Q: Let's start with a question you've most likely faced in the past. You've worked in multiple genres and published numerous books. To date, how many books have you published?
Close to 60. I write what I like to read, and I read a lot of different kinds of books.
Q: I love the Sarah Booth Delaney series, aka the "Bones" books. When and how did you first "come up with" the idea for Sarah Booth Delaney, Jitty, and all the wonderful characters who populate Zinnia, Mississippi?
I'd finished TOUCHED, and I had that luxury of thinking of a new project. I was sitting in my chair and I heard these two characters bickering. I listened and began to see the characters. It was Sarah Booth and Jitty. I wasn't sure what kind of book they might be in, but I knew I had to write about them.
Q: The "Bones" books are written in first person, from Sarah Booth's point of view. What made you decide to write her story in first person as opposed to third person?
I wish I could say I "chose" 1st person, but it just happened that way. I was in Sarah Booth's head. So the "I" was a natural choice.
Q: What advantages do you think first person POV gives an author and what are some of the disadvantages?
I think 1st person gives a writer a terrific platform for creating a unique and compelling voice. It allows to reader to share, intensely, the thoughts and feelings of the "I" character. In a mystery, particularly one with an amateur sleuth, the reader shares the exploration of evidence and events, so that the reader knows what the character knows. The disadvantage is that it's difficult to get in thoughts from other characters. It can be done, but it's more difficult to do well.
Q: Some of your books - PENUMBRA and FEVER MOON, for example - are written in third person. Do you find it difficult to switch between first and third person works? Do you have a preference for first or third person POV?
It depends on the book. Penumbra and Fever Moon would be totally different books if done in 1st person. To explore the issues and the characters the way I wanted to, I had to use third person. I love both, but I think perhaps 1st person is a more natural choice for me. I work harder for 3rd.
Q: Often the point of view affects the plot and vice versa. Some authors plot their stories out in advance while others prefer a more organic process. Do you plot out the major turning points or do you follow the organic philosophy and allow the story to evolve on its own?
In a mystery, it's smarter to plot out the major turning points. I do this, though I'm not very good at writing a synopsis. I prefer the organic approach, but that can get a writer in a lot of trouble, especially in a mystery or thriller.
Q: WISHBONES, the latest edition to Sarah Booth's adventures, is the eighth book in the series. As the series progresses, do you find it harder to sustain the character arc for Sarah Booth and her friends? Did you even have a set arc planned when you first began the series?
Because writers live or die by book sales, it's difficult to plan for a certain number of books in a series. I've been very fortunate with the Bones books. I'm working on the 9th one now. If my sales are good, I'll be offered another contract, and I already have ideas for future books. The characters in this series often surprise me with their personal growth and revelations. And sometimes they throw me for a loop. I think, like friends, these characters grow at their own pace.
Q: In addition to being a prolific writer, you also teach creative writing at the University of South Alabama. Other writers also have jobs outside of publishing. Do you find that the two often create conflicting schedules? If so, how do you manage your time so as not to "drop the ball" in either area?
It's probably going to sound corny, but I'm deeply invested in my students. Some of them (like you, Jeannie!) are greatly talented, and it's an honor to work with them as they learn how to craft their stories. Writing and teaching are both professions that require sacrifice. It does get complicated when I have students with thesis defenses coming up, and my own book deadlines conflict. But I juggle both duties and do my best to give my students the time and attention they deserve.
Q: You recently learned that you're a recipient of a 2009 Richard Wright Award in Literary Excellence. (Congratulations!) For readers who may not be aware of the Richard Wright Award, could you tell us a little something about how the recipients are chosen and who are some of the past recipients?
Writers are chosen for this award based on the body of work they've completed. Other winners are Eudora Welty, Willie Morris, Ellen Douglas, John Grisham (in fiction) Bill Minor (in journalism), among others.
Q: What was your initial reaction to learning the news?
Both Mississippi and Alabama have a strong hold on my heart. I write mostly about Mississippi, because my childhood is there, and I grew up wandering the fields and woods of that state. I was deeply honored by this award, which recognizes my work in my home state. To be included with such writers--writers that I'm in awe of--is exciting and terrifying.
Q: Who would you say was/is the greatest inspiration to you, as a writer, and why?
A writer I greatly admire, for his talent and his humanity, is James Lee Burke. Throughout my life, I've been fortunate to discover wonderful writers. I was a reader long before I decided to try to write. So my list would be extensive, from Carolyn Keene (multiple authors) who wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries to John Irving, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty...my goodness, I could go on for days. And each for a different reason.
Q: What has been the single greatest piece of advice you've been given,regarding writing, and by whom?
Write everyday. Write whether you feel like it or not. Write because you can't stop yourself from writing. Because if you can stop, then find another profession.And this is a compilation of advice from numerous writers.
Q: Last question - Is there any parting wisdom or advice you'd like to give to aspiring authors?
The story is a gift to you. Honor it above all else. Hone your skills with language, but never let the language become more important than the story.