I miss Emilie! When I lived in Virginia, we got together regularly to talk and laugh, eat wonderful food (which Emilie usually made; she’s an amazing cook), and most importantly, brainstorm our works-in-progress. We knew each other’s books almost as well as we did our own. I left Virginia for North Carolina four years ago, and although Emilie and I are no longer able to break bread together on a regular basis, we stay in close touch via email and, of course, we read each other’s books. People often ask me something like “Help! I’ve read all your books! What author should I read while waiting for your next book to come out?” Invariably, I suggest Emilie, and not just because she’s my bud. You’ll see from my interview questions and her answers just how similar we are, both as writers and as women.
Like me, Emilie has an active blog. She’s inventive at coming up with contests and here’s something you’re going to love: Mira Books, the publisher we both write for, is offering a coupon for $1.50 off Emilie’s new release, Happiness Key. In addition, you have a chance to win a copy of Sister’s Choice, Emilie’s 2008 release, simply by commenting on this post. I’ll pick one of your comments at random on July 5th. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Emilie!
1. I believe that our books are similar in many ways and that readers who love my books will also love yours. I know I can’t wait to get my hands on your new novel, Happiness Key. Can you tell my readers a bit about it?
I’ve always wanted to write a friendship novel. Characters in other books I’ve written have had important friends, of course, but I’d never written a novel that focuses on the way women find and support each other, sometimes under the unlikeliest conditions. Happiness Key is the story of four very different women thrown together in the same shabby beachfront community, then thrown even closer together to solve the mystery of an old man who died in the fifth house in their tiny “development.” Each of them is confronting something momentous in her personal life and convinced that she is alone with her problem. Those bleakest of moments, of course, are where friendship comes in, both in novels and in real life.
2. What would you say is the central theme in Happiness Key? Do most of your books share the same thematic elements?
Happiness Key is about preconceptions and the way we let them guide us when they shouldn’t. The women of Happiness Key–which is the name of the development–are determined not to like each other, and there are other people in their lives that they’ve discounted or even accepted without question when they shouldn’t have. Although this isn’t a new theme–Iron Lace, one of my first single titles, explored prejudice over a century in New Orleans–I’d say the major theme of most of my novels is family secrets and the way they infect and affect us until we acknowledge and deal with them. Of course Happiness Key has a strong thread of this, as well.
3. The role of friendship between women plays an important part of the story in Happiness Key, and I feel very fortunate to count you among my friends. Can you talk about the importance of friendship in your own life and how it influences your writing?
I feel fortunate to count you among my friends, as well, and fortunate, too, to have other writers who are important to me. Sharing hopes and defeats with someone who really understands is a huge gift. But it’s also been extremely valuable in another way. Most of the friends I make in my church or neighborhood have similar attitudes and beliefs about the things that are important to me. But my writer friends are all over the map on those issues, and that’s been eye-opening and broadening. Like the characters in my story, it’s helped me learn what to really value and what to discount.
4. What were the special challenges in writing about four women who are so different from one another? Do you relate to one of these women more than the others? Did you find it difficult to write from the point of view of the Indian character, Janya, since she comes from a culture so unlike your own?
Having very different characters and points of view is challenging, but it’s never boring. I decided early in the book to give three of the major characters a point of view. For a variety of reasons Alice, the fourth, is seen through the eyes of the others. Although Janya is from India, I found I empathized with her struggles the most, so found her easiest to write. My daughter is Indian and because of that, we’ve always had more than a casual interest in her country of birth. That said, writing about a different culture is always a challenge. At some point you have to let go of your fears and remember you’re writing about one person, not an entire country, race or religion.
Although I expected Wanda, whose opinions are the most different from my own, to be the hardest, she was such a hoot I looked forward to her scenes the most. Tracy, whose pampered life was probably the most foreign to me, turned out to be the most complex and in some ways the most interesting. We were a match made in heaven. She needed to grow and I was more than happy to help her.
For fun I put together a Facebook quiz that anybody can take to find out which character in Happiness Key they are most like. I’ve taken it twice with two different answers, (Janya and Alice) which just goes to show that there’s always a little of the author in every character she writes.
5. Was it difficult to tear yourself away from Virginia to Florida in creating a setting for Happiness Key? What research, other than setting, did you need to do while writing this new book?
I don’t feel the Shenandoah Album series is complete, so it was tough at first to move to Florida–where I actually grew up. But once I “moved” there, I had a ball. There was indeed–as you know from your books–a ton of research, from detailing Florida laws on everything from conservation to driver’s licenses, research on India, Hinduism, arranged marriages, strokes, the Miami-Dade police force, shuffleboard and many etcs. Luckily research is a little like solving a mystery and fun because of it.
6. You’ve written five books in the extremely popular Shenandoah Album series, inspired by your love of quilting. Are you starting a new series of linked books with Happiness Key? If there are readers who wish you would continue the Shenandoah Album series, can you reassure them that they’ll find happiness in Happiness Key?
I hope to write a sixth book in the Shenandoah Album series someday, but that will depend on my publisher, who is very committed right now to Happiness Key and to Fortunate Harbor, the sequel, which I’m working on now. In the meantime, though, I truly believe my Shenandoah Album readers will enjoy this new series, too, just the way I enjoyed writing it. In the end, it’s an Emilie Richards novel, and if they like my writing, they’ll like these novels.
7. You are incredibly prolific! Somehow, you manage to find time to write an entirely different series of books–mysteries–while working on your women’s fiction. Can you tell my readers a little about your Ministry is Murder mysteries, the most recent of which is A Lie for a Lie? Do you need to wear a different hat depending on the type of book you’re writing?
Writing the Ministry is Murder mysteries came down to giving into the voices in my head. Aggie Sloan-Wilcox, an unconventional minister’s wife in a small Ohio town, just appeared one day and would not shut up. After several years of trying to tune her out, I finally gave in. Aggie is an unwilling sleuth, but she just can’t stay out of trouble–thank goodness. I don’t find writing two books a year easy, but I love the variety, love the traditional mystery, and love Aggie and her world. Sinking back into life in Emerald Springs each time is like hanging out with old friends. And though Aggie’s novels are a bit lighter and funnier than my women’s fiction, the change is such a delight, that it’s a plus, not a minus to write them.
8. I know that your marriage to a minister certainly influences your mystery series, but I wonder if it’s had an impact on your other fiction as well?
I wonder, too. Our church is very accepting of diversity with very few lines drawn in the sand, so exploring values and not preaching specifics seems natural and right to me. My work is not “inspirational” in the sense that the word is sometimes used in conjunction with novels, but I think it’s inspirational in a broader sense. You can’t live with a minister all these years, not be an integral part of churches and the lives of parishioners, and not think about life’s biggest issues and passages.
9. You’ve written more than sixty novels, an accomplishment I can’t even imagine. How do you think your writing has changed over the course of your career?
In the past decade I’ve been given freer rein to explore the subjects and themes that matter most to me, but even when I go back and read my older novels, so much is still the same. The way I express myself, the issues I tackle. Starting with say the sixth romance I wrote, I’m always pleasantly surprised that my name is on the cover. One thing’s for sure, it hasn’t gotten any easier.
10. There are some exciting things happening for you right now. Your Shenandoah Album series has been released on audio this year, and a couple of your older books have been made into films in Germany. What is it like to see your books receive new life in this way?
It’s interesting. I’ve learned to enjoy the process, and keep my expectations in check. I’ve yet to see the movies, but I’m glad so many people in Germany enjoyed them. I’m thrilled to have my novels in audio because so many people have requested them over the years. Personally I’m a huge fan of audiobooks and listen to them when I walk, drive and quilt.
11. What can we expect next from you? Do you have something in the works right now?
I’m working hard on Fortunate Harbor, then I’ll start A Truth for a Truth, my next mystery. In between I’ll be taking some time off to read, think and relax. That’s part of the writing process, too.
12. I know that, like me, you enjoy speaking to book clubs. Can you tell my readers how they can arrange to have you visit them, either in person or by speakerphone?
There’s a sign-up page on my website or they can email me to make the arrangements. I look forward to these sessions.
Thanks, Diane, for the chance to tell you and your faithful followers about Happiness Key. You know how much I love your blog, and now I can say I’ve loved being here.