1. You have won a Macavity a Bruce Alexander awards for your writing, and have been nominated for a Shamus and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Is it still thrilling to get a new book published like CITY OF GHOSTS and get some really great reviews for it?
Thank you! J And let me tell you—hearing that people like what you create never, ever, ever gets old. Most creative people are incredibly insecure—I’m no exception—and at the same time we’re public figures, even if it’s on a relatively minuscule level by comparison with actors or household-name writers like Stephen King or Anne Rice.
As public figures, most authors get attacked, abused and belittled just like the “big” celebrities—except that we don’t have the paychecks to make up for the pain. We have to swallow it, and try our best to ignore it. I’m not talking about actual criticism—I’m talking about internet abuse that gets slung in the name of “review” by people who don’t know the meaning of the word.
So when someone you greatly respect, like Tom Nolan in the Wall Street Journal, or Oline Cogdill for Associated Press, or Joe Hartlaub for Bookreporter, praises your work—as has happened with CITY OF GHOSTS—and when you meet fellow writers who read you and readers who tell you how much they enjoy your books or love your writing—well, like I said: it never gets old. In fact, I think recognition becomes more precious the more books you write. And it certainly helps you deal with the more unpleasant facets of publication.
2. In CITY OF GHOSTS there is a possibility Miranda Corbie will go to London in a later book. If she does, will Mirada visit places where Christie set her books? Or possibly meet a certain spinster or dapper Belgian while there?
I’m afraid not. I don’t write the same sort of books Christie wrote. She was a brilliant author of traditional mysteries; I write literary hardboiled/noir. Although Miss Marple has always struck me as a little noir, to be honest. ;)
Miranda could certainly encounter some of the iconic settings Christie used: the Orient Express, classic London hotels, Harrods, etc. I can see her at Brown’s Hotel … ;)
3. What do you find easier to work on, short stories, novellas or full length novels? Does it depend on the topic you are writing about? And why?
Short stories are difficult for me, because they tend to turn into novels. Macro is easier for me than micro. J
Novels are a long, long grind, but I get a chance to immerse myself in the setting and the character. Short stories require absolute, laser beam focus, and the plot and structure need to be commensurate with the length. In other words, not too complicated, more a “slice of life”. A novella is like a more complex short story, which is great, because it takes some of the pressure off, length-wise. Because I cherish character above all else (I was a drama major and an actress before I was a writer), novels are my preferred cup of tea.
4. Christie used a series of notebooks to sketch out characters, plots and ideas - what is your method of forming ideas for your books? Bonus Question - How did you form your character Miranda Corbie?
I use notebooks as well—big and little, one by my nightstand (so that if I get a sudden idea before sleep, which sometimes happens, I can jot it), some in my handbag. The notebooks themselves are usually Claire Fontaine or Rhodia, French brands with beautiful graphics and paper. Somehow, the quality of the notebook itself makes it easier for me to organize and think.
Thoughts bubble up in funny places … the bus, a shower, basically when I’m not actively trying to chase them down, so I like to be prepared.
I also use Scapple, a sort of mind-map program from Scrivener. Because I tend to draw diagrams and charts when I’m brainstorming, this little program is perfect for me, and I love working with it.
As for Miranda … well, her progenesis was a reaction to the misogyny of film and literary noir. I wanted to create a woman with all the tropes of a femme fatale—intelligence, beauty, courage, sexual power, ambition, etc.—but make her the hero and not the demonized female villain. A femme fatale in the shamus role. She was born from that thought, and took over from there. ;)
5. Agatha Christie was writing contemporary mysteries during the 1940’s, the period in which your Miranda Corbie mysteries are placed - my question is this, has Christie’s sense of this time period influenced you at all when writing your historical mysteries?
Not at all. I write in a completely different style about a completely different economic class in a completely different environment in a completely different country. Even in Christie’s war books (N or M springs to mind) the war seems rather far-off, even though the English went through absolute hell with the Blitz for more than a year and a half before Pearl Harbor brought America into the conflict. Her goals as a writer were very, very different from mine: she wanted to give people an escape from the war in the form, more or less, of a puzzle. I want to make people aware of the past—and the cultural and political truth of the historical record. I would not be successful at my job if Christie were influencing my history in any way.
6. You noted in your essay in BOOKS TO DIE FOR that Christie’s audacious solutions have been imitated over and over again through the years, so much so that I have heard people (even avid mystery readers) call her books “derivative” even though her books are where the solutions originate, and that’s why some people refuse to read her books. What would you say to those people to persuade them to read them?
I’d tell them that they are choosing ignorance over enlightenment, which is something no reader should ever do. Agatha Christie was the inspiration behind much later imitation, like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett in my genre. That doesn’t make her less noteworthy or even less readable. If anything, it makes her far more important—crucial, in fact, to anyone who wishes to develop a sense of how the genre developed. She was an original; she wrote over 80 novels, not all of them masterpieces, but most of them damn fine books and all of them worth reading—the Poirots, the Marples, the Tommy and Tuppence stories, the Parker Pyne and Harley Quinn collections and non-series books. I’ve even read her Mary Westmacott romances and her autobiography. She was a great writer, period, not just a plot spinner.
And her novels that are masterpieces—AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, SLEEPING MURDER, ENDLESS NIGHT, etc.—are must-reads for anyone professing to be a mystery or crime fiction lover.
No, the idea of not wanting to read the original because you’ve read too many truly derivative books is inane. A book is much more than a plot twist. Why read at all, with that argument? Most plots distill down from The Epic of Gilgamesh or Homer or the Bhagavad gita or the Bible. Should we give up writing and reading?
7. Christie is called the queen of poisons since she used them so often in her books. Do you have a preferred method of murder in your books? And why?
Murders in the Miranda Corbie novels tend to be violent affairs, less planned out and more spontaneous, because that’s a bit closer to how it works in real life. Murder weapons in my previous books have involved guns, scarves, hands, knives and ice picks, and this time around in CITY OF GHOSTS, a garrote (a method that I personally find fascinating). I don’t really have a preferred method; I try to let the weapon fit the criminal and fit the crime.
I’ve always admired Christie’s knowledge of poisons—she certainly made me beware of any “bitter almond” smell when I was a kid! And her description of strychnine poisoning is vividly horrific.
8. Is there any book in the Christie canon or plot twist you wish you thought of first?
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. I think it’s her most brilliant work, psychologically deep. It’s also the most noirish of her novels, along with the splendid ENDLESS NIGHT (one I like to recommend to people who think Christie and cozy are synonymous.). I loved MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, as I wrote in BOOKS TO DIE FOR—and it was also the first Christie I ever read.
9. Is there a Christie mystery which you did not like, or didn’t feel lived up to her standards?
All of the Marples are terrific. Not so the Poirots. When Agatha was going through the dark period of her life—before she married Max—her books and stories suffered, as was natural under the circumstances. DEATH IN THE CLOUDS is one unfortunate example. At her best, she combined the puzzle with psychological insight. When stressed, she seemed to just rely on the puzzle, contrivance and all. Still, with over 80 books published, she had very few misfires.
10. Any final words?
I love Agatha. She influenced me at a young age (9 or 10), and instilled in me, as a writer, the importance of psychological plausibility. It’s really not about the locked room puzzle, the circumstances and the red herrings. It’s about who is capable of murder—the most severe and heinous of crimes—and why. That’s what Agatha taught me, and continues to teach me when I read her … and I am forever thankful.
Late morning on a gorgeous, sunny, warm Saturday in Seattle I stepped out of the Sinking Ship garage and paused to let a long line of tourists pass. Underground Seattle Tour? Finally able to cross the street, I felt the delicious cool breeze off the water playing in the tall trees, and felt a little skip in my walk as I passed a man playing a jaunty tune on his banjo, accompanying himself on harmonica. Swung round the corner and up the hill about 15 steps and entered Seattle Mystery Bookshop just in time to hear Adele say, "Well, why don't you ask her?" And Sandy Dengler turned around and asked, "So why Emma Campion?" I hadn't seen Sandy in years! And so my delicious time in one of my favorite bookstores began. Reunion, chatter about writers we know, what we've been doing--she completed a PhD in paleontology! (I feel such a slacker), and a group chat about books we're reading, with Adele and Janine chiming in. And oh, yes, I did sign books! And then.... I was free to browse. Browse in a bookstore. A realio trulio bookstore, a place in which I can pick up a book, read the back cover, consider it along with the other titles on the shelf, feel the weight of it, the interesting texture of the cover. And with staff who can tell me whether or not I need to begin at the beginning for a particular series, who can help me remember the last name of an author, who can suggest other WWI series.... Bliss. BLISS! I walked out with about $100 worth of books and a smile on my face that had strangers on the street smiling back at me.
There are a few more copies of A TRIPLE KNOT and THE KING'S MISTRESS signed by my alter ego here at the shop--grab them!
We had a great time with Chevy when she was in our shop! We still have signed copies of her new book That Night in stock, get them before they are gone!
Want to know more about her books? Click here and go to her website!
1. How many rejection slips did you get before your first novel was published?
My publisher at Saint Martin’s Press bought my book in a pre-empt offer.
2. Have you ever thrown away a book that you just couldn't make work?
No, but I have had to scrap ideas or large sections of a book. STILL MISSING was rewritten numerous times but I never threw it out because the premise was always strong. It was plotting, structure, and some characters that needed work. If the premise didn’t hold up, I may have had to try something else. With my current project, which will be released next summer, I struggled with the first draft and had to go back to the drawing board with the second half of the book because it just wasn’t working. I lost a lot of time, but I think if I hadn’t gone in the wrong direction, I wouldn’t have found my eventual solution
3. Is it still exciting to publish a new book?
Yes, absolutely! It’s always thrilling for me to see something that I have worked so hard on go out into the world. I love hearing from fans as they are reading it.
4. Do you get ideas for new books all the time and you keep them written down, or does one come to mind when you need one?
When I am working in a book, all of my creative energy is going into that book. Sometimes I will see something, or hear something that lodges in the back of my mind, or there are feelings or styles I’d like to explore, but I don’t really start thinking about a new book until I am finished my current project. Then I begin brainstorming. During that process, lots of ideas get thrown out.
5. Do you have entire story mapped out when you begin your books?
I work from an outline but things changes during the course of writing a novel. Sometimes plot twists happen organically or my research will take me in a new direction. As I get to know the characters, the book may also evolve differently.
6. Is there any kind of book you would like to write but haven't?
I’d love to write a dark comedy one day. I enjoy reading those sorts of books and I think it would be fun to write in a really sarcastic voice.
7. If you could have written any single work – novel, screenplay, stage play, poem, history, biography – that you most admire and adore, what would it be?
That’s an interesting question. I would have loved to have written Good Will Hunting, or The Lovely Bones, or The Power of One by Bryce Courtney. I think the creation of Good Will Hunting is an especially great “rags to riches” story. Two best friends write a screenplay, star in it, and win Oscars!
8. Anything you’ve always wanted to be asked about your writing but no one ever has?
I never get asked if anyone in my family was a writer. My grandfather on my father’s side wrote a memoir called “The Red Pilot: Memoirs of a Soviet Airman.” He wrote about his escape from Russia. We used to have the Russian copy but lost it in a house fire. I found an English copy on the Internet. I dreamed of one day placing my first published novel next to his, and when that dream came true it was a very special feeling. My father, who passed away when I was twenty-two, also loved books so I know he would be proud.
9. Any Final Words?
Thank you very much for having me to your store in June! It was wonderful to meet you all. And thanks for the great questions.
Enjoying life -just off a train from Portland - basking in our usual warm welcome from Seattle Mystery Bookstore. Multiple Berry cookies galore with Gina (our freind) kickin down with "Blackberry Lemon Sage " variations on a theme, and our friends at SMB showing us the love. Thanks guys, we always love coming in to sign and munch with you!
1. Setting: Side hill down to Pioneer Square in the oldest most historic part of Seattle: Red brick, and quarried stone, sea gulls pinwheeling over the waterfront, and ships coming and going carrying cargo.
2. Character: Character: the staff at this store Starting with J.B. and Adele are true afficianadoes in the bullfighting sense of the word I suppose. It's what makes going to a book shop so far superior to buying on line. Talking to someone who has read a book gives you a sense of whether you are going to like a book or not. You can read it in their face and their body language when they tell you about it with they say a book is, "Okay" or "Fine" you will know.
3. Plot: They treat you great here. Always. I've never had a bad experiance. But it is never what I expect, I always come out with something unexpected but it alwawy turns out good. Every time.
Seattle Mystery Books is a "Must See" when in Seattle. Not far from the Public Market and the Art Museum. Not far from the Sea Hawks. You have no excuse not to stop by.
Highly reccomended, for all Alaskans, all earthlings.
1. You've been successful in the e-book world. How hard was it to get published in the paper world?
I’ll carbon date myself by disclosing my first efforts to find a publisher involved snail-mailing hefty, phone book-sized manuscripts to the one publishing house in the country that produced lesbian fiction. We’re talking late 80s. Those early efforts came to naught, but I was given enough encouragement by friends to stick with it. I scored my first contract by winning a short story contest sponsored by a local publisher. When that house went out of business, I trudged through the slough of despond until I was rescued by Bold Strokes Books. Windigo Thrall is my eighth novel with Bold Strokes.
2. Have you ever thrown away a book that just wasn't working?
Never. But then I’m incapable of throwing away a book I’m reading, too. I’ve waded through some of the worst literary dreck ever published because I refuse to give up on a novel, any novel. If I discover I’m writing a bad story, I shake it hard and scream “Live, damn your eyes, live!” until it works.
3. Is it still exciting to publish a new book after all this time?
Not really. Mostly I use the author’s copies of my new novels as doorstops. I might read one in the shower occasionally, or use it to clean up after my dog in the yard. Of course it’s exciting to publish a new book after all this time! The elaborate altar containing copies of all my books has pride of place in my house. It’s illuminated only by lava lamp, it’s that sacred.
4. Do you write down ideas for books or do you just make it up as you go?
I’ve been consistent in structuring each of my books. I always start out knowing how I want to begin the story, and how I want it to end. And I never have a high holy hell’s notion how to get from one to the other. Luckily I’ve had the same excellent beta readers and editors at Bold Strokes for years, and they manage to keep me focused and inspired.
5. Will you be writing more in the Grady and Elena series? Which ties into 6. Will we get to see more of the PNW ladies?
I loved working with these characters in my earlier stories, and it was a kick to bring them all together in Windigo Thrall. I feel a sense of completion with these women now that wasn’t there before the last book. Grady and Elena, and Becca and Jo have been well launched, and I’m reasonably sure their love will be binding and their lives happy. I’ve learned never to say never when it comes to sequels, but for now I’m ready to channel some new voices.
7. If you could have written any single work -- novel, screenplay, stage play, poem, history, biography -- that you most admire, what would it be?
The Bible. Leviticus wouldn’t make the cut. Sorry, didn’t mean to type that out loud. Oddly enough, my head keeps coming back to Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. It reminds me of a great time in my life, the years I spent in children’s theater. Silverstein was irreverent, but he portrayed kids and their world with an astute and humane eye. I’d love to be responsible for bringing a gift like that to young readers.
8. Have you considered writing suspense work without the supernatural element?
Do I have to? I’m afraid I might secretly suck at suspense without a supernatural element. Or romance, sans ghosts. Or speculative fiction. Etc. I love ghost stories and myths, and I would probably insert other-worldly plotlines in every genre or sub-genre I attempted. I think I’ve settled on paranormal romance as my comfortable home turf. All the stories I write are romances too, so I’m calling my personal imprint Aww/Boo.
9. Have you considered writing under a pseudonym?
Having one or more pseudonyms sounds like so much fun, I regret that I barely write fast enough to use one nym. I admire authors so prolific they use a different name for every genre they write in, but I type at the speed of sludge. And I’ve always been lucky enough not to need a pseudonym for protection—to reside in a city that doesn’t force queer writers to disguise their identities.
10. Is there one thing you've wanted to have been asked about your writing, but no one has?
I’d love to drop the microphone and just have a conversation with you about how we can make lesbian fiction more accessible and welcoming to women of color. While there are wonderful authors out there representing different races and ethnicities, we haven’t made enough inroads in terms of diversity to ensure all our readers see their lives reflected honestly in our books. Our main characters (mine included) skew toward white, young, able-bodied, cis-gendered women, and our community holds a great deal more variety and nuance. How can we let more diverse voices speak out, those of both writers and readers? Discuss.
--> How many rejection slips did you get before your first novel was published?
I lost count. If you include screenplays, short stories, and novels, it's in the hundreds. If you include just novels, it's only a dozen or so.
--> Have you ever thrown away a book that you just couldn't make work?
I threw away my very first draft of The Baker Street Letters, because I'd written it in the wrong voice, and with the wrong plot line, and--well, just about everything. I never showed that draft to any publisher, and I didn't keep anything from it. I started from scratch, wrote a new first draft that had some elements worth keeping, and then another revision after that, and then another.
--> Is it still exciting to publish a new book even after all this time?
It's always a thrill. A nervous thrill, because while I always get into a writing mode where I think the current book is the best one of all, I always then start worrying that maybe nobody will get it at all.
--> Do you get ideas for new books all the time and you keep them written down, or does one come to mind when you need one?
I almost never write an idea down for later use. The few times I have, I've always lost the cocktail napkin or the back of whatever used envelope I wrote the note on. I keep ideas in my head, and I let them develop and connect with other things.
--> Do you have entire the story arc mapped out when you began this series?
Partly. I knew at the start that the relationship between Reggie Heath and Laura Rankin would evolve in major ways over the course of the first four novels, and that has happened, very naturally. I constructed the plot lines of each individual book to fit that evolution.
--> Do you know how a book/series is going to end when you begin it?
This is my first series, and no, I don't know how I'm going to end it. I have a couple of ideas in mind for a major transition that might take place at book six or seven, but I haven't decided yet. As to individual books--yes, I always know, or at least think I know. I don't begin writing until I know the beginning, at least one major plot point, and the ending. Or at least one possible ending. I'm not above changing my mind, and I have done.
--> Would you consider writing a screenplay for your books if asked?
The series began as a screenplay, which I shopped about in Hollywood in the early 1980s (yes, that long ago). When I published The Baker Street Letters in 2009, a production company finally got interested and bought an option--and then renewed it--and then renewed it again, while they hired someone else to write the screenplay. I didn't object, because that first novel was a little more introspective than the others, and I thought it would be a challenge to bring it to the screen (and it was). But the three novels since are much more cinematic, and it would be great fun to adapt them into a feature and sequel.
--> Have you considered writing something that is non-Sherlockian?
Yes. I may find time to do that between books five and six.
--> Is there any surprise you've got planned in upcoming books that you're willing to leak?
Yes, there's a surprise. Or two. No, I won't leak them, because I reserve the right to change my mind.
--> If you could change anything about your writing career, what would it be?
I suppose I would have spent less time pushing scripts in Los Angeles in the 80s. Hollywood is a hard nut to crack, and you can come tantalizingly close without actually making a living at it. My advice to any writer is to write the novel (or the stage play) first, and turn to the screen only when the opportunity presents itself.
--> If you could have written any single work – novel, screenplay, stage play, poem, history, biography – that you most admire and adore, what would it be?
I know I should name something Sherlockian. Or at least a mystery. Or something that I studied in my college lit courses. But I really wish I had written The Princess Bride (both the book and the movie). Of mystery novels, my favorite of all time is The Thin Man.
--> Is there anything you’ve always wanted to be asked about your writing but no one ever has?
I keep expecting someone to ask who the characters are based on, especially the Laura Rankin character, who, in my mind anyway, is really the center of attention in the first four novels. Even in the first novel, which I wrote entirely from Reggie's point of view, when Laura was not on screen, Reggie was thinking about her. I give Laura all the best lines. But since no one ever asks who she is based on, I guess that spares me the risk of naming any names.
1. Are you still excited about writing the Otherworld sisters' stories?
I still love writing Otherworld, though it’s more complicated than it used to be. I’ve often joked that OW is my “Pern”…but it’s true, really. The world just keeps expanding in my mind, and apparently, my writing. ~laughs~ I have many ideas I’d like to implement in the future and I can see quite a ways ahead in each sister’s path/destiny. If my readers keep buying the books, I’m happy to keep writing them.
2. Do you see the sisters being heavily involved in the Otherworld war?
They’re on the outskirts. It affects them, it hits them in the gut, but they can’t be over there fighting when they have to stay here to watch out for what Shadow Wing is pulling next. They’re very torn, because they love their homeworld, but they also realize that sometimes, you have to go where you’re most needed and best able to help. And right now, that’s Earthside.
3. How do you come up with all the unique names in this series?
Most of my characters name themselves, so um…the names are just there. Some are based on the origins of certain words. And others, I go for the ‘feel’ of the name—the sound of it and how I think it would sound for…say…the Svartan race, or the Elfin race.
4. You have an enormous cast of characters. Is it hard to remember who everyone is and where they are?
I keep notes on that—for some scenes, I’ll make a list of who is there. ~grins~ I’ve been caught more than once by my editor including someone who wasn’t around, or I’ll sometimes realize I left someone in the middle of a fight doing nothing. Luckily, I manage to fix these mistakes before they hit print!
5. How important is music to your writing?
Very. Each book has a playlist, and each series seems to have a theme song. Each major character has certain songs that I associate with them. I don’t always listen to music while I write, but a good share of the time, yes, I do.
6. You're ending the Indigo Court series. Will you miss the people you've created there?
Yes, but it’s time to close the doors on it. The Indigo Court Series was always designed to be a closed story arc. I knew there would be either five or six books, and it happened to be five. While I love that world dearly and feel it’s some of my best writing so far, it was harder to write—much like following bread crumbs through a forest. But I love the sparkling frozen world Cicely lives in, and yes, I will miss it.
7. Might we see an Indigo Court/Otherworld crossover?
No, that really can’t happen. The worlds are different—they aren’t in the same altaverse.
8. With your new, parallel Otherworld series, will the sisters make guest appearances?
You may just see them from time to time. ~winks~ And you get a glimpse of Shimmer in Autumn Whispers and mentions of them in Crimson Veil. You’ll certainly see old standbys like The Supe Urban Café (and Marion), and the Supe Community Action Council and maybe the Seattle Vampire Nexus (and possibly Erin) in the Fly by Night Series. The FBN Series takes place in Seattle in the same time frame as the Otherworld Series, so the world will be familiar. You will definitely see more dragons and vampires, considering the two main characters are from those races.
9. Will you have a single protagonist in the new series, a la Cecily, or an ensemble, like the sisters?
While the main character will be Shimmer, a dragon shifter exiled Earthside, and the books will be from her POV, Alex—her boss (a vampire who’s more like Crocodile Dundee than he is Dracula)—will be prominent and they are basically paired up in a lot of the cases. Their crew of friends will be a little more off the wall than the sisters’ crew. The Fly By Night series will be more oriented toward standalone books within the overall series. Alex and Shimmer aren’t really aware of the demonic war that’s going on, and their focus is quite different. Although I think Shimmer’s love life, or attempts at one, will be a lot of fun for the readers to follow along. The heat level will be about the same as Otherworld, so don’t expect a change in that in this series (yes explicit sex and violence).
10. Do you miss writing non-fiction?
No, I don’t. I never set out to write nonfiction, and while I’m proud of what I wrote in that venue, it wasn’t my original goal. Someday I might like to write a book on writing, but what writer doesn’t want to do that?