Thursday, January 12, 2017

Interview with Author Penny Richards


1. What really inspired you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and conveying it into a book?
When I first sold in 1983, it was the  heyday of romance, and the genre was very good to me. But after several years it became harder and harder to put the words on paper.  I'd been pushing really hard and there was nothing left in the well. I felt I had nothing else to say.  There were other creative endeavors  I wanted to pursue, so I took a break and  opened a bed and breakfast and catering business in a 1902 Queen Anne home my husband and I restored.  But a writer writes, and I couldn't stay away from it for long. During that time, I finished a non-fiction about the pitfalls of everyday life to a  marriage, and I started playing around with an idea I'd had for years, a complete departure from contemporary romance. It was a historical mystery about a  Shakespearean actress, Lilly Long, who becomes a Pinkerton agent. When I started researching, I learned that Allan Pinkerton hired the first female detective in the country and that he often hired actresses. That seemed serendipitous, so I thought maybe I was onto something new and original. I didn't work on it with any regularity, but when I did, I felt my enthusiasm and love for the process returning. I think taking the time off was one of the best things I ever did for me as a writer, and in the long run, my writing itself.

2. What is it about and whom do you believe is your targeted reader?
Lilly Long is a twenty-two-year-old woman  raised within the small world of a traveling theater troupe whose mother was killed by one of her lovers when Lilly was eleven. Now, newly married, her husband has attacked her, stole her life savings and left town. The two incidents force her to take a hard look at her life and how easily women can be manipulated by conniving men. She realizes that there are many women besides herself and her mother who, due to the restraints of society, have been taken advantage of and determines to try to bring justice to some of them. When she sees an ad for a female Pinkerton agent, she applies, and, using a bit of subterfuge and her acting skills, is hired on a provisional basis.

Her first assignment is a simple missing persons case. A young coupe wants to buy Heaven's Gate, the abandoned home of Reverend Harold Purcell, who left town twenty years earlier in the middle of the night with his family and the church's funds. When she starts asking questions, she is faced with suspicion and silence.  Heaven's Gate, rumored to be haunted, is exactly as the Purcells left it, including the bloody bed where some think he killed his family before leaving.  Nothing and no one is what it seems. Untried and uncertain,  Lilly forges ahead, using her acting skills, her  intelligence, and her hardheadedness to find out the truth. Her tenacity is threatened when she realizes she's being followed, and when an attempt is made on her life, she wonders if she's chosen the right path after all.

I believe that readers who enjoy both history and mystery will enjoy this book. Women in 1881 had few rights or opportunities to do anything other than the accepted roles, so the stigma of both  being an actress and a detective are hurdles Lilly must overcome in her fight for justice for women. The time period limits the methods she can use in solving her cases, since the forensics of the time were scarce.

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book? What should remain with them long after putting it down?
There are no new crimes, no new sins. We're dealing with the same things now as we did back then, only with far fewer resources. I want the reader to take away that when devastating things happen in our lives, the way we react can determine the course of our life. Someone once said we have three choices when catastrophic events happen. We can let it define us, destroy us, or strengthen us. I hope they'll take a page our of Lilly's book and  when things are falling apart, just pick up the pieces and keep going. Don't give in and give up. There's something to be said for good old fashioned stubbornness and determination and staying positive. Tomorrow is another day. This, too will pass.  All those old cliches are true. When I was in high school we had to make up a saying from our spelling words. Mine was, "Perseverance is permanent optimism."  I think it's true. Also, never let not knowing how to do something stop you from doing it--no matter what it is.

4. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers?
I'd say to take time to go places, do things, to put something back in the well. Writing is a solitary business, so the last thing we should do is to let it become our be-all and end-all, which is what I did for many years. Interacting with the outside world is necessary and healthy. If you start feeling that your writing is getting stale, read a different genre to get new perspectives. Write something different. Watch something different on television. You might just pick up a tidbit or way of doing something you hadn't considered before. Stay fresh and relevant. Nothing about being a writer is easy. If it was, everyone would do it.
5. What trends in the book world do you see and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
When I first sold in '83, there was a publisher on every corner, and a bookstore in every mall. Not anymore.  With technology at our fingertips, there will always be a market for e-books, but I still hear many, many people who  want to hold a physical book in their hands and turn the pages. I think it will be harder and harder to sell to a traditional publisher. For better or worse, I think indie publishing will continue to grow, and the competition for a piece of the pie will become more fierce. Back in the day, writers attended and spoke at conferences, did book signings, and the occasional newspaper interview. Our books sold whatever they sold and for me it was very good. Now, even with traditional publishing, writers are expected to have a presence on social media and do a certain amount of marketing, which I don't mind. I even enjoy some aspects of it. My problem is finding a balance between the promotion and the writing. In that respect as well as writing for a different genre, I'm definitely a work in progress. As writers, I think it's imperative that we do what we can in our area, to participate in literary events that encourage young readers and help them understand what wonderful worlds reading can offer them.

6. What great challenges did you have in writing your book?
The  biggest challenge was learning to write two genres I hadn't written before: mystery and historical. That's a far cry from contemporary romance. It's a more complex process, and I seldom found it necessary to research anything. I had to do lots of research for my Lilly books, which I love. I have a hard time stopping the research and starting the book. I had to learn to weave the historical information throughout the book and make it an integral part of the setting, mood, or character development, and not an information dump. This includes not just the style of clothing but the kind of fabric that was used, what was in the storefronts, the contents of a journal, what words were used during the time period, the inner workings of the theater and of course Shakespeare and the Pinkertons. I wanted the story to unfold as  a seamless tapestry of words and information. On the mystery side, I needed to learn to plant clues that weren't too obvious, to keep the reader guessing, and make certain the forensics I used were available at the time of the story. What I write now has a heavier emphasis on plot than a romance.

Another hurdle was that the old "romancey" language and the way that everything that happens is chosen to enhance the  love story. I think it was  ingrained in my DNA after so many years. I can't tell you how much I scrapped the first several drafts, but like Lilly, I'm stubborn, and I kept at it. I'm working on the third book in the series and I still  fall into those romance traps now and then.

7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
An Untimely Frost more than a historical mystery. It's about a young woman who has been through something that left an indelible mark on her, something that causes her to defy convention and dare to enter a man's world to fight for the rights of other women.

Penny Richards has sold more than forty books since selling her first contemporary romance in 1983. She is the recipient of several industry awards including a Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award , and the 1991  Reader's Choice Best Single Title for Dreamers and Deceivers, a mainstream book for Harper Paperbacks. Unanswered Prayers, originally part of Harlequin's Crystal Creek continuity series, was re-issued as a launch title for their Steeple Hill imprint and became a nominee for Romance Writers of America's coveted RITA award. After taking a long break, Penny reentered the publishing world with a series of five historical romances for Love Inspired Historical. Her newest project is her Lilly Long Mysteries , a series of historical mysteries sold to Kensington Publishing. The first book, An Untimely Frost , was released in  August.  Though This Be Madness is scheduled for a May 2017 release. She is working on third book in the series, Darkness As A Bride. For more info, see:

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby 

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