Interview with Novelist D.H. Parker
1. Tell us about your books.
My published books fall into two categories. CONSTANCY’S WALTZ, DARK DIAMOND REEL, and FIDDLER’S LAMENT are the first three books in my Fiddling With Murder cozy mystery series. Some of the characters in them are Christians. Neither they nor I make any apology for that.
The three “fairy-tale mystery” books include plenty of mystery for their normal, everyday characters to solve, but in solving them, they run into things they’d always thought of as belonging to folklore or fantasy. SONG OF HEALING is a stand-alone. DONOVAN’S DREAM is remotely connected with my latest book, THE CAMERON CONNECTION. HEALING and DREAM are labeled romances, but if the books were movies, the romance would be G-rated. TCC is labeled “young adult”. It’s also suitable for all ages.
All of the books are contemporary, and all of them except HEALING are set in the Missouri Ozarks–in a fictionalized version of the places I knew from birth. If you would like to read excerpts, and in the case of THE CAMERON CONNECTION, the whole first chapter, click on the “excerpt” or “read more” button under each book cover.
The books are available in trade paperback and e-book formats (including Kindle-compatible MobiPocket) from the publisher, Wings.
2. How long have you been writing? What led you to fiction?
I’ve enjoyed writing since the first time my mother put a pencil in my hand and showed me how to write my name. I became fascinated by the idea that I could make marks on paper and other people would know what I meant. The pencil felt like my very own magic wand. That “magic” hasn’t ever worn off. Writing is still my favorite form of communication. …And I still love pencils.
As to my preference for writing fiction, maybe it’s because the first big, hard-cover book I ever owned was a huge book of fairy tales given me by my Aunt Edna. (That probably explains the fairy-tale mysteries I write, too.) I loved that book. I still have it, although it’s so well-loved it’s falling apart.
3. What do you feel are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
Weaknesses are easy to see. 1. Inability to outline and plot ahead. I may know the beginning and the ending when I start, but I don’t know the middle. Like somebody taking all the wrong turnings in a maze, I have a hard, slow time getting from the beginning to the end. 2. Since “marketing expert” is now part of the job description of published authors, I’m in trouble. Marketing is so far out of my comfort zone. That’s a definite weakness.
1. A basic knowledge of English grammar and punctuation–thanks to my sophomore English teacher who made us do drills in it every Friday. I hated those drills, but they resulted in one of the best writing tools I have. I do still make unintentional mistakes, but it’s not Mrs. Satterfield’s fault. 2. Research. I enjoy trying to make sure the facts within the fiction are correct. I think that helps to bring the settings and characters to life. I had a reader (former military policeman) ask me if I had ever been a law officer because “you wrote it the way it is”. Along the same line, people occasionally tell me they get involved in the lives of my characters to the point that they keep thinking about them long after they’ve finished the book. Research! Love it!
4. Where do you get your ideas and characters?
It sounds silly to say I don’t know where my ideas come from, but I truly don’t. I assume everything I see and hear and read and experience must go into a giant cauldron in my head, where it seethes and simmers until, sooner or later, some idea pops out. Usually the idea for a story comes complete with one or more characters. The story never gets off the ground, though, until I know the main characters’ names. Sometimes they come pre-named, but usually I have them try on different names, until we find just the right one. Naming is like tuning a musical instrument. You hear the perfect tone when you get it right.
5. What does the act of writing mean to you?
It’s my preferred means of communication. It’s therapy. It’s entertainment. It’s my “job.” As a Christian, I pray that my writing will, in some small way, bless and build up readers who are already Christians. For those who aren’t, I pray they will catch a glimpse of something in my words that will motivate them to explore the Bible and discover God’s word for themselves.
Do you read books on writing? I do sometimes go back and review some of the more helpful writing books I’ve bought over the years, especially if I’m having trouble with a specific area of my work in progress.
6. Did you have storytellers when you were growing up that influenced you?
Not official storytellers, but the Ozarks are steeped in stories–a legacy from the Scottish, Irish and German folk who settled the area. Most of my extended family lived within a few miles of us. Family and friends gathered often to play music and talk and visit, so my growing imagination got fed regular doses of stories and tall tales.
Were you an avid reader as a child? Before I could read, I memorized the stories my family read to me so I could pretend to read them. As soon as I could read on my own, I consumed every written word I could get my hands on. I still would MUCH rather read than watch TV or go to the movies. TV and movies are so limiting to the imagination.
7. Describe your editing process.
I have to edit as I write. I recently finished a complete first draft of the fourth book in my cozy mystery series. The first chapter’s probably been edited a hundred times. The last chapter hasn’t been edited yet. Sadly, the first chapters have to be pretty close to right before I can go farther. If I find myself with a bad case of writer’s block, it’s usually because my subconscious knows I got some major plot detail wrong in an earlier part of the story. I can’t go forward until I hunt out the mistake and fix it. Since that involves reading the whole thing over again, I edit and re-edit as I go.
8. Do you outline your books or let the story go where it wishes?
I wish I could outline, but it won’t work for me. I’ve tried all kinds of methods. Every one of them bogs down and I have to give it up. Evidently, I need to write the story to see what happens next.
9. Do you write biographies of your characters?
I have, especially for the main characters in the series. Knowing their backgrounds gives me ideas for more stories, and helps me avoid continuity problems.
10. Where do you see publishing going in the digital age?
I believe electronic book reading devices, and books in those formats, have a bright future–if we can keep the coming generations reading at all. My books are available as e-books as well as trade paperbacks, so I’m fine with electronic publishing. However, I do sincerely hope e-books don’t totally replace paper books. If something major disrupts electronics in this country, my paper books won’t vanish off my shelves, and I won’t need any external power supply to read them.
11. What lessons have you learned as a published writer?
I’ve learned that writing and getting published is only half the battle. Getting the word out about published books and building an audience is much harder than writing.