Liz Adair’s New Novel, Cold River, a Hot Read

Liz Adair has a new book out, Cold River, a fast-paced romantic suspense novel that grabs you from the first page, and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you ride the current of this mystery. Who is trying to run her out of town and which man will win her heart?

 Liz has had six novels published, including the award-winning Counting the Cost, based on family history. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where her latest book takes place.

Liz, you’ve set your story in the fictional town of Limestone, Washington. Tell us why you chose this locale. People like to read about exotic places and cultures that that are different from where they live. Face it, I’m never going to visit the Riviera or Paris or Budapest. But here’s a place right in my back yard that has great potential to be, if not exotic, at least different.  I based the town of Limestone on my memory of the town of Concrete as it was when I taught school there in the 1970s. That was before the proliferation of cable TV, so reception came through antennas. I think there wasn’t much of a signal that far upriver, and the leveling influence of television hadn’t yet eroded the local culture.

Your main character, Mandy, feels out of her element in this small-town atmosphere. But she finds satisfaction in teaching a woman with dyslexia how to read. How prevalent is this among adults? Have you had experience in this field?

I was a reading specialist my last few years of teaching, but that was with school-age students. I have only taught one adult to read, and I can’t say how prevalent dyslexia is among adults. I do know that the fellow I taught to read was adept at hiding his handicap and found ways to compensate. I didn’t know about the Ron Davis book The Gift of Dyslexia when I taught him. I was introduced to it by someone who uses the Davis method in teaching dyslexic students.

You talk about the “Tarheels” who live in this area. Can you explain what that refers to?  Spanning several decades during the early 1900s, many families from North Carolina migrated to the foothills of the Cascades along the Skagit River: Sedro Woolley, Concrete, Marblemount. They brought with them their music, dances, seeds and speech patterns. Traces still remain in the area, but thirty years ago, particularly upriver, the Tarheel culture was stronger, and you could still sometimes hear a slight twang in the spoken word.

You’ve used some rich colloquialisms from these natives, such as “I love you like a mule a-kickin’.” And you’ve also used words from the Lummi Indian Nation. Tell us how local slang and idiosyncrasies can enhance our writing. I think local slang and idiosyncrasies can enhance our writing if two things are operative. First, the use has to be unforced. It has to flow naturally and not be shoehorned in for window dressing. Secondly, I think it has to be presented with respect, not as a way to get a cheap laugh.

I have to tell about something that happened one time while I was teaching in Concrete.  I had been appalled to discover that few, if any, of my students knew what Camelot was, so I organized a full-court press to try to expose them to as much ‘culture’ as I could.  One day in the spring, I asked if anyone knew where to find morel mushrooms. Almost every hand went up, and a young man who, until that time, had been reticent told me in great detail where to look for morels. I realized then that these kids weren’t deprived. They were simply enriched in different areas than I was.  I was comfortable in books; they were comfortable in the woods.

Music also plays a large role in this story, both jazz and bluegrass, and music is used as an innovative way to teach mathematics. Can you elaborate on these subjects in your book?  I didn’t mean for this to happen, but in the book, music becomes a symbol of the difference in cultures between Mandy and the people of Limestone. It’s also a bellwether of Mandy’s attitude change. She plays jazz, you see, and regards it as an intelligent form of music that allows, through improvisation, for musicians to express their individuality, and she looks down on bluegrass as hillbilly music.

As far as the teaching of mathematics through music, I did a little experimentation with that when I was in the classroom. Knowing that it’s easier to memorize when things are set to music, I tried it with the times tables. I don’t know how successful it was, but that’s the wonderful thing about fiction: you can have your hero succeed where you may have failed. I felt that the brilliant thing about the program they had going in the book was that it would address auditory and kinesthetic learners’ styles of learning.

Other than the exceptional historical novel Counting the Cost, you seem to specialize in mysteries. Is that your favorite genre? It must be. With Cold River, I set out to write a romance, but I just can’t get away from a puzzle, I guess.

Are you working on a new project? Yes. I’m working on another romantic suspense, this time set in the high desert of Nevada. It’s got opal mines, off-road racing and flying cars in it.

Liz’s books are available at Village Books in Bellingham and

Also, visit her blog at and read a review of Cold River at Mary Trimble’s blog

For our readers in the Skagit Valley area, Liz will host a launch party on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Sedro Woolley Library. Door prizes will include books and homemade apple pies, and she will have copies of Cold River for sale.

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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