I am one of those GRITS—girls raised in the South. Living here, sipping lemonade under the magnolias (so to speak) has certainly influenced my writing. We are steeped in romantic legends and tales of bravery and derring-do. My grandfather told what is kindly referred to as “tall tales.” My great grandmother told about her mother burying the silver when the Yankees came through. My great-great-grandfather lost a limb during the war. Another great-great-something was a doctor during the siege of Vicksburg (that is one I do not want to think about). I even went to All Saints College in Vicksburg, where the entrance was guarded by a Civil War cannon. My love of romantic suspense surely grew out of those stories.
My father was a dreamer and taught me well. My mother believed in us (my sisters and me) and taught us we could do anything we set our mind to. English was always my best subject, so it all seemed like a natural progression. I did study and take creating writing. I even taught elements of fiction. But I still have a day job.
Tell us about the genre of your work.
I write suspense with varying degrees of romance. I like the romance side and for me, it adds to the story. What’s life without love? Pretty empty. And I like the vicarious sense of danger in suspense. Not real danger, mind you. I leave that to my characters.
Why did you choose this genre?
New Book Coming Soon?
Cold Comfort, coming soon from Echelon Press, is romantic suspense. Claire Spencer, a quiet shopkeeper, becomes the target of a killer. Her friends pressure a disillusioned security consultant into putting aside his own problems to help her. Traditional Claire and freewheeling Riley dodge Mob hit men and escape through a wintry swamp to uncover old secrets that turn Claire’s life upside down.
You can read the opening scenes from the first two at www.ellisvidler.com. I will add one from Cold Comfort soon.
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?
Riley (CC), like Minerva, sprang full-blown into my head. Claire had a harder birth; her first name didn’t work for anyone but me, so she went through several incarnations before I found one that fit. Kate McGuire (HR) has lived in my head for years.
I set HR in Greenville, where I live. It’s a Southern community where you could stumble across any of the characters, and it has good places to hide the body. For CC, the right atmosphere for a Christmas shop and proximity to Washington, D.C., made Williamsburg a good choice. McClellanville, a tiny fishing village on the South Carolina coast, is next door to a swamp. I used it too.
Elliott (TP) was born in Chris’s head, but I fell instantly in love with him. Chris already had the setting for TP, loosely based on one of his cases.
How did you develop the character of your protagonist in this book?
That is a difficult question. I will use Claire and Riley from CC. I know what I expect of them before I begin, and they must have problems to overcome as well as whatever the mystery is. I have the basic idea, but the details emerge as I write. I am not much of a planner, but I am not quite a pantser either. Sometimes the characters surprise me. Other times I look at something and know the motive is not strong enough. I always ask what would make this ordinary person take this action or behave this way. Sometimes I have to go back and up the stakes. You know, if you are a decent person, would you steal your neighbor’s last crust of bread? What circumstances could make you do that? What motive? That’s when it gets interesting.
What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?
Mine lean toward unique. I want the antagonist to have as much motive as the protagonist. I am getting better (I think <g>) at that. Here is where you ask why? What happened to turn this person into what he or she is now? It’s sometimes hard to bring it all out if you’re not in that character’s point of view, but bits will come through.
What’s your favorite thing about your book?
The characters, definitely, I live so closely with them, they are friends. I cry over them. Literally, I fall in love with the heroes, imagine I am someone else—you know that line from the Jeff Bridges song in Crazy Heart, “Somebody Else”? The one about having been people he does not know? (Paraphrased to avoid copyright infringement) It is perfect for a writer. I am the character I am writing. It is always How would I feel—not how would they feel.
How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?
Maybe it is the emotional involvement in romantic suspense. I like the love story as well as the danger and excitement. It is part of life. I also like positive endings, maybe not what you expected, but something that fits and is a satisfying outcome. Some kinds of literature are more introspective and slower paced. Those do not hold my attention as well. Are we not lucky there are all kinds of tastes and all kinds of books!
Why and when did you begin writing?
My parents were readers and my father wrote too. Nothing was ever published, but his influence stayed with me. I cannot remember not writing. When I was young, my parents played poker with their friends. No one had babysitters, and all the children entertained themselves in another room. We either read books or wrote our own stories and read them aloud. In the beginning I wrote about missing jewels or stolen horses, but later I moved to murder and more violent situations.
All through school, my teachers encouraged me—they probably thought it was my only hope when they caught me drawing or writing stories instead of working math problems. I had terrific English teachers who made me buckle down and work. I cannot remember a single bad one, and I am so grateful to them. Teachers have a tremendous impact on their students.
Years after college, I took a creative writing class (three times, actually) from Scott Regan that really changed things for me. He was inspiring. He gave practical, how-to lessons and examples, and I could not sleep after those classes. I stayed up half the night writing. The next day I drank endless cups of coffee to keep going at my day job, but it was worth it.
What is your writing schedule?
Mornings are my best time. My plan is to get up early and write an hour or so before work, then another hour at lunch. On weekends it may be all day long, life permitting. However, social media often lures me away, and I potter with that instead. I actually enjoy it, and I have fun with the little exchanges on Facebook. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people I really consider friends even though I’ve never met them in person.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
I have ideas and beginnings for several, but two books, both romantic suspense, are seriously in progress: one that’s set on a tiny island off the coast of Charleston and one that starts out on Isla Mujeres, an island off Cancun. As usual, I’m completely in love with the characters. I really enjoy being in their worlds. Though not a series, the main characters are all linked in some way.
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write (especially mystery)?
Study your craft, whatever you are writing. Read both good and bad books and analyze them to see why they appealed or failed to. You can learn from both.
One more thing: Write because you love it. The monetary rewards are few for most of us, but there’s great satisfaction (and frustration) in it. I would not—could not—give it up.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?
Persist. Don’t sit still and expect things to happen. Keep trying to improve your work and hang in there.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Sleep. No, seriously, it seems like that’s all, but there are still a few things I have not given up. I work, feed birds and squirrels, occasionally cook, and take photos of anything that catches my attention (not good ones—I rely on quantity and luck). My husband is very understanding, and my dogs sit with me when I write, so they are happy.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
Oh, wow—that is an easy one, when I won the SC literary award for short fiction, when Silver Dagger took Haunting Refrain was published, when Teri Holbrook volunteered to do a blurb for it and when Karen Syed said she wanted Cold Comfort. Those are jump-for-joy moments. Outside my writing, there have been many. I’ve been fortunate.
Thanks for interviewing me, Sylvia. You asked good questions and I enjoyed thinking about them.http://www.amazon.com/Haunting-Refrain-Ellis-Vidler/dp/1570721963/ref=pd_sim_b_1