Category Archives: Interviews

People I admire and want to get to know better. Hope you think they’re interesting too.

Interview with Author Angela Townsend

I would like to welcome author Angela Townsend to the blog today. She’s the author of the new young adult novel AMAROK. I really love the book and you can read my thoughts about it here. Angela is not only kind enough to stop by to answer a few questions, she’s also giving you guys a chance to win a Kindle eBook copy of AMAROK! So keep reading to find out how you can enter!

First off, here’s more about AMAROK which is published by Spencer Hill Press…

Emma’s life has been hell since she moved from sunny California to a remote Alaskan town. Abandoned by her father and living with the guilt of causing her mother’s death, she makes a desperate dash for freedom from her abusive stepfather. But when her car skids off the icy road, her planned escape leads to further captivity in a world beyond her imagining.

Dragged across the tundra by an evil mountain man and his enormous black wolf, she learns that love can be found in the most unexpected places. Amarok, as she’s nicknamed the wolf, is a young man from the gold-rush era enslaved by an ancient shaman. Emma’s gentle touch and kind heart win his love and devotion.

When a vicious madman–trapped in bear form by the same Shaman–attacks the travelers and injures Amarok, Emma must find the strength to face her fears and free the wolf she’s come to love. But that means she must face down the evil shaman, a Siberian mammoth hunter from the ice age, and he has no intention of giving up his power to her.

Cool premise isn’t it? Let’s hear more from Angela Townsend.

Angela, in AMAROK, the lead character Emma has this great inner strength that pushes her through everything that happens. You never portray her as a victim that should be pitied, quite the opposite in fact. How did you develop Emma as a character? Did she change much after the first draft?

I had a solid idea of who all my characters were before I started. I knew from the moment I wrote Emma’s name on the page– who she was, what her strengths and weaknesses were. 
I like how you created this micro-world deep inside the Alaskan wilderness, a world with its own mysticism and ancient lore that I thought played well into the story. How do you approach creating this small world? Did you research local folk-lore and expand on it? Or did you build everything from the ground up?

I created all my own mythology, blending bits of Celtic lore with my own  Ice Age myth. 
Why did you pick the setting of Alaska? Why not Montana, where you’re from?
When I was young I lived in Alaska–in a small fishing village and I will always remember how much I loved it. Alaska stays with you.  The raw wild beauty, the utter isolation–all of it is incredibly haunting to me.   

AMAROK has this great pace to it. Even when you switch to the point of view of a different character, the book never loses its momentum. As a writer, how do you approach plotting your books?
I swear by Martha Alderson–The Plot Whisperer–She is a plotting genius.  Even though I fought plotting for so long I realized I need to plot in order to write quality work. 

What is your writing process like?
I write in utter distraction, at home with mood music or crowded cafes. I also watch movies and write at the same time. I hate the sound of a ticking clock. I don’t like rules-I like to live as free as possible –so I rebel when it comes to sitting at a desk to write.

Who is your favorite fictional heroine and why?

Harry Potter–I love anything written by JK Rowling.

What projects are you working on now?
I am working on an exciting YA Russian paranormal mystery. 

To wrap things up, I would like to borrow five quick questions from the great James Lipton, host of Inside The Actor’s Studio. Here we go.

Now, Angela…
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
What sound or noise do you love?
My children’s laughter
What sound or noise do you hate?
The sound of an ambulance siren

Thanks again for stopping by Angela! AMAROK is a great book and a fast read so I encourage all of you to check it out using these links:


Barnes & Noble


And don’t forget to visit Angela Townsend’s Blog


Interview with Author J.P. Smith

JP Smith is a fellow writer I’ve met on my Internet travels and I was excited to learn that the publisher Thomas & Mercer was putting his novels back into print as well as publishing his new work. Since JP’s writing journey is a very interesting one, I asked if he would be willing to do an interview and I was thrilled when he said yes.

Airtight is a wonderful new crime drama released late last year. Some have called it Mad Men meets Easy Rider. Here are my thoughts about it.
And here’s more about Airtight

Nick Copeland has lost his mind only twice in his forty-eight years—once in college on a bad acid trip, and once at this very moment, as the mountain of bills he’s been hiding from his family finally topples. But Nick’s chance meeting with an old friend, Rob Johnson, pulls on the memory wires. Rob—who’s already lost his wife and job—seems resigned to a life of basic cable and Chinese takeout. Suddenly, the answer to their problems arrives: two airtight jars of high-grade heroin they’d buried under the football field of their old college campus.

Returning to the scene of the crime-that-never-happened seems like a cinch—that is, until Nick takes a trip down Memory Lane and a sharp right turn on Law Enforcement Drive. This is not the beads-and-bellbottoms of their youths, but maybe the Stones were right, anyway: you can’t always get what you want.

Thank you for stopping by blog today J.P.! It’s quite an honor to have you here.
It’s a pleasure, Doug.
AIRTIGHT begins with a young Nick Copland inside a college classroom beginning a memorable acid trip in the year 1970. First of all, I loved how you let the reader ‘climb on board’ his acid trip. It drew me into the story quite well and made me want to know more about him. Tell me, what’s interesting about your main character Nick?
I think what makes Nick Copeland interesting is the journey he takes in the novel. Though he could have come off as a pompous, self-pitying ass, kind of a Don Draper without the heavy backstory, Nick needed to take a journey in the novel that would humble him and allow him to make a choice in the end that would reflect everything he’d learned about himself and those choices he’d made as a young man.
Can I say something here about how people perceive this book? The ending has left some readers on Amazon baffled and sometimes disappointed. Though the book is being pushed by the publisher as a thriller, like all of my novels it partakes in certain genre elements, but in the end it’s a character study of two men who out of desperation take a serious risk. Had I decided to write this as a straight thriller, it would have had all the usual setpieces we’ve seen a billion times before—car chases, shootouts, and so forth. I really wanted to keep it all completely believable. Very few people are involved in either shootouts or car chases.
The jars of heroin the characters dig up in AIRTIGHT remind me of a time capsule that represents the characters desire to unearth happier times in their youth. Regret plays a large role in the lives of these characters. What drew you to this theme in AIRTIGHT?
That’s a brilliant way of viewing the jars, Doug, I must say—I never thought of them that way, but I like it! I’m at the stage in life when I actually can look back and see what I did that was stupid, that was wrong, and, also, that was pretty damned good. My last novel, Breathless, had for an epigram a quote from The Book of Common Prayer: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.”
Though I’m not a Christian, I’ve always thought these were especially cogent words. Because that’s all too often how we see our life in looking back—a place of missed opportunities and dumb decisions. The game of What if is played so often, isn’t it. What if I’d done this, that or the other. Well, in fact, you didn’t, so you make the best of what you have here. Nick and Rob are in a dead end. They don’t believe they can make the best in such desperate times. So they go back into the past, figuratively speaking.
Which is when Nick, especially, sees that some of his behavior, especially towards his old girlfriend Kaycee Christopher, really could have been a lot better. More responsible. Less carefree. Not that he’d mistreated her or anything like that, but that he could have been more understanding when she’d become pregnant. But youth is when we make our best mistakes, and then we can spend the rest of our life trying not to be such idiots. Which takes us to the choice Nick makes at the end. Of which I’ll say nothing here.
Some writers shy away from going into too much backstory, fearing it will bog the story down. Yet, the backstories in AIRTIGHT are more surgical in the way they’re used, and I think more effective. How do you approach using backstory in a novel?
A person’s life is like a comet soaring through the universe. Its tail is always attached to it, and that’s the backstory. That’s the tale, in fact. We may grow old, we may move through different levels of society or take different jobs, but we always carry the baggage, heavy or light, of our backstories. The past is always with us. The backstory is the backdrop to our life in the present. And I think in fiction it’s important to acknowledge it as a part of the narrative.
Early in your career you walked away from a teaching job and moved to London so you could write. How did that affect you as a writer?
Simple answer? I took off my parachute. We had a little money saved, enough to satisfy the British Home Office that we could support ourselves for a while. It was cheap to live in England then. We didn’t have a car, theatre seats were a bargain, museums were free, and our diets underwent major changes. I remember sometimes we’d each eat 2 ½ strips of bacon and a few boiled potatoes for dinner. Like something out of the novels of George Gissing. It was cheap, and we managed to survive. And lose some serious weight in the process.
But moving there was a kind of test. I’d already written four or five novels that went unpublished, and I also knew that novelists in Britain also wrote for the theatre, for TV, for radio, etc. So I wrote off the top of my head a 50-minute teleplay a few weeks before our move, and on the basis of it found myself a theatre/TV/film agent within a month of our arrival. Through her I signed with an agent to represent my novels. All those earlier years trying to get an agent in the States, and now this. I knew then it was a smart move.
It was when we moved from London to Lyme Regis, on the southwest coast, that I really became a disciplined writer. Though back in New York, when I was teaching, I religiously wrote 25 pages a day after work, now, for the six or so months we were there, I had the whole day to fill. I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing. We were more or less stranded on the coast. If you’ve ever seen the film of John Fowles’s “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” you’ll know what Lyme looks like. We had no car, there was no train available there. No distractions other than our view over the English Channel and some wonderful places to walk. So I became a writer out of sheer necessity. Which is why I came to England in the first place.
What’s your writing process like for a new project?
I think a lot at first. Thinking subconsciously more than actively. I’ll usually get an idea stuck in my head, and then I’ll let it sit. I’ll let the subconscious mull over it. I tend not to use the page (or the screen) as a laboratory, but do most of the writing ahead of time in my mind. Then I type it, polish it, and move onto the next page or chapter.
What was the hardest thing about writing AIRTIGHT?
Knowing what to leave out. Always a tough thing when writing out of one’s own life. As you know, that prologue, the acid trip, was mine. That was how it happened, and it was scary, it was very, very scary, and I was glad I’d taught my roommate how to guide me if I was ever freaking out. I’d never taken acid simply for fun. I’d been taught that it was a serious means of exploration, and I had guides for many of my trips. But this was powerful acid, and I’d become overconfident. I had flashbacks for many years after that, in fact. I had to make sure that I kept it vivid and short and not add all the tiny details I’d experienced.
The part where Nick and Rob go to Cincinnati actually happened—the coffee house was the same, the waitress said the same things—so I was having fun writing all this, though constantly having to remind myself that it was a work of fiction, that I wasn’t Nick or Rob, and that I had to give shape to the experience I recalled and not just let it roll on for forty or fifty pages.
You write quite a lot of scripts too. How did you get involved with screenwriting?
As I said earlier, when I moved to London I knew that writers worked in many media. I spent a morning with the writer Beryl Bainbridge and we talked a lot about this, as she’d had experience working in TV as well as in fiction. She encouraged me to write for what was then a very rich medium in terms of the talent involved. It was the golden age of British TV, in fact, with some extraordinary things being done on the small screen—all of it written by up-and-coming authors as well as by the powerhouse writers such as Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Simon Gray, David Hare, and so on. Though I never sold, I got a lot of people interested in my scriptwriting, and when my first novel was published there I was commissioned to adapt it as a feature film. The producers all worked in TV, had just wrapped their first feature starring a little-known Liam Neeson, and had been fans of my work for some years.
The problem, though, is that English drama can be built upon, say, two men in a room with a bottle of Scotch. Pinter—an influence—does this all the time, and creates compelling and often violent drama out of it. Language is a weapon in the English theatre. But when you write for Hollywood, language is a means to an end, and so much depends on setpieces and plot. I still tend to draw out a scene with lots of witty dialogue, and development execs and producers will keep on cutting it!
You’ve written Thrillers, Mysteries, and also Literary Fiction. Do you have a favorite genre? And if so, why?
I actually don’t write any genre fiction, Doug, believe it or not. Early on in my career I was influenced by, at the time, a new kind of writing out of France, where genre mixed with the literary. Writers such as J.-P. Manchette, Patrick Modiano, Jean Echenoz, René Belletto, and others were writing character-based fiction that borrowed certain tropes from genres such as detective fiction and thrillers. When I first read Proust I realized that his was a kind of detective tale crossed with a spy story. The narrator is an aspiring writer who observes to the point of obsession, who spies, who is searching for something in the same way as Sam Spade might. And he has secrets to hide, just as many of his characters do.
This doesn’t make the publishers’ job any easier, of course. How do we market this? they always ask, because that mingling of genres isn’t that common here. In screenwriting, though, I brand myself as a thriller writer.
What projects are you working on now?
A new novel, like Airtight, built upon a screenplay. As you’ve seen, memory plays a huge role in all my fiction, and I’d written a script—it still goes out now and again—set in the future when the government owns your memories after you die. They go into a central clearing house and are scanned according to various algorithms to seek out any terrorists or burgeoning terror plots. So that memory-tampering is illegal.
But by then technology has given us the capability to delete memories, and of course this gives rise to crime. The main character is the former head detective of LAPD’s Memory Division, now disabled out of the force because he has a form of Alzheimer’s—he’s losing his memory. He runs a nostalgia store off Hollywood Boulevard, and one day a woman walks in and hires him to help her track down a stolen memory.
That’s the basis of the novel, as well. It’s actually quite a sad story, because to live in a world in which you no longer can call even that most personal of thing, the memory, your own, is borderline tragic. It’s the melancholy of Godard’s Alphaville, really.
I’ve also recently finished a new script, “Rouge Incorruptible,” and that’ll be going out to producers after Sundance. Late January. “Body Heat” meets “The Thomas Crown Affair.”
To wrap things up, I would like to borrow six quick questions from the great James Lipton host of Inside The Actor’s Studio. Here we go. Now, J.P.…
What is your favorite word? 
What is your least favorite word? 
What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally? 
A great piece of music. A great painting. Anything achieved exquisitely and simply. Great ballet.
What sound or noise do you love? 
Bach played on the piano. A Thelonious Monk solo.
What sound or noise do you hate? 
Other people’s music played too loudly.
What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt? 
War photographer.
J.P., thank you so much for stopping by!
It’s been fun, Doug, and thanks!

Check out all of JP Smith’s novels on Amazon

For more interesting tidbits about JP Smith, please visit his website.

Courtney Summers Author Interview!

My first introduction to Courtney Summers occurred inside my local Barnes & Noble bookstore. I saw the cover of her debut novel, CRACKED UP TO BE, which featured a headless teen girl stretched out on a bench with a soccer field behind her. I was curious. Why is that girl missing her head? Does she play soccer? Is she thinking about playing soccer? Does she dream about a world without soccer?

Curious, I picked up a copy and read the first chapter. I was then introduced to Parker Fadley, a girl who was smart, sarcastically hilarious, and didn’t take crap from anybody. But what really got me was the writing. As a reader, I clicked with the no-marshmallow, to-the-point, no-apologies way Ms. Summers writes. It was refreshing and made me a fan right then and there. Although, I did find out that CRACKED UP TO BE has nothing to do with soccer.

Since then, Courtney has written three young adult novels, SOME GIRLS ARE, FALL FOR ANYTHING, and her new book coming out on Tuesday, June 19th… 

Here’s a description from Ms. Summers’ website:

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up.

As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, everyone’s motivations to survive begin to change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life–and death–inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

I’ve already had the pleasure of reading this book and you can read that review here. (without spoilers) But basically…I LOVED IT!

I asked Courtney if she would stop by my website and answer a few questions about her writing, her books, and about THIS IS NOT A TEST. I was floored when she said yes. And I was humbled when she offered to send a free copy of THIS IS NOT A TEST to one lucky person for a giveaway! So keep reading for your chance to win!

Let’s get started…

Instead of going for the standard, survivalist-type horror heroine, you went the opposite way with Sloane. In the book, she starts off as a character who really wants to die. How did you come up with that choice? Was it the way you always envisioned Sloane or did her character change as you were writing the book?

I thought about how I’d (honestly) react during a zombie apocalypse. I like to think I’d be totally awesome at it but if I lost everyone that mattered to me, I’m not so sure I’d want to keep going. I always envisioned Sloane as girl who didn’t want to survive. How much she wanted to die became more pronounced from the first to second draft, but the core of her character, her motivations, remained the same.

One central element of this book is how the characters relate to each other and how that shifts throughout the story. My favorite relationship is between the twins Trace and Grace. Why did you pick a set of twins?

Thank you! I think of Trace and Grace as the characters the other characters want to be. Everyone in THIS IS NOT A TEST is aching for their family and those two represent what the others have lost. I thought having siblings would emphasize this void and I chose twins because I felt that would also intensify it.

What is your favorite horror film? And why?

I love Kairo (Pulse). It’s J-horror and it’s brilliant. I didn’t like it the first time I saw it but I made myself watch it again and it blew me away. The pacing is very slow, but it’s incredibly atmospheric and so lonely. It’s about ghosts and they’re taking over the living world through technology, forcing those who come in contact with them to commit suicide. It’s chilling.

Why do you like to write young adult fiction? What is it about the genre that appeals to you?

I love writing YA fiction because the stories demand an immediacy and intensity that is so fun to explore. I also love writing YA because I love reading it. So many YA books out today are fresh and exciting. I also adore the community–it’s so supportive and enthusiastic.

When faced with a new book, what’s your writing process?

My process is all over the place, to be honest! It really depends on the book. I could outline, I could just dive right in. I never know. THIS IS NOT A TEST was outlined extensively twice, for example. The book I’m working on now has been outlined more than that. Right now it looks like I settle into a new book with outlining, but Book 6 could change that up!

Who is your favorite fictional heroine and why?

That’s so hard to pick! I adore Luna Lovegood. She operates on this whole other level and nothing seems to touch her. I love every female protagonist Melina Marchetta has written because they’re always so honest and realistic. Andrea from Blake Nelson’s Girl has an incredible voice and is so likeable and wonderfully flawed. I’d read any book she narrated.

You write very compelling female heroines. Sloane in THIS IS NOT A TEST. Eddie in FALL FOR ANYTHING. Regina in SOME GIRLS ARE. Parker in CRACKED UP TO BE. Of these four fictional characters, which one is the closest to the real Courtney Summers?

Thank you! I don’t think any of them are by the time I’m finished a book, to be honest! I relate to some of my female leads more than others, but all of them are pretty far away from the type of person I am… I think. 😉

You can tell this next question is a bit…leading. But, if you were given a choice between an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas or one to Volcano National Park in Hawaii…which one would you choose and why?

Hah! WELL. Volcano National Park all the way! Best ever.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m wrapping up the first draft of my fifth book, ALL THE RAGE, which is due out in 2013. It’s about a girl who blackmails a rich classmate and then wakes up on a dirt road with no memory of the night before.

To wrap things up, I would like to borrow five quick questions from the great James Lipton, host of Inside The Actor’s Studio. Here we go.

Now, Courtney…

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

What sound or noise do you love?

What sound or noise do you hate?

And we will leave on that noisy note. Courtney, thank you so much for stopping by!

Thanks for having me on your blog, Doug!

Courtney has allowed me the honor of giving away one copy of THIS IS NOT A TEST to one lucky reader!

To enter, all you need to do is leave one comment on this post by Midnight (CST) on June 16, 2012. I will announce the winner on June 19, 2012. Please list your e-mail on your comment so I can contact you if you win. Don’t worry, I will not use your e-mail for any other purpose.

You can only enter once. UNLESS…you mention this interview on Twitter or your blog and I’ll give you one extra entry! BUT please let me know you did this by either adding my twitter name (@DougSolter) to your tweet. Or put a link to your blog post inside your comment to get credit.

This giveaway is for US/Canada entries only. Sorry. :(  

Good luck!

Interview with Author Nancy Bilyeau

 I’ve known author Nancy Bilyeau for a couple years now and oddly enough, I’ve never met her in person.  But…in the age before Facebook, we traveled around similar online writing circles, one of which is the Nichollscribes Yahoo group. This group is composed of screenwriters who were quarterfinalists or higher in the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. Nancy had two scripts reach the semi-finalist stage of the competition.

Nancy then switched to writing novels, which I think was a brilliant career move on her part because..


Her debut novel The Crown is a historical thriller set during the Tudor period of English history. Simon and Schuster/Touchstone will release the novel on Tuesday, January 12, 2012 in the United States and Orion will release the novel on February 2, 2012 in the United Kingdom. 

It’s already getting some advanced buzz… 

 “The events of the period come to life in Nancy Bilyeau’s dazzling and heart-wrenching novel. The Crown is evocative, provocative, and full of intriguing characters—a gorgeously written novel that has mystery and history, pathos and depth. This is a stunning debut about a woman whose spirit shines through and deeply moves the reader.”

—International Bestseller M.J. Rose

“This fast-paced debut delivers Tudor intrigue and mystical thrills in one satisfying package—and leaves room for a sequel.”


“Bilyeau deftly weaves extensive historical detail throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful move is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy, and betrayal.”

O, The Oprah Magazine

 Here’s more about the novel… 

Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the sacred rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

The ruthless Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, takes terrifying steps to force Joanna to agree to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may hold the ability to end the Reformation. Accompanied by two monks, Joanna returns home to Dartford Priory and searches in secret for this long-lost piece of history worn by the Saxon King Athelstan in 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain.

But Dartford Priory has become a dangerous place, and when more than one dead body is uncovered, Joanna departs with a sensitive young monk, Brother Edmund, to search elsewhere for the legendary crown. From royal castles with tapestry-filled rooms to Stonehenge to Malmesbury Abbey, the final resting place of King Athelstan, Joanna and Brother Edmund must hurry to find the crown if they want to keep Joanna’s father alive. At Malmesbury, secrets of the crown are revealed that bring to light the fates of the Black Prince, Richard the Lionhearted, and Katherine of Aragon’s first husband, Arthur. The crown’s intensity and strength are beyond the earthly realm and it must not fall into the wrong hands.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must now decide who she can trust with the secret of the crown so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions about your new book, Nancy!

I am glad to be here, Doug!

Joanna Stafford is the main heroine in your book The Crown. What’s interesting about her character? 

She’s a young woman who’s often divided. Her father’s an English nobleman, and her mother’s a Spanish lady-in-waiting. She “looks” different than most other women. She has selected a life of prayer and contemplation but she has quite the temper. Controlling her anger is her biggest challenge. She loves books and is very, very smart. Joanna excels in thinking “on her feet”—and that becomes critical quite a few times.

What is it about the Tudor era of English history that draws you to write about it? 

So many exciting things to write about: love, war, upheaval, betrayal, faith. I love the Renaissance and that feeling in the 16th century that all sorts of new ideas were pouring in but medieval values still held. Amazing clothes! 

How do you approach writing historical fiction? Does research fuel the fictional story or do you write the story first and then research what you need to ground it inside that world? 

Sometimes research leads the way but more often I come up with story and then research to ground it. One of the reasons I picked the 1530s is I’ve been reading about it for years and so felt some comfort there. I wouldn’t have wanted to pick a place and time I know little about going in. Too daunting. 

Are there any good sword fights in the book? Something Errol Flynn would love? 

No, but I do have multiple stabbings! There’s a bit of torture and burning at the stake. And someone gets bashed in the head with a religious object. 

I LOVE the cover of your book. Did you give any input into its creation? 

Authors are asked to submit thoughts, so I sent in a couple of books of religious art, snapshots of the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, postcards, and a CD of nuns’ chanting—mood music. 

You first started out writing screenplays, but then made the switch to novels. As a writer, was it difficult making the transition between the two mediums? 

No, it wasn’t hard. There were certain techniques from screenwriting I found very very helpful! Such as making sure there are obstacles in the way of your main character, describing the environment characters move in, setup and payoff. It’s still storytelling. A lot of these skills I learned from screenwriter Max Adams—I think I met you in one of her classes, Doug. Now going from nonfiction to fiction—that is hard. A lot of writers can’t do it. 

What is your writing process like? 

My writing process is that I revise what I did during the previous writing session and then I start new material. I need about two hours to be effective but more is ideal. At about five hours I crash. The period of revising “starts the engine,” so to speak. The tricky thing about The Crown and The Chalice is getting the voice. I am writing in the first person, from the POV of a young Catholic novice. I don’t use obscure 16th century words but I try very hard not to let modern-slangy usage in there either. I have two readers who comb through my chapters flagging words that sound too modern. But also I need to keep the pace up while weaving through the story my historical detail. Plus I try to end every chapter with a hook or at least a feeling of intrigue. So this is not the kind of writing you can pick up when you have a few spare minutes. That’s why I talk about “starting the engine.” I usually listen to a piece of music first. Also I find “field trips” enormously helpful. As often as possible I took the subway to upper Manhattan, to the Cloisters Museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’d walk in the cloisters garden, sit in the Chapter House, and visit the room with the medieval tomb effigies. I also found incredible inspiration from a day at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in December. It had snowed heavily; no one else was around. I tramped through the snow for hours–ideas kept popping in my head. A friend told me snow is quiet and perhaps suppressing all other sounds allowed creative ideas to emerge. I don’t know. But whatever happened, it was helpful! 

You’ve worked for Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Good Housekeeping and as deputy editor of InStyle magazine so you know that side of the publishing world. Has that experience helped you in dealing with your publisher Simon & Schuster? Were there any differences between the publishing worlds of novels and magazines that you had to adjust to? 

Being a magazine editor and writer means I produce “clean” pages, according to my agent anyway. My grammar and spelling are top-notch. But it never gave me much of an advantage in creating fiction. Editing nonfiction and writing fiction are really different things that use different muscles. Although I had dealt with literary agents as an editor I really didn’t know how to get one myself. I asked, in an embarrassed way, if two agents I knew and liked would represent me, and it turns out my kind of book was not their kind of book so they said no. Agents specialize to a degree I hadn’t realized. I got my agent through Publisher’s Marketplace like anyone else. I sent him an email with a description of my book and the first five pages attached, as he requested on his website. He responded pretty quickly. I think the fact that I was an editor at InStyle helped get his attention but if he hadn’t thought the book was good he wouldn’t have taken me. Also if I had not worked in media at all, I think my agent would still have signed me. Because historical mystery/thrillers are his passion with a special place in his heart for the Tudor period. So we are made for each other.
Now another way being a longtime text editor helps me is on the back end, when my book is being edited. I don’t get upset with queries or suggestions; I’ve walked too many miles in those shoes. I LIKE being copy-edited, and I sent an email to the Simon&Schuster copy editor saying “Be as aggressive as you like–I welcome all questions!” I don’t know if that happens to them all that often. LOL.

Who is your all-time favorite fictional heroine? And why? 

Evil question, Doug. How do I choose between Anna Karenina, Elizabeth Bennett, Countess Olenska, Scarlett O’Hara, V.I Warshawski, Mina Harker and Jo March?? But since you’ve pushed me up against the wall, my runner-up would be Anne Elliott of Persuasion and number one goes to the unnamed Second Mrs. DeWinter of Rebecca. They are both flawed and shy women who are tested and become strong and they are both unbelievably relatable and sympathetic. 

What projects are you working on now? 

I just finished the sequel to The Crown, it’s called The Chalice. It brings back most of the main characters of the first book, plus I bring in a LOT of new ones. I think it’s scarier. 

Now, I’m going a little James Lipton on you, Nancy, so get ready. 

What is your favorite word? 


What is your least favorite word? 


What sound or noise do you love? 

 The ocean. Also 80s pop songs. 

What sound or noise do you hate? 

 Leaf blowers! That horrible grinding hum—and the gas smell. Ugh. But other than that, I can tolerate anything. New York City is unbelievably noisy. The only time noise truly sent me over the edge is when I lived in an apartment building below subletters who would hit the clubs every night and then come home at 3 a.m. and stomp around on the wood floor with French techno turned up high. Torture. 

What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt? 

 I know I’m supposed to say doctor or social worker, but pastry chef would be fantastic. At one point when the New York career thing was going badly I daydreamed a lot about running a kayak rental business on Vancouver Island

Always wanted to try kayaking. Thanks, Nancy!