Caroline: What made you decide to set your novels in Deadwood?
Ann: I had spent my summers in Deadwood during my teen years, after my mom moved there from Ohio. My family and I explored back roads, ghost towns, old abandoned mines, and stream-lined gulches every chance we could. The history of the place entranced us, and there was always a road we hadn’t traveled that needed to be checked out.
A few years ago, while pregnant with our second (and last!) child, my husband and I were in Deadwood visiting my mom and stepdad. On the way into town, a story idea hit me about a single mom with two kids—twins—who was trying to make ends meet while trying out a new career in a new town. That’s when Violet was born.
From the start, I had a gut feeling that this story was meant to be. NEARLY DEPARTED IN DEADWOOD just poured out of me. The years of exploring the town and surrounding hills paid off, I was able to slip in and out of the setting by just closing my eyes. I could feel the summer sun, smell the pine trees, hear the sounds of Main Street. It was a match made in fictional heaven.
Caroline: I've never been to Deadwood. Could you tell us a little more about the town?
Ann: Deadwood has been around since the late 1800s. It’s the site where “Wild” Bill Hickok was murdered, Calamity Jane liked to spend her days and nights, and outlaws, miners, prostitutes, and cowboys hung out in droves. It’s located in the beautiful Black Hills and has been the setting for many true wild-west anecdotes.
For decades, Deadwood relied on its history to drum up tourism business. But in the 90s, gambling was allowed within the city limits, and the tourists began to pour in by the busload. The good news is that the gambling industry brought jobs and money to town. The bad news is that casinos took over Main Street, and the Deadwood I grew up in disappeared into history. The clothing store where I’d buy Levi jeans, the pharmacy where I’d buy candy, the gift store where my mom had worked for years—they are all gone, ghosts of Deadwood’s past. But, even with the change, the people have stayed the same. They are still friendly, funny, and full of piss and vinegar. I did my best to create secondary and tertiary characters who are as genuine and entertaining to be around as the real folks in Deadwood.
Caroline: NEARLY DEPARTED IN DEADWOOD won the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award. How did you feel when your book was announced as the winner?
Ann: Stunned. Totally, absolutely, completely stunned. I didn’t think my quirky, mixed-genre book had a chance at winning. I believed that so much that I didn’t even write an acceptance/thank-you speech (even though my long-time critique partner strongly suggested I write a speech right before we headed down to the ceremony—“Really? Not even just a list a names?”). I’ll never forget what it was like to stand up there in front of all of those smiling faces and not have a clue about what to say. Lesson learned!
Caroline: Your cover art is really distinctive. Can you tell us more about it?
Ann: The cover artist is C.S. Kunkle, who happens to be my older brother. He also drew the graphics that are inside of the printed version of the book—I think 7 in all.
He’s been drawing since we were kids, and he’s also one of the main sources for my wild imagination. His art is a little twisted and wild, and his love of monsters has kept me afraid of the dark since we were kids growing up on the farm in Ohio. He’d often tell me stories of vampires or werewolves living out behind the barn—the same barn that I had to go out to on dark winter nights and feed the cows. I grew up watching scary movies with him, and I’m pretty sure he’s warped a part of my brain.
We had wanted to work on a joint project for years, and when I couldn’t hook a New York publisher with this book, I turned to him and asked if he would be willing to work with me on this project and represent the books in the art form. He didn’t even hesitate.
If you check out my Deadwood website (www.anncharles.com/deadwood), as well as my main Ann Charles website (www.anncharles.com), you will see his art all over the webpages. I’m extremely fortunate that my parents put my crib in his room when he was four, because we’ve stuck together through thick and thin ever since. Having such a talented artist so willing to work with me has been an incredible boost to my career.
Caroline: Your main character, Violet, is anything but shrinking. What else can you tell us about her?
Ann: Violet is a hoot! From the first moment I stepped inside her head and stared down Old Man Harvey’s double-barrel shotgun, I knew I’d found a heroine I would love sharing headspace with for years to come. I love her wit, her sense of humor, the way she can laugh at herself when crap is really raining down on her, her lusty and bold appetite for men, and her acceptance that she’s not the best mother in the world, but she keeps trying anyway.
What I had hoped to create in a character when I started writing Violet’s story was someone readers would enjoy hanging out with in real life. The kind of character that is more genuine—she struggles with her weight, has stretch marks, has this crazy hair she can barely control, and cusses and howls at the moon when the situation calls for it. She’s not a first-rate sleuth, but she cares about people and allows that caring to draw her into places where she does things she’d normally avoid like the plague.
Caroline: What is your ideal romantic hero like?
Ann: He loves to cook and he’s great at it. He also is willing to clean the toilet and shower/tub, do the laundry, and go grocery shopping. Oh, and he likes his women short, curvy, and full of spunk. Handsome with sexy forearms is a definite plus! He’s nice to kids and pets, he’s intelligent but doesn’t show off, and he is willing to give a woman the space she needs to grow and thrive.
Caroline: What woman wouldn't love a guy like that? Wait, you described my husband, Hero, so I DO love a guy like that. LOL Speaking of romantic heroes, what can you tell us about Doc, Deadwood’s newest arrival?
Ann: Well, I’d love to tell you all kinds of fun details about Doc, but he refuses to spill—even to me. Seriously. When I write scenes with him in them, I have to work at getting him to share much. He’s extremely closed mouth about his history and his feelings. I curse him often. Not even hard liquor pries open his lips—and believe me, I’ve tried to use it many times and wound up passed out on the floor of my office.
Caroline: Are there any books that you feel helped shape the writer you are today?
Ann: Definitely! Off the top of my head: Stephen King’s DESPERATION for the horror elements; Dean Koontz’ ODD THOMAS for Dean’s ability to infuse setting into a story; Rachel Gibson’s SEE JANE SCORE for her way of making male characters so “male” and sexy; several books by Susan Andersen for her expertise with suspense; Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series for the blending of mystery and comedy; many of Katie MacAlister’s books for her way of using first person point-of-view so seamlessly; Jane Porter’s FlIRTING WITH FORTY for her ability to yank on heartstrings; and Vicki Lewis Thomson’s Hex series for her fun paranormal and romance mix.
Caroline: Are there other books in the Deadwood series you’d like to tell us about?
Ann: The second book in the series is called OPTICAL DELUSIONS IN DEADWOOD. It is available as an ebook and in print. I’m currently writing the third book in the series, called DEAD CASE IN DEADWOOD. At the moment, I have twelve books roughly planned out for this series. I figure I’ll take readers’ temperatures at six and go from there.
Caroline: Can you tell us what your writing process is like?
Ann: Overall, I’m what many writers call a “pantser” in the author world, which means I write by the seat of my pants. I get a couple of plot ideas in mind, put together a high-level plot paradigm with all of my subplots listed, work up a few necessary character goal details, wait for that opening line to hit me right between the eyes, and then explore the story as I go. Every time I finish a chapter, I pause to daydream and brainstorm what comes next. I have a general idea of the beginning, middle, and end, but I allow myself the liberty to change things along the way.
If we’re talking about my daily process for getting words on a page, my typical day is pretty normal. I work a full-time day job as a technical writer, so the morning starts out with dragging my butt out of bed around 6:00 a.m., checking email and Facebook/Twitter, and then getting the kids up and moving. My husband gets breakfast going while I get the munchkins dressed and ready for school/preschool. Then I head to work and play technical writer for eight hours, but my brain is constantly dabbling in fiction during long meetings and on “slow” days. I go home in the evening, hang out with the family until the kids go to bed around nine, and THEN I get to start working on writing. I usually stay up until around 1:00 a.m., then crash and start over again when the alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. By Friday, I’m existing solely on caffeine and sugar and I look like an extra from a zombie flick, minus the craving for brains. Saturday morning, my husband keeps the kids busy so I can sleep in and return to looking somewhat human. The weekend nights are major writing time, too. Then Monday roles around and I’m back to the weekday grind. Someday I hope I can drop the day job, but that’s far into the future at this point.
Caroline: Ah yes, the DDJ--dreaded day job. What one thing is vital to your survival (or sanity!) when writing?
Ann: Caffeine. Lots of it. Injected intravenously.
Caroline: What is your favorite way to relax?
Ann: Sitting on my couch with a good action/adventure movie with a touch of romance on the television, a plate of Chicken Tikka Masala in front of me (with plenty of warm Naan, too), and a Coke Slurpee within reach. Ahhh, paradise!
Caroline: Do you feel like you have anything in common with Violet, and if so, what?
Ann: We both have two kids, rely on a sarcasm-laced inner monologue as a source of humor, and love men who are tall, dark, and handsome. We also both screw up a lot in life and have learned to laugh at ourselves whenever possible.
Caroline: Laughine at ourselves is important. What other projects do you have on the horizon?
Ann: In October, I’m releasing the first book of my Jackrabbit Junction Series called, DANCE OF THE WINNEBAGOS. I’ll release the second book in that series next year after I release the third book in the Deadwood series.
Also, I have a couple of non-fiction books I co-wrote with Jacquie Rogers. The first is called NAIL IT! THE SECRET TO BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE FICTION WRITERS PLATFORM. It’s the first in a series of five books that we have planned on building a fiction writing platform. The second book available now is called GROWING YOUR AUDIENCE, and is a workbook sort of book that can be used with or without our “Growing Your Audience” online workshop. It’s full of great tips on how to figure out who your audience is and how to grow that audience so that you have folks buying your books as soon as they are published.
Caroline: I love Jacquie's MUCH ADO ABOUT MARSHALS. And her blogsite is very attractive, too. Are there any particular people (writer, teachers, friends) who have helped inspired you as a writer?
Ann: There are so many authors I have met in the last 15 years who have inspired me. Many of my closest friends are writers who have motivated me through encouragement (or whips and finger jabs) to keep trying, keep practicing, keep putting myself “out there.” The support network these fellow authors have provided is invaluable, and without these authors, I might have thrown in the towel years ago.
In addition, my family has always been extremely supportive. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, and I think they saw in me that spirit and drive that they know so well. My husband has been wonderful, too. He takes care of me while I write. Without him, I’d have matted hair with leaves and bugs in it, I’d be malnourished from eating nothing but tomato paste out of a can, and I’d undoubtedly smell like I’d bathed with skunks.
Caroline: Right there with you! My Hero keeps me on track and takes care of me, too. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Ann: In my 20s, after reading romances for well over a decade, I decided that I wanted to try writing a romance of my own. So I did. I wrote it by hand and it was absolutely horrible. I’ll never share that one with anyone. But I sent the first 3 chapters of it off to a publisher, not realizing at the time how bad the story was, and Harlequin’s Mills and Boon division was very kind in their rejection letter. The editor encouraged me to keep trying. That was all the encouragement I needed, and I’ve been working on improving my craft and career ever since.
Caroline: So often, writers hear over and over how difficult it is to “make it” in their chosen profession. What inspires you to keep going?
Ann: The characters in my head—they won’t shut up. To keep my sanity, I have to put their stories on the page. Plus, writing is addictive. And the better you get at bringing your fictional worlds to life, the more you want to dabble in these other worlds.
Caroline: What advice would you give a brand-new writer?
Ann: If writing to get published and sell books is what you really want to do, realize that winning contests, finding a publisher (or agent), and becoming a bestseller doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years, sometimes even a decade or more, like it has for me. I have been working to be published for about fourteen years now. Many authors take less time than I have, some take more. Patience is necessary, as is continually learning, persevering, and practicing. And most important—this is an entrepreneurial business. Entrepreneurs are known for living, breathing, and sleeping their businesses. Writing is the same. If your family doesn’t periodically consider staging an intervention to break you from your writing-related addiction, you aren’t working hard enough at it to succeed.
Caroline: What is your favorite bad-for-you treat?
Ann: A Coke Slurpee. Someday, I’m going to purchase a Slurpee machine of my own and drink it straight from the tap.
Caroline: If you had an entire day to yourself with no responsibilities of any kind and unlimited resources, what would it look like?
Ann: Easy—I’d be sitting on a Mexican beach under a big umbrella with a huge blended Margarita on the little table next to me along with a huge plate of chips and guacamole in my lap. In one hand, I’d have my Kindle loaded with a sexy read, and in the other I’d have my husband’s IPod that I’d be listening to while he took a dip in the crystal clear pool of the resort behind us. Later, our kids would join us for a yummy, fun-filled dinner, and then the nanny would give my husband and me a few more hours of “adult swim” time before returning the kids for the night.
Caroline: What is something that readers would be surprised to know about you?
Ann: I have an irrational fear of cows, which formed when I was a little kid and have not been able to shake. When I was fifteen, I got lost in the Black Hills of South Dakota one summer day because I’d come across a bull standing in the road while I was out on a walk. I was too chicken to try to skirt around it. For five hours, I wandered the forest, lost, trying not to panic as dusk neared. Finally, I came across a cute little cottage filled with a kind, older couple who took me in, fed me some cookies, and then drove me home.
Caroline: Oh, that sounds almost like a fairy tale adventure. You and your brother should make that into a children's book. Do you ever incorporate family members or friends into your books?
Ann: Yes, often. I like to have fun with those who are closest to me. For example, a good friend of mine at work is single without kids. In the second book of my Jackrabbit Junction Series, I gave him triplets and didn’t tell him about it before he read the ARC. His reaction was priceless. In NEARLY DEPARTED IN DEADWOOD is a part loosely based off another friend of mine at work and his grandpa (about whom I’ve heard many funny stories).
For those readers who know me and my friends and family, part of the fun of reading my books is to see whose names they recognize.
Caroline: What is one of your most embarrassing moments?
Ann: Recently, I stepped off a Ferris Wheel at an amusement park, twisted my ankle, and proceeded to fall down the three steps to the ground in a very ungraceful like manner. Think “train crash” here. My shins took a beating, but my wrists were saved because I fell on top of my 4-year-old daughter. What a great mother, right? Cushion my fall with my kid in front of a crowd of about twenty-five people. Ha! Luckily, my daughter took the brunt of my weight pretty well and ended up with only a bruised knee, where as I had to go to the first aid station and get wrapped with ace bandages and patched up with Band-Aids. Just call me, “Grace.”
Caroline: Um, I am not the one to make fun of someone who is klutzy. Ever! Is there any genre that is off limits?
Ann: I’m only good at writing mixed-genre stories, so any of the pure genres are off limits for me. For example, I once tried to write a romance with no other plot elements mixed in it. It was so horrible that my critique partners will never allow me to use that hero’s name again. I’m serious. And it was a nice name, too. Dang.
Thank you, Ann, for joining us today.
Readers, please return on Wednesday for a review of Ann's book, NEARLY DEPARTED IN DEADWOOD.