I am thrilled to have with me today Dorothy Love, Thomas Nelson author of The Hickory Ridge Series. She is a delight to talk to and if you haven’t had the chance to check out her website, www.dorothylovebooks.com, you must! She serves up a fresh pot of Writer’s Caffeine and shares the Inside Story, too. It’s truly a beautiful website and the southern charm you find there is the same sweet charm you hear in her voice.
Dorothy, I loved BEYOND ALL MEASURE and meeting Ada and Wyatt. It was hard to put down at the end. BEAUTY FOR ASHES, your second in the Hickory Ridge Series, comes out in February and I can’t wait! Can you give us a little sneak peek in what the book will hold for us? Sure. BEAUTY FOR ASHES is Carrie Daly’s story. Readers of the first book will remember her as the widow whose husband was killed at Shiloh. After years of mourning, Carrie is about to wed the bookshop owner, Nate Chastain. But then Griff Rutledge, a charming gentleman from Charleston gets off the train and Carrie’s world is suddenly turned upside down. The story is about family and where we find it. I love Charleston and creating Griff gave me another chance to renew my love affair with the place the locals call The Holy City. I hope readers will enjoy reading about a place that holds a special spot in my heart.
What’s next for us in Hickory Ridge? I think I heard something about one of my favorite little characters from Beyond All Measure! Could Sophie be growing up? Yes indeed. I’ve just turned in the completed manuscript for EVERY PERFECT GIFT, which is the story of Sophie all grown up and back in Hickory Ridge to revive the Gazette, the town’s long-defunct newspaper. Hickory Ridge has changed in many ways since Sophie left at age ten to live with Wyatt and Ada in Texas, including the opening of Blue Smoke, a luxury resort meant to rival the finest resorts in the country. The manager is a charming man from Savannah who soon is smitten with our Sophie. But of course they must overcome some significant obstacles in order to find love. When I finished this manuscript I felt both elation at having completed the series and having told the stories of three very different women, but I was also sad at leaving the town I’ve been immersed in for the past two years. I will miss Jasper Pruitt despite all his faults, and Mayor Scott, and Mariah Whiting, who was Ada’s best friend in the first book.
I had the privilege of introducing you at a workshop last year at ACFW and I was so impressed with your long list of credits and accomplishments. Can you tell us a little about your life in academia? I love that you are Dr. Love! I spent fourteen years in public education as a curriculum specialist and as an elementary school principal. After earning a PhD, I left my job in the public schools to teach at the college level and to pursue a writing career. I taught part time at my alma mater, the University of North Texas, and then full time at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. I sold my first book for young readers while teaching there. After selling my third novel, I left teaching to write full time.
Was there ever a time when you were working, caring for a home and trying to fit in writing, too? Or did you know what you wanted to do and just made a clean break? I wrote my first few YA novels while teaching at the university. I’m no longer teaching, but I have a house, a husband, and two golden retrievers. My mom lives about a six hour drive away and I see her as often as I can. I stay busy.
Can you tell us about your YA novels? Sometimes I think people believe it is actually easier to write YA. Is that true? My YA novels are coming-of-age novels, usually with a girl who is between 12 and 14 as the protagonist. My girls face the normal traumas of growing up—fitting in at school, dealing with bullies, trying to figure out the opposite sex, worrying about parents…the normal stuff every girl goes through. For me, writing YA was actually harder. I think that the further away a writer gets from being that age, the harder it is to get the character’s voice right. And voice is paramount in YA fiction. Although the memories of the emotions she is experiencing are still as fresh as yesterday. Who doesn’t remember falling down the steps at lunch and having the whole school laugh? Liking a boy, dreaming about him, praying he will notice you, and realizing he does not even know you are on the planet. Changing your shirt three times before leaving for the first day of school, hoping you won’t look like a total dork.
Would you share with us some of the awards you’ve won and is there one that is particularly meaningful to you? I’ve had more nominations—over 25—than wins, but I’ve won the Teddy Book Award for Best Children’s Book, the ALA Amelia Bloomer List, the New York Public Library’s Best Book for the teenage, and the Friends of American Writers Juvenile Fiction Prize. That one meant a lot to me because it was for My Lone Star Summer, my first novel set in Texas.
What made you decide to make the change to adult CBA? I love historical fiction and the market for it in the secular YA field is very small. Also, in recent years, the YA market has taken a turn toward darker stories—dystopian novels, novels featuring vampires, werewolves and the like. I’m just not drawn to those kinds of dark stories. In 2010 I had published 14 or 15 books in the secular market, and decided I wanted to write books for adults that might inspire and lift people up even as they entertain with a good story. A friend introduced me to my current agent, Natasha Kern, who was able to place the Hickory Ridge series right away. It took only a couple of months from initial submission to contract. And here we are two years later and the series is practically wrapped up. BEAUTY FOR ASHES will be out in February and EVERY PERFECT GIFT in November. My head is still spinning at how fast it happened.
In meeting you in person, one of the first things I noticed about you is your voice. The hint of southern charm I hear can only be described as a soft elegance and that flows into your novels. How much of you are in your novels? I would say definitely certain turns of phrase, the colloquial expressions I grew up hearing from my extended family. One of the early reviews of Beyond All Measure mentioned the humor in it, but I wasn’t necessarily trying to be funny. It’s just the way I talk.
Hickory Ridge is a beautiful setting for your books. Did your stories grow out of the locale or did you plan your stories and then design the story world around them? Usually the locale comes first. I fall in love with a place, like Charleston, or the Smokies, or Texas, and want to set a story there. Then it’s a question of what kind of characters would fit that setting, and what their struggles and ambitions might be. I’m also drawn to the history of place and what kinds of dramatic situations grow out of that history. It’s like weaving a tapestry. All the different threads have to come together to form a cohesive picture.
What is your favorite thing about being a writer? Reader mail! I love it when someone writes to say that they loved a certain story or character, that it meant something to them. That’s the best feeling.
Do you have a favorite research story? Sometimes my research grows out of my curiosity about the places I visit. Many years ago I drove from Charleston up to Georgetown County, SC, which was once the second richest county in the entire country due to production of rice called Carolina Gold. Something about that place stuck in my mind and within the next couple of years I’ll be writing a novel set there. I love that all of these experiences and impressions are stockpiled in my memory and come to light when I least expect it.
What about a favorite conference story? It’s the same one every year. Getting to hang out with my friends, my agent, my publisher and editors is so much fun.
Do you have plans beyond Hickory Ridge? Three more historical novels are in the offing at Thomas Nelson that will keep me happily writing until 2014. Each is set in a different locale so I expect to be immersed in research, too.
I love your website – it has that soft elegance I was talking about earlier – and I love how you reach out to those who aspire to be authors. Do you have one piece of advice to those who are working their way to publication? It isn’t anything people haven’t heard before, but I believe that to write well, you must read voraciously and not only in the genre you plan to write. I read a lot of nonfiction for the historical details, I read biographies to learn what makes people tick, I read a mix of literary and commercial fiction to see how other authors do it. Read every day and write every day. Get into the habit of putting something on paper every day. Writing requires strict discipline and it’s easier to meet deadlines if you are already in the habit of putting words on the page on a regular basis.
Is there anything else you would like to share? Any question you wish someone would ask but never does? The question I’m waiting for that has not been posed yet is this: May I option your books for a series of major motion pictures? I would love that!! I can just see Hickory Ridge up there on that big screen!
Thank you so much, Dorothy, for taking the time for this interview! It has been so much fun to spend some time with you!