As an author, inspiration can come from all things. It could be the line in a song on the radio, a snippet of conversation on the bus, a dream at night but one of the most important sources of inspiration are other authors. Just like a budding sports star in the academy has that legend they look up to, I think it’s equally relevant to anyone who writes that they have heroes to look up to and learn from. In this segment, I am going to interview fellow authors who have inspired me, those I have learned from and those who have helped me on my writing journey so far.
The first wonderful author Sandra Moran who is a teacher, author and international woman of intrigue. A native Kansan, Sandra has worked as a newspaper journalist, a political speech writer and an archaeological tour manager. When she’s not running around Kansas City (literally) or torturing college students with the fundamentals of anthropology, she can be found in her lair listening to Pandora and making up stories.
We got in contact when I approached her for her expert advice on archaeology and it’s through her that my eyes were opened to the wonderful world of Bedazzled Ink.
Sandra’s debut novel Letters Never Sent has won several awards in its first year and is nominated for more. Her second novel Nudge is available on eBook now.
Hi there, Sandra, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions on your work and your process. I’d love it if you could talk a little about your background and why you got into writing.
First, let me thank YOU for wanting to interview me.
My background is awfully varied. I knew I always wanted to be either an archaeologist or a journalist. When I went to college, I had to choose and I chose journalism. I worked for several years as a newspaper reporter before taking a job as a magazine writer in Texas. With the election of a new governor in 1995, I returned to Kansas and took a job as his deputy communications director. That took me in the direction of working for the State of Kansas for several years until I made the decision that I wanted to pursue my other passion – archaeology. I went to grad school and the rest, as they say, is history.
I mention all of this because I think that all of those experiences lent themselves to the thing that I always knew I would do, which was write novels. I always said I would start writing when I felt like I had perspective and stories to tell. I think (I hope) I’m there now.
Do you think that your days as a journalist helped you with your writing experience and have those experiences enriched your writing?
I think working as a newspaper reporter absolutely helped me as a writer. I started out writing obituaries and doing general assignments (whatever they sent me to cover). Eventually, I got to cover the police beat. I think in each of those, you have the rare opportunity to see stories unfold. You learn to note details that will add color and texture to the story, but you’re limited in space so you have to use them sparingly. I think it made me a tighter writer though if you ask C.A. Casey, she’ll tell you that I tend to over attribute and still write in Associated Press Style.
I always said I would start writing when I felt like I had perspective and stories to tell. I think (I hope) I’m there now.
Letters Never Sent covers gender roles and the changes and similarities between two generations. Is this something that you felt was important to explore as an author? Did writing the book change your point of view at all?
One of the things I love talking about in my anthropology classes are what are known as cultural universals – things you see in all cultures or societies. One of these is gender. No matter where you go in the world, there are cultural constructs as to what is appropriate and expected of males and females. The fact that they’re different everywhere and that they change over time and based on politics, economics, religion, etc., is, I think fascinating. I wanted to explore that in Letters Never Sent.
As for changing my point of view … not really. I kind of knew what I was getting into.
You have pictures on your website http://sandramoran.com/ show that you visited Chicago and walked the routes that your characters take in the book. How important was that for you in the process and if an author can’t get to the locations physically what other tools do you recommend?
For me, it was pretty important. I have spent a fair amount of time in Chicago and knew the city, but to go there and pick out the rooming houses, their windows, their routes, etc., was helpful. I also did a lot of research on the front end before I even went. I used Google Earth to plot points. I used the library and internet to research the time period, the politics and the history of the era. I went to the Chicago History Museum and the Chicago Public Library. I took tons of pictures and did everything I could to imagine what it would have been like.
Being there was helpful, but again, a lot of the legwork was done before so it was simply a matter of imposing reality (albeit modern) onto what I already had determined. I got a lot of information, again, by using Google Earth, the Internet, YouTube and the library. I wrote emails to the Chicago Public Library to get information about how one would have checked out a book in the 1930s. I essentially figured out what I didn’t know and then asked for help from people who did.
Nudge is very different to Letters Never Sent was that a conscious choice to explore another subject or did the idea come to you?
Each of my books will likely be different than the others. The one I’m working on now starts with a bus crash and works backward from the point of view of four characters. I write the stories that appeal to me. It’s interesting and fun on my end of it. It might turn out to be frustrating to people who read my books though, because they will never know what to expect. My hope is that they will trust that it will be interesting, if nothing else.
From the excerpts of your blog, your main character is Sarah Sheppard who is an advertising executive. It’s based in the modern day, how much different was it to write in a different time period to Letters?
Nudge is set in modern day but a lot of the story line is based on history and people in the past. In that regard, I had to put the character of Sarah into the mind of the people she was studying. I had to make her “see” them and to do that, again, there was a TREMENDOUS amount of research that went into it. The characters span all the way from the time of Jesus to modern day. And, some of the technology that I had available to her was futuristic – which added a layer of complexity, too.
A theme that I’ve noticed in your work is of how the past periods reflect the development of society yet on a day-to-day level most social issues and expectations have remained the same. Did you set out to explore that theme in your writing or has it developed from your own experiences?
I think that there is very little that is new. It’s new to us because we’re the ones who are experiencing it. But nothing is new. My exploration of that is very intentional. Teaching anthropology has given me an appreciation of the long view. We get so wrapped up in the day-to-day, we forget to look at the big picture. So, I guess the answer to your question is … both.
Writing the book is the easy part. Managing your career is something quite different.
How much of a change has it been for you since releasing Letters and what advice would you give to other writers about to embark on their first publication?
There has been very little change for me except that I have met a lot of really great people and I spend a lot more time interacting on the computer and in person. I think the thing that has been the biggest change is taking control of the business aspect of writing. There are tons of details I didn’t even consider. Writing the book is the easy part. Managing your career is something quite different.
Music plays a big role for you – do you have playlists on your site?
I do have the playlists for both of my novels on Spotify and my website. I think they inform the characters or the underlying motivations and I think, for anyone who is interested, they add a little something extra to the story.
As an archaeologist you have travelled to some amazing places. Is there one dig in particular that has had an effect on you and would you ever write a book using the experiences you have had?
Each dig has been a fantastic experience. I think the first one, a paleoindian bison kill site in Oklahoma was the most exciting though. To excavate bones that no one had touched for 10,000 years was really thrilling to me. I’m not sure I would write a novel based on archaeology, though. But I would never say never.
Quick fire round
What is your strength as a writer?
I’m tenacious and can connect big-picture concepts.
What is your ‘typical’ writing day?
I have coffee and write for several hours first thing. I shoot for 1500-2000 words a day.
When readers pick up your books, what would you most like to hear them say?
Wow, that wasn’t what I expected. (But in a good way)
What would you least like them to do/say?
That was boring and she sucks.
Who is your literary idol? why?
Margaret Atwood. She is an amazing story teller, very rich in her detail, she’s great at creating tension and she ALWAYS makes me think.
If you could have written any book, which one would it have been?
Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.
What is your ‘tic’ word when writing?
I guess mine would be … Hmm … I don’t know
My favorite word at the moment is “serendipitous.”
Least favourite word?
Hmmmm …. I don’t know as I have one. I guess if I had to have one it would be … nope, I don’t really have one.
What would you most like to develop in your writing?
I’d like to be better at showing rather than telling – and losing my attribution tags.
A big thank you to Sandra for taking the time out to chat to me here. Below is the blurb about Letters Never Sent & Nudge and you can find her on
New York advertising executive and lifelong atheist Sarah Sheppard is highly successful, in line for a partnership, and feeling on top of the world. When she’s visited by a mysterious client who offers her a job to write and market a comprehensive addition to the world’s religious texts, she thinks it’s an elaborate joke and turns him down. But God works in mysterious ways and she quickly finds she has no choice but to take the assignment. Isolated at a remote estate in upstate New York, Sarah joins a group of scholars and theologians to compile The Addendum, but soon discovers that nothing and no one are what they appear to be. As more questions than answers mount up, Sarah has to decide whether to deny her natural skepticism or embrace that illusive idea of faith before she’s nudged onto a path of no return. (Available on March 20, 2014, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Bedazzled Ink Book Peddler.)
About Letters Never Sent:
In 1997, shortly after Katherine Spencer’s death, Joan O’Connor travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to clean out her estranged mother’s house. Hidden amongst her mother’s things, Joan finds a wooden box containing trinkets and sealed letters to a person identified only by a first initial. Through the letters, Joan learns that her aloof and unyielding mother was anything but – that she had loved deeply and lost that love to circumstances beyond her control.
The story shifts to 1930s Chicago where Katherine has left her small town in Kansas and the marriage proposal of a local boy, to live on her own and work at the glove counter at Sears & Roebuck. It’s here that she meets Annie Bennett, a bold, outspoken feminist who challenges Katherine’s idea of who she thinks she is, in addition to what she thinks she wants.
The decades-long, often tumultuous relationship between Katherine and Annie, Katherine’s subsequent marriage to a man she grows to hate, and the fractious relationship between mother and daughter ultimately shows that despite their differences, they’re more alike than Joan had ever realized.