How did a native of Louisiana, USA wind up living in Alberta, Canada?
Canada always fascinated me. Having links to southern Louisiana, I knew about the Acadian Grand Derangement. If my ancestors hadn’t been tossed out of Acadie in the mid-1700s, I might have been born Canadian. Then there was the weather thing. I’d look at photos of people skiing while I was sweltering in 100+ heat, and wondered what snow and cold felt like.
When I was in university, students were required to move out of their dorm rooms at the end of every semester, even if they were going back to the same room, in the same dorm, the next semester. So we’d cart all my belongings home, and then two weeks later cart them back. Between university and being in the military, there was an eight-year period in my life where I moved every six months. I knew I could be dropped into a completely new environment, where I didn’t know a soul, and do just fine.
When I got an opportunity to do public health nursing in a small Canadian community, I jumped at the chance. Spent several years doing that, lived a couple of other places in Canada, then married a man from Calgary, and here we are.
You’ve written a non-fiction book about your year as a nurse with the U.S. Army in Viet Nam and a several books in the Elizabeth Pepperhawk/Avivah Rosen Vietnam mystery series. Tell us what prompted the premises of each.
The motivation for the non-fiction book was mostly fear and a grant from Canada Council. In Viet Nam, I’d taken over 1,000 black-and-white photos, of which I’d made contact sheets, but never had the money to print. Twenty years after I came back from Viet Nam, I’d still never seen them. Canada Council gave me a grant to pay for processing, and all of a sudden, I had literally boxes full of memories.
I started writing like crazy, trying to capture the details I still remembered about those photographs: who the people in them were, how I came to be up before dawn one morning to photograph airplanes in a lit hanger, or what was just off-camera and never made it into the photograph. Eventually, there was a book called Dreams That Blister Sleep: A Nurse in Viet Nam.
The non-fiction book led to the mysteries. Someone who’d read Dreams said he wanted to know more about what happened after I came home. My own return was pretty normal, but I started to imagine a group of veterans whose homecomings and adjustment to civilian life would be complicated by murder.
The military can be a darkly funny place, and I wanted my main characters to retain that sense of bittersweet military humor as they struggled to become civilians again. Each of my protagonists has his or her demons, but the important thing is that Pepper, Avivah, Benny, and Darby are still in there fighting, both for their own sanity and for their friends.
You write in genres other than mystery and non-fiction. Share a little of what you like to write best and why.
I’ve done a great deal of journaling and memoir writing since the late 1970s. The best analogy I can come up with is that it’s like trying to catch the meaning of my life with a butterfly net. I’ve got a variety of journals, both on paper and electronic formats, photographs, and an art portfolio of my fiber and paper work scattered around in various places. If I ever become famous, some graduate student is going to have a jolly old time trying to figure out what it means because, goodness knows, I have no clue.
I make up little stories about absolutely everything, like two of our stuffed bears have recently gotten engaged, but they have to wait until November to get married. Miss Rosie was once a circus bear and she wants to be married in Gibsonton, Florida—the circus wintering town—so they have to wait until the end of circus season for everyone she knows to come back to Florida.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
Finding the courage to keep going when there aren’t many external rewards. Contrary to myth, for most of us there are no New York lunches with agents, no movie options, no glamorous book tours. Mostly we’re sitting in a room either trying to figure out what our characters are up to, or trying to figure out what the publishing world is up to. You have to tend to the fire inside of yourself all the time.
Writers are like a university class; I guess I’m part of the class of 2001 because that’s when I decided to get serious about writing. Some of my “classmates” have become wonderfully successful; some have dropped out of writing completely. I keep wondering which path I’ll end up following.
What is the title of your most recently published book? Briefly tell us what it’s about and let us know where we can buy it.
Missing, Presumed Wed is the fourth in my Vietnam veteran mystery series. Here’s the blurb:
Ex-Special Forces Sergeant Benny Kirkpatrick is one week away from marrying Lorraine Fulford and, as he puts it, “I’ve seen courts martial that required less preparation than this wedding.” Then Benny’s mother is abducted. When her abductor’s body is discovered, Benny, Avivah and Pepper put their own romantic entanglements aside to help Benny find the killer. The price of justice may tear Benny’s family apart forever.
My publisher, Five Star, sells books to libraries, so the best way to find the book is to tell your local librarian about it. You can also order it through a variety of on-line booksellers and, my favorite, is to support independent booksellers and ask them to order one for you. If all else fails, contact me. I always have a few copies tucked in my storage closet.
What are you working on now and when/where do you expect it to be available?
I’ve finished the fifth—and final—book in the Vietnam veteran series. The working title is Loved Honor More, and it takes place in the aftermath of the fall of Saigon in the spring of 1975. I hope it will be available really soon.
My next project is likely going to be a trilogy about a nurse working in northern Alberta. There’s lots of snow and cold, which I now know something about, and, of course, bodies along the way.
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?
You mean besides go back now before it’s too late? Okay, seriously, whatever time you have available for writing, spend 40% of it on the writing and 60% of it learning the business and building a network. Do that even if all you have is 1 hour a week: spend 20 minutes writing, and 40 minutes on the business/network. Obviously, if you are under that much of a time constraint, those initial 40 business minutes should be spent figuring out how to get more writing time.
You’re a member of several writers groups—Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Story Circle Network. Tell us how you’ve benefitted professionally because of your membership in these organizations.
These are my lifelines. One huge regret I have is that time and money have kept me from going to a lot of conventions and meeting my writing sisters and brothers in person. Ours is almost completely an on-line family and they are the first people I visit in the morning and the last people I visit at night.
It’s like having my own private detective agency: dozens of operative who are keeping up with their corner of the writing world. When they report back, be it on the Internet lists, their blogs, or individual e-mails, I learn a little more about writing.
Your creative abilities venture out beyond the written word. Tell us about your fiber and paper arts.
There’s a saying in the military, “If it moves, salute it; if it doesn’t, paint it green.” That’s kind of my take on the world. If it doesn’t move, embroider it or paint it or collage it or just add some bling to it. You’ll never go wrong with a few heat-set crystals. I originally worked in cloth and yarn: clothes, sweaters, costumes, curtains, bags, etc. About five years ago I started experimenting with paper and fell in love with it, too. The only projects I avoid are those supply list calls for power tools, a respirator, or a Material Safety Data Sheet. Deadly fumes are just so not where it’s at!
Art makes a nice compliment to the writing, particularly in marketing. A lot of mystery conventions have charity raffles. I can donate a tea cozy or a decorated pencil box along with a book, and it gets my name out there to more readers. And if my plot is so stuck it looks like it will need an 18-wheeler to pull it out of the ditch, slapping on layers of gesso and paint does wonders for freeing up the mind.
Here’s your opportunity to tell us anything else you care to share.
A thank you to all of the readers who continue to support all of us authors, especially in tough economic times. You are the greatest.
What are the addresses of your website(s) and blog(s):
Blog every week on Poe’s Deadly Daughters: http://poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com/
From time to time I also hang out in Facebook, Twitter, etc. Who knows, I might be there today?
[INTERVIEWER'S NOTE: Don't you just live her book title?]