ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I always wanted to write, but I was sidetracked into being a teacher, administrator, and school improvement consultant, mainly in large, urban schools in underprivileged neighborhoods. I’ve taught literature, journalism, speech, and creative writing, and I still teach avid readers and aspiring writers.
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Twitter Handle: https://twitter.com/SaralynRichard
SP: What does your typical writing day look like? How do you work in your writing and promoting?
Saralyn: When I’m not writing or concocting plots in my head, I’m reading or connecting with readers. I love it all.
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.
Saralyn: Two of my high school English teachers planted the seed that grew into my passion for writing. I did a lot of writing under their tutelage, and I entered and won a lot of writing contests for high schoolers. I wrote sporadically during the years that I taught. I was more focused then on planting the seed in my students. Now I teach literature and creative writing to adults, so I’ve been in the writing milieu continuously. Truthfully, I’ve been collecting ideas for stories all of my life. Characters and ideas compete in my mind for expression in the next work of fiction. Some stories arise from settings, some from plots, and some from themes, but all of my writing begins with characters. I imagine certain characters in great detail, and once I have them in my mind, they take over in telling the stories.
SP: Tell me about the protagonist and antagonist of your latest book. What are their goals in the story?
Saralyn: A Palette for Love and Murder is the second in the Detective Parrott Mystery series, so I’ve gotten to know Oliver Parrott very well. He’s overcome a lot of obstacles in his life: the death of his father at an early age, poverty, prejudice. He’s a 27-year-old African-American football hero from Syracuse, who entered the criminal justice system because he wanted to make a difference. He’s organized, he’s smart, and he’s like a dog with a bone when he’s on a case. At the same time, he loves his fiancée, his family, and his pet cockatiel, Horace. Even though he’s out of his element in the upper- class community of Brandywine Valley, where he maneuvers among the country’s richest and most powerful people, he remains grounded, determined, and unflappable in doing the right thing. As for the antagonist—it’s a mystery. I’ll say that all of the book’s characters are complex, and it requires a bit of reader-sleuthing to uncover the layers that will reveal who the antagonist really is.
SP: Which do you prefer, character driven stories or plot driven stories and why should readers care? Which do you write?
Saralyn: I prefer character-driven stories when I read and when I write. Of course the action is important, but, for me, the connection with the characters is what pulls me into a story and keeps me turning pages. Sometimes I’m held by a character who is just like me, but, more often, I’m drawn to a character who is far different. Through his or her experiences and relationships, I learn and grow as a human being. This is the amazing gift of literature.
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.
Saralyn: The children’s book, Naughty Nana, is written in first person, present tense, from the point of view of my fluffy Old English sheepdog puppy. Children identify with the mischievous and fun-loving Nana, as she bounces from one mishap to another. Hearing the story in first person is a way to “show, not tell,” and hearing it in present tense makes the tale immediate and ongoing. My murder mysteries are in third person, past tense. I’ve practiced writing mysteries in first person, but I find it too constricting for a story where information, clues, and evidence are necessarily hidden from certain characters at certain times during the story. Present tense has its uses in ramping up the intensity of a plot, but in a novel, whether I’m reading or writing, it comes off as artificial. In real life, when we tell stories, it is almost always after the events that prompt them.
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?
Saralyn: I’m such an avid reader, and I usually love most the story that occupies my thoughts at the current moment. I shy away from naming favorite authors or top favorite books in any kind of ranking system. That said, there are some books that have left a permanent imprint on my heart, more than others. A few of those are: A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Poisonwood Bible, To Kill a Mockingbird, All the Light We Cannot See, A Light Between Oceans, The Book Thief, The Kite Runner, Cutting for Stone, Where the Crawdads Sing, and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree. I know that’s more than three, and the genres range from historical fiction to young adult to literary fiction, but what appeals to me in all of them is their power to touch me intellectually and emotionally. I’m also a sucker for an author who has a way with words.
SP: What do you find is the most difficult thing about writing fiction? The easiest thing? Elaborate.
Saralyn: For me, the most difficult thing is to find the right title, the right tagline, and the synopsis strikes a perfect balance between revealing not enough and too much. Fortunately, these challenges usually come after the book is written, so they don’t short-circuit the writing process. Once I’ve got my characters’ voices in my head, and I know where I’m headed with them, I can enter “the writer’s zone,” and my characters take over in acting out the story. I watch the story unfold and record what’s happened.
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?
Saralyn: I love to travel, and I’ve visited a lot of fascinating places, all worthy of becoming settings in stories. Of these, the Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania is a favorite setting. Every time I’ve been there I’ve been struck by the natural beauty, the serenity of the landscape, and the majesty of its historical landmarks. I’ve always felt it to be the last place one would expect a murder to take place, so I’ve plumbed that irony. I’m unaware of other novels set in Brandywine Valley, which makes it fun to introduce readers to the locale. I’ve found everyone, from horse owners to artists to journalists to police officers to funeral home and restaurant owners, to be friendly and helpful in authenticating various elements in the book.
SP: What kind of stories do you refuse to read?
Saralyn: My tastes in reading are quite eclectic, but in recent years I’ve avoided anything I perceive to be filled with too much violence or hatred.
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!
Saralyn: Probably DC, because I’m a traditionalist when it comes to comics. I like Superman and Batman, but I’ve never found a female superhero to identify with, because their stories seem less believable and more artificial than those of their male counterparts.
SP: May I suggest that Marvel’s Natasha Romanoff, aka, Black Widow, would be a nice female superhero for you. BTW, I love your line about writing – “I watch the story unfold and record what’s happened.” So very true…
EXCERPT from A Palette for Love and Murder
Detective Oliver Parrott returns from his honeymoon to find a spiffed-up office and a spanking-new case—the theft of valuable paintings from a renowned Brandywine artist’s studio. Soon theft leads to murder, and Parrott learns there is more to the artist’s palette than just globs of paint.
Marriage had turned out to be more. More than taking vows and sipping champagne. More than a romantic cruise to exotic islands. More than sleeping in the warmth of a lover’s embrace. Tonight Detective Oliver Parrott had another two a.m. wake-up call, but not the kind from the West Brandywine Police Station. His first thought had been of the stolen paintings he was investigating, but the punch in the kidney had come from Parrott’s own true love.
“No-o-oh, oh, no,” Tonya yelled, as she thrashed about in the bed next to him.
Parrott jumped out of bed and twisted around, grabbing Tonya by both wrists. “Wake up, Baby. It’s just a dream. You’re right here with me. Nothing’s wrong.”
Tonya’s eyes fluttered open and closed, as she struggled against her husband’s strong, tall frame. She was breathing hard.
Still holding her wrists, he murmured, “C’mon now. C’mon, Tonya.”
After what seemed like an hour to Parrott, Tonya woke up and stopped resisting his efforts to calm her down. When she realized what she had done, she threw her hands over her face and doubled over at the waist. “Sorry, sorry. I don’t want to have these dreams, Ollie. They just won’t go away.” Tears streamed down her face and neck.
Parrott thought to turn on the lamp, but decided the reflected beam from the streetlight, piercing through the curtain, was enough. He scooted to sit up against the headboard. “Come sit up here with me,” he said, patting the sheet between them. “Let’s see if we can make them go away.”
Tonya shoved down the covers that were wound around her legs. Her white silk teddy was spotted with patches of sweat. She climbed into her husband’s embrace and dropped her head on his bare shoulder.
“Now,” Parrott said, snuggling into his wife’s hair and smelling jasmine. “Maybe it will help if you tell me exactly what it is that has you yelling in your sleep.” Every time he’d asked before, Tonya had dissembled. She hated talking about her experiences in Afghanistan, period.
“You know I can’t, Ollie. Even thinking about it scares me. Putting it into words seems excruciating.” More tears overflowed the banks of her eyelids, and she wiped them away with quick brushes of the back of her hand.
“Yes, I know,” Parrott said, “but maybe if you could say the words, finally, these night terrors would go away. That’s what I remember from that psych class I took junior year.” He remembered times as a cop when he’d used a similar strategy to help witnesses articulate horrible memories. “It lets the boogeyman out from under the bed.”
The corners of Tonya’s mouth twitched, but failed to make it to smile. She was shivering, though the room was warm. “I—I don’t know if I can, but I’ll try.” She pulled the sheet and blanket up around them both, and Parrott pressed her to him, knowing whatever he did would be inadequate.
A few minutes passed in silence, and finally Tonya glanced at the alarm clock, which said two-seventeen. She took a deep breath, and then the words began tumbling out. “Some very bad things happened when I was in Afghanistan, Ollie.” Her fingers drew a pattern onto his chest. “Some things I could never tell you about.”