During and after the publication of Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure, I have become acquainted with many other fellow authors. I love seeing how they go about their craft: what they write, how they write, what inspires them, etc.
I reached out to Connie Chappell, Author of Wild Raspberries and Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont, and asked her a few questions about her latest work.
Give us a short history on you and your work.
I’ve been a writer since 2007. I’ve been an author since 2015. I make that distinction because, in April of 2015, my first novel, Wild Raspberries, was released. My second novel, Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont, was released in February of 2016. Wild Raspberries’ genre is literary fiction while Deadly Homecoming is a mystery.
The difference between the two genres, from a writers’ standpoint, is what drives the stories. Literary fiction is character-driven while Deadly Homecoming is plot-driven. The emotions of the Wild Raspberries’ characters drive that story. In Deadly Homecoming, it’s the clues revealed to solve the mystery that drives that story.
Have you won any awards for your writing?
My publisher, Black Rose Writing, nominated Wild Raspberries in 2015 for the Maxy Award. The novel qualified because it was published by an independent publisher. Award announcements were made May 2, 2016.
Maxy Awards issued this statement about its choice for Best Literary Fiction: “Chappell does a wondrous job allowing her words to speak for her characters, immersing the reader in scenes where dialogue would have typically done the trick.” In Wild Raspberries, Chappell authored a subtle and daring story. When protagonist Callie MacCallum sews her first quilt after the death of her lover, Jack Sebring, she doesn’t realize she’ll be drawn into a Sebring family battle between his wife and daughter-in-law. Each of the women harbors her own heartaches and diverse secrets. They, nevertheless, unite in pursuit of a resolution to their mutual crisis: the welfare of a child.
May 2 was a very exciting day for this author. If you get a chance, do a little research on the Maxy Award. I was particularly drawn to this award contest by the promise that a portion of the proceeds would be donated to a foundation that provides therapy to individuals with developmental disabilities.
The book I hope to see released early in 2017 is an independent sequel to Wild Raspberries. I say ‘independent’ because readers won’t need to read Wild Raspberries first. The title of the new book is Proper Goodbye.
Proper Goodbye is Beebe Walker’s story. Beebe is a character in Wild Raspberries. I decided to tell her story separately while I was still working on Wild Raspberries. Her story grabbed me that much.
In Proper Goodbye, Beebe’s life changes when she learns about a secret buried in her father’s cemetery. I bet that premise is already drawing you in. Buried secrets! Gotta love that!
The perpetrator of this buried secret is Beebe’s mother. I promise you’ll meet many memorable characters in Proper Goodbye and a dog named Barleycorn.
How do you get inspired to write?
Waking up in the morning is all the inspiration I need. From that first morning I sat down to write, inspiration has never been in short supply. At some point, I began to think like a writer and read like a writer. That transformation is a permanent one. I firmly believe I can never go back.
Where did you get the idea for Wild Raspberries?
The premise behind Wild Raspberries comes from a writer’s very basic requirement to tell a story that has never been told before. I decided to tell a love story from the “other woman’s” point-of–view, a love story that begins after her lover dies. In Wild Raspberries, the longsuffering wife is the one who possesses questionable character traits.
Of utmost importance when I sit down to tell a story is the desire to tell all sides. That said, Wild Raspberries explores an ample supply of good and bad deeds on behalf of both women.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I can honestly say I’ve never had writer’s block. Sometimes, I have an idea for a scene and struggle over how to get it started. That struggle usually results in a free-write, where I type out whatever I’m thinking about for the scene: descriptions, purpose, characters’ movements through it, their emotions, conflicts. I type fast with my eyes closed so I’m not distracted by typos. Eventually, I type a sentence or phrase that clicks. My fingers stop, and I know I have that all-important first line that spurs my imagination into high gear.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
I like so many things about being a writer that it’s hard to label one as the best. I like the fact that I can’t not write. I must write. I like the routine I’ve put in place. I’m up early at 4 a.m. Most days, I give it two hours. But, oh, those mornings when I get to write until my brain literally shuts down and I can write no more. Those are precious mornings.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
I would say: Beware! Aspiring writers get bad advice. I know I heard bad advice. I heard conflicting advice. Trust your instincts, especially when the advice you’re given isn’t sitting well with you. Ask your questions of more than one person.
Secondly, follow basic rules. Learn the building blocks of writing: What are the parts of a scene? The parts of a sequel? When and where should backstory be included? Understanding the foundation makes the story flow.
Tell us about multiple points-of-view.
When I sat down to write Wild Raspberries, I decided the story would best be told if the reader heard directly from the five main characters. One of the compliments I get repeatedly is that those five characters are distinctly different from each other. That was my goal.
Before I wrote the novel’s first paragraph, I decided to let those five characters introduce themselves to me. I wanted to hear from them. I wanted their story in their words. I decided they should each answer the same question which was: Why shouldn’t you be judged by the worst thing you did in your life? Click on the links below to hear their answers.
What are some of your favorite parts of Wild Raspberries—for instance, a favorite line?
Yes, I do have a favorite line in Wild Raspberries. It’s the book’s closing line. It’s spoken by Callie, and the book is really Callie’s story so it’s fitting that she closes it up. Callie is sitting on the couch in the West Virginia cabin where she and Jack hid their long love affair. She’s thinking about Jack. The line is: “Love, larceny, and wild raspberries, they made a heady, heady brew.”
I just love that line.
Wild Raspberries also contains my favorite quote by Sir Oscar Wilde. The first time I read it, it made me pause to think about the quality of love that’s contained in his words: “If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.”
Isn’t there a great deal of love in that sentiment? I think so.
Do you use the five senses when you write?
Using the five senses is one of those things writers are taught because the senses draw the reader into the book. It helps the reader gain a better experience in a scene. Real quick, the senses are: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
When Wild Raspberries moves from Maryland to West Virginia, I wanted to introduce the reader to the new location, immerse them in it, so to speak. Here’s that introduction, which, at the same time, introduces Lucius Dameron.
“August ripened sweetly in the mountains around Baron, West Virginia. Lucius Dameron considered them stocked with the fullest complement of nature and wonder. The pollinating wilderness proudly displayed its fragrant offspring. Roadside wildflowers in maize and mauve and melon bordered the narrow gravel-and-dirt trails that seemed to wind all the way down from the sky. Lapping streams, forever in motion, wore grooves, like wrinkles in weathered skin, into the mountainous terrain. The streams’ clear whispers told of both timeless and innocent secrets. The mountains sustained life, Lucius’s included, with the heady scent of pine, the sticky ooze from maple trees, and the hum of paradise.”
How did you come up with the title Wild Raspberries?
When I get the idea for a book, it never arrives with the title. Sometimes, I struggle more with the title than the 100,000 words needed to tell the story. I struggled with Wild Raspberries. I can honestly say, it was painful.
The book had several titles through the course of writing the story, but I wasn’t satisfied. I tried them out and abandoned them all. So when the book was pronounced done, it still had no title.
I finished the book on an August weekend. So, with no title, and an hour’s worth of grass-cutting time ahead of me, I decided to work more titles through my head. I was nearly 95 percent done, just four or five more mowing strips to go, and all possible titles rejected, when I looked over to the edge of the woods that borders my property.
Absent-mindedly, I thought, Look. Wild raspberries.
I took two steps and stopped dead. I liked the title Wild Raspberries. It had nothing to do with the book. But I liked it as the title.
Since the story was done, I had to come up with a thread I could wind into the book to make the title work. And that’s what I did.
The addition of this storyline really enhanced the backstory and brought a new dimension forward. First, I told the Wild Raspberries thread to myself. I wrote it out, then I found the appropriate spots to weave the new thread into the book. As I recall, I wove it through four locations. The last being the book’s final scene, tying the story back to the title.
Tell us about the characters in Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont.
I began writing Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont—the first Wrenn Grayson mystery—as I always do by letting the main characters introduce themselves and their stories to me. All of their stories are told around the caveat of what they were doing “the summer Trey Rosemont was murdered.”
Click on the links to hear the mystery’s four main characters introduce themselves.
What do you like best about Wrenn Grayson’s character?
That’s easy. Her quirkiness. This is a woman who has a compulsion to pull weeds. Now that I’m hearing from readers, I find that there are many others who are compulsive weed-pullers, and they are not embarrassed to admit it.
In addition, I like that Wrenn writes historical articles for the local newspaper, and she feels that she must possess a kinship with those locations in town that entice her to write a story.
Click on the link to hear a passage from Chapter 2 of Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont, aptly titled Unnatural Compulsion. That’s followed by Wrenn’s description of her current assignment: writing about Piedmont Alley.
Tell us about the map for Havens, Ohio.
Yes, there is a map for Havens, Ohio, which is Wrenn Grayson’s hometown. For those of you who like the Wrenn Grayson mystery series, the second and third mysteries in that series are written and my mind is spinning out an idea for the fourth. Of course, Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont is Wrenn’s first mystery.
With each new mystery from Havens, I create another downtown business or housing addition, new streets, a hospital, motel, churches, and more. All of this, I add to my Havens map. From book to book, I need consistency. The map gives me that.
I also have detailed maps of locations like Piedmont Alley. Piedmont Alley has ten businesses located there, so I mapped them out.
If I continue to improve with website construction, I would like to upload the Havens map so my readers can take a virtual tour of the town. All the buildings and streets would reference whichever mystery that location was created in. I think a virtual tour would be fun.
Have you ever received advice from a professional writer?
I was honored to spend about an hour and a half with bestselling author Larry Beinhart. He wrote the novel, Wag the Dog, which is political satire.
One of the lessons I took away from my time with Larry was to “write in a straight line.” That simply means write the story in the order scenes happen. Don’t write about a current scene in the book, then jump back for a lengthy narration of backstory. Don’t come forward again, then go back to a time that occurred before your last visit to backstory. His point was, there needs to be order.
When I wrote Wild Raspberries, I intended to begin that story at the point all four ladies arrived in West Virginia and met Lucius. When I got started, nothing was working. I had too much backstory.
Eventually, I gave in and started the story earlier while the ladies were still in Maryland. In the book, when the ladies finally get to West Virginia, we’re on page 78. That’s nearly one-fourth of the book. Too much for backstory. So, thank you, Larry! Telling the story in a straight line was one of the efforts I made to write a successful book for the reader, and it made writing the book easier.
Do you have a favorite non-starring character in Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont?
Yes, I do have a favorite character in that category.
First of all, I absolutely love creating characters. I want them to be memorable so every character must have a unique personality. Every character I write about is there to entertain the reader.
The non-starring character I most enjoyed creating in Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont is Norb Engle. Norb is a locksmith and general fix-it man. Wrenn goes to Norb’s shop looking for her new friend, Wilkey Summer. Wilkey works for Norb.
Click on the link, and I’ll read that short scene to you: https://youtu.be/4pS2eBMXHYY
Who’s your audience?
It’s interesting that this question was asked because I was recently on the phone with a fellow writer, and she told me that her friend Mary and she were discussing Mary’s book. Mary was contemplating the age-old question writers ask: Who’s my audience?
Who’s my audience, I repeated back. Why, I am. I’m my audience.
I got into the writing game to entertain myself. Early on, I had no idea if I would get published. Mind you, I get up at 4 a.m. to write for two hours before I get ready for work. I want to entertain myself. I write for myself. I think that’s why my characters are so vivid and memorable. They’re people out of my imagination who I make real. Why, at 4 o’clock in the morning, would I hang out with humdrum characters? No way.
One of the best compliments I can receive is a reader telling me they think about my characters after they lay the book down. My characters go with them into their day. That’s awesome.
What book or movie has Wild Raspberries been compared to?
The US Review of Books wrote this about my debut novel, Wild Raspberries: “Similar to Robert Harling’s ‘Steel Magnolias,’ and Tracy Letts’ ‘August: Osage County,’ death, grief, and healing form the foundation on which Chappell’s tale is built. The Southern and Midwestern locales of those stories are replaced here with the manicured lawns of the Maryland suburbs and the rolling hills of West Virginia. While similarities for those works may be noted, Chappell does a fine job of sprinkling enough wit, pathos, and surprise in her story to make this novel far more than a knockoff.”
Where can readers go for more?
My website, ConnieChappell.com, is the best location to learn more about me and my books. I can be contacted via email through my website as well. Reviews are included there along with a host of podcasts. I also have author pages on Amazon and Goodreads.