Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Kathy Stickles is talking with Brenda Stanley, author of The Still Small Voice.
FQ: I have to say that, while this is the first book of yours that I have read, I am now a huge fan. How long have you been writing, and what made you start?
STANLEY: First, thank you. There is no bigger compliment than hearing that you read and enjoyed my novel. I wrote my first novel when I was a teenage mother living in a very tiny town in Eastern Utah. It was a form of escape for me. I carried that book around with me, rewriting it numerous times until it was published in 2010, almost thirty years later. I've always been a reader, and the idea of having someone enjoy what I write the way I enjoy others' stories is why I started and continue to write to this day.
FQ: I found The Still Small Voice to be an excellent mystery, but there was so much more to it than that with the family dynamics and Madison’s own emotions and confusion about being home. Where did you come up with the idea for the story and why did you want to work the family dynamics into it and make those family issues such a strong part of the novel?
STANLEY: I grew up in the LDS church (Mormon), and even though my family left the church years ago, I use those experiences in many of my novels. All my books are mysteries with twists, and it was the perfect backdrop for the story I wanted to tell.
FQ: Did you have to do a lot of research for the book regarding Mormon beliefs and how they would fit in, or is that something you are familiar with from your own background?
STANLEY: It took just over a year to write this because even though I felt I knew my subject matter, I wanted to make sure I was accurate and fair. I took trips back to the area in central Utah where the novel is set to do research. It was a place I had spent quite a bit of time when I was young, and it's changed so much, but the one thing I noticed was the mountains. They were obviously there when I was young, but they seemed so immense from what I remembered. They play a large part in the book- some readers have even said they are like one of the characters in the story.
FQ: Something I am always curious about is the main characters of books. Madison is such a determined and complex protagonist, and I adore the character. Is she based on someone you know or a complete creation?
STANLEY: There are a number of traits and characteristics I've taken from people I know who went into Madison. There are definitely similarities to some of my high school friends and the family dynamics I observed when I was young. I wanted her to be broken but also hopeful. It's amazing how things that happened decades ago still affect you, even when you haven't thought about them in years.
FQ: Is Madison a character who may appear in other books, or are each of your stories a stand-alone and a completely new idea? (Hint: I'd love to see more of Madison!)
STANLEY: All of my books have been stand-alone, but I never say never!
FQ: I love that you were the host of a cooking show - how cool! Would you tell our readers a little about that experience?
STANLEY: I've spent most of my adult life as a journalist, including decades as a television news reporter and anchor. I've always loved to cook, and with having five children and working full time, I became a master of "quick cuisine." That is how the cooking show came about, and it was so much fun. I still do a weekly cooking column and have a recipe website called Tales of the Dinner Belle.
FQ: Speaking of cooking, I see that you're the author of several cookbooks. Were these an outgrowth of your cooking show?
STANLEY: Actually, my first published book was a cookbook. My agent was in the process of shopping my first novel, I Am Nuchu, to publishers when I told her about a gag gift I was planning to give my family for Christmas. I had planted way too many zucchini plants that spring and was overrun with squash, so I started creating all these recipes so they wouldn't go to waste. I titled the book The Zucchini Houdini. She loved it and sold it to a publisher! That was in 2010, and it still hits the best-seller charts in September, when everyone is looking for things to do with zucchini. My novel was sold to a different publisher about a month later. That was an amazing year!
FQ: You obviously have a passion for creating delicious meals. What inspires you to come up with a new recipe? And any advice for all of us "wannabee chefs" who struggle to come up with something creative for dinner?
STANLEY: I look at cooking like I do writing. I love to create something that feeds others. Creating a delicious meal is very similar to creating an interesting story. My mother and grandmother were both amazing cooks, and I feel it is part of how we express love.
FQ: I see from your website that you have quite a few interests. Gardening, lots of animals, and what many would consider paradise - a small ranch in Idaho. First, how do you find time to write? And second, what is it like living on a ranch? Does the work ever end?
STANLEY: I am very fortunate because I love where I live and what I do. It is a lot of work, but it's enjoyable being out and amongst the animals and nature. And I do have a partner in it all. My husband is a veterinarian- which comes in handy with all our critters. Finding time to write is a priority for me, and just like other things I want to do, I add it to my schedule so it doesn't get shuffled to the back burner. When I was working, I got up an hour early every morning to write. Now, I do it later, but it's still on my to-do list.
FQ: What is next for you as an author? Can you share with readers what your next book is going to be about? I, for one, would certainly love to know.
STANLEY: My current work in progress is set in Eastern Idaho on an isolated farm along the Snake River. It is a story told from two perspectives and time periods that intertwine and eventually come together. The story is told by two boys. One is alive, and the other is dead. How'd he die, and what is his connection to the boy who is alive? That is the mystery.