Carolyn lives with her husband in Oregon. Her mysteries are set on the Oregon Coast (the Devil’s Harbor series emerging in 2009/2010 from Krill Press), Portland (the two-book Paladin series), New Mexico (the three-book Casey Brandt series), and New York (Hemlock Lake to be released in July, 2010 from Five Star). Visit her at http://www.deadlyduomysteries.com.
I started Hemlock Lake in 1999. It was more than nine years until Five Star accepted it and another 18 months after that before it became a book. It truly was a novel journey—in many ways.
Do you think an author is born or made?
Both. Sometimes characters seem to “find” someone to tell their story. Sometimes it’s the other way around—writers search for characters and story and work hard to bring them together and onto the page. There are probably thousands of would-be authors out there who were born to it but have yet to write. That’s not my case. I sweat out every page.
What is the first book you remember reading?
Aside from the learn-to-read books at school featuring Dick and Jane, Little House in the Big Woods was the first book I remember reading on my own. The first thing I recall having read to me was “The Great Stone Face” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Either there weren’t many books available for kids back then, or my grandmother had a weird sense of humor or a very strange way of getting me to fall asleep.
What common qualities do you find in the personalities of published authors?
I can only speak about the authors I know, and they seem to be far less confident than their characters. They don’t mind spending huge chunks of time alone—or in the company of only fictional friends. And they’re passionate and exuberant about their craft.
How do you know if you have a seemingly “stupid” book premise that is doomed to fail versus one that will fly high?
I don’t think you can ever know that for certain. It’s all subjective and a matter of taste and timing. That being said, I gauge the reaction of my critique group when I pitch the idea to them.
What is the theme of your latest book?
Hemlock Lake deals with love, trust, and betrayal on many levels. Those are core feelings most of us have experienced at least once during our lives and I hope that will allow readers to relate to the characters and feel close to them even if they’ve never been to the Catskill Mountains or lived in a small community.
At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?
That’s not a point I’ve reached yet. I trust myself, but I know I have some blind spots. I count on my husband and my critique group to let me know when I’ve created a character without any redeeming traits or one who is too stereotypical. They also let me know when I’ve failed to spot a plot twist that was screaming to be noticed.
Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books?
Once I came close to sending my husband tumbling down a flight of stairs. I was lying on the floor in the hallway at the top trying to determine if I could exert enough force to throw a killer off balance with a single shove from that position. When I heard him approaching, I acted spontaneously. I got my answer, but I don’t think he’s forgiven me yet.
When I was writing Hemlock Lake, my brother had a cow when I asked him if I could lick the barrel of his pistol so I could attempt to describe the taste and feeling.
How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?
Hemlock Lake is a tale of betrayal, vengeance, justice, and love set against the search for an arsonist and murderer in a remote Catskill Mountain community.
How do you craft a plot?
I start with a character, determine the traits that interest me, decide on a setting, figure out what happened in the back story to cause the hole in the character’s soul, and then decide what I’ll throw him up against to test him.
Do you begin writing with a synopsis in hand, or do you write as the ideas come to you?
I once thought that an outline was confining, but now I think of the key points as tall trees with vines attached. I might write (swing) my way from tree to tree on a straight line through the forest, or I might spot a tree off to the side and write to it, taking the plot in a new direction.
Being a Virgo, I’m prone to buying three-ring binders and making tabs for plot, characters, research to be done, etc. Sometimes I thumb through it every day and make new notes. Sometimes I don’t touch it for weeks.
How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?
Reading good writing is inspiring, energizing, exciting. Fresh images are like truffles unearthed in the forest. I savor them as I read and, as I write, try to create truffles of my own for others to come across.
Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
About once a week. But what else would I do my time? About the only gardening I can do in a Northwest winter is combing the moss and if I spend any more time in the pool doing water aerobics I’ll be known as The Prune Lady.