Today Famous Writer has managed to get busy-as-a-bee Mandy White to sit down long enough to talk about her writing, which is sure to make her the Stephen King of the Pacific Northwest.
JK: Have you been writing for a long time?
Mandy White: I’ve loved writing and storytelling ever since I was old enough to write. As a child, I used to make up “bedtime stories” in my head as I lay in bed at night. I created an ongoing series complete with carefully developed characters, about a pair of sisters who owned a farm that had every type of animal imaginable and of course, hundreds of horses of every breed. I often wonder if I could turn that sort of thing into a Young Adult series and turn the farm into an animal rescue facility. Maybe one day I will.
When I turned 40, I realized that writing was the only thing I’d ever truly wanted to do and decided to get on with the business of pursuing my dream. I now write full time, writing books and doing freelance article writing for extra money. To date, I have three published books: The Jealousy Game, The Immigrant and Avenging Annabelle. I write poetry as well, and have considered compiling my work into a book sometime in the future. I have several more projects in progress, and I intend to release them at a rate of one full-length novel per year.
JK: Ambitious! Tell us more about your latest.
MW: My latest novel, Avenging Annabelle, is a thriller set in the area where I currently live. It’s about a logger who takes the law into his own hands after his daughter is abducted and he is unable to go to the police to tell them what he knows. It may sound like a typical tale of revenge, but one of the things that makes this story unique is the setting. It transports readers to Vancouver Island, giving them a first-hand look at the breathtaking beauty of the area and allowing them to experience what small town life is like in this part of the world. It also gives the reader a brief glimpse of the Canadian logging industry from an insider’s point of view.
I’m expecting Avenging Annabelle to appeal to a wide variety of readers. It has a little bit of everything. There’s a supernatural aspect to the story that should spark the interest of my fellow King and Koontz fans, as well as plenty of suspense, sprinkled a bit of romance and violence.
JK: Do you have a favorite word? How do you use language to differentiate your characters and/or settings?
MW: A person reading Avenging Annabelle is likely to think that my favorite word is the F word, and perhaps that isn’t far from the truth because I have a tendency to use it a lot. The language a character uses is extremely important in the development of that character. In Avenging Annabelle, much of the dialogue is filled with profanity, which I felt was necessary in order to make these characters believable. In this particular story, some of the characters are loggers, who are known for their colorful language, and the villain is a psychotic drug addict so once again, the use of foul language is appropriate. Foul or not, the type of language a writer chooses to use is an integral part of any story.
JK: What is your favorite book? How does what you read influence your work?
MW: I have so many favorite books that it’s impossible to pick just one. One series I particularly enjoyed was the Droughtlanders trilogy by Canadian author Carrie Mac. If you like tales of post-apocalyptic fantasy with plenty of action, this series is a must-read!
As I mentioned, I’m a long-time fan of both Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and I think a lot of my work is fashioned after that sort of thing. When I’m creating a scenario in a story, I often find myself thinking, “WWKD?” (“What would King do?”) I contemplate whether or not he would use a particular type of language or scenario. Essentially, it is his work that gives me the guts to go ahead and say it, spray it, or use whatever graphic imagery it takes to say what I want to say. I was a ‘shy’ writer for many years, and in my opinion, it made my work dull and unimaginative – a perfectly acceptable style for writing articles, but lousy for fiction. When you look at Stephen King’s work, you see that he isn’t afraid to go there, no matter where it is that needs to be gone to tell a story, and that’s what has inspired me to “come out of my shell” and just write without worrying about who I’ll offend. My favorite Dean Koontz characters that I’d like to see more of are Odd Thomas (Odd Thomas series) and Christopher Snow (Fear Nothing and Seize the Night).
JK: That is certainly some solid writing to allow to influence your style. Where does the actual breath of inspiration come from for you?
MW: I get inspiration from so many different things. All of my best story ideas have come from dreams. My second book, The Immigrant, is based on a bizarre dream I had many years ago, in which a creepy Richard Simmons lookalike creates a genetic abomination. I have another dream-based story currently in the early stages of development; a fantasy tale involving time travel.
Avenging Annabelle started from a scene I saw in a dream, in which a man was digging up a child’s coffin while the child’s ghost sat and watched him. That scene is now Chapter 1 of the novel. I remember writing the scene down, thinking I might be able to work it into a short story. Somehow, a full length novel grew from it. At some point in the early development of the story, when I was contemplating the issue of where it should take place, it occurred to me that it could take place right here, in the very neighborhood where I once lived.
JK: So geography definitely influences your creative process. What else from real life creeps into your fiction?
MW: My life experiences have provided me with a seemingly bottomless well of material to write about, and my rather twisted imagination has been known to take me in some unexpected directions. Most of my characters are based on people I have met, or a combination of characteristics from several different people. This is true of both the heroes and villains I create. Avenging Annabelle was very directly influenced by my immediate surroundings, and I found it easy to craft such a tale simply by drawing on what I knew. People from afar are so often amazed when I describe this place where I live that I thought it would make a wonderful setting for a story. There are several details in the story that are taken from my real life; for example, the characters Jim and Trish referring to baby deer as ‘transformers’ because of the way they fold up when they sense danger. Then there’s the bumper sticker that reads, “Hug a Logger – You’ll Never go Back to Trees”, or Trish nicknaming her faulty mini-van the “Anti-Chrysler.” I had a Dodge mini-van once that was the biggest lemon I’ve ever owned, and I named it the Anti-Chrysler.
JK: How much time a day do you devote to fiction writing? What is your work area like? Do you have any methods that might seem unusual or inspiring to other writers?
MW: When working on a book or any project that’s really coming together, I try to spend several hours a day working on it. I sometimes put the comedy network or a funny movie on for background noise while I work. It may seem odd that my latest book covers a rather dark topic, yet I wrote most of it while listening to comedy. I’m a die-hard comedy addict, and it’s reflected in some of my work, such as The Immigrant, which can only be described as a sci-fi comedy novella.
I find comedy inspiring because it makes me laugh. Laughter makes me feel joy, and that joyous feeling creates a tidal wave of creative energy. To be at my most productive, I’ve found that I do best when I get into the happiest state of mind possible. Sometimes it takes comedy to get into that state of mind, and sometimes I can do it by listening to a favorite song, such as “I Love Myself Today” by Bif Naked or my latest favorite, “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. When the weather’s nice, my favorite spot to sit and write is in my back yard. I have a wooden two-seat swing that sits next to a pond. The spot is surrounded by a huge grape arbor, and during the summer the grapevines cascade down to the ground, creating an amazing curtain of green leaves. It’s one of the best places in the world to be, and I do a lot of writing there, either listening to the gurgle of the pond or wearing headphones and listening to music.
JK: Ah. Color me massively jealous. The entire state of Arizona is on fire and there’s not a gurgling pond to be had. You describe Avenging Annabelle as your third book. Can you tell us a little more about your first two?
MW: My second book, The Immigrant, is reflective of one of my earlier efforts, written back in the early 1990s. I liked the story idea, but it was lacking in many ways so I just filed it away. I intended to one day include it in a collection of short stories, once I had written more stories to fill said collection. I resurrected the story and rewrote it last year, when I was looking for something a little more light-hearted to follow my first book, The Jealousy Game.
The Jealousy Game is a sort of self-help guide to bad relationships that demonstrates how seemingly innocent displays of jealousy in the beginning can be a warning of worse things to come. It’s based on a combination of my own personal experiences and those of many other women I’ve known, including my own daughter. I was inspired to write it when I saw her in a relationship that very closely mirrored one I’d had in the past and I was terrified that she might follow in my footsteps.
After writing The Jealousy Game, I was worried about being pigeonholed early in my career as some kind of angry man-hating feminazi writer when fiction writing is where I actually want to be. I redeveloped The Immigrant, extending it into a novella that could be published as a stand-alone story. I wanted to have another example of my writing out there besides The Jealousy Game, a book I personally wasn’t very fond of. The depressing subject matter of that book evokes far too many unpleasant memories for me. The crazy thing is, The Jealousy Game has outsold The Immigrant by twice as much and it has gotten amazing reviews so far.
JK: I’m sure a lot of readers have found something to identify with in The Jealousy Game, and I know that, as I reader, I look for a book to speak to me directly somehow before I buy it. Do you get feedback aside from sales figures? Are your family and friends supportive?
MW: So far, my first two books have gotten some great reviews, which I find promising, considering that my career as an author is still essentially in its infancy. I’m still working on developing a definable fan base, but I’m hoping that Avenging Annabelle will take me over that threshold and help me gain a solid foothold as a writer of fiction.
I have some close friends and family who are very supportive, even though not all of them necessarily read my work. There are some others who act a bit uncomfortable when the topic of my writing is raised, and I’m guessing it could be one of two possible reasons: A: They aren’t terribly interested in reading my work and are worried about being put on the spot and expected to read something they don’t want to, or B: They don’t want to read my work because they’re afraid it might be absolutely dreadful and they’ll be forced to either lie to me or hurt my feelings by telling me the awful truth.
JK: Those sound like typical family reactions: filled with unfounded fears! It’s okay because statistically most readers in the world aren’t related to you.
MW: I’ve gotten amazing support from afar, from fellow writers (and readers) I’ve met online and also from old childhood friends and acquaintances I haven’t seen since we went to school together.
I know how cruel critics can be, and I’m as prepared as I can be for the inevitable slamming of my work. I know that not everybody will like what I write, and that’s perfectly understandable. There has yet to be a book written that appeals to each and every person who reads it, which is why there are billions and billions of books out there. As long as my work appeals to the people who enjoy that particular sort of thing, then I am building a fan base and consider the work to be a success.
JK: That’s a healthy attitude, since writing is a long haul. Finally, the most important question: Where can interested readers find your work?
MW: At present, Avenging Annabelle is only available from here, but it should be on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major booksellers by late July to early August of 2011. (Update 7/2/2011: it's also available here!)
I don’t have a blog at this time, but readers can find information about my upcoming projects on my Facebook fan page.
JK: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us here.
MW: Thanks Jessica!
Also find out about all Mandy's work at her Amazon author page.