Please join me in welcoming Lynn Chandler Willis to the blog, today, where she tells us about her writing journey, some of her early influences, and some of the story behind the story of Tell Me No Secrets, her latest Ava Logan Mystery. Tell Me No Secrets is a tense, atmospheric mystery that gives the reader an insider’s view of the outside world encroaching on the near-mystical culture of traditional Appalachia. Add a cast of thoroughly authentic, very memorable characters, and a didn’t-see-it-coming twist at the end, and you’ve got yourself a long night of page-turning ahead of you.
MB: Lynn, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Tell our readers a bit about you. How did you come to novel writing? What led you to focus on the place and the people you’ve chosen to write about?
LCW: My obsession with books began in the 7th grade. Robert Luis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island was required reading and it was the first lengthy book I had ever read. I was mesmerized at how mere words could transport someone to a whole different world. After that, in 10th grade American Lit, we read a lot of Shirley Jackson’s work and I vowed I would one day write something that made students wonder what the real meaning behind a particular sentence was. I wouldn’t laugh because that would be cruel, but I would giggle. All of my books are set in small towns. From Wink, Texas to Boone, North Carolina, the community of small town’s appeals to me. My current focus is the Appalachian mountain region because of the people, the culture, and their way of life.
MB: If you were going to write stories other than crime fiction, which genre would you write? Why?
LCW: I used to write blog posts about life with my grandkids and the funny things they did. People would say “you need to write children’s book.” But I wasn’t writing for kids––I was writing about kids. Big difference. To answer the question . . . I honestly don’t know. I’ve always been drawn to crime. Not sure what that says about me, but . . . maybe humor?
MB: Your new book, Tell Me No Secrets, involves snake handlers, religious fundamentalism, granny witches, and journalists. How much research did you have to do to bring these elements into your story?
LCW: I did spend quite a bit of time in the mountains interviewing old timers and life-long residents of the area to gain insight to the mindset of the people. I did score an invite to a snake handling church but they backed out when my source told them it was for research. They’re not totally comfortable with outsiders, especially journalists.
MB: Where did Ava Logan, your protagonist, come from?
LCW: I created Ava as a means to share the crazy stories of publishing a small-town newspaper. I was the owner/publisher of a bi-weekly paper for thirteen years in a small town and know firsthand the down side of local politics, the drama at the community center, and all the things that are the heartbeat of a small town. I took my love for newspapers and the Appalachian region and created a character who understands the complexities of the area and can report on it with honesty.
MB: What advice do you have for writers looking for that first big break?
LCW: It’s so corny, but never, ever give up. Will you be discouraged? Yes. Have a good cry then sit back down and get back at it. Don’t fall for gimmicks because there is no easy road.
MB: What’s next from the pen of Lynn Chandler Willis?
LCW: I’m working on a possible new series featuring a former F.B.I. agent involved with a family with a darker side. It’s set, of course, in the tripoint area of North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee. My favorite place on earth.
Lynn Chandler Willis was interviewed for MurderBooks by Roger Johns.