Welcome to author Lesley St. James who took time away from her summer fun to answer a few questions for us.
Describe your favorite writing spot or space.
My favorite writing space is my bed. I love to put a bunch of pillows behind my back and one on my lap for my laptop. As a teen, I always did my homework on my bed, and I think the habit just stuck. I hate working at a desk, and I loathe hard chairs, so my bed is really the perfect spot for me.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
In the summer, I write for four to six hours a day. During the school year, I try to write for an hour and a half every morning, but it’s not always possible. As an English teacher, my paper grading load is sometimes overwhelming, and I often have to put writing on the back burner. I’m a morning person, and my best time for writing is between 7:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. When I’m on retreat, however, I’ll start writing at 7:00 a.m. and stop at 10:00 p.m., only breaking for meals and short walks.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have three partially finished works currently. One is the third Jill Cooksey novel, one is a satirical cozy mystery, and one is my thriller.
What comes first for you, the plot or characters?
It really depends on the project. Jill Cooksey emerged before the plot of The Sweet Scent of Death. I really wanted to tell the story of a young woman working in PR, trying to make a living in New York with all its challenges, who has to solve a murder to save her career. Jill was very real to me from the beginning. Death of a Dolly Waggler was the same. I knew the characters before I ever figured out the plot. My thriller, on the other hand, started with a plot idea, and I’ve had to figure out the characters that will make the story happen. It’s a very different process. I love it when the characters just come to me and beg me to tell their story, but that doesn’t always happen.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I’m an amateur genealogist, so I often go to my family tree to look for interesting names. There are around 8,000 people in my family tree currently, so I have a lot to choose from. But family tree names don’t always work. Sometimes I just use names I like or names that seem appropriate to the character. For instance, in The Sweet Scent of Death, Hoss Buckworth is a Texas billionaire, so the name just fits him perfectly. I call that the Charles Dickens school of character naming.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
The hardest thing about writing characters from the opposite sex is making the dialogue seem believable. I want to make sure that I’m making men say what men would actually say, not what I as a woman would like a man to say. Those are very different things.
Were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one? For how long?
I’m still a part-time writer, but I am very much looking forward to the day I can write full-time.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
My spirit animal used to be a sloth because it took me twenty years to publish The Sweet Scent of Death, but now my spirit animal is a fox. I’m much swifter than I used to be and a lot more cunning.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I have a troubled relationship with hyphenated words. I’m constantly looking up words to see if they’re hyphenated. I don’t think there was ever a hyphenated word on a spelling test in school, so either the education system let me down or someone invented a time machine, went back in time, and added a ton of hyphenated words to the language. I favor the time travel theory. Wait, is time travel hyphenated?
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I never regret money I spend on writers retreats because I’m always so productive. Retreating from daily life allows me to focus solely on the writing, and when I have the freedom to monofocus really hard, I can be a machine..
Do you ever Google yourself?
I closely follow the old adage, “Never read your reviews.” I will gather positive reviews to use in ads and things, but I’m careful about the criticism that I expose myself to. For that reason, I don’t Google myself. Someone once told me, “Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business.” Taking that to heart has been very helpful for my personal happiness.
Lesley St. James began her career in film and television before moving to public relations and then to education. A devoted, lifelong reader of mysteries, she always knew the kind of books she would write. When she’s not writing or teaching writing, Lesley enjoys traveling, movies, and genealogy. She resides in Virginia with her husband, Matthew.
Lesley is the author of The Jill Cooksey Mysteries, a series about a PR professional whose clients never fail to misbehave but whose friends always have her back. With the help of her PR Posse, Jill takes on clients, criminals, and the New York dating scene. It’s hard to say which is worse.