GG: How long have you been writing the Maggie McKenzie series?
When Rubies and Rebels, the 9th book in the gem series was published in 2003, my editor asked what my next project was. I had just completed the research (a trip to Italy and Greece with my husband) on the 10th book, Topaz and Treachery. She asked if I anything else in mind. Actually, I had been thinking about a young photojournalist fresh from college who has a demanding boss who didn’t want her in the first place so he gives her all sorts of ridiculous assignments. She suggested that instead of writing Topaz, I start the new series. Vanished: A Maggie McKenzie Mystery was published in 2004.
I then wrote Topaz, and as soon as it was finished, I started on Pursued, the second in the Maggie series. But the editors didn’t like the twin mind connection, (they didn’t much like it in the first book either, but since I had so much documentation on the research being done on that subject, they relented if I toned it down considerably, which I did.) But with each rewrite and submission, I’d find a new editor looking at the manuscript and suggesting different revisions. At one point, I was so discouraged, I was ready to just forget the whole thing and toss the manuscript “in the bottom drawer” as the saying goes. They encouraged me to make some drastic changes in the story line – which I did.
I had some good advice from my friend, Val, and started over with a new premise, slashed some of my favorite parts which contained the mind connection with the twins and siblings, and the exciting climax which took place in the ruins I most loved in Wales, Tintern Abbey. It is a wonderful, magical place that I could have spent hours in just soaking up the spirit and atmosphere that William Wordsworth felt. He wrote that when his spirits were burdened and he was depressed, he just had to return to Tintern Abbey in his thoughts and remember the beautiful Wye River flowing next to it and he was rejuvenated. But that will never see the light of day. Sorry.
So with all the rewrites and rejections, and more rewrites, you can see that Pursued took four long, agonizing years. Which seems incredible, since Emeralds, the first book only took me two years. It came out in 1995; Pearls, 1996; Diamonds, 1997; Turquoise, 1998; Sapphires, 1999; Amethysts, 1999; (two books that year!) Jade, 2000; Opals, 2001. Then we went on a mission to Armenia, and when I got back, Rubies was published. So apparently, I wasn’t getting to be a better writer during all those years.
GG: What would you consider your hallmarks as a writer?
If you mean, what do my readers expect when they pick up my books, they know they will find in-depth description of place and some history to go with it, a lot of fast-paced action, and a good absorbing story. I love to feel familiar with a place when I’m reading a book because the author has described it so well, so I want to give my readers that experience. I feel everyone should learn something new when they read, even when they’re just reading for escape, and they should be entertained by the story. I want my stories to be unpredictable, so the reader can’t anticipate what will happen on the next page. As I write, I think, what is the worst thing that can happen next? What if? That usually leads off on exciting tangents. I want readers to feel good in the end – not feel the read was a waste of their time. I’m delighted when someone tells me my books got them through a trying time in their lives by taking them out of their troubles for a bit and into another world.
GG: How much on the spot research did you do for Pursued?
As with all my books, I personally travel to the location so I can get the feel of the place first hand, and I research the history so I can include fun things about it, weaving them into the story line. I traveled to England and Wales with two cousins and a friend to do family history research, knowing at the time that I was writing this book, so everywhere we went, I plotted the story and made notes as to what Maggie would be doing there. Unfortunately, much of what I envisioned on the trip didn’t come to pass in the final version of Pursued, but it may ultimately be a better book for some than the first version. I hope so.
GG: Do you outline your books or make them up as you go along or do something in between?
I know the starting point – the inciting incident of the story – and I know where the story should go, and usually have an idea of how it should end. As I begin writing, the characters sort of take over the story and I envision in my mind what they are doing – a movie playing out in full color and sound – and just write what is happening. Occasionally they start down a road that I hadn’t foreseen and it is better, or sometimes I have to rein the characters in and lead them along the story line that I originally conceived. But I do not do organized plot lines or outlines.
GG: Pursued is extremely complex. How do you sustain that complexity? Is it a natural talent or have you developed it over time?
As I said, I’m seeing all this happening in my mind as a movie. There are things occurring at the same time all over the world, so I need to keep the reader up to date on what’s going on. It didn’t feel complex while I was writing it. I was just recording things as they played out for the characters. Does that make sense? Or does it make me sound loony?? J
GG: I think there are two types of writers: a.) the type who can write a book all at once that needs very little revision, or b.) the type (like me) who writes draft after draft, layering the plot and the characters. Which are you?
I used to be the first kind. Sort of. There were always revisions, but nothing too major or time consuming – until Topaz, the 10th in the gem series. I had an editor assigned to me who introduced himself via e-mail saying he didn’t like romantic suspense, never read the genre, but was my new editor, and by the way, my characters were terrible but since they were already established, he guessed there wasn’t too much we could do with them at this point. Our relationship went down hill from there. J The last three books had major issues that required copious amounts of rewrite and revision. But I don’t do several drafts layering plot and characters, though it seems apparent by the editor’s comments that I should have been doing that.
GG: When did you know you wanted to be a writer and how did you decide on suspense fiction?
My high school graduation year book states as one of my goals I will someday write and publish a book. I didn’t even remember that until one of my classmates reminded me after Emeralds was published (39 years after graduation!) But I’ve always written something – I edited a family newsletter for 20 years, wrote Relief Society Newsletters, sacrament meeting special programs for Christmas and Easter, road shows, special Relief Society and Young Women programs. I just had never written a real story – fiction – until I started Emeralds and Espionage.
I love reading suspense and mysteries of all kinds – not thrillers as a rule like Stephen King or Dean Koontz. I don’t go for the really terrifying stuff, but when I began writing, it was only natural that I would gravitate to the genre that I loved most to read. I’m sure I read every Nancy Drew mystery as I was growing up, then I read all of my Dad’s Erle Stanley Gardner mysteries, and Agatha Christie, then Mary Stuart and Phyllis Whitney. Then a host of new mystery writers emerged and I devoured them. I love mysteries! When we watch TV, it’s always mysteries or suspense or documentaries – never sitcoms or the alphabet networks. The BBC mysteries are the best!
GG: Are Maggie and Flynn going to get married finally?
(Smiling) I guess you will just have to read the book to find out. I don’t want to spoil the ending for readers who haven’t yet had a chance to get the book.
GG: What are your future writing plans?
I’ve been giving talks for 30 years to women’s conferences, youth and single adult conferences, family history conferences, sacrament meetings and stake conferences and other venues, and I thought now might be a great time to prepare some of those for little gift books. I think in these troubled times, people need a bit of an uplift. And since we are always looking for a thoughtful little gift for Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Days, etc, I thought I might concentrate on that a bit and give my overworked fiction editors some relief. I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear that.
GG: Share with our readers your goals as a writer.
Very simply, I want to entertain, educate and edify with every story. I hope I do that.