Rysa Walker grew up on a cattle ranch in the South. Her options for entertainment were talking to cows and reading books. (Occasionally, she would mix things up a bit and read books to cows.) On the rare occasion that she gained control of the television, she watched Star Trek and imagined living in the future, on distant planets, or at least in a town big enough to have a stop light.
When not writing, she teaches history and government in North Carolina, where she shares an office with her husband, who heroically pays the mortgage each month, and a golden retriever named Lucy. She still doesn’t get control of the TV very often, thanks to two sports-obsessed kids. For more info, visit her website and Goodreads page.
If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which show would you choose?
This is a tough one. My first inclination would be Lost. Two reasons here: First, the show is set in Hawaii and I left a large piece of my soul behind at a beach along the Windward Coast of Oahu. Second, I think if I had a month inside Lost, I could come up with answers to a few of the questions that the writers left hanging in that finale. However, the death rate on the island troubles me. I suspect I’d be one of those characters who mishandles a stick of old dynamite or gets a flaming arrow in the chest.
So, I think I’d spend my month on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, my favorite of all the Trek series. It’s the one show that I’ve never really found a substitute for—political intrigue, well-developed story arcs, and several characters that I truly miss. As an added bonus, there’s a holodeck on DS9, so I could spend some time as a character in a favorite book, or even just stretch out on that beach in Oahu without having to worry about the Smoke Monster or Benjamin Linus sneaking up while I’m catching some rays.
And yes, I know that the holodeck frequently malfunctions, but I’ll put my faith in the Federation’s top-notch engineers to rescue me in the nick of time.
If you were a cartoon, who would you be?
Belle, from Beauty in the Beast.
I should probably clarify that a bit. I’m not married to a beast, I’m nowhere near as pretty as Belle, and the feminist side of me has some major issues with the whole Disney Princess phenomenon.
But, let’s consider the other evidence. I’ve had my “nose stuck in a book” since before kindergarten. I grew up in a “small, provincial town,” with a tiny, underfunded library. The nearest bookstore was twenty miles away and I didn’t always have money for new books, so there were plenty of stories that I read over and over and over again. In addition, a very large percentage of the guys I knew as a teenager could give Gaston a run for his money in terms of belching, spitting, and decorating with antlers.
The most important point, however, is that I completely understood Belle’s joy when the Beast showed her his library. I experienced something similar a few Christmases back when my husband gave me my Kindle. New books with just one click, whenever I want them? Even if it’s two a.m. and the bookstore and library are miles away and closed for the night? Yep. That’s my definition of heaven.
Do you like scary movies?
It depends. I definitely like thrillers—movies that keep you on the edge of your seat, eyes wide open and wondering what’s coming next.
I do not, however, like slasher films or zombie films or anything where people get dismembered. Or have their eyes gouged out. Visual depictions of blood, gore and spewing arteries put me off my popcorn. I don’t even like previews or commercials for that type of movie—a single television ad for some horror movies can provide material for a week’s worth of nightmares.
I’m perfectly happy to read about blood and gore, and I’ll even write about it, if the plot takes me there. I love Stephen King’s books, even the ones like It or The Shining that are pretty much pure horror. But I generally don’t like the movies that are made from those books. I prefer to control the level of gruesome rather than leave that decision up to a director or special effects wizard. After all, I’m the one who will have to sleep with that big pile of gruesome until it works its way out of my psyche.
Are you a bad listener?
Yes and no. I can be a very bad listener when someone is talking directly to me, especially if my mind is still in the story I’m writing or reading. I’m quite proficient at nodding in the right places, so my kids and husband often think I heard everything they said, until I forget to do whatever important thing I agreed to do during said conversation.
Sorry, guys. (Yes, this happens a lot.)
But I’m a very good listener if I’m sitting in a restaurant, or on the Metro, or at the mall in the middle of a bunch of strangers. Other people’s dialogue just pulls me in and then I end up imagining my own ending to the snippets of whatever mini-drama I’ve just heard. And I’ll probably keep right on imagining that story when someone else is actually talking to me.
What do you do to get into your creative zone?
1) Close the browser window.
2) Disable all Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or email notifications.
3) Put on headphones. This doubles as a sign to other people in the house that Mom is working. Unless there is a protruding bone or so much blood that you cannot staunch it with a paper towel, please do not disturb.
4) Open Pandora and fire up my alt-rock channel. It has been carefully trained it to include a lot instrumental versions of songs that I like, so that I’m not tempted to open the browser and track down a lyric. You’d be surprised how many different string quartets have recorded a version of “Such Great Heights.”
By and large, these four steps work. The only problem is that I include a lot of historical information in my writing, so there’s always something I have to check online. While I’m doing that, I’ll stumble upon some interesting historical tidbit that has nothing at all to do with what I’m writing, but it’s really cool. I might write about that someday, so it’s research, right? There are some fascinating links on that site, as well. So I follow the fluffy white bunny down the hole. And while I’m online, I should really check my email, right?
5) Bang head on desk and repeat steps 1-4.
Do you pay attention to strong reactions to your work? Does that affect what you create?
Unfortunately, yes—I still read reviews. I’m trying to break myself of this really bad habit, but I think I may have latent masochistic tendencies. I’ve been pretty lucky so far, but when the Review Owl drops a “Howler” into my box, I read it, internalize it, rationalize it, and generally freak out.
But I have a secret weapon. I email the review to my sister (assuming she didn’t see it first), who will proceed to get really, really angry. She’ll promptly email me back, listing in detail the reasons the reviewer is just plain wrong. While she’s at it, she’ll point out interesting things about the reviewer’s I.Q., his or her lack of common sense or polite upbringing, and the position of the reviewer’s head in relation to his or her backside. She might even threaten bodily harm against the reviewer should they ever meet in a dark alley. In the process, I always end up laughing and the review loses (most of) its sting.
So far, reviews haven’t had an impact on what I write. The only exception to that rule might be my youngest son. There are certain things that I know, from experience, will cause him to really, really hate a book. He’s one of my alpha readers, so unless he outgrows those quirks, there are some storylines I’ll avoid, for fear that he’ll hurl his Kindle at my head when he reaches the end.
If your creative work were edible, what would it taste like?
A grape Tootsie-Pop.
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
I think a society should be judged by the status of its least fortunate members. If something I write makes people question policies or our own daily actions that treat some people as though they are disposable, then I’ll be a happy camper.
In terms of your writing, how would you like to be remembered?
I’d like to be remembered as a storyteller. If my books make someone think a bit, too, maybe question a few cherished assumptions, then that’s icing on the cake. As a reader, I’m usually looking for escape from the mundane and ordinary. I’m not a big fan of slice-of-life. I want the author to take me somewhere new, somewhere I can’t go on my own. That’s my goal as a writer—to take the reader along with me on a mind-trip.