Q: Your latest novel, DESIGNING STELLA, is releasing in August. What can you tell us about it?
Like my previous three novels, DESIGNING STELLA is a romantic comedy set on our lovely gulf coast and filled with the kind of charming characters we all know and love. I’m especially excited about “Stella” because it’s also a murder mystery – of sorts. A first for me! Our heroine is Stella Gray, one of the most sought-after interior designers in Washington, D.C. She is known for giving her clients what they didn’t know they wanted. Along with the death of her beloved mentor and the betrayal of her long-time love, the color has gone out of Stella’s life. So what does a forty-six year-old woman on the run from her troubles do? She heads for home. Back in the south, Stella dives headfirst into a pile of new business ventures, hitting the road between New Orleans and Biloxi with her quirky, childhood friends. Then there’s her very attractive but equally mysterious next door neighbor, Sam Poole, who hasn’t exactly taken a shine to her. There’s also a voodoo nanny to deal with and a murder to solve. But sometimes, in the end, a second chance is in order. And just sometimes, that second chance can bring a woman on the run what she didn’t know she wanted.
I grew up on my father’s nursery with a mother who loved reading, gardening and decorating. I have a thing for houses – especially old ones, and a house and/or garden always figure prominently in my stories. I also grew up watching old romantic comedy/mystery movies and just love the genre. My protagonists are all women in the 40 to 55 age group who are facing transitions in the middle of their lives. We all know women who manage – with good friends, determination and a sense of humor – to navigate these category five domestic disasters. And come out the better for it! They are my inspiration. I love writing stories for them and about them, taking them from that dark place and following them to the other side – and giving them the happy endings they deserve. Besides, romance in mid-life is way more interesting to me than the first time around.
Q: You now have two books set along the gulf coast. Why is that area special to you?
Write what you know, right? And I’ve never lived anywhere else! Besides, what better place is there for a writer than the south? The settings – especially here along the coast – are lovely, sultry, haunting…. The area is full of authentically quirky characters who love to tell and hear stories – especially funny ones. It’s a gold mine of inspiration. And actually I have three other books set along the gulf coast: LILY IN BLOOM, ONE TRUE PLACE, and ALWAYS CHARLIE.
Q: What books have most influenced your life?
I have to give credit to Nancy Drew. I started out devouring those books as fast as “Carolyn Keene” could write them. They got me reading which led to the idea of writing. Then I moved on to Agatha Christie. But like so many of us, To Kill a Mockingbird made a huge impression. Also, The Great Gatsby. Year of Wonder is a wonderful book. Lately, I’ve been just blown away by the writing in The Goldfinch and a funny, little book called Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore that illuminates the struggle between print books and ebooks – an interesting time to be a writer. But really, I read everything. Books in general have enhanced my life. I can’t imagine a life without them.
Q: What do you hope readers take with them after reading your work?
My books are light fare. Someone said that if literature were a meal, my stories would be dessert. I agree with that. I like to think of women (and men – I do have a few male readers) putting their feet up, glass of wine in hand, meeting characters like themselves who have friends, fun, adventure – and of course, romance. I hope they see everyday heroes working through mid-life crises and realize they can, too. As one of my characters told me, “Happiness isn’t a gift. It’s a choice.”
Q: What is the one question you wish an interviewer would ask you?
I’m always surprised at the great questions interviewers come up with. Figuring out the answers is often a big help in my writing. I guess one would be: What has surprised you the most about writing/getting published? How the characters – and the story takes on a life of its own. How attached I get to the characters. What a thrill it is to set them free when something is published. (I hate to think of them languishing in a folder.) The idea that though it takes a long, lonely, frustrating time to write a novel, when it’s published it becomes as many stories as there are folks reading it because every reader envisions characters, settings, even plot and themes in their own way. I love that idea! A book is a gift from writer to reader.
It also cracks me up (and warms my heart) when people think they or someone they know are the characters in my books!