Author interview: Saralyn Richard

Saralyn Richard

1. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

For me, the best part of being an author is connecting with readers. I do that through my website, social media, my monthly newsletter, and through in-person and virtual events that take me to places where readers enjoy talking about books. I’m fascinated by the reactions of readers to characters and events from my books. I appreciate their oral and written reviews, and I take all their comments to heart. Some of my favorite comments are:

  • “I stayed up all night reading.”
  • “I read the book three times.”
  • “I didn’t want it to end.”
  • “I loved it that you completely surprised me.”
  • “I’m a fan of yours, and I’ve read all your books.”
  • “I can’t wait for the next book.”

One of the best comments I’ve received was this:  “Move over, Agatha Christie. There’s a new girl on the block.”

2. Have you ever killed off a character your readers loved?

I plead guilty to having killed off popular characters many times over—but what would a mystery novel be without a victim? In one of my books, A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL, the newly-hired principal, R.J. Stoker, starts the school year with a student-centered agenda, making him instantly popular with the students and their parents, but less so with the faculty and staff. Awed by his integrity and dedication to doing the right thing, the main character learns that there is more to running a school than policies and procedures—being an outstanding administrator requires determination, perseverance, and a kind heart. Readers love Stoker and wish they’d had a principal like that. I love him, too. He doesn’t deserve his fate, and killing him is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. My only consolation is that Stoker’s legacy is strong and ever-lasting.

3. Have you ever traveled as research for your book?

My Detective Parrott Mystery Series takes place in Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania. The lush landscape and historic mansions in this elite community make it one of the most beautiful and interesting places in America. One might describe Brandywine as farmland, horse country, artist colony, nature reserve, and all of these would be true. Its proximity to New York City adds influence to the lifestyles of the people who live there. Next to my home town, this is my favorite area of the country, and I’ve traveled there many times. Some of the fabulous entities where I have conducted research include The Brandywine River Museum of Fine Arts, Longwood Gardens, The Hunt magazine, Kennett Square, Don Guanella Seminary, and various artists, architects, home owners, funeral directors, restaurants, hospitals, and the West Brandywine Police Department. Each of my books in this series, MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, and CRYSTAL BLUE MURDER, focuses on a different aspect of this fascinating community.

4. How did you come up with the title for your book?

My newest release, BAD BLOOD SISTERS, had the working title of BLOOD SISTERS. While the main character, Quinn, is quite complicated, and the book is about many aspects of her life, the book’s action revolves around the relationship that Quinn has had with her BFF, the girl she took a blood oath to befriend and support for the rest of her life. When it came time to give the book its official title, BLOOD SISTERS didn’t convey enough. I wanted to show that the blood sister ritual hadn’t succeeded in keeping the two girls together. Their friendship has gone horribly wrong, and for years there’s been bad blood between them. At the start of the book, Quinn’s blood sister is killed, and Quinn is forced to revisit the relationship, including an incident she’s sworn never to reveal. Adding the word, “bad,” to the title captures the essence of Quinn’s dilemma and foreshadows the journey that her blood sister has bequeathed to her.

5. How do you come up with character names for your stories?

Naming characters is one of the most daunting and most delightful privileges of writing fiction. I want my characters to have easy-to-remember names that fit with the time and place, as well as with their stations in life. I try not to have two characters with similar names—those might confuse the reader. Sometimes I name characters after real people in my life, whom I wish to honor, such as my English teacher and friend, Mari Allmond. Sometimes I have fun with names. I’ve used puns and allusions, such as in naming a teacher Mr. Gottschalk and a pair of police officers Phillips and Morris. Recently I auctioned off having a character in my next book named after the highest bidder for the Elks’ Club Children’s Charity. The winner, Tammie Caballero, will play a big role in my next book.

6. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I’ve written five published books, and a sixth, which will be published before the end of the year. The books, in order of publication are:

  • NAUGHTY NANA (2013)
  • MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT (2018)
  • A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER (2019)
  • A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL (2021)
  • BAD BLOOD SISTERS (2022)

Asking me which is my favorite is like asking me which of my children is my favorite. Each one is dear to my heart, as are each of the characters in them. NAUGHTY NANA is a children’s book, narrated by my real-live Old English sheepdog puppy, Nana. How could I not love that the best? The next two books are the novels in the Detective Parrott mystery series, taking place in Brandywine Valley. Detective Parrott, his fiancée Tonya, and all of the other characters he comes into contact with are also my favorites. A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL is loosely based on the many experiences I have had in urban high schools as a teacher, administrator, and school improvement consultant. It’s a blast to relive school situations and I’ve had so much fun with the quirky characters in that book. BAD BLOOD SISTERS is my most intense book, since it is written from the close point of view of a single character, Quinn McFarland. I love Quinn for all her determination and courage. Her journey is also a favorite.

7. If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?

My next book is the third book in the Detective Parrott Mystery Series, following MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT and A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER. Also set in Brandywine Valley, CRYSTAL BLUE MURDER involves a meth lab explosion in a newly-remodeled bank barn. Parrott finds a man’s body in the rubble, and when the autopsy shows the explosion occurred post-mortem, Parrott has questions to answer that hit too close to home.

8. What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?

I teach creative writing, so I’m always giving advice to new writers. Here are three of pieces of advice that I give frequently:

  • Know your characters. Before I sit down to write, I have to know the people. I have to live in their skins, know what makes them act the way they do, and understand how they relate to each other. Whatever happens to them also happens to me.
  • Have a solid grasp on the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Everything else can be filled in as you think and write about these three main parts.
  • Make sure you are writing from a place of joy. Your attitudes and feelings transfer into the work through your prose. Joyous writers make for joyous readers.

9. What are the essential characteristics of a hero you can root for?

What a great question! I think as a culture, our concept of hero has changed in the past several decades. No longer does a hero have to be a paragon of beauty, intelligence, spirit, or strength. Today’s heroes come from all genders, all social classes, all walks of life. Many heroes are flawed and troubled, but through the story, they come to acknowledge their weaknesses and overcome them. For me, a hero has to be relatable. Her humanity has to shine through the troubles. She must be concerned for others beyond herself. It’s okay if she fails at something important, but she can’t dwell in self-pity. She must pick herself up and push forward. Even if she has some erroneous thinking or negative behavior, she must be essentially good-hearted.

10. What do you do to get inside your character’s heads?

When I sit down to write, I’m a method actor. I close myself off from reality, and I enter the zone of the scene. I shed my own body and personality, and I actually become the character I’m writing about. I remove any distractions that might take me “out of character” as I write. My best writing comes when I merge myself with the character in my story. (This strategy was particularly effective during covid lockdown, as it gave me another person to be, another place to go, where I didn’t have to worry about germs or pandemics or deaths.)

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