Author Interview: Liz Adair

Liz photoI’m happy to welcome Liz Adair to my blog today. Liz is the Pacific Northwest author of five novels, including her new Western love story, Counting the Cost, and she is co-editor of her mother’s letters in Lucy Shook’s Letters from Afghanistan. Liz is also known for her Spider Latham mystery series, for The Mist of Quarry Harbor, and teaches workshops on “Using Family History in Fiction.”

Counting the Cost is a wonderful, bittersweet story that takes place in New Mexico in 1935. I take it this is somewhat of a departure from your usual writing. Tell us what inspired this book.

LIZ: This is a departure.  My other books were all carefully plotted, have aCounting cover bit of intrigue in them, are set in contemporary times, and are lighter fare. Counting the Cost simply welled up inside me and forced itself out my fingertips. I think it was part of my grieving process after my mother died, for the story arc shadows her brother’s life.

I understand that you grew up in New Mexico on a cattle ranch. How does that background influence your writing?

LIZ: Actually, it was my mother who grew up on a cattle ranch, but she married a man who worked for the Bureau of Reclamation, so we were hydro-electric gypsies. Two of my uncles worked cattle all their lives, and trips back to New Mexico were full of cowboy stories and horseback riding.

How big a role does setting play in your books?

LIZ: Setting plays a major role. One of my reviewers noted that I write about small town people.  I think that’s because I’m a small town person myself, and it’s a comfortable voice.

You give workshops on using family history in fiction. Is all of your fiction based on your family history?

LIZ: All my fiction relies heavily on family history.  I call it Green Fiction.  Recycling, you know?  It may just be that I don’t have any original ideas.  Or that I’m lazy.  But, it works for me.

How close do your characters resemble family members?

LIZ: It depends on the character.  Often I take characteristics from one and add them to characteristics of another so that the resultant composite can’t be recognized. However, because I’ve used a physical trait of someone I know well—like wispy hair, for instance—I know how this person feels about and deals with that grooming challenge.  Combine that with another family member’s ambition or trustworthiness, and I’ll know how they will react in a stressful situation. The two combined traits, and what I know of their original owners, work together to create a three-dimensional hybrid, and I don’t have to spend hours on a back story or character bible to know how this person will react when the chips are down.

I’m not out to embarrass anyone or hurt any feelings.  It’s just easier to mine the personalities of people I’ve grown up hearing stories about all my life. When I get finished, they’re not family members any more.  Each has become his own person.  Characters tend to do that.

What are the pros and cons of writing about family members?

LIZ: The pros are that they are easier to know and trust as they move the story along.  A con would be if you created a caricature and hurt someone’s feelings.  I think you have to be careful.

When did you first start writing?

LIZ: In earnest?  Probably in the mid-1980’s.  Oh, I always dreamed of being a writer, but I didn’t have the discipline before then.  I didn’t have a clue what it entailed.

What was your first published book?

LIZ: The first two in the Spider Latham Mystery Series came out at the same time.  That was The Lodger and After Goliath.  The third in the series, Snakewater Affair, came out a year later.

Do you feel that your writing has grown since then?

LIZ: Oh, my, yes!  I’m a much better writer now, and I attribute that to being a part of an active writers’ group.

Afghan Cover_1Tell us about Letters from Afghanistan. Were the letters written to you?

LIZ: Yes.  I was a young mother when my parents went to Afghanistan in 1965.  My mother and father both worked for the Agency for International Development (AID).  Dad was in charge of purchasing machinery and teaching the Afghans how to maintain it, and mother ran a small hotel/restaurant that catered to the American contingent and visiting diplomats.  She had fifteen Afghan men working for her, and she became very involved in their lives. She would write long letters home about her interactions with them.  Some letters were hilarious; some were poignant, but none were dull.

I was a busy mom and teaching school to boot, and I’d enjoy each letter and put it away.  It was only years later, in 2001, when I went to edit the letters for the family, that I discovered what a treasure these letters were and what a window they were into the soul of the Afghan peasants.

Have you traveled to that country?

LIZ:  I haven’t.  By the time I was able to do that kind of traveling, it wasn’t safe.

On the back of your book is a blurb stating that part of your book sales go to benefit Serving Women Across nations (SWAN). Tell us a bit about this group.

LIZ:  SWAN is a humanitarian outreach organization that was begun by my two daughters, Ruth Lavine and Terry Gifford, and I. The purpose is to help women and children through microloans, malaria medicine, mosquito nets and school supplies and uniforms. Terry is the motivating force, and it is she who travels to Bolivia every year to oversee the microloan program there, which includes a mini-business course and continuing education as the women take out loans and become entrepreneurs.

Most of the funding for SWAN comes from the “Pattie Wagon,” Terry’s concession trailer that you may see at ball games or at Sedro Woolley celebrations, and SWAN also sponsors a Century Bike Ride that coincides with Sedro Woolley’s Blast from the Past.  You can find out more about SWAN by visiting

Where can we find your books?

Probably the easiest way is to go to Amazon.  My mysteries are out of print, but can still be found on line. The Mist of Quarry Harbor, which is set in the San Juan Islands was published by Deseret Book and is sold mostly in their outlets. My newest, Counting the Cost, was published by Inglestone Publishing, a small company in Phoenix.  Any book store that doesn’t have them in stock can order them in, but Amazon is probably faster. Also, check out the book trailer.

Thank you for sharing with us, Liz.

Thank you, Heidi.  What luck to have found you manning your booth at the Sedro Woolley Fourth of July Celebration.  As I read your book about your grandmother, Cowgirl Dreams, I see that we have much in common. We’re kindred spirits.

Yes, indeed. I love making connections that way. Meeting new friends is part of the reward in having a book published.

Liz will be a presenter on “Using Family History in Fiction” at the Skagit Valley Writers League/Pacific Northwest Writers Association “Connections” Workshop Oct. 17 in Mount Vernon WA.

Published in: on October 9, 2009 at 1:07 am  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Liz is a fascinating person. I’ve read Letters to Afghanistan and have Counting the Cost in my books-to-read stack. I enjoyed the interview, Heidi.

  2. Heidi,

    Thanks for hosting me on your blog. What a treat to meet other Skagit Valley authors!

    • Thank you, Liz. We are all looking forward to your workshop presentation next Saturday!

  3. Great interview, you two. Thanks, Heidi, for introducing me to Liz’s intriguing work.

  4. Great interview, gals. Thanks, Heidi,for introducing me to Liz and her intriguing work.

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