I’m excited to have the chance to chat with Carol Cox today. Carol was one of my first mentors, so I love the opportunity to catch up with her on her latest series, A Fair to Remember
, from Barbour Publishing. The setting for this series is fascinating, so pick up a copy of her latest release in the series, Fair Game
, at your local bookstore, or sign up today on our contest page for a chance to win a free copy!
LISA: Tell us some of the background behind the idea for your series.
CAROL: My mother had a book that fascinated me as a little girl. It was called News of a Nation, a history of the United States done up in a mock newspaper format. I’d sit on our living room floor and go through a few pages at a time, reading articles about everything from the arrival of Columbus to the early 1940s, when the book was printed. Considering that history was absolutely my least favorite subject in those days, finding something that would grip my attention that way was pretty amazing.
Fast forward to my son’s college years. Knowing he was a history major, my mother dug out the book and gave it to him. When I saw it again after all that time, I had to sit down and go through it again. I came across an article with a brief mention of the World’s Columbian Exposition and what a turning point it had been for our country. And my reaction was: “Huh??? If it was such a big thing, why haven’t I ever heard of it?”
Being the inquisitive person I am (a word I much prefer to “nosy”), I had to check it out on the Internet and found tons of information. And what a treasure trove it turned out to be! I was hooked right away. The fair was an absolutely fascinating moment in our history, and I knew right away it would be the perfect setting for a book. Or two or three. : )
While I was doing research for Ticket to Tomorrow
, the first title in the A Fair to Remember
series, I came across some interesting tidbits of information, like the idea of girls flocking to the big city in search of independence. . .and many of them going missing during the fair for one reason or another. The police were so overwhelmed with missing person reports they couldn’t hope to track them all down.
What great potential for a mystery! That was enough to spark the idea that developed into Fair Game.
LISA: Wow. I love the idea for your setting. I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. Is there a character who you relate to and who made an input on your life?
CAROL: Most of them do, in one way or another. In Fair Game
, there are things I can relate to in both of the main characters.
Seth Howell—sort of an early urban missionary who spends a good part of his time at a local gym—lives and ministers in a way quite different from what is typically thought of as the norm for pastors. Like Seth, my husband is a pastor, but he also owns a saddle shop. Lately he’s been making gun rigs for many of the participants in Cowboy Action Shooting and recently started going to some of the meets as a competitor as well as a vendor. These have become great family outings for the two of us and our daughter, as well as opening new opportunities for ministry. People don’t expect a pastor to double as a sparring partner. . .or to spend time practicing his fast draw!
But like Seth, this gives us a way to move out of our “box” and connect with people outside the church setting.
I can also relate to the way both Dinah and Seth become discouraged and question their calling when nothing seems to come of all their efforts. It’s disheartening when you do your best to share the love of Christ, but no one seems to listen or care. That’s when I have to remember that I’m where I am because God planted me there. My job is not to bring about results. My job is to be faithful. Knowing I’m right where I’m supposed to be—regardless of whether I appear to be successful or not—gives me the encouragement I need to go on.
LISA: What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?
CAROL: Much as I love the process—making up stories, researching fascinating eras, spending time in the company of characters I thoroughly enjoy—I am not writing for myself. God has called me to do this, and I write for Him. It takes my breath away to realize that through my writing, I can reach many more people than I ever would be able to connect with one on one.
LISA: Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?
CAROL: I would love to continue writing stories with a strong mystery/suspense element. That has been my favorite genre to read since my dad presented me with my first chapter book at age five. Historical mysteries allow me to combine two wonderful genres in one project!
As for specific dreams, it would be a joy to write an ongoing series, where readers follow the same characters through a whole string of books instead of a handful of titles. That doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon, given the current market, but I can always hope!
LISA: Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published?
CAROL: Learn all you can about the craft of writing. That sounds simplistic, but I’m concerned about a trend I’ve noticed for aspiring writers to focus on learning to market their books before they ever produce a publishable manuscript. There is nothing wrong with developing promotion skills, but it’s important to keep these things in balance.
There are wonderful books available, covering everything from basic grammar to character development to plot and structure and much more. In addition, organizations like American Christian Fiction Writers offer teaching, encouragement, and support to their members. And writers conferences are held all around the country at different times throughout the year. Attending conferences is a wonderful way to build on your knowledge as well as getting to know others who share your passion for writing.
I am currently working on my twenty-third title, which, like Ticket to Tomorrow
and Fair Game
, will be set at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The more I write, the more I realize how much more there still is to learn. There is always the joy of growing, of improving my skills, of learning to be a “workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (from 2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)
LISA: Any writer’s resources you could recommend?
CAROL: Absolutely! Here are some of my favorites:
*Stein on Writing
by Sol Stein
*Plot & Structure
by James Scott Bell
*Getting into Character
by Brandilyn Collins
*Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
by Renni Browne and Dave King
*Techniques of the Selling Writer
by Dwight V. Swain
*Writing the Breakout Novel
and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook
by Donald Maass
*Christian Writers’ Market Guide
by Sally Stuart
LISA: What is the process you use when writing a mystery/suspense
CAROL: A sense of place is very important to me. Quite often, a setting will be the first thing that takes hold of my imagination, with the characters and plot emerging from that. Just as an example of how writers of different genres react to the same setting, I once visited a theme park with another writer and our editor. The other author, who writes wonderful romances, was enthused about the possibilities the park presented as a setting for a romantic interlude. I, on the other hand, was practically giddy at the wealth places it offered to plant a body. Sad, isn’t it? : )
The characters tend to take form while I’m getting acquainted with the setting. Who would be in that particular place, and why? What would they be doing? Once they walk onto the stage of my imagination, I watch them and learn what makes them tick.
And from that, the plot unfolds. What are they looking for? What forces work against them? And how will it all resolve in a satisfactory way? I usually have a general ending in mind, but the specific answer to that last question may not come to me until I’m close to writing the end of the book.
In addition to the mystery story arc, these characters have lives. What else is happening to them? And how does that tie in to the mystery? Finding ways to crank up the tension and make it more difficult and dangerous for your characters is essential to keep the reader turning pages.
LISA: Tell us a bit about the research you had to do for this story?
CAROL: I’ve loved researching all my books, but the research for this series was even more fun than most. I discovered websites that covered the fair in great detail, with descriptions of the buildings, admission prices to the various attractions on the midway, maps, photos, you name it. I spent hours poring over those!
One of the sites, from the Paul V. Galvin Library at the Illinois Institute of Technology, even showed floor plans of some of the buildings. What a find! When I wasn’t able to decipher the lettering on the plans, I contacted their assistant dean of bibliographic systems. She was kind enough to make copies of the floor plans and send them to me. Having those helped immeasurably in being able to portray the setting accurately.
In addition, I’ve been able to purchase several books published at the time of the fair. Opening those fragile pages and reading about the event from the point of view of the people who were actually there is like taking a step back in time. For anyone who is interested in getting a better idea of the fair and the role it played in ushering in the 20th century in America, I recommend The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, available from Dover Publications. It’s an easy read, chock full of photos and a map of the grounds that bring the setting to life and show why it truly was A Fair to Remember.
What I really wish I had is a time machine. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to travel back to take part in that event? I did find a map that showed the layout of the fair in relation to the roads that crisscross Jackson Park today. When my family visited Chicago while I was writing the first book in the series, we spent a day wandering around Jackson Park with the map in hand, getting a feel for its size and scope and the locations of the buildings. That’s probably as close as I’ll ever come to making that trip by time machine!
Lisa, thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of Keep Me In Suspense. I’ve enjoyed the visit!
LISA: You are so welcome, Carol. Blessings as you continue to write for Him!