Nancy Hughes
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 

Nancy was reared by avid readers and has been putting stories together in her head since she was a little girl. Her dream was to be a big-time advertising executive in a large city but she married the man of her dreams—an agricultural banker. There are no more cows and plows in Manhattan! She started her own writing business, capitalizing on her journalism degree at Penn State, specializing in media and public relations for small to mid-size businesses and corporations. Then she went over to the dark side—crime fiction. Now, her writing pattern is set.

INTERVIEW

SP: What does your typical writing day look like? How do you work in your writing and promoting?

NH: I hate being dragged away from my work, and write in sweeps. And, not on particular days or a schedule. I never have to force myself to my desk, but rather be dragged away because everyone is hungry.

SP: Tell me how and why you got into writing fiction? How long have you been doing it? And how do you go about creating a story? Elaborate here.

NH: I’ve been writing fiction for a dozen years, my first of five mystery novels being published in 2015. I HATE saying this, and I’d pay big bucks for someone to come up with a snappy, creative answer, but my ideas just come to me. My fourth novel, and the third in my Trust series, Vanished, was in my head in ten points when I woke up one Saturday morning. It sounds so egotistical to say, but many ideas just come to me. There will never be enough time to pursue them all. But I’ve heard prolific writers say the same thing. Still, it sounds smug.

SP: Tell me about the protagonist and antagonist of your latest book. What are their goals in the story?

NH: Charlie Alderfer, my protagonist in The Innocent Hour, is a true American patriot, a veteran with a big empathetic heart with clear guiding principles. He knows where he stands and that ‘freedom isn’t free.’ Even at retirement age, he isn’t afraid to tear into the fray to see justice done. Readers met Charlie in my debut novel, The Dying Hour, in which I portrayed the truthful environment of today’s excellent VA hospitals at which I volunteer.

SP: Which do you prefer, character-driven stories or plot-driven stories and why should readers care? Which do you write?

NH: My stories have been classified as “character-driven crime-solving mysteries.” A crime fiction writer needs both, in my opinion. My readers comment equally on both aspects. They love the characters and the story.

SP: Tell me about your story point of view preferences, tense preferences, and any other thing of interest to you along these lines as we delve further into the mechanics of creating a story.

NH: I write in the third person. I could give a seminar on how to write third and first-person (think Sue Grafton in her Alphabet series), but still catch myself lapsing into the narrative, which is out of style. Third-person comes naturally to me. First-person would be a supreme challenge.

SP: What are your all-time favorite books – top three? Why? Don’t skimp here. Explore it with us? Tell us what genre they are. Who is your favorite author, if different from your favorite book?

NH: Behind my chair in my tiny office is one bookshelf that holds hundreds of volumes I use on the job or for inspiration. Research favorites, include Book of Poisons (for a killer salad!) and Forensics. All manner of editing. All-time favorites include Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier and Gone With The Wind (a first edition that I just mailed to my granddaughter). And writer friends’ newest books!  A Pocket Guide to the US Constitution by Andrew Arnold; and by MWA buddies—For Good Reason by James Robertson; all of Daniella Bernette’s books especially Beyond the Grave.  Don Helin’s Long Walk Home; and P.D. Halt’s award nominee When Death Imitates Art. Saralyn Richard’s latest, A Palette For Love And Murder and her award-winning, Murder in the One Percent. I literally climb over books to get into bed.

SP: What do you find is the most difficult thing about writing fiction? The easiest thing? Elaborate.

NH: Ah, the most difficult thing—making sure my publisher will love it and that my Mac won’t fail me. Nothing makes me crazier than technology that won’t work—especially on deadline. Not a pretty sight. Easiest? Oh, just let me create. When I’m writing, it’s like hovering over my characters, absorbed in their individual personalities and traumas.

SP: Tell me about your travels. Where is an interesting place you’ve been? Do you travel to research your stories, or is research important to you for your stories?

NH: I’m not a happy traveler because I’m a poor sleeper. Our happiest trips were with a professor friend who took twenty-some of us on teaching tours to Italy, France, England, and Scotland. My favorite, however, was a road trip—just my husband and me—to the interior of Wales. We would be traveling a lot more if it weren’t for the pandemic. Our best excursions are to our kids and young grands in far-away states. I never travel for research, but I can’t help but collect characters wherever I go. Sitting in an airport or train platform and seeing someone reading a book—I resist speaking to them.

SP: What kind of stories do you refuse to read?

NH: I refuse to read porn and books for which the F word intrudes in every sentence. Come on, folks—we’ve secured that First Amendment right. My readers, who range from age eleven to ninety would never miss it if I didn’t use it but would howl if I did.

SP: Finally, the most important question – DC or Marvel? Or does that even matter to you? What is your favorite comic book character ever? If none, just make something up!

NH: Comic book characters. How about in the newspapers? B.C., For Better or Worse, Crankshaft, Peanuts. Any that are really funny or clever, but not political.      

SP: Nice dodge on the last question Nancy. I'll give you a pass on that. LOL

Excerpt - The Innocent Hour

Later that day tragedy struck, the chance conversation in the grocery store forgotten among events that would change Charlie’s life, as would the lurid details of what he’d overheard. Having found a recipe to bake that acorn squash in his Emma’s worn red plaid cookbook, Charlie feasted on it for dinner. After tidying the kitchen, he went outside to watch an ordinary day fade into a glorious evening.

The week had been dry. He had watered Emma’s roses, turned off the soaker hose, and tucked the wand under his arm. He would remember swinging his arm as he strode toward the faucet to shut off the gush. Satisfied, he sank into his favorite old lawn chair, his gaze drinking in a perfect June evening.

Emma’s beloved garden—the scent of the ox eye daisies, roses, and verbena, their profusion glowing in the gathering dusk. Beyond the garden stretched fragrant, crisply mowed grass. Charlie valued such peaceful moments. He had overcome crushing challenges—the Vietnam war, surgery for his wounds, the transition to civilian life, Emma’s illness and death, the empty nest, but he chose to live thankfully—for his marriage, their two amazing daughters. The grandkids.

If only…

            He remembered Emma’s last admonition as her health faded: “You must dance at our daughters’ weddings.” The way that she stated it left no opportunity to argue.

“We. We will dance…”

But that wasn’t to be. Fifteen years—where had it gone? A soft breeze carried the scent of cut grass, flowers and, could it be? His neighbor had mucked out his barn.

              As Charlie waited for that first heavenly jewel, just as his family, his parents, and siblings had done, he heard the kitchen phone ring. Nearly tripped by the chair’s collapsible frame, he chastised himself. If it weren’t for his nasty habit of leaving the cordless out in the rain he wouldn’t have to tear into the house. And that answering machine only gave him five rings. Breathing hard, he yanked open the screen door and stumbled into the kitchen. Before he could traverse the half dozen steps, a searing pain overwhelmed him.

Ripping!

Crushing!

Tearing!

Like nothing he had ever experienced, not even when he was shot. With ultimate effort he grabbed at the phone, which clattered from its bracket onto the floor, landing several feet from where he collapsed. Pain ratcheted even as his strength plummeted. With ultimate effort, he snagged the handset. 

“Help me! Help,” he gasped as horrific pain inflamed every nerve in his body. “Wallet! On. Kitchen. Counter! Call—daughters…” He whispered his pleas, praying his failing voice had connected with someone. 

Sirens. An ER’s blazing lights. Aggregate people who staccatoed clipped instructions. Voices that barked, equipment that bleeped, and hands—lots of hands that worked with cold stuff. Then he was airborne. Blades thump-thump-thumping and lights flickering like an old black and white movie. A jumble of impressions sluicing in disjointed snatches. Blackness cocooned him. Then there was nothing.