A Bad Day for Sorry
Where'd you get the idea for A Bad Day for Sorry?
I'd been writing novels featuring women in their 20s and 30s, but I was approaching my mid-forties and those women's concerns no longer held my interest. I was attracted to the idea of a woman's decision to put a stop to decades of mistreatment with a violent reckoning, and then rebuild her life in a form that made sense in the context of her new self-knowledge.
My character, Stella Hardesty, is forced by her circumstances to make radical changes in her life—and her life's work. But I think most women find that middle age brings fundamental shifts in the way they see the world.
As for the setting and voice—seven years of waitressing in rural Missouri and Indiana pretty much did the trick.
Don't readers prefer young, sexy heroes and heroines?
That's what they say. Hot young female FBI agents with long blonde hair, in particular. Also I'm told that readers don't care for women solving problems using violence.
Funny thing, though—when I describe my book to the sort of folks responsible for buying the majority of books in our country (that would be us grown-up ladies), I get lots of support. I think there is plenty of room in fiction for strong, heroic women of every age.
Oh, and by the way—I don't think men come much sexier than Sheriff Goat Jones—at any age. I'm just sayin'.
You write a lot of short stories, but by some measures they're an embattled form. What's up with that?
I love writing short stories. The pace feels natural to me, and I'll often write one if I'm stuck on my novel-in-progress, as a way to keep myself limber. It's also a place to explore darker themes that would be difficult to sustain in a longer work without destroying the possibility of redemption.
A few thousand words is plenty to deliver a knock-out emotional punch, if you use those words wisely: genre fiction at its finest.
You've been a stay-at-home mom for quite a while. How does that prepare you to be a writer?
Sleepless nights—working with distractions—and now, the heightened drama of the teen years...frankly, I don't think the Iowa Writers' Workshop could lay a more solid foundation.
I understand you wrote nine novels before selling. How did you finally get published?
My early efforts didn't merit publication—I'm glad they're long forgotten. Later, I think I was trying to fit a square voice into a round hole—or something like that. Much as I love women's fiction, the dark themes and characters I prefer are a better fit for mystery and suspense.
During the hardest stage of my career, I received several hundred rejections from agents and editors. My seventh novel earned me a spectacularly low score in a major writing competition.
Even after I made the switch to the mystery genre, I had trouble attracting agents' attention. A detective novel made the rounds without scaring up much interest. I wrote A Bad Day for Sorry in an effort to create a wholly original character, defying some conventions in the process. Within weeks of sending out queries, I landed the perfect agent for my work.
What's the best writing advice you've heard?
Let theme emerge from your early drafts.
I've written with far greater confidence since I gave my stories permission to "sneak up" on me. I find that my subconscious mind usually knows what it's doing; my job in the first draft is strictly to get the structure down. Once I discover what I've wrought, layering in thematic exposition is easy work.
What's the worst piece of writing advice you've ever received?
Don't write to the market.
I think that deliberately ignoring the nuances of reader and editor taste is akin to trying to sell snow cones during a Chicago blizzard.
What is your writing day like?
I'm home from driving carpools by 8:00am, and then it's BIC-HOK-TAM until school's out at 3:00. (Long the sacred motto of my critique group, that stands for Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard, Typing Away Madly.)
I sometimes sneak in an hour or two after dinner, too. We're not much of a television household, and I gave up my hobbies and outside interests a while ago. (Don't feel sorry for me—I'd rather write any day.)
Not all of that time is spent on writing, of course. I send and receive a couple dozen emails every day from fellow writers—often the encouragement I need to keep going (or resist a nap). I'm learning the promotion ropes, so that's bound to consume its share of my day too.
Do you plot your books in advance—or dive in and hope for the best?
I've tried both. I've created detailed binders full of timelines and character arcs and color-coded sticky notes. And I've written novels with no planning at all. Which works best? I have no idea.
Plans for the future?
Keep writing. I don't take this gift lightly. I cherish every day that I can be a working writer, and I'll do my best to earn the opportunity to continue.
Book two in the Stella Hardesty series is completed, and I'm working on a Young Adult novel.
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