Frequently Asked Questions
1. What kind of books do you write?
If someone could give me a one-word answer to this question, I’d be grateful. This is my MOST frequently asked question, and I don’t have a good answer. I don’t write romance stories, though I’m often—to my great puzzlement–categorized as a romance writer. My books have been described as both contemporary and historical, though it seems a good trick that they should be both at once. I know for certain that my stories, so far, would never be considered science fiction, mystery, western, futuristic, allegory, or suspense. Maybe the closest category would be inspirational, but that might mean different things to different people. And so my usual answer to this question is, “I write books about people.” The common response to this statement is a blank stare. However, at this point, it’s the best I can do.
2. Where do you find your ideas?
I don’t find them; they find me. Really. Whenever I sit down and attempt to come up with a plot on my own, it inevitably fails. The ideas that work are those that come to me when I’m doing other things—washing the dishes, driving the car, just waking up from a good night’s sleep. I’m not even thinking about writing at all when suddenly, “You’ve got mail!” The seed of an idea falls into my brain. I let it settle in, begin to research the general subject and era, and gradually decide whether the idea is going to take root or not.
3. What’s the process of writing like?
It’s 95% listening. My most important task as a writer is to listen to the idea as it begins to unfold in my mind. I let the characters introduce themselves and tell me who they are. I listen to their conversations. I watch what they do. They have minds of their own. If you don’t believe me, explain this: I’ve tried to kill off at least three of them. They refused to die. So I let them live, and the stories were better for it. They knew what they were talking about.
4. How long did it take you to get published?
Thirteen years. Granted, I wasn’t actively trying to get published all that time. Many of those years were spent learning how to write fiction, trying to find my voice as a novel writer. I wrote seven whole or partially completed novels before I felt ready to try to get published. When I was ready, I found an agent and a publisher within a year or two.
5. How does a person learn to write?
Read. Be a discerning reader. Read good books, lots of them. Read the kind of books that you would like to write, and then write, and write, and write some more.
6. How long does it take you to write a book?
In terms of actual time spent researching and at the computer, I’d say it’s an average of 18 months.
7. How do you do research for your novels?
Even though I surf the ‘net quite a bit (a wealth of information literally at my fingertips), I still go to the library and come home with stacks of books. I read decades-old newspapers on microfiche, watch documentary-type videos, dig through my 1967 set of World Book Encyclopedias. Best of all I talk with people. Over the past decade I’ve talked with firefighters, police officers, civil rights activists, prisoners of war, survivors of the Japanese internment camps, artists, polio victims, farmers, prosecutors, defense attorneys. Once, when I needed to know what the courthouse in Lexington, Mississippi looked like, I called down there and asked the woman who answered the phone to describe it to me.
8. Since your father’s name is Shurts and your husband’s name is Blank, what is your reason for going by Tatlock?
My mother’s maiden name was Tatlock. When she died, I took her name as my own, in honor of her.
9. What are you trying to do through your writing?
Tell the truth. I’m trying to tell the truth not as I might happen to perceive it, but as the Bible reveals it. Fiction—telling a story that isn’t true—is an excellent vehicle for talking about what IS true. And yes, Virginia, in this age of relativism, there is an Absolute. His name is Jesus.