Okay, this won’t explain a gap of six months or more between blog posts, but maybe it will make you feel sorry for me and excuse my absence….
Many thanks to Deb Sanders who invited me to share some thoughts on her blog! It gave me a chance to reveal how story molecules bombard us, sometimes forming into full stories.
Deb herself is great at this. A fellow RVing author, she pens mysteries and romances.
And while you’re there — take a look at all Deb has to offer on her site, including her short stories. Continue reading “What’s a Story Molecule?”
After I read On the Road to Death’s Door, by MJ Williams, I had to find out more about its author — or, I should say, authorS.
MJ Williams is a pen name for sisters-in-law Peggy Joque Williams and Mary Joy Johnson (nee Williams). These women balance other professional interests with their collaborative writing efforts — and I knew we’d all learn something from their experiences as a writing team.
Let’s start with the travel-writing balance. One of Peggy’s blog posts mentions that Mary Joy travels. How often do each of you hit the road? Give us an idea of your RVing experience. Continue reading “Fellow RV Mystery Writers: MJ Williams”
It’s been awhile since we’ve peeked into the lives of RVing writers, so it’s great to introduce another fellow traveler and scribbler.
Deb Sanders writes a variety of books — mystery, romance, fantasy, paranormal thrillers…! And she’s prolific, having penned at least eight books to date. How does she manage this while on the road? Let’s find out from the author herself.
Which came first — the RV or the writing?
Judy Howard’s books have been very popular since she started writing them. Through her workshops and presentations she’s inspired many other to pick up the pen or start typing, including many RVers. We’re happy to be able to share some of her thoughts about her writing in general and writing as an RVer in specific.
Your biographical note on your Amazon home page includes this quote from Henry David Thoreau: “How vain is it to sit down and write, when you have not stood up to live?” At what point did you realize you needed to write about what you’d lived?
My husband passed away in August of 2004 and 3 months later I made my first solo trip in my motorhome from California to Florida. People referred to me as an inspiration, that I gave them courage to tackle things they had been afraid to try.
Six years ago when I wrote my first book, Coast to Coast with a Cat and a Ghost, I felt my story needed to be told. An author, Louis Urea said, “Sometimes, God tells you what to write.” I believe it is the same for me. I intended the memoir to be somewhat of a travel log.
Instead, it evolved into a story about not just dealing with the loss of a loved one, but also of facing spousal abuse and finding courage to stand up for myself and through the process, becoming stronger and greater than I ever dreamed of becoming.
Your books are listed as novels, but the main character shares your name. How much of the character’s experiences in your books (Coast to Coast with a Cat and a Ghost and Going Home with a Cat and a Ghost) mirrors your own life?
Coast To Coast With A Cat And A Ghost is definitely is the closest to a memoir. It was my first book and was well received, surprising me. So, as a new author, flying by the seat of her authorial sweat pants I wondered if I could make something up.
And wa-la! Going Home With A Cat And A Ghost was born. My sister called me egotistical because I didn’t want to lose the character, Judy Howard. If she worked in the first book, why not keep her? I hadn’t planned a series but they say that’s how to sell book. Why not? So how much is truth and how much is fiction? I’ll leave that as part of the intrigue for the reader to ponder.
Why did you choose to write fiction rather than autobiography? Your life sounds bigger than fiction!
I find writing fiction to be fun, filled with my dreams.
I can fly high on my fantasies, and unlike reality, I control the ending. The dark moments in a world of fiction may be difficult to write but never as painful as revealing the reality of a personal truth, which didn’t turn out as I had hoped.
You are right, Ellen, my life is as big as the Montana sky and thrilling as lightning in a thunderstorm.
Compared to a time in my life when suicide became a tempting option, the life I live today is more fulfilling and magical than I ever imagined. But those deep potholes from which I dragged myself out and the long detours I wandered through are easier for this author to address with distance , in a novel. Sometimes I do take the easy way but my usual mode of operation is the hard way.
John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”
When did you start RVing? Do you still travel by RV?
I began Rving solo in 2004. In January 2017, at the young age of 71, I rented my house out and now live full-time in my twenty-four foot Winnebago which I have named, “The Big Story.” I tow a Smart Car, appropriately named, “The Short Story.”
Do you write in your RV?
I had a custom desk built in my RV. It is my favorite place to write. There is nothing more inspirational than pounding the keyboard while the rain beats on the roof, or when the ocean washes incessantly onto the beach, or the wind whispers ideas to me through the trees. On beautiful days, my cat, Sportster, will not stop howling until I move outside with my computer. It is there he can absorb the sights and smells of his surroundings and plot his next novel …or his autobiography? By the way, his nose is bent out of shape because no one yet has asked for an interview. I told him when he gets a couple more books out he will be taken more seriously as an author. He just twitched his tail, spit and then took a nap.
This is my office, highlights from left to right:
1. The muse. And famous author Sportster [@Sportsterandme.com].
2. If you enlarge the photo you will see a timer. I’m trying out a new productivity strategy.
3. Gifts from a couple of my favorite people who keep me charged up with believing in myself on a professional level. The painted rock. Thank you Deb Sanders.
4. And my latest nonfiction book to insure that someday I will be climbing up on the stage to do my very own Ted Talk. Thank you, Lynne Morgan Spreen.
Oh!! Don’t overlook the most impressive feature, my picture window that changes scenes with the twist of the ignition and a step on the accelerator!!! Welcome to my office!
What inspires you most when you’re traveling?
Nature, nature and more nature! And always the people and their stories. Every person should be required to serve a two year tour, living with the locals of several of the small towns in every fly-over state.
Using one of your books as an example, could you walk us through how you got the idea through the final version of the book? What was the toughest part of the process for you? Why?
By the time I finished my first book, Coast To Coast With A Cat And A Ghost, I was hooked on writing. I figured anyone can write their own story, but I wondered, could I make something up? So I tackled the familiar Hallmark romance story, reuniting with the old high school boyfriend. I mixed it up with some tragedy and intrigue and wrote Going Home With A Cat And A Ghost.
Sportster the cat (featured in earlier books) has for some time narrated a blog. What inspired you to give him center stage as main character in Activate Lion Mode?
After writing, Masada’s Marine, which was about a dog named Masada who becomes a service dog for an Iraq veteran with PTSD, I was emotionally exhausted. It took me two years to write and I considered laying down my pen and shutting off my computer. But writing is like a drug, and I couldn’t give it up. So I decided I would write something fun.
Activate Lion Mode is the first in a new series. When can readers expect the second book? Does it have a title yet?
Yes, they certainly can. Sportster promises Activate Love Mode will be out mid 2018. I too will have an autobiographical novel out in 2018.
Will RVs continue to play a role in your books?
Until they pry my cold dead hands from the steering wheel.
What motivated you to write the Masada series, featuring a service dog for a PTSD-afflicted veteran?
I discovered a nonprofit organization which raised puppies and then sent them to local prisons to be trained as service dogs for veterans. The prisoners win, the dogs win and the veterans win. What a great story!
Your experience as a pet groomer clearly has influenced your writing. Do you have any advice for others who are thinking of incorporating aspects of their professional life into their fiction?
Write about what you know even if your career seems ordinary to you. Your individual perspective and passion will give inspiration and passion to a story that no one else can.
What have I not asked that you’d like to mention?
An issue which writers are rarely asked is, “Writing is hard, lonely and full of doubt. How do you keep going?” Perhaps the public believes we have a gift, a talent which drives us and that it is easy for us. It is not. To be successful, we all have to do the work. Everyday.
Every day I study the craft, and its many divisions –– writing, character building, plot and structure and so on –– updating my knowledge of the constant changing world of marketing and social media and publishing –– and most of the time I do this alone.
So how do I keep going? I give it away. Through my writing and inspirational seminars, I try to help writers on their journey and, like magic, they help me. I keep going on, giving away the knowledge and support that others have lavished on me.
Oh, and don’t let me forget!! Readers’ reviews keep us writers motivated.
How can readers find you and your books online?
Thanks, Judy! And safe travels!
I confess upfront I’m not a reader of romance novels, so Janetta Fudge-Messmer’s Early Birds isn’t a book I’d normally pick up to read. But when I saw the series features RVing couple Ben and Betsy Stevenson, I not only read it but asked Janetta if she’d be willing to submit herself to an ellenbooks interview. So the RV Mystery writers interview series has gone a little sideways here to feature Janetta, a fine writer and long-time RVer who shares how she writes while traveling and other insider details.
How did you come up with the idea for Early Birds?
It’s basically the first page of the book. My hubby and I had been talking about retirement, but we teased that Maggie (our pooch) pushed us over the edge. She ‘told’ us to quit our jobs, sell everything, buy an RV and hit the road. She wanted to spend more time with her new parents. That sparked the idea for a book and since I’m a writer, I sat down and wrote “Early Birds.”
Which came first – the romance or the RV?
The romance. I’m not saying my novel is autobiographical, but the main characters have similar traits to me and my hubby. And some of the scenes???
So much of the book “Early Birds” sounds like it was taken from a journal- a story that follows a couple’s decision to buy an RV and their first adventures on the road. How much of the story is based on your real life story? Or you can tell me to mind my own business.
As I stated above, we resemble Ben and Betsy in a few of the scenes. However, my lips are sealed on which ones. I just say that our life has been and continues to be an adventure.
Readers of my books often wonder how much my husband and I are like Walt and Betty Rollin, the main characters in my books. So…how similar are you to Betsy? Did your husband inspire your portrayal of Ben?
Betsy’s likes and dislikes are mine every step of the way. In the case of me bringing up potato salad in my debut novel – I’ll always say give me a spoonful of my mom’s and I’m a happy camper. Ben is somewhat similar to my husband. The only difference (and you’ll have to peek at the cover for this one), he’s not taller than me. Friends and family ask if he’s standing on a box.
Why and when did you start RVing?
We’ve own campers, trailers and everything in between while we worked. On our weekend camping trips we’d talk about what we wanted to do when we retired. Seemed RVing called our name and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last four years.
Are you currently a full-time RVer, having given up a sticks-and-bricks house for full-time travel in your RV?
We sold our home and became full-timers in 2013. Since we’d owned different RVs over the years, we were confident we’d love the lifestyle. Wintertime we’re in Florida, spending three or four months in a little trailer we bought in Ft. Myers. The other time, we’re on the road again in our 25 foot Minnie Winnie.
Do you travel with friends, as Ben and Betsy do in “Early Birds”?
We’d love to have our own Rose and Larry traveling with us, but for the time being we’re traveling solo.
Your main character loves Colorado. Is that your favorite place to travel in your RV also?
Yes! Yes! Yes! I LOVE Colorado, so Betsy had to have a tie to my favorite place on earth. This year we had the pleasure of spending the entire summer in Colorado with family and friends. WOOHOO!!!
Using one of your books as an example, could you take us through your process from idea through final published story? For example, what was the inspiration for the book, and how did that make its way into the novel?
Our precious pooch REALLY is the reason we’re full-time RVers and why I’m a published author. We’d rescued Maggie and every night, when we’d let her out of her crate, she’d give us that look like, “Why do you have to leave me in here. You need to stay home with me.”
Since we’d started to talk about retiring, one-night we carried it a step further and one of us said (in Maggie’s voice), “Mom and Dad, you need to quit your jobs, sell everything, buy an RV and hit the road.” Without this conversation, I’m not sure I would have come up with the idea for “Early Birds.”
Since my first novel was traditionally published, I’m always curious about how the publishing process and relationship has worked out for other authors. Given that, what would you tell other Christian romance writers about working with Forget Me Not Romances?
A small-publishing house worked for me and helped me get the “Early Birds” series out there. Cynthia does an outstanding job on the covers and she puts extra touches in the formatting of the books too. Example: At the beginning of each chapter she placed the love birds that are also on the cover of my books. Perfect!!!
What advice do you have for someone who’s tackling their first novel?
Don’t procrastinate. Sit down and write. Even if you’re a seat-of-your-pants-kind-of writer, do a synopsis. You don’t have to follow it to the letter, but have an idea of where you want your story to go. Take it from me – if you don’t, you’ll go down some rabbit trails you never expected.
Do you write while traveling in your RV? How do you organize the space?
My writing schedule is flexible. Sometimes I write in the morning before we go sightseeing. Other times I write when we stop for the night. There also times you’ll find me with my computer on the table while hubby is driving down the interstate. Whatever it takes to get the words down. Since I don’t have a designated space in our RV, I have a notebook next to me where I keep track of what going on in my story. It’s also where I write down ideas that pop into my head, which are at any given hour.
Do you write about places you’ve traveled with your RV? If so, do you write while you’re there or do you take notes and photos to remember things?
I make notes of things I see and hear while we’re traveling. Don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t keep my notebook handy. People say and do things that are priceless and I don’t want to forget a thing that happened. A woman’s one-sided conversation (and a loud one at that) at Ben and Jerry in Vermont still has me roaring with laughter. I’m hoping to use her chat in my next book. Rose would take that ball and run with it.
What haven’t I asked that you’d like to mention?
Along with writing, I’d also love to own another bed and breakfast. We owned one in Montrose, Colorado and we had the time of our lives. I have tons of stories from our time there and maybe one day I’ll write a series of books set in a B&B. Of course it would have to be in Colorado.
Thank you, Ellen, for these wonderful questions. So much fun reliving the beginning.
Thank YOU, Janetta! How can readers find your books or contact you?
Here’s my contact info:
Check out my Amazon Author page: https://goo.gl/61CElk
Once again we’re gifted with the insight of another writer of mysteries who not only features RVers as main characters, but is an RVer herself! (Yep, you’d be surprised how often us RVers spot boo-boos in books about RVing, sure signs the writers aren’t RVers themselves.)
We’re pleased to welcome Karen Musser Nortman, author of at least six Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries and two more novels in her Time Traveler Trailer series.
On your Website, you mention having started RVing when tent camping — especially sleeping on the ground — lost a measure of comfort. Tell us a little more about your RVing — how often do you take to the road? How do you choose where to go? Do you venture out to new places or re-visit familiar haunts? Continue reading “Fellow RV Mystery Writers: Karen Musser Nortman”