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Interview with Viola Russell

Q.1 Tell us a little about yourself?
A. I’m a teacher by day and write whenever I have a spare moment. I live in New Orleans with my husband Ben and have lived there all my life except for my graduate school days in Texas. My husband and I love to garden and travel. He is a retired scientist; I’m an English teacher and avid reader.

Q.2 Do you have any upcoming books?
A. My current book with Black Velvet is Unveiling of Amber. I have several with Soul Mate Publishing. They are Buccaneer Beauty, Love at War, A Fair Grounds Mystery, The Doctor and the War Widow, From Ice Wagon to Club House, and The Progeny. The Progeny is a sequel to Ice Wagon. I’m working on two novels right now, both historical in nature.

Q.3 When and why did you begin writing?
A. I first wrote in third grade. I read Black Beauty and wanted to write a story about a horse. My father trained thoroughbred racehorses. That book and Little Women made me want to write. When I read the Alcott novel, I thought I was Jo. She was and still is one of the most amazing characters ever written. I loved her dream and wanted that for myself.

Q.4 Among all the protagonists of your titles, who’s your favorite, and why?
A. That’s like asking a mother who her favorite child is. I have seven books with two different publishers. Each character has resonated with me for different reasons. Many of the historical characters have the roots of their creation in stories of my own family memories. Love at War was written when my mother died. I read the letters her brothers wrote home to my grandparents. One of those brothers never returned. I wanted to tell the story of that period, not only my family but of that generation. The novel does contain a lot of elements that are like my family, however, and many of my family members began debating if one meal was like the family meals at my grandmother’s table. With Amber, I had real sympathy for my protagonist. She is put in a very vulnerable, even dangerous position because she trusted someone who supposedly loved her. That person betrayed her and cheated on her.

Q.5 What about the supporting characters? Who does think is dearest to you?
A. Again, this is like asking the mother who her favorite child is. Winston in Amber intrigued me as I wrote him. His story evolved as the novel did. I wanted him scarred and damaged but still remarkably sexy and appealing. In Ice Wagon, I love Jude’s friend Pete. They have the ultimate bromance and are always best friends. Pete even marries Jude’s sister - which becomes a major subplot. In Love at War, Nuala’s brother George intrigues me because he is the family party boy who becomes a true hero. Buccaneer Beauty is the real story of Grace O’Malley, the pirate woman. Her first husband Donal is intriguing because he’s the ultimate brawn before brains bloke, but he’s heroic in his own way.

Q.6 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite among them?
A. I have seven books. I don’t have a favorite, but each one spoke to me as I wrote it. Writing fulfilled a need for me. I began writing in earnest after my mother died, and I wrote the historical fiction Love at War as a way of memorializing her and her generation. Other books Ice Wagon and The Progeny have loosely memorialized my father, who was much older than my mother.

Q.7 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
A. Well, I hope to stay true to the voice of each character. I am a people watcher and listener. I listen to how men speak in different situations. People, men, and women, also speak differently depending upon profession, situation, and background. My husband also is a good resource. I’ll ask him if my male characters sound like men.

Q.8 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
A. I wish I had a formula. I have worked on outlines before, but I often get an idea and just start. I have to sort out the details and order later. 

Q.9 How do you select the name of your characters?
A. That depends upon the setting and time period. I look up what male or female names were popular during a certain time and select those. If my character is from a foreign country, I look up names from those countries popular within those cultures.

Q.10 What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
A. I am an avid researcher, and I like to think my research is very accurate. That said, I couldn’t do what I do without the education I have obtained. My greatest personal accomplishment is being a good wife to my husband Ben. My greatest academic accomplishment is obtaining a doctorate from Texas A & M, and I’m also proud of having my work published. The publication has been a lifelong goal of mine.

Q.11 Outside of your family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author?
A. My local RWA chapter was a great support, but my mother was always my greatest booster. 

Q.12 Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?
A. The writer’s block definitely exists. I work fulltime as a teacher. Often, I’m very busy, and that gets in the way of genuine creativity. The way I deal with writer’s block is to put my butt in the chair and type. Even if that scene isn’t something that’s great, I write. You can’t fix an empty page. I tell my students that as well.

Q.13 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
A. I read some, but I take each one as a lesson in writing. What did this person like or dislike? How can I improve? Of course, you can’t please everyone. My mother would tell me that. Some people don’t like historical writing or romance. They like sci-fi, and that’s fine. Of course, you wonder why they bothered reading your book in the first place if they don’t like the genre.

Q.14 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
A. I’d love to say I burn a candle and say some incantation, but I don’t. I think I should adopt some; doing something unique might help the process.

Q.15 Do you hide any secrets in your book that only a few people will find?
A. The address of the main character in Love at War was my grandmother’s old residence in New Orleans. My grandmother was the original Viola Russell, by the way. I took her name as a writer. 

Q.16 Who designed your book covers?
A. Jessica Greely designed Amber. It is wonderfully hot and sensual while tasteful. Melody A. Pond with Soul Mate did Ice Wagon and The Progeny. She did a great job capturing the time period.

Q.17 What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
A. Don’t give up on your dream. You may not find that publishing contract right away, but you should give your dream a fair chance. Don’t let the naysayers discourage you. I let that happen for too long.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
A. Only one? I wish I could meet Louisa May Alcott and Anna Sewell to thank them for inspiring me. I would love to meet any member of the Beatles to thank them for their music, which helped me through a very lonely childhood. I would love to meet the new pope and meet a true man of peace face to face.

Q.19 What is your favorite book and why?
A. How can I pick a favorite? As I said, I loved Little Women, but various books have resonated with me at different times in my life.  In college, I loved Crime and Punishment. I still love Return of the Native and Far From the Madding Crowd. Of contemporary writers, I love Philippa Gregory, James Lee Burke, Anita Diamant, Kristin Hannah, Ruth Ware, Tracy Borman, David Fulmer, Ann Rice, and C. S. Harris. I’m an eclectic reader.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
A. I’ve lived several lifetimes. I was a Catholic schoolgirl who didn’t fit in. I was at the theatre and drama major in college. I then was the television producer on a live TV station and way over my head. That girl became the English major/doctoral student. Then, a teacher, and then a wife. Through it all, I was a writer.

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  1. What a fun interview, Viola - it's great to find out more about you. Thank you, Aakanksha! Congratulations on your 100th interview post, too. :)

  2. Great interview! So nice to learn a little more about you.

  3. Wonderful interview Brit and Viola.
    Funny you should mention Black Beauty. I remember reading it again and again as a young child until it fell apart. I kept that copy and still have it. You have so many books it sounds like I have some reading to do.

  4. It's so nice to meet you Viola! Great interview. It's so true that books are like our children!

  5. This was an interesting interview to read. You have lived many lives. I'm sure it shows in your writing. I love how you included your grandmother's address in a book! Just picked up Unveiling of Amber. Can't wait to read it.

  6. A wonderful interview, Viola! I enjoyed getting to know the author behind the book.

  7. I think I still have my copy of Black Beauty. Loved the interview Viola. Congrats on the doctorate.

  8. Viola nice to meet you. Nice interview. I definitely will be adding a few of your books to my TBR list.