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: Barbaramarriott.com

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:

http://gkparkernoir.com/
http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001482551267
http://www.pabrown.com/
http://www.facebook.com/PatABrown
http://www.twitter.com/pabrown
http://pabrown.livejournal.com/

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 fiancĂ©e, 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: http://www.geraldineevans.com.
and her blog: http//wwwgeraldineevanscom.blogspot.com
Her Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/?tid=10150356637650206&sk=messages#!/pages/Geraldine-Evans-Crime-uthor/134541119922978?v=wall