I always start with a plot idea. These are usually sparked by news stories or by some case I’ve worked on (I’m a private investigator as well as an author).
I wish I were more organized, but my brain just isn’t. When I sit down to write, I always know the beginning and ending and the major turning points of my story, but how to get from Point A to Point B comes to me in the course the actual writing. After I’ve written the first draft, I outline it and that often reveals some problems with structure that I fix on the second pass.
Summer Westin and Chase Perez are great characters. What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?
Thanks for saying they’re great characters! I must confess that, being a bit lazy as a series writer, I made Summer Westin simply a younger, more intrepid version of me. So it’s particularly embarrassing when my critique partners say “Why would any sane person do that?” because of course I’ve probably done precisely whatever it is that they’re questioning. Chase Perez is simply a man who would be interesting to me (and therefore to Summer). I know what they both look like in my imagination.
Why a wildlife biologist? What drew you to have your main character in that profession? How much research do you have to do?
I’m not a wildlife biologist, but I wish I were! I’ve always been passionate about wilderness and wildlife. My heroes have always been people studying animals in the wild, so I’ve read nearly every book written by wilderness explorers and animal researchers, beginning when I was a child with Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall. I spend a lot of time in the wilderness hiking, snowshoeing, kayaking, and scuba diving, so I encounter a fair amount of wildlife face-to-face. Then I fill in with research as needed.
Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
Depending on the time of day, either coffee or wine is required. But that’s true of everything I do, so I guess that really doesn’t count. So I suppose the answer is no; I just plunk my backside in the chair and begin. When I get stuck, I go for a walk and think. I find it helps to have my body in motion to get my imagination moving, too. When I get really stuck, I outline books by my favorite authors or watch movies that are similar to whatever it is I’m working on, and I usually discover how to move forward.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
How long it takes to write a book completely depends on how much time I can spend focused on the writing. Recently I’ve been pulled in all sorts of directions by my various jobs, so that can make writing difficult, and I believe my first four full-length novels (3 mysteries + a romantic suspense) each took more than a year to complete. But now that my career is taking off (in other words, I’m finally making money from my books), I can dedicate more time to my creative writing, and when I can completely focus on a story, the writing goes quickly because I’m constantly thinking about it and living with my characters. So I’m hoping to finish two novels a year in the future.
What in your background prepared you to write not just mystery novels but wildlife related stories?
Who is your favorite Mystery character?
I like so many, but I guess I have to say Anna Pigeon, who is Nevada Barr’s park ranger protagonist. I also like Joe Pickett, the main character in C.J. Box’s series. I adored all of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo police characters, too.
Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?
It’s hard to say for influence; I suppose all of the authors I mentioned above. This might sound odd, but for inspiration, I’d have to say Jodi Picoult and Maeve Binchy are two of my most admired authors—they are both so fantastic at characterization that they don’t need to throw in a lot of death-defying action. Making readers care about the everyday dramas that take place around us is the mark of a great writer, and they both have that.
How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?
It was endless try, try, and then try again. That’s the thing about publishing—your manuscript may not get purchased this week or by that editor, but it might the next week or by another editor, so you have to keep submitting. After years of searching, I finally connected with my agent, who has been a tireless advocate for my writing, and he worked hard in trying times to sell my series. However, it was only after I self-published my first mystery (I called it WILD) that Berkley Prime Crime (Penguin) decided to purchase my series (so WILD became ENDANGERED). I don’t know if that was coincidence or not, sometimes self-publishing can prove to a publisher that you are serious about your career.
What are you currently reading?
If your Summer Westin mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your character's roles?
Oh, wow, I can’t even guess. Who in Hollywood is believably outdoorsy and enough of a kick-butt woman to play Summer (“Sam”)? Chase is probably easier to cast. I’ll have to leave the choice of actors up to the director and producer.
And please tell Hollywood that I’m off to kayak and scuba dive in Belize this week, but I’d be glad to take their calls when I get back.