July has been a wet month so far here in Alberta. Walking my little rescue pup, has left us often soaked, but when we do manage to escape a thunder storm and finally catch a break in the clouds, we enjoy the sunshine to the fullest. Sammie is an enjoyable addition to my life – my step count have gone through the roof! Another good point in our writing life – bum off seat for exercise.
The weather can affect our writing too. Sunny days draw us out into the warmth away from our usual writing spot. A patio or deck, balcony or beach or mountain retreat become our new inspiring spot. Cold weather has the opposite effect – cozy in front of a fire, huddled in blankets and fluffy socks. Whatever the weather, our writing changes ever so subtly. We may not even realize it.
Do you write more in the colder months or does creating outside in the sunshine increase your word count?
Do your character’s situations reflect how you feel? Frustrated not to be outside in the warmth? Or happy not to have to trek through snow drifts?
Are your characters experiencing your weather or climate? Does it change how you write the scene? Or does it inspire you to accelerate their situation to extremes of weather?
With the effects of COVID19 across the world, we have either found writing to be an escape or a block on it. Maybe, we cannot find the inspiration for a narrative but our journal writing has increased. A record of our experience for future reference.
Have you written a scene a certain way because of the weather you were experiencing at that time? There are ways weather can be used in a narrative. It can give a mood or be symbolic, or even complicate the character’s situation.
I have currently returned to a manuscript, where the main protagonist escapes into the wild and the current storms helped set the mood. I could feel the intense foreboding, the expectation, the fear of the next thunderclap.
What weather inspired writing have you experienced in 2020 so far?
I enjoy the puzzle-like challenge that comes with writing a mystery. My stories are actually more character-driven than plot-driven, though, so as much as I enjoy the challenge of writing a mystery, I also have fun exploring character growth on the page.
Is it a genre you enjoy reading as well?
Actually, I don’t read mysteries as much as I do other genres, such as westerns, supernatural suspense, and romance. That’s probably why my books are actually more mixed genre than straight mysteries. I like to include humor, supernatural elements, romance, suspense, and adventure on the page along with the mystery plot.
What sparked your first book idea?
I was unhappy with the endings in several books I’d recently read and decided I wanted to try my hand at writing different endings that satisfied me more. This idea grew into me creating the story from start to end, which then blossomed into writing full-length novels. Novels soon changed into long-running series, and now I have five different series I juggle.
Do you prefer writing series or stand-a-lone novels?
I like writing series because I enjoy developing characters. It’s more fulfilling to develop these characters over a long-running series than trying to fit it all into one story. My character arcs span the whole series, allowing them to grow and change with every book.
Does your background and location help you capture a setting for your characters/settings? Or is it just imagination?
I believe my background and the places I’ve lived/visited play a role in capturing a setting, but my imagination takes ideas to the next level. I have a series set here in Arizona where I live (Jackrabbit Junction Mystery series), and I have spent many summers and holidays in the Deadwood, South Dakota area because my mom moved there when I was in seventh grade. While my Dig Site series takes place in the Yucatan (an area of Mexico which I have not visited yet), that series plays on my dream of being an archaeologist, allowing me to explore that field without actually living down there under the trees.
What benefit do you feel comes with the illustrations? Why did you choose that format?
My brother is my illustrator, so I enjoy including his art in my stories. I think illustrations help bring the story to life even more for readers. In addition, these illustrations add to my Ann Charles author brand and help set my stories apart from others. Not many adult fiction novels have illustrations in them these days.
Is Violet “Spooky” Parker based on someone real or a combination of characters?
Violet is a mixture of my imagination and my sense of humor. She isn’t based on anyone I know. Her character became clear to me after some time spent imagining her life and struggles as I worked on the setup for the first Deadwood novel, Nearly Departed in Deadwood.
Did you plan your mystery/ humor/ romance subplot plot lines, or did it evolve as your crafted the stories?
I knew from the start of the Deadwood and Jackrabbit Junction Mystery series that I was going to write mixed genre stories with mystery as the main plot. I’ve always enjoyed funny romance stories and had worked for years on strengthening that part of my storytelling, studying humor and romance in books and practicing my ability to mix them together on the page. My favorite movies are mixed genre with these elements, so it’s not a surprise that these are the stories that come out on the page for me.
Was it a conscious decision to become an author?
Not really. I’ve always enjoyed reading books, but writing was not on my radar until my senior year in high school. Even then, though, I really didn’t plan on becoming an author and spent years in college studying Spanish and daydreaming of other careers. In the end, I took so many English classes in college that I figured I might as well minor in creative writing and see where this urge to tell stories led me.
Do you feel self-publishing has benefited you more than other options?
Self-publishing has allowed me to explore story lines without an outside influence, as in a marketing department that might have forced me to write what was hot in the “market” at the time. Also, I have learned so much about marketing and promotion because I’ve been in charge of building my career. I did not set out to be an entrepreneur, but I enjoy most of the aspects of running my own business and plan to continue on this path for as long as I can.
Which character do you enjoy writing the most & why?
That’s a tough question—I don’t think I have a single favorite. I enjoy switching between my different series and exploring different characters and their adventures. Violet Parker is fun because I get to dabble in the supernatural with her and she makes me laugh often. The Morgan sisters from my Jackrabbit Junction series are a blast and are always getting into mix-ups with the law. They allow me to explore sisterhood and have fun in the Arizona desert. In my Dig Site series, I enjoy playing archaeologist, and in the Deadwood Undertaker series that I write with my husband, Sam Lucky, I get to write westerns, which is something I have wanted to do for years but was apprehensive about all of the research it would take to make sure the historical elements were accurate. In the end, I like switching between each series and exploring life with different characters.
Have any of your manuscripts gone in a vastly different direction to what you thought they would?
I often vary from my original plot line ideas that I come up with before starting. These initial plot lines I put together just let me know that I have a story possibility and give me the confidence to go forth and dive into a story. I’m not very good at detailed planning when it comes to books and tend to give my brain the room to come up with new ideas to explore along the way.
How can readers find you? What social media site links can you share?
Is there anything you would like to share with your readers?
My books are meant to give you a fun escape. I try to teach a little history along the way, but mainly I want to provide fictional places that will make you smile or laugh as well as wince now and then. Also, all but my AC Silly Circus series having crossover characters, which my readers tend to enjoy. It’s always fun to come across a Deadwood series character in my Jackrabbit Junction books, and vice versa. I have a list of my books in series reading order as well as an overall list of all of my books in timeline order on my website (under the Books section) so that you can choose in what order you’d like to read them.
Ann Charles Bio:
USA Today Bestselling author, Ann Charles, writes spicy mysteries full of comedy, adventure, suspense, romance, and paranormal mayhem. Ann has a B.A. in English with an emphasis on creative writing from the University of Washington and is a member of Sisters in Crime and Western Writers of America. When she’s not dabbling in fiction, she’s arm wrestling with her two kids, attempting to seduce her husband, and arguing with her sassy cats.
Is there anything that makes you discard a book? Bad writing, grammar mistakes, poor characterizations, bad punctuation, language use (whether swearing or discrimination), or something else?
I have read several novels that needed quite a lot of editing but persevered as the stories were interesting. I had to switch off my editor hat though. For example, one novel had two characters that interacted but three quarters of the way through the book one main character’s name changed! I think the author/editor changed the name, for whatever reason but didn’t get all the way through the book. (Now that’s just lazy). It was very confusing as I had to go back and determine that is what happened. Unfortunately, this kind of lack of editing reflects badly on the author and readers may not read anything else they write.
Would that make you discard the book?
Another novel had lots of punctuation and grammatical mistakes and the old fashioned ‘double space’ between sentences, which went out of fashion with the typewriter age! Although, it was frustrating to me, I did persevere with the book as the story and its characters were captivating.
Typically, I write my entire first draft without getting feedback, with the “door closed,” a la Stephen King. For me this draft is a flow of words as the story plays like a movie in my head. Yep, madness rules when a story grips me.
However, for the past few months, I did not look at my current manuscript. It was although, I had lost interest. Although, I read, edited and commented on other author’s works, mine was left desolate. As the COVID19 months passed, I became worried that the writing bug had left me. I felt bereft. I didn’t mean to stop writing.
Has that ever happened for you?
There are lots of reasons that our creativity, in whatever form, can be cast aside or forgotten. Illness, a new baby, a new relationship, a new home or job, divorce, financial stress and many more. To find that creative spark again, we can use one or more of the following:
1. Firstly, do not feel guilty – it is counterproductive and harassing your muse is a form of procrastination.
2. Start writing – use a prompt, do a character study, write out a story idea.
3. Keep Writing – give yourself a time limit 20 minutes or an hour, or write a page, or 250 words. Choose one and stick to it.
4. Finish a small project.
5. Talk to fellow authors.
6. Change the location of where you write – it can even be in a different room or somewhere local like your library.
7. Take a writing class.
8. Do another creative activity.
9. Make up book titles – based on well known novels or use a title generator on the internet.
10. Create a character description – including all their back story.
For me the spark came back after a discussion on strong female characters and how to make their role believable. It ignited that interest again and I spent the past weekend editing and polishing my steampunk heroine’s character. This writer is back!
Our creativity can be inspired from the smallest word, an overheard conversation or one we have had, an image, whether real or virtual, or even a globally known news worthy article.
What obscure stimulus has sparked an idea for you?
As many of you know I am a free flow writer so apart from a vague idea where I want the story to go, it is a mystery to me. That is the thrill for me. It is an adventure I willingly travel with my characters. They lead and I follow with frantic typing. ‘Listening’ to my Muse enables me to create freely. It also means the story can change direction quite dramatically at times.
How do you approach new ideas? Frantic notes? Plot arc? Character descriptions?
No matter what system we use, an idea can grow exponentially once it takes hold. This is wonderful, of course, the only downfall being if we already have a bucketful of ideas already. It can be difficult to choose which one to go with first at times. I usually let several ideas ‘brew’ and the one that ‘shouts’ loudest is the one I start. It is not a fail safe method by any means but at least I have a direction.
However, an idea might be a segue to a previous secondary character that you can expand upon or it might be a natural follow up for one you have already written. Then you are in the realms of a series! This can determine your choice of which idea needs to be written first.
When you read through your ideas there might be a correlation between one or two and that could be the start of a new project. Keep your options open, let your Muse guide you.
Have you experienced a story unwilling to stay quiet?
How do you choose?
My novel, Life in Slake Patch was the result of a heated conversation regarding the patriarchal society we live in. I wanted to flip the status quo and have a young man’s perspective living in a matriarchal society.