For more than twenty years, Radine Trees Nehring’s magazine features, essays, newspaper articles, and radio broadcasts have been sharing colorful stories about the people, places, events, and natural world near her Arkansas home. She’s also the author of a book of essays set in the Ozarks. “DEAR EARTH: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow” was published in 1995. Nehring’s mysteries delight with their endearing characters, exciting plots and enticing twists. She shares her witty sense of humor as she provides insight into the craft of writing, what elements of storytelling define her and why writers should always persevere.
PC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
RN: An opera singer or an archeologist. (Hmmm, neither panned out. The opera singer dream was first to go. I didn’t have the voice. Archeology? Digging in the dirt? Well . . . .)
Getting a college education turned out to be quite a challenge for me financially and by the time I had put myself through college my interests had changed to art history and creative writing. BUT…much later I had a wonderful time learning and writing about archeology when preparing for A RIVER TO DIE FOR, the sixth novel in my Carrie McCrite and Henry King series. By the way, I still have the peculiar hand-hammered brass key I dug up in our back yard when I was about eight.
PC: You’ve been creating for over 20 years; do you consider yourself more of a storyteller or a writer?
RN: That’s a fabulous question and sure makes me think. I guess I’d have to say both. The stories bobble around in my head before I write them. You know, I believe most all of us are actually story tellers, and sometimes that’s hard because we can imagine dreadful things as well as wonderful ones. (Being awake in the middle of the night is good for that.) We can share our stories in many ways…tweets, conversations, e-mails and so on. Most of these stories, whether true or imaginary, are not more than interesting snippets. Far fewer of us carry through and choose a writing career, actually developing our stories into a complete form that others enjoy reading.
Children often play by using imagination to make up stories they and their toys act out. Unfortunately television and today’s technology have blunted some of this, but it’s far from a dead art. Long live storytelling!
PC: What do you think makes a good story?
RN: Characters we enjoy spending time with; a quest for those characters to follow; musical, clear, and entertaining use of language; settings where we can imagine ourselves as we read.
PC: What do you think makes a good mystery/thriller/suspense novel?
RN: A challenging and often dangerous puzzle! What, where, when. why, who, and how. (Sounds like a mantra for a journalist, doesn’t it?) A worthy adversary and a worthwhile goal, with lots of roadblocks in the way of the protagonist’s progress toward that goal. And, of course, the writer needs to help the reader believe in the goal as much as characters in the story do. It must be worth earning.
PC: Are your characters real to you?
RN: In a sense, yes, though of course I understand they are not physically real. When I am writing a story, I live inside each character as he or she comes on stage. I put myself in their situation and must understand how they feel and react to events I am creating. (If an author doesn’t feel the emotion he or she is writing about, then readers won’t, either.)
PC: You’ve said, “What fun it is to take those facts and the settings I love, add people entangled in problems and seeking answers to important life questions, and come up with mystery fiction that shares my world with readers everywhere.” It sounds as though the process is very organic for you. Do you outline, or write by the seat of your pants?
RN: I’m a “seat of the pants” writer. I live the story as it unfolds and, in a sense, discover it much as my readers eventually will. I have a general story idea of course, and definitely know the locations and their history before I start, since my stories rise out of real possibilities in a specific location and–though they take place present day–often depend on the location’s history. I do a lot of research both before and during the writing. But, surprising things happen along the way, what I might call “ah-ha” moments. I love that.
The villains are the most difficult, probably not surprising. In only one novel thus far has the villain I imagined at the start ended up actually being the source of evil happenings. The darn villains just won’t stay bad and I have to find another person to fit the part.
PC: What do you see as the influences on your writing?
RN: My entire life, truth be told. I think the longer we’ve been here on earth, the more we understand about human nature and living in general. We have lived through a great variety of events, emotions, and adventures. Carrie McCrite came to life as a women struggling to find independence and the ability to succeed on her own. The theme of independent and capable womanhood is still strong in all my writing, as is a love for nature. Then, I must say it: Reading Nancy Drew, and enjoying a huge number of mystery authors, Nancy until now.
PC: What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing? Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?
RN: Writing is FUN. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and, I admit, pride. (If I weren’t proud of my work and my accomplishments in my field, how could I dare expect you to care anything about what I write?) But, especially these days, the writing profession is so much more than the creative part by itself. In the whole, it’s a huge amount of work, especially with today’s demand for self promotion and communication with readers via the Internet. That promotion, especially learning to use all the technical stuff, isn’t always so much fun because I’d rather be working on the next Carrie and Henry novel than learning technical manipulation.
I just plain enjoy working and creating with words. Thank goodness much of the promotion part is something like answering these questions. . . working with words.
PC: What advice would you share for aspiring writers? What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
RN: BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND YOUR MESSAGE.
Don’t bother thinking about a career as a writer unless you really have a passion for it! (Having a trust fund or a spouse with a good job also helps.) Care enough to learn a command of language and how to write it correctly. Writing is a profession, so learn that profession as you would any other. Understand up front that you must write and re-write and accept criticism, much of it valid. Stick to seeking publication through rejections and discouraging days. The successful writer is not always the best one. It’s the one who wouldn’t give up.
PC: What cautionary advice do you have for writers? (And don’ts of the business that they may not be aware of.)
RN: Be open to change. Don’t raise a mental wall against new forms of publishing and methods of gaining readers once you are published. The entire writing/publishing profession is in a stage of flux (if not turmoil) today, partly because of new creative technology and the ability to read books on a small screen. Times are tough because not as many books are being sold, whether to be read on paper or a screen. Economic conditions have something to do with this, and the fact younger people have learned to seek information and entertainment everywhere but on a printed page.
PC: What are you reading now?
RN: Re-reading Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and enjoying it as much as I did thirty years ago. What a magnificent plot!
PC: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in any of your books, articles, features or essays?
RN: I guess it sounds odd, but the answer is no. Though I might not write my first published pieces the same way today, they are suitable for their time and place. This may be “head in the sand” but I am content with the gazillion words I have sent out into the world. Widely varied they are, from poetry and essays, through feature writing about my beloved Ozarks, plus news reporting and today’s work as a mystery novelist. I consider myself so very fortunate and blessed to have found a degree of success and satisfaction doing work I truly enjoy in whatever form I have created it..
PC: You’re attending Killer Nashville this year, what do you believe sets it apart from other conferences?
RN: This conference draws a wonderful variety of talent and interests. There are many excellent learning opportunities. The best part is networking and getting to know fellow writers and readers from across the United States. In addition, the conference is very well organized. That takes a huge amount of work, and it shows.
PC: What are you most looking forward to attending at Killer Nashville this year?
RN: Of course there is a feast to choose from, but I especially enjoy Lee Lofland’s presentations and learn a lot from them. However, more than a specific event or workshop, I look forward to meeting people–both old friends and new ones I haven’t gotten to know yet. I also look forward to spending time with my publisher and editor at Wolfmont Press, who will also be attending. (I signed the contract with Wolfmont for JOURNEY TO DIE FOR at last year’s Killer Nashville Conference.)
Visit Radine Trees Nehring at: http://radinesbooks.com/index.html