Animal lover, businesswoman and general badass author Valerie Connors talks to me about her books and how she looks to her life for inspiration for her novels.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.
Some of my earliest characters sounded an awful lot like me talking, which I think is fairly common for beginning writers. But by the time I finished my fourth novel, A Better Truth, I felt I had finally created a main character whose voice was completely and consistently different from my own. I write commercial fiction, so my stories are plot driven, but I want my readers to feel an emotional attachment to my characters as well. I try to put in lots of twists and turns so my books will keep people reading late into the night because they want to know what happens next. And I hope that some of my characters will stay with them for a while after they’ve turned the last page.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?
I always knew I’d write a book one day. I didn’t know when, and had no idea what I’d write about, only that it would be fiction. My business background is in finance, accounting, and accounting software implementation. My mother was an artist, and my father is a musician. I had a decade or so of music studies too, until I discovered boys, and all that went straight out the window. So until I started writing a decade ago, my creative side had been neglected during all those years of working only with numbers.
It was actually a story from my mother’s past that finally inspired me to sit down and start writing. My third published novel, A Promise Made, is based on that story. I draw on my past experiences for settings in my books. Most of them are set in places I’ve lived or visited, places that evoke strong emotions for me. I also use people from my past as the foundation for my characters so I can visualize them when I’m writing. People who have given me a hard time at work appear in my books as villains, and that’s fun for me!
Please tell me about your books. What really makes you work stand out from the crowd?
My first novel, In Her Keeping, is about a woman who wants desperately to have children, but can’t. When her marriage falls apart, she moves to the mountains and finds herself living next door to a tiger sanctuary and caring for a tiger cub instead of a baby.
Shadow of a Smile is about a mother and daughter, family secrets, and lies. When the main character’s mother dies suddenly, Meredith discovers that her mother’s life was very different than she thought it was. The story is told from two points of view, the main character in the 1990s, and through the mother’s journals that were written in the 1960s. As the story unfolds, Meredith learns the truth about her mother’s life as well as her own.
A Promise Made is set in post World War II America. It’s about a young woman who finds herself with a small child and an abusive husband. When she has finally had enough, she leaves the marriage and takes her three-year-old son from a small town in Upper Michigan to New York City to make a new life for herself and her child.
A Better Truth is a psychological thriller whose central character struggles to recognize the difference between reality and hallucination, nightmare and memory. Willow St. Claire experienced a horrible trauma as a small child, and the harder she tries to forget it, the more vivid her memories become. She finds peace and tranquillity alone in a mountain cabin, until a knock at the door one night sets in motion a chain of events that will change her life forever.
Readers tell me that my books are hard to put down. They seem to enjoy my twists and turns, and they love to hate my villains.
Writing across a number of genres, how do you adapt your writing style to suit each novel?
It’s interesting, the business of choosing a genre to write in. My first novel, In Her Keeping, was categorized as women’s fiction, but I wasn’t thinking of that when I was writing it. My publisher was the one who made the designation. Same thing with my second, Shadow of a Smile. When I wrote A Promise Made, I didn’t set out to write historical fiction either, my story just happened to have taken place in the past. My latest, A Better Truth, didn’t start out to be a psychological thriller; it just sort of evolved into one. Sometimes your characters can surprise you, and it’s best to follow their lead. I will say, though, that A Better Truth turned out to be the book I had the most fun with. Adding a touch of madness to your protagonist can make a story much more interesting!
If you had to choose, which style of writing is your favourite and why?
I would definitely choose the thriller/suspense genre because it’s just so much fun to write it. It’s fun to keep readers guessing, and me too sometimes, right up until the end.
What books do you enjoy reading and how do these impact on your writing?
I listen to audio books on my commute to and from work five days a week. I live in the city, so it’s not unusual for me to be in the car for an hour or more each way. So I like books that are long and involved, which is how I started reading Stephen King, and Ayn Rand. I enjoy psychological thrillers, mysteries, and suspense, but I also love a good literary novel, women’s fiction, or historical fiction, particularly the ones set in the World War II era. I believe that for a writer, reading lots of different kinds of books is a requirement of the job. It’s like continuing education. Some authors demonstrate how to create tension and suspense. Others can teach you character development. Ayn Rand taught me that it’s possible for an eleven hundred-page novel (Atlas Shrugged) to keep my interest all the way to the end. Perhaps more surprising is that I’ve read that book several times. I’m a different kind of reader now, however. I find myself analysing the writing, looking at structure, pacing, and point of view.
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
I find inspiration everywhere. The inspiration for my most recent novel, A Better Truth, actually came to me at the hair salon. When my old hairstylist left, they gave me an appointment with a tall, attractive blonde woman named Willow. I thought that Willow would be a great name for a character, and I immediately started assigning attributes to her. Before long the whole story unfolded. I usually get a first line in my head, and build the opening scene around that. The title comes next, or at least the working title. Then I decide where the story will end. Once I know where I’m going to start and where I’m going to end up, I get to know the characters and follow their lead. That’s where the magic is.
Fortunately, I haven’t experienced writer’s block yet. On the contrary, I currently have five projects started. Since I still have a full-time day job as the CFO of an engineering firm, I sometimes have to wait several weeks before I have the time to sit down and write. So by the time I get to the keyboard, I have lots of material that’s been simmering in the back of my mind and is ready to spill out onto the pages.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
It would be Stephen King, absolutely. He’s such an amazing storyteller, and comes up with the wildest ideas. Imagine how much fun that would be!
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
Yes, at the moment I’m working on a dystopian thriller that’s still in the early stages. I’ve also started sequels to my first novel, In Her Keeping, and my fourth novel, A Better Truth. My detective series and a love story are also on my project list. One day I hope to spend less time at my day job, and more time writing.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
Yes, the latest Stephen King novel, Sleeping Beauties. It’s written with his son, Owen, and is being released on my birthday next week. I’ve already pre-ordered the hardcover and the audio version. There have also been so many good psychological thrillers lately, by authors I hadn’t read before. I just finished two by Ruth Ware, who wrote The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood. There are so many amazing authors out there. I just keep buying more books. I have two writing rooms in my house where I can be surrounded by books while I work. That makes me very happy.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
To learn more about me, and my writing, I hope you’ll visit my website at www.valeriejoanconnors.com where you’ll find the first chapter of each of my books. My Facebook author page is: https://www.facebook.com/Valerie-Joan-Connors-Author-178400845541233/. Follow me on Twitter at: @VJConnors
Thanks for your time Valerie, it’s great to hear your thoughts!