Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?
I grew up with my mom teaching me how to read with John D. MacDonald pulp paperbacks. I still admire his style today. My other influences are V.C. Andrews and of course, Stephen King. Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite were big deals, especially in Louisiana where I grew up, and I devoured everything they wrote.
Are there therapeutic benefits to modeling a character after someone you know?
For me personally, a little. It can be cathartic, but when I create characters, they’re usually conglomerates of a few different people. I think using someone you know as a character and describing them fully is a little weird, personally. However, since I write quite a bit about families, I’ve had a number of people approach me to tell me their stories and urge me to write about it, and I think that can be healing for them in a lot of ways.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
After I learned to read, I just started writing without really thinking about it as a career. It wasn’t until I was about eleven or so that it dawned on me you could do this as a career. I wrote a story that was placed in an anthology, and I made a little money from it. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. However, I did have long periods of time where I was obsessed with the idea of being a spy. I originally went to college for psychology, but decided I was better off analyzing and writing about people from afar. Then, I became a librarian.
How do you process and deal with negative book reviews?
Once a book is available, I might read the first couple of reviews just to make sure I didn’t do something dumb, like upload a grocery list, but then I really think you just have to let it go and stay away from your reviews. Negative reviews and criticism are much easier to deal with once you’ve been at it for a long time. In my twenties, I would get depressed about them, but now, I just shrug and move on. Readers are entitled to dislike something. It’s part of the gig. All reviews are good for you as a writer. It helps readers make informed decisions about book purchases, and negative reviews can definitely help sell a book.
Name an underappreciated novel that you love.
I think most people think of Gilead when they think of Marilyn Robinson, but Housekeeping is one of my favorite stories ever written. It was the story that made me decide I wanted to focus on family dynamics and relationships in my work. I love a good complex character, out of the ordinary people and circumstances, and Housekeeping nails that. I recommend it to anyone who wants to write emotionally complex characters.
What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
Just free write without judgment. I know that’s easier said than done, but it gets easier the more you do it. When you find yourself getting into that flow state, where time and place do not matter, you’re on to something. I tend be a plotter and pantser simultaneously, but find what works for you. Once you have a draft down, put it away for a few days. Then come back to it. Here’s where you can tighten your outline and plot a bit more. Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody is gold for the first-time novelist.
What do you do to get inside your character’s heads?
This may seem extremely weird or woo, but I will often channel the information through meditation. Usually, a character starts talking, and I’ll write things from their point of view in first person, as if they’re speaking through me as a medium.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I spend a lot of time outdoors hiking or gardening. I also have tons of indoor plants.I tend to my bees and my two cats, Cleo and Victor, keep me busy with their antics. I try to travel as much as I can and read whatever I can get my hands on. I also paint in acrylics and oil, mostly plants or whatever strikes my fancy.
What inspired the idea for your book?
Forbidden Gardens was inspired by New Orleans and its stark dichotomy of good and evil, rich and poor, its deep-rooted faith and reputation for sin. The book is about demon possession on its surface, but deep down, it’s more about accepting parts of ourselves often considered too taboo in polite society.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Both Azalea House and Forbidden Gardens are about other people and their issues, families, and struggles, but I was surprised when I reread the final drafts at how much I’d put myself in there, too. I guess it’s true when they say, “write what you know.”