www.cozylibrary.com To read an interview with Vicki
Vicki Lane and her family have lived on a mountain farm in North Carolina since 1975. The Elizabeth Goodweather books are a direct reflection of that experience. Currently Vicki is at work on UNDER THE SKIN, the fifth Elizabeth Goodweather book, which will be published by Bantam Dell in 2011. THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS - a spinoff of the series featuring the amazing life story of Miss Birdie (Elizabeth's octogenarian neighbor) will be published in 2010. (No, there's no Elizabeth book for 2009 and Vicki is very, very sorry about this.)
Vicki and her husband moved to the mountains in 1975 – which makes them “new people” in a county where farms still in the same family after seven generations are not unusual. Though both had been teachers in Florida, they immersed themselves in the rural life, learning from their neighbors how to milk cows, churn butter, plow with mules, butcher pigs, raise tobacco and beef cattle, as well as the hundreds of other minutiae of a farm life that had changed little in a hundred years.
Though she no longer keeps pigs or a milk cow Vicki still tends a large garden, a smaller salad and herb garden, and is continually adding to the flowers and ornamentals that threaten someday to get totally out of hand. She cans, freezes, and dries garden produce for family use. A family flock of Ameruacana, Buff Orpington and Gold-laced Wyandotte chickens provide lovely brown, pink, and blue-ish eggs. Five dogs, two cats, and several fish ponds add to the general merriment.
The farm, the woods, and the people of Vicki’s adopted county are all reflected in the world of Elizabeth Goodweather. “I think that, as an outsider, I sometimes see more clearly the wonderful things that people who grew up here take for granted.”
Vicki is a quilter (and has co-authored two books on quilting under her married name). She paints when she has time and reads no matter what.
“We were so lucky to be able to make a choice about where and how we would live. I know there were those who thought we were crazy for choosing to live as we did. For the first several years, we didn’t have indoor plumbing (gasp!). And I
Our First Night in the Mountains
When my husband and I first came to North Carolina, some people said we were a part of the back to the land movement – we just knew we had to get out of Florida. We both came from pioneer families down there – my father’s people (all horse thieves, Daddy said) were of the same Scotch-Irish stock that settled western North Carolina. Florida had been a wonderful place to grow up but by the seventies the population was increasing at a horrendous pace and the secluded lakefront property where we had built our own home was being surrounded by suburban sprawl creeping out from Tampa. So we packed our eleven month old son and a bunch of camping gear into a big blue Chevy Blazer and set out to find a place in the country. We thought we might go as far as Canada But first we stopped in western North Carolina to visit a college friend of mine who, with her husband and their baby, had recently moved to a mountain farm.
Our first night there, my husband went with my friend’s husband and his two brothers to a little music festival in a place called Sodom. (My friend and I opted to stay home with our young children.) My husband John didn’t know the other men at all and was a little taken aback when he saw one of them put a pint bottle of whiskey into one pocket of his overalls and then a pistol into another.
John told me later how the car swerved around the curves heading up Lonesome Mountain – where the Vista worker was murdered, one brother told him. The bottle of whiskey was being passed around and the brother at the wheel (a non-drinker, thank god) was singing at the top of his voice, “There was whiskey and blood on the highway/ But I didn’t hear nobody pray.”
When they came down into the Sodom community, they weren’t sure just where the festival was so they stopped at a little country store. They all went in – after riding in the backseat on those winding roads John was happy to get out and walk around while he still could.
The store, a local hangout, was full of hard-looking men in overalls. They all stopped talking when the four bearded hippie types came in. One of the brothers asked for directions to the music festival and they were told how to get there. Breathing a small sigh of relief they turned to go back to the car. Just then the biggest, roughest looking one of the men in the store called out, “Boys --- don’t you never turn your back on no one from Sodom.”
When my husband told me the story the next day, I fell in love with the rural county that is now our home.
Q – How did you start writing?
A -- O moon, moon,/ Way up in the sky,/ I love you though/ You have but one eye. That was my first poem. I was very young and my grandfather’s secretary typed it on an orange index card, giving it great legitimacy. I always did well at creative writing in school and had a vague idea that I would like to be a writer. I took one creative writing class in college and produced a truly awful short story called (blush) “Too Late the Snow.” But I got married and taught English for nine years and then we moved to the farm and ‘life its ownself’ just overwhelmed me. Occasionally I would write a poem, or a little story, but mainly for my own enjoyment. During the years my younger son was playing soccer, I would pass the time during his practice (yes, I was a soccer mom) writing down everything interesting I could remember about my family and childhood.
But my idea of getting published was The New Yorker. And---I can’t remember---I think I sent them something –maybe a poem – 30 or 40 years ago. And, oddly enough, they turned it down. So if I couldn’t be published there, I guess I just decided to hell with it.
But then in 1999 a friend and I wrote a how-to book featuring the forty plus quilts that the women of our community have made over the past twenty five years. A publisher bought our book and we had the great joy of seeing our work in print. This was fun. So when Karol, my co-author, said she was signing up for a writing class at our local community college, I signed up too. The class “Writing Fiction That Sells" was taught by Bill Brooks, who writes westerns as well as, recently, more literary novels (Stone Garden, Pretty Boy, Bonnie and Clyde; A Love Story). This was in September of 2000. The class met one night a week for six weeks and Bill covered fundamentals of plot, setting, characters, dialogue, etc.
Most importantly, I learned that you have to have an agent. Bill told us how to query agents and discussed various things such as the importance of the first sentence, paragraph, page of the book. He also encouraged us to start a novel, rather than just do unrelated pieces. That’s when I began Elizabeth Goodweather. Bill suggested that we write what we knew and write what we read. I read lots of things but I have always been a fan of mysteries. I felt that I had a pretty good idea of how they work and I also felt that, as a first time author, I would have a better chance of being published with a series rather than a stand alone type book.
At the last class, I asked Bill to tell me what he thought was my greatest strength and what was my greatest weakness. He snorted and said “You don’t have the passion it takes to write.” (He didn’t tell me what my strength was.) I guess I took that as a challenge.
Four of us from the class (there had been only 6 or 8 ) decided to keep meeting and read to each other what we were working on. We did and I tried to do a chapter a week. But life kept intervening and it was almost a year before I actually finished my first novel and started trying to find an agent. I worked very hard on my query letter and sent them out in batches. The rejections slips started coming back and it was pretty disheartening but every once in a while there would be a personal note of encouragement which kept me going. Finally, after what seemed like years but was actually three months, I received an offer of representation from Ann Collette of the Helen Rees agency
Now the novel I had written was about Elizabeth Goodweather but she was not at her farm in the mountains; instead she was on vacation at the coast. (This for the simple reason that I had been at the coast just before the class began and had been intrigued by the Blackbeard legend.) My agent showed my novel to several editors and each time she got a response something like “Well written -- an engaging character. But a series needs to begin in the main character’s home surroundings so that readers will fall in love with the setting as well as the character”.
“Well,” said my agent, (God bless her.) “Let’s put this aside. Write another one with Elizabeth in the mountains and I’ll sell that. And maybe later on you can redo the first one and let it come third or fourth in the series.”
Disappointing – but I knew I could do it and I knew the next one would be better. So I wrote Signs in the Blood. And I was fortunate enough to end up with a two book contract with Bantam Dell and the incredible Kate Miciak as an editor. Yippee!
Q – Do you wish you’d gotten serious about writing a little sooner?
A – One of my friends, when I told him about my contract with Bantam, called me a late bloomer. I told him I was just blooming in a different field. I haven’t been a frustrated writer, seething with thwarted ambition – I’ve been very happy with my life on the farm. And I’m not really sure that I had that much to say early on.
Q – Elizabeth Goodweather lives on a farm in the mountains as do you. Is she you?
A – Elizabeth is younger, thinner, and generally better looking than I am. She sometimes makes choices that I would not. She is also a widow with two daughters. I, on the other hand, have a perfectly good husband and two sons and a daughter-in-law. Obviously, there are similarities – one has to write what one knows – but this is fiction.
Q – Why is there so much about religion in Signs in the Blood?
A – It’s partially because I, like Elizabeth, live in a place where religion is extremely important and defining, to many people. It’s also probably the result of having a son with a degree in philosophy and a husband who did graduate work in comparative religion. Our dinner table discussions can be lively to the point of yelling at times.
Q – Have you ever handled snakes?
Q – What’s next for Elizabeth?
A – More murders, I’m afraid.
Q – Who do you read?
A -- Lots of people. In mysteries, I like classic British ones, especially Dorothy L.Sayers and Agatha Christie, as well as Elizabeth George and P.D James. I like regional mysteries – Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn and Chee series is a favorite. Closer to home are Sharyn McCrumb and Sallie Bissell, two writers whose love of the Appalachians is inspiring. Recently I've become enmoured of the mysteries of Harlan Coben (for the great wise-ass humor) and Laurie R. King (for her erudition and sheer talent).
All the above plus: Jane Austen, E.F. Benson, Robertson Davies, Tony Earley, Barbara Kingsolver, Madeline L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, Patrick O’Brian, Lee Smith, Angela Thirkell, Anne Tyler, P.G.Wodehouse, among others.
Q. What are some of the special problems in plotting a series with ongoing characters? How do you keep from getting confused?
A. There are, indeed, things to watch out for in a series. The following are some things I've learned:
1. Keep a list of characters and places mentioned. With each addition to the series I add any changes to characters e.g.. hair grayer, cut off dreads, house burned, etc.
2. For ongoing characters, I've found it useful to construct family trees. You never know when the odd uncle or cousin will come in handy.
3. Keep a time line --I put events in real time (Vietnam War, Great flood of 1916), in bold; events in fictional (Miss Birdie born, Sam dies) time in regular.
4. Remember with each new book you have to reintroduce everyone all over again -- without boring faithful readers. I keep a small check list - describe Elizabeth, her house and farm, her family, her dogs, her back-story.
5. Be careful about how many ongoing characters you have-- it can begin to feel like you're pulling a heavy load, working everyone into every book -- or at least accounting for their absence. (Lee Child avoids this by having Jack Reacher constantly on the move -- new places, new faces in every book. )
6. Make sure your protagonist continues to evolve, to learn new things and reveal more and more of him or herself in every book. (My editor is really big on this one.)