Widow’s Might is a sequel to Lot’s Return to Sodom. As an aside, I did enjoy Lot’s Return to Sodom. I would like to thank you for your willingness to take the time for this interview.
1.) This is the third book in a series. Did you plan for Liv Bergen, your protagonist, to be a series from the beginning?
When I sat down at the keyboard many years ago, I don’t even know if I intended to write a novel. I just flicked on my computer, turned my mind free, and readied my fingers to fly. Liv Bergen emerged somewhere along the way and ten novels later, I decided to see if I could get a series published. In The Belly of Jonah is actually the last of the ten novels I wrote, intending the book to start a series where the others could be edited to follow, if fans fell in love with Liv. Thank God they did! I have since edited only one of the other nine novels – Lot’s Return To Sodom – and am finding it’s better that Liv Bergen and her friends take me where they want to go, instead of the other way around. Widow’s Might arose from editing Lot’s Return To Sodom, a book I’ve enjoyed writing to explore my home, the Black Hills of South Dakota.
2.) Did the series grow organically or was it a gestalt experience?
Each story is born organically. I never force a novel from one of my crazy premises. Instead, I let a premise tumble in my head for a few months, like a stone needing to be polished, and if it comes out a gem, I have my story. If in the process I lose my train of thought, I figure the stone was just a stone. A rock miner like me recognizes all stones are important, but not all stones should be mined. They have to have a purpose.
Once I have my gem, which means I’m happy with the basic storyline, I suppose how I plan for its inclusion in the series would be considered a gestalt experience. If the storyline doesn’t work for Liv Bergen, the gem may become a stand alone. What is not a gestalt experience for me is writing an intended relationship between characters, like with Liv Bergen and Special Agent Streeter Pierce. Relationships are best suited for growing organically, don’t you think?
3.) What was the most difficult part about writing a book?
Finding time to write is the most difficult part for me. I have so many stories that are bouncing around in my gray matter that I really don’t do them justice. I know that if I wrote every day, as many authors do and good authors should, rather than a couple times a year, I would be a much better writer. Time for writing is a luxury for me at this point in my life and I spend every spare minute writing, rather than outlining or storyboarding or character profiling. And I know my flaws are evident in the final pages because of the limited time I spend with these necessary endeavors. Choices have consequences and I choose to prioritize being a mother first. So hopefully when my youngest graduates from high school, you’ll see my writing improve. Until then, my focus has to be on my teen.
4.) Are you and Liv alike?
I tried very hard to keep a distance between me and my protagonists and antagonists when I began writing novels. What I discovered was the characters became uninteresting to me because I didn’t really know them or feel their emotions. Now when I write, I really try to become that character. For me, writing ten pages every day doesn’t cut it. I have to immerse myself in the story and become those characters, good and bad. The balance in the characters becomes more interesting to me. Secluding myself for a month of weekends or a good solid week is a process that helps me get into character more easily, including the voice, the style, and the diversity. Growing up in the woods and playing every make believe game known to mankind must have trained me for this. So as for Liv, we share the same passion for mining, a cold Guinness, and a deep devotion to family.
5.) What do you like the most about writing?
Two things: Seeing the end product of hard work and happy endings. There’s no greater high in my life then typing ‘The End’ because in every other aspect of my life, I rarely get to enjoy completion. My job is to secure reserves for future mining one hundred years from now so I have to predict where developments will grow in relation to the geology. I’ll never know if my decisions were right but my great grandkids will. So writing a novel is a short-term venture and thought process for me. It feels good to complete something and know if readers are buying it or not, loving it or not, moved or not. Life is good yet has so many tragic moments. I have experienced a few. I try to create something positive from all that might otherwise seem so wrong as a source of incredible strength.
6.) Where do your new story ideas come from?
Ideas come at me from everywhere. I have no concept of writer’s block. I think I suffer from having way too many ideas that make storylines too complicated or disjointed at times and normally my great editors rein me in. And I definitely ascribe to Mark Twain’s ideology that truth is stranger than fiction. When I read the paper or listen to the news or even hear a neighbor reciting an account about something that happened earlier in the week, the strangest stories emerge and my mind immediately fixates on the strangest part then morphs the strangeness into a ‘What If’ premise. That’s how I start every story. For example, in the news this week where I live, a blind Lakota elder came forward claiming when he awoke from heart surgery months ago, a nurse told him someone had carved a ‘KKK’ on his abdomen. You can’t make this stuff up! At first, my community mind thinks how terrible for all parties and my prayers go out to everyone involved. My writer’s mind goes to all the fictional ‘What If’s’, like what if this happened to Liv Bergen? What if someone who hated mining carved something on her? Some sick mind thought to do such a horrific thing to this man in real life, so my mind reaches beyond what I could conceive to write a suspenseful storyline.
7.) What advice has helped the most in your writing?
My mom taught all nine of us kids to be bumblebees. She used to tell us that scientists determined the bumblebee is not aerodynamically designed to fly, considering its massive body compared to the wing size and the beats per second necessary to get the bee airborne. Then my mom would tell us, “But that the bee doesn’t know that, so he goes ahead and flies anyway.” I’ve heard several different accounts, but I’ll credit my mom for teaching me to be a bumblebee and let everyone else argue about where the folklore originated. The point is not to let anyone tell you that you can’t. You decided for yourself that you can and you will.
8.) Who is your favorite author and why?
Every chance I get I read. I’m a reader first, a writer second. I have so many favorites, but of course I love Lee Child, Sue Grafton, James Patterson, Harlan Coben, Michael Connolley, Robert Parker, Patricia Cornwell, Robert Crais, C.J. Box, Jonathon Kellerman, Dan Brown, Janet Evanovich, Lisa Lutz, Sandra Brown, just to get started. Again, there are so many, I’m sure I’m forgetting dozens.
I was so excited when someone told me at a mystery writer’s conference that my Liv Bergen was as if Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone had a love child. She’d be Liv. The highest form of flattery, since I’ve read every single one of those great authors’ books. I love their style of writing because I feel like I know those characters, can see myself having a beer with those characters, and would have either of their backs in a scrap. Jack Reacher is as different from Kinsey Milhone as he can be, but the characteristics of both fictional protagonists make them likeable in their own unique way. That’s what I want for Liv Bergen.
9.) What advice would you give for the want to be writer?
The first question I’d ask someone who wants to write is what’s stopping you? If you want to write, write. It’s that simple. Now the more complex advice would be for the writers who want to get published. My advice would be that there are no short cuts. You absolutely have to be patient, to love writing, to dig deep for all the ‘sticktoitivity’ you can muster, and to be that bumblebee. If work hard regardless of the countless rejections, you’ll succeed.
10.) Will we be seeing more of Liv Bergen?
Liv Bergen must be kin to the unsinkable Molly Brown, who also called Colorado her home. That indomitable spirit will assuredly lead her on more adventures. As I work on the fourth in the series, Noah’s Rainy Day, scheduled for release in 2014, I am once again reminded why I like this character so much. She never gives up, particularly when family members are involved. Just as in Widow’s Might, where her sister Elizabeth’s life was in danger, Liv finds an intense motivation, working harder than ever, to help her find a kidnapped child that only her nephew Noah has seen. The premise or ‘What If’ for this story was inspired by my own nephew: What if a boy witnesses a crime, a younger child’s life hanging in the balance, until he can communicate what he knows? Only, the witness suffers from severe cerebral palsy and can’t speak. Motivation for Liv, since she loves Noah to death. You’ll be seeing much more of Liv, because I have such loyal fans who are buying the books. Thank you for choosing Liv!
Thank you so much for your time and candid answers, best of luck with the book.