Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I’m so happy to have Dorothy St. James as my guest. Dorothy hails from one of my favorite states – South Carolina – and writes one of my favorite genres to read – cozy mysteries. I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did! And, read on to see how you can enter to win a copy of her latest release!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hi! Thank you for hosting me on your blog. I’m a cozy mystery author Dorothy St. James (I also write romance under the name Dorothy McFalls). I grew up and live in the Lowcountry just outside of Charleston, South Carolina—a place with vast marshes, stinky pluff mud, and ancient live oak trees dripping with silvery Spanish moss. I love this place.
My earliest memories are of my love of books. As soon as I learned to write, I started writing my own stories, mainly adventure tales. I also love animals. I hold a degree in Wildlife Biology and worked for various governmental and nonprofit organizations to protect the environment until one day I quit in order to pursue my love of writing.
I’m known for the White House Gardener Mystery series (where a Charleston takes on Washington), the Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery series (set on a sea island outside of Charleston), and have a new Secret Bookroom series (also set in South Carolina) coming in September 2020.
Tell us about your current release. Bonbon with the Wind is the fourth book in the Southern Chocolate Shop mystery series. There’s a legend in the Sea Islands that before a hurricane hits the Gray Lady can be seen walking down the beach warning of doom. Charity Penn, the owner of the Chocolate Box, doesn’t believe in such silly stories, but she does believe weather forecasters. A powerful hurricane is heading their way. Joe Davies, a local treasure hunter with an unquenchable sweet tooth, claims to have seen the Gray Lady walking toward him just that morning and is terrified for his life.
After the storm passes everyone returns to survey the damage. Thankfully, most buildings survived the raging winds and rushing waves. The Chocolate Box still lists to one side like a drunk in a windstorm, but the roof held and the interior is just slightly soggy. But as Penn walks her little dog Stella on the beach, they find Joe Davies’s body washed up onshore. Did the Gray Lady claim another victim? Many on the island believe that is exactly what happened.
Penn is sure there’s another explanation. She follows the clues and hints of lost gold to discover that the truth behind the treasure hunter’s death is as much of a maze as the boating channels winding their way through the local marshes.
How do you push past the fear of your writing being average and be bold enough to sell it to a publisher (or agent or audience if you self publish)? Anxiety has affected my life in many ways. It really seems to bloom whenever I sit down to write. Those “am I good enough?” and “who am I to write a book?” thoughts can be awfully loud some days. It’s a gut-twisting feeling (similar to having eaten egg salad at a church picnic after it’s sat out too long). The anxiety sometimes makes me want to crawl back into bed and stay there…forever. I’m sure anyone who suffers from anxiety knows the feeling only too well.
But, thankfully, the drive to write novels is bigger than the anxiety. I fall in love with the characters and their ability to overcome struggles. I laugh at the goofy things they do. I cry when they are hurting. And I sit on the edge of my seat and type like mad whenever they get themselves into dangerous situations when trying to solve a murder. These are the highs that help me push through whenever the anxiety dragons come to visit.
Learning everything I can about the craft of writing has helped tremendously too. When that voice of doubt whispers in my ear, “You don’t know what you’re doing,” I remind myself that, yes, I do know what I’m doing. I’ve taken several classes to help me do what I’m doing.
And, after arming myself with all this, I keep writing.
Have you always wanted to write a book? The desire to write a book and hold it in my hands is one of my earliest memories. I have always been drawn to books. I love the stories they tell and how reading makes me feel. The more I read, the more the stories in my own head clamor to get out.
For quite a while, the thought of writing a book felt too scary, too daunting. I pursued a career in Environmental Urban Planning, because that felt safer. And yet, in my work, I was drawn to the stories of the places I would go and assist, especially the small towns. I loved telling hearing the stories of these special Southern places, places that were disappearing, and I love telling others about these places.
And then one day I decided that I needed to pursue that side of my life, I’d waited long enough. It was time to take a chance on myself and start to write novels. In 2001, I quit my job to write full-time. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. I’m so glad that I took that leap.
Do you have pre-determined length in mind when you first begin a book? I do have a pre-determined length. Publishers often have word-length requirements or guidelines. But keeping my publisher happy isn’t the only reason I like to keep to these word counts. Readers often expect a certain length novel depending on the genre. Cozy mysteries are generally around eighty thousand words long. Historical romances, in comparison, are generally around one hundred and twenty thousand words in length. Meeting reader expectations is important, especially for readers who like to read a certain genre.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Read. Read in your genre. Read books by best-selling authors. Read books by first-time authors. Try to figure out what those authors are doing to please the reader.
What is your preferred method of writing? I plot by hand in a spiral-bound notebook. This notebook is where I’ll also jot down facts about the characters, ideas that I might want to pursue later in the book, and brainstorm whenever I get stuck. It’s a very important notebook.
When I write, however, the words flow best from my fingertips to the computer keyboard. It feels as if my hands are doing the talking. After long writing days, my fingers will sometimes tingle while I stumble as I try to talk aloud. With my mouth. To real, live people.
What is your inspiration for writing? I love to do research. Reading about an area, talking with people, and researching events in history all spark the best ideas for me. The stories of people and places are my biggest inspirations. Often, the book’s setting becomes just as important as any of the characters in the book. I hope my readers feel the same way and will want to visit the places I’m writing about.
Here is where you can find Dorothy online:
Dorothy is giving away a signed copy of Playing with Bonbon Fire to a reader! See below how to enter to win:
a Rafflecopter giveaway