Tea with Laura Childs
Today I’m spending time with Laura Childs, author of the very popular Tea Shop Mystery series, New Orleans Scrapbook Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. She’s giving us a glimpse into her writing world and offering great advice for aspiring mystery writers. Thanks for stopping by for tea Laura!
When did you first discover your love of mystery?
I went over to the dark side at a very early age. I was the crazy kid who told ghost stories and snuck into cemeteries at night on a dare. I devoured Nancy Drew books under the covers at night. And I was the girl who smuggled a Ouiga board into my college dorm and proceeded to scare the crap out of everybody.
When did you decide to write your first book and what made you go for it?
The thing is, I always wanted to be a writer. I worked on school newspapers, wrote little plays and poetry. After college, I tried writing a novel, but it was overwhelming because I didn’t have the know-how. So I went into advertising, wrote lots of ads, got promoted, won awards, wrote TV and radio, and finally opened my own ad agency. One day, even though I was ferociously busy, I started writing fiction evenings and weekends. Over the course of three years I turned out three screenplays and two novels. The screenplays all got looked at by Hollywood producers who eventually passed, the novels never got published. Then I took one more shot. I wrote a first chapter and a forty-page outline called Death by Darjeeling, what would be my first Tea Shop Mystery. That book not only got published, it hit big time – enough so that I could sell my ad agency and become a full time mystery writer. Now I’m thrilled to say that I’ve written more than forty novels and have made the New York Times bestseller list umpteen times!
Are there any special rituals you have or places you go that inspire your writing?
The most important thing about writing is to do it every day. I start work at 9:30 and work until 6, and I do this 5 and sometimes 6 days a week. My basic philosophy is exactly the same as Nike’s slogan: Just do it. Sit down, shut your office door, develop a story outline, and keep chipping away at the writing. You don’t need personal assistants, incense, burning sage, sweat lodge visions, or anything remotely tricky. But you absolutely have to log the time!
Where do your plot ideas come from?
That’s probably the number one question I get asked when I do book signings, library talks, and broadcast interviews. The truth of the matter is, ideas come from the imagination. Some of your imagination is gifted to you through your DNA, and a large part comes compliments of your life experiences – the good and the bad. But the imagination is also a powerful muscle. So the more you use it, the stronger it gets.
What are you reading now?
The Midnight Line by Lee Child and Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly. What I do is . . . I’ll read a book first for pure reading pleasure. Then I’ll go back and pull it apart. Perform a kind of book autopsy where I study the internal architecture and determine structure, pacing, turning points, character motivation, etc. So every book I read becomes a learning experience for me as well.
Who is your favorite mystery author and why?
I think John Sandford’s Prey series is the best thing out there. His books are gritty, humorous, and always a whopping good story wrapped in superb plot lines.
Besides, Sandford’s novels feature the dashing Lucas Davenport, a tough detective who drives a Porsche. Who can resist?
Any advice for aspiring writers?
I’d like aspiring writers to know that starting a book, screenplay, or short story can be the most terrifying and soul stultifying experience ever. Because if you’re not inspired, if you’re not completely homed in on your plot, story, characters, etc., you’re going to feel like you’re tobogganing through molasses.
Okay. So what you’re missing here is inspiration. This elusive ingredient is the magic key to getting the whole shebang off the ground. But where do you find it? How do you grasp that spark and put it to work for you? First off, you need to have an emotional connection with what you write. Ask yourself a few key questions. What thrills you? What scares you silly? What warms your heart and brings tears to your eyes?
Once you get a feel for your topic, once you find your big idea, more ideas will start popping like errant mushrooms. Keep notes. And if something new comes whooshing out of the troposphere, write it down. Because your poor monkey brain will jump to something else in a matter of nanoseconds and that idea will be lost forever.
Now you need to muster up some motivation. You have to believe implicitly in yourself and ignore any naysayers who tell you that you can’t write a masterpiece. Because you can do it. You have the smarts, you have the tools, now all you need is the courage!
What would we find in your mug first thing in the morning? Tea? Coffee? Something else?
Diet Coke. I need the bubbles and caffeine to jolt me awake.
If you were given an entirely free day, no responsibility or tasks, what would you spend the day doing?
I’d hit up the Metropolitan Museum in New York, then wander down the block to the Frick. If I had an ounce of energy left, I’d go over to MOMA.
Any guilty pleasures?
I do have a penchant for Chanel jackets and bags.
Tell us about an item on your bucket list.
I’d still love to snorkle the Great Barrier Reef. (But only if there aren’t any of those weird, tiny, poisonous jelly fish around. Or salt water crocs. Or big toothy sharks.)
Laura Childs is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, New Orleans Scrapbooking Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. Under the name Gerry Schmitt, she writes the Afton Tangler Thriller series. In her previous life she was CEO of her own marketing firm, authored several screenplays, and produced a reality TV show. She is married to Dr. Bob, a professor of Chinese and Japanese art history, enjoys travel, and has two Chinese Shar-Pei dogs.
Find out more at www.laurachilds.com