"How far would you go?": Conversing with Colleen about reading and writing
I don’t want to jinx my blog buddy, Colleen Thompson, by saying so, but I think she’s about to become an overnight success. Her latest novel, The Salt Maiden, is turning out to be lucky #13: RT Top Pick, Reviewers Choice nom, and now off to a second printing after less than six weeks.
Quoth the PR: "The Salt Maiden is the story of a woman's quest to save her missing sister. With a child's life hanging in the balance, Dana Vanover refuses to let anything stop her, from rattlesnakes to small town hostility to her desert-hot attraction to the sheriff determined to run her out of town." One of the delicious elements in the story is a little game played by the Vanover sisters since childhood: “How far would you go?” The answer for Angie Vanover: As far as it takes. The Salt Maiden explores to what lengths someone would journey when the stakes are at their highest.
Colleen is touring the Girlfriend Cyber Circuit this week, so I’m doing my part, plagueing her with a few questions about reading and writing.
The thing that’s always most impressed me about your writing is the evocative landscaping. How did you find this place in your head while the rest of you is living in the Houston ‘burbs?
Living in Southern Arizona taught me to appreciate the desert's stark, sometimes dangerous beauty. I spent some time there backpacking and came to appreciate the lengths to which the desert's plants and animals must go to ensure their survival. It's a hostile place to humans, yet it still draws people. The desert regions of West Texas I've found equally fascinating. The barren landscape serves as a metaphor for the most desolate stretches of a character's life and the lengths to which he/she must go to survive them. Those stories I've set in the desert, such as The Salt Maiden and Fatal Errorcould take place nowhere else. Or if they did, they'd suffer a real loss of resonance.
Having watched you journey through your last three books, I know you’re all about process, setting it up, breaking it down, making it work. Which phase is the most fun for you?
I love the brainstorming and proposal stage, where the idea is still fresh and malleable as I shape characters (though in many cases, they just show up and glare at me, *daring* me to try to change them) and play with various scenarios. This is the kid-at-Christmas stage for me. The rest has its moments, but entails a lot of very hard work.
Ten years after your last dip in the slush pile, you’ve got more industry savvy than anyone I know. Are there still surprises?
The Salt Maiden is my thirteenth novel (sixth romantic thriller; the rest were historicals written under my Gwyneth Atlee pseudonym), but the business continues to teach me new lessons all the time. With this book, I've been pleased and impressed that an editor's enthusiasm and in-house support can make such a difference. That and a great cover!
What writers have influenced your work?
I've been influenced by a number of writers: Dennis Lehane, who incorporates setting so brilliantly that it seems like a character in his books; Frank Herbert, a world-builder of the first order, and Michael Connelly, whose plotting and characterization leave me in absolute awe. I'm also a big fan of Larry McMurtry, who "gets" Texas, past and present, like no one else. I'd be honored to someday be mentioned in the same breath with any of these talented authors.
So what are you reading these days?
I'm currently reading and very much enjoying Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I'm also attempting to read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell but am struggling with this one. I adore many types of books, as long as they're well-written, but suspense would be my first choice. Some favorite authors include Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, and Linda Howard.
No pressure. Deep breathes. But how on earth are you planning to follow this up?
I'm currently completing Triple Exposure, another West Texas-set romantic suspense. This one involves sailplanes (gliders), fine art photography, and the mysterious Marfa lights, and I've been having a blast with it (especially with taking some glider flights for research).
"How far would you go?" Good question. Apparently, for Colleen, the sky's the limit.