Name: Lorna Collins
Where are you from?
I was born in Hollywood, California and grew up in Alhambra, California.
A little about yourself—i.e. your education, family life, etc.:
My husband, Larry K. Collins, and I grew up in the same neighborhood and attended the same grammar and high schools. Our mothers were close friends. We always say if there were arranged marriages, we’d still have married each other. We just don’t know how those ladies managed it.
I was an English Major at Cal State L.A., and Larry went to Cal Poly Pomona.
We have lived in Illinois and Colorado and moved to Osaka, Japan to build the Universal Studios Japan theme park.
In addition, we have traveled all over the world.
We have one daughter who now lives in Texas.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
Larry and I are currently researching the sequel to our book The Memory Keeper, set in San Juan Capistrano. We spent two and a half years on it, and we expect to spend another couple of years on the sequel, Becoming the Jewel.
We’re also working on the next Agapé Jones mystery, Murder With Honor. We just returned from a research trip to Hawaii for this one.
We are also working on the audio formats for several of our books.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I always wrote during the many years I spent in Document Control. Later in my career, I was a technical writer. But business writing is different than writing fiction.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Not until the publication of our first book, 31Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park in 2005. Until then, writing had just been a byproduct of my other work responsibilities.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
We lived in Japan for thirty-one months as part of the team which built the Universal Studios Japan theme park. When we returned, I wanted to document the experience, primarily for those who worked with us. To our surprise, the book is popular with those who work with the Japanese, expats who move to Japan, and those who love to read about theme parks.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I tend to be a ‘pantser,’ meaning I write by the seat of my pants. I always know the beginning of the book and the end, but in between, I let the characters tell me their story. In fact, I have written the first chapter and then the last. I also write with Larry. He’s a plotter, so we had to figure out how to mesh our styles. Fortunately, we discovered a process to work for us.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title of your latest book?
We had several working titles for our historical novel, set in San Juan Capistrano in the 1800s. We were over halfway through the book before it occurred to me that our protagonist was the keeper of his family’s memories. Thus, it became The Memory Keeper.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
One theme you will find in all my writing is: no matter how bleak things look, there is always hope. At the end of The Memory Keeper, the mission is in ruin, but our protagonist, Tomas, still believes the future will be bright.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
We were blessed to have the assistance of the official historian of San Juan, the historical society, several docents, and the local Indian storyteller. The history in the book has been meticulously researched and verified. It is a true depiction of life in the 1800s in this area. All the names, except for those noted, are real people who actually lived or visited during the time stated.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Some of my books are closer to my personal experience than others. My novella, “Winter’s Song,” in our romance anthology, Seasons of Love, is based on the actual story of how friends got together. I was the playwright who cast them in my Christmas musical.
Kimi McGuire and Jason in the novella, “Finding Love in Paradise,” have more of Larry and me than any of the other stories. The opening of the novella is an actual experience from our life in Japan.
Most of the others are not related to actual experiences, but they have to be believable in order for my readers to relate.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? A mentor?
Although I love to escape into novels, one book which affected my life was Dr. Wayne Dyer’s Your Erroneous Zones. Another was Judith Viorst’s Necessary Losses.
I learned how to write from my high school English teacher, Mr. George Ward. My boss, Rick Duskey, challenged me to become a better writer.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I just got my friend Holly Jacobs’s latest, These Three Words.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I was just privileged to edit the first novel for Genevieve Frenes, Always Connected. She is a powerful writer.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
We are currently researching Becoming the Jewel, plotting Murder With Honor, and working on the audiobooks for a couple of our books. In addition, I’m doing three freelance edits. (I am a professional editor as well as a writer.)
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
When we returned from Japan, many friends encouraged us to document our experiences. But the book would never have been completed without our critique group, Lagunita Writers. We are still members of the group, and we meet weekly in our home.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Now that Larry and I are retired from our former jobs, I describe myself as a writer/editor. So, yes, it is now my career. (But it’s a good thing we planned well financially for our retirement so we don’t have to depend on royalties for income!)
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Since we spent nearly three years writing it, I wouldn’t change a thing. The reviews have been positive, and the response from the community has been encouraging. The book is sold not only in the Mission Store, but also in several other venues around town.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
As a baby, my grandfather read to me. I developed a love for words and books very early. I always did well in school and received high marks for my writing.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Several years ago, we visited the Arizona Memorial in Hawaii on Veterans’ Day. We became fascinated with the idea that Arizona survivors could have their ashes interred on the monument. We knew we had to write a book which included the ceremony. Here’s the beginning of Chapter 1 of Murder With Honor:
Pounding woke me from my nap. I’d started reading the sports page of The Maui News on my tablet, but somewhere in the middle of a story, I must have nodded off.
“I’ll get it, Agapé.”
After nearly fifty years of marriage, I knew my wife would respond. I opened one eye to see her open the door to our neighbor, Jennifer McMillan.
“Oh, Gerry, he’s gone.” She burst into tears, and the beautiful lady I’d loved for most of my life wrapped her arms around the young woman.
We’d first met Jen when she moved into the condo next door five years earlier. Gerry had gone over with a fresh loaf of banana bread as a welcome gift and invited her to dinner.
Over the time we’d known her, we’d learned a lot about our neighbor, including that her only remaining family was her grandfather, George Griffith, who lived in San Diego, California. She was a few years younger than our own kids, so we had taken on a parental role in her life.
The reason for her distress at the moment was obvious. Her grandfather had died.
Jen had been making plans for him to move to the Kalama Heights retirement home here in Kehei, Maui so he’d be closer to her. Until recently, he’d fought the idea. He wanted to remain in his own home. But at ninety-two years old, he’d finally agreed to come. And now he was gone.
Gerry ushered her into the living room and held her until her sobs diminished. My wife spoke soft, soothing words of empathy and encouragement, and the young woman slowly regained her composure.
Thank God Gerry’s good at that sort of thing since crying women make me uncomfortable.
Jen finally looked up. She obviously expected a comment from me.
“I’m sorry to hear about your grandfather.” It sounded lame, even to me.
Gerry stepped away and returned with some fresh guava juice. She handed a glass to our guest and then gave one to me. Her raised eyebrow showed her disappointment in my response.
Jen set her glass down on the coaster next to her. “His neighbor found him this morning. He’d apparently gone sometime during the night. At least he didn’t suffer.” This brought on another round of tears.
I left the room to get some tissues. Finally, something constructive for me to do. I handed her the box.
Jen blew her nose and wiped her eyes. Then she took a deep shuddering breath. “I’ll need to go to San Diego for a while to clean out his house and make arrangements to sell it.”
“What about a funeral?”
Gerry had asked the question on my mind. I figured she’d volunteer us to go to give Jen support. Since our kids lived in California, I knew she’d use the trip as an excuse to visit them.
Jen shook her head. “Gramps was a World War II vet. He was on the USS Arizona on December seventh.”
We’d heard this before, but I’d forgotten.
“He always said he’d like his ashes interred on the monument when his time came. He wanted to be with his friends who hadn’t come home.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Now that I’m doing so much editing, I’m finding it hard to make the time for writing, other than my blog. Larry is immersed in his sci-fi series, The McGregor Chronicles. Since we write our historical novels and mysteries together, I really need his input for the current ones.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Since she became a good friend, I love the mysteries of Marilyn Meredith. She writes two series—one book in each every year—and I can’t wait for the next one to come out. She writes believable characters in realistic settings.
Another favorite author is also a good friend, Holly Jacobs, who writes charming romances. I also love reading Jan Karon’s Mitford books because of her sense of place and the characters.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
We set our mysteries in Hawaii in part so we’d be forced to go there for research. If you write about a place, you’d better know it well—the smells and sights and tastes.
We also visited Idaho Springs and Georgetown, CO a few years ago because the Aspen Grove romances I write with several other friends are set in a town based on these two.
This year we have done quite a bit of speaking, so we need to travel to wherever we have been invited to do our presentations. And we attend conferences wherever they happen to be.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Some of my books are published by small indie publishers, so they hired the cover artists. The covers for our books originally published by Whiskey Creek Press (now Start Publishing) were all designed by Melissa Summers. I presented her with the basic concept I wanted as well as providing many of the actual images. We worked so well with her, we have hired her to design the covers for several of our other books.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
For The Memory Keeper, historical accuracy was always important. But the necessity of telling a compelling family story had to be paramount. Knowing how protective San Juan Capistrano is about its legacy, we felt a huge obligation to get it right. Fortunately, we had many local resources and experts, who were willing to help us accomplish our goal.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
We discovered so many facts previously unknown to us about local events during the 1800s. Many of our readers are as surprised as we were when they find new information in our book. We learned a great deal about the lives of the Juaneño Indians from the local storyteller. She is descended from both the Indians and the Spanish soldiers. She spent several hours educating us on how the native people lived during the period of the book. In the end, she has been supportive and is pleased with the story we shared.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write the book you want to read.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
We always hope you feel as though we have taken you on a journey with real people when you finish our books. And if you learn something along the way, were even happier.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
My grandfather read me a cloth book of Mother Goose Rhymes until I memorized it. I still have it although the print is worn off. I memorized many of my Little Golden Books to the point where I can’t really tell when I actually began to read them myself. It was certainly before I began school.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
My husband makes me laugh. I was very serious as a child, and he taught me to laugh and play. I tell him I keep him around because he makes me laugh. He’s been doing it for all the fifty years we’ve been married.
Commercials or stories about young girls and their fathers make me cry. My own father died when I was seven, and it doesn’t take much to stir those feelings of loss.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would like to meet and why?
Even though I’m not Roman Catholic, I would love to spend a short time with Pope Francis. He seems to embody faith, hope, and humanity.
Fiona: What do you want written on your headstone and why?
Well, there won’t be one since I will be cremated and my ashes will be spread over the ocean. I hope I will be remembered as an admirable wife, mother, friend, editor, and writer. If I am to be memorialized, I hope Larry will be around to come up with something funny.
Fiona: Other than writing, do you have any hobbies?
I love to travel, so I’m usually ready to go somewhere. I like making video trailers for our books and mentoring other writers.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
My can’t miss show is CBS Sunday Morning. I also love Project Runway and the home remodeling shows.
We are movie fanatics—everything from Disney films to romances to dramas. Among my favorites are 84 Charing Cross Road, The Holiday, and Quartet. But there are LOTS of others as well.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music:
Unfortunately, I enjoy many different kinds of food. I prefer the cool colors from green through violet and purple. I enjoy nearly all kinds of music except acid rock and rap.
Fiona: If you were not a writer, what else would you like to have done?
I always wanted to be a teacher. Looking back, I realize I have done quite a bit of teaching and mentoring. I still do so as a member of our critique group and as an editor.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so, what is it?
Follow me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lorna.l.collins and