Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I’m an appellate attorney, a mother of two grown and incredible daughters, a semi-retired professional photographer, and a politics junkie. I’ve published five novels, with a sixth waiting its turn for further revision. The book that jumped its place in line: a massive reference work, a writer’s guide to law and lawyers.
My novels are science fiction (two near future, two involving aliens and human colonies), with the exception of the mixed-genre Wander Home, family drama/women’s fiction/afterlife fantasy.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
Closest to the Fire: A Writer’s Guide to Law and Lawyers started life as a series of three blog posts for Indies Unlimited called “Writing Convincing Legal Fiction.” When I decided to let those blog posts mushroom into a book, the goal expanded: not just to help writers avoid mistakes in writing about legal topics and settings, but to entice them to come and play in the legal landscape with its many dramatic possibilities.
As for where the title comes from, here’s how I explain it in Chapter 1:
You may be wondering about the title of this book.
It comes from an anecdote told about Ulysses S. Grant. General Grant, so the story goes, came to an inn on a stormy winter’s night. Rarely elegant in appearance, Grant looked particularly disheveled and weather-beaten on this occasion. A number of lawyers were in town for a court session, and had clustered around the fireplace. One looked up as Grant approached and commented that the stranger looked as if he had “traveled through hell itself to get here.”
General Grant allowed as how he had done just that.
“And how did you find things down there?”
“Just like here,” replied Grant, “lawyers all closest to the fire.”
I borrow this punch line not only to acknowledge the popular view of lawyers as scoundrels, but for another meaning the phrase can bear. Where there’s a passionate dispute, whether between friends or strangers, lawyers are likely to be in the thick of it.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
After struggling with how to use Scrivener, my favorite writing software, on a slow and uncooperative laptop, I started attending write-ins with a legal pad and pen. These days, writing longhand has become somewhat unusual. . . .
What authors, or books have influenced you?
Mary Doria Russell’s superb novel The Sparrow inspired me, and its themes (good people coping with disaster, comprehension gaps, unintended consequences, struggling with unanswerable questions) certainly resonate with me.
I’ve been reading everything from science fiction to classic British and American literature to historical mysteries for decades, so I couldn’t possibly list all the authors and books that have contributed to my outlook or my style.
What are you working on now?
I’m planning my next novel for National Novel Writing Month. (I don’t usually talk about those books (except in my writing group) before they more or less exist.)
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
Frankly, I don’t know. I use my author Facebook page, Goodreads, Twitter, and as many guest blog posts and interviews as I can manage.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Don’t take anyone’s advice as gospel! I get very weary of hearing that this or that process for writing, or for promoting one’s writing, is The Only Way or a sure thing. Some writers will find that they work best from a detailed outline, while for others, outlining makes them lose interest in the story. Some really do need to edit as they go, while others (perhaps the majority?) do better banging out a rough draft with no second-guessing allowed.
Also, study your publishing options. Don’t assume that traditional publishing is the only way to reach readers or make money. Don’t, please, assume that if you self-publish, you need to pay some company thousands of dollars to make it happen. Assess your skills and your available time, and decide what you can do for yourself, what you can learn to do, and what you should hire someone else to do. (Cover design often falls in that last category.)
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Stop beating yourself up.
What are you reading now?
Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language.
What’s next for you as a writer?
Diving into National Novel Writing Month, and (I hope) finishing a rough draft by the end of November 2015; revising the third book in my Twin-Bred series and publishing it by around February 2016.
What is your favorite book of all time?
I’m not good at choosing favorites, but Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, which I’ve already mentioned, is certainly one of my very favorite novels.