Please help me welcome today’s guest, author Patricia McAlexander…
Good morning, Patricia. Please tell us a little about yourself, where are you from? Where do you live now? Family? Pets?
I’m from Johnstown, New York, a town of about 11,000 in the foothills of the Adirondacks, where Sir William Johnson, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the northern colonies, built a home in 1763. In the nineteenth- and much of the twentieth century, it was a center of the glove-making industry; I worked in a glove factory myself for two summers during college. I now live in Athens, Georgia, where I went with my husband when he took a position in the University of Georgia’s English Department. I also taught English there, in UGA’s Division of Academic Enhancement. I have one grown-up son who lives and works in Atlanta.
Why did you choose thriller/suspense-romance (is it something you’ve written in before)?
I like romance but also like to spice it up with external conflict or drama. My first Wild Rose novel, Stranger in the Storm, was in this genre. This second novel was at first more straight romance, but my editor suggested adding more “thrill,” and my sister then suggested doing so by making its male protagonist a former student drug dealer threatened by his old supplier. That’s how it, too, turned also into a thriller.
Was there anything unusual, any anecdote about this book, the characters, title, process, etc, you’d like to share?
What directly inspired me was an early version of this novel, written in the 1980s when I’d taken a year off from teaching. I meant it to be a YA and so the main characters were in high school. But I went back to teaching, and not until I retired did I pull out the old, yellowed, literally cut-and-pasted-on typescript. I reread it and thought it had possibilities. I rewrote the novel, making the main characters college students and, as I said, adding the drug dealer elements for stronger drama.
What is the most difficult thing about writing a book? What was the most difficult thing about this one in particular?
I find the most difficult thing about writing a book is being sure you are accurate in what you portray. For this one, I had to do research about the youth drug culture—reading books, googling, clipping newspaper articles, interviewing people.
Do you have another occupation, other than writer? If so, what is it and do you like it?
I’m now retired, but I taught literature and writing at the college level—first as an instructor at the University of Colorado, then as teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin, and finally as a professor going through the tenure and promotion process at The University of Georgia. In all these places, one thing stayed the same: I loved working with the students.
What do you love that most people don’t like and wouldn’t understand why you do?
As an English PhD and as an undergraduate Latin minor, I love good grammar and mechanics in writing. Some people might think a focus on good grammar hampers free expression. But bad grammar can hamper communication. An ambiguous pronoun can be confusing. (“Bob told Tom he had great talent.” Who has the talent—Bob or Tom?). A misplaced or missing comma can result in something you don’t mean (“Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog”). Unless used in dialogue to reveal character, the wrong pronoun case (“Me and my husband live in Texas”) or verb form (he laid on the bed) can be like—as someone on a Facebook writers’ page said—fingernails scraping on a blackboard.
What was your first job?
My first full-time job was in one of Johnstown’s glove factories during the first two summers that I was in college. I did what was called “blackedging.” I sat at a table with several other women, and with small brushes we painted the white seams along the edges of black leather gloves black. While we did this, we talked—and I learned a lot about life from my wise older co-workers.
What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
After reading the first draft of Shadows of Doubt, my Wild Rose editor said that although it had promise, it did not have a strong enough conflict. This was tough criticism, and at first I couldn’t think of what to do other than set the novel aside, but then (thanks to my sister’s suggestion) I added the plot element of Jeff, the romantic hero, being a reformed drug dealer threatened by his old colleagues unless he rejoined the ring. This added more drama and conflict to the plot, and the novel was accepted.
A favorite compliment was in an Amazon review of my first novel, Stranger in the Storm: “The novel takes on the qualities of a Hitchcockian psychological thriller [with] its intensity, its intricate plot, and its ominous, compelling style.”
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
My characters are in part based on real people—including myself. Sandy, the protagonist of Shadows of Doubt, has some of my traits: I like photography and an alternate career for me would have been as a journalist. I admired a family who owned an upstate New York dairy farm near my parents’ lake house—an intelligent, strong, practical father and his sons. I am sure I based Jeff and his uncle at least in part on them. And Sandy’s mother is based in part on my teacher mother, who turned for support to my sister and me when our father died—and who sometimes did not approve of our boyfriends.
What do your friends and family think of your writing?
I have to say they are my fans. My sister has always been always one of the first readers of my fiction—and likes it even as she gives me helpful suggestions. My husband, now retired, was a tough American lit professor. He says he is not afraid to be “mean” and would only tell the truth about my writing. He has, too, given good, constructive criticism. But I loved it when I walked in on him while he was reading the final scenes of Shadows and he didn’t even look up he was so engrossed.
How did your interest in writing originate?
I think writing was in my genes. It began as soon as I could literally hold a pencil. After reading the Dick and Jane books in first grade, I wrote my own series, Jean and Jerry. In later grades my father let me use his typewriter to write stories on—and he never got it back. In high school my friends and my sister’s friends would read my “novels” (one-spaced typed pages stapled together). I wrote two endings to one and had them vote on the one they preferred. Sometimes artistic readers would create illustrations for the novel.
Despite warnings, should she take a chance on him?
Former grade school bully and, later, amateur drug dealer Jeff Hudson turns his life around and is pursuing a degree in agriculture. His future, as well as a budding relationship with fellow student Sandy Harris, is threatened when a former dealer threatens to expose Jeff’s past to university authorities if he doesn’t rejoin the ring.
Realizing that Jeff is no longer an angry, misunderstood boy, Sandy must take a stand against her family and friends who swear he is no good and will only cause her unhappiness. Together, can they escape the past in order to forge a future?
“Sandy—I need to tell you something about him.”
“I don’t want to hear it. You’d better take me home.”
Bill abruptly turned around in a parking lot he was passing and headed back toward her house. His expression was grim, almost angry. “I’d be better for you, Sandy. Your mother thinks so, too.”
Anger replaced her anxiety. “How do you know what my mother thinks? I hope you and she didn’t discuss this!”
“Just a little, last night before you came downstairs. She didn’t say much, but I could tell how she felt.” He pulled up in front of her house. “We both worry about you with Jeff. It’s not just that we think this won’t last…”
“Why else should you worry?”
Bill hesitated. “For one thing, he has a temper. He may physically hurt you. Remember how he was even as a kid.”
Her anger notched up higher. He was sounding just like her mother, expressing unfounded, outdated fears. “It was years ago that he got in those fights. He’s not like that now. I’m sorry, Bill, but I think it would be better if you and I don’t see each other for a while.” She got out of the car and slammed the door.
Bill started to pull away, then stopped, lowered the window, and called out to her. “Just remember, if you ever need me, I’ll be here.”
Amazon: paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Doubt-Patricia-McAlexander/dp/1509235426/ref
Barnes and Noble paperback:https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/shadows-of-doubt-patricia-mcalexander/1138919956
Patricia McAlexander earned a bachelor’s degree from The University of New York at Albany, a master’s from Columbia University, and a doctorate from The University of Wisconsin, Madison, all in English. After moving with her husband to Athens, Georgia, she taught composition and literature at The University of Georgia. Now retired, she has edited local newsletters and enjoys hiking, travel (when possible), and photography. But most of all she enjoys writing novels. Her first thriller-romance, Stranger in the Storm, was released by Wild Rose in June 2020. Shadows of Doubt was released on April 5, 2021.