Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Author Interview with VICKI LANE

Vicki Lane and her family have lived on a mountain farm in North Caroline since 1975 and her Elizabeth Goodweather books are a direct reflection of the experience. In addition to being a writer, Vicki is a quilter and has co-authored two books on quilting.


You didn’t publish until later in life – and don’t seem to be greatly disappointed by the years of “missed opportunity.” Tell us how your earlier years contributed to your more recent publishing success.

You know, I think that if I’d tried to write earlier, it would have been a bunch of over-blown, quasi-literary junk with a lot of whining about my mother. Plus, it’s much easier to write about characters of the various ages you’ve already passed through--it gives you a more objective perspective. Of course, at the moment, I’m just winging it when I write about anyone over seventy. But at least I’ve spent time with people in the latter stages of life and paid attention to them and empathized with them--this wasn’t so true when I was younger. Experience, of all sorts, is a writer’s raw material.

And too, in my earlier years, we were getting our farm going and raising our boys. If I’d been pursuing a writing career at that time, I’m afraid I’d have been inadequate on all fronts.

How do you think that living on your farm, and the environment/people in North Carolina, provided you with fodder for your Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mystery series?

Oh, only in every way possible! When we moved here in 1975, it was such a rural area (electricity had only become available in the Fifties) that we felt something like anthropologists in a strange new culture. We learned so much from our neighbors: milking cows, butchering pigs, churning butter, to name a few things--and all the while I was learning, I was absorbing the dialect, the turn of phrase, and, to some extent, the world view. I think because of this, I’m able to write about the people of Appalachia and have native-born mountain folks tell me I got it right.

Tell us about your quilting and your quilting books.

Quilting seemed like a natural part of the rural life and the back-to-the-land community we found ourselves a part of when we moved to the mountains embraced the tradition wholeheartedly. We made baby quilts, wedding quilts, and friendship quilts for one another. After twenty-five odd years of this, we had quite a body of work: forty-plus quilts. We were given a show at the Folk Art Center in Asheville and several people said, “You all ought to do a book about this.” A friend and I decided to give it a shot and the result was Community Quilts. (Skemp is my married name – my mysteries are published under my maiden name because my editor liked it better.)

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

Finishing my last book. The Day of Small Things is a spin-off/standalone and I was about a half a year past my deadline getting it in. It won’t be out til 2010, because of my dilatoriness; therefore I have no new book out for 2009.

I’m not sure why it took so long except that I try hard to get better in each book--write to a higher standard and push some boundaries--and I think that slowed me down. Then, when I sent the manuscript to my editor, she wanted me to get rid of a whole subplot and a fairly major character – and that took some more time. But I’m very happy with the result and think that it’s my strongest book yet.

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.

In a Dark Season came out in 2008. It’s a current Anthony Nominee for Best Paperback Original and was a Romantic Times finalist for Best Contemporary Mystery/Suspense. The fourth Elizabeth Goodweather book, it follows the dark history of an old house that was once a stopping place on the Drovers’ Road. The house is at the center of multiple mysteries--from a suspicious death to the brutal rape of a young woman to the legend of a handsome youth hanged for murder. Like all my books, though it’s set in the present day, there is a secondary story from the past--in this case 1859. Margaret Maron called it “a suspenseful tale of love and lust”--which I think sums it up pretty well. There’s also a little touch of the paranormal – which has been creeping into my mysteries bit by bit.

It’s available from many bookstores – I always urge people to support their local independents – as well as the major on-line outlets.

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

As I mentioned, The Day of Small Things, the standalone about the life of Miss Birdie, Elizabeth’s octogenarian neighbor, will be out in 2010 and widely available. I’m at work now on the fifth Elizabeth book – Under the Skin – for 2011.

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?

Read your work aloud. When you finish a chapter, go back and read it out loud. This is invaluable to make sure your dialogue sounds realistic and it catches silly mistakes elsewhere – repetitions, rhymes, awkward phrasing and the like.

Do you have a regular writing routine? How about daily page or word goals? What are your thoughts about having a routine?

I work in the garden or do housework in the morning and then write in the afternoon and evening. I aim for a chapter a week (2.500 -3,000 words a week) but don’t always make that goal. And then sometimes I do twice that. The words come when they’re ready. And I’m there at the laptop every day in case they show up.

I suspect that each writer has to find the routine or non-routine that suits him or her.

Do you have any upcoming book signings or appearances? If so, give us all the details.

I’ll be at BOUCHERCON, the mystery conference. It’s in Indianapolis this year, from Thursday, October 1 through Sunday, October 18. On Thursday, October 15, 1:30 – 2:25 pm, I’ll be on this panel- SOUTHERN VOICES: What’s special about Southern mysteries. The always entertaining Cathy Pickens will be the moderator and T. Lynn Ocean, A. Scott Pearson, Deborah Sharp, and I will all be there, exuding our various sorts of Southern charm.

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

I’m very proud of my (pretty much) daily blog. It began as a spin-off of my monthly newsletter and it allows me to share pictures of the places that inspire my writing as well as stay in touch with readers. The subject matter ranges from writing to gardening to chickens, to books, to food to whatever’s on my mind or in my camera that day. My recent post on Southern Voices drew some amazingly terrific comments,

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


  1. I used to think Vicki Lane was the best undiscovered writer I enjoyed, but her Appalachian mystery series is so compelling that she's being discovered by an ever-larger number of readers. That's how IN A DARK SEASON was nominated for the Anthony Award. Nominations are sometimes harder to get than awards, because many of the coveted mystery awards require readers to remember which title from a whole year's worth of reading is so outstanding that it leaps to mind as the best.

    Reading for me is more than a beloved hobby; it's my livelihood and what I write about, so it's not often I say that a book or an author is truly outstanding. IN A DARK SEASON is Vicki Lane's best so far, and she keeps getting better. I'm looking forward to reading the next Elizabeth Goodweather in the series and the standalone that I just learned is coming in 2010, THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS.

  2. Chris - How wonderful of you to share your thoughts. We writes just love it when other people help spread the word about our work.

  3. Now, if we WRITERS (not writes), could only learn how to type...

  4. Great interview. What an articulate writer full of honesty and humor. I loved it.

  5. Thanks, Linda, for letting me visit! And Chris -- you sweetie!

    Chris and I evidently have a kind of mutual admiration society going. I use her book DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION as a text in my writing classes and have the pleasure of hearing student after student say it's the best writing book they've ever used.

    Many thanks, NCMountainwoman!