I have the privilege this week of having mystery writer Tonya Ward as a guest, and I know you're going to love her book, Storm Surge. I hope you enjoy her interview.
Jamie: Tell us a bit about yourself that readers might not know. . .
Tonya: Years ago, I was bitten by a copperhead snake while backpacking. I'd hiked a couple of miles into a gorge, gone swimming, and was going to dry off when I felt the bite on my heel. I still have the scars - two puncture marks! The first time my (future) husband and I held hands was when my foot was getting sliced open with a razor so the venom could be sucked out. Pretty cool, huh?
Jamie: What made you decide to become a writer?
Tonya: I could attempt a joke here, like "It was either write or be a mortician," but my sarcasm usually doesn't transfer effectively via blog, so I'll stick with the boring truth: I've always enjoyed writing, ever since I was a girl.
Jamie: What do you write and what made you decide to go with that genre?
Tonya: I write light, fast-paced mysteries with a chic-lit flair because that's what I enjoy reading. And, let's face it, as a stay-at-home mom with two young sons, there's no way I can find the time and focus required to pen the next great Hemingway-esque novel.
Jamie: Where do you get your story ideas?
Tonya: Sometimes, two big ideas will collide. Other times, I'll take something I've heard about or experienced and fictionalize it.
Jamie: Where do you get your characters?
Tonya: I don't! If I'm not careful, they'll get me! Just kidding, kind of. I begin writing with an idea of who my characters are, but often they surprise me and become different characters entirely! Some character I'd planned on only using in a couple scenes might try to take over the entire novel!
Jamie: How do you name your characters?
Tonya: I struggle with names. I wanted to give the main squeeze in Storm Surge a strong, masculine name, so I chose Daniel. And his last name, Wyeth, reminds me of an artist with that same name.
I also like J names. My heroine in Storm surge is Jonie, and the main character in the new series I'm working on is Jade. Is that too hokey? Should I worry about it? I give up! I just like J names; I can't help myself.
My sons both have J names, too!
Jamie: What type of hero/heroine do you like best?
Tonya: I like heroines who are tough and flawed, and who can eat massive amounts of pizza without gaining a pound. (Heroines just like me - I wish!)
Jamie: Tell us about a typical day in your life as a writer.
Tonya: I'm trying to rearrange what a typical day is, much to my husband's chagrin. He doesn't like me getting up at dark-thirty (because I wake up and he can't get back to sleep). I try to write while my sons are asleep. So there's time to write before they wake up in the morning, and evening writing seems to be the toughest, since I also need to spend time with my husband occasionally, you know, keeping the real-life romance going strong!
Jamie: If you could hang out with one of your characters for a week, who would it be? Why? What would you do?
Tonya: I'd hang out with my heroine, Jonie, of course! She'd teach me how to surf after we both downed humongous mochas with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
Jamie: do you have to be alone to write?
Tonya: No, but constant distractions can be frustrating. Especially when the boys are fighting: "No, you aren't." "Yes, you are." "No." "Yes." "No!" "Yes!" "NOOO!" and etc. You get the idea.
Jamie: Anything else you'd like to tell us?
Tonya: Yes! Storm Surge is *free* March 8-12 on Amazon. And if you're ever walking around barefoot in the woods near a river, watch where you step.
Jamie: Thanks so much Tonya for joining us. Below is an excerpt with links to Tonya's sites.
Excerpt - Storm Surge
I didn’t set out to kill her. But if I’d been planning ahead, I couldn’t have arranged it better.
“I’m not changing my mind,” she said. The steamy, still air, stinking of salt marsh, where even the summer insects knew better than to break the silence, amplified her shaking, childlike voice.
Not that anyone was around to hear us. Not at this time of night. Not on this boardwalk ten feet above some no-name tidal creek dotted with dried-up oyster beds and hurricane-splintered trees.
“You can’t make me change my mind,” she said.
The moonlight was hidden behind mile-thick storm clouds that flashed lightning like a snake flicking its tongue. In the white-hot bursts, I could see the wetness of her eyes.
I took another step toward her, and she took a step backward, like we were dance partners.
“I’m not changing my mind,” she repeated.
Before I knew it, I punched her face so hard her nose crunched. I heard blood spatter on the boardwalk. In the next flash, I saw she had landed against the railing, cracking the wood beam. She was wobbling away from the drop to the creek. I lunged at her back. Grabbing her, I forced her to the railing. She tried to push away from the edge, but I slammed my fist into her spine and shoved her off. I heard a snap and a splash.
I paused and listened. Nothing. I peered over the edge. Her body lay face-up under the brackish water, not moving. I waited. Nothing. She hadn’t even screamed.
I shook my head at her limp body; her hair trailing in the current. As I waited, I replayed the last half hour in my mind. I hadn’t wanted this, but no other outcome had been possible. I was sorry she had to die. Yet, I was certain she had to die; so certain now, that I knew if she moved, I’d have to climb down there somehow and finish it.
A raindrop splattered on the broken railing, its ricochet wetting my arm. I smiled. Torrential rains always were good for washing away refuse—her body, perhaps—and evidence of my presence. I turned back toward my car. I wasn’t surprised that I felt sure-footed. Because some things—some things are worth killing for—despite any possible consequences.
I had that feeling, the telltale sinking beneath my breastbone coupled with a queasy, metallic fluttering at the back of my throat. It was the feeling I always ignored just before my life was yanked from under me the same way a riptide sucks a swimmer from the shore.
You’d think I’d learn.
But no—like that flailing swimmer, resisting the current was impossible for me.
The part of me that listened to feminine intuition wanted to scurry back to my truck, throw it in reverse, and lie about investigating the news tip I just received. The forested garden beside the university’s marine biology research center simply felt evil. My fingers tingled as I hesitated at the entrance, at the fringe where light met darkness and pavement met mulch, under an arching trellis entwined with purple-blossomed wisteria vines. Despite the heat and humidity, goose bumps dotted my arms. I felt as if someone was watching me. My feet edged backward reflexively.
Fighting the impulse to run, I took a deep breath and thought about my circumstances. I was nearing 35, alone in life and returning to the hometown I once fled—because I’d been driven out of the town I just left. Nearly broke, I was hoping my only job prospect would evolve into steady employment. That job was why I was standing here, contemplating my future. I refused to return to the Tribune with a lame excuse for failing to investigate my first—albeit peculiar—news tip.
I stepped forward into an oppressive gloom cast by the web of Spanish-moss-laced branches above me. Dead leaves trapped in the undergrowth crackled a couple of steps ahead of me. I froze but then saw a squirrel dart away. I huffed out a breath and continued on, past a gazebo, through thick, waist-high marsh grass. Wet mulch sucked at my feet, and the sharp edges of the grass snagged on my slacks. The rich sulfur smell of saltwater marsh-mud intensified.
I finally reached a long, curving boardwalk, wide enough to drive across and more than high enough to accommodate storm surges from the tidal creek below. The caller with the news tip had said to come here. At the crest of the boardwalk, a broken railing bent outward as if the wood had been kicked. Walking to the breach, nothing seemed worthy enough to warrant a newspaper article. Nevertheless, as I walked, I squeezed my leather saddlebag purse to check for my notepad, pen, and secondhand digital camera while my eyes continually scanned the scene around me. My steps sounded loud and hollow against the wood. I reached the boardwalk’s edge and peered over it into the dark, brackish water. And then I saw her.
Her nose was smashed, crooked and bloody. The portions of pale blonde hair not submerged in slick, black mud shone dimly, feathering to merge with the marsh grass. Her eyes were barely open, as if she daydreamed. A blood and mud-smeared silk scarf boiled with movement from fingernail-sized crabs; dozens and dozens of crabs; hungry pinchers snipping and tugging and then gobbling.
The trees seemed to spin. Spots exploded before my eyes. I retched. Retched until nothing was left and then dry heaved some more. My eyes blurred with tears; my knees trembled. I crouched down and forced myself to stare back at her. I choked on my breath. In spite of her bloated, ashen appearance, I recognized her—even though years had passed since we’d last seen each other.
“Abby.” My voice came out a croak.
This wasn’t a news tip. This was murder.
Author Bio: Tamara Ward who lives in a small town near Raleigh, NC has enjoyed writing throughout her life. Storm Surge was published by Peak City Publishing in 2011. The sequel is due out in 2012. Ward is a stay-at-home mom with two young sons and is a correspondent for her local newspaper.
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