Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to feature author and actress Denise Tapscott. Denise is the writer of Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes, the first book in The Zenobia Tales series. Her books, Enlightening of the Damned and Lotus Flowers of the South, are both forthcoming.
Recently, Denise and I discussed her inspiration as a writer, the role that her favorite cities play in her work, as well as her artistic plans for the future.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
I became an unofficial writer when I was in high school. During the summer months, I would have insomnia. I thought a smart way to use my time was to write a gangster story. It never saw the light of day, but writing helped get through the sleepless nights. I also had an English teacher who was very impressed with my work in writing exercises she gave us; she used to bring samples of my work to workshops she attended. I officially became a writer in 2009 after Michael Jackson died; it made me realize that if I suddenly died the next day, no one would know the stories that bounced around in my head.
My favorite authors are Stephen King, Eden Royce and Jim Butcher.
Your first novel, Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes, debuted earlier this year, and you have two more novels forthcoming. What is your process when writing a book? Do you spend a lot of time in the planning/researching stages before you start writing, or are you more of a “dive right in” writer who researches and develops organically as you go?
My process when writing a book is a bit between diving right in, and outlining. Usually a character will speak to my heart or an experience in real life will spark a story. From there I make a basic outline (so that I have some focus) and then I do research as things come up organically.
In addition to your writing, you are also an actress. How did you get involved with acting, and have you found that your acting impacts your writing (or vice versa)?
I have always done some kind of acting. My mother used to tell me about how when I was around 5 years old, I played one of the children at the holiday party in The Nutcracker Suite. My sister and I did community theater at a summer camp with an emphasis on the Arts. Our little play was called “The Mindbenders and the Stargazers”. I didn’t pursue acting seriously until I was in college. Acting definitely impacts my writing. As an actor you have the freedom and tools (thanks to a writer) to bring characters to life. Its exciting as a writer to create the characters that perhaps some day an actor will bring to life.
You say in your bio that you left your heart in San Francisco and left your soul in New Orleans, which is a really beautiful sentiment. How have the places you’ve traveled or where you currently live impacted your writing? Are there any places you’re eager to write about that you haven’t incorporated into your work yet?
Visiting New Orleans has had a huge impact on my writing. I like to think Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes is like a love letter to that city and its culture. Each and every time I visit that city (and I try to visit every year) I learn something new. Sometimes, in the moments when I’m kinda stuck with a character or plot, vivid memories will pop up and break through the hole I got myself stuck in. One example is the food that comes up in my novel; I kept casually mentioning certain dishes, like gumbo. One of my beta readers really wanted to know more about the actual dish, not the fact that the characters had dinner. Remembering how much I loved eating gumbo at one of my favorite places on Bourbon Street, I decided to fly to New Orleans and do some research. I was so inspired to make gumbo sound authentic that I took a cooking class at The New Orleans School of Cooking. My gumbo came out pretty tasty, and I learned how to make a few other dishes. As for other places I’m eager to write about that I haven’t incorporated into my work yet? I’d say France. Without revealing any spoilers for my next book, I could certainly do a great deal of research in Paris.
Which of the following is your favorite part of the writing process: developing characters, establishing setting/mood, or crafting dialogue?
My favorite part of the writing process is developing characters. It comes from all the acting classes, workshops and seminars I took in the past.
What are your creative goals for the next five years?
My creative goals for the next five years would be to have two more novels published, possibly a collection of short stories, and shoot a movie based on a short story I’m currently working on.
What projects are you currently working on?
Speaking of current projects I’m working on, I’m polishing up a short story called “The Price of Salvation” and I’m working on the second and third installments of Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes. There are other characters that keep me up at night, so I also have to find their voices and craft their stories. I foresee a lot of travel coming up for research purposes. Research and more gumbo.