Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Good Day for Sophie!

ROBERTA: In case you haven't heard of Sophie Littlefield, you probably will. Her debut novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, was nominated for a Mystery Writers of America Edgar award for best first novel, and is also nominated for Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards. Her sequel, A Bad Day for Pretty has recently been spotted in People and Woman's World magazines. She's on a roll!

Welcome Sophie! We're delighted to have you visit. Tell us a little about your character, Stella, a domestic abuse survivor who's now protecting other abused women. Where did the idea of this woman come from?

SOPHIE: I’ve been joking around that Stella is me on a hot flash day, but I think I had better stop doing that, since I have received a variety of emails from very nice readers wanting to compare gun collections. For the record, I don’t really know a thing about guns, besides what I have learned from a couple of delightful gentlemen experts, one a security consultant and one a hobbyist/hunter (thanks, Frank and John!) as well as some interesting websites maintained by a variety of colorful characters with vivid imaginations and, er, creative interpretations of the constitution and how it ought to be applied.

But I digress…

Stella’s based on a whole lot of women I’ve met throughout my life, mushed and rolled into one, and seasoned with a few revelations I’ve had since reaching middle age. Her voice and more importantly her dignity (and yes, I do believe she possesses – and hope I managed to convey – a certain clear-eyed, conviction-borne dignity) come from the older women I worked with in high school and college who were career waitresses, women supporting families on not a lot of money and dealing with the entire swath of human variety, including the penurious and advantage-taking and mean-spirited, who nonetheless managed to believe the best of people. Then there was a boss I had in my twenties, an amazing women named Ann Stunden who taught me that you can lead people with honesty and humor and mischief (and that sixty can be as sexy as thirty).

And I will say that I could not have written Stella when I was a younger woman. There comes a moment in your forties when you look in the mirror and go “not half bad, and I’d like to see anyone try to get in my way.” Oh, that was a gooooood moment.

ROBERTA: Actually, I've gotten to "know" Sophie online in a mini-writers support group we've had going since April. She is astonishingly productive, often hammering out 2000 plus words a day, and juggling writing several series at once. Sophie, tell us how you do it! How do you keep the words coming and how do you jiggle things back into place if you get stuck?

SOPHIE: First of all, I want to thank you for letting me join the support group. I rely on things like that more than I ever realized. So much of what we do is solitary, and for me it’s really, really important to have community. Since you are a friend of my brother Mike, Roberta, you know how lucky I am to have him to lean on. I’ve got a local crew of writer friends too – I check in with them every day, and without their encouragement I think I would have given up a thousand times over.

I’ll be honest – I have been working very hard for the last few years – harder than I hope to in the long run. But I draw parallels to small business owners: in the early years you have to knock yourself out to get your business off the ground. It’s not uncommon for people who start restaurants and shops and consulting practices to log crazy hours for a while – but for those who truly love their work, I don’t think it’s that much of a hardship.

I never, ever forget how lucky I am to be a working writer and that keeps me in the chair. Also, I truly, truly enjoy writing a variety of different styles/genres. I hope that it keeps the writing fresh – I know that it lets me exercise different parts of my creative mind. There are so many stories I want to tell, so many voices I want to try.
ROBERTA: In addition to the Stella Hardesty books, Sophie's recently signed a contract for a series of YA books. Please tell us about those and how (or if) that writing feels different than the adult mysteries.

SOPHIE: My young adult series – which consists of BANISHED (Delacorte, October ’10) and UNFORSAKEN (October ’11) – is about a sixteen year old girl from central Missouri. Not much of a stretch there, and I think there are details of setting and voice that have much in common with the Stella books.

But the young adult books are much darker. Hailey Tarbell is an orphan who lives with her drug-dealing grandmother and a developmentally delayed 4-year-old foster child; she is an outcast at school, friendless, and broke, and her fondest wish is to leave and never come back. When she discovers she has a frightening gift, all kind of mayhem ensues.

I never would have predicted I would write paranormal, and I love it. In fact, all my series are a departure from what I wrote for the first decade-plus of my writing career, which was mostly women’s fiction and literary. (Literary-ish, to be more precise.) In particular I never intended to write humor. Stella was my “oh, what the hell,” just-for-fun project. The young adult series came out of a discussion I had with my agent about what it’s like to be a teen reader and why paranormal themes appeal. Writing that series allowed me to go really deep with the dramatic emotions that marked my own adolescence, and it was a wonderful experience for me, one I hope I’ll be able to repeat with future projects for young readers.
ROBERTA: Your brother Mike has yet to set a novel in Missouri. Do you and he get back there much, and do you think that setting will continue to feature prominently in your books?

SOPHIE: Our family all moved away when we were young adults, so none of us – me, Mike, or our sister Kristen – has gone back much. A while ago, Mike and I went to a wedding of a high school friend, and we had a grand time revisiting all the places that were meaningful to us. Many of those have showed up, in one form or another, in my books – for instance, the Heritage House motel in the Stella books was a dive of a place where Mike worked for a while, and the giant paint can that graced a paint shop in Prosper before a tornado took it out in A BAD DAY FOR PRETTY actually existed in our home town.

Both of us have said that our town was a great place to grow up. Actually, Mike said it first, and I thought he was crazy– but now I think he was exactly right, and I’ve enjoyed getting back in touch with some old high school classmates (on Facebook, of course) and would love to take my kids for a vacation/research trip to the Lake of the Ozarks. That said, Mike and Kristen and I all live in urban areas and I doubt that any of us would ever go back to small-town living.

As for setting a book there, I am waiting breathlessly to see how Mike will do that! Hey, you’re in his critique group – tell him I said to get on it!

Thanks so much, Roberta, for having me!

Thanks for being here Sophie! Read more about her books at her website. And now the floor is open for comments and questions....


  1. Thanks for the interview, Junglered! Sophie, congratulations on your success from a fellow Missourian! (Go Mizzou!) I hadn't likened the long hours I'm putting in on my own work to starting a small business, but I love that analogy. I, too, love writing and although I hope it will pay off in future publications, I'd do it anyway. Like you, I feel very lucky to practice my passion!
    Can't wait to read your book. I'm ordering it today. :)

  2. Hey Sophie! ( And Hi Rebbie!)

    What a treat to have you's been such fun to watch your career skyrocket! I think I remember you at--CrimeBake? Years ago? And it was pre-publication, and everyone was buzzing about what a good book was on the way. Fun. And doesn't the time just zoom by?

    So in working hard--how much of your time is spent in promotion? Or do you focus mostly on writing?

    Will we see you at Thrillerfest? And what's the future for Stella--do you know yet?

  3. Hi Sophie!

    Congrats on the relase of the new Stella. How did it end up in People? Did some discerning editor just pick it out? Did you have a publicist? Did Minotaur push it? BTW, I know EXACTLY what you mean about working harder now than you want to eventually. Looking forward to seeing you again at B-con.

  4. Back to Sophie's working hard topic: so interesting, Laura. There are days when I think: Is EVERYONE doing this??

  5. I don't know, Hank, but I've got to wonder how many potentially brilliant writers are going unpublished because they're either unable--by virtue of financial, work or family circumstances to promote heavily or write multiple books/articles/blog posts a year--or of a disposition that shies away from BSP and public appearances, et al. How is the literary landscape changed (damaged?) by the newish publishing model that puts such a burden on the writer?

  6. I know Sophie will be stopping in to join the conversation, but she warned us that she's melting in New York at thrillerfest.

    Such an interesting conversation. I know that Sophie and Hank and Laura are just a few of the authors who are knocking themselves out to help their careers take off. And so many others would give their eye teeth to be in that position--don't you think the competition is much fiercer than it used to be?

  7. Hi Sophie,
    Welcome to Jungle REd. Your analogy to small business is an excellent one. Congrats on the new book. I LOVE the covers and the series sounds like a romp (despite the abuse back story)

  8. Both booksn sound so good, I'm going to order both. I did see the mention in both People and Woman's World. Congratulations!

  9. Hey everyone, thanks so much for visiting! So sorry I have been AWOL today but I was in sessions and such at thrillerfest - I am having a grand time! Shortly I'm going to venture out in the heat in search of dinner. I'll write more tomorrow when I have a keyboard - hard to write anything intelligent on an iPhone!

  10. Hi Sophie, I laughed when I read your analogy to getting a small business off the ground. I've been using that line for a couple of years now to well-meaning friends who ask me "how the book is coming." Congrats on all the good things coming your way. You've obviously worked very hard for them. I cannot wait to read A Bad Day for Pretty! I love Stella!!