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Interview with Wanda Canada, October 15, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Wanda Canada, October 15, 2007
October 15, 2007
In this interview, local mystery novelist Wanda Canada discusses the influences which led to her career as a writer, her writing process and sources of inspiration, and the particulars of having a book published including publicity and working with an editor.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Canada, Wanda Interviewer:  Rodrigues, Carmen Date of Interview:  10/15/2007 Series:  SENC Writers Length  60 minutes


Rodrigues: This is Carmen Rodrigues. Today is October 15, 2007. I'm in Wilmington with Wanda Canada. Wanda is a local mystery writer and the author of two novels, Island Murders, and its sequel, Cape Fear Murders. Welcome Wanda.

Wanda Canada: Good morning. Glad to be here.

Rodrigues: Well we're happy to have you here. I normally start these interviews by going back to the very beginning, to childhood. I like to find out when writers discovered their love for reading and potentially their love for writing. So if we could go back to when you were a young girl, I heard in an interview that you were an avid reader by the age of nine.

Wanda Canada: Well yes, but I actually began reading at 4. I was, I don't know, I always say I was a bored child and books were, is, every bored child's savior. But by the time I was nine I was reading adult books and all of the science fiction and the Zane Grey's and all the- every mystery and horse book I could lay my hands on. And I often said if my mother had known what I was reading quietly in the corner she would've taken away my library pass very quickly.

Rodrigues: Did you come from a large family? Were there a lot of children in your home?

Wanda Canada: Actually I had a half brother by my father's first wife who died and then two sisters. And then mother and dad adopted, or more or less adopted, two cousins whose mother died, and so we wound up being about 6 of us. But we were all about 4 1/2 to 5 years apart so I always say we didn't even play well together. Two of us though were about 3 months apart and-- a boy cousin, and we kept the family lively. It was an interesting family.

Rodrigues: And did they share your love of reading or were you one of the odd ones in the family?

Wanda Canada: I think they all liked to read but I think I probably liked to read more than any of them. You know, when you really, really love to read you would sell your soul for a good book to read. You'll do most anything. And reading takes you away. No matter how tough life gets or how tense you feel. Reading has always done it for me.

Rodrigues: And you would go to the library and pick out books, and you started picking out a lot of adult books. How many books were you reading a year at that time?

Wanda Canada: Oh gosh, I don't know. I remember in the 7th grade though I had-- and I started school when I was five, started first grade at five-- in the 7th grade, you know, we had bookcases this size or bigger in every classroom. And I would work my way through every book in the bookcase through the year. So I don't know. I just loved to read.

Rodrigues: And did your teachers encourage your love of reading? Were there any particular teachers that said to you, "Oh Wanda, you really do read a lot and you're a good writer"? Did you have any teachers that were particularly influential in your idea of maybe possibly one day becoming a writer?

Wanda Canada: I had good teachers all the way through and I think that helps. Elementary I spent and first year of high school, which would've been 8th grade, in Bradford, Virginia, which is a college town, and then moved to the Blacksburg area, which is another college town. And it wasn't until probably my junior year in high school though that I began to get exceptional teachers who really encouraged the serious writing. And that helps no end when you're that age. It's just a wonderful thing to have, who make you believe that you really can do it.

Rodrigues: Did you find at that time when you were writing, were you starting to come up with ideas for mysteries? What were you writing during those high school years?

Wanda Canada: Oh the first book I wrote was in the 9th grade in a very boring science class. It was a teacher close to retirement who taught with her eyes closed and waved her arms around a lot and I just thought I'd die, you know. I told you writers bore easily. And I passed the class. It wasn't a very good grade. But while her eyes were closed I sat there and wrote a whole book. Wasn't a very good book I'm sure but it was about horses. I was horse crazy at the time like a lot of other girl teenagers.

Rodrigues: Did you share that first book with anyone?

Wanda Canada: You know, I often say that it's probably buried somewhere-- no I don't think I did. Probably buried somewhere in my mother's attic, but since no one can get in that attic without clearing from the front-- we're gonna go through that attic one of these days and I'm betting money she kept it. She kept everything else.

Rodrigues: So after that first book in the 9th grade, did you continue writing other stories about horses or other subjects?

Wanda Canada: You know, I don't remember that I wrote a great deal more 'cause the grades get harder and I had some tough teachers. I don't remember writing any actual books and I've never really written short stories to speak of. And it wasn't until, you know, I went to work at 17 and started college part time at Virginia Tech and then I got married and started having babies, so it wasn't until my kids were probably 5 and 6 that I began serious writing again. And that novel was- that first novel-- well now that's not true. As a young married woman I wrote a book about a change of leadership at Virginia Tech, and that was a mystery. And it was something I was very, very moved to write. And it's still buried and it should come out again now that we're far away from the 60s. It was in the demonstration days, and kind of the ruthless days of administrations. You know, something has to tick you off enough or get you stirred up enough to really go gung ho for a book.

Rodrigues: What did you study at Virginia Tech?

Wanda Canada: There weren't very many options at Virginia Tech. My original love was to be an architect and I couldn't get in- women couldn't get in the school of architecture at the time. So I started in home economics. And it took me about one quarter to realize that home economics was not my thing. And basically from then on I took whatever I wanted to take, never-- went to school probably 15 maybe 20 years part time, never actually got a sheepskin. And later on as a professor's wife I could audit any courses I wanted or take courses and skip around a lot, doing a lot of political science classes, a lot of writing classes at NC State, and even a few courses at Georgia Tech when he was getting his PhD there so...

Rodrigues: You mentioned that when you started Virginia Tech that women weren't allowed to take architecture classes.

Wanda Canada: They weren't. You weren't permitted in the school of architecture.

Rodrigues: How did the education system for you change over those 15 to 20 years that you were taking classes as far as...

Wanda Canada: Marvelous. Marvelous. Especially by the time I got to NC state. At Georgia Tech women were not allowed in their day school, the regular classes, they could only do the night school which is kind of where women went to find husbands. And by then I had a husband and a baby and so, you know, and you had a really hard time finding a bathroom at Georgia Tech. You would sometimes have to go to the next building. Sometimes you would have to find- you would find nasty notices on the doors from male students. Interesting atmosphere. It was not something that happened easily but it was fun.

Rodrigues: And you took writing classes you said once you became the professor's wife. Tell us a little bit about your writing courses at the university and how they might have influenced your writing or developed you as a writer.

Wanda Canada: NC State was, and all of North Carolina is, a very nurturing environment for new writers. I don't remember getting that anywhere else but it may be that every state has that and I just don't know it. I was fortunate enough to take a lot of classes under Sam Regan, who for a time was poet laureate in North Carolina. Also had classes or at least one class under Guy Owen who wrote the Flim Flam Man. And, you know, I'm trying to remember some of the other names. But there were always visiting professors who were there and side courses you could take, but the funniest one of all was Guy Owen. He was just a hoot in classes.

Rodrigues: What role do you think that teachers have in the lives of young writers, in developing them?

Wanda Canada: In actually the development of the way they write, I don't know that it's that strong, at least it wasn't for me. But encouraging them to write, yes. When you're young, you're looking for any signs of encouragement because you don't have a clue whether you're good or not. And no matter how good you are I think you still feel that way. So the least encouragement is a really big thing to a young writer.

Rodrigues: Do you think that writers write because they feel compelled to write or because they feel that they're talented enough to write?

Wanda Canada: I have met so many writers who do it for all kinds of reasons. A lot of them are compelled to write. And there are times when I'm really compelled to write and you just sort of can't stop writing. I think the better you get, maybe the less compelled you feel, at least that's been the way it is for me. You get a lot of things out of your system with the first few books and Island Murders was actually about the 5th book that I had written. And it-- no- yes, if you want to include a book of poetry and a children's book. So I wasn't a novice at it, but it wasn't until we retired down here in the early 90s that I went back to it seriously.

Rodrigues: Was Island Murders the first book that you had written that found a publisher?

Wanda Canada: Yes, yes.

Rodrigues: Were you looking for publishers for the other ones or were they more just for you?

Wanda Canada: No. I was looking for a publisher for at least the first one or two. The first one, set at Virginia Tech, was-- which I've often thought about changing to UNC Wilmington, it would be ideal, an ideal spot for this, that one actually made a number of rounds and was at-- in those days you could send directly to big publishers and this one spent 6 months at Doubleday. And I finally got a personal letter from the top editor who said something like-- how did it go? They apologized for keeping it so long, which was unheard of to begin with, and said it had made the rounds of all their editors and they liked it but it wasn't something that met their needs that year and to please send them anything else that I wrote. And that was a big encouragement, but I never sent them anything else. Don't ask me why. Life gets real busy at times and there was a long stretch that I didn't do anything. Well the years, the 17 years, in real estate I did technical writing and classes and things like that, but I didn't do any fiction. And I guess because by the time you spend 12 hours doing other things and dealing with people you don't have the creative juices. But I remembered most of it, so there's lots of fodder in there yet.

Rodrigues: So let's shoot for then after those 17 years of working and being a parent and life, and let's move towards the time when you first came up with the idea for your first published novel, Island Murders, and this wonderful character that you created, Carol Davenport. What came first, the idea for the book or the character?

Wanda Canada: For that particular book, I think it was the idea of, you know, things come to you suddenly and you don't know where they come from. Probably everything that's in your head is a compilation of what you've read and seen and known and etc. But it suddenly occurred to me that- what would happen if there was actually a body under the dock. And I had Carol Davenport, that was the lead character in a-- I don't believe her name was Carol Davenport though, I'll have to go back and look, but in this book-- yes in Island Murders it was Carol Davenport, but in the original book her first name was Carol, but it was a book set in Virginia and in Atlanta. And it was definitely a murder mystery. And I still ought to pull that out and redo it. I might do that. But it was the Oconoid conspiracy and if I move that to the Brunswick plant that could be interesting. But when I pulled it out right after 2001, I was looking for another book to write, it wasn't the right time to do a terrorist attack on a nuclear plant so I put it aside and did Cape Fear Murders. But it-- so I liked Carol in that other book and I moved her to this book, and could easily move her back to the other book as part of another sequel.

Rodrigues: So you're, walk us through it, are you at work one day and you think there could be a body down here, underneath here, and that's where the idea came to create this murder mystery?

Wanda Canada: That's literally where the book came from. You know, you may not be actually working when it comes to you, you may be sitting somewhere staring into space and it just- or driving, and it comes to you. It's an interesting process.

Rodrigues: And then what happened? Did you say okay I'll put a body here and then just the idea started to flow or...

Wanda Canada: Well, and then you have the main character who discovers the body and then you have to build characters around this person and then you have to, you know, figure out why that body's there. And I like to do the characters and then sort of let them do the action, because characters will kind of take over a book. I mean it's a little spooky at times and if you're not having them do what they feel right doing, which sounds a little crazy, but you'll know it fairly soon, because what they are saying or doing sounds wooden and artificial so...

Rodrigues: Do you take out notebooks and create character sketches? How do you go about developing your character?

Wanda Canada: I try to do about a one page sketch of every character, you know. And partly so I won't forget, you know, and have one person one age in one chapter and another age in another. It saves an awful lot of checking. You can't give them blue eyes here and green eyes there and all of that. So I do try to do a character description of every single character. And it just saves a lot of work in the long run and it gives you a real-- by the time you've done that you have a real in depth feel to this character. You know more likely how they'll react to a situation and what they'll say and do.

Rodrigues: With Carol Davenport, she is someone who is a developer with a background in construction. And you have a background in construction. How much of Carol is a reflection of your own past and your own history?

Wanda Canada: I was never an actual builder. I was only doing renovations so- but I have friends who tell me they hear my smart mouth in Carol's dialogue so I, you know, in that respect there probably is some similarity, and it's hard not to put yourself into some of the character's language. I don't know that I could do a character that is totally, totally different from the way I am and have them the lead character. But probably could, you know, just haven't tried it yet. But it-- oh geez I forgot what the question was. What was the second part of the question?

Rodrigues: Well, just how much of Carol is you and your own history and what characters-- well Carol, having some qualities that we see in you, your smart mouth, quoting your friends, and a background, a similar background, you have a real estate background, and a family, construction, she's a builder. How much of the other characters that we find in your novels are a reflection of perhaps local Wilmington characters? Because the books are set in this area, the Cape Fear area of Wilmington. How much of the other characters are a reflection of perhaps friends, family or local characters in our area?

Wanda Canada: I would have to say that there are none that are local characters that I can think of. And all of the characters are probably composites of people that I've known and people that I have, you know, like mayors in other towns. I have people say to me it's obvious who this person is and that person is and that's probably the way it should be, but they are not those people invariably. But they, you know, they, in their mind, they work it out that it's this particular person. I kept getting comments that everybody knew who the mayor was in the first book and it absolutely wasn't. It was a combination of mayors that I've known in several other towns, and politicians that I've known in several other towns. But I don't think there's anybody local and I- if I have friends that I put in these, I try to only do the good-- or compilations of friends, only do the good points. And I haven't murdered any friends yet and I don't think I will.

Rodrigues: Have you ever had a friend think that they've seen themselves in the book and it actually hasn't been them?

Wanda Canada: Yes, yes.

Rodrigues: Have you ever had a friend request they be put in your next one?

Wanda Canada: Yes. Actually I have a niece that asked to be put in the second book and I said well sure hon, what do you want me to do with you? And she said oh kill me, kill me. And I thought okay, I'll just kill her and I killed her in the first page. And it didn't bother me at all until I got it out in hardback and by then I thought oh my gosh, that was the creepiest sensation to realize that I had killed my own niece, and even used her name. But she works for the army department in DC and has been my biggest supporter and actually autographed books herself, so she's gained a lot of notoriety from being the local woman about town. She's enjoyed it.

Rodrigues: What's some of the other feedback that you've received from your family and friends about your writing, encouragement or helpful tips. Do any of them ever try to give you suggestions of what should happen in your next book?

Wanda Canada: Oh everybody gives suggestions and the family, you know, is always more open with suggestions than others. My mother, though, very first question was-- well beyond why is it such small print 'cause she was in her 80s, and her first full question, though, was: why did you have the mother dead? And, you know, it never occurred to me because my mother was alive at the time and it just- I didn't put two and two together, but she caught it real fast.

Rodrigues: And in the book, Carol's mother drowned when she was young.

Wanda Canada: Yes. Is actually murdered, but she doesn't know it at the time.

Rodrigues: So that leads into the whole extra mystery element of it. How many books do you anticipate will be in the Carol Davenport series when all is said and done? Do you have an idea of certain adventures that you want Carol to have, or are you kind of taking it one day at a time when it comes to the series?

Wanda Canada: I wish I could say I were organized enough to be three books ahead with the series, but I'm not. The third book, which I hope they'll let me call Beach Murders, is the third book in the series and- but I don't know about a fourth one. You never know unless something moves you. Something has to move you enough to write a whole book about it, and just sitting down and saying well I'm going to put Carol in another book and see what happens is not the way I can work, but then on the other hand I haven't really tried it. I have to be inspired.

Rodrigues: And you're still working on another project that may not necessarily be a Carol Davenport?

Wanda Canada: Yes.

Rodrigues: Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Wanda Canada: Well I don't have much of it yet and I simply have the title Annie Dove at the time and it involves a 15 year old girl who leaves home after her mother dies. I have a lot of dead mothers in these books-- leaves home after her mother dies because of an abusive stepfather. She runs away. But she's a tall girl and claims she's 19 years old and she comes to a small town in Georgia and the minister meets her at the bus station and sends her to this older woman. I've always loved old ladies and I work old ladies in wherever I can. And- who's a bit of a curmudgeon. And Annie becomes her border and her person who does the yard. And it's gonna be interesting.

Rodrigues: It's not a mystery though.

Wanda Canada: I don't know yet. There may be a body buried under the front porch of the house next door. I'm not sure yet.

Rodrigues: Do the stories get away from you like that? Do you find your plot as you go? Do you kind of have a general idea and then as the characters develop does the story develop equally at the same pace?

Wanda Canada: Yes, I always try to do a general outline. But I don't do a detailed outline because I find that trying to stick with an absolute outline is too confining. So I- yeah, I may go all over the place and then I may do a scene, you know, three different ways and then come back to what fits the best. And I always sort of try to do some unexpected things that liven it up a lot. I like a very fast paced book so you don't quite know what's gonna happen.

Rodrigues: Do you write an entire first draft and then go back and edit or do you edit as you write?

Wanda Canada: I should do the whole first draft, but I am a- I do a lot of editing as I go along, which slows you down. The first book, for instance, they made almost no changes to because I'd been editing along the way. The second book drove me wild because I tried to do it the new way and there was an awful lot of writing and rewriting to do at the end to meet the deadline, to the tune of maybe 10-12 hours a day. And that just burns you out real fast. And we got to the point where they were changing things back to the way I had them in the first place because they realized they liked that better. So if I rewrite as I go along, it sort of keeps things tighter, at least for me. I feel a little more satisfied.

Rodrigues: What's your writing schedule like? Do you write when you're inclined to write? Do you have certain hours a week perhaps that you say I definitely need to write this number of hours a week? How do you determine when to write and what amount of time to write for?

Wanda Canada: That's a good question. Every writer's different and for me there have been times when I've done it regularly, and if I were smart I would do it from 9-12 every day. That's about my limit. But you're thinking- that keeps you in the process of thinking about things all the time. Right now I am not being very good at it. I'm being either diligent in doing it or diligent in doing it regularly. So it's hard to say that I'm a very regular sit the tush down, but I do find-- some great writer said, you know, half of writing is putting your tush in the computer seat. I do find that if I sit down and start it and close the drapes and work strictly on that computer, that it comes. It may not be good, but it comes.

Rodrigues: Is it necessary for you to feel like it's going to be good or do you sometimes think I just have to push myself through this and then I will go back and clean it up.

Wanda Canada: Mostly no. Mostly I like to-- well maybe not mostly no, I forgot how you phrased your question. But mostly I'll work on it at the computer until it sounds right, but there are times when you do have to push yourself to just say this is not working, let's get through it and then go back and let it sit for a while or set for a while, whatever.

Rodrigues: When you wrote the first book in the series I think I read somewhere or I heard in an interview that it took you four years?

Wanda Canada: It did take four years, but I was doing other things at the time, one of which was fundraising for the new library down at Landfall and trying to get that library put there, or at least trying to get a big library in this part of town. And that was enormously time consuming, but I didn't regret a minute of it. It was a fairly small fundraising committee and- but enormously satisfying. Somewhere in that period of time I finished that book and fortunately had a friend working at that publishing company, at Coastal Carolina Press, which was a great little press. And they actually accepted it-- well no, actually they accepted it before it was quite finished. And that was a real inspiration so...

Rodrigues: When they accepted it did they give you a deadline or were they like when you finish it that's when we'll take it, but we want you to know that we're committed to the project.

Wanda Canada: You know, I really can't remember, but I think there was a deadline. And then-- because I think from the time they accepted it to the time it was supposed to be published was about 6 months so-- and of course they had the right to turn it down. But I think they gave me a contract before it was actually finished. I cannot quite remember.

Rodrigues: A lot of writers struggle with writing under deadline. With your second book I'm assuming that there was a shorter deadline. What was the difference for you, writing at your leisure, at your own pace, and then having to write under deadline?

Wanda Canada: Well I had a very encouraging editor who had a good way of asking me where are you going this week and that kind of thing, or for this particular chapter. And I worked okay under that. But sitting at the computer for long, long periods of time sort of gets you burn out. It took me a while to start that third book.

Rodrigues: How long do you normally rest between books? What's the average-- well let me go back actually. When you finish the first draft of the manuscript do you start editing right away or do you wait? Do you let it sit? Do you let it sink in?

Wanda Canada: Theoretically you should let it sit for a little while because you'll see things that you didn't see before if it gets sort of cold. But you'll also lose some perspective and enthusiasm. I would say I work both ways. I think I worked well under that deadline but it was a push and I'm not sure that's the best way for me to work. But neither is dawdling around forever the best way to work. So maybe I haven't found my happy medium yet. But if I would get in the computer chair and work from 9-12 every morning, that would be a good thing for me. Those are my best hours.

Rodrigues: After you've completed a manuscript do you feel in a way drained, or I need to have a relaxing next few weeks. What is the feeling of having completed a novel?

Wanda Canada: Well it's a good feeling, and if you have a publisher it's an even better feeling. But there are times, you know, by the time I finished the second book all I wanted was to get that baby out of the house, you know. It's like an unruly teenager. You just- you spent so much time on it that you just are ready for it to go off to college. But with the first book, you know, I was happy it was getting published, but as a writer, if you're striving for at least near perfection, you can always find things that you feel you should change. And no matter how many times you go back through it, there's always something. So it's just sort of that trade off between getting the unruly teenager out of the house and parting with a child.

Rodrigues: Do you find that when you get into that mindset of tweaking and fixing, that oftentimes you do more damage than good?

Wanda Canada: Maybe not oftentimes, but, you know, everything can be improved believe it or not. Even perfection can be improved upon.

Rodrigues: Do you ever find that you have to follow your instincts when it comes to certain plotlines, or how much of it is up for evaluation? I guess is what I'm asking. How much of it is instinct and how much of it is careful crafting when it comes to your writing style?

Wanda Canada: Oh that's a good question. I hadn't really thought about that. I like to think it's a combination of both, maybe half and half. The words just kind of flow. My mother used to say, you know, your imagination will get you in trouble someday. And writers think in weird ways. You don't know what's going to occur to you at 3:00 in the morning, and if I'm puzzling over something you may come up with an idea at 3 a.m. that'll wake you up and you'll say aha that's the ideal solution. So your brain is always thinking I think.

Rodrigues: When you're done with the manuscript and you hand it over to your editor, let's talk a little bit about the post writing, the editing process. How does that feel as a writer to be edited? Was there anything surprising about that experience?

Wanda Canada: With the particular editor that I had, I thought she was very good. And I think there were probably two editors that were going through it at Coastal Carolina Press and they were both good. And they always caught things I didn't catch. Even though I used to do some editing and I was good at it. But somebody else will always see something that you don't see, so for that reason alone I always suggest you have other people look at it. Maybe not for their opinions but for the corrections. I also have been in a writers group since well before the first book came out, a local writers group, and am still in it. And Nan Graham is in that same writers group. And there are several published authors in there. And we read aloud. We bring work and read it aloud in that meeting and they're very talented at catching things. So I catch a lot of things before the editor ever sees them.

Rodrigues: How, with the writer's group, in what ways, you read things out loud, what other ways do you offer support to one another? Do they get the manuscripts when you're done, before anyone else? Do they get chunks of it? How does that work?

Wanda Canada: You know, I don't think they ever got the whole manuscript with me and I don't know that I've ever gotten a whole manuscript from someone else. But the bits and pieces of what we read-- and if we change that section that we read it in the workshop- is- needs enough corrections, we may take it back and read it again and see if we're going in the right direction. That helps enormously. And my group, I think, is fairly kind but we also know how to-- I'm not fairly kind, we're very kind I think, and try to do it in a very constructive way, but, you know, sometimes you have to be a little sharper with the knife than other times. And we're all attached to our words, every single one of us, and sometimes you just hate to let them go. But everything can be cut drastically and tightened and...

Rodrigues: As a writer, having other writers read your work is very important, but how important is it for you as a writer to nurture other writers?

Wanda Canada: I think it's good for you. And it's important to me because you find ways of writing and ways of thinking that you hadn't really considered. And so just the part of working with other writers is- has a growth factor to it. And I don't know how to explain it, you know. North Carolina has been so nurturing to me as a writer that I don't mind passing it on at all. And hope I'm doing more good than harm. I have been referred to in the past as Wanda the knife though, so...

Rodrigues: Because of your instincts to cut, cut, cut?

Wanda Canada: Cut, cut, cut, yeah.

Rodrigues: How much of your own work do you cut, cut, cut, when you're going through it?

Wanda Canada: When I go back and edit, a lot, you know, especially words, to tighten up sentences. We're all too wordy. It's just a matter of seeing it on paper and getting it. And if I don't get it, the writers group probably gets it, and if they don't get it, the editor probably gets it.

Rodrigues: You mentioned that you had a close relationship with your editor during the writing of your two books in the Carol Davenport...

Wanda Canada: Not the first one, but the second one.

Rodrigues: The second one. How important-- and that you worked with a small press.

Wanda Canada: I thought working with a small press for the first books was just an enormous advantage, even though I recognized from the get go that the distribution would not be probably what you would get with a major publisher. And, you know, the first one never went the rounds but I jumped at the chance to go with Coastal Carolina Press. And I think having a local publisher was about as good as it gets. And if Random House was in Wilmington, you know, I would be at the door every day with a manuscript. But getting to the editors in a timely fashion, having real time quick time turnaround on everything was, I thought, very rewarding, and if you could get the best of both worlds so much the better. But I don't know how you do that with the distribution.

Rodrigues: I know since the first two series have come out Coastal Carolina has ceased to exist, and with the third book looking for a home, what are your plans and are you looking for a local company again? Will you be looking a little larger? Are you open?

Wanda Canada: So far I've spent all my time looking for an agent to get with a large publishing house, which has been very frustrating because no matter how good a query letter you have I think they go in the trash can and you never hear from them. The only editor or, excuse me, the only agent that actually looked at it sent the books back immediately and said there's no market right now for tea cosies. So I knew he hadn't opened the books because they are not tea cosies and- but I've gotten some good feedback from other agents, but I have not gotten an agent, so-- and I may go back with a regional press, one of the larger regional presses, and- but I can't hold on to it forever, so at some point I have to make that decision. That should be sooner rather than later, but, you know, with the first two books I've been marketing them since- myself since Coastal Carolina press went out of business, and they're still selling as well as they ever did. But it will work you to death in the summertime.

Rodrigues: It seems to me that you do have a very large, a very consistent fan base that's kind of-- I was reading on some websites the fans talking about reading your books and how they loved them. Are your fans biting at the bits to get their hands on one?

Wanda Canada: They are. They are. And, you know, I feel like I should apologize, but I probably have 12 people a week say when is the next book coming out? And it's beginning to get embarrassing. So I need to make this happen. I don't want to publish it myself though because you have trouble getting good reviews, and then I'd be right back where I was before with distribution. And although I've met an awful lot of nice people who are selling these books and it...

Rodrigues: A lot of writers are surprised even when they're with a large press at the amount of self marketing that goes into making your book a success. Let's talk a little bit about the business aspect of being a writer. What's been your experience and perhaps what's been the most surprising thing from the task after your book is published to getting it out to the public and making sure that people know that it exists?

Wanda Canada: Well I think with any publishing house, unless you're a huge name writer, you're going to have to do a lot of the publicity and marketing, etc. etc. yourself. I'm good with sales and I, you know, really only work with good people, so my strategy is just- has been anytime I'm on the road I'll hit every bookstore, major gift shops. I'm finding that, and maybe it's because that's all I've traveled to try to market it, is basically between the Virginia line and into Northern Florida, within 100 miles of the coast, and maybe it has to do with the book's titles, that they're oriented toward the coastal areas. I don't know. But that part is very rewarding. But it's a lot of work and it takes away from your writing time. Sort of wears you out at times.

Rodrigues: Do you do a lot of readings at book stores and things like that?

Wanda Canada: You do for the first 6 months to a year that a book comes out. And then I, I don't do that many small book clubs anymore, but you'll do larger meetings and talk. And I guess my largest one has been about 300 people and I always say it's very rewarding to see 300 people sit up and take notice and be enthusiastic. I also say that if men could see how enthusiastic 300 women are about murder, they would be a little nervous.

Rodrigues: Why mysteries? What made you gravitate towards being a mystery writer with a high body count, and also you do it with such a sense of humor. What about that appeals to you?

Wanda Canada: There's nothing humorous really about real murder. Let's say that right up front because it's a tragedy for families. But it- I've always liked reading mysteries and, you know, I think they're right, that you should- the experts are right, that you should write about what you know and what you like to read. And I like really fast paced mysteries and I like-- I don't want to read a mystery about people that I don't like. And life is funny. I mean life is humorous in itself and there's so much irony and humor and basic things that go on every day. And I like to write, but the reason I think people have gotten attached to my characters is that the good ones, not the dog-fowlers and the, you know, the less than good people in the books, is that they care about each other and are supportive of each other even though they're also critical. And I like that feeling that you get and that- that you get with a book, even a mystery and with horrible things happening, about people who care about each other.

Rodrigues: And in your mystery there's an element of romance.

Wanda Canada: Oh, yes.

Rodrigues: Let's talk a little bit about that. How fun was it to write the romantic element?

Wanda Canada: Oh very hard. I'm good with the romantic tension but I wasn't as good-- I think there's only one minor halfway sex scene and it's in the second book and oh my I struggled with that. I was not good with it. And every time I came up with one my editor would slash it to pieces saying-- well maybe not, I don't know how many versions there were, but I struggled over that. It was 3 pages long to begin with and it's down to about a half a page. But it- there are hints of this, but I don't do gratuitous sex just for sex in a book. She would say this is not a romance this is a mystery, and she was right about- invariably she was right. But she also had the good sense that if I felt really, really strongly about something that we didn't, we not disturb the writer's voice.

Rodrigues: I know personally I love a good mystery and I love many types of books, but I also love when a book does have sexual tension. Maybe not so much the actual fulfillment of it, but how important do you think sexual tension is to a book?

Wanda Canada: Well I think it's important. I have had people who are more modern than I am, and I'm not telling you my age but you've probably guessed already. I like the romance part of it better than the actual jumping in the bed and doing it, if you want to put it that way. But I have had people say, people who were very modern, who would say well what's the big deal? Why doesn't she just go to bed with him? And I still feel that there's a lot of women that- or a lot to the way a woman feels 'cause you give up part of yourself, and you better know what you're doing when you do it. And Carol has given up part of herself before so she's not about to do that again without a struggle or without it being the right thing to do.

Rodrigues: Do you ever find yourself laughing out loud when you're writing?

Wanda Canada: Oh, yes. Oh yes. And, you know, you don't know where it comes from. I like to think I have a good sense of humor, but I'm not a giddy, well seldom a giddy, slapstick humor person, but people are funny, they really are funny. And I think part of what makes the south so interesting, and I say that only because I've never lived in the north, they're probably just slapstick funny in the north too, but the south has a lot of odd characters. They're just here.

Rodrigues: And speaking of funny odd characters, in your second novel, Cape Fear Murders, you started off with a senator being caught in a compromising position with a girl that's, let's say just a girl that's always around town. And it takes place in an arboretum. Where did the inspiration for that opening come from?

Wanda Canada: I do- at the time did a lot of volunteering at the arboretum. A lot. And I was over there one Saturday morning back in the far back corner where the Japanese tea house is, and I don't know what I was doing there, I can't quite remember, but it was, I don't know, 11 o'clock on a Saturday morning. It was still very shady back there and the-- I suddenly realized that it was almost- there was nobody else in the arboretum that I could tell, and I couldn't even hear the traffic on Oleander and it was suddenly spooky. And I thought what a perfect place for a murder and, you know, like the murder under the dock or the body under the dock, that was all it took. And it was- from there it just took on a life of its own. But I'll tell you one thing I will never do again, I will never kill another teenager. Writers don't, readers don't like you killing teenagers. And I will never kill a cat again in a book. Those two things were, through interesting, you know, it would be like killing a dog. People don't like that.

Rodrigues: I heard that. I heard quite a controversy over killing animals in books. I want to thank you for your time, and before we go I'd like to ask you what piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer.

Wanda Canada: I would say get all the training you can but don't let it spoil your instinct for where you want to go in writing and how you want to do it. But we all have to work under certain guidelines, but don't lose your voice and don't lose your feel for the right things to write. People are looking for a good story and they're looking for a good story first and foremost. And I think they're looking for characters that they can care about. So whether it's fiction or nonfiction, write something that moves you from the heart and you'll be all right. And if you never get published there are really good things that come out of all of it.

Rodrigues: Well I want to thank you for your time Wanda. This has been a pleasure and we look forward to reading more books from you.

Wanda Canada: Thank you so much.

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