Interview: October 6, 2006
October 6, 2006
Bestselling author Tara Taylor Quinn is known for her deeply emotional and psychologically astute novels. In her latest work of fiction, IN PLAIN SIGHT, she tackles the profound and controversial topic of white supremacy, which she plans to further explore through future installments. In this interview with Bookreporter.com's contributing writer Bronwyn Miller, Quinn describes the event that sparked her interest in this subject and explains the relevance of the book's title to its weighty subject matter. She also reveals her surprising writing process, discusses the blog she shares with five other authors and provides wise advice to aspiring writers.
Bookreporter.com: One of the most interesting and controversial elements of IN PLAIN SIGHT is the Ivory Nation storyline. How did you decide to write about white supremacists? What's the significance of the title?
Tara Taylor Quinn: I was sitting in court, there to do research for another novel. All of the defendants that morning who were currently incarcerated were sitting chained together in the jury box, awaiting their turns to step off the chain --- still hand and foot cuffed --- and down in front of the judge. One man sitting there stood so far out from the rest that I couldn't help noticing him. While the rest were kind of bundled together, he'd chosen a chair as far away from them as the chain would allow, and the look in his eyes struck fear in my heart. After court, I asked the judge about him --- he was a white supremacist. He'd done atrocious things, most of which they couldn't pin on him. He sat there smug, knowing, and unfortunately right in his assumption that he would get off lightly. I followed his case after that, and I went back to court to see his sentencing. And he did get off with barely a slap on the hand. From that, a series of books was born. IN PLAIN SIGHT is the first. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, the second, will be out in October of '07. All three books are stand-alone stories, set in different cities in Arizona; and all three involve the Ivory Nation --- a fictional Arizona-based white supremacist organization.
The significance of the title is that white supremacists lurk everywhere --- in plain sight. Only the undercover leaders are as scary as the man I saw in court that day. Most of them are your next door neighbors, your church brothers and sisters, the head of the PTA. They carry the righteous beliefs, they support the cause with their money and their vote. Many are not aware that the money they give supports people like the man I saw in court --- the ones who shed blood for the cause.
BRC: IN PLAIN SIGHT follows dedicated prosecutor Janet (Jan) McNeil. Did you do much legal research before beginning the novel? How did you research white supremacists? After writing a book about such a chilling topic, did it prey upon you and stay with you?
TTQ: I did a lot of research for the book, and continue to research and learn about this topic because I'm writing two more books about it. But also, it does stay with me. It does prey on me. I've read about well-known and open organizations, self-proclaimers. I've read about the first known inception of white supremacy in the United States, followed Ku Klux Klan history, among others, and continue to sit in court and follow cases dealing with white supremacy issues. I've heard testimony from gang force police detectives in Arizona, and spoken with Sheriff's deputies on the subject. My daughter, who is currently working as an assistant felony prosecutor in a county attorney's office in Arizona. is working on a white supremacist case and filling me with what information she can share with the public.
BRC: Jan has to cope with tremendous hardships --- the horrible nightmares, the death of her mother and her brother's betrayal, yet she soldiers on. Do you think her fortitude will help her be a good mother to Hailey? When you first began to write IN PLAIN SIGHT, did you set out to write a strong female character?
TTQ: I don't ever set out to write a particular kind of character. I'm not a planner. I have voices in my head, I listen to them, and what comes, comes from them. If this makes me crazy, then so be it! I love the magic of the process. With every single book I write, my characters teach me things about human nature, about life, coping and growing stronger and better and happier. I do think that Jan's hardships will make her a better mother to Hailey simply because they've made her a stronger, better person, which will reflect in every aspect of her life, every role she plays. She's more aware, more open, more sensitive, and also more conscious of her own strengths.
BRC: This novel is a departure from your romance novels. Do you view IN PLAIN SIGHT as a thriller with romance or a romance with thrilling elements? Did you approach your writing differently when you were crafting this book?
TTQ: I approached the writing of IN PLAIN SIGHT differently only in that I wasn't aware of writing any particular kind of book. I didn't view it as a romance, or a thriller, or any combination of either. I sat down without boundaries of any kind to tell the story that was in my head. Now that the book is finished, I don't think it's a romance at all --- it's a suspense/thriller that has a relationship in it. And don't most of them???
BRC: Do you share Jan's stringent work ethic? Do you find that you have more in common with her or with Simon Green? How do you create such rich, vivid characters? How much of yourself is within your characters, if any?
TTQ: I do share Jan's work ethic --- and long to be Simon. He's reached an inner peace that drives him. I'm afraid I'm more driven by the external need to succeed! Like Simon, though, I love to play games and do so just about every day. And I often stare out the window when I should be typing --- but my view is cacti and the mountainside on which my office is built. No people. I watch bunnies all day, and occasionally, coyotes; then I worry about the bunnies. And three times, there's been bobcat that I watch stroll down the mountain and come right up to my office doorway. I don't feel any peace at all then!
I don't consciously put parts of myself in anything I write. Yet I suspect that there are parts of me in everything I write. The words come through me, but also from within me.
I think my characters are so real to my readers because they're real to me --- just as we all think of the people we know, our family members, our loved ones and friends as real. We could tell others about them, we know their stories, we feel their pain. So it is with my characters. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS takes place in Tucson and the male protagonist of that book, Harry Kendall, has been with me for weeks. I think about him. I hear his voice. I feel his pain. Yesterday, a friend of mine mentioned going to Tucson and my first thought was, Harry's there! (I'm sane enough that I didn't say it out loud!)
BRC: You've written over 40 novels to date. How has your writing style changed from when you published your first book, YESTERDAY'S SECRETS, and your style today?
TTQ: I don't know that my style has changed. From the very beginning, my books were deeply emotional, psychological looks at life. They are still that today. I hope that my craft is cleaner, more mature, and my word choices are more on spot, but other than that, I'm still just me telling my stories.
BRC: You started your literary life very young, writing your first story at age seven. Would it be safe to say that you always wanted to be a writer? Who were your early literary influences?
TTQ: Yes, I always wanted to be a writer. More than that, I believed from the time I was in elementary school that I already was a writer. I used to write poetry and songs and little stories and just knew that someday someone would notice and publish me! Of course, as I grew up and entered the real world of publishing, there were some emotional setbacks, but still I wrote. I had to. I was a writer.
My early literary influences were Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Violet Winspear and Anne Mather.
BRC: Early in your career you worked as a stringer for The Dayton Daily News. Did your time there influence the way you work today, and if so, in what way?
TTQ: My time at the paper first made me consciously aware of who, what, where, when and why --- vital elements to every story. And second, being paid to write validated my belief that I was a writer.
BRC: You recently attended the Midwest Literary Festival and participated in panels such as "How to Begin and Finish a Book" and "Creating Interesting Characters." What advice can you offer to aspiring writers? What was the best advice you received? Are these kinds of speaking engagements an enjoyable or stressful part of your job?
TTQ: I love to speak to writers and readers. I love what I do. I love sharing the passion with others who 'get it.' I can't remember ever receiving advice about my writing. More, I remember being made fun of for reading romances, and being told to get my nose out of my books! I wrote because I had to. I guess, as I look back, the advice that I remember is from my father. He told me that I could do anything I wanted to do, be anything I wanted to be, as long as I had goals. He was telling me, I think, that he'd support any endeavor as long as I had one. But I took his words to mean that I could reach the stars as long as I had a plan! I've been envisioning those stars ever since, and look where I am!
My best advice to anyone who wants or needs to write --- DON'T EVER STOP WRITING. Not for any reason. Ever.
BRC: Can you walk us through a typical day when you start a new novel? Do you know where you're going when you start a new project, or do you just go where your characters take you?
TTQ: As I said above, I am definitely a "go where my characters take me" writer. It's more common for me to write an entire book based on a paragraph than to have anything even resembling a plotted plan.
A typical TTQ day: Up at 5:30, exercising by 6:00, and shower by 7:00. I sometimes meet my daughter for breakfast, then I go straight to the office. I do e-mail, so that I get it out of the way and am not distracted with thoughts of what might be there waiting for me. And then I write. I try to remember to take a break to get something to eat, but more often, just grab crackers or a granola bar or two from the drawer by my desk. I usually play a computer game or two for a break. I sit at the computer until sometime between 5:00 and 7:00. I generally go out to dinner as I have nothing in the house to fix, nor do I feel energized to cook. I relax for a while and go to bed to get up the next day and begin again. Unless I'm on a tight deadline, I stay out of my office on weekends. Those are for chores, shopping, travel and play! Mostly the latter three.
BRC: Please tell us a little bit about the "StoryBroads" and how that started.
TTQ: The StoryBroads are a great group of bestselling writers who are also friends. They began in Memphis, Tennessee after an RWA conference, where we'd all been told we needed to blog. Overwhelmed at the prospect, three of us --- who were lounging by a pool and imbibing good food for three days --- figured that the only way to get over this hurdle was to do it together. We loved the idea and spent half of the three days working out the logistics, choosing a name, buying the domain, planning and designing. We got in touch with three other good friends who were delighted to join us, and within a couple of weeks, we'd been born. All six of us are enjoying the process far more than we ever thought we would. Though we thought we'd be doing something we needed to do, we find that we're doing it because we want to. It's fun. And freeing. You can join in at www.storybroads.com.
BRC: What are you working on now? Do you plan to revisit the character of Jan McNeil in future novels? We're sure readers would love to see what happens next for Jan and Simon.
TTQ: I am currently working on a romance due for release from Harlequin Superromance in the summer of 2007. After that, I begin Harry's story --- BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. This is the second of three in the series of white supremacist thrillers --- IN PLAIN SIGHT is a prosecutor's story, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS is a victim's story and the third book in the series will be a judge's story. Jan and Simon will be seen in the other two books, though they don't play major parts as the books take place in different cities. However, as the state closes in and works together to bring down the Ivory Nation, everyone involved will play a part. I have to say, though, that I'm not sure --- even now --- if the Ivory Nation will ever be completely shut down. The Klan never was.