Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rhys Bowen Revisited

Rhys Bowen’s mysteries have been nominated for every major mystery award, of which she's won more than a few .She’s written three series: the Constable Evans mysteries, Molly Murphy Mysteries, and a series featuring a minor royal in the author's native England, circa the 1930s. After graduation from London University, she worked for the BBC, specializing in drama. She became studio manager and wrote her own radio and TV plays. She also worked for Australian Broadcasting in Sydney before settling in the San Francisco area.

Rhys, when did you know that you were a writer?

I have been a writer all my life, from making up stories for the family to acting out as a small child onward. By high school I was writing short stories, one of which was broadcast by the BBC. Strangely enough I didn't look upon writing as a career and it was only when I was working in BBC drama that I decided to try and write my own radio and TV plays. After that I've never stopped writing.

Tell us about your first award-winning children's book. Was the setting in your native England?

It was called Peter Penny's Dance, a picture book, illustrated by Anita Lobel (which obviously helped get attention for the book). It was about a sailor who danced around the world. Great fun.

How do you manage to write more than one mystery series simultaneously? Do you have a rigid writing schedule?

I am currently only writing the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness series. Constable Evans is on hold, since the publisher started taking some of the backlist out of print. But yes, I do have a very rigorous schedule, writing two books a year, then finding myself on the road, a lot of speaking and promoting. I try to block off three solid months to actually write a book, but I do lots of research ahead of that, as both series are historical.

Your series characters are diverse. Tell us about them.

Molly Murphy is an Irish immigrant in New York City, turn of the century era. She fled from Ireland in the first book, after accidentally killing the man who tried to rape her. She has led a precarious existence since then as a private detective in New York. Molly is feisty, hot headed and not always prudent in her behavior. But she has a strong sense of justice and often the luck of the Irish! These books are fairly gritty, showing various aspects of New York at the time--the garment industry sweat shops, spiritualists, Coney Island, the theater.

My other current heroine, Lady Georgiana, is also plucky but comes from a very different background. She is a minor royal but her branch of the family is penniless, so she is trying to survive alone in London, during the great depression of the 1930s.

How did you conceive the award-winning series about the penniless girl who's 34th in line to the throne? Is it a humorous mystery?

I wrote it because my editor kept bugging me to write a "big dark stand alone". I decided I didn't want to spend six months with serial killers or child molesters or terrorists so I came up with the most unlikely sleuth I could: a minor royal. And yes, the books are intended to be pure fun. Great therapy for times like these.

How do you feel about the latest downturn in publishing? What kinds of changes do you foresee?

The saddest thing I am noticing is more independent bookstores going out of business. But a spark of good news is that people are apparently reading more fiction. I think publishers will trim their lists, not keep any books that are not making them a good return. It will be tougher to break in and tougher to hang in there. Advances will be smaller for the big guys at the top (which might not be a bad thing).

Advice you would give to fledglings just entering the mystery field?

First know the field you are entering. What does the [latest] mystery look like? Second, your first mystery must come across as something totally new and different and exciting—or a new take on an old theme. You have to wow the editors and agents.

How, in your opinion, does the American mystery novel differ from the British?

It's funny: in the old days the American novel was hardboiled—Chandler, Hammett etc, and the British novel was cozy: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers. Now things are reversed. The cozy novel is alive and well in America but completely dead in England. The current English crime scene is very dark, very violent.

Who are your favorite mystery writers, and who most influenced your own work?

My first influences were the ladies of the golden age in Britain, but then the writer who inspired me to write mysteries was Tony Hillerman. He showed me for the first time that a mystery could be so much more. It could take the reader to other times and places, give insights into other cultures. I read one of his books and thought, "That's what I want to do!"

My favorite writers now: Peter Robinson, Reginald Hill, Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny, Jacqueline Winspear and many more. . . Anything else you would like to talk about?

Rhys Bowen's website URL is:
She also contributes to two blogs: and

Friday, October 11, 2013

Louise Penny Revisted

New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny lives and writes in a small village near Montreal, not far from the U.S. border. She's the recipient of the Agatha Award and many other honors.

Louise, you've had a long career as a journalist and radio host in your native Canada. When and why did you decide that you would rather write novels?

Well, I've wanted to write since I was a child, and tried every decade of my life. But the sad fact was, I had nothing to say. I was way too callow and self absorbed. And while I feigned interest in others, I really wasn't listening. These are not promising traits for a writer.

There's a wonderful line from Auden's elegy to Yeats in which he writes, 'Mad Ierland hurt him into poetry.' How searing, how true must that have been? And I feel the same was true of me. Not poetry, of course, but writing. I was finally buffeted and bruised and hurt enough by life that I started to empathise with and feel the pain of others. I understood loss and sorrow and aching loneliness. What it felt like to make dreadful mistakes. And what it felt like to be forgiven. And to forgive. And to love with all my heart. How friendship really felt.

And then I was ready to write.

Your work has taken you from Toronto to Thunder Bay to Winnipeg, Quebec City and Montreal. Have any of those cities served as a backdrop for your books?

My books are actually set, for the most part, in the fictional village of Three Pines, which is south of Montreal, near the border with Vermont. It's the area of Quebec I live in, called the Eastern Townships. However, Chief Inspector Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie live in Montreal, so I'm able to use my familiarity with that gorgeous city. And my next book - out in 2010 - will be set in Quebec City.

I know that you’re a fellow dog lover. Have canines inhabited your novels?
Yes! I love writing about dogs, and have given almost every character, including Clara and the Gamaches, dogs. Clara has a Golden Retriever, like us - and the Gamaches have a German Shepherd. Both are adoption dogs. Indeed, my  book, The Brutal Telling, is dedicated to our local no-kill shelter.

What did you find the most difficult when you made the transition from journalism to fiction?

There were actually a lot of challenges. In radio journalism I was used to a story being half a page long. Just the fact. No plot, no character development. Few adjectives. I was convinced that when I set out to write my novel it would be a page and a half long. What I found quite easy, though, was dialogue, since when I wrote for radio I wrote for the spoken word. And I had 20 years of listening closely to how people talk.

Did marrying later in life influence your work in any way?

Certainly finding love influenced it. My books are about murder and the terror that comes from a crime of such violation, but mostly they're about love. My husband is the first and only man I have loved. With all my heart. I know how Reine-Marie loves Gamache, and he her, because of how I feel. And Michael has also served as an inspiration for Gamache - a mature man, who is happy and content. Not because he's never known sorrow, but because he knows exactly how terrible the world can be, and chooses to stand in the light anyway.

What’s the best part of mystery writing and the worst? And what's your writing schedule like?

One of the great things about a career hosting a daily live radio show is I learned discipline. And perseverance. Two qualities I think are more important even than creativity. I write from January through until the book is finished...generally eight months for a first draft and re-writes. Though I am thinking of a book, and making notes, for about a year before I actually start writing.

Everyday I write at least 1,000 words. Even if they're stinkers...I can always take them out afterward. But I know myself. I can be very, very lazy. So I can't afford to even think about flagging!

In terms of mystery writing, there are so many great things beginning I think with the community of writers, editors, booksellers, bloggers like Jean and of course, readers. It is unbelievably supportive. What a relief not to be around people who smile to your face but stick a knife in when your back is turned.

And the people who read mysteries are the best! Genuinely interested in other cultures, in emotions. They're smart and thoughtful.

There really isn't a downside to writing mysteries--not that I've seen.Though the slight thorn might be when people - some other writers and some readers-look down on the books as 'simply genre' and don't see the depth and power of a well-written mystery. It saddens me a bit, and sometimes it angers me. But mostly I don't notice.

How did you celebrate your first New York bestseller?

First, I shrieked! My publisher and editor called on a conference call from New York to tell me. But Andy Martin, the great publisher at Minotaur, started by saying, 'Do you know why we're calling?'

I, of course, immediately presumed the book, A Rule Against Murder, which had just come out, was such a failure they were about to fire me. And it took two to do it.

When he said, 'You've made the New York Times Bestseller list!' I think there was a moment of silence - then a scream. Poor Michael, in another room, came running. Wow. I will never, ever forget that feeling. Then Michael took me out - we were in Quebec City researching an upcoming book--to a wonderful restaurant for dinner.

Advice to fledgling writers?

Believe in yourself. Never give up. Make sure your 'critic' isn't trying to write the first draft. And a bit of advice I got from an editor who turned down my first book. He said, 'New writers commonly make three mistakes, and you've made all three. The book is too long, too many characters and too many ideas.' I decided he was right. I'd tried to put everything I'd ever learned or thought into that first book. Every character I'd wanted to write showed up. And as a result, it was WAY too long.

But mostly, never forget what a privilege it is to write. I once heard a writer, after she'd won a huge award (not a mystery writer) say that writing is the hardest thing you can do. And I thought, Good Lord, has the woman never waited tables for minimum wages, serving people who sneer at her? Does she realize there are coal miners, daycare workers, teachers, firefighters, doctors who sit by sick children.

Writing is a blessing and a gift, and if you forget it you might win awards, but lose yourself.

Louise's website:
and her blog site:

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Carolyn Hart's Ghost Gone Wild

Image of Carolyn Hart

Carolyn, what prompted you to write about Bailey Ruth, a redheaded ghost ?

I grew up loving Topper and Blithe Spirit. I always wanted to write a book with a happy fun ghost.

I had an idea about a young woman, rather prim, who was in the attic not long before her wedding. She finds an old trunk and while exploring it, discovers that she was a twin but her twin died at birth. This realization brings back her twin, who is feisty, unconventional, and a bit on the wild side.

I was sure that I could write a delicious story about the tug of war between the twins over the future and the feisty twin decicing her sister had picked the wrong man.

But then I realized I needed to think about ghosts. Who are they and how could this ghost appear? I pondered the fact that a ghost is the spirit of someone who has died and gone to Heavan. That led to thinking about Heaven and before I knew it, I'd popped in my mind to Heaven and around a cumulous cloud came a freewheeling redheaded ghost and her name was Bailey Ruith Raeburn and she wasn't anyboy's twin and here was her story . . .

That was Ghost at Work. Now Bailey Ruth appears in her fourth adventure and she's still having fun. 

Thank you, Carolyn. Here's what Publisher's Weekly has to say about Ghost Gone Wild:

Carolyn Hart’s “irresistible cozy sleuth” is back—good-hearted ghost Bailey Ruth Raeburn just can’t say no to an earthly rescue, even when maybe she should…

Bailey Ruth loves to return to earth as an emissary from Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions. Problem is, she’s a bit of a loose cannon as far as ghosts go—forgetting to remain invisible, alarming earthly creatures—so she’s far from the top of department head Wiggins’s go-to list for assignments.

That’s why she’s surprised when the Heaven-sent Rescue Express drops her off at a frame house on the outskirts of her old hometown, Adelaide, Oklahoma, where a young man is playing the drums. What kind of rescuing does he need—drum lessons? But when a window cracks and a rifle barrel is thrust inside, only Bailey Ruth’s hasty intervention saves Nick Magruder from taking a bullet. When she materializes to reassure him, she finds she can’t go back to vanishing. What gives?

It turns out she’s been tricked by Nick’s late aunt—Delilah Delahunt Duvall—to come to the young man’s rescue, which means she isn’t back on earth in service of the department. Wiggins has no idea where she is—and now she may be trapped in Adelaide forever. Unless she can help Aunt Dee snare the person who wants her nephew dead…

Nick's doting Aunt Dee engineered this mission on the sly, Bailey Ruth must operate on earth without her otherworldly powers. When Nick is accused of a murder, she must rely on her wits alone to clear him. Though not fully developed, the secondary characters have some amusing quirks, and even the villain, who's not readily identifiable, has a certain charm. The well-constructed plot offers an ample supply of red herrings. Fans of benign ghosts such as those in Blithe Spirit and Topper will find a lot to like.