January 30, 2012

Spotlight On...Casey Clifford

I hope you'll all help me give Casey Clifford a great big welcome to Off the Keyboard. Casey, please share a little about yourself, your genres, any other pen names you use.

Many know me as Mary Jo Scheibl. I've been a member of RWA since June 1986, WisRWA about the same time, Kiss of Death since a few months after it formed and RWA-WF for the past year or so.

I write using the pen name Casey Clifford. I chose this to honor two women who were mentors and friends and very intelligent. Both of them were trend setters for their time. They were and are survivors and reflect an ongoing theme in all my books. I write Romantic Suspense and Women's Fiction as genres but I prefer to call my writing Wise Women Fiction. :-)

Tell us a little about your latest or upcoming release.

My most recent book, An Island No More was released last Friday, January 27. It's a romantic suspense set in the southeast corner of Wisconsin in my fictional town of Southport as it is located on the shore of Lake Michigan.

What I love about this book is my heroine Maggie Meehan. She's a single parent who's determined to succeed in parenting and with her life goals while being as independent as possible. One of her growth arcs is accepting the truth of John Donne's well known lines "No man is an island." My title emerged from those lines which begin the book. They signify Maggie's character arc as well as the hero, Seth's.

Sounds wonderful! What was the hardest thing for you about writing this story?

I love revision and editing. It's the best part of writing in my estimation. However, I found that part the most difficult for this book because that final revision/editing process occurred within a couple weeks of the death of my adult son. My wonderful editor, Lori Graham, offered to hold back on this stage, but I knew if I did that, I was only prolonging the process of moving on and achieving another goal of which he would have been proud.

Now, just a few days short of a year since Jimbo died, I'm holding An Island No More in my hands. And I've learned once again that nothing will halt my need to write. I also know my characters kept me from becoming a lonely island. They reminded me vividly of the universal truth each of them had to learn in this story unfolds.

I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your son. I can't imagine how difficult that must have been for you. At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.

I can't remember not writing--something. As a child, my summer month's project would be to write a short "play" which then the neighborhood kids would put on for a captive audience. We'd do one a month. Unfortunately, or not, one proud father filmed some of them. They have come back to remind us of our youth because before the man died, he had those skits transferred to tape and then DVD.

My high school and college instructors encouraged me and though I had a career as a professor on summers off I'd write novels. Put them away until the next summer and revise. I retired as soon as I was eligible and started writing seriously and marketing myself. I revised and editing those old stories and wrote more, entered contests, got more involved with my local RWA chapter and another online RWA chapter.

I had a few 'almost there' adventures with major publishing houses; however, something would always happen before a contract came about--such as the editor left or died, the line folded. Finally 5 years after retirement, I was offered a contract for Black Ribbon Affair. I'll never forget that email popping up. My hubby who's always been supportive, broke open the champagne he'd bought that first year of retirement. He was that sure of my success.

Black Ribbon Affair went on to win the Holt Medallion for Best First Book and the Write Touch Readers' Award for Best Romantic Suspense. My second Wild Rose book, An Island No More, is out now. It is also RS.

This past autumn I made the choice to indie publish my Women's Fiction. Two are no available as digital books, Fireweed and Seasons of Wine and Love. I expect my third WF to be available in February. This third book begins a series I refer to as my Dessert Dames, or Double Ds' series. This series centers on a group of life-long women friends in their early 50s. Each book centers on one specific friend faced with a catastrophic and life changing event. How she manages that and how her friends help and support is the unifying theme--oh and the desserts which always help them get through life.

Why did I decide to indie publish my WF? I'm a pragmatist. I've been around long enough to understand just how long traditional publishing takes. I thought about the two women who were my mentors--blazing new paths because they wanted something. I wanted these stories to be read before I die, not after. I'm a seasoned woman. I'm at the age where life is more behind me than ahead. But I'll never be too old to try new things.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Writing takes a lot of time as you know and I stay focused on writing goals. However, I love to read and read mostly RS and WF. I also work on one nonfiction book a month. I love to bake. I enjoy being with my family and friends and doing things with me. I love photography and traveling.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I'm doing final edits/formatting for the February book which I've titled Better Than Dessert. I'm working revising the second in that series, and plotting the third. I'm mentally thinking through plot lines for 2 RS works, a novella and the third in the Affair series. Oh, and PR for everything.


Where can we find you on the web?

I blog every Sunday on my website: http://caseyclifford.wordpress.com I'm on Facebook but don't have a clue about all the other options out there.  Probably by next year I will.

Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?

Most importantly, I thank you for this opportunity to meet a new audience and tell them about my writing journey. I believe my writing is such a part of me that I can never walk away from it. Like life, writing has its high points and its low ones. I've mucked around in that slough of despair more than once in my life but that struggle would have been worse had I not known I might use those emotions and that knowledge at some future date in something I write. My writing has served as a lifeline during difficult times, and I've had a few. To me having the gift of weaving words, ideas, emotions into a story readers might love to read energizes me.

And a question I have is--"Do you have any questions for me?"



College professor Maggie Meehan thinks she can tackle any challenge alone, but when an old flame returns to campus he puts her career--and her heart--in jeopardy...

With a daughter to support, Maggie wants the job security that comes from achieving college tenure. The likelihood of that lessens when Seth Baldwin, a man from her past, arrives on campus with tenure and a hefty salary. Sparks blaze between them that have nothing to do with their careers and everything to do with their hearts.

When Maggie's abusive ex-husband shows up making demands and a disturbed student hassles her, Maggie wants to tough it out on her own. But when a series of murders rocks the campus and Maggie is threatened and even assaulted, Seth refuses to let her face the ordeal alone.
Can Seth's love strengthen Maggie enough to overcome a killer bent on her destruction?

Excerpt:

“What I’d really like to know, Maggie, is in which role you think I most resemble him? James Bond, perhaps?”

At that unexpected voice, Maggie’s heart slammed against her rib cage. Her tummy plummeted to her swollen feet. She spotted the Bondish-sly grin accompanying Seth’s words as he walked through the doorway with Emily close behind. Giggling, her daughter looked quite pleased with herself.


“More like his role in Lawnmower Man,” she snapped her conversational dart.

“Ouch…you’re killing me here. Lawnmower Man?”

“On second thought?” She cocked her head. “Maybe more Remington Steele. Inept. But perfectly attired—whatever the occasion or weather. And in reruns.” She eyed Seth’s casual appearance: pressed khaki shorts, polo shirt in a rich teal, comfortable boat shoes, no socks while she was barefoot and bare-faced.

“Reruns! Lawnmower Man. Woman, you show fangs early in the morning.”

“I wasn’t expecting company.” Despite herself, she laughed, and Seth walked across the patio with Emily at his side. He stood next to the lounge and peered down at her. She didn’t squirm but returned his stare. If he made comparisons to last night, he shouldn’t come calling unannounced. The warm morning sun turned her sweaty.

Of course, he looked cool and polished.

“Ahh, Mom needs more coffee. Would you like some, too, Professor Baldwin?” Emily grabbed an empty cup from the table next to the lounge. Maggie nodded and so did Seth.

“If Maggie doesn’t mind?” He stared into her face.

Could he read her emotions? She hoped not. She bit her lower lip, sighed, and leaned her head against the back of the chair. “Bring two cups, please, Em. Professor Baldwin and I have some talking to do.” Her heart hammered in a chest not sufficiently covered—at least with Seth Baldwin around.

“Good, I asked him to stay for breakfast. Is that okay?”

“You did what?”

Emily smile slithered away and Seth looked uneasy—for the first time. “He didn’t accept. After I bring coffee, you can talk and I won’t bother you.” Emily walked away, less confident than before.

“I didn’t mean to cause a rift.”

“I’m sure you have better things to do than join us for breakfast.”

“Actually, I don’t. Mind if I have a seat?”

“Take your choice.” She pointed to chairs several feet away. Contrary as she remembered him, he settled his lanky length at the far edge of her lounge. She ignored the skip in her heart beat.

“I like the view better here.” He grinned which enhanced the smile brackets at his mouth. “Plus we don’t have to raise our voices.”

“Why’re you here?”

“To see you. An added bonus is discovering Emily.” He lowered his deep voice. “I didn’t know you had a daughter, Maggie. She’s delightful, charming, and full of spirit. Just like you…”

29 comments:

Diana Layne said...

Big hugs on the loss of your son. An Island No More looks like a wonderful book, congratulations!

Rachel said...

What a GREAT cover! Always love hearing what's going on with you, and am looking forward to picking up your latest! :)

Patricia said...

One of the most interesting interviews I've read in quite a while. I would love to read one of your books about women who are older, more in their 50's. That you would write about that age group says a lot about you. And your writing, I am sure, is more textured because of your life experiences. I'm so sorry about your son. I can't imagine. You are obviously a very strong woman. And I know that must shine through in your writing as well.
Patti

Mackenzie Crowne said...

Dear Mary Jo, I cannot even fathom the depth of your loss, but if it approaches the strength of your character, it is deep indeed. My mother's heart weeps for you, and though I don't wish to add a new slice to yours, my writing has carried me through trauma, as it sounds yours has. So, my question would be, and please don't feel the need to reply if I'm out of line, but is there a particular scene you've written where you exercised your grief through a character? And how did you prepare yourself for the process?

Arial Burnz said...

Congratulations on moving forward through a very difficult time in your life. Big hugs to you! Great interview!!

AJ Nuest said...

Great interview, ladies! Wow. Island No More sounds awesome. And being a fellow Wisconsinite (now transplanted to Indiana) I am thrilled to discover this new author. My hat is off to you for all the wonderful accolades, Casey, and even more importantly, for forging ahead toward your dream at a time when life was truly challenging. You are an inspiration.

caseyclifford said...

Diana,

Thanks for your comment and congratulations. This Thursday will be a year since he died. Much has happened in that year. It is proof that life in a positive way can happen after deep loss. :-)

caseyclifford said...

Rachel,

Funny, you should mention the cover as last week I checked out a blog on covers and all the posters were saying they'd never buy a book with a child on the cover--no matter what.

But now I guess I might have a place to hand off the blame if no one buys it, right? It's all the cover's fault! :-)

Good to hear from you. I miss you.

caseyclifford said...

Patricia,

Thanks, I appreciate that you liked the answers to Sarah's great questions.

My characters in An Island No More are in their 40's. Does that work? :-)

I love those types of books as you do which may be why I write them.

Thanks for commenting.

caseyclifford said...

Mackenzie,

Another great question.

Actually, I have a couple scenes in the book where Maggie is feeling particularly stressed for the safety of her daughter Emily. As a single parent Maggie struggles with doing her best always for her daughter and when Maggie realizes that the victims all have connections to her, this worry intensifies.

So as I was revising and editing for that final time and those scenes came up, my mind slide to the past when I single parented and wondered had I done my best always to provide for my sons. I even wondered/wandered in the murky depths of heredity once or twice and wondered had my son had different parentage might he have been able to outlive me. Talk about crying my eyes out while I worked on the wording!

And that really helped me since I couldn’t cry during the service or the aftermath as I was needed to be the rock for everyone else.

But as a writer I believe all our experiences shape us and help us to expand our understanding of what motivates people and thus our characters.

caseyclifford said...

Arial,

Lovely name, BTW.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Moving on was easy. The options were not. I wanted that book published on time. :-)

Linda Andrews said...

So sorry to hear about the loss of your son and amazed that you were able to write through it. I'm am glad to see another person who loves editing. How many books nonfiction/fiction do you write a year?

caseyclifford said...

Linda,

Every writer is different with output. Right now I'd say I'm able to get one polished book out a year and 2 others in process. For me that means one done in rough draft and one through one complete revision.

Oh, and another percolating in the back of my mind.

But if I have a deadline or I'm pushed, I get more done. Don't we all?

caseyclifford said...

A.J,

Thanks for the compliment, but really I don't deserve it for doing what I love. No matter what. I'm blessed with an ethic instilled by my parents and family that you can't let life keep you from fighting to achieve your goals.

And a shout back to you as a former Wisconsinite. I love travel, but WI, and maybe Alaska, is where my heart sings best. :-)

Mackenzie Crowne said...

I appreciate your answering with brutal honesty. Wah! Wish I could reach through the screen to give you a hug. I'm so glad to hear the revision process not only enhanced your writing, but hopefully lightened your load.

Donna Marie Rogers said...

Wonderful interview, Mary Jo, and such a great excerpt! I can't wait to read An Island No More! :-)

The first anniversary of my mother's death is March 4th, so it looks like we'll both need a big hug Wednesday. :-)

Deb Maher said...

Wonderful interview, MJ, and Sarah...thank you! Your will and determination continually amaze me. I love the way it comes through in your stories. Congratulations on this latest release!

caseyclifford said...

Donna,

I can't wait for Wednesday either and for the very same reason.

I'm so glad you liked the excerpt. You know I found choosing those almost as difficult as writing blurbs. Few things make me want to give up but writing good blurbs, yeah well, I really have to pull up my big girl panties with that task! :-)

Barbara Britton said...

Hi Mary Jo,

I loved your excerpt. The dialogue is charming and loaded with emotion.
~Barb

Juli Alexander said...

The book looks fantastic. I can't wait to read it.

I'm so sorry for the loss of your son. I'm sure he is smiling down on all of us as we read your work.

caseyclifford said...

Deb,

Thanks for stopping by. Keep on keeping on. We're all thinking of you and your February goal.

caseyclifford said...

Barb,

Thanks for stopping by and liking my dialogue. I really worked over that scene since I wanted it to be powerful but still understated.

caseyclifford said...

Juli,

Thanks for commenting on my book. And you're right. My son was quite proud of his mom and her books. :-)

Brenda ND said...

Casey,
I'm impressed by your bravery as well as your prose. Thanks for touching others with your writing.

caseyclifford said...

Brenda,

I love your comment about my prose. The bravery remark? If you say so.

Thanks for stopping by. :-)

Mal Olson said...

Casey, this was a wonderful interview and great excerpt. As a soon to be debut author with TWRP and WisRWA memeber, I'm thrilled to see fellow writers succeed.

Can't wait to read not only your new book, but also your debut RS. I'm really into RS.

Congratulations,

Mal

Mary Hughes said...

Mary Jo,

Congratulations on your new release, An Island No More! I'm looking forward to reading it! Thanks for sharing this great interview. I admire you so much, and honor your strength.

Mary

A. Y. Stratton said...

Yea, Casey! Congratulations on your latest book and on a wonderful interview!

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

Casey, God willing you will become much more seasoned and share many more wonderful books with us! (Yes, I've read a couple so I'm very comfortable saying that.) Sarah, thanks for having Casey for such a great interview.

Jimbo probably sat with you to make An Island No More that much more special.

Keep up the great work!