by C.J. Darlington
Lorena McCourtney Interview
"Money isn't the greatest reward in writing. If I'd known that I'd have turned to Christian writing much sooner." -- Lorena McCourtney
Lorena and her husband Jim live on rural acreage in southern Oregon. They do some traveling in their motorhome, but more often they just like to go over to the Oregon coast, which is a favorite setting for Lorena’s writing. She enjoys reading, hiking and beachcombing.
C.J. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Lorena: I made my first tries at writing when I was in about the fifth grade. Later, I kept having thoughts about writing, but I saw it mostly as a way to make money for my own-a-big-ranch ambitions. (Now there’s a naïve idea: making money at writing!) It wasn’t until considerably later that I slowly came to realize that the writing was more important to me than the big ranch.
Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?
Yes, I read a lot as a child. Doesn’t every writer have reading as a first love? But I can’t say that what I read as a child – westerns, and horse and dog books – had any big influence on my writing now. (But maybe they influenced those big-ranch ambitions??)
Research. Love it or hate it?
Sometimes one, sometimes the other. And sometimes I’m just confused by it. I think it’s possible to become over-researched on a subject, so that you have so much material that it’s difficult to know where to go with a story. Most of the research I do now is on a need-to-know basis. I come to a point in a story where I need to know something about a particular weapon, a police procedure, etc., so I research to get it right. Although doing research in general on some larger subject can sometimes lead to information that I’d never have asked about, because it was totally new information to me.
Ever had any unusual or embarrassing moments at a book signing or while performing research?
We took a 7-day raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon as research for my Palisades book Canyon. Somehow the box of silverware didn’t get put in, and so meals were eaten with whatever was available. I remember one meal I ate with a potato peeler, another with a spatula. But all of it became a part of Canyon, of course.
Your latest mystery series features LOL (little old lady) Ivy Malone and her crime fighting adventures. Tell us where you got the idea for Ivy.
One of Ivy’s basic characteristics is that she feels she seems to have aged into invisibility. But after that dismaying discovery, she then realizes this “invisibility” could be a very handy asset, especially when she puts it to good use tracking down a murderer. The “invisibility” itself came from personal experiences, as I, too, found myself more and more invisible. I’ve never used it for sleuthing myself – I’m not as adventurous as Ivy! – but it has come in handy now and then. I’ve also discovered from readers’ e-mails and letters that a good many readers (not necessarily Ivy’s age) feel a real familiarity with this “invisibility” thing.
I love Ivy’s pluckiness and sense of humor. How much of you is in Ivy Malone?
I think I’ve put more of me into Ivy than into any other character I’ve ever written. Her quirky humor and death-touch to plants are certainly mine. As, of course, is that feeling of invisibility, and much of her curiosity too. But she’s definitely more plucky and adventurous than I am.
Are there any more books planned for the series?
I had originally planned this to be a long series, so I was quite dismayed when the publisher informed me when I was well into Book #4 that they never did more than 3 or 4 books in a series. I had no idea they had that policy. So, much to my disappointment and that of many of my readers, Stranded is the last book in the series.
What would you say has been the hardest part about writing the Ivy Malone series?
Getting the details about crime and police activities right. I’ve had to do considerable research on this.
What originally inspired you to start writing mysteries?
I wrote a lot of romances, 24 of them for the secular market, then 6 for the Christian market. One of those 6 had quite a bit of mystery to it, even though it was basically a romance, and I realized then that I simply enjoyed the twists and turns of a mystery more than romance.
Who are some authors you enjoy reading now, and why do you enjoy them?
Among Christian mystery authors I like Colleen Coble, Terri Blackstock and Pat Rushford.
Among secular mystery writers, I especially like Alexander McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency books and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series. Also Dean Koontz, and one I only recently discovered, Anne George. (And I’m sorry to find out she’s passed away so there won’t be any more books from her.)
But I also enjoy reading outside the mystery field and will read most anything that falls into my hands and makes me wonder, What is going to happen next? How is this going to end? Also, my mother had an extensive library of old books that I inherited when she passed away, and I’m enjoying reading my way through them. My parents spent 17 years teaching in various isolated spots in Alaska, and they had a number of Alaska and Arctic books that are most interesting.
Do you ever find it challenging to head to your keyboard every day? What do you do when the words don’t seem to come?
I’ve long looked on writing as my job, and I just go to the computer and do it, the same as any other job. You don’t wait for inspiration or the time to do it; you just do it. It’s your job. When the words won’t come? I can’t say that I actually get writer’s block, when words won’t come at all. But I certainly go through fairly frequent times when the right words won’t come. Then I find myself rewriting the same sections way too many times. But I’ve never had any success just skipping over a part that won’t come, and returning to it later. I need a solid foundation before I can move on. So I just grit my teeth and keep working on it.
Where is your favorite place to write?
In my office, at my computer. I don’t really write anywhere else. I may scribble down notes, “flashes” my husband calls them, so I have a number of bits of paper to start with first thing in the morning. But I don’t go off to someplace else to write. I need to be alone, and the solitude of my office is just right. Several years ago we built an addition on to the house as an office for me, and for me it’s simply the ideal place to work.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
That money isn’t the greatest reward in writing. If I’d known that I’d have turned to Christian writing much sooner.
But there’s one thing I’m glad I didn’t know way back then: that it doesn’t get any easier. After 38 published books, whatever I’m working on now is just as hard to write as the earlier ones.
Are there any authors or books you consistently turn to for inspiration?
The Bible is really the only one.
Why do you write fiction?
I tried some non-fiction early on in my writing career, but I found it too confining. I like the freedom to go where your thoughts take you in fiction.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
I think persistence is more important than talent. But by that I don’t mean just persistence in sending the same manuscript out over and over (although that can be important too!). I mean persistence in learning the craft, in reading widely and studying what you read, and persistence in actually finishing something. Not just writing great beginnings and then jumping to something else. And persistence in actual writing, not just talking about writing, or being on writers’ loops, but actually writing.
What’s next for you?
I’m starting a new mystery series for WestBow. This is the Andi McConnell Mysteries, with the title of the first book Your Chariot Awaits. The “chariot” in this case is the limousine Andi unexpectedly acquires – with an even more unexpected body in the trunk.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I have an American Indian background – born on a reservation in eastern Washington, and I am an enrolled member of the tribe. I’ve long thought I’d like to do something with this. Actually, I did make a try at it one time. I had a story that got up to about 200,000 words, but it had so many characters and subplots that it finally just collapsed and sank of its own weight. But maybe I’ll give it another try one of these days.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
That I have a BS degree, not in journalism or some English related field, but in Agriculture. And perhaps that my husband has never read a word I’ve written.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Hiking, especially on the Oregon coast. Reading, of course. Oh yes, and flea markets and yard sales! I collect old pocket knives and spurs, so I’m always on the lookout for those.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Swiss cheese. Something chocolate. And some yukky stuff my husband says is fishing bait and don’t throw it out.
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
I’m really not a Starbucks sort of person, so I’d probably just say I want something that’s a little chocolate-y, with lots of whipped cream on top.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Hmmm. Is that realistic goals? Or things I wish I could do but probably can’t? On the latter list would be to hike the length of the Rogue River trail here in Oregon. Climb nearby Mt. McLoughlin. I’d also like to get a lovely review in Publisher’s Weekly. I’m not sure if that’s a realistic or unrealistic goal.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Okay, I’ll have to admit I’m way back in the dark ages and don’t have either. What’s usually playing on my plain old FM radio is country and western music.
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Just that I’m so pleased that I was asked to participate, and that I love to hear from readers. An e-mail or letter from a reader is validation that my story actually reached someone out there. It didn’t just drift off into space. Reader letters tell me the stories are connecting with real people and bringing them enjoyment.
And I hope I’ll be reading some of your books soon.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.