AUTHOR: C. Hope Clark
BOOK TITLE: Lowcountry Bribe
PUBLISHER: Bell Bridge Books, www.bellbridgebooks.com
Size: 6 x 9
Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble
and Bell Bridge Books
Why don't you start with telling us a little about yourself? What genre do you write in and why?
I wrote commercial nonfiction by day and mystery/suspense by night. The nonfiction comes easily to me, having written for two decades with the federal government, and also having managed FundsforWriters.com, a resource for freelance writers. After meeting weekly editorial deadlines for thirteen years make magazine writing and op-eds just flow. But I also had a mystery that nagged me, that came to me after an experience on my job when I was offered a bribe. I wanted to tell it, embellish, and make it a real mystery. That was years ago, but I picked away at it all this time.
Tell me about your current book which you are promoting.
Lowcountry Bribe begins with Carolina Slade living the life she’d carefully planned – as a bureaucrat making comfortable money with a nice retirement plan. When one of her clients drops a bribe in her lap, she hesitates, but decides that authorities need to know. They’d fix it. Right? Problem was, the week before her assistant had committed suicide in the office. Her boss had disappeared the year before, and now agents appeared on her doorstep immediately, wanting to deal with a bribe that didn’t seem all that important.
The setting is rural South Carolina, and Lowcountry Bribe is the first of The Carolina Slade Mystery series. It’s written in first person, with a bit of dry wit and Southern humor, but it’s far from being a cozy mystery. One particular aspect of this book that I’m proud of is the fact that Carolina Slade deals with the bribe, the deaths, and the escalating dangers that become uncontrollable, all as a mother of two children. The trend in mysteries, with female protagonists, is to avoid children at all costs. They interfere with the cases, getting in the way of the sleuth being able to investigate at all hours. I like the complexity, and these kids add great depth to Lowcountry Bribe and its sequels. Ivy and Zack are two of my favorite characters.
How long have you been writing?
I was editor of my high school yearbook, after serving as copy editor. I’ve always written. I wrote for the government for two decades. I’ve written commercial nonfiction and fiction for 14 years.
What got you interested in writing, and what inspired you to write your first book?
Writing has always been enjoyable to me. I don’t remember when it started. I just recall teachers liking my work, and co-workers and bosses asking me to pen material for them. Ultimately, I wrote congressionals, budget justifications, strategic plans, contingency plans, investigations, you name it. But the book was the result of a client offering me a bribe, and a friend asking me why I didn’t write for myself instead of just the government. It’s like someone turned on a switch.
Do you outline before you write? If not, what’s your initial process?
I have to know my characters first. At least the main half dozen of them. Then I determine the setting. From there I picture a crime first, and a personal problem for Slade secondly. I outline three chapters at a time, then write the draft. Outline three more, then write the draft. Guess I’m a hybrid of pantser and outliner. I don’t want to see the ending, but I can’t sit at the computer without some idea of how the next two or three chapters will play out. Of course I have to edit and alter things as they evolve, often going back to amend changes that creep in as I advance, but that’s the fun part of the whole process – watching it grow up and change. Once the first draft is done, I go back and start editing. I do this at least six times. The first book was tossed and rewritten from scratch twice. I still have the original manuscript of it in a box.
What comes first: the plot or the characters?
Characters. I love knowing my characters. I like being them, thinking like them. That’s probably why I write at night, when the world is asleep. I get to pretend without anyone watching.
Which of your characters do you love/hate/fear/pity the most and why?
I hate Agent Beck. He’s overbearing, arrogant, and an abuser of his authority as a Special Agent. I met a man like him once, and I can see him so clearly.
I love Savvy, Slade’s best friend. She’s sassy, mouthy, but as loyal as the day is long. You just know that her sarcasm and witticisms are a cover for a hidden insecure side, but nobody sees it.
Savvy is a secondary character, and Beck makes a minor appearance, though a potent one. But these characters are the mortar for the particular places in the story.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Capturing the emotion at the peak of the chaos. Chapter 27 has to have been written two dozen times. To write serious, deep emotion, one has to draw upon real life somehow, and that’s not something anyone likes to voluntarily do.
Did your book require a lot of research? How long does it take to write a book for you?
Lowcountry Bribe is the first in a series. It took me over a decade to write it if you include the rewrites. (Not counting the edits with the publisher and the agent, which adds another two years.) But a first book should take that long. I was seeking my fiction voice, and it took all those years to find it. The second book took a year, because the characters were in my head, my voice better defined.
My books are set in rural areas of South Carolina. My degree is in agriculture. I visit settings as well as study back up on technical or scientific aspects of issues that occur in the books. A couple weeks of research usually suffices for the purposes of my books.
What are some of the challenges in your writing process?
Writing nonfiction and fiction. FundsforWriters.com is my daytime business. When I have freelance assignments, I can’t begin to think about fiction, so I’ve developed an internal clock and habitual nature that tells me to write nonfiction in the day and fiction at night. It just clicks for me. I hate swapping the two. It’s as if they go against my grain.
Describe your writing space.
When I left the government job, we relocated to Lake Murray, South Carolina, where we built a house on three acres that borders the water. I told the contractor to place my study on the corner, with windows facing the water. I built my desk into the wall. The room is decorated and set up as a constant reminder of why I’m in that space – to write. Pictures on the wall of books, bookcases, a dry erase board on one wall for chapter brainstorming, file cabinets. I had recessed lighting installed over the desk. The chair and mouse and keyboard are set up with ergonomics in mind. I wear out a keyboard and mouse annually (literally, they break down), and I cannot afford carpal tunnel or other posture ailment, so I fight it best I can with the right equipment and proper angles. But I’m as far away from a television as you can get in my house. Soft yellow walls, beige carpet, cherry wood. Oh, and a futon bed just in case I need some zzzs. It’s my world.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I garden organically, and I put up the produce. I would love to homestead and do it right. While I make jellies, bake, cook, preserve and such, I am not quite Little House on the Prairie, but I can hold my own. My lovely chickens are also my entertainment. In the country, we have wildlife, so living out here is constant enjoyment. I read voraciously, love to jog, and love to constantly change the landscaping on my place. It’s quite hard to pull me away from home.
My children are grown, the baby recently married. My husband spent 30 years as a federal agent, and you’ll find us often on the back porch, often with bourbon, while I read whatever chapter I have in the mill. He’s my technical advisor, and often tells me what’s feasible in the law enforcement system.
What books or authors have influenced your writing?
Pat Conroy for setting and beautiful phrasing. Lee Child for plotting and action. Sue Grafton for how to carefully craft a mystery with all its red herrings. I love the characters in the Lisa Gardner mysteries, and equate two of them with my own. I appreciate the humor and tight writing in Janet Evonovich’s work. I enjoy Cassandra King’s Southern storytelling. And of course, I have a ball reading Charlaine Harris. She takes Southern mystery to a new planet with her vampires and werewolves. But I am always on the lookout for a new author to become fanatical about. When I read one, I want to read all of what he/she wrote. I recently picked up novels of Deborah Smith, an editor with Bell Bridge Books, and fell in love with her personification of the Southern woman. So I read three of her books, one right after the other.
What so you see for the future of publishing and e-books?
E-books will grow. They will become commonplace. In another ten years, we won’t think twice about them. I’ve been following e-books, even wrote a few, as long as ten years ago. They did what any newfangled idea does – introduces itself then fades as the idea has a chance to take root, and somebody has a chance to make a better version of it. Paperbacks faced the same growing pains in the 1930s, and they eventually took hold.
Vanity presses will continue to do their thing as they always have, running new authors through like livestock. As far as indie publishing? It will continue to thrive as authors become more entrepreneurial. However, I’m not sophisticated and knowledgeable enough to predict what will happen with the Big Six in publishing. They tend to resist change as much as any mule, but I guess big change should not happen quickly. The model for publishing books traditionally will have to change to keep up with technology as well as the need-it-now attitude of the population now. What I don’t want to happen is for editing to suffer. Editing takes time, and too many writers seeking that first book want to shortcut that aspect of the process.
What are your current books out right now and what are the books coming up for
Lowcountry Bribe, February 2012, Bell Bridge Books
The Shy Writer, 2007, self-published via Booklocker.com – An introvert’s guide to writing success that continues to steadily sell.
What is your marketing plan?
*Continue maintaining an active blog – at least four times a week.
*Tweet and comment on Facebook daily.
*Combine my speaking engagements centered around FundsforWriters with lessons about how to publish fiction. I’m attending eight events this year with more under consideration.
*Continue freelancing in the writing world. My piece this year in The Writer Magazine referenced my use of contests to propel my novel manuscript. I have a chapter in Writer’s Markets 2013 coming out, and of course I’ll mention Lowcountry Bribe.
*Answer all email from writers promptly and positively.
*Utilize my FundsforWriters.com platform to the fullest. I have 42,000 readers and four newsletters, and a marvelous group of readers who’ve supported me for years.
What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
Take your time writing, but do it daily. Sporadic writing sets you back. Regular attention to it keeps it active in your mind, and makes it feel more urgent in your life. But nurse a story thoroughly. I do not believe one can over-edit. Join a critique group and use it religiously. You need other eyes on your words, to keep you focused, keep you honest, keep you hungry to improve.
Where can people learn more about you and your work?
Facebook - www.facebook.com/chopeclark
About.me - http://about.me/hopeclark
EXCERPT FROM LOWCOUNTRY BRIBE:
Jesse drew me by my stretched sleeve to the truck bed, my face barely a foot from the nearest body. “There’s ten thousand dollars in it for you,” he whispered, draping his arm around my shoulders. “If you find a way to get me the Williams’ farm. We can iron out the details later . . . in private.” He winked and clicked his tongue. “If you know what I mean.”
Panic coursed through me at the altered state. Like hearing that your churchgoing mother liked bourbon straight and sex on top.
He’d offered me a bribe.
“Don’t be silly, Jesse,” I said. “What’s gotten into you?”
The Natural Resources Manager, Sid Patten, stepped out from the group and headed toward us.
“Just think about it,” Jesse said, his eyes on Sid. “We can chat another time. I got to get to the feed store before they close.” He eased his arm away and regained his six foot two height, sneering as if he’d won the state lottery.
A plastic smile held my composure intact.
His voice relaxed and amplified, the regular Jesse returned. “I only got a little over a thousand dollars for my sales this week, ma’am. As you can see, I lost eight more hogs. Need to know you’ll help me on this, Ms. Slade.”