Ronda, you have three humorous non-fiction books, all which have received quite a bit of acclaim. You also wrote one work of fiction, The Town That Came A-Courtin', which I loved. Can we expect another fiction any time soon?
I have written a Christmas novella that my agent is working with now and I'm halfway through a novel that would be the prequel to The Town That Came A-Courtin', where you meet the characters before Abby Houston goes to Bliss, Mississippi.
Unfortunately, I tend to shuffle my fiction writing to the back ground because there's so much other writing to do, especially with my weekly column.
I just finished a new non-fiction this year that will be out in March with Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins. It is called What Southern Women Know About Faith and is probably the best book I've written. We've already received several celebrity endorsements for that book from folks like Anne Rivers Siddons, Jeff Foxworthy, Paula Deen, Dolly Parton, Cassandra King, Senator Zell Miller and Mississippi First Lady Marsha Barbour.
Did anything strange of funny happen while researching or writing The Town That Came A-Courtin'?
That book is actually inspired by a real experience that happened to me when I was visiting a wonderful little town in Arkansas. I was there for a book signing and the town's folks tried to match make me with their mayor when they found out I wasn't married. I was charmed by a little town that loved unconditionally. It is still one of the loveliest experiences I've ever had.
You write a delightful newspaper column, which is how I found you. Tell us about your journey from columnist to novelist.
The non-fiction books came first. I wrote the best-selling What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should) then my NASCAR memoir called My Life In the Pits then I began the syndicated newspaper column which now runs in over 50 newspapers in the Southeast. Both the non-fiction and the column are basic Southern storytelling. It was a relatively easy step from that to writing fiction. All storytelling is basically the same whether it's fiction or non-fiction.
Are you a seat-of-the-pants writer or do you outline your books? Other than Dixie Dew, do you use visuals aids when you write?
I definitely outline the non-fiction books so well that they are then easy as pie to write. Fiction, though, is different for me. I usually allow the story to unfold and tell me how it should go. With Courtin', I was so surprised to see how I would be writing without a clue as to where I was going and suddenly this great plot twist popped up that worked beautifully with the previous chapters. I honestly believe that was divine intervention because, otherwise, it doesn't seem to make sense.
Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What was the most difficult part of writing a novel you?
I think it is creating a piece of work that is truly believable. No fairy tale, out-of-the-blue endings where incredible things happen. However, I will tell you this -- I resolved early on that I was not going to write dark pieces and that folks would not die in my books. I think there's enough of that out there without my adding to it. My chief goal in everything I write is [so] that readers walk away feeling uplifted and happy. I want to remind them of the goodness that can still be had in the world.
How does writing a novel differ from your columns and other books (beyond the fact that it's fiction)?
The only difference is that I can stretch things, embellish characters that might be inspired by real life characters. For instance, in Courtin', the Mama character is based completely on my Mama. Many of the things the character said and did were actually said and done by Mama. But I wasn't confined completely to the exact details. I could glorify them or create more of a parody.
By the way, my own Mama loved it. She said that Courtin' was the best book I ever wrote. Sadly, though, she didn't live to read What Southern Women Know About Faith, so I think she would change her mind about that.
Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?
I'm trained as a newspaper reporter so I can write anywhere. That is the beauty of being trained in a loud news room or a bustling press box. Sometimes I write in the morning in bed. In fact, when Southern Living did a story on me a couple of years ago, they sent a photographer to take photos of me and wanted a picture of the place where I wrote a good deal. I said, "In bed, in pajamas. So, let's shoot it." And we did. The photographer loved it because it was so different from what most folks would have done. Other than that, I also sit on my back porch and write a good bit. I love my back porch.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Because I do about 80 to a hundred speaking engagements a year -- just telling great Southern stories -- I really don't have a typical day.
I might have a day where I have the leisure of staying home all day but there's lots of work to catch [up] on: Calls to return, contracts to sign, books to sign and mail out, deals to negotiate, etc. I have an assistant who is wonderful and more and more, she is taking a lot more away from me and handling more tasks.
Sad to say, but writing gets shoved back many times while I'm taking care of other business. My column is easy to write and I can do that anywhere. Non-fiction books are the next easiest to write but fiction because it demands so much creatively, is harder.
I have found that the best way to get a lot of writing done is to go away. I sometimes go to a cottage near the sea on the Georgia coast or to the mountains and tuck away to write. But one thing is always the same --- I have to write in the morning. If I wait until lunch or later to get started, it's not very productive.
Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?
I'm the same as any writer you'll ever talk to. Some days it pours out and is incredibly easy. Other days, it is like getting blood from a turnip. I have found that the only way to overcome a writer's block is just to write. It might not be very good but it will eventually lead to something useable. If you wait to write only when inspiration hits, you'll lose a lot of valuable writing time.
Do you prefer creating or editing? Why?
Definitely creating. I know very little about editing so I am very grateful for the great editors I have had who have always made my work much brighter and tighter. It is amazing what other people can see in my writing and suggest changes that makes it so much better.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
Write what you know.
I know you travel and speak a lot around the South. I've heard you say you just tell stories when you speak. Do you do a lot of book signings? What kind of marketing has worked best for you?
I always do book signings after every speaking engagement. Ironically, the best marketing I've ever done is my newspaper column. It has created a terrifically receptive audience for my books. The reason that it's ironic is that I started the column for two reasons: To have a voice for the many stories I always found and because I love newspapers. The marketing aspect was a lovely bonus.
The other great piece of marketing I've done is start a weekly newsletter on my website. I've only been doing it a few months but it has an enormous, devoted following. It's amazing how much people love the newsletter.
Do you have any parting words of advice?