This month’s guest is an American author and writers’ friend. Her weekly and fortnightly newsletters provide thousands of us with writing tips, leads to competitions and grants and a no-nonsense approach to writing for a living. She also writes great thrillers. I’m delighted to be chatting with C Hope Clark.
Hello Hope and welcome. Let’s start by taking you back to your childhood. What was your favourite subject at school — and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?
My favorite subject was English, and any class where I could write an essay or narrative for the grade. I could spin any topic in any direction a teacher wanted and learned early how to read my teachers and write to their desires. But since I was top of my class, I felt the need to focus on the topics that people thought were more intellectual, such as math and science. In the 70s, girls in those fields were golden. I declined a scholarship to journalism school to attend a school noted for more scientific majors, Clemson University in South Carolina. And I avoided foreign languages. I took French, and while I could read it, and get by writing it, I could not speak it. Something about the Southern accent and the French just didn’t click. My brain just doesn’t wrap around other languages. As an honor student, the challenge embarrassed me.
Talking about yourself, how would you finish the sentence “not a lot of people know…”?
Not a lot of people know I wanted to be a veterinarian, in accordance with thinking I had to follow the sciences. Now, anyone who knows me, knows I love my animals, so there was some instinct there. But once I butted heads with two semesters of Organic Chemistry (a B and a C), my advisor told me to consider another avenue of study. I bounced all over the sciences, thinking I had to pick one. Wound up in Agriculture, specifically Agronomy, again focusing on the sciences. But throughout my adult life, writing garnered me promotions and more attention than anything else, and in my 40s I realized it was time to use my ability to write and actually pursue a direction I thoroughly enjoyed. But I’m not trained in writing. It’s all self-taught, while overcoming my internal pressure to stick to the maths and sciences.
I can empathise with this, although I actually failed all my chemistry exams first time around and it took me until my 50s to decided I should be writing. Having read your newsletters, I think I can guess the answer to this next one: where is your favourite place on earth — and why?
I’m a staunch Southerner in the US, and have lived in MS, AL, GA and SC. I love the culture, history, mannerisms, people and weather. Oh, and the food! I’ve lived in SC most of my life, and I can say I adore Edisto Beach the most. I visit several times a year, and just made the setting of my new mystery series there. It’s quite the natural setting without all the neon and commercialism of most other beaches. I just bought a little patch of a lot down there, and hope to one day build a getaway place.
How do you relax?
Nature. Without a doubt, nature soothes me. It’s why I live in the country and vacation at a beach sans commercialism. I can compose stories outside, calm down, and clear my head. The birds, the trees, and always the water. I grow a decent size garden of 40 x 50 feet and raise chickens. Weeding allows me to vent. But touching nature, smelling, hearing and tasting it, just takes me away better than any bubble bath. I think my love for nature comes across in my mysteries, because I believe setting makes for a strong character, just like in my personal life. My grandfather was a Mississippi farmer, as were much of my ancestry, and I sense some roots directing me. When I die, I pray there’s nature where we go. There has to be a reason God started with the Garden of Eden.
If you could change one thing about yourself or your life so far, what would it be?
I wish I could tell my younger self to not take life, and therefore myself, so seriously. Stuff happens. The journey can’t be perfect, no matter how hard we try. We avoid opportunity sometimes by avoiding taking risks. I would allow myself to enjoy life deeper instead of traveling the straight and narrow. The time I faced the biggest obstacles in my life taught me the most, and led later to much more satisfaction with myself and my life.
If you were a car, what type would you be — and why?
An F-150 Supercrew Ford Pickup, maybe with a King Ranch package, and definitely with four-wheel drive. I adore a truck, and with the four-doors on this one, and the comfortable ride it has, it would serve to haul my family and perform with the space in its bed at the same time. In other words, it’s hard working, protective, safe and yet built to take chances on the rough roads.
I just love asking that question; I’m learning so much about the world of automobiles! Now, Hope, when you have some free time (!), which do you prefer: to watch a film, go to the theatre, read a book or talk to friends?
Read a book. It lets me settle into another world and travel, while at the same time, letting me taste and learn from others how to make my own writing better. I settle down each night with a chapter or two, without fail. Talking to friends is a close second, but I’m very selective into who I confide in, so that opportunity is not an often occurrence. The film and theatre are almost as good as the book. They are escapism and art, which I love to sink into. All four of these are close in ranking, with little differences.
What would you have printed on the front of your T-shirt?
Wake happy and go to bed satisfied.
Would you describe yourself as left-brain (analytical), right-brain (intuitive) or a mix of both?
My brain is definitely half and half, right brain and left brain, in its thought processes. Having trained for years in science, math, and ultimately economics, my brain was forced to be analytical in my career. But it took years of maturation before I realized how my writing was actually propelling me just as much in my climb up the ladder. The pure creativity part is still a challenge for me, but with analytical planning and pure stubbornness at learning and growing in that arena, I’ve been able to find a comfortable balance between the two sides. Sometimes I wish I were more of a purist when it came to creativity, but admittedly, I enjoy being in control of my life’s journey via my analytical tendencies.
I’m definitely going to have to change that last question. I don’t think I’ve interviewed anyone who will admit to being other than a mixture! Finally, Hope, I’ve set the earlier questions; now it’s your turn: Write the last question yourself and use it to tell us something about yourself, your life or your work.
OK; my question would be: Why do you write fiction if it doesn’t come natural?
My fiction stretches my mind. It makes me create ways to use words I never would in nonfiction or journalism. Nonfiction is much simpler for me. I could choose to pursue a writing career freelancing, but there’s something about fiction that digs deeper into my mind and soul. I love writing these stories, because they contain a lot of me and my world in them. While they might be encrypted in characters and plot, my life and my beliefs are preserved in my fiction. And at the same time I’m entertaining people. What a great balance. Nobody would want to read my memoirs, but they might enjoy my fiction, and in a lot of ways they are one and the same. My mysteries preserve me better than any autobiography, in my humble opinion, and that satisfies me.
Hope, it’s been great chatting with you; thanks for dropping by. I loved your first two books and I’m really looking forward to meeting Carolina Slade again in Palmetto Poison.
C. Hope Clark is author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series from Bell Bridge Books. Her newest release is Palmetto Poison, book three. She is also editor of FundsforWriters.com, an award-winning website per Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers. www.fundsforwriters.com / www.chopeclark.com
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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