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Interview with Author of ‘One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow’

TS. We continue here with part 3 of this fascinating look into Olivia Hawker’s writing process. 

Q. You mentioned, in your bio, that your novels were inspired by ‘true stories from your family tree.’ Can you tell us about that?

OH. I love genealogy (a holdover from my Mormon days) and I’ve gone down some wild rabbit holes while doing genealogical research. You can find the most fascinating stories in old journals and typewritten versions of families’ oral histories. And if you know how to read between the lines of certain kinds of genealogical records, you can uncover a lot of “silent” stories, too—information your family members probably wanted to keep hidden. For example, I’d read during some of my research for a forthcoming novel that there were a few women among the early Mormons who had multiple husbands (men having multiple wives is a well-documented and well-known fact.) By reading between the lines of some interesting church marriage records, I was able to figure out that one of my own ancestors was a woman who was married to four different men at the same time. Get it, girl!
But the two books I’m referencing in particular are The Ragged Edge of Night and One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow. Ragged Edge is about my husband’s grandfather, who was a former Franciscan friar and a music teacher living in a tiny village in rural Germany during World War II. He got involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler… as one does. His real story made for some pretty gripping fiction, so I didn’t have to change much in order to write an interesting book.
Blackbird is much more loosely based on fact, but I did find the core of that story in a family tale of adultery, death, and the forced cooperation of two women who really, really hated each other’s guts, but had no choice but to work together if they wanted to survive out on the Wyoming frontier. I changed a lot to make Blackbird what it is.
It just goes to show that you can write fiction that cleaves very firmly to facts or you can get more creative and free-wheeling with it—there’s room for either approach in the market.

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

OH. I typically discover titles before anything else. I’ll just be going about my day, minding my own business, and sometimes a title for a new book will explode into my head and demand my all attention. I keep a little notebook with me at all times, and I jot down all these title ideas in that notebook. Over months or years, one of my many titles will sort of step out of that general fog and say to me, “I’m your next book. Me. This one. It’s my time now to come into the world, so you’d better get to work and start making me.”
After the title tells me it’s ready to become a book, it starts telling me what it wants to be about, thematically—what message it wants to convey to the world. Once I understand the theme and overall tone (or atmosphere or mood) of a book, then I can create characters who will serve the theme and the tone. My characters are all little handmaids and man servants to the story. I make them be whatever I need them to be, in order to carry the book’s message effectively to readers and present it in a way they’ll understand.

My garden

So for example, I’d known for years about this family story of adultery on the Wyoming frontier, and the two women who hated each other but were forced to live together anyway. I didn’t start writing One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow until that title (which had been lurking in my notebook since about 2014) told me it wanted to be about death—how death is a natural and necessary part of life, and how, by disconnecting ourselves from and denying death, humans have made themselves strangers to nature, and that separation from nature has damaged our psyches and sickened our societies. We can only heal ourselves and our world by accepting that our rightful, humble place is within nature, not set apart from it as a conquering and domineering force. And we can’t accept our place within nature until we accept the realities of death.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

OH. Watership Down. I’ve always liked rabbits, so my dear sweet dad—blundering goofball that he was—thought it would be a great idea to show me the film adaptation when I was a little kid. A really little kid. I don’t know how old I was exactly when I first saw it; I must have been about five years old. That’s probably way too young for a kid to be exposed to that film. 

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

OH. I’m not sure. Maybe. I think it depends on what “getting lost” means. I certainly enjoy writing very much. There’s almost nothing I’d rather do on any given day than write, but sadly, I have maybe three or four good hours in me per day before my brain just vapor-locks and everything goes downhill. I usually revel in those few hours, though, and enjoy them. I get very emotionally invested in my work while I’m actively writing it. I cry A LOT while I write. I cry so much; it’s kind of embarrassing. But I figure that’s a good thing, you know? 

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

OH. I’m always working on something! I just wrapped up my longest, most complex historical novel to date. I’d been working on it off and on for seven years, but only recently did that book jump up and tell me to focus on it exclusively until it was finished. Now it’s off to my agent; we’re hoping to sell that book to a major publisher this spring. It’s set in the Burned-Over District of the Northeast United States during the 1830s and 1840s—a fascinating time in American history, both from a political and a cultural perspective, but it’s a setting I don’t see explored often in fiction. And I’m finishing up my next novel for Lake Union Publishing. It’s set in rural Idaho during the 1970s. On the surface, it’s about a family of artists who are struggling to manage their tricky relationships while also struggling to carve out careers, but since I always write to serve an underpinning theme, it’s really about the intense and unique love creative people feel for those who inspire their work. 

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

OH. No; I think paper books will continue to be produced for a long time yet to come. But they have already begun to occupy a new place in the market. I think of them as being analogous to vinyl records now.

Q. What makes a writer great?

Join us next week for the conclusion of this great Interview!
Did you miss the beginning? Click here.
Review of One for the Blackbird…
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer, March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer 
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Book Review ~~ One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow

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5 out of 5 quills           ~~  A Book Review 

Look up ‘beautiful prose’ in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of this book cover.  Every word is a musical note in the English language.  The book is a lyrical and yet powerful saga about homesteading on the high prairies of Wyoming in the 1800’s. But don’t let my praise about the ‘prose’ make you hesitate. This is a page-turning story with rich characters that you will come to love. 

Tragedy brings two families together for simple survival. A pasture, and an ocean of pain, divides the two homesteads. Two women battle it out so that their children might endure. 

As a reviewer, I love it when I can read for the pure pleasure of reading a good book. This book delivered in spades. The plot kept me engaged from page to page. The characters were well drawn. 

I highly recommend this book to my readers. 
And I look forward to my interview with this author in March. If you sign up for my blog, you will be reminded of the interview when it posts. 

Check out my Interview with Olivia.

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer, March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer 
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Book Review ~~ Above the Bay of Angels

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing 5  out of  5 quills            Above  the  Bay  of  Angelsreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing

 

The story was great. Well written as always by Rhys Bowen. She never disappoints even when she ventures into stand-alone fiction and leaves (for a pair of seconds) her series like Her Royal Spyness and the Molly Murphy series. 

We all love an underdog who fights toward an even playing field. Hard to do for a young woman in the Victorian (Queen Victoria) era. Being of gentle birth tragedy and bad luck has forced Bella Waverly  ‘into service’; waking before dawn and cleaning fireplaces in every room of a large mansion. Her talent for cooking is soon made apparent and she is moved to the kitchen as an assistant.  She suddenly has a once in a lifetime chance at bettering her place in life. But it’s a huge risk and will mean lying to her sovereign. Can she? – Should she do it? The tale weaves and turns to a satisfying ending and I high recommend this book to my readers. 

Nurse, Circa 1937

However, the cover set my teeth on edge. The wardrobe suggested that the story was about a nurse, in the (Royal) Army Nursing Service, during the first World War and serving in India. The pinafore apron is from that era and not that of a chef. The apron for a chef/under-cook had a simple strap around the neck. Because of the nature of their work (and the women forced to wear full length sleeves), the illustrator should have placed sleeve protectors on her arms. The title was uninspired. How about: ‘The Chef and the Queen’ or ‘The Royal Chef‘ or ‘Cooking for a Queen‘.

Kitchen help, circa 1937

The cover is beside the point but I couldn’t help but critique it. It’s the work of a graphic designer at the publisher not that of Ms. Bowen. The cover designer should have done their research more thoroughly.  The author and the book certainly deserved better. 

 

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer, March: Olivia Hawker 
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Review ~ The Vanishing by Jayne Ann Krentz

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5 out of 5 quills             Book Review 

This is a slick and clever mystery cloaked in the paranormal. Not all that ‘woo-woo’ stuff but rather heightened senses; something that we can all relate to.
Deja vu, intuition, and sometimes just ‘a feeling.’  

But in this story our protagonists and antagonists….well no… just about everybody in the town of Fogg Lake has the gift. The unique part of this story is for a short while, the author makes believers out of most of us. To write more about the story would give away too much. I highly recommend it and fans of Krentz won’t be disappointed. 

Jayne Ann Krentz (also writes under the pseudonym, Amanda Quick) is an excellent writer. And reliable. Whether she is writing historic romances or modern-day tales, her writing is always consistent and excellent. The Vanishing delivers.

Did you miss my Interview with Jayne Ann Krentz?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Interview with Naval Captain, turned Author, David Poyer

Naval Captain DAVID POYER grew up in Pennsylvania and attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. His naval service included duty in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Arctic, Caribbean, and ports around the world. His nearly fifty published books include THE DEAD OF WINTER, WINTER IN THE HEART, AS THE WOLF LOVES WINTER, and THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN. His latest is OVERTHROW . His work has been translated into Japanese, Dutch, Hungarian, and Serbo-Croatian.

Poyer holds a master’s degree from George Washington University and has taught or lectured at Annapolis, Flagler College, and other institutions around the country. He has been a visiting writer/writer in residence at Flagler and Annapolis. His fiction has been required reading in the U.S. Naval Academy.

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

DP. I’ve written just about everywhere . . . aboard ship, in bars, in offices, on residencies abroad . . . anywhere with a pen or a keyboard. These days I usually write in my custom-built office, which has large windows with a view out over the Chesapeake Bay. And lots of reference books!

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

DP. Uh, not really . . . not superstitious about that, no. I check the email, look over the news, and set to work!

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

DP. One wall of my office is covered with typewriters. Manual typewriters, from all countries, that I’ve collected over the years. I came back from a research trip to Europe last year with five typewriters in a duffel bag…which interested the customs officials no end when they saw them on the X-rays!

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

DP. First thing in the morning works for me, when it’s quiet and not too much else has impinged on my day. I try to get at least a thousand words down, and then the rest of the day is mine to answer email, do research, or have fun!

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

DP. Here’s what I emphasize to my creative writing students: I think procrastination or “block” is usually just the result of a failure to properly prepare. I go through a long process of imagining my characters, daydreaming about their scenes. Eventually, I generate a detailed chapter outline that extends all the way to the end of the novel. (Things change, natch, and the outline is fluid to accommodate gifts; but having the outline there in the morning in place of a blank page removes all my stress.) When I know what will probably happen next, there’s no reason at all not to be able to do my thousand words that day. And usually more!

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

DP. They stem from various sources . . . some from people I knew . .. others are patterned after earlier fictional characters, especially in WHITENESS OF THE WHALE . . . and some spring fully born onto the page, like W. T. Halvorsen, who was a walk-on in DEAD OF WINTER but who took me through the next three books in the Hemlock County series. My wife says she’s often puzzled when I talk about my characters as if they’re people she should know! But then, she’s a novelist too, so she understands….

Q. What first inspired you to write?

DP. I tell my students at Wilkes, “One becomes a writer, not because one can, but because one must.” I realized very early, around age four, that writing was what I was sent here to do. And no matter what I did in between childhood and becoming a fulltime writer, that was preparation, rather than the main event.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

DP. Well, sometimes one, at other times the other. My continuing characters, such as Halvorsen, Dan Lenson, Tiller Galloway, usually find themselves confronted by ‘The Situation’, as you put it. Then they are called upon to react. Typically, things then get very dark. I mope around, trying to think of a way they can possibly escape. Eventually, I (or really, they) figure it out! Then all I have to do is craft the prose. Which is absorbing, too, in its way. The style of each of these series seems to differ. That, I think, is half organic and half from what my mentor Frank Green called a “felt knowledge.”

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

Join us for Part 2 of this griping interview next week
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Book Review ~~ The Country Guesthouse

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing5 out of five quills         Book Review

 

Every time I read the newest release in the Sullivan’s Crossroads series I think to myself, ‘This is the best book in the series’. Nothing has changed.

 

The Country Guesthouse is deliciously good. All the reoccurring characters from previous books in the series appear again. As the reader returns to the campground and country store once more, we pick up where we left off in the last book. Like I said, ‘delicious!’  There is a wonderful love story between a woman, a man, a boy and a dog. And who doesn’t love a love story with a few bumps in the road?

Lots of twists and turns in this story, which I won’t elaborate on since I don’t write spoilers. But suffice it to say, you will be rooting for the new lovers and the newly forged family all along the way. 

I highly recommend this book to my readers! 

Did you miss my Interview with Robyn Carr?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Review: Christmas in Winter Valley by Jodi Thomas

 

4 out of 5 quills                     Book Review reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing

 

This story was perfect  reading for the holiday season. While it did rely heavily on readers knowing the back stories from the series (Random Canyon Romance) it was entertaining and charming. So many characters in this one, but my favorites were Coop, Tatum, Tye, Creed, Dani and of course the horses. I didn’t connect with the other brothers, Elliot and Griffin. They weren’t as well drawn as the others. 

While I enjoyed the story immensely, the whole thing felt rushed. I felt rushed. I wish there had been less story lines and more story. And my only real criticism was the need for the wacky half-cousins, trashing the house, getting drunk, (no character development); they were here, they were gone and they seemed superfluous to the story plot. (Delete key!) And Creed rashly hooking up with the redhead. He wouldn’t do that. He’s too careful about life.  

This is not to say I didn’t finish the book with relish and left wanting more. 

Did you miss my interview with this best selling author?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Part 3, Interview with Australian Author, Dervla McTirnan

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

DM. It has been different with every book, honestly, and I expect (hope!) that this will continue. For the last few books the first draft has been fast and it is getting faster. I think about a book for months before I start writing so I have a pretty good understanding of the key characters and situation before I start. And I always outline. But as I become more experienced I am also trusting my instincts much more, making decisions faster and leaning on my emotional responses to things. I think (hope!) that that is making for stronger books. Then my book goes off to my editors and I get very detailed structural editorial notes back. I really like to go to town with a structural edit. I take at least two months, sometimes three, to take a book apart, down into the sum of its parts, and rebuild it into something stronger. It’s ferociously hard sometimes, but very worth it. Sometimes a book doesn’t need that much work, of course. With The Good Turn only one storyline needed a significant rewrite, but I can always find something to do to make the story stronger. I try to put as much effort and energy and creativity into the edit as I did into the early drafts. It takes staying power, honestly, because the more you work a book the harder it gets…but it’s worth it.

My tiny desk

After that we have copy-editing, which is much easier, and then a proof-read. I keep tweaking right up to final pages, and I always do one final read-through where I read the book out loud, trying to work on the rhythm of the lines. When it’s finally done I never want to see the book as long as I live! And then I see the cover and I remember why I loved it in the first place.

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

DM. In every possible way. I’ve drawn on elements of my life for every single book I’ve written.

Q. What’s your down time look like?

DM. Down time for me is mostly not really down time! The wonderful thing about being a writer is that you have maximum flexibility. But I’ve written at least a book a year over the past few years, sometimes a book and a novella, and that’s really a full time job if you want to produce quality books. Until a year ago I had a part-time day job too. And I have primary school aged kids. So I choose to arrange my writing day around the children – I write when they are at school, but I also have to do the usually household tasks during that time, which cuts into precious writing time. I spend most of my afternoons with the kids (and believe me, I know how lucky I am that I have that choice!) but it does mean that I usually still have work to do when then are asleep. For a long time I started my day at 6 am and finished work for the day at around 10 p.m. These days I usually get at least three nights off a week and I love to curl up on the couch with my husband and catch up on TV. This year’s favourites so far – Chernobyl, Morning Wars and His Dark Materials. TV is so extraordinarily good right now and the writing is very inspirational.

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre`?

DM. I have a couple of long running stories that I write for the kids when I have time, and I would love to try my hand at properly writing a middle grade fiction some time. I do have a story in mind. But there are so many other stories I want to write first that I never seem to get around to it. Not that there’s any guarantee that I would be any good at it…but I’d really like to try!

Q. Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

DM. There have been so many. But the need for balance, maybe, has been the hardest lesson to learn and the most rewarding. When I was younger I saw hard work as the answer to every problem. That worked for a while…until I hit a few walls that were tougher than I was and paid the price. Now instead of throwing myself up against things in mad bursts of energy and effort, I try to do smaller things but very, very consistently. I rely on routine, I try to go easier on myself and take some time for relaxation and honestly, I am more productive and far happier.

Did you miss Part 1 or 2 of this wonderful interview? Click here

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
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Available now!

Book Review ~~ ‘Stay’ by Catherine Ryan Hyde

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5 out of 5 quills   

 

The exclusive Club that only faultless writers belong to is, in my view, a small membership. John Steinbeck, Robert Service, Dean Koontz, Charles Bukowski , Jane Austen, and most certainly, Catherine Ryan Hyde.

Does Hyde even know how to write a bad sentence? Are the first drafts as lovely as the final product? Or does she scourer her work until it’s perfect? Doesn’t matter. Stay is perfection. And after I read Have You Seen Luis Velez? I didn’t think it could get any better.  I know, I know, I sound as though I must be Hyde’s sister-in-law or something. I promise I’m not. What I am is a very discerning reader and lover of books and stories. 

Lately I had written a post for my blog, (about writing) and the need to always have conflict in your story. A complex story line (which you should always strive for as a writer) has a lot of loose threads to ‘tie up’. Hyde is a master at both. Multifaceted tales with every loose thread tied. In the last ten pages of the book I had a meltdown because she hadn’t revealed what had happened to the two dogs. And then there it was. 

As my readers know, I don’t write spoilers so you will never get a synopsis of the story in my reviews. What I will tell you is Stay is a compelling, heartbreaking, shocking (at times) story full of friendship and hope. While I was reading it, the song ‘Amazing Grace’ would flitter through the  auditory cortices of my brain. Because sometimes human beings can be full of amazing grace.  Buy this book, read it and tell me I’m wrong. 

 

Available at all book stores. 
Did you miss my Interview with Catherine Ryan Hyde?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
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Interview with author, Dervla McTiernan, Part 2

Continuing with my Interview with Irish-born author, Dervla McTiernan

Q. What first inspired you to write?

DM. I’ve been an obsessive reader since I was three years old, and at a certain point reading became less satisfying to me, which was awful. I still read constantly, but it felt like something was missing. It took me a long time to realise what was missing was writing my own stories. As soon as a realized that I could experience the same joy and pain, the same highs and lows in writing my own stories I was utterly hooked and I knew I would never stop, whether or not I was ever published.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

DM. Character first usually, then situation.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

DM. Yes. Absolutely. Usually when I am deep into a first draft – maybe after the forty/fifty thousand word mark. Characters come alive and the story really takes off and I just want to stay in it all of the time.

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

Musha

DM. Yes…but I’m not allowed to talk about it! Which is a pain because I am VERY excited about this story.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

DM. 2014. That was when I gave myself permission to really take it seriously. I had been playing with the idea of doing an MBA, because I wasn’t particularly happy in my job. An MBA would have taken five years part-time, and when I really thought about it I realized I had absolutely no urge to go back and study again, nor had I any real interest in studying business. What I had always wanted to do, and never ever thought I could do, was write. Given the massive changes we’d already made in our lives (moving to Australia from Ireland in 2011) committing myself to writing didn’t seem all that crazy! So I kept working part-time, and when the kids were in bed I would write for two hours, every night, except Thursdays (wine-night – very important).

Q. How long after that were you published?

DM. I signed my contract with Harper Collins in October 2016, and The Ruin was published in Australia in February 2018, and shortly after that in the US (Penguin) and the UK/Ireland (Little Brown) and then a few other territories followed. Then The Scholar came out in 2019, and The Good Turn will be out in 2020.

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

DM. No, genuinely, no. I think with the absolute ubiquity of smart phones, we’ll continue to see growth in audiobooks. People still love story; they’re just so time pinched that they have to try to fit them around everyday life. But for me personally, there’s something that switches off in my brain on those occasions when I get to lie down on the couch with a paper book in my hand, screens and phones off or away from me. It’s such a release from the constant connectedness of my daily life. I think there’s a reason that the growth in ebooks has pretty much stopped and paperback sales are stable. We all want that release. That moment of indulgence.

Q. What makes a writer great?

DM. To me it is a writer is great if they can create characters who feel genuinely real to me. Characters I care deeply about.

Musha

Characters I want to spend time with. Everything is secondary to character for me. I absolutely love the Robert Galbraith crime novels, which are just getting better and better I think (Lethal White was awesome) because I love Cormoran and Robin and I want to be in their world. I love to disappear into a book the same way I used to when I was a kid, and that happens so rarely now but it’s no less intensely joyful when it does.

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

To find out, don’t miss Part 3 of this fascinating Interview ~~ January 27th 
Did you miss Part I? Click here

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
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