Deborah Coonts is a national bestselling author and reformed tax attorney. She is a novelist who writes sexy, funny, romantic murder mysteries showcasing the magic of Las Vegas. Coonts is best known for her Lucky O’Toole Las Vegas Adventures series of romantic, humorous mystery novels.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Dallas, Texas in a …difficult…family. My parents were…absent, which was sort of a sign of the era, I think. Children were to be seen and not heard and all of that. As children who lived through that, we became much more involved parents…to a fault in some cases. My friends and I, when we meet for dinner, at some point during the reminiscences we find ourselves asking, “Where were our parents?” Wherever it was, it wasn’t with us, and that shapes children in a dramatic fashion. Needless to say, that sort of indifference robs children of their voices, especially sensitive children. I was their leader. So, quiet and filled with self-doubt, but curious always, I retreated into stories. The world became bigger, different, filled with opportunities. And somewhere, deep in some story, I found my own voice, my own curiosity, my own path. And that made all the difference.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
Never to put the key to my happiness into someone else’s pocket.
Outside validation is a false prophet and once you start giving it power you will always be chasing it.
Live YOUR life the way YOU want to live it. Your uniqueness is what you have to offer the world. Don’t withhold it; own it.
As far as I can figure, the only have-to in life is to leave the world a better place for you having been here.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Write what you know. Dear God, seriously? How limiting.
How about writing what you want to know. Or, even better, write what you can imagine. Let the ideas and the words take flight.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
Most of my early years were dark. Some darkness came on its own. Some came through my own misguided decisions. All of it was traumatizing. At rock bottom, I could have chosen to quit, lay blame where it was due, and spend the rest of my life nursing my wounds, my anger, and living as a victim. But my life is too precious to waste on those sorts of things. So, I worked hard to push the past behind me and to fix my broken pieces. And, you know what they say, a life well-lived is the best revenge.
Forgiving myself for my missteps took a bit longer. But once you get there? Freedom!
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Not only in my writing career but in life, this is the one thing you have to have. Sometimes it’s head down, one foot in front of the other until the warmth of the sun hits you once again.
What is your morning routine?
Up generally far earlier than I would like. Despite my best efforts, I am hardwired to be the early bird. Always have been—really put a crimp in my partying of a younger day. You could find me propped up in the corner sound asleep by eleven. Yep, party animal aspirations quickly dashed.
So up until around five or five-thirty. Hit the coffee…hard…while I take in the day. No phone, no emails…not yet. I live in a beautiful place, spectacular really. And each morning I take time to appreciate that, to absorb it, to pray that it grounds me in the assault I know will come when I let the world in.
During this time, I spend a bit of energy on gratitude and then some on defining my goals for the day. A novel is a vast project and for this goal-oriented writer, I need to break it down into daily bites otherwise I always feel as if I’ve not accomplished anything. Something it took me a while to learn about myself—this need for a daily accomplishment. So, I plan my day—when to write, how far to get (word count or time depending on how well the words are playing along)—how much time to spend on the business side of things, how much to dedicate to social media interactions, and, oh yeah, what time I will spend with friends and family. I’m fairly specific.
Then, when fully-caffeinated, I tackle emails and take a sniff at the news—if it stinks, I let it lie.
Then I go work out. This can be a scheduled weight workout with my trainer (three times a week) or a solo jaunt up a mountain or down a trail, on foot, or snowshoes or skis depending. I need to be outside. I need to work my body, feel its strength. Exercise is a total de-stressor for me—absolutely critical to my mental health. It also is time for me to let my story in and let it wander through the synapses.
I learned years ago that if you can occupy your conscious mind with activity, your subconscious mind, where creativity lurks, is allowed to run unfettered by conscious constraints. As a creative, I find answers to story problems when I’m doing something else besides “thinking about my story.” The shower became such a good place I finally put a soap pen in there so I could write my ideas on the glass and transcribe them when I got out.
My son is creative as well. He plies his talent in the advertising world. Early in his career, he called me totally stumped as to a good idea for a particular client. Knowing I was familiar with the creative process, he asked me what to do. I told him to go play golf. He thought I was nuts, but he never turns down an excuse to play gold, so off he went. And he finished the round with the answer he was looking for.
Odd how well that works.
Then, after I’ve worn out my body, I set my mind to work. By now it’s ready. Some days are easier than others, but every day I accomplish something toward my goals.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
My aunt, who is four years older so effectively my sister, and I instituted a rule in our households: the Ten Minute Rule. It goes like this. You have a problem. You get ten minutes to whine about it—everyone needs some whine time. Then let’s start talking about how to attack the problem.
This gives you power over the problem, even if a ready solution isn’t right around the corner.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I have this friend who can come up with a zillion ideas to promote our work. I’d listen and, in the end, the only question I would ask is, “Are the results worth the time?”
Time is all I have, and it’s limited, so I assess exactly what I hope to gain from an investment of time. If it isn’t worth it, I say no. And I stick to it. I’d love to say yes to everything. But if I agree to do something, I must take the time I could be spending differently—it has to be worth it.
That helps with productivity.
Efficiency really happens in the morning, when I define my goals for the day, and I allot specific amounts of time to them.
So, I make a plan, and I work on the plan.
And then I have wine…
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Books have always been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster captured me when I was very young and sparked a life-long love of stories.
But, even then, way back before the earth was cool, I wanted books with girls as the main character. Hard to find in the last gasp of the Donna Reed era in the South, but I knew where to look.
The House of Books, a bookstore about two miles from my house.
But, as a very young girl, the issue was getting there. My mother wasn’t interested in books at all, so not a lot of support there. My father was…absent.
But I had a pony—blind in one eye and mean as spit. I’m sure someone paid my grandmother to take him, but endless thanks to her that she did.
So, I’d ride my bike to my grandmother’s house where my pony lived. Throw a halter and rope on him. Find a fence to climb on so I could scramble aboard. Then, with traffic whizzing past, I’d ride him down the four-lane to the shopping center and the bookstore. As a parent today I shudder at the memories—but my mother never found out.
Two women presided over the small space with books spilling from everywhere. When I walked in, they sensed a kindred spirit. From that first day forward, two days a week, they’d let me sit in the corner and tear my way through a pile of paperbacks they always had waiting. Sometimes…okay most times, there were Oreos and milk. They don’t know how lucky they were that I could work up to leaving at the end of the day. I would’ve gladly let them adopt me. After all, they let me read and they put up with my pony pooping all over their parking lot.
They introduced me to Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart among many others. I eventually worked my way to Mary Higgins Clark. To this day I love strong women and women in jeopardy stories.
Women are strong, smart, courageous, and kind. These books help us remember that.
And they inspire me to live it…and write it.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Life is either a grand adventure or it is nothing.” – Helen Keller
“Don’t hide your scars, they make you who you are.” – Frank Sinatra
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” – Dorothy Parker
And, when in the middle of a book (but only then) “I hate writing. I love having written.” – Dorothy Parker