I’d like to introduce you to the fifteenth interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. She is Pati Johnson Tierney, who writes under the pen name Tierney James.
QUESTION: Hi, Pati! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?
ANSWER: Writing is something that I’ve done since I was ten years old. I had an amazing fifth grade teacher that opened the door to writing, science and geography for me. It became a kind of compass for my writing life. Growing up my parents thought I had way too much imagination. Bumps in the night could turn into an epic “what if” scenario in a heartbeat. But the truth is no one actually encouraged me to write because the only things on display were assignments, term papers or projects for my teaching career. Then, several years ago I met a published writer who lived nearby. She suggested we meet once a month and share something we’d written. For the first time in my life I got enough backbone to share my fiction. Even though I had notebooks of ideas, character sketches and even unfinished manuscripts I kept them hidden in a night stand or trunk in the garage. After reading several pages of a story I’d written about 1939 rural Tennessee my friend looked at me in surprise and said: “My goodness, you’re a writer.” No one had ever said those magical words to me. From that point on the flood gates holding back my stories could no longer be contained.
QUESTION: Your debut novel, ‘An Unlikely Hero (Volume 1)’, was released in March, 2013. It’s a gripping thriller in the tradition of Nora Roberts and Elizabeth Lowell. Can you tell us a bit about your book? What inspired you to write it?
ANSWER: My heroine, Tessa Scott is living the American dream – big house, successful husband, and three beautiful children. No one would suspect a Libyan terrorist is at work nearby. When Tessa sends her family on vacation after another fight with her husband, she is expecting a relaxing week of solitude. Instead she is confronted with a bomb in her backyard, and the terrorist group who are looking for it. She survives only due to the entrance of Captain Chase Hunter, a man who seems just as dangerous as the terrorists. Unsure who she can trust, Tessa is drawn into his secret world of national security. Powerless to resist Tessa is forced to survive the unthinkable, from confronting perilous brushes with death to becoming a sitting duck for men who are out to savage the world as we know it.
Meanwhile, the self-possessed Captain Hunter finds that Tessa Scott is affecting him in a way he thought no woman could. The two are forced into a complicated partnership as they work together to unravel a terrorist plot that will affect thousands of people. The stakes are raised when Tessa discovers that her family is in danger from the same evil men. Will Captain Hunter save them, or is he looking to Tessa to save him?
The book is centered around an ordinary woman who is compelled to emerge as altogether extraordinary in the face of sinister schemes, brutal aggressors with worldwide implications.
QUESTION: You are working on a sequel to ‘An Unlikely Hero’. Do you have an anticipated release date yet? Can you tell us anything about the book?
ANSWER: The sequel to An Unlikely Hero is still without a title. Characters who formed Enigma are back full force trying to save the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel from an assassination attempt. The hurricane that slams into the D.C. area complicates things. This time Tessa’s favorite uncle is involved. He’s the shooter and some think Tessa knows more than she’s willing to confess.
Several years ago I noticed a large banner hanging on a fence saying “Remember the USS Liberty, Crimes Against Israel, 1967.” I started doing some research on the incident and was stunned to find a cover-up by our government. As it turned out the History Channel made a documentary concerning the conspiracy and several books had been written. After pouring over the material I contacted the gentleman who owned the banner. He told me a fasinating story about that day on the USS Liberty filled with outrage, loss and compassion for his ship mates. That is where the sequel got its birth. I wanted to bring a true historical event into the here and now to give the crew of the USS Liberty some honor and the recognition they deserve. My heroine’s uncle was on that ship the day it was bombed by Israel. Because of that attack Tessa’s uncle decides it’s time for a little payback. It may surprise you why.
As to the release date I’m hopeful by year’s end. I’m just about half way into the writing so I hope my editor will have something to work with by July. Then I can get busy with edits, polish, than edit again.
QUESTION: Your pen name, Tierney James, is lovely. How did you come up with that name?
ANSWER: Tierney is actually my last name in my life outside of writing. James is my father’s name. My real name is Pati which doesn’t sound like someone who writes about guns, terrorists and enriched uranium. I felt that my pen name might snag readers of both genders if it didn’t get in the way.
QUESTION: You teach college geography and are a former Solar System Amabassador for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. That’s fascinating. Can you tell us more? Do you use your knowledge of science in your books?
ANSWER: That same teacher that opened the door for writing also opened it for science. I can remember the day when I announced to my father in the eighth grade I planned to be an astronaut. I had to have him approve the classes I scheduled for high school. With a frown he told me that was just a ridiculous idea and that women didn’t become astronauts. He made me take typing, and business classes. I lasted one semester. My counselor gladly switched me back to college prep. Years later after Sally Ride, Krista McAuliffe and other made their mark in space my sweet father apologized for being so wrong.
After attending Space Camp for Educators in Huntsville, Alabama I was able to create with the help of faculty and volunteers an Astronomy Night for parents and students. It became an annual event for many years. With the help of another Space Camp Teacher we started an after school program for students interested in space and geography. Through it all I met many wonderful people of science. One of my characters in An Unlikely Hero, Carter Johnson, is an astronaut. It was kind of fun having an astronaut leap out at me whenever I wanted.
I do use science and geography in my writing. In the late 90’s I trained as a National Geographic Teacher Consultant. They too opened my eyes to the world that should be embraced and studied. I’ve always loved cultures, languages and world music so it wasn’t a stretch to be influenced by those subjects when I write.
QUESTION: You’ve traveled to Botswana and the Great Wall of China, you’ve lived among the Cherokee, and you’ve lived in mining/logging communities in California and Missouri. How have all of these unique experiences influenced your writing and your life?
ANSWER:I’m a firm believer that if you choose the profession of teaching then you should travel. You just see the world differently after being among people who speak, eat, even smell differently than you. It’s humbling and amazing. There are days when my sink is full of dirty dishes and I thank God for clean water to wash them. When you’ve seen how people live outside the U.S. you realize how blessed we as Americans are. I take nothing for granted. Healthcare, food, education is plentiful here and the rest of the world just isn’t like that. It doesn’t take long to understand how people can be so hopeless that they decide strapping a bomb to their chest is a better option for them. It’s reality.
When I travel I write. My journals are full of the sites and sounds of where I’m located. The smells aren’t always pleasant but they are rich in words. The deafening quiet that engulfed me while sitting in a mokoro as my guide polled me through the Okavango delta gave me a chance to experience nature almost like a ghostly apparition. Sitting in a jeep on the savanna, listening to a native tell me folktales about the birds in the trees above me filled my pages with colorful ideas for future children’s books. The sounds I hear give life to my words as does the other senses I experience in places besides the safe spot in front of my computer. There have been times where I thought if my mother knew where I was she’d make me come home. That kind of danger or feeling of not being in control certainly helps when you’re writing suspese, action thriller stories.
Living among the Cherokee changed my life yet again. The Native American people touched my heart so deeply that I’ve carried what I learned for decades. They truly have a connection with the earth and a higher power that most people dismiss as nonsense. Some of their superstitions stuck to me and to this day when I hear the hoot of owl in the throws of darkness I look over my shoulder. Because I love them so much my main character, Chase Hunter is half Cherokee. I know where he’s from and how the people help shape his life because they shaped me. In later books the Cherokee will play a bigger role in the continuing stories of Chase and Tessa at Enigma.
An Unlikely Hero began to form in my head when I moved to Northern California. Everywhere I went I seem to run into someone who thought they knew me as “Melanie.” If you’ve read An Unlikely Hero you know that Tessa becomes Melanie along the way. I had some problems with the DMV concerning my identity. They just didn’t believe I could be new to the state. After a while I began wondering who Melanie was in real life. Was she in trouble? Did she get involved in something sinister? I used the backdrop of Grass Valley, California where I lived to write this novel. It helped knowing how everything was laid out geographically.
Then of course living in a minig community helped me understand explosives, geology, engineering and governmental agencies that try to protect the people who work underground. Fasinating history and information coming out of the largest lead mines in the world! And to think there are less than seven hundred people living in such a remote area.
QUESTION: How does it feel to be a published author? Have you done many book reading/signing events?
An Unlikely Hero came out about a month ago so there hasn’t been a lot of time to do many events. I’ve done a book talk at a library and have two book signings. However, I love talking about writing and the whole process in creating a book. I get questions about how long it took or why I don’t write under my own name. People don’t generally see me as Rambo with a pen, more like Martha Stewart with a new piece of cookware. But it feels fantastic to fulfill yet another dream. I wasn’t sure how the book would be received and felt some unease at putting myself out there for examination. The reviews are good which gave me the steam to keep going. When I had several people want to know when the sequel was coming out I knew I’d never look back. I love visiting community groups, book clubs, just about anyone who wants to know about my novel or writing. It’s a passion.
QUESTION: At some point or another, all writers come across the “rules” of contemporary writing: no adverbs, no dialogue tags, show don’t tell, etc. In your opinion, how important are they to writing? Are there any that you particularly adhere to?
ANSWER: I really try to watch that whole adverb thing. You can get caught in that web quickly so if there are more than three “ly” words on a page I cut or rewrite.
QUESTION: What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing?
ANSWER: My favorite part of writing is the creation of the entire story. The characters surprise me sometimes at what they decide to do. I love it when that happens. The least favorite part would be reading the book so many times I feel I’ve lost site of any corrections that would improve the work. I read An Unlikely Hero front to back ten times before I let it go.
QUESTION: Do you have a writing routine, a special place where you go to do your writing, or a certain time of day? Do you listen to music while you write, and if so, what kind of music?
ANSWER: I love writing in the morning with the fireplace blazing. Surrounding myself with the things I treasure from around the world, my dog curled up beside me and a hot cup of coffee on my desk is a perfect writing environment. If I write five pages a day I consider myself on fire, but there have been days when I barely get one and others when I manage twenty. Depends on the groove.
As for music the answer is most definitely! Movie soundtracks are my favorite kind of music to play while writing. Every creation gets new music. I’m not playing the same music for my current novel as I used during An Unlikely Hero.
QUESTION: How do you get past writers’ block or distractions like the internet?
ANSWER: I’ve found I just have to turn the internet off because it always wants to suck me in during the time I should be writing. I know it sounds silly but I also have to make my bed because it becomes a distraction saying I’ve left things undone.
Writers’ block is just a time out for me. My brain is saying switch gears, read a book, study a writing lesson, pull weeds in the garden. I do keep a notebook when I create a new novel. When I don’t know what might happen I write the number of the chapter and all the possibilities that could get my characters from point A to point B. By that time I’m good and sit down to write.
QUESTION: Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!
LinkedIn Pati Tierney
Facebook: Tierney James Author page