Beverly Connor is author of two best-selling series, the Diane Fallon mystery series and the Lindsay Chamberlain Archaeology mystery series. Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Beverly. Tell us about your latest book.
The most current book I have out is One Grave Less, a Diane Fallon mystery, and is a story very close to my heart and has been a fan favorite. The reader learns in the first chapter that Diane’s young daughter is alive in South America and is trying to get to her mother. She finds the opportunity when the protagonist of my other series (the Lindsay Chamberlain Archaeology Mystery Series) is kidnapped and held in the same village where Ariel is. The book goes back and forth between Ariel and Lindsay escaping through the Amazon jungle and a rather violent mystery going on at the RiverTrail Museum where Diane Fallon is director.
Beverly, having read both series and being a fan of your work, I can attest to how well-written they are. I always learn something from your books and love that you incorporate forensic archaeology into your plots. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
I’m working on a book I’ve tentatively entitled Blood Evidence. It’s about faking DNA. I have been doing the research on it and have just started writing. When I write, I don’t know much about what is going to happen, I just start writing and let the characters go where they will. So at this point I can’t tell you much.
I know what you mean there, Beverly. I’ve learned to sit back and enjoy the ride. What is a typical writing day like for you?
It’s not the same every day. I prefer to write in the afternoon and evenings. I’m not a morning person. Sometimes all I do is research (I count that as writing). Some days, I just think. I count that as writing too. I usually have a piece of music that goes with a book I’m working on. The music may or may not appear in the book, but I often listen to music before I start the part of putting words down. I’m not strict in my schedule except near a deadline, then I’m at the keyboard almost all day.
I used to listen to music when I wrote and found it quite motivating. Maybe that’s why I keep having writers block now. Hmmm. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
Always the characters.
For me as well. We’re in the same league as Dean Koontz, one of my favorite writers. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?
That is a tough question, there are so many. It depends on when you ask. I’m a big Rex Stout fan and I recently reread his works. I love hanging out with Archie and Nero Wolf. I’ve been on an urban fantasy kick for a while and been going through those authors (Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs come to mind.) When I’m in a kickass mood, I read Lee Child. When I want to feel relaxed I reread Pride and Prejudice, or Mark Twain’s essays. I love Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. I read a lot of nonfiction for research; I like genre fiction for pleasure. What I like most is hanging out with the characters. Characters are important.
I read Lee Child for the same reason and really enjoy his Jack Reacher series. I agree, characters are important. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?
When my first book was published (A Rumor of Bones), a friend in my writing group was published at the same time. We teamed up. We were first-time authors, so unknown. We sent flyers to a list of independent mystery bookstores across the United States. We wrote and put on mysteries theaters for libraries and other organizations. We did a lot if radio and newspaper interviews and lots of book signings. With the Diane Fallon Series, I haven’t done as much, mainly book signings.
I’ve learned the tag-team approach really works. I used to do book signings with an author friend who wrote nonfiction. Neither one of us liked to “hawk our own wares” so we talked each other’s book up and did quite well. How long have you been writing?
My first book was published in 1996. Before that I was writing about fifteen years. Before that, my brain just made up stories on it’s own. It took me a while to realize I could write them down.
I think that has happened with a lot of our fellow authors, realizing later on that we were actually writers. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
Charles Connor, my husband. He always had faith, he is a great editor, and a great promoter of my books. I’m very shy. He isn’t.
Making up stories. Living in the world I create. That’s great fun.
Oh, yes. Tell us a little bit about where you live.
When I started writing, I lived deep in the woods of Georgia. Now, I live in Oak Ridge Tennessee where I grew up. I actually have neighbors here. That has been a big change.
I could imagine! Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Do you have a favorite southern saying you can share with our readers?
That’s a tough one. I’m not sure I do. As a kid, my aunt would say “love your heart” when I said something she thought was sweet. I always remembered that.
I’ve never heard that before but like it. Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
As a kid, I liked the Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton Mysteries. As I got older, I loved John Steinbeck. My favorite was “The Winter of Our Discontent” (Oprah should have chosen that one instead of “East of Eden” . I liked Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs a lot.
Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
Everywhere. Music, Art . . . Actually the big inspiration comes in the process of writing itself. If I waited for inspiration to hit first, I’d never get anything done.
Oh, same here. What are major themes or motifs in your work? Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?
I write murder mysteries, so solving crimes is one of the major part. Themes? — well I do a lot with the idea that things that happen in the past, even the very distant past, have consequences for the present. I suppose that would be the major theme for most of my books. Do readers ever surprise me? Yes. My cousin had her university English class read “Questionable Remains” and sent me their papers. I was amazed at the symbolism I didn’t know I put in it.
How interesting, to read how others perceive your writing. If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?
That’s another hard question. I would enjoy a conversation with Jane Austen. I’d love to spend thirty minutes with Thomas Jefferson. I think it would be interesting to talk with some of my ancestors. Any aboriginal inhabitant of the United States from say twelve thousand years ago would be a lot of fun. I used to be an archaeologist — anyone from the distant past would be great.
What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?
Strongest, I would say plotting. At least that is what I’m told. I have a hard time with dialog. I have to work at not having everyone sound the same.
How many hours a day do you write, where, any specific circumstances help or hurt your process?
I work different amounts of time. It depends on where I am in the process. The important thing is that I need a block of uninterrupted time. Interruptions are a killer.
Oh, I agree with that. My granddog has proven to be one major distraction and some days I feel like I accomplish nothing due to his constant interruptions. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
Writing what you know is a good place to start. I used to be an archaeologist and the main character in my first series was an archaeologist. Writing what you know, can give your book that ring of truth that we all look for. However, after a while, you run out of things you know really well and have to start doing research. It’s good to branch out and learn more so you can add more to your writing.
Having recently written a book with my sister that required extensive research, I was surprised to learn how much I enjoyed it. It’s good to break out of that box every now and then. How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
I’m a mystery writer.
Right now, my day job is writing (or playing). I was an archaeologist. That provided a lot of grist for my particular mill.
I’ve always thought archaeology an exciting field. What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall)? If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and you behavior or attitude, what would it be?
Oh, I like that. Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.
I just sit down and write. Sometimes I play games first, however, which I have decided is part of the process. I have this theory that the sub-conscience does all the plotting and gives it to the conscience a little at a time to write down. Sometimes the sub-conscience makes the conscience mind get out of the way and play games so it won’t start writing and muck the plot it’s working on.
Where do you get your ideas?
They come from everywhere. Mostly it has to do with the way my mind reacts to things in the environment, like music for instance.
Any family influences? Memoirs in the making?
Mother writes poetry and read me a lot of it when I was a kid. Dad liked to make up stories for me and my brother at bedtime. I had a lot of influence from my parents. I never write about people I know, so I don’t think I’ll be writing memoirs.
I find it interesting the roles most authors’ parents played in their young lives in regards to reading and books. Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
Mom and Dad always had books in the house and treated them as sacred objects. Mother hated censorship. The idea that a group of people would read a book and tell her she couldn’t, offended her sensibilities, so if a book was “banned in Boston,” chances are it was in our house.
Good for her! Any teachers who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged?
I wasn’t good in English, so I don’t think it occurred to any of my English teachers to influence me in writhing. One of the biggest influences was Bill Lewis who taught Public Speaking. It helped me a lot in later years when I suddenly had to do a lot of public speaking about my books. Miss Frasier, my history teacher, had us read a lot of mythology. That had a great influence on the book Dressed To Die.
Did the classics have any effect on you in your formative years? (Shakespeare? Alice in Wonderland? Gulliver’s Travels?)
I think the most influence was fairy tales. I loved them. My uncle read the Jack Tales to me and that was a big influence — I loved them. I liked anything that took my imagination beyond reality.
Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
Yes and I love it. I get to carry a whole library in my purse. I have the entire works of Jane Austen, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, Shakespeare, Conan Doyle and more books than I can name. Seriously, how good is that — carrying a library around with you.
Wonderful, isn’t it? How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
Never based on people I know. Sometimes the things my characters do in the story are based on things others have done, but the characters themselves come from my head, or the ether, or my muse, or wherever they reside.
Are you in a critique group? If so, how does it work and specifically how do the members help your writing?
In Georgia I had a terrific critique group. I don’t have one here. The group in Georgia was a great help. We were honest with each other and never unkind. And we were all readers.
A good critique group can be an important part of a writer’s life. Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block?
Free writing — just sit down and write anything that comes to mind. Eventually your mind will work it’s way to what you need to be writing. Music helps a lot. As I mentioned, each of my books have their own set of music. I find that sets my mind to working. Sometimes I just don’t want to write, and I have no cure for that, except do it anyway.
Any books on writing you have found most helpful? Or classes you’ve taken?
Writing with Power and How to Write a Damn Good Novel 2. Many others are just as good, but I found following their ideas helped me get published. At the Georgia Center for Continuing Education, I took classes with Harriette Austin. What we did was simply read our work to each other. This helped. My husband joined the group and started the Harriette Austin Writers Conference. He got the idea of bring editors here to read out stuff since sending it to them wasn’t helping. It worked.
Thanks for joining us today, Beverly. For more information on Beverly and her books: http://beverlyconnor.net