Linda Sands, award-winning author and self-proclaimed “kitchen-dancing, bourbon-swilling broad,” has shared late-night drinks with fellow mystery writer Janet Evanovich and has done shots with Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Cunningham. But some of her best work – and partying – happens in Forsyth County. When she’s home, that is.
A “travel junkie” who has visited over 30 countries and islands, Sands moved from coast to coast and worked a slew of fiction-fueling odd jobs in six states before settling with her family in Alpharetta in 2013. Though “settling” hardly describes Sands, who is also serving as general contractor on a new house in Blue Ridge, she hosts an annual writing retreat at one of her rental properties on the Gulf Coast, is something of a social media queen with a vast web presence, and packs her schedule with writing conferences, book festivals and speaking engagements throughout the year. Recently, she paused long enough to answer a few questions about her craft, and its curious beginnings.
You’ve said 10 years of writing “snarky” Christmas letter parodies kicked off your writing career. How did Christmas letters turn into six novels and numerous short fiction and essays?
Those sarcastic annual family reports were not only fun to write, but also taught me how to synopsize an entire year into 500 words or less – something every novelist needs to learn. An added bonus was the immediate positive feedback from readers, which made me begin to think I was on to something. Snark sells.
In 2009, you signed with a literary agent to represent your second book, “Not Waving, Drowning,” which is set in Savannah, includes a glowing blurb from Pulitzer-winner Robert Olen Butler and involved drinks with another Pulitzer honoree. What sets this work apart from the novel that preceded it?
I’m lucky to know some amazing writers. “Not Waving, Drowning” is based on a true story, like “Simple Intent,” my legal thriller that grew from overhearing an attorney’s conversation at a Pennsylvania cocktail party. But, this time, I was writing about a beloved personality in Savannah. The research took five years. When I told Michael Cunningham over drinks in Key West that the book had been compared to “The Hours,” he bought the next round.
Next up was “3 Women Walk Into A Bar,” a mystery with a noir bent that won two Killer Nashville awards and the 2016 Georgia Author of the Year for Mystery. Writers might be interested in how you found your publisher.
My agent was shopping the book in New York when I heard about Kindle Scout, a crowdsourced publishing program. It seemed like a great way to test the market, and simultaneously my nerves. I equate the experience to hanging your underwear on a clothesline in your front lawn for 45 days. When “3 Women Walk Into A Bar” spent 664 hours on the hot and trending list, Kindle Press offered a publishing contract, followed by the sale of print rights to Down & Out Books, and I was reminded that I have an electric dryer.
“Grand Theft Cargo,” published in 2017, grew from a photo essay project on modern truckers, an idea that took you to the Mid-America Trucking Show and numerous truck stops, and soon became a novel introducing tenacious trucker Jojo Boudreaux. What are the most surprising discoveries you made while researching long-haul trucking?
A little person-sized stripper pole in a lime-green Volvo, or a waterfall in a tricked-out Mack. Maybe when I attended a wedding officiated by a Native American chief in full dress, where someone in a gorilla suit passed out cake. But probably it’s the realization that the trucking industry as a subculture is horribly misunderstood. That’s something I hope to change with the Cargo series.
Book two in the series, “Precious Cargo,” will be published in April. For this novel, a long-haul trucker named Steve LaFleur offered help and input. How did that work?
Steve has a lot of speakerphone time while driving. When off the road, he’ll read manuscript pages and reply via email or the Modern Truck Drivers Facebook page I founded. Steve’s a great research source, an avid reader and talented writer who works for free … books.
What’s next for the “Cargo” series and other books?
“Checkered Cargo!” I’m working on this now and having a blast with the research as it deals with the craziness of NASCAR. I did the Richard Petty driving experience at the Atlanta Speedway and loved not getting stopped for speeding – for once. I don’t have a lead foot, I just like to drive fast. I’m also shopping a psychological thriller with a satirical slant, “Get Cozy.”
You’ve said you became a writer because you’re not satisfied living just one life when you can have 10 or 11 in a single day through your fiction. With a half-dozen novels and more in the works, have you achieved your writing goals?
No. If I ever feel as though I can’t challenge myself further, push myself harder, or learn something new, then you might as well stab me with a knitting needle, poison me with chocolate delight or push me over the cruise ship railing so I can go out like the characters I’ve killed on the page.