Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Stephanie LaVigne Interview - Headlines, Deadlines, and Lies


Photo Content from Stephanie LaVigne

Stephanie LaVigne’s books combine intrigue, quirkiness, and adventure with a healthy dose of humor and wit. She has published over 50 popular, often bestselling, novels under her name, as well as pen names, in both romance and mystery. From hopping trains across the US to crewing a sailboat on a trans-Atlantic crossing, from mushing dogs on a Canadian dogsled to unwittingly hiking Mount Washington, she’s been lucky enough to have incredible adventures alongside all kinds of real-life characters. One of her missions is to introduce readers to the kind of colorful personalities that have shaped her life.

She currently lives in her favorite South Florida neighborhood surrounded by palm trees, peacocks, a few wild kids, one wild husband, and a handful of incredible family members and friends. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Novelists, Inc. 
        
  


Greatest thing you learned at school?
I designed my own major, so got to take a lot of interesting classes, each with little takeaways (some good, some disheartening.) That being said, all those little nuggets created a great foundation for supporting my interest in many things, which has led to a fairly interesting life so far. I also learned that school doesn’t necessarily prepare you for working in the real world; at least not in the creative industries that I entered.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
I think storytelling is really the primary way that we help each other learn to navigate life and also pass along the lessons of the past (even the recent past.) We tend to retain stories better than basic facts (that don’t have a relatable context.) Whether to entertain, inspire, or teach, storytelling is sort of the fuel that keeps us going and moves us forward as a species. I think we are probably hardwired to understand lessons through the narrative experience. I really learned the benefit of storytelling and the importance of “the village” after I had my first child and was lucky enough to be surrounded by all these women who were older and more experienced in parenthood than me. Story by story, I learned to get on my feet and adapt to the new normal. And in the process, I wrote a book inspired by their contrasting personalities, so win-win for me J

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Maybe my first big sales month. It sounds silly, but seeing money in my bank account that totaled more than I’ve made in a year (in times past) was so exciting. Watching the numbers go up and up, feeling nervous that it wasn’t real or would somehow disappear, but excited and proud all the same. Seeing the financial reward from something that I had built from scratch felt like it made it real. I’ve basically always worked in creative fields (the film industry, photography, graphic design, and writing/publishing), so I generally try to create things that make people happy. But it’s hard to sell creativity, so it feels really rewarding to have it all come full circle and make a living directly from things you create. Also, seeing my name on the cover of my first print book was pretty cool. And when people have directly told me that they loved something I wrote.

Tell us your latest news.
I have a new series starting that I am really excited about called The Sunshine State. I have nine books planned (3 mini series within the larger world) and I can’t wait to get through all the business side of work that I’m currently entrenched in so that I can start writing! I have a book coming out in June, Headlines, Deadlines and Lies, but I am really excited to finish and publish the book coming out after that called The Oceanside Widows Club because it’s been a book that will represent a true personal accomplishment for me (it was the first book I started writing when I decided to become a full-time writer. I’ve published tons of books since then, but it’s finally time for this one to be finished and come into the world.)

The other thing I’m working on is Vella, which is a new serialized platform that Kindle is launching. It has all of us writing fast and furiously in time for the launch. I am trying to develop three serials and it is consuming my brain! I have two mystery / police procedural style storylines (working titles: Florida, Man and Yachties) and am trying to develop a sweet romance one as well.

Can you tell us when you started, HEADLINES, DEADLINES, AND LIES, how that came about?
Headlines, Deadlines, and Lies was originally conceived as a pitch for Hallmark. So I went into writing it on a deadline and with a very specific audience in mind. It was an interesting challenge because I wanted to create a tv friendly mystery series that didn’t revolve around murder or violence. I had been collecting Genealogy storylines for awhile, so it was something that I’d thought of writing about (I keep a running list of Plot Thoughts that may or may not become books), and this seemed like a perfect audience and opportunity to explore the idea.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I always want readers to come away feeling renewed and hopeful in some way. I want people to feel like their own dreams are worth pursuing. And with this book, I also hope that people start to look at their family histories a little differently. Maybe be a little more honest or forthright and realize that things they have felt embarrassed by from the past are things that are probably not as bad as they think. We try to protect ourselves and others, but it’s often at our own expense more than we know. Since dicing into genealogy and studying family dynamics, I’ve seen a lot of people struggle with having honest conversations about the past, and unfortunately it sometimes results in fractures that could likely be avoided. Mostly though, I want people to have fun and feel emboldened to think outside the box when it comes to their own lives, to take chances, to prioritize themselves, and to pursue their own dreams, whether big or small.

What part of Piper did you enjoy writing the most?
Channeling how it feels to be an overwhelmed mom. It’s a weird transition that we don’t really talk about a lot. I didn’t become a mom until I was a little older and I often find that my other friends that are also now moms are the only ones who understand the nuanced overwhelm and stress that we feel. I also enjoyed writing her relationship with the people in her life, especially Boots and JP, who let her personality be it’s fun and free natural self.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’ve thought about having all of my amateur female sleuths to be inducted into a sisterhood of Floridian sleuths, but for no other reason than to connect them and let them be friends. Haha, I don’t have a good answer for this one.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Having three young kids. They are great, but their favorite collective hobby is distracting me.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
I’ve had some pretty memorable ones. Hmmm…Sailing across the Atlantic when I was 12 or 13 was a really formative experience. I think I got to experience things that truly changed me and impacted my imagination in ways that I’m super grateful for. Hiking on deserted Caribbean islands while singing marching songs, seeing walls of hydrangea and diving for sea urchin in The Azores, sailing through the Bermuda Triangle and freaking out as I read all of the unexplained disappearances, encountering twenty foot ocean swells, throwing messages in wine bottles and receiving pen pals from all over the world afterward…

Best date you've ever had?
I should probably saw something with my husband when we were dating, haha. I’ll have to get back to you on this one.

When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper?
My grandmother and my dad birthday cards last week? Not technically letters, but I tend to write long card messages. Before that, maybe to an ex-boyfriend when I lived in NYC and he had moved to Europe. It was a multimedia masterpiece. I had a lot more time on my hands those days…

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
Ha! Geesh, who knows. One time I was working on a film shoot and the location was to this opulent mansion home that was littered, or maybe “adorned”, with the most unbelievable amount of tchotchkes. Every square inch of the home itself was covered in figurines, painted murals, or d├ęcor of somesort. Cuckoo clocks, gold toilets, it never ended. And then outside, it was a menagerie of statues: lions, armless Greek men, children frolicking, frogs, ducks, and so on. It was so over the top that I took pictures of it for days.

Also, recently we stayed at an Airbnb river cottage. They had a good amount of taxidermy (not really my thing in general, in case that was a question), but the strangest was a mallard duck over one of the beds that was essentially positioned as if it were diving down to eat your head. It was the strangest thing ever, and it cracked me up daily. It was equal parts hilarious and terrifying (of you were in the bed.)

What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
The times I’ve been the most scared were when I was a passenger in cars being driven by people who were driving dangerously and I realized that I had no control to get myself out. Also, the first time I hopped a freight train was actually pretty nerve-wracking.

First Heartbreak?
Eight grade I fell “in looove” with a classmate. He was super smart, boring as heck, and cute as could be (to me.) We dated for two days before his friends broke up with me because his best friend, who was a girl, was jealous. I became good friends with his friends, so it worked out. She “broke up” with him less than a week later, so didn’t work out for anyone. However, he asked me to eight grade prom, which we went to together. And even though I still thought he was totally dreamy and wanted to date him, when he asked me back out in the limo, I said no to his utter shock and confusion. I was still completely enamored with him but “fool me once, buddy, fool me one…”

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Maybe finally realizing that even the biggest stars of today will be less than a blip in the memory of the future. It’s made me realize just how small we really are. Even if I achieved my wildest dreams, even if every household in the world had a copy of a book I wrote, a hundred years from now I would be less than a footnote. And because of that, I realized that it doesn’t benefit anyone to hold back on your dreams, on giving it your all, on risking embarrassment. I still have to remind myself of this all the time (because human egos are fragile, no matter how seasoned we are), but the eureka moment changed everything for me, in a good way. I don’t know if that makes sense J

DREAM VACATION SPOTS
My current dream is to do a giant loop of North America. Starting in South Florida, meandering up the East Coast, hitting some spots like Tennessee/The Smokey Mountain region, Block Island, RI, Martha’s Vineyard/Nantucket, Bar Harbor, Maine. Then cruise into Canada to bounce around the East (maybe show my family Meat Cove which is the farthest point that I once camped), then crossing Canada and hitting spots along the way, including Jasper, Alberta. Checking out the islands around Vancouver, like Salt Spring Island, then “popping” up to Alaska and hopefully checking out the Northern Lights somewhere along the way. Then coming back down through the US and hitting all the national parks. The big thing about this dream trip is that I am borderline obsessed with interesting lodging, so I want to stay at unique Airbnb’s and hotels along the way. Yurts, treehouses, earth houses, houseboats, barns, ranches, Canadian Pacific hotels, etc. Just thinking about it makes me giddy and want to start researching!

Also, outside of North America, my “up next” list of places I want to visit are: Iceland (I’ve been to the airport only), Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, France (been, but want to return), Scandinavia, Bermuda (been, but want to return), and the Azores (one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.)

TWELVE RANDOM FACTS ABOUT HEADLINES, DEADLINES, AND LIES
  • 1. The character of Kate (the main character’s mom) was loosely based on my mom. In fact, I think I almost always have a character loosely based on her in my books.
  • 2. The character of Nora “Boots” O’Conner was a combination of my relationship with three of my closest friends. I’m a very friend-centric person with my small tribe, so those relationships have always been incredibly important to me.
  • 3. The character of Brownie was actually named after my great-aunt’s true love who also died in combat.
  • 4. The ship that Brownie dies on is named after my Grandma Lilly. Soccoro is her middle name, and was her mother’s name. I did a ton of research of how they named the different types of military ships, but finally decided on the USS Soccoro.
  • 5. Boots’s nickname and character came from out of nowhere when I was trying to figure out who my ideal Hallmark cast would be. There was a picture of an actress that just jumped off the page to me and I knew she had to be Piper’s best friend. The actresses name is Lindy Booth, but for some reason my head just kept saying, that’s her friend Boots. In the same way, JP came about when I started picturing Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He became pretty dreamy to me, haha.
  • 6. I loved writing the dad and making him this playful guy who was just getting himself into all kinds of things in his retirement. He was also a fun way to include interesting things that I would come across in real life, like the theory that William Shakespeare didn’t actually write his plays. I also used those as insanely subtle foreshadows about what was happening in the story as well. I really like writing “older couples” who are still in love and have a spark in their marriage.
  • 7. Originally, Kate acted as more of a sidekick to Piper, but my editor pointed out that it made it stronger to have Piper herself figure most everything out. I felt guilty because my mom knows so much about genealogy…but then I realized it was a book and she wouldn’t take it personally.
  • 8. Both my mom and my paternal grandmother have done a ton of genealogical research. They’ve both travelled to small towns and scoured through ancient records and microfiches, etc. This was a fun chance for me to partake, in my own way. My mom has told me so many wild stories of the past and this book sprouted from there.
  • 9. One of my best friends has never known the identity of her biological father, so part of the original idea came from an idea to have this nosy work friend trying to find out for her when the office decided to have a DNA test party. But the story morphed into a story of Piper and Boots’ friendship and got away from the workplace angle.
  • 10. The character’s name was originally Poppy, but my editor felt that there were a few notable Poppy’s in cozy-type mysteries. I tried out so many other names, but the only one that had the same feel was Piper…which also happens to be my niece’s name, so maybe I was biased ;)
  • 11. In the end, Piper and Boots go to eat at a fictionalized restaurant based on a restaurant that I’ve been wanting to eat at in Miami Beach for years. And the idea also came because when my other best friend and I first moved to NYC, there was a restaurant that we used to buy scones from and we always said that “when we could actually afford to eat there, then we’d have made it.” The meals were about $12 a plate, but that seemed so expensive when we were young and broke. One day we had lunch there and it was like, “we did it!” We weren’t that far ahead in our careers or wealthy at that point, but it was still pretty cool to feel like we were finally on our feet and could afford an “expensive” meal.
  • 12. After I finished this book, weird, synchronistic things started happening from the book. Like I started helping my mom solve a DNA / Family Tree anomaly that someone has contacted her about. I was the total Piper in that situation saying, “Mom, you are all looking at the wrong person!” And a random woman texted me one night about locating a long lost friend that had strange ties to books that I’ve written (but not yet published!) Bizaaare.
Writing Behind the Scenes
I love choosing names, but I do it somewhat impulsively, or on “feel”. I usually let a name or two pop out of my mouth as I’m thinking up the original story. Sometimes it doesn’t quite fit so I go to the baby naming sites and start looking up similar names until I find a few that hit the mark. Then, usually, one jumps out as the right one. Sometimes I have to choose one to move forward and as I’m writing I’ll realize that it doesn’t feel quite right so I’ll switch it out- but I don’t like doing this on a whim because there are always words that get missed when you “replace all” and it drives me crazy.

I’ve also learned how to auto-dictate scenes over the last two years, and I’m starting to think that I’m actually getting better at speaking my stories than writing them! That’s probably not completely true, but sometimes when I sit down to write lately, I’m more stuck than when I just dive into auto-dictating. I also walk around a LOT when I auto-dictate scenes. I’m like a wandering zombie gypsy. I’m in a trance, but wandering around with a dreamy or angry or whatever look on my face.

Just yesterday I was writing and my husband walked up to me and asked me what was wrong. I realized I had an uncharacteristic scowl on my face and I told him that Captain Jack was upset because the yacht was being chartered out! It was the scene that I was working on. I tend to talk in the character’s voices or make my faces reflect their moods when working on scenes.

Meet the Characters
Piper Harrington – Single, divorced mother of two young kids. Lives in her hometown of Hibiscus Bay in the Florida panhandle. Lives near her parents, Henry and Kate, who help with the kids a lot. Overwhelmed but doing her best. Photo Editor at The Bays Sentinel.

Nora “Boots” O’Conner - Piper’s lifelong best friend. “The world’s most adorable redhead. Obit Master and all-around brilliant person.” Aspiring actress and Piper’s biggest cheerleader. Works in the Obituaries Dept at The Bayside Sentinel

Jonathan Patrick “JP” Dean – worldly crime reporter who takes a job at The Bayside Sentinel in order to care for him ornery, aging father. He’s sweet, sarcastic, and a foodie.
As they made their way around the office, Piper pointed out the relatively hum-drum workstations and introduced JP to her coworkers. She quickly realized that he was the type of guy that other guys instantly wanted to be friends with, and that made grown women giggle, even the married ones. He was tall and imposing, yet approachable and self-deprecating enough to put people at ease. It almost felt strange that he was on the crime beat, but then again, he definitely looked like a guy who had seen some things in his lifetime.

Gretchen – Piper’s no-nonsense Editor at The Bayside Sentinel. Mostly relates to her cat.
It wasn’t that Piper didn’t like Gretchen. They were just two very different types of women. Having worked at the most popular regional magazine on Florida’s Emerald Coast for roughly three years, they had a good rapport, but nothing Piper would consider much more than surface deep. However, she kind of envied Gretchen. Piper had had children somewhat young, so she was still struggling to get a foothold in her career—or if she was really honest with herself, she was trying to stay afloat at her photo editing job while she found a way to start doing something she was more passionate about. In an impressively short time, Gretchen had joined the publication and risen to the near top. Granted, Gretchen was not exactly known for having a full or rich social life beyond work functions, work obligations, and her ginormously pampered and spectacularly poofy Persian cat, Merryweather.

Ernie – Piper and Boots’s nemesis at The Bayside Sentinel. He’s the Theater Critic and vying for the same promotion as Piper. He also once called a production Boots’s was in “pedestrian” and “passable for community theater.” She hasn’t liked him since.

Maggie O’Conner – Boots’s mom and the main “suspect” in that she holds the answers to the past. She’s lived a slightly sad life, having purposefully dedicated all of her energy and attention to her only child, Nora, aka Boots.

Kate and Henry – Piper’s parents. Kate knows a lot about genealogy and Henry is exploring all kinds of new hobbies since he’s retired (cars, cooking, painting, etc.)

Deleted Scene from HEADLINES, DEADLINES, AND LIES
I had to delete some cute scenes between Kate and Henry (the main character’s parents.) Originally, Kate was Piper’s sort of co-sleuth, which made me want to share more of her life with the reader. But it sort of diluted the story a little and when Piper became the primary detective, Kate’s solo scene were out of place. But I liked showing how she and Henry interacted in their life together. I was able to salvage at least one, where I added Piper to the scene and had her watching her parents being silly together, so hopefully it still retains that feel a little.

Your journey to publication
I re-started my publishing and author journey in secret with one friend about five years ago. I knew that I needed to learn the business of publishing if I wanted to make it, but I had two young kids at the time and was working as a graphic designer and just barely juggling it all. I roped my friend into taking an online course with me and the two of us dove in full bore. We thankfully had one another (and still do, as we are both full-time writers/indie publishers now.) About six months in, I told my husband what I was doing. But then I found out I was pregnant with my third and my big dreams to build my author empire took a bit of a blow. But I persevered and just kept plugging away. My baby just turned three and I feel like I’ve finally started re-building over the last year. Though I’ve gone from zero books to over fifty well received, usually Amazon bestselling books (published under various pen names) during that time, and learned a lot about the business. This year has marked my next iteration where I am publishing books under my own name and venturing out in new ways J

I first started on my author journey in 2007, after deciding that I wanted to leave the New York City film industry and come back to my hometown. After a ton of soul searching I finally knew that I wanted to be a professional writer. So I sat down and wrote a quirky, Carl Hiassen-esque mystery novel…while I simultaneously read all about how to become a working writer- which at that time, the advice basically said, write everything on spec and prepare a dedicated drawer for all your rejection letters. It was a little discouraging because I had absolutely no idea how I was suppose to pay my bills with this method. So, even though I knew what I wanted to do, I decided to become a professional photographer instead because I has access to equipment and was good at it. I made a nice living as a photographer and designer for the next 8 years, but finally had to admit that I didn’t love it and wanted to be a writer. It was hard to break up with the company and image that I had spent so much time building, but at some point I realized that no matter what you do in life, you give it a ton of your time and energy. If I was putting all of my time into building something that I didn’t love, what was the point? If I put that same amount of time into something I truly loved and was aligned with, I would eventually be successful in some way. So I found a way to start and I’m still working on it now. The difference being that even when I’m stressed out nowadays, my soul knows that it’s doing the right thing for me- and that makes a word of difference.


"It’s all in the genes, darling!” A witty quip…or a clue?

Piper Harrington is determined to find out.

As a single mom living back in her quaint hometown nestled along Florida’s Gulf Coast, Piper has all but abandoned her dream of ever becoming a professional writer. So when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity opens up at the small beach town paper where she works, she has to make a split-second decision: Go for it (even if it requires a little fib) or give up a shot at her lifelong goal.

To complicate things, in waltzes a worldly crime reporter who is easy to talk to and even easier on the eyes. Add in a demanding editor, alongside a theatrical best friend, a lively family, and co-workers who run the gamut from supportive to conniving, and things start getting tricky.

Scrambling for a topic that could keep readers hooked, Piper dives into the world of genealogy...something she knows absolutely nothing about. When her investigation turns up more questions than answers, her findings threaten to open up a Pandora’s box that can’t be closed.

A story about friendship, family, finding your passion...and the lengths we go to protect those we love.

•••

What do Bogie & Bacall, a goldfish, and a never-ending mountain of laundry have in common? There’s only one way to find out! If you love a fun, beachy read with a lovable female amateur sleuth, then you will have a blast with Headlines Deadlines and Lies; a Florida twist on a cozy mystery!

You can purchase Headlines, Deadlines, and Lies at the following Retailer:

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.
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