Part II, Mystery Writer Series: Interview with C.L. Tolbert, Author of Out From Silence
Your main character, Emma Thornton, has a similar background to yourself. What aspects of her life mirror yours? Do you think authors use characters to live out some of their desires? If so, how?
Emma and I do share a similar background, so I believe it’s true that you write what you know. I raised two children by myself, much like Emma. It was also important to write a story about a single mother with a job in a man’s world, which is the life I led for thirty years. There are many successful, single, working mothers. They are strong women. Those days were great, but they could be tough, and I wanted to depict that.
The title “Out From Silence” denotes the struggles of the main character, Adam, who is deaf, and has issues trusting others and finding his voice. But, it is also a secret nod to my own efforts to find my own voice and write, which I always wanted to do.
Emma is more rebellious than I am. I am more of a rule follower. So, in that way, Emma lives out some of my desires.
While you were pursuing these other successful careers—special education and then law—were you always thinking about writing this novel?
I have always wanted to write a novel, since I was a child. This particular novel has been on my mind since I was in law school.
Had you intended to write a series, or was that a pleasant surprise from the publisher?
I had a series in mind, but was thrilled the publisher also wanted a series.
For emerging writers of the mystery genre, what recommendations would you make in terms of getting published?
I’d give them the same advice my publisher gave me: Join Sisters in Crime, and also a division of that group called Guppies. Join Mystery Writers of America, and join the local groups associated with these groups as well. They offer a wealth of information and support. Also, spend a little money on a mystery conference or two a year. I was scheduled to attend Malice Domestic this year, as well as the Writers’ Police Academy MurderCon. Sadly, Malice Domestic was cancelled due to COVID-19. I don’t know whether the MurderCon event will be cancelled or not. Time will tell. It’s scheduled for August.
How long did it take to write Out From Silence? How far along are you into The Redemption? Do you periodically send pages to your editor, or is it a one-time thing, and then a rework?
In 2010, I wrote a short story entitled OUT FROM SILENCE, sent it to the State Bar of Georgia, and won the fiction award competition, which was published in the Georgia Bar Journal. I began working on the full-novel version of the story that same year. I submitted it to my publisher in June of 2019, and we revised it a few times before the final version was put into print in December of 2019.
Once the first draft is complete, it is sent to the publisher’s editor for suggested edits. After her revisions are made, the manuscript is sent to the copy editor. After those changes are made, it is ready to be printed.
Since we are in workshop together, I knew you used a sensitivity reader for the second novel? Did you do that with Out From Silence as well? Can you tell us a little about how that process works (with a sensitivity reader)?
I did not use a sensitivity reader for OUT FROM SILENCE. I found a sensitivity reader helpful for THE REDEMPTION, and my sensitivity reader, in particular, is quite insightful. The reader reads and reviews entire manuscript and comments on anything culturally insensitive. For instance, I described a public housing project as being drab and bleak. She objected to that description, and asked me to remember that families live there; there are spots of color throughout the complex. Begonias might live in pots on steps and on those same steps, children might sit and have their hair braided. She brought certain aspects of my story to life, and made me aware of things in a way I wasn’t before.
You are contracted to write three Thornton Mysteries or one novel per year. How has that obligation affected your writing process?
The one novel per year schedule has made me more efficient. Otherwise, there’s no doubt that I’d waste time. I usually write on a daily basis unless something disrupts my schedule. I used to write very early in the morning, but lately I’ve been writing a little later, typically from about 11:30 or 12:00 until about 5:00. Sometimes, if I’m home, I’ll write beyond the 5:00 hour. I try to get at least 5 hours of writing and/or editing/ revising in a day. I also try to squeeze in a little marketing when possible.
Did you combine your experience in special education and law and come up with this scenario about a deaf suspect, or was there an actual “Adam Gannon” situation you encountered while you were working as an attorney or in special education?
OUT FROM SILENCE is a work of fiction, but I’ve drawn on my experiences both from my years of teaching and as a lawyer to develop the characters as well as the scenes in the book. The poor are often at a disadvantage, especially in a legal setting since they typically can’t afford adequate representation. Likewise, anyone with a communication or learning challenge is similarly disadvantaged since they often don’t understand the proceedings and can’t assist in their defense. I’ve included these elements in my stories to help the reader understand their struggles and challenges, and how the simplest of acts might require more bravery than we could imagine.
About C.L. Tolbert:
In 2010, Cynthia Tolbert won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of OUT FROM SILENCE that is now the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. OUT FROM SILENCE is Tolbert’s first novel and was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year under the first novel category through the Georgia Writers Association. She is currently writing her second novel in this same series entitled THE REDEMPTION, which is set in New Orleans and scheduled to be published in December of 2020.
Ms. Tolbert has a Master’s in Special Education and taught children with learning disabilities before moving on to law school. She spent most of her legal career working as defense counsel at large corporations and traveled throughout the country as regional and national counsel. She also had the unique opportunity of teaching third-year law students in a clinical program at a law school in New Orleans where she ran the Homelessness Law Clinic and learned, firsthand, about poverty in that city. The experiences and impressions she has collected from the past forty years contribute to the stories she writes today.
She has four children, and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta with her husband and schnauzer. To learn even more about C.L. Tolbert, visit her author website at: www.cltolbert.com
To contact C.L. Tolbert: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Live the story you want to write!