Reader: What would be the most important points/tips you would share with novice writers?
It's all about the craft. Don't rely on clichés, on the stuff that comes to your head the first time. Sometimes you need to dig. Write, write, write. And write what you care about. Write what makes you tick. Don't write what's popular.
One thing that always amazes me is when reviewers or readers complain that the hard things in the books I write about aren't realistic, that the suffering is too extreme, like people don't really go through these kinds of battles. And I always think to myself, 'well, bless your heart." Because life is DAMN HARD for so many. I know people who have lost both parents, siblings, struggle daily with debilitating disease, and that's just in the first 25 years of their lives. Life IS suffering. For almost everyone. We all have battles, we all have trials, and the charge is to find the beauty in life in spite of it.
Reader: How in the world do you write such intimacy without taking us beyond yet leaving the reader totally satisfied? I just love that!!
My favorite scenes to write are love scenes. Truly. I bragged to my son Paul after writing the scene where Tag and Millie make love - and I said, " I just wrote a love scene without mentioning body parts" He just laughed at me.
I don't do it because I'm a prude. I do it to focus on what's important when people love each other. What's important is not the body parts or the mechanics. It's the feelings. The sensations, the act itself. So, I enjoy creating the mood with my words and making people feel what I want them to feel without resorting to the usual methods. It's a challenge that I enjoy.
There is a time and place, though, for more graphic scenes. I refuse to leave stuff out just for the tender sensibilities of some. I want to be respectful, but I also want to be realistic. If I can be both, great. If I can't, authenticity will always win.
Reader: You said that each book gets harder. What do you mean?
Expectations for myself grow. Expectations from my audience increase. The desire to write quality, be original. That all increases. And I think the knowledge of how hard it truly is, is always daunting. Starting a new book is scary.
Reader: Were you a teacher Amy? What grade/subject level etc.?
I taught English and history to sixth and seventh graders at a little Christian school.
Reader: What is next?
I’m not sure what’s next. I feel like I want to step away from everything I know and write about an older heroine. Maybe I’ll write my story (wink wink) and make my character thin. That’s almost as good as being thin myself. No, seriously. I’m not sure. I want to give myself a chance in the next 90 days to just write without the pressure of publishing. I’m sure I WILL publish again, but I don’t know when that will be.
These 10 questions originally came from a French series, "Bouillon de Culture" hosted by Bernard Pivot. And were asked on the TV talk show, "The Actor's Studio".
1. What is your favorite word?
2. What is your least favorite word?
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Goodness. Selflessness. Music, art in all its forms.
4. What turns you off?
Bullies and bitches. Can't stand 'em.
5. What is your favorite curse word?
I love the F word. I never say it. But I love it. It's just so descriptive and filthy.
6. What sound or noise do you love?
I like the sound of running water. I love silence. I love hearing my kids sing and I love laughter.
7. What sound or noise do you hate?
Anything that squeaks. When my son pushes chairs across the floor. Ish. That makes my skin crawl.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would love to be a talk show host or a news anchor.
9. What profession would you not like to do?
Gynecologist. No thank you.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
The obvious thing would be, "Come on in." And I hope he knows my name.
Q&A The Song of David - Spoilers ahead!
Hmm. Mostly it's just that - threads. Moses was a prophet of sorts who parted the waters. David had to battle his Goliath. I love creating parallels.
Reader: Are there real people who inspired these characters (Tag and Moses) or are you just that brilliant?
I'm just brilliant. Ha ha ha. No, really. I don't know anyone like Moses or Tag. I do think, though, that my characters have little bits and pieces of many people I've come across in my life. Tag has a little of my three brothers in him. Moses was such a wise old grouch and Tag was such a happy force of nature. I loved their bromance. I loved writing a romance from the POV's of two men who were friends, not lovers. I wonder if that's ever been done before in a romance novel.
Reader: Was Moses’ narration always planned?
This is a superb question. The hardest thing for me is figuring out POV. I could not get this story to work the way I wanted it too. I tried writing Millie's POV and I couldn't. Her inability to see made telling the story from her "head" impossible. I didn't realize how much sight and observation is used to move a story forward.
One day, I let Moses have his way. I let him speak. And that's when I decided he had to help narrate and Tag's POV would be on the cassette tapes, which allowed him to be present without being present. I didn't know if it would work, but once I made that decision, the story came much faster.
I actually sent the prologue and the first chapter to my editor and said "Is this going to fly?" She loved it, and that gave me a lot of confidence.
Reader: While you were writing The law of Moses and Tag was introduced, did you have his story with Millie already in your mind or did that come while you were writing their book? When you write a book do write the story from beginning to end or different scenes then put it all together ?
I write in pieces, scenes, and that gets the creative juices flowing. Sometimes I have to abandon scenes that were written before the story takes on its life, but often the scenes start working together and I don’t have to abandon much.
My friend and publicist, Mandy Lawler, says she pictures me writing the way Moses paints. It made me laugh, her image of me sitting at the computer, hands flying, my face blank, as I channel the voices. I wish it was like that. But it isn’t. It’s tedious, hard, work. I have to force myself to write most days because it rarely flows easily. I work for these stories. But maybe that’s the magic. If it was easy, the stories wouldn’t be as good.
As far as the Millie question: I knew I was going to write Tag’s story pretty early on in the writing of The Law of Moses. But Millie didn’t show herself until I actually started writing scenes. I had no idea she was going to be blind. I just knew Tag would need a girl who could teach him how to be vulnerable and strong at the same time. Tag had to learn how to be both. He’d learned strength. He understood compassion. He was a very good man. But he hadn’t learned how to be in an intimate relationship, which was obvious from his romantic history. He hadn’t learned how to let someone else love him – to submit to someone else and still be strong. Tag needed a very unique girl to break through. And that’s how Millie was born.
Reader: The women you write always feel very...wholesome. Even though Millie was a stripper, she still seemed so innocent. Is there a part of you in them?
Interesting. I do write rather wholesome characters, and yep. I think it's because I tend to be pretty wholesome. I taught at a Christian school for heck sake. I feel a certain responsibility to keep it from being too gritty, but still be realistic. It's always a fine line. And I would love to learn to pole-dance. A reviewer sent me an email when she was done reading and she commented that I was "subversive" that I get under people's skin because I write characters that don't fit a mold yet are incredibly relatable. I take that as a huge compliment. Millie didn't dance to be sexy or please men. She danced to please herself.
Reader: Millie's blindness was a shock. Did you know at the beginning you were going to make her blind?
Love this question. I didn’t know Millie was going to be blind until I wrote that scene where Tag meets her for the first time. It slapped me in the face. I was actually doing a writing sprint with Jessica Prince, an author friend of mine. I messaged her and said, “Well, damn. My leading lady is blind. I didn’t see that coming.” No pun intended.
Reader: Where do you get the inspiration for your characters ? I love that your characters are never what you expect. They are not billionaires, overtly handsome or beautiful in a way that a lot of books are. Your books have a feel of realism of a part of society that is often overlooked and I think that is what make your book so heart wrenchingly beautiful. Also you have been very open with us about your friend suffering from brain cancer. (Which is very near and dear to my heart) Did you know that Tag was going to have this before you found out or after.
I stew a lot. I think and discard, think and discard. Then, when I sit down to write, I often have the character pretty fleshed out in my mind so that I’m “channeling” that person, focusing on them as I write a scene. I didn’t know Millie was going to be blind, but I knew Tag. I had wrestled with him for months, trying to figure him out. Millie was a little gift that I stumbled upon. But inspiration is a hard concept to explain. Inspiration isn’t one dimensional. It usually can’t be traced to one thing. It comes in little strands that lead to other strands and sometimes the original inspiration doesn’t resemble the finished product at all. So I don’t know where I get my inspiration. Everything inspires. Conversations I over hear, lyrics in a song, something someone says on Facebook. Seriously. Inspiration is pretty hard to pin down.
I resisted the brain cancer plot line. I dug in my heels. But in the end, it was the story that needed to be told. I called my friend Stephenie and said, “Steph, how do you feel about this? And will you help me get it right?” She was excited about it, I think, and was a great source all through the book. When she finished reading and gave me the thumbs up, it was a very special moment for me.
Reader: What do you think was the turning point for Tag in deciding to fight his illness?
Interestingly enough, I don’t think Tag embraced the idea of sticking around, of fighting the illness, until Millie forced him to hear her. As convincing and incredibly touching as Moses’s hospital scene was, and as heartfelt as Henry pleaded in his scene, Tag was still convinced that his decision to spare his loved ones was the best course of action. Sacrifice takes a lot of love. It takes a lot of strength, and I think Tag felt like sparing his loved ones was his responsibility, it was his sacrifice. It was the way he demonstrated his love.
It wasn’t until Millie got in his space and challenged him, made him realize that vulnerability, trust, “submission” takes as much or more strength than being the hero. It wasn’t until she released him, until she told him he didn’t have to beat it, he just had to love and let himself be loved, that he started to crack. That scene was my favorite of the book.
Moses told Tag early on that he was going to have to submit. But Moses couldn’t have known how true that was. This was the Jesus Take the Wheel scene (LOL) but it was Tag allowing Millie take the wheel – blind eyes and all.
Reader: I keep re-reading the last sentence of the Epilogue and the emotion is tangible. I've gone back and forth as to how to interpret the ending but I'm leaning more toward believing that Tag had another miracle and beat the cancer, had a long and happy life and is now meeting Moses again. When you wrote the ending, did you want the reader to have his or her own interpretation?
YES! That was the whole point of the ending. I don’t WANT to tell you what happens, because truthfully, I don’t know. I have my own desires, my own need to “save” Tag’s life. But I truly feel that undermines the message of the book, the message I so desperately wanted to share. The story is about living. Not dying. The story is about trust and vulnerability and overcoming. I felt like I couldn’t END this story when what I really wanted to do was reinforce the message of there not being an ending. None of us know when our stories will end. None of us know how long we have. Tag and Millie didn’t know either. So it felt absolutely vital to keep hope alive, to reinforce the sense of journey, the sense of perspective that I think the ending gives.
Reader: The ending was genius! When I asked a friend if it was a HEA (Happily Ever After) before I started reading she said it was, kind of....and that's exactly what it was, kind of! Can you share what your interpretation was with Tag? When Moses sees him, is it in the flesh?
Readers want me to tell them what I think happened to Tag. And I understand that. But if I tell you what I want to have happen to Tag, it undermines the ending. It undermines the message. And I don’t want to do that.
I will give you this. I did NOT write that scene with Tag’s death in mind. I did not give little hints that he was dead, any more than I give hints that he was alive. This wasn’t a game of clue. The way it was written truly was designed to be interpreted several different ways. I don’t know about you, but there’s lots of people I love that I don’t see every day or even every month. So the way the story ends with Moses thinking “It had been a while, and I had missed him,” that doesn’t mean anything specific. It means exactly what it says.
I don’t know what happened to Tag. I don’t know when he died. I don’t know IF he died. Only Moses knows. And he isn’t talking. What I do know is Tag and Millie got their love story. They got their love story. And forty years later, Moses was acknowledging that their love still continued. It still lived on.
Reader: Did you always know how you wanted to end The Song of David?
No. I stressed and stressed over the ending. Nothing felt right. It was late at night a few days before the book needed to be sent to the editor, and I decided to do a free write from Moses’s POV, playing around with an epilogue with him because the book started with him, it felt right to end with him. I started writing, and that ending just came out. As soon as I wrote it I was at peace. Completely. I remember walking up the stairs from my office at 3 am and feeling like I’d climbed Everest. I don’t think anyone would have been able to talk me out of that ending at that point. It was the right ending.
Reader: Not to be funny, but your books always bring to mind those jokes... you know the ones where a blind girl, a psychic, and an MMA fighter walk into a bar.... I begin reading and wait for the punch line to fall, but it never does it always turns into a powerful story that makes me think and think well after I have closed the pages of the book. How do you manage to weave all of these extraordinary characters together to tell stories that are both real and insightful?
Ha ha. I think of those same jokes, truly. I think I even mention that in Moses when he says something about the black artist and the white cowboy. Honestly, I try very hard to understand my characters, to flesh them out, to make them multi-dimensional. By doing so, they take on life. I also try to avoid the obvious.
Reader: When writing, do you spend a lot of time on research?
I always spend LOTS of time researching. I research the entire time I write. Research separates the authors from the scribblers. Research makes a story live and breathe.
One thing I didn't research AS MUCH was autism. I didn't want to try to make Henry text book Autistic - which is laughable, because there isn't text book Autism -- I just wanted him to be Henry. So I let him be, and he told me who he was.
Reader: Henry was brilliant and people really responded to him. What's the inspiration?
I had a few students who had autism and or Asperger’s, so I was comfortable with some of the characteristics. I truly think though, that people responded to him because of his quirks. We love a character who makes us laugh and cry simultaneously.
Reader: Tell us about the song and how it developed. It's beautiful and so well suited.
I couldn't get a melody out of my head and ended up plunking it out for my son with the "Sing me a song, sing me a song" refrain coming up over and over. He took it and ran with it.
Reader: What are the toughest scenes to write?
In the Song of David, the epilogue. Without a doubt. It took me two weeks to write it. Not because I was writing and deleting, but because I was thinking. I truly didn't know how to end it and be true to the book.
Reader: Will you be writing a book about any of the other characters?
I started a book about Dr. Noah Andelin, the young doctor at Montlake who lost his wife. I have that story in my head, but I really don’t want to write another spin-off right now, just because David hasn’t sold well. Moses and Tag wouldn’t be in Dr Andelin’s story. It takes place while they are gallivanting off in Europe. So I wouldn’t put it in a series with them.