My favorite part of any speech is the question and answer time. Sometimes I talk to a curious bunch who are ready with questions and sometimes I don’t. I’ve discovered if I’m visiting a book club and we’re all sitting around tables or in a circle, the people are more apt to ask questions. But when I’m standing in front of a group after actually giving a speech of sorts, the people are less likely to ask questions. They feel on the spot, I think. However, if one person is brave enough to speak up, then usually other questions or comments will follow. It could be the people either don’t have anything to ask or they don’t know what to ask about the world of writing. But while adults have this shyness about asking questions, kids can ask questions until the cows come home. They want to know everything and can ask some pretty interesting questions.
The reading friends and family who made it to my book party Sunday did finally ask a few questions and make some nice comments. It’s always more fun when somebody talks besides me. As usual, I forgot to take pictures Sunday. My daughter-in-law did, but she hasn’t had time to send me any of them, so I went back into the archives and grabbed this picture of me talking to readers a few years ago. So pretend you can hear me talking now because it’s Q & A time right here, right now.
Question # 1 from Rory – When did you first start writing and where do you find your inspiration for your books?
This is a question I do get asked often. The first part is easy to answer. The second part not as easy. I started writing when I was ten years old and decided I wanted to write a mystery story like the Hardy Boy mysteries I enjoyed reading. The story starred me, only a cuter and much less shy me, and my sister and my cousin. While I had great fun with the story, I never finished it. Instead I outgrew it, but I didn’t outgrow my desire to write. I’ve been writing ever since. I sold my first story in 1971 and my first novel in 1977.
Over the years I’ve written a lot of books and so I’ve needed much inspiration. I read once that writing was 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. In other words, you have to work at being inspired. You have to go out and hunt ideas. One time when I was trying to come up with a new idea, I pictured me standing out in the middle of a dark field. I had no idea which way to go, but I just had to start walking until I bumped into a story idea. Then I also like to imagine having a creative stew pot inside my mind. I feed that pot with what I read and what I see and what I hear. And sometimes it cooks up an idea that I have no clue where it came from. I just hope the stew pot keeps simmering and I keep getting new ideas even if that means I have to apply that perspiration to get the stories written.
Question #2 from Sandi – Which book is your favorite and why?
Sometimes that is like asking which is your favorite child. Everybody thinks you have a favorite. Sometimes the book you like the most and the one you like the least can be the same one – the one you’re actually writing at the time. But I do have a couple of stories that are close to my heart. First Scent of Lilacs is a favorite just because it was fun to write and it was published after I’d gone several years with no writing success and had begun to wonder if I’d ever have another book published. It also was my entrance into the inspirational market, a place I love. Then Angel Sister has to be a favorite because of how I used my mother’s stories of growing up during the Great Depression for the background of the story. Mom’s memories are threaded all through that story and I can’t think of it without thinking of how Mom and her sisters would laugh as they told stories about when they were kids.
Questions #3 from Lou Anne – Do you realize the agony of a reader’s waiting to see where/what your characters will do next (after they finish the book and are waiting for a next installment)? How do you decide to end a series?
Lou Anne’s question made me smile. I don’t think I have ever realized that a reader might be that anxious to read something I wrote. I do often get messages from readers wishing for another story about this or that character. I understand that. I’ve read books myself where I wondered what might happen next. And I’m glad readers want to know more about my characters after I write “the end.” That means the characters came to life for them while they were reading the story. That’s a good thing for a writer to hear.
As to how do I decide to end a series, most of the time it’s not my decision. Since I do want to be published and have books out there for readers, I have to consider what the publisher wants if I am being traditionally published. So usually it’s the publisher who thinks the series should end. In the Christian market, it seems that often series come in sets of three. That’s been true for my Heart of Hollyhill books and my Rosey Corner books. I would like to write one more in each of those series, but my publishers want me to go in other directions. Unfortunately, most 2nd and 3rd books don’t sell as well as the 1st book in a series. Of course, that isn’t always true. Some series have great sales for many books. Take the Harry Potter books for an example. I’m not sure if the Hidden Springs mysteries will end with the three books, but right now none are in the works. My next books will be stand alone historical novels. There is also another Shaker book on the horizon, but even though those books have a connection of the Shaker village, they are all stand alone books that can be read in any order.
(After Karen’s comment below, I decided to clarify a bit about publishers being the ones to decide a series should end. They make those decisions based on sales since publishing is a business and if they don’t make a profit, they can’t stay in business. So in many ways, the decision is made by readers or the lack of enough readers to make a demand for more of a particular series. In fact, the 2nd and 3rd Rosey Corner books, Small Town Girl and Love Comes Home came about because readers liked the first book, Angel Sister, and the publishers, who had initially decided against the extra two books, changed and asked for the books. So many things go into the decision to end a series. Sometimes that could be the author who just doesn’t have any more stories to tell in that series. I certainly didn’t want to make the publishers sound like bad guys here. I love my publishers and know they want to publish books that make readers happy.)
Thanks for the questions.
I didn’t get many questions from you all, but if this post does get you to thinking about something you want to know, ask away. I’ll save the questions and do another Q & A post sometime soon. Now it’s my time to ask you a question or two.
Do you sometimes imagine what happens next to characters in the books you read? If the story doesn’t have a very happy ending, do you rewrite it in your imagination to make it better?
As always, thanks for reading.