Interview with Darby Rae

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

In 2004, I set a goal to write a book, but I had thought about it for years. I saw writing as reenforcement to my role as an advisor. I didn’t consider, until years later, it would be my career. If you asked my children, “what does your Mom do at work?” they would say, “she tells people what’s wrong with them…and then fixes them.” Simple, and not too far from the truth…I have been blessed with the gift of helping others improve their lives. Writing a book was the logical move from helping people one-one-one to writing books to help many. To date, I have four business/self-improvement books written. (You are likely groaning, thinking…just what the world needs…more self-help books. I’ve groaned too while browsing the bookstore seeing the latest Six Steps to This or Five Secrets to That.)

What inspired you to write your first fiction book?

About a year ago (March 2009), I was on the phone with my older sister discussing retirement. As we discussed her options for fun income producing ventures I was pitching the idea of her writing fiction novels. (My daughter had recently guilted me into reading the Twilight series with her, and I had just finished the fourth book. Fiction novels were on my mind.) My sister has remarkable writing talent and has easily read a couple thousand fiction novels alone. I shared all the (perceived) perks of being a best-selling author–traveling to exciting places; hours of solitude creating enticing plots and characters, inspiring readers to become authors, having fans, and going on talk shows. Fame, fortune, and freedom…what more could anyone want? Lynda’s reaction was…neutral at best, but in 30 minutes, I had completely sold myself…yes, I wanted to be a best-selling fiction author! That’s my retirement plan. The main roadblock was— in the last 20 years I had read only five fiction novels…four in the last month. My attitude toward fiction was admittedly close-minded. I believed if the story line was that good, I could just wait for the movie. Luckily, I have a stronger belief that busting through roadblocks is part of success—and only wimps give up because of them! (I should know—I have wimped out before.) Needless to say, I started reading book after book and falling in love with the characters, the story, the written word. This would be a perfect adventure for me!

Where do you get your information or ideas for your story lines and characters?

The origin for the ideas is different for each book. Merciful Law was an idea I woke up with. I don’t recall the catalyst. The idea for Killer Coordinates came from a business trip. Dandelions came from a friend and mine tossing around ideas for a fantasy novel. Once I have the basic story line, I will lay in bed for hours (before falling asleep, when I wake up, or both) envisioning the story and characters. I want to picture it as if it is a movie (creative writing for couch potatoes). After I have built the framework of the story and main characters, I’ll discuss the story line with people who have insight to the plot. This is my checks and balance process to be sure the story is believable, but not predictable.

While I am visualizing, I pull out and put in the main characters like a ‘Color forms’ game (physical features, personality characteristics, marital status, etc…). I should probably lie and say all the characters come from the successful and famous personal friends I have throughout the world, but most of the supporting characters are people I see at Wal-Mart or the airport. I just returned from a week in England. I am adding the train station to ‘places to discover interesting characters.’

How long does it take you to write a book?

At this point—too damn long…and the editing…that takes exponentially too damn long. I’m a recovering perfectionist with ADD. I have started several other books while working on Merciful Law. Fear (my agent would beat me unconscious with the manuscript) was the main reason I finished and released Merciful Law for publishing.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

Chaotic, thrilling, and vigorous…I have a full-time career, a family to care for, and an incredible amount of energy. My work schedule is fast-paced and I’ve had to sacrifice a few things to make time to write. I’ve given up cleaning the house, doing laundry, cooking, making my bed, and a few hours of sleep each night. My children groan while doing their laundry, helping clean the house or cook dinner. I tell them it builds character. They believe building character is overrated. After working my daytime career, consulting with clients, and fulfilling all my motherly duties (minus the above mentioned items my kids are responsible for) during the week, I typically write from 11pm – 2am. On the weekends I write early in the morning instead. It isn’t the time of day that is critical, it is the absolute quiet….no phone calls, emails, text messages…no interruptions.

It is well known among my children and their friends that interrupting me during writing time is an egregious mistake nobody makes twice.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I have several books started. When a story line pops into my head, I’m paranoid I’ll forget it if I don’t document it right away. It easily takes a hundred pages of writing to get the idea and characters solidified. The quirky part is sometimes I’ll pull out one of my partial books and read it just to ‘spend time with’ characters—as if they are my friends…is that considered a quirk or psychosis? (For the record, I do have real friends too.)

How do books get published?

I leave the final manuscript under my pillow for the book fairy (AKA my agent). A few weeks later a box with 500 copies of my novel arrives magically on my door step to sign and send to special fans. In other words, I have no idea—you’d have to ask my agent.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?

My first business book, The Forgotten Senses, was written in 2004. I didn’t begin writing fiction until I was 45 years young, in 2009.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I am blessed with a great family, incredible children and an abundance of friends (including many of my clients). They are more endearing than any characters I could write. My favorite pastime is spending time with them…and laughing. Simple, but nothing charges my batteries more than laughter! Many times I’m laughing at myself. I also have a great sense of adventure…and will try almost anything once (ipso facto, the laughing at myself ). What’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done? Can’t tell you…if my kids found out I’d lose all my parental leverage. I do enjoy pushing the limits of snow skiing, horseback riding, and scuba diving. In the next 12 months I will take a zip line tour through a Central American jungle and sleep in a hut the monkeys congregate around…anyone want to join me?

Reading fiction novels has become almost an obsession. Since my literary awakening (when my daughter and I read the Twilight series—thank you Stephanie Meyer), I have easily devoured over 100 books. Suspense, Adventure, Romance and Mystery are my favorites. My friends are convinced it’s my mid-life crisis. That’s depressing. I always envisioned my mid-life crisis complete with a sassy sports car, inappropriate clothing and a life-threatening adventure… reading books, not so much.

What does your family think of your writing?

Except for the increase in chores around the house, the kids love it. They’ve been telling everyone I’m an author, even before Merciful Law was finished, even before I thought of myself as an author. They make no secret that one of their favorite parts of my writing is the little time I have to cook. Instead of healthy meals littered with organic vegetables I used to torture them with, we order pizza or I’ll pick up Wendy’s.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

I was shocked to find out how much I love to read. Growing up I was high energy; always moving. Sitting still to read seemed like a form of child persecution invented by grown ups. Maybe nothing like The Magic Tree House series or Captain Underpants were available back then. That may have helped. Either way, I spent nearly 40 years reading only material I would learn from. I wasn’t bitten by the fiction bug until recently.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

Four non-fiction and two fiction are written and awaiting my obsessive editing ritual. I have three other fiction novels between 20 to 50% finished. Picking a favorite would depend on my mood, but typically it is the one I am working on. Business ones are good when I’m searching for answers, reinforcement or reaching for a higher level of thinking; fiction is great for escape, adventure or relaxation…and apparently dealing with a mid-life crisis.

Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?

Four suggestions, in no particular order:

First—never let the truth get in the way of a good story!! One of my business clients said nonfiction is about what is while fiction is about what could be. The what could be encompasses everything in the novel—setting, plot, characters…capabilities, quirks, fears…everything. Don’t let what you know limit what could be.

Second—read out loud when editing. While it hasn’t helped me spell better, it definitely helps to hear if the story flows and is alive.

Third—learn to enjoy ‘people watching’. I wasn’t kidding when I said some of my characters come from Wal-Mart. If I see someone interesting, I’ll follow them around and take in as much about them as I can. What they look like, sound like, some make it unavoidable to know what they smell like…careful not to make them feel stalked, though. They’ll alert security. Care to guess how I know that?

Finally—check your ego at the door during editing. After my editor’s initial review of Merciful Law, I asked her to go over her corrections and recommended revisions (page by page) with me. She was worried how I may react to her constructive criticism, but agreed. We spent hours belly laughing at areas I droned on, extraneous content, spelling errors, and homonym confusion (bear/ bare, tail/tale, moose/mousse…). Don’t take yourself too seriously. You’ll stunt your personal growth.

What do you think makes a good story?

A strong plot and tight story go with out saying, but there also needs to be conflict and emotion. My research shows readers enjoy stories that tap into a range of emotions…make them laugh, cry, afraid, angry…all in one novel. I enjoy surprising my readers with a blind twist or an unexpected flash of emotion.

Why did you choose to create books for adults? Why suspense-fiction?

The target audience and genre were not conscious decisions. So the answer is a big fat I don’t know. I did spend hours talking with avid readers about what they enjoyed reading; what they liked about their favorite authors; if they didn’t like a book, why; and what books would they recommend I read…and I read a ton! In the end, it may be a simple answer of I write novels I would enjoy reading.

If you were to write a non-fiction book, what would it be about?

It would be something in the field of psychology. People fascinate me, more specifically how their upbringing establishes much of their path as adults. I’ve read a lot on birth order, and while there are no absolutes where humans are involved, birth order (first born, middle born and last born) comes with many predictable traits. On my list of “100 things to do before I die” is earning my Masters in Psychology. I think it would be interesting to do my thesis (and later a book) on birth order and the effects divorce/blended families have on the conventional personality and identity traits. That involves analysis of correlation coefficients, statistical variances, and reliability factors. (Anyone snoring yet?)

If you had to write a book about a famous figure in history, who would it be?

I was never very good at history, funny I thought there was way too much reading required. To interest me, the famous person would have to be someone whose wiring was off like Edgar Allen Poe, Picasso, or Bach. Yes, I’d have to say I’m drawn to genius and insanity. Probably a good thing I never remarried.

Has anyone inspired you to become a writer? Who?

Hands down, my daughter and my agent. When I began writing, I wasn’t convinced I had what it took to write a great novel. I enjoyed the creative outlet. My daughter supported my writing by having me read to her (and often her friends) what I had written the night before. Her interest and praise inspired me to finish the story. It also instilled accountability…here I had started something and I needed to be a good example for her and finish it. (If you are thinking—yes, but it’s easy to impress a teenage girl…you don’t have one.)

Hearing accolades from my daughter was my initial inspiration. Having my agent read the first 100 pages and commit to get it published was the confirmation I needed to believe I could be a best-selling author.

Has anyone inspired your characters and/or writing? Who and what character?

There are so many people who have inspired characters. At times, I overhear one line spoken by a complete stranger and weave it into a character because it fits so well. Or I hear a person’s name or see a facial expression that sticks with me. Mitch for example, is a successful business man, but he’s a big kid too. So he’s ten or fifteen different people (including a few teens) that I know. I take that kind of compilation and push it beyond ordinary to make the character intriguing, but believable.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

When I was little, I wanted to be a grown-up so I could boss other people around or Barbie…she had all the cool stuff (including Ken). In my pre-teens I wanted to be Cher or Laurie Partridge (from the Partridge family). Clearly I had an identity crisis.

When I was in college, my mother encouraged me to enter sales. She said when you are in sales, nobody tells you what you are worth. You want to earn more…you sell more. It was great advice. Setting goals became essential to a successful career in sales. In 2003, I set a goal to retire at 50, but to do that I needed a passive income stream. I spent five/six years trying different avenues until I discovered my love for writing. Although many authors would argue they are hardly retired, writing offers financial independence and freedom a person never has working for someone else. To me, retirement is just that, financial independence and freedom fueled by doing something I absolutely love.

Where do you want to be five years from now? Ten?

In five years, besides being a constant on the New York Times Best-Sellers List, I will be writing from exciting places—a beach in Honduras, a castle in England, a cattle ranch out west…a hotel with room service works too. In ten years—much of the same—with closer access to bathrooms since I’ll be north of 50. By then, I hope to have the freedom to spend ample time doing mission work and inspiring others to realize their dreams.

What one thing would you want your readers to know about you, personally?

In my 46 years I have experienced many successes, but I believe it was the failures I experienced that really grew me personally. I don’t have any outstanding capabilities, I wasn’t a great student or athlete, my upbringing wasn’t extraordinary, I didn’t win the lottery, and so on. I have a firm belief that if I can achieve my goals, anyone can achieve their goals. The one facet that sets those who achieve apart from those who don’t is the belief they can. I have learned not to fear failure, but instead to embrace it as part of success. That’s clearly more than one thing, but math has never been my strong suit. (Neither is following directions.)

What would some of your best friends want your readers to know?

My sick-warped sense of humor is shared by my parents, siblings and children. It’s genetic. And I’ve had it my whole life. I’m a middle child so I’m supposed to have an identity crisis, but instead I’m a Gemini, so I have two identity crises.

What are some of your goals?

My biggest goal is to live long enough to be as much trouble to my children as they have been to me. I plan to live with each one of them for several months at a time…and be a terrible houseguest… complain about the meals, leave dirty laundry on the floor, and not make my bed. I may even sneak out of the house so they wonder where I am (not that any of my kids have ever done those things to me.)

That’s my long-term goal…and it may take me past 100 years on this earth to achieve it…but I’m committed! I plan to live to be 110. Also on my list of things to learn are flying a helicopter and learn to salsa (dance). I’ll wait until I’m about 70 to learn both—half the fun will be horrifying my instructors, my children and as many members of the general public as possible… I’m choosing a dance class that has a public recital…maybe something at the local shopping mall.

Other than tormenting my children and horrifying the public, I want to leave a legacy of literature and inspire everyone I can to chase their dreams.

Comments

  1. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  2. Anissa Palmer says

    I appreciate your transitions and readability. I have been writing for Seeking Writers, and they pay me to put together blog posts like yours, and content articles. I usually make $100-$200 writing a couple of hours daily.
    Judging by your skill with the written word, you may enjoy doing the same.

  3. Brad Meijer says

    Your suggestions for new writers are quite good, especially not to take ourselves too seriously. Even if someone doesn’t like our work, it doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Then again, it doesn’t mean it is. Ha Ha.

    • Yes, of course…there is that. If someone doesn’t like my book, I just tell myself it isn’t for them. After all, I don’t enjoy historical fiction, but that doesn’t mean Clive Cussler isn’t a fantastic author, right?

  4. You have wonderful bio and I always visit your blog. It looks like you really enjoy what you are doing and your humor is quite engaging. Keep up the fantastic work.

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