I wanted to introduce bestselling author BJ Daniels. She graciously stopped by to talk about her writing process in the wilds of Montana and her new book “Atonement.”
Tell us a little bit about your upcoming release, “Atonement?”
I wanted to write about Dillon Lawson, undersheriff in my Beartooth, Montana series. I’m also fascinated by twins – especially the identical ones who have taken different paths in life. With all my heroes the hard part is finding them a woman who is equal to them. Dillon deserved a strong, capable woman as a partner. A year ago, he buried his twin who he feels he failed, so he has his own demons when Tessa Winters comes into his life. Nothing is easy for Dillon so it should come as no surprise that Tessa is pregnant – and claims it is his brother’s child.
What is your favorite line or phrase from Atonement?
It’s the first time my hero and my pregnant heroine meet:
“Look, I’m not sure what your story is, but that baby you’re carrying? It isn’t–.”
“If you dare say it isn’t yours…” Her right hand dipped into her shoulder bag. An instant later he was staring down the barrel of a .45.
You moved to Montana at a very young age and many of your stories take place there. How do you think living in Montana has shaped you as a person and as a writer?
Life in Montana from the age of five has had a huge impact on me and the stories. I first lived in a cabin my father built from logs in the Gallatin Valley. My brother and I had the run of the mountains with all its rocks and trees and creeks and river as well as wildlife. We often had black bear, moose and deer in the yard. My brother and I even had pet squirrels.
Later I lived on Hebgen Lake. We didn’t have electricity or a phone, but we waterskied for hours, played in the woods and had grizzly bears on the patio. I still live in a wild isolated place three hours from the closest Target store. Today, I am pretty much snowed in as a blizzard just blew through and all the roads out of town will be icy and snowpacked. But this is what I love writing about, my experiences growing up in the state I love.
Where do you do most of your writing? Do you have a certain place that inspires you the most?
I love taking the pickup and driving out into the wilds. I have written many scenes sitting on the tailgate staring out at the country. I have an office three blocks from my house, but if I am stuck on a book – I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, so I never know what will happen next in a book — I hit the road. For some reason, the story really comes once I leave town. Where I now live there is something like .03 people per square mile so there is a lot of space to create in without seeing another soul.
You’re an avid quilter. Tell us a bit more about that creative process and how is it different from the writing process?
Actually, it is a lot like writing. You start with nothing but a vague idea. (At least that’s the way I write – and quilt.) I often buy fabric without any clue what I am going to make with it, then I let my imagination run wild.
What I love is that a bunch of quilters can take the same fabric and yet make something so entirely different. Same with a book. Give a group of writers the same basic plot, and you will get completely different books. With quilting and all the different fabrics and pattern ideas, you can get as crazy creative as you want.
Also quilters are as creative and fun as writers, so I love that.
How did you find the courage to pursue your dream of writing?
I come from a family of storytellers. When I was a child my family camped a lot. I used to lie in the tent at night and listen to the adults sitting around the campfire telling stories. It made me want to be a writer. My father always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. I believed him. He also taught me that if I wanted something, I had to work to get it. So I went at being a writer by learning as much as I could, writing a whole lot and not giving up.
Do you have any special techniques for writing effective suspense plots?
I love to scare myself. If I am on the edge of my seat while I am writing a scene, then I figure my readers will be too. I’m the kind of person who always looks in the back seat of my car at night to make sure there is no one back there.
Recently I was working on my next HQN and I realized I was breathing hard – and it wasn’t the love scene. I was anxious, afraid my heroine wasn’t going to get away. That is why I love writing so much.
With more than 40 short stories and 70 books published, how do you come up with new and compelling stories that capture your readers’ attention?
It’s funny, but the ideas are always there. I’ve been fortunate that way. As I’ve mentioned, I’m a seat of the pants writer. I start with a blank page and just begin typing. I never know what is going to happen – and I love that. I couldn’t write a book that I knew the ending. I would feel as if I’d already read it. So mostly I write books that I want to read. I think that keeps me from writing the same book over and over.
Who is your fictional character crush?
Right now it is Dillon Lawson from Atonement. He’s the kind of man we know we can depend on. You just want to curl up in his arms and ride out the winter.
I love strong men, men who would fight for their woman. Montana cowboys live by a Code of the West, and Dillon is no different. There are lines he won’t cross, so he fights his growing feelings for his brother’s woman.
What are you reading right now?
The Obituary Writer by Ann Wood. I love the way two separate stories come together from different decades. Before than I was reading nonfiction books on serial killers for my upcoming HQN titled MERCY out in September. I’m also listening to Elizabeth George’s new book, Just One Evil Act, on CD in my car. I always have a couple of books going at the same time.
What are the latest trends that you are noticing in romance/romantic suspense novels these days?
I don’t read a lot of romantic suspense because I write it. But I feel that we all take a different approach to it. Some are more romantic. Most of mine are more suspense, I think. They’re hard to write because you need a balance between the two. But I think that is what a lot of readers really like. They love suspense and romance. Kind of like chocolate and peanut butter.
What advice would you give to a struggling writer?
Don’t quit. Read everything you can get your hands on. Never stop learning. And remember, it is all about the story. Tell a good story. One of my favorite writing books is Stephen King’s On Writing. So much about succeeding is putting in the hours at the computer writing.
I think the hardest thing for most writers is staying off the Internet. If you write a lot of emails, you feel as if you wrote that day and yet your book never seems to get finished. I know how that works.
I put together all my suggestions for aspiring writers after being asked this question. The book, Write Your damn Book, is available only digitally online.
What are you working on next?
I just finished my next HQN titled MERCY. It was the hardest book I have ever written but now that it is done, I love it. I wanted to do a different take on serial killers, so I did. I am fascinated by how two people can grow up in the same house, same genes, etc. and turn out so differently. I find it interesting also that the same horrible childhood that makes a serial killer can do just the opposite to someone else.
I also love seeing what happens to the continuing characters in the series. While each book stands alone, I like some characters who I can check back in with and see how their lives are going.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
B.J. DANIELS, a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author, wrote her first book after a career as an award-winning newspaper journalist and author of 37 published short stories. That first book, ODD MAN OUT, received a 4 ½ star review from Romantic Times magazine and went on to be nominated for Best Intrigue for that year. Since then she has won numerous awards including a career achievement award for romantic suspense and numerous nominations and awards for best book. Daniels lives in Montana with her husband, Parker, and two Springer Spaniels, Spot and Jem. When she isn’t writing, she snowboards, camps, boats and plays tennis. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Thriller Writers, Kiss of Death and Romance Writers of America.
ATONEMENT by B.J. DANIELS, Harlequin; February 25, 2014