You’ve written several non-fiction books on animals, specifically on the care and training of horses and dogs. Why did you turn to novels?
I’ve always been a bookworm and loved good fiction. As a child, when I finished a wonderful novel, I would hold it and not move, just absorb for long minutes afterward. I felt gratitude and wonder and knew I wanted to someday return the favor of transporting readers to another person’s interesting world. I loved finding meaning and truths in stories, and I liked learning what the characters did, what happened next.
Where do you write?
Mostly at home, with my feet on an old, scarred roll-top desk. I’m someone who never learned to type properly, but I can hunt and peck as fast as many people who did take the right class in high school. Everything I’ve written has been on one little laptop or another—I’ve never owned a desktop computer. When I’m rewriting, working on a hard copy, I can be anywhere. I might go into town with a manuscript and have coffee or a glass of wine or a slice of pizza while I slash and scribble.
What is your writing process like?
My approach is pretty organic. Different ideas will capture my imagination and ask if they can be in a story. Sometimes they fit together and sometimes they don’t. One notion leads to another and I might write pages that will have to go away later, but I’m sketching, getting to know a character, how she or he speaks or lives, so I just let it flow. Things start to click. I don’t outline before starting, nor do I write one chapter at a time or even in chronological order. If I’m thinking about a scene, conversation, or event that will come later, I page down and write away.
What inspired the idea for Orchids and Stone?
One day when I was in high school, the entire student body was sent to a church to attend the funeral of a recent graduate. I didn’t know her or even know of her. I was standing in the back of a huge, packed church when a young woman was called to speak. She managed two words—my sister—before she crumpled up crying. Seeing this survivor so bereft rocked me, and the tragedy cut deeper when I learned that her sister had been murdered. I still tear up at the memory of her raw pain in front of that altar.
Life took me to interesting places and interesting careers. I worked as a fire department paramedic and later became a police officer, routinely encountering situations like domestic violence, going undercover to buy crack cocaine, and chatting with children about their sex lives with their dads. People tried to kill me and I was prepared to use force. I made arrests, served search warrants, cooled down countless squabbles and handled a lot of traffic accidents. Every day presented scenarios of people not at their best. But sometimes people were at their best. Sometimes, someone stepped up and gave aid or information that was life-changing for a stranger.
People and the choices they make captivate me. The novel is from my imagination, although different ideas sparked various parts of the story. A friend called one day because she found calypso orchids in her woods and I thought
about what this rare, wild orchid could represent. I saw a woman roofer one day, slinging shingles along with the guys. My husband and I pulled the car over one day because a little girl was bawling horribly at the edge of a vehicle
turnout. I asked the man and woman some distance away if everything was okay and they said they weren’t with her and they had no idea what her problem was. Getting that child home to her parents was the only choice for me.
The novel’s scenario of a little old lady claiming people are kidnapping and robbing her provokes urgency but could be explained away as the raving of a person with dementia. Do you think people have an obligation to help strangers?
On some level, we certainly ought to help others, but the reasonable extent of our intervention can fluctuate with the scenario and personal factors. There are regular news reports of bystander syndrome and some of these are shocking, but it can feel a bit too pointed if we Monday-morning quarterback an event and remark on what others could have done differently. If the story had begun with chapter two and readers put themselves in the park, many would not have intervened. Obviously, I wanted to write about someone who was driven to take one step and then another to render assistance, going as far as it took to solve the problem.
Why did you choose such an unusual and physical job for the central female character?
Not surprisingly, I can identify with a woman making it in a physical and male-dominated career while keeping her femininity. I like out-of-the-box thinking and choices. But Daphne needed a reason to intervene in the coming scenario so her career choice wasn’t random. It was rooted in her reaction to personal tragedies. No spoilers here but readers often comment on chapter one and its end.
What are you working on now?
My next novel. Really, I write, run, ride, rinse, and repeat.