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The Advocate

Dee Henderson Interview

by Rel Mollet

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"I write a lot about survivors—overcoming what’s happened, learning something about yourself and friends, deepening what you know about God—it adds a rich layer to the stories I want to explore."
-- Dee Henderson

Dee Henderson is the bestselling, award-winning author of 15 previous novels, including the acclaimed O'MALLEY series and UNCOMMON HEROES series. She is a lifelong resident of Illinois. Learn more at www.deehenderson.com.

Were you an avid reader as a child?

I loved to read as a child. I read because I wanted to read, not because someone else needed to encourage it. I read Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames. I loved the horse stories. My first story was A Horse Named Willy and dad still has it in his files. I loved carrying stacks of books home from the library.
I have the privilege of still attending the church where I also happened to go to school for my 4th through 8th grade. There is a story repeated by those who know me that when my teachers wanted to punish me they would take the book away before I went to recess. My 8th grade teacher in particular could attest to that. I knew where I was heading as an adult very early on.

In what ways did you career as an engineer prepare you as a writer?

Being an engineer by training makes it easier to approach every book I write because a key part of the task of writing it is to understand a profession well enough to authentically describe it to readers – how fires are fought, how a fighter jet is flown, what cops look for in crimes - the information I need is a research task. Engineering taught me the logic skills necessary to do the research and understand the information I found.

I started writing seriously when I was in my teens and first had a manuscript that was good enough to show an editor when I was in my thirties. Most authors don't take that much practice, but its not uncommon to write five or six books before you figure out everything you need to learn to make stories work.

I’m good at math, I like specifics and details. So I got a math degree, and then a computer science degree from the school of engineering. I like the logic of how computer chips work, the predictability that with these inputs, going through these circuits, the output is going to be X. They are puzzles.

I used being an engineer to pay my bills, give me time to practice writing fiction, and develop what I wanted for a career. There’s a book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell that talks about the time and practice it takes to excel in a field. Being an engineer for a decade enabled me to become a writer because it gave me a decade of serious practice at the craft before I sold my first book. I had the freedom of a good job paying the bills and it let me spend the time to learn how to tell a story.

What appeals to you most about writing fiction?

I’m wired by God to be a story teller. Hours spent working on a story are not a job, they are in fact the reward for having gotten the rest of my life uncluttered enough I can go do what I want – and most often that’s grabbing a pen and paper and being lost in a story I’m creating.

Writing is finding two characters I like to spend time with, putting them together, and then enjoying the process of how they end up somewhere interesting together. I’m writing the book primarily for my enjoyment. I tinker a lot with pages and what sequence best shares their story. I hear the dialog, see the story, and spend days cutting away what doesn’t need to be on the page to find and keep the words that do.

I like the fact I can be inside the hearts and minds and dreams of people, can understand them at a deep level, can spend six months or more with them as their live unfolds and can figure out and understand why they make the decisions they do. That’s an enjoyable day.

Full DisclosureDo you do anything differently when you create a story now than when you were first published?

Writing is about choices for what is on the page, and what is not, what is presented to the reader, when, and how, and what is left for a later in the story. I taught myself to write in large part by finding books I really loved and taking the story apart to figure out how the author did it. Good authors are good for a reason. They have figured out the logic of what to put on the page and what not to put on the page so readers are entertained, enlightened, captivated - but never bored.

I hope I’ve learned to be better at the this decision making process. I am much more likely to throw out pages I’ve written than I did in the past. Most of what I write shouldn’t be in the final story and that is liberating to know. If I discard what I wrote last week, it’s just a step in the process to getting a book finished. I approach a story easier now than I once did because I know eventually I’ll get the right combination of pages figured out.

Many of your characters are in law enforcement – why the fascination?

I like writing stories about people handling dangerous jobs because I am so very much not the kind of person who could do those jobs. Being a cop, or in the military, or helping after a disaster, is something I would like to experience if only safely on paper. I write about these professions because they interest me, and because I admire the people who can do these jobs.

It is also visually easier to write about jobs which are discrete tasks – a call comes into the fire station, the fire is fought, the equipment is packed up and the truck readied for the next fire. Or a homicide cop, where dispatch calls and there are concrete steps to go through to solve the crime.

I read one of Nora Robert’s books recently where she had a teacher as the hero and she successfully described a classroom. I thought at the time I read the book ‘I admire this story, because I couldn’t pull this off, I don’t have this skill as a writer.’ It takes more skill to tackle writing about some professions than others. You’ll notice my answer basically is – I chose to write easier stories. I have no doubt a really great romantic/mystery could be written around any profession, I simply doubt my skill to be the one to do so.

Name five things you can’t live without (faith and family a given - no need to take this too seriously!)

Diet Coke, a new book to read, quiet, birds to watch, someone else to drive when we’re going somewhere.

You are well known for your unforgettable characters – please share a character from a movie or book that you can't forget, and why?

I like characters that showed me something interesting about writing, either in a book or on the screen. I love the West Wing cast of characters for how they interact, I love Tom Hanks for how he can convey a person so well he becomes that character in a movie.

Certain Prey and Mortal Prey by John Sandford – absolutely fascinating lady shooter and ripping plot lines.
The Good Guy by Dean Koontz – a great hero and you don't realize why until the end of the book.
J.D. Robb – I love the Eve and Roarke story line that threads through the series. I like the depth of their unfolding relationship and how well it is played out across multiple books.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?The Negotiator

The bio on the books:

Dee Henderson is the author of 16 novels, including the acclaimed O'Malley series and the Uncommon Heroes series. Her books have won or been nominated for several industry awards, including the RWA's RITA Award, the Christy Award, and the ECPA Gold Medallion. Dee is a lifelong resident of Illinois. Visit her at DeeHenderson.com.

I'll add to that: pastor's daughter, single, 40 something (I stopped remembering when I passed 30), engineer by training, likes dogs. You can pretty much read a book of mine for the dog I either have or want to have.

Which of your characters have you most enjoyed creating?

I write a lot about survivors—overcoming what’s happened, learning something about yourself and friends, deepening what you know about God—it adds a rich layer to the stories I want to explore.

I think I understand Ann Silver from Full Disclosure the best, and I think Lisa O’Malley gave me a very rich character tapestry I wasn’t expecting when I first started work on her story.

Please share a Bible verse that has special meaning to you.

My favorite scripture passage changes every few years. This last year:

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, "Fear not, I will help you."
Isaiah 41:13 (Revised Standard Version)

Your character Ann reflects you in many ways ~ in what ways are you different to her?

I’m not as comfortable taking risks as she is.

Which character was the most difficult to write?

I often have trouble getting the villain’s voice—his characteristics, his personality—to match what I hoped to have for him.

Most of your characters find love later in life which is a little unusual in romance novels ~ what appeals to you about writing love stories with characters in their 30s and 40s?

Good romances tend to have a depth that is built on a history of decisions each person has made in their past before the two people meet, and when someone is in their 20s, there is simply not as much interesting material to work with. I prefer characters in the middle of their lives.

What characteristics define a true hero for you?

Someone who notices trouble or a problem and acts versus hoping someone else will act.

Please share a favourite paragraph from Full Disclosure:

I’m afraid my best paragraphs are those where the plot and the relationship pivots and they would give away too much of the story.

You are releasing Jennifer O’Malley’s story in May next year ~ what was it like revisiting the O’Malleys?

Jennifer: An O’Malley Love Story begins when Jennifer and Tom meet, and ends with the opening of The Negotiator. I love this series of books, and doing Jennifer’s story was important to me to have the arc of the series complete.

Are you able to share what readers can expect from you following Jennifer?

There is a story on my desk right now, a romance, that I like a great deal. When the story leaves my desk and my editor and I are comfortable with the final text, I’ll have some more to share.

Rel MolletRel Mollet is a lawyer, wife and mother of three young daughters and lives in Melbourne, Australia. Reading has been her passion since childhood. She is a Book Club Co-ordinator and has her own website ~ relzreviewz ~ dedicated to reviews and author interviews with the sole aim to support authors writing from a Christian worldview. She believes Sir Francis Bacon's (1561 - 1626) creed, "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body".