Friday, December 9, 2011

A Visit with Ann Parker

Ann Parker is a California-based science/corporate writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver-mining boomtown of Leadville. The latest in her series, Mercury's Rise, was released November 1. Publisher’s Weekly says, “Parker smoothly mixes the personal dramas and the detection in an installment that’s an easy jumping-on point for newcomers.” Library Journal adds, “Parker’s depth of knowledge coupled with an all-too-human cast leaves us eager to see what Inez will do next. Encore!”

Ann, how do you conduct your Leadville, Colorado, historical research from San Francisco?

I have a pretty good collection of books and photographs of the area now, after more than a decade of writing about Leadville and its environs. My bookshelves include such items as Leadville: Colorado’s Magic City, by Edward Blair; the humongous 2-volume The History of Leadville and Lake County, Colorado, by Don and Jean Griswold (and I have it on a searchable CD!); and Historic Leadville in Rare Photographs and Drawings by Christian J. Buys. I love looking at old photos… you can pick out such interesting little details with a close examination! I also “walk the streets” when I can manage to get up there, and take a lot of photos and scribble down a lot of notes. I peruse the old newspapers at the online Historic Colorado Newspapers, and am a regular Internet visitor at the Lake County Public Library’s Local History site. And I pester the research librarians at the library regularly by email, when I have questions.

 Tell us about Mercury’s Rise.

When the book opens, it’s the summer of 1880, and Inez Stannert, part-owner of the Silver Queen Saloon in Leadville, is on a stagecoach Manitou, Colorado. Many come to Manitou to “chase the cure” for tuberculosis, but Inez has a different reason for visiting this fast-rising health resort: she is on her way to reunite with her young son, William, and her beloved sister, Harmony. However, the journey turns lethal when East Coast businessman Edward Pace mysteriously dies under the horrified gaze of Inez and Pace’s wife and children.

As Inez digs deeper into the wherefores and whys of his death, she uncovers shady business dealings by those hoping to profit from the coming bonanza in medicinal waters and miracle remedies, medical practitioners who kindle false hopes in the desperate and the dying, and deception that predates the Civil War. Then Inez’s husband, Mark Stannert, reappears after a year-and-a-half unexplained absence. Even as she fights to hold on to her child and the life she has built for herself, Inez comes to realize there is no “cure” for murder....I know that many readers of the Silver Rush series have been curious as to what happened to Mark Stannert, who mysteriously disappeared before the start of the series. Mercury’s Rise answers that question, at least in part!

I know that your 1880s protagonist, Inez Stannert, was named for your grandmother, but was she also the strong woman you portray?

 Granny was definitely strong, in her own way, but not the gun-carrying, whiskey-drinking, card-playing Inez portrayed in my fiction. I believe she must have had a rough childhood--she never talked about her years as a child and a teenager, so I believe that says something in itself. She raised three children during the Depression, when my grandfather couldn't find work (not an uncommon story back then, I'm afraid). What's more, even though she never finished high school, she made sure her children got good educations and entered worthwhile professions; my uncle because a mechanical engineer, my aunt was a legal secretary (back in the day when women didn't generally do that sort of work), and my father became a physician.

Why would someone with a degree in Physics decide to write a series about the Leadville mining town?

My decision to write about Leadville is due to a family history mystery: Granny was raised in Leadville, and never talked about it… even though she loved telling us grandkids stories about her later life in Denver! My Uncle Walt urged me to research Leadville and think about setting a novel there. I took it on as an assignment, and before I knew it, I’d fallen in love with Leadville’s rich history and its current-day incarnation. As to how this ties to the degree in Physics… I’ve always been fascinated by science and technology, and that led me to research topics such as silver mining and assaying in 1880s Colorado (for Silver Lies). From there, it was easy to apply the same research skills to a host of historical subjects for the other Silver Rush books: Colorado railroads, the Reconstruction, women’s rights in terms of divorce and property law, the medical views/research/treatments of tuberculosis, and so on—all in the proper time frame, of course.

 What’s your day job and when do you find time to write an historical series? Do you outline and have a regular writing schedule?

I’m a science and technical writer/editor and write about darn near any topic you want to throw my way, from nanotechnology to solar energy to cosmology or hydrodynamics or the latest, greatest in supercomputer architecture for data-intensive computing. I also do regular “corporate” writing projects: developing employee handbooks, safety manuals, website content, proposal writing … if it has to do with words, I’ll tackle it. I’m self-employed, for the most part, so take on whatever comes my way.

As for finding time to write fiction… yes, it’s difficult. I don’t have a regular writing schedule—work comes first, because it pays the bills. The fiction I write to “feed my soul.” I joke that I’m driven by deadlines and panic, but it’s actually more truth than not. I’m a caffeine addict, who prefers writing late at night when things are quiet around the house. Sometimes, I will take a weekend and go hide in the guest room of good friend and fellow mystery writer Camille Minichino. I can pound out up to 30 to 50 pages on such a weekend, sometimes even more. I don’t write an outline, but I’m required to write a synopsis for each book before starting, and my synopses tend to run about 10 pages long, so if I get stuck, I turn to the synopsis or brainstorm with other mystery writers.

How has the ebook revolution affected your book sales?

I think the jury is still out on that. My publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, has the first three out in various ebook formats, so that’s great. I can’t say I’ve gotten rich off of the sales, but I’m pleased that the books are available in so many ways, including in audio format, for the most recent two: Leaden Skies and Mercury’s Rise.
Who has been your most read historical author and which writer most influenced your own writing?

Since I read so much non-fiction, I’m hard put to name a most-read historical author. I always look forward to books by Martin Cruz Smith, and I very much admire his writing and how he can put me right into any time and place! Right now, the historical fiction book I’m looking forward to reading next is Michelle Black’s Séance in Sepia. I’m also a closet fan of steampunk, and thinking I’d like to try my hand at that genre someday.

Advice for fledgling historical writers?

Write, write, write. Remember to use all the senses in your writing. Have some honest and blunt “beta readers” who will let you know when you’ve let your research take over your book (a definite hazard of being an historical writer!).

Thank you, Ann. It was a pleasure to have you visit us here.

You can visit Ann at her website:
and Mercury's Rise and the other Silver Rush mysteries are available from independent booksellers,, and Barnes and Noble.
Leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win a Silver Rush mystery prize! To see the rest of Ann’s blog tour schedule, check out her News page.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Visit with Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton published ‘A’ is for Alibi in 1982, following 15 years in Hollywood as a television script writer. The Louisville, Kentucky, native is currently on tour to publicize her 22nd novel in the series, ‘V’ is for Vengeance, released on November 14. She has been published in 28 countries in 26 languages, her books selling in the millions.

Sue, does ’V’ is for Vengeance differ significantly from your previous novels?

It does, indeed, differ from the other novels in the series. In writing these books over a span of some twenty-eight years, I’ve kept detailed charts, which denote the gender of every killer I write about, the gender of the victim, the motive for the crime, and the nature of the climax. I also keep a set of log lines for each novel, describing the set-up for each book.
In ‘A’ . . . Kinsey’s hired to prove the innocence of a woman just out of prison after serving seven years for the murder of her husband.

In ‘B’ . . . Kinsey’s hired to find a woman whose signature is required on a minor document.

In ‘C’ . . . Kinsey’s hired by a kid to find out who’s been trying to murder him.

And so on. This way, I can be certain I’m not inadvertently repeating myself. In ‘V,’ Kinsey witnesses a shoplifting incident and alerts a sales clerk who notifies store security. The shoplifter is arrested and two days after her fiancé makes bail, she dies from a leap off a 400 foot high bridge. While it appears to be a suicide, the woman’s fiancé is convinced she was murdered and hires Kinsey to look into her death. Kinsey’s investigation uncovers an organized retail theft ring with which the shoplifter has been working. There are two other subplots woven into the overall storyline and all connect at the end.

How do you and Kinsey Millhone differ and which characteristics do you share?
As for Kinsey, I think of her as my alter-ego . . . the person I might have been had I not married young and had children. We’re like one soul in two bodies and she got the good one. The ’68 VW she drove (until ‘G’ is For Gumshoe) was a car I owned some years ago. In ‘H’ is for Homicide, she acquires the 1974 VW that was sitting out behind my house until I donated it to a local charity that raffled it off. That car was pale blue with only one minor ding in the left rear fender

I own both handguns she talks about and in fact, I learned to shoot so that I would know what it felt like. I also own the all-purpose back dress she wears. Like Kinsey, I’ve been married and divorced twice, though I’m now married to husband number three and intend to remain so for life. I’m much more domestic than she is and I cuss just as much, if not more.

What’s going to happen to Kinsey when you‘ve finished ‘Z’ is for Zero?

It’s going to take me another eight to ten years to complete the series at the pace I’ve settled on so I have close to a decade to decide what I’ll do after ‘Z’ is for Zero. I may well continue to chronicle her adventures, but I’ll do so as stand-alone novels. No more linking titles!

What’s your work schedule like?
I usually arrive at my desk at 9:00 am, check e-mails and Facebook, and then log into the current working journal for the novel I’m in the process of writing. I use these journals to talk to myself about the story, the characters, the pacing, problems I foresee, and any scene that worries me. Any research I do is recorded in the journal as well. I break briefly for lunch and then return to my desk and work until mid-afternoon when I stop and do a walk of three to five miles. My guess is that on a good day, I work productively for two hours. The rest is writer’s block and Free Cell. I’ve been known to work by page count and on that theory, I consider two pages a day a good run. In fact, I consider page count a better way to operate. It’s way too easy to claim you’ve worked for six hours when in reality you’ve talked on the phone, cleaned your desk drawers, and dawdled the time away.

What do you want your readers to experience from your novels?

I’d like for my readers to experience an entire range of emotions, from laughter to fear, to suspense to anxiety to tears depending on where they are in any given book. I want them to feel connected to Kinsey Millhone, to see the world as she sees it, and to come away from a story understanding how it’s affected her. These are the same emotions I look for in any book I read. I want to be touched and moved and I want to come away from a writer’s work feeling renewed and refreshed.
Thank you, Sue.

You can communicate with Sue Grafton at Facebook.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Visit with Randy Rawls

A retired career Army officer and ghost writer, Randy Rawls fulfilled his life long ambition to write novels. After six published books featuring investigator Ace Edwards, Rawls wrote his first thriller, Thorns on Roses, featuring Tom Jeffries. He's currently working on a new series with a Florida based PI named Beth Bowman.

Randy, what piqued your interest in writing? 

 Like many others, I have been a writer my whole life. My first story was written in about the third grade. As best I remember, the teacher gave me a C on it. Could have been a C- even. As an Army officer, I spent years as a Staff Officer. In this capacity, I wrote things for my superiors to claim as their own (ghost writer?). Pick a military subject, and I probably wrote a paper on it. I was also a project leader on some interesting efforts and wrote papers on those. Some of those are still circulating today, setting standards for those who followed.

And, during all those years, I started many works of fiction. A few chapters in, each one died. Life kept interfering. Finally, in about 1990, I was assigned to an office where one of the other officers wrote fiction. When his first book was published, I cheered. When his second was published, I thought, I can do that. So I clicked on the keyboard about a high school student who was a star soccer player. About 150,000 words later, I typed THE END and felt like I'd climbed Mount Everest. Little did I know that it might qualify for one of the worst books every written. Bleck!

However, that story, David's Game, planted the seed and it sprouted. Immediately, I began the second book in that series, Tim's Game. I'd like to think it was a bit better, even though it, also, was bad, bad, bad. The good news is I learned from my mistakes. I sat back and looked at what I'd written and decided I could do better and would do better. Not long after, the opportunity presented itself and Ace Edwards, Dallas PI, was born. Ace's trips to small towns in Texas took me through six books, each of which achieved its own level of success.

I believe that one of the successes of writing is knowing when you've bombed. I've bombed on several efforts. They rest on my hard drive, waiting to be saved. Maybe someday I'll get back to them. There are few bad stories, just bad writing.

How much of your protagonist Ace Edwards is autobiographical? And in what ways do the two of you differ?

Ace is part of me and a part of many people I've known over the years. To the best of my knowledge, none of my characters are autobiographical or biographical. Some of them may reflect my beliefs, but I'd like to think they are pieces of everyone I've known.

How do we differ? Ace is a smooth operator. Me, I'm a klutz.

Tell us about your latest release, Thorns on Roses.

After six Ace Edwards books and a couple of other efforts that did not get published, I decided to see if I could write something with a harder edge. Of course, it would have to meet my basic criteria—blood and guts off-page, no graphic sex, and no gutter language. As I considered the challenge, I visualized a PI in South Florida pulling up in front of the Broward County morgue, invited there to identify a teenage Jane Doe. Tom Jeffries was born.

Tom has good reason to not trust the justice system. It failed his baby sister and, Tom believes, will fail his best friend whose step-daughter's body is found in the trunk of an abandoned car—dead, nude, and the victim of multiple rapes. Tom vows to track down the people responsible and discovers the Thorns on Roses gang. One by one, he tracks and disposes of them. But the police are hot on their trail also and may overtake Tom. When he speeds up his operation, catastrophe awaits.

Has your army career served as background for any of your novels as far as violence and understanding human nature?

I don't know. My background has certainly taught me respect for weapons and proper preparation. A military operation launched in haste is doomed to failure, and failure means lives lost. I believe my military background has taught me to insure every step of my story is logical. I write as I would plan a military operation. Every possibility must be considered. To miss one minor step in the path might lead to catastrophic failure. I hope that my readers will find it difficult (hopefully, impossible) to punch holes in my plot line. I do attempt to make them so logical as to be failsafe—but not so logical they're boring.

What does writing mean to you?

Simply stated, everything. I love to write. If I didn't have it, I would be incomplete. Almost every night, I go to sleep thinking about my work in progress. Many times, I awaken in the wee hours with that WIP on my mind. Did I tell you, I love to write?

How has the ebook revolution affected your own work? And what do you foresee for the future of book publishing?

I have resisted the impulse to dive into the world of ebooks as a self publisher. Please don't get me wrong. I respect those who have epub'd books ready for publication. I am one of the original Kindle owners and have read a ton of ebooks. However, I've been burned so many times by books not ready for publication, I am now gun shy. If I don't see a publisher's name, I probably don't bother.

Yes, this sounds cruel. I don't mean to hurt the thousands of wonderful authors who are self-epub'ing their excellent books. But, as an example, recently, I was looking for a new book. I decided to search in historical fiction, a favorite genre of mine. The first two downloads I found, both with wonderful stories to tell, I dumped. In both, the head-hopping was so bad I couldn't keep up. I'm now into a third and hope it will be worth the effort. It breaks my heart that the first two didn't have the benefit of a qualified editor to fix them before they went public. They could have been very good. I am a firm believer that you only have one opportunity to win a fan. Fail, and he'll never come back.

I believe the future of book publishing is bright. Yes, we'll go through several tremors along the way, but when it settles down again, we'll have a solid ebook presence and an equally solid paper presence. I do not believe that paper books are doomed.

However, I do believe there could be a major change in the publishing world. Some of the major imprints may disappear as the big six struggle to cope with the changes.Or maybe, the big six will break up and we will once again have many publishing houses. The future of independent publishers is bright. They are the ones pushing the ebook revolution. I commend them for doing so. Self-publishing of ebooks will stay with us as long as the vendors allow it. Some will be good, but many will be bad. In some instances, as now, writers of bad books will thrive.

How did your first novel, Jake’s Burn, come about?

Jake's was born at a time I was looking for a new approach to my writing. As I mentioned above, I had written David's Game (bad) and Tim's Game (not much better) and was flailing around trying to find a fix for my many writing problems. At that time, I lived in Dallas and spent almost every Saturday in a small town in Texas participating in a bicycle ride for charity. I'd built myself up to where I could do 100 kilometers in respectable time. I went to Cisco and did the ride around Eastland County. I fell in love with the countryside and decided I needed to base a book there. Since I had a major head-hopping POV problem then, I opted to move to first person. For the next year, I read nothing but first person PI stories. During that year, Ace Edwards was born, written in first person, and coming from Cisco, Texas.

It worked. I had found my niche. I liked Ace and Ace was good for me. We went on to write five more books together. And, he's not gone yet. I'm looking at him making a cameo appearance in the sequel to Thorns on Roses. And, Ace solved my POV problem. I now write in both first person and third person and feel comfortable doing so.

Advice to fledgling mystery writers?

On the top ten of my list of advice to fledging mystery writers, the first eight are Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, Read, and Read in the genre where they want to write. Nine and ten are Read and Read some more. I am a firm believer in learning from those who have done it. And mixing the pleasure of reading with the education of learning from what you read is a no-brainer. Once you know what you're doing and have decided on what you want to write, DO it. Your first effort may stink, but DO it anyway. Progress can only come by writing and learning from your mistakes.

Number eleven on that list is accept constructive criticism. If someone you respect says your manuscript is ugly, smile and say, "Thank you." Develop a thick skin and select critiquers who will be honest with you. A single "it stinks and here's why" from the right person is far more valuable than a hundred "it's wonderful" from the wrong people.

Your social media links?

Ouch! My Achilles heel. I am not good in the world of social media. All I have is my website, and I don't claim it's very good. But I love to hear from people and WILL answer every email. Please contact me at

Thanks, Randy.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Visit with Rebecca Dahlke (aka R.P. Dahlke)

Rebecca Phillips Dahlke operated her father's crop dusting business in California during the early 1980s, and began writing her mystery series following the death of her son, a career aero agricultural pilot. Rebecca calls her books: murder mysteries with some laughter.

Rebecca, how did you happen to take over the family business? And was flying part of your job?.

I sort of fell into the job when my dad decided he’d rather go on a cruise than take another season of lazy pilots, missing flaggers, testy farmers and horrific hours. After two years at the helm, I handed him back the keys and fled to a city without any of the above. And no, I was never a crop-duster.

Tell us about your writing background.

A few short stories got printed in a now defunct magazine and I was hooked. They say you should write what you know and at the time, I was able to use what I’d gleaned from my own experiences along with stories my son, John, who was a career crop-duster shared with me. When he died in a work related accident in 2005, I was unable to go back to it until 2010.

How important are organizations such as Sisters in Crime to a mid-list mystery writer?

SinC is like a big fat favorite granny. She’s warm and comforting and tells you you’re wonderful when everyone else tells you your writing is crap!

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you aim for a certain amount of words per day and do you outline?

Well… if I’m very very good, I can smack out 2,000 words a day… but then life gets in the way… like the Monument Fire this last week, and we were evacuated and living in our RV with two dogs and I was eating on nerves about our home burning to the ground instead of writing. I’m happy to say that the house survived and so did we!

What’s the most important ingredient in a good amateur sleuth novel?

I’m glad you asked that question because in A DEAD RED CADILLAC & A DEAD RED HEART, I write about a tall, blond and beautiful ex-model turned crop-duster who, to quote Lalla Bains, says: “I’ve been married so many times they oughta revolk my license.” I wanted to give readers a peek at the not so-perfect -life of a beautiful blond. Lalla Bains is no Danielle Steele character, she’s not afraid of chipping her manicure. Scratch that, the girl doesn’t have time for a manicure what with herding a bunch of recalcitrant pilots and juggling work orders just to keep her father’s flagging business alive.

Between a philandering famous Puerto Rican baseball husband and her long time widowed father’s triple by-pass, Lalla is now content to run her dad’s crop-dusting business in Modesto, California and avoid the paparazzi hounds who feast on the remains of those who aren’t famous anymore.

In A DEAD RED CADILLAC Lalla is once again brought into unwanted limelight and as she sees it, the only way she’s ever going to get her life back is if she can solve the mystery . And, as luck would have it, along the way finds the man who becomes the love of her life.

How do you promote your books? And how much time to you devote to online networking?

I believe that authors MUST use as many avenues as possible to promote their work. Branding is a term that comes from major corporations, like Pepsi and Ford and these companies understand that one ad in one magazine is not necessarily going to equal one sale. Your name over and over again, along with the name of your series; like A DEAD RED CADILLAC and A DEAD RED HEART gives you an edge on that branding.

Seeing a grave disparity between what is available to Indy authors as opposed to traditionally published authors, I created All Mystery e-Newsletter. July, 2011 is our first year anniversary and I’m pleased to say this is one of the fastest growing e-newsletters in the US. It’s clean, simple and easy to navigate: 12 new books from Indy as well as NY published authors. A colorful book cover, a quick synopsis, a few reviews and a buy button to Amazon for the e-book or paper back. Each month is themed: Romantic mysteries/suspense for Valentine’s day, Paranormal mysteries, The Funny Bone issue, Historical Mysteries, Murder at Work and ending the year with Cozies for Christmas—there’s something for everyone and I make sure that the Indy authors get a chance at the same exposure as say, Catherine Coulter and her newest Sherlock book… yes! Catherine and her publicist see the advantage of fan based venues like this and so should you.

It’s been a giggle to have to squeeze my own books into the line-up, but I enjoy doing it. I’ve recently expanded All Mystery to include a yahoo group so that fans can ask questions and authors can promote themselves with news about book signings, events & new offers.

Advice to aspiring mystery writers?

Self-publish because it encourages you to write instead of pinning all your hopes on that NY publisher. Besides, the more you write the better you get. And you’re branding your name, developing a fan base. Who knows, you may get an offer from that NY publisher—which you can then accept or not. Which reminds me; I gotta get busy and finish my latest book, a romantic sailing mystery set in exotic Mexico. I hope to have A DANGEROUS HARBOR ready for publication by the end of this summer.

Thanks, Rebecca.
You can visit Rebecca at her website:
Her Facebook page:
Amazon page:
B&N page:
and newsletter:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lawrence Block revisited

Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Lawrence Block has won four Edgar and Shamus awards. The bestselling author's wide range of characters: from private investigator Mathew Scudder, burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, insomniac Evan Turner to assassin Keller have made him one of the most versatile crime novelists on the planet. He's also published four how-to writing books as well as short fiction and articles in American Heritage, Redbook and The New York Times.

What in your background prepared you to write crime novels? Did you hold any writing jobs before writing fiction?

Nothing---outside of extensive reading. After two years of college, I got a summer job at a New York literary agency as an editor. I dropped out of school to keep it, and stayed for a year. Then I went back to college, but I was already writing and selling short stories and novels, and couldn't take school as seriously as it needed to be taken. I wrote full-time, until in 1964 I took a job as an editor with a numismatic magazine in Racine, Wisconsin. After a year and a half I returned to full-time free-lancing, and I haven't had honest work since.

How did your protagonist Mathew Scudder come into being?

I developed the character for a three-book paperback original series for Dell, at the suggestion of my agent. Dell didn't do much with the books, but the character remained alive for me, and a few years later I wrote a fourth book and Arbor House published it. A Drop of the Hard Stuff, coming from Little Brown in April 2011, will be the seventeenth novel about Scudder, so I've been writing about him for over 35 years, which I find astonishing when I think about it. He's older now, but who isn't?

Your gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr is an intriguing protagonist. How did you feel about Whoopi Goldberg playing the role in “The Burglar in the Closet?”

Whoopi was by no means the worst thing about that movie. The gender change was something the filmmakers had every right to make; it's not their job to reflect and reproduce the novelist's vision, but to make something that works as a film. Unfortunately, what wound upon the screen wasn't very good. Whoopi's a fine actress and could have been good if she'd had something to be good in. The writer/director is the genius who gave us the Police Academy films, so what could we expect?

How did your character Evan Michael Tanner originate and do you plan to write additional novels about him?

I wrote seven Tanner books in the 1960s, then nothing until Tanner On Ice in 1998. Tanner seems to have the life-cycle of a cicada, and I figure the next book is due in 2026. I don't think there'll be more Tanner books, but I've been wrong about this sort of thing before. I never know what the future will offer.

What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring mystery/crime novelists?

Write to please yourself. And don't expect too much.

What’s your writing schedule like and how has it changed over the years?

No schedule. Now and then I write something. Less now than years ago.

How many books of writing advice have you written?

There have been four: Writing the Novel from Plot to Print, Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, Spider Spin Me a Web, and Write for Your Life. I figure that's plenty.

Have you ever suffered from Writer's block?

Only in interviews.

How do you overcome it?


Which writer(s) influenced your own writing and why?

I don't know. I read tons of things early on. Jazz musicians talk in terms of influences, because when they begin they try to sound like someone whom they admire. Writers try to find their own voice, which is different.

How would you like to be remembered?

I don't expect to be remembered. The world has a short memory, and that's fine. Those of us who think we're writing for posterity are deluding ourselves. And why give a rat's ass about posterity? What has posterity ever done for us?

I'm sure your work will be long remembered. Thanks for taking part in the series.

Lawrence Block's website:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Visit with C. M. Wendelboe

Curt Wendelboe was a lawman long before he wrote his first Berkley Prime Crime novel. The Wyoming resident was befriended by another Wyomingite and former lawman, Craig Johnson, who served as his mentor.

Curt, how did your friendship with author Craig Johnson come about? And how did he help your career?

I first met Craig while he was promoting his first book, Cold Dish. He was scheduled to give a talk at our local library, but I was an hour away investigating an accident and missed him. I e-mailed him later and we met in Buffalo. He offered me direction as to how to proceed with marketing once my novel was as good as it could be. Several years later, he asked that I go over the Vietnam sections in Another Man's Moccasins. He agreed to look at my manuscript after that and made suggestions for revisions. I polished it until it reflected moonlight, and he sent the book up the chain where it eventually landed on the Senior Editor’s desk at Berkley Prime Crime.

How long where you in law enforcement and do you plan to write about some of your experiences?

 I was in law enforcement for thirty-eight years. I guess you could say I was one of the last of the dinosaurs in that profession, being the last Professional Peace Officer in Wyoming that never attended a police academy. I started in South Dakota in 1972, and the academy wasn’t built until a couple years later. I was “grandfathered” and so never had to go. Many of my experiences, and most of my characters, come from places I’ve worked, people I’ve worked with, or arrested, and they lurk within the pages of my books just waiting for someone to turn the page and release them.

Tell us about your debut novel, Death Along the Spirit Road.

Death Along the Spirit Road forces Lakota FBI Agent Manny Tanno to return to his home in Pine Ridge to investigate the murder of a prominent Oglala land developer. He resents being ordered back to the Indian reservation he fled eighteen years ago, the place where he escaped the poverty and despair. Several attempts on his life throw boulders in his path. But his brother, ex-felon and American Indian Movement enforcer in the 1970s, manages to reconnect Manny with his roots. In the end, Manny established a relationship with a woman, makes a friend, and solves the crime, even if there was no prosecution. And he realizes positive things also roam the reservation.

I know that you wanted to write as a child, but when did you actually begin writing?

My first recollection of writing was in the 7th. grade after my teacher asked each person what they wanted to be. That was the first I thought of it, and the first I started writing. I read every journal and book on writing I could. But where I really learned to write is by reading. See, a writer reads differently than most folks. A writer slows down, analyzing how the writer sets his scenes, how plot twists add or take away from the story, how the author uses dialogue to advance the story or reveal character. Reading like a writer has allowed me to write short stories and numerous books, which Death Along the Spirit Road is my first published novel.

How did your protagonist, FBI agent Manny Tanno come into being? And why a Native American?

FBI Agent Manny Tanno was conceived when I started working law enforcement, though his nine-month developmental phase lasted a bit longer. In the 1970s and 1980s, I was policing in an off-reservation town in South Dakota. Tribal officers, BIA officers, and FBI agents working the reservation would come into town, and we’d talk shop over coffee. Manny’s a composite of many of those men plus a little of me thrown in.

I’ve had a fascination with Plains Indian culture all my life, and Manny naturally became a Lakota. As a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Manny returns to work on what is arguably the Indian reservation in the west with the most history and controversy, Pine Ridge.

Who most influenced your own work and why?

As I kid I practically lived in the Carnegie Library, devouring every Gentlemen Jim Corbet adventure and Ken Robeson Doc Savage pulps. As I got older, I read Micky Spillane and John D. McDonald, both which got me hooked on mysteries. George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm developed in me a certain cynicism, while John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath drug me into the Depression-era culture that I grew to love. And when I could sneak it, I read Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road ‘cause good Christian boys didn’t read such things.

How do you research your books?

Being a career lawman all my life, I don’t have to research police procedure or forensics or the way law officers react in certain situations. If I describe a crime scene, for example, it’s accurate and believable because I’ve probably been directly involved investigating such a crime. The research that I do is into Indians in the last century and how they’ve evolved. I’m lucky to live close enough to several Indian reservations that I can drive to, researching contemporary issues, researching the paths my characters follow during their day. If they stumble and trip into a dry creek bed and, for example, I want to make certain that creek bed is there, dry and treacherous.

Advice to aspiring mystery writers of the West?

Read. Successful writers and those that are not so successful. Harry Steven Keeler was a mystery novelist in the 1940s and 1950s that wrote so badly that there are Harry Steven Keeler fan clubs around the country today trying to figure out how he could have possibly published so many novels writing like he did. Reading him, like reading many less-than-stellar writers, teaches how not to write.

And don’t be afraid to get dirty learning the craft. Western writers typically have dirt under the chipped nails, thumbs swollen black where they’ve missed fence staples, manure seeping past holes in their soles of their worn boots. Get dirty to get authentic.

Thanks, Curt. You can visit Curt at his website at:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Visit with Tony Hillerman's Daugher, Anne.

Anne is the author of the award-winning Tony Hillerman's Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn as well as seven other books. Her newest book, a collaboration with photographer Don Strel, is Gardens of Santa Fe. She worked for more than twenty years as editorial page editor for the Albuquerque Journal North and the Santa Fe New Mexican, and as an arts editor for both papers. She's been the Santa Fe restaurant reviewer for the Albuquerque Journal since 2001 and works as a writing coach on fiction and nonfiction projects. In addition to working on a new book, she's a director of Wordharvest Writers' Workshops and the Tony Hillerman Writers' Conference: Focus on Mystery, both of which she helped to establish in 2001.

Anne, your father must have been pleased that you inherited his writing talent. Has being the daughter of Tony Hillerman helped you in your writing career?

As the eldest of Tony and Marie Hillerman's six children, and the only writer in the mix, I have been lucky to have received some of the residual good will my father built up over his long career as a journalist, teacher, writer and lover of the West. The name gives me a great ice-breaker at writers' conferences!

What does your book, Tony Hillerman’s Landscape entail and what prompted you to write it?

Tony Hillerman's Landscape is a visit to the country my father loved with selected quotes from his mysteries, photos of the places he uses as settings, and my own recollections. The idea came from Dad, with a tip of the cap to New Mexico mystery author Michael McGarrity. McGarrity was keynote speaker at one of our Tony Hillerman Writers Conferences. Photographer Don Strel (my husband!) suggested a slide show of the places McGarrity writes about and offered to take the photos. When Dad saw it he said, "Why don't you do something like that for me?" That suggestion led to the book.

You’ve written a number of award-winning books. Which was the most difficult to research and write, and which did you enjoy writing most?

Gosh, I've enjoyed them all. Each had its own challenges and its own pleasures. Tony Hillerman's Landscape was fascinating because it involved re-reading each Navajo detective novel, and visiting the Navajo reservation to find those places where Chee or Leaphorn had to pull over because the scenery is so stunning. I had to examine my own memories of time spent with Dad, and make the book personal as well as informative, something that my journalist self initially resisted. Gardens of Santa Fe, my newest book, involved deciding which of the beautiful gardens to include and then pruning my interviews with the wonderful, outspoken gardeners to stress the uniqueness of each.

Have you considered writing Western novels?

Well, sure. I've got a decent first draft of a historical novel set in Oklahoma, complete with horses and a family farm. My other experiment with fiction is a mystery in progress set in Arizona and New Mexico. It's not a "Western," but certainly flavored by the landscape and people of the Southwest.

Tell us about your Santa Fe-based Wordhavest Writers Workshops and the Tony Hillerman Writer’s Conference.

Wordharvest began as a way to celebrate New Mexico's writers. Instead of paying to hear out-of- state experts, why not use our own experts and let out-of-staters come to hear them? My business partners and I quickly expanded to draw on regional talent such as Margaret Coel and Sandi Ault (who live in Colorado but have family in New Mexico) and Arizona's J.A. Jance. Wordharvest 's first weekend program featured Tony Hillerman. When we decided to do a conference, Dad said we could name it after him (as long as we did the work). He also agreed to sit on a panel and be our first keynote speaker. The conference started with "Focus on Mystery" as its subtitle, but now we focus on good writing in general. The 2011 dates are November 10-12 in Santa Fe.

What prompted you to create the $10,000 Tony Hillerman Prize for best first mystery novel set in the Southwest?

We were looking for another way to promote our conference and to offer encouragement to writers. I went to the well-organized Pikes Peak (Colo.) Writers Conference to steal some of their ideas. We were thinking of adding a session with agents/editors and I wanted to see how their model worked. They had invited Peter Joseph of St. Martin's Press. I told him we'd like to work with St. Martin's and he suggested a writing prize. After more brainstorming, the Hillerman Prize was born.

You’ve received a number of honors, including “Outstanding Woman Author” by The New Mexico Chapter of Women in the Arts. Which means the most to you and why?

The honor that touched me most was being invited by the New Mexico Library Association to be their keynote speaker and present our slide show on Tony Hillerman's Landscape at their annual conference. Don Strel and I did a lot of benefits for libraries in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California as part of our book launch. My Dad was a staunch supporter of libraries, as are Don and I. I was also thrilled and honored when the legendary Barbara Peters hosted us for our first Hillerman's Landscape signing at Poisoned Pen in Scotsdale.

Briefly tell us about your journalism background.

After several years of dillydallying, I earned a degree in journalism from the University of New Mexico. My dad was the head of department there--and he was tough on me! I worked in a variety of jobs, some in television and radio, but mostly for newspapers and magazines. I was the first woman to head the editorial page at the Santa Fe New Mexican, one of the oldest newspapers in the West and still an independent, family-owned operation. I also started the opinion page and wrote the editorials for the Albuquerque Journal's Northern New Mexico edition. I currently work as restaurant reviewer for the Journal. That job lead to my book Santa Fe Flavors: Best Restaurants and Recipes, which won the New Mexico Book Award.

What’s your fondest memory of you father?

That question is too hard! I think of my Dad every day and miss him tremendously. I'm grateful for his sense of humor, his curious mind, his gentle kindness, and his absolute passion for skillful writing and well-told stories. And that he had the good sense to find and marry my mother.

Advice to fledgling writers off the West.

Read voraciously. Keep writing. Do your best and don't stop because you can't yet live up to your own standards. Only you have your voice and your stories. Be brave.

Thanks, Ann, for your visit.

You can visit Anne at her website:

and her blog site:

© 2011 Jean Henry Mead

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Visit with Barbara Marriott, Ph.D

Barbara Marriott earned an advanced degree in cultural anthropology and, among other subjects, writes about the mysteries of the Old West and her adopted state of Arizona.

Barbara, is there a connection between your last name and your book: Annie’s Guests, Tales from a Frontier Hotel?

The hotel in Annie’s Guests was chosen as a central theme and focus point. Rather like a vehicle that carries the reader into the history of a particular part of Arizona. The connection between my name, Marriott, and hotels, never occurred to me. It wasn’t until well after the book was published and I was at a signing that someone remarked about the connection. Marriott is my marriage name, and since it is something that is part of me I don’t connect it to the commercial endeavor.When people ask me if I am related to THE MARRIOTT’s I usually give one or two replies: How far back do you want to go? (Norman invasion of England 1066), or the more painful reply: Not in the pocketbook.

Tell us about your latest book.

Myths and Mysteries of New Mexico just came out. It is a historical romp of some of the amazing and outlandish history of New Mexico. The book I am working on now is fiction. I decided to take a break from the truth. It is more faction, the irreverent combination of history and imagination. It is the story of a woman who goes west to find a father that abandoned her twenty years ago. She is motivated by the fact that she is penniless and needs his signature or proof of his death, to get her inheritance. In her search she meets Poker Alice, Bat Masterson, Bob Ford and a whole bunch of historical characters. She is also caught in a fire, shot at, blasted in a mine, and gets drunk, and that is just for starters. I can’t remember when I have had so much fun.

Why your interest in New Mexico?

Born in the fury of fire, New Mexico is a mischievous child that has offered herself up in the most outlandish ways. Nature may have conjured her up, but man contributed the greed and the legends. Gold! That’s what man wanted and he found it in such unlikely places as the bowels of Victorio Peak, and lost it in Adams’ diggings. Power and control, and riches are what man sought and it led to murders, strange disappearances and the legend of a whole town. But New Mexico is multidimensional: She has a sense of humor that can be tempting with her history of famous outlaws, ghosts, staircases built by carpenters from Heaven, visitors from outer space, unidentified creatures that walk in the woods and ancient bones that lay hidden only to pop up and reveal first man. New Mexico may never be understood, but her capriciousness and flavor can be enjoyed. Here are a few bites to tempt you.

In which subject is your advanced degree? And why your interest in the mysteries and history of the Old West?

 My Ph. D. is in Cultural Anthropology. I wanted to get the advance degree but couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to study. There are so many things I am interested in. So I made a list and the only discipline that includes everything and left room for my ever expanding curiosity was anthropology. As it turned out I find my studies are a great help when writing history, which to me is an interaction of people, circumstances, and culture.

My interest in the Old West was due to a move. I had spent my life on the east coast, or in Europe, and when moving to Arizona found myself confronted by a land I knew nothing about. The trees are different, the people are different, the culture is different, and the weather is very different, even the food is hot. Since this was to be my home I decided to learn something about this “strange” land. I volunteered for just about every museum and historical society I could find. I decided to write Annie’s Guests thinking there were a lot of new people in this part of Arizona that might be interested in the history of their new home. Never did I imagine that there were so many of them.

You know writing books is like eating peanuts. You just can’t stop at one. My curiosity took hold and an old ranch ruin turned into a book about the pioneers of the Santa Catalina Mountain area, Canyon of Gold. And then that led to another book and another and so on. I found myself on a wild gallop through the history of the Old West, thoroughly enjoying the ride.

Which book was the most challenging to research and write? And why?

 In Our own Words: The Lives of Arizona Pioneer Women was a toughie. It took me over eight months to chase down the original Arizona Federal Writer’s Project (FRP) interviews. Arizona is one of the few states that took ownership of most of the official paperwork. Once I found out they were not in our federal system I had to find out where they were, negotiate for copies, and then print them, analyze them, and organize the material. Nonfiction writing usually includes getting the facts checking the facts and weaving them together in a way that turns facts into fascinating stories. That was not an option in this book. The big decision was how to handle these interviews. Do I paraphrase them? How about an interpretive manuscript of the 144 women’s interviews? In the end I decided the women’s words were too powerful not to be quoted exactly. However I did think they would be more comprehensible, and give more of a complete historical picture if I divided every interview up into applicable sections and put these sections into chapters. That of course demanded introductions to each chapter for clarification purposes and smoothness. I think it would have been easier to just write the interviews based on historical facts. But, that would not have been in their own words, and would not have truly captured the deep passions expressed by these pioneer women.

What did you find most interesting and distressing while researching your book, In Our Own Words: The Lives of Arizona Pioneer Woman.

I knew pioneer women faced hardships beyond the comprehension of modern day women. I found it interesting that in all the interviews there was not one note of complaint. They faced whatever life threw at them, conquered their problems as best as they could, and continued on. No matter what: the death of children, even deprivation of the most basic needs of life like food, clothing, shelter and warmth, they went forward with their lives always looking for happiness and contentment, bearing life’s blows and using them as incentives to seek a better life of their own making. Their stories humbled me. How different from today’s culture where so many of us feel we are owed, and life’s hardships are not to be suffered but must serve as compensation factors. I found some of what they suffered to be distressing, all of it to be thought provoking.

Your departure from the Old West is an intriguing book titled Banana River. Briefly, what does the book entail and why did you decide to write it?

Banana River is the story of a World War II small Navy Base that found itself one of the first battlegrounds in the war. It tells of the growth of the base from a small auxiliary station to a large naval installation. JFK’s older brother trained there, two navy planes were mysteriously lost in the Bermuda Triangle, and it served as a safe training base for the Free French, and was one of the first locations for WAVES. The story is more than a book about a base, it is a book about the men and woman who trained there, lived there, and in some cases died there. And, then it disappeared.

The United States Navy and its history is very much a part of my life. My husband and son both served in the Navy, and I spent thirty years of my life in that environment. How the book came about is a long story (you can delete this). My husband as a naval officer was based at Patrick Air Force Base. He went to buy razorblades and was told the checkout line was for military personnel only. Now a navy officer’s summer uniform consists of a lot of gold and white. The clerk must have thought he had gaudy taste. He put the razorblades back on the shelf and by the time he came home he thought it was a funny story. I didn’t. It was “My Navy” they had dissed. That night we went to a party at the commanding officer’s house. I got that poor Colonel in the corner and ranted and raved. He responded by laughing his head off. “What’s so funny?” I growled. He thought it was funny that a navy officer went unrecognized in a place that was a historical navy base. That’s when I decided it was a story that someday had to be told. So I did. By the way, the base, Air Force and Navy, is on the Banana River, Florida.

Did you begin your writing career as a journalist?

I have been Reporter Friday for a monthly newspaper, created and edited a newspaper in France that outsold the International Tribune, created and wrote travel guides for American sailors in overseas ports, created and edited information booklets for American children living in England and Spain, and worked as a copywriter for many years.

What are the best and worst aspects of writing, in your opinion?

The very best is the opportunity to learn. Non fiction writing requires a lot of research. It takes you down avenues you might never have thought to travel, and along the way not only do you find out interesting things and places, but you get to meet so many fascinating people. Writing is something you can do anywhere, and it is something you do alone. Good or bad, successful or not, it is all your responsibility. The sense of achievement is yours alone. That is a wonderful reward.

Writing (books) does not stand alone. Its shadow is marketing. You write to inform, educate, or entertain people. For the public to experience these things they must have access to your writings so you must market your work. Marketing wears me out. It is creatively demanding, and also hard on the body. You must get out and market your product, and if you are an author the ultimate product is you. You have got to sell yourself, and it shall follow, the public will buy your book…maybe.

Which writer influenced your own writing and why?

When I am researching I read books, both fiction and nonfiction on my subject, so the author is unimportant to me. I am looking for facts. And, the books that give me the clearest, substantiated facts are at that moment, my favorites. When I read for pleasure I read everything. I mostly enjoy authors with a sense of humor, and I think my tongue in cheek writing comes from that influence.

If I had to name one author, one book of importance, it would be Andy Adams The Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days (1903). While it is pitched as a fiction, it is a true story of his days riding the cattle trail in 1882 from Brownsville to Montana. He strips the Hollywood fantasy that we have been fed and in its place gives a true picture of the hardships, the brutal land, and the unpredictability of the cattle…always the cattle. He manages to describe history in a way that puts the reader in the story. The reader becomes part of the action, and it is happening now. That is a rare talent and one I strive to emulate in my writings.

Thank you, Barbara.

You can visit Barbara at her website:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Visit with Pat Brown

Canadian native, Pat Brown, discovered Southern California and wrote a number of mysteries based in the City of Angels, although her plots are far from angelic. Her novels, including her latest, Between Darkness and Light, are written as P.A. Brown.

Pat, you had quite a few novels published within the last few of years. How did that come about?

The first book was published in 2006. I wrote what was to be book two, but around that time my agent quit agenting and the editor at the publisher was let go. Book two was rejected. Then in 2007 I got really sick and ended up in the hospital for six months. I had to learn to walk again and was put on disability. Once I was out of the hospital and could pretty well take care of myself I still couldn't work, but I could write. So I sat down and did just that. I rewrote book two, which became L.A. Bytes and wrote another book in the series, L.A. Boneyard.

Meanwhile, my book went out of print and around that time ebooks were starting to take off so I approached a new ebook publisher I knew and asked if she wanted to release L.A. Heat, book one, as an ebook. She did and around that time I wrote L.A. Mischief for her too. MLR picked up the series plus some other stuff I had been working on, including my vet story.

When and why did you leave your home in London, Ontario, for Los Angeles?

I grew up in a family that moved all the time. My father was in the air force so he was always being transferred. I lived in four places before I was five. So I think I was bitten by the travel bug. I had
started writing scripts in my late teens early 20s and at 22 I knew if I wanted to do anything with that, I needed to be in L.A. So I sold everything I owned--including 2 motorcycles--and took the Greyhound bus to Los Angeles. My family thought I was insane, of course, and I probably was--who moves from a tiny city of less than 300,000 to a city of four million total strangers?

What prompted your first book? Was it published?

My very first book was written when I was 17 and thank goodness it was never published. At that time I was reading books like Steppenwolf and Electric Koolaid Acid Test and loved music groups like the Rolling
Stones, Iron Butterfly and Wishbone Ash so even then I was interested in the darker side of things.

Tell us briefly about your debut novel as well as your latest.

L.A. Heat was my first published book. It was also my first mystery. Before that I wrote science fiction. Since then I have written four other books in the series with two more to come.

Why the love affair with Los Angeles, and why did you decide to leave?

From the first minute I set foot in Los Angeles I felt something I've never felt before. I think I felt more alive and filled with possibilities. There were things here that I'd never seen or experienced. To give you an idea, I had never seen a Mercedes or a Rolls Royce. London, where I grew up, was actually a very wealthy city. I've been told it
has more wealth per capita than even Beverly Hills. But wealthy people, in London at least, didn't showcase their wealth.

I never saw a black person until I was in high school. But I'd also never seen the kind of homeless people that filled downtown L.A. at that time. People walking around with three or four coats on and pushing shopping carts full of what looked like garbage to me. London doesn't have slums. There might be a street here or there where there are more drugs or very poor people, there are homeless people, but nothing so visible as what I saw there. And while I lived there, I saw it all--I went to Beverly Hills, the gates of Bel Air, Skid row and everything in between. It was beyond fascinating. It was incredible.

Why did you decide to write gay male mysteries?

A lot of the time I was in L.A. I spent living with, drinking with and making friends with gays. I also had discovered Jonathan Kellerman and his Alex Delaware series, with Milo Sturgis, his openly gay LAPD homicide detective. When I decided I wanted to try my hand at a mystery--and I really wasn't sure I could do it, since I don't plot worth a damn--I wanted there to be a gay cop who was the main character, not a side kick. I'd never heard of police procedurals, all I knew was I didn't like the soft cozies like Agatha
Christie. I liked grittier fiction. I was also a huge fan of Robert Ludlum back then

What’s the best part of writing and the worst?

The writing when I'm in the zone. When the words are coming and the story is flowing out then it's the closest to heaven as I've ever felt. The worst is when it's not coming, when I can't write a word or think of plot or characters. It leaves me feeling empty.

What’s your writing schedule like?
It really depends. If I have a deadline or the writing bug has taken over, I'll write for hours, only moving to eat. I try to get to the library at least once a week to do research. Lately I'm researching both the history of L.A. and New York as well as Prohibition.

Advice to aspiring writers?

Be persistent. It takes a certain amount of stubbornness to be a writer. To ignore the rejections you will get both from publishers and agents, as well as from family and friends. If you want to be a writer, keep writing, keep sending your work out, ignore the naysayers. But also finish what you start. A lot of wanna be writers start all kinds of great stories, but when the writing stumbles they put the story aside and start another one. Finish a book. That's important.

The other thing is write what you want to read. Don't try to write whatever is big right then thinking it will be instantly snapped up. Chances are by the time you see a trend, it's already waning. You need to find something you are passionate about. A story you need to tell. For this reason I think you should also read a lot. You never know where an idea will come from, so read. Read anything. Even now, I'll go to my library and look through the new books, or the special displays they put up throughout the year. I pick up magazines I would never normally read -- science, business, history, psychology, whatever catches my eye--and sometimes reading them will trigger an idea. Your mind should be a sponge, soaking up ideas and details of the world around you.

Thanks, Pat.

Pat's web and blog sites:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Visit with British Novelist Geraldine Evans

Crime novelist Geraldine Evans has 17 novels to her credit with another scheduled for release in February. Her two series, Rafferty & Llewellyn and Casey & Catt, are written concurrently and are fast paced, filled with humor and plenty of plot twists.

Geraldine, what was it like growing up in the London Council Estate and how did it affect your later writings?

It was great fun, mostly, as I had lots of play-mates, at least on the first estate, though we moved from there when I was about eleven. I suppose, looking back, what strikes me most about it now was the lack of aspiration. I didn’t know anyone who’d been to university, for instance, or even anyone who had hopes that way. As to how it affected my writing; it certainly affects my main character’s family background – not for him an intellectual, educated background of the middle-class writer. DI Joe Rafferty has more street wisdom than the academic sort. I suppose the amazing thing is that I started writing at all. I have no real idea from whence this desire came, but I had it in spades and eighteen published novels later, it’s still going strong.

Did your first job as a library assistant pique your interest in writing? How so?

I don’t know if the job itself did so – though the fact that I could borrow as many books as I liked without having to worry about paying fines – must have helped. But I was always a reader. My mother encouraged me and my three siblings to read and we’ve all kept the habit up, though I’m the only one who ended up as a writer. Like Colin Dexter, I remember one day reading a particularly bad novel and thinking even I could do better. It must have planted a seed, of knowing I could do this – even though, at that time, no publisher agreed with me! It was then a matter of persevering and seeking out criticism so that I could improve. Eventually, after my sixth completed novel, I was published. That was in 1991. The book was a romance, entitled Land of Dreams and the publisher was Robert Hale. I started my Rafferty & Llewellyn crime series after Hale rejected my next effort in the romance genre. Much to my amazement, Dead Before Morning, that first crime novel, was plucked from Macmillan’s slush pile and published in hardback and paperback, both in the UK and in the US. I brought it out as an ebook in December 2010.

You mention England’s class system on your website. Does it affect your readership and for whom do you write your novels?

Yes, I suppose it does. I don’t write books that are particularly intellectually ‘clever’. I aim to amuse and entertain and have never striven to amaze with my brilliant mind! No Times crossword type puzzle for me – I haven’t the intellect for it as I left school at sixteen. I simply aim to do what I do best and for what I am best equipped. The humorous sub-plots are as much what my novels are about as the main crime plot. I suppose I write for people much like myself: working-class readers, who like a bit of fun in their crime novels.

How did your characters, Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty and Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn, come about and how do you research your crime novels?

I think Rafferty’s ‘Ma’ came about first and Joe Rafferty evolved from that – a London-Irish lad trying to stop his Ma impinging on every aspect of his life as Irish mothers were – are? – wont to do. I wanted to depict a working-class copper as a bit of light relief from the clever but dull policemen depicted in some crime novels. As for Dafyd Llewellyn, he evolved because I wanted someone who would be a complete foil to Rafferty; someone who was a stickler for the law and morality, in a way that Rafferty wasn’t. Although that’s not to say that Rafferty isn’t a moral person. He is. He’s just a little more understanding of human nature and its frailties (particularly his own).

The need for research varies tremendously, I find. Some books, such as Deadly Reunion [to be released February 24, 2011, and few months later in the US], needed very little, just the normal forensic stuff. Others, such as the two books in my Casey & Catt crime series, required a lot more, mostly on Asian religions and customs in Up in Flames and on cannabis farming in A Killing Karma.

I find the internet very useful for research. I also have an endlessly updated library on forensics, police procedure, world religions, poisons, scene of crime and so on. I’m rapidly running out of room, so I thank God for ebooks, though some of my favourite research books are as yet unavailable as ebooks.

What about your Casey & Catt crime series?

The Casey & Catt crime series, my second, is another series that utilizes a lot of humour. The main characters are Detective Chief Inspector Will (Willow Tree) Casey and Detective Sergeant Thomas Catt. It is set in the fictitious town of King’s Langley in Norfolk, England. Casey’s parents are a couple of old hippies, Moon and Star Casey. Thomas Catt is an orphan who spent his childhood in various children’s homes.
So far, there are two novels in the series: Up in Flames about a death by fire in the Asian Community and A Killing Karma about two unreported suspicious deaths in Casey’s parents’ hippie commune, which, for various reasons, they expect Casey to sort out. I really ought to write another one or two in this series, but my publishers prefer my Rafferty & Llewellyn series, so I don’t know when I’ll produce the next.

Why is humor important in your own work as well as other crime novels?

I’ve always had a lively sense of humour and suppose I was a bit of a class clown. Anyway, as a reader, I found some crime novels as dull as ditch-water and wanted my own first effort to be a bit more lively. Not just a straight mystery, but a bit of fun and games as well. And, as most writers who know, will tell you, humour is regarded as one of the hardest types of writing to do. That fact has never worried me – you either have a natural penchant for something or you don’t and humour was, I thought, one of my strengths. I think the use of humour in crime novels adds another dimension. The reader gets more for their money, whether it’s my crime novels or Brookmyre’s. It’s important in other crime novels because it’s what I, and many other readers, want to read.

Who most influenced your own novels and why? Your favorite novelist?

I can’t say that I’m aware of a particular influence. Though since starting my own Rafferty & Llewellyn series, I’ve found the novels of Christopher Brookmyre, Cynthia Harrod Eagles and Ruth Dudley Edwards strongly to my taste. They’re all very witty writers and I admire that. These three figure amongst my favourite novelists. I also like P D James, Mark Billingham and the Inspector Wexford novels of Ruth Rendell, though I’ve never got on with her psychological novels. I also enjoy the novels of Dorothy Simpson, Margaret Yorke and June Simpsons. Amongst other genres, I like Philippa Gregory, Sharon Penman and Jean Plaidy. I also enjoy historical non-fiction.

How, in your opinion, do mystery/crime novels differ in the UK from the US?

I’m not sure that I’ve read widely enough amongst US writers to have an opinion. My favourite novelists are still mostly British, though I like Janet Evanovich. I must spread my wings a little wider.

Tell us about your latest novel, Death Dance.

In this one, Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty has just left his wedding rehearsal when Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn calls. Llewellyn tells him that a local man has come home to find his wife dead on the kitchen floor. She’s been strangled. Adrienne Staveley is a woman with secrets and several lovers. Was she killed by her husband in a jealous rage? Or maybe her stepson, driven by hate and teenage angst has killed her? Or maybe one of her lovers did the deed?

There are several other suspects, each with a reason to harbour strong feelings for the dead woman. It seems she isn’t someone to cause weak emotions in others and, given her behaviour, it is a wonder someone hasn’t tried to murder her before.

To Rafferty’s horror, the fingerprints of Abra, his fiancée, are found in the murder house. What had she been doing there? She’d never mentioned knowing Adrienne. And what were her prints doing in the bedroom of John Staveley? Is Abra guilty of having an affair even before their marriage? Or is she a murder suspect? Rafferty isn’t sure which he would prefer. But with only a few weeks till his wedding and honeymoon he has to work against the clock to find the killer and hopefully, exonerate Abra, before he has to cancel both.

Advice to aspiring writers?

Don’t follow the crowd. Last year’s hot ticket will have often gone out of favour by the time you finish your effort. Find out what matters to you, what you feel passionately about and write about that. And when you’ve written your book, don’t immediately send it out to agents and publishers. Give it a chance in the market-place and have it professionally criticised. This is not a cheap service, but nothing worthwhile is ever cheap. It could raise your chances a lot, so don’t spend the money on a holiday instead. This is you investing in your future. Don’t regard is as an extravagance. It isn’t. Nor is it an indulgence. It’s getting what you want to be your career off to the right start. So don’t stint. Ask for recommendations from writing friends or consult the writing reference books like The Writers’ Handbook and Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

Thank you, Geraldine.

You can visit Geraldine at her website:
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