Lynda Fitzgerald has been writing all her life. She studied creative writing at both Georgia Perimeter College, where she was the winner of a Creative Writing Scholarship, and at Emory University. Her short story, “And We’ll Call Him Jeff,” was published in the DeKalb Literary Arts Journal. Her debut novel, “If Truth Be Told” was published in June 2007.
When Lynda isn’t writing, she can usually be found curled up with a book written by one of her many favorite authors. “I’ve always been a reader. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read, and I can’t imagine life without books. I read “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury many years ago with horror. Burn all books? Unthinkable! Life would be so much less exciting if we couldn’t count books as our friends.”
Lynda resides in Snellville, Georgia, a small town east of Atlanta.
Tyler: Welcome, Lynda. I’m so happy you could talk to me today. What a moving story you’ve written in “Of Words & Music.” To begin, will you tell our readers about the basic premise of the story—give them a preview if you will?
Lynda: Sure. “Of Words & Music” is a story of family dynamics. Love, loss and renewal all play a part. Lilah, the grandmother, is a widow who’s merely marking time. When her estranged daughter is killed, Social Services approaches her to take in the granddaughter Lilah never knew existed. Lilah agrees, but only until other arrangements can be made. She and her granddaughter are equally unhappy about the arrangement. Lilah’s grown son thinks it’s absurd for her take this child of a sister he hated, but Lilah’s long-time friend and housekeeper, Marabet, believes it just may be Lilah’s last chance at happiness.
Speaking of previews, I have video clips of this novel and my last on my website, www.fitzgeraldwrites.com. It’s worth a look if only for the beautiful music that plays behind the pictures.
Tyler: What made you decide to write a novel about the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter, and rather than tell a sentimental story, add in the complications of the absent mother?
Lynda: Adding in the mother, Elizabeth, gives the reader insight into both Lilah and Bethany. Lilah raised Elizabeth, and Elizabeth raised Bethany. There’s a continuance there, a bridge from one to the other. I don’t see “Of Words & Music” as sentimental, although it is touching in places. I went through quite a number of tissues while I was writing it, but it’s a positive story. A story of hope and courage.
Tyler: Lynda, what about the grandfather and the mother, both of whom are dead but absent presences in the novel? Will you tell us more about them and their importance to the story?
Lynda: The grandfather—The Germ, as the housekeeper calls him—was stereotypical of his generation: Lord of the manor, maker of the decisions and holder of the purse strings. It says a lot about Lilah that she accepted it and then let her son take over the role after her husband’s death. She, too, was a product of her generation: the supportive wife, the homemaker. She went straight from her parents’ house to her husband’s. When The Germ dies, she doesn’t know how to go on. Not that she doesn’t want to, but she simply doesn’t know how.
I wanted Elizabeth (Lilah’s daughter) to be a presence because she formed Bethany’s character. She also taught her to play the piano, music that forms the first crack in Lilah’s armor.
Tyler: Why did you include the mother’s diaries in the novel? What do you feel their existence adds to the tale?
Lynda: The diaries are vital to the story. Through them, Bethany begins to see her mother—and her grandmother—through new eyes. She gets to know Elizabeth the girl, and through Elizabeth’s eyes, a younger Lilah before she became the bitter woman she is now. She sees the bond that once existed between Lilah and Elizabeth and begins to question her perception of Lilah.
Tyler: Can you tell us, since there was a bond between Lilah and Elizabeth, what went wrong in their relationship? Is that what the diary explains, or does Bethany get that information from Lilah or Maribet?
Lynda: Bethany gets most of her information from Marabet, who doesn’t believe in secrets. Bethany is drawn to Marabet from the beginning. Their closeness grows throughout the novel, something that worries Lilah.
Tyler: The other important link for Bethany to her mother is the piano, which of course relates to the significance of “Music” in the book’s title. Why did you choose to make music such an integral part of this story?
Lynda: Music IS the story. It’s how the story came about. I guess I’d better explain.
Many years ago, I had a friend bring over her fourteen-year-old daughter for a fitting. The friend was getting remarried, and I’d rashly agreed to make her daughter’s junior bridesmaid dress. At first, the girl was seething with resentment against her mother’s remarriage and, by association, against me. Then she saw my piano. She asked me if I played. It turned out we were both taking lessons and even learning some of the same songs. As we sat at the piano picking out notes, the resentment melted. We became friends. More importantly, her mother said at that point she began to accept the upcoming wedding and the change to come in her life. I was so impressed that I sat down that day and began writing “Of Words & Music.”
Tyler: Wow, that’s an interesting way for the story to come about, Lynda. Can you also tell us about the role of the piano in the novel specifically? Do Bethany or Lilah play the piano?
Lynda: I can tell you that Bethany plays the piano. Music is her outlet for the stormy emotions she’s feeling.
Tyler: Why did you feel the need for Marabet, the housekeeper, to act as intermediary rather than just letting Lilah and Bethany work things out together?
Lynda: Marabet is part comic relief and part someone who knew Lilah when. She and Lilah went to school together, so she knew the woman before, during and after her marriage. She knew about the split between Lilah and Elizabeth. She keeps Lilah on track and tells it like it is. I have to admit, Marabet is my favorite character in the book.
Tyler: Lynda, without giving away too much of the plot, can you let our readers know what the twist in the story is?
Lynda: I have to laugh at that. And apologize, because I can’t. To even hint at the twists—and there’s more than one—that shape the novel would ruin the story for anyone who is going to read it.
Tyler: What about Lilah’s son? Can you tell us more about his role in the novel? What did he have against his sister and why did he turn out like his father? Does Lilah ever stand up to him or take charge of her life rather than letting men have control?
Lynda: Another plot give-away. The son, Charles, is pompous. He’s judgmental. In short, he was his father’s perfect son. Early on, Lilah gave up on trying to change him. Why should she bother, when she had the perfect daughter to raise? Instead, she let “the Germ” shape his character, much to her dismay as the years passed. Charles resented the strong bond between Lilah and Elizabeth, and he never outgrew that resentment.
Tyler: Lynda, would you tell us a little about your last novel, “If Truth Be Told?”
Lynda: Ah. My “first” novel, which in actuality was the third novel I wrote. The heroine of “If Truth Be Told” is fourteen years old when the novel begins. The book spans fourteen years of her life, a coming of age story, the story of the events that shape her life. It also focuses strongly on family relationships.
Christie, the heroine, is a precocious teenager at the beginning of the book. She has strong opinions and a will of iron. She blurts out what comes to her mind—often something inappropriate—and her remarks usually surprised me as much as the characters in the book. I tried to mold her into what I’d imagined her to be when I began the novel, but she refused to be shaped. In the end, I just gave her space to “become.”
Although it’s classed as romantic suspense, “If Truth Be Told” deals with some heavy issues, including murder. When Christie, who has always valued truth above all else, discovers that one of the people she loves most may have committed murder, she has to decide what is important in her life. As one reviewer put it, the book explores the value of truth weighted against the virtue of compassion. Those words cut to the heart of the story.
Tyler: Lynda, is there a reason why your novels focus on young people like Bethany and Christie? Would you say both novels are coming of age stories? Is there something about that kind of story that specifically appeals to you?
Lynda: I guess both are “coming of age” stories, although I didn’t look at it that way when I was writing them. I have to admit that it does fascinate me to see what shapes people, the events that form their characters and how that affects their lives. My novels are totally “character driven” in that the characters are everything. I like a good plot, but if the characters in a novel don’t grab me, I won’t finish reading the book. Maybe that’s why when I finish writing a novel, it’s a little sad, like I’m saying goodbye to close friends.
Tyler: Do you think your writing has changed or improved in writing your second book compared to the first?
Lynda: Well, to be honest, “If Truth Be Told” was my third novel, although it’s the first in print. I’ve written seven all told, and I believe that each is better than the last. In fact, my first novel is still sitting on a shelf. I can’t bear to throw it away, but it’s not good enough for print. Not yet.
Tyler: Lynda, in your biography above, I mentioned how you have been a lifelong fan of books. Would you say any specific authors have influenced you in writing your novels?
Lynda: Oh, yes. We can start with Jane Austen, my all-time hero. Mark Twain is up there near the top, as is Charles Dickens. I read all the usual—Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, and The Bobsey Twins, and more than I can possibly remember during my formative years. But I kept coming back to my three heroes. I’ve read most of their works innumerable times.
I love Ferrol Sams, Barbara Kingsolver, George Eliot and Sue Grafton and many, many others, but I think the first three showed me what the written word could do. Once I realized how you could shape words into people and lives and even places, I was hooked. I wanted to do what they could do. I may never attain their level of excellence, but trying is my lifetime goal.
Tyler: Would you have any words of wisdom for other people who want to be writers?
Lynda: Of course! Lots of words. They’ll have to decide about the wisdom.
First, it may sound trite, but you learn to write by writing. So write! You can read books about writing and take classes until you drop, but until you put pen to paper and create, writing is just an academic exercise; and, just as each novel teaches you more about writing, it also teaches you more about yourself. It seems to me that this deeper knowledge allows you to delve more deeply into your characters’ lives and understand how the situations you create will shape them. To me, that’s the best part of writing.
If possible, join a critique group. Listen to what they say, even though every criticism feels like they’re stripping off your skin with tweezers. Allow that skin to thicken before an editor or publisher slaps you down for the first time. One person advised that prospective writers go out and roll in cactus for a day. After you pick out the thorns and if you’re willing to do it again if necessary, you may be tough enough to be a writer. I consider that only a slight exaggeration.
There are a lot of good writers. I just finished serving as a judge for the Mystery Writers of America first crime novel contest. Many, many of the novels were excellent and should be in print. Only one can win. What if the others get discouraged and give up?
Never, never give up. If you know you’re a writer, then keep writing. Send out your manuscript and start on your next story. When it’s returned, send it out again and write another novel. I had written six novels and spent a small fortune on postage before “If Truth Be Told” was published. Was it worth it? What do you think?
Tyler: Do you have plans for any more books, and if so will you tell us about them?
Lynda: Do I ever! In fact, I have a mystery series that is coming out beginning in January 2010. The first novel is “LIVE Ringer,” and it takes place back in Brevard County, the setting for “If Truth Be Told.” “LIVE Ringer” wasn’t going to be a series, but when I finished the first book, I realized I wasn’t finished with the characters. They still had so much to do. So I began writing book two, “LIVE Ammo.” I’m working on the third in the series right now. Writing mystery is so much fun! I have another series loosely planned and a stand alone mystery outlined and just waiting for the time to write it.
Tyler: Lynda, I asked you before if there were something about coming of age stories that appealed to you. Do you find that writing a mystery novel requires a different writing skills or a different frame of mind from writing your other fiction?
Lynda: Not as much as you might think. Everyone is always coming of age in one sense or another, or they should be. Everything that happens in our lives shapes our future, whether it’s the birth of a baby or a divorce or witnessing a murder. After the event, the people involved are never the same. Contemporary mystery has to be especially quick. It has to grab the reader and make them hold on. But I think most contemporary fiction needs to do that. Mystery is just a good story with a strong plot, a dead body, and a few twists and turns here and there.
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Lynda. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information can be found there about “Of Words & Music?”
Lynda: The website is www.fitzgeraldwrites.com, and it has lots of information about “Of Words & Music.” There’s also an excerpt from “If Truth Be Told” and a bit about the upcoming mystery series. You’ll also see photos of Brevard County and Melbourne Beach, Florida, where “If Truth Be Told” and the LIVE series is set. It’s a gorgeous section of beach about 25 miles south of Cape Canaveral. I hope you’ll drop me a line through the website and let me know what you think.
Tyler: Thank you for the interview, Lynda. I appreciate your sharing all the various facets of your writing and wish you much luck with all your books.
Of Words & Music
Five Star/Gale/Cengage (2009)
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (10/08)