Novelspot: Cindy Davis is a writer, editor, gardener, reader, seamstress from New Hampshire. * She began the quarterly fiction magazine called Peeks & valleys and the Y2k spinoff Characters~Kids Short Story Outlet. * She is co-author of the YA fantasy trilogy Desert Magic and edits for 3 publishing houses. * Her recent novel Voice from the Ashes is available at hilliardandharris.com. (photo)
Voice from the Ashes : Hardcover
Voice from the Ashes : Paperback
CindyDavis: I'd always written, even as a youngster. As frequently happens, I put it aside to raise a family. It was my second husband who got me back into it. He encouraged me to have something to fall back on should anything ever happen to him. (Too bad I didn't pick a career that actually made money!) I took a few courses and got a job at a local publishing company, learning the field from the ground up. After a few years, I started free-lancing with national magazines. It was a gradual transition to novels. I don't even recall how it happened.
Novelspot: What kind of writer are you?
CindyDavis: I write mostly murder mysteries. Or, do you mean, am I a haphazard writer working on a bunch of things at once? I tend to work on one thing of my own at a time, but I also ghostwrite and I'm doing a woman's memoirs. I'm also co-authoring a YA fantast trilogy with a man from my writers group. We've just finished the third in the series whose umbrella title is Desert Magic.
Novelspot: Do you get posessed by your characters?
CindyDavis: Definitely. They wake me at all hours, and never apologize for keeping me awake, but provide endless amounts of interplay. I've tried training them to talk to me during the day, but...Thankfully, I don't need a lot of sleep--grin.
Novelspot: Do you plot carefully or write by the seat of your pants?
CindyDavis: Since I write mysteries, I find it's necessary to plot so I can keep track of where I left the clues and red herrings. While working on the manuscript, I keep the chapter by chapter outline document open at the side. This way I can see the plot line at a glance. If it veers in another direction, that's okay, I just make the changes on the outline right away. This system also makes it easier to do a synopsis for submission.
Novelspot: What (if any) writing habits or quirks do you have?
CindyDavis: Hmm, not sure any of my habits are quirky. I'm up around 4:30 a.m. (maybe that's a little quirky but I love the serenity of mornings) and at the computer by 5. I work till I run out of steam--usually around 10. Then I do housework, run errands, weed the garden, etc. After lunch I do book promotion, editting (I'm an editor for three publishing houses) or whatever else needs doing. I edit/publish a quarterly fiction magazine for kids. During dinner, I read submissions and do writers group critiques.
Novelspot: Do you have a philosophy of reading/writing?
CindyDavis: Not exactly sure what you mean but I think in order to be a good writer, a person has to read as much as they can. With my schedule, it's tough because night is the only time I have to read, my eyes are usually burning. So, I've taken up audio books. I can listen while I'm doing housework, working in the garden or traveling to writers group. I think this method lends much that you don't get from reading from the pages. It's easier to hear the nuances and intonations.
Novelspot: Who are your favorite authors and why? Any role models?
CindyDavis: I read different authors to get different experiences. I love Clive Cussler's vivid settings, Sandra Brown and John Grisham's plot twists, Ruth Rendell's character studies and Tess Gerritsen's nail-biting suspense. In a sense, I guess they're all role models because I try to absorb their styles.
Novelspot: What is the best writing advice you ever got?
CindyDavis: My most valuable lesson wasn't out-and-out advice, it was a lesson borne of total embarrassment. I attended an advanced novel workshop given by agent Donald Maass. He said, "I want each of you to stand up and read the opening line of your book out loud. The rest of you raise your hands if it makes you want to hear more." I stood up and proudly read my first line, certain that every hand in the room would go up, waving wildly. There was only one--a halfhearted one. Of course, I wasn't the only one this happened to, but the event is ingrained in my mind. Ever since then, I try to make the opening line of every book and even every chapter as compelling as it can be.
Novelspot: What (writing) advice do you give others?
CindyDavis: I always recommend my authors read their work out loud. You feel really silly at first but it helps show the discrepancies or repetitions in the narrative and dialogue.
Novelspot: Has your writing evolved?
CindyDavis: I'd like to think I've improved in all aspects. Otherwise, what's the point? I owe much of my forward motion to my writers group. They're great at pointing out when a plot is going nowhere, when a character is flat or a line of dialogue doesn't work. And you have to be open to the criticism, realize your work isn't perfect.
Novelspot: Where do you see your writing going in the next ten years?
CindyDavis: Onward and upward, I hope--grin. I'd love Cindy Davis to be a household name.
Novelspot: How do you jumpstart your writing?
CindyDavis: I don't have a lot of trouble getting going, or getting ideas. I'm usually pumped about getting going every morning. If I get stuck, nine times out of ten, it's because I've tried to make a character do something plot- or personality-wise that they shouldn't. I go back to the outline and try to see what I've done wrong. It doesn't always happen immediately. Sometimes it's a couple of days and the characters prod me along--"Hello, I'm waiting!"
Novelspot: Where did you get the idea from Voices in the Ashes? (photo)
CindyDavis: I had this female character in mind--Lucy. I'll talk more about her below. In my mind, she hooked up with this great-looking British guy, Ian (we won't talk about who he is in real life!). She was my protagonist, most of the book was from her POV.
I put Lucy and Ian together for a while and they decided the plot. One by one, other characters fell into place. Sometimes you have to weed through them because they don't all have a story. At least, not one that can be told in this book. I had Lucy and Ian in mind for quite some time before coming up with a setting.
Novelspot: Where did Lucy come from?
CindyDavis: Lucy is me--grin. I've gone through an amazing metamorphosis as a person. I was weak minded, letting people decide what and who I was. Because of my second husband, I've become a new and stronger person. I wanted to write a character who experienced this transformation. Unfortunately, it didn't work out the way I planned. In the rewrite of Voice, Ian became stronger. So strong he took over the story, becoming the POV character. I'd never worked with a male protagonist before. In exploring his personality, I found some interesting weaknesses regarding women, which unfortunately ended up relegating Lucy to a minor role.
Novelspot: Do you dislike large cities?
CindyDavis: Definitely not! There are a myriad of story opportunities there. Great plot choices, multitudes of characters. But for me, it's too impersonal. I love the one on one relationships of people in small towns. I like the gossip, the cameraderie, the 'keeping up with the Jonses'. I joke that you can have diarrhea tonight and tomorrow all your neighbors are leaving Kaopectate on your doorstep.
Novelspot: How do you select your setting?
CindyDavis: For the most part, my settings select me. It was different for Voice. I have a daughter who lived in Tacoma. Mount St. Helens was in the news. It just seemed like a great place for a murderer to try to hide his crime. Could Ian 'see' beneath the catastrophe? Or would it overwhelm him to the point of impotency?
In Lethal Dose of Love I used a small town setting--Sackets Harbor, NY. It sounds silly but we were on vacation four years ago and the moment we entered the town, I "knew" there was a story. My poor husband sat in the motorhome for hours while I interviewed people, walked the streets and took pictures. Four days later, when we left, I had an entire cast of characters and a plot all set. I've just been offered a contract for Lethal.
Novelspot: Why did you give up your fiction magazine Characters~Kids' Short Story Outlet?
CindyDavis: I still run it. Sold its parent publication PEEKS & valleys~ A New England Fiction Journal, due to time constraints, in 1999. Unfortunately, I'm now thinking of selling Characters too. Just not enough time to go around.
Novelspot: What's going on with Lethal Dose of Love, A Little Murder and the sequel to A Little Murder?
CindyDavis: Little Murder has been sent to my agent. All he's said so far is that he was drawn in by the characters. I should receive a complete assessment soon. Little Murder takes place in Alton Bay, New Hampshire, at the southern tip of Lake Winnipesaukee. The main character is an ill-tempered tour boat owner. They're on a fishing tour when he's stabbed with a fillet knife. Besides his wife, there are only five other people aboard. All strangers--supposedly. Who would have a motive? When his wife, Val, comes under suspicion, one of the other characters, Angie, takes on the investigation in spite of severe personal problems at home, most of which center around her husband's twin brother.
Novelspot: What else do you have in the works?
CindyDavis: I'm just finishing a rewrite to LM's sequel, The Bearded Lady. Val and Angie have gone into the catering business together. One of the party attendees announces he's just developed the world's first truly red iris (in reality there are no truly red irises because the plant lacks the gene for it. Many hundreds of thousands of $$ have been spent on this project). He invites the girls to see it, but when they arrive at his nursery/laboratory the plant and all the records have been stolen. Later that night, he commits suicide. Angie and Val decide to find out who stole the flower even though Val's in the midst of a reunion with a long-lost father and Angie's being pressed into reconciliation by her soon-to-be ex-husband, and into marriage by the local detective.
Novelspot: Do you want to talk about the current contest you have going on?
CindyDavis: It's a short story contest for Characters. Guidelines and specifications are on the site at www.cdavisnh.com. Basically we're looking for 1,500 word stories written for or by kids. We have two $50 prizes--one for stories written by adults, one for kids.
~CindyDavis~ www.cdavisnh.com Available now, Voice from the Ashes by Hilliard & Harris publishers