Virginia McCullough: Author Interview and The Jacks of Her Heart

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BookCover_JacksOfHerHeart

Author Interview

1. Woohoo! You are a published author. Describe a strong character trait you possess, good or bad, and how it helped you become a published author.

Well, as a child I studied dance with a very strict teacher, so I learned how to focus and practice. I also had my first experience with being in “flow” or in “the zone” while dancing. So, many years ago, when I started writing nonfiction articles and books for my living, I was lucky to understand that the only way I could make it work would mean bringing to my writing that same focus I’d experienced as a child studying dance. I think that benefit every time I see a child committed to a sport or playing instrument or involved wholeheartedly in any pursuit. That dedication will pay off with everything they do later.

Of course, the fact that I adore writing and the writing process can’t hurt to keep me in the chair.

2. Sometimes an author begins writing a story before they are aware of its genre. Did you choose your genre, or did it choose you?

I love this question because what I write has been described as romance, women’s romantic fiction, and love stories…I often call my work family drama/love stories. Nowadays, these romantic journeys, which often involve family issues, are right in the mainstream. My current book, The Jacks of her Heart, is a lighter side romance, but it still fits into the themes in all my fiction: hope, healing, and plenty of second chances. Lorna and Jack fall in love and marry on impulse, but now they have to decide if they can make their relationship work.

Once I get started on a book, the genre gives way, and all I really care about are the characters and seeing how they figure out their dilemmas and allow love to prevail.

This book is now Book 1 of The Capehart Bay series. Going from one book to a three-book series seems to choose me. I start out with the one idea, but it isn’t long before other characters step up and demand their say. So, The Icing on Her Cake will follow along soon.

3. The plot thickens, or does it? Which one are you, a pantser or a plotter?

It sounds so dull, but I’m a combination. I know where I want to start, and I know the ending—I might even have the first and last scenes fully formed. I try to jot notes for a handful of pivotal scenes and then I begin. I’ve found that when I try to do formal character sketches or plotting, because I think I “should,” I really just want to dive in and write the book!

4. Fear 101: As writers it is our duty to make our characters face their fears. Have you ever included one of your own fears in a storyline?

My books all have some fun and humor, but often the themes have a serious side. In my first published novel, Island Healing, a young teenager doesn’t remember a time when her mother wasn’t ill. (She has MS.) Consequently, this character, Lila, will do anything to help her mother and is constantly searching for new treatments—and her efforts are usually thwarted. It wasn’t until I was in the final round of edits that I realized where Lila came from. My mother was never particularly well during my childhood, and she had a number of illnesses that affected her, and she required surgery a couple of times, too. As I wrote about Lila’s fears, I realized I had unconsciously mirrored my own experience. Lila has become a favorite character among many readers and she’s coming back in subsequent books. It took a long time, but I finally understood why she emerged as she did in my story.

5. Fear 102: Yes, deadlines are terrifying. Have you conquered the juggling act between writing and the rest of your life? What do you do when it feels like the balls are dropping all around you?

I don’t handle deadlines all that well, actually. I have them with books and with my client work and I’ve been known to wake up in the middle of the night, when everything seems worse, of course, and worry about deadlines. I accept a certain amount of anxiety about my work, deadlines, and concern about the quality of what I’m doing, as part of self-employment. As writers, we own our own small businesses. We’re sole proprietors. That is the best part, but it brings a sense of “it’s all on me,” to forefront.

6. Switch positions with one of your main characters in a scene. What is the outcome, disaster or divine intervention?

In Greta’s Grace, a novel about a mother-daughter relationship, with a romance woven in, Lindsey is about to tell her married daughter, Greta, that she and Greta’s father have decided to remarry. Lindsey believes this will make Greta happy. However, she never delivers that message because she has an anxiety attack on her way to Greta’s house. Now that’s “divine intervention” and disaster is averted—well, at least temporarily. I felt the intensity of that anxiety right along with Lindsey.

7. Where is your favorite place to write? Add that one comfort food that you can’t do without.

Where would I be without coffee? Plain, black coffee. No frills and fancy names for me, at least when it comes to coffee. I spend most of my time writing in my office, but I also like to write in cafés and diners and libraries. I’m a big believer in mixing things up. If I’m feeling stale, then I like to go somewhere else to write. And along with coffee, I pretty much will take chocolate in any form, and this is where the frills and fancy stuff do come in…I know, boring. But whether it’s in a candy bar, ice cream, mousse, brownie, cupcake, cream pie, croissant, muffin—whatever, I savor every bite of chocolate.

8. Writing inspirations?

I have fat files of quotes about writing and going after dreams. In addition to writing novels, I’ve been a ghostwriter/editor, a writing coach, and workshop presenter, so I collect inspirational quotes to share with clients and use in my essays. Many are not centered on the work itself, but relate to the demands of the profession and the life that develops around writing. One of my favorites in that category is from Eleanor Roosevelt: It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.

Trust one of the busiest women of the 20th century to come up with that one!

9. You are introduced to your favorite author. Who is it, and what is that one burning question you must ask them?

For years, Nancy Thayer stood out as a touchstone for me—and ideal to reach. I was preoccupied with making a living with nonfiction writing, but I was—am—in awe of Thayer’s long career in fiction. If I had a chance to sit down and have a cup of coffee with her, I’d simply ask her about her how she feels at the computer or at her writing table. Does she lose herself in the work? Does she feel privileged? Happy? Frustrated at times? Lost in a kind of dream space? I’d also tell her how much I admire her ability to use a real place, Nantucket, so beautifully.

10. I’ve gone mad – why don’t you come with me? Some people just don’t understand us writers. Name a quirky, writer-thing you do that friends wish you didn’t.

Recently, one of my oldest and dearest friends died suddenly—I dedicated The Jacks of Her Heart to him and I’ll miss him terribly for the rest of my life. Rather than having infrequent, but long conversations, we talked on the phone for five or ten minutes several times a week. He never understood that when we talked about fun weekend plans and I’d say I was going to be working on my novel, this was what I meant by fun. He couldn’t grasp that dinner plans or going to the movies or a concert are obviously fun, but the chance to work on my novels was exciting for me. As exciting as any other entertainment. My wonderful friend understood me in most ways, but not when it came to writing! I know I’m not alone in yearning for the chance to visit with fictional characters, and if others don’t get it, there’s nothing we can do to get them to understand.

 

BookCover_JacksOfHerHeart

The Jacks of Her Heart

by Virginia McCullough

 

Blurb:

“A pure delight! I fell in love with Jack instantly—and the storybook town of Capehart Bay.”

—Lily Silver, Author of The Rock Star Next Door

 

Lorna Lindstrom and Jack Young just got married in the tropics—and their grownup kids don’t like it one bit…

Mere acquaintances in their hometown of Capehart Bay, Wisconsin, Jack and Lorna turn up on the same Caribbean cruise. They soon fall victim to moonlight, champagne, and dancing—and that leads to an impulsive wedding. But now they’re back home, feeling like a couple of fools. Both agree a quick divorce is their best way out of this embarrassing predicament. Lorna’s two kids and Jack’s daughter are all for that, but their meddling prompts the stubborn newlyweds to rethink their plan.

A professional organizer, Lorna is a little too proud of her spotless home. She fell in love with Jack’s generous heart, but must he rescue every abandoned dog in town? The owner of a popular ‘60s nostalgia café, Jack feels right at home in Lorna’s bedroom, but he might as well be a stranger everywhere else in her perfect house. Suspicions that Lorna’s up-and-coming professor son-in-law is a womanizer soon pushes Jack into a different kind of rescue mission. Meanwhile, Lorna steps up and organizes her elderly father-in-law’s move and offers her support to Jack’s daughter in a crisis with baby Joanie. Too bad those classic “irreconcilable differences” appear to doom the pair, even as their kids are beginning to warm to the marriage.

Maybe sharing a couple of romantic dances on the night Jack launches his Blue Sky Nostalgia Music Festival can bring this “opposites attract duo” together again. Will Jack and Lorna decide they can find a way to make peace with their dueling quirks and have some fun with their second-chance romance?

 

Excerpt:

Lorna inched to the edge of her bed, but before sliding out, she glanced over her shoulder to watch the even rise and fall of Jack’s back under the sheet. If she rolled toward him she could reach out and rest her palm against his bare shoulder and soak up the warmth of his skin. No. The man’s warmth—on all levels—got her into this trouble in the first place. That and moonlight, and okay, since she’d started a list, she might as well add the long nights of delicious slow dancing.

Once out of bed, Lorna tiptoed to her reading chair in the corner, retrieving her bra and panties from the floor along the way. Then she pulled the throw off the back of the chair and wrapped it around herself like a towel. Only dim light seeped through the closed blinds, but she felt around the floor and came up with the silk shirt and slacks she’d worn on the flight home the night before. With her clothes draped over her arm, she stepped around the open suitcase blocking the way to her bedroom door. She reached for the doorknob, ready to escape, but took a last look at the scene she was about to leave behind.

A trail of jeans, a sport jacket, and a dark blue shirt led straight to the mound in the bed named Jack Young, age fifty-two, noteworthy only because, by coincidence, she and Jack were mere months apart in age.

Loathing messes as she did, it took all Lorna’s strength not to grab the two half-empty glasses and the champagne bottle that sat as accusers on her nightstand. She slipped into the hallway and shut the door behind her. Home free—more or less. Leaning against the wall, she closed her eyes and exhaled a long breath to quiet her jittery stomach. It worked for a second or two. Next step, get to June’s house as fast as her legs would carry her there.

Lorna brushed her teeth and dressed quickly in her guest bathroom before grabbing her winter jacket off the hook in the kitchen. She escaped through her back door and jogged down the slope of her yard that led to the footpath bordering the lake, the fastest route to June’s house.

She maneuvered around the muddy patches and pools of water left behind from last night’s rain. The dampness left the April morning air fragrant with the promise of spring. Lacking a breeze to disturb it, the lake perfectly mirrored the trees and houses lining the water’s edge. In the stillness, the sounds of a barking dog and children’s voices carried across the water from the opposite shore. A mere day ago, she’d been more than a thousand miles away, tilting her face toward the sun and sighing from happiness as sultry tropical air caressed her skin. She and Jack had made love to the nearly imperceptible rhythm of the cruise ship, dodging any talk of what they’d do when they arrived back home in Wisconsin.

What a disaster. Maybe she’d try to make light of their escapade. After all, Jack was a decent man, a really great guy, if also thoroughly unsuitable for her. He also had a terrific sense of humor. Maybe they could have a good hoot over their silly mistake. “Isn’t this the funniest thing?” she could say while trilling in a charming sort of way. Ha ha, titter titter. She could hold out her hand in a gesture of friendship. “What do you say? We figure out the easiest way to put this embarrassing little episode behind us?” More light-hearted laughter.

At last June’s white frame cottage came into view. Lorna hurried up the stone path and through the picture window spotted her friend standing at her kitchen table with a tall pile of laundry in front of her. Lorna waved to get her attention and when June looked up her face broke into a welcoming smile.

“Come in, come in,” June said after she’d opened the door and with a sweeping gesture invited Lorna inside. “I hoped you’d come over this morning. Help yourself to coffee and tell me all about your exciting cruise while I make my way through my boring laundry basket.”

Shrugging out of her jacket, Lorna peered around the corner of the kitchen into the hallway looking for any sign of June’s nine-year-old. “Is Bonnie gone?”

“The school bus picked her up a little while ago. Why?”

“I want to be sure we’re alone.” Lorna surveyed the table, with the laptop and a pile of fat file folders and legal pads at one end and the heap of laundry at the other. A full basket of clothes sat on the floor. “You’re really busy. I could come back later.”

“Don’t be silly,” June said, shaking out a crumpled bath towel. “This is laundry, not legal analysis.”

Lorna filled a mug from the carafe and went back to the table. Then she drew in a breath. “I’ve done something really stupid.”

June’s eyes narrowed. “Sit down and tell me about it.”

Lorna made a fast decision to blurt it out. “I got married. To Jack Young. In the Dominican Republic…”

 

AuthorPhoto_JacksOfHerHeartAuthor Bio and Links:

A lifelong writer, Virginia McCullough has coauthored or ghostwritten over 100 books for doctors, therapists, lawyers, professional speakers, and many others. Her other award-winning novels include Amber Light, Greta’s Grace, The Chapels on the Hill, and Island Healing. The Jacks of her Heart is Book 1 of her Capehart Bay series. Asked to sum up the themes of her fiction, she says her books are all about hope, healing, and plenty of second chances.

 

Website:  http://www.virginiamccullough.com/

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Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/virginia.mccullough.7?fref=ts

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/VEMcCullough

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/468913.Virginia_McCullough?from_search=true

 

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Danita Minnis

I should have known I would end up here... Give me a good book and I'm in heaven. Especially romance, mystery, mayhem, the fantastic and the fey. Give me a laptop and I'm writing any one of these, and not in any particular order.

9 thoughts on “Virginia McCullough: Author Interview and The Jacks of Her Heart”

  1. Great question–I’d have to say Jack is a super hero with a great heart–he rescues dogs, after all. Maybe I’d put him in some bell bottoms and a Bob Dylan hat. I’d wear one of those great mid-skirts with leather boots.

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