Author is a lifetime lover of mysteries of all types, and her favorite novelist is P. D. James. Besides reading and writing, she is an avid gardener–with a fondness for roses and fruit trees, and a potter particularly interested in the high-fire reduction process. A long time resident in the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound, she now lives with her husband and assorted canines in California’s high-desert.
You are known for creating an additional character out of your locations; the depth of detail and your word choices bring them to life. Is this an intentional attention to detail on your part, or are you in love with the locations that you write about?
Locations are my inspiration. Inexplicably, certain spots hit a note in my being and I know something special has happened there—or should happen in one of my novels!
In fact, different places I’ve visited, or even just seen in passing from an auto window, talk to me. I know we’re supposed to only have five senses, but there’s something more that speaks to my imagination. In that respect, location is definitely an additional “character” and has a strong influence on my plot and protagonist’s decisions.
The hard part (no surprise), is bringing life to the location for my readers. The key I think is “experiencing” the place through my protagonist’s responses to their environment. What they see, hear, smell—and especially how the location makes them feel emotionally. My goal is for my writing to grow and improve; and this is the number one aspect of writing I want to excel in.
The book I’m finishing now, “Reticence of Ravens,” is set in a particular stretch of the Mojave Desert between Barstow and Las Vegas, and in the book’s Preface I try to explain how for me, behind almost every creosote bush, lays a tale!
You currently write standalones, such as Uncle Si’s Secret. In Death of a Perfect Man, there is a hint that Jada Beaudine has a history of helping the police, and by the end of the book, there seems to be a relationship forming between Jada and Sheriff Josia Rhodes, and maybe even investigator Lyle Elliot. While it’s a fantastic idea to leave the readers feeling as if these character’s lives will go on, are you ever tempted to continue with a series?
Not yet. Part of that I think, is because somewhere in my writing-psyche, I like leaving a few loose ends. That’s probably a literary “no-no.” I also believe life is a stream of endless possibilities. There’s always options, different paths, “what if” directions to take—not only for me, but for my characters. For now, I’m leaving Jada, Josia, and Lyle’s future destinies hanging—with many wonderful possibilities.
A bigger reason why I haven’t leaned toward sequels yet is there are still so many places, and so many different characters hanging around in my imagination—jockeying for their chance at coming alive.
The coast and the desert have featured in your books. Are there other locations you would like to cover in your writing? Is there a favorite spot that speaks to you?
Oh yes! Many locations have beckoned, and their accompanying tales are rattling around in my head. To name a few— a particular view of Lake Michigan from the 18th floor of a Michigan Avenue condominium in Chicago, a spot on Highway 58 as you drive up to Tehachapi, California from Bakersfield, a wonderful Thai restaurant tucked away on a downtown backstreet in Montreal, a stretch of two-lane highway heading south from Hoover Dam to Kingman in Nevada, a small bungalow on the side of the hill in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, a particular Route-66 marker in Newberry Springs, California—the list goes on.
However, I’m not one of those lucky writers that can survive on four hours sleep, or once writing never stop to eat or drink—or water the plants, feed the animals, etc. I need at least eight hours sleep every night, nothing stops me from getting hungry, and I’m easily distracted. Consequently, I’m a slow writer. And all those characters in my head are getting impatient for their turn!
What kind of writing schedule do you adhere to?
I’ve failed miserably at establishing a daily writing routine. But I do physically write (word process) everyday. And I think my unconscious is always engaged in writing. I haven’t given up, however, on a more structured routine. Among the “endless possibilities” ahead for me, is successfully adhering to a schedule.
From Irena –the strange and psychic owner of the Red Rock Inn and Cafe– to Manny the cook, your supporting characters are unique and detailed. Do you sketch out all of your characters before writing or discover them along the way?
Both. I outline my plots, and complete detailed character descriptions as part of that outline—including their appearance, life philosophies, emotional baggage, and motivators. For me, those psychological aspects are plot drivers, and determine my character’s choices when confronted with adversity.
Once I’m into my story, I forget the outline, and more often than not, make many plot changes. New events and twists develop, and my characters make decisions that I hadn’t initially envisioned. However, without my original roadmap (outline), I’d be lost.
What’s next for M.M. Gornell?
My immediate goal is to finish “Reticence of Ravens.” My protagonist in this book is male, and more morose than Bella (“Uncle Si’s Secret”), or Jada. Hugh James Champion III is a Psychologist on the verge of a mental “something” himself, and has to confront murder, the daunting Mojave Desert, several villains (past and present), a possible desire for a relationship, and a haunting past failure. The inspiration for this tale was a semi-defunct mini-mart at an I-15 exit. In my novel, I call the place Joey’s. And yes, the location and the seemingly omniscient ravens that hang around are “characters”. I’ve also recently discovered I enjoy reviewing books of authors I’ve met.
Vying for my writing and reviewing time is getting smart (and eventually becoming successful) in promoting my novels. For me, writing is fun, promotion is hard work! Part of that is because I’m so new at it. Most fortunately, (and I really mean this), the Associations I’ve joined, and the wonderful authors I’ve met, have been generous guides. They’ve helped me in more ways than I can possibly explain.