Writers are frequently asked questions about how they do what they do and, fortunately, there is no single right answer.
Q. Do you write for a set amount of time each day?
A. No. I often think about my characters or the plot even when I’m busy with other projects. I like to write when I know I will have an entire afternoon, or several hours in the car while my husband is driving.
Q. Do you outline your book before you start to write?
A. Many authors work that way, but my ideas are often in my head as the characters show up. My books are character-driven, which means they are full of surprises and take me to situations I could never imagine.
Q. How long does it take to write a book?
A. Each of my books has taken about a year to complete because there are so many revisions to be made once the initial draft is finished. The Bailey Fish Adventures include nonfiction that must be vetted by historians or experts. That takes time. I read the children’s books at least ten times out loud to hear how the dialog and sentences sound so that I can strengthen verbs and improve action. I have trusted readers who go through the manuscript and offer suggestions for correction. Editing and revisions are very important to success.
Q. Are your characters based on people you know?
A. Good characters are very real. Although mine are very much my own invention, they may be inspired by people I’ve known, know of, or have observed, perhaps in a restaurant (i.e., Captain Calliope’s squirrel-tail sideburns).
Q. Do you develop your discussion questions and teachers guides?
A. Just like cover design and illustrations are best left to the professionals, so are other materials. Poet and former teacher, Nancy Miller, comes up with the discussion questions, and Holly Moulder, a teacher and author creates the comprehensive teachers guides for the Bailey Fish series.
Q. What do you like to do besides write?
A. My other passion is music, the cello since age eight, and viola in the past few years. I enjoying playing with other musicians at the lake, and with the Rappahannock Pops in Fredericksburg. The orchestral experience is a thrill. When we lived in Florida I was a founding member of the Charlotte Symphony, another excellent group. Oh, I adore my family: husband, children and grandchildren. They’re all talented. We enjoy boating and travel and our cats.
Q. Do you have time to read?
A. I have books on every table of the house, often reading more than one at a time, and reading daily. A perfect vacation often involves days of solid reading. My tastes are varied: nonfiction, kids books, novels, the classics, and now in different reading forms. One year for Christmas I received both Mark Twain’s huge autobiography and a Kindle; I’m enjoying the latter to my great surprise. (My books are available on Kindle and Nook.)
Q. Your favorite authors?
I can’t answer this question definitively because I enjoy so many, but I do like Nora Ephran, Carl Hiaasen, Mark Twain, Alexander McCall Smith, and T. Coraghessan Boyle, to name a few. If you asked tomorrow, the list would be different. I appreciate the recommendations of friends, family and booksellers who share tastes and sometimes steer me to new great finds that are not necessarily on the commercial best-seller lists.
Q. Who are your favorite humor writers?
A. I enjoy a number of them―Twain, Benchley (when I was a teen), Hiaasen, Flagg, Irving―but when I’m writing humor, I avoid reading their books or anything else in that genre. I don’t want to inadvertently think their thoughts.
Q. What’s next?
A. I never know. I hadn’t thought about writing a full-length novel until I was asked by a bookstore manager in Fredericksburg to give a talk to a group of people who were part of a national contest that encouraged writers to draft a novel in thirty days. Of course I said yes to the talk (which never happened), but the seed was planted and within days my character Lunie (not her original name) showed up with a plan to writer her novel in such a contest and my own book was under way. It was delicious.