Today I'm delighted to welcome as my guest, author Terry Lynn Thomas
You say that you like to visit historic houses and cemeteries to look for ideas. Are "Bennett House" and "The Laurels" in your book based on real buildings?
The short answer is yes, Bennett House is definitely modeled after a certain type of house that you see on the California coastline. The town of Bennett Cove is loosely fashioned after Stinson Beach, California. That part of California was mostly used for dairy farming until after the war, when tourists discovered the seashore, and flocked there in droves. If you drive along Highway 1, you see these old farm houses from the mid-nineteenth century. And while a mid-1800s house won’t seem old to my UK readers, you have to keep in mind that California didn't became a part of the United States until 1850. I was always captivated by these houses as a child. Flash forward to my early teens, when one of my sister's friends worked as a ranch hand, and lived atop the barn at one of these old beauties. She truly had her bed and dresser in a hayloft, with no electricity or running water. (She had access to the main house for those amenities.) I spent the night with her one night, and she regaled me with ghost stories. I drew on this experience, and in particular, that particular farmhouse, as I conjured up the images of Bennett House.
You've relocated recently, but originally came from the area in which The Spirit of Grace is set. How much did growing up/living there inform your ideas for the novel?
My father fought in World War II and met my mother when he mustered out in Los Angeles. He and my mom moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and had a blast living in the City during the time of post-war abundance. And since I spent a lot of time in San Francisco (I worked there for years), it was really easy for me to picture my parents back in the day living their young lives in the city. San Francisco has its own unique vibe and it has always been really easy for me to imagine what the city was like during the war.
You've blended history with murder to create a 'gothic' novel. Is either element of the story-telling more important to you? Could you envisage writing a hist fic, or a modern-day murder mystery?
I love fiction with a “Gothicy” tone, namely an isolated place, a big house, the changing type of circumstances that provide an opportunity for mistaken identity, and a heroine that—unlike the old-school Gothics—actually works to save herself. These story elements resonate with me, and will probably influence my writing for a good long time. Right now I do not have plans to write a modern-day mystery, but who knows. I am open to anything. That’s the beauty of writing fiction—you get to make it up as you go along!
If I were to delve into a historical book (without a murder), I would do so during the time between the wars. So many social and economic changes were happening at this time, I could come up with endless stories. I have ideas about a series which takes place in the UK. Research trip! I do not see myself writing a novel during a time period where people are so connected that they do not need to leave the house, (via the Internet) or where people are so obsessed with their mobile phones that they need to read them while they drive (texting). And while I try to embrace technology, sometimes I become nostalgic for the days before we were so plugged in, yet so disconnected from one another.
This is your first published novel. Have you learned anything about the publishing process that might make things easier when it comes to publishing your next novel?
The main thing that I’ve learned is that I have a lot to learn! I have learned to be patient, as the process moves at its own pace, which is frighteningly slow. I have developed a deep sense of gratitude for those who read.
And speaking of that next novel, can you tell us of your current/future writing projects? The ending of 'Grace' suggests the possibility of a sequel...
The second novel, “Weeping in the Wings” is with the publisher now, and I expect it to release in August. This book takes places six months after the end of ‘Grace.’ I am in the process of writing book three, and book four and book five are percolating. Sarah and Zeke are such an interesting pair, I have no shortage of story ideas.
How much research have you had to do? Are you an expert in murder now?
My research for these books has mainly been about the historical issues. I’ve striven for an accurate portrayal of what it felt like to live on the California coastline during World War II. That part of the research has been so fun. When I start a project, I decide the exact time span the story will encompass, and then read the daily newspapers from the era. I also read the novels of that time, listen to music, and have discovered a passion for old time radio shows. As for the murder part, I must confess that I predominantly read murder mysteries. I started reading Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Patricia Wentworth as a young girl, and have pretty much read books of that ilk all my life. I considered myself well versed in murder; however, my stories don’t necessarily focus on the actual crime itself, but rather on the circumstances and dramatic events surrounding the crime.
To my mind, the act of murder serves as a literary device. What better way to find out the true mettle of a character? Each murder mystery ultimately asks the question, “What desperate situation would propel someone to take the life of another?” This is a launching pad for me, and it never fails. I also dive into other criminal acts, but they must be significant enough in their own right to drive my characters to make significantly bad choices.
Thanks Terry Lynn, for such illuminating answers.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Terry Lynn Thomas married the love of her life, who promised to buy her a horse if she relocated to Mississippi with him. Now that she has relocated, she has discovered that she can be happy anywhere as long as she has her man, her horse and time to write. Although she is from the US, Terry Lynn has loved British mysteries and literature since she was old enough to read. She devoured novels by Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Dorothy Eden, Agatha Christie, and Daphne Du Maurier as a child. These gothic mysteries captured her imagination, never let go, and influence her writing today. When she is not writing or riding her horse, she visits historical houses and cemeteries, hunting for story ideas.
The Spirit of Grace ~
The Spirit of Grace ~
Sarah Bennett doesn’t remember the night her mother tumbled down the stairs at Bennett House. Although she allegedly witnessed the incident, she knows in her heart that she did not give her mother that fateful push. When she becomes the subject of dark whispers and sidelong glances, Sarah’s family sends her to The Laurels, an exclusive asylum in San Francisco. Now, one year after her mother’s death, Sarah is summoned home. When she returns, another murder occurs, and Sarah is once again a suspect. In order to clear her name, Sarah must remember what happened the fateful night her mother died. But as Sarah works to regain her memory, the real murderer watches, ready to kill again to protect a dark family secret.
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