Monday, August 8, 2016

The Edisto Mysteries: A Conversation With Award-Winning Mystery Author, C. Hope Clark


 






Welcome to Beyond the Ordinary’s Stories of Amazing People. And today’s blog features a very amazing mystery writer from South Carolina. She’s definitely beyond the ordinary. Welcome C. Hope Clark.

People in the writing business know the name C. Hope Clark. She has created, edited and maintained for many years the award winning site, FundsforWriters.com, a weekly newsletter that reaches over 40,000 authors, publishers, professors and more. Writing is but one of her many passions. Mysteries and dachshunds are another.
 
Where does a mystery writer find fuel for his/her plots? Perhaps she just comes by it naturally. A former Federal Agent, Clark performed administrative investigations. She met her husband, a thirty-year veteran of Federal Law Enforcement, while investigating a bribery within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

Writing itself requires talent, dedication and the ingenuity for plotting the course and creating decisively realistic characters. Writing mysteries is a complex maze of intersecting occurrences, plots that follow clues, constructive thinking and much more, all without losing either the reader’s interest or the reader’s comprehension of the buildup of clues and ideas that lead to the resolution. Let’s hear what Hope has to say about writing and about mysteries.

 
EJHO: Tell us about yourself, Hope. What really started your writing career?

CHC: Like the cliché, I've enjoyed writing as long as I can remember. I associated good writing with intellect and writing a handy tool in becoming respected. As a shy individual, writing could speak for me. I was the one in school who loved the essay questions, because those could always get me extra credit.

As for the career, it was long and convoluted. I wrote for the federal government within the confines of various titles - loan officer, administrative director. Finally, I decided to return to writing for me, like I did when I was younger. And especially after I was offered a bribe within the federal government, I turned to mystery storytelling. However, after two years, I could not sell the novel, so I turned to freelancing, hoping to one day improve my novel writing abilities and build a following. I set a three-year plan to freelance for a living, and took an early retirement at age 46. Four years later, I returned to the novel, joined a critique group, entered contests, sought agents, then finally landed a contract. It was not easy, by any means, but it was a daily process that I was determined to master. So...the failed mystery made me start FundsforWriters.com, and the platform of FundsforWriters.com ultimately turned me back to writing mystery. And I learned that all that freelancing in between made me a much better writer. I'm a firm believer in writing daily. I'm proof it works.

EJHO: What or who inspired you as a writer, particularly as a mystery writer?

CHC: Pari Noskin Taichert was a small mystery author I met once who convinced me it was time to pull out the novel again and give it another go. The international critique group that I joined kept me on task, and I never would have become the writer I am today without them. As for one writer and style? I don't like to stick to one or two. I love to find authors who write great mystery or suspense material. I love learning from those who have gone before me. I learn from reading more than anything else.

EJHO: Why mysteries? Were you an avid mystery reader with a compelling drive to create your own mysterious plots?

CHC: I love reading mysteries. I love mental challenges, and I so respect great street smarts. I took the MENSA test just to see if I could pass it . . . and I did. But I was offered a bribe once when working for the federal government, and I participated in that investigation. After that, I was hooked on crime and problem solving. I became an administrative investigator and got to work on a few cases with the badge-and-gun-toting agents several times . . . even married one of the agents. Guess you can call it the groupie in me.

EJHO: What research is involved in writing mysteries, your mysteries in particular?

CHC: Any story requires research to be smart. My stories are rural and along the South Carolina Lowcountry, i.e., the beach. In my mysteries, I've had to research weather patterns, tide tables, wildlife, flora, food, firearms, shot patterns, clothing, dialects, foreign languages, and agricultural practices. You have to get facts correct. Since I set my stories in real places, the facts have to be right. And since I use law enforcement, the practices and tools in that arena must be credible. I visited Edisto Beach in March and rented a charter to study tide, dolphins, and creeks feeding the bay. Research can be quite fun.

EJHO: “Echoes of Edisto” is the third book in the Edisto mystery series? Why Edisto? What is so special to you about this place?

CHC: Edisto is a secluded beach, constantly fighting the intrusion of franchises, neon, and motels. You rent a house. You enjoy the beach. There isn't noise. Lights must be out by dark so the sea turtles aren't confused. They issue tickets to golf carts. The restaurants are mom and pop. In other words, developers have been kept away, and a beach visit means slowing down and enjoying the surf. Definitely not a party place. It's an hour south of Charleston, and you don't go by it . . . you have to be going to it because there's only one long highway 174 to take you there. I've visited that beach since a teen, and it is my second home. If I didn't already live on a lake in South Carolina, and have family nearby, I'd move to Edisto. But having a place so untouched by crime, so rich in nature and history, just beckoned me to bring a broken character there to heal....only for crime to follow her. The juxtaposition of the character's messy life and the calm of a setting where people forgot their problems, made for the perfect conflict.

EJHO: How much of yourself is hidden in the characters of your books, particularly your Edisto books?

CHC: I don't see a lot of me in Callie . . . maybe a little bit. This is my second series, and I had to fight to differentiate this character from Slade in the first series. Now....there's a lot of me in Slade which is probably why there is so little of me in Callie. But I use a healthy dose of real people in all my stories. They just aren't able to see themselves. Except for Sophie in the Edisto books. She's real and knows it.

EJHO: What challenges did you face in writing a good mystery? What particular challenges did you face in writing “Echoes of Edisto”?

CHC: Writing a mystery is slow going for me. I want the characters to be three-dimensional and I want the setting to be as much of a character as the people, so I'm forever seeking new ways of depicting that setting. One particular challenge in “Echoes of Edisto” was deciding who dies, frankly. I went one way, then another, settling on a choice I never would have guessed when I finished book two, “Edisto Jinx”. But sometimes you have to take a chance to make the next book in a series better than the last. I also cut the word count on this book a little bit, so the twists had to be tighter with more impact. And I had to take characters that the reader thought they knew from books one and two, and find new sides to them all.

One funny thing is that Callie gets sick in this story, and I had a chest cold while writing it. Throughout that book, as Callie got sicker, I did, too. It was like she got in my head. And I cried writing several of these chapters like I have never done before.

EJHO: As founder and editor of FundsforWriters.com, you are always sharing your expertise and wisdom on the complicated and challenging business of writing and publishing. Perhaps you could share with us the greatest lesson you’ve learned about writing so far.

CHC: I have learned that writing has to be a diligent, steady endeavor. Not something we start and stop. If I had taken weeks or months off, I would not be at this juncture in my profession. And with each word, particularly each published word, we improve. Doesn't matter which genre or if we're freelancing or novel writing, but being sporadic with the effort only holds back a writer's talent and ultimately their future. There is no waiting until you feel like writing. You show up to work each day and do it whether you feel like it or not.

EJHO: With all the advice you’ve shared with writers over the years, what do you think would constitute an important attribute to remaining sane as a writer? Or do writers really want to remain sane, if such a condition even exists?

CHC: I remain sane by remaining busy writing, submitting and marketing. If I sit around, I think too hard about why this or that isn't working. There's a lot of competition out there, and a lot of noise. If you quit paying attention to moving forward, and start watching those around you, or catching up to you, comparing your success with theirs, comparing their book with yours, you'll just trip and fall behind and drive yourself stupid. Worst of all, you'll second guess yourself. I don't think about sanity. I also don't think about the magic of being a so-called writer. It's a job I've chosen, and I just keep doing it to the best of my ability. Some will like my work and others will not. That's okay. I'll care more about those who do. There are enough other authors for the others to find and latch a hold of.

EJHO: How do you construct your mystery plot? Do you start writing at the beginning or work your way from the middle out?

CHC: I start where the story begins, at the beginning. I'm extremely linear in my writing, plus I want to learn the story as it evolves, because I get bored otherwise. I am the protagonist, solving the mystery. I outline three chapters, then write them. Then I outline another three chapters, then write them. Sometimes the outlines turn into two or five chapters, but that's okay. I now understand more about plot and character arcs, and I have mental ideas on where in the story things need to have taken place. My knowledge of that came from simply reading good books, frankly. Not a class. Writers need always need to be reading work that makes them better. I'm not a big fan of reading a lot outside my genre.

EJHO: What inspires your writing and your stories?

CHC: Setting and character. I want never-ending tension. I want characters that readers feel they know. I want readers to want to travel the roads in the story in an attempt to find where the climax happens (**yes, people have done this). Bottom line, improving my writing motivates me, and readers thrill me. But inspiration? My husband and I love spinning mysteries, solving them on television. I like the good guy being smart and the bad guy getting his comeuppance. I simply like a good tale, and I want to be one of those writers who can write a memorable one.

EJHO: Do you have a favorite story amongst all that you’ve published. Why this one?

CHC: My favorite is usually the one most recently published . . . until I write another. I've poured heart and soul into each and every one, so each has a personality and a history that means something to me. Like the cliché, a momma cannot name a favorite child.

EJHO: In the age of increasing technological advances in the methods of entertainment, where do you feel books fit? Do you believe that the growing number of non-readers is a threat to the book industry? Are you concerned?

CHC: Nope, not concerned at all. There will be enough readers to read my material in my lifetime to make me feel fulfilled. Again, why worry about that when I cannot do anything about it? Why try to make myself crazy? A waste of time. But we also forget that Amazon ballooned the number of readers out there, making reading easier. We might be reading more on phones sometimes, we might read in holographic images downstream, but I don't care how we do it. I still believe that readers like being alone with words, hidden away. Videos and movies don't quite do that. There's a deeper mental involvement reading a story.

EJHO: Will your readers be gifted with another Edisto mystery in the near future? Or do you have new mystery series in the works?

CHC: I am working on “Adrift on Edisto” as we speak. I'd like to do another Carolina Slade, giving that series its number 4. Plus, I do have another series in the works, with the protagonist named Kennedy Rose. There aren't enough hours in the day, honestly. So many ideas. 2017 will mean less travel and more writing for me. I'm not getting any younger, and there are so many stories to tell.

Thank you Hope for sharing your insights on writing and writing mysteries in particular. “There are so many stories to tell.” You’re so right about that. I’m sure I speak for all your fans when I say that we can’t wait to read all those stories you plan to tell. Happy writing!

 

 


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