Q. You have been to 17 states and taught over 400 workshops at libraries. How did you get started teaching your Family Legacy Workshops?
A. I teach people how to write their family history and autobiography. It all started when I began writing my own ancestor's stories. I believe it's very important to teach our children their heritage. We are the people we are because of our ancestors. It's up to us to write these experiences down. Our children need to be proud of their ancestors. After writing my own ancestors' stories, I couldn't stop writing, so I turned to historical "sweet" romances and mysteries.
Q. When writing your family stories, what do you encourage people to research?
A. There are two very important things to research: The area your story takes place and your ancestors.
(1) Area: Describe what it looks like and add some history about the area. My ancestors settled in southern Idaho in Bear Lake Valley. I found out that Butch Cassidy robbed the bank in 1896.
(2) Ancestors: Learn about their likes and dislikes, their personality, and occupation. Describe what they looked like. Farmers will have a completely different build than a storekeeper for the obvious reasons. My father was a farmer and a muscular man. In his autobiography, he wrote: "When I was 16, I was strong enough to lift 120 pound sacks of grain."
Q. What kind of research do you do concerning the time period?
A. The time Period is another important part of research. What did your ancestors write with in school? Was it a slate, ink, or a pencil? Did you know they painted pencils yellow for the first time in 1896 and for a very good reason? Another example is clothes. During the roaring twenties, women raised their skirts and bobbed their hair, but this new style created a lot of trouble. Department stores actually fired the women who bobbed their hair. A teacher in Jersey City was ordered to grow her hair back by the school board or she would be fired. In a 1925 newspaper, a preacher warned his congregation that a "bobbed woman was a disgraced woman." Men even divorced their wives over the new hairstyle.
What were prices like during the forties? In 1942, during World War II, gasoline was rationed to three gallons per week. Tires, anything made of metal, and nylons were scarce. Women actually drew a black line down the back of their legs so it would look like the seam of a nylon. Others things that were rationed were meat, sugar, and coffee. These are interesting facts that you can put into your history.
Q. What are some examples you have written about in your ancestral stories?
A. I put myself into the shoes of my ancestors so that it becomes more personal. I feel that it brings my story to life. For example: When my dad was thirteen, he was asked to bury the skunks that his father had shot. But before he buried them, he drained the scent glands of each skunk until he had a jar full of "skunk oil." Then he took it to school with him to show his classmates. He was so excited as he explained how he had done it. But in all the excitement it slipped from his hands and landed on the schoolroom floor and splattered everywhere. The stench was so terrible that everyone held their noses and ran outside as fast as their legs could go. The teacher excused school for the rest of the day. My dad was considered a "hero" because he had closed down the school for his classmates. (I actually included this experience in Melinda and the Wild West.)
Another example is my great grandmother, Sarah Robinson. She lost her hearing when she was a baby. Even though she was deaf, she was known as one of the most graceful dancers in town. She was a beautiful woman with black hair, blue eyes, and was 5' 5" tall. Nothing held her back. She was a spunky woman. One day she had a feeling that an intruder was in her home so she grabbed her broom and searched the house. She found the terrible man under her bed. With all the power and strength she had, she swatted him out of the house and down the street, pummeling him as she went. (I patterned the character in Sarah's Special Gift after my great grandmother Sarah Robinson.)
It's important to put yourself in their shoes and write their story. In doing this, it becomes personal.
Q. Do you ever put real experiences in your novels?
A. Yes. All the time. I feel this adds a bit of reality to my characters and I always tell my readers what's true in the Author's Notes at the back of the book. For example, in Mayan Intrigue, I added a few comical experiences that happened to my husband. For example: There's the "hair clip" incident. We were quietly sitting in church, listening to the talks while my 2 daughters were combing their fingers through my husband's hair. He enjoyed it and it was relaxing so he thought nothing of it. But in reality, they began putting their own hair clips in his hair to make it pretty. I didn't know what they were doing until the meeting was closed and he got up to talk to someone. At a distance, I saw what they had done and I couldn't say a word. Finally a gentleman grinned at him and told my husband that his daughters had left a gift in his hair. When he put his hand to his head and felt it, he was shocked. It was hilarious. I have several experiences like that in my books. He's okay with it, though, because I told him what I wanted to do and he just smiled and nodded, knowing it would bring a bit of humor to the story.
Q. What is it like to switch from historical romance to mystery?
A. The writing process between romance and mystery is quite a change with a completely different mind set. With romance, you plan out the plot around the meeting of a couple. As you write, you develop some sort of charisma between the characters, making the reader feel excited that one day they're going to hit it off and fall in love. You, as the reader, know the outcome. But with a mystery, the reader is in the dark. The author has to come up with a plot that no one can figure out until towards the end of the story. In a mystery, you may or may not allow your reader to know who the bad guys are, according to whether it's a cozy mystery or mystery suspense. In a cozy mystery, the reader doesn't know who the bad guys are until the end of the book. With mystery suspense, the reader knows who they are and it makes for a more suspenseful outcome.