Today we sit down with Elaine L. Orr, author of three mystery series, plays, and literary novellas. Elaine also teaches online courses in self-publishing. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I knew I wanted to write fiction probably by middle school, but I didn’t figure out my path until I was in my late twenties and early thirties. I did a couple of “not ready for prime time” pieces, and learned a lot.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Like many of us, I needed to make a living and had no clue how to do that with writing. I gravitated to work that entailed a lot of nonfiction writing and editing. This taught me to think as I wrote, and helped me make the transition to fiction. I had written a lot by the time I was in my early fifties, and decided to self-publish later in that life decade. I wish I’d taken the plunge earlier.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I’m mostly self-published. I also work with a small publisher and did a nonfiction book with a history publisher.
Where do you write?
Early on, I wrote largely at home, often in the evenings. Now I write at a library, Starbucks, or in a place in Springfield, IL (where I live) called The Kreative Lounge. As a partial retiree, I need to get out of the house. Lately, I’ve tried not to write in places with food. I tend to take breaks with sweets – that’s not all that helpful.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
No music while writing. I find it more distracting than even conversations around me.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Not much. I find basing anything on real life to be limiting. A couple of characters reflect aspects of my humor (especially Scoobie in the Jolie Gentil series), but that’s more because the humor feels natural to me. I also use some of my husband Jim Larkin’s poetry as Scoobie’s, so he sees some of himself in that character. Mostly, I simply like the poetry!
Describe your process for naming your character?
Jolie Gentil means pretty nice in French, and her dad is French Canadian. Scoobie was a deliberate choice, but I have not been rigorous in all my choices. I pick names because I like them, and discovered I use S as a first letter too much. In the River’s Edge series (set in southeast Iowa) I have Syl, Stooper, Sandi, and Shirley. Worse, I didn’t realize it until I put them at a table in the diner in book three. While I have always tried to be sure a character’s name goes with their background (no Irish characters named Sven), I’m now more careful about name similarities.
Real settings or fictional towns?
Fictional towns similar to real ones. Ocean Alley, New Jersey (the Jolie books) is similar to smaller northern Jersey shore towns. River’s Edge is deliberately an amalgamation of some Van Buren County, Iowa towns. I’ll have the characters visit real towns – I think it helps readers identify with a region. However, I don’t want people writing to say things such as, “One-way traffic on A Street goes in the other direction.”
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Hmm. Stooper is a good friend of Melanie, the River’s Edge protagonist. He crafts headstones for graves. He’s also in transition from an affinity for alcohol, so he sometimes has a humorous perspective on sober life.
What’s your quirkiest quirk?
So many choices…My sister would say it’s that I like to tromp in cemeteries doing family history searching. But I have several cousins who think it’s odd that she doesn’t like to do that. I wonder if that’s why I made Stooper a stone mason who makes headstones? I would probably need some therapy to decide that.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
To Kill a Mockingbird, hands down. To be able to address important social issues while telling a riveting story is a gift. Harper Lee wrote it second – first she wrote Go Set a Watchman, which was only recently found and published. In it, Scout is an adult in the changing South. In some ways, it’s a more significant book. Some people don’t like it because Scout’s father, Atticus, is not a ‘perfect’ character. He is, however, wonderfully conflicted. You can see why Lee’s publisher asked her to do a book featuring young Scout. Some of the strongest scenes in Go Set a Watchman are Scout’s reminisces of her childhood. Read them both!
Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I wish I had had the courage to earn less money and strike out as a fiction writer earlier. I had no clue how to do that. I probably needed the confidence of an earlier career and experiences to tackle writing well – to the extent that I do that.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who make excuses or complain a lot. Generally, people with many challenges find ways to overcome at least some of them. People who fret a lot are looking for excuses for life to be easier.
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Cold water, shade, and a good book. I’m tempted to say chocolate, but I have pretty much traded seltzer water for sweets the last few years. Wait, can I have four? I would need a pen to jot notes in the books margins because all books bring new ideas.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I’ve been a babysitter, secretary, program analyst, telephone sales person, editor…I could go on for a page. I think because my parents were such positive people, I’ve been able to find things I like in any job. What’s hard is when people above you are overly controlling. When you let people think for themselves, work is better.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
I mentioned Harper Lee’s books. Three that I have reread a lot are Pompeii by Robert Harris, Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva, and Children of Men by P.D. James. I have not read nearly enough classic mysteries.
Ocean or mountains?
City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
City woman, mostly.
What’s on the horizon for you?
I’ll keep writing, probably more cozy mysteries, but also more character-based stories. I think there is discovery in all books, not just mysteries.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I’m close to my family and have numerous friends, many of the latter I’ve met through volunteer work. It takes time to maintain relationships. All of my books feature friends. It’s worth the time to acquire and keep them.
The Unexpected Resolution
A Jolie Gentil Cozy Mystery, Book 10
A midnight gathering, Army veterans who face repercussions of two different wars, and a startling wedding guest. Wedding days don't usually pack as big a surprise as Jolie and Scoobie's New Year's Eve nuptials. Scoobie never knew much about his family -- and after the way he grew up, who could blame him for liking it that way? A 9-1-1 call during the wedding changes everything. Jolie has to help Scoobie figure out what he wants to know, and determine who seems to want someone in his family dead. Knowing more about Scoobie's past could change their future together.