1980s. Eugene Ionesco said, “For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” For me, I guess that is always true!
Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp? As a psychologist, I weave a number of messages throughout my novels—that love heals and prevails, that forgiveness is better than bitterness, that life can offer new beginnings, that people have the capacity to help others mend and heal after sorrows. I am a positivist and an optimist and I write books full of hope and promise with happy endings. I am concerned about the current fascination today with dark and immoral topics in books and movies, and I worry about the diet of trashy, violent, and immoral images America is constantly feeding into its mind through literature, television, and online media. Like an old line from Alice in Wonderland said, “We are what we eat.” …….. .I believe it is still possible to write a compelling book readers will love and buy without throwing in excessive violence, explicit sexual content, cursing, vampires, or witchcraft. That is what I try to write. Within every book, I also plant a few spiritual seeds—that prayer works, that God is still real, that you can have a genuine relationship with the Creator, and that faith makes life richer and better.
INTERVIEW 4: ALL ABOUT WOMEN MAGAZINE: An interview article came out in the ALL ABOUT WOMEN MAGAZINE at a busy season in 2014 after the release of several books with Kensington Publishing, including DADDY’S GIRL, MAKIN’ MIRACLES, SAVING LAUREL SPRINGS, and WELCOME BACK…. And after the publication of our hiking guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER and a novella titled “A Smoky Mountain Gift” in Kensington’s Christmas anthology WHEN THE SNOW FALLS. Here are a few of the questions in that interview:
What is your favorite thing about creative writing? My favorite thing about creative writing is getting lost in the creative world of my imagination, and in developing rich characters, settings, and stories to share with others. I also love bringing readers from all over the US and abroad to visit the beauty of the mountains of Tennessee and No. Carolina.
What is your writing process? Generally, I write two books a year around my other jobs and life commitments. I spend a minimum of 20 hours a week—usually much more—working on my writing. It usually takes me about three months to plan, research, lay out, and outline a new book and about three months to write it.
What is most challenging about writing? I believe the most challenging thing about being a writer is protecting one’s time to get the writing done. Many people carry stories in their hearts or minds but never get them on paper. It takes disciplined, dedicated effort to write a book. Then it takes courage and persistence to find a publisher and to work through the many stages of editing required to make the book the best it can be. Additionally, once a book is published a writer’s time becomes even more challenged because of the ongoing and time-consuming demands to market and promote every new book published. Book signings, book talks and presentations, interviews, and media promotion take an inordinate amount of a writer’s time—and there is also fan mail to answer and social media to engage in to stay in touch with readers and fans. ….. In many jobs, the hours and tasks of the day are structured—and policed—by another, but the writer’s day is, by-and-large, self structured. And at the end of a hard day of self-imposed, extensive hours of work, there is no one to say “well done” or to pat an author on the back and offer praise for the long hours put in. Because of this highly entrepreneurial process, an author’s work ethic must arise from within. Each author must become his or her own taskmaster—a truly daunting challenge every day.
INTERVIEW 5: Panel Questions for ROSE GLEN LITERARY FESTIVAL In February of 2018 I was asked to be on a panel with two other regional authors Sam Venable and Steven Lyn Bales. We were given interview questions to think about and prepare answers for, although we actually answered many other questions instead straight off the cuff. I have been on several other festival panels and these are always fun opportunities to share speaking with other authors and answering reader questions after. Here were a few of the questions we were given:
Have you ever written a story in which someone disputed the details? No, not that I can remember … I do a lot of research about each of my novels set around the Smoky Mountains, so I don’t get much argument about the details in my books—real or fictional. And in our guidebooks, taking readers up the Smoky Mountain trails … I can’t recall anyone has ever disputed anything about the trails we described or the occasional bit of area history we tucked in. ……. I’ve taught research classes for over eighteen years in college, and we “research teachers” tend to rather closely mind details. You can see I’m the one out of the three on the panel with notes written out – which is telling! …. Actually, I spend as much time researching a book as I do writing it … and that probably helps the accuracy of my books. I laughed recently over a novel by a well-known author set in Gatlinburg. The book characters ran down to the hospital in Gatlinburg in one scene .. .and anyone who’s spent some time around here knows there’s no hospital in Gatlinburg … and they also frequented a lavish, Hollywood-type spa downtown—the type of facility you might find in Beverly Hills, but certainly not around the Smokies!. … I tend to set my books around here locally and write about what I know. It keeps me out of trouble more.
What have you written about that you vowed to never write about again? An academic Dissertation! That experience, while doing my doctorate, is not on my list of joyous remembrances. Academic committees thrive on having students rewrite and rework their dissertation topics and writings again and again, needed or not. It’s the expected academic experience. In one of my last meetings the committee proposed that I come at the topic from yet a different angle and they asked if I had a problem with that. I said, “No. That will be an easy change because that approach and write-up was the one I presented in the very beginning a year ago.” Fortunately because I said it rather sweetly rather than as a smart ass – and because they all realized it was true – they let me move along then. …. But the research, the writing, and the APA adherence to format with a dissertation is a rigid, very uncreative process. …. Fortunately, once a Doctor always a Doctor … so I don’t have to pass that way again. I’ll always remember Dr. Connelly on my committee, a real battle-ax in the classroom and a legal stickler … said in her typical droll way in my final defense meeting, “I read a lot of these dissertations, generally dry and dull, but I have to say Lin’s was the exception. It read almost like a novel … I think she might have missed her calling.”
Have you ever written anything that you wished had never been published? No. And I hope I never do. …. I keep a little quote by L.M. Montgomery taped by my computer in my office: “Never write a line you would be ashamed to read at your own funeral.” … I try real hard to do that.
INTERVIEW 6: Interview for Carrie’s blog READING IS MY SUPERPOWER Carrie Schmidt, an avid Kentucky reader and blogger, discovered my books because of her love for the Smoky Mountains. Carrie is a gifted and multi-talented woman who works for an educational testing service and is also the co-founder and partner for JustRead Publicity Tours for authors. I am participating in one of Carrie’s company’s five-day tours later in March before my upcoming books HAPPY VALLEY and RETURN TO EDISTO publish on April 2nd.. The questions below were from an interview done last year in 2019 just after publication of THE INTERLUDE and CLAIRE AT EDISTO.
Writing spaces are as diverse as authors and books. Where is your favorite space to write? …. Although I’ve been know to scribble out book ideas while traveling or on napkins in restaurants … when I settle down to write a new books, it is always in my home office. Like the old line by Virginia Woolf saying a woman needs “a room of her own to write” … I am grateful to have a full room for my office and a dedicated place in which to write. In my room are bookshelves of references, resources, and favorite titles, an old desk handed down in my family I cherish, and a long computer desk that holds my big iMac and printer. Around the room are mugs full of pens and pencils, stacks of papers and folder related to ongoing books, and behind my desk is a big bulletin board on the wall collaged with magazine and internet pictures representing the characters and places in my ongoing book … When I come here, the world goes out. And I write.
Which of your main characters is most like you? Professionally, Vivian Delaney—in my first published book THE FOSTER GIRLS—was a professor and a writer, so I felt in tune easily with the challenges she faced in both jobs … Also in my latest book CLAIRE AT EDISTO, I related easily to Claire, a busy young mother with little time to develop her own talents. I still remember those younger years raising my children and how hard it was to pursue my own dreams while helping my children pursue theirs, and while working and keeping the home front running smoothly.
What do you most want readers to take away from your books? I’m tempted to just say “a sigh and a smile.” … I love bringing readers to the rich story settings in my books along with a good heart-warming story. I always want readers to stay entertained from start to finish in every book I write, to fall in love with the characters, but also to never be quite sure what will happen next in the story. … I also want readers to feel like they have visited in the settings of my books—in different areas around the Grreat Smoky Mountains, where most of my novels are set, or at the beach at South Carolina, where my new trilogy takes place. It’s such a joy to me when I get fan mail saying “Your books made me feel like I was there” or when readers come to my book signings telling me about making road trips to places around the Smokies because they read about them in my books. One fan called me ‘a great ambassador to the Smokies’ and I loved the idea of that title…Because I put seeds of faith in all my books, I also love when readers tell me how some spiritual seeds I planted into my story encouraged their faith. These are the best compliments of all … Most of all I want readers to regret when the book ends because they enjoyed it so much.
CLOSING: I hope you enjoyed reminiscing with me and remembering some of the many interviews I’ve had over the years. … See you next month in my April blog and I hope to see you at one of my events in the southeast area. Find all of those scheduled for 2020 so far on the Appearances page of this website. And remember my new books publish on April 2nd and are available for pre-order on Barnes & Noble and at Amazon now.
See you then! __ Lin
[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]