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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Author Interview: Charlotte Hughes

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Charlotte Hughes, whose latest book in her CRAZY series, Nutcase will be hitting the bookstores next week. You can check out our review of it here. This series is about a female psychologist and all her crazy family, friends, and patients. The books stand alone, with What Looks Like Crazy being the kick-off book. Currently, Charlotte is working on the third book in the series, Hanging by a Thread.

I asked Charlotte what got her interested in writing.

"Most writers, including myself," she said, "were heavy-duty readers before they tried their hand at writing. I thought I could write better books than those I was reading. Shows what an idiot I was. Unless you actually write a book you don't know how hard it is. Also, if you find a book is easy to read, the odds are the author busted her butt writing it. It just looks easy."

Charlotte published her first book in 1987. "And, no, it doesn't get any easier," she said.

As a matter of fact, she says there are times during the writing of every book she becomes convinced she's not going to be able to pull it off. "Once or twice I decided there must be an easier way to make a living so I began checking the classifieds. The only problem is you can't wear your pajamas to work."

She also told me she'd have to check, but she thinks she's written about forty books. Her favorites were the dark mysteries she wrote for Avon Books. She told me, "I like watching ghost hunter reality shows because they scare me to death. I can be weird like that. Sometimes I get so scared I have to sleep with all the lights on." Her dark mysteries were like that, as well. "Just like the ghost stories on TV," she shared, "I scared myself silly writing them."

Charlotte refuses to believe in writer's block. "If I did, I would never get another thing written," she explained. "Having said that, 'stuff' happens in our lives, a death or illness or whatever, and it can steal your focus for a while. That's normal. But as with any job, you eventually have to get back to business. A good way to do this is to force yourself to sit in front of the computer for fifteen minutes at a time. Use a timer. It will be difficult at first, but sooner or later your creative juices will start flowing again. If not, get on Zoloft."

When Charlotte first began writing, she put together a lengthy questionnaire for her main characters and a smaller one for those who didn't play a large role. That way, by the time she started her book, she knew the history of the characters, their likes, dislikes, dreams, and goals. "I don't go to all that trouble now," she told me, "because the people in my head are as real as those in real life—which is pretty scary when you think about it. I think I must be schizophrenic."

I asked her what comes first with her—plot or characters?

"It's hard to say," she said. "I've never truly figured out the creative process, although I know the more creative you are the more deranged you tend to be. I start getting pictures in my head, and I just play with them. Sort of like having imaginary friends. Are you guys sure you want to go into this line of work?"

Charlotte's favorite writer is Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. "Not only did her characters step off the pages for me, she wrote an important book about racial injustice. I would love to write such a book—one with a strong message that will make me a gazillianaire."

Indeed, characterization is, to Charlotte, the most important element of good writing. "If readers don't care about your characters," she said, "they aren't going to care about your book. Hell, I won't even care about the book."

She shared with me that co-writing the FULL HOUSE series with her friend, Janet Evanovitch, taught her what she needed to know about writing her own series.

I asked Charlotte what her writing space was like.

"It's a cluttered office," she told me. "I have to do a lot of research so I have papers and books strewn all over the place. I could hide weapons of mass destruction in here and nobody would be able to find them."

She also has to work every day. "I am so easily distracted and I waste a lot of writing time," she said. "I couldn't follow a schedule if my life depended on it. ADHD, I think. If I get up from my computer I just wander all over the house. I've learned that the more you use your creative side of the brain the less you can count on your analytical side. It sort of shrivels up and dies. I have to force myself to stay on top of things like keeping up with bills and doctor's appointments. So I usually pay a bill the day it comes in because Lord only knows where it will end up, maybe in the trash."

On a personal note, I asked Charlotte if she really wanted a dog. "I have three dogs," she told me, "so I guess the answer to that is yes. What you need to ask me is if I want FOUR dogs. The answer to that is hell no." Two of the dogs she has are dachshunds, a breed she is particularly fond of. They are a brother and sister who are getting up in age.

She considers her strangest habit to be trying to hide chocolate from herself. "It just can't be done," she confessed.

I asked, "What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?"

"I've put many strange things in my mouth," she replied, "so I'd rather not share."

She also confessed that she has made crank phone calls. "But that was before we had Caller ID," she explained. "Now I have to go to a pay phone to make them."

Finally, I asked Charlotte what advice she would give to a new writer.

"It's easy to become overwhelmed when you think in terms of writing AN ENTIRE BOOK, especially if you have children and/or a full time job, as I did when I started my first book. Even now, after having published about forty books, I still have to simplify the project by breaking it down into pages or chapters. Set small writing goals. You can write one page per day or maybe three pages per day. Also, I highly recommend taking psychiatric medication."

You can keep up with Charlotte on her website, http://www.readcharlottehughes.com

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