Please start by telling us a little about yourself (education, jobs, significant other, children, pets, etc.)
I have a degree in Communication Disorder and Sciences from the University of Oregon, and spent the early part of my career working in an early intervention program with preschoolers. It sounds funny but it definitely translates to writing. I had to learn to be a good listener when working with children who had speech disorders. I’ll pull things out of conversations that I’m listening to, to use in my books that other people might not pay attention to—those little nuances of speech that make dialog feel real. Now I’m writing full time and live in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest with my husband, son and our dog.
Tell us about your latest New Adult book and what inspired you to write it.
SCENE OF THE CLIMB is a new adult mystery, featuring a young reporter, Meg Reed, who is fresh out of college and crashing on her best friend’s couch in Portland, Oregon. She bills herself as an intrepid adventurer in order to land a gig writing for Northwest Extreme Magazine, when in reality she’s terrified of heights. Her idea of sport is climbing onto the couch without spilling her latte, but the magazine sends her out to the ruggedly beautiful Columbia River Gorge to cover an adventure race. She claws her way to the top of a cliff only to witness a body falling off the summit. From there things just get worse for Meg.
In terms of my inspiration, I’ve always enjoyed reading mysteries. It’s escapism at its best—taking readers on a quest to figure out whodunit, with a dash of romance and plenty of page-turning twists. I’d had a sketch of Meg in my head for a while. I knew I wanted to write a young character, someone who was learning to navigate her way in the adult world. One weekend I was out hiking in the gorge with my family and I saw a woman in her early twenties with pink hiking boots on the trail, and I thought, “That’s Meg!”
As young adult readers mature, I think they’re seeking books to grow with them. That was my inspiration for Meg—creating a young, but internally wise character. She makes some mistakes along the way, as we all have, but she learns from them as she learns to step into herself.
The New Adult genre is fairly new. What's your definition of it? How does it differ from Young Adult or just regular Adult books?
I really enjoy writing for new adults. It’s such a transitional and transformative time in our lives. I’m glad to see that it’s becoming a more defined genre. It deserves its own shelf space. That new adult period in our lives is equally exciting and terrifying. We’re striking out on our own and forming our identity outside of our family. It’s a time of firsts—first job, apartment, serious relationship. That makes for great material when writing characters. It gives them such an opportunity for growth. I can’t wait to see how Meg evolves over the series.
Do you belong to any critique groups and/or do you have other people read your work as you're writing it? Who's brutally honest and who's a cheerleader? Which do you prefer?
I draft completely in isolation. Then I let the draft simmer for a good chunk of time without touching it. This is the hardest part. Once I’ve given myself a little distance from the story, I go over it for big-picture edits and then I send it off to a trusted group of early readers.
Honesty! Always honesty. My early readers make my work so much stronger. They’re able to see things I just can’t. I often say that reading through their suggestions is like a great therapy session. Fortunately, my reading group is highly skilled at offering constructive suggestions in a kind way. That helps.
What are your all-time favorite authors/books?
I love anything by Jane Austen or P.D. James. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, The Betsy, Tacy, Tib series by Maude Lovelace, Harry Potter, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. I could go on and on. I’m an eclectic reader and will read pretty much anything I can get my hands on.
Do you outline before you write or just dive head-first into a manuscript? Do you maintain a schedule for writing, or is it more haphazard?
I outline in detail. I send my editor an outline for approval before I start drafting a manuscript. The final version of the book is usually pretty close to the original outline. Minor things will change, but the overall plot stays the same. I know who the murderer is from the beginning. Although the book that I just finished, the murderer kept changing on me. That was a surprise and had me a little nervous through the drafting process. I stayed open and just went with it. Fortunately it all came together at the end.
I write every day. I set a word count for the day, and work until I hit it. Some days the words come easily, and other days I’m pulling my hair out just to make my word count.
Where do you do your best writing? (Ex: desk in your office, public library, under a tree in the park, in front of a Real Housewives TV marathon, etc.) Do you like music or some other background noise, or do you need quiet?
My office is a converted sun porch in my basement. I love it. It gets so much light. I can’t write with anyone around—I talk to myself, I act out scenes, I pace around the room. If anyone saw me, I’m sure they’d be concerned about my mental stability. I’m envious of people who can write at coffee shops or bookstores. I wish I could, but sadly no, it’s just me, my office and my dog that likes to sleep at my feet while I write.
I create playlists that help define the character for me. With Meg, she’s twenty-three but is really into vintage fashion and loves the 1950s, so I listen to a lot of Frank Sinatra and other big band music when I’m writing. But then, she’s twenty-three so I also listen to Taylor Swift and Portland bands, like The Decemberists since the book is set here.
I usually transform the white board and one wall in my office to inspire me while I write. For example, since SCENE OF THE CLIMB is set in the Columbia River Gorge so I put up photos and posters of local hikes and climbs. Meg’s a fan of the color pink and vintage fashion, so I had lots of retro pictures up. She loves beer and coffee, so I clipped magazines to make a visual collage of some of what she’d be eating and drinking. Pinterest is great for that too. I have a bunch of Meg boards that I use to get into her head.
What are the best and worst parts of writing a book?
I honestly do enjoy the entire process of writing from drafting to promotion, and launching a book into the world. However at any given moment in that process I’m likely to be consumed with anxiety and full of dread and self-doubt. I guess the best part is that there’s always a new stage in the process to look forward to.
When you're driving and you have a sudden, brilliant idea for the new manuscript you're working on, what do you do? (Ex: pull over and fire up the laptop, keep driving while scribbling on a McDonald's bag, tell Siri, etc.)
My ideas (let’s not go so far as to call them brilliant) almost always happen when I’m outside walking. I’ve learned to bring Siri along whenever I hit the trail.
Imagine you have a whole day free for shopping. Where do you go? (Mall, unique boutiques, flea market, antique shops, bookstore, home improvement store, etc.)
I’d start the day off at one of my favorite artisan coffee shops and then head to one of Portland’s unique shopping districts. I’d stroll into bookstores, vintage shops, boutiques, and then round out the day with a pint of microbrew at a bistro table outside where I could people watch.
What are the top 5 titles in your Netflix queue? (Be honest.) Or if you don't have a Netflix queue, which books are on your bedside table? (Again, be honest.)
I’m assuming Amazon and Hulu also count.
The Amazing Race
Do you prefer to read ebooks or print?
Print, much to my husband’s disappointment.
Where is your favorite place in the world?
The Pacific Northwest—we have mountains, oceans, forests, high-deserts, gorges all within a quick drive. I also love to travel. I spent a chunk of time in New Zealand and Australia in college and used that for inspiration in the book.
Do you have any advice for people who want to write a book?
Do it! Stop talking about it, stop dreaming about it, stop telling your friends about it. Start writing this moment, one word on the page, then another and soon you’ll have a draft. Likely it will be a flawed draft, but you’ll have a draft! And from there you’ll edit, tinker, get feedback, and ultimately end up with a book.