Connie: Welcome to OUAR, LaVerne. Weíre happy to have this opportunity to chat with you and get the scoop on your thoughts on writing as well as learn some little known fun facts about you. First though, would you introduce yourself to the readers?
LaVerne: Hi Guys! Thanks so much for having me and to your readers for wanting to find out more about me I admit, it feels a little strange Ė Iím usually doing the reading of interviews of authors whom Iíve read.
Iím 35, married, with a son aged nine and daughter just turned two. I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world; Nelson, New Zealand. Nelson is a coastal city at the top of the South Island, surrounded by mountains, sea and National Parks. Itís also the sunshine capital of our country. I still wake up every day appreciating the fact I live here.
Robyn: Hello, LaVerne, itís so nice to meet up with you. Iíve always wanted to visit New Zealand so when I get thereósomedayóI might have to look you up. I understand that Guardian of the Jewel is your first published work. Can you tell us a bit about the story?
LaVerne: Iíd love to! Here is a short blurb:
After coming to terms with the brutal death of her husband by unknown thugs half a world away from New Zealand, Amy Hamblin concentrates on bringing up their son alone, struggling to make their dream of an action-adventure tourism venture a success. When a dark, dangerous-looking man knocks on her door late at night claiming to be a guest; the safe, quiet life sheíd created is suddenly anything but...
Gabriel Ryanís task of finding the priceless blue diamond Amyís husband stole from an underground thieving ring, is made all the more difficult by the attraction that sizzles between them. Playing a role had never been so hard, and now, with a ruthless killer on the trail of the missing jewel as well, he needed all his wits about him to keep them all alive.
Robyn: LaVerne, Iíve read Guardian of the Jewel and I was immediately impressed by the depth of your writing. Your story reads like a multi-published author. How many manuscripts have you written that havenít been published yet?
LaVerne: Oh, Robyn Ė I think I love you! Iíll remember your words when those pesky doubts start sneaking in!
I have many, many stories tucked away never to see the light of day. I cringe when I think of some of them! This is the first story I was brave enough to actually submit to a publisher Ė with much pushing and prodding from my fellow TWRP author Cherie Le Clare. I currently have two that I think will be good enough to submit next. Iím furiously trying to finish one of them now. Iím easily distracted by a good book (and there are so many out there!), it makes it so hard to stay on track!
Robyn: I grew up with my nose in a book and agree that there are more good books out there than I can read. I understand you won a contest in order to get this book published. What is it like to compete to have your work published and what is it about your story that you feel pushed it to victory?
LaVerne: Luck Ė pure and simple Ė and I still canít believe it The winner of the contest was to be drawn from all the contracted stories that were submitted for the "Jewel of the Night" series. I heard that there were twelve stories at the time that were good enough to be contracted, and I was the lucky one to be chosen. Iím so looking forward to reading the others when they are released! The Wild Rose Press has some outstanding authors in their garden.
Connie: What have you learned about yourself through the last several months since submitting and receiving "the call"? What has surprised you that youíve learned about yourself?
LaVerne: Iíve learned that I have more talent than I give myself credit for. I was too afraid to think that before in case my writing was shot down in flames Ė hence why I never submitted anything. Iím surprised at how much I can achieve if I really set my mind to it and believe in myself. Anything is possible! Moral of the story for everyone? Be brave, and just do it!
Connie: Good advice for us big chickens! Thereís a certain amount of suspended belief readers have to allow when reading a novel, LaVerne, as you well know, whether it be romantic suspense or historical romance or even general fiction. As the writer and director of Amyís terrifying journey how did you maintain the balance of an absolutely evil villain with the strong sexual tension? What was your mindset to ensure such a tightly woven romantic suspense yet make sure the reader didnít have to completely suspend belief?
LaVerne: Amy and her son Daniel were thrust into an awful situation through no fault of their own. They were just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives. I tried to keep their reactions true to how I would react if confronted by similar. The closer you are to your characters, the more real you can make them. And of course, I love Gabriel. It was no problem putting myself into Amyís head when reacting to him. My husband would love me to say that Gabriel was modeled on him, which of course he was ;-) To me, the biggest draw of a romantic suspense is the villain. I love introducing them to the story and watch them create havoc with my characterís lives. The way the characters react, tell you a lot about the kind of people they are and reveal their strengths and weaknesses.
Connie: Youíve tapped into the sexual tension and edgy suspense with seeming ease or maybe lots of trial and error. Other than trying to keep reactions true, what do you keep in mind while trying to create characters that are three-dimensional, larger than life, and maybe most importantly cheer-on-able and relatable?
LaVerne: I like to people-watch. You know Ė at the airport, cafes etc. You can learn a lot about character, body-language and dialogue by doing this. My characters are based on real-life people and although the situations they find themselves are not your everyday occurrence, their reactions are. Remembering to show flaws and weaknesses in my characters is a hard, but essential rule, and one I struggle with a lot. They bring greater depth to my characters, but gee whiz, itís hard to admit Gabriel is anything but perfect!
Robyn: With those thoughts and processes under your belt letís talk a minute about names. This is just another of the processes an author goes through when writing a book. How do you go about naming your characters?
LaVerne: Gabriel was easy. Iíve always loved that name, and named my daughter Gabrielle. I like my characterís names to reflect their story. Gabriel means "hero of God" or "angel of God" which is also where "Guardian" from the title comes into it. Amy means "beloved/friend" and her last name of Hamblin means, "little home-lover" which I thought was perfect with her being a B&B operator. Their names also have to Ďfití with my idea of what they look like too.
Robyn: You did make a perfect fit in their names and how they relate to the story.
Connie: Staying on the subject of characters for a bit, given the right situation, the right conversation, there could be a spark of debate with readers on their preferences regarding their fictional hero; strength and arrogance and depth of chivalry and surliness and charisma (the list could go on and on). As the author and director of your stories, where do you sit regarding these attributes or flaws, whichever the case may be?
LaVerne: Give me a great Alpha Hero every time! I think the hero needs a certain amount of arrogance. They wouldnít have been able to get where they are without it and it shows they have belief in themselves. I also like my heroís to be physically strong. There is something so sexy about a strong, muscular man being brought down to size by love.
Connie: Alpha hero? Okay. What about the heroine? There could be just as intense of a debate with readers on their preferences regarding the fictional heroine; independence, coolness, to be sexually promiscuous or not, perfect "Barbie" shape and looks, compassion (this list could go on and on, too). Again, as the author and director of your stories, where do you sit regarding these attributes or flaws, whichever the case may be?
LaVerne: On my first draft of Guardian, I had written the whole story with hardly any description of Amy. Well, I knew what she looked like! My very talented and clever editor gently pointed this out to me, so I think itís fair to say I am drawn to the details of the heroineís character, rather than what she looks like. I like my readers to be able to imagine that they are the heroine, so a perfect "Barbie" shape will never find its way into one of my stories. As women, we need to celebrate our individual shapes and sizes and especially love our bodies after having had children. Iím still working on this Ė itís a definite work in progress! The heroine in my current WIP is tall and strong-boned Ė far from the delicate shape of Amy. I like to read heroines that are strong-willed with equally strong convictions and therefore these are the kinds of heroines I like to create. Conflict is bound to happen when she meets her soul-mate, who is also no push-over, and so the sparks fly!
Robyn: Did you always know you were going to be a writer, LaVerne, or is this something that has developed in your life? When you arenít writing, what are you doing?
LaVerne: Iíd always dreamed of being a writer and love the whole process of creating a world of my own. I remember leaving for home on my last day of primary school. My teacher pulled me aside before I left and told me she had been proud to teach me, and that I could achieve anything I set out to do. Her words have stayed with me over the years and Iím sure she helped me achieve what I have in my life so far. If youíre out there Mrs. Senojak, thank you so much. I wish she knew how much she helped shape me by her words that day.
When Iím not writing, Iím baking, cleaning, looking after my children, walking the dog or reading. Iím a Stay-at-home-Mum and lucky enough to have a husband who wants me to stay home with our children as long as possible. In a previous life, I was a Guild-Commended Picture Framer, specializing in the framing of objects and conservation framing. I did this for seventeen years and will no doubt dabble in this again from time to time.
Robyn: What writers have had the most influence on you and in what way have they influenced you?
LaVerne: I love LaVyrle Spencer, Linda Howard, Diana Gabaldon and Jodi Picoult. I love how LaVyrle Spencer makes even the most mundane of situations so beautiful to read. Her descriptions immediately bring you into the story and her characters are so likeable. Linda Howard is the queen of suspense. One day Iím going to write as well as her I love Dianaís humor and Claire and Jamie are two of my favorite people. If I canít write like Linda Howard, please let me be able to write like Jodi Picoult! What an incredibly talented writer! Every book of hers Iíve read, sheís brought me to tears. And the story Nineteen Minutes Ė wow! Her talent to make you see the viewpoint and feel compassion for the boy responsible for a school shooting is outstanding. It is a story I will never forget.
Robyn: Interesting, we love many of the same authors. Must be one of the reasons I liked you so much before I met you. Now with regards to your work area, do you have to have it organized, or do you work best if itís cluttered, but you know where everything is?
LaVerne: Iíd LOVE to have a work area. At the moment, I work in the lounge room on my laptop due to lack of an office. It is free from clutter most of the time, except for when I have to kick toys out from under my feet!
Robyn: When I am working at my computer, I need a glass of water (with lemon, please) and some chocolate to snack on. What do you have to have with you when you write? Is it a particular food or drink or is it a scent like candles or potpourri or a photo, etc.?
LaVerne: MmmÖchocolate sounds good. I like to start off with a coffee that my husband has made for me (tastes so much better when he makes it) and I like to have my playlist going on the computer which heavily features the awesome rock-band, Muse. I generally write at night when the children are in bed. The music helps drown out "war sounds" from the X-box which is my husbandís idea of relaxing!
Robyn: When youíre writing, what thoughts concerning love and romance do you keep in mind above the suspense?
LaVerne: Forefront in my mind is that I am writing the kind of romance we all wished we could experience. Our day-to-day living is generally so busy and so routine that romance doesnít always come into it. Love is a different matter. For example, my husband makes me coffee without asking, lets me have a sleep-in on Saturdays and rubs my back or neck when Iím tired and sore. That is love, and I try to inject these everyday little occurrences into my writing to help my characterís relationships feel real.
Robyn: Now letís have a little fun. I ask everyone about their prowess in the kitchen. Are you quite the cook or are there some kitchen disasters looming in your past? (We really want to know about any disastersómakes me feel better about my own. )
LaVerne: Oh my gosh! My face is flaming just thinking about it! Iíve certainly improved over the years, but thatís because of the many disasters Iíve had.
My most embarrassing one would have to be when my then fiancť's parents were over for dinner. A couple of nights before, Iíd made a lovely coffee cake for the first time. It was delicious, and so, I thought it would be perfect to have as dessert for that night. The main course must have been okay, because I canít for the life of me remember what that was. I was busily serving up this lovely cake individually, and thought as I went from kitchen to lounge and back again, that the cake hadnít risen as much as last time. Never mind. I carried on until Iíd served myself and went out to join the others. Iíd been very generous in their servings too. There was utter silence as I assumed everyone was enjoying their piece Ė and then I bit into mine Ė and chewed, and chewed. It was like rubber! But, bless them, the in-laws had gamely chewed through theirs and had almost finished by the time Iíd tasted mine. Not long after that, the mother of my fiancť had to go and get her dentures looked at! I still feel the guilt
Connie: Speaking of culinary prowessÖLaVerne, pretend youíre planning a small dinner party. The guest list totals four. If you could include any author, historical figure, or celebrity (past or present) on that guest list, what would you serve and what, specifically, would you ask each your guests? What would you want the topic(s) of conversation to be?
LaVerne: That would be fun wouldnít it? In no particular order, they would be Kevin McCloud from the UK Television show "Grand Designs". To me, Kevin is the epitome of charisma. He is charming, friendly, knowledgeable, and comes across as a very nice man. Mary Magdalene; now there is a woman who was much maligned. Her true story would be fascinating Ė and I donít think weíve heard it yet. Diana Gabaldon; as youíve no doubt noticed, she is one of my favorite authors. Reading some of her blogs make me laugh. She certainly has a way with words and I think she and Kevin would hit it off really well, both being intelligent and entertaining. Lastly, it would have to be my mother. She would kill me if Diana Gabaldon was coming over for dinner and she wasnít invited! (I have a sneaking suspicion that she kinda likes Kevin too Ė but Ssh Ė donít tell my father!) Weíd have an entrťe of scallops quickly pan-fried in garlic and white wine, a main course of NZ rack of lamb with a red-wine jus (light gravy) and scalloped potatoes, followed by a freshly baked Pavlova topped with in season strawberries. Weíd finish the evening with some good coffee or tea and maybe a board of cheese and crackers to nibble on.
Robyn: Youíd better add a place setting to the table as Iíll be there, too. The company sounds fascinating but the food sounds divine. What a long way youíve come from rubber coffee cakes! What is at the top of your bucket list? Have you done it yet or is it still in the works?
LaVerne: Worldwide travel. By this, I mean take off and really SEE all those back streets of Indonesia, Egypt, Croatia, UK, USA, Canada etcÖ
Iím not so interested in doing a typical sight-seeing trip with all the pretty surfaces for the tourists. Iíd much rather get around and meet the locals, but I couldnít part with having a decent place to rest up after all that reality. I havenít done this yet, but one day it will happen.
Connie: You adopted a greyhound. (We adopted our sweet Molly 2 Ĺ years ago, though sheís not a greyhoundówhat a total joy she is!) Would you tell us and the readers about Greyhounds as Pets and how you came to adopt your greyhound?
LaVerne: Aww Ė dogs. Jazzy is one of my favorite subjects We adopted her 1 Ĺ years ago from GAP after deciding now was the time to get a dog. Weíd always wanted one, and figured they were helpful in teaching children compassion and how to care for something other than themselves. Iíd seen GAP featured on a segment of a national news show 3-4 years ago, and thought greyhounds were the most magnificent looking creatures. I was saddened to think that such beautiful, intelligent dogs were euthanized after racing if a home couldnít be found for them. They were my first thought when the day came that we could have a dog of our own. They truly are the biggest couch-potato, and at this moment, Jazzy is fast asleep on her bed next to me, legs in the air, where she has been since we got home from our walk from school Ė six hours ago! Now, I volunteer my time and help GAP promote greyhounds as a fantastic choice when people are choosing their next pet to become part of the family. Iím excited to say that we are expecting our newest adopted hound to come home to their new family in the next couple of weeks. The family spotted Jazzy and I when we featured in a recent magazine and so took the plunge and filled out an adoption application.
Robyn: Give Jazzy a rubbing (and a treat) from me. Speaking of treats, what is your favorite comfort food?
LaVerne: You canít beat my Dadís homemade soups. MmmÖIím salivating thinking about it! Hope he has a pot on the next time I fly up to Auckland to visit them.
Connie: Even though Iíve tried, I canít make soup like my mom. Do you suppose itís the love they add to the potÖ?
For Fun. Giving it a minute of thought, what recurring character from TV, movies, or even a book, would like to get to know?
LaVerne: I donít need to think about this one Ė Dexter. I wouldnít like to get to know him as one of his victims, but as Iím not a bad guy, I think Iíd be pretty safe. I find his character fascinating and am mourning the loss of the series on our screens at the moment. Iím impatiently waiting for series five Ė I understand itís running in America at the moment you lucky people!
Robyn: Itís time to relax, you make a cup of coffee or tea and pick up a good book, snuggle into your most comfortable chair Ö tell us what you like to read.
LaVerne: Occasionally, I like to read autobiographies of people of interest. Iím a NZ cricket fan, and am looking forward to reading Shane Bondís book which has just been released.
My favorite fiction books are romantic suspense, especially by Linda Howard or Tami Hoag and also the works in progress of my talented and published writer buddy Cherie Le Clare. I am also a preliminary reader for The Wild Rose Press and I feel very privileged to be able to read and evaluate some of the manuscripts coming in that are under consideration for publishing, before they become best sellers!
Connie: Should someone be mean enough to take that privilege away and horror of horrors (I couldnít even imagine it!!) took all your books away except for 4 novels, or books of any kind, thatís it, which titles would you choose?
LaVerne: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon; Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley (the sequel to Gone With the Wind); Perfect by Judith McNaught (love the hero in this Ė great sexual tension!); Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.
Robyn: With that scary thought weíll say thank you, LaVerne! We enjoyed our time with you.
Connie: Yes, we definitely did! Please make sure and stop by again.
Before we say goodbye, is there anything we forgot to ask that youíd want readers to know??
LaVerne: I think you may have covered them all with your fantastic questions Ė thank you Connie and Robyn. That was fun!
As I donít have a website or blog as of yet, if anyone wanted to drop me a line, Iíd love to hear from them. You can find me on Facebook. Search for LaVerne Clark Ė Writer and leave a comment. I hope you enjoy Guardian of the Jewel and I look forward to entertaining you with more stories in the future.