I’d like to thank Agatha Award Winner, Sandra Parshall, for being with us today. I’ve asked her a series of questions so we can get to know a little bit more about her as a writer and as a person.
Sandra, where did you grow up? Did your childhood contribute to your desire to be a writer? If so, how?
I was born in upstate South Carolina and grew up there in a working class family (my parents worked in cotton mills). No one else in my family read much, so I don’t know where my love of books and writing came from. I was certainly an oddity from an early age. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write stories -- I started scribbling fanciful stories on lined pulp paper as soon as I learned how to write – and my imagination operated on overdrive all the time. I didn’t care for reality. The worlds I created in my head felt more comfortable and welcoming. I think a lot of writers grow up feeling like outsiders and observers, and that’s how it was for me.
Where do you live now? Do you use that locale for settings in your novels? If not, how do you choose your settings?
I live in Northern Virginia, in a suburb of Washington, DC. This was the setting for my first published book, The Heat of the Moon. For the second and subsequent books, I moved my heroine, Rachel Goddard, out to the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia, which I felt was a better setting for the kind of books I wanted to write. I wanted a mix of strong characters – rich and poor, educated and uneducated, open-minded and ignorant – and Mason County, the small mountain community I invented, is a more plausible setting than the homogenous area I live in.
Did the inspiration for your characters and/or plot come from people you know, a specific place or personal experience? If not, what got you started?
A writer can pick up ideas anywhere, just by looking around and asking, “What if…?” The Heat of the Moon was inspired by a dream. Under the Dog Star was inspired by the Michael Vick dogfighting case. My other books are the result of disparate ideas coalescing in my imagination. The most mysterious part of the process, to me, is the way a story forms as I write it. Characters present themselves and events fall into place, often without a lot of conscious effort on my part, and somehow a complex story results.
Did you plan to write a series before or after you wrote the first book in the series?
I didn’t intend The Heat of the Moon as the first in a series. A series is probably the best way to build a fan base, though, and I love Rachel, so I was happy to keep going.
I have to tell you that I loved “The Heat of the Moon” so I’m glad to hear that. Can you name three of your favorite authors in the mystery genre and/or specific books you love.
Thomas H. Cook: Mortal Memory, Master of the Delta, and Breakheart Hill in particular
Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine: A Dark-Adapted Eye and Going Wrong in particular
Karin Slaughter: Fallen
What are your favorite things to do when you’re not reading or writing? Do you have any hobbies?
Photography is my hobby, and I love to be outdoors taking pictures of animals and other natural subjects. I’m also a gardener, so I grow a lot of my photographic subjects. Birdwatching is another pleasure.
Do you like to travel? If so, what are some of your favorite places to go and/or your favorite vacation?
I’m a homebody and would probably never go anywhere if I didn’t have to! I did love visiting Scotland, though, and I also enjoyed France.
Well, it doesn’t sound like you would use the money for travel so what’s your answer to this question – If I won a million dollars, I would ------
Pay the taxes first, which would greatly reduce the amount of the prize! I would invest some and give the rest away. When I hear about somebody winning tens of millions of dollars in a lottery, I always think of how much good could be done with that amount of money. Winners tend to waste it all, though.
Just out of curiosity, what’s your favorite color? Why?
My favorite color changes from day to day, probably because my mood does. But I always favor rich colors – deep blue, teal, magenta, coral. The room I write in has coral walls.
Describe yourself - personality wise.
I’ve been shy all my life, and I still am to a degree, although since becoming a published writer I’ve gotten over the worst of it. I’m not afraid of public speaking anymore. I’ll never be the life of the party, though. I’ll always be more of a quiet observer than a flashy type who grabs the spotlight. I like to believe that I’m a kind person, to both animals and other people. I do have a temper, though, so don’t make me mad!
Sandra, I’ll try to avoid doing that! : ) Thanks again for being with us today. Best of luck with your series!