Thanks for taking time to chat with me, Friday Phrases. I’m excited and extremely honored to be with you today.
I’m Hope. I live in Middle Tennessee (where we’ve had a tornado warning and near freezing temperatures all in one week) with my long-suffering husband and two children. I wear too many hats, and it makes it confusing to talk to me. You never know what mode I’ll be in. I blame it on being an author and a registered nurse and having too many interests. When you walk into my house, I might be baking brioche, in which case you should sit and have a piece with me. But you also might find me reading a science journal or sequestered away trying to wrap up my third novel—in which case I’ll remind you that I don’t need distractions when I’m working. Just don’t call me. I despise talking on the phone.
I write Southern Gothic romance ebooks, a true departure from the kinds of things I post on Friday Phrases. No one was more shocked by this turn of events then me. The Gone With the Wind collection upstairs and the continual rereading of Wuthering Heights probably should have clued me in long ago that this was the direction my life would take.
Hold on, I gotta eat a brownie if we’re going to talk about writing. I think chocolate is the ultimate Southern food. And Gothic food. And just the ultimate food.
#FP: What do you love most about writing? What drew you to it specifically? What spoke to you?
HD: My initial attraction to writing was born of great loneliness. I’ve always been the puzzle piece that doesn’t fit in any social or work group. I have tons to say, but I don’t say it readily. There’s something less personal, less revealing, about putting thoughts into written words versus uttering them aloud.The risk of rejection is minimal because we aren’t interacting face-to-face. If you don’t like what I have to say, it doesn’t matter; I’m already penning my next words.
#FP: So, what have you written?
HD: I started out writing short stories and flash fiction for The Dead Mule School of Literature. After years of rejections from numerous publications, the staff there got the humor and the darkness in my Southern Gothic stories. I realized that despite what the literary magazines were saying, there was a palpable market of eager readers for the tales I was creating. The acceptance and praise gave me the courage to dust off a couple of half-finished Southern Gothic romance manuscripts and complete them.
I published Surrender at Orchard Rest through Amazon, thinking that my family might buy a few copies and give me some feedback on how to polish my writing. Instead, I started getting letters from readers all over the South who wanted to know more about my heroine. So I wrote Echoes at Somerset Manor for them, and before I knew it, I had a series to call my own.
#FP: What are you working on at the minute? What was the inspiration for it?
HD: I’m working on two novels at once, which is delight and a chore. I’m a multi-tasker by nature, but it’s daunting to take on two full-length works at once.
The most important work is Love at the Marsh, the third book in my post-Civil War series. Readers wanted me to explore what would happen next for Sawyer and Somerset, and after I’ve lived with them for this long, I was curious myself. So I’m giving everyone a glimpse of their lives after the mysterious happenings in Baton Rouge.
The other novel is something that I work on at a more leisurely pace. The working title is Cedar Lane, and it’s a suspense novel about a newlywed couple during the Roaring Twenties who buy their first home. But life isn’t as idyllic as it appears on the surface. There’s tension between Eden and Asher, and there’s a long history behind their beloved home. Its roots are entrenched with Eden’s family history.
#FP: What draws you to this genre, to flash-fiction, to #FP? What do you love and hate about it?
HD: Flash fiction and #FP help me to explore what genres I excel at. Without #FP, I never would have realized how much I enjoy suspense or horror. The brevity of the works on #FP show us what multitudes we contain, and that potentiality is endless. It’s a risk-free weekly assessment to see what I might be up for next on this literary journey. I think it’s the ultimate cure for writer’s block. Need a fresh plot? Just pop in on Friday, follow the prompt, and even at your worst, you’ve planted the seeds for a short story.
My relationship with Southern Gothic is complicated. As someone polishing my craft, I’ve been imbued with the message that people don’t want to read about damaged, dysfunctional people, that it borders on the stereotypical. I disagree. All cultures are brimful of the eccentric, and I know few people whose lives have come up roses. More people have responded to Joseph Forrest, one of the most complicated, darkest characters I could conceive of, than any other character in my novels. They tell me they see bits and pieces of themselves in him. People respond to relatable characters, and few people are all good or all bad. That being said, I love the inherent suspense that goes along with the Southern Gothic genre. There’s room for romance, plot twists, and deep characterization. It’s a genre that works far better for me than when I was attempting straight romance.
#FP: Why do you write? What inspires you most about it?
HD: I write because I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t! I’ve been writing for almost as long as I’ve been alive. I think it started as a manner of escape from an extremely rural, and in some aspects, isolated upbringing. I was curious about the world “out there” and hungry to meet new people so in the end, I started inventing new worlds and people as a means of keeping myself company. One of the most rewarding aspects of my work has been meeting readers. I’m inspired anew when they tell me my characters are family to them now because my characters once lived in my mind and now they’re dwelling in people’s hearts.
#FP: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you? Plotter or Pantser?
HD: I’m half and half, actually. I begin with a basic chapter outline of the hard-hitting plot points. I absolutely can’t write without knowing the crucial starting point, climax, and resolution. Now after that, anything is fair game. Characters and plots evolve in ways I didn’t predict. Good guys might become bad guys and vice versa. It’s fun to watch characters evolve on paper, seemingly outside of the author’s control.
#FP: What is the hardest thing about writing for you?
HD: The most difficult thing about writing is the inward battle I wage against myself. I had a particularly challenging year, received a new diagnosis, and was a bit blind-sided by it. As I’ve worked on the third book in my series, I’ve had lots of doubt—namely that I’m not the same person I was when I wrote the first two. It’s been a full-time job to remind myself that I’ve had this physical syndrome for years and actually wrote the first two books while suffering from it. But you see now I have a label, a diagnosis, so I have to search for self-confidence and build myself up before working.
#FP: What is your favorite motivational phrase or musing on writing, and … why? What do you tell yourself every time it gets hard? Every time the stars stop aligning?
HD: One day I was talking to my husband about how I was never going to have enough time to write a novel of substance and worth, and he said, “You don’t have to win the Nobel Prize for fiction. You only have to tell a story that people enjoy.” It changed my entire perspective. Now when I have trouble putting my hands to the keyboard, I repeat his words and am able to get back to the story.
#FP: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and poets, anyone who wants to free the art within? What helped you make it to this point?
HD: Jump in both feet first! This is a full-time commitment.
Develop a thick skin and shrug away self-doubt and others’ criticisms. Tell your story—not the story everyone else expects you to tell. I write for a fairly niche genre, and it most certainly isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t matter. I stand behind what I write, my unique perspective. If no one experiences the world through my eyes, then I haven’t been true to myself and I’ve written for nothing.
The flip side of that coin is listen to technical criticism. When you release your work to the world, heed common criticisms about formatting, editing, and the like. It will improve your work in the long run, even if it makes you wince that you confuse “they’re” and “their” on every other page. Never skimp on proofreading, editing, and formatting, and if you’re on a tight budget, swap services with a person in your writing group. I wince at this statement. I just know this interview will be full of typos of my own making!
#FP: What genres do you find yourself most drawn to? In your books and in your #FP’s?
HD: I love anything historical, but that doesn’t translate to #FP as often as I’d like. Southern Gothic, suspense, and horror are truly my bread and butter in writing.
#FP: How can readers discover more about you and you work?
HD: You can always find me on
And I review and publish Southern fiction sporadically on
by Hope Denney
Dr. Warren McKnight tossed feverishly in his bed, a pent up desire for his wife Melanie coursing through him. He knew she’d be trouble when he married her and his hunger would only intensify with time. Never mind that she had a law degree or that she’d been stopped on three separate occasions by talent scouts hoping to sign her as a model. Melanie had the most beautiful teeth he’d ever seen.
And he was her dentist. It was so easy.
The first time, he’d been ashamed.
“You have a cavity in tooth number four,” he’d tut-tutted over her x-rays.
“It doesn’t hurt. I’ve never had a cavity before,” she’d said, her hand creeping to her mouth as guiltily as if caught snacking on Hershey’s Kisses.
“Classic sign that the nerve is dead,” he’d said, not meeting her eyes. “I should go ahead and pull it.”
And now he had two of her teeth in his bedside table. They were too perfect to hide in the safe in the basement where he kept every tooth he’d ever pulled. He wanted to have them made into cufflinks, but he was afraid he could never pass them off as fake. And now he wanted more.
Melanie mouth breathed at night, and the silver moonlight glinted off her left lateral incisor. It looked like something from a textbook diagram. His fingers inched toward her mouth. Her eyes opened.
“Warren?” she asked sleepily.
“I had to go to the bathroom,” he said sheepishly. “Sorry I disturbed you.”
Odontiphilia is what his psychiatrist Dr. Murphy called it. He never confided that he pulled teeth that didn’t need to be pulled, but he knew she suspected him of it. He couldn’t help noticing that her fingers nervously twitched over her cell during their sessions as though she might need to dial 911. It was a pity she didn’t trust him. Her incisors were elegant, and he had a Chinese puzzle box that would house them the way they deserved.
“You’d better schedule your six month check up with me,” he told Melanie over breakfast.
“I might push it out a little,” she replied. “It’s embarrassing to have lost two teeth at my age. Dentist’s wives should really have better teeth. Everyone in your office is going to whisper about me if I’ve killed another tooth.”
“Some people just have better quality enamel than others,” he said easily. “And your implants look so natural no one would ever guess.”
“It’s just odd,” Melanie said. “I never had any problems until the last year. I already don’t eat sweets but maybe I should give up my glass of wine with dinner.”
“Good thinking,” he agreed around a bite of his toast and went to visit his safe before work.
He loved to pour teeth into his hand before work every morning and delight in their smooth surfaces and sharp points against his soft skin.He’d frequently wondered what it would be like to have a bathtub full of teeth to roll around in the way cartoon characters did with tubs of money. When he’d confessed this fantasy to the psychiatrist, she’d made a panicked little sound like she’d swallowed a fishbone and quickly looked down at her notes.
For the rest of the session he’d stared at her unique incisors which were housed by a mouth so droopy and emotionless that it was an insult to her teeth and his fingers had itched for their cowhorn and elevator until long after it ended.
He let three or four teeth fall into his palm. Oh, they were lovely. He even derived a certain satisfaction from the ones that truly had cavities in them. He held one up to the light, wondering if he could assign a ratings system to teeth the way De Beers did with diamonds.
“Oh Warren, I forgot to tell you, but we need to go by the Bentley’s on Tuesday. They’re having a fundraiser,” called Melanie as she jogged down the basement steps.
He tried to shove the canister of teeth into the safe but it was too late.
“Warren?” she asked incredulously.
“They’re just plaster.” He tried to smile reassuringly. “I sometimes use them to teach children about their teeth.”
“Why did they come in so many different colors then?” asked Melanie taking a backward step back up the stairs.
He shut the safe door behind him. “They were all the same, dear.”
“Are you still seeing Dr. Murphy?” she asked, taking another step back.
“Every Friday, rain or shine.”
“She called me yesterday. She wants to see us both.”
Oh no. This wouldn’t do. He watched his wife take another wide-eyed step back up the stairs.
He bolted for her. She turned to run and her heels caught his chin. He grabbed her feet and pulled her down the rickety wooden steps. She was screaming, he knew, but all he could see was two rows of glorious white teeth that begged to be harvested. Then something solid connected with his face, and he sat down hard in a daze of disconcerting thoughts and throbbing face. She hit him again, harder. Out of the eye that wasn’t swelling shut, he could see she used the candelabra from their wedding. She was fleeing back up the stairs, already dialing for emergency services on her cell.
His mouth was filling with iron bitterness and felt raw. He spat into his palm. The hussy had knocked out his tooth! Number 21 from the looks of it. He shook it in his hand like a die and admired the way light glinted off it.
Then he rocked back on his heels and laughed and laughed. His own mouth! His own teeth were fit for a tooth paste ad.
Even though he could hear sirens approaching, Dr. McKnight knew he could get another tooth out.