Sandy Samerad’s writing brings a wonderful mix of steamy romantic prose, excitement, and a strong journalistic craft. In her latest novel, A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES, she has Carrie Sue Justice fighting for justice and risking her (and her best friend’s) life in the process. Amid the tension, she is also embroiled in a love affair with a guilt-ridden man, her former boss, who’s none other than the owner of the town newspaper.
Semerad’s own journalistic background—as reporter, writer, and editor—shines through in her latest page-turner, and the author graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Tell us about A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES.
The story begins in present day, with Carrie Sue Justice finding her diary. She was once a young and passionate newspaper reporter, investigating a shooting death in South Atlanta in 1986. Three black teenagers have been arrested for killing a white teen. Her life was in turmoil. She caught her husband with another woman inside the antebellum home she inherited from her parents. On the rebound, she fell in love with an unavailable man plagued with guilt. The man was none other than the irresistible owner of the Southern Journal where Carrie Sue worked.
As they began a steamy love affair, Carrie Sue discovered one of the black teens was wrongly accused. Determined to help prove his innocence, she endangered her life and the life of her best friend.
Do you sometimes add life experiences into your writing?
Yes, definitely. A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES is based on a murder trial I covered as a news reporter. The love story is fiction, but the characters share backstories and traits of people I’ve known.
“Fiction is the lie that tells the truth,” according to author John Dufresne, who wrote a book on that subject. I believe he’s right.
My second book, HURRICANE HOUSE is close to home. Living in Florida, I’ve experienced a number of hurricanes. Once I asked myself, “What if a Category 3 or 4 came ashore with a murderer at large?” The question inspired that book. Also, my protagonist, a catastrophe investigator, shares the background of a friend and former neighbor, who was also a CAT.
In SEX, LOVE AND MURDER—previously MARDI GRAVESTONE, a Mardi Gras mystery—my in-laws used to live in New Orleans, and I saw an accident while traveling there. The accident gave me the idea for that book. The scenery, characters, and rich atmosphere of the Big Easy provided endless fodder.
HURRICANE HOUSE and SEX, LOVE AND MURDER feature a mystical crystal necklace, and I’ve always been interested in stone power.
Tell us something about you that we don’t know.
I dream of being a hermit, but I also love to sing and pretend I can channel Elvis. When my husband Larry plays the piano, I sit in and try to vocalize “the King.”
Do you have a proudest moment as an author?
It’s impossible to name only one moment. Every time a reader tells me how much he or she enjoyed one of my books, I feel gratitude and pride.
It’s rewarding to write something that entertains, provides an escape, and touches someone else. When I worked as a news reporter, I had the privilege of writing articles that helped to bring about change, and I’m proud of that.
How would you describe your writing process?
First, I make up a story in my head, and usually know the ending. Next, I write a back story for the main characters and give detailed descriptions. I outline on note cards. Outlining keeps me on track. As I begin the process of writing/typing the story, I’m in a zone. I may think I know my characters, but they always surprise me.
Once I’ve completed a draft, I read through the story again and fill in gaps. If I find common themes, I try to accentuate and weave those themes throughout. I’m always asking myself, “How can I create more conflict?” I get my husband to read it. “Are you entertained?” I’ll ask him. “Do you have suggestions?” I ask a few of my writer friends to be brutally honest with their critiques.
I’ve learned I can’t shove my baby out in the world before she’s ready. It’s helpful to let the manuscript sit for a week or two and come back to it with fresh eyes. Then I rewrite and rewrite and pray for perfection. I often suffer from editing delirium.
Have you grown as an author? In what ways?
I’ve never stopped growing and learning. I’ve learned it’s better to write the genre you love to read. So I write what I’m passionate about. I try to paint word pictures and write tighter, not fall in love with adjectives.
My experiences as a newspaper reporter and broadcaster taught me the craft of writing. So, I’ve mostly learned by doing. When I’m writing action scenes, I use concise sentences to drive the heart rate up. When I’m describing beauty, I write more lyrical prose.
I’ve learned not to become wedded to my words. If what I’ve written doesn’t advance the action or deepen the characterizations, I know I must kill those darlings and not mourn their loss.
I love to read and study different writers’ techniques. Someone once said, “In order to write well, you must read well.”
What does the rest of 2014 hold for you?
I’d love to win the lottery, which would give me more time to write. I’m now visualizing A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES as a best seller. Currently, I’m promoting it, holding book signings and working on a sequel.
Sandy Semerad grew up in Geneva, AL but earned a B.A. in Journalism from Georgia State University. She has worked as a newspaper reporter, broadcaster, columnist and editor. Her latest book, A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES, is loosely based on a murder trial she covered in Atlanta. Her first two books, SEX, LOVE AND MURDER and HURRICANE HOUSE, have been republished in print and e-book. She now lives in Santa Rosa Beach, FL with husband Larry, a spoiled Shih Tzu named P-Nut and wayward cat Miss Kitty.
To learn more about Sandy, please visit her website.