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Penny Richards


November 2013


WG:      Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.


PR:      I was born in a small town of about 1,500 in Illinois, and moved to Hot Springs, AR when I was a sophomore. I graduated from high school there, and got my cosmetology license at the same time. I love learning how to do things, so along the way I've taken many courses or lessons. I have a degree from Chicago School of Interior Decorating, and I'm a Master Gardener. I've taken courses on wine, screenwriting, and hospitality.

I've been fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom most of my life, but have worked here and there from time to time, including cooking at different times for both of my daughters-in-law's cafes. I have two sons and a daughter, nine grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. I also have a monster size dog named Banjo. I love to garden, read, cook and take discarded items and fashion something new and useful from them.

WG:      Let's talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.

PR:      I had an older cousin who I admired very much. I think it was my wanting to emulate her that initially got me interested in writing poetry and from there, books.

WG:      Tell us about your journey.

PR:      I always loved reading, and when I was a kid I read a book a day. Soon after I graduated from high school, I finished a book, which had bits and pieces of many genres and fit none. When we moved to Louisiana, I started attending the Shreveport Writers Club and met Marian Poe, who had published an historical novel, and Sandra Canfield, who became my writing partner for four books. Marian became my mentor, and guided me along the way. Sandra became my close friend, and we read and critiqued each other's work. It was one of our collaborations that was my first sale. Prior to that, I had submitted periodically, with no success. Actually studying and learning the ins and outs of writing and what it took to shape a book helped so much. I also met several other ladies there who became good friends, including The late Suzanna Davis, Diane Wicker Davis, Kathy Burton and the very much alive, very successful Lenora Nazworth.

A few years after joining the writer's group, I started entering contests. The feedback was usually very helpful, and when I started to place or win in them I began to think that maybe I could publish after all.

WG:      How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?

PR:      Besides the four Sandra and I did together, I probably had 2-3 completed and many, many partials that are still languishing in a box or drawer somewhere. I should find them and give them a read. It would probably make for a hilarious afternoon!

WG:      Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?

PR:      Actually, I didn't get a call. (it's way too complicated to get into here, LOL.) Sandra did. She'd sold a manuscript to a small house for a flat fee, contacted an agent who agreed to look over her contract, even though she didn't sell the book. She then took us both on, and it was she who made our first sale (NO PERFECT SEASON) to Silhouette Intimate Moments in 1983. She had accidentally submitted it to two different editors at Silhouette and they both wanted it. That was really nice.

WG:      How has being a published author impacted your life?

PR:      Well, thankfully I had an income when my husband, who had trained Thoroughbred horses for 27 years was forced to stop training due to the big oil bust in the 80s. It was nice that I could pick up the slack until he found other work. What I've realized as I get older is that we owe the readers the very best we can give, and we should leave them with a positive message, a bit of hope for better things to come no matter what genre you write for. Besides that, I'd have to say it's all the amazing people I've met at conferences and how we've made lifelong connections. That's a read blessing.

WG:      What aspect of life as a published author surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?

PR:      I'm not sure about that one. Maybe that while people are a bit impressed, they still don't realize that it's a real job. You're home, so you must be able to bake cookies or watch kids, stuff like that. Oh! And that a good editor does more than fix your writing bobos. She can often say one little thing that helps you look at a scene or the entire tone of your book that points you in the direction you should go.

WG:      What about your writing process. Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

PR:      I try to start by 9:00 at the latest. My most creative time is actually early in the mornings, but it doesn't always work out. I generally try to turn out a certain amount of pages per day, and I stay until I get it done, whether it's quitting time or beyond.

WG:      Do you set writing goals for yourself?

PR:      I try to do 8-10 pages per day.

WG:      Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?

PR:      I like TOTAL quiet. I even have the sound turned off on the computer.

WG:      Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?

PR:      I work from about a 10 page synopsis that gives information about the main characters, their current problem, sketching out inner and outer conflicts and motivations, and a loose idea of scenes that showcase those. If something better comes to mind when I start writing, I go with it.

WG:      Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?

PR:      I think I'm a character writer, but sometimes a situation seems to come with them. I just go with the flow of what comes to mind and try to work out the kinks and refine it as I go along, making notes of things to go back and add, delete or change to do later.

WG:      Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?

PR:      I definitely like cowboys, real men's men. I seem to do a lot of earth mother types. I guess I like strong men and strong women. I don't write much about wealthy folks, because I haven't a clue and you can only fake so much!

WG:      What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?

PR:      I've been told often that I do "family" well. Others say that I'm good at weaving different storylines together, like the two unfolding stories of mother and daughter in UNANSWERED PRAYERS. And, for my work in DESIRES AND DECEPTIONS, one of the "Delta Justice" books I was nominated for Storyteller of the Year, so I guess telling a decent tale.

WG:      Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?

PR:      Every report card I received in elementary school said I couldn't concentrate. As an adult, I've realized I must suffer from ADD, which no one knew anything about back then. So if I "see something shiny" as my daughter-in-law says, I'm off on a tangent. This is why I like total quiet to work in, and why it takes me so long to clean house. I go to a room and wonder why I'm there. LOL

WG:      Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?

PR:      Nothing comes to mind.

WG:      Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?

PR:      Historical mysteries, especially Medieval, hold a huge fascination for me the past several years. I like a good Regency, too, especially if it has a mystery woven in or is rip-roaringly funny like Georgette Heyer's THE CONVENIENT MARRIAGE. It's a hoot of a read that someone should make it a movie.

WG:      Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?

PR:     Again, historical mystery. I have a completed manuscript of what I hope will be a series, and the second book is about a third finished.

WG:      Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?

PR:      Make your goal to learn the craft, not to sell a book. Do it well, and I believe selling will follow, even in this market.

WG:      Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?

PR:      I hadn't looked at my historical mystery in several months, but there was a specific place that something told me just didn't work. I was watching tv one day, not even consciously thinking about it, and how to fix the problem came to me like the proverbial bolt out of the blue. I can't even remember what it was now, but I remember how astonished I was. I guess our subconscious minds are constantly working at figuring things out.

WG:      Rejections, notes from unhappy readers and less than stellar reviews are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?

PR:      No one likes them, and we tend to remember them long after we've forgotten the good ones, but we just have to pick up and go on and not let it bog us down or they can cripple us as writers. I know many people that succumbed to it through the years. I recently heard a writer say that once a book was published, it was a product to sell, and we needed to get busy making more product. I sort of like that.

WG:      Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?

PR:      I can't think of anything off hand.

WG:      What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?

PR:      Fan mail or calls thanking me and telling me how much they enjoyed the book. If I can make someone cry, my day is made!

WG:      When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?

PR:      I like to read and garden. It doesn't take much to make me happy. I'm not the mani/pedi type, and hate shopping. Maybe spending the day haunting thrift stores for something that can be recycled into a garden ornament.

WG:      When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

PR:      A nurse. HA! I am such a germophope that both my daughters-in-law tease me unmercifully about not passing up a hand sanitizer anywhere! Besides, I don't watch any "doctor" shows, because I'm always convinced that I have the disease dujour. So when my grandmother said if I'd take cosmetology in high school she'd pay for it, I said "okay." I've never been sorry.

WG:      What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?

PR:      I am such a klutz! My dad used to say I couldn't walk across the floor and chew gum at the same time, so-are you ready?-I wish I could dance like they do on "Dancing With the Stars." I know. It's an absolutely horrifying (or hilarious) mental image, right?

WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?

PR:      TV shows would be "DWTS," "Rehab Addict," (My husband and I did countless rehab projects while he was alive, and I love it!) "Dual Survivor." I prefer a movie to regular shows. As for movies, a few of my favorites are "Man on Fire," (a terrific tale of a man suffering terrible guilt and searching for some sort of respite from his pain.) "A Walk In the Clouds," (a great little romance about honor) "Rob Roy," (True honor and abiding love that doesn't falter when horrendous things happen) "Last of the Mohicans." (Powerful story, powerful music.)

WG:      I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.

PR:      My mother-in-law used to say, "If I'd let myself I'd worry myself to death about that." When I was younger I didn't understand. Now I do.

WG:      Please tell us about your current project.

PR:      WOLF CREEK WEDDING is the story of two very different people who each needs the other for very different reasons. The only commonsense way to solve their problems is a marriage that neither one wants. I like to write about flawed Christians, because we all are, and God loves us anyway. If your Christian characters are too perfect, I thing readers have a hard time relating. But if they can say, "Yeah! I've been that mad before, or I've done this or that, (and I'm not proud of it) and I can show that person God loves them in spite of their flaws and that He forgives when we confess them to him and make it right., I've done what I set out to do.

WG:      What inspired you to write this particular story?

PR:      I like pairing up people who have different views on life. In WOLF CREEK WEDDING it's a Christian and non-Christian, one sweet and soft, the other hard and no-nonsense, both with tempers, both previously married and neither looking to do it again any time soon. I thought that sounded like pretty good conflict. Add in a resentful child and Bob's your uncle!

WG:      What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?

PR:      Well, everyone knows that Delight, Arkansas, is the home of Glen Campbell, but I learned that it really was called Wolf Creek prior to being renamed. I found out that the Wolf Creek Church has been ongoing in the same spot since 1932 or 33, a really long time!

WG:      Tell us about your upcoming plans.

PR:      WOLF CREEK HOMECOMING will be released in March. I'm waiting to hear on two more Wolf Creek stories, and beyond those, would like to do two more before moving to another time and place.

WG:      And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.

Facebook: Penny Richards, Author

WG:      Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!