Do you ever find that it’s emotionally difficult to write some scenes or characters? What about the scene in Hidden Summit when Brie revists her painful past to explain her place in Virgin River to Conner?
Harder than Brie remembering her sexual assault was actually writing it in Whispering Rock, the third book in the series. All such deeply emotional scenes are hard and yes, they make me cry. In A Virgin River Christmas there are a couple of them—the heroine remembering her last hours with her disabled marine husband and saying goodbye to the only man after him she could ever love. In Hidden Summit, Conner’s grief and anger at losing everything that mattered and resolving to be alone forever to avoid the hurt of being abandoned. And in Redwood Bend, Dylan’s feeling that he had bad relationship DNA and was a risk, no matter how much love he felt. But wait—because in Sunrise Point, Nora Crane has had a hard life, but is determined to get back on her feet for the sake of her baby daughters. She tore my heart out—she is so determined, so sincere, and she’s made several deals with God—never to lie, never to trust another man, always to be an excellent mother even though she certainly didn’t get any training from her own mother. She’s a lesson that we can do whatever we have to do, no matter how hard, as long as it’s the right thing to do.
The answer is yes, they make me cry. It’s not always a comfortable feeling, but I welcome it just the same. I shouldn’t be trying to write books that make you feel if they don’t make me feel. I don’t write books that don’t keep me awake at night—not if I hope to keep you up late reading.
How much of your actual life gets written into your fictional stories? Do you ever use real people as inspiration for your characters?
As inspiration—yes. But as actual characters, no. Real people don’t usually come off well in fiction. I take traits and experiences and emotional reactions from people I’ve met or read about and blend them into composite characters. But experiences and bits of dialogue from my life sneak in—happily. In Virgin River Jack’s sisters are remembering when Jack and his best friend hung their dolls by the neck—mean big brother stuff. My son and his best friend did that to my daughter’s cabbage patch dolls. Don’t worry, they’re all fine…. Well, I’m not sure about the dolls, but my son, his best friend and my daughter have persevered.
What’s the most interesting comment you’ve ever gotten from a reader?
Oh, you can’t print it! My readers never get my titles right—they write and ask me if I’m going to write any more of those “Virginia River” books. Or they want to know where Virgin River really is—they plan to move there and get a big, studly marine. But the funniest one ever was probably a typo: “Are you going to write anymore of those ‘Vagina River’ books.” Typo or Freudian slip.
I did get an email from a reader who was furious about my bigotry against Cubans. I was stunned and confused—I’d never written about Cubans. I suggested she had me mixed up with someone else. She wrote back with the direct quote, complete with page numbers—something about Jack being unable to shower off the stench of stinky Cubans. It was cigars! Cuban cigars! I pointed that out to her, but she was absolutely determined I had been bigoted in my remarks.
On a more serious side, a man who lost a leg in the war wrote me that he was changed by Paradise Valley, the story in which Rick Sudder lost a leg in the war and came home a messed up kid. My reader said that he realized from the book that he was an ass, thought it was a miracle his wife stayed with him through it, and finally understood how badly he needed counseling, which he was going to accomplish. I wrote back and asked him how he came across the book and he said his sister gave it to him—and his sainted wife was most grateful! Bless his heart!!
Have you noticed your writer’s voice has changed over the years due to experience? If so, how?
Undoubtedly I’ve both matured and relaxed. I’ve gained experience both in life and writing and I’ve relaxed into telling stories my way, the way that is natural to me. Both things help.