top of page

Word Refiner by Mark Schultz

Sweet Heart - March 10 through March 18, 2019

Please tell our viewers a little bit about yourself and your writing journey.

I'm so ordinary that it's pathetic. But -- I had fabulous parents, a wonderful childhood, and an extraordinary career in public service. I've been married 45 years and all of my friends call my husband Saint Arthur, which is a laugh. We weren't blessed with children, but we've had five dogs: Della Street, Doctor Watson, Phoebe Tyler, Sophie Tucker and Sam Seaborn.  Sam is still with us; he's getting a little long in the tooth, but he's fat and happy.

Where did the inspiration for your books come from? You are writing about a couple that engages in marital infidelity and they elect to remain married to their spouse, thus breaking off the relationship except for a single, brief reminder annually.

I awoke on the morning of my fortieth wedding anniversary thinking about all of the ups and downs my husband and I had survived, and about how love had changed for us as we weathered the bad times and the challenges of day-to-day living. Then I began to wonder how life would have been if romantic love had lasted forever. The next thing I knew, I was sitting at my lap top, writing the first chapter of Dear Heart.  Since I couldn’t see how romance could survive the daily assault of pressures and problems, I knew when I started that the main characters would be separated for a long period of time, but would ultimately get back together because, well, when I read a love story, I want there to be a happily ever after.

As for the affair, I drew on a relationship I knew about that grew out of an intense physical attraction and developed into a passionate affair. That relationship didn’t last, but what I knew about the beginnings of it was enough to form the cornerstone of the relationship between Deirdre and Lee. Everything else between them and about them was purely a figment of my imagination, which evolved as I was writing Dear Heart.

That is an interesting premise. I think it's true for almost everyone that romantic love transitions into other kinds of intimacy, deeper and less frothy. The initial part of that kind of heady relationship is nearly overpowering and many seek it over and over again, like a drug. 

Were you doing any kind of writing before this story? If so, what kind? 
Why did you choose this genre, or do you feel the genre chose you?

When I got back to writing, about five years ago, I was all over the map. I started working on a mystery that went nowhere, and then outlined a book about labor unions. Both of these were dark pieces and I think the stories failed because when I was writing them I had more of an ax to grind rather than a story to tell. Then I got the idea for Dear Heart and things just seemed to fall into place.

I don’t think about writing in terms of a particular genre. I think about the stories I want to tell so, absolutely, the genre chooses me.

That makes sense, tell the story that wants to be told. Figure out the genre later. I used to wonder how so many authors could claim to be a best selling author on Amazon. I think I have it partly figured out. Amazon keeps dividing the basic genres into different sub-genres, so that, in some cases, there is not much competition in the sub-group. I could be wrong, I haven't done any research into that. What do you think about that? 

How did you pick your publisher?
Is there a book that makes you cry no matter how many times you read it?

I like your theory about Amazon best-selling authors. I swear to God it sometimes seems like everyone but me is an Amazon best-selling author. 

I queried publishers of romance novels and contemporary women's fiction but, in the final analysis, I didn't pick the publisher, the publisher picked me. 

The only books that ever made me cry are my own. I just re-read them both and there are passages in each that still moved me to tears. In Dear Heart, it's the part where Deirdre and Lee spend their last Christmas Eve together, starting with Lee sitting in the car with his face in his hands. In Sweet Heart, it's the part where Lee talks about watching Frank's life unfold from the shadows, particularly when he watches Frank get married and then goes into the church after everyone leaves to try to find a discarded program. Isn't it interesting that the passages that move me to tears are ones having to do with Lee?

You mentioned in the previous interview how lucky you felt to be picked up by Solstice Publishing. What did they like about your story the most? What did they like the least? Did they say anything about the spelling errors I found when I read "Dear Heart" and "Sweet Heart"?

I have no doubt that my eyes would sweat again, if I were to reread either of your books. Those very same passages brought a heavy mist to my eyes also. 

I don't recall anyone at Solstice saying what they liked most or least about the books. The edits weren't substantive and focused primarily on punctuation and formatting issues. 

As for the spelling errors, do I wish they had been caught? Of course. But I haven't brought them to Solstice's attention because I am the author and thus ultimately responsible for the final product.  I have, however, preserved your notes so I can make the corrections if the books are ever reissued.

What are your earliest memories of writing, how far back does that go for you? 
Do you struggle with writer's block and how do you overcome it?
Have you gone on any literary virtual blog tours? Book signings in the real world?

I remember writing in high school. I don't remember what I wrote, but it must have made an impression on Father James O'Neill because, when I graduated, I won the Creative Writing Medal -- which came as a complete surprise to me.

I have experienced writers' block, but I don’t sweat it. There’s always research to do, or another book to work on. And on those rare occasions when I’m mentally exhausted and the thought of opening my laptop makes me want to run screaming from the house, I don’t force it. I say, why torture yourself? Conventional wisdom is that writing in 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. But for me, writing is 100% about the inspiration, because when you're inspired, you won't have to break that much of a sweat. I'm not saying you won't have to work, but the fact is that a truly inspired story will tell itself, while a story light on inspiration and heavy on perspiration will end up hopelessly contrived.

I've been interviewed for a half a dozen blogs and my books have been featured on a half a dozen more and in several newsletters. Early on I was gung-ho about doing book signings, and I bought all the stuff I'd need to set up a professionally-staged display. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, without name recognition, I probably wouldn't attract a crowd and would end up looking desperate for a sale. And even if I sold some books, I'd probably take a loss since most book stores want a percentage of the list price for hosting you. Plus, for me, time is a precious commodity and mine can be better spent building name recognition on social media and by writing more books.

I think you have the right approach to writer's block. I always recommend to authors they should have multiple projects, formats, even genres in progress. Short stories, contests, blogs are all good ways of working round a quiet muse. My personal favorite is performing some kind of innocuous chore or maintenance that allows the muse freedom from the traces of a project. 

I agree that focusing on your brand is a good idea. At some point, book signings and such will help build your brand also.

You shared with us about the inspiration behind "Dear Heart" and "Sweet Heart". Is there more of this story to tell? If not, where has the inspiration come from for your current projects?

I felt the story was unfinished when I completed Dear Heart, but Sweet Heart tied up all of the loose ends. As much as I love the story, I believe I would be doing it a disservice if I tried to pad it with additional material. Plus, I like to think that I'm more than a one-trick pony. I definitely have more stories to tell. Whether or not I'll love them as much or more than I love the story of Deirdre and Lee remains to be seen -- but that is a high hurdle to clear.

I have four stories on the drawing board -- in different stages: Interoffice Romance, which is nearing completion, Change of Heart, on which most of the preliminary work has been done, Officer Kelly, on which the preliminary work has been completed and some writing has been done, and an untitled mystery which is on hold because the timing is not right to publish it, and I don't want to start work on it because I know I'll want to release it when it's finished. Without going into detail, I'll just say that the stories evolved based on characters I want to write about, and the characters I want to write about are based on people I've known who were either interesting or pissed me off.  How's that for inspiration?

Sweet Heart and Dear Heart did make a nice tidy package. No doubt about that.
Thank you for giving us a sneak peek at what is coming up in the future. I am looking forward to these stories. 

That is some interesting inspiration you have going there. I have heard it said that it's not wise to make a writer angry, because you might wind up in a book dying a horrible death!

Is your mystery going to be a cozy mystery or more along the lines of action and adventure? 
What is the process you go through to come up with a title for your books?
You have two books published, and more in the works. Has your writing process today changed much from you started your first book?

Cozy mystery? Oh, hell no. There will be sex and violence and raw language -- especially raw language, because that's just the way the main character communicates. 

Generally, the title for a book comes to me before I even start doing preliminary work. In fact, I don't usually sit down at the laptop until I know the title and the first sentence. The mystery is the exception because I don't know who done it yet -- although I know who the victim is. This is the problem when your work is primarily character driven: you have to wait for the plot to evolve as you write.

My writing process hasn't changed since I started writing again about five or six years ago. However, it has changed from the time I first started writing. I used to be able to write with the stereo blaring. Now I need peace and quiet. And I used to agonize over every sentence before I could move onto the next one. Now, as long as I know where I want to go, I just write to get the thoughts down on paper and then I go back and polish it -- generally a chapter at a time. And I've learned not to beat a dead horse. I don't stare at a blank screen for more than a few minutes. If I can't easily transition to the next section, I know that I'm on the wrong track and I have to rethink the lead-in. 

Okay, I will be ready. It sounds like it's going to be real rough and tumble! Very exciting!

That is interesting, you are finding out the story as you write it. So much for plotting! Actually, it sounds pretty interesting, if the story keeps you going it will for others also. 

I think a lot of writers try to write the perfect lines the first time, and it really makes the story difficult to tell, because adjustments are constantly being made. I tell writers to do what you do, get it down on paper. It's perfectly acceptable for the first draft to be a pile of junk! The real fun is crafting that junk into a basket of gems! 

Do you have a favorite quote from either of your books?
If you could trade places with one of your characters in your book, which one, which scene, and why?

You are going to hate this. My favorite quote in Dear Heart is uttered by Denise when she says: "Bill wants to raise a man and you want to raise a pussy." I love this line because it made me laugh out loud and it's when I found Denise's voice. For the same reasons, my second favorite line is uttered by John when he says: "What in the name of Christ is with that ring?" On the conventional side, there are a number of beautiful passages which I love. Of those, my favorite is when Deirdre says: "I have been through the worst of it and have come out the other side -- battered and bloodied, yes, forever changed, certainly, but better for having known you and the rapture that comes when two souls, created from the same wisp of angel's breath, unite in love, if only for an instant."

In Sweet Heart my favorite line is uttered by Lee at the beginning of the book when he says: "Had I known then that your nylons were not attached to a practical pair of panties, but were held close to your thighs with embroidered lace, it would have brought me to my knees." I love this line because it shows Lee's vulnerability and defines him in one sentence. I also love when Lee says "there is always hope," and when Frank says "love is love, no matter what form it takes." 

So much beautiful language in the books and my favorites are the bawdy passages. I bet you didn't expect that!

If I could change places with any character in the books, it would be with Deirdre when she and Lee come together for the first time at Florentina's. I'm sure you noticed that that encounter was described in both books, and even though it's not where Deirdre and Lee actually consummate their relationship, it's hot as hell, and I envied them that experience.

I don't hate that at all. I love it! I loved Denise's voice also! She was smart and loved Deirdre, and Lee, by extension. The ring thing was a bit of a farce, but it displayed the depth of her feelings. Funny lines and beautiful lines, both signs of a well-written book. Humor is an essential part of our daily lives.

On average, how many words do you write at a time or how long do you spend writing in one stretch, in one day? 
Do you use character sheets, time lines, maps or anything else to keep the reading smooth and avoid logical errors in your writing?

I don't really count words. I write until I run out of steam or inspiration, which means I could write 100 words or 10,000 words at a sitting. And I don't write every day. I only write when I know what I want to say. When that happens I could write for an hour or 10 hours, or as was the case with Sweet Heart, for 20 hours straight for a week. I've learned that if I don't know where the story is heading or how to get where I want to go, it makes no sense for me to sit at the laptop and type a bunch of crap just so I can say I have a set writing schedule. 

That doesn't mean that I'm not working on the book, though. Don't forget, it took me two years to write Dear Heart. The first chapter came very easily but then I got stuck. It took me awhile to figure out that that was because I didn't know who my characters were, so I spent a couple of months scouring the internet for actors who I thought could portray the characters, then I searched for photos of the cabin, and Deirdre's house, and Lee's house and study, and -- well, you get the idea. Then I created a notebook where I kept all of these images, along with a very extensive timeline that started back when Lee got married. Everything that happened in the books was on that timeline. I didn't have it carved in stone before I started writing, and as I wrote sections, I'd go back and place the action on the timeline so I could keep track of everything -- like when Lee's daughters were born, and when the San Francisco 49ers went to the SuperBowl. I also included a very extensive list of the songs I wanted to reference in the books, and their release dates, as well as maps of San Francisco, Napa Valley, New Jersey and New York. By the time I sat down to write again, I had a clear vision of who the characters were and what the world they lived in looked like.

I found this prep work to be so helpful when I was writing Dear Heart that it's now become a part of my routine. That being said, if I have an idea for a story and a clear vision of where it's heading, I'd chuck the prep work and just write the story.

When I was younger, I was a slave to the writing how-to books but I've learned to trust my instincts and not worry about what I should be doing. Some people would say that this means that I'm not really a writer, and maybe they're right. But I am a storyteller, and I'm okay with that.

That is interesting. Some writers thrive on a routine and some don't. I know myself well enough, I thrive on routine and value the gift of freedom that repetition provides. 

You, on the other hand, seem to thrive not on routine but on the fire in your belly. The creative spark appears to drive you at times. I really think you are a hybrid writer, a genius hybrid writer. You use whatever you need to get the book written. I love all the planning you did for "Dear Heart", and I have a hunch that planning allowed you to write "Sweet Heart" in just 20 hours in one week!  I hope you never stop trusting your instincts. 

You are working on more stories about romance, while a mystery incubates in the back of your mind. Is there a genre even further out there that attracts you as a story-teller? No commitment now, but what would that genre be? You are free to change your mind at any time. 
Have you attended a seminar or lecture to improve certain skills a writer needs to know, either in person or online?

I really don't think in terms of genre, so I don't know how to answer that question. Officer Kelly is what probably would be considered contemporary realism, which I only know because I just looked it up. I write stories. Someone else will figure out what genre they fall into.

I haven't attended any writing classes or seminars for decades because I think they focus on process and discount raw talent and creativity, which I believe supersedes process every day of the week. Plus, I've never been much of a joiner, or one to follow a crowd. I'm comfortable blazing my own trail, even if that means I'll never be as rich and famous as Stephen King who, come to think of it, blazed his own trail, as did J.K. Rowling and J.D. Salinger and -- well, you get the picture. I'm not knocking writers and would-be writers who take classes and devour how-to books. I'm just saying that I would rather write than sit around talking about how to write. This is why no one is ever going to ask me to teach a creative writing class.

You have a lot of confidence in your writing and your methods. I love that. I have seen so many writers who can't even call themselves a writer, they use the term aspiring writer. I think it's a knock on their abilities, however, I have noticed that it's usually young writers who use that term. Perhaps it's a function of personal maturity and self-confidence.

You make a great point about courses and seminars. Sometimes they get caught up in the newest and trendiest fad. That fad has already had it's 15 minutes of fame and others are trying to climb onto that train, not realizing that it left the station already. 

Is there something, as a writer, you feel you need the most improvement in?
What books do you think every author should read, and why?

I hope I didn't come across as arrogant, and I'm sorry if I did. It's just that when you get older, you get clarity and a pretty strong sense of yourself. Besides, what do I know? I'm not even an Amazon Best Selling Author!

I definitely need to improve my dialogue skills. I'm okay with short bursts, but anything longer than three sentences has me in the weeds.

I read Stephen King's On Writing when it came out decades ago, and that's as good a book as any about process. Other than that, I don't think it matters what a writer reads as long as s/he reads something. I don't know about other writers, but when I read fiction, I'm mindful of style and sentence structure and cadence and voice and pacing and, of course, vocabulary. Somehow, I'm able to absorb the best of what a good book has to offer in those regards and it magically finds its way into my work. Don't ask me how.

I did not detect any arrogance. In fact, I agree with you, age can bring clarity that just isn't found when we are young. We want it and know we don't have it at the beginning of our life.

Dialogue is important. It can move the story along or send it crashing into a fiery dumpster. 

From what I have heard from other writers, they are always examining the structure of a story and other aspects, you sound quite normal for a writer, to me. 

Do you write poetry? Has it impacted your stories?
Do you think it's important for authors to read poetry and why?

Well, this is going to be short and sweet. No, no, and no.

Ha-ha! I asked for that, didn't I? Pretty funny. Interviewing isn't always a bed of roses. Let's try again.

What are your thoughts about mentoring beginning writers?
Have you ever done any beta reading for another author?

I'm happy to pass on what I've learned about writing and promoting to beginning writers. And I feature many of them on my website. But acting as a full-on mentor is not something I would take on at this stage of the game. 

This is embarrassing. I was asked to be a beta reader by a fellow author but I declined. Time and energy are precious commodities for me these days and I'm selfish about conserving both for my own responsibilities and interests.

I understand about time and energy. I have been asked many times to beta-read and have always turned them down. My strength is as a polisher. You are wise to not accept too many responsibilities. 

Featuring beginning writers on your website is also a nice thing. Exposure is hard to come by. 

Talking about exposure.  Have you ever contacted a book club and offered your book to them and also offered to speak to them?  Have you ever thought about speaking to a college or high school writing class?

Funny you should bring that up. Both of those things are on my agenda for the spring.

That is funny. What's that old saying? Even a blind squirrel will get lucky and find a nut every once and a while. You are going to do that. Wonderful! Another idea for exposure, The Association of Writers and Writing programs is holding their convention this month in Portland, Oregon, 27-30. Have you ever thought about going to something like that?  I helped build the Oregon Convention Center expansion almost two decades ago. 

Thinking smaller, if there is any tourism in your area, a small countertop display for "books by a local author" can play well over a period of time. Motels, antique shops, indie bookstores, boutiques, to name only a few.

What famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet? A famous author?

I don't know. I think of conventions in the same way as I think of book signings. But if I ever achieve name recognition, both are something I would consider.

I plan to offer Dear Heart to local B&B's in the spring in the hope that it will generate sales for Sweet Heart.

I'm not keen on meeting famous people because they never turn out to be like you thought they'd be. That being said, I'd like to meet Robert Redford so I can pitch him Dear Heart for a movie. 

I see conventions, signings and such as an opportunity to network, you just never know who you will run into. I like the mystery of it. Admittedly, these things do take time. But they have paid off for me. With proofreading and promoting books. 
I think operation "Dear Heart" will be an interesting marketing move. Are you going to place the books for free? 

That's a good reason to meet Redford. Have you inquired about sending him a query letter? That might be better than sending the book. He is much more likely to read a query letter, in my mind. If he likes it and requests more then he is invested in the story.

How do you relax when you're not writing?
What is your favorite motivational phrase that keeps you going?

Yes, I would place Dear Heart for free in the B & B's, along with Sweet Heart bookmarks and my business card.

When I'm not writing or running errands or taking care of the family, I'm watching television and old movies -- and eating Lays Original Potato Chips.

My favorite motivational saying? This too shall pass.

That sounds like a good idea for the B&Bs. 

I love Lays chips also! Did you know they are great fire starters? Put a match to one, it burns quite well. 

Is your book on Kindle Unlimited and why or why not?
Have you tried a promotional price of $0.99 or giving a book away for free?

I didn't know that Lays were good fire starters. I'll have to test that out.

Yes, both books are available on Kindle Unlimited, thanks to whatever arrangement Solstice has with Amazon.

I've given a lot of books away for free and will probably continue to do so. However, I have not tried the 99 cent promotion and I probably won't. You can get electronic versions of both books for less than $5.00, and I'd rather give a copy of the books away for free than devalue my work. 

I'm sure you're starting to get the idea that I'm not your conventional writer with the same goals as other writers. I don't know if this is good or bad, but it's the path I've consciously chosen to take.

You don't quite fit the mold of the average writer, no doubt about that. But, I am glad that you are you, I enjoy learning about your choices. 

Have you thought about doing a book trailer? 
Have you thought about doing an audio book?
If you had your choice of narrators, who would you choose to tell your story in an audio book?

I've done book trailers for both Dear Heart and Sweet Heart. You can see them here:

I have thought about doing an audio book, but mostly just because I'd like to hear the stories told. My choice for narrators would be Dana Delany for Deirdre and Harry Connick, Jr. for Lee because those are the actors I've envisioned playing the parts. 

If you can send me the original files, not the YouTube link, I can put those on the book review pages, if you would like. 
Sterling choices. Connick reminds me of Sinatra and the other crooners from so long ago. 

Did you make the trailers or someone else? If someone else, feel free to drop their name, I am happy to give a shout out. 

How do you convince readers to give you a book review?
What are your thoughts on bad book reviews?

The original MP4 file of the trailer is on its way to you. I made the trailer using Lumen 5. It took awhile, but it wasn't complicated.

I don't even try to convince readers to leave a review because Solstice says it is bad form to beg for a review and I agree with that. 

I recently received a mediocre review. The reviewer liked the format and recommended the book but gave it three stars because the idea of cheating on a spouse is distasteful to him/her. Honestly, I was a little put off because I felt the reviewer was commenting on the subject matter rather than the book itself.

Thanks, the trailer is now at the top of the page. I like it, it's also on the "Dear Heart" review. How long did it take you to make the trailer? Were the pictures expensive? How about the music? 

That person was put off by the content, no question. I don't think it will hurt you, though, it validates all the other good reviews in my mind. People will know that it's not just your parents and your friends putting up the reviews. As bad reviews go, that one is 5 stars. I have heard of much worse reviews. 

Is using Twitter and other social media part of your marketing strategy?
We have talked about putting copies of your book in B&Bs. What else do you plan for marketing in the future?

It took me a couple of days to make the Dear Heart trailer and then an afternoon to make the trailer for Sweet Heart. Most of that time was spent looking for the right music. I used stock music from Lumen 5 and it was free.

I purchased the photos on Shutterstock.Com. You can get five photos for $49. There are also more economical monthly plans, but you have to purchase twelve months at a time. 

Using Twitter and Facebook is the cornerstone of my marketing strategy. I've also boosted posts on both sites and purchased ads in various publications. 

I'm going to start placing ads in publications and lifestyle magazines geared toward an audience over 50. Most of the ones I've identified are out of my league, price-wise, but I'm still looking.

Very nice and economical! Is the Lumen5 a website or software? 
What kind of publications have you placed ads in, so far?   Here is another idea that might be useful. If you live near a college, they might have a radio or tv station. They may well be desperate for content and would feature you as a local author and creative for free. Also, if there is a local cable public access channel, the same thing. 

Do you think independent publishers can produce a book as good as mainstream publishers?
What are the three most important considerations for an independent author to be certain of when indie-publishing?

Lumen 5 is a website.

I've placed ads in Awesome Gang Newsletter and Baby Boomer Magazine.Com -- to name two that come immediately to mind.

I did apply to be on a local tv show that features books from local artists but was rejected without explanation. Plus, they used the wrong name in the rejection email they sent me. I framed the damned thing. 

I absolutely think independent publishers can produce books as good as mainstream publishers. But I think their crap quotient is higher than that of mainstream publishers. 

I can only tell you the three most important considerations for me. I wanted to retain film, streaming and television rights. If an editor thought a section needed to be re-written, I wanted to be the one to re-write it. And I wanted to have some say in the selection of the book cover. looks pretty cool. Thanks for turning us on to it. 

Good for you saving that letter! That kind of thing borders on the ridiculous. 

I think those three things are very important. I can absolutely understand why you would insist on them. There are a lot of publishers, especially the bigger ones, who do all they can to grab your Intellectual Property rights for movies, stage, and audio. Some will never release them back to the author even if the book is out of print. 

For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or print books?
What books are you reading at present for your business and for pleasure?

I prefer print books, but I buy e-books because they're cheaper and I don't have to store them.

Right now I'm reading His Country Lovin' by Elle Marlow, who is wicked funny, and Knapsack Journey Home by Kathleen Janz-Anderson, whose prose is poetic.

Very good. I love humor in any genre. It is such a fundamental part of the human condition. 

Is there any particular time of the day that ideas usually hit you?
Have you received any feedback on a story that influenced the next book?

My best ideas usually come in the morning when I'm in the shower or putting on my make-up. Don't ask me why.

The observation from my friend that Lee came across as something of a wimp, and my realization that I over-sentimentalized him, made me go back and make some changes in Interoffice Romance. This was feedback that's going to stay with me for a long time.

A lot of people report getting their best ideas in the shower or as they are falling asleep. One writer I know has told me her muse wakes her up almost every night with good stuff, at 2:30 in the morning. She keeps a pad and pen near her bed. It must really suck when your muse works on a different schedule than you do. Do you have a waterproof pad and pen you keep within arm's reach?

That must have been some great feedback! It had a profound impact on you and made you a better writer. 

How do you deal with a difficult section in a WIP? 
Have you ever read that section out loud to sort out the difficulty?

I do keep a pad and pen in the bathroom for that very reason. 

How do I deal with a difficult section in a WIP? I walk away and eat potato chips. When I finally get back to the manuscript, it's with either a solution or the intention of deleting the difficult section and trying a new approach. 

The only time I read my work out loud is when I'm doing the final proof.

That's brilliant! I never thought of potato chips as a method of dealing with a difficult section. I do love Lays. 

I have learned that reading aloud really does make a difference. I do that with my writing also, as a final check. 

When do you think your next book will be published?
Will you do anything differently with your next book in the publishing process?

Oh, you're going to love these answers. I don't know and I don't know. Ideally, I'll publish Interoffice Romance this year but I'm focusing on promoting Dear Heart and that doesn't leave a lot of time for writing.

There are huge advantages with being associated with a reputable, established publisher and I'm thrilled and beyond grateful to be associated with Solstice. However, I've noticed that many of my fellow authors also self-publish and I'm learning that there are advantages to that as well. So, I don't know. I guess I'll just cross that bridge when I come to it.

I am happy that you are talking with me, so your answers are perfectly fine. It's a risk every interviewer takes when doing a live interview. 

You have hit upon one of the biggest paradoxes in writing, finding the balance between promoting a book and writing the next one. I encourage authors to develop a plan and a schedule to achieve both goals in a reasonable time frame. I know it's not easy, but it helps to set emotion aside and think of it as a business. I also realize that is not easy to do, lest I sound glib.

There are advantages without a doubt. So many authors chase after a diminishing pool of publishers and are easy marks for the scammers. Quite a few authors have discovered that starting with self-publishing and demonstrating a market for their story makes it much easier to connect with an agent or traditional publisher. It's very nice to have options. I think a lot of authors are intimidated by the thought of self-publishing, everything is difficult the first time it's attempted. But the success is so much sweeter. 

Can you name one thing that you would give up to become a better writer?
Is there a skill you would like to have that might help you as an author?

I'm satisfied with where I am as a writer, so I wouldn't give up anything at this stage of the game.  
I wish I were more verbally articulate.

It sounds like you are taking the long distance view of your writing career. That is a very good place to be in. Beyond putting words on the page an author has even less control of the business side of things. People have to know about your book before they can buy it. Everything takes time to produce results which are not guaranteed. 

What did your family say when you announced your desire to be a full-time writer?
What do they think now?

My family and friends have been very supportive of everything I've ever wanted to do. But don't forget, I was retired when I started writing full-time, so they didn't have to worry about my ability to make a living at it.

I'm not sure what they think now. There was a lot of hoopla when I was first published, but that's all died out. I think it's as difficult for them to sustain enthusiasm as it is for me.

That is nice they are so supportive. You are right, the excitement is hard to sustain. It requires a lot of dedication and grit to continue with a project after the excitement has worn off. 

How do you maintain the excitement for yourself? Your excitement will impact others around you. 
What type of scenes do you find hard to write and why?

I can't always maintain excitement; I don't think anybody can. But neither do I allow myself to wallow in self-pity, regret or depression. If I'm not excited about where Dear Heart and Sweet Heart are headed, I'll work on another book. If I don't feel like writing, I'll search Shutterstock for photos of characters I'm creating. And if I don't feel like doing that, I'll binge watch something like Game of Thrones, The Good Wife or Newsroom. There's always something here to keep me engaged, even when I'm not setting the world on fire.

The hardest scenes for me to write are the ones that transition into a new section or chapter. For me, they're murder on toast.

That last line sounds like a title of a book, a cozy murder, perhaps. You are doing well, you have a plan to keep moving forward even if your muse is quiet for a moment. I think multiple projects are a great way to go. Unrelated short stories, side stories of the WIP, even entering contests are all great ways to keep the creative juices flowing. 

 I have seen a lot of authors tweet a collection of pictures that exemplifies certain characters or a particular moment in their WIP. Have you ever thought of doing something like that? It might be good to put on your website and tweet it, to build interest. 

Do you have any other passions or creative outlets to pursue if you didn't write?
Is there a cause you are passionate about?

I have already created a page on my website for Interoffice Romance. You can see it here:

No other passions or creative outlets, unless you consider singing doo-wop songs off key at the top of my lungs a creative outlet.

The only cause I'm passionate about is getting Dear Heart made into a movie.

I certainly understand your desire to make a movie about the two books, I am assuming it would be one movie made from the two books. They fit together like one hand in another. Am I reading that wrong?

Your musical talents sound on par with mine. I am not planning on releasing a record in this lifetime, so I am guessing your aim is similar to mine.

Did you have pieces of the story that were removed from "Sweet Heart"? If so, why did you remove those sections? Were there any big changes after the first draft was complete?

Yes, one movie from both books, ending with the wedding.

Nothing was removed from Sweet Heart, but there was a very graphic scene which occurred at the cottage that was removed from Dear Heart on the advice of my editor. She said it bordered on pornographic and when I went back and read it I saw that she was right. It was raw and didn't have the beauty of the other erotic scenes.

I dare say that this movie could be very popular. My dad is 85, my mom died in 2017. He is getting married again. Due to health issues, I doubt if there will be an exciting love life like Dierdre and Lee, however, they both like to travel a lot, and one room is cheaper than two, as he put it to me a few weeks ago. The woman is quite lovely in many ways. They are very cute together. 

Where would your work be if you didn't have real people to base characters in your writing?
What is the biggest myth about writing that would help aspiring authors?

Congratulations to your father! I love stories like that. 

Since my work is primarily character driven, I'd be in a world of hurt if I didn't have real people to base my characters on -- at least at the beginning. Luckily, that isn't a problem for me.

The biggest myth about writing? That your job is done when you publish your book, which is absolutely not the case. Once you publish, the hard work of promoting begins. Actually, I misspoke. Promoting itself isn't hard; keeping yourself motivated to promote when you don't see an uptick in sales is the real challenge. And a writer's inability to do that has cut short many a promising career.

On his behalf, thank you. I thought you would like that story. He is a very special man. In 1961, he married my mom, she was divorced with 3 children. 

I think you are absolutely correct. The hardest job a writer faces is the daily grind of promoting a book. A writer has to take off the creative hat and put on the business hat. Being a published author has to be treated as a business. 

Do you believe that a good book will sell itself?
What is the message, moral, or takeaway that you hope people will get from reading your book? Is there more than one?

No, I don't think a good book will sell itself. Today's market is so crowded that, without name recognition, it's nearly impossible for a good book to stand out.

I think there are two messages in the books: there is always hope and love will triumph, even over seemingly insurmountable odds.

I am in agreement with you. There are so many books being published every day. I am not sure if Amazon actually intended to flood the market with mediocre literature. That is certainly one effect of the democratization of publishing. Anyone can write and publish a book. It doesn't have to be edited or proofed. This has tarred all indie and self-publishers with a broad tar brush. There is a lot of people who won't touch an indie book because they think those are poorly written books. Some are, of course, but so many others are wonderfully written and deserve much wider exposure. 

Dierdre and Lee were very creative in keeping the flame of love lit. Sharing messages in such a creative way. 

What was the earliest experience that made you realize that you could influence and change lives with the power of writing?
Do you have any Easter eggs hidden in your stories that only close friends or family members would recognize?

There are writers who can influence and change lives, but I'm probably not one of them. The most that I hope for is that my readers will be entertained.

Yes, there are references to locations and some character names that friends and family recognized. And that was fun because most of them were surprised and thrilled to be included in the books.

Don't sell yourself short, Linda. You may never know how your writing affects some people. Hope is closely linked to faith and they are important components of a life well lived. 

I bet that was fun for you. Did you warn them ahead of time or did you surprise them? 

Who are your favorite living authors at this time?
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

I surprised them, which made it all the more wonderful when they called me up screaming with delight when they discovered that they were mentioned.

Favorite living author? John Grisham.

Without a doubt, the most difficult part of my process is finding the right voice for my characters.

What a wonderful moment to share with your friends and family. 

What do you like so much about Grisham's writing? Have you learned anything from him to improve your writing?

A character's voice is distinct from the writer's voice, isn't it? Would that include something like accent, educational level, and perhaps dental pain?

I like Grisham's legal thrillers; his other stuff, not so much. But, for the most part, his writing is straightforward and unpretentious and generally fast and easy reads. 

I think of voice as the way a character talks, which is the primary indicator of their personality. It includes rhythm, cadence, sentence structure, tone, and use of language. And since each character must have a distinct voice, I don't think a character's voice is the same as a writer's voice, although I guess it could be. To me, what you're referring to as writer's voice, is a writer's style. But I could be wrong.

Thanks for the review of Grisham's work. Straightforward and unpretentious are keywords there. 

I think you have a good explanation of a character's voice. Writing to let that voice be heard must be difficult. As a proofreader, I allow far more potential spelling errors to exist in dialogue than in narration.

Music figures prominently in your books. Why is that?
Did you always intend to use Sinatra’s music in the books?

It's the music that actually moves the story forward and, in my mind, at least, gives it texture.

I knew I wanted to include music as a key element, but I started out using songs from different artists; then I wanted to use only music by Michael Feinstein, but he wasn’t around during the early days of the book’s time frame. When I did a search to find out which other artists recorded ‘Embraceable You’, I found Sinatra, and when I discovered the breadth of his catalog and the fact that he recorded ‘Dear Heart’, I knew he was it.

That was a happy coincidence. I listened to the crooners a lot, when I was very young. I think my mom had their music playing. That makes perfect sense to me.

Sticking with music in your books.  How long did it take you to choose the music referenced in the book?
Did you always plan to use “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” as a major plot point?
Do you have a favorite song in or out of the playlist?

It took months to choose the music for the books. Wikipedia has a fairly extensive discography of the songs Sinatra recorded, and it was a good jumping off point. I went through it and selected songs I thought would advance the story, then I had to listen to them all to make sure they were recorded in the right tempo to fit the mood of the plot point I was working on. Some song titles were promising but the lyrics weren’t right. Some songs advanced the story line if it was being seen as a movie but didn’t really fit the plot of the book. That’s when I started to think of Dear Heart as a movie. Then I had to create a spreadsheet to keep all of the titles straight and make sure that they were recorded before they showed up in the book. Sometimes it took me days to find a recording of a particular title so I could listen to it and determine if it fit. As far as I can tell, Sinatra recorded 1,267 song titles in his career, and I bet I listened to at least half of them. Like I said, months.

Deciding to use "I'll Be Home for Christmas" came as a complete surprise. I was listening to a Johnny Mathis Christmas album when we were driving to a shopping mall one day, and as soon as that song came on, all of the pieces fell into place. I couldn’t access iTunes fast enough to see if Sinatra had recorded a version of it.

My favorite song in the playlist is "If It Takes Forever I Will Wait for You." I like the tempo and the fact that it encapsulates the
story line.

That is an amazing amount of research for a playlist. But, it all fit and will probably tie in very nicely for the movie. You must have spent a small fortune on iTunes. Johnny Mathis has a great voice, so does Mel Torme, the Velvet Fog.

Which of the two books took longer to write? 
Did you have the same number of drafts? 
Did anything else in the book come as a surprise?

It took me two years to write Dear Heart and a week to write Sweet Heart. But there was a lot of down time while I was writing Dear Heart, some of it due to research and some of it due to lack of inspiration.

Each book had two drafts and two rounds of edits before I began querying them.

Frank, the character, not the singer, was a big surprise. I was in the shower, listening to the soundtrack, and trying to figure out how to transition to the next part of the book when the idea for Frank came to me. It was inspired. The other big surprise was discovering that Florentina was responsible for Deirdre's love of hydrangeas, day lilies and shasta daisies.

That is an amazing disparity of time, at first glance. On second thought, it makes a lot of sense. You had established all the plot points, timelines and activities in the first book. This book was how everything looked from Lee's POV. 

Lee's son, Frank, was an interesting and vital part of the story. He brought closure and went through the stages of grief processing the secrets of his mother and secret father. 

Is there anything you dislike about Dierdre or Lee? 
What is the one thing you hope readers will remember from your book?

I love everything about Lee. And since he loves everything about Deirdre, I do, too.

I hope readers will remember Deirdre's beautiful prose and Lee's devotion, and the fact that their love survived despite overwhelming odds against them.

Good answers all around.  Our time has come to an end, for now. I have a new promotion starting tomorrow.  Thank you so much for joining me here and sharing so much about your life and writing. I am looking forward to your next book, "Interoffice Romance". It has been a real pleasure.

The pleasure has been all mine, Mark! Thank you for a wonderful experience. I'm looking forward to the next round! My very best wishes for all of your future endeavors.

bottom of page