I started out working as a reporter writing articles for a travel magazine based in Beverly Hills and then as a columnist for a computer magazine where I wrote about technology ‘Sweet Savage Byte’, as well as writing for academia, radio commercials and PR copy for a local AM/FM station. I’ve also had three plays produced in Malibu and I worked for a time writing scripts for children’s and daytime TV before publishing nonfiction books about Japan, and then later fiction.
Jann: You have an amazing writing career. How did it get started?
Jina: I’ve always written, having grown up with my Irish grandma who inspired me to write – a fine woman who was never without a story on her lips or a rosary in her hands… blue or white or green beads fastened together by her nimble fingers into a holy circle. I’d sit at her feet, holding my crayons in my left hand and coloring in my ballerina book or playing with my paper dolls, all the while making up stories of my own.
My first writing job was an article about the uniqueness of European bathrooms called ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Loo’. After college, I was torn between working part time as an illustrator for Frederick’s of Hollywood or working as a reporter for a travel magazine. I needed to pay the rent, so I wrote articles under different names and never looked back.
Jann: Why romance, time travel and World War 2?
Jina: Romance makes the world go round no matter what century you’re in… time travel because I spent a lot of my childhood in museums. The voices of the past speak to me through stiff ivory-colored crinolines and worn satin slippers. I’ve always wondered what it was like to walk in those slippers when they were new. World War 2 because I love the clothes, the sophistication, the Victory Red lipstick… the drama and power of the women who helped win the war. They were feminine and daring and strong… and fell in love with brave pilots. Who doesn’t love a guy in a sheepskin leather jacket and aviator sunglasses?
Jann: Historical romance readers look for accuracy from the author. What are your favorite sources for research and how much time did you spend on research. Do you research before, while you write a first draft or after?
Jina: Re: doing research, I love the joy of finding old books or films produced during the time I’m writing about; e.g., there is an enormous amount of material from the 1930s and 1940s, both first person accounts published during the war as well as films. Newsreels, but also home movies shot by participants on both sides. I have a wonderful ‘coffee table’ book that’s filled with scenes of Paris during the Occupation, as well as detailed timelines both in print and on the Internet that help me in setting up scenes so I can drop my characters into the historical moment, then turn them loose and see what they do. They always surprise me!
I research during all phases of the writing process… from creating the characters to researching the weather on a certain day to the phases of the moon (I have RAF landings in France that depend on moonlight). I never hesitate to check a date or place at any time, right through the proofreading.
Jann: Your new historical, The Orphans of Berlin, is described as Heartbreaking and based on a true story. How did you find the story this book is based on?
Jina: It’s based on the Kindertransport, the children’s transport. It’s well documented in films and books… I was fascinated by a documentary featuring an American couple who orchestrated a Kindertransport at a time when the US limited immigration, making it impossible for German Jews escaping death at the hands of the Nazis to come to America. I discovered that Jewish children from Germany and Austria and other European countries were sent to England and also to France by their desperate parents. Since I write about Occupied France, the story took off from here.
I also write about a personal journey in The Orphans of Berlin related to my American heroine (all is revealed in the acknowledgements).
Jann: What major conflicts do your leading characters in The Orphans of Berlin, Kate Alexander and the Landau sisters, have to work through?
Jina: Kay Alexander is a debutante albeit a reluctant one. It’s a life chosen for her by her society mother, but Kay is determined to be her own person in spite of her mother’s domineering ways. Kay has to work through the delicate balance of finding her independence, yet never giving up hope her mother will see her as an individual. She loves her mom and is proud of her heritage, and wants to use her fortune to help others.
Rachel is twelve when we meet her, a time in the Jewish religion when a girl becomes an adult. We follow Rachel through the trials and tribulations every girl faces growing up: her maturing body, feelings for boys, seeking independence from her parents whom she adores, and yearning to be her own person. What makes all this so difficult is that Rachel faces the trials of impending womanhood in a time when the Nazis set about destroying her world of tradition and ancient culture… and also taking on the duty to keep her younger sisters safe in a dangerous time.
Jann: I understand there is a handsome British pilot. What can you tell us about this character?
Jina: Max Hamilton-Jones is a daring pilot from a tough, English upbringing in Blackpool in Northern England. He grew up around airplanes and joined an air circus when he was a teenager. He has a fierce sense of protecting the innocent and uses his flying skills to fight in Spain before WW2… he’s an avant-garde artist who captures human foibles with his amazing sketches featuring slices of life. He loves beautiful woman and sees into the soul of his models with his pen… he’s sexy, witty, and protective of Kay and Rachel and her two sisters. I love that.
Jann: Are you working on something now that you can share with us?
Jina: I’m writing my fourth book about the Holocaust in Occupied France… this time I’m tackling the subject of rape during the war: how many cases were never reported and the stories of these Frenchwomen lay buried in the shadows.
I want to shine a light on one such story…
Jann: You’re a multi-published author, is there a character in one of your books whose personality most matches yours? If so, which book and character and why?
Jina: Aye, it’s Ava O’Reilly, my Irish heroine from Queenstown in The Runaway Girl, my story about the Titanic. Ava pokes her nose where she shouldn’t, is outspoken with her opinions, and is filled with colorful, witty phrases. Of course, Ava speaks her mind; me, I write it down in stories, but there’s a lot of Ava in me.
Jann: Where can we get your books?
Jina: Readers can find my books published by Boldwood Books at Amazon US, UK, CA, AU, and international Amazon sites, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and in the UK, in brick and mortar stores, The Works and Waterstones.
The Orphans of Berlin
Jann: What’s your all-time favorite book?
Jina: Time and Again by Jack Finney
I love exploring the science behind traveling through time, the whys and what ifs. Mr Finney made me believe in time travel. I love his wit, his passion for the lady he loves in his time travel novel, his historical accuracy and gripping detail that put you there.
A true gentleman and a scholar for any time.
[I wrote two novels about time travel: Her Lost Love – WW2 on the home front where a lonely woman goes home on a magic Christmas train to save her fiancé who died in the war; and Love Me Forever – a female re-enactor goes back to the Civil War dressed as a soldier and meets her double, a Confederate spy.]
Jina, its been great to have a peak into your writing world. You write amazing stories. Good luck on The Orphans of Berlin. Have a wonderful holiday season.
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Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow.
Fae: This is going to sound funny, but it seems that all my friends are more excited than I am. I’m very happy to finally share this story, but even though I have lots of work still to do—there’s marketing and social media to do, PRISM 2 to write, another series to revise the first two books that are already written, and a third series that I’ve finished the first two books “in my head”—for now, I’m learning how to make social media more user-friendly for me. Next week I’ll start plotting and writing PRISM 2 and begin the final revision of Keeping Athena, the first book in my adult science fiction romance series. I’ve been working such long hours for the past eighteen months, it’s nice to just take a breather and bask a little in the congratulations. And…there is a kind of sadness that I’m not hanging out with these people in the same way anymore.
Fae: More than five years ago, Jenny Hansen, Laura Drake, Sharla Rae and I started a blog for writers: Writers in the Storm. Jenny said we needed a platform for when we got published, so I climbed on the blog train along with them. It took a year before I finally understood the technology and idea behind a blog for writers.
Everyone says to write the best book you can, so I did. Every chapter went through the WITS critique shredder. I probably re-wrote the beginning of the book eight times. When I finished the book, I had an hour-long “session” with Michael Hauge. I felt like I’d been steam-rolled, but his questions and suggestions helped me clarify the soft-points in the book that I hadn’t seen. It’s amazing what he can cover in sixty minutes! I entered it in half a dozen contests to get feedback. Young adult science fiction is not a large sub-genre, so I didn’t expect much, but it finaled in just about every contest. I took it to an Immersion Class with Margie Lawson. Because I wanted to put out the best book I could, I worked with Tiffany Yates Martin, my editor, through four revisions to bring out themes I hadn’t even known were there. Remember, I’m a math major who avoided writing classes. I’m a pantser who abhors plotting and cringes when someone asks the theme or turning points of my novel. Luckily, I’ve always been a voracious reader, so those story-telling “landmarks” have been absorbed by osmosis. (More on this below in the answer to question #3.)
Eighteen months ago, when I decided to self-publish, I attended as many of the self-pubbing workshops and panels at RWA 2016 San Diego as I could. I filled a notebook with tips, timelines, and scheduling calendars. I thought I’d have my first book out (I was thinking it would be Keeping Athena) within six months. Ha! That deadline got pushed back four months, then another four, then two more, then two more. What caused all the changes? I was very picky about my cover, so that took two months longer than I’d anticipated. (But I love the results from Deranged Doctor Designs. They are marvelous to work with.) I reworked my website, with help from June Stevens Westerfield. I looked at other author’s newsletters and websites. I took a social media class. A few months later I started looking at my Facebook page once every two weeks. I started a Pinterest site to collect pictures and quotes that are pertinent to my genre in general and my books, specifically. Both Keeping Athena and P.R.I.S.M. required a fourth pass with Tiffany, requiring another couple of months. I joined a blog of YA authors, and I started telling people in my circle of acquaintances that I had written a book. (I have this secretive streak…)
Fae: I don’t get inspiration about characters. The weird thing is, long before I ever start typing, my characters and their story show up in my brain. Don’t ask me how that works. One morning, I wake up, and they’re there. They aren’t fully fleshed out and I don’t know much more than the beginning and the end of the book, but I hang out with them. If they are persistent enough and I’m engaged in their lives, I write their story.
A very spiritual friend says she thinks I channel my stories. If that’s true, I wish I channeled better writing! I know my characters—and I believe that the exile world of Prism is also a character—very well. I’ve “lived” in their heads and in their surroundings. I know why they react as they do because I know their backstory. In the early drafts, when someone asked a question about some detail I invariably left out—because heck, I live there—I know the answer immediately. This has happened during pitches with agents and editors and they seem shocked at the information I can give them about what doesn’t appear in the book.
When I started P.R.I.S.M. I was hiking fifteen miles a week and eating more than a normal person would of protein shakes and bars. On the beautiful trails I wondered what it would be like if there were no ducks or squirrels or rabbits or lizards. I remembered what the Middle East was like when I spent a month there a few years ago. Long stretches of desolate sand dunes, very different food, a language I didn’t understand. I’ve been all over the world, but I couldn’t even figure out the road signs. All these bits of my past end up in the world of Prism.
Music has always been important in my life. I wrote my first book to only one song. I played that song the entire nine months I wrote that story. I played the song at work, too. Sometimes, brave co-workers asked if I had any other CD’s. Now before I start a book, I’m lucky to hear new songs on the radio that mesh well with the story. I end up with a playlist for each character, so when I’m writing a scene in that character’s POV, I listen to that playlist. For instance, Guardian (Alanis Morissette), Bring Me to Life (Evanescence) and I Drove All Night (Cyndi Lauper) are three of O’Neill’s songs, while every time Cal thinks about Jericho, it’s He’s a Pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean or when he’s with O and their friends it could be Uprising (Muse). Jericho’s POV comes to life with Geronimo (Say Hey to Single Life) and Satellite (Rise Against). Selecting my playlist is not a one-time chore, but more of an organic growth as I drive and listen to the radio. Once I identify a song for my playlist, I purchase it and listen to it until I find the next song. Usually there is a scene in each of my books that is based on a song on the playlist.
O’Neill has a lot of me in her. I didn’t realize just how much until Tiffany kept after me to dig deeper into O’s character arc. And Cal. Ah. He was just perfect for O. They came to me as so-in-love teenagers. Caring, always there, supportive Cal to balance O’s brashness and tight-leashed temper. They were, literally, destined to be together. And then Jericho shows up from Earth, just after O’s father goes missing. Can I just say right now how much I love O’s father? If Jocko Neill walked through my door, I’d be a goner. How did I not see when I was writing the book that he’s got so many of my husband’s good traits?
That was a really long answer. I guess the short answer is I find my characters in my life, in the people around me. But I couldn’t really match one character to one person. My characters are bits and pieces of what several people are—and my impressions of who they could become.
Fae: Thanks for asking. I’m so glad you visited my website. I wish I had time to hang out there more. I love writing the character blogs. And posting my “other” writing from what seems like a previous life.
Keeping Athena is an adult science fiction romance. When I wrote the book, a long time ago, I planned to write “sequels” about her two brothers. I wrote Keeping Athena and Contracting Joy, about Athena’s younger hot-shot cocky fighter pilot, before I started P.R.I.S.M.
Maybe I should mention here that I didn’t start writing to publish books. Did I say before that I might be considered weird? I started writing to tell the stories that accosted me every night when I turned out the light. (I was lucky to have a husband who was willing to eat corn flakes for dinner when, after work, I couldn’t stop writing in the middle of a space battle.) The Keep Sphere is populated with several planets, all having wonderful places and people with stories that could keep me busy for a long time.
Keeping Athena is filled with space battles, lies and betrayal, and two worlds at war. This is the kind of science fiction that made me a science fiction freak, and the romance that made me love the romance genre years later—all rolled into one story. Think Star Wars and Gone with the Wind, if Rhett and Scarlet ended up together and madly in love. Athena, an Agran fighter pilot and trained assassin, crashes behind enemy lines onto Drake’s tiny asteroid, becoming his prisoner. Drake is the second-in-command of the Keep forces, but he hides that fact from her, pretending to be a space bum. She struggles to escape. He struggles to decode the secrets in her nav boards. They both fight against the attraction they feel.
I got the idea for the Hangar Bay that’s on my website (www.faerowen.com) from the flight deck in what will be my third series, The Regent Fleet Academy. I wish I had a clone, because the first two books in that series are fully written in my head, I just need time to type them out. And, as usual, I’m in love. With a bad-boy hero, which I’ve never written before. Can I just share a song from Fire on Roof, the first book in the series? Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon is on my main character’s playlist the first half of the book, then it flips and is on the hero’s playlist. There is a scene for each of them based on the song, and they just might be my favorite scenes in the book.
Fae: “The book won’t write itself.” Laura Drake told me this when I complained that I wasn’t getting the daily word count I wanted. She asked how long I was sitting at the computer. Uh…not long.
Fae: I’d love to write about Navy SEALS and special ops. I’d be willing to do the research for that, but I don’t think I could pull off the on-going suspense. I can tell you that I will never write historicals, even though I love to read regency romances. I don’t have the patience for hours of research that passionate readers know much better than I ever will. And because I don’t plot, mysteries are out. My stories are too convoluted with lots of subplots to be short. (P.R.I.S.M. came in at over 125,000 words.) My first book, still under the bed, was a medieval fantasy romance. I liked writing about knights and swords. But I have a lot to deal with in the future, and I’m good with that.
Fae: I love being able to work whenever I want to-late at night, early in the morning, all day and night if I want to. And it’s great not to have to get dressed for “work” with make-up and hair to impress whomever.
Fae: Are you kidding? Beam me up!
Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard. When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen
Fae also blogs at YA Outside the Lines on the fifth of every month.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love is available now at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Sarah Vance-Tompkins was born in a small town in northern Michigan. She earned an MFA in Film Production from the University of Southern California before working in feature film development for ten years. Prior to film school, she began her career in media as an on-air radio personality. She has worked as a staff reporter for a weekly entertainment trade publication, a fashion copy writer, and for a brief time was the social media maven for a personal lubricant manufacturer.
She has published two YA books with Inkspell Publishing. Her first adult romance with Tule Publishing, ON CHRISTMAS TREE COVE, was released in October 2021. The second book in the small town series, WISHING FOR MR. RIGHT will be published on September 29, 2022. She and her husband live in Southern California with a glaring of unruly cats.
I’m so excited to be doing this Q&A with Sarah Vance-Tompkins. She a wonderful woman and fantastic author. Let’s see what she has to say!!
Jann: Tell us about your path to publication.
Sarah: I went to USC for film school, so my background is in screenwriting. I made all the rookie mistakes in my first romance manuscript. Filter words. Telling, not showing. Head hopping. Dialogue tags for days. I did it all. Gah! I had so much to learn. I’d come back from conferences after taking every craft class offered, eager to apply my new-found knowledge. After several false starts I finished a manuscript I loved. Even better I sent out queries and got full requests. Finally, it attracted an agent’s attention. I got the call! I was joyful. I’d made it. I was on my way – next stop a five publishing house bidding war! Then the agent ghosted me. I was devastated and unable to write for a long time. But like the Energizer Bunny, I kept submitting stuff. I published a couple of short stories with Inkspell, then sent my manuscript off to Tule Publishing. They gave me the nicest rejection ever. They said it wasn’t for them but asked if I had any interest in writing a Christmas romance. I love Christmas! And romance. I came up with several different ideas. One of their editors gave me helpful feedback on my synopsis and first chapter. I was thrilled when I found a contract in my email box one morning. But I can’t emphasize it enough my success is a direct result of rejection.
Jann: Setting, Theme, Plot—these are questions authors are faced with every day. How important are they to you for your stories?
Sarah: I started out writing as an unabashed and deeply committed Pantser, but with each manuscript I became more and more of a Plotser. Now, I’m really leaning into being a full-on Plotter. It really seems to be best, especially when you’re trying to communicate with an editor. But it’s been long evolution. Not gonna lie, after I turned in my last project, I made color-coded Excel spread sheets to plot my current WIP. We’ll see how it goes…
As far as setting, theme and plot are concerned, it’s always setting and theme, then plot. They’re all equally important in my mind, but the setting and theme always need to be settled first. It’s the plot I wrestle with every day from beginning to end.
Jann: What inspires or excites you to write?
Sarah: I became a K-drama addict during the pandemic. One of my favorite authors (Kate Clayborn) mentioned something on Twitter about her undying love and devotion to a series called “Crash Landing On You.” I watched one episode and was completely hooked. The stories are always filled with my favorite romance tropes: Fake Dating. Forbidden Love. Celebrity Dating. Enemies to Lovers. Soul Mates. And the actors are gorgeous and dressed in the most beautiful designer clothes.
Jann: September 29th, Dacey Adair and Luke La Fontaine, make their debut in Wishing for Mr. Right. What would you like the readers to know about them. What major conflicts do they have to work through on their way to HEA?
Sarah: Dacey is a perfectionist working her way up the corporate ladder to world domination. When she’s knocked down a rung or two, she falls far and hard. has to always be right. Even if she’s wrong. Luke is local heartthrob who is so far from perfect, he’s developed a bit of bad boy reputation. He totally owns it. They are complete opposites, but secretly they’ve both been craving love with a special someone. But neither one would admit it. Until they fall for hard for each other.
Jann: Which character did you develop first, Dacey or Luke?
Sarah: Dacey was the no-nonsense sister of Morgan Adair in On Christmas Tree Cove. I totally identified with her. She was a workaholic who didn’t take any time for herself until time off was forced on her when she was fired with cause. She always tried to be perfect, so I knew she’d have to have an imperfect hero. And I think Luke LaFontaine is the perfect imperfect man for her. He a total hottie with a reputation for being the “town tomcat.” You can read the blurb on the Tule Publishing website:
Jann: What preparations have you made for the launch for Wishing for Mr. Right?
Sarah: It’s funny how much promotion changes in a year. I find myself doing things very differently than I did for On Christmas Tree Cove. I’m sending out packages of books and swag to bookstagrammers and book bloggers. I’m hired someone to help with a social media push. And then I need to get a push on to get reviews and do some giveaways. Next week I’ll probably book a small plane to do skywriting. I’m kidding but I’m open to suggestion and it seems like my to-do list is never-ending.
Jann: How do you come up with name for your characters? On Christmas Tree Cove, you have main characters, Morgan Adair and Jesse Taylor, I put a Spell on You, a romantic comedy, Aviana Willowbrook and Nash Nolan, Kisses on a Paper Airplane, Hannah Evans and Theo Callahan and What’s Better Than A Book Boyfriend, Charlie Bishop and Hank Carter. Do character names have importance to you?
Sarah: I carry a teeny tiny notebook around in my purse. When I hear a name I love, I jot it down on what is has now become a very long list filling almost all of the pages. When I’m working on a new story I go back and forth over it. I’m not really able to see and hear my characters until I settle on the name that brings them to life. I’ll write a few at the top of the manuscript, but I can’t usually decide on my characters’ names until I’ve been working on the synopsis and the first few chapters.
Jann: What are you working on now? Can you tell us about your next project?
Sarah: I joined a writing collective called SMUT U in 2020. The group includes writers of all genres from around the world. Every day at 7am PT we gather on a Zoom call and use the Pomodoro Method to get words down on the page. One morning I decided I wanted to write a story about a woman who falls in love in her forties – since I was a first-time 48 year-old bride. She makes a lot of mistakes. It truly is my passion project. It’s been an absolute blast to write.
Jann: What’s your all-time favorite book?
Sarah: Underfoot in Show Business by Helene Hanff
Jann: What‘s on your To-Be-Read pile?
Sarah: To Catch a Raven by Beverly Jenkins
Nora Goes Off Script by Anabel Monaghan
Circling Back To You by Julie Tieu
Heartbreaker by Sarah MacLean
Jann: What’s your favorite song?
Sarah: A Song For You by Leon Russell
Jann: What’s your favorite movie?
Sarah: Now, Voyager
You can find out more about her latest release by following on BookBub. https://tulepublishing.com/books/wishing-for-mr-right/
She also hangs out on Twitter. A lot. Follow @sarahvtompkins
Sarah, thank you, thank you for sharing with us today. Can’t wait for the debut of Wishing for Mr. Right. Best of luck!!
Kathleen Kaska is the awarding-winning author of the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series set in the 1950s and the Kate Caraway Animal-Rights Mystery Series. Her first two Lockhart mysteries, Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus books for the Pulpwood Queen Book Group, the country’s largest book group. She also writes mystery trivia, including The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book. Her Holmes short story, “The Adventure at Old Basingstoke,” appears in Sherlock Holmes of Baking Street. She is the founder of The Dogs in the Nighttime, the Sherlock Holmes Society of Anacortes, Washington, a scion of The Baker Street Irregulars.
Kathleen is a writing coach. She helps new writers get started, hone their skills, and coaches them on their publishing journey. She also edits and evaluates manuscripts and book proposals.
Jann: Where did you get your ideas for the Sydney Lockhart and Kate Caraway series?
Kathleen: My husband and I often spend Thanksgiving week at the historic Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas. On one of those trips, I met Sydney Lockhart while unpacking. She walked out of the bathroom and told me she was not happy because there was a dead man in her bathtub. Then she told me her story. All I had to do was write it down. By the end of that week, I had the skeletal structure for the series.
I started writing the Kate Caraway Animal-Rights Mystery Series because I wanted to write a series with a social cause—a cause I was passionate about. I strongly believe in and support animal rights. At that time I came up with the idea, I was living in Austin, where I volunteered as a rehabber for Wild Life Rescue, an organization that raised and cared for injured and orphaned wildlife. I used that experience as the premise for my books.
Jann: Your award-winning Sydney Lockhart mystery series is set in the 1950s. How much research did you do before beginning the series?
Kathleen: I grew up in the 1950s, so I have a strong sense of what that decade was like, but I needed to familiarize myself with the fashion, music, lingo, and social norms. So I read several books set in the fifties and watched movies and old TV shows.
Since each book is set in an actual historic hotel, I need to get a feel for the location, which means spending time there and delving into the hotel’s history. I interview the concierge or general manager, who can usually dig up juice tidbits for me. Then I visit the local newspaper office and the library to read back issues to find out what was doing on in the early 1950s.
The Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the setting for the first Sydney Lockhart mystery, has a history display that dates back to the hotel’s conception in 1875. The Luther Hotel in Palacios, Texas (second book), owned by the same family since the 1930s, has an entire room of scrapbooks, photos, and other memorabilia, like letters from Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, who stayed there often. The town of Palacios also has a museum, which was a great source of wealth. Research for Murder at the Galvez was easy because I spend a lot of time in Galveston, Texas. My husband was born on the island, so I picked his brain about what he remembered about life in the 1950s.
Jann: Tell us about Sydney Lockhart, your main character.
Kathleen: Sydney Jean Lockhart is a twenty-nine-year-old reporter from Houston, Texas. She grew up in the Bayou City and move to Austin to attend the University of Texas. As a young college student during World War II, Sydney began admiring the young, brave women who became the backbone of the country’s workforce. A Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) poster hung in her dorm room, and when she wasn’t elbow-deep in science-education classes, Sydney attended women’s rights rallies. She vowed to stay single and independent, having turned down her first marriage proposal at age eighteen. Having two wacky parents as marital role models also kept Sydney away from the altar. After graduation, Sydney landed a job as a travel writer for the Austin American. She discovered she was much better at solving crimes and eventually hooked up with ex-police detective Ralph Dixon. They joined forces and opened their own detective agency.
Jann: On June 26th, Murder at the Menger made its debut. What challenges have you set for Sydney?
Kathleen: Since the first book, Sydney has grown and changed a lot in a short time. In Murder at the Menger, she’s questioning some of the personal and professional decisions she’s made. She begins to doubt herself and doubt Dixon’s loyalty. And for this case, Sydney starts out working alone in an unfamiliar city, San Antonio. To make matters worse, she is attacked and left for dead. She survived the incident, but her head injury resulted in amnesia causing her to remember only snatches of the case she was working on and why she was in San Antonio. But her life back in Austin is a complete blur, and she doesn’t know who she can trust. I also made her a murder suspect.
Jann: How many books do you have planned for this series?
Kathleen: I’ll keep writing Sydney mysteries as long as I enjoy it and people enjoy reading them. I have a list of hotels I plan to use. Murder at the Pontchartrain is the next one up. It takes place at the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans, one of my favorite cities. It will be released early in 2023.
Jann: Later this summer, the third Kate Caraway animal rights mystery, Eagle Crossing, will be available. What trouble will she be riding into?
Kathleen: Kate Caraway and her husband, Jack Ryder, are on Lopez Island in Washington State, visiting an old friend who owns a wildlife rescue facility called Eagle Crossing. They hope to relax and recuperate after the previous machinations Kate was involved in in A Two Horse Town. But, of course, that doesn’t happen. Before Kate can unwind, trouble begins. A family gathering and celebration turns tragic. Soon three people are murdered, and an attempt is made on her life.
Jann: The first book in the series, Run Dog Run, made the Chanticleer International Book shortlist for best mystery. That had to be exciting. What are your plans for this series?
Kathleen: The subplot in the Kata Caraway series deals with Kate’s desire to return to Kenya, where she has an Elephant research camp. However, because of her involvement with poachers, she was forced to leave the country at the beginning of Run Dog Run. It might be time in book four to send her back to Africa.
Jann: What do you want readers to come away with after these two series?
Kathleen: In reading the Sydney Lockhart series, I want readers to sit back, laugh, and enjoy the ride. After reading my Kate Caraway series, I hope folks will consider supporting a social cause, whether it’s saving whales, rescuing dogs, or improving the environment.
Jann: Do you find yourself returning to certain themes in your stories? What? Why?
Kathleen: The theme for both series is strong women standing up for their beliefs. I love reading about woman going above and beyond the norm and accomplishing great undertakings and overcoming unbelievable obstacles.
Jann: What’s the best writing advice you ever received? What’s the worst?
Kathleen: The best: finish your manuscript, polish it, and then look for a publisher or agent. In other words, do not put the cart before the horse. And always, read, read, read.
The worst: if your first book isn’t a bestseller, don’t write your second. I scoffed at that one.
Jann: How do you stay motivated? What drives you to keep writing?
Kathleen: I write because I love to, so the motivation is always there.
Jann: What are you dying to try next?
Kathleen: After an amazing trip to Egypt I came up with an idea about writing a historical novel set in ancient Egypt. I have the research books on my shelf, now I just need to schedule time to write it.
Jann: Where can we get your books?
Kathleen: My books are traditionally published, so they are available at most bookstores. If they aren’t on the shelf, they can be ordered. They are also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, my website, and my publisher’s website.
Jann: Do you have a website, blog, or Twitter where fans might read more about you and your books?
Kathleen: I do. I have a blog series called “Growing Up Catholic in a Small Texas Town, which can be found on my author website. “Five-Minute Writing Tips” can be found on my coaching website.
Jann: Do you ever run out of ideas? If so, how did you get past that?
Kathleen: Thankfully, no. I just seem to run out of time.
Jann: What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Kathleen: After graduating college, instead of finding a real job, I packed two suitcases, put everything else in storage, and moved to New York City with my dog. I had no job and no place to live. I was too naive to believe I couldn’t do it. It only took me one day to find an apartment and one week to find a job. Living in New York City had always been my dream. Growing up in a small town of 2,000 in Central Texas, I wanted desperately to experience big city life, and what better place to do it than Manhattan. I stayed for a year and a half before returning to Austin to begin my teaching career.
Thank you, Kathleen, for taking time to share your writing life with us here at A Slice of Orange. You have created two fabulous mystery series!!
Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, will have published 57 books as of May 2022, including mysteries and romantic suspense novels. Her new mystery series is Alaska Untamed, starting with Bear Witness, for Crooked Lane, under her first pseudonym: Lark O. Jensen. She also has a new Harlequin Romantic Suspense story being published in May, Guardian K-9 on Call. Most of Linda’s current stories involve dogs.!
Today’s interview is with multi-talented, multi-published author Linda O. Johnston. Let’s see what’s been happening in her life lately.
Jann: I know you published several short stories before your first novel was published—A Glimpse of Forever. Do you remember what it was like to receive the phone call from the publisher?
Linda: Heaven! I’d been writing for a while and was hoping to eventually get a novel published. I loved time travel romance, and that’s what I’d written. And to learn it was actually going to be published? Wow!
Jann: Your career has blossomed. Forty-five plus novels later that include mysteries, romance, romantic suspense and paranormal romance. One thing they all have in common is animals. Is there a reason your books always include animals?
Linda: I include animals as much as possible because I love them, especially dogs. I’ve had dogs most of my life, and my favorites are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. But to include any kind of dogs or other animals in my stories is really important to me. It’s fun that my new mystery Bear Witness, my first Alaska Untamed mystery, is about Stacie Calder, a naturalist who gives tours in Alaska and points out all sorts of fun wildlife to tourists.
And by the way, Bear Witness and Guardian K-9 On Call, which you mention in the next question, are my 56th and 57th traditionally published novels!
Jann: In August 2021 Harlequin Romantic Suspense published Her Undercover Refuge, the first book in your Shelter of Secrets series. Guardian K-9 on Call, Book Two released on April 26th. What obstacles did you set for your main characters, K-9 Police Officer Maisie Murran and veterinarian Kyle Kornel to overcome? Do they find their HEA?
Linda: In Guardian K-9 On Call, K-9 Police Officer Maisie Murran believes that Dr. Kyle Kornel, a veterinarian who works for the highly secret Chance Animal Shelter, is being framed for murder. Can she help clear him–or is her belief in him based unwisely on her attraction to him?
Kyle has argued with an owner of a local pet shop who is skirting the law regarding which dogs can be sold in the store. When she is found murdered, he becomes the primary suspect. And then there are the dogs in question, who need to be saved.
While doing their respective jobs, Maisie and Kyle work together in all aspects of the case. Closely together. And… well, it is a Harlequin Romantic Suspense book, so I’ll let you guess whether they achieve their HEA!
Jann: Will there be a book 3 in this series?
Linda: Yes, there are likely to be at least three more.
Jann: I see you have another mystery series—Alaska Untamed Mystery. Congratulations!!! The books will be published under your first pseudonym, Lark O. Jensen. What inspired you to create this new series?
Linda: Thank you!
I was on an Alaskan cruise a few years ago, before Covid, and had a particularly enjoyable time on a tour boat on the waters outside Juneau. The people who were actually providing the tour were wonderful, and my writer’s mind, always active, started wondering what it would be like to have a mystery series set in a similar situation. I even started asking some of the boat personnel questions. But no, we didn’t find any bodies onboard or otherwise.
Jann: How did you come up with the name Lark O. Jensen?
Linda: I was asked to take on a pseudonym, though it was fine to let the world know it was me. I pondered all sorts of names, some nothing like my own, but decided to choose something that was at least somewhat familiar. And Lark O. Jensen has at least some similarities to Linda O. Johnston.
Jann: May 10th, Bear Witness, the first book in the series made its debut. Who is the main character and what challenges will this character have to face?
Linda: Stacie Calder is a born naturalist who has come to Alaska because of the wonderful wildlife there. During the seasons where the weather will allow it, she gives tours on a tour boat in the waters off Juneau, and she brings here wonderful husky Sasha along. She has to put up with some somewhat nasty passengers who come along to research what happens on the boat because they want to start competing companies. One day, one of them disappears—and Sasha’s wonderful sense of smell discovers his body the next day on the shore of an inlet they visited. The authorities determine he was murdered, and Stacie has to get involved with figuring out who the killer is because some of her favorite people, including the captain of her boat, and even herself, are considered suspects.
Jann: You have several other mystery series including Barkery & Biscuits and the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries. What’s happening with them?
Linda: At the moment, nothing is happening with the Barkery & Biscuits or Superstition Mysteries. But the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries are available in e-book form, and the spinoff Pet Rescue Mysteries will soon be available as audio books.
Jann: Do you find yourself returning to certain themes in your stories? What? Why?
Linda: As mentioned before, I like to include animals, particularly dogs. They speak to me, and not only in barks! I consider people who enjoy pets more likeable and think my readers may, too.
Jann: What kind of writer are you? A page a day or a burst writer?
Linda: It varies these days. I mostly write five pages or more a day when I’m in writing mode, which tends to be most of the time—or at least whenever possible. But I’m always thinking and planning and making notes.
Jann: In your books, who is your favorite character and why?
Linda: I love all my protagonists, or I wouldn’t write about them. I really like my new mystery protagonist, Stacie Calder, because of her love of wildlife and willingness to devote her life to studying and teaching people about them. I sometimes wish I could go visit her in Alaska and take one of her tours!
But perhaps my favorite is Kendra, of my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries. Kendra is a lawyer who lives in the Hollywood Hills with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Lexie. At the time I wrote the Kendra stories, I was a practicing lawyer, and one of my Cavaliers was named Lexie—and I live in the Hollywood Hills. I’ve never run into dead bodies and had to solve murders, though—except those I write about.
Jann: Do you ever run out of ideas? If so, how did you get past that?
Linda: Never! I’m always thinking and plotting.
Linda, it’s been fun looking back at your career and seeing what it’s like now. Congratulations and good luck on the new series, Alaska Untamed Mystery!! Looking forward to reading another fabulous mystery series.
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