Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Author Interview with SOPHIE LITTLEFIELD

Sophie Littlefield's debut mystery, A Bad Day for Sorry, will knock your socks off. It's been receiving terrific reviews and Stella Hardesty, its unconventional heroine, will grab your attention. Sophie, a native of Missouri, now lives in Northern California with her family.
Tell us why you are ”entranced with crime fiction and exploring the human spirit when it is tested in the most dramatic circumstances.”

I believe that crime fiction is a place where the strongest human emotions come together – or, more precisely, where they come into opposition. You can have evocative emotional contrasts in any genre – for instance, longing/shame in erotica, or fear/responsibility in horror – but in crime there’s the added element of a deliberate and destructive act. A crime requires intent, a crossing of a line, a tipping point, and that ups the stakes for the characters in a story.

Do you think those many years of writing in other genres was your practice for what you’re writing now? Why or why not?

Oh, absolutely! I’ve long believed that romance is a wonderful place to learn to write genre fiction. For one thing, the community is incredibly supportive. For another, romance writers really value and promote craft. They are willing to work tirelessly to improve – no slacking allowed!

In a broader sense, writing in a variety of genres has taught me tricks that travel well. In writing crime, for instance, I learned to make sure my characters’ motivations were well defined. That was especially important when I began writing young adult fiction – young readers are especially attuned to motivation and will reject a character whose actions don’t reflect who they are on the inside.

Several of your family members are published writers. How has that affected your image of yourself as a writer.

My dad sets the bar high. One of my earliest memories – when my family was living in married student housing at the University of Wisconsin – was of my dad working away at his manual typewriter for hours, undistractable - even by a trio of bored toddlers. His work ethic is legendary.

My brother is a sort of freakish genius. He writes about science and politics and things I don’t know anything about and acts surprised when I’m impressed.

Having such lofty role models all my life has forced me to work very hard to find the one thing I can do that they can’t. It took me years, and I had to circle around to recognize it - but I can write emotion to beat the band. That’s my trick.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

Going back to work in the face of “no.” I think it’s the same challenge 90% of us face: it’s easy to believe in oneself when everyone’s telling you how awesome you are and how spectacular your work is. But how about on the days when you can’t give your work away? When you lose competitions, are excluded from anthologies and events, are passed over by reviewers?

I think everyone has their own antidote to this kind of bad juju – here’s mine: I go for a hike. In Northern California, we are surrounded by rolling golden hills criss-crossed by fire trails. I walk the hills and I practice gratitude for everything that’s come my way and I re-dedicate myself. Well, that’s the nice way to say it; what I really do is mutter to myself, and it goes something like this: “Thank you, God…Thank you, God…I fucking won’t quit…I fucking won’t quit…they can’t fucking make me quit…”

Hike and repeat. Then get your ass back in the chair.

Tell us about A Bad Day for Sorry, including when and where we can buy it.

It’s the story of Stella Hardesty, a woman who has lived with an abusive husband for a few decades and then one day decides she’s had enough. She kills him with a wrench, is surprised to find herself un-convicted, and channels her gratitude into helping other victims put a stop to their own abusers.

I love Stella. She’s fifty, and she’s been plain and unremarkable and passed over for a very long time. Learning to kick ass unleashes a side of her that was in danger of dying on the vine. The new and improved Stella is lusty and voracious and vengeful and protective and demonstrative and sometimes downright joyful.

I want to be Stella when I grow up!

Are we going to see Stella again in another novel? Why or why not?

Stella will be back in about a year in the second book in her series. It turns out she has all kinds of hi jinx she means to get into. I’m working on the third book, and I keep having to write down all the things she means to do in future installments…

Stella’s sort of unique. There aren’t a lot of flawed, middle-aged heroines out there, so there’s tons of fresh ground just waiting to be broken.

A character such as Stella walks a fine line between being violent and gratuitously violent. How did you manage not to step over that line when creating her?

Some would say – some already have said – that I crossed that line, so it’s pretty subjective. I’m okay with that. A tolerance for violent reckoning seems to be a very personal thing among readers, from what I can tell; some folks are very clear that they like a hands-off meting of justice, and we’ve got excellent authors who provide exactly that.

As for me, however, violence is a natural extension of rage – in particular, the rage that a victim feels. I haven’t been a victim of violence, but I can imagine that helplessness would be fertile ground for the kind of dangerous grudge that only an eye-for-an-eye retribution would satisfy.

Writers, especially new writers, are always looking for tips and helpful information. What is the single most important “tip” you can give to a new writer?

I’ve got nothing to say that other writers haven’t said before – and more eloquently than I am able – but here goes: the only person who can make you stop is you. The day you let someone else convince you that you aren’t a writer is the day you give over your most precious gift. Don’t do it, sugars; don’t let anyone else tell you what you can or can’t do. I’m not saying it’s easy: you’ll sweat blood on your journey. But when someone tells you “you can’t” – make it your personal crusade to prove them wrong. Be smarter, sparklier, harder working, and more resilient than your critics ever expected, and you’ll be standing long after they’re gone.

I had this thing I used to do when I received a rejection via email (which, toward the end of my unpublished state, happened nearly every day, and frequently multiple times in one day). I would give my computer the finger and cuss at it in the foulest, most shocking and unladylike torrents I could come up with. But the conclusion of my tirades was always the same. “….and you’ll regret this,” I’d mutter – or sob – or rail – depending on my mood. And I made myself believe it – I imagined everyone who ever rejected me – a very long line indeed; in my mind a sort of hip, black-clad publishing soup line snaking around the mission church of my soul – trembling with misgivings when the scales fell from their eyes and they realized I was a fucking genius.

What are you working on now and when/where do you expect it to be available?

Oh! How kind of you to ask! Well, I recently turned in revisions for my first young adult novel, tentatively titled BANISHED, which will be out next summer from Delacorte. It’s a story of an ostracized girl in a small Missouri town who discovers she has an astonishing gift. Oh, and there’s zombies. Yeah.

Here’s your opportunity to tell us anything else you care to share.

You know how women in their 40s and 50s always tell you that it’s the best time of their life? I never believed it. I was like – yeah, right, I can’t wait to sag and atrophy and get forgetful and hairy in weird places and all that. I figured it was some sort of self-soothing conspiracy on the part of middle-aged women.

Well, guess what – it’s true! My forties have been truly amazing. I can barely believe how smart and unstoppable I’ve gotten lately. At this rate, I’ll be queen of the universe by the time I’m fifty.

What are the addresses of your website(s) and blog(s):


  1. Sophie's idea to take an abused wife the extra mile (instead of running away), is novel and interesting. And I like the fact that Stella is older. I'll be looking forward to reading A Bad Day for Sorry.

  2. Andrea Sisco8/07/2009 1:01 PM

    Sohpie, your book is wonderful. I enjoyed it so very much.