Saturday, September 18, 2010

Guest Blogger: Vicki Lane

The winner of the signed copy is Iil (Lil?) Gluckstern! She will need to send me her snail mail addy (vicki_laneATmtnareaDOTnet)

Vicki Lane is the author of The Day of Small Things (coming September 28!) and of the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries — Signs in the Blood, Art's Blood, Old Wounds, Anthony-nominated In A Dark Season, and Under the Skin (coming from Bantam Dell in 2011.) Vicki draws her inspiration from the rural western NC county where she and her family have lived on a mountainside farm since 1975. Visit Vicki at her daily blog, her website or go HERE to learn more about The Day of Small Things.

A Minor Character?

“Why don’t you do a spin-off before you do another Elizabeth book?” asked Herself, my indefatigable editor, during our yearly conference at Bouchercon a few years ago. “A stand alone — a non-series book. Maybe about one of your minor characters. No Elizabeth.”

Hmm. After four books about Elizabeth Goodweather, I was open to trying something new. Besides, when Herself speaks, I tend to listen.

“I could do that,” I said. “What if I picked up where I left off in the historical subplot of Signs in the Blood? I’d been thinking it might be interesting to tell Clytie’s story – you, know, Little Sylvie’s sister. I could …”

I could tell Herself wasn’t interested. She was gazing off into the middle distance as she said, “Mmm, I was thinking about one of Elizabeth’s neighbors . . .”

That’s how Herself operates. She doesn’t so much tell me what to do, as nudge me till I end up where she wants me.

“A book about Miss Birdie.” I said. “You want a book about Miss Birdie?”

“What a good idea!” Herself exclaimed. “I can’t wait to read it!”

Miss Birdie is Elizabeth Goodweather’s eighty-something year old neighbor. She’s based on several of my own neighbors and is a gutsy little woman who reminds many of my readers of a favorite grandmother or aunt. A cute little lady who says ‘Ay, law’ a lot, she bustles around her kitchen making cornbread and dispensing local color. A wonderful minor character – but could I write a whole novel about her?

About this time, while I was trying to decide if there was an interesting past to Miss Birdie, my friend Kathy (the original of Sallie Kate, Elizabeth’s realtor friend) told me a heart-breaking story about a local woman. Now in late middle age, she had always been kept at home by her mother, not even allowed to attend school. Why? The mother had wanted to be sure that this youngest daughter would never get married and move away – this daughter was raised to be her mother’s caretaker in old age.

Building on this true story, I began to imagine what Birdie’s life had been before she was that quaint old woman down the road from Elizabeth’s farm – before, in fact, she was Miss Birdie.

Oh, my! As I wrote, more and more of Birdie’s past made itself known – from her early life close to nature in a lonely mountain cove to the raucous setting of a local tavern/dance hall/brothel. There was Cherokee magic, there was romance, there was unsolved murder.

And then, in the present day, Birdie emerged in all her power – not the cute little neighbor who seemed to sit around waiting for Elizabeth to drop by and bring her to life, but a woman of power – capable of risking all in defense of a child.

I really loved finding out more about this woman I thought I’d invented. And I’ve decided that there are no minor characters – in fiction or in life.

They’re all just waiting to have their stories told.

53 comments:

Pat in east TN said...

Vicki is a great writer and her books are always highly anticipated. Miss Birdie has always been quite the character in the Elizabeth books, so a book of her own has got to be a highlight. I hope Vicki's writing career goes on and on ... she is truly a gifted lady!

Brian Miller said...

excellent...thansk vixki for the insights into where your story came from...as a writer, i love to know...i look forward to reading this when it comes out...

Suzanne said...

"There are no minor characters." This point is well worth remembering during the creation of fictional characters. Even those who have walk-on parts in a book have pasts and are the protagonists of their own stories. A writer who is aware of those backgrounds, but exercises the restraint to not dump all that background into the manuscript, produces three-dimensional characters, as Vicki has done in her series.

Suzanne Adair

Vicki Lane said...

Good morning, Pat and Brian! Thanks for stopping by!

Isn't it the truth, Suzanne? I have whole files on characters who are just chomping at the bit to get to move to center stage. (There's a strange mixed metaphor!)

Elizabeth said...

So many things to enjoy in Vicki's books: a good mystery; descriptions of a beautiful area; characters who are endearing and interesting. I could go on and on. I work in a used bookstore and always recommend her books, and customers come back for more. I am so looking forward to the new book!
Thank you, Vicki!

Carol@ Writers Porch/ Book House said...

Hey Vicki~~~~ as one lucky enough to have read Day of Small Things,you already know I loved it! I'm hoping to hear more from Miss Birdie in the next Goodweather Mystery ???

Louis said...

Miss Birdie brings back wonderful memories for me. We were a young couple who moved to rural Middle TN in 1972. Our nearest neighbor was Miss Tennie (for Tennessee) who was so kind to her new neighbors. Years ago, Miss Tennie rode the school bus with the kids and cooked breakfast and lunch for them on an old wood burning Army cookstove. She had lived in Dee-troit but hated it so much she left her husband and came home to the farm. In her late eighties, she was still climbing into the hayloft to throw hay down to the cows. Her hair was flat black from home dyeing. She and Miss Birdie could have been sisters. Thanks for the memories, Vicki.
Mary Anne in Cosby

Elora said...

I'm a new Vicki Lane Mysteries reader. Having happened upon her blog, I "caught the VLM fever" and promptly went to the bookstore and bought all her books. No kidding! It's hard to pick out only one thing that resonated with me, she is such a good writer. But, Vicki writes as if she is serving up a fabulous smorgasboard of pinpoint character descriptions, learning experiences, solidly interwoven with the Appalachian culture, and just plain great pacing.

Want a GOOD read that will keep you turning pages long after your clock said to call it a day and you've got to go to work in the morning? VLM's will do that! Though I've not yet read her "Day of Small Things"...I've prepurchased it. Can't wait 'til it's out!

Elora

Tipper said...

Neat how you created Miss Birdie-but then when you decided to do the book-you discovered more about her! Hmmm now I wonder if your going to come up with books about other characters from the Elizabeth series-hope so!

KarenB said...

I can join the crowd that highly recommends Vicki's books - I've gotten my RL book club to read them and have started working on my online book club. Vicki has a deep and abiding affection for the Appalachian mountains and their people that flavors and enriches her writing while never falling into sentimentality or cliche.

Vicki Lane said...

Thanks, Elizabeth -- I'm lucky to live in such a rich in beauty place.

Oh, yes, Carol, Miss Birdie makes an appearance in next year's UNDER THE SKIN.

Yep, Mary Anne, Miss Tennie sounds just like Miss Birdie! (I'm going to talk more about those great Appalachian women -- my neighbors, Dessie, Mearl, Louise, and Grace in a post coming up in a few weeks.)

Thank you, Elora! I love the fact that my blog has brought new readers to my books. I heard from one of them this morning -- a lady in New Zealand -- the books she'd ordered had just arrived!

I'd like to do that very thing, Tipper. If Herself would just like to buy them...

Sandra Parshall said...

Vicki, you're not only a marvelous writer but a gracious and delightful person. Thank you for an excellent contribution to PDD.

Vicki Lane said...

Hey, Karen! I had a fun time meeting with your book club via SKYPE. I felt so tech-savvy (and you never knew that I was wearing fuzzy slippers...)

Jill said...

Miss Birdie sounds like a Very interesting person. I look forward to reading about her. Your post is very intriguing.

NCmountainwoman said...

I love Miss Birdie and I've often wondered about her past. I have already ordered the book from our local bookseller and can't wait for it to be available.

In fact, there are so many "spin off" characters in Vicki's books she can write a lifetime about them.

Kari Wainwright said...

I love it when an older person surprises me with the gift of seeing who they once were.

The fictional version sounds just as intriguing.

gkw9000 [at] gmail.com

Deanna said...

There are no minor characters. What a wonderful thought! I have loved reading the Elizabeth Goodweather series and have preordered this book. I can't wait to get it.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Hi Vicki, great to see you on PDD. Don't you love it when a character springs to life and tells you in no uncertain terms who she is and what she's capable of?

Your post brought up an elusive memory of a book in which a character was brought up never to marry but to stay home and take care of her parents. It might have been a mystery, might have been British, but that's all I can remember. Frustrating!

Vicki Lane said...

Thanks, Sandy, for the too-kind words. And thanks for doing the BSP thing over at DorothyL and SinC!

Jill -- now that I know all about Birdie, I look at all little old ladies very differently. (Hope Pearl is doing well!)

Absolutely, NCmountainwoman -- Clytie is one, as I mentioned. And Ish and Mariah, from IN A DARK SEASON have a terrific story. And whatever happened to Kyra? And Trish Trantham? And Elizabeth's father -- we never hear anything about him . . .

And the nice thing about Miss Birdie, Kari, is that it's not just who she was, but who she is today.

Thanks, Deanna! Those words are music to my ears!

Hey, Liz -- it seems I can vaguely remember several books set in the 1800s with that scenario -- that the youngest daughter inherits that role. Let me know if the title comes to you.

Liz said...

Always interesting to learn more about what goes into your work, Vicki. I've pre-ordered my "Day of Small Things" but will pass it along to one of my friends when I receive the winning copy directly from you HA! LOL!!

jennyfreckles said...

I'm going to have to read this book now. You've really whetted my appetite. As a Brit, I haven't come across your novels before but I love your blog and the tales you tell and the word pictures you paint. Even the name Miss Birdie conjures up a picture.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

What I couldn't remember might not be from a book after all. I've just recalled that I knew a real-life Greek family in the 1960s--in Greece, not transplanted--that included two unmarried daughters in their fifties whose job was to care for their parents, who lived to 103 and 104 respectively.

dana said...

It is so strange how one simple sentence can grab my attention and my imagination. While reading ART'S BLOOD, on page 80 I read "Birdie glanced sideways at Elizabeth and smiled knowingly" and I instantly wanted to know more about Miss Birdie.

Michele said...

I am looking forward to reading about Miss Birdie - she is already such an interesting woman, the possibilities for her past are endless.
When you say there are no minor characters it reminds me of times when I am sitting in heavy traffic, or in a huge crowd (which I try not to do too often) and think that everyone there has a story - its a little overwhelming, like thinking about infinity....

Vicki Lane said...

Best of luck, Liz G!

Bwah ha ha! Another step in my quest for world domination, jennyfreckles!

Seriously -- I'd be interested to see if there were some points of familiarity in the dialect. The folks about whom I write still sing ballads that came over from England and have been passed down for seven or eight generations. And they have some turns of phrase that sound like Dickens or even Shakespeare.

I suspect it's more common than we think, Liz Z.

Michele - sometimes I see a passing stranger and something about their expression or even the way they carry themselves makes me think I know their story. Or at least, that I could make up one to suit them.

Oh, Miss Birdie's a knowing little somebody, Dana. Just you wait and see!

Karen-ann said...

Vicki brings the mountains and all its neighbors to life. I feel like her characters truly are my neighbors. She keeps all the older ways alive for us who want so much to belong to them. Over our last winter storm, that left many of us in the literally in the dark. I introduced my husband to Elizabeth Goodweather. He read through the books with a passion. I told him when I handed him the first book. You'll feel like Elizabeth, her family and her neighbors are your friends and neighbors. There is a richness to the life in the mountains, you want to have the strengths of those who walked these mountain lanes before you.
I can't wait to share in miss Birdie's life. To see where her strength of spirit comes from and walk the mountain lanes with her....

Karen-ann said...

Vicki brings the mountains and all its neighbors to life. I feel like her characters truly are my neighbors. She keeps all the older ways alive for us who want so much to belong to them. Over our last winter storm, that left many of us in the literally in the dark. I introduced my husband to Elizabeth Goodweather. He read through the books with a passion. I told him when I handed him the first book. You'll feel like Elizabeth, her family and her neighbors are your friends and neighbors. There is a richness to the life in the mountains, you want to have the strengths of those who walked these mountain lanes before you.
I can't wait to share in miss Birdie's life. To see where her strength of spirit comes from and walk the mountain lanes with her....

Martin H. said...

Made it, at last. I didn't realise it was so far!

To hear how Miss Birdie's story came to life, is truly fascinating. I know fascinating is a word that gets more than an airing in blogland but, the process of character development, as told here, is an education for readers and writers alike.

And you're so right. There are no minors characters in life. Everyone has a tale to tell, which is why it's so important that families try to keep the story-telling tradition alive.

Victoria said...

Vicki uses words to paint richly nuanced portraits of the Applachian mountains and the people who live there. She draws you into their lives so adeptly that you eventually feel that they're your friends, that you've been in their homes and walked where they walked.

I can't wait until "The Day of Small Things" arrives in my post office box! (I figure I've got about twelve more days of impatient waiting). If you haven't yet read her books, you're missing out on something wonderful!

Vicki Lane said...

Thank you, Karen-ann! I often say that my books are a love song to the place where I live!

Martin, Sit down and rest a spell. You must be out of breath from that trip across the pond!

Yes, indeed, family stories are a rich source -- this book introduces Inez and Odessa -- aunts of one of my blog friends who lent me their diaries from back in the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties.

Thank you, Victoria! You know, I think my characters have a lot in common with rural folks everywhere.

Sheila Connolly said...

Hi, Vicki--sorry I haven't stopped by earlier, but I was somewhere else all day. I for one can't wait for the book, and it will join all its mates on my bookshelf.

What a wonderful picture! And it reminds me of my husband's great-aunt, who lived in Bluefied, WV--coal country. In fact, the coal trains ran about a hundred feet below her little house. She kept a full garden, and there was always a pot simmering on the back of the stove, and whatever she put in it tasted wonderful. And she grew the most incredible dahlias I've ever seen--the flowers must have been six inches across.

She was a lovely lady, and I'm glad to have met her. I'm sure she'll be in my mind when I read about Miss Birdie.

Vicki Lane said...

Sheila-That lady in the picture is Ona Blankenship of Pipestem, KY. (I think it was KY.) A friend of mine took that pictures back in the Seventies. Ona looks just as I imagine Miss Birdie.

I love how many people have memories of relatives or neighbors like Miss Birdie!

Vicki Lane said...

Pipestem, West VA?

lil Gluckstern said...

When I was a young mother, I camped with my family in the Shenandoah mountains and the Blue Ridge. There was something magical in the images for me, and your pictures, verbal and otherwise, remind me so deeply of those days. I am going to seek out your books to re-find a beautiful place in my life. Thank you.

Friko said...

Vicki, you write about your characters with such affection for them. You delve into the background and history and they come alive.
The same goes for the place where you live. You are a very fortunate woman to be surrounded by so much sweetness and light.

June said...

Indeed, I knew a Miss Birdie, too. I lived next door to her and we spent hours chatting and giggling over the back fence. Oh, she was wonderful. I never felt the fifty-year difference in our ages, except that she had such wonderful stories!

amom4life said...

I love your books and characters Vicki and I look forward to reading more about the life of Miss Birdie! Sounds most interesting.

pennyt said...

I've enjoyed reading the Elizabeth books and am looking forward to a book about Miss Birdie.

Marilyn said...

I love this post Vicki, thanks so much for directing me to it. I enjoyed hearing about Miss Birdie and how she came to be - how her life made itself known to you. Just wonderful. I loved seeing your photos - of yourself and also of 'Miss Birdie' and as always your scenic ones are wonderful.
Your words are so true "there are no minor characters – in fiction or in life." Something worth remembering.
I would dearly love to read one of your books.

Vicki Lane said...

There is indeed something magical about these mountains, Iil (or is it Lil?), and I hope my books bring you back to them.

Thank you, Friko, for the kind words! I do love my characters -- except the really evil ones. And I am extremely fortunate to live where I do. Truly, though, it's not always sweetness and light -- not on a farm. But I tend to share only the nicest bits on my blog, as so many tell me I am a comforting first-thing-in-the-morning-with-tea-or-coffee read.

The books, on the other hand, can be fairly dark at times...

June -- You too! On the 27th I'm going to be talking about some of the women I've known who inspired Miss Birdie. We were lucky to have known them, weren't we?

Thank you, amom4life and PennyT! I think you'll like Birdie's story!

Marilyn -- Maybe you'll be lucky in the drawing! If not, I know it's possible to order my books, even in New Zealand!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Vicki! I enjoyed reading about the development of your story idea for Miss Birdie's book. Hoping you are well and that you have great sales with this new release!

Maggie
maggietoussaint.com

pat said...

I like a repeating main character..I know where she lives , who her neighbors are, about her family...I know Elizabeth!

shirley said...

I always enjoy books about Appalachia and look forward to reading Miss Birdie's story.

Merisi said...

Never judge a person before you know her story!
My heart goes out to any woman "kept at home as caretaker" by her mother: I know more than one family where this has been the case, and at this day and age. Lives not lived.

My very best wishes for this and any book you wrote and will write in the future!

Ms EM said...

I only hope I end up like a Miss Birdie! I'm well on my way. As always, thank you Vicki for your devotion and willingness to share your craft in so many ways. My books been on "pre-order" for months now. :) I'd still love an autographed book someday.

Vicki Lane said...

Thanks, Maggie! From your lips to God's ears ...

Pat --I really love how many people feel like Elizabeth is a neighbor!


Shirley - there's a lot of Appalachia in all my books and this one is full of mountain stories.

Thank you, Merisi -- it really is awful -- I knew a similar case -- this one was engaged for about forty years and couldn't marry till Mama died. . .

You could be the lucky one, Ms EM! And thanks so much for the vote of confidence!

Callie said...

Miss Birdie sounds like a person I would like to get to know. We keep so much of our lives hidden some of it even from ourselves. I suppose that makes discovering another's secrets so compelling. I do enjoy reading mystery books. I'll put the book on my Christmas want list. :)

Carol M said...

Miss Birdie sounds like a wonderful person. I would love to read about her. I think it's a great idea to give her her own book. I know this is a mystery I will enjoy!

Vicki Lane said...

Hey, Callie, I think you'd like Miss Birdie. I don't remember if there are any chicken in the book, but I know she has a flock -- just take that for granted!

I certainly hope so, Carol!

Folks, I'll draw the winner tomorrow morning and come back and post the winning name here in the comments. I'll post it over on my blog too. Thanks so very much for all the great comments. And there's still time to be in the drawing, until there's a new post up tomorrow!

maría cecilia said...

I haven´t red a book from Vicki yet... but I do visit her regularly in her blog and so enjoy all hers post about her farm life, cooking, and whatever she is reading at the moment. She is a woman who does well so many things!!!
cariños,
maria cecilia

Marilynne said...

I think I want to read that book. I need to know how Miss Birdie got to be that old woman you know. The stories of older people are so very interesting.

Vicki Lane said...

Muchas gracias, Maria Cecilia! (If anyone wants to check out Spring and all manner of beautiful things down in Chile, I recommend a visit to Maria Cecilia's blog.)

And thanks, Marilyn! You know, when I was young, I never thought much about old women and their stories. But now that I'm creeping toward seventy, it's a fascinating topic.

So, I've drawn a name and the winner of the signed copy is....
Iil (Lil?) Gluckstern! She will need to send me her snail mail addy (vicki_laneATmtnareaDOTnet).

If you'd like another chance, I'll be at Buried Under Books tomorrow http://www.cncbooks.com/blog/
talking about dialect.

Many thanks to the Deadly Daughters for hosting me! And especially to Sharon, for setting it up -- you all are great!

Vicki Lane said...

Muchas gracias, Maria Cecilia! (If anyone wants to check out Spring and all manner of beautiful things down in Chile, I recommend a visit to Maria Cecilia's blog.)

And thanks, Marilyn! You know, when I was young, I never thought much about old women and their stories. But now that I'm creeping toward seventy, it's a fascinating topic.

So, I've drawn a name and the winner of the signed copy is....
Iil (Lil?) Gluckstern! She will need to send me her snail mail addy (vicki_laneATmtnareaDOTnet).

If you'd like another chance, I'll be at Buried Under Books tomorrow http://www.cncbooks.com/blog/
talking about dialect.

Many thanks to the Deadly Daughters for hosting me! And especially to Sharon, for setting it up -- you all are great!