An interview with Nancy C Johnson, author of 'Her Last Letter', first recommended in the ENovel genre in May 2011
Tell me about your book.
Her Last Letter is both a murder mystery and a romantic-suspense novel with elements of a thriller. Since I am a skier and love Colorado and other parts of the western United States, it seemed a no brainer to place my novel there. Of course, it was also a bit intimidating too since I live in Michigan, and though I’ve vacationed in Colorado, I’ve never lived there. But I knew I could research the area thoroughly enough to make it seem real, and it did seem very real to me as I was writing it.
My main character, Gwyn, is married and in her mid-thirties. As the novel begins she finds a letter written in her sister Kelly’s handwriting, a letter she obviously tried to hide. Two years earlier Kelly was killed by a hit-and-run driver. At first it was thought to be an accident, but then Kelly’s truck is found parked in her garage, the fender creased and blood stained. The police suspect Kelly’s boyfriend, as he disappeared shortly after her death, but in the letter Kelly reveals she was having an affair with her sister’s boyfriend, and is scared for her life. Both Gwyn and her remaining sister Linda have since married these men.
Tell me more about your key characters.
Gwyn is grieving for her sister Kelly, with whom she was very close. Gwyn is the eldest. Linda is the middle child, and Kelly was the youngest. Linda and Kelly were not close, and at times Gwyn feels that Linda isn’t all that sorry Kelly is gone. Gwyn hopes to get closer to Linda now. She feels some guilt that she didn’t do more to bring the sisters together. But Linda seems very closed off, more so now that Kelly is dead. Each sister is flawed in their own way. Gwyn is seeing a therapist, but isn’t always honest with her or with anyone else. Linda is moody and withdrawn and won’t open up to Gwyn. We know Kelly only through the memories of each sister; Gwyn’s is a loving memory of the little girl she helped raise; Linda’s is of a spoiled child who got into drugs and treated her badly. Each sister has secrets, and as the novel progresses they are eventually revealed.
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you.
One way I relax at the end of the day is to watch reruns of television shows I’ve enjoyed: King of Queens, Seinfeld, Friends, Sex and the City, and if I can find them, Monk, and The Golden Girls.
No matter how many times I clean out my purse, it always ends up full of papers: to-do lists, receipts, and other odds and ends. I would rather have a clean well-organized purse, but it’s just not me, I guess.
Like my main character, Gwyn, I love hot wings and blue-cheese dip. I don’t eat them often though. They are more of a guilty pleasure once in a while.
Can you describe your writing process on how to create a book (novel)?
Sometimes ideas will pop into my head unbidden. These I write down for later. Otherwise, I’ll sit at my computer, or use a pad of paper and pen, and try to come up with interesting ideas. What ifquestions work well for me. For instance, what if a woman hears an argument going on in a neighbor’s house in the summer when the windows are open, and then sees the neighbor doing something suspicious while she’s taking a walk later that evening. Days later, she notices the neighbor’s wife isn’t around anymore. From there I would keep expanding the story. Does she know the woman? Does she know her husband? How well? Does she start asking questions, or does she keep quiet and then the neighbor shows up at her door. Why is he there? What does he say? Does he try to explain away his wife’s absence? If the idea grabs me, I’ll make an outline and keep adding to it until I think I have a solid story that will work.