Today on the blog I am offering an interview with Lynn Chandler Willis, author of Shamus Award finalist, SMP/PWA Best 1st P.I. Novel Competition Wink of an Eye (Minotaur 2014), Grace Award Winner for Excellence in faith-based fiction The Rising (Pelican Book Group 2013) and True Crime novel Unholy Covenant (Addicus Books 2000).
1. When did you decide to become a writer? In other words, what made you actually sit down and write something?
I grew up in a suburban neighborhood loaded with kids of all ages. My intimate circle of friends were neighbors across the street and next door—combined there were 12 of us kids within a few years of one another. We were always up to something so I started documenting our news-worthy escapades. News-worthy to us, anyway! I was around 8 when I put out my first “newspaper” typed on an ancient Selectric typewriter copied with carbon paper. Flash forward thirty years and I left the corporate world and really did start a small-town bi-weekly newspaper. That was a way of life for thirteen years and had grown to have a circulation of 10,000. But although my writing was supporting me, it wasn’t what I wanted to write. Fiction was my first love so I turned back to it about five years ago and have been fortunate to have had my work published.
2. Every writer is eventually asked this question, but where do your ideas come from? Why do you write what you do?
I always start with a character and build the story around him/her. In Wink of an Eye, I’d had the character of Gypsy Moran in mind for years but it wasn’t until I discovered the tiny town of Wink, Texas that the story came together. I love darkly flawed characters and the “mystery” of why they are like they are. I write mysteries and crime fiction but to me, the “mystery” isn’t who killed the victim, but why. I want to reach into the dark corners of their minds and extract their thoughts. That to me is fascinating.
3. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you? How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I used to be a “pantster” but turned to outlining with Nobody’s Baby (forthcoming from Henery Press). I use a loose outline with just a sentence or two of the chapter’s main idea, but it’s enough to get me from point A to point B without staring at a blank screen when I sit down to write. It’s fluid enough to change plot direction if the story dictates so the creative process isn’t stifled. I had to go to an outline method when I started babysitting my grandkids or I’d have never finished anything!
4. What is the hardest thing about the creative process of writing? And what was the hardest thing about writing your last book? How long does it take you to finish one novel?
The hardest part for me is accepting the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s what the second draft is for. I agonize over every sentence. I dissect, rearrange wording, choose different words, study the meaning almost obsessively. With the last book, Nobody’s Baby, finding the main character’s voice was a struggle. I had a few false starts with varying points of view, would get a couple thousand words in and it just wasn’t doing it for me. I chucked it all, went with a first-person narrative and started later in the story. it worked. It normally takes me nine months to a year to finish a book, but when it’s finished it’s pretty clean and ready for submission.
5. Name your three biggest frustrations about the writing business.
With being traditionally published, one of the biggest frustrations is how long it takes from querying to an actual release. I think that’s one of the reasons many authors turn to self-publishing. Self publishing does have a faster turn-around but to do it right, you have to put out the money for cover art, professional editing, formatting, and promotion. Where traditional publishing takes longer, they normally cover those expenses. It’s an either/or situation. The second frustration is the misconception from those not in the business that every writer who has ever published anything is in the millionaire’s club. Very, very, very few writers actually earn enough to make a decent living. So then they wonder why we even do it if it’s not for the money. The third frustration may sound egotistical but I think every writer can relate—the person who means well but has no idea how they’ve belittled your efforts when they say, “Oh, I’m going to write a book one day.” Like it’s the easiest thing in the world! Would I just wake up one day and say I think I’m going to be a brain surgeon today…no.
6. On the flip side, what excites you the most about the creative process?
Finding that one sentence that nails it. That simply takes your breath away. That, and when an idea clicks and a plot comes together. And now not only is your story going from point a to point b, but to point c and d and so on. It’s like a road map that becomes crystal clear.
7. What are you reading at the moment, and who are a few of your favorite authors and why?
Just finished Michael Robotham’s “Shatter.” He’s tops on my list. He goes so deep into the dark places of the mind, it’s scary! I also really enjoy Alafair Burke, Lee Child, and Allison Brennan. And Bill Crider! Oh my gosh, I love his work.
Lynn Chandler-Willis has worked in the corporate world (hated it!), the television news business (fun job) and the newspaper industry (not a fan of the word “apparently” and phrase “according to”). She keeps coming back to fiction because she likes making stuff up and you just can’t do that in the newspaper or television news business.
Her novel, Wink of an Eye, was a Shamus Award finalist and winner of the St. Martin’s Press/PWA Best 1st P.I. Novel competition. She is also the author of The Rising, a Grace Award top winner for Excellence in faith-based fiction, and the best-selling true crime, Unholy Covenant.
She lives in the heart of North Carolina with her shelter dog, Finn, a happy border collie/aussie mix.