Please give a warm welcome to Marilyn Gardiner
When did you first start writing and when did it become more than a pleasurable pastime for you?At eight years old I was already writing. My first office was in bed, beneath the covers, with a flashlight. There was never any question of what I wanted to be as an adult. I’d walk the aisles of our small public library and find with my finger just where my books would alphabetically fit when I grew up. I wrote high up in our apple tree, hidden beneath the staircase and, as I said, in bed. I didn’t think anyone knew! And then, one day my grandmother told the entire family, seated around our Sunday dinner table, that one day Marilyn would write all the books she never could. Grandma only had a 5th grade education, but she was an avid reader. Sometimes, I think I write for her.
Was writing always your first love?Yes, but I didn’t have the courage to submit anything for publication until I was past 30 years old. To my delight, the story sold, and I’ve been writing and selling ever since. Although, in all fairness, music ranks right up at the top of my passions. I’ve been a soprano soloist for most of my life, and today still sing in a large Chorale. Music feeds my soul.
Who/what was/is your inspiration to write?Hmmm…Inspiration… I’m a people-watcher and am forever fascinated by the different ways we humans handle joy, disappointment, sadness, tragedy, etc. Some of us pull into ourselves and give up with a defeated sigh at the first sign of trouble, and others grit their teeth and face into the storm, daring it to do its worst. The way we all meld together is what makes life interesting. Relationships shape our lives. When I do public speaking, I always stress that the way we rub elbows with the teenager behind the counter at Dairy Queen, the greeter at Walmart, the squabble we might have had with a family member--those things--are what shape our responses to the world and its problems. Plus I pick up bits and pieces of information from television and the newspaper. It all melts into the ooze of my brain and flows out when I begin to write. Quite simply, I love to tell stories.
Relationships go back to the beginning of time. They are recorded in all our earliest writings, even in the drawings on the walls of caves. Shakespeare’s writings are all about relationships, The Greek Tragedians wrote about relationships. The Bible is about man’s relationship with God and his fellow human beings. Remember Abraham, Sarah and Hagar? Sarah’s jealousy is where the hatred began that is affecting our world today. That is why I write about relationships.
Have you kept and samples of your earliest writings, and do you ever go back and read them?Sure. I have the first thing I ever wrote. I was eight years old and it was embarrassingly like Anne of Green Gables! I wrote in high school and sang with an elite group of girls, traveling all over our part of the state, and I have a drawer full of my awards and medals, and comment sheets from my teachers and contest judges, all encouraging me to sing and/or write more.
Do you write straight to your computer or do you ever use pen and paper?I use paper and pen to write shorthand notes when I’m in the thinking stages of my book--before I begin to write--but once I let the story flow from my fingers, I sit at the computer. I taught myself years ago that I since my time to write is limited, it’s faster to write on the computer from the beginning. For me it is more efficient this way, although I know good authors who write the entire book by longhand and then transfer those pages into the computer as they rewrite. Whatever works.
Do you use personal exeriences on which to hang a story?If we’re talking about a certain life learning or concept that I’m trying to get across to the reader, I might use vignettes from real life, but not whole stories--and I never, never use a real name or shape a character after someone I know. Of course, a piece of myself is in everything I write. Can’t avoid that. I have to know what my characters are feeling--their fears, their loves, their past tragedies, etc. before I ever sit down to write. Occasionally, that translates into personal experience.
What is the greatest fear you've had to overcome as a writer?Writer’s block. I’ve only had one serious episode, and it was awful. I’d had several successive and extensive surgeries and as I recovered, I realized that all my words seemed to have dried up. It scared me. Without writing, I didn’t know who I was. I overcame the block by just writing something every day. I copied paragraphs from one of my already published books, I wrote letters, I journaled, streaming my thoughts onto the paper until the creative juices began to run again. Eventually, I even sold some of what I wrote during that bad time. A professional writer told me once that nothing succeeds like applying the seat of the pants to the chair, so I should write, write, write! He said emphatically, “In the teeth of the storm, by God, write!” And I did. A habit was formed that I stick to yet this day.
Do you like silence or music in the background when you write, and if music what is your favourite and why?I prefer silence because, as a musician, I tend to get caught up in the swell and beat of the music. Having said that, if I’m immersed in my story, a cat fight can erupt beneath my chair and I’d never notice it.
Why did you choose the genre you write in?
I didn’t choose a single genre, they choose me--and it’s somewhat different with every book. I have two paranormals, one historical (plus my WIP), a romantic adventure, an Inspirational, and five romatic suspenses. They’re all different, yet they all have some of the same elements. There is a mystery of a sort in each of them, and they are all about relationships and how the characters rub together as the issue is solved.
Is there any other genre you might branch into one day?There’s one I won’t branch into. I know erotica sells extremely well, and I know there are those who have a natural talent in that direction, but it isn’t something I feel comfortable with, so I stick to what I do best…relationships. I’ve sold everything, I think, except erotica: poetry, articles to newspapers and/or magazines, children’s stories, YA, senior citizen material, and to the Christian market. Putting my “comfort” aside, I find that, as I read, my imagination is more titillating than any written word.
Have you set yourself any particular writing goals?At first I thought it would be enough to write and sell just one book, but after that first book, I had to sell a second, and then a third. I now have ten books on the shelf, and find it isn’t enough. I still have stories in my head waiting to be told. I’ll never live long enough to get them all on paper. My goal with each book is to make it the best I can possibly make it. I have a problem with saying “It’s enough,” and stop rewriting. I can always find something else to tinker with.
How do you deal with criticism?I belong to an excellent writer’s critique group and I listen carefully to every criticism offered. Criticism is almost always a red flag that “something” might be wrong. It may not be what is said, but most often there is a tiny flaw in the writing, or the plot, the character development…something. I take criticism seriously, hunt diligently for the possible flaw, and then decide whether or not to use what has been said.
Do you have a particular writing space and routine?I’ve trained myself to write as soon as I can in the morning. I write other times as well, but the morning seems to be my most creative hours. I do aerobic swim very early and when I get home I go straight to the computer and write until noon. After lunch, I do rewrite on what I wrote earlier and then, if I have a deadline, I often go back to the office after my husband goes to bed and write another hour or two. The creative part of me responds best to a schedule.
Do you strive to emulate any of your favourite authors?I am wildly eclectic in my reading and some of my favorites are: Kristin Hannah, Wilbur Smith, the late Dick Francis, Maeve Binchey, Anne Rivers Siddon, Madeline L’Engle, John Grisham, Anne Provoost, James Alexander Thom…and I could go on. W. Smith writes what is generally called “men’s fiction,” but he is one of the best word smiths I’ve ever read. Madeline L’Engle touches my soul. Anne Rivers Siddon reaches the depths of my own being, and John Grisham keeps me up at night. Maeve Binchey simply tells a whopping good story. I could only hope, one day, to write as well as any of the above.
Do you read while you are writing?
Sure. There are books in every room in my house and I never leave home without a book under my arm. I read a lot, although not usually in the genre in which I’m writing.
What book are you reading at the moment?I’m making my way through Kristin Hannah’s books, and only come up for air when I have to stop writing to get a meal on the table. I am what I consider to be an adequate cook--I don’t enjoy cooking. I have two grown daughters who are excellent cooks and both my mother and grandmothers were wonderful cooks but, unfortunately for my poor husband, the gene passed me by. My dinners are always whatever goes together quickly and easily. Tonight we are eating a roast done in the slow cooker with dry onion soup mix, and potatoes and carrots thrown in. Minimum time and effort, but tasty.
What novel are you currently working on?My last writing effort was a four-book romantic suspense series called The Women of Winsom. I took four friends from the same town and gave them each serious problems. All the women have made careers, survived bad marriages (or no marriage at all), struggled through debilitating problems, and found a second chance at happiness--if they dare take the risk. The town of Winsome became as much a character as the four women. I was sorry to write The End to the series.
My WIP is my second historical. The first, LIKE A RIVER, MY LOVE, is about Verity’s trip down the Ohio River in 1776 with George Rogers Clark’s small army intent on taking Ft. Kaskaskia in the Illinois Country--with special emphasis on the group’s freedon-loving guide, Trey. The book garnered terrific reviews and four stars from Romantic Times. My WIP is entitled COMANCHE MOON and takes place in 1847, as Jenny is suddenly widowed on her trip by wagon train to Oregon. How she manages on her own, falls in love with the train’s scout, and personally goes after an Indian who kidnaps her small daughter, exposes the courage of our pioneer women as they played their part in settling our own west. There’s an old curmudgeon mountain man, and the villain, Eldon, (for whom my critique group can’t dream up a horrible enough fate), Jenny’s own small daughter and an orphaned boy she takes in. And, of course, the dreaded Comanche Indians. I’m almost finished with the first draft and am again dreading having to type The End. I love these characters and their story. If you’re interested, I’m including an excerpt:
Excerpt from COMANCHE MOON:
Tuck (the old mountain man) bedded down beneath Jenny’s wagon that night. As far as Jenny could tell, Zane didn’t sleep at all. She dozed in fits and starts, waking with every seemingly magnified sound. But again, morning came without any sign of Indians.
Until the morning guards came in.
Jenny, along with others, was out on the plains, gathering cow pats in her apron for the breakfast fire. Sophie wandered near by, humming as she picked yellow daisies. Cattle grazed off to her left and the horse herd further away.
The morning was clear and cool and quiet. The only sound was a gentle wind rustling across the prairie, the munching of cattle as they tore at the grass, and Sophie’s humming. Jenny straightened to ease her back, and was startled to see several Indians sitting their ponies not two wagon lengths away. Her stomach abruptly fell away. The Indians and their ponies were as still as if they were wooden.
Her heart abruptly kicked into high gear. Where had they come from, and how did they get so close without her hearing them? What did they want? Were they going to attack? Good Lord, her rifle was back at the wagon.
One Indian, the tallest of them all, stared straight at her. His eyes were broadly outlined in black and set deep in a chiseled face surrounded by long, stiff hair. A chill ran up her back. All Jenny could think was, they are real-live savages, before she grabbed Sophie roughly and pulled the child to her side. The breeze brought their smell in an overwhelming stench. She fought the urge to hold her nose.
Jenny couldn’t take her eyes from the one tall Indian. Her mind recorded Rance and Zane behind her, near the wagons, too far away for her to hear, and in the background the shouts and laughter of children romping in the tall grasses wafted on the breeze.
Suddenly, the guards arrived from the herd at a gallop, shouting for Rance. “Indians! They’re here! Indians!”
Jenny’s attention shifted. Both Rance and Zane met the guards at a dead run, grabbing for the bridles to stop the prancing horses.
“Where?” they yelled at the same time.
“At the edge of the herd. They’re just sitting there on their horses, not doing anything. Sprung up right out of the mist.”
Zane grabbed the reins of the nearest horse and swung up. “How many?” he shouted, already in the act of spurring the animal into a run.
“Seven of ʼem. Just sitting there, waiting-like.”
Rance was right behind Zane. He yelled, “Take your stations everybody. Be ready for anything.”
In the half light of early morning, the Indians sat motionless astride the dappled ponies they loved. They could have been cut from the earth itself with their dusky skin and unreadable faces. Each carried a weapon of some sort. A curved bow and a quiver of arrows, or a long decorated lance.
Jenny seemed rooted to the spot.
“Comanches,” Zane said.
Jenny remembered their reputation. They aren’t painted for war, but with that long greasy hair, stocky thick bodies…she wasn’t sure her heart was still beating. They looked more fierce and wild than anything she’d imagined.
Rance pulled his horse up beside Zane. “You know Comanch’?” he asked quietly.
Zane answered under his breath, “Some.” He faced the line of ponies. “Hini?” What? Do you want something? he asked, loudly.
The middle Indian pointed to the herd and put two fingers up beside his ears. Like horns, Jenny thought. The Indian grunted, equally loud, and held out two fingers to Zane. “Haa!”
“He wants two cows or maybe oxen,” Zane said to Rance. Then to the Indian, “You want cows?”
The Indian launched into an earsplitting tirade, only a part of which Zane understood. Zane’s hands went into action, signing words and whole phrases, Jenny guessed. The Indians understood.
Zane said. “Their language is close to Shoshone and I get along all right in Shoshone, but I don’t get every word.”
“My land!” the man screamed. “Not your land. My land.”
Zane understood enough to know what they wanted. He turned in the saddle. “My guess is they’re demanding two cows in payment for crossing their land. They’re asking for a toll.”
“No.” Rance said firmly. “No cows.”
“Uh,” Zane began. “You might want to give them the cows. They….”
“It’s robbery. No cows.”
“We could have paid a toll for the ferry back at the Loup. Why not here?”
Rance glared at Zane. “And we chose not to, if you remember.”
“We might not have a choice here.”
“Our choice is whether or not to be lorded over by a bunch of ragged heathens.”
They stared at one another for a long minute before Rance turned to the line of waiting Indians. “No cows,” he repeated. “Not now. Not ever.”
Stony-faced, the Indians stared at Rance. “Hubi” Woman.
Zane said, “They want a woman.”
Rance’s head jerked around. “A woman! What woman?”
Zane kept his face blank and asked, “Hubi?”
He rattled off another blast of words, gestured first at Jenny, then at the sky, and ended with, “Hubi!”
Zane frowned. “Something about the sun and a woman. I think he wants either cows or a woman by sundown.” He glanced at Jenny. “Maybe her.”
Rance made a harsh sound. “Not on his life.”
The Indian repeated, “Hubi!”
“No hubi.” Rance said, making a sideways swipe with one hand. “No cows and no hubi. You go.”
For one long moment no one moved. The Indians didn’t even blink. Then, without a movement that Zane could see, the horses turned around and moved away slowly. The Indians rode with great dignity, their backs straight and heads high. At some unseen, unheard command all seven of the horses broke into a trot and then a gallop. The men rode so smoothly they looked to be part of the horse.
“My God,” Rance breathed. “Did you see that?”
Zane spoke without looking at Rance. “That’s why Comanches are called The Horse People. They’re the best horsemen you’ll ever see.
But Rance had recovered. “They wanted cows or a woman. Maybe both.” He spat on the ground. “We give ʼem two cows now, they’ll want twice that many the next time. And as for a woman…. They’re a bunch of dirty, stupid….”
Zane reined his horse back toward the wagons and interrupted. “They aren’t stupid by a long shot. We may be sorry we didn’t give them two cows.”
His point was proven when during the next night, two cows disappeared.
With much waving of the arms, a guard rode into camp declaring they’d just vanished. No one had seen nor heard anything. It was like witchcraft. The cows were just gone.
Jenny spent the day shivering in spite of the heat, and wondering if the tall Indian, the one who had done the talking, had really wanted her. He had, after all, pointed at her. If he’d taken the cows, why hadn’t he taken her too? Would he be back?
I’ve really enjoyed this chat. If any of you have read a book or two of mine, I’d love to hear from you. Because I delete by subject, please put “Interview” in that spot, and I’ll get back to you.
As I write, the ground is covered with seven inches of snow and the temperature hovers just above freezing, BUT I heard a cardinal sing his mating song this morning. Hurrah! Spring, when all of nature is reborn, can’t be too far ahead. My imagination is already at work on my next book, SEASONS. The story is about four generations of women who, by necessity, live under the same roof. I’m exploring their differences (egad are there ever differences!), and the surprising ways in which they--and all women--are the same: steadfast, loyal, vulnerable and yet courageous, supportive and above all, needing each other.
Blessings on each of you and, don’t forget, our best chance of success is the application of the seat of the pants to the chair. Write! Write! Write!