Lynn Hightower is a New York Times best-selling author whose latest thriller has been described by Lee Child as a spooky suspenseful masterpiece that’s super recommended.
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler, and Lynn’s long awaited new supernatural thriller, The Enlightenment Project, combines cutting-edge science with demonic possession. Noah Archer is a renowned neurosurgeon with an impressive success record and a dark secret. It’s a not-to-be-missed read.
As usual, we’ve got a free book to give away. One of Sylvia Price’s cozy mysteries, set in Canada’s picturesque Cape Breton Island, it’s perfect for those who enjoy new beginnings and countryside landscapes. Details are in the show notes for this episode on www.thejoysofbingereading.com.
Link at: Download here: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/xrhpw7zcpq
And don’t forget, for the cost of less than a cup of coffee a month, you can get exclusive bonus content, like hearing Lynn’s answers to the Five Quickfire Questions, by becoming a Binge Reading on Patreon supporter.
We’ve got a new feature starting on Patreon in June. Encore is a once a month short chat with authors who’ve already been on the show, talking about their latest book.
First up in June is popular historical fiction author Deborah Challinor, talking about The Leonard Girls a story of two sisters going off to the Vietnam War in the late 60s. One is a nurse, one a protestor….And the experiences they have there will change heir perspective forever. Details at patreon.com/thejoysofbingereading.
Links mentioned in this episode:
Deborah Challinor: The Leonard Girls; https://www.harpercollins.co.nz/9781775541813/the-leonard-girls/
M Scott Peck: The Road Less Travelled: http://www.mscottpeck.com/
The Exorcist: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070047/
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: https://psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm
Stanford Medical Center: https://stanfordhealthcare.org/
The God Helmet: (Persinger Helmet) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_helmet
Michael Persinger Professor of Psychology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Persinger
Tony Hillerman: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Hillerman
Jonathan Kellerman: https://www.jonathankellerman.com/
Wendell Berry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendell_Berry
Georgette Heyer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgette_Heyer
Rachel Ingalls, Binstead Safari: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/1055079
Robert Goddard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Goddard_(novelist)
PD James: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._D._James
Anne Tyler: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Tyler
Diane Johnson: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diane_Johnson
Brianne Moore: https://www.briannemooreauthor.com/
Reginald Hill: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Hill
Martin Cruz Smith: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Cruz_Smith
John Le Carre, Silverview: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58133677-silverview
Carlos Ruiz Zafron: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlos_Ruiz_Zaf%C3%B3n#Novels
Lena Padget series: https://www.lynnhightower.com/lynn-hightower-books/lena-padget-series/
Satan’s Lamb’s: Lena Padget Book One
Sonora Blair series: https://www.lynnhightower.com/lynn-hightower-books/sonora-blair-series/
Flashpoint: Sonora Blair Book One: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/268486
David Silver Elaki series: https://www.lynnhightower.com/lynn-hightower-books/david-silver-elaki-series/
Where to find Lynn Hightower:
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to the show notes in The Joys of Binge Reading.com for important mentions.
And now, here’s Lynn.
Introducing author Lynn Hightower
Jenny Wheeler: Hello there Lynn, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Lynn Hightower: I am delighted to be here, and I cannot wait to talk to you.
Jenny Wheeler: Great. You are the bestselling author of numerous thrillers that have been included in things like the New York Times list and the London Times bestseller list, but this latest one is also recommended by none other than Lee Child. It’s called The Enlightenment Project. It’s a supernatural thriller and Lee Child called it a suspenseful masterpiece, super recommended. That must have given you a nice little jolt of achievement.
Lynn Hightower: Absolutely. I love him and I love his books and I love how kind he is to novelists like me.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. As we’ve mentioned, it’s a supernatural thriller, and it’s got an unusual twist. It’s cutting-edge science meets demonic possession, and it gets into exorcism. Where did this idea come from?
Lynn Hightower: Two places. One was when I saw The Exorcist, which most of us have seen and read. It really scared me. I reacted on a very visceral level, and I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the boy it was based on and when he grew up, did he tell anybody? If you’re dating do you say, by the way, when I was a child I was possessed but it’s all okay now? I think that would be a real relationship ender.
‘Exploding’ scientific research on exorcism
I started doing research, and the research on possession and exorcisms is exploding these days. It’s a recognized psychiatric condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The difference now is that it is recognized as non-pathological, as not a mental illness but from without.
It used to be recognized as a pathological mental illness, but now they see that there are times when it is not from inside you. It’s something spiritual from without which means the treatment is totally different. It’s really pretty scary to realize they recognize that, and these days medicine is more integrative, so they’re treating the spiritual, the physical and the mental illness side.
Then I started studying neurologists who were telling people to meditate. I thought that was fascinating. Then there were the neurologists who were worried that maybe meditating was good and could also open the way to dark things. Once I read that, I was off and running.
Jenny Wheeler: It is fascinating. I didn’t realize until I read your book that there’s been a tremendous amount of research going on with neurology and spiritual states. They are looking at the brain and seeing what happens when people pray or meditate. There are a lot of sites around that now.
Lynn Hightower: Yes, there is a field of neuro-theology where they are studying religion. What I’ve learned is that there are various spiritual neurons all through your brain, not just in one place. When my hero, Noah Archer, comes up with The Enlightenment Project to stimulate all these neurons in the brain, it’s a huge success. People are cured of addictions and chronic depression, but of course it opens the way to the dark side.
Current research showing new info
Just this year at Stanford Medical Center, they’re doing almost exactly what Noah is doing. Not that I’m an expert in it, but it looks like they’re doing the same things, stimulating the same neurons. They have a five-day protocol for people who have chronic depression and have had no relief, and it’s working.
Jenny Wheeler: Wow. And there’s this antique thing, some sort of helmet, is it the Persinger helmet?
Lynn Hightower: Yes, the God helmet. I am not sure how that worked. A lot of scientists treated it as a joke. I’m not sure. I don’t think it was stimulating neurons. I think it was just putting you in a place of complete isolation, but I don’t know. I think there might have been a lot more interesting aspects to that, but nobody took it very seriously.
Jenny Wheeler: It looks like a Roman helmet in a way, doesn’t it?
Lynn Hightower: Yes it does. I can see why they laughed it off, but I don’t know. I’m a novelist. I can believe six impossible things before breakfast.
Jenny Wheeler: In your book you take it one step further in that they attempt to put somebody under this kind of analysis. I would almost call it an MRI, but I’m not quite sure if that’s what it is.
Lynn Hightower: It actually is an MRI.
Jenny Wheeler: An MRI while the exorcism is going on to see what is happening in the brain while this priest is doing an exorcism. I doubt that’s ever been done, has it? That was your novelist’s imagination.
Lynn Hightower: That’s my novelist imagination. I took it to the next natural step. I think it would be a good idea to try it and to see how a person’s brain changes and to do MRIs, because what happens if someone is completely possessed, they no longer want to be helped, they don’t want an exorcism? How has their brain changed after they come to that decision? I think there will be physical changes in the brain for sure.
Renowned author and his experience
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. In this book Noah, as you’ve mentioned, has this experience as a boy and it means that he becomes fascinated with that whole area. When he becomes an adult, he becomes a neurologist and he wants to specialize in this area. He has developed a very close relationship with the priest from his earlier childhood experience, so the pair of them are almost like the rescuers for people who are looking for special treatments. They have a very close relationship and the whole book revolves around them and what happens with The Enlightenment Project.
One of the things the reviewers have mentioned is that it helps us to understand what it’s like to go through one of those experiences. It’s very real, the feelings and the actual brain experiences that you translate into the story. Did you find first person accounts? How did you know that’s the way people felt?
Lynn Hightower: I got everything from research. I read account after account of exorcisms, most of them written by the exorcist priests. I found out, and this astounded me, that M Scott Peck performed two exorcisms during his career. He was the psychiatrist who wrote The Road Less Traveled, and I was shocked.
He said in his book, Glimpses of the Devil, that he absolutely did not believe in anything demonic until he ran across these two patients. He himself did the exorcisms, and it was his hope, which has happened, that the psychiatric community will start taking it more seriously. He described in great detail what his patients told him afterward and during. He had them do a lot of writing about how they felt and how upset they were.
A recurring theme in Lynn’s work
One of are the things he said that really interested me was, the person who is possessed is doing the work. I’m assisting, but it’s like when you have a baby. The obstetrician isn’t delivering the baby, you are. You’re doing the work. You have the physical pressure and the physical difficulty and the exorcist assists. I found that absolutely fascinating. I have also talked to some therapists and psychiatrists about how they would treat people, how people felt, and that gave me a lot of insight too.
Jenny Wheeler: It seems to have been a theme that’s fascinated you even before this book. You have got other detective series and stand-alones, obviously you’ve been writing for quite a number of years, but they tackle edgy themes. In one of those series, the Lena Padget series, for example, the book that was a Seamus award-winner was called Satan’s Lamb. This darker side seems to have been something that’s attracted you before this book.
Lynn Hightower: Yes, I find it so fascinating. This is the other side of it, the criminal side of it. That’s where I started because at the time I wrote the book there was a lot in the news about satanic cults and their connection to crimes in Santeria. I did a lot of research and found out there are a lot of criminals in gangs that used satanic, dark religious protocols as a cover for their crimes or to lure people into their cult and to give them the feeling of a dark, spiritual strength. They can prey on people who are hungry spiritually and alone.
Aspects of cult life
Being in the cult, and being in the gang, makes them feel like they belong and they’ll adopt pretty dark rituals to justify the crimes they commit. Man, that’s interesting. So Lena Padget was born. I’m not saying Santeria is a religion of criminals. That is not at all what I meant. I just meant it is a very interesting religion that brings in a lot of ritual, some Catholic. It’s an interesting religion with a lot of protocols that seem very supernatural.
Jenny Wheeler: Lena Padget is on the trail of serial killers, isn’t she?
Lynn Hightower: No, the serial killer is Sonora Blair and her first novel is called Flashpoint. I wrote that because I wanted to write about two things. One, a female serial killer. This is a scary woman. She’s a psychopath from birth. I know someone who treats children like that. You wouldn’t think it could happen in someone that young. Those children are terrifying.
This is one of those children who grew up and she’s quite a predator. She’s quite twisted. Her victims are men and they’re all good guys and none of them deserve to die. When they stop and help this small, vulnerable, very dangerous woman, she will handcuff them to the steering wheel of their car and set them on fire. That makes her happy. I thought that was fascinating.
Jenny Wheeler: Satan’s Lambs makes me think of Hannibal Lecter. That name, I don’t know quite why. That was an award-winning book that was recommended by both Jonathan Kellerman and Tony Hillerman, so you have certainly had some heavyweights come in at your back.
Endorsements from major authors
Lynn Hightower: I have, and they were so kind because they didn’t know who I was. I was a little bitty author and I just wrote them. But I wrote to novelists whose work I love. I have read all of their books and I loved all of their books and they were so kind to me. They read the book, they sent me letters talking about the book and they gave me quotes for the book. I am eternally grateful.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s terrific. You’ve got another series, the David Silver series, with the theme of alien invasion, which once again is out there a little. Tell us about that one.
Lynn Hightower: That first book, Alien Blues, was born because I had sold my first novel. I had worked eight years and written novels and finally got an agent, finally got a novel sold. It was in the production process and Random House bought out the publisher and axed their whole line.
I was crushed. I was in a bad mood for an entire year. I guarantee you, a whole year of a bad mood, and I thought, if I am going to be a failed novelist, I am going to enjoy it. So I wrote a book that had everything I loved. It had aliens, it had cops, it had serial killers, it had tunnels, it also had a ghost. They made me take that out, but it had everything else I love. I sent that to my agent after just the first six chapters, and I said, I’m having some fun with this. I don’t even know if you’d like it.
The long road to getting published
He read it and he called me and said, I love it. It’s great. Keep writing it. I’m going to send it to the editor who’s looking at that other novel of yours. She called him a week later and said, I don’t like that other novel, but I love these six chapters. I want to buy it, and I want to know if she’d like to write a series.
Does she have any other ideas? I lied and said yes. He said, that’s great. She’s going to call you in 10 minutes to discuss it. I’m like, oh, that’s wonderful. I don’t know what I said. We had a great conversation and it became a series, so those are near and dear to my heart.
Jenny Wheeler: You came up with a whole lot more ideas in 10 minutes?
Lynn Hightower: One thing I do really well is lie and make stories up. I am a natural novelist, so that’s no problem for me. What I learned for all writers to know is that you do your best work when you tell the story you wish someone would tell you, because that’s what I was doing. I was like, all right, fine, I’m a failure. I’m going to write a novel that I’ll love, and that’s what I did.
Jenny Wheeler: I loved the review somebody gave that one. They said the crime is out of The Silence of the Lambs, the cops out of Lethal Weapon and the gritty future out of Bladerunner.
Wendell Berry a mentor and hero
Lynn Hightower: I know, I love that. It was like all my influence. I’m like, yes, I love that and I loved that one and I loved that one. Absolutely great compliment. That’s what I was trying to write, so I was very happy with that.
Jenny Wheeler: I noticed on your website that you studied with the iconic man of American creative art Wendell Berry when you were doing a Masters in Creative Writing. Tell us a bit about him and consider that our audience is 40% non-American so there are quite a number of people who may not know who Wendell Berry is.
Lynn Hightower: Okay. I was actually working on a journalism degree. I started college at 16 and I was storming the campus looking for every single writing course anywhere in the university, and of course I went to Wendell Berry. Wendell Berry is a brilliant novelist and philosopher who was writing about farm to table 40 years ago. He is a poet, he’s an SAS. He’s gotten every award and he’s won every accolade.
He was such a wonderful teacher and he was a legend on campus. He was revered, and of course I’m like, who in the heck is this Wendell Berry?
But I take his classes and read his books and I realized, this guy’s the real deal. He was so intelligent. It was a little scary because there would be no nonsense in class, but he had a lot of gravitas and a lot of wisdom. He was very generous with his time and he was very kind to me. He put up with millions of questions.
Lynn Hightower teaches writing classes
Sometimes I would go in his office and ask him everything under the sun, from farming to characterization. He would sit and answer my questions. He was quite wonderful, and I feel like who I am as a writer, how I write, my process, my craft, anything I do right, stems directly from him.
Jenny Wheeler: You teach master novel classes yourself now. Tell us about that work.
Lynn Hightower: I love working with other novelists. I think I learned from working with Wendell Berry. I love the dynamic of novelist to novelist, so when I work with my students or clients, we are working novelists together. I’m very pragmatic and everything I teach, I pretty much model all of my classes and all of the work I do on how Wendell Berry conducted his classes, because he’s the master. If I’m doing it right, it’s because of what I learned from him.
It is absolutely thrilling to watch people’s novels grow up and to see them find their way, because there is so much information out there and novelists have to be very careful who they listen to. It is actually quite simple. If someone tells you something about writing and it rings true and it feels like what you needed to hear, then listen to them. Otherwise, maybe don’t.
A lot of people who are very smart and have good intentions but who aren’t novelists, are looking at things from the outside in. Sometimes they’ve got really good insights and sometimes they just box people in, because they don’t understand how it was done and they can’t separate the threads, if that makes sense.
The biggest impediment for beginners
Jenny Wheeler: From your experience working with less experienced writers, what is the biggest impediment to them getting a successful, finished manuscript?
Lynn Hightower: Number one, there is so much information out there that they’ve got a lot of noise in their head and they have to learn to set it aside. Then again, tell the story you wish someone would tell you, follow your instincts and work steadily. People think, I’ll get two weeks in a cabin in the woods and I’ll write, write, write, but you won’t because you haven’t built your momentum up. I always say, small, regular work sessions to keep that momentum going.
A lot of novelists feel like they’re not allowed to write because they’re not published yet. I would say, writing is a decision of the heart. You don’t need anybody’s permission, but if anybody out there does need permission, I, Lynn Hightower give you permission to get out there and write. You fold it into your real life. One thing Wendell Berry taught us that was very helpful was, everyone has the idea that you have to stop your life for your art and your art must be number one. That’s not very practical. You have kids, you might have a job, you might have a farm, you might have a dog that needs to be walked. That is the joyous part of real life. You don’t abandon it. You fold the writing in.
Jenny Wheeler: You mentioned at the beginning that you had eight years and then that crushing disappointment when you finally did get into a publishing house. What were you doing in addition to your writing in those eight years?
Fitting writing around family life
Lynn Hightower: I had three children, little bitty kids under five, so I was taking care of them. I would write when I got them all coordinated to take a nap at the same time. I had like an hour and a half a day. I started out as a nap time novelist, and I would be so tired that I used to hold a cup of coffee while I wrote. Sometimes I would fall asleep and I would know from how cold the coffee was how long it had been.
My kids always woke up at the cliffhanger, right when the chapter got interesting, and so I always ended my chapters on a cliffhanger. The chapters were really short, and then I went to another one. In interviews people would say, that’s such an interesting style, that short, quick cliffhanger style you have. How did you develop that? Do I admit that it’s because that’s when my children woke up from their naps, or do I just say that was my literary inclination? But it was one of my kids woke up and that’s how I developed my short chapter style.
Jenny Wheeler: They always say that the best place to leave off when you’re writing is a cliffhanger because you come back to something really interesting.
Lynn Hightower: I know. Every single time it got interesting, one of them would wake up.
Jenny Wheeler: Are there any manuscripts from those eight years you would resurrect?
Lynn Hightower: Oh, yes. I wrote a book called The Piper about phone calls from the dead and I’d like to revisit that. I have another exorcism novel in mind. It’s based on true events which I find quite terrifying.
‘Being stubborn’ secret of her success
I’ve got words in my head on that one and I’m doing a little research, but it’s quite scary. It is sourced in one particular place and I’m thinking, should I go there or not? I’m probably going to, but I may keep a distance because it’s evidently still a very active, dark place. I wouldn’t have believed this story if it hadn’t been told to me by someone I trust implicitly, so I’m pretty fascinated with that.
Jenny Wheeler: They both sound fascinating. Looking at your wider career, if there’s one thing you would attribute as the secret of your success, what would it be?
Lynn Hightower: The secret of my success is that I’m so incredibly stubborn, and I refuse to give up. I think the more stubborn a novelist is, not about doing it their way but about not giving up, the more likely they’ll be to get published.
A lot of us who write are going to do it either way. We are going to be writing our novels and telling our stories, and hopefully they’ll make their way out into the wide world into the hands of somebody that would like to read them. But you don’t give it up. It’s what I do. Great to be published, but I’d be writing novels either way.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s interesting because there’s another question I like to ask and that is, what was your main goal when you started out? It sounds to me, as you’ve said, that it was simply to write a story you’d like to read and that being published was almost an add-on to that.
She’s always running out of books to read
Lynn Hightower: Well, I wouldn’t put it that way. I started my first novel in the fifth grade because I always ran out of books. I read really fast and I don’t skip a word and keeping me in books is impossible. Everybody says, I’ve got so many books to read I can’t get through them. I’m like, that’s nice. I’m running out again.
So I had to write my own. I would write no matter what, but it was a big goal to get a novel published. Then when one gets published, your goal hits reset. I want to get another one published. But I would do it either way.
Jenny Wheeler: Have you ever been tempted to be an indie published writer, or are you all trad?
Lynn Hightower: I’m whatever will take me. Whoever will work with me, I will work with if they’re good. Right now I’m working with a great independent press, Severn House. They started in Edinburg, they have offices in London and they’re doing fabulously. They love genre fiction, which is what I love to write, so a match made in heaven.
Jenny Wheeler: Let’s turn to Lynn as reader. You say you’re a very fast reader. Tell us about your tastes. Would you call yourself a binge reader, and who do you binge read?
Some of Lynn Hightower’s favorites
Lynn Hightower: I am a binge reader 24 hours a day. I am always reading a book. I don’t like to leave the house without a paperback tucked into my purse, because my biggest fear is I’ll have some free time and, where’s my book? I don’t want to live in the real world 24 hours a day. I want a novelist to take me to a place where I want to go.
I’ll read anybody, any genre. I will read westerns, I will read thrillers, I will read literary. I love Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. I love her books. I read them over and over and over again because she is brilliant with character and humor. She’s fabulous. I love Binstead Safari by Rachel Ingalls. She was so subversive.
I love Robert Goddard, Reginald Hill, P D James, Brianne Moore, Diane Johnson, Anne Tyler and Martin Cruz Smith. It’s endless. I will read anyone who tells me a good story. I do think the novelist has to deliver. You have to tell a good story. I will not read novelists who leave their readers in despair for no good reason, because I think that’s cruel.
Jenny Wheeler: Name a couple you’ve read in the last two or three months that you’d recommend to people who are listening. Ones that you think, try this one.
Lynn Hightower: The latest John Le Carré, Silverview. I loved that because it was looking at the spy services on an ethical level. I think he was hesitant to publish it until after his death. I thought that was a fabulous novel.
Jenny Wheeler: It was published posthumously?
Lynn Hightower: Yes. He worked on it and then his son finished it and published it. It is a little different from his others. It’s very cutting-edge thinking, about espionage and how it works and how people get chewed up in that kind of system. It’s a brutal world, and I thought it was a brilliant novel. I read it and then I put it down and I picked it up and read it again. I really was struck by it.
Mysterious, Gothic and enchanting
I’ve just finished reading the novels by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and those are really good. They are so mysterious, so Gothic, so entrancing. I love those books. I think he’s fabulous. They are my two latest.
Jenny Wheeler: Looking back down the tunnel of time, if there was one thing you were going to change about your creative career, what would it be?
Lynn Hightower: I don’t think I would change anything. That’s not because I didn’t make a million bad decisions and I didn’t screw up a thousand times and I didn’t get really lucky. I had extraordinary things and terrible things, but they all brought me to where I am and they made me the writer I am.
Right now I think I write differently than I used to and I enjoy it more. It’s all material and it all got me to where I am today. I’m not trying to be TED talky because I did make a lot of mistakes. I just think that I wouldn’t be the writer I am now if there were any changes, so no regrets.
Jenny Wheeler: Interesting remark about enjoying it more now. Tell us a little bit about your process and how it might have changed to what you do today.
Lynn Hightower: A lot of the reason I enjoy it more now and a lot of the things I talk to my own writers I work with about are, okay, the first draft. When I have a new novel, it’s like a love affair, so why wouldn’t I want a new love affair? You write the first draft and you think it’s so wonderful and you love it.
Circles of self doubt many writers face
Then you set it aside and you read it again and you bring in what I call the writing police in your head. Then you’re going to be sobbing on the floor and frustrated and upset. You’re going to go, maybe I shouldn’t be a novelist. Maybe I can’t do it anymore. Maybe I forgot how to write. Since I always think that with every single novel, I go, well, I know I always think that. So, my angst is reduced to about 25% of what it used to be, and I probably only sob on the floor once or twice instead of every day. If you know to expect it – that’s good.
I know to write regularly, daily, or Monday through Friday, to keep the momentum going. I know how to restart because real life happens and you get away from the book. I know how to get started back up again. I have enough experience with the process so that when I get myself into trouble, which I do on a regular basis, I know that I know how to get out of it. That takes the pressure off. Now I have more time to write, and so it’s very joyous because I’m more in love with my stories than I used to be.
Jenny Wheeler: That distinction they make about plotting or pantsing – whether you do a lot of outlining and detailed planning ahead or whether you just allow the Muse to speak – which side of the ledger would you be in that?
Planners, Pantsers and the in betweens
Lynn Hightower: I so much love that you brought that up because people who talk about planners and pantsers are the people who are not novelists. They are looking and going, some people plan and some people write by the seat of their pants, and they divide you into two groups. All novelists are both, sometimes at the same time, and when they feel like they are divided into one camp or the other, it causes them great anguish and it interferes with their work.
What I would tell novelists who are struggling with this is, there are times to plan and there are times to write and it could be on the same day. If you have words in your head for a scene, you don’t ignore those and say, I would love to write that scene but I haven’t done all the plan work. No, you write it.
If you’re writing and having a good time and going off on tangents because, let’s be honest, you don’t really know what your story is but you’re having a good old time, then it’s time to plan. If you don’t know that, you will hit a brick wall right at about page 103. It’s not because you have writer’s block, which does not exist. It’s because you don’t know where your story is going, so kick back and do some plan work.
Every writer has a different process. I encourage them to do some planning, do some writing, do what you need to do and go with what’s in your head that day. Do not listen to people who put you in one camp or the other because even though they’re well-meaning, they’re completely wrong. Not that I’m opinionated.
‘Just get writing’ best advice
Jenny Wheeler: You’re right. There is a tremendous amount of advice out there now, and as someone who started writing fiction in the last few years, if you stop to listen to all the advice, you’d never get anything written.
Lynn Hightower: You want to know what the other one is that drives writers crazy. Just a quick one. They say to you, show, don’t tell. That is so vague as to be useless. You show the emotions of your characters because it’s more nuanced. You don’t say, he’s angry. You say, she put a fist through the window, and that gives you a lot of information right there. You show that.
But you cannot show a plot. You have to tell it; you absolutely have to tell the plot. I get writers who come to me in despair because they have written 500 words and the novel doesn’t make sense. I’m like, would you please just tell us what we need to know? They’re like, but can you? I say, it’s legal, it’s necessary, it’s crucial. They say, can I just say it? And I’m like, uh huh. It’s like the angels are singing, the heavens are opening up and they’re like, but it’s so easy. I say, I know. Good for you.
Jenny Wheeler: What is next for Lynn as author, looking ahead to the next 12 months? What have you got on your desk?
Lynn Hightower: I’m a very bad girl. I have two love affairs going on right now and I never do two books at the same time. Never, never, never. Everything’s all one, but I’m halfway into the first draft of a thriller and I’m madly in love with it.
What Lynn is working on right now
Then I’ve got words in my head for another one, and I have to stop and write them down. I’ve got two or three scenes. But this is my main one, and I’m in the good part where I’m in love. I’ve got maybe three months before I’ll be facing the writing police and the sobs on the floor, so I’m pretty happy right now.
Jenny Wheeler: It’s interesting that you mention the sobs on the floor because almost every author I talk to, if this subject comes up, they admit that there’s that dark moment in every story when they think it’s not going to work and they’ve lost the gift for writing. The most established writers still go through that heartache, don’t they?
Lynn Hightower: Yes. The only difference is since I know I’m always going to do it, then I know it’s going to be all right. I have the confidence that I will think my way through it and I will figure something out. Also I have no problem throwing stuff away that isn’t working. It doesn’t bother me even a little teeny bit if I have to toss something and move on in another direction. I think half your problems come when you try to hang on to things that aren’t working. Just kill it and move on.
Jenny Wheeler: As a sign of the times, has this pandemic affected you too much?
Lynn Hightower’s ‘pandemic skillset’
Lynn Hightower: Well, I hate to admit this, but I have a sort of pandemic skillset. I am very solitary and I’m quite happy by myself, working on my novel, rambling around with my giant dog, reading books and writing. It was like all the pressure is off. No, sorry, I can’t socialize, there’s a pandemic.
Which is not to mean that I’m not greatly sympathetic for people who are solitary like I am, but it was, for me, a wonderful relief that I could focus on the work and say, sorry, pandemic, I can’t go anywhere.
Jenny Wheeler: Great. Do you enjoy interacting with your readers and where can they find you online?
Lynn Hightower: I love it. That’s the end game. Although I’m very solitary when I write, when I’m launching a book and going out and doing the Lynn Hightower show, it is so much fun because I don’t get out much, so talking to other humans is thrilling. The whole point of writing is to get your books in the hands of anybody who might want to read it, because we read so that we don’t have to live in the real world all the time, but also so that we’re not so alone in the world.
If my characters can deal with it and they’re okay at the end, then you can too. I want my readers to know you’re not alone. I’m writing for you. Go to my website, which is www.lynnhightower.com, and there is a form. You can email me, tell me how you’re doing, what’s on your mind, and I’ll write back to you. Also there’s a wonderful picture of my beautiful dog and it’s worth going to, to see her.
Jenny Wheeler: What sort of a dog? I’ve looked at your website, but I didn’t notice your dog.
What to read next – try Michael Robotham
Lynn Hightower: She’s there. She’s laying in the grass, holding a ball. She’s a German Shepherd and she guards me and she is head of my publicity team. When I write, she sits with me. She brings a good energy to the room. When I was writing The Enlightenment Project and getting very terrified writing late at night, it was very good to have a giant dog right there, keeping me safe.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s gorgeous. Thanks so much Lynn. It’s been great talking.
Lynn Hightower: It’s been great talking to you. Thank you so much.
If you enjoyed hearing about Lynn’s work you might also enjoy international crime master Michael Robotham’s crime stories….
Next week on The Joys of Binge Reading we have author Ella Carey and her epic, heartbreaking World War I story, The Girl from Paris. The story takes us from Paris to New York, as seamstress Vianne believes she lost her sister in the war and is seeking refuge somewhere away from Europe. But she’s forced to face a new reality. Next week on The Joys of Binge Reading.
That’s it for today. Thanks for listening and until next time, happy reading.
The Joys of Binge Reading podcast is put together with wonderful technical help from Dan Cotton at DC Audio Services. Dan is an experienced sound and video engineer who’s ready and available to help you with your next project… Seek him out at email@example.com or Phone + 64 – 21979539. He’s fast, takes pride in getting it right, and lovely to work with.
Our voice overs are done by Abe Raffills, and Abe’s another gem. He got 20 years of experience on both sides of the camera/microphone as a cameraman/director and also voice artist and television presenter. Abe’s vocal delivery is both light hearted and warm and he is super easy to work with no matter the job. You’ll find him at firstname.lastname@example.org