Barbara Wallace writes mystery and romance. Today she sits down with us for a Q&A session. Learn more about Barbara and her books at her website.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
When I was eight years old, my best friend Kim told me she was writing a book. As best friends do, I decided to write one, too. From that day forward, I dreamed of being a novelist. Of course, dreaming wasn’t the same as writing, but then one day, while riding home on the commuter rail, I read Lawrence Block’s Writing the Novel (the original, not the revised version – we’re talking the 90s here). From that day forward, I decided to take my writing dream seriously.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Fifteen long years. I love to tell the story of how I finished my first novel right before my son was born, and got the call a few days before his fifteenth birthday.
Keep in mind though, that this was back when the only route to publishing was with a Big Five publisher. It took a lot of time and manuscripts to get past the gatekeepers.
Since then, I’ve published 20 novels with a variety of romance publishers. The Suburbs Have Secrets marks my mystery debut.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I am a hybrid author.
Where do you write?
My muse is a very fickle creature, and often changes her mind as to what location works best. When I first started writing, I wrote daily at the local Starbucks. One summer she would only respond if I wrote on the porch swing. Lately, she’s been demanding I draft scenes by hand on the living room sofa and then go into my office to type them.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Silence for me. My husband bought me a pair of Bose headphones, and I wear those while alone in the house!
Lately, however, I’ve been trying to introduce music back into my writing routine. Nothing loud or with words, but some quiet classical music so that my house doesn’t feel so empty.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
The plots of my romance novels are definitely not drawn from real life. I’ve never had a millionaire sweep me off to a foreign country. My romance characters, however, share a great deal in common with me. I tend to write broken characters that suffer from similar inner wounds – wounds that are drawn from my own insecurities.
Sadie, on the other hand… Now, there’s a loaded question. Since I live in the leafy suburbs of Boston, the correct (and safe) answer is that there is no resemblance between the town of Woodbridge and my hometown!
Truth is, however, I’ve been writing this novel in my head for twenty years. There’s a great deal of me in Sadie. Her humor, her way of looking at the world, even her relationship with her son Tim, all have their roots from my life.
Her sidekicks, however, are completely fictional. Sadie’s best friend, Rob? Totally inspired by the actor who played Thomas Barrow on Downton Abbey.
Describe your process for naming your character?
For first names, I tend to start by figuring out their age, and then Googling the most popular names from that year. Then I read the list until a name leaps off the page and sticks in my brain. I like to think this is character choosing his or her own name.
For last names, I tend to use a lot of English, Irish and Italian last names since most of my stories are based in New England, and we have such deep immigrant roots.
Real settings or fictional towns?
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Sadie loves wine and coffee. Probably a little too much. But her biggest quirk is that she hates having her photo taken and makes a point of avoiding it as much as possible. She even hides during the company Christmas card.
What’s your quirkiest quirk?
At the risk of being carted off, I talk to my cats – and then mimic them answering back in a different voice. We have long conversations during the day.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. It was such a wonderful combination of romance and gothic mystery. The phrase “The first Mrs. De Winter” never ceases to make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I would love if I could go back and re-live my high school and college years – but with the wisdom I have now. I wasted so much time during those years being afraid to take chances. Instead, I clung to the safe and sure. And, I was so afraid of being seen as smart and capable, because back then, in my town, smart and capable wasn’t cool. I think I could have achieved so much more sooner, had I been braver.
By the way, I chucked when I read this question, because it’s exactly what Marylou Paretsky asks Sadie during their last ride together.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who don’t cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze. Hello? Germs much?
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
A giant notebook, a never-ending supply of pens, and bug spray. Lots and lots of bug spray.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
Selling overpriced, organic peanut butter in Faneuil Hall. We had to stand at the counter holding globs of peanut butter on a stick, and ask people if they wanted to try a sample.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
I always hate this question. I know I’m supposed to answer something like Jane Eyre or And Then There Were None, but the truth is, I read so many different types of books, and loved so many of them, that no single one sticks out as my absolute favorite.
Interestingly, the one book that sticks out most in my mind was a book I read in elementary school. I can’t remember the title, but it was about a young girl on a wagon train. In the back of the wagon her family had a portrait of her grandmother when she was a young woman. The protagonist was a young girl who thought the portrait the perfect image of the lady the woman wanted to be. I remember reading that passage about her studying the portrait over and over when I was a little girl, and crying for the protagonist when the portrait was later lost.
I think it was the first time I realized how deeply a book could affect you.
Ocean or mountains?
City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
Country girl so long as there’s coffee nearby.
What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m working the second book in the Sadie McIntrye series, which I hope to have out this spring, and I have a new romance novel, Christmas With Her Millionaire Boss, coming out in November.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
Only that The Suburbs Have Secrets truly was a labor of love. I’ve wanted to write a mystery novel for as long as I could remember, and I’m thrilled to have finally done so. I hope readers will check out the story on Amazon.
The Suburbs Have Secrets
Think Murder She Wrote meets Desperate Housewives. When Sadie McIntyre gives a drunken Marylou Paretsky a ride home on a rainy night, little does she realize it's the last time anyone will see Marylou alive.
What first appears to be a tragic accident becomes far more complicated as Sadie discovers Marylou wasn’t as sweet and timid as everyone thought. Turns out Marylou spent her spare time digging up dirt on her neighbors and left behind a list of their secrets. Much to her horror, Sadie’s name is right on top.
Eager to keep her past buried, Sadie, with the help of her best friend Rob and Dan Bartlett, the town’s sexy new chief of detectives, sets out to who on the list was desperate enough to kill. Will she discover the answer before the truth gets out?
Or will the killer find Sadie first?