Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Interview & Book Giveaway: Sandra Robbins

Today it's my delight to welcome Sandra Robbins. She's a former elementary school principal turned mystery author--her tag line says it beautifully: "Mystery and Romance--A Deadly Combination." Sandra's work, both exciting and faith-affirming, has been honored with a Holt Merit Award, a Daphne DuMaurier final, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence final, and a Romantic Times 4-Star review. Most recently, her novel Final Warning was named as a finalist in American Christian Fiction Writers' Carol Award.

Sandra will share insights into the writing life, tips for aspiring authors, and a tantalizing peek at her newest work. Plus, she's graciously offered a signed book to one lucky reader--details to follow. But first I must share the amazing story of how we met.

It was nearly a year ago, at the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers' conference in Denver, Colorado--elevation 5,280 feet. I mention that dizzying height because it was the catalyst for our introduction. Which actually happened . . . on the floor. You see, Sandra was unexpectedly overcome by a bout of altitude sickness at our conference breakfast. And I (always an ER nurse) and several other writers sprinted to her aid. I accompanied Sandra to the hospital and we had an opportunity to get to know each other. We discovered we shared (among other things) a literary agent--Sandra had just signed with Natasha Kern. We were already "family!" In the end, Sandra recovered nicely . . . and we'd each made a new friend. I couldn't be more delighted. And now, let's chat . . .

CC: Welcome, Sandra! I love discovering an author’s non-writing passions. Your college major was in piano and that passion for music has continued throughout your life—even as conductor of an adult handbell choir! Music and writing, artistic endeavors that are both disciplined and expressive. May I challenge you, then, to find some similarities between playing a challenging piano piece and writing a novel?

SR: There are two similarities that pop into my mind right away.

I began taking piano lessons when I was six years old. One of the things I learned at that young age was that if you wanted to play the piano well you had to practice. I have often wondered how many hours I’ve spent in my lifetime sitting on a piano bench and practicing. The same is true of writing. To write a book, you have to plant yourself in a chair and spend hours writing and rewriting. My first three books didn’t sell, so I considered them my practice time as I learned the craft of writing. However, you never get through practicing. I realize that every time my agent tells me what I need to do to improve a story I’ve written.

Another similarity I see has to do with emotion. Musical compositions have words, phrases, symbols, etc. to mark how the piece is to be played. The performer responds to these instructions in order to produce the emotion the composer envisioned in the piece, and the audience in turn responds to the performer’s interpretation. A writer wants the same response from her reader. Her means of doing that is by choosing words, settings, descriptions, characters with conflict and goals, and dialogue that paint vivid pictures and produce the reader’s reaction to the world the writer has created.

CC: I love that emotional connection. Writing romantic suspense (or mystery) requires development of two plots, the “whodunit” and the love story. Your books also include a faith journey. How difficult is it to successfully interweave these three distinct elements? Any tips for beginning writers in that regard?

SR: The word “romantic” is very important for authors who want to write romantic suspense. In this genre, the romance and the suspense must share equally in the story. Sometimes the suspense will be pulling the story along, and at others the writer has to focus on the romance. In the inspirational market there also has to be that faith journey. In romantic suspense you have a hero and heroine who are in pursuit of a villain. Their romance happens naturally as they share the dangerous journey toward reaching their goal. To me it seems so natural to incorporate the faith element into the situation they face.

For beginning writers, I would advise them to read authors who write romantic suspense to see how it differs from a romance or a suspense novel. The goal is to combine the two into one work that will please readers of both genres.

CC: I know that when I was writing mysteries, my mind often wandered down strange paths: weapons, poisons and all manners of mayhem. I would occasionally ask my husband to assist in “choreographing” action scenes. How does your husband, Guy, handle being married to a “dangerous woman”?

SR: I suppose he’s gotten used to it by now. Our son is a policeman, and our conversations often leave my husband shaking his head. I run ideas by him and often read passages aloud to get his reaction. He is my greatest supporter, and I appreciate him so much.

CC: Nice to have that support--and a law enforcement resource in the family! Your grand children have a special place in your heart. And I loved the funny story on your website about how your mother got her special “grandma name.” What do your grandchildren call you? Any budding writers there?

SR: My grandchildren call me Sissy. It’s the name my younger brother gave me when we were children. It became my family name through the years, and now I’m Sissy to my grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and even friends of my children.

My daughter is a writer of screenplays, but she put it aside to concentrate on raising her children. Now that they are older she is getting back into it.

CC: (Smiling) Okay then, Sissy, I’m imagining myself as a dinner guest, sitting at your lovely table (and near your amazing china collections!). What are you serving?

SR: I love to cook, but I don’t entertain as much as I used to. I suppose it’s because I’m tied to a computer so much of the time. At this time of year, you’d get lots of fresh vegetables, like squash, okra, tomatoes, green beans, and corn. My family likes the poppy seed chicken I make. And of course, you can’t have a meal with fresh vegetables in the South unless you have cornbread and lots of iced tea.

When it comes to dessert, pies are my specialty. In fact my French coconut pie was the hit of a church dinner last week.

CC: French Coconut Pie? We'd better move on before I start to drool! I loved your current release, Mountain Peril. Will you please tell my readers about it?

SR: Mountain Peril released in April of this year. Here’s the back cover blurb:

According to an anonymous message, a young woman is going to be murdered in the North Carolina mountains. When a body is found, Danielle Tyler is shocked to learn it’s her student—the third person in her life to meet an untimely death. Is she next? From disturbing notes and roses left in her office to cold-blooded murder, someone means deadly business. Detective Jack Denton—the stalwart lawman who makes her pulse race—vows to find the deranged madman, but Danielle doesn’t dare let him too close. Especially when death seems to be the destiny of anyone she cares about. . .

CC: What’s next on the writing horizon?

SR: The Columns of Cottonwood, a historical romance, releases in Barbour’s Heartsong Presents Romance line in September, and it will be followed by two more in the series next year. These novels are set along the banks of the Alabama River just after the Civil War.

Yuletide Defender, a romantic suspense from Steeple Hill, releases in December. It is a story about a newspaper reporter and a police detective who try to stop a vigilante who is trying to spark a gang war in their city.

At present I am working on the first romantic suspense in a series set on Ocracoke Island, a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. I vacationed there a few years ago and thought the setting perfect for a book. I’m excited about this series.

CC: You've been busy, my friend! Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

SR: Thank you for having me as a guest. I appreciate the opportunity to let your readers know more about me. I am so thankful that God has brought me to a place in my life that I can fulfill my life-long dream of writing. As I’ve said so often, my prayer is that the words of hope and love He gives me will scatter like seeds and be planted in the hearts of readers.

CC: Hope and love--I agree completely. Thank you SO much for stopping to chat with us, Sandra. I look forward to seeing you at the ACFW conference in September (Indianapolis, elevation 750 feet. That's more like it!)

For additional information, please visit Sandra Robbins' website and blog.

To have your name entered in my book giveaway drawing for a signed copy of Mountain Peril, please post a comment below.

I'll draw the winning name on Tuesday, August 10th.