June 12, 2002

Of all of your books, do you have a favorite?

Guests of the Emperor was clearly the most important book I wrote.  Seventrees was the most popular. Right now I'm having fun combining history and mystery in the Grace and Favor series.

What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a writer?

Start small.  Articles completed for local magazines or newspapers give a sense of accomplishment and completion.  Talent is necessary, but self-discipline is more vital. And as a friend of mine advised, "Never ask for a critique from anyone who calls you 'honey.' They'll either be brutally frank or too nice."

What other authors do you enjoy?

I love the Golden Age of mystery.  John Dickson Carr, Edmund Crispin, Dorothy Sayers, Ngiao Marsh, Josephine Tey.  But I also have contemporary favorites like Peter Robinson and Ruth Rendell.  And I've recently discovered that a lot of former romance writers have very successfully shifted to mystery.

Do you do a lot of research?

I love doing research. I usually do a lot of it.  But I use very little of what I learn.  My rule of thumb is when I find one those head-slapping facts that make me say, "I never knew THAT," chances are most readers didn't know it either and will be interested.

What other kind of jobs have you had?

Oh, lots of them.  In high-school and college vacations I worked at various banks taking over for vacationing employees. One summer I did a stint as a lifeguard. When my children were very small I made several mother-of-the-bride dresses, provided hand-dyed silk scarves for small stores, and painted needlepoint canvases for local shops.  I taught a combined fifth and sixth grade class in a country school.  And wrote my first two books while I was doing these things as well.

Do you write on a schedule or wait until thoughts come to you?

I've always been very disciplined.  I've had to. This is how I make my living. I have to write at least five pages a day.  I usually go way over this, but the extra doesn't count for the next day. I can take off weekends, but don't do so often.

How do you come up with plots?

I don't know.  I think it's magic - and habit. Everything in real life is grist for the mill.

How do you spend your free time?

Mostly reading. But I like a lot of things that have nothing to do with words, too.  I needlepoint, I garden fanatically, and in the last few years I've been forced to do a lot of painting projects.  Not artistic, just fun ones.  Furniture for my patio, a bookcase, coffee table and end table for my bedroom, re-staining the fence around my back yard, touching up the dings in the lion-head fountain.

How would you like to be remembered?

"She did the best she could."