What is the title of your newest book? How many books have you published?
Currently, I have two books out in the Professor Prather series: An Act of Murder and Passport to Murder. My third book in the series, A Very Merry Murder, will be published October 1, 2018. As the name implies, it takes place during the holidays, which is my favorite time of year. I’m excited to share this season with readers!
How did you develop your character and choose your location?
Copper Bluff is a fictional town in South Dakota but was inspired by my experiences at the University of South Dakota, which is located in the small town of Vermillion. When my husband and I moved, it felt like a step back in time. We had an old house, which we worked on mercilessly. Besides house renovations, there wasn’t much to do, except study, which luckily for me, I enjoyed.
So my love of Copper Bluff stems from very real memories of my time at college and my professors there. My teachers made a strong impression on me, and I admired their commitment, intelligence, and individuality. I still do today.
What is a day in the life of an author like? Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening?
I write new material in the morning. I revise in the afternoon or work on other writing, such as blog posts, if I don’t have class. (I teach English part-time at the University of Sioux Falls.) Then it’s off to get the kids from school, at which point I turn into a full-time mom, running kids to practices and cooking dinner. In the summer, I wake up extra early so I can write several hours before my kids get up. Although my daughters are nine and twelve, it can be challenging to focus when there’s fun stuff to do—like go to the pool! I don’t count words, but I do commit to spending time with my characters each day. Even if I don’t do a lot of typing, I’m thinking about them and the stories they want to tell. It’s an important part of my creative process.
Do you belong to a writers group or are you in touch with other writers? How does that help your writing?
I don’t belong to a writers’ group, and honestly, I don’t know if I’d be any good at one. Writing is pretty much a solitary act for me. Living in South Dakota has made me independent. But I do belong to three writing organizations: Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and South Dakota Writes.
Mystery Writers of America Midwest has a terrific Facebook group that I enjoy following. We meet up at large conferences, too, so this helps me keep in touch with other writers. It’s nice to discuss the “business” of writing with other authors.
Sisters in Crime doesn’t have a chapter in South Dakota, but I do follow the chapter in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which is about four hours from where I live. It’s a double-edged sword: I get to see all the fun stuff the chapter is doing but don’t often get to participate. I did meet a fellow sister at Malice Domestic, though, and we wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for my membership.
South Dakota Writes is a new organization that connects authors in the state. It also sponsors book events several times a year. For instance, I’m joining a multi-author signing at Books-A-Million bookstore in May, which is sponsored by this group. I hope to meet more SD authors then.
Do you model your character after yourself or any one you know?
Like me, Emmeline has curly hair, so people might wonder if I modeled her after myself, but I didn’t. Her hair was a way to make her distinctive. However, she is young, which is how I imagine my own time at college. I think writers store away little moments or experiences, whether we admit to them or not, and they come out in our characters or stories. But Em and other characters aren’t modeled after anyone specific—except Barb, the secretary. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!
Who is your favorite author?
That’s a hard question, but F. Scott Fitzgerald is certainly one of my favorite authors. I’ve read several biographies about him and his wife, Zelda, and their love story is one of the most heart-wrenching epics of all time. I admire Fitzgerald’s work ethic, his Midwestern roots, and the theme of class in his work. It’s a subject I feel passionately about.
How do you keep track of character details from book to book so they are consistent?
I have a binder for each of my books with character names, university buildings, and stores. It’s handy if I need to check a street address or eye color, etc. Sometimes, though, I end up paging through a previous book to confirm a detail. For instance, I didn’t have the color of Em’s robe listed in my character notes, but I knew I’d mentioned it. So I went back to book one to find it. (It’s yellow, by the way.)
If you could not be an author, what would you like to do as a career?
I teach English part-time, and I really enjoy being a teacher. Despite what some people say about young people, they give me a lot of hope. Teaching is a difficult job, but like writing, it has lots of rewards. If I didn’t write, I would probably go back to teaching full-time.