In the wonderful way of the internet, I met Rebecca Jean Downey somewhere, a Facebook group, I think, and immediately, I was struck by her generosity and commitment to the life of a writer. I was also honored to write the first piece in her Postcards from Friends series on her wonderful blog. I hope you will enjoy getting to know Rebecca Jean Downey as much as I have.
Devil Eye is a paranormal thriller about gun trafficking, and a sequel to The Middle Eye, each featuring remote viewer, Penny Larkin, as the protagonist. Both books are set along the U.S.-Mexico border. Because I worked for many years as a journalist, I view the world through a prism of news headlines. In my novels, I explore current news stories about which I am passionate. In The Middle Eye, my focus is child-trafficking from Mexico into the U.S. In Devil Eye, Penny Larkin uses her remote viewing skills to track down a small time gun trafficker for the U.S. Marshal and of course, gets kidnapped by a major cartel, and dragged into Mexico.
The Devil Eye has a dual symbolism. The red-tailed hawk, a common predator along the roads of the New Mexico desert, can hunt his prey on either side of the border, his red eyes focused like the laser beam from a gun, always on the look out for a prairie dog, rabbit or squirrel. Like the hawk, drug cartels come and go over the border at will, trafficking drugs and humans and trading for guns. The cartels covet guns as the ultimate enforcer, and a gun site is representative of how we lose our true north when we use violence to justify our lust for greed and power.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing and reading play in your childhood?
As a small child—about five, I believe—I discovered my mother’s poetry books. In second grade, our teacher asked us to memorize a poem and recite it before the class. Of course, after a long string of “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue”, the teacher was not fully prepared for my recitation of “My Captain, My Captain!” by Walt Whitman. She and my mother and I became lifelong friends after that, and they encouraged me to pursue writing poetry.
I began with poetry in elementary school, and then turned to short stories and finally settled on journalism. I’ve been writing ever since and never looked back, except for one year, when I asked God to take the writing monkey off my back. I was beginning to feel like I was driven to write, more than I was driven to pray. He eventually gave me a thumbs-up, and I knew I could then follow my dreams with His blessing.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
I work at The University of Texas at El Paso as a writer, so my day is filled with words. I wrote both novels during my lunch hour at the campus library. Each Saturday, I spend the day preparing for my adult Sunday school class, so my writing must take a second to my preparation for that, too. But somehow I always find the time to write. I realize that authors with children at home have an even more difficult challenge finding time, but our children are grown, and the place is pretty quiet most of the time, except for our barking dogs.
4. Who are you reading now?
My reading materials lend themselves to non-fiction for improving my writing and increasing my effectiveness on social media. But I try to support fellow authors, and read as many books as I can by them. I download them on my Nook or even my I-Phone, if they are only on Kindle. I recently finished Midnight in Mexico by Alfredo Corchado, who is also a friend of mine, and Mexico bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News. I’m trying to finish Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell because any author, who buys a helicopter just so she can learn how to fly it and then write about it, has my vote as thoroughly committed to her research. While there is great emphasis on futuristic and fantasy novels now, but I have always been drawn to history, and truly resonate with your book, The Slaves Have Names.
5. What are your three all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
I’m an eclectic reader, and would have to say my three all-time favorite books would be Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, whose novels I’ve read in all decades of my life. Jane Austen celebrates strong heroines in her work—women who succeed in spite of restrictive social customs and laws. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon reminds us of how important it is to keep not only books from being forgotten, but also their authors. I also enjoy Carol Nelson Douglas’s Irene Adler series, which shadows the world of Sherlock Holmes. Her first in the series is Goodnight, Mr. Holmes.
I read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels early in my life, and enjoy the playful way that Irene often outwits Sherlock.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?”
I had to take a few steps back after my first two novels were completed because I realized that there were recurrent themes in each. I have hired a consultant to help me find my voice, and to focus on what is truly important for me to say to my readers. If authors don’t know who they are and what they are saying underneath the plots and character development, then I don’t believe we will have staying power with the reading public. I took a class with Dan Blank last year on Building Your Author Platform, which was tremendously helpful, but I was bereft of voice, and without it, no amount of construction on my platform was going to hold the weight of my work. In late spring, I will be launching a new blog called postcardsfromtheborder.com, where I will express my newly found voice in short stories and brief pieces, I call postcards. I am very excited about this new project, and it is translating into new-found energy to build and balance my platform. I have Geoff Talbot of Seven Sentences to thank for bringing me home to myself.
7. What is a typical day like for you?
I look at my day job as a warm-up for my fictional world. I write speeches and proposals for the president of the university. This work has helped me to learn to edit myself, and to accept edits and criticism from others, and to get my facts right, because everything I do is so public and I don’t want to embarrass the president or myself.
I have a big shoebox in my home office where I store newspaper articles that relate to research for my writing and I go to these for inspiration after work. Two newspaper reporters are helping me with background for my third novel. Thank heavens for email as it saves me a ton of time when I have so little of it. In the evenings while sitting with my husband in front of the TV, I keep writing. I love being with him, and I’ve learned to shut out the peripheral noise, because just being in the same room is really important to both of us.
8. Describe you dream writing space.
It would have to be a cabin in the mountains. The furnishings would be sparse, and it would be preferably built from rough-hewn logs. Of course there has to be a fireplace and a coffee maker and lots of light. I often wonder just how much my writing would improve if I didn’t have to tuck it in between so many other responsibilities.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
When I began my first novel, I had no clue what I was doing and my manuscript showed it. Fortunately, I hired Lucia Zimmitti as a writing coach. She told me she would help me create a thriller worth publishing. For the next year, I embraced her ideas and criticisms, ten pages a week. It was a tough slog, but it paid off. She told me that many of her clients push back because they simply refuse to accept advice. My many years of experience as a writer and in being edited, left me without much of an editorial ego, for which I am grateful.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Lucia Zimmitti recommended that I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, when I was at a roadblock, which authors generally face about half way through writing a novel. Pressfield shares his own ordeal with writing, and how he even threw away one of his first novels right after completing it. He discovered that those in the creative fields face resistance from their very own minds, and this resistance is even more difficult to overcome than criticism or rejection from others. I highly recommend this book for authors, artists and other creative types.
Rebecca Jean Downey is an award-winning writer with a journalism degree from Indiana University and a lifelong interest in criminal justice. She and her husband, Mike, now live in El Paso, Texas, where she works as Assistant Director of Institutional Advancement at the University of Texas, El Paso. You can find Rebecca on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to visit her website to get information about all her work.