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Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Lively Chat with Author, Lynda Fitzgerald with a Surprise at the End of the Chat

Lynda Fitzgerald has been writing all her life.  Thirty years passed from the writing of her first novel until her first book was released.  Now she has written ten novels, has three of the series written and a fourth due out late this year, with several more in the works.

Lynda is a native Floridian who now lives in Georgia, and both settings appear in her books.  She studied writing at both DeKalb College and Emory University.  She is a frequent speaker and teacher of creative writing.  She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the Florida Writers Association, and the Atlanta Writers Club.

Lynda, tell us about the genre of your work.

Well, let me start out by saying most people describe me a multi-genre author, which is a nice way to say I didn't know what a genre was until I'd finished writing my fourth novel.  I just wrote the stories that compelled me.  Therefore, my first book was tagged―by the publisher, not me―as romantic suspense. I was shocked.  I do not think of myself as a romance author.  I still think it should be classified as mainstream, but we authors have little say in these decisions. It was the same with my second book.  It is decidedly women's fiction, but I did not even know that was a genre when I wrote it.

When I wrote my third book, LIVE Ringer, I knew it was mystery.  I did not sit down and decide to write a mystery, but when my heroine stumbled on a body floating in the water, the story took a decided turn in that direction.  I had a ball writing that novel.  I never intended it to be a series, but when I got to that last page; I knew I was not through with these characters.

All my books have strong elements of women's fiction, but judging from the reviews of my male readers, not too strong.  Another element my books share is that they are all character-driven fiction, which means that the characters and their reactions to the world around them drive the plot, not the other way around.  To me, characters are everything.  Well, plots are good, too, but they are nothing without well-developed characters.

Will you continue to write mystery?

I will, at least for the time being.  Book two in the series, LIVE Ammo, will be released late this year.  Book three, LIVE in Person, is in the first draft stage, and I have the plots for three more in my head.

What are some of your books that have been published?

The first book, which is actually the third novel I wrote, is IF TRUTH BE TOLD (ISBN: 978-1-59141-56801), was released in 2007.  It is the story of a young woman who values truth above anything, but when her uncle dies suddenly and she suspects a family member may have killed him, she has to decide what's more important:  the naked truth, or family loyalty.  My main character, Christie O'Kelly, goes from age fourteen at the book's beginning to thirty years old when it ends.  Christie had such a strong personality that she wrenched the story away from me on about page 3 and did not hand back the reins until half way through. She will always be one of my favorite characters: precocious, feisty and independent.  The things she said just cracked me up.  It is set in Brevard County, Florida, what people call the Space Coast.

OF WORDS AND MUSIC (ISBN 978-1059414-776-0) is set in Atlanta, Georgia.  It is about the power of music to break through barriers and overcome generations of family hurt and misunderstanding.  The main character, Lilah, is a sixty-year-old grandmother who suddenly has her previously unknown teenage old granddaughter Bethany thrust on her when the girl's parents die.  Lilah agrees to take her, but only until other arrangements can be made.  Neither is happy with the situation.  When Lilah begins seeing herself through Bethany's eyes, she does not like what she sees, but she does not know how to change.  Bethany and music begin the process, but then information comes to light that threatens to destroy everything they have begun to build.

LIVE Ringer (ISBN: 978-1-59146-327-6), my first mystery, is also set in Brevard County.  Many of the characters are sheriff's deputies.  At the beginning, Allie Grainger, is just returning to Cape Canaveral to lick her post-divorce wounds.  Her favorite aunt has left her a paid for beach cottage and a couple of million dollars.  Before a day has passed, Allie stumbles on a body floating at the Cape Canaveral jetty.  When the body is identified, Allie is stunned; the woman looks enough like Allie to be her twin sister.  Then a string of like murders down the Florida coast is uncovered.  All the victims look like Allie.  She is pretty sure someone is stalking her, and she is afraid she might be the killer's next target.

There is a lot more about each and about the upcoming release, LIVE Ammo, on my website:

How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

I know it sounds hokey, but my characters kind of name themselves.  I begin writing with an in-depth biography of each of my main characters.  Before I finish it, their names come to me.  Most of the places are real.  The residents of Brevard County and people who have visited there love reading my books because they are reading about places they have actually been.  I spend a lot of time down there checking out my facts and places.  Oh, and catching a few rays of sun.

Melbourne Beach, is a bit of Old Florida, home to wildlife, annual sea turtles, and eventually, Allie Grainger. 

Cape Canaveral is exploding with mid-rise condos.  Allie treasured her home there because of the isolation that is no more.  Now she hears construction noise instead of sea gulls, backhoes instead of the whisper of the surf.  When she starts looking for what she once had, she does not have far to go.  Thirty miles down the coast is Melbourne Beach, a strip of barrier island that clings stubbornly to the old ways.

At the end of Melbourne Beach is Sebastian Inlet, a place where Allie often goes to think.  Until the sixties, A1A ended at the Inlet.  Now a bridge spans the turbulent waters, but the state of Florida controls that area.  Part wildlife preserve, part surfer's and fisherman's dream, Sebastian Inlet still has dirt roads overhung by mossy trees, and a feeling of the Florida of yesteryear.

How did you develop the character of your protagonist in this book?

In LIVE Ringer, Allie Grainger is a young woman in her late twenties who has just lost the most important person in her life, her beloved aunt.  On top of that, her marriage has blown sky high.  I wanted her to be less decisive and strong-willed than her best friend, Sheryl, a sheriff's deputy, because I wanted Allie to grow and change as the series developed.  Once I knew that, the rest of her personality fell into place.  I think you can see her change and deepen as a character as incident after incident happens to her.  Allie also inherited a little Lhasa Apso, Spook, who was adopted by her aunt after he had been abused and abandoned.  Spook's development kind of mirrors Allie's in that he is becoming more courageous every day.

What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?

The antagonist in the first book does not come back in the second because…well, he is dead.  The bad guy in the second and third books is the same, but I have a brand new villain in mind for the fourth book…and the fifth…

What is your favorite thing about your book?

I think emotion makes the book personal to the reader.  I try to infuse humor, sorrow, and suspense into everything I write.  What I love about all my books are the characters.  These people take on lives of their own after a while, and sometimes they seem more real to me than the people around me.  I cry when they are sad and laugh when they make jokes.  I am totally drawn into their lives.  Most of the reviews of my books applaud the characters, so I guess feeling close to them makes a difference.

How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?

That is a tough one.  They are all different.  The language is different in, say, literary writing, plus you can meander a lot in literary fiction.  If you meander as a mystery writer, you have lost half your audience by page five.    With romance, the romance should move the book forward, not a side plot.   Writing a mystery means, you have to start out with a bang and keeping increasing the suspense until the climax of the book, or at least that is my thought.  I love writing mystery.  I never know what is going to happen next.

Why and when did you begin writing?

I have always made up stories.  In fact, I got into a lot of trouble doing that as a kid.  Once I started putting them on paper, life got better.  I hear I was reading before I was four years old.  I do not know if that is true, but I do not remember ever not reading.  I wrote my first short story when I was ten.  It was awful.  Once I started writing, I never stopped.  It has been my most constant companion through life.

To answer the why?  I took me a long time to get published, so I had plenty of time to ask myself the same question.  Was it worth it?  Writing is hard work, and when you go twenty years or so without a publisher, you begin to doubt yourself, or at least, I did.  A lot of times I asked myself why I was spending all my time―time other people spent watching TV and going to the movies and doing a lot of things I didn't have time to do―why I spent it writing when no one seemed to care.  Finally, I had to ask myself the hard question:  "If you never have another word published, will you keep writing?"  The answer was―and is, yes.  I cannot imagine not writing.  It is truly a passion with me.

What is your writing schedule?

I spend most of my free moments writing.  I am more productive in the mornings, but I write at night, too.  When a novel is going well, I will write twelve to fifteen hours a day.  Otherwise, I write a few hours a day and for a whole lot of hours on weekends.

What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and get published?

My number one tip to any budding author is not to give up on you.  In fact, I have a framed picture on my desk of a kitten looking into a mirror and seeing in its reflection a lion.  The caption is "Believe in Yourself."  It has always made me smile.  As a writer, you will go months or years without significant feedback.  Join a critique group.  Join a writers club so you can network with other writers.  Join on-line groups in your writing genre.  Google them.  You will find a lot of them.  When you finish that novel, send it out to agents or publishers and begin another.  Repeat as needed.  That is how I had written eight novels before my first one was published.  A manuscript in a drawer will never find representation.  Get it out there.

Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?

Yes.  Take classes on writing.  There are online courses these days that are inexpensive and excellent.  Read books on writing.  I have books on every aspect of writing, from plotting to dialogue to description.  Don't let reading about writing take the place of your writing, because your real schoolroom has only one student:  you.  The old, tired adage, you learn to write by writing, became an old tired adage because it is true.  You also learn to write by reading:  literature, popular fiction, whatever.  Read outside your genre.  Then you can bring something fresh to your writing.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I don't mean to laugh, but there isn't a whole lot of time when I am not writing.  Outside the household stuff, I give a lot of time to my dogs.  I have three, all rescues.  My German Shepherd is two years old with a puppy's enthusiasm.  My half-Shepherd, half-Rottie, is a little older and has so much energy he makes my Shepherd look like a slug.  Then there is my little twelve-year-old Wheaton Cairn Terrier.  Think Toto with gold fur.  The youngsters have given him a new enthusiasm for life.  It's a scream to see him attack the big girls, and they love to play with him. 

I also garden.  And, I sew.  Well, not much anymore, but I made my daughter's wedding dress and most of my clothes until a few years back.

What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?

My favorite was when I got word that my first book had been accepted for publication.  I walked around in shock all day, feeling like I had stuck my finger in a light socket.  I expected my hair to frizzle.  It is always a wonderful feeling when they take your book for publication, but there is nothing like that first time. 

I just thought of a few more things I want to tell new writers, if that is okay.  If they are in it for a quick buck, they are in the wrong profession.  Getting published and then building a readership takes time.  It is not a quick buck.  Also, if they are writing to the big fad du jour (think Harry Potter), they are way off course.  By the time their novel emerges from the black hole of the publishing house―it usually takes one to two years between signing the contract and seeing the books on the shelves―the world will be tired of Harry and onto Twilight or something else. 

Write what moves you.  Read the newspaper.  If some article grabs you by the heart, turn it into fiction.  Write what you love, and your readers will love what you write.  It is as simple, and as complicated, as that.

…and, by the way…

The first three comments that tell us about Lynda's lifetime love affair will win a signed copy of her latest book, the first in a mystery series.  (Hint:  it is on her website  Shhhhh.....)


Anonymous said...

Sylvia, Thanks for having me on your blog. I hope your readers write in with their comments and questions. I love to hear from readers!

Anonymous said...

A wonderful interview with a wonderful writer who always takes the time to mentor other authors.