I did a guest interview with Long & Short Reviews today, and they asked some incredible questions. I think my favorite one is what I would want to have with me on a deserted island! I also share what pen name I almost chose See what you think:
How long have you been writing?
If pen and paper had been provided to me in the womb, I’m sure I would’ve started then and there. Instead, I had to wait to come out and learn language and how to grip a pen before I started expressing myself (and getting down all the voices and action in my head) on paper.
What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
Write. Write some more. And keep on writing! To become skilled at anything takes practice, and writing is no exception. Don’t be afraid to put something down on the page. It’s better to give yourself permission to write poorly than to wring your hands and not capture anything at all. Once you’ve got the words down—a paragraph, a scene, a chapter—you can rework it, revise it, reshape it. The sky’s the limit! But it all boils down to taking that first giant leap of faith and being brave enough to write.
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Character is the key component. If readers don’t like and/or relate to my hero and heroine, they won’t continue reading—and I wouldn’t blame them. Next, the plot has to be interesting, exciting, and loaded with both internal and external conflict. The more curveballs you can throw out, the better. If a reader is expecting a zig, do a double zag—followed by a dancing zig for good measure. The last crucial element is dialogue. Readers don’t want the author to tell them everything. They want to see things unfold and hear it “live” for themselves. Dialogue can reveal so much about the characters, as well as let those sparks fly between the hero and heroine!
How do you develop your plot and characters?
Character always comes first with me. I have to hit on the right names for my hero and heroine before anything. From there, I begin to see them physically take shape in my mind. After that, their personalities start speaking to me. Qualities follow. Are they loyal? Stubborn? Creative? Assertive? Candid? Timid?
Once I have created well-rounded characters, I turn to the plot. Sometimes I springboard off a topic I’ve read about, such as the orphan trains in Outlaw Muse or the way San Francisco grew as a result of the Gold Rush in A Game of Chance. A few times I’ve hit upon an occupation and built a story around that. In Music For My Soul, I thought about troubadours in England always being men and questioned, “What if my heroine was the only woman troubadour in the land?” For A Change of Plans, I came up with a dime novelist. The twist? She’s a woman writing under a man’s name. And she lives in New York City! She decides to head west to experience first-hand everything she’s writing about.
Are you working on anything at the present you would like to tell us about?
I’m doing final edits on A Game of Chance, which will be released in January 2014. Everyone’s heard the phrase “separated at birth.” I decided to take that literally. The hero’s mother gives birth to a boy, and the father takes off with the baby for greedy reasons, leaving her on her deathbed. Even the midwife is surprised when another boy is born just minutes before she dies. The twins meet years later in San Francisco, and neither knows the other exists.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
When I first started writing, I had to place a fresh piece of gum in my mouth every time I sat down to write. I’d chomp the life out of it as my fingers banged away on the keys. One day I reached into the drawer next to my writing chair, and . . . no gum! I was already all settled in, though, and I determined I would not let the lack of a little five calorie stick of cinnamon keep me from the scene dancing through my head. So that broke my one quirk. I don’t have to chew gum when I write nowadays, but I know to keep a pack in that drawer just in case I get frustrated and need to toss a piece in.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Besides reading and watching movies or sports, my favorite activity is walking. I walk 4-5 miles most mornings. It is my time. Not only does it help keep me in shape, but it’s the greatest stress reliever in the world. I can think, pray, listen to music, and daydream (within reason—I’m aware enough not to walk mindlessly out into traffic!). If I’m feeling a little blue, it’s the perfect way to swing my mood in the right direction. Sometimes I’ll plot new scenes or think over what I’ve written the day before, but mostly I am chilling and enjoying Me time.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I started out wanting to be a teacher in elementary school. By high school, I decided to be a journalist and set the world on fire. Teaching won out in college, so I switched my major and went on to teach history and English in both middle school and high school.
If you were stranded on a desert island and were only allowed to have five modern conveniences with you, what would they be?
Hah! This reminds of the time my daughter was in kindergarten and at Thanksgiving time, her teacher had them draw what they were most thankful for and get up and tell the class about it. All the other kids were thankful for their parents, their pets, stuffed animals, a swimming pool, Disney World—except for my child. She was thankful (at age 5) for flush toilets. Oh, she is SO my kid! With that in mind, my list would include (in no particular order):
1. A flush toilet (and the accompanying TP, without question)
2. Air conditioning (hey, islands can get HOT by mid-afternoon)
3. My Kindle Fire (cheating again – not only would I have my books and magazines, but I could email!
Wait, maybe I should say iPhone here – still has my Kindle app, plus email, Internet, FB, my music)
4. A shower stall with hot and cold water (Don’t tell me I could swim in the ocean – I’ll do that a lot, but I want to feel really clean and not salty and grimy after I get out)
5. A refrigerator (I’ll eventually learn to build a fire and cook stuff, so I’ll pass on a microwave for now)
Do you use a pen name? If so, how did you come up with it?
My last name is hard to pronounce, so I decided to go with a pen name. I wanted to use “Diana Leigh” since that’s the name my mom wanted to name me. When she woke up after the delivery and they brought me to her, she told the nurse that I couldn’t be her baby because her baby was named Diana Leigh. After checking hospital bracelets and locating my dad, he confessed that he’d changed the game plan and named me something else!
So I thought Diana Leigh would be a wonderful tribute to my mom. I Googled it and found that Diana Leigh is a jazz vocalist with a strong Internet presence. As a new author, I didn’t want to start my career competing over a name, so I wound up going with Lauren Linwood. I love alliteration and Googling that name, the only thing popping up was Linwood, NJ. Try Googling me now. You’ll find Lauren Linwood comes up on my website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Do you listen to music while writing?
There’s absolutely no way I could ever listen to music and write. When I’m writing, I’m lost in the world I’ve created and am running a movie in my head, seeing everything and trying to capture it as quickly as possible. Music playing would yank me hard from that world into the real world. I like being in La-La Writing Land! Besides, if a song is playing, I’ll either try to sing along aloud or in my head. Once again, that would keep me from focusing on my people and what mischief they’re up to. Final answer: no music!
What would we find under your bed?
NOT dust bunnies, thank you very much. That makes me sound like some anal perfectionist housekeeper type, and that’s so far from the truth that everyone who knows me has now fallen to the floor, laughing so hysterically hard that they can’t catch a breath. Actually, I have this wonderful king-size bed that has drawers for storage underneath—so no lost shoes, unfinished manuscripts, or pesky dust bunnies can live under there. My two drawers consist of T-shirts on the right and workout pants on the left (sweats, yoga pants, etc.). Who only knows what’s in my husband’s two drawers? That’s his domain, and I’ll plead the 5th.
Say your publisher has offered to fly you anywhere in the world to do research on an upcoming book, where would you most likely want to go?
Since I write historical romance, I would cheat a little. She couldn’t offer to fly me anywhere. That sounds singular to me. I would insist on flying where I could research castles. So I’d have to start in Ireland, make my way over to Great Britain, cross the English Channel, and I’d continue on—France, Spain, Germany, Romania, etc. You know—the world tour! By the time I “finished” my research, I’d need a new passport because my pages would be filled with so many stamps.
Do you write in multiple genres or just one? If just one, do you ever consider straying outside your genre?
So far, I’ve only published two historical romances and have two more coming out in 2014. I’ve tried my hand at contemporary and romantic suspense, but I haven’t shared those efforts with my editor yet.
If I ever stepped away from romance, I would love to write bite-your-nails, hang-by-the-seat-of-your-pants thrillers. I enjoy thriller authors such as Jeff Abbott, Brad Meltzer, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, and Steve Berry. If I could come up with a terrific plot and some compelling characters, I’d like to give that genre a shot one day.
What is something that you absolutely can’t live without?
This will sound pretty trite, but I can’t get through a day without dark chocolate. Sign me up with the AA for dark chocoholics if you must, but I don’t feel myself if I haven’t had some dark chocolate every day. I flew to Virginia in May to stay with my niece and nephew while my sister had to be out of the country. Yup, she had a bag of Dove chocolates waiting for me. I went to visit my best friend in Idaho this summer. She had a bag calling my name. And yes, I felt obligated to finish the bag during my visit since they were so hospitable to my needs.
If you could spend a day with anyone from history, dead or alive, who would it be, and what would you do? What would you ask them?
I’d hang out with Uncle Stevie—AKA Stephen King. I’ve always admired how he’s written so many books with such a wide variety of plots and characters. When he’s contributed lists to Entertainment Weekly regarding his favorite books published that particular year or songs he’s enjoyed or movies he’s liked, I think to myself, “Wow. He’s pretty normal for a famous person. And we like a lot of the same things. I’ll bet we’d have a great time talking about all kinds of stuff.”
I’d definitely spend several hours asking him about writing. His book On Writing is one of my favorite books by an author, for authors. I’d pick his brain about the craft and what he’s learned in all his decades of writing..
If you were on the staff to have a book adapted to movie, what would you pick?
Jeffrey Archer is writing a terrific series entitled The Clifton Chronicles. So far three books have come out covering the decades of the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, with more to come. Instead of a movie, I’d love for a network to pick it up and do a book a season, similar to what HBO’s doing with Game of Thrones. To follow these families against the backdrop of historical events would be simply amazing!
What is a talent you wish you had, but don’t?
It’s a toss-up between singing and drawing/painting. Don’t get me wrong—I DO sing—just not very well. I sing in the car and when I’m cooking. Sometimes I’ll burst out in song while showering. While I almost sound tolerably passable with those acoustics, I know in my heart I’m no Kelly Clarkson.
As far as artistic ability goes, I don’t even draw a good stick person—and that’s a sad but true statement. Now I will say I’ve done one of those “painting with a twist” classes once. I actually created an interesting version of a masterpiece (which is hanging in my closet).
I always was a blue girl, loving every shade from navy to cerulean to midnight blue. Then when I was pregnant, overnight I fell in love with the color red. It seemed so strong and alive, just like the very active life growing within me. To this day, I like a rich, vibrant red most of all. But a royal purple comes in as an awfully close second.
Weather: Hot or cold?
I have to go with in-between those two seasons. I adore fall—everything about it. I enjoying getting up and walking on an autumn morning that has a touch of cool in the air. I can’t wait for the leaves to change colors into a fiery rainbow of reds, yellows, and oranges. After the triple digit heat of a hot Texas summer, I’m excited to pull out sweaters and jeans and feel I have a brand-new wardrobe. On autumn nights, I love a hot cup of tea and a fire going. Don’t ever put me in charge of world weather. Not only am I fairly bossy (the former teacher in me, I suppose), but I would make every day a fall one.
Favorite place to read?
I kick back on my La-Z-Boy sofa, feet propped up in front of me, an afghan across my lap, and a strong 3-way bulb on high.
Favorite non-alcoholic drink.
I live on herbal, decaf tea! I drink it 3-4 times a day. Some of my favorites are blueberry, pomegranate, peach, and orange.