Interview with R.L. Nolen
Skipjack Publishing (2014)
Reviewed by Sheri Bebee for Reader Views (05/14)
Article first published as Interview: R.L. Nolen, Author of ‘Deadly Thyme’ on Blogcritics.
Rebecca Nolen was born in Houston, Texas, back when it felt more like a small town and Foley's had an animated window display at Christmas. She grew up running around her neighborhood unsupervised, exploring fields, and wrangling horses to ride bareback without permission. Her large extended family often gathered for meals where someone would end up telling stories, usually tall tales involving whoever didn't show up for the meal or about grandpa’s giant fish that got away. Her mother's bedtime stories were often about her Highlands grandmother - how she grew up with servants to brush her hair. To a small child these were stories of castles and kings and engendered in Nolen a serious love affair with all things British.
She graduated from Pearland High School and then began a great adventure in Chicago where she sadly lost touch with school friends. After a time she returned to Houston to attend the University of Houston, but got bored and enrolled at an Art school instead. After a short stint of work in the advertising world, she got married, had children and worked as a teaching assistant in Fort Bend ISD for twelve years. Just as her children were at their most volatile teenage years she infiltrated Facebook. Actually, she reconnected with old school friends, and made lovely new friends.
Soon she joined SCBWI, HWG, MWA, and a few other great writing organizations, and now lives to tell tall tales.
Jennifer: Hi Rebecca, thank you for being here with us today. Can you start off by telling us a bit about you and what makes you tick?
Rebecca: I am a Texan, though you probably can't hear an accent. I went to school in Chicago for a few years and I had to learn to talk fast, I was putting people to sleep.
Jennifer: You are a lover of all things British. How did this love come about?
Rebecca: I do love all things British. I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents as a child. My grandpa was from Glasgow. I learned to drink tea in the morning and in the afternoon. He called the grandkids - scallywags and ham'n'eggers - don't ask me why, I always thought it was a Scottish thing…more likely a grandpa thing.
Jennifer: Rebecca, please tell me about “Deadly Thyme.” What’s it about?
Rebecca: Deadly Thyme is a woman/child-in-peril story. It's a psychological suspense. You get to know what's in the killer's mind and in the victim's mind. What it is not is a book with a pedophile as a main character. I wanted to say that because I've had readers tell me they almost put it down because there was a child victim.
Jennifer: Ruth Butler is one of the main characters. Can you tell me about her and her demon of a husband?
Rebecca: Ruth Butler is one of the main character's in the story. She's from Texas, which is different. There aren't that many Texans living in Cornwall, England. But there are some, oddly enough. As the story opens you learn that Ruth’s been hiding her identity and her fears from everyone for ten years. It's a pattern of life that she believes is for her survival and the safety of her child. People find it hard to get to know her. Her ex-husband is a child-molester who was given visitation rights by a Texas judge. She stole her daughter to keep her away from him. Until this story happened, no one knows her secret and she'd like to keep it that way.
Jennifer: Who are the other main characters and what are their roles in the story?
Rebecca: Jon Graham is a policeman from London. He works in Complaints – a fraud division that investigates other policemen. He gets flak from all sides for what he does. He’s got a thick skin. When he meets Ruth, he falls hard. The book is a suspense novel but there is a tiny bit of romance on the side.
Annie is Ruth’s daughter. She is a plucky kid with the grit and determination to do something about the creeper who has her chained up.
The creeper is Charles and yes, that’s his real name. No one in the village knows his real name or if they do they will soon be a victim, too.
Peter Trewe is a detective chief inspector who has something to hide. Could this be why he is at the center of the investigation that brought Jon Graham to Cornwall?
Sergeant Perstow is short, not much over five feet tall, and built like a brick - Cornish born and bred. He does seem to get nervous around the other policemen, wonder what that’s about?
Jennifer: I really love reading a good mystery/thriller. I can only imagine what it takes to come up with the twists and turns it takes to make a good suspense novel. Do you have any particular guidelines that you follow or an outline that you lay out before you start writing?
Rebecca: Do I write an outline? Deadly Thyme was my first novel. I would say it was a seat-of-my-pants process with no outline. I was taking an advanced writing course at the time. Our assignment each week was to write a chapter. The chapter would be read aloud and analyzed during each subsequent class - tough-skin time. It was excruciating and thrilling. I wrote my first draft during this process. That was in 1999. The novel changed a lot over the years. It started out a cozy mystery. It isn't now. I shopped it around for a publisher from that time until now. Repeatedly rejected, I did receive excellent advice. I call those 'good' rejections. The last time I showed it to an agent, she pronounced me an excellent writer, it a good story, but so sorry, she didn't represent suspense. Auurrrgh! Fifteen years working on a novel? Enough is enough! I have other projects to work on. So I went through a professional story editor and then a copy-editor to get it polished up for self-publishing.
But in answer to your question - now I work with an outline when writing a novel. It's faster.
Jennifer: Yes, 15 years is a LONG time! I know it is hard for authors to get their works picked up by the “big” publishers. Rejections come more often than not, unfortunately. As an indie author you have to do it all yourself. Do you have any tips, tricks or advice, based on your experiences, for other authors who are also taking the self publishing route?
Rebecca: Yes, I have tons of advice but rather than bore you to tears I would say that I’ve followed my mentor Pamela Fagan Hutchins as well as I can. She has a lot of good advice in her book What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes and How Can I Be One, Too? One thing I’ve learned is that there are a lot of things to waste your money on and many things you should spend your money on. One of the most important things to spend your money on is a good editor – both a story editor and a copy-editor. The second most important thing to spend your money on is a great book designer. Have you noticed that a lot of self-published books look alike? That’s because people are paying for the book designs from Createspace or kindle. I would suggest finding a designer who doesn’t make book covers that look generic.
The best part of being an indie author is that my books don’t have a shelf life.
Jennifer: I see that you are from Houston, Texas and you live in a one-hundred year old cottage. I also live in Texas but reside in Austin where I live in a one-hundred year old school house. I know sometimes I get a little freaked out when I am home alone and the sounds of boards scares me a bit. Has your old cottage played any part in your writing?
Rebecca: I know what you mean about creaking floorboards. After we purchased our house my sister-in-law phoned me with the desperate question, "Have you googled your address?" No, of course not, so I did then. Our house was the official "Most Haunted House in Houston".
Yes, it's true. The house had been the First Pagan Church of Houston in 1967. There were animal sacrifices – mainly chickens. Neighbors complained. The police shut down the operation. People in the neighborhood who were here at the time tell me that they believe the man who ran the church just wanted an opportunity to have a lot of naked followers. Ha. Ha.
When we gutted and renovated a large portion of the house we found electrical problems that could have contributed to some of the mysterious haunting episodes. And then there were the dead carcasses in the attic: squirrels, birds, a snake. Beware little creatures, you can get in but you can't get out.
Has this played any part in my writing? I haven't seen any chicken ghosts, but I've composed a ghost story for an anthology, still no chicken ghosts.
Jennifer: I can imagine that it takes time and diligence to put a book together, especially when there are historical elements. Would you say that you spent a lot of time researching for your latest book, “Deadly Thyme?”
Rebecca: I wrote “Deadly Thyme” (actually at the time it was called "Thyme for Death"), but I didn't have a location firmed up. I knew I needed the sun setting over the ocean, and tall cliffs, with caves. Where in the world would I find that? Cornwall caught my eye while I was researching sea cliffs. It had all the elements I needed. And what a wonderful excuse to visit England!! After much research on flora, fauna, language, food, tides, and everything I could think of about living in England (they have different brands of toothpaste than we do), I booked my flight. I went over with the express goal of tasting, touching, and smelling Cornwall. You can't get that from the internet -yet.
Jennifer: The cover of “Deadly Thyme” is really creepy yet it is beautiful. Did you finish writing the book before you had the cover created? Was the cover design what you imagined it would be after you saw it for the first thyme? (Pun intended)
Rebecca: Thank you for creepy but beautiful. This cover of Deadly Thyme is actually the second cover. The original cover was similar but the doll's eyes were barely open and really scary. My beta readers decided it was far too horrifying. I had my cover artist open the doll's eyes and put blush and lipstick on her so she doesn't look like she is waiting for you to fall asleep so she can kill you.
The process for cover art on this book went like this: Heidi Dorey my cover artist asked me to tell her what book covers I loved from similar type of novels. I picked “Blue Monday” by Nicci French, “Before I Go to Sleep” by S. J. Watson, and “When Will There Be Good News?” by Kate Atkinson. Then, Heidi sent me several mock-ups. Most were dark and involved spiders. This cover I immediately jumped on for the brilliant colors she used. I think the doll is appropriate because when someone goes missing or is killed there are memorials left on the ground. That was the reasoning behind it. I gave her the go ahead and she began playing with the title and how my name fits. I have an amazing cover artist. I recommend her.
Jennifer: Rebecca, since “Deadly Thyme” is now published, what is in store for you next?
Rebecca: I’ve just finished having my middle-grade novel “The Dry” made into an audible book with ACX, another part of Amazon. I’m in the process of finding a narrator for Deadly Thyme. They have to do several British accents well and know how to do a Texas accent that isn’t too over-the-top.
I just finished a short story for a fantasy anthology being produced through Houston Writer’s Guild.
I’m also working on a YA historical novel set in Houston.
Jennifer: In closing, is there anything else that you would like to share before we wrap up the interview?
Rebecca: I’d like to thank you for having me here. Thank you for asking questions that made me stop and think. I hope my answers made sense.
Jennifer: Lastly, where can readers learn more about you and keep in contact with you on social media?
Rebecca: I love for readers to contact me on email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and connect with me on my webpage here: http://www.rebeccanolen.com where you can ask to receive my newsletter. Twitterers follow me @rlnolen, and if you go to http://instagram.com/rlnolen55 – you’ll see actual photographs of where the events in “Deadly Thyme” take place. I’ve also got some lovely photos of Cornwall on my Pinterest page - http://www.pinterest.com/rlnolen/ I’m also on Google+ at https://plus.google.com/u/0/+RebeccaNolenauthor/posts.