READERS: Abby is a professional writer (after being a lawyer for years) with over 35 books to her name (and multiple pen names). She also is currently the author in residence at the Cuyahoga Public Library.
Abby talks about learning to write and the mistakes she’s made. She didn’t start writing cozy mysteries, but tried her hand at other genres. She discovered her own voice and what worked for her.
WRITERS: Abby has experience writing many books, and we discuss finishing your book. Her experience allows her to offer some great advice.
Today on Discovered Wordsmiths, we have a Abby Vandiver, right? I got it. . And she’s gonna be talking to us about her large selection of mystery books.
Abby, how are you doing today? I’m great.
Abby: Thank you. How are you? Thank you for
Stephen: having me. It’s great to have you on. Abby and I were at an event together at the library locally, and Abby was the long-term writer there. Much more so than the rest of us had been doing this more professionally longer, and we were all in awe.
But it was a great couple hours fun time. So I asked her if she’d like to be on, cuz I thought everybody’d love to hear about her. But for before we get into the writing and the reading tell us a little bit about yourself and what you like to do besides writing.
Abby: Thank you so much for having me.
It’s such an honor to be here and be on your podcast. I’m so excited about it. So about me, I don’t know. I just told someone the other day because Abby is a pen name, and I hadn’t been writing for a little for a few months. I don’t know, I’m just unmotivated. I’m not stuck or have a block.
I don’t like when people say, oh, I’m just blocked. I just haven’t been motivated. I’ve been doing other things. And she goes, oh, but Abby, you love to write. And I said, that’s because you only know Abby. You know the real me. I have other interests. And those other interests are just sitting on the couch doing nothing but watching like HGTV all day.
I will do the Food Network all day and I will do the Hallmark Channel. So usually if I put it on any of those three channels I don’t change the channel and I just sit there all day. I love movies. Before the pan pandemic turned the world upside down, I would just go to the movies all by myself and sit there and I would be so happy.
And lately I’ve also been hanging out in the real estate world and doing a little real estate invest. And it’s it couples with my hg t v love, so those are things other than writing, which I really enjoy. So I not only write, but I teach writing as well. Those are the other things that I like to do and spend time with my grandchildren.
Stephen: Nice. Well, I can picture you with overalls in a tool. Fixing up a house, but that kinda, I can picture mis, you get this house, you go to fix it up and you find a dead body. That sounds like the next mystery book, doesn’t it? ?
Abby: Yes, it does. It really does. And that may be
Stephen: an idea for me.
Yeah, there you go. I’d love to read that. That’d be great. But you have to make sure the character is you in the overalls and tool belt. Cause I think that would really be great. Yeah.
Abby: When I write because my cozy mysteries always, I write them in first person. So actually they are me. When I’m writing it, I always feel like, I’m speaking me.
Okay. So you’ll never find one of my characters who eats onions because I don’t like onions or they won’t do things that I don’t, won’t do, and they’re always reluctant. I write cozy mysteries and I might be getting ahead of myself with your questions. That’s true. I write cozy mysteries and they’re amateur.
And usually in cozy mysteries, they’re all gung-ho. They’re ready to solve this case. Every one of my amateur slews are reluctant because who actually wants to go chasing after a killer? In real life I would never do that. I used to be a lawyer, and sometimes I may have represented killers but I would sit, I wouldn’t ask.
I never asked, are you the killer ?
Stephen: Didn’t, don’t ask questions. You don’t want the answer to that. Exactly, . All right, so we’re going to talk about where wild peaches grow and you have a big picture behind you. I
Abby: do. I still have a big picture. Let’s see. Can you see it? Yeah. That’s awesome. But I also have the book.
Stephen: Great. So give us a little bit about what this book is about. So
Abby: this one is actually not a mystery. I’ve written 35 books and I think this is the only one that really, there are some aspects of mystery, but it’s a women’s fiction. And it takes place in Naches, Mississippi and a little of Chicago as well.
And it’s about two estranged sisters that had to come together when their father died. Now, when I was originally writing this story, I did put a murder in it because I put murder in every book and my agent. Don’t kill anybody in this book. And I said, oh my gosh, how do you write a book and you don’t kill someone?
I really struggled with this book. It took me like four months to write. I can write a book in about 21 days in about three weeks, but not this one. Cuz I go, oh my God, is there a story there if no one’s murdered? But I did. I did have someone die , but they were not. ,
Stephen: so Nice. I love that you say that, how do you write a story like that?
Because I was originally trying to write thriller type books, Uhhuh , and I was working with an author helping me a bit, a couple authors actually. And I really kinda came to the light bulb conclusion. It’s wait a second. I write middle grade fiction. That’s what this is. That’s why I’m struggling so hard to write a, an adult thriller cuz that’s not where my brain is.
And I’m like, what do you mean? I don’t think I could write a story with a murder in it. Not like that. So I love how. Different authors, how your brain works and how you fall into the genre. You’re good at writing.
Abby: So let me tell you a little secret though about thrillers.
I guess it’s not a secret. The difference in a thriller and a mystery is in the mystery. If it’s a murder mystery, the dead body shows up, someone dies, and for a cozy mystery, it just shows up. The murder happens off scene. But in a regular murder tracy Clark’s hide or something like that.
The murder can happen right there in the book, but, and so you spend the rest of the book trying to figure out who done it right. But in a thriller, no one has to die because the thriller What makes it a thriller is that you’re trying to stop the crime from happening. So the entire book is written about whatever they do to stop the murder.
So no one really has to die, although a lot of times, I guess you kill the bad guys off with, The guns and everything, but,
Stephen: And then I always think of shows like 24 with Key for Sutherland, where it has good elements of both. There’s a mystery as to what’s going on and who’s doing what, even if it’s not really a mystery, but it’s a high action thriller story.
There’s a lot of crossroad behind between those, but you don’t see Jessica Fletcher running around with machine guns and explosions, so you gotta
Abby: Exactly. And that was me because I tried, I have this book too. I tried, so this was my first book. It’s called in the beginning. That’s a
Stephen: great name for a first book,
Abby: that shows, I always tell this story that shows what a terrible old writer I was not necessarily writer, but poor concept I had of the writing industry.
Because if you Googled in the beginning, you would not get Abby Vandiver, right? You would get God. So I’m competing against God in my title. I’m not gonna get very
Stephen: far right . No, that’s not the best way to start. Cuz it seems your whole career is just gonna go down from there, .
In this book I wrote it, it’s about, it’s alternative history, alternate history. Mystery sci-fi kind of book. And and so people, when I wrote it, compared it to Dan Brown’s book the first one that he had came out. What was that first one? Angels and Demons?
Stephen: No, that’s the second one. That’s the second one.
The Da Vinci Code. Yeah,
Abby: da Vinci Co. So people compared it to that. They go, it has a damn brownish vibe to it. But the only thing was there was not apparel around every corner. People weren’t dying and, falling off of bridges or whatever happened in that one, running around Vatican, whatever they did, I don’t know.
Vatican might have been the second one, but, you not a lot of action. And so people complain about that. So I said I can do that, I can do that. I can write some action. So I did the next book. It’s. irrefutable proof and I had someone die in there and get killed. And I tried to put a gun scene, I think in that one.
And then the third book I did, I tried to go a little bit further incarnate. it’s called. And then finally I just threw up my hands. I go, I can’t write this. Like with you’re saying I can’t do a thriller. This is who I am. And I couldn’t do, I didn’t know who I was at the time. I just knew I couldn’t do that.
I couldn’t put the violence on the page. I couldn’t, I don’t curse in real life, swear. So I just couldn’t put them in my book and I thought, I need something different. Came around cozy mysteries. Nice. Hey, I can do that. Yeah, . So that’s why I changed. So there’s all, there were only three books in this series.
It was self-published. And it did well for me and got my name out there and people enjoyed it, but I didn’t know how to write. It’s just a lot of things that don’t move the story forward that I thought, oh, this is so cute. I’m gonna put this in here, and put this scene. Oh, I love it. And it had nothing to do with anything, it’s things that should have been delete,
Stephen: delete. So I realized one of my early writings, and then I got back from the editor. and it, there was more red and like 20 pages of comments, , oh God. And I’m I, and that was like an eyeopener. It was like, wow. So I basically remember a story where there’s no conflict, nothing bad is happening, and you wonder why they’re suddenly ramping up for this epic like meetup at the end.
And I’m like, I get it now. , and I, I. Run into a few authors at conferences and stuff where they talk about conflict in that, and the author goes, oh, but I don’t like that. I just like my characters to have a good life. And it’s I’m always wondering so you don’t sell many books, do you?
Because nobody cares to read that.
Abby: So I, as I said, I teach classes, so I teach that conflict has to. In every book and on every page on every line, even the first line. But I think what people don’t understand is conflict doesn’t mean, it’s a sword fight, or a car chase or someone’s shooting conflict is just tension.
So I always use example in one of my books it’s called love, hope, and Marriage Tropes. And the first line is there was going to be a wedding at the funeral. So that’s conflict right there, because those are like two, opposite things. A funeral home, you, that’s where dead people are.
Marriages where people say, oh, and your life is just starting. So you can ease conflict into things just by, putting an obstacle in the way of your protagonist. And it can be nothing but it’s raining outside and they need to go out, and they don’t have an umbrella. It’s just different things.
So conflict is important and it doesn’t matter if you write children’s. Or thrillers or a memoir, you need to show
Stephen: conflict, agreed. That’s important. Yep. So you mentioned Dan Brown. Can you think of any other authors or books that are similar to where the Wild Peaches grow or your other books?
Abby: I wanted it to . I wanted to write like Celeste Inc. Little Fires Everywhere. Yeah. So she wrote a story about kids that were in school and their mother and their babysitter. No, you wouldn’t. There’s no car chasers. There’s fire at the beginning and at the end, but and she just took like everyday.
but it was a page turner. I found myself just couldn’t wait to get, so I wanted to do that. I based it off of that, but also I think it Brit Bennetts the vanishing half, that as well. I did write a book previously about that along with my good friend Catherine Dion it’s called, it’s a self-published book and it’s called At the End of the Line.
So that’s , but I wanted to do that and I learned to write Omni mission so that I could put that in the book. But I don’t know if it’s like anything. I honestly, I’ll tell you the truth. So I’m really getting really good reviews on this book and people say it’s a beautiful story, beautiful writing, and I can’t, for the life of me remember what’s in that book.
I dunno what I wrote, . And I keep think saying, I’m gonna read it so I can write another book like that. I go, wow I must have did a really good job. I wish I knew what it said, , so I kinda remember the story, but the things that they make mention of I don’t remember those things in detail.
That’s because I never go back to read my story.
Stephen: I totally get that. And I often wondered, cuz you always get the authors, people are saying, on this book you wrote 32 years ago, this particular character was doing this particular thing. And they’re like, I have no idea because I don’t remember what happened
And I’m like, how could you not remember what happened in that book? You wrote it, but man, it’s true. You get done writing it and it just like seeps outta your brain. It’s been so soaked up like a sponge in you that you just want to get it all out and you forget. Exactly. Yeah. It’s crazy. Forget,
Abby: and I forget quickly.
I remember once when a game of cones came out. It was right when it came out. And I was on a panel and the moderator said I’m gonna go around the, it was a Zoom panel. I’m gonna go around and, tell me about your book. And I thought, oh my God. So I took the book and I put it down low so I couldn’t see it.
And I read the back of it so I could see what the book was about so I could explain it because I had the faintest idea. What is this book about?
Stephen: Did I write this one? When did that, when did I write this one? .
Abby: That’s funny you said that because one time someone wrote to me and said, I love this line from your book.
And they wrote it and what they loved and they said, that was just such a good line. And I thought it is a good line, but I didn’t write that and I, so I was all set to write her back and say that she was mis. It must have been another book that she read and then I said, maybe I said something similar and I should find it so that I can tell her what it is.
And I had actually written that
then you worry, can I ever do that again?
Stephen: Yeah. But it’s okay cuz you don’t really remember what you wrote before. Yeah. So if you had a choice, Abby, would you prefer to turn this book or your other books into movies or a TV show? So where
Abby: Wild Peaches grow, I would turn into a movie and wear a daily inside scoop.
A game of cones and a killer Sunday. I think they should be TV shows on Hallmark if anyone’s listening because they hallmark’s mystery is called. What is it called now? I forgot. They’re, they have a mystery channel. Yes. Yes. Mysteries and movies or something like that. Yeah. It should be on there.
So Hallmark, if you’re listening,
Stephen: No. Yeah, they the and they seem to have. A lot of those, except at Christmas. Christmas is all the Romcom stuff. All the romcom, yeah. Other than that, you get, what’s her name? Tea Garden or whatever. That’s always on there.
Abby: Oh, so you watched the Hallmark Channel
Stephen: too, huh?
My parents watched Hallmark Channel and I catch a bit of it here and there.
Abby: I’m gonna have to come on and hang out with them. They seem like cool people.
Stephen: Yeah, my, my father was always big on the Hallmark Christmas stuff and he would start in like September and it finally got to the point I’m like, I had to stop ’em because it got to be like end of October.
He is oh, I’m sick of Christmas movies. It’s not even Christmas yet. You keep watching the same ones over and over. Maybe we should adjust this behavior .
Abby: That’s funny.
Stephen: I’m sick of Chris . Yeah. Yeah. Cause he would start like in July watching them when they would come on and then hit it just like
Abby: Christmas in July.
Stephen: course. So Abby, do you have a website? I.
Abby: What, what’s that? It doesn’t matter what you put in Abby Vandiver or Abby Collette. It’ll take you there. Okay.
Stephen: We’ll have to find that. Yeah, but you can find
Abby: me on IG and Twitter. Instagram. Twitter. I’m on Facebook. I don’t visit as, as often but I’m there.
Stephen: Okay. You really just said, I’m on an ig. I lo . You’re hitting it with the young kids there, aren’t you? .
Abby: That’s because I had to have a young kid show me how to work it. Yeah. , I had to enlist my grandson because I couldn’t do it. He was 13 at the time, and I was complaining to him. I was like, I need to learn how to do this because people are getting on this.
And he says, Grammy, I’ll show you. I go, no, because it’s complicated. Grammy, you do this and this, and I’m like, what? Cut off? So yes, he was, he’s 17 now, but he was 13 at the time. He taught me. Nice.
Stephen: Nice. Yes. Alright. Abby, what are some of your favorite books and authors that you like to read?
Abby: Yeah, so I’m not good. That’s not a good
Stephen: question for you, . Okay. We’ll move on. . We know your own books aren’t your favorites. ? No. No. . Do you have any bookstores you’d like to go?
Abby: Yes. So Max backs books on Coventry? Yep. Yep. Is a great bookstore. I love them. And Logan Berry on Larmer, those are my two favorites.
Now Apple Tree Books is close to me. It’s just down the road and every. And I love it too. And every nano Remo, November, nano Remo comes up I’d sit in the window there for them and we type the drum business in. But Max Beck is so good to me and Logan Berry, they’re so good to me. And they’re just quaint little bookstores, just that you can go in and just wander about and read the titles and look at books.
And my books are. Too.
Stephen: So they’re very supportive of local authors. Max Books has a page on their website with a lot of local indie authors, and Logan Berry does an author thing each summer. They four weekends. The author Alley yeah,
Abby: They expanded it when I first started doing it.
It was just the one weekend, but now they’ve expanded and I go every year. I love that author Alley. It’s called.
Stephen: Yeah I’m go but we’ll probably be on different weekends cuz I’m going to the kids and children’s fiction week you’ll
Abby: be there. My friend Molly Perry, she writes children’s books and she has great children’s books out.
So yes, so I’ll probably come cuz I always come to support Molly, so I will see you there.
Stephen: Nice. I’ll look her up and maybe I’ll get her on the podcast. That’d be great. Oh yeah, she’ll love that. Yes. All right, so Abby, I wanna talk some other stuff, but before we do, If someone came up and said, I didn’t know you wrote books, and I saw this one where the Wild Peaches grow, why should I get that book and read it?
What would you tell ’em? Oh, because it’s good.
Abby: Okay. , that’s all I would need to say. It’s so good. I don’t know. People have said it’s a tear jerker. I, and people have said, I think this is true because I write about family in all my books, that it’s, it’s relatable. And I think that’s what’s important when you’re writing a book that people can see themselves in it or see situations that they know about and the people that they know.
So I, I do think that’s true about all my books, but in where Wild Peaches Grows grow I. It shows it even more. It shows the dynamics of two sisters and what they have to deal with and the death of a father, and when they reconcile about all the things that. Have transpired since the last time they’ve seen each other and the reason that they’ve not seen each other.
And every book I write there is an elderly person because I love elderly people. But they’re the ones with the wisdom, right? They have been through life. They know what’s going on, whether they were a cool person or a nerd person during their lifetime. Some people say, oh, you don’t know about my kind of people, young people, or We don’t do things like that.
Oh, they’ve seen everyth. . And so I try to put an old person in there because that’s where the wisdom comes from. And in every story, you have to have a moral or lesson in a book. And that’s usually where it comes from. So I’ve got a feisty old lady in there who don’t take no mess.
and I think that, it’s a book. People have told me it’s a book that after you close it, you sit down and you think about it when you know, after you’re finished reading, you. About the things. And so I like that. I think my first book in the beginning was like that too. It’s a thought provoking book, and I think that’s why you would enjoy where Wild
Stephen: Peaches grow.
Nice. Great. So let me ask you this. Wild Peaches isn’t your first book. You said you’ve written over what, 30, you’ve written 35 or so? Yeah that’s not, a month or two of writing. That’s a couple years. So you’ve. Experience that a lot of authors I talk to don’t. So what are some things you’ve learned from that first book in the beginning to what you’ve written now?
Abby: Oh, I’ve learned so much. Especially how to name your book . I don’t think I’ve ever
Stephen: love that, but I figured I’d let you do it. ,
Abby: yeah, I named that one and I think I named where Wild Peaches grow. And in between that my friend Catherine has named all the books. And maybe Game of Cones. Berkeley came up with that.
Penguin actually came up with that, but I knew better than that. I’ve learned so much about the craft of writing. storyteller Storytelling now. So before I started writing, I was a lawyer, so I knew how to set up an audience and deliver a line or two to them to keep them interested and to get them on my side.
And that’s what you wanna do when you write a book. You want, even if you don’t have, characters that are likable. People always say you have to have likable characters. , you don’t as long as you present them. Just like when I was an attorney, a criminal attorney I had defendants that may or may not be guilty.
I had to present them well. But I, but things like pacing and flow and things like that, I had to learn. And a lot of times, so now I help people write and a lot of times I think that’s what people have a problem with. It’s pacing and flowing, but mostly it’s how to tell a. So I think that I don’t think that I have a problem with that or with dialogue, but putting the story together to make people not skim through it, like information dumps and things like that.
I think those are the things that I learned how to keep the story moving forward and that’s so important. And so something that I from teaching, I see a lot of people are unable to do as they move that story. To move their story forward and then they get stuck, so I have little secrets that I tell ’em.
It’s not secrets cuz I tell everybody how not to get stuck, how to get started, how to write a book in a month, and you
Stephen: can do it. Nice. Yeah. And I like the part you said about moving story forward, cuz that’s a skill you definitely have to learn. Most writers have read their whole lives or they read heavily and it’s so easy.
It’s like a magic trick. It’s oh that looked easy. I could do that. And then you really can’t, just cuz you can read a book doesn’t mean you can. , but you can learn the skill. It’s something you can get more of and get better at. And that part of moving things forward and being not kill your darlings, not so close to every little word you write.
And being able to pull things out and move things or change things to make, because it’s the story that matters, not that you wrote the story. I think that’s the concept. I’ve learned myself a bit, still learning I should. .
Abby: Yeah, I’m still learning too. I would whatev, whenever I start a class out, that’s one of the first, I always do a power reporting presentation.
That’s one of the first slides that I have is writing is hard. Writing is hard. It’s just that, people always come in and tell, come to me and say I wanna write a book. People tell, always tell me, when I tell ’em about something, about myself or whatever, that I should write a book.
And I tell him, writing his heart, it’s just not you. Doing Open right. Sitting down. Although I tell people, just sit down and start writing your thoughts. But there is so much more to the craft. And when I first started and I wrote in the beginning and people were telling me what was wrong with it, I thought, who knew?
There were rules to writing. I just thought you could sit down and do it. But there are rules to writing that you have to stick to. I have people that come to me. . I’m not sticking to the rules. I’m gonna come up with something new that’s never been done. That won’t happen cuz there’s nothing new under the Sun Bible said it very well.
They’re even rewriting Shakespeare and rewriting Jane Austin. It’s just the spin that you give on it, but there’s no subject or idea you can come up with that someone else hasn’t already written a book.
Stephen: And even, JK Rowling, she wrote about wizards. She wrote about magic.
She wrote about a school of magic. She wasn’t the first one. It just really clicked with people and was done in a way that people really enjoyed and could relate to. She had a hook. Yeah. That’s what you have to do. Gotta have a hook. Definitely. And cozy mysteries, you’re not the only cozy mystery writer out there, but there are people out there that will read a certain cozy mystery and go, yeah, I really don’t care for this.
But then read yours and go, yeah, I get it. This clicks. Every author,
Abby: that’s exactly what happens all the time. Yep. There, read my book and go, yeah,
Stephen: wonderful . Every author gets that, great. You don’t like my books. Go find one you like. And somebody else does like it. And I think other authors need to remember that sometimes it’s hard.
It’s very hard.
Abby: Yes, it’s very hard. You just have to take your time and, follow the rules and and finish your.
Stephen: So you do teaching also, and that’s another interesting aspect because you write cozy mysteries mostly in your genre, but people taking your class don’t necessarily have to write cozy mysteries.
How do you handle people that are wondering what to do in a certain genre that you don’t write in? How do you handle that?
Abby: It’s true. I, most places I go, people don’t even know what cozy mysteries. But basically there is a narrative arc that all books have to follow. So that’s what I teach.
You have to be able to create characters. And characters are universal. They’re in every genre and you have to make them authentic and believable. And no matter what you’re writing there’s a technique to that. You have to have authentic dialogue. So there’s an art to that. I teach that. I teach about the narrative arc, so where.
Do certain things in the book, where the exposition and then the climax of the book, and then the falling action and resolution. Those are all things. that are necessary. The story question I teach about, when you write a book, you should have a question. Each genre may have a different question that you have to answer by the end of the book but it still has to have a story question.
For example, my book I write murder mysteries. So the question is will the killer get. . So you answer that, yes or no? Of course you’re gonna say yes cuz you don’t want a cliffhanger. But yes, the killer gets caught at the end of the book. So the entire time I write the book, I have to be moving toward that ending that I decide to answer my story question.
If it’s a thriller, will, will the government of the F be able to thwart the president’s murder? If they’re. Shoot the president or whatever they’re trying to do some governmental agency, try to blow it up or whatever. Then if you say yes, they will thwart that, activity.
Your entire book has to be moving toward that question. So that’s for, that’s universal. That’s in every book that you have to answer your Your story question. So that’s what I teach, like the bones of the questions, how to write your story in scenes and whatever you feel you’re seen up with then that’s what makes it different from everyone else.
But underneath the foundation, it’s just like a house. , you got a foundation on a house, your house may look different when you get through cuz you painted it or you put, an attached garage instead of a detached garage. But it’s all the same with the foundation, right?
Stephen: Oh absolutely. And I think that’s important for authors to realize and I think that’s what makes everyone’s voice so unique.
Cuz we are all using the same building blocks, same structures with that. Yeah. All right. So Abby before we go, it’s been really great talking to you again. I’m sure we’ll run into each other. Yes. But do you have any other last minute advice for authors?
Abby: Finish your book, . That is so important to finish your book.
You should know before you sit down to write it. You should know what you’re ending. because I tell everyone, it’s just like the g p s, on, on your phone or in your car. If you’re trying to get somewhere, you can’t get there if you don’t put in your destination, right? So finish your book, know your ending.
That’s always my advice because you can fix it later, if it’s not quite what you want, but you can’t fix something that doesn’t exist that isn’t. So that’s always my advice.
Stephen: Nice. Great. All right. Abby, thank you for taking the time, talking to us about your book and I hope we run into each other sometime this summer or next event somewhere.
Abby: I’m certain we will. Thank you so much for having me. I really have fun and I appreciate it. Thank you.